Tamsin's World

Family life, adventures and food

New hair day

It’s new hair day for me today.  Of course, this means that inexplicably today my hair will look practically perfect instead of the ratty birds nest with overgrown roots which it has resembled for the past month.  Leading me to wonder why I am about to fork out on expensive colour and cut for my already perfect mane.  A quick scroll through my recent camera roll soon reminds me that yes indeed my roots are horrendous (and not in a cool ombre way) and that from behind I could get mistaken for Wurzel Gummidge and that today’s shiny locks are a cruel trick sent to confuse and test my tiny mind.

In preparation for haircut day I used to buy a couple of hair magazines and pore over the styles before selecting one and cutting it out to take along to the hairdressers.  These days we have the smorgasbord of unattainable style that is Pinterest to, electronically, serve the same purpose.  I’m sure that all hairdressers up and down the land roll their eyes when they get sent a pre-cut photo with helpful phrases like ‘I want it to look like this but a slightly darker version and not as short’.  I can while away hours flicking through Pinterest photos of haircuts – carefully considering multiple styles which I know I will never ever choose in real life.

I’m a bit of a hair whore.  Fickle.  Not committed to one particular style.  My best friend from university has had the same hair since we met 24 years ago.  Slightly varying lengths and occasionally with a slight fringe element but she has remained faithful to the long, thick, shiny brunette hair which she was born with.  I find this massively reassuring.  If on one of our meet ups she arrived with a blonde pixie cut my world view would be shattered and I think I would feel very unsettled indeed.  Possibly in a needing to lie in a darkened room weeping and watching Reality Bites and eating hobnobs way.

Not so for my own hair.  I don’t think that this blog post is actually long enough to list all the different hair styles I’ve tried over the years.  Short, very short, mid length – never actually made it to long – mainly because I lack any kind of patience or commitment to the endeavour.  Colourwise  I’ve been blonde, very blonde, slightly gone wrong home dyed orangey blonde, red, brunette, very dark.  People ask me quizzically what my natural hair colour actually is.  Buggered if I know.  Some kind of greying muddy brown I should imagine.  I don’t really ever plan to find out.

I’ll pore over the pages of pinterest and the rational, intelligent part of my mind ceases to exist.  Oooooo, that angular assymetric cut looks amazing, I think, I want it.  I never take into account the inescapable fact of the matter, which is the fact that I have, to my eternal chagrin, shit hair.

To be fair, I’m not sure that I know anyone who genuinely looks in the mirror and thinks ‘Check me and my fine locks out.  I am a veritable Rapunzel.  My hair is exactly how I want it and its glossy bounciness is the envy of all and sundry.  I love it.  Swish, swish, flick.’  The majority of us think our hair is a bit shit.  Not always in the same way though admittedly.  This is how mine is shit.  It’s really fine, it grows at the speed of a snail which has been stepped on and is slithering home to die.  It is the straightest hair in history and remarkably curl resistant.  In the halcyon days of the perm my mum’s friend Janet, who was a hairdresser from her kitchen, had to perm my hair twice to get any hint of a curl out of it.  And even then I had an odd pretty much straight fringe going on and then some kind of triangular crimped curl affair going on for the rest of it.  I mean, it could have been that Janet was just a shit hairdresser but all I know is that it most definitely did not resemble Charlene from Neighbours.  It was definitely more Henry.  My hair has zero natural body and can simultaneously look limp and messy.  It turns magically into an untameable birds nest each and every night.  It’s straight but there will always be a bit that goes against the grain and sticks out from my head at an odd angle.

But do I take any of that into consideration when I am planning my next hair style?  Do I heck.  What’s 42 years of experience of my crappy locks got to do with it?  This time is going to be the time I discover the PERFECT style – the one which looks nice every single day,  The one that people comment on.  And in a good way.  The colour which makes me look 5 years younger.

Of course, I have extensive photographic evidence attesting to the many haircuts I’ve had which do none of those things.  Straight after I had the kids I had my hair cut short.  REALLY SHORT.  Partly it was because my postpartum hair is even more shit than my normal hair and after 9 months of my hair tricking me that actually it could be long and quick growing and lustrous it cruelly reminded me that no it couldn’t, and along with lady undercarriage it was falling out in chunks and looking rather lacklustre.  Mitch was the kind of [evil] baby who liked to grip my hair in tiny vice like hands and refuse to let go until it was in clumps in his hands and after one too many times of me having to bash him like a rabid pit bull to get him to let go I decided to have a pixie crop.  I go back to my  crazed, sleep deprived, small baby momma self and say this ‘Tamsin, why for fuck’s sake did you cut all your hair off at precisely the time when your face was fatter than at any other time in your life?  When you had no time to ever apply make up or any styling product?  Don’t do this to yourself.  Stick with a pony tail. ‘

My mum always says that when she thinks of me she thinks of me with blonde hair.  I am a natural blonde.  HA HA HA HA HA.  Well, I was blonde until about the age of 4 and then my hair got browner and browner until I got to the age to chemically treat it and now nobody knows what the heck colour it is.  It’s definitely not blonde though unless a vat of bleach has been applied.  My roots make it pretty clear that blonde is not my natural pelt.

My pinterest hair board has all sorts of styles saved to it.   About 3 per cent of them would actually work on my hair.  But that’s just defeatist isn’t it.  My miracle worker of a hairdresser (who no doubt is at home right now rolling her eyes as she prepares to come and sort out my mess and make it look vaguely like a photo of a model 20 years younger with me who has lustrous locks for days that I have texted her).  I have to confess to her that since she last did my hair I have cheated on her with a box of home dye, because I had no time to make an appointment, and that now she has an even bigger mess than usual to sort out.

I kind of want her to storm in and lay it out on the table ‘look Tamsin, you’re getting on a bit, you’re not kidding anyone that you’re trendy even if you do wear dungarees and statement t-shirts.  The best course of action is some tasteful highlights in honey and caramel and an inch off the bottom to tidy it all up and then let’s leave it there shall we because anything else YOU WILL REGRET’.  But of course, she’s a hairdresser and it’s her job to do what her customer wants,  even if that customer is a deluded fuckwit like me.

I’m not a religious person but I think I need to print off this little prayer/mantra to keep with me for the appointment.

Grant me the power, oh hair dresser on high, to resist the urge to get lots chopped off.  Remind me in my time of struggle that it has taken me 5 long years to grow my fringe out and that to have any semblance of it put back it would be fucking ridiculous and a decision to be regretted instantly.  Let me not be drawn into the temptation of having a red tint put on my hair as we know that it will look drab within a week because my hair does not like being red.  Help me to consider the fundamental question of ‘can it still be put in a ponytail’ when making my decision and to keep in mind that scragged back and in a bobble will be the default state of my hair for 80% of my waking hours whatever ‘style’ I have so carefully selected.  Grant me the serenity to accept that I am not 19 and that I do not have an angular jaw and that any ‘jaw length’ cuts will be more ‘double chin’ length cuts on me.  Help me be realistic in my expectations and dreams that one day a haircut will be so magical it will make my hair curly and lustrous.  Give me the strength to tell the hairdresser at the end of the cut if I don’t like it rather than going home and weeping.  Amen. 

 

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Huh Huh Huh Holiday

Like us, holidays come in all shapes and sizes.  This time of year you can’t scroll through Instagram or Facebook without being bombarded with holiday snaps from all and sundry.  Ranging from the ultra chic villa in Tuscany to the static caravan in North Wales and everything in between.  Smiling pictures of children playing in the sea, ice creams melting in the sun, gorgeous sunsets, impressive cityscapes, selfies with Disney characters, sandy toes, tipsy night out shots, quaint doors framed by exotic flowers, wonky family portraits taken on a timer, cones of salty chips, BBQs in the rain under an umbrella.

We count down to our holiday.  We save up our hard earned cash for them.  We get stressed out trying to organise them – what to pack, how to get there, sorting out the house for our absence, signing off from work.

There’s a huge build up to our holidays.  Of course, the ubiquitous hairdresser conversation of ‘going anywhere nice this year?’ but it also creeps into our day to day conversations ‘can you come to that meeting next week?’ ‘no, no I can’t I am on HOLIDAY in Greece/Spain/Cornwall/The Lakes [add excessive detail that no fucker cares about]’

Because that’s the truth of the matter – nobody and I mean NOBODY gives a flying fuck about your holiday plans except for you.  Anybody who gives you more than the cursory ‘where are you off to again? Oooooo Corfu, lovely, that’ll be nice and hot for you’ is basically a really good actor because nobody cares about a holiday which they’re not going on.

The holidays plans of other people don’t affect us.  We have barely evolved from the psychology of small children, who think the world disappears when they close their eyes, in this respect.  In the same way that we don’t give a shit about what goes on at home whilst we are on holiday (except for the weather – we always check the weather back home when we are on holiday) once we are away we are pretty much out of sight, out of mind.

Of course, the joys of social media mean that nobody’s really out of sight these days.  For those of us who diarise our daily lives through our photos our friends and families get to ‘experience’ our holidays along with us in real time.  By ‘experience’ I mean we get to swear and make bitchy comments at yet another picture of a cocktail on a Caribbean beach whilst we are sitting eating a hobnob with piss wet hair after a typically rainy Mancunian school run.

Of course, we all know that photos only tell a small part of the holiday story.  Nobody is sharing on social media photos of themselves in a Turkish pharmacy trying to explain that they’ve got hideous cystitis and please for the love of God can you give me some drugs that are most likely illegal in the UK but that will prevent me from spending a second longer of this holiday crying in the shower whilst trying to have a piss.

Sunset photos are cropped to hide the fact that the balcony overlooks a massive carpark.  Beach photos are taken in the 3 seconds of blue sky between the massive clouds.  Pictures of new exotic sandals don’t show the blisters that they caused within 2 minutes of wearing them or the ensuing argument about why such crap was bought in the first place and how is it going to fit in the already bulging cases for the flight home.

It’s unlikely that anybody would detail on Facebook the huge row they had on the second night when mummy flipped out after cooking a pasta dinner the kids refused to eat on the grounds that ‘the pesto tastes funny here’ (despite the fact you’re only away in Wales and the pesto was in fact from bloody Tesco) which ended up in wails of ‘you’re all ungrateful sods and why should I be cooking every bastard night – it’s my holiday too’ and a sulk from which mummy only emerged 24 hours later after she spent £30 on a scarf with starfish on and a seaweed scented candle in a local gift shop stocked entirely with merchandise on a seaside theme.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about how other people’s photos on social media make us feel inferior in comparison. For a start, I don’t see the point in judging ourselves harshly based on what someone else is or isn’t doing.  But also surely we need to keep at the forefront of our minds that if we all only share the ‘glossy’ aspects of our holidays (or indeed day to day lives) on social media then what on earth would make us assume that everybody else does anything different?

