20 years …

1 April 2020

Today could’ve been my 20th Wedding Anniversary!

My Wedding Day 1 April 2000

But obviously it isn’t! Instead I find myself very much single, very much a mum and very much stuck indoors in the middle of a national corona virus lockdown! Covid -19 does, however, leave me with far more time than usual on my hands. In consequence I elect to battle upstairs with the rusty ladders, sway unsteadily into the loft and root around for my old wedding pictures. Eventually, I unearth them, buried in an old black briefcase and I sit down with a coffee to dwell upon life. Let’s face it, life never quite turns out as you planned!

Look at me all smiles, white frock and flowers. Blissfully unaware of the tidal wave that was to come crashing through my life just a decade after saying “I do!” Marital breakdown is a terrifying time. I felt as if someone had just swept into my life, torn it into pieces and cast them from a tall building, to see if they could find a place to land. The pain, the heartbreak, they were body blows. The dawning shock that I was now a ‘single mum‘ was difficult to comprehend. I remember the horror of having to tell people and trying not to cry. I hated being cast as a victim, and feared everyone’s pity. I remember the challenge of rethinking how to live every part of my life, how to maintain stability for the kids and how to pay for it all.

But I made it through. I rebuilt my entire world. I learned that if, like me, you don’t like being a victim then don’t be one! Take back control! The teens are successful and seem, at least for the moment, to be very happy. I have kept a roof over our heads. I have held down a full time job. I have managed, with a few personal sacrifices, to provide the kids with many of the opportunities I enjoyed as a child. I run, I read, I write, I play music, all of which is a joy. I still shudder when faced with a DIY tasks or an over-ambitious cooking quest. I still shed the odd tear over the sheer grind of daily life when you are the only adult in the house. But, having battled through the complexities of the family law courts, give me any official, legal or financial dilemma and I rise to the challenge better than most.

Do I miss the companionship and closeness? Do I miss having a ‘partner in crime’? Do I miss having a husband? In one sense, yes I do. I miss the husband the girl in the picture above was dreaming of. The daughter of a cinema manager and musician, weaned on films and tales of romance, I fear that she actually thought that life was destined to be ‘like the movies.’ Somewhere deep inside, I suspect she believed that ‘true love would conquer all,’ and that with marriage came the guarantee that everything would end ‘happily ever after.’

But no marriage breaks up because it’s happy. Towards the end of our alliance, life was very miserable for both me and Ex-hub, And I am sure that neither of us misses that at all. Life is strewn with cliches, possibly because they are wise old words, and this one always strikes a chord with me

It is better to be alone that in an unhappy relationship’

So whilst I did not make it to my 20th anniversary, the last 2 decades have certainly not been wasted. I emerge with great strength, determination, multi-tasking talents beyond compare and three incredible children. And I’m ready to make the most of … tomorrow! Forget anniversaries and landmarks, I have learned that it’s best to take life one day at a time …

Bingo!

Sunday 29 March 2020

The weekend comes to a close with a family game of Bingo, on Zoom!

Zoom Zoom Zoom, suddenly everybody is talking about Zoom! The video conferencing platform, designed for the world of business, appears to have become the vehicle of choice for people searching for way to keep in contact, without leaving home. My brother arranges for the entire family to hook up to Zoom as a boost for mum. This lovely lady has accepted her corona sentence, of indoor solitude for 12 weeks, but isolation is not her natural state. No, better adjectives for my mum would be outgoing, sparkling, fun -loving and mischievous. In consequence, she finds the prospect of 3 months on her own daunting, to say the least. Let’s hope face time can soften the blow!

Bingo is pencilled in for the weekend. The teens and I experiment by calling mum mid-week for a practice. It’s a good job we do. I am a bit of a luddite anyway, and go round in circles, stuck in a meeting with myself for about 20 minutes! When we finally make contact, there is much excitement, which descends into hilarity as mum cannot figure out how to leave the meeting and, long after she has bid us ‘farewell’ and pottered off to make her tea, can be heard clattering around in the kitchen. I realise that it’s the most laughter we have shared for quite a while. And laughter is great medicine!

As Sunday dawns, we set out on a quest to have all out jobs done by 7 pm, the appointed Bingo -hour. We start with shopping, for us, for mum and for one of her friends. My mother’s list is much more exotic than our staples, with its poached beetroot, ginger tea and ripe avocados. And that probably explains why we waste so much time searching the half empty shelves for her ‘Partridge sachets‘, which eventually turn out to be a predictive text version of ‘Porridge‘! On the eerily quiet roads of a Covid-ruled world, however, we make up time on the drive to mum’s house, where we enact a contactless swap in the porch; groceries for bingo cards! Pausing only to wave through the window, we hasten home to complete the rest of our chores.

