Mascara and Alcohol: when getting away with it got too heavy. 

mascaraeyeIt was the early two thousands, maybe 2003. I was still booking things, still agreeing to things, but in recent years had gradually begun to back out of more and more plans, and increasingly clocked up more no shows; strangely grateful for a child’s sniffle or a phone call to say things had been cancelled, and yet still in denial, still making excuses, still convinced I could do everything that I wanted to do. And still convinced going out and socialising was fun, was what I wanted. The tiredness or hormones of motherhood were making me enjoy home more perhaps? Being so busy in daily life meant I’d run out of time to get ready or the energy to stay out at night, right? There were well-argued reasons for every time I chose to stay at home. I would often truly feel ill when an event was upon us and I had genuine headaches, genuine stomachs problems. It all felt like real reasons and not excuses, and so the times staying at home built up and up and up like a brick wall. And it happened so slowly and I was so good at convincing myself that it was just this once we’d cancel, just this time we’d stay home because… because… Because, after all, going out is fun. Everyone likes it. Everyone. If you don’t there’s something wrong with you. Humans are social creatures. Fun, fun, fun times…

My grandmother had suggested I was depressed when she noted my increasing insistence for staying in, staying home but I looked at what I had and I was happy with my lot. And I could always always reason my actions. Until that day, one Christmas holidays, I was sure I was making my own choices and was in complete control.

It was the Christmas period. I’d booked pantomime tickets for what was then the four of us plus my parents. Getting ready for Christmas as a whole was difficult for me, it left me in a constant state of list-making, obsessing over minutiae, sleepless nights and panic, and the extra socialising completely drained me. I had to drink a lot to cope with anything social. I thought it was the same for everyone but I was chaotic for weeks, and every moment was taken with pinning down my panic and attempting to appear organised. I did appear organised but appearing organised was actually all I managed. It was a performance so convincing I managed to carry it off for years. I once admitted to being shy to a friend and she laughed and said “You’re not shy!” I really had pulled it off! So I just kept turning up for things and drinking and talking crap. I remember telling one of my Open University tutors that I got through Christmas on mascara and alcohol, and she told me I should write a book called Mascara and Alcohol. Maybe I will.

As our children were still young, I’d booked matinee tickets for the panto. Already in a flappy state (I didn’t know I had anxiety. I wasn’t even kind enough to give myself the gift of a label those days. All I knew was that things made me flap, made me worry, made me stressful. I got stressed. I stressed out), I found myself getting hotter, trembling, focussing on negatives about my appearance, obsessing about a pimple, unable to draw that line that said “finished getting ready” and walk out of the bedroom, downstairs, to the front door. I’d got the children ready, given my parents a picking up time, my husband was downstairs ready and waiting to start the car. I’d organised every thing and every one but I was Not Ready. I would never be ready. I couldn’t complete getting ready because that would mean leaving the house and I was trapped inside a forcefield that was insisting I stay home.

I’d met that forcefield before. Once as a teenager when cycling to a holiday job I cycled into the forcefield and it span me around and I found myself heading home again. At the age of five I refused to leave the house and go to ballet lessons because I knew I simply couldn’t go. I loved ballet but I never went again. I danced alone at home instead. Forcefields existed around doors and I couldn’t walk into certain rooms or areas at school.

But all these years later I still wasn’t joining the dots and putting together the picture of someone who physically and mentally couldn’t socialise regularly.

Upset, my family went to the Panto without me. Upset, I stayed home alone. I was relieved and comforted by the escape but incredibly upset.

What had gone wrong?

I’d done what I always do when going anywhere: I’d been in control of planning everything, I’d chosen in advance what I would wear, I’d pictured us there, I’d placed myself in amongst many people, imagined the claustrophobic crush in the entrance, pictured sitting under pre-performance lights, pictured people sitting all around us, imagined being spotted by people we knew, people we half-knew, people I couldn’t remember because (as I now know) I have a degree of face-blindness, imagined what I would say to people, realised I didn’t know what I would say, and knew deep down that I wasn’t going to cope – some other time, yes but not this time. But it was deep, deep down and I wasn’t really sure what was controlling my actions. My subliminal knowledge that I’m not coping or that I won’t cope often simmers away in the background until I meet that damned forcefield, and WHAM! – can’t do this. This one event in itself was not a big thing but everything else had circled around and around until I felt that just doing this one thing was like entering a black hole.

That day was a biggie for me. I’d let a lot of people down. And I haven’t been able to trust myself since. Other people in my life no longer want to take the risk with me either and I’m rarely invited to anything. I’m not entirely sure what I want to risk committing myself to anyway. My husband will never plan surprises for me because he too doesn’t trust me. This is not necessarily a bad thing because he’s not a fan of too much socialising anyway, and I think his habit of being a grumpy, unsociable git at times is what attracted me to him!

