Monthly Archives: January 2012

Party Time

During my time as a mother, I have discovered that I hate  am not very good at children’s parties. I never have enough money to hire a venue, I hate McDonalds and our house is too small. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t enjoy the idea of being responsible for a load of E numbered up children. Every year, I get annoyed with soft play areas for not spelling their names correctly, tentatively call a few church halls and wonder how people ever afford to do it. Every year, I end up inviting the same few friends and family round, buying party food that no one ever eats and staying up all night, trying to get the house ready, so that I am knackered, panicky and tearful by the time the guests arrive.

This year, I’ve decided to get ahead of myself. Tom’s sixth birthday is weeks away and I am determined to get it right.

“What kind of party would you like?”

“An Ancient Egypt party.”

“That’s quite specific.”

“What does specific mean?”

“It means that it’s quite niche.”

“What does niche mean?”

“It’s a very specialist party. It might be quite difficult to do. And the costumes are limited, for the guests. Why don’t we just do  general fancy dress party? You can still dress as a mummy.”

“I don’t want to be a mummy, I want to be a pyramid.”

“You can’t be a pyramid.”

“Why not? All you would need is some cardboard and yellow paint.”

“All I would need?!”

“Yeah, you’re good at making things.”

“Thanks. Seriously, though. I don’t think an Ancient Egypt party would work.”

“I do. I’ve been thinking about it. Monty could be the Sphinx.”

“We’d get reported to the RSPCA. What about the other children, anyway? We can’t expect their parents to rustle up pyramid costumes.”

“We’ll wrap them in toilet roll.”

“What about music?”

“I know! I know! Walk Like an Egyptian.”

“We can’t just invite a load of children to a church hall and wrap them in toilet roll and put the Bangles on repeat.”

“Why not?”

“It won’t work.”

“Yes it will. It will be fun. I’ve planned it.”

“Go on…”

“Well, you know that game call ‘Pin the tail on the donkey?'”

“Yes…”

“We could have ‘pin the hump on the camel’. Geddit?”

“I don’t know if they had camels in Ancient Egypt, but yes.”

“And we could have gingerbread mummies instead of gingerbread men and the adults could be different Egypt fings, like those men with birds’ heads and dogs’ heads on top of men’s bodies.”

“And loin cloths. Those things only wore loin cloths.”

“What’s a loin cloth?”

“A piece of fabric that covers your private parts and nothing else.”

“Well, they could wear normal clothes if they wanted to, but they could make bird and dog heads out of junk from lying around their house.”

“Who am I, in the plan?”

“Claire O’Patra.”

“Can we not just go to MacDonalds?”

                     I blame the Playmobil.

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Thanks, Lord Mackay of Clashfern

On Wednesday night, the Coalition Government suffered its biggest defeat in the House of Lords since it was elected. It was a landslide: 270 over 128. The vote was for an amendment to the planned CSA charges, tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Last year, I wrote and wrote and wrote about the Government’s plans to charge single parents with care of their children to apply for child maintenance – and to take part of the money that was collected. I didn’t just write about it on my blog: I wrote to my MP and I wrote to the Consultation, as well as speaking to them on the phone (my questions about fairness expertly sidestepped.) I wasn’t the only one: single parent charity Gingerbread were working tirelessly to oppose the charges and many more people wrote letters and emails and made exasperated phone calls. No one paid any attention.

What the Government didn’t seem to understand is that for many women (and it is women in 97% of cases,) using the CSA is not a choice. Asking an agency to track down your child’s father and demand money is not an enjoyable thing to do (despite the common misconception that women who use it are cackling, money-grabbing scroungers.) You’d much rather they just contributed a little; helped out with school meals or swimming lessons, that kind of thing. When you don’t even know where your child’s father is, you can’t begin to try to come to an amicable agreement. Yet still, Maria Miller and her colleagues kept talking about how marriage separation is a difficult time and about how people would be given the ‘choice’ to come to their own amicable arrangements, all stuff that just isn’t applicable to many single parents. The charges would mean that many parents wouldn’t be able to afford to apply in the first place and that even if they could, the money their children needed would be discounted. It made no sense, it was completely unfair and it was ludicrous.

Then along came Lord Mackay of Clashfern, leading a wonderful revolt and talking absolute sense. In an interview with the Guardian, he had this to say:

“When a woman – as a typical example – has taken all reasonable steps and done all she can to reach an agreement but cannot manage it, I do not agree that she should be charged by the CSA for her application … That is utterly unfair. If anyone is to pay for that, surely it should be the person who has caused the difficulty by trying to escape from his moral obligations.”

and writing himself for the Telegraph:

“For many parents raising children on one income, making ends meet is already a struggle particularly in these straightened times. Child maintenance from the non-resident parent – even a modest amount – can play a vital role in protecting children. For those unable to persuade the non-resident parent to pay voluntarily, the combination of application and collection charges will be a bitter blow, effectively taking money away from their children.”

When I watched him speaking in the House of Lords (here at 2:42), I cried. Finally, a Conservative MP who wants fairness, a man who understands the reality for thousands of single parents. I never thought I would want to hug a Tory peer.

I can’t give Lord Mackay of Clashfern a hug, but I am going to write him a thank you letter – and I hope others who helped campaign against these charges will have the time to do the same.

