Tough Husband, Mean Cat

I have two cats, and one husband.  Three are warmly furry, two a delight, and one is mean, indifferent to touch, bored by strokes.  One is Stan, one is Bunty and the third is Husband.

I adopted the kittens around the same time and from the same place – one a male tortie, and his sister, a tiny ink black female, with Clara Bow eyes.  I took both because she clung to her brother.  But despite coming from the same litter, and going to the same home, the boy, Stan, is laid back and friendly without being needy.   He gently butts my leg when he wants feeding.  He purrs when tickled behind the ears.  Proper catty.  And he rolls over obligingly for me or Husband to fluff his undercarriage.  Bunty however, has the soul of a Victorian poisoner.  She shrieks for her breakfast in the morning and then winces when anyone strokes her.  When I pick her up she pulls away in contempt as though it’s MY breath that stinks of cat food.   If I refuse to put her down she grumbles, a low level whining growl.  When she lies in the sun washing herself she grunts like a fat old dowager.   I bent down as she wriggled onto her back and softly stroked her stomach.  She stopped grunting and gave me a malevolent stare.    This must be what it feels like, working for the Royal Family.  You might get the odd crumb of recognition but you are still a servant and don’t you forget it – you pleb.

The only other living thing Bunty likes is Stan, on whom she has an enormous crush, even though they have both been neutered.  When he saunters in, she jumps on him, desperate for attention.  He either brushes her off or sometimes gets her in a head lock.  She adores this and starts to wash him respectfully.  Or they roll about together on the carpet making grunty love noises.  Sometimes she holds the side of his face and washes him neatly.  On other more skittish days, she sneaks up behind him, bites his bum and then runs off.  Here we see Bunty doing her ‘Stan Hold’.


Outside the flat is a large terrace, overhung by several large trees.  It’s the time of year when the birds are building nests and persuading their teen fledglings to bugger off.

So a week ago my Husband and I were in the middle of a Game of Thrones binge when I flicked a glance outside, a desperately flapping wing, and saw Mean Cat had grabbed a fledgling bird, while Nice Cat crouched menacingly behind it.  Both were about to Go Lannister on the poor thing.  The baby thrush was still very much alive, so I grabbed the cats (by their alarm birds’ collars – yeah big deal) and hauled them inside, but before Husband could pick it up, the thrush struggled into the bushes.  Neither of us could find it and unsurprisingly the bird wasn’t waving a flag about with ‘Here I am’ in his beak, so we left the cats pacing behind the big glass door, hissing and chattering, and aiming the occasional bad tempered swipe at each other.  Husband gave me the standard ‘nature is red in tooth and claw’ lecture and we went to bed.

Early next morning, I noticed Husband was outside on the terrace carefully carrying something.   A little bird head poked up and Husband softly stroked it, before putting the tiny thrush down on the outside wall in full view of the parents’ tree.

I smiled and hugged him, made him coffee.

‘It’s all down to whether it can fly,’ said Husband.  ‘If it can’t then it’s done for and I’ll have to kill it.’

I sat drinking coffee, thinking who was it who said that if we are not prepared to kill and cook our own meat, we shouldn’t buy it?  I killed an injured bird once.  It was horrible.  One of its wings had been torn off, so I picked it up, stroked the head and then twisted its neck hard and fast.  I heard a small crack, and the bird was instantly limp as I threw up, a violent gush of disgust.  Not just animals, what about those poor people who were executed by beheading, with blunt instruments, held in trembling, frightened hands.  It took three goes to get Mary Queen of Scot’s head off.  And our memory of Henry VIII is mainly of how he made so many women’s lives miserable, but since he ordered a French swordsman to behead Anne Boleyn, and it took one clean stroke, this in retrospect does seem like an act of love.

When I was five my cousin tore the wings off a butterfly.  Frozen with misery, I heard the terrible tearing sound and a rush of nausea shot through my threat.  He then trod on the tiny creature as it tried to move.  I remember launching myself forward and then my cousin’s face was a mass of blood and crunching bone and screaming.  Mum didn’t tell me off or even say it was a sin.  Instead she said I was brave and bought me an ice cream.  This was between meals so a Big Deal.

If the bird couldn’t fly it wouldn’t live.

I glanced up as mummy bird swooped down with a large worm and fledgling scarfed it up.  Mummy flew off.  I held my breath.  But still the fledgling didn’t move.