So these days what I want to do and what I’m able to do sometimes overlap beautifully like a Venn diagram, and sometimes they stay firmly separated in their big old lonely circles. Often I will put myself through what is uncomfortable because it’s probably what’s best, other times I will actively seek out peace. Lying awake at night after an event (sometimes for weeks or years afterwards) and remembering how you cocked everything up is no reward for pushing yourself through something. It’s hell and it’s not worth the pain of clocking up yet another bad experience, yet another disaster. So instead it’s a lifelong project of daily self-assessments now. This self-awareness has given me a more joined-up picture of someone who has to carefully measure and weigh up what’s going on, what’s necessary and what’s doable on a daily – sometimes hourly basis. I have to give myself permission to make plans for fun things but I also have to be able to admit that not doing something is also okay and sometimes crucial. And I have found comfort and beauty in just being and not always seeking outside experiences. I do like time at home. I like it a lot. It’s not just something that I have had to force upon myself. It’s often something I have to fight for.

At a wedding a few years ago, I was struggling to cope and someone next to me was involving me in conversation. After a while of getting limited response from me she turned to her companion and muttered something about “…so rude…”. I’m not rude. I spend my whole life adjusting myself to people and situations in order to not be rude. It’s exhausting. Why push yourself through things if you’re so overwhelmed you’re just going to appear rude? Humans are complex beings (no shit) and we can respond very differently to different situations, and there’s nothing quite like feeling trapped in situations that other people clearly find fun and enjoyable.
There’s something about socialising less that makes you look like you’re coping less. But I’m not coping less these days; I’m just coping differently.

A Project, Not a Day 

“I love you. I haven’t written your card yet and I haven’t bought you a present but I do love you,” I said as he left my vitamins next to my cups of tea and walked away. I need 3 cups of tea and magnesium and vitamin B supplements to get me out of bed these days.
“Good,” he answered with much weight for only one word, and closed the door behind him. He’s unwell today and we’re not planning any conventional celebration. I have painted my nails though and am working out how to cook a special meal with no oven.

2016’s Anniversary flowers

22 years ago today: exhausted, nauseous and anxious, carrying a modest cream roses and freesia bouquet, and wearing a sale dress, I took his name and we committed to one another. I didn’t need to take his name – I had my own name but I wanted ours to be the same name and to have a family all sharing this name. In the years since I’ve thought about all the women’s own names that have been cast aside for marriage and how my own surname was not my mother’s or grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s. But their names all came from men too, and it seems to be one of the last remaining vestiges of patriarchy. Besides you’d have to go a significantly long way back in history to find a name that didn’t come from a man, and that wasn’t a topic up for discussion when I was 24 and in love.

The beginnings of tiny baby Gemma were growing inside me and I wanted us to all share a name by the time she was born. So 22 years ago I went along with tradition without question. (And being pregnant before marriage was part of my family’s tradition!)

Our relationship was over 5 years old by then, we’d lived together for nearly 3 years and we’d been engaged for 2 of those but we’d never planned a wedding. We both found it daunting for our own reasons.
In the end it was a small, inexpensive registry office wedding with no time to do anything lavish and not enough time to overthink or over-plan as I am prone to do. I’m still glad we did it that way and, knowing myself a lot better these days, I’m quite sure it was the right thing to do.
On our anniversary each year I think only very briefly of the day – it served a purpose and an important one to me but I think mostly about the years, the numbers, the clocking up of shared experiences. I think about what’s changed through our commitment and through time, about what’s been gained and who has been lost. Somewhere there is a group photo of our wedding day. It’s stuck in a box. (We didn’t have a photographer but our tiny group of family and friends brought their own cameras – and they were a talented, artistic bunch!). But I like our relationship today so much better than the one we had then and I’d rather live in the present.

It may seem an awful thing to say but I wanted to get the wedding out of the way. I just wanted to be married and get on with being married. By the evening I was not enjoying myself at all, was completely knackered and had run out of the ability to make conversation. Big events and big, long days are not for me.

But the big, long years are for me. The learning, the shared mistakes, the getting things right through error, argument and experience, the way a relationship balances over time. Boy, we’ve made some awful cock-ups – and we will continue to make new ones but I do believe we’re getting more right than we are wrong and for me this means that being older and deep in a love is a lot more comfortable than being young and in love. I am never certain of anyone’s feelings for me. I am forever afraid of losing people and often won’t work at friendships for fear of failure or rejection. But this has been one relationship I was prepared to risk all for and really work at it. We have both perfected The Right Royal Pain in the Arse, and have a most nasty, mean, thoughtless side which we save only for each other.


