Rule of Thumb



It has been said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat waiting staff. So if you are on a date and they speak to the waiter or waitress in a derogatory or abrupt fashion, you should announce that you have left the oven on and bid a hasty retreat. Presumably if your date is exceptionally rude, you leave before the meal gets anywhere near the table (you know that it will have been spat in) by claiming that you left the fire on as well. And if someone treats people trying to earn a decent wage like that, then one can only wonder what they are like at close quarters in a relationship. Watching the news this week, as we all have done at some point, I can only wonder how the new American President got past that first date and all the way to the altar with his wife, given the two incidents that I have witnessed along with the whole world.

The first one you all must have seen was when he got out of the car to meet the Obamas on the steps of The White House . He got out, made his way to President and Mrs Obama, and greeted them. Meanwhile, his wife was left to make her own way out of the car and up the steps. When she arrived at his side, he barely so much as acknowledged her. He then went inside (at President Obama’s invitation) and left President and Mrs Obama to put Mrs Trump at her ease.

The second one might not have come across your screen, but I happened upon it. You have a look and see what you think at the part of his inauguration when President Trump is obviously rude to his wife . What did he say to her? Just what could she have possibly done that was so awful on that day that he felt the need to speak to her like that in front of all of those people? Look at the faces of the people standing next to Mrs Trump. They heard it and are trying not to show it, but you can see it flicker across their faces. With one comment he reduced her almost to tears. And look at his face when he turns back round – he looks rather pleased with himself doesn’t he? Big man, saying something so unpleasant to his wife that in perhaps in a less public forum, she would have burst into tears. And if he treats her like that when everyone is watching, then one can only wonder…..oh no, wait, we have an example of that too….

Anyone, with the inclusion of Tim Peake who was not even on the planet at the time, did hear the infamous “locker room talk”. It doesn’t need us to debate it – it’s not locker room talk. There is no man who is a friend of mine who would talk about a woman like that; not in a changing room, not in a bar, not anywhere. I am sure that they would talk in an overtly sexual way to each other, or more likely in their own heads about a woman whom they found sexually attractive, in terms of two consenting adults. So would heterosexual women about a man they found attractive. But not like that. Not like the man or woman is a thing for him to fuck when and how he likes. Not like someone who claims to have mints in case he just starts kissing a woman whether they want to be kissed or not – he doesn’t know and he doesn’t care.

Amongst all of this, the point about the Definitely-Not-Locker-Room-Talk that appears to have been glossed over, or missed, or because everyone is still open-mouthed at the whole thing and hasn’t got round to it yet, is that President Trump was married to Melania Trump at the time. And they had a child. So not only was he openly admitting to assaulting women, he had a wife and a child at home as well. Ladies, please form an orderly queue…..

I have read various comments along the lines of “well she knew what she was marrying” and “oh well, he’s got plenty of money”. It is as if a man having money makes it okay for a woman to be treated badly – the money is compensation, and therefore that makes it acceptable as a bargain to have been made: I do not agree. Just because a woman (or a man) isn’t kicked from pillar to post by a drunken partner every night and isn’t running screaming down the road to a refuge in her nightie, doesn’t make it okay. Just because he hasn’t laid one finger on one hair of her head, doesn’t mean that she isn’t lying in bed every night, frightened about what she will do wrong next or what horror he will visit on her or their child if she tries to leave. Just because there isn’t physical violence, it doesn’t mean that it is not abuse. She thought that she hadn’t put a foot wrong all day, and yet she did something to displease him. That is because she’s trapped in a labyrinth with walls that move and rules that change depending upon his whim.

Maybe it is harder to pin it down in physical and legislative terms when it comes to us this way. And a person’s relationship is theirs and not anyone else’s which makes it very difficult indeed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be ready to understand and help as and when it shows itself for what it is, even if it is disguised by a nice three bed detached in suburbia and two point four kids in a private school, or a tower named after a bottom burp.

Meanwhile, continue to avoid people who are rude to waiting staff.


Musical Beds


It has not been the best of weeks in our household. Three out of the five of us have not had a lot of sleep. Given the events in the US you may be forgiven for thinking that it is because three of us are concerned that the man with the most impressive quiff since Elvis now has the nuclear codes. You could not be forgiven for thinking that three of us have not been able to sleep out of excitement at this new appointment. However, given that one of the three of us is aged five, I think we can assume that her prime concern is more along the lines of milk and chocolate, and who is going to provide it. No, Child Number Three has an ear infection.