‘Are you sure this is a fledgling and not a teenage bird?’ Husband asked.  ‘It’s just sitting there doing nothing and expecting to be fed.

I was about to suggest putting a mattress down underneath the wall so if the fledgling did fall . . . . . . .  .  .  .  then I stopped.  I was too embarrassed to finish even the thought.  Instead I sniggered to myself, Husband asked me why, I refused to tell him, he of course, wormed it out of me, I explained about putting a mattress down, and he barked and snorted with laughter.

The fledgling was well hidden, the parents could see it and the cats were still skulking indoors, so we went inside.  Ten minutes later I went back to check. The fledgling had gone!

I checked over the balcony my eyes screwed shut, expecting to see a little body.  I should have put a mattress down! But there was nothing.  Then I glanced up and saw that the fledgling had flown to the opposite garage.  By the time we came home later that afternoon, it had gone.  Stan was pleased to see us, head butting our ankles.  Bunty stuck her tail in the air, showing us her neat pink little bottom, exactly the same colour as her collar.  I didn’t care as she stalked past us and marched to her food bowl.  Bird – One, Bunty – Zero.

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A plagiarism on both your houses

Remember Dr Raj Persaud?  He used to be on television, a reliable, medically qualified psychiatrist who could explain complex medical issues on the Richard and Judy sofa, without sounding patronising.  He also presented, All in the Mind on Radio 4.  Then, in his book, On the Edge of the Couch, he admitted plagiarising Professor Thomas Blass, of the University of Maryland, and material from the academic’s website.

He also admitted using material plagiarised from an article by Professor Stephen Kant in a piece he wrote for the Independent in the same year.

Persaud paid dearly.  He was suspended for three months by the GMC for dishonesty and resigned from his position of Consultant Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.  His media career died overnight.

A sketch of mine was stolen once.  I’d gone on a course and read this sketch out.  People laughed which was pleasing, but a few months later, I heard the sketch on a radio comedy.  My initial reaction was delight. Somebody thought my work good enough to steal!  Then I was called by one of my fellow attendees on the writing course.  He expressed anger that somebody had stolen my work.  I was touched at his support but shrugged off the actual stealing.  ‘Why?’ he said.  ‘It’s hard to write funny stuff.  The idea of some lazy knob nicking it and not only not paying you but not giving you credit – it’s despicable.’  He was right of course.  But the person who stole it worked for a large organisation.  What was I going to do?  Never give away my best material or  talk about work in progress that’s what.

We’ve had a case of suspected plagiarism in the university where I teach.  End of term papers in, including a very good one from a student who seemed to hate the course.  She missed a lot of classes.   And when she did bother to attend, she would sit with a gloomy facial expression, never answer questions, never share her work, never proffer an opinion.  She had difficulty in forming a basic sentence and her grammar was poor.  I sent her to a tutor who offered private tuition – all free.  Later I found the emails between her and the tutor who was doing his best to squeeze her in.  I can do Monday, or Tuesday morning, and I could also squeeze you in on Friday? Any of those any good?

Busy on Mondays came the student’s reply.  She attended a few sessions then cried off the rest.

And yet her final piece was suspiciously error free, and well written.  A 2:1 from a student who was barely capable of getting a third.  Her marker, Alice emailed me and asked if I could read it as she was having a hard time believing the student had written it.  I read it.  The student in question could not have written this.  We put it through turnitin.  Nothing.  Not bought wholesale.  Probably.

We asked the student to come in and gently questioned her.  Asked her to take us through the process of writing it.  She said she came across the story in a newspaper and developed it.  She had asked her friends and her dad.  They had given her ‘advice’ but she had written it.  Alice asked her to go away and find the early drafts.

Alice and I looked at each other when she had gone.  There were channels we needed to go through – forms to fill in.  All very time consuming and we were in the middle of marking anyway.  We asked her to email some rough drafts of the story – early drafts and she was willing to do so.  ‘She’s just had huge amounts of help,’ said Alice, ‘and maybe didn’t realise this level of help is plagiarism.’

If she could produce early versions of the final story this would add weight to her claim that she just had a breakthrough.

A few days later the ‘first drafts’ appeared.  Two pages of typed notes on where she got the idea from – bullet points and links to journalism pieces about the subject she had chosen.  Something she had probably written after our meeting.  Not what we had asked for at all.

Alice thanked the student but wrote back pointing out that these papers were not first drafts.  She attached them to the plagiarism form and sent the whole lot off to the member of staff who dealt with plagiarism.

