Category Archives: A new perspective

When two became three..

H just turned 21. Yes, Mr N and I have a 21 year child (who’s no longer a child). It snowed the day she was born and Mr N missed it because she was a week early and he was in Freiburg. My friend K drove me to hospital, calm on the outside but a bit wobbly in, like me, until my friend H’s mum turned out to be the midwife on duty and then I didn’t care that he wasn’t there, because she was all I needed when the super scary force that is the primaeval urge to push took over. We named her first teddy bear Shirley in her honour, a present as big as her from Grandma and Grandad, who still shares her bed. At 12 hours old, Mr N made it, wild haired, blurry eyed and in awe of a tiny scrap with a twisted foot which untwisted itself after another day. “She’s very intelligent”, said Gran.  She was less than 24 hours old when we took her home in just a vest and some booties and wrapped in a towel because we’d forgotten to bring in an outfit. We lay her on the sofa and wondered what to do next. Neither of us had ever even held a baby before. At 48 hours old, she slept all day long. We didn’t know what to expect from a newborn, but this wasn’t it so we called out the midwife mid-afternoon in a panic. Glazed in brand new parenthood as we were, I still was able to hear her amused tone behind the soothing words that she was absolutely fine. We’d been on the brink of waking her up at least five times that day, but I doubt it took us many more days to learn to NEVER wake a sleeping baby. At two weeks old, I was due to take her into work to show her off, but had to postpone the trip because I couldn’t manage to get out of the house. She slept, she woke up, I fed her, she cried, she burped, she filled her nappy, I changed it, she fell asleep again, and on it went. I couldn’t work out how to fit in an outing, and as for all the paraphernalia that seemingly had to accompany us, well, it was all too much. What on earth was I fannying around at? By the time R, our third, was born, all preciousness had dissipated – we went out on day two with a spare nappy and a packet of wipes and he spent his baby years just fitting in. When she was ten weeks old, we went camping, just the three of us, to Bakewell, only an hour away in case we had to up sticks and head home in the middle of the night (why would we?!). Gran had knitted her a white woolly sleeping bag with a big hood and she snuggled between us in baby heaven. We (one of us, I forget which) lay her on the rear shelf of the car and then opened the boot so she rolled inwards and onto the back seat, still sleeping, and we couldn’t find her for a while. It was sometimes easy to forget we had her. At three months, we put her in her own bedroom, a tiny creature in a big white cage of a cot. I imagined she was a small furry animal who could see in the dark. When she was four months old, I took her to Canada with Gran (my mum) to see Great-Gran (my gran) who thought she was a boy but was mesmerised all the same. I sobbed the whole flight home, while she slept soundly, because I knew we’d never see her again. When she was five months old, I went back to work full-time and it broke my heart. They wouldn’t have me part-time so it was all or nothing. No-one told me to wean her off breast milk beforehand, so she refused to drink from a bottle and survived on baby rice and bananas and her poo turned abruptly from sweetly smelling piccalilli mush to stinky human shit while my boobs leaked in weepy empathy as I clock-watched the days away and raced home every night.  At eight months we went camping again to Loch Lomond and she gazed in wonder at the flicking fire and moonlit lake and the shadows on our faces. When she was one I left my job and we moved house. I was conflicted, aching to leave her lovely child minder and her little cocooned world of baby relationships that I’d fantasised she’d keep up with all her life, and it was raining and we knew nobody, but I was full of joy to have her to myself. She sucked her finger not a dummy and took it all in her wobbly stride. Her first proper word was ‘shoes’, which she pronounced precisely and over and over while jabbing her finger at every pair she could see. By 14 months she fully understood the power, and we the weariness, of repetition: “cuggle mummy” was her mantra as she trotted right behind me round the house, “again, again” was her chant as Mr N flung her up in the air or splashed her in the pool or swung her round and round. And we can both still quote  from the books we read and reread and rereread together at bedtime (the priceless, tatty books that are safe in a box in the loft). We laughed (what else could we do?) at her marvellous, outrageous rage and watched in astonishment as she flopped in a mini faint as the mighty breath she took in floored her before the roar of fury could let fly. We came to dread the significant silence before the storm. At 17 months we camped again, on a blustery beach on Islay and by a river in Glencoe, where she wore (every day in my memory) a natty red and white striped shorty romper suit (that F also wears, later on in my mind’s slideshow) and made piles of stones everywhere we went. When she was 18 months, she scribbled on the coffee table. “What is that?” I demanded in mock horror. “A cat”, she replied. At 20 months, her brother F was born. I felt somehow that we’d betrayed her – how could we love another baby as much as her (we did, and a third)? how could we ruin our cosy three-ness? – but she loved him from the start and forgot he was ever not there. So then we were four, and then we were five and now she’s just six years younger than I was when I had her.

Black Friday blues

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, which we don’t celebrate here in the UK, and last Friday was Black Friday, which apparently now we do (thanks, Amazon). I spent the afternoon with the hordes in the crowded-at-the-best-of-times Intu shopping centre in Derby. I’ve never been much of a fan of a shopping mall. I think I went just three times to the Galleria, Houston’s finest, and although I couldn’t completely avoid our nearest, Memorial City Mall,  I did my best to keep away as much as possible and most certainly didn’t feel the need to revisit either on my recent trip back. The same applies to Intu, with the added annoyance that its ridiculous name brings to any outing. So what with all that baggage and Black Friday now being a thing, frankly I’d have preferred to spend several hours on the geriatric ward of Derby Royal, and I do know what that’s really like (more of which later).  But I had no choice. [Spoiler alert: rant approaching.]

You see, up until that very day, just 48 hours ago, I had been continuing to pay for a US mobile phone contract alongside a UK one, and having to use two phones (one smart and one very dumb but with a battery that lasts a whole week!). This, then, has been four and a half months of unwillingly but necessarily shelling out for a US contract while no longer living in the US.   Let me elaborate. [Friends to whom I’ve elaborately elaborated already, feel free to skip to the end.]