I didn’t expect much from our wedding day, I certainly don’t expect much from today. What I have is a certainty that through joy and pain and suffering and general life shit, I have loved someone for 27 years and somehow he has committed to me for 22 years and shown me that he loves me back and my own commitment has been repaid. So I love anniversaries and I love that we both survived another year. Each passing year that slowly becomes less and less certain through age and ill health becomes more of a celebration. I never took any of this for granted and I never will.

Throwing your whole being into one relationship isn’t for everyone but it is for me.
And commemorating the overlooked numbers like 22, and not just the rounded ones, is important too.
I am a project girl. And project family and project relationship have been two of my absolute favourites.

Happy 22nd Anniversary to me and him. And thank you, Richard, for yet another beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Tea and pills

IMG_2599I’m a real advocate of allowing people to be honest about the negative stuff in their lives. I’m a believer in recognising the balance between wonderful and crappy.
Unfortunately I often pick up a strong hint from people that, unless one’s life is truly truly monumentally crappy, we’re supposed to think positively even when we don’t feel like it and bound around joyfully saying only nice things and never complaining.
‘But look at those people worse off than ourselves who never complain!’

Bugger off.

Even when I’m feeling low, I can list the good stuff! I know what it is! I don’t need annoyingly cheerful people prodding me with their happy finger, or miserable bastards telling me I don’t have the right to complain.

I’m massively, massively exhausted today. And I have had to take a combination of painkillers so I can get through some bad period pains. And I fully intend to not be joyful or to waste any energy pretending otherwise like some irritating fluffball of false cheerfulness. I will still be naturally delighted by a butterfly or a new flower or my children’s senses of humour.

I have pulled out all the stops for my family recently. I’m not complaining about that. I have no regrets. But, despite a certainty that could I do it all again I would, I can’t hide the exhaustion. I can’t pretend it’s not there. I suppose you might say I’ve refused to “think Aspie” in the last couple of days or think about the needs that involves. And now Aspie and hormones are both here to remind me I can’t ignore either for long. All I want to do is curl up somewhere dark and quiet for a day and sleep and think and empty my brain of all the recent interactions and images that are playing over and over. (And maybe have someone bring me tea and Voltarol and chocolate occasionally…) But I can’t because I have to be Alpha Dog, Alpha Bitch and chief doer of the everythings for 2 weeks now to get us through the rest of the holiday. As much as I can organise timetables for our shop and organise time for the family and organise times a journey will take us and organise and organise and organise… I can’t organise exhaustion and I can’t organise energy. These days just happen to me.

I know that many people see time at home with the kids as time off but I see it as my job – particularly when I’m the only parent here because the only time I get time off is when my husband is contributing and easing the constant to-do list, and “what does everyone need from me?” tune that plays forever in my head – and it has to be him rather than anyone else because our responsibilities are joint so it’s not help – it’s our lives, and he’s the only one I don’t have to explain to. (To be honest, I’ve always failed to see how my life of washing, washing up, preparing meals, tidying, cleaning, vacuuming, wiping poo off toilets, restocking the fridge, picking up dog hair, tripping over miscellaneous gubbins, repeatedly tidying the kitchen, stopping regulalry to say ‘Oi! Pick that up’, ‘Stop that!’, ‘Clean that up!’ ‘Wash your hands’, desperately trying to find time to pay bills, answer emails, do the wages, get outside and grow and pick vegetables, walk the dog, drink cold tea, never getting an authorised break, working through period pains, feeling guilty if I sit down, and never getting paid for any of it for twenty years, is like a holiday to some people. I’m clearly doing it wrong. Or maybe it’s the not getting paid bit…? )

Brains that never switch off need calming by reducing the stimuli sometimes – otherwise there’s no such thing as time off. I’ve pushed other people’s needs to the front of my brain for 20 years – 25, if you count the years I forced myself to socialise as much as I thought I should, and I think the not emptying often enough has finally worn me out. Some days the only thing that anyone can do for me is leave me alone ( – it’s taken 44 years and an Asperger’s assessment to learn to say that and it still feels totally evil).

I don’t need advice or solutions, I just need to grump. I actually don’t think there is a solution.
I know the best thing I can do today is write things down instead of letting them whirl in my brain, find something nice for our youngest to do, so I can ease the constant guilt, and aim for a rest sometime this afternoon by suggesting a DVD later. It won’t solve anything but it might keep things from getting any worse.

I don’t want to not have what I have, I don’t want to not have my children. I don’t even want someone else offering me anything. Dealing with communicating or organising with another person when I feel like this makes my head spin and exhausts me further. I just need to complain before I get up off my arse and carry on!

I am wading through treacle today but the treacle-wading boots fit only me. If you want to wave and offer a supportive glance as you run past me wading at 2 metres per hour then please do but don’t offer to discuss how I might do this any better/faster/more efficiently, and don’t ask me to explain why I should dare to suppose that my apparently charmed life is so difficult sometimes.
It just is, Dear Reader. It just is.