We all remember having poorly ears as a child. That pain that makes you want to push an entire bottle brush into your ear, through your brain and out the other side, just to make it stop. Well my daughter has that at the moment. But, until Thursday, only between the hours of 7pm and 7am. In the daytime, she has been full of the joys of Spring. And now me and her father have had so little sleep we feel like we did when Child Number One was a newborn. And those of you who have children will know that the tiredness that you have when you are looking after a newborn is something that you can remember, but you can only really understand it when you’re there; rather like trying to imagine how it feels to have a limb chopped off with a bread knife – you can’t quite picture it, but you know that it would hurt a lot and it definitely would be messy.

I was going to write earlier in the week, but I was having trouble putting my pants on the right way round. As I type now, you’ll be both thrilled and relieved to learn that I am fully washed and dressed, and you would only know about my lack of sleep due to the wide-eyed look that I have from over-dosing on caffeine.

It started last Sunday when Child Number Three complained of her ear hurting. Three sleepness nights followed (for me, not her). You all know what I am going to say next. I was concertinaed up on her small person’s bed, clinging onto the edge of the mattress and clutching a tiny corner of duvet whilst my diminutive bedfellow was sprawled across the rest of the bed luxuriating in pretty much the entire duvet and pillow combo. If I so much as attempted to move, or Heaven forfend, leave the room, she was up and crying, demanding to know why I had had the audacity to attempt to get some sleep myself.

By Thursday, I thought she was on the mend. My mistake. I got a call from school and made an appointment at the doctor’s. Child Number One didn’t see why he couldn’t be left at home. I explained that this was not advisable as in spite of his protests to the contrary, I trusted and expected him to behave like a nine year old boy, which, in my experience did not lend itself to being left home alone for the time it took me to go to the loo, let alone a doctor’s appointment. And I had also heard that Social Services can get a bit sniffy about children being left alone in the house. We agreed to differ and all went to the doctor’s.

We waited for an hour, during which I was climbed on, jiggled about on, pawed, clutched and bodged, together with accompanying huffing, puffing and declarations of ” I’m bored, Mummy” and “how long is it going to take?” There has been much battering of A&E in the Press this week, but in my experience, they are infinitely quicker and certainly no slower than seeing the GP. Child Number Three managed to fall over in the lunch queue the other week necessitating a trip to A&E – we were in and out in an hour. That is not to bash GP’s, it is to defend A&E departments. When we got to see the doctor, it transpired that the original doctor had had to go home ill and a replacement summoned. Maybe they had a poorly ear too?

Anyway, we got the medicine, and with precise instructions as to how much paracetamol and ibuprofen and when it could be taken, I took everyone home and got them ready for bed. I then administered lots of medicine to my poorly child, which the doctor had told me was absolutely fine and would “make her more comfortable for bed”. I took that to mean “would fell a stag” and got on with dishing it out. I tucked her up and eagerly counted the minutes until I could legitimately go to bed myself.

After Man of the House and I had self-administered a couple of glasses of red wine, I checked on my poorly child and it seemed that she was not only a sleeping child, but she was sleeping so soundly that she didn’t even wake up when I accidentally stepped on a piece of Playmobil and swore loudly. Relieved, I got to the bedroom, got ready for bed, set my alarm and snuggled down under the duvet. No sooner had my head hit my pillow than there was a noise that sounded like a motorbike revving up emanating from Child Number Three’s room. I went in. I got into the bed and assumed the position of the Mattress Island Castaway. The revving motorbike died down and I lay there, wondering if anyone has got set into this position and needed to be rescued.

During the middle of the night, I woke. And I managed to get out of the room without her grabbing my arm. Far more excited than I should have been, I returned to my bed. Again, my head hit my pillow. Almost immediately an apparition appeared in the doorway. This time, in the interests of variety, it was Child Number One. They couldn’t sleep and wanted a cuddle. So he got into bed next to me.

Now I don’t want you to think that whilst all of this was going on that Man of the House was idle. He had been meowed at by the cat and she doesn’t shut up until you feed her, so he had fed her and then got back into bed. He also moved over slightly to accommodate me and Child Number One. And as he is currently the one who works for the money to pay the mortgage, it seems more important that he gets sleep so he can function in the office the next day, whereas folding pants, brushing hair and preparing edible (but not award winning) food may require maximum effort and patience, brainpower is not high on its list of requirements. On the other hand, it does need to be done or bottoms are bare, hair is hedge-like and tummys are empty.