At the time I was sorting out our move back home from Houston we didn’t want to close our Bank of America account; we’d still have money going in and out for a few months beyond our departure, I was planning a trip back in October so it would be useful then,  but most importantly, the exchange rate was shit. So, I went into the bank – note, actually went in to a branch and spoke to a real person – to ask how to change our online security mechanism which was linked to my US phone – any transaction (like transferring money) required a code that was texted to me.  “Oh that’s simple, ma’am, we can just link it to a different phone.” So I switched it to my UK phone number there and then. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, thought I, one moving job ticked off the list. Until I realised it wasn’t, on what was our very last day in the States, when, online transacting, the code came dinging right up on my US phone screen. Some time later when I’d managed to get through to a person in customer services (I could take up considerably more screen space by expleting about quite how laborious and frustrating that particular experience was but I’ll simply say that voice recognition software and the word ‘representative’ in an English accent do not, in America, gel; I’ll leave that hanging for y’alls to picture the blueness of the air) I was told that I had been incorrectly advised and online security cannot be linked to an overseas number. What I needed, in fact, was a “Safe Pass Key” – a physical card. My customer services operator helpfully changed my address (another last minute job jobbed, pleasingly killing two birds with one stone, I wrongly assumed) and then proceeded to be unable to order my Safe Pass Key because, it turns out, you have to wait 30 days from a change of address. So, there was my first month’s US contract while not in the US accounted for.

30 days later, online I go to order the Key, only to get the brutal message: “your Safe Pass Key can not be ordered at this time, try again later”. A few failed retries and I decide it must be 30 working days I have to wait. Here we are now rolling into my second month’s US contract while not in the US.

Ten days later, same scenario, same message, so a customer services phone call can no long be avoided (but I do remember to say “represenadive” in my best Texan twang). I get the shock news that, “unfortunately, ma’am, for security reasons we do not send our Safe Pass Keys outside of the US”. The bank has already sent me a new debit card to my English address, I say. Not the same thing. They could send it to my old address, she suggests. That would be the house in Houston where I no longer live and where someone else, a complete stranger, does instead. I question the bank’s notion of security, but to no avail. “Do you know anyone who lives in the US?” she asks. “Er, yes.” “Well we can get it sent there.” So, sanctioned by the bank, we change our address to our ex-neighbour’s. And then – did you see this coming? – I have to wait another 30 days.  There I then was, grumbling my way towards a third month’s US contract while not in the US.

A month on and at last I click that ‘confirm order’ button and my Safe Pass Key is on its way to the Ks’ house. By the time it arrives, in two weeks, I’m only three weeks away from our half-term holiday in H-town, so Mrs K keeps hold of it till I’m there.  Four weeks after that, I’m back home and, hallelujah, it works. Finally, I can cancel my US contract.

Except, I can’t, quite yet. You can’t just stop and pay up pro-rata with T-Mobile. No, you have to complete the month’s cycle which in my case takes me through another three and a half weeks to 28th November. Which fell on Black Friday. Which brings me back to Intu.

As of 28th November, my smart phone is only good for smart stuff if I’m connected to wifi so I need to transfer my UK contract from dumb to smart asap, without changing my number, losing my contacts from either phone, or any apps. Cleverly, I have managed to save all my photos elsewhere jic, but any smugness I feel is dwarfed by the need to also  complete the unlocking procedure online once the new SIM card is in and the worry I have about not understanding what this actually means. Obviously, it requires a visit to the EE shop. Which is in Intu. And it’s Black Friday. Bizarrely, the EE shop has no wifi (not allowed by Intu) so once the contract’s sorted and the new SIM’s in, I have to hot foot it over to a coffee shop which does have wifi (allowed by Intu) to unlock the phone. I have remembered to bring my laptop and the right usb cable, but my feeling pleased with myself only lasts as long as it takes me to snatch a seat, snap open the laptop and reach for my reading glasses which are not there in my bag. I manage to get past the password because I know that’s the first thing that comes up, but can’t go beyond this because I’m unable to read what comes next on the screen. I have to up sticks, relinquish my comfy corner in the crowded Costa, squeeze my way to Boots, and buy a pair of readers, before battling back and starting it all again. FFS!  I’m hassled and hot and raging and I blame it ALL, even my crappy eyesight and forgotten specs, on Amazon, the Bank of America, T-Mobile, EE and fucking Intu with its nonsense name.

November has been a difficult month, not just for me but for others I’m close to and fond of. Margot died, and I along with F, our 19 year old son and boyfriend of Margot’s daughter, went to her funeral in Holland which was heart-rending, moving and cathartic all at the same time. I keep hearing the line “every silver lining has a cloud”, spoken by Margot’s husband, H, in the rawness of his grief. Then there’s, T, son of good friends, a boy we’ve known all his life, who has been poorly and, last week, needed an op. My Mum, aka Gran, who’s old, frail and demented, also ended up in hospital (though handily, visiting-wise, for a while two floors directly below T), refusing food, drink and, in fact, any attempts at comfort and communication. One of the few things she did say to me, her daughter, in her confusion was “Where’s my baby?”. Oh the cruelty of dementia! [Thankfully, T’s on the mend and Gran’s home and back to being rude, her new ‘old self’ as it were.]  In the context of all of this, my app and chat challenges seem laughably, almost insultingly, banal and overplayed.  So I was encouraged to learn, just yesterday, in a prescient piece by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, that there’s a rational explanation for this loss of perspective: thanks to an oddity of the mind, known as the “region-beta paradox”, minor setbacks can cause more long-term distress than bigger ones. To simplify: when truly bad things happen they cross a threshold, triggering mechanisms that help us to cope and recover; in contrast, when all we’re dealing with are first world problems our cognitive defences won’t kick in, so rage may bubble longer.  I like to think it also provides some comic relief from life’s true traumas, too.

 

 

You Never Can Tell

Like every parent whose kids have grown up, I’m having to get used to less. I say ‘I’ because Mr N, in his Australian bachelor idyll, is having to get used to, well, living that bachelor lifestyle, a whole different kettle of fish. By the time he’s back from there for good, I’ll be used to this empty-ish nest, and he’ll have to adjust to it alone. That’ll be another story.  For now, it’s about me and R, our 16 year old; we’re the two currently rattling around our four-bedroomed family home. I’m sure that it’s strange for him, too, without his big brother and sister (or his dad), but this is my blog and I’m seeing it from my perspective. Which is this:

Fancy having two spare bedrooms! We could’ve done with all this space a bit earlier in our family’s life, when the bairns were but babes and there were always grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins coming to stay. Then again, I wouldn’t wish for my kids not to have shared bedrooms, oh, the joy of bunk beds and night games and giggling and naughtiness and squabbles and shared secrets for siblings only! Nor would they themselves have chosen not to squash in from time to time, top to toe, three to a bed even, when there was no more room at the inn. Anyway, it doesn’t go on much any more, this bursting at the seams, which – and whoever would have imagined it?  – makes me thankful for the crowded rowdy sleepovers with far too many teens on the floors and sofas when they do still happen (vomit excepted).

