Thursday, 27 September 2012

H & M

Could we have a photo of you, your husband and your kids? asks the email from the Daily Mail. They want it to go with an article. 

Um, I think for a second. No. The article is about sex, how to have some when you have teenagers, not that I know the answer to this, which is why I pitched the idea. Husband says I should ask around and get tips.

Sorry, I reply, could you use a library photo, or one just of me perhaps? If you must.

Apparently they must because the next thing I know I have an email from the picture desk. I must not wear jeans, or black; a dress is best. 

A dress! Do they read my blog? (They don’t, of course, but really they should, they should feature it in Femail, mental note: I will suggest this). If they did they would know I'm dress mad, it's a problem, I have a thousand. I've thought about blogging about them, a different one each time, I reckon it could keep me in material for a year. What did Nora Ephron say? Everything is copy? Damn right. Even my sex life. 

Now the picture editor wants to know my dress size, they might bring clothes. 

Eight, I type, sometimes ten if it’s jeans from Top Shop, which are made for anorexic teenagers, obviously, not forty-something mums with increasingly curvy curves, (must get back on the rower again this week). Then I think, why am I telling him this? I'll just wear one of my many dresses, of course, I'm over-sharing again. (I didn't tell him the bit about the rowing machine. I do over-share, but not that much.) 

I email back, then I get a call sheet (a call sheet!) confirming the time on Saturday, the photographer and another name with the initials H & M next to it. H & M? Hennes? So they will be sending clothes. How odd. 

So, now I am in flat spin, staggering to the end of busy week - late night cinema, boozy book group, tennis and tutor run, evening 6th form meeting, all-day-shop-till-you- drop-fest at Westfield, not to mention a bit of work. I'm knackered. I look in the mirror, it's just as I suspected: awful. AND THEY ARE SENDING A PHOTOGRAPHER. What on earth can I do in just 48 hours to shave off ten years? I text lovely hairdresser: Help! Can he squeeze me in for blow-dry? He can. He is lifesaver. But he only has 9.30. He will open the salon for me. It's a bit early and will complicate sports runs/husband’s training for marathon/my rowing, but beggars can’t be choosers. I take it.

I hardly sleep on Friday night, upon waking I look straight in the mirror, it's even worse, the under-eye bags have their own bags now and poor husband, who is the house alarm clock because he always wakes so early, has been cleaning the slimy green fish tank since dawn, just in case it’s in the back of the shot, like that time when the Guardian photographer came, so he is very grumpy and, much more importantly, has forgotten to wake Youngest. 

Mad panic to get Youngest dressed, breakfasted and out of the house in time for fencing club and me to the hairdresser, and there's a fish tank in the bath, which makes showering tricky.

Husband drops me off, I have life-saving blow-dry, I walk all the way home, which is a mile at least, because the car is needed for more sports runs. I haven’t had breakfast. I am even more knackered than before, it's only 10.30, I'm going to a hen night later, which starts at 4.00, in the afternoon.

I run round the house tidying. They might go in the living room/kitchen/downstairs loo/bedroom to look at my clothes (they do). I can’t sit down. I feel jittery. I look in the mirror: still worse. But the hair is nice, as it should be for £25. Twenty-five quid! There's a phone call, the photographer will be with you a bit after 12, hair and make-up are arriving in a minute. 

Hair and make-up? H & M. Damn it. I am an idiot. A tired, old-looking idiot. With very expensive hair.

And then they don't use a photo with the article anyway, but I got them to send me one... for my mum, of course.

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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Love is...

Now that I'm a member of the Mumsnet bloggers network they keep sending me tips. I should list what my blog is about apparently, and the sort of things I'm into so that people looking for similar topics can find it. 

So here it is, apart from my children, husband and whole extended family, whom I love beyond words, of course, below are all the other things I love, in no particular order... 

The Beatles, of course,
Owls and all things owlish,
David Hockney and that reminds me of…
Yorkshire, especially York, my home town and
Vancouver, where I lived as a child and
Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, which reminds me of 
My Grandpa and 
Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no 2, the music in
Brief Encounter, one of my favourite films, as is
The English Patient ditto quirky films like
The Darjeeling Ltd and also
Tamara Drew and
Rear Windows, my favourite Hitchcock. And

Fig trees,
Magnolia trees and all trees in fact plus
Flowers and 
The Chelsea Flower Show with my
Daddy, of course, and
Cream teas, with or without my Daddy, and
Fizzy wine! And
Feeling warm and
Fountains and talking to my 
Mum. Also

Cooking (when I have time) and
Eating food cooked by others when I don’t and
Shelves and
Compliments and reading
Newspapers and features by
Caitlin Moran,
Lynn Barber,
Nancy Banks Smith and the column by
Tim Dowling and browsing in
Kitchen shops, especially
Peter Jones! And

Cold beer and 
Crisps on
Friday nights!
Earl grey tea – nice and hot when you get in, and
Funny people,
Pretty dresses,
Reading out loud to my kids and
Butter – on everything! And

Lying by a pool on holiday reading any
Jane Austen or
Gone With the Wind or
Birdsong or
Cider with Rosie or
Anna Karenina or
Madame Bovary or watching BBC
Period dramas and then taking
Long country walks, with a pub, and
Family photos all round the house, also
Pictures on walls - in groups - and

Reading, reading, reading but most of all
Writing and the
Theatre and
Modest people and
Swimming and
Going to sleep and
Candles and fairy lights,
Clever jokes,
Radio 4 and
Christmas (of course!).