So Child Number One nodded off, I lay on my side (because there was no room to do anything else) and at that moment, the cat decided that my vast bottom looked both enticing and comfortable. When she perched herself like a pimple on a mountain and started paddling in the way that cats do when they’re settling down to sleep, I decided that I had had enough. I dislodged the cat, shuffled under the duvet, down the bed and popped out at the bottom and onto the floor. I went and got into Child Number One’s bed. This is a normal-sized bed so I stretched out. And Child Number Three knew it. She came in and assumed her usual considerate sleeping position, so I assumed mine. Child Number Two was rather confused when she got up in the morning, having slept through it all.

I am a donkey on the edge now and I am not ashamed to admit it. Today I have bathed three children, fed three children three meals along with drinks and snacks, driven one to an exam and done some washing. And this is a lazy day because I am so tired I could throw up. I expect that by Monday, Normal Service Will Be Resumed, or at least, expected. However, if tonight doesn’t go well, if anyone, anyone even so much as suggests to me that looking after children isn’t working, I’m going to poke them in the eye.


Choose Life



I want to take you back to the eighties. And if you’re not old enough to remember the eighties, then let me tell you about it, you’ll be horrified. Shoulder pads were in. Power suits with big shoulder pads were definitely in. As was big hair. And when I say big hair, I mean big flicks and lots of hairspray to stop it from moving a millimetre in a force nine gale. Highlights. Blonde ones. Perms. All for men as well as women. Metrosexuality was something that was well underway in the eighties, although I suspect that most men would have balked at the large bows that Princess Diana wore.

There were videos, personal stereos. And a lot of people were desperate to know who shot JR – I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know or can’t remember.

The height of automobile sophistication for the thrusting young gentleman was a Ford Capri. My parents and grandparents drove a Ford Alpine, which wasn’t the height of anything and probably the depths of something, but it was a lot more than lots of people could afford at the time. And infinitely better than waiting for a bus to the city (they didn’t go anywhere else) which took about two hours and came twice a week.

In 1983 it was made law for people to wear seatbelts, following eleven previous attempts. I remember there being the most almighty row about it and people getting very het up about the infringements of civil liberties. Most cars at that time only had seatbelts in the front seats so children remained free to brawl with their siblings on the back seat entirely unrestrained, which I also remember doing. Babies could be held in someone’s arms. It only became compulsory for adults to belt up in the back seat in 1991.

If you wanted to get around on your bicycle, as most little people did then, then what you wanted (but probably didn’t have) was a Chopper. This had an extra large seat which allowed you to give a croggy to your friends with the added bonus of being able to see where you were going as they were behind you rather than perched on your handlebars.

As far as music was concerned in this country; Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Madonna, Tracy Ullman. Wham were big. And I was going to marry George Michael. He was handsome, talented, he could sing, he could dance and he seemed like a thoroughly lovely person. Of course he was gay, but that hadn’t occurred to me (or anyone else it would seem, except I suspect it had probably occurred to George), as I was only little. Besides, as soon as he met me, he would want to marry me, I was sure of it.

Some time in early 1983  a woman was at a hospital, wearing her dress with her large bow on it as was the fashion then for the pregnant woman about town. It seemed that pregnancy was still something a woman felt she had to hide then. As if it was some mystery best left to women to get on with behind closed doors.  Nevertheless she would be frowned upon by society if she didn’t do it and vilified if she didn’t want to do it. This particular woman was perfectly happy to be expecting her baby, and had actually left her job when she had her first child eight year’s previous, because that was what women did then and no one thought that unacceptable.  She had no need of a perm for her hair was as curly as curly could be, and the most beautiful raven colour. She had spent most of the seventies trying to straighten it and dye it blonde. Aged thirty four she was considered rather too old to be having children and something of a high risk. She had had some blood tests (anyone who has had a baby will know that the minute anyone medical sees you they have an uncontrollable urge to stick a needle in your arm and drain some blood from you) and was there for the results.

The woman was ushered into a room to see her doctor. She sat down and waited patiently. The doctor looked up from his notes. He told her that she had leukaemia.

Then he sent her home.

I sincerely hope that the doctor concerned no longer practices, or has at least practised their bedside manner since that day. The woman was something of a mess; was this serious? It sounded serious. Was it going to affect her baby? How long did she have? She had two other children – were they going to be left without a mother? Her partner telephoned the hospital and asked for someone to have a conversation with him and his wife because they had a few questions.