Right now I feel the need to go to a special place I go to sometimes in order to survive.
It is a free place – and a very cheap place – in my head.
It is simple solitude with no outside contact.

It might seem like a dark, lonely, troubled place to an onlooker, but to me it is called peace; it is my long hot bath or my book on the beach or my trip to Mexico (only cheaper).
If I can’t get there I feel frantic – hunted almost, and trapped.

I don’t want to fight this feeling, and I don’t feel I need curing, rescuing or stopping from going there – simply going there in itself is the cure.
The deepest dark washes over my head like an inky tide and then it sucks softly away leaving me levelled like a beach freshened by the ocean.

Afterwards I can walk into the light again feeling soothed and rested.

But I need to go now, and I can’t.

I went for a walk with the dog earlier today and tried to put my feelings into words. But when I feel like this everything seems tangled and busy and thoughts are difficult to map out in a straightforward way. It’s as if thought processes are scrumpled up; it’s all there – there’s nothing new or bigger or different to cope with but it’s confused, messy.

I feel childish when I’m like this. Sulky, grumpy, at the mercy of others.

Perhaps I could write a childish poem, I thought – as it’s National Poetry Day.

So I plished through the wet fields, whilst Dylan ate cowshit and carried a cricket in his mouth (- so gently it survived!), and I typed a few words into my phone:

They are strange these days: of feeling like a child;
Neglecting the domestic and desiring to run wild.
Fighting against life.
Sulking because it’s raining.
“I haven’t eaten!” (Whose fault is that?)
I thrive on this complaining.

Perhaps a hug or an icecream?
An early night or a good scream?

I’m tangled and I’m messy
I’m sticky and I’m stressy
Turn down the lights, stroke my head.
Whisper “There, there” and put me to bed.

I don’t want this! or that! or the other!
Leave me alone – you’re too much bother!
But don’t say “Act your age!”, whatever you do
Because today I am barely more than two!

It’s such a selfish and guilt-ridden feeling, having what I have decided to call “A charmed strife”.
Life should and can be good – but part of that being good means giving my head time out on the naughty step. Otherwise I feel permanently unhappy.

I think standing in the mud and staring into puddles helped a bit today.

Bug in muddy puddle
Bug in Muddy Puddle, by Rachel, aged 2 and a lot

Beating Dave With a Banana

Or: Being a ‘What if…?’
“Because it is egotistical, controlling, over-inflated, self-important & meddles & ruins all things good, I think I’ll call my anxiety Dave,” I tweeted this morning.
And then I remembered Jo had recommended that I eat bananas. (Thanks, Jo, if you read this!) So I fetched a banana and wondered why it would do me good. I looked it up on the Internet and found out about the benefits of bananas to our mental health.
I have a mental health problem: I suffer from anxiety.

Anxiety is a rotten thing.

For me it’s also a constant thing.

I live in a permanently anxious state. It’s in my blood, it’s part of who I am. It’s somehow linked to my furtive imagination, and sometimes that can work in my favour and be a benefit (and, I hope, perhaps to those around me too on occasion), but sometimes it works against me. I come from anxious, imaginative parents so it’s bound to have rubbed off or been passed down or both. Most of the time it’s bearable and I wouldn’t recognise myself if I woke up one morning and wasn’t repeatedly taking the real into an unreal place anymore. Being a ‘What if…?’ person is the best part of me. (Well, it’s the part I like best anyway!) Everyday things can be turned into adventures. News stories can be turned into fictional stories. There’s a feeling that nothing is impossible. When I see that positive side of us ‘What if…?’ people in others I realise that the world needs quiet imaginative people having sometimes crazy, sometimes useful creative ideas.

But I have times when it can be more extreme. And ‘What if…?’ isn’t very helpful. In fact it’s downright disruptive. I am on edge all the time and far too easily startled. I hate surprises and sudden noises. If I have more than a split second to think about doing something I take the possibilities further than they need to go so that I am imagining myself in a situation where I am unable to cope or incapable of being myself or presenting myself normally. Put simply: I imagine deaths, accidents, public embarrassment, failure; I imagine anything that could go wrong but also things that couldn’t possibly go wrong. I might find myself feeling increasingly overwhelmed by an impending social situation, for example – something that is, to others, normal and everyday. I can actually freeze for a whole day if I know I have something vaguely socially demanding to do in the evening. Or I can lie awake all night practising in my mind how I will get everything done if I have a lot to do the next day. I believe a lot of people do this but perhaps not to a point where they become unable to function properly. If I have guests I will be so busy worrying whether everyone has everything they need and if the towel needs changing in the loo that I become unable to make conversation – and I will have worried myself stupid that exactly that would happen! But I can’t stop it because I find myself physically as well as mentally overwhelmed. And that’s the other problem: anxiety comes with a whole host of physical complaints. Headaches, sleepiness, shakes, skin problems, stomach pains and digestive problems, hot flushes, caffeine intolerance, weak muscles… The urge to crawl away and sleep in a dark corner comes over me as an answer to all my problems regularly.