When it comes to holidays we want to believe the hype.  We want to think that only good things happen on holiday.  That the sky is always blue, nobody argues, nobody gets told off, nobody feels poorly and nobody’s ever bored or grumpy.  We want to believe all that because we’ve looked forward to our holiday so much.  We don’t want the same old crap that happens at home to happen on holiday.  Of course it will, because we are taking ourselves and our families (warts and all) on holiday and we don’t change anywhere near as much as we like to think we do on holiday.  But hopefully the same old crap will be happening near a beautiful beach/mountain/countryside and will be fuelled by sangria/gin/ice cream and it will all be more fun/interesting/relaxing than being at home.  And of course, now it’s OUR TURN TO SPAM THE SPAMMING SPAM OUT OF THE HOLIDAY PHOTOS.  We know nobody really cares about our holidays, nor do they really want to scroll through 35 photos a day of the same swimming pool, but we don’t care that they don’t care.  We are going to wax lyrical about the view/warmth of the sea/gastro pub delights and revel in our moment.  It’s our holiday and we do care.

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81 minutes

I woke up yesterday morning, in my usual way.  The first alarm in the house goes off and my eldest stumbles noisily out of his bed to the loo then retreats back to bed with his Harry Potter book for a half hour read before he gets up.  (By ‘gets up’ I mean I shout repeatedly, being ignored every time, that he needs to put his uniform on, then I go into his room and shout some more, then he writhes around on the floor wearing only pants and one sock for a bit playing with some lego he ‘found’ and then I go nuclear ballistic and he acquiesces to getting dressed and coming downstairs).

Then the second alarm in the house goes off and within a minute my six year old barges into my bedroom naked and climbs onto my head for cuddles.  I enjoy the nudey snuggles for a few minutes and then to prevent the inane banter making my head explode (‘mummy when I went under the covers then, do you think I did the dab or kissed my own knee?’ ‘I don’t care but I do know that whatever bit of your body punched me in the boob it bloody hurt’ ‘but you HAVE to choose’ ‘dab’ ‘YES but it was a dab with a trump at the end of it, so you didn’t guess right.  You LOSE and I WIN’) I grab my phone to get fully abreast of the worlds latest current affairs.  By which I, of course mean, I have a bleary eyed scroll through instagram.  Which is mildly hallucinogenic these days, with their inspired non-chronological algorithm.  I miss the days when a morning scroll meant catching up with whichever Mum-mate had been up all night with a puking child, or friends across the pond just heading to bed as we got up.  These days, you’re half asleep thinking ‘wow, @mummywholikesgindrinking really does like gin because it’s not even 7:30 and she’s tucking into a large one in the garden’ or ‘who has time to arrange peonies in the morning?’ then you’re like – oh wait, that’s from a week ago.  Who is actually doing something NOW for my entertainment pleasure?

Scroll, scroll – oh look Mitch there’s that puppy you like – scroll, scroll – ooph, that’s an ‘interesting’ new haircut – scroll, scroll – oh you’re doing slimming world now are you?  Let’s give it a week before you’re sick of those Muller lights and are posting pictures of Gregg’s pasties.  (Morning Tamsin – pre cup of tea – scrolls equals all the bitchy, evil, just woken up thoughts)

Scroll, scroll……… and then I come across this……….

‘Working mothers spend 81 minutes a day caring for their children’

posted by @motherland.mcr with the comment

‘For all you working mums out there!! 81 minutes a day is A LOT when you factor a full working day in to the mix’

What the actual what now?

Not even out of bed and still with a 6 year old’s foot in my armpit my rage got ragey.  Of course, I dealt with that rage in a suitably passive aggressive middle class mother of 2017 manner and wrote a strongly worded instagram post.  An instagram post BEFORE I had a cup of tea.  I was THAT CROSS.

This is what I wrote:

‘Oh goodie.  Still playing the who has it harder ‘working’ mums or SAHM are we?  Am I the only one who finds this offensive on so many levels?  For the ‘working’ mamas this basically implies all we do is get the kids up and put them to bed….. don’t ‘care’ about them the rest of the time.  Not when you’re sorting out school trips in your lunch hour.  Or shopping for food for them.  Or getting up in the night to them.  Or juggling picking them up from clubs etc. etc. etc. And don’t even get me started on the whole SAHM not being ‘working’ mums thing.  So, if you’re a mum who works in a nursery or a school looking after kids all day that IS work but if you look after your own kids all day that ISN’T?!  Posts like this make me so so bloody mad.  Divisive and set back the sisterhood untold years.  You’re a ‘full-time’ mum whether or not you work outside the home.  I don’t get to work and cease being a mum!  You’re a ‘working’ mother whether you have a paid job or not because it’s hard work looking after kids!  Choices people, choices – not competition’.

It hit a nerve,  a massive nerve, with so many of my instagram followers.  Over 50 comments from women utterly fed up with the divide that is still there in 2017 between people who have made different parenting choices.

I haven’t worked full-time in a paid job outside the home since I had Corey in 2008.  In that time  I have been a SAHM, worked part-time in the civil service, been back to being a SAHM and now work part-time in a women’s prison and volunteer at a local food bank.  Not that any of that is anybody else’s business, or gives me much qualification to have an opinion on much at all other than that of a sentient, mostly intelligent human being.  But I include my mini-CV for clarity of where  I am coming from.  Although actually how much my own personal experience shapes my views on this matter I’m not sure.

The original post has no credit for where that entirely random and spurious figure of 81 minutes come from.  But no matter because it is utter BULLSHIT.

The terminology used is so skewed and emotive as to be rendered useless.  ‘Working mothers’.  ‘Working’ meaning what.  Do you only become a ‘working mother’ once you’ve reached a threshold of a set number of hours a week?  How part-time do you need to be to still be a ‘working mother’ – if you only do say, the 16 hours a week I work am I a ‘working mother’?  I mean, I get paid to be there.  It’s a job.  A bloody hard one at times.  I gave birth to two children (although even right there, not a good enough definition of a mother – what about adoptive parents, step-mothers, blended families, other care givers, foster parents?).  I work.  I’m a mother.  But am I a ‘working mother’?

81 minutes.  FFS.  Yesterday morning it took me 90 minutes from the first alarm going off – through the shouting, the dab/trump under the covers, more shouting, breakfast making, water bottle for school filling, book bag locating, cursing the fact that one sodding week before the end of the term there are no bastard fully functioning water bottles in the house, arguing over why a mars bar is not a suitable snack for break time, supervising teeth cleaning, marvelling quite how a tiny dab of toothpaste can simultaneously coat the floor of the bathroom and both their school sweatshirts, locating school shoes, remembering what to take to school on a Tuesday aaaaaaaaand out the door.  (And in the interests of full disclosure that was both me and my husband – although he sloped off for a 35 minute dump after letting Mitch have 2 ginger nuts for breakfast.  I think he was hiding from me as I was going full blown Mrs Banks from Mary Poppins marching round the downstairs shouting votes for women in a ranty ‘I’ll give you fecking working mother you knob’ way – and then he skedaddled to do the school run so I could read my instagram comments and feel indignant).  So that’s an hour and a half of normal getting ready in the morning time.   Already over that magic 81 minutes.

Who are these super hero ‘working mothers’ who can do that – and presumably teatime, bedtime and everything else in 81 minutes?  Do they have a special time machine which condenses time?

How do we even define ‘caring’ for our children?  I’d say that going out to work to earn money to feed and clothe your kids is ‘caring’ for them.  I’d say that thinking about them and planning activities for them and loving them is ‘caring’ for them.  I’d say that making sure they have a safe place to sleep at night and being there for them in case they wake up sick or scared or just needing a cuddle is ‘caring’ for them.  Even if several of those activities can, thank goodness, be carried out with a glass of wine in your hand and Game of Thrones on the telly, they are still ‘caring for your child’.

It massively irks me that being a mother who doesn’t have paid work outside the home and instead ‘cares’ for the children isn’t seen as working.  It is totally nonsensical to me that in a society where childcare is a growth industry if you look after your own children it is utterly dismissed as a vocation.  I’ve written before about my own experiences as a SAHM – how isolating in can feel when, even good friends, are utterly dismissive or your choices.  How demoralising it is to be portrayed either as a lady who lunches who is never ‘busy’ or as a do-gooding earth mother type.  How you get asked constantly what you do all day or when you’re going back to work.

I’m all about equality and I believe that equality can only come about through the freedom to make our own choices and to respect the choices of others.   It seems to be that feminism is in a bit of a dark place currently when it comes to how mothers are treating other mothers.  Is it really a shock that we have chosen or have had to choose different work options?  Did we all have the same work pattern before having babies?  Did we heck.  Are we free to make a decision on where we want to work and as what and for how long based on our own personal financial circumstances, qualifications, skill sets, beliefs and ambition? Too bloody right we are.

I was a lawyer before having my boys.  I probably get asked on a monthly basis, despite not having been a practising solicitor for nearly 9 years now, when I am going to go back to being a lawyer.  There’s an utter incredulity that I would have entirely different career and life goals now.  For all my (formerly) fellow legal professionals who combine a legal career with having children then well done you.  Go for it.  Live that dream, if it is your path in life.  I know now that actually I am a far better mother than I ever was a solicitor.  I know now that trying to convince a suspicious 2 year old that they do indeed like macaroni cheese takes powers of advocacy that not even the top QCs in the land possess.  I know now that not going back to ‘work’ after having my babies and instead making my ‘work’ their full time care was the best decision I ever made.  But it was the decision I made for MY family.  It’s not YOUR decision,  YOUR decision is the one that’s best for YOU.

I admire women from all walks of life.  I admire the judges, the politicians, the surgeons, the stockbrokers who are juggling massively high pressured jobs with the equally high pressures of having children.  Well done them.  I possibly admire even more the women who are working as care assistants, paramedics, teachers, bus drivers, engineers, cleaners, social workers – the ones who aren’t in highly paid positions, the ones who are working supremely hard in often hard environments to put food on the table.  Really well done to them.  I admire the women who look after their children at home or educate them themselves.  It’s hard, it’s utterly unrewarded by society and it is relentless.  Another well done.