Thankfully the doctor that they saw on this occasion was rather better at his job. He answered all of their questions as best he could. He was clear that it didn’t affect the baby. But the one that everyone must have when receiving this sort of information: “how long have I got?” he didn’t really have an answer to. It was quite unusual for this type of leukaemia to have been found in someone so young and he wasn’t sure how it was going to play out. Other doctors were suggesting that they treat her, but he felt that watching and waiting was the best option at that time. So they watched. And they waited.

I would now like to take you forward to Sunday 8 January 2017 and recount the following telephone conversation:

Woman A  :  I just wanted to let you know that I am going to London for a couple of days – I have never seen The Tower of London – and I want to remind you where my Will is and where all of my papers are.

Woman B  :   Oh right – is this a bucket list type thing? And is it entirely necessary for you to tell me where your Will is every time I speak to you, Mum? It is London. London. Not Afghanistan. Are you planning on popping off?

Woman A  :  No, but they can’t get on top of this thing in my lung, and I just worry about it.

Woman B  :  I know, but try not to worry. We’ve been here so many times before. And there are a lot of steps at the Tower, for it is a tower, and the clue is in the name. There are plenty of benches.

Woman A  :  Oh yes, well I will get [friend] to sit down – you know she has a gammy knee.

Woman B  :  [annoyed now] I wasn’t getting at [friend’s] gammy knee. She can drag it along. I was suggesting that you sit down as you get tired.

Woman A  :  [in the manner of Mrs Bennett] Oh I’ll be fine. I’ll give you a ring when I get back.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that that was a conversation between me and my mother. Annoying the crap out of me as usual. My mother was the woman who was sent away from the hospital in 1983. And the baby was my younger sister, who is now a mother herself. The doctors watched and waited for twenty years. And I have lost count, and I genuinely mean that I have lost count, of the amount and type of treatment that my mother has had in the past fifteen years on the NHS. She has sat through eight courses of chemotherapy alone, I believe. She has met lots of people, some she has sat with chatting whilst having treatment for a few weeks, and then she hasn’t seen them again. She said she always wonders how they are and if she will bump into them again. All the time she has been hooked up to the drip by someone who worries that they have bruised her veins again. Tea has been served to her by a lady who is always polite and smiles. Her bed has been changed by someone who, in broken English, asks how she is and cares about the answer. All the time, her treatment authorised by a doctor who is now down to his last options and is desperately trying to find a way to save her life. So I get quite cross when the NHS is bashed. In my admittedly limited experience, doctors and nurses want to save lives and patients, whatever problems they may have, want to live, or at least, don’t want to die.

In spite of the efforts of medical professionals, many factors must influence someone’s survival. Up until the past few years, my mother has been lucky enough, if you can call it that, to have a disease that is indolent. Some people, lots of people, are not that fortunate and not given that choice, however brave they are and however much they want to live. But I do think that in my mother’s case a pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face has seen her through. She’s British for God’s sake. It’s what we do! Whatever her faults are (and believe me she has many) she always decides to just get on with it. She will take her dog for a walk, and it matters not a jot to her that she will struggle and have to go home because she simply cannot walk anymore – the dog needs a walk dammit. Stuff the steps at the Tower of London – she’s going and she doesn’t care if it takes her all day to get to where Henry VIII’s suit of armour is – she wants to see it. In short, after that awful day in 1983, whatever thoughts went through her head, I like to think that when she came home on the bus, that she was listening to the Wham Rap on her walkman. And whereas some of us would like to think that we would plump for the less refined attitude of “fuck it” on the receipt of the news that she had just been given, she decided to hold her head high.  In a moment of weakness, entirely uncharacteristically and undoubtedly because no one else could hear it, she decided to take some advice, and it was George’s.  No, not to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.  He got that wrong – no one wants to be woken up before someone go-goes anywhere unless it is to bring them a cup of tea.  No, it was advice that was as good today less than a month after we mourn his loss, as when he bounced around on Top of the Pops as a handsome young thing:  choose life.


The Thirteenth Day



Well Happy New Year and all that shebang to you. Did you spend New Year’s Eve partying until the wee small hours? Or did you, like me, have a couple of drinks and then because you had to get up with small people at some ungodly hour, decide that discretion was the better part of valour, and toddle off to bed? Resolutions? Resolution not to make any more resolutions? Diet? Gym membership?  Whatever you did, whatever promises you made, we now all find ourselves six days into 2017. Most people weren’t all that sorry to see the back of 2016.