By 7pm, the car is cleaned, the house spruced, work emails sent, a roast dinner enjoyed … and it is ‘Eyes Down ! We ‘zoom‘ in from the North, South , East and West of our green and pleasant land. The Bingo set was my Dad’s and I believe dates back to the early 1960s. Bingo is the way we finish our annual family Christmas party every year without fail and so we all know the rules, the calls, the ‘clickety clicks‘, the ‘two little ducks‘! It is the perfect way for us all to launch an era of virtual connection in these strange times. For us Bingo is familiar, Bingo is fun, Bingo is family ….

Is it only a week?

Thursday 26 March 2020

At 8 pm tonight we stand at our doorways with our neighbour to ‘Clap the Carers’. And we do clap! We loudly applaud and cheer the magnificent NHS workers who have heroically battled the spiralling number of UK corona virus cases on the front line. They have seen unthinkable sights and suffering, risked their own lives and sacrificed time with their own families for each of us and our country. They are indeed the most critical of all the workers in a society that usually values other more highly. In a world that has transformed itself in a matter of days, this now seems obvious. It is a moment to unite behind a better set of values, but how long will it last?

The life I was living one week ago now seems as a distant memory. Go back two weeks and I start to feel as though I am currently living in a dream. We are now not allowed out of the house except to work, shop or enjoy one daily run. My mum and my middle child are not allowed out at all, for the next 12 weeks. All school trips are cancelled. School exams cancelled. Concerts cancelled. Sport cancelled. Pubs are closed. Non-essential shops are closed. Galleries closed. Restaurants closed. Essentially any life outside of work and home is over for the next few weeks for us all.

Some parts of it are quite nice. I now have a job that actually finishes at 5 pm each day, instead of invading my evenings. I go running with two of my children, instead of by myself. My eldest, suddenly free from exam stress, bustles about shopping, cleaning and cooking meals. She buys board games and new packages for the Wii. She makes plans to redesign the garden. She even signs up for the NHS Army of Volunteers… did I not mention that my girl is unstoppable! Prom-dress Daughter is redecorating her bedroom and the bathroom. All three help each other with school work. We definitely feel like an even stronger family unit and some commentators speak of closer community bonds in the wider world. But of this, I am more sceptical.

The press and social media platforms soon shift their attention to criticism and blame of anyone and everything that moves. A nation are told to ‘stay at home’ and then lambasted by the press for for ‘stocking up’ on food and provisions. A nation mends their ways and starts popping out to the local store to just ‘get what they need’ and social media screams abuse at them for not ‘staying at home’. The PM advises us to get out in the fresh air and on a sunny weekend that is what families do. They head for mountains and beaches and unfortunately for them, so does everyone else and the over-opinionated demand a ‘lock down’ or ‘fines’ for the sinners.

And I say … it has only been a week everyone! People have been asked to adapt and change their lives beyond recognition in a week. We are trying, most places I need to go to look like ghost towns, but it is confusing and scary and we don’t get it all exactly right all the time. We worry about jobs, about money, about loved ones, about an unseen enemy. I see ventilators on the news and I am dragged back to the horrors of Prom-dress daughter’s last hospitalisation for asthma. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we just all remembered to ‘Be kind’ – wasn’t that our national pledge earlier in 2020? Educate and remind gently. Support and explain. Really look out for each other and help each other to make sense of a rapidly changing and terrifying situation.

Hey, even if I am in not a dream, I certainly fear am too much of a dreamer . Good luck everyone. Keep safe and well …

School’s out …

Saturday 21 March 2020

Schools close this week for the foreseeable future. I know that I shall really miss the teenagers I work with Monday to Friday. They bring joy, hope and optimism for the future and at the moment that is exactly what we all need…

Friday is a highly emotional day at work. We say a sad and sudden farewell to a stunned set of school leavers. It is so much earlier than planned for this set of young people, who find their rite of passage: their final weeks together, their examination season, their prom swept away by the corona virus tidal wave. The final assembly of 2020 is incredibly moving and incredibly tearful, as we all come to terms with the reality that these amazing pupils, we were expecting to work with for 3 more months, are leaving our school community today and not coming back. At least proceedings end on a humorous note. The Head of Year is presented with a pack of toilet rolls and some dried pasta. We laugh. We laugh together. We laugh out loud. And for a fleeting moment, in this whirlwind week, life feels almost normal again.

As I drive home however the panic, the sense of unease, the disbelief begin to take hold again. Confirmed cases of the virus in the UK have rocketed and pubs, cafes, theatres and concert halls are ordered to close from tomorrow. I switch off the car radio and complete my journey in grim silence.