None of these ‘groups’ of women, and really it is wrong to call them ‘groups’ as nobody but nobody fits neatly into any category……. are counting how much time they spend caring for their child.

What we are all doing is getting through each day, living each day, the best way we know how.   Working for our own futures, for our children’s futures whether or not that is at home or somewhere else.  Caring for our children in the best way we can in our own personal circumstances.

So, maybe we could all spend a little more time saying well done to each other.  Enough with the divisive comments and judgment of the lifestyle choices.  Choices.  Respect the choices.

*Can’t even attempt to delve into the whole issue of parenting being a shared responsibility.  Dads.  Clearly not an issue for them.  Do they get asked at interviews how they will juggle childcare with work? Do they get described as ‘working dads’? I work on weekends and the number of people who remark admiringly that ‘it’s great your husband looks after them for you’.  Really.  How good of him to look after the children that are HALF HIS while I go and earn some money for our family.  Not one fucker in 9 years has EVER said to me ‘oh it’s great you look after the kids for your husband so he can go to work’.  OK OK I did delve into it a bit.  But over 2,000 words in I think I’ll have to leave that particular rant for another day*

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Always there for you *things are going great*

Friends started airing in 1994.  In 1994 I was in my first year at Newcastle University.  My early 90s perm was just about grown out.  My outfit of choice was a tiny denim skirt, a bottle green second hand velvet jacket which smelt of old lady when it got wet, thick black tights and lace up boots.  My sister, back at home, aged 14 was obsessed with Friends.  Endlessly talked about the characters and even my parents started watching it.  I think my Dad had a bit of a thing for Phoebe at one point.  I didn’t watch TV then though really.  Not particularly through any kind of highfaluting ideals about the merits of telly, more because I was in Halls and didn’t have a TV in my room and although there were TV rooms they were only tuned to set channels and if we did go and watch Neighbours in one of them then generally we got shouted at because we talked and giggled too much.  Also, if I’m honest, we had too much of a LIFE to watch much telly.  Lectures, writing essays in the library (occasionally,  I mean, I did Combined Arts – it wasn’t a huge academic burden on my time) but mostly just hanging out with friends.

Friendships when you’re in your late teens and early 20s are everything.  In the first flushes of independence.  Boundless energy.  They have an intensity which you just don’t have when you are older.  Hours upon hours spent lolling on each others beds chatting about anything and everything.  Planning outfits, plotting flirtations, talking about boys, discussing politics, listening to music, snacking on instant noodles, bemoaning having no money, nursing hangovers, dissecting in minute detail what had happened the night before and who said what to who.

There was a group of us girls who moved in together in our second year and a group of lads who had their own house.  We were all so close, a little tribe.  We had laughs, we had tears, we had sex, we had arguments.  We weren’t glamorous and certainly there wasn’t a single one of us who had good hair and I’m not sure that coffee shops existed in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the mid 90s, if they did then we certainly didn’t hang out in them.  We didn’t watch Friends because we were living it (albeit in a younger, poorer, more Geordie, cider swilling, studenty fashion).

In 1995 I couldn’t ever imagine not speaking to or hanging out with those friends on a daily basis.  I don’t think we were naive enough to think it was forever – although I don’t remember giving that much thought to the future at all.  It was enough to live in the moment.  And really, that’s how friendships should be, in the moment.

We graduated.  Well all except one of the lads who had ‘forgotten’ to go to one of his finals and had to wait another couple of months.  17 June 1996 – my 21st birthday we had a huge picnic in the park with all the gang together.  We played rounders and chatted and hugged and laughed and then that evening we all got dressed up in our finery and went to the Graduation Ball.  In the photos (which I developed in black and white because ‘arty’ innit) we look young and fresh and hopeful.  That was probably the last day of that unit of friends.

There was no big falling out, there was no anger, there was no resentment – it was simply that those friendships had served their purpose for that period in our lives and we organically moved on.   We got boyfriends and girlfriends that weren’t in the gang, we got jobs, we bought houses, we moved to different areas of the country.  We met up periodically but it wasn’t the same.  It wasn’t ever going to be.

24 years later, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I’m in contact with most of them and roughly keep up with what’s going on in their lives.  My best friend at university is still one of my best friends now and we love meeting up with our kids in tow – but even with her those meetings are sporadic because we live in different places, we have jobs, we have families, we have lives that don’t involve each other and much as it would be fantastic to loll on each others beds chatting for hours (although she ALWAYS fell asleep) that’s just not feasible for 42 year olds.  Sadly.

Post university I lived in Birmingham and in a rather inconsistent (to say the least) 5 year period did a PGCE at the University of Birmingham (and left less than a month before the end,  great decision there Tamsin), worked as a travel agent for a couple of years, then went to law school to train to be a solicitor.  I bought a house with one boyfriend and then 2 years later married a different boyfriend.

I had an incredibly fun and crazy bunch of friends there.  Actually literally certified crazy spending time in asylums in some cases.  The travel agent years led to me having a group of the campest of gay friends.   We had some wonderful nights out in Birmingham’s gay village – dancing to Abba in our Lunn Poly uniforms.  But there was constant drama – there were tiaras and tears, getting thrown out of gay bars at 3 am because two of my gay friends were having a cat fight over some girl they’d both slept with.  Always with the drama – some of it mine, most of it theirs – someone being kicked out of their house, rowing with their boyfriend, losing a job, bitching about someone and then that person finding out.  At the time it was all encompassing and I didn’t realise how utterly exhausting it was until I moved to another city.

I don’t regret those years though – in fact I think my 20s and early 30s were all about finding out who I was and the kind of people I wanted to be friends with.  I’d always been drawn to the loud, fun, party, dramatic people (probably because that’s me) but as I got older I realised that life isn’t all about parties and fun nights out.  There’s a lot of real life, boring, tough, heartbreaking adult shit that you have to deal with and just because someone can make you laugh until you cry at midnight whilst downing shots of sambuca – it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be much use when your boss is making sexist comments to you on a daily basis, or you can’t pay your mortgage, or a loved one is very ill.

My marriage of my 20s, to probably my best friend at the time, failed.  He was a brilliant person to spend time with.  Funny, gregarious, witty, generous and spirited.  But as my legal career progressed suddenly his constant going to the pub after work and coming home rat arsed on a weeknight wasn’t so funny.  Training to be a lawyer is hard enough at the best of times without being tired because you were woken up at 2 am by your husband trying to piss in the wardrobe because he’d drunkenly mistaken it for the bathroom.  His refusal to organise any of the house finances became burdensome.  He couldn’t cope with day to day stresses so how on earth would we ever cope if we were to have babies?  He wanted to try for a baby.  I booked a Dr appointment and went on the pill without telling him.  We grew massively apart and increasingly led separate lives and then he walked out one day never to return.

I think that was the first time I began to consciously form the thought that friends serve a purpose in your life at that time (and you in theirs) but that the fluidity and flux of life is such that friendships ebb and flow.  Getting divorced some of my friends were magnificent and got me through the months I like to call ‘the living on cigarettes, vodka and the occasional haribo times’.  I was a mess and some of my, I thought, closest friends were nowhere to be seen.  I remember standing on the doorstep of one of my dearest friends at the time sobbing and knocking on her door and her literally hiding in her lounge from me.  Other friends who I was less close to provided a support system for which I will be eternally grateful.  They got me through and back on my feet and with a plan for the future.

I moved to Manchester and started a new life.  It was supposed to be all Sex and the City glam single lawyer lifestyle.  The sex bit went better that the city glam lawyer bit and within 18 months I was pregnant and married and then went on to be a SAHM.

Having your own family completely changed my attitude to friends.  My children and my husband will now always come first to me no matter what.  Friends will always play second fiddle to my family and that’s the way it should be surely.  Friends though are still crucial.  Those baby years were made bearable by a fab group of friends who had their babies at exactly the same time – who would sit and chat and laugh and cry and talk endlessly about teething and sleepless nights.  Helping each other out when we needed it.  Keeping each other company as being a mum – particularly if you don’t work outside the home – can be very lonely.  Toddlers are not great conversationalists.  Those friendships with ‘baby friends’ were intense in some cases and also somewhat fleeting.  As the kids have all grown – take away the fact that your kids are the same age – maybe we don’t have that much in common after all.  Once we emerge from the fug of the baby years and get to actually finish conversations and think about ourselves a little bit more we discovered that really we are quite different people and hold different views on things.  Our kids don’t necessarily go to the same schools, or even get on with each other now they are old enough to have opinions of their own.

Of course, some of those friendships have evolved as our lives have evolved.  At one point we would meet up several times a week for coffee, or a baby group, a pram walk.  Now, most of us are employed.  We are all incredibly busy.  Our kids have a never ending cycle of clubs and commitments and homework.  They are old enough to be busy themselves but too young to do any of it independently.   We are lucky if we meet up once every couple of months and most of our friendship is based on liking photos of each others children on Facebook.

I’ve made some lovely friends amongst the other school mums – it’s amazing how friendly you can get in a 5 minute conversation at 8:50 and another at 3:10  – but do we hang out apart from that?  Very rarely.   Yet they’re definitely some of my best friends.

Online friends have been my rock and my support system over the last 5 years.  I have made some wonderful friends through instagram.  Some of us meet up in real life, it turns out one even lives around the corner from me.  Some I have never met face to face and, realistically, am unlikely to ever do so.  But those ladies have got my back, they will support me through whatever I’m going through and I never feel like I have to censor myself around them.  My writing is a case in point – my instagram buddies will be reading this and have given me the confidence to progress my writing.  My real life friends won’t be reading this.  Never ask me about how my writing is going and make it pretty clear it’s a pipe dream.

Friendships in my phone ‘fit’ with my lifestyle.  They can be done from the kitchen while I’m making tea.  They can be in 5 minutes first thing in the morning whilst the boys are getting their uniforms on.  Even those friendships though aren’t static – people inexplicably disappear or you find yourself thinking you’ve misjudged someone.  Internet friends mimic real life friendships – they can come and go but there’s the odd one who prevails and becomes a valued and intrinsic part of your life.