Having a bath, a hot one and then eating
Cake and having
Sex (that’s a given) and going to the
The V & A and having 
A roaring fire back at home, which is totally
Tidy! (better than sex). And don't forget
Views (especially in Italy) and
Coffee with friends and the programme
Who Do You Think You Are? and all 
History and
My iMac (which I'm at right now) and
Cockney Rebel, Come Up And See Me (happy song),
Matisse ... and most of all
Being a mum.

Have I missed something?

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Sixth Form

“Wow,” I say to Eldest as he swans in the door from school, hair gelled back off face, headphones slung round neck, Che Guevara style military jacket from Camden market, Joy Division t-shirt, faded jeans, Art folder. “Do you have crocodiles of girls following you down the corridors?” 

Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing mothers should say to their sons? Maybe it’s all a bit Oedipal? but I remember those arty boys in the sixth form. I remember the sixth form. Feels like yesterday.

Was there ever a better time? Only doing subjects you were really into. Not having to wear school uniform. Not having to worry about being called a swot because everyone there was one by definition. Having a common room with a kettle. Making Cup-a-Soup. I don’t even think we liked Cup-a-Soup and we drank gallons of the stuff. And we were allowed out. 

There was one pre-Christmas jaunt to the pub about a mile down the road I remember particularly well. Four of us, two boys, two girls; we walked all the way there in the snow, drank cider, of course, and then staggered and slipped our way back just in time for double English. 

Everything about that memory is white-clear and crisp as the snow was that day and there was definitely the unmistakable whiff of something in the air. A sexual charge perhaps, the conspiracy of new found freedom maybe, or just being on the edge of something really... well, edgy. 

I was desperate for a boyfriend then. I think I still fancied Kevin Morris. He never fancied me, of course, especially after my mother gave me the invaluable top tip that I should smile encouragingly if I liked a boy so that I stood in the corridor - I think this was in the 5th Year - and grinned inanely at the poor kid as he strolled past on the way to Chemistry. My cheeks hurt afterwards and he gave me an even wider berth than before, and we certainly never shared a bunsen burner after that. 

Oh well, it all worked out. I hear he works in a bank now. (Not for one.) 

I was too skinny, too spotty and too swotty and then all at once the boobs arrived, I discovered my grandmother’s old sun lamp (cleared the spots), and Sun In (bleached the hair), and hey presto, struck gold at the very next Young Farmer's disco when a tall, dark, handsome boy fixed his eyes on me from the edge of the dance floor, watched me all night and then asked me out. 

It was like something out of Tess of the D’Urbervilles - except the country lasses had perms and leg warmers and wiggled provocatively to Body Talk by Imagination instead of skipping round a May Pole. 

He was home for the weekend from university. Read it: UNIVERSITY. My very own Angel Clare. And then he walked me to the bus stop where, to use vernacular of the day, we snogged and it was the best night of my life so far. I went out with him for three years after that. (Ended messily when I went off to university myself, a different one, but that’s another story.) Oh to be in the sixth form again, to have all that excitement stretching ahead…

It’s hard when you know it's only going to be down hill from here, the doors of possibility slowly closing one by one, some of them even slamming rather hard, the body gradually crumbling, starting with failing eye sight. 

Never again will I dance at a Young Farmer's disco or be admired by a handsome young man from the sidelines. It’s my children’s turn for all that sort of thing now (well, maybe not the young men but you never know and I’d better remain broad minded) and the last time I looked they were babies and I was taking some time off work. How did this happen?

Oh dear, I think Eldest starting in the sixth form has prompted a mid-life crisis. How very predictable.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Tuesday. “How about we go and see the Munch together this week?” I say to Eldest. 

I think we need to bond a bit before he goes back to school. The new term already started for the other two.  

“’s at the Tate Modern.”

"Hmmm,” ponders Eldest and I can see, to his credit, that he doesn’t want to go but has the decency not to want to offend. This time. 

“I might be going to Paris,” he says. 

This is the first I’ve heard. 

“Really? Who with?”

“Well… David has a mate with a place there, so, we might get the coach.”

Eldest is sixteen. He’s only ever been away without us on a school trip.

“Right,” I say. “Well, if you don’t go to Paris perhaps you’d like to come to the Munch with me?” 

Then I leave it.

Wednesday. “So… what about the Munch then?” 

“Yeah, maybe,” says Eldest, “it’s just, I might be going to Brussels...”

“Brussels?” I say, cool as a cucumber, “I thought it was Paris?”

“No, Brussels, David has a friend there and we might be able to stay.”

“I’m sure you said Paris… ”

“What do they speak in Brussels?” he asks, ignoring my point, “is it Belgian?”

Middle One snorts derisively. “You twat! It’s French, or maybe sometimes Flemish, there’s no such thing as Belgian!”