For most of my life I haven’t talked about this because I didn’t even admit it to myself. When I started to notice at some point in my childhood that I seemed to need more time out than other kids I didn’t want it discussed, I just wanted to be left alone. As a teenager, dominated by hormones, I fought against the anxiety and tried to block the imagined disasters for a while and tried to be more outgoing, more active, but I look back now and realise my trying-to-be-normal behaviour was just daft and out-of-character. My life seemed to be full of much nervous garbling and much exhaustion. So worried was I by my own silences I thought I had to fill them by speaking tosh.

Still in denial – and possibly rather afraid of the outcome of any self-analysis – I struggled to maintain what I perceived as normality by watching others. I copied patterns of behaviour that didn’t necessarily feel comfortable for me but that’s what we humans do, isn’t it: try to fit in with majority behaviour? The fact that I would often find myself pacing up and down the sitting room crying and biting my fingers until they bled didn’t suggest to me that I was becoming a little like a caged animal by denying myself my instinctive behaviour, no – strangely, I would just move on and pretend it hadn’t happened and carry on looking to others for clues.

But it was when I started to get the more frightening ‘What if…?’ disaster feelings every day about three years ago, that I started to worry about myself and wonder if it would ever stop. I compared myself with people who wrote about their food intolerances, depression, bipolarism, and saw similarities, but not enough to feel that any of those were what I was struggling through. Why was I so frightened all the time? Something told me this wasn’t about needing medication, major life-style changes or forcing myself out of this. I began to feel that this was more to do with understanding and accepting something rather than fighting. But understanding what?
Starting writing helped. It helped a lot and it has continued to help. Throw a lot of ‘What if…?’ situations into a short story and Hey Presto! my imagination’s had a little outing and it’s happy and bothers me with less with the madness, and I’m happy because I’ve created something and have given myself a present. Separating the real from the imagined like that is therapeutic, I’ve found. But what also helped was taking writing courses that included life-writing. Hesitant and embarrassed at first, I was convinced I had to nothing to say, nothing that anyone else would be interested in, but a wealth of strong emotions and memories came tumbling out. There was a lot of guilt in there: guilt for not appreciating my father while he was still alive, there was an enormous sense of loss that I hadn’t dealt with, but there was a surprising amount of childlike vulnerability that I didn’t recognise and wasn’t sure if I liked it.

And then recently I discovered the connection between grief and anxiety. My anxiety had become slowly worse just after my father had died. (It seems crazy now – that I hadn’t made this connection but I suppose when you are not only denying that you have a problem but that you are worthy of any analysis you are not looking for solutions.)
I had anxiety. Of course! It was okay to accept that, and in doing so to begin to manage my life a little bit better around it. So now I know that when I am being irrational by imagining the worst too often it is because I have suffered a great loss in my life.

But all this has opened up some very very old wounds indeed and made me understand something about myself that I had been blocking for nearly forty years…

Thirty-nine years ago, when I was three years old, my 13-month-old sister, Beatrice, died.

I rarely talk about the death of my baby sister. I don’t like to “use” her (for want of a better word) or my family. I don’t feel like I own the monopoly on the pain that her death left. My parents, of course, were totally devastated when she died and I always felt that the greatest portion of the pain belonged to them. I also felt that my sisters have suffered in their own very different and individual ways because of what happened to our family, and I couldn’t take my own loss and discuss it separately. It’s been a bit of a taboo, I suppose. But the life-writing, the feelings after my father’s death, reading about anxiety, and the sudden increase in fear and the childlike feelings that were emerging made me remember dreams I had when I was four: I kept dreaming that my new baby sister was going to get hurt. Bad, bad things had happened and could happen again, I must have thought. This must have given way to the extreme and terrifying dreams. Too young to realise or explain my fears I suppose I absorbed them and turned them into dreams and now they are part of who I am: anxious.

Today had Debilitating Anxiety written all over it from the start. I’m not sure what the trigger was (perhaps concern about my Open University degree) but I knew it wasn’t just regular anxiety – it was Dave. I began to blow everything out of proportion. So, I ate the banana. I organised my thoughts. I gave myself permission to write.

There’s a still a young, vulnerable part of me who needs to express those emotions she bottled up for so long, but I’m feeling less anxious already just because I’m accepting everything.

And because I ate a banana, I expect


How to Be a Successful Modern Family Woman

This is one end of our hall. The other end is even messier. There are five of us making this mess. Six, if you include the dog. (He’s responsible for making the carpets permanently filthy.)
Sometimes I look around me and think that it looks more like twenty people live here, we have that much clutter and footwear.
I often wake in the middle of the night and think I am failing as a woman/wife/mother because I am not keeping things tidier (I promise you it’s not all about the hall). But deep down I know that tidiness is not a representation of any sort of success in those roles.

