20 years on…

I’ve been pondering what to write in this blog post all day. It’s 20 years today since my dad died, and one of the first years where I’ve remembered the occasion on the day. I usually forget.

One of the main reasons I remembered is that I’ve been chatting to a counsellor about dad, among some other things. I had some concerns about not having many positive memories of my dad, partly tied up with the mess surrounding his death. I think this is also somewhat tied up with watching S with E, and seeing them interact, which is a very different relationship to how I remember being with my dad. S is patient, and does things like make playdough shapes, or drawings of dinosaurs. S wanted a girl precisely because he thought little girls adore their dads more. It’s an odd perspective to me, partly because I can see how much he respects and admires his own dad.

Anyway, I didn’t want this to be a miserable post. So here are the positive things I remember:

  • Lying on the floor in the front room, leaning against the seat cushion from his chair which was propped up against the chair, with one of Dad’s arms round me, his eyes fixed on the western on TV
  • Getting lost in the library on campus as we looked round the university I went to and getting the giggles together as we stumbled through the “silent study” section, provoking furious looks from students
  • Singing along to his music tapes in the car, with him banging his hand between the steering wheel and the window in time to the song
  • His efforts to encourage me to be a journalist, helping find work experience in a newspaper office and buying a word processor

Here’s what I also remember, after his death:

  • Standing at the leaving ceremony from school with my mum, both of us thinking that he was also there somewhere, feeling proud of me
  • Standing on the shore at Seahouses, Northumberland, where his ashes were eventually scattered, and realising how lovely it was there
  • Standing in front of the pyramid stage at Glastonbury watching one of his favourites Kenny Rogers and crying through The Gambler, conflicted yet glad that I was alive to see him

It’s an odd thing, trying to live up to the expectations of someone who’s no longer there. It’s an odd thing, to realise that your memories are incomplete and ill formed. It’s an odd thing to have no idea how to explain to your daughter (in a few years’ time perhaps) what her grandfather was like, when you’ve no clear idea yourself. I don’t know how we would have interacted as adults. I hated his politics. I don’t have a glittering career. On the other hand, I have a book soon to be published. I have pieces published in journals and magazines. I have a lovely daughter.

I have marked today by sending my sister a cd of music that reminds us of him, and sitting and listening to it this evening while I write reviews and blogs, sipping a glass of red wine and raising it to toast the old bastard.

Rest in peace old man.

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I swear by it

Pas devant les enfants, as they say in France. Merde, as they also say in France. Yes, today’s topic is swearing in front of the children. We’ve all done it.

A colleague today said that her son repeated her “shit!” the other day when she let that slip, but of course he never repeats anything his father says. E, on the other hand, won’t often hear her father swear but happily repeated my curses at the back gate that had stuck in the rain the other day. “Fuck’s sake!” she repeated cheerfully. Oh dear.

In my defence, it was raining, I had to put her down, struck my shoulder on the pushchair as I did so and needed two hands to wrench the gate open in order for us to leave. We’re always in a hurry in the mornings.

She’s still perhaps a little too young to know what she should and shouldn’t be saying but I reckon it’s only a short amount of time before she knows exactly the difference between the good and bad things to say. So I need to rein in my language. I do try. I’m quite good most of the time.

The other thing is that of course right now we can get away with laughing this off. In a few year’s time I could be called into school to discuss E being a bad influence by swearing in the playground. How do you discourage children from swearing? Surely ignoring them is only going to get you so far.

I realise that swearing is more common these days – in media, in the street – than it used to be. Yet I do still feel that it isn’t old fashioned to ask that children don’t do it, or realise that they could cause offence. There are situations when there’s nothing for it than a loud “FUCK!” but the rest of the time you can, if you try, give it a bit of thought before speaking. I had a manager once who only swore in the presence of senior staff at manager’s meetings – I always assumed it was to try and make him feel more secure and in authority. Completely unnecessary.

So I guess for now the only thing to do is to rein in my curses, and sit E down when she does start saying these words and telling her that she shouldn’t give free voice to them either. Without sounding like a boring prude.

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Road sense

Pedestrian crossings don’t leave enough time for elderly folk to cross safely, says a new campaign. Children who are learning to cross roads safely have trouble too – or rather their mothers do.

Of course, what’s supposed to happen by law is that the beeping noise gets you about two-thirds of the way and the car driver waits for you to finish before driving away. In reality this doesn’t happen and no one polices it so the drivers win and pedestrians get honked at. Yet another example of car culture taking over and, I’d argue, buggering up places for everyone else.

I’m having a road safety moment for two reasons. The first is that I’ve started running again and managed to get into a proper routine three times a week. Some of these are in the dark after work and so I run along the ring road as it’s lit and busy into the evening. They are expanding the ring road in places and one of the runner’s friends – the zebra crossing – has been removed and replaced with a pelican crossing – a push button. So no longer can I expect cars to stop as I approach but I have to wait for them – jogging on the spot and losing momentum. A little thing perhaps, but little things are important. As a pedestrian I learn my place – get behind the needs of exhaust-pumping noise-making fuel burning cars with your foot travel.