When, as it mostly is, it’s just me and him, I have to swap places at the dining table. If I didn’t take over F’s spot, which is opposite R’s, R and I would have been unsociably, and weirdly, eating side by side since the husband-and-two-children exodus at the end of September. I will, of course, have to move out from middle boy’s slot the minute he’s back home from university – if he’s in the house, F sits there, no compromise, for anyone, no change, even after two years away in Houston. But in the meantime, I don’t sit where I used to for my dinner.

Sticking with the mealtime theme, I could happily cater for a surprise visit from a family of eight for at least a week since the freezer’s now full of delicious home-made ready meals. I keep buying and cooking too much food, and small portions were never a thing in this house. Mulligatawny soup, anyone? Don’t like spicy food? How about bolognaise, or chicken stew, or a classy vichyssoise? Come on round!  R baked a cake, and I ate a number of large slices, yet even so had to force feed it to my book club girls four days later as it began to stale, one of them took a quarter home and there was still some left. Waste- and waist-wise, I need to learn to control this better.

On a positive note, the loo roll’s lasting an incredibly long time.

The biggest difference, though, is the noise. The lack of it. It’s often just me here and even when we’re “all” home, that still only makes two, one of whom is usually plugged in to earphones and quite busy with homework and other screen-based stuff, all mainly occurring upstairs with the door shut. Not that we don’t get on, R and me, we do. (We watched Pulp Fiction together recently, and then later twisted in the living room to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, just like John Travolta and Uma Thurman.)

But the truth is, there are definitely occasions when he only really spends time in my company because he’s kind and sensitive and he feels sorry for me.  And he’s behaving no differently than the others would if they were here, it’s just his disappearances are more noticeable when he’s the only one disappearing and I’m the only one left.  I’m not lonely, just alone more than before, which, it turns out, is quite quiet.

Some things, though, haven’t changed with him.  Like, making a quick exit when any of my friends turn up, thus avoiding all middle-aged female clucking. So, right after our little dance scene the other night, R scooted upstairs as the first of my book-clubbers arrived. And if he wasn’t a temporarily only child, maybe the drama that followed might not have taken place. “I can smell gas” was repeated as each person came in. We have a gas boiler, gas hob and gas fire. All three were off. We checked, and then we checked again. “I can smell gas”,  said another walking through the door. This wasn’t funny. I rang the emergency number, was told over the phone to switch off the lever at the meter “but only if you can see without a torch, you mustn’t turn a torch, or any appliance, or switch, on or off. We’ll have an engineer there within the hour.” This was scary. Anyway, I did as I was told, we opened a few windows, poured our wine and got talking about the book (‘Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls’ by David Sedaris, if you’re interested). The engineer knocked, told us to carry on while he checked everything, and then popped in and out of the house and all the rooms, up and down, in and out, probing and suchlike. Half an hour later, he gave me the bad news: “I’m going to have to condemn your gas supply and cut you off.”  He couldn’t find the source of the leak, but there was a trace of gas on his reading, so he had no option. Worse, because there was nothing escaping from any of the exposed and accessible pipes, it seemed probable that any leakage was from the pipework somewhere – anywhere, no way of telling exactly where – under the floor. I – we all – immediately saw ripped up floorboards and a devastatingly disruptive trail of £££££££s snaking around the ground floor in futile pursuit of a pesky pinprick. There was apology in the engineer’s demeanour as he “capped” the meter.  When he’d said goodbye and I’d closed the door on him, R loomed downstairs, completely unaware of our condemned status or anything that had led up to it. His mouth dropped open when I told him. “Do you think it could’ve been anything to do with me leaving the hob on for 15 minutes?” he murmured. Hmmm, yes, I thought, calmly(ish), everything to do with that.

So, perhaps if there’d been a sibling or two up there as well (also hiding from my pals, as they would have been), R might have mentioned he’d left the gas on, and they, in turn, might have thought to mention it to me? Or, at the very least, one of them might have ventured down to see what all the to-ing and fro-ing was about, do you think? But when there’s just one of him, locked into music, on his own in his room, safely away from the lairy scram that is me and my reading buddies, why would he emerge any time soon?

I had to pay £20 to get the gas turned back on the next day, and will be dining out on the story a few more times yet. The moral of the tale, then,  is… um, what? Don’t let your kids leave home or don’t have kids at all? It’s clearly too late for either of those options for me, so I suppose I’ve just gotta get used to where we’re at. And anyway, You just Never Can Tell what’ll happen next…

Finding our place

First impressions: In baggage reclaim at Heathrow T2, on the loo, and it’s private! No gaps round these restroom doors!  Second thing: local accents – albeit varied – surround us and, “ooh,” I think, “they’re British” before I come to and clock that , of course, they all are now.  Third: slightly clichéd but nevertheless as it happened, it’s a little bit grey (not gray) and chilly.  Then the tiredness kicks in and I snooze in and out on the last leg of our demob from Houston to Belper, the three hour car journey up the M1. Our driver is silent and we four are all silent back. I can’t speak for Mr N and the boys, but, inbetween sleeps I feel a bit numb and not chatty.  As we skirt Derby – our nearest city and ten miles from home – we catch a glimpse of the new velodrome; mid-morning, the sky is now streaky blue and my image of it is spikey and modern and burnt orange (this could just be the light) and I feel a shiver of something different to the physical and emotional weariness that has so far engulfed my return to England – a spark of surprise.

Then we’re there. At our house. H is here, opening the front door (good job, neither Mr N or I could find our keys). We live at the end of a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill on what, in its lower section, is quite a narrow road, and on repatriation from Texas, seems way too thin, and made stupidly more so by the full line of parked cars from bottom to top. I breathe in as we make our way up.

Snapshot reaction: it looks very similar but not exactly home. If you have ever been friends with one identical twin without knowing the other, this is analagous. When you eventually meet them it’s unnerving because the friendship claim you feel is yours becomes a little less secure in the (literally) face of this other person that you don’t know but who is undeniably almost the same; you feel a bit antagonistic towards the unfamiliar twin, almost as though they are an imposter. It’s ridiculous (and possibly just me, anyway, who has this reaction – it’s happened to me twice) but anyway, in the instant of arrival, that is how I felt about my house. It was clearly ours and fundamentally the same, yet different too just at that moment. Plants were larger and sprawled in places they didn’t previously; a flick of the eye either side revealed a frame of newness – overhanging trees, a slightly crumbling wall to one side; a Bassett Hound up on its hind legs peering over the fence to the other. And in the middle, not-quite-yet-again-our house. Like the unknown twin, undeniably almost the same but unsettling even so.