I’m 42 now and as I look back I can see how friendships have changed.  I’ve stayed friends with people from all the periods of my life – school friends, uni friends, crazy 20s friends (ex-husband being the exception), my best buddy from the time we were both training to be solicitors, work colleagues, baby friends.  But I’m only in contact with SOME of them.  Others have fallen by the wayside.  The best kind of friends are those you can not see or even speak to for years but when you get to meet up you have no problem picking up where you left off.

My tribe now is my family (and frankly sometimes I don’t even want to hang out with them).  Increasingly I value the recharging nature of solitude.  I’m not scared to be on my own like I was when I was younger.

Juggling family commitments and maintaining friendships is hard.  It becomes all about those snatched conversations at the school gate.  The meet ups scheduled months in advance around cub camps, football lessons, homework, work schedules.  It’s about who my whole family get on best with, rather than just me.  Obviously, we are all human and of course we get bitchy, jealous, cross, pissed off but nobody has any room in their life for drama these days.   Friendships need to be fluid to stand the test of time and based on mutual respect and understanding.  Sometimes you might be the one needing help, sometimes it’s your friend.  Sometimes they won’t have the capacity (either emotionally or in a physical time sense) to be that helper and vice versa.  Also, as I get older I realise that actually it’s not the job of my friends to necessarily be the ones to pick me up if I’m having a bad time.  I bear that responsibility myself and if I need help then it’s my job to ask for it.  I like to celebrate my good times in life with friends, I’m less willing to share the bad times if I’m honest but that’s maybe something to work on.  All I know is, we are all so busy trying to keep our own houses in order that sometimes that’s all you can do.  The rest has to flow from there and it either will or it won’t.

I bet if Friends were in real life they wouldn’t all still be friends.  It’s not real life.  We need our friends, of course we do, but friendships have to evolve to match the evolution in our lives otherwise they naturally fall by the wayside.

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Big Little Lies

Our epic travels are over and frankly we’ve been wallowing in a gin soaked pit of gloom wailing ‘please let us be back in Barbados’ for the last month.  OK – that’s not entirely true.  Since we’ve been back I’ve coped with it all by doing what I do best, yup, attempting to organise a million things at once and over committing to a tonne of new projects until I wind up poorly and ranty.   So in between trying to get my job back and get a little promotion, starting volunteering at the local foodbank, getting the kids settled back into school and their ridiculous amounts of after school clubs, organising seeing all of our mates who we missed while we were away, leaping back into the usual PTA shizzle and the usual cooking, cleaning, breaking up squabbles and trying to keep the household vaguely functional and attempting to get my *best selling* travel book written (17,500 words written – boom – and partly the reason behind less blogging – only so much I can write and if it’s on here then how the hell can I sell it?!) and we bought a puppy.   Because that’s what totally normally people do the second they return from a sabbatical.  He’s cute and fluffy and cleaning his puppy shit off the playroom floor is totally taking our minds of wanting to be back on a tropical beach sipping rum cocktails.

When we were away we spent many an evening discussing ‘how things will be different when we get home’.  Now, some of the discussions were more “realistic” than others.  Some were, with hindsight more whisky fuelled rantings than actual plans.  At various times in our travels we had absolutely, completely, definitely decided on the following as things we were absolutely, completely, definitely going to do:

  • Sell our house and go and build eco-domes and run an eco tourism business in Barbados
    • Kill all of our parents and family members in a dastardly yet undetectable fashion so that we could inherit enough money to move to Barbados without the, quite frankly, pretty hard work of running an eco-tourism business and having to deal with eco-tourist wankers who would complain that their hemp stuffed mattresses irritated their allergies or that the beach was too sandy or some other nonsense.
  • Live in New Orleans FOREVER.
  • Mardi Gras FOREVER
    • Oh.  Yes it does get awfully humid and hot in the summer in New Orleans,  and what’s that you say? The next hurricane is only ever a few months away and the whole city is built on a swamp under sea level.  Ummm, those Garden District houses are possibly out of our price range are they?  Whatever.  Maybe we will just visit again at Mardi Gras.
  • Buy an antebellum mansion in rural Arkansas for about 30 dollars and set up an amazing non-profit to help re-generate the South and kick Donald Trump in his massive fat orange butt.
    • Oh.  Yes maybe the reason that houses that size are 30 dollars is because there’s fuck all here for many many miles in any direction and the Civil War is still a recent source of discord and you have to go to church otherwise everyone will hate you.
  • Buy a small ranch in Texas and shoot things and cook over a fire-pit every night
    • Fuck me those mosquitoes are bastards – no way are we living in a place where so many living beings actually want to kill you.  Bitten to shit every night, snakes lurking, wild hogs that ‘might charge at you but probably not’, alligators and let’s not even get started with the Texans of dubious sanity and access to legal firearms.
  • Then there was lots of list of  practical things we can learn from our travels and incorporate them into our daily lives and make some changes for the better
    • Be more creative – more writing, reading, music
    • Make more family time – just us – not constantly filling every moment seeing people
    • Go to bed earlier and get up earlier in the morning – make the most of the day (easier to get out of bed in Barbados and sit watching humming birds in the sun with your morning cuppa than on a freezing cold grey Manchester morning when you’re frantically trying to remember which of your children needs to take what to school with them and where you put the bastard letter about the school trip)
    • Not just watch telly every night………….

Telly.  Hmmmmm.  FAIL.  When we were travelling, and in fact on any holiday we go on we never watch any telly.  Most of the places we stayed on this trip didn’t even have a TV.  We didn’t miss it once.  Too busy spending the evenings making grandiose plans involving eco-domes made out of sand and turtle spunk whilst sinking another bottle of spiced rum.

Although travelling round America it’s pretty impossible not to be aware of TV even if you’re not actually watching it.  The Americans do some things very well.  Self promotion and advertising being chief amongst these.  Bill boards.  TV adverts.  Radio.  Subliminal mind waves.  So there I was being all lofty in my travel wanker outfits of birkenstocks, ripped jean shorts and a t-shirt referencing a previous destination in a subtle way (go pigs), reading my literature based in each of the places we were visiting along the way, listening to ‘local music’ on our portable bluetooth speaker and eschewing the virtues of this wholesome world experience…… yeah while I was doing all that I was also clocking all the billboards and thinking – fuck this hippy shit – we all know that the minute we are back home I’m going to be in my pyjama bottoms with a big old glass of chardonnay binge watching all the TV crack I’ve SADLY MISSED during this edifying experience.

Big Little Lies was being advertised EVERYWHERE when we were in the States.  I think it started earlier over there.  It might not have done, it might have been just a very long lead in period.  Even if the great American public are not, as the rest of the world has come to assume, thick as actual pig shit – they are certainly treated by corporate America as if they were.   American ad campaigns have the subtlety of their current President,  Say it big, say it often and tell outrageous lies that make no sense  because someone, in fact probably a lot of people, will buy it.

In the face of such an onslaught of Big Little Lies propaganda – despite the smorgasbord of amazing experiences we were having – I knew that by hook or by crook it was going on the goggle box the minute we got home.  Interspersed between all the mindfulness and new hobbies and pursuits though you understand.

Imagine my joy then when we got home and realised that episode 1 started that very week.  It was meant to be.

And what a show it was.

Great actresses, beautiful locations, strong dialogue, great music, artistically shot, intriguing plot and a twist in the ending.

Not going to lie, couldn’t completely shake the fact that I quite fancied that stupidly tall vampire bloke off of True Blood even though he was a wife beating cocksucker of a bell-end in this.  Nor that Nicole Kidman’s hair was quite ‘wiggy’.  Or that every single house in that town seemed to be accessed by driving over that really long bridge and have an ocean view – this must make it a very long skinny town indeed.

The main lie of the show though, if we are honest, was that ‘school fundraiser’ in the last episode.  Really? This was purportedly a public school and it holds a fundraiser with the appearance of a glitzy black tie corporate event, naked flames on school property (come on, it’s verboten to walk around a school with an unsheathed cup of tea for fear of catastrophe), a free bar, the best costumes EVER and oh, what’s that, at least 3 of the parents sing at professional standards?  As a mum who busts her ass trying to organise PTA events to raise funds for the school and having recently travelled round the States I’m pretty darn certain that in real life it would be the same 3 hardy mums who had agreed to organise the stupid gala night because at the meeting at the start of term a load of gobshites had been so enthusiastic about the idea and gushed that everyone would come and it would raise so much money.  Oh, you’re busy with work now are you?  Your dog had puppies?  You can’t be fucking arsed?  Really.  Well looks like it’s your usual mugs to organise it as per bloody usual then.  Stuck with organising something which they never wanted in the first place.

Personally, I would have liked one final scene where Nicole Kidman is trying to fit all the black tablecloths they bought in the tiny PTA cupboard and Reese Witherspoon attempting to get a refund on the glasses taken away as Police evidence and that big shot PayPal CEO bint working her way through the receipts and realising the event made $25 maximum.

I do like the name though Big Little Lies.  We’ve spent most of this year formulating big plans and little plans – having big adventures and little ones too.  Are the plans lies we tell ourselves in a frantic bid to reassure ourselves that our lives will not revert to the mediocre, the hum drum, the non stop stress and chaos of family life? Will we ever go and build those eco-domes in Barbados?  Possibly not.  Is it a lie to tell yourself you are definitely going to do something even if you know that on the balance of probabilities it isn’t going to happen?  I don’t think so.   Dreams don’t have to be practical.  Dreams don’t have to come true – sometimes they’re just there to alter how you think of the every day.  Big dreams don’t necessarily come true but that doesn’t mean that they don’t facilitate hundreds of little dreams which ultimately make you happier.

I mean, instead of watching another episode of masterchef last night I wrote this blog post in front of a roaring fire, listening to music, with a sleeping puppy by my side.

 

 

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Flying high

Women’s magazines have a cyclical stock article pool and one that has always bemused me is the one on travel tips for stylish yet comfortable flights.  I’ve read it in many guises for as many years and essentially the advice remains the same.  Suggestions of ‘luxe’ leisurewear.  Travel pack essentials to include cashmere scarves to double as blankets, coconut water and raisins, organic lavender oil spritzes to ‘freshen up’ before you change into the arrival friendly outfit you’ve stashed into your Louis Vuitton hold-all.  The aim seems to be to swan through the airport with nary a queue in sight, effortlessly sporting your hold-all over one arm (magic luggage inside that is in no way heavy), sleep on the flight or read inspiring holiday literature and then emerge into your tropical destination with perfect hair and skin sporting a crumple free maxi dress as you waltz into the sunset.