I talked to a longer serving member of staff about it.  ‘Oh I hate it when I know the student has plagiarised,’ he said.  ‘Unless you can prove it’ through matching chunks of text then they get away with it.  And you have to fill in all these forms.  And of course it always happens when you’re at your busiest.’

I’m left feeling really angry.  Continue reading

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Rewriting, not rejigging, tinkering or fiddling

The only kind of writing is rewriting:  Ernest Hemingway

God's First Draft

Rewriting is like grieving.  Nobody wants to face it, but the only way out of it is through it. After the white hot streak of the first draft, where you don’t look back, you keep going, ignoring bumps and holes in the road – on and on till it feels like the end and there you have it –  a big lump of dramatic, rough-hewn words.  Stop.  Now comes the really hard bit.  Putting your creative hat to one side and firmly fixing on your pernickity, anal retentive editor.  While the first draft might have been a Beethoven Symphony, the second is Phillip Glass played backwards.  Slow, painful and discordant.  They are the root canals of writing, the humiliating school verruca test at the side of the swimming pool, the slow passage of time healing a great wound.  Painful, and difficult and oh so necessary.

I was recently asked to read a series of stories by a new writer.  A few of the stories had promise but they were still at the very lumpen, early stage – full of exposition, telling, and thick, sticky lumps of dialogue.  I wrote a full report, detailing where he needed to concentrate his efforts, encouraging but truthful.

Two weeks after the report reached him, another pile of stories arrived, apparently rewritten.  The writer was honest enough to admit he had struggled with some of my suggestions, but what I was reading the second time round, was not rewriting.  It was tinkering, the small tweaks that writers make when the book/play is about to go to the printers, about four rewrites down the line.  Full disclosure – I  haven’t written a novel so I can’t give exact numbers on rewrites, but my novel-writing friends say it’s between three and five rewrites, and sometimes more.  Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews would rewrite each episode of Father Ted, approximately eight times.

I wrote back a sympathetic but firm letter, gently encouraging this hasty writer to put more energy into making his writing as strong as possible, instead of getting his writing out there.

The second draft is the hardest which is why so many new writers don’t do it.  They like to believe that writing being a cataclysmic gust of creative woo – you just do it in a white-hot heat of words and then you run it through spellcheck.

Er no.  That white hot heat of pushing through the first draft is to produce a big pile of words roughly shaped like a novel.  Now you have to make the words better.  Nobody wants to do it.  New writers don’t want to.  Successful writers like Tess Gerritsen don’t want to do it either.  RICHARD CURTIS    who co-wrote the magnificent Blackadder was told to rewrite a Dr Who script because it was ‘too slow’!   I even googled ‘Everyone  hates second drafts’ and came up with this sage advice from Annie Lamott called The Shitty First Draft.


Writer and author of The Wolf Ticket, Caro Clarke has a whole writing advice section in her excellent blog, including the four main mistakes by new writers.  Because as she eloquently explains, the same mistakes are made time and again.  I’m a great believer in following the hard-won advice from a published writer.  Not that publishers and agents don’t offer helpful tips as they are on the front line of the publishing business, of course, but guidance from someone who has been in exactly the same position as you, is gold dust.  Caro Clarke knows what it feels like, the uphill struggle to publication, the self-doubt, the teeth gritting rewrites.  She’s done it and continues to do it.

Maybe you choose to try to sidestep some of this painful business and self-publish.  Up to you, but even if you are self-publishing, you, the author are still responsible for getting the book as ‘clean’ and error free as possible.  If you go to Jane Smith’s website, The Self-Publishing Review, she reads many books, and again, the same problems keep cropping up.

This is how I approach the painful business of rewriting.  It’s for plays but the same principle applies.

Firstly, I write out the whole play.  It’s very tempting  to keep going back and fixing things, but the trouble with that is you end up with half a play.  Push on and finish so you have a rough shape of the whole story.  Remember everything is changeable, and now you have a whole draft you have something to work with.  The worst bit is that leap from the perfect story in my head to the muddled up splatter of sh*te on the page.

I usually then leave it for a couple of days at least, until the pleasure of actually having finished it drains away, leaving a sad sediment of fearfulness as to whether or not it’s entirely rubbish or just partly.

Here is where having a writers group is incredibly useful.  Not just so someone else reads your stuff but you can read their stuff too.  And you’ll find that the more you do read both books and other people’s work – you’ll be able to point out what’s wrong AND how to fix it.