Measured response: Now it’s been 12 days and it feels like we’ve never been away. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Dr M said to me last night at Book Club (the very same one that I started up 11 years ago and never really left even while in Houston, thank you Skype) that he thought it was a good thing. Here, now, this morning with my beautiful bedroom view back, I feel it’s true. Already I’ve lost count of the new encounters with old faces: my hairdresser; the butcher; an ex-colleague in the Co-Op; mums and dads of kids who, like ours, have trawled and still are trawling up through the local schools; the kids themselves, some barely recognisable but many much the same give or take an inch or few and hair happenings. F, R and I keep spotting Houston people, briefly – Bev and Roseanna have been particularly ubiquitous for some reason – before remembering where we are and looking more closely. That says something about not feeling out of place I suppose. And it’s funny! So we’re still laughing.

And we’re relishing the busy-ness of our little town. There’s life outside our very doorstep. People chat and kids shout and everone’s walking. The high street is milling, admittedly at the moment with quite a lot of old people and weirdos who don’t – won’t or can’t – work because school’s still not out here (this dynamic will change from tomorrow when the summer hols kick in). But still, old and weird it may be but it’s life being lived on a human scale. We have cycled, run and walked up into the hills and to the shops and down the pub and round to friends’ from our front door. The trek in the car for just a loaf of bread in Houston is once again seeming a little ludicrous, not normal, as indeed it really is. That is, so quickly, no longer what we’re used to.

How I’ve enjoyed, as well, our quick-boiling kettle, fast-browning toaster, furiously hot hair straighteners and powerful hairdryer. Oh what superior voltage! I’m not sorry to have left behind that weakly stream of American electrons. I am, though, missing my massive fridge (mainly for the ice) and top loading washing machine, vicious with the clothes and unenvironmentally friendly it may have been. The fridge, along with a whole new kitchen to surround it, will have to change. The washer and dryer situation, I fear, will not.

I suppose it’s time to get back in the habit of hanging out the washing, come rain or shine. That’s just what we do here, isn’t it? But I haven’t done so.  And I don’t quite, so far, feel that I’m living my real life. The upstairs half of the house looks like it’s being inhabited by hoarders, and we’re in the middle of approximately 17 different jobs – painting, decorating, clearing out, sorting through, swapping bedrooms, putting stuff away (like the humans in this house, the objects don’t yet have a final place), gardening, kitchen planning, blah blah – all of which have been started but not finished.  And we don’t have broadband at home! Still! With two days to go to the promised connection date (“C-day”), we continue to fight over access to smart phones, and pitching up with pals, laptops in tow, is our new normal.

It’s indeed disturbing to be wifi-restricted but probably what is the most unsettling is that no-one is at school or work. [Well, the noble Mr N is, of course, but that’s way away over in Oz, and the charmed H is too, but neither are currently living in this house.]  There is plenty to do – as well as the 17 afore-mentioned jobs on the go there are an estimated 346 still to be started. So that’s not the issue; no, for me, it’s that statusless thing again – and now, I’m not even a proper trailing spouse. I’ve trailed, there and back.  What now?

 

 

Home truths the Morrissey way

The other night I went to see Morrissey and the ticket only cost $38. I repeat, I went to see MORRISSEY and THE TICKET ONLY COST $38! My friend S from home sent me a message: “I believe you went to worship at the temple of Morrissey at the weekend. Very jealous… got to be worth a trailing spouse blog!”  My friend S from Louisiana and my neighbour S from DC both said, separately: “Who’s Morrissey?” (that temporarily deflated my excited retelling of the experience).

If you’re round about my age (48) and a Brit it’s inconceivable that you won’t know who he is.  Many, many more people than just those who share my demography will also know. But for the benefit of those of you who don’t, like my two pals, the American S’s, he was the lead singer of the seminal Manchester band of my youth, The Smiths. Arguably no band, or singer, since has quite matched the dark creamy depths conjured by the always lurching combination of bleak, painful, poignant, but oh-so-funny lyrics, the sweeping melodies and his honeyed Northern voice.  I don’t for one minute want to get into a best-band-ever argument or a then-versus-now debate. Apart from anything else, I’d lose, I’m just so not a musico, I don’t claim a wide knowledge or even massive interest; I never know who’s who from my sons’ repertoire of, admittedly often rather good, playlists [though as an irrelevant but amusing aside, I wouldn’t defend H (my daughter)’s dodgy music taste, which can be illustrated by F (middle son)’s recent comment to her: “listening to that stuff coming out of your iPod this morning just made me feel sorry for you”]; basically I like what I like. But, of course, The Smiths did provide the score to my late teens and early 20s, always a massive factor, don’t you think, in what resonates? Suffice to say, then, that there are lots of people who would concur in my opinion of them and him.

So, back to the recent night out. He is and always was a massive vegetarian (here, massive = fundamentalist). The Smiths album, Meat is Murder, aside from being marvellous musically, is quite simply enough to turn a meat eater off the flesh. It did me, for two years anyway (“how can I possibly be a Smiths fan and eat meat?” went my less than ethical thinking). Even now, all these years on, if I were to conjure up Morrissey and, say, a rump steak, together in one thought, I would feel a bit ashamed, a sham fan. He would absolutely not give me the time of day were we to bump into each other [ffs, listen to me!] and I told him the truth about my carnivorous habits. Obviously if and when our paths ever cross socially [can’t help imagining it, sorry!] I will lie.  His animal protectionism (Morrissey’s own terminology) is accompanied by an arsey-ness  that has led over the years to all sorts of public spats and cancelled gigs and controversial outbursts. This latest tour is mainly in small-town theatres which I think is because he won’t play anywhere that sells meat. I’m guessing the Toyota Centre in Houston told him to eff off, if it wanted to sell hot dogs on the night it would. Hence we Houstonians had to travel all the way to Beaumont, an hour and 40 minutes east and nearly in Louisiana, for the closest venue.

And travel we did, along with maybe 90% of the whole audience, from Houston. Beaumont, TX, doesn’t look or feel like the sort of place that would be able to fill more than 10% of a theatre, even the cosy smallish one we were at. You skirt alongside Beaumont when you drive to New Orleans, on the vast strip of concrete that is the I-10, the interstate freeway that can take you from Florida to California and back if you want. Beaumont slides by unnoticed behind the ubiquitous Chilis, Waffle Houses, Dennys and the rest, after you’ve just passed the miles of clanging metal and chimney stacks and pipelines and detergent smell that constitutes the refineries of Baytown. I’d put the price of a Morrissey ticket (and more, considering how cheap it was) on no-one I know ever having had cause or want to stop and take a look round there.