So I thought about how I could get through the days (and nights) without beating myself up over every little imperfection.

And this is what I came up with:

Add “Look tired” to your list of desired achievements for the day. (TICK!)

Make “Emergency ponytail” your favourite hairstyle.

Make “Teaching daughters about feminism” your reason for having breakfast dishes on the kitchen table all day and a confusion of clean and dirty laundry strewn around the house

Add “Check Twitter” to every even number on your “(AS LONG AS IT TAKES, OKAY!?) To-do” list.

Add beguiling entries to said list, such as: “Read that thing I have to read”, “Google that important thingy”, and “clear out underwear drawer”. Tick them and put list on fridge for all to see. This turns the guilt of time spent reading, web-browsing and having no clean underwear into achievements.

Wear a “Period Pains Hurt!” t-shirt once-a-month – or anytime you need people to sod off and stop asking you to do too many things.
(“The Menopause Is No Joke!” “Ask Me When I’ve Had Enough Sleep” and “The Most Productive People Take Breaks” are also useful for sending an important message)

Get “Superwoman Doesn’t Exist”, “Oh, Sod it!” and “All the best people are a bit smelly & messy” magnets for your fridge.

Have a partner who is a partner and not a stereotype.

Before anyone can ask you about all the things you haven’t done tell them all the things you have done.

Every time anyone says anything about how much better things used to be when families were more disciplined, mention the mass, hidden, domestic, mental and physical abuse of women and children of the nineteen fifties and the inequality and fear of the patriarchal figure that stinted the potential of many people for many years and still fuels the guilt and perceived (= made up) duties of the twentieth-first century woman.

Know that the best people trust you and like you a lot more when they know that you are not perfect

Never allow chores or household appliances to remain an enigma. Repeatedly marvel at how fun and easy the dishwasher/washing machine/cooker/vacuum cleaner are to use instead of being truthful about how depressing housework is. (Now that I’ve read this through I want to point out that what I mean by this is other household members should be allowed and encouraged to do more)

Don’t be a domestic goddess because your daughters will think they have to be a domestic goddess and your sons will expect their wives to be a domestic goddess and you don’t want that do you?
Well. I don’t.

Not Swimming But Running Away

If you were to write down a list of the top twenty most important things to you and a list of the top twenty annoyances and asked lots of people whom you consider to be like you, or friends or family to do the same, and then compared them, there would be a few disappointments in every list – disappointing ways of looking at the world that leave you wishing they didn’t think like that and you’d rather they saw things more the way you did.

I expect if you asked the whole world to do it and created a database you’d have difficulty finding someone with the same lists. All forty the same? It would be harder than winning the lottery, surely? But perhaps that’s easier to cope with when you don’t know them. It’s weird when people see things very differently from us but if they’re strangers then we can dislike people’s views, even dismiss them as wrong perhaps. ‘Oh, they’re just “other”.’

It’s a simple fact that there is NO ONE that sees the world EXACTLY like us.
I kind of accept that.
Someone else might say they are avid musical-theatre-goers, fans of Bruce Springsteen, think that their hamsters are the most important creature in the whole wide world and that Roquefort cheese should be a main meal on Sundays – just like I do*, of course! 😉 – but there will always be a disappointment in there, a niggle that instantly repulses me for a few seconds, minutes or hours perhaps. Maybe I will remember forever how, despite the fact that we have so much else in common, Susie in Chichester likes planting Leylandii trees and I can never forgive her for that. In fact a little bit of my love for her secretly died when I found that out.
(It’s okay, Chichester people, she’s not real).

We should accept differences, avoid confrontation, and get over it, yes? It’s a rare treat when we find people we feel comfortable being ourselves around and we should come to terms with the fact that we’re all a bit different, you can’t change people so just enjoy their company, right?

And yet I’m still disillusioned and disheartened regularly. I don’t know why. I guess I just want to find more people that I feel completely comfortable with. It would be like a holiday to not have stomach-churning disappointment each time someone said something that didn’t sit comfortably with me. If another parent mentions the words ‘Gina Ford’ for instance, I instantly think, Oh God. Please tell me you didn’t?! And then I never forget. We’re not the same. We have major parenting differences, I’ll think to myself forever and ever after that how I’ll never be able to have that discussion with them about how much I loathe Gina Ford…

If someone says they respect Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell or Jeremy Clarkson… (I have a list) I visibly deflate a little and hope I’m not the only one in the room who doesn’t agree with the person speaking. Sometimes I disagree so much with someone’s opinions that I would rather be alone because to stay in that person’s company would either mean having a disagreement or keeping quiet and being quiet means being unfaithful to my own values. I can’t stand the thought of either.