I read the play out loud.  This is a personal preference, but I’ve always found it a good way to literally hear the words – whether they sound right and natural or like a speech *urgh* or me, the author putting words into the character’s mouth *double urgh*.  I find it difficult to tell until I hear the words out loud.  Also Victoria Wood once said that all good writing, prose, poetry and drama has a rhythm to it.

So I read the play out loud and make notes.  I then save the first draft and trot off for a meeting with my producer hoping that her notes and mine basically tally.

We talk through the notes.  Now that I’ve got some perspective on the first draft, I often blush (literally) at its sheer awfulness.  The dialogue!  More clanks than Marley’s ghost.  Painfully unfunny.  Except for the bits that made her laugh (dramatic not meant to be funny)  The ending that nobody will believe.  And the middle.  And the beginning.

I keep a copy of the original draft.

I take the notes, go away and write a second draft.

Then a third.  And a fourth.  Each time it gets a little easier.  I keep all the drafts.  They are both useful and comforting.

Any other rewriting tips out there?

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Sweary Sex Row and other Holiday Conflicts

Surprise!  Holidays can lead to rows, mainly due to expectations.  Of what – having a nice time?  Or the gap between hope and expectation.   What do couples on holiday row about?  The same stuff they row about at home – sex, money, food, tidiness, only with added heat, alcohol and togetherness.

C and I don’t live together so two weeks together  in Spain is always going to be tricky in terms of Row Potential.  The Girl is with her dad –  an ideal opportunity to have a really adult holiday full of culture, food and free form swearing over my inability to read a map.

I add up our differences.   I slurp my coffee (apparently) and he snores (loudly).   I pull his underwear up to his waist and laugh, which for some strange reason he finds incredibly irritating.   I am emotional, he is much more logical.  He lives in fear of eating in one restaurant, burdened with the chilling knowledge of there being a better restaurant round the corner.  I can’t read maps in the car (he would argue that I can’t read maps anywhere) but it’s down to late onset car sickness.  I am, however, often asked for directions, so I must LOOK like I know where I’m going.  He is very sociable and I’m much more of a loner.   We both, however, love food and find the idea of eating just for fuel, pointless.  It’s one of the many things I love about him.  Not a hearts and flowers man but he will hang a mirror, put up shelves without fuss and take my little girl to Bocca di Lupo.  ‘I liked the cheese balls and sausages’ she says after a feast of mozzarella in carroza and buristo.

We fly to Gibraltar and visit my sister who lives in Sotogrande.  He gets on easily with her and does some DIY round her flat We spend time in Seville and then go to Granada to visit the Alhambra Palace, built for the Nasrid dynasty in the 13th century.  The heat is in the nineties.  We visit Jerez where he goes on a guided tour of a sherry factory, and I sit in a café, exploring the joys of drinking café con leche and people watching.   And we have a series of very stupid rows.

The Swordfish Row

The older parts of Seville comprise small, twisty streets.  Their narrowness creates a burrow of shadows which keeps them tolerably cool, particularly when the temperature was in the nineties.  We are looking for a particular tapas bar Th Guardian once reviewed in 1992.  C is marching ahead and I am trailing, blood sugar plummeting.  I am used to this scenario because in 99% of cases we do find the place, it’s full of Spanish locals and the food is fabulous.  But not tonight.  It’s after 10pm, it’s the beginning of August when a lot of restaurants close,  and I am starving.  There is a place in the middle of the square, and people are eating big plates of food.  Good enough for me but it’s touristy.  I put my foot down.

C sits twitching and we order swordfish.  It’s not thick enough (apparently) and is both overcooked,and overpriced.  Meanwhile a guitarist starts wailing some sub-Gypsy Kings dirge, rapidly followed by another man walking from table to table, loudly flogging fans.  ‘This is not the kind of place the locals go to,’ says C irritably. I feel I’m being got at for wanting to eat at a ‘lesser’ place.  C insists this is untrue, he just hates being ripped off.  It is soupily hot, even at 10.30pm.  The food is a few euros more than usual, but it’s *gritted teeth* fine.   But I feel soured by his tinge of disapproval.   This is the flipside of eating with someone who really cares about food.  And is a queeny food snob.  ‘This swordfish is delicious,’ I snarl, chewing determindly.