We – me and my fellow fans, the Scottish C and J – had, in our enthusiasm for the whole enticing caper, decided to make something of, if not a day then a late afternoon and evening of it, and head to Beaumont early to have a pre-show dinner. Which we wouldn’t have done if we’d ever been there before. Which, like everyone else in Houston, we hadn’t. So after some exploration on foot of the closed and deserted “downtown”, we headed back west along the I-10 to the ubiquitous Chilis etc, and settled for Carrabba’s.  It was heaving, clearly the place to be in Beaumont (or rather, nearly in Beaumont) on a Sunday night. There were definitely date nights going on, and family dinners, but also, we suspected, at least half the up and coming Morrissey audience from H-town. When we mentioned to the waiter why we were there, he quipped quick as a flash, “yes, I know, isn’t it funny that Beaumont is actually a place that people are coming to!”.

And that was not to be the only funny (in the same sense as Beaumont being a destination, funny odd, not funny ha ha) interlude of the trip. Morrissey, in his apparent current incarnation as this charming man passed his mic out to the audience and first up was someone from Derby. That’s Derby, small-town England, not Derby small-town Kansas, America. The same Derby, indeed, which also happens to be about eight miles from my home. Someone else from over there, standing right here with me, in Beaumont, Texas, of all the goddamn places!

Well Morrissey was brilliant, our mini road trip there and back so worth it, cheap tickets and all other things considered (and especially since Scottish J did all the driving with his foot down hard on the gas). And that’s it, the end of my little tale. I wanted to write this mainly to spread the Morrissey gospel to Morrissey virgins, but haven’t we all learnt some other lessons along the way? Like: the English and the Scots get on famously (so come on guys, in September don’t abandon us to a Tory England for ever more please); and, a small town is a small town is a small town and even small-town Texas can sometimes seem not so far from home, especially when Morrissey’s in it and singing Every Day Is Like Sunday (which he did). Home truths indeed.

 

Don’t judge me!

Relatively speaking, I’m a newcomer to this expat life that I’m about to depart. What with that and being British, I’m not hugely looking forward to the prospect of selling the stuff we’ve accumulated that we’re not taking home. I feel quite awkward about assuming anyone might want the things that we don’t. And I find it very difficult to decide on a selling price. Is half price too much of a bargain or inappropriately high? What if it’s nearly new or never used – does that warrant an above half price tag? Does that make me look grasping? What if none of it gets sold, what will that say, quite publicly too, about our taste? Oh blimey, it’s like an objectified profile page and people will judge us. (Since I judge other people by what they sell, I know this to be true.) I find myself wondering whether I should justify our original purchases in my sales blurb (“had to get something cheap but cheerful in a rush”; “never really liked it much but it served its purpose”; “the kids made me buy it”).  And if the item doesn’t sell, how low should you go and how soon, without appearing desperate? We don’t mind being left with some stuff that can be given away, but there are one or two things – the piano for example – that I really don’t want to be leaving out on the driveway for the bin men on our final morning.

Now, some of you’ll know what’s to follow in this wee diversion… You do get some choice stuff kerbside round these parts of a Monday! I suspect it’s a combination of living in a wealthy area and the fact that this is America: seasonal home decor changes and a certain disregard for recycling means that what gets chucked can be top quality. On our start-the-week run a couple of months ago we passed a stack of two outdoor chairs, metal-framed, woven seats and backs, good and solid (oh, and heavy). “Ooh”, I mused aloud, “could do with some nicer chairs, maybe I’ll come back for a closer look …”, but M said, “It’s now or never, the garbage truck will be round before we’ve finished.” By which time J had already grabbed one side, so I grabbed the other and M took a photo for Facey-b (captioned ‘the things you find while out running’) as we staggered off under the weight, trying to maintain a pace, taking turns to carry. Still, it was worth it, they were (are!) indeed much nicer than my plastic ones. (The plastic ones were also free, from L with purchase of glass-topped table on her exit from Houston last Christmas, so I’m not complaining about them, L, honestly! And the new[ish] pair so go with the table, it’s uncanny!) The only shame of it was there weren’t four of them. Our earlier experience of, shall we call it trash scavenging?, was not so successful, mind you. Same J involved, saw a kid’s bike, “ideal” for her boy, looked in good nick, no flat tyres, not rusty, so we ran with it, J stooped low cumbersomely (not a word? should be), as the bin lorry appeared round the corner, just in time. We whooped with the audacity and luck of it, and ran on but the self-congratulatory mood apparently stopped as soon as J’s husband came home and gave it the once over – handlebars skew-whiff or something major that couldn’t be repaired and so on the sidewalk it found itself once more just one week later. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I don’t want to leave the piano out with the rubbish. Obviously it would be a terrible waste of a lovely instrument to end up crushed, and not even the intrepid M and J could heave their way home with it. So, at some point it – and the rest of the gear – must be put up for sale. And that means there’s nothing for it but to rejoin the local ‘marketplace’ Facebook group. Sigh.

You see, I had to leave it a few weeks ago. This is the reason: someone was trying to sell, for $150, a dusty case of lenses that she’d found lurking in her garage, abandoned by she knew not whom or how long ago; furthermore, and I quote exactly, “The case is not in good condition but it still closes. It has what appears to be velvet on the inside. It holds various lenses that an eye doctor would use to improve your vision. The glass has markings and some are tinted.”  WHAT APPEARS TO BE VELVET !?!  I ask you! Was it so dusty and mildewy and dank that its material was no longer obvious or was she just peering at it in the cobwebby corner of her garage from afar? (And aren’t eye doctors, by the way, called opticians or optometrists or other proper professional titles by everyone except small children?)  Who on earth did she think would even contemplate buying such a pile of shit, let alone cough up a hundred and fifty bucks? So I had to leave the group.

Since my exit, someone (I’ve been told) has tried to sell a burial plot. A who’s lived in India says she’s seen folks selling half empty Nurofen bottles and other complete crap. This, then, is not just a Houston thing, not even an American thing; so maybe it’s an expat thing.  Or perhaps I’m being unfair to expats (though, to generalise, it’s not a group of people to feel sorry for, so I don’t think it matters if I am). Because this life is so transient, there are always people buying and selling household goods and school uniforms and toys and cars and, well, most things you need in your daily life and these online markets are a fabulous, efficient way of doing this. Not everyone in the particular market I’m talking about is an expat of course, and anyway they exist all over the place, in and for more stable communities, but I can’t help thinking that this loopy loss of perspective from the nuttiest of the sellers must come most frequently from the expats, because there’s nothing quite like this lifestyle for tilting one’s frame of reference.