Yesterday was Twelfth Night. For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it is traditional to get decorations put away by this date. Some of us were trying to cram our artificial tree back into the box, cursing whilst we pressed the branches of it down, and then, like an overstuffed suitcase, sat on the box or bag whilst taping it up, vowing to get a real tree next year. Others of us were debating the best way to get the real Christmas tree into the recycling bin without depositing pine needles all over the house, deep in the knowledge that in spite of this effort, we will be finding them from now until August, often in places that the tree had not been. But I think we should all spare a thought for the poor soul who, if the song is to be believed, had an excessively needy lover, and was taking delivery of, amongst other things, twelve drummers drumming and a very distressed partridge in a pear tree.

So Mr Shakespeare, what is Twelfth Night all about? In a departure from botox and wearing as little as possible, should the ladies in the party get a stick on beard and dress up as men in order to get someone fall in love with them? Meanwhile, should the men retire to a chaise longue so they can drape their hands dramatically over their foreheads claiming to be sick with love, that love being sick because their football team is not doing all that well at moment?

I have consulted Mr/s Wikipedia on this subject, and Twelfth Night is observed by Christians, who are a type of Christian would you believe? It’s significance is that it is the evening before Epiphany and the observance is supposed to be merrymaking. I don’t think we’ll have any objections so far. Continuing, it is traditional to hide a pea and a bean in the Christmas Cake and whichever of the merrymakers discovers this pea or bean may be King or Queen for the night. One is also to partake of wassail, which is a punch, not to be confused with wassailing, which you are also supposed to do, and you either subject your neighbours to it door to door or apple trees to in an orchard, in order to wish for a good harvest. So if you were wondering what all that hullaballoo around the apple trees down the bottom of your neighbour’s garden was last night, now you know.

So today is the first day of Epiphany for Christians. In the West, it is to celebrate the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, and the physical manifestation of God in his son, Jesus. In the East, it is to celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan . If you make your way through the whole of the Wikipedia entry on it, you won’t be surprised to learn that different people do it differently, some people not at all, and that it has been a subject for discussion, disagreement and debate for many hundreds of years.

However, pressing on in a uncontroversial manner, popular Epiphany customs include singing, chalking the door, having one’s house blessed, eating Three King’s Cake and winter swimming. Again, I don’t think we’ll have any objections (particularly the cake), apart from the last one. It was minus one degree when I walked the dog this morning. And I was so well wrapped you could barely tell I was human. No. Just no. Let’s go swimming in July instead. Somewhere warm.

In order to give you chapter and verse, I have furtled about in my bookcase and brushed off my Dictionary of Etymology to give you the meaning of the word ‘epiphany’. It is from the Greek, ‘epiphaneia’, meaning manifestation or striking appearance, which was applied in the case of the New Testament to the advent or manifestation of Christ; a perfect use of the word for those circumstances. It may be used in other circumstances without a capital letter in the general sense of any striking manifestation or revelation. And manifestations may be good or bad. In popular conscience, 2016 will be remembered for being full of bad ones.

I’m apprehensive about 2017, I think we all are. No one seems to want to tell the man who is to become the President of the United States that he has the most ridiculous hairstyle. Just how bad is it going to be if he is that deluded about his hair? And Nigel. Not elected to represent anything or anyone and yet the media insist on defiling my television screen on a regular basis with the odious twerp. And I am sorry to put her in the same paragraph as him, but my mother is having yet another bout of chemotherapy to try and blast the tumour in her lung out. I wonder, as she must, just how many more times her body can withstand the assault. My sister is worrying about her job. I worried about mine for seven years in the recession and I would do almost anything to take that worry away from her. On the other hand, one of my dearest friend’s will complete her first year of teaching, something she has wanted, and waited to do in the whole of the eighteen years that I have known her. Watching someone you love change from working in a job that they want to do, rather than a job they have to do is joyous. Another friend, whom I admit I nagged to do some exams, will pass more of those exams this year. My sister’s job will be okay. My eldest child will go away for their first residential school trip – the entire class is far too excited already – and they won’t wash or sleep for the whole five days, but they will have the most brilliant time. These are the things that I know. On the thirteenth day. Everything else is a epiphany waiting to happen.