Tipping Row

I always tip, if the service is good and am a great believer in the Waiter/Waitress rule i.e. if your date is rude to service staff then he or she is a bad person.  Yes I was a waitress once.  It’s hard work, the quality of the food is not your domain and when you are carrying fifteen plates and the douche on table 3 whines, ‘Where’s the salad I asked for?’ it’s hard not to reply, ‘Stuck up my arse you stupid fat fuck,’ instead of ‘I’ll get it straight away Sir.’

Ooh that’s better.

C gives me a look for overtipping.  This riles me so I add another euro.  Not really a row, more A Moment.

Sweary Sex Row

We’re leaving the hotel in Seville, and I promise C certain favours if he manages to drive back to Sotogrande without swearing.  He doesn’t even manage to get out of the carpark.  So I let that one pass and give him one more chance.  He still doesn’t get out of the carpark.

Twisty Route Row

I really hate driving on the right so C does all the driving.  Driving from Granada to Sotogrande, we  are trying to avoid the toll roads which means an alternative route over the mountains and acres of olive trees.  Stinging blue skies, scorched earth and very twisty roads.  After an hour of this I throw up lunch at the side of the road.

Poor C tries to distract me by pointing out interesting land marks but as anyone who has been miserably car sick will testify, all you can think of is the toxic churn in the stomach as it slowly builds up again.  We finally emerge from Witch Mountain, only to see the only way of getting home is through another toll road.  I point this out which blows the lid on hours of repressed anger and nausea.   We hiss and snipe at each other.  He says I keep track of his mistakes.  I say he has a chip of ice in him.  Sweat trickles down my nose in the ensuing silence.   ‘I’m doing my best’ he says and I feel terrible.  We kiss and he doesn’t flinch at my double sick breath.

The Jon Ronson Row

We are in Jerez in a sleek modern hotel, The Itaca (reviewed on Trip Advisor) which overlooks a lime grove.  I’m in love with Spanish café con leche and their way of life.  It’s not just about having a snooze after lunch, it’s more about taking some time during the day to kick back and have a pointless row about reading material.  I’m lying on the bed with the very excellent So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, and reading out the part where Justine Sacco’s life blows up after one ill-judged tweet.   C says she is in PR and should have known better.  ‘If I were her boss, I’d have fired her too.’  I think this cold and helpfully remind him of the unfortunate remarks he’s made in the past, which if overheard by an angry or vengeful person could have resulted with his life imploding.  This conversation swiftly descends into the ways in which we annoy each other.

‘You slurp your coffee,’ he snaps (too quickly for my liking) and when I tell you something you go ‘Really? Like you don’t believe me.  And  you wince when I drive.’

I bite back, with good reason.  ‘Ok’ I say, and pause as though I’m trying to think how to respond when in fact that list has been in my head for a while.  ‘You complain about the underhand methods used to catch speeding drivers . . . while you’re actually speeding.’

He laughs – the most unpompous man in the world.  I adore him.

Bitch Face Row

A peaceful hotel in Seville, designed the Moroccan way with courtyards, plants, throws and dark blue tiles.  I am reading  The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.  Set in 1920, Waters lush detail is a salutary reminder of how much we take for granted, i.e. taking a bath without risking suffocation or an explosion due to a dodgy boiler.  ‘Are you ok?’ C asks.  I say that I’m fine.  He says that I’m very hard to read.  It’s apparently because of the way my face ‘falls’ when I’m concentrating.  For a start, ‘falls’ in relation to a face is not a cheering description.  ‘Are you saying I have a resting bitch face?’ I squawk.   ‘Yes,’ he says.  I don’t speak to him for half an hour.  I don’t think he notices.

What’s the stupidest row you’ve ever had?

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A Life in Objects

C and I drove down to Broadstairs on Monday.  The sky was clear and blue with a hint of salt and it reminded me of my dad’s favorite food – fish.  As a boy in Balbriggan, he said the fishermen would sometimes give the children some free fish if they’d had a good day.  Dad would run home with armfuls of shiny slippery fish and watch his mum roll them in oatmeal and fry for dinner.  But this was in the 1930s and dad is now in a home for people with dementia, and like millions of others, the house is being sold to pay for his care.