But anyway, needs must and I’m back in the group.  I’ve tentatively posted a few items, stuff that can go early, and even made a couple of quick sales already which suggests that, for these first few things at least, I’m not being considered greedy or in poor taste or weird (all things that are important to me, I like to be liked you know, I’m quite vain).  Now I need to take stock (literally), snaps, and balance my pricing vs. popularity strategy in readiness for the big June sell-off.

So then, what’s a fair price for a piano, and first dibs on it anyone?

 

Norway vs the Jungle

Imagine: it’s International Week at school and your small child’s been given Surinam (say) and a brief to turn up next Tuesday in national costume, with a typical dish of food and some fun facts.  Then imagine the same scenario and a recent move to another country.

Do I sometimes ache for the cute, malleable, full-of-love-for-me, innocent beans that my children once were? Yes. Do I miss the panicky, project-immersion parenting required of the cute blah blah beans by things like International Week? No. I am glad that I (we – Mr N took his fair share of the burden) no longer have the weight of middle class angst on my/our shoulders over what level of intervention/explanation is appropriate for a four/seven/ten year old. (Please don’t worry about us, we have plenty of other middle class angst issues on our shoulders.) Oh god, don’t we just want to do the best for them, but does best mean the hands-on design and build of a 1/20 scale model of the Arya Dewaker Temple, a hands-off oversight of a scuffed together, plagiarised compilation of facts and figures [“Surinam has a rich historical tradition of same-sex relationships and a distinctive culture has developed around them. The Mati are working class women who typically have children and engage in sexual relationships with men and with women, either consecutively or simultaneously… while others are only involved with women”. ! Who the hell knew that?] or something in between that at least has some educational and moral guidance?

We’ve done all three in our time. I left F to his own devices to draw up a Tudor family tree that, it turned out, actually became a tree with a brown trunk and green leaves, quite nicely painted but irrelevant, Tudor-wise, save for some pictures of, and random info about, Henry VIII and his six wives billowing out of the branches. I spent many days constructing and painting the Lighthouse of Alexandria, initially with R, but ultimately just for him when the realisation that there were very very very many windows that had to be blocked in hit home. And then there was the time that our whole family lived on war rations for a long weekend in the interests of H’s World War II project; all three of my children still remember how cross I got with them when they ate some sweets that wouldn’t have been available during the war while they were at nature club on Sunday morning  (I have no recollection of this particular bit of crossness). And then there was the dressing up. For book week, for birthday parties, for shows.

By the time our youngest was at nursery school, we’d lived in our Derbyshire town for about seven or eight years and our dressing up box was overflowing and resource bank of friends and friends of friends almost limitless. By the time we moved to Houston two years ago, our youngest was nearly 14 and our oldest was 18 and, amongst the things that we had to adjust to, slightly competitive school projects and themed parties and home shows no longer figured. But for some of my friends here this stuff does still figure, and/or – because unlike me they’re mainly not expat virgins – it has done in the past in new and different and unknown countries. How hard is that?  Well… really very, apparently, if you listen to M and J vying for the difficulty prize. M was in Norway for 12 years with her two girls going through these sorts of activity laden educational stages, and of course Norway is cold and expensive and, at least for Europe, remote and insular and, no denying it, Norwegian-speaking. All things that might, for example, make decorating an Easter bonnet with chocolate eggs and little chicks a bit tricky if you don’t know the word for yellow. But not as tricky as (do picture) creating a snow scene in the jungle. And J has not long come from the jungle with her nine year old and seven year old, and with, therefore, ever the winning line in martyrdom. Jungle vs. Norway? Jungle wins hands down. Just the word ‘jungle’ is exotic. M can’t compete.

Yet only last week, Emily, who’s five and belongs to S, got on the school bus in fabulous 70s flares, kitted out by J of the jungle, via her unknown (to us) friend ‘?’ who doesn’t live in America at all, let alone in Houston.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but that village, it turns out, can be spread across continents, nestling in the cosy comfort of a little town in the East Midlands of England maybe, chilling in the cold fjords of Norway, or even, yes, in the sweat of the jungle too. Jungle vs. Norway. Houston vs. Belper. Belper vs. Norway. Houston vs. Jungle. It’s not really clear to me who’s the winner.

You play you pay

Oh my days what a lovely time I’ve been having, even without Mr N who is still right round the other side of the world from here with wifi issues. Some may have noticed I’ve been a bit blog-lite lately. No? Oh well, I flatter myself. That would no doubt be a consequence of the not-in-the-normal-run-of-things two and a half weeks that I’ve just spent. It’s not that my life took a semi-permanent holiday turn (it did, though), it’s the sense of immunity from the cares, troubles and responsibilities of daily shit that this time out prompts and which sends you free-wheeling into indulged and indulgent mode that, perspectively, is a bit skew-whiff.  I don’t mean to appear to be smugly privileged and flaunting it; rather what I’m trying to express is how quickly unreality can lose the ‘un’ bit, even when you know it’s temporary. And then, bang, you come back down with, if not exactly a crash (please, no-one feel sorry for me), then a slight rattle.

So, first then, to what’s been occurring. Half-term hols at the British School of Houston and no break for most American schools = cheeky chance for off-peak airfares. One more opp to see another bit of the States. Another week, another road trip. Stupid not to. So with Mr N off limits but oldest friend Mildred (it’s ok, it’s already a pseudonym) in tow, we – me, Mildred, and my two boys, in our faux-lesbian-family of four – flew to Albuquerque and drove up to Denver and flew home again, with stops in Madrid (emphasis on the Mad, apparently, but we couldn’t help ourselves from pronouncing it the normal capital of Spain way), Santa Fe, Taos, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park in between. Adding to the adventure was our decision not to book anything beyond the flights, car hire, first night’s hotel in Albuquerque and our Breaking Bad homage tour for which I had to offer a premium to secure as the tour season doesn’t actually start until April (pricey but priceless!).   As well as Walt and Skylar’s house and the car wash and Los Pollos Hermanos (aka Twisters which, *fun fact*, doesn’t sell chicken) and loads of other BB haunts which I won’t bore you with further (but, yo! it was fan-fantastic) we saw mountains at every turn, adobe against azure, startling turquoise on bright white on mud brown, ancient buildings, sleepy backstreets like bucolic old world Spain, low rise understatement, chic highbrow moneyed paintings, folk art, indigenous handicraft (and kitsch crap), rust coloured ridges of rock blurting up. We got breathless at high altitude, wet and weary in thigh deep snow, dazed in the ethereal light, bruised and undignified falling off mountain bikes, awestruck by the quick-changing landscapes and townscapes and cityscapes. Electrified by the differences. Same country, different worlds; Houston, Texas far, far away.