Nobody in the history of fucking time travels like that.  With the exception of maybe Kate Middleton.  And she’s a bloody princess and travels on a private plane with a butler, nanny and assorted royal back scratchers.  Even then I bet she loses her shit with the kids when they announce they need a piss just when the plane has started its final descent.

We all know that magazines pedal impossible dreams but seriously?! I’m writing this on a plane travelling from New Orleans to Boston and let me just break down the flight for you.

To catch this flight we had a 7 hour drive the day before, by English standards that’s a “bloody long way” #technicalterm but not so much by the vastness of America standards.  Driving in America is, to be fair, pretty sodding easy.  Most of the roads don’t even have bends in them.  Point the car in the direction of your travel and just keep on keeping on.  You don’t even have to change gear.  Watch the repeating vista of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Sonic, Starbucks, Waffle House, IHOP and gas stations which signal each junction of the interstate unfold.  Pick one when you need sustenance or a piss and then back to the drive. Oh look another Waffle House…….

Add to the mix a very overloaded car and two small children.  Then just to make it that bit more fun let’s just say one of the kids has a rotavirus from hell.  It’s a lovely and enriching travel experience for everyone to stop at Starbucks for much needed caffeinated fuel only to have your 8 year old magnificently projectile vomit over the floor, rest room, another bit of the floor.  I mean who wouldn’t want to run towards the toilets with a child under your arm, fountains of vomit splattering onto the floor, shouting ‘oh my goodness I’m so so sorry we’ve ruined your coffee’ to the customers by the worst pools as you fling handfuls of starbucks napkins in your wake in a vain attempt to cover the worst of the devastation.

If you’re reading Starbucks then it would make a totally effective marketing campaign.  Your staff were super lovely with mop duties AND no fucking coffee EVER tasted that good or was that NEEDED as the cappuccino I had after that incident.  Amy Schumer could play me.  I’d let her.

A lovely relaxing night though in an airport hotel was just the tonic and left us perky and flight ready.  Woah there tiger. Did I really just use a sentence containing  both the words ‘relaxing’ and ‘airport hotel’ in? Sorry, my bad.  Airport hotels are ALWAYS shit.  Even the good ones.  They’re noisy with plane noise (strange that given that they’re AIRPORT hotels), there’s guests coming and going to catch flights at all times of the day and night.  The decor is an 80s time warp and the rooms are always ridiculously hot.

All that’s a given.

But that’s not all.  Add spending the whole night tending to a puking child who also now has the runs. Making a nest for him on the floor by the bathroom of towels and pillows, emptying out wastebins to use as buckets, trying to keep the other sleeping healthy child both in quarantine and asleep, trying to doze in between bouts of puking whilst keeping one ear open for any murmer of impending bum geyser to ensure Usain Bolt speed sprint/tackle to toilet location manoeuvres.

So, all in all I think we all arrived at the airport a little ‘jaded’.  By ‘jaded’ I mean ‘wanting to curl up into a little ball and hibernate’.  But even when you’re in peak physical condition airports are a complete endurance test.

I’ve already failed the first magazine article ‘essential’ – I’m not wearing luxe leisurewear, I’m not carrying a handy cashmere blanket and I haven’t applied extra moisturisers to combat the perilous drying conditions on flights.

I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes with the exception of knickers (clean.  One has some standards, albeit low) and my hair scragged up into a bun on the top of my head.  No makeup or any other beauty product but I’m quite impressed that I have at least showered and brushed my teeth.  Breakfast is a peanut granola bar purchased in the airport because strangely enough after a night of vom I’m in no mood to tackle the breakfast buffet in the hotel.  We have 5 suitcases, a huge rucksack, 2 boostapack car seats, coats, handbags and a Moana popcorn bucket which has been repurposed into our portable bucket of doom.

For the first time in our trip all 5 of the cases are under the weight limit and if my husband and I weren’t at the ‘I bloody hate you, I hate everyone but I realllllllly hate you this morning please god make this stop and get me a coffee you twat’ stage of child sickness/travel stress we would totally have high fived at the avoidance of the Miami airport jigsaw puzzle of packing and repacking the cases on the floor in front of check-in, holding up the line and getting massive scowls from the American Airlines bitch incident.

Going through security is always stressful.  With kids even more so.  There’s nothing you can do to make it easier.  The line is long and you have the constant ‘I’m hot mummy.  My rucksack is heavy can you carry it?’ ‘Why is this queue so long?’ ‘Mummy so why can’t you take GUNS through security?’ ‘Shhhhhh’ ‘Do people make BOMBS?? I MAKE BOMBS on minrcraft’ ‘shut up right now’ ‘I do I BLEW UP A TOWN’ ‘anyone know who this kid is because he’s not mine’.  Then you’re at the front of the queue and it’s even more flustering than the Aldi checkout.

At speed you have to take shoes, belts, bracelets off you and 2 small people and empty iPads/kindles/phones/assorted teddies into the grey trays.  At New Orleans our stuff took up 10 trays.  Not even joking. Then the 8 year olds ADSD tendencies kick in and he won’t walk through the gate on his own.  The underwriting on my massive boulder holder bras sets the alarm off and we’ve forgotten to take the bottle of water out of the bag so get a naughty telling off.  (Although hey, at least we aren’t subject to the disgusting race bias of stopping and searching anyone brown we’ve seen in US airports).

You just know your gate will be the furthest one from security.  Getting snacks from the airport shops costs as much as a full meal in a gourmet restaurant.

But you can relax on the flight right?  Snuggle into your cashmere blanket slash muddy cagoule whilst applying a generous layer of creme de la mer slash nothing because your toileteries are in your case and reading your edifying literature slash oh shit I forgot to charge my kindle.

We are getting to be old hands at flying with the kids now.  Do I have any pearls of wisdom for you? Do I bollocks.  It’s an endurance test of epic proportions.  iPads for the kids, gin from cabin service for you. That’s all I’ve got.  The following incidents  will most likely happen on the flight:

  1. Someone will drop something and cry until you’ve contorted yourself into a position no 41 year old can manage without needing a subsequent chiropractic session to retrieve it.
  2. They will demand chewing gum the minute you board to avoid ear popping then announce they don’t like it and stash the chewed gooey mess in your hand.  Nice.
  3. My 8 year old reads the safety card in full on each and every flight then starts a half hour q&a session on disaster management strategies ‘so mummy would you go down the slide first into the sea or would I? I don’t really want the sea to go in my eyes’ ‘don’t think we’d give a shit about water in our eyes if the plane had just crashed in the sea’ ‘well I have got my goggles in my case so maybe we could swim to our case and get them’ ‘good luck with that, we stayed in Florida a week before we located them in our mountain of luggage and that was on dry land and not in a disaster scenario’
  4. At least one person will spill a drink (i will admit that’s often me)
  5. There will be a loud ‘I need a poo’ announcement and then a queue situation in which a discussion about ‘that lady must have needed a MASSIVE POO because she’s taking FOREVER’ will occur.
  6. The refreshments will have run out of the 3 things they’ll consent to eat. Then they’ll moan about being hungry and eat all your snacks they’ve previously dismissed and then you’re hungry.
  7. iPad headphones will mean they SHOUT everything to you.
  8. Forget the fuck about napping/reading/even thinking without constant interruptions (I wrote earlier I was writing this on a plane. I was in 3 minute intervals.  I’m now finishing it a day later in Boston)
  9. They’ll need a wee or poo the minute the seatbelt light goes on.

iPads for them and gin for you.  They both help a bit.

Thankfully the gods of travel were smiling on us and the flight passed with only the usual annoyances and the Moana bucket of doom wasn’t used.

Nobody changes their clothes to get off a plane.  I put on some flip flops instead of trainers once just before we landed and was incredibly smug at my packing foresight.  A whole outfit though? Airplane toilets are very small.  Even first class ones (which I’ve discovered are the one perk to travelling with kids, cabin crew are more than keen to let you sneak up front to avoid a kid piss on the floor scenario and I’ve enough cabin crew mates to know they hate the posh twats in first class anyway).  And somewhere in the queue behind you as you wriggle into your beautiful maxi dress, trying to avoid dragging it over the piss soaked floor, there’s a kid in the queue announcing to the whole plane that you have the shits because you’ve been in there so freaking long.

My pre-disembarking beauty regime is to re-do my scraggy bun, brush the worst of the crumbs off my trousers and maybe applying a bit of lip balm if I can locate it in that stupid plastic bag of liquid things bag.  That annoys me.  How is it a security measure? Do terrorists think, gah my fiendish plan is foiled now my lipstick must go in a plastic bag and I can’t take a bottle of water with me? Unlikely.  Once I went mad and applied actual lipstick but an ill advised selfie revealed it made me look like a crazed clown.

We always have an argument with the 6 year old at the baggage reclaim due to his insistence that he’s strong enough to heft every suitcase off the carousel.  He isn’t. Then another one about why he isn’t allowed to ride on said carousel.
I’m willing to accept that it wouldn’t sell as many magazines to write articles reflecting true to life travel experiences.  Advertisers aren’t going to queue up to provide glossy spreads of portable buckets of doom.  But actual TRAVEL is the necessary evil of TRAVELLING.  Getting from A to B is a massive ball ache.  The adventure is not in the journey.  The prize is in arriving in one piece and then making the most of your destination.

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Where to stay?

When we were planning our world adventure we knew what we didn’t want for our accommodation and had a wish list of things we did.  We didn’t want to stay in anonymous hotels, that whilst lovely I’m sure, could be anywhere at all in the world.  We wanted to feel like we were getting to know a community a bit,  to stay in quirky places that were totally different to our suburban Manchester home and to have space to spread out – to feel like it was our home for the short time that we were there.

Hotels are by their nature transitory and anonymous.  How many people have slept in that bed before you?  Who was in it last night?  What did they do in here?  (Ewww) They’re mini-communities with a staff dedicated to meeting your every need.  For a short trip that can be just the tonic. (Especially if it’s brought to you via room service accompanying a large gin) There’s no cooking or cleaning to be done.   Delicious food is made for you whenever you want it.  You can leave your room in an utter shit tip and go out for the day knowing that when you come back the maid will have restored it to crisp turned back sheet pristine order.  But for a family with young children we knew that long stays in hotels weren’t for us (and not just because frankly it would have been too bloody expensive).