The second is that E is into transport at the moment. She loves watching buses, lorries, cars, tractors and the like – having many toys of the same. But if we stand on the pavement and watch as a lorry goes past she shrinks into my legs or turns away because she seems scared by it. I’m not sure if it’s the size or the noise or both. Once it’s past she’s ok to watch it again. I can try and reassure her but I feel a fraud. It’s one thing saying “it can’t hurt you” as we stand as a hulking great thing drives past us, but it could hurt her very easily and I don’t want to dismiss her fears which seem sensible to me.

Teaching her to cross roads hasn’t been too bad so far. She is good at holding my hand and I try to hurry her over so she learns not to dawdle. And of course she likes pressing the button at crossings. But we live in an area with no driveways so there are a lot of parked cars to negotiate in order to get anywhere. A recent 20 mph speed limit is not really noticed or enforced and we regularly watch cars race past us on our way to nursery each morning.

I always listened to people talking about how having children changed their driving habits – justifying them buying those ghastly people carriers, or driving more carefully. In my case it seems to have put me off driving altogether.

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Adulting, part 2

kitchen 2

Machinery and whizzy kitchen stuff all over the place.

Machinery and whizzy kitchen stuff all over the place.

Picture a kitchen. It has a white grained plastic sink. It has white laminate worktops. It has two strange bars on each worktop that you can use for parallel bar work if you’re too cheap to go to the gym. It has really high cupboards that you can’t reach easily if you’re my height. The worktops are falling off the wall as I had to remove the built in fridge and freezer when they died and replace them with stand alone white goods that run from a series of extension leads around the room.

Spot the crappy unit at the end. Barely useful to anyone

Spot the crappy unit at the end. Barely useful to anyone

Plates stacked on open shelves, mismatched units...

Plates stacked on open shelves, mismatched units…

It has flooring which is peeling, terrible tiles that you painted over to obliterate the design which are now peeling too, or dripping food that doesn’t seem to wash off. It has a strange area at one end with a wall cupboard and some very thin tiny shelves that are only a cup’s height. And it has an oven which chucks out more heat than the pits of hell, which sat nicely next to a freezer – one that unsurprisingly needed frequent defrosting.

That has now gone. After 13 years of screaming in frustration, beating worktops with wooden spoons, spilling food as I try to reach it on a shelf and gazing with longing at nice kitchens on TV, I now have a new kitchen. We were able to afford it thanks to an Income Tax rebate and a PPI claim. There’s something doubly satisfying about buying something you’ve treasured with money from financial services screw ups.

Look at that easy to clean worktop...

Look at that easy to clean worktop…

The new kitchen (from Ikea) was fitted by nice men over a period of four days of chaos. I took the fifth day off to move everything back into the new space. It all feels very solid. Much more solid than the old one. There is more storage. So much that I could also revamp the back porch. I have a larder! It already smells of spices. The worktops are black. The sink is stainless steel. Both of these are easy to clean. I can throw the bleach away. The oven doesn’t leak enough heat to warm a legion of old ladies. We celebrated the fact that we have a working grill by making cheese on toast – a dish denied to us for years…



The tiling was done last week by Andy at the excellently named Grout and About. We just need to get the flooring done. And a lick of paint.  Some wag once said that you know you’re grown up when you prefer home to a night club, but in that case I was always grown up. I’ve also gone mad and got some new storage items – a new kitchen needs not to have jars that didn’t used to be old plastic Ovaltine jars. Everything doesn’t have to match but it would be nice to have things that aren’t ramshackle make-dos you put up with when you were a student/ impoverished bookseller.

We waited a long time for this meal

We waited a long time for this meal

I’ve never yearned for something so long that has actually happened. It’s really nice, isn’t it?

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Drawing breath

It’s been the kind of day where I haven’t even been able to go to the toilet without there being a small person wanting to come too.

I have three days when I’m not at work and practically every week I have some kind of idea that I will achieve things in those days, that it’s work that exhausts me and takes up the time. Every week my ideas fall hopelessly by the wayside. E is not yet adept at independent play on a regular basis. I have no idea if there’s a good age for her learning to do things alone or if I have to teach her not to follow me around, asking to be carried while I make her lunch, asking to stir things when I’m cooking, and so on. On a good day she sits and plays with her play dough without too much bother and once in a while she can play with her books or something but mostly she wants to be with us.

I don’t mind most of the time, and I realise that she’s yet to learn the self sufficiency you see in many only children, but sometimes it’s so exhausting. All I wanted today was 30 seconds in which to have a pee. A respite from “shall we sing Twinkle Twinkle?” or “shall we make cakes?” or “I need play outside.”