According to My Elderly Parent, which features a medley of useful advice, plus photos of jolly seniors smiling over laptops, and in the financial section, holding a handful of small change (perhaps a reminder of how much the state pension will be worth in years to come) – anyone with savings over £23,250 has to pay the full cost of their care.  In the majority of cases this means selling the house.  There is also the excellent website Age UK which I’ve often used for unbiased advice.  And when dad was still living at home, I used Which Local to find tradesmen.  I knew that areas with a high percentage of elderly people were targeted by both major corporations and scammers.  His phone rang constantly by people doing ‘marketing surveys’, and this was after I’d registered his phone with the TPS.

We arrived in Broadstairs to find the house clearers I’d asked to meet us, were already there.  Boyd and Maureen run Away2Day.  They work by asking you to remove everything you want, before doing an inventory, working out what they can make money from and then disposing of the rest.  It usually ends up costing you, but it means you don’t have to get rid of heavy furniture.  Maureen and I walked round the house with paper and pen, followed by Lara (who seems to have inherited a knickknacks gene from somewhere).

Objects.  The really ugly three-piece which forced the occupant to sit upright and had wooden arms.  There was no lolling about on my mum’s sofas.   The bird’s-eye view of Dublin in 1846 we were taking home for my sister.  A wine rack where dad carefully kept years of his favorites.  We had opened a few bottles and found several had gone off completely.  The rest we gave to dad’s friends who visited him tirelessly in hospital.

Down to the dark, ugly cellar with the disconnected freezer, innards sloshing with disgusting fluid.  When dad was sinking he would switch everything off, including the freezer.  My sister and I arrived to a smell so bad we had to dab tea tree oil on the inside of our noses before venturing downstairs.  Once we’d cleared out the freezer (I had to hold my breath) we poured bleach and boiling water into the dead freezer.  It was worth every penny of the £30 it would cost us to get Away2Day to take the horrible thing away and dispose of it in an ecological manner.

Upstairs to a pair of thigh high boots which C immediately declared ‘very useful’ and some flippers from my sister’s scuba diving.  A hamper of photos.  A chest of hand knitted lace and crisply ironed tablecloths which mum kept for ‘best’.  A folder of all the articles I’d had published, slid into plastic liners and dated by mum, who never mentioned anything about my writing.  A pair of designer jeans that Lara would be looking wonderful in, in a few years.  A cashmere cardigan I bought mum but again, she put it away for ‘best’.  ‘Wear it,’ I urged.  ‘Ah no – it’ll be spoiled.’   A Roberts Radio tuned to Radio 4.   A selection of crime thrillers, loved by mum.  The Kobbe opera guide I bought for dad when I worked in Random House and we had a 98% Christmas discount.  And a jug I bought mum on a teenage trip to France.  It’s smooth, glossy and cool to the touch, a small thing full of memories.

My class were to go on an educational trip to Calais, (boring worksheets were distributed, lunches scoffed at 7.05am, and the coach had stopped twice for various people to be sick, wee or smoke a fag).  Then the coach broke down on the M2, we missed our ferry and ended up going to Boulogne instead.  No worksheets!  The teachers checked we were all alive and then buggered off to a pub, leaving us alone.  So we broke up into small groups.  Not our usual friendship groups, but boys mixing with girls, and away from the peer pressures of school, in a different environment, we relaxed with each other.  Any playground hostilities were suspended.  So feeling very grownup, our group found a restaurant and ordered beef bourguignon which arrived steaming in a white tureen accompanied by a glorious pile of crispy french fries.  We knew we had chosen well because there were loads of french people in the restaurant looking at us with approval.  We arrived home at 2am because the coach broke down again, but it was a wonderful day, all encapsulated in that little jug, bought in a Boulogne tourist trap and kept scratch free for over thirty years.

Maureen brought me back to the business of what we were taking and leaving behind.  She made a few calculations with Boyd and then explained what it would cost and why and we  didn’t have to pay until we had seen the cleaned up house and were satisfied.  I liked them.  They were professional without being too brisk and understood that contents are not just that – they are someone’s life and the process of stripping down a house to be sold is very painful.


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Childcare by Jenga

My son is twenty and my daughter is eleven.

I only found out that my son is in Venice by sneaking a look at his Facebook page and noticing him in a gondola.  Still he appears to be having fun.  Meanwhile The Girl and I are meeting up with her dad to buy her Big School Uniform as she’s graduating from primary school this month.  She’s thrilled to be going to a strict girl’s school where the uniform appears to have been designed by Frumps Inc.  No bare legs, no leggings, Amish skirt length, no earrings, makeup.  Boundaries of iron so the girls have to find other ways to express their individuality.