And then there’s the extreme.
Have you ever been in a position where you find yourself thinking, I don’t agree with what’s being said here. I’m the only person sitting at this table who thinks like this ? I have. Too many times.

I expect it is one of the reasons why I write. And why I use Twitter. If there is only a metaphorical table of people sitting staring at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou all ready to disagree with me at the same time at least in writing I can get my own feelings across before they shout me down, patronise me or frighten me into silence.

When I say “frighten” I mean I don’t like arguing – so much so that I shake. Those within my shield of safety will laugh at this because I do argue with my husband. But I don’t like people throwing an entirely different viewpoint from mine in my face and either getting away with it without being challenged or preparing themselves to do battle with my views. It doesn’t change my mind it just makes me want to run away from confrontation. So I need people who see the world as closely as possible to the way I see it around me.

Exactly the way I see it, if possible.

Which, of course, is no one.

We should do that list. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours



Anybody there???

PS Near the top of my annoyances list would be:
There are far too many cat photos on the Internet. It drives me nuts. Seriously.

Cue dinner party table of people looking at me in bewilderment/horror/shock/pity/ or whathaveyou…

*I don’t like Bruce Springsteen, Roquefort or people treating their pets like children and I don’t go to musical theatre


The first thing you notice as a child is how it feels like you’re not having to wait so long for Christmas to come around again each year. The next thing you notice is that you’re old enough to leave school, then old enough to drink, old enough to vote – officially an adult! Oh – boy – how you can’t wait to leave your parents’ house and use all your new adult rights. 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays seem to come almost back-to-back. Whoosh! Where did those teenage years go?!
But when your parents celebrate big birthday milestones: their fortieth, their fiftieth, they seem old, and really properly growing-up still seems like a long way off for you yet.

But those Christmases still keep coming thicker and faster, and before you know it you’ve celebrated twenty Christmases, twenty-five Christmases and you can’t believe how quickly summer comes and goes each year. Is it really time for Wimbledon again? you ask yourself.

And then suddenly you find out you’re going to be a parent and you have 8 or 9 months to get used to the idea and then before you’re ready you’re holding a screaming baby in the supermarket with sick on your shoulder and your clothes on inside out and an irritating old woman tells you to ‘Make the most of it. They’ll be grown-up before you know it.’ But you don’t know it and you don’t want to know it because you haven’t slept and you want to tell her to piss off.

And then it’s a baby’s first Christmas and then it is Grandad’s last Christmas. And you yawn, scream and plod through the terrible twos and troublesome threes and Wimbledon again. And then the kids are at school and you’re giving away toddler toys and you notice for the first time how old your parents are looking and you scratch your head and think Gosh am I really a parent? What happened there? And the kids make mess and they make noise and they need less and they want more: they want food and things and money and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and then one of them looks up thoughtfully and says, ‘Cor. Christmas again already. That year went fast.’

And then taking down the Christmas decorations seems to lead directly into Wimbledon and it hardly seems worth putting the boxes away because you’ll be getting them out again in a minute. And then you catch your reflection in the hall mirror wearing a waterproof jacket and holding a garden centre list as you head downstairs with a thoroughly grown-up serious face just like those you saw on your parents’ faces. And someone in the garden centre tells you your eldest daughter looks just like you used to at that age.

It wasn’t such a long way off after all.

And then you notice that the apples have started growing on the tress again already and it dawns on you that it is precisely 18 years since you first found out you were going to be a parent.

No Going Back

I’ve been waiting recently.
Waiting to get back to normal.
I’ve felt wrong – sometimes unwell, sometimes tired, sometimes exceptionally withdrawn and unable to communicate effectively. I thought this would go when my studying finished, when the children were all well at the same time, when summer came, when we’d recovered from the shock of losing both our fathers, when… well… I suppose I was waiting for a period of unease to become a period of feeling more light-hearted.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I suppose some kind of lifting of dark clouds, a new energy, my mind and body sighing with relief. Cheerfulness maybe.

My plan was that every night I was going to go to bed with a book and read for pleasure again, free my mind of academic pressure, enjoy not feeling stressed or gloomy or overwhelmed by study pressure or family worries. I was going to spend more time with my husband and we would laugh more, talk more, and feel released from (some of) the confines of stress that we’ve had to deal with recently.

But it hasn’t come. I’m still not laughing. I still don’t feel released. I’m still not reading – books feel like a commitment for which I can’t promise my full attention right to the end. And I guess I’m scared: scared of reading something demanding – emotionally or intellectually – perhaps. And I don’t want to be disappointed either. Life has disappointed me too often in the last 4 years. God forbid I should read a disappointing book on top of everything else!