Next, back in H-town, some culture. Real stuff, raw and live. Still hosting Mildred, we took in the rarefied grace and Russian magic of the Houston Symphony playing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff (from the cheap seats on the front row we could only glimpse the flying hair of the boy pianist but he held us rapt) and then the rodeo, tough and Texan, where they strap very small children onto sheep for mutton-bustin’ light entertainment, and the roping and bareback riding and bronc riding and bull riding’s hardcore and the cowboys are for real and called Cody and Brady and Casey and Clint.

Then like the top layer of the perfect holiday sandwich, we hit New York, Mildred and me, sans les garçons.  She had work to do, I got to tag along rent-free for four nights. Criminal not to.  This isn’t meant to be a travel blog, and anyway, what can I say about New York that hasn’t been said before in a million ways? We had the luxury of no agenda, didn’t feel the need to go up tall buildings. We strolled and cycled and ran, rode the subway and the bus and caught a couple of cabs. Bought souvenirs. Took snaps in the sunshine. Ate dirt cheap knishes and pricey fusion food. Went to a museum. Drank cosmopolitans and Brooklyn bourbon and beer. Took in a comedy show. You get the picture.

But all good things must come to an end, and so they have.  We parted on Tuesday night in New York, Mildred to Edinburgh and me to Houston and my home-alone boys. Yesterday was Wednesday which I spent i) paying bills, ii) food shopping, iii) cooking 1 x lamb shepherd’s pie and 1 x veggie shepherd’s pie, iv) driving to school, waiting in lines, discussing R’s many good and occasional bad points with his teachers at parents evening,  driving very slowly back home in the rush hour, v) doing the washing. But, what I mainly did – before, in-between and after all these other things –  was clean and tidy a house very recently occupied by two unparented teenage boys for four days.  You play you pay indeedy.

Normal blogging service will now resume.

Flicking a v

A year ago today I landed at Heathrow for a ten day trip home and I haven’t been back since. How did that happen, where did that year go? It feels too long since my feet were on English soil and so now I’m having a yearning-fest about things I miss.  I don’t mean my friends and family, or my work or the specific detail of my home because all of that is particularly mine to miss (oh, and I do) and everyone has there own ‘particularly mine’ stuff that is to do with the who they’re without more than the what and the where to compare. So I’m meaning and dreaming of the things which are everyone’s there but no-one’s here. I’m sure there are loads, and you certainly won’t all agree with me, English or not, there or here or wherever you are, but here are four things on my list that might surprise you.

Flicking a v. Here, it’s up yours, giving the finger – the middle one, to be precise – but I think we all know that, it’s a universal gesture, or universally western perhaps. But flicking a v, that’s ours. You make a v with your index and middle fingers and stick it up provocatively, palm inwards, almost the same but opposite way round to the peace or victory sign. It means fuck off, of course,  but it’s only good to give if you know it’s going to be understood. Recently I went with my pal M [you’re in M :)] to see Jake Bugg playing in Houston. He’s from Nottingham, England and one of his songs is called ‘Two Fingers’, by which he means holding up two fingers, flicking a v, saying fuck off.  The audience swayed hippyishly giving the peace sign as he belted it out, and oh how we laughed knowingly, M and me.  I’d not given it much thought till then, but since have been missing using it, in jest and in anger and in sarcasm and in defiance and in all sorts of possibilities in between.  (It’s an ubiquitous flick of the wrist on the roads – as a cyclist, as a driver, as a pedestrian even – a dismissal of annoyance, minorly aggressive but in an ok sort of way – but which I couldn’t possibly use in even the slightest of road rage here just in case the sentiment were to be clearly understood and I found myself facing a gun.)

Ice cream vans. We all know the British Summer is often cold and wet (and, yeah, I know I know, last Summer was the hottest for ten years, I missed that too) but that doesn’t ever stop the beat. Apparently you get them here in the US (‘ice cream trucks’) but I’ve only ever seen hot food trucks. Or maybe I have seen one and just not noticed because it’s too appropriate, but I don’t think they drive round the houses and sit outside schools, and I’m absolutely sure you won’t come across one when it’s chilly. There’s something enticing, nostalgic, in your bones about the promise of an ice cream cone that the tune sings out whatever the weather, despite the weather.  Many a 99 (Cadbury’s Flake in a Mr Whippy basically) with raspberry sauce has been consumed in horizontal rain on the sea-front or in low cloud and drizzle at the end of a damp and miserable walk up a hill and down again.  Because in England there’s always a van there, just in case the sun does come out. And it might be a weedy, reedy, thin jangle piping out, but it was enough to get you worried as a kid that you’d see it disappearing round the corner as it wafted its way in and out of your local streets, sticky coins still in your grubby hands.  I’ve just had a little google, and apparently there are about 5,000 ice cream van chimes available in the UK! In my mind, it’s always Greensleeves – which, it turns out is one of the most popular along with Match of the Day and O Sole Mio (of course! Just One Cornetto!) – but not ever as soothing  and melodic a version as any of these examples. As I said, weedy, reedy and thin, and played way too fast. But there, and pleasing all the same.

Shopping trollies. Not supermarket shopping trollies/carts, but little trollies for the local shops that old ladies (never old men) pull along the pavement/sidewalk as they pop into the butcher’s to buy two rashers of bacon, a fabric basket on two wheels with a long handle. Occasionally you might see quite a trendy one and I have one myself, actually, purchased from the Eden Project in Cornwall, all eco-friendly and everything. Marvellous for transporting home the massive four rib of beef or what have you, even if your kids disown you as they walk right on by. I love mine (trolley that is). Or rather, loved it, symbolic as it and all the ankle-catching, door-jamming tartan ones being steered erratically by our mothers and grandmas are of the delightful if mundane pleasure of walking to the local shops, idly chatting to whoever you might bump into, chewing the fat, being the community.  And although I don’t love those see-through plastic rain … scarves? hoods? … head coverings, worn by same old ladies and just as redolent of neighbourhood life, yet even these, provincial and old hat (sorry) and unstylish (like the trollies) as they are, are familiar and missing (though not from my head you’ll be relieved to know).

Meat pies. Of course I could make my own and I have done so a couple of times. But I don’t really mean the home-made meat pies that feed a family for dinner with gravy (that’s dark brown, meaty meaty meaty gravy) and buttery boiled spuds and peas, although that’s to die for too, isn’t it? But no, actually I mean the little meat pies for one that you get from Gregg’s or petrol/gas stations (neither of these the best but pervasively on the high streets and roads of the land so there when you need them) or preferably from whatever little bakery you can find. Chicken & mushroom, steak & ale, steak & kidney, chicken & ham, ham & cheese, spicy lamb & potato.  I’d count Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, cheese & onion as well even though that’s veggie. Oh and pork pies, salty jelly and gooey pastry inside, crusty out.  Savoury. Meat. Not sweet. Not fruit. But meat. Pies.  I flick a v to ‘pot pie’ upstarts. You need pastry on the bottom too.