“Oh yeah," laughs Eldest, unfazed, "right, well, whatever, I might be going there… or I might be going camping.”

“Right,” I say, “but if you don’t go to Brussels or Paris or camping we could go to the Munch on Friday, I could book it.”

“Friday will be the day we’re going,” he says, “if we’re going.”

Late Wednesday. I go up to his room just before bed and he pauses the laptop so I can’t see what he was watching (it was only Seinfeld) and I say, “I thought I might book tickets tomorrow to see the Munch, if you can’t come I’ll take a friend.”

“Okay,” he says, “but I don’t think I like Munch.”

I’m not sure I like Munch either but that isn’t the point so I google it on the laptop and find a short film about the exhibition. We watch it together. “Looks good,” says Eldest. And he’s right, it does. So the next day I book it, for Friday.

Thursday. I get back late from the theatre and with no signs of a trip to Pairs or Brussels or camping in the offing, I say, “so, are we off to the Munch tomorrow? It’s booked for 11.30.”

“Oh no,” he says mildly, “way too early, I can’t get up then and I don’t really want to go anyway.” 

“Please go upstairs,” I say to Husband later when Eldest has left the room, “and tell him you really think he should go to the Munch with me. I think it will be good for us.” 

“What did he say?” I ask, when Husband gets back down. “He says that’s fine,” he says.

Friday. So we go to the Munch and for the first hour, as we walk down the road and he strides off ahead with his headphones on and ignores me, except to tell me to hurry up because I’m “bloody slow” and when we get out at London Bridge and he tells me I’m “an idiot” for pausing for a moment to get my bearings, I think, why the hell did I persist with this? Why didn’t I just go with a friend and have a nice time instead of taking this rude, unappreciative, slouching teenager?

And then we go round the exhibition, hardly talking, with our audio guides on, me keeping my distance, and then we have lunch together, and then something wonderful happens. He smiles. He relaxes. He starts to talk. We decide to take a look at the Damian Hirst as well because a friend gave us her membership card and we can get in for free and we have a great time in there, ripping it all to shreds, telling each other how stupid it is.

And then we go home, walking through Borough Market, side by side, the sun shining and all the people looking beautiful and happy and London never more stunning and me out in the world with my wonderful 16 year-old son, who I love so much and who I don’t regret taking with me at all, not for a moment. And then we get home and I say, "that was great, I really enjoyed that: being with you,” and he says, “yes, me too, thanks for taking me.”

And I think there's a moral there, if you can find it, about teenagers and not giving up on them, about reaching out and finding that beneath it all there's still a lovely person there. Somewhere. 

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Saturday, 8 September 2012

Clothes for the Congo

I’m knee deep in boxer shorts, can’t tell the difference between any of them, Husband’s, Eldest’s, Middle One’s… Okay Youngest’s I can tell, they’re tiny, he has the smallest bottom in the world, but sorting the others is a nightmare. Ditto the socks. I’d like to burn them all.

Four hours into the job, with coat hangers and clothes all over the floor, and I wish I hadn’t started this whole sorting-out-their-clothes-for-the-new-term thing. Now I’m going to get ruthless…. Will I really hand those faded torn jeans down to Youngest when the time comes? No. Out they go. Are those orange cords nice? No, the legs are so baggy they look like flares. Who knew that only six short years ago little boys wore trousers with such wide legs? Something you don't consider when buying expensive clothes for the children. Well, they can always be handed down, you think. No they can't.

Seven bin bags full of old stuff to get rid of now. We could clothe an African village. Or three. But no doubt I’ll be driving round with them in the car for days before I actually bring myself to part with it all. What if there's something in there we really need? It always feels like I'm throwing their childhoods away...

Finally I'll do it. I know I will. Bin bags hauled out of car with the hazards flashing on a red route, shoved into one of those giant bins or the hands of a smiling, benevolent old lady in a charity shop, phase one of their journey to a Congolese village, I hope. 

Once there, little bare footed cherubs of my imaginings will snatch it all up, pull on those Red Herring T-shirts with incomprehensible slogans, the faded stripey Boden hoodies, even those GAP orange cords with the flappy legs, and run off delighted and laughing, kicking up red African dust in their wake... and then boil to death. That's what I like to think anyway (not the boiling to death), you can blame The Poisonwood Bible if you like. In reality it will probably all end up clothing delinquents in a Young Offenders Institute in Hull.

So, six hours of sorting and now Eldest has nothing to wear, bare hangers swing in his wardrobe and he’s starting in the Sixth form on Monday where no doubt it’s going to be fashion, fashion, fashion all the way. Middle One is okay-ish, not much in the way of jeans and trousers for him because older brother has a particularly bony left knee, which wears through everything so there’s nothing to hand down, but he’s well served for school uniform and t-shirts. Youngest, meanwhile, has seventeen pairs of jeans in every conceivable colour and eleven hoodies - all of which look like they might finally fit him sometime in 2016.

And there’s still my ironing and putting away pile from the summer holiday we returned from more than two weeks ago. I just tipped it all out on the guest room bed to make a start…

Ho hum.

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