Hotels run to a timetable – meals are served at set times.  There’s a flock mentality where most of the guests fall into a similar routine.  Up at a certain time, breakfast, get a sunlounger by the pool, lunch, pre dinner drinks, dinner……. and repeat for the duration of the stay.  You quickly get territorial, which is ridiculous when none of it’s ‘yours’.  The cheek of someone nabbing the sunlounger on the side of the pool which you’ve decided, for no other reason than that’s where you sat on the first day, is your preferred spot.  The cheek of it.  Someone sits there and that’s you shooting dirty looks at them for the rest of the day.  That’s my sunlounger you cheeky bitch.  Mine.  

Hotels are noisy and you get sucked into other people’s lives vicariously.  You eavesdrop shamelessly and make up back stories for all and sundry.  You pass judgment readily. ‘Well, they’ve clearly not been married long, they’re still in that snogging in the pool stage, get a room already’ ‘look at that dickhead who clearly decided to forego sunscreen and then fall asleep by the pool.  Monsieur le lobster.’ ‘Jesus Christ I thought my ass looked shit in a bikini but seriously thongs should have purchasing restrictions placed on them’ ‘She is so going to have a row with him back in the room, look at the dirty old pervert sucking his belly in when those teenage girls go past in their teeny tiny bikinis.  And they can fuck off, yeah – enjoy it while you can girls – 2 kids and 20 years and the white string bikini won’t be an option for you either.’  All the while, you have that nagging knowledge that they’re all watching you and passing judgement right back at ya.  

We went to a lovely boutique hotel in Turkey when I was about 16 weeks pregnant with Corey.  I was really showing my little bump in my swimsuit but you couldn’t really tell in the evening under a flowing sundress.  We were sitting at the bar one night, me sipping some shit mocktail and a couple in their late 50s started talking to us.  The lady starts talking about the other guests in the hotel and comes out with ‘yeah, and have you seen that pregnant lady by the pool – it’s terrible that she’s sunbathing in her condition,  she’ll hurt the baby’.  I smoothed my sundress over my little bump and said ‘yes, that’ll be me then.  I think my child is just fine thank you very much’ and stropped off to bed.  The look on her face was priceless.

I’m a sociable person and love a good chinwag but I can’t stand those fake conversations you have with other guests in hotels.  I’m on holiday, I don’t want to know that you’re from Milton Keynes and work as a dentist and that you’re worried about your dog in the kennels because it’s a picky eater.  It’s like a more grown up version of freshers week ‘what do you do?  Where do you come from? What have you been doing whilst you’ve been here?’ – the same questions ad infinitum.  You find yourself wanting to make up shit just to spice things up a bit ‘Yeah, I’m Tammy and a pole dancer – but I was made redundant because I got too fat and with the payout I’ve decided to come to Majorca to set up an intimate piercing business,  do you know there’s nowhere you can get your clit pierced in Majorca?  I think I’m on to a winner.  I’ll give you a discount if you want.’

To be fair, I think there’s plenty of reasons why hotels don’t really want us as guests either.  The boys are boisterous, noisy and prefer to be naked for at least 2/3 of any given 24 hour period when we are on holiday.  Corey, as a holiday treat, chooses to never wear pants on holiday.  They are going through a phase where they like to swear and shout ‘get back in the darkness you slimy dickhead’ (click here for YouTube Aussie man lizards snakes Planet Earth. I kid you not, it’s so funny I’ve let the kids watch it a million times even though the swearing is worse than a Liverpool docker) or ‘S H ONE T’ guffaw chortle guffaw – I see it as a rite of passage – a retired bank manager from Chorley might think otherwise. 

Also, I am even messier than usual in a hotel.  It’s as if within 20 seconds of entering a hotel room – after, obviously, taking photos from every angle for instagram purposes and examining the toiletries in the bathroom (‘I’m taking that one Dan when we go.  Love a bit of Molton Brown’ ‘Tamsin, you’ve got a whole bloody bathroom of toiletries at home you don’t need a mini Molton Brown shower gel that’s not even in a nice smell’ ‘Don’t care, it’s going in my bag.  And a couple of them mini jams from the breakfast buffet.  Make sure you wear shorts with pockets to breakfast’) – within 20 seconds the entire contents of my suitcase EXPLODE and scatter themselves to the 4 corners of the room.  There’s never enough places to store things, you can’t remember which drawer you put your pants in, the chi chi bathroom doesn’t have anything useful like a shelf for you to put your stuff on so every time you need your hairbrush you have to rummage in your sponge bag and get your hands all sticky from that mini bottle of Molton Brown shower gel you stole from a previous trip which mysteriously burst in your bag on the plane and now all of your stuff is a bit slimy and sticky and smells of orange and bergamot, but you can’t be arsed to empty out every last thing out of your sponge bag and wash it because you’re on holiday innit and life is too short to be washing tubes of toothpaste on holiday.)

Step in Airbnb.  Airbnb has revolutionised the travel industry.  A quick search on your mobile and you can find everything from a yurt up a mountain to a multi-million pound villa overlooking the sea with its own private butler.  There should be a warning on the front page though – along the lines of – ENTER THIS SITE AT YOUR OWN RISK.  YOU WILL LOSE MANY HOURS OF YOUR LIFE ON THIS SITE PLANNING TRIPS YOU WILL NEVER GO ON AND MAKING WISH LISTS OF ACCOMODATION YOU WILL NEVER STAY IN.  Honestly, I lost DAYS browsing for destinations we had no intention of going to.  But I can recommend a lovely glamping location in Kerala, should you ever need one, now. 

It’s like a dating app but for accomodation.  You get totally judgey based on nothing other than a cover photo.  Swipe, that one looks like it smells, swipe, I don’t like those kitchen cupboards, swipe, really wouldn’t you clean up BEFORE you take photos to advertise your property, swipe, c’mon now that isn’t a rustic cottage it’s a trailer in a trailer park, oooooo, this one has a jacuzzi overlooking a lake – click click click Oh it’s twice our budget but that jacuzzi  – I’ll put it in my wish list.  

After spending inordinate amounts of time trawling through airbnb, and eventually booking pretty much all of our trip using it, this is what I’ve learnt.

A large amount of artistic license is used when it comes to describing the location.  Especially in the US based properties.  I know, I know, it’s a big country and they drive like 4 hours just to go and grab lunch.  But to describe a property as convenient for New Orleans when it’s 100 miles away is taking it a bit far.  There’s clearly an Airbnb ‘how to take good pictures of your property’ tutorial that stands out a mile when you go through the photos – there will always be one of the dining table set for dinner to make it look homely and a vase of flowers next to a bowl of fruit and a cafetière in the kitchen shot.  My favourite listings are ones that have nice photos and have a description where you get a sense of who the owner is and what they like about their property.

Still, it’s felt like a huge leap of faith booking property online after just email contact with the owner.  In Barbados we opted to stay at Oughterson.  It’s a plantation house – the 3rd oldest in Barbados – and has 3 holiday cottages and is located in 5 acres of jungle and beautiful gardens.  The pictures on Airbnb and the website are stunning.  A brief google search on the owner, Peter, didn’t reveal any headlines such as ‘Manchester family remain missing after trip to Barbados.  No remains are expected to be found’.  I had been e-mailing Peter regularly since booking the trip – there was a slight mix up with the booking for the first few days here and Peter kindly decided he would move out of his house and let us stay in there for the first few days.  He messaged me to find out more about us as a family – he sent photos of his dogs and described them all for the boys.  The night before we flew out he sent me a message to say ‘have a good flight, I will be waiting for you just beyond customs with a cooler of cold beer and fruit juice’.  

I’m not going to lie, we were bricking it.  What if it turns out to be a shit hole?  What if he is a weirdo?  Is the car that he’s arranged for us going to turn up and do we really want to be paying some bloke in cash in the middle of a car park by the airport?  Will he even be there at the airport?  What exactly do we do if he isn’t with two small children after travelling 10 hours?  

True to his word though there he was at the airport – holding a sign up that said ‘Tamsin and family’ and with a cooler at his feet.  The relief at seeing him and the hug he gave us, as if he was greeting old friends, made that ice cold Banks beer literally the nicest I have ever tasted.  The boys were instantly at ease with him – jabbering away to him stories of their friends at school and what they wanted to do during their travels.  We got back to the plantation in the pitch black – it was 1:30 am UK time and we had been up since 7 the previous day.  Peter cooked us a delicious meal which we ate outside – everything unfamiliar – the sounds of the birds in the trees and the crickets, fireflies in the mango trees, the 7 curious dogs begging for scraps and wanting to get to know the kids.  We went to bed that first night excited and still a little anxious – unfamiliar beds, windows and doors wide open to let in the cooling trade winds, mosquito nets draped round the beds, tantalising glimpses of the property and a feeling of ‘wow, we’re actually here, we did it’ going round in our heads.

In the morning we woke stupidly early and watched the sun rise, the sky gradually lightening to a deep deep blue and the sun on the palm trees.  We got up to a breakfast of freshly made drop scones and tropical jam and sat outside in the shade of a mango tree to eat them.  Not a sun lounger in sight.   Not another person around.  Just the sound of nature all around us.  Our first Airbnb experience has been even better than we had hoped.  The property is magnificent, we feel at home, we’ve made a wonderful friend in Peter and really couldn’t be any happier.  

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King Edward of the beach

The beaches in Barbados really are the archetypal tropical paradise – the sun is blazing hot, the sand is white with just a tinge of pink from the coral, the palm trees rustle appealingly in the breeze, the sea is so blue it makes you blink to look at it.  As well as the pale Brits (generally retirees – studiously glued to their novels and being very sensible about staying in the shade until it’s time to head back to the hotel and get cunted on rum), the Americans (Yeah.  Awesome.  That’s so cute. Can I get another rum punch?), the Canadians (see Americans but slightly less irritating because at least they haven’t voted for a megalomaniac orange nutter for their leader), the Bajan families (families with babies, lots of retirees floating in the calm shallow water on special rubber rings because they don’t swim chatting and passing the day most pleasantly, dreadlocked Rastas, dudes with their tops off posing on their jet skis and admiring the ladies, ladies of all shapes and sizes working it).  