This is 47

A friend on Facebook liked a blog recently by someone I don’t know called Emily Mendell, titled This is 45. As you might expect, it’s her take on being 45. Have a read, it’s very good (read the rest of this first though in case you get distracted and forget to come back). But it did make me wonder if I’m not that nice a person – is everyone as thankful and sympathetic as her? Probably not, but do you even wish you were? (You see, there I go, cynical and a bit sneery and not very kind.)

I really like her analogy that 45 is “the eye of life’s storm” – I can feel that calmness a bit in my soul, now I’m four decades in, my kids are grown and nearly flown and just fine, bobbling along in contentment with Mr N, our lives on the threshold of a new stage, good and bad stuff from the past all just here and part of me and us, acceptance (in principle anyway) that there’s likely a load of shit to come linked to old age, happy ignorance of anything worse that might hit.  But even this sounds a bit smugly saccharine  to me; nothing’s ever perfect and often, having a good day means just not thinking about the stuff that would spoil it. In my case, that means my poor Mum, in a nursing home of my choice and my making, with fury in her eyes, losing her mind and so very very cross with me without knowing why any more.

And some of Ms Mendell’s other stuff is way too benevolent  to recognise in myself. Take this para of hers:  “At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies. They are easier to eliminate from your life, while also easier to understand. You can’t help but pity people who hurt so much they have to make others feel badly, but you are smart enough to do so from a distance.”  MEAN people? My tolerance for quite a lot of other sorts of folk has hit rock bottom – fools, bigots, Sun readers, anyone who is my age or younger and who voted for Thatcher (obviously that lets off anyone who isn’t in the 44-47 age range and British), anyone who voted for Tony Blair and Dubya after the invasion of Iraq (only Americans and Brits count here), people who have opinions on nothing, people who have opinions on everything, people who are always late. Oh, I could go on. Of course no-one likes a bully, but I don’t think you have to wait until you’re 45 to realise that, and you can do more than just pity them from a distance, you can tell ‘em outright exactly what for when you get to my age.  And as for mean people, well it all depends on what you mean by mean, but I think some of them can be quite entertaining can’t they?

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take, though obvs as I’m two years older, this is 47:

It is embracing schadenfreude. It’s really funny when something crap happens to someone  you don’t like, as long as it’s not a painful or tragic kind of thing that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, if you had a worst enemy. But, it’s likely you won’t have a worst enemy, because being 47 is accepting that pretty much everyone you know is not so unpleasant that you’d actually describe them as an enemy.  In fact, on the contrary, it’s knowing that, mainly, people are fundamentally ok and just trying to get on in life as best they can, and the ones that aren’t usually have a deep-seated and horrible reason from their upbringing that explains it.  You don’t have to like all these ‘fundamentally ok’ people though.

Forty-seven is being mature enough to recognise that, although you do believe strongly that you’re usually right in your opinions (because after all you’ve had long enough to get informed), so does everyone else. It’s about enjoying the arguments, playing devil’s advocate, sometimes admitting you’re wrong (which you also now know is an inconsequential and easy peasy thing to do) and, when you can’t admit it, agreeing to differ.  And it’s about loving that difference – but only with those you want to, sod the rest who you don’t even have to talk to, let alone listen to their points of view if you don’t want to.  How much richer my life is for my friendships with two of the Ls in my life – yes, L(1), dyed-in-the-wool bloody Tory even though she’s a Brummie lass who should know better (lord knows we’ve tried to educate her), and L(2), who weirdly took a train from Derbyshire to London for the day to cry with a load of strangers and put flowers outside Kensington Palace when Diana died!!!  My precious, cock-sure, supercilious self at 20 would never have believed I’d be friends with people who behave like this.  By 47, you’ve long climbed down off your high horse.

At 47, I acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite.  I tell my kids not to be judgemental but I find myself judging people’s choices, personalities, politics, ethics, on the flimsiest of evidence, I can’t help it; my upbringing, my nature, my experiences all collide to colour my own and how I view others’.  I rant at bad drivers, then swerve past someone wildly or put my foot down to beat the red light.  I dislike hypocrites, I am one, I like myself. Life’s just not black and white.

Altruism = empathy + self-worth. I volunteer with the homeless, but my motives are mixed; it’s not just about ‘putting something back’ and feeling sorry for them, it’s just as much about not being seen to be idly privileged and superficial because that doesn’t fit my own idea of what I am. Forty-seven is being able to fine-tune who you want to be (at least when you’re idly privileged) and for that I am thankful.

There’s no denying it, 47 is way too near 50 and it makes you vain. It means never, ever again hanging upside down (I’m not sure why you would want to, but try it anyway and look at your face) and, for the same reason, avoiding going on top too often from now on.  It’s really not about dressing down, quite the opposite I think (sorry to disagree again with Emily).  For most of my life, certainly up to my 30s, I barely looked in the mirror, hardly wore make-up, ran my fingers through my hair to style it and dressed like a boy.  Now, I make much more effort with how I look, in and out of the house. When I face the mirror – overly frequently – I see every bulge, wrinkle, droop. Where once a couple of days without lunch would make a difference, now nothing does except a constant, relentless regime of exercise.  Forty-seven is accepting my lot, knowing that, to keep enjoying my food and drink, this is what has to happen. It comes to us all, fit or fat. By 47 you’ll probably have chosen one way or the other, but either way you know what you like and you’re gonna keep on doing it, guilt-free.  And if that means dancing to the Scissor Sisters, the kids will have to lump it.

Being 47 brings realism.  So, you weren’t a millionaire by the time you were 30, didn’t make the Man U first team or write that best seller, but you know now that you were never going to and it doesn’t matter any more (that was for the mid-life crisis a few years ago). No regrets, just an easy admission that luck, talent and effort all play their part and you probably just didn’t have enough of all three and that, anyway, 50’s the new 40 and you can set your sights anew, pragmatically lower this time round. Or not. Que sera sera.

And finally, it’s time for periods to stop.  After 34 years, less about four and a half for pregnancies and breast-feeding, every effing month for something like 354 months, who knows how many ruined pairs of knickers, and three grown children, just don’t need them any more. Had enough. Period. (Yeah, came on today.)

This is 47.