I think it would be so much easier if it wasn’t just me and S. If there was an occasional grandparent or neighbour. But there isn’t. S has things to do at the weekends too – this weekend new tyres for the car and some garden maintenance. And then he likes to read the paper. So hiding behind the pages and being part deaf, he is good at ignoring E. Not all the time I mean, he reads to her and builds railway tracks.

This weekend she’s also been quite tired and therefore grousy. It’s ok in the mornings but by mid-afternoon you’re grousy too. Today we went for a walk before we all went mad and had an adventure – exploring a vintage Routemaster bus (it was a wedding fair) the driver got on and didn’t check for passengers before starting the engine and setting off to leave. Then we collected leaves to do some rubbings tomorrow (it’s supposed to rain all day) and had a great time in the playground with some friends we bumped into and their children.

The trip saved our sanity but there was still lots to be done when we got in. And now it’s 10.30 and only half a list ticked off.

My apologies for the cross blog post but if you have any tips on how to deal with teaching independence to a child, if only so you can wee alone, please do share them. I need all the help I can get.

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How to be socially awkward…

Is shyness inherited? Is introversion? Or is it a learned behaviour?

We were at the playground the other day. I have no idea how to deal with other people’s children – how to talk to them or interact in any basic way. This was one of the main reasons that put me off having my own children – I was worried if I’d be able to communicate or spend all my days being flummoxed by basic details. Luckily I’ve found E easy to talk to and deal with but I still can’t apply that behaviour to other children.

E loves the playground if we’re there alone or if there are only a couple of other children, but that day we were suddenly swamped. She was clambering up the steps to the mini slide when another child climbed up the other side and went down the slide. She started to look upset and reached for me. I immediately recognised the retreating into herself to find what she was comfortable with as something that I do when faced with bolshy strangers. I’ve always wanted to be the person who comes back with a witty put down but in reality I won’t have thought of it till about three days later.

Our other problem came just after this. I’d left her scooter to one side as I helped her up the steps and an older boy came up and started to ride it. In principle I don’t mind – we weren’t using it at the time, I’d like to look like a sharer and to show E how to share her toys but he didn’t even ask and I was rather cross. His parents were the other side of the playground and not paying attention and I thought it looked rather churlish to make him come off it when E would rather play on the slide but still. In the end, he didn’t do any harm and gave it back when I asked for it as we left but I still felt hopeless. E was pretty unhappy with the others there so we went to another area where she could practise her balancing on wooden planks instead.

E mixes with other children of all ages at nursery. As I left her there the other day, she was being given a fire engine to play with by one of the slightly bigger boys and she seemed happy enough. Like her introverted mother, she’s happy with the people she knows. And she is happier in general talking to strange adults – waving to people in coffee shops or in shops, for example, though sometimes she goes all shy. But it’s mainly other children she’s wary of and I find it rather interesting to observe without being able to offer much help.

As a child it was my sister who was able to meet people and make friends more easily than me, so I may send her to Auntie C’s for a while to pick up tips. Or I may just celebrate that she seems to be an introvert and she has a valid place in the world, just a quieter one.

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Review – Beanbag music club

As a pregnant woman, when I wasn’t muttering about how awful it all was, I had a list of things to do with the baby once she was born. One of those was taking her to see live music – I had all kinds of things in mind. We used to go to the Halle orchestra’s Christmas concert every year, that was one, and I spent my last Glastonbury (sometimes) watching the kids there enjoying themselves, that was another.

With music being increasingly hard to find in schools for a plethora of reasons, I wanted music to be a part of E’s life somehow. Not just because I regret not learning to play anything properly when I was a wee lass – we had a piano for some years but neither of us really expressed an interest and my parents understandably got rid of it (with some difficulty if I remember, rolling it along on very-quickly-ruined broom handles.) E has some percussion instruments which she likes and my guitar sits here waiting for when a)I have time to remember how to play it and b) she looks like she might be interested.

S plays E classical music during her bath in an effort to calm her down – sometimes this is successful and sometimes they play Verdi’s Va, Pensiero which gives me a chance to bash the side of the bath as a drum – great fun.

In this spirit, we thought the Royal Centre’s Beanbag Music Club sounded rather good. It’s a special session for under 6s on a Saturday morning once a quarter (I think) where they bung a bunch of beanbags down on the upper lobby floor, seat the parents at the back and have a small group of musicians play and run an interactive music session. We bought our tickets (£7 a head) and went along.

E was restless as soon as we arrived and kept asking to go outside. Luckily, as soon as the session actually started she was really interested and clapped along, watching the players and laughing at the noises, the dancing and the props. The session was run by Grafitti Classics – 2 violins, a viola and a double bass. They played a range of music, made us clap and sing, danced, got one dad up to try and sing Flight of the Bumblebee through his lips and, at the end, allowed all the children to come up and play the double bass. E went up and did some sawing, despite the instrument being three times her size.

The session lasted just under an hour and there were plenty of jokes to keep the adults amused as well as fun things for the children to watch. From where we were sitting, everyone enjoyed it. There’s another performance scheduled for Christmas time – I think we’ll be there!

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