The beaches here also have a community of vendors all working hard in the heat making it all happen, making sure that everyone has a lovely time and trying to scrape a living  – the air is scented with the smell of flying fish being fried, a sweet/tangy/smoky smell of fish cakes, chicken roti, hot sauce and jerk chicken.   The amount of food that the skilled cooks make on a small gas bbq is astounding,  they delve into multiple Tupperwares and foil covered bowls and produce the most delicious fresh street food for the hungry beach goers.  Yes, there’s usually a massive queue because each order is cooked one at a time.  Yes, you will get told off if you try and pay at the WRONG time (I’m yet to discern what is the RIGHT time – it’s not when you order, it’s not when the food is ready and given to you, it’s somewhere in between the cook’s assistant having a chat with his mate and refilling one of the humongous coolers with ice and brightly coloured sodas.) But your patience will be rewarded with a cornucopia of delicious food at (for Barbados) minimal prices.

The toilets are all pristine and guarded by a ferocious uniformed attendant.  If your feet are too sandy you will be denied entry and re-directed to the tap and told to wash your feet.  Woe betide you though if you turn on the tap too strongly.  You will get told off and asked to turn the water down.  The toilet roll is only ever a 1/4 full so as not to encourage you getting too comfy.  But when Mitch went for a massive beach dump and broadcasted from his cubicle that he had no loo roll left the, normally stern, attendant rushed to his aid with a whole roll she’d unearthed from her secret stash and couldn’t have been nicer to him (especially considering he was hanging out of a toilet cubicle door half naked having unleashed a stench of WMD proportions upon the facility). 

In fact that pretty much sums up our experience of the Bajans we have come into contact with since we’ve been here – initially somewhat formal and reserved.  It’s as if it’s England in he 1950s (or so I imagine, not actually having been born then and all that).  When you pass someone on the street they say ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ never ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ or ‘morning’.  I get called ‘Ma’am’ and Dan gets ‘Sir’, the boys have even been called `little Master’.   It’s January and in the shops you get wished a Happy New Years.  Once you get chatting though pretty much everyone has a lovely sense of humour and is keen to chat.  The women are also keen to tell you off though.  As well as the toilet bollockings I’ve also been roundly admonished for not putting enough sunscreen on my child’s face, for letting them get bitten by a mosquito, for the fact that the UK has generous maternity pay (it’s a long story how that topic of conversation came up) and for attempting to put my filled bags of shopping back in the trolley to wheel it to my car (here you have to use a special trolley – one that isn’t used inside the supermarket only outside or a gangly youth carries it to your car which feels slightly ‘slavey’ and uncomfortable when, let’s face it – it’s not that hard getting your shopping to the car yourself. Although that one time in 2010 when I was pregnant and my 1 year old refused point blank to get out of the trolley and contorted himself into the impossible shape  and weight that only a protesting toddler can achieve and the staff in Waitrose had to press a special buzzer to ask for the ‘shit mum assistant’ to come and help me remove him from the trolley and get my shopping into the boot I could really have done with a gangly youth to chat to as he cheerfully loaded my shopping into my boot no questions asked. 

Back to the beach, there are always coconuts you can buy – fresh off the tree, the tops sliced off and filled with ice and fruit flavouring and as  or as little rum as you want.  They’ll even make a kids version replete with a gummi bear cocktail stirrer.  

There’s vendors renting out sun loungers and parasols.   Jet ski owners asking you if you’d like to go for a spin.  Women selling beach clothes.  Cold drink purveyors.

There isn’t the hard sell here that I’ve encountered in beach resorts in other parts of the world.  If you don’t want to buy you don’t get harassed. Even though  you know that they are making their whole living by working day to day on the beach – their success or failure governed by the vaguaries of the weather and the willingness of the tourists to part with their dollars.  If you say no there isn’t that undertone of dismay or animosity we encountered in the Spanish resorts we visited last year. 

Our favourite beach vendor we’ve encountered so far though plonked himself on the edge of one of our sun loungers and introduced himself with the, quite frankly, wonderful 

“Hi, I’m King Edward”

A tall dreadlocked, well built guy who was probably older than he looked.  We’d been watching him come down the beach being shooed away like an annoying stray cat by every tourist he approached.  Carrying his red velvet sack over his shoulder, bulging with his hidden wares that he wasn’t getting the chance to show anyone.

“Tank you for giving me the chance to show you what I do.  Them others, they tell me to go away and then go and buy that Chinese SHITE they sell in de shops.  The tink they want to see the real Barbados but they don’t know nuttin.  I a craftsman.  Everyting I make I make it meself.  Wid me own hands. Ain’t nobody in the whole of Barbados who can do what I can do”

His accent a beguiling mix of West Indian patois wth a hint of Irish via the West Country.  

He empties out his sack – bracelets, anklets, beads, fishing string, wire all come tumbling out.  He explains that he makes bracelets and anklets right there on the beach for you – any size you like and using semi-precious beads of your choice and fishing line to make them strong.  We agree to have one each – an anklet for me and matching bracelets with magnetic hematite for Dan and the boys.  He sets to work.  Counting out beads,  Stretching wire and expertly wrapping – over and under, over and under.  Getting us to hold the wire taut while he works.  All the while keeping up an irascible yet good-natured banter. 

“I can tell you is good people.  I like English.   The Americans are the worst, always wanting to make the drama.  I tell you – drama, drama, drama.  And some of the tourists they fat, fat fat – I see this Canadian the other day – 19 years old and she look twice your age and twice as fat and she not got your titties.  I tell you, she a disgrace”

At this point King Edward tells me to hold the rope a little tauter and a bit higher.  Conveniently around my very own titty area.  Eyes down King Edward, eyes down.

“Ain’t nobody make these like me.  It a skill.  They strong as strong.  You can wear them in de sea, de shower, you wear dem for ever and tink of me”

Shouting out greetings to all of the other vendors – loud – enquiring as to how they are.  Sharing private jokes.  Then to us:

“She got a face on her that one.  None of dem like me.  They want me to be showing dem how to make these.  That would be stupid though.  Stupid I tell you.  I got a skill.  Dem, they just buy shite to sell.  No, not me,  I the only one in Barbados who can make these”

All the while, measuring our wrists – counting beads – weaving over and under, over and under. Getting us to help.  Shouting the boys over and measuring their little wrists and asking them to count out the beads they want.

We know we are paying way more than the bracelets are worth but we don’t mind because the entertainment factor of chatting with him and the dazzling speed at which his hands work making the bracelets are worth the tourist premium.  It’s a good afternoon for him, selling 4 in one go.

He tells me he has 5 children and 3 grandchildren.  I comment that it must be noisy at his house.  He says he lives on his own and all the kids live with their mums.  He tells me I have good good boys to be proud of.

He’s finished.  He ceremoniously ties the bracelets to the boys’ wrists and the anklet round my ankle.  He shakes hands and gives me a massive bear hug “King Edward doesn’t shake a fine looking woman’s hand, King Edward gives you a big big hug”

We admire our bracelets and watch our new friend weave his way along the beach.  Every single person avoids his gaze, heads down, a few muttered “no thanks, I have one already, not interested sorry”.  They’re missing out.  King Edward – the consumate salesman, the big talker, the hugger, the slightly flirty titty perver, the talented craftsmen was a true gent.  

And our bracelets have stayed on.  It’s true.  They strong strong. 

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Why would you want to do THAT?

I don’t think that there’s anyone in the Greater Manchester area that has come into contact with me in the last three months who I haven’t told about our impending travels.  The butcher ‘how much mince do you want love?’ Me ‘only a pound because we can’t use more than that because soon we will be travelling’.  The post office staff ‘how many stamps do you need?’ Me ‘well, 1, but soon I will be coming in to buy dollars because we are going travelling’.  Random shop assistant ‘that’ll be £9.99 please’ Me ‘oh gosh it’s so hard to find decent swimsuits in the shops this time of year, we need them because we are going travelling’ Shop Assistant ‘this is B&Q you bragging muppet, we don’t sell swimsuits at ANY time of the year.  So feck off’.  I’m sure that all of our friends are pretty darn sick of our rising excitement and non-stop chatter of beaches, travel plans, packing woes and escaping the murky Manchester winter in favour of Caribbean beaches and American adventures.

I’m actually writing this sitting in the grounds of a 350 year old plantation in Barbados, but I thought I would rewind the blog back to before we got here before I go onto tales from our travels.  And lots of showing off with photos of pristine white sand and palm trees.

So, in the conversations I had with folk about our impending travels – of which there were rather a lot, as detailed above.  Certain questions we were asked really surprised me.  

Why would you want to do that? 

Seriously? The thought that people wouldn’t want to take a step outside the humdrum routine of school runs, work, trips to Tesco, homework, meal planning, house cleaning (OK OK we all know that I don’t spend THAT much time doing that last one) baffles me.  I honestly  thought that most of us spent time daydreaming about travelling the word, meeting new people, shedding responsibility, lazing in the sun, learning new things, trying different foods, exploring.  We have been super lucky in that we inherited some money last year (thank you Grandpa and Mum and Dad for making this possible – hope you’d be pleased Grandpa that we are using your money to have an adventure – admittedly if you’re not pleased we a). won’t know and b) there’s sod all you can do about it – but we are choosing to believe that you would be chuffed and that me blogging it is the millennial version of your endless slideshows and lecture tours you did in the church halls of Gloucestershire to WI groups and random societies of your travels to the Bahamas, Switzerland, New Zealand.  You’d like Barabados Grandpa, there’s a LOT of Methodist churches here.  Which I’ve driven past on the way to buy rum punch.) Dan’s work have given him a career break, I’ve handed my notice in at the prison on the premise that there’s always going to be criminals so therefore there’s always going to be jobs there.  We’ve taken the boys off the roll at school for the term and will reapply for their places when we get back. 

What are you going to do with the kids? Or, my personal favourite, are you taking the boys?

No, we are a bit bored with this parenting lark now.  We have been doing it for 8 years and frankly they’re annoying, they eat quite a lot too as they’re getting bigger and we won’t be able to go out clubbing if they come so we thought we would leave them at home – set up an account with Domino’s Pizza to deliver one each night and stock the cupboard with cereal.  They’ll be grand, after all that Kevin kid in Home Alone was of a similar age and proved to be hugely resourceful and not only survived with only minor mishap but also his parents didn’t seem to face any Social Services intervention when they returned from their childless jaunt to Paris.  