I still feel stuck in a new way of regarding life – as a serious of difficulties, stresses, worries and losses. I still feel uneasy and troubled. I am fluttery and nervous like a butterfly unable to land on wet ground for fear of drowning. I don’t trust life now. It’s as if there is no dry land anymore.

Maybe it’s something about being British – or English perhaps – a certain avoidance of the realities of life and death. So that when our lives do throw those realities at us it is so unexpected that we recoil and struggle to readjust. In seven years the very shape and makeup of my and Richard’s families have changed drastically through several deaths (and births, but mostly deaths). It’s not something we were ready for and maybe that’s a fault of our culture in this country: denial of the reality and brevity of life.

I now know how quickly life can change and life can go. I can’t assume old age will be awarded to everyone and I think throwing myself into things that demanded that I got outside of my own head for years and concentrated on other people’s words helped me avoid dealing with what had happened inside me and around me.

The shape of my life and the shape of me have changed. There is no getting back into my cocoon like an uneasy butterfly longing for my caterpillar years. I have to learn to deal with who I am now – what I have and do not have now. I have fewer of the people I love in my life now and so does Richard. We have both lost that youthful security that being surrounding by elderly relatives provided.
We can’t go back. We can’t ever feel how we did before. We have to sift those lighter moments from each day and enjoy them for what they are and live with less expectation.

So instead of living with a ‘Phew. I’ve got through that. Where’s my reward? Now let’s get back to normal’ mentality, and thinking I might go back to less stressful times, I now have to learn to flap my wings even though I feel heavy. And I have to land occasionally – even though I sense danger – because you can’t flutter forever.
I suppose a period of readjustment takes time as well as swapping expectance for acceptance.

Richard’s recently acquired a new catchphrase from somewhere: ‘It is what it is, isn’t it?’

It is.

PS. Books: If you’re reading this and know of a cast-iron guaranteed page-turner that’s not too demanding intellectually or emotionally but also not disappointing please let me know. (Not a youthful rom-com that reminds me that I’m past it either!) I think it’s just the kick up the butt I need to get me reading again.

Dear Children…

Dear Children,

Despite some things you might be told or you might hear or you might read about always trying your hardest, trying to be the best at what you do, and making choices in early life about how you might live your adult life, I – as your loving mother – see things slightly differently.

You see, I’ve thought a lot recently about this being the best thing and what I’ve noticed is that while people are trying to beat everyone else they are not necessarily being the best and nicest person they can be.
I’ve noticed too that constant testing makes children, parents and teachers anxious about performance. Performance? Isn’t that a word for the stage? For car engines? I don’t think you should expect yourselves either to act a certain way or drive yourself a certain way as if you are a machine.

No. I want you to be yourselves.

Over the last 2 years, the system which has taken over your childhoods, has made me worry that my youngest child hadn’t learnt to write and spell by the age of six (six?!), that my middle child was “lazy” because his handwriting isn’t neat, that my eldest child might suffer under the strain of having to choose a university and future career before she’s finished growing.
The system made me think for a time that always doing one’s best, always working hard was important.


So I stopped. I thought about this and I thought about you three and I thought about myself and I thought about those “at the top” status-wise, power-wise, money-wise, fame-wise, in all sorts of different areas of life and I thought, ‘Is that what my children want? Is that what I want?’
What do I want from you and for you? I wondered.

Well. I want nothing from you. That is my gift. It came when I gave you life.

But what I want for you is happiness, I want you to live, I want you to know about what is real, I want you to look around you and see other people and wildlife and the world you share with them. I do not want you thinking you are better than other people or lowlier than other people. I do not want you always striving for status, money, power or recognition. I do not want you worrying about performance but about reasons and enjoyment when you choose to do something.
I want you to remember that life is short and can sometimes be shorter than we expect.

I want you to remember to watch sunrises and sunsets, to listen to birdsong, to follow the waxing and waning of the moon, to fall in and out of and back in love. I want you to cry at the suffering of others not at a C instead of a B. I want you to be out of the range of judgement but because that is impossible I want you to know how false all judgement is. I want you to appreciate what you can do because it gives you pleasure not be constantly comparing yourself with others – or worse still a fake set of standards about what is better.

Striving for positions, for power, for a big bank balance, for notoriety, for the “top” always comes at a price. Being a good, genuine, caring, life-embracing human-being comes with rewards.

There are different types of respect that come with the different paths one can take in life. I can’t tell you which ones to take but I’m certainly not going to push you down one that gives you pain.

You were born with five senses and big brains on a beautiful planet surrounded by other creatures that could do with a bit more respect. I hope you come to realise that the rest is less important.

Don’t be fooled by what others – who are too caught up in made-up stuff – tell you is good and bad. Be happy, be good, be kind, be open-minded, and think of life not as giving, taking, and succeeding but as being for a while. Being you.


All my love, always,

PS Please stop leaving the lid off the peanut butter