‘What am I going to do about afterschool?’ I asked my ex.  ‘Nothing’ he said cheerfully.  ‘She’ll be a latchkey kid, like me and you.’

‘Once they go to high school they’re gone,’ someone (probably called Cassandra) said to me years ago.

I do yoga every week in a community building and outside we can hear the happy screeching of small children running about.  I watch them sometimes, a lifetime ago.  Their plump scented skin, rosy faces, hair buttery soft curls.  Lara at four when I picked her up from nursery.  What did you do?  ‘I played, I eated my dinner and I ran away from a bumblebee.’  There was always a funny story.  Joshua, Lara’s friend had been bitten by a red ant, so the children set up a Revenge Squad to find out exactly which ant it was.

What I won’t miss is the firstly the huge expense of finding childcare. The average cost of raising a child in the UK has gone up to £230K per child.  Child Tax Credit is about to be slashed.  It costs about £6000 a year to send a child under two to a nursery, which means that for many families, having one person at home is the cheaper option.  Single parents of course have little choice.  How do parents do it without the constant feeling of being punished?  The phrase ‘career woman’ seems like a particularly anachronistic and stupid joke given that parents have to go out to work just to stay afloat.

The other thing I really won’t miss is the juggling of favours, the Jenga tower of arrangements, always on the verge of collapsing.  A meeting suddenly comes up at 3pm, organised by the manager who has a stay at home wife.  There is no room in the afterschool club today.  Does anyone owe me?  Her dad is great but he’s away on business.  I could ask my boyfriend but only want to use him in dire emergencies (like the time I twisted my ankle in Brighton and couldn’t move and he belted down the M2 to pick her up) I text my daughter’s best friend’s mum.  Can L walk home with Gia and maybe stay for an hour? 

All parents know that ‘maybe stay for an hour’ is code for ‘I have no fucking idea when I will be back but you will own me and I know it.’

You consider adding ‘pleeeeeze????’ and then decide not to as it sounds desperate and ungrammatical.   Even though you are.

What if Gia’s mother doesn’t come back? Then what?  You can’t miss the meeting.  Ok your neighbour upstairs – Lara could knock on her door but then she’ll have to walk home from school by herself.  You check. ‘Lara can you walk home by yourself?’  and Lara says, ‘Er ok’ which means that she doesn’t want to – oh God – Text! Text!  It’s from Barbara upstairs.  Damn!  Can U take kids to school Friday? Have early apt.

Bugger. Still if I take her kids to school on Friday, she’ll owe me.

Ping!  Text again!  And yay!  No problem – L can walk with Gia.  She does have choir but can miss it.

Oh God is that passive aggressive?  She does have choir.  Or is it me just being oversensitive?


So that’s taken care of.

Except the meeting at 3 overuns and you get caught in the traffic and are half an hour late.  You send endless grovelling texts, but Gia’s mum’s smile is slightly cracked when you arrive, although the kids are having a wonderful time and Lara doesn’t want to leave.  So it takes 20 minutes to get her out the door and you make a mental note to build up favour next time Gia needs babysitting.

It’s not the work that’s so exhausting but squeezing life round it.


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The Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame

That reality star with those plasticky whoppers
She lies down on the beach, they stick up like space hoppers
In the picture she’s stumbling out of a nightclub – again
And guess what – she’s a mum – how dare she have fun.
On the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

Jen’s blowdried and glossy but spinstery sad.
Our body language expert says she’s thinking of Brad
Jen can’t be a spinster and happy, that’s not playing the game
She’s got bad movies she’s got bling but every woman wants a ring
On the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

We click through the daily Kardashian booty
Or the twelve year old girl, called a long legged beauty
Endless fat shaming and paedophile naming, not news but journalistic crack cocaining
She’s got a trout pout and her tits have gone south
On the Daily Mail sidebar of shame

No one wears clothes, they flaunt curves in a dress
Or parade their trim frame, bottom lift or new breasts
Click on death and disasters and orange peel arses, as grey matter drips out of my brain
Who is she snogging and he’s been caught dogging?
On the Daily Mail sidebar of shame

Must click off now then we see a celeb
She’s walked out on her husband her marriage is dead
She’s not red carpet perfect she must be distraught
They have crisis talks celebrities do
Not a chat or a row like me and you
And we click and we follow these strangers we don’t know but blame
It’s addictive it’s grating – and all woman hating
On the Daily Mail sidebar of shame

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