Really? Not take the boys?  This isn’t a long weekend in Paris (although that would be nice thanks ) we are away for THREE months.  I mean that Dominos bill would get expensive no?  That’s the whole point of why we are going away.  To all spend time together – free from the constraints of the endless school runs and work stresses. To enjoy each other’s company.  To reconnect.  To experience more of what the world has to offer.  To teach our boys the importance of global society (well that sounds wanky, but it’s actually something I really believe in).  Given the political fuck up of 2016, perhaps if more people took the time to experience other countries and cultures, make friends with people of other nationalities, regarded travel as something other than a 2 week sojourn in the sun where the only ‘natives’ you encounter are those who pamper you, cook for you, change your beds – Perhaps then people would consider our global society before voting for selfish politicians hell bent on protecting their own tiny corner of the globe and to hell with anyone else.   Obviously we will have to reign in these political sympathies somewhat when we arrive in the Deep South of the USA merely days after Trump’s inauguration.  I hold my beliefs dear.  Not dear enough to discuss them with a card carrying member of the NRA though.  One good thing about Trump getting in is that after Brexit bollocksed the Stirling exchange rates – Trump getting in shagged the dollar rate too and our car hire is a little cheaper (see, even bleeding heart liberals can be selfish!!) 

Hopes 

  1. Get through a 9 hour flight without killing each other, anyone spelling any boldly fluids and hopefully being seated away from THAT crying baby.
  2. Space, time, to read, think, play, not rush anywhere.
  3. Food – my list of foods I ‘must eat while I’m away’ is a long one.  My Instagram feed has been largely filled with food accounts from places we are going to like @eatingnola @bajancookingiswellnice @youwillgetdeadfatintheUSA @friedchickenthough (only one of those is real)
  • Flying fish
  • Rum punch
  • Coconut fresh from the tree
  • Cuban food in Miami
  • Soda in an all American diner
  • Po’boy
  • Gumbo
  • Grits (I think they’re horrible but maybe not?  They look weird)
  • Biscuits n gravy
  • Clam chowder in Boston
  • Lobster
  • Beignets and cafe au lait in New Orleans
  • Hot dogs, chilli dogs, corn dogs
  • Cherry pie
  • Waffle fries
  • Moonshine
  • mint julep
  • BBQ

Experiences we want to have

  • Swim with  turtles
  • Watch the sunrise and sunset over the Caribbean
  • Fall asleep in a hammock
  • Sail on a catamaran
  • Submarine trip
  • See waves go through a blow hole (very famous Five)
  • See wild monkeys, alligators, manatees
  • Art Deco in Miami
  • Seaquarium
  • Jog along the beach
  • Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans
  • Read
  • Write
  • Antebellum mansions
  • Slave plantation
  • River boat steamer on the Mississsippi
  • Hear the blues
  • Dance
  • Grace lands
  • Road trip eating American junk food in the car with the radio blaring out country music
  • Crystal mining
  • Go to as many play parks as we can
  • Buy a pair of cowboy boots in Texas
  • Watch stars through an observatory
  • Space Center
  • Have lunch wth an astronaut
  • Swim in thermal pools
  • See the Northern Lights
  • BBQ on the beach
  • People watch 
  • Get haircut
  • OVERALL   – Laugh, love, fun, time and learn 

So, will we get to do and eat all those things? Time will tell.  Thanks for joining us on our journey.

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Harper Valley PTA

So, Dolly Parton had a point.  Well Dolly always has a point.  She is a living legend of curly hair, pert bosom and country wisdom.   There isn’t really a bitchier environment than a PTA.   Let’s be frank, school playgrounds are bitchy places anyway.  Anywhere that around 150 tired and grumpy parents have to congregate on a daily basis there’s going to be ructions.   Personally, I’m really not a morning kind of a gal.  Usually by the time I have battled with my kids over the somehow insurmountable task of putting a uniform on the right way round, tried to round up shoes and coats, fed them, had a big argument about why they’ve left the tap running in the bathroom and are still not dressed 35 minutes after being asked to get sodding dressed,  had another argument about why a freddo really isn’t a nutritious breakfast,  tried vainly to remember if it’s a football day or if homework has to be handed in, realised that the football kit is in fact still dirty and wet from last week, wondered why the feck I bother to wash school uniforms because they’re covered in bloody melted freddo (grrrrrrr) and toothpaste………..yes, usually by the time all that has happened I am not really in the mood for perky playground banter.  Obviously, then the fake friendliness comes into play. Apparently it’s not sociably acceptable to wear a badge to school that says ‘piss off and don’t even think of talking to me, I haven’t had any coffee yet, I haven’t had a shower and don’t be fooled by my perky gym kit wearing, I am not in fact going to the gym straight from the school run – it’s the only way I could spam back my greasy hair and get away with no makeup.  I hate my own children right now.  I really hate yours.  I don’t like you either.’  That’s also way too long for a badge. You get the drift of the sentiment though.

So, in the morning it’s all bleary eyed ‘hi’ ‘running late, sorry, chat later’ whilst internally making lists of who exactly in the playground you hate the most.

Afternoon pick ups are more civilised, the cliques are formed and chat ‘pleasantly’ – unless it’s raining in which case it’s WORSE than the morning drop off, but with the added challenge on how to get a 3 foot tall cardboard junk model robot home in the rain without damaging it (even though it’s blatantly going in the recycling the minute your little artist is in bed).

So, somehow out of these fraught playground exchanges the PTA has to be formed.  Ahh, the PTA.  Good old PTA.  Obviously being an all round do-gooder and busy bee (and not at all annoying to the general population in any way) it will come as no surprise to you to learn that yes indeed, PTA duties at our school have fallen to me.

Sadly my inner bitch that really wants to properly slag off the full workings of the PTA at our school must be silenced,  for a large number of years, because if my oh-so-secret identity on my blog (Tamsinsworld – Tamsin – now who could that be?  No.  Idea.  Oh wait.  THAT Tamsin, the one who does the PTA and comes to school in her gym kit fooling NOBODY.  Yeah, she’s for it.  How dare she slag us all off.  Bitch) is revealed then I am toast.

Therefore please understand that I LOVE and RESPECT everybody at our school.  I don’t dislike ANY of the other parents.  The PTA is in no way sapping my very life force.  ALL the teachers, parents and kids are unfailingly supportive and friendly and nothing is too much trouble for them.

Go Team PTA at tamsinsworld Primary.

Unlike at Harper Valley the PTA doesn’t really exist to pass judgement on the morality or dress sense of parents.   Well maybe it does, but it’s my drinking and questionable skirt length they’re slagging off so I just don’t know about it.

I’m not sure that anyone actually VOLUNTEERS for the PTA.  You may attend one meeting (because your little precious has started school and you are fresh faced and keen and want his little acorn to grow into a mighty oak in an educational establishment that has fun fairs, discos and raises money for pointless i-pads which they all have at home anyway) and then when the existing committee say ‘right we need a new committee to run this PTA because if we have to wrap one more lucky dip prize or apply one more tattoo to the arm of a sweaty child at a disco then we will require a short stay in a padded darkened room with a litre of gin  EACH ’ and then it suddenly morphs into a Ferris Bueller moment.  Bueller……Bueller……. Anybody?  there is a silence so all encompassing that you think you have gone deaf.  Then you hear a voice saying ‘I’ll do it’ and then realise OH SHIT THAT’S ME, what have I done?  The old committee skip out of the door assuring you ‘it’ll be great, honestly, all for the kids, they’ll love it, loads of people will help you, it’s not that much work…….byeeeeeeeeee…… *sound of their relieved cackles echoes through the corridors*’.

I am counting down until that day.

In every school up and down the land, the PTA is essentially 3 parents and 1 reluctant teacher who has been told that they have to do it by the head.

Others will turn up to meetings and come up with all sorts of ‘helpful’ suggestions.  ‘Have you thought about having a pamper evening? Everyone loves a facial, it’ll raise loads’ – great idea, shall I put you down to organise that then?  Oh, you’re too busy to actually help and run an event.  Shut it then.

Everybody – parents, kids, teachers – is well and truly BORED of the same old events every single year.  Oh yay!  It’s the Christmas fair.  It’s over a month before Christmas, Father Christmas smells funny, my children have bought a load of plastic crap they neither wanted nor needed and I have won a bottle of bubble bath from Aldi on the tombola which smells funny and suspiciously looks as if it has been used. Oh yay! *said nobody ever* But any suggestion of changing events is met with huge suspicion and entails endless discussions re cost-benefit analysis of tombola vs raffle and pearls of school folklore like ‘we tried that in 2005 and the real reindeer shat all over the hall floor and the caretaker fell over on it.  It was bit like the Blue Peter elephant and the head has said no live animals can ever come into school again.’

A load of people volunteer to help and then immediately regret it and suspiciously start dropping their kids off to breakfast club – sucking up the £4 instead of risking the chance of getting collared in the playground in the morning as to why they haven’t actually done the poster/organised the decorations/got the raffle prize that they had so earnestly promised.

The majority of parents neither volunteer or spend much at the actual event and then slag it all off in really loud voices ’50p for a go on splat the rat,  I could go round the back of the bins and splat a bloody real one for free’.

The PTA faithful spend evenings sobbing into wine and wondering if their children will be the only ones donating books for the book stall, checking the weather for the summer fair obsessively, sending out increasingly desperate facebook statuses that employ an awful lot of !!!!!!! and grovel in an unbecoming fashion.

Good things about being in the PTA:

  • Raises money for school, yeah that wealthy(ish) school in the middle class area where pretty much all the kids want for nothing and the school is pretty well resourced anyway.
  • All kids love a disco. Actually mine don’t, they think it’s too loud, too dark and don’t like dancing in front of girls and only want the glo-stick they get given.
  • The Summer Fair is so much fun. Unless it rains.  Which happens 3 out of 4 years.   A rainy Summer Fair is shit.
  • You get to go to meetings and make friends with other parents (the same 6 people come to every meeting and as the years go by the discussions get increasingly cynical and all the rest of the parents in the school hate you because you pester them to do crap)
  • You have access to the PTA cupboard and can sneak in there for a strawberry lace if you’re having a particularly bad day.
  • Going into school in the day under the pretence of PTA work really enables you to totally stalk your own children and watch how they behave when you’re not there. I know, I’m a weirdo.
  • MAIN REASON FOR DOING IT you get to suck up to the teachers, they after all are responsible for your kids’ education and it’s my view that if you show a bit of willing then they will look upon your child more favourably and it’s easier to have an ongoing dialogue with them.

Although at the beginning of the next school year I am tempted to moot a year’s PTA embargo – if we all just give £50 at the beginning of the year then we can actually spend our free time doing what we want.

*totally got Dolly Parton lyrics going round in my head now*

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