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Sunshine on a Sofa Day

We’re having a sofa day, which is nowhere near as relaxing as it sounds when your sofa is a collapsed, creaky relic that’s so retro it’s beyond ever being cool. But hey – the wind keeps knocking at the front door, I’ve just thrown together some homemade soup and we’re not going anywhere. It’s the perfect day to enter this Tots100 / Al Fresco Holidays competition, to win a wonderful escape to an Al Fresco park. The challenge? To write about our best ever adventure in the sun. Tom says it was Turkey, so here goes…

“Take me away,” the brand new passport seemed to say. I’d only ordered it because I needed ID, then it arrived, pristine, with the gold logo gleaming.

Four days later, Tom and I were on an empty flight to Turkey that clashed with kick off of some big England football match or other; the reason why our tickets had cost less than forty quid each.

I booked us into a basic hotel in Ovacik, a mountain village on the Turquoise Coast. There was a decent sized pool, but no children’s facilities. The sun was beating down and the cicadas were singing, but I’ve never been one for just sizzling on a sunbed. Thankfully, neither is Tom:

“When can we go on an adventure?” he asked, after one morning of aimless splashing and soggy sticker books.

“Now.”

We climbed aboard the white knuckle dolmus (bus) and it careered down the winding road down to Oludeniz’s dreamy Blue Lagoon.

Wish we were there: the "Blue Galoon"

“What’s that?” Tom asked of a minaret against the clear sky.

“A mosque.”

“Is that where the mosquitoes live?”

We swam in the calm, saltwater lagoon, spotting giant crabs and even bigger turtles. We shopped in markets, bedazzled by everything from fezes and kilims to spectacular tat. We learnt to say “merhaba”, ate delicious Turkish food (plus several chips and ice lollies) and watched paragliders float down on to the sand. On the third night, we took a bumpy boat trip and camped on a remote beach, where we made new friends, ate just-picked grapes round a fire and saw thousands of stars. After breakfast, we jumped in the cyan sea.

One of the best things about sunny days is when they come to an end. In the slow aftermath of a hot day, when you’re weary and freckled and completely relaxed, there’s no better viewing than the sun’s great goodbye. That week, Tom and I enjoyed seven stunning sunsets, all shades of orange, yellow and pink. We spent the final one at a table for two, chinking glasses and playing eye spy.

As I wrestled a sleeping Tom off a luggage trolley and frogmarched him, wailing, through security, I was surprisingly serene. You still get a stamp in your passport for Turkey: the first one in my new one – and the mark of a magical family holiday.

What a treat.

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Why don’t you try internet dating?

This is a question I get asked a lot, because I work from home, because I have a child, because I haven’t had a proper relationship in ages and this year I’ll be thirty. My friends mean well, but most have them are already attached and – if they’re honest, wouldn’t go within a mile of internet dating themselves. Of course, I’ve had a snoop around a few of the sites but they end up making me feel a bit like my soul’s just been torn out and stamped on and definitely not as though I want to take things any further. Here’s why:

The small issue of the child: Quite often, internet dating sites allow members to specify whether or not they’d like you to already have children. Because nobody wants to get roped into pools of shit, snot and vomit, dinner money bills and custody arrangements, most people say that no, they would not like you to have a child already. Funnily enough, I don’t take my child on dates and I’ve been raising him on my own for six years, so I am not looking to sponge off someone else. I wouldn’t let a man meet him until things were pretty serious, but most adults think he’s ace so they’d probably really like him if and when they did. Frustratingly, it’s usually the most decent, interesting types who make this stipulation. I end up feeling angry about this and a mixture of the following thoughts: “What a narrow-fucking-minded bastard, I wouldn’t want to go out with him anyway” and “actually, I completely understand why he has put that. Shit.”

The weight thing: I’m a size 14, which is not huge, but definitely not ‘slim’ or ‘athletic’. My torso’s been through the pregnancy and caesarean mill and looks like an acid smiley scrawled on a relief map of Africa. I shouldn’t be bothered about that, but I am. Most men say that they want you to be slim or athletic. Many of them have photographs of themselves in abseiling harnesses or hanging out of planes, which makes me think they won’t want to sit on their arses in the pub with me. If a man wants me to be athletic, I don’t want to walk into a bar with my big hips and meet him, never mind undress in front of him. Of course, there is such a thing as being too unfussy: if they don’t care how old you are, what you’re into, or where in the world you live and want to meet up for no strings fun, you can’t help but think they might be desperate or perverted, or are into very expensive, jet-lagged booty calls.

You see people you know: Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest cities, and yet sometimes it doesn’t feel an awful lot different to the tiny village where I grew up. Everyone knows everyone else and the degrees of separation shrink more as the years go by. You’re only ever steps away from someone’s unrequited love / psycho ex / person who has read your blog and knows that you have a child and a torso that looks like an acid smiley scrawled on a relief map of Africa.

It’s just not real: Of course, I’m just as fussy as the fussy men who I’m daunted by. And I don’t think a list of hobbies and some carefully considered photos are a way to choose a person. You need that chemistry, not to go and sit awkwardly opposite a stranger in a restaurant and say “so, you like abseiling?” whilst trying really hard not to get too drunk but maintaining an element of Dutch courage and trying not to go to the loo too much (or going to the loo as often as you can). When you meet someone who makes you laugh, who’s on the same wavelength as you, with whom you can stay up drinking all night long and laugh and talk and laugh and laugh, it doesn’t matter what they look like, whether they’re into abseiling, whether you have a child or a tummy like crepe paper. None of that matters because you know each other and you really like each other and you haven’t made a list of prerequisites before you fell. But that only happens in real life, not on a computer screen.

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