Back at base, Small Boy has done just one day at home and the great buffoon has already managed to lose two basketballs ‘over the hedge’ and into our elderly neighbours’ garden. I send them a note of apology and my mobile number in case they need anything. In terms of supplies for us, I am hopeful that the family cupboards and bathroom will soon be fully stocked again for, after a long wait, tonight is the night that I have a supermarket delivery scheduled.

Just before 9pm, my groceries arrive. This was the only slot left one week ago when I booked it and my order includes … toilet rolls! It is salvation. I am excited. I am relieved. I am … soon in floods of tears as, not only toilet rolls are missing, roughly two thirds of my items are not included in the crates. The thought of another horrendous battle at the supermarket tomorrow looms and it is simply soul-destroying. Every morning I’ve been this week, pre-work (7:15am) and again every evening post-work (6:30pm) in a fruitless quest for bathroom essentials. At the end of a stressful, sleepless week, at the end of such a strange and sad day, it is just too much.

But it’s not only at work that I learn about life and kindness, determination and drive from young people. I have my own brigade of brilliant bambini at home too. My eldest makes me an emergency cuppa, takes the crumpled shopping list from my hands and tells me that she will sort it all out. And the next morning she does. It maybe Saturday, but at 7am I hear the front door close and the car engine start up. And by 8:30am she is back. She has queued and crusaded courageously around the crazed Tesco aisles. No toilet rolls, of course, and an eclectic mix of groceries but to me, blinking back tears, it looks like manna from heaven.

So, as an extraordinary week comes to an end and we stumble through the days as if in a bewildered dream, I feel proud and privileged to live and work with the teenage population. They light the gloom with hope …

Life in the time of corona…

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Gosh, corona virus, where to start?

As covid 19 takes a grim grip of the UK, a dark cloud of anxiety seems to spread across our skies. Our enemy is hidden but unstoppable, swiftly and silently seeping everywhere and bringing consequences, as yet unknown. And it leaves me shellshocked.

I am sure that I will get used to it, but events have moved so rapidly in recent days that I am not there yet. A week ago in my household, we were just merrily washing our hands to a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!‘s, and feeling pretty invincible. Today I drove to work along an empty motorway. My mum has been told to isolate herself for several months. I have difficult decisions to make about when and how to withdraw Prom dress daughter, a severe asthmatic, from the life she currently leads. Every event on my calendar has been wiped out. Supermarket shelves are bare. At work and at home, I am surrounded by anxious teenagers caught up in a suddenly chaotic and uncertain examination system. I see at least four frightened colleagues sent home and I try to timetable over the cracks …

It feels as if the world I know and understand is simply shutting down. And no-one I know has even begun to feel ill yet. So who knows what happens next. I am used to feeling stressed. I am used to feeling overwhelmed. I am used to feeling sad. I am just not used to feeling quite this scared …

No time … for a change?

Saturday 7 March 2020

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and, in celebration, Parkrun are on the radio this morning, encouraging women to join them this weekend. It is true that this national running organisation does attract female members, indeed they make up 52% of the registration. The sadder statistic however is that, whilst they constitute over half of those who have signed up, women make up only 44% of actual participants in the weekly 5K. Of the 1.8 million registered on Parkrun, 650 000 women have yet to take part. I wonder how many men too have signed up but not taken that significant step of actually standing on the starting line. It seems such a shame, because running can be wonderful for the heart and soul. There will doubtless be many reasons behind this but one issue I have pondered recently is the value of the timing chip. Do we really need to record times and ranks and aim to ‘beat personal bests’ every time we pull on our running shoes? Does competition actually motivate people to take part in sport and exercise or does it just put up more barriers? Does a list just reinforce the fear that you are ‘not as good’ as everyone else? Is it time to ditch the Garmin and try ‘no times’ for a change?

I am no anti-competition zealot, in fact I am quite the opposite at a personal level. I recall coming ‘second in category‘ once in a Parkrun and immediately spending the next few weeks running to the point of vomiting, in an attempt to come ‘first’. On one 10K, I broke the 55 minute barrier and was so thrilled that I worked my finishing time into the next computer password-change at work! My worry however is that I am not the target audience for the latest national fitness campaign. I have always been pretty active: a child gymnast, a school long jump champion, a uni netball player, a regular (before I became a single parent) at aerobics, yoga and even adult ballet! I don’t need running to get active. I choose my trainers to keep up a decent level of fitness because running is friendly, free, flexible… and has never involved childcare .

The people the government needs to reach are the half of women and the third of men who are not active enough for good health. In their 2020 report, Health Matters, Public Health England outline the significant benefits of exercise for our physical and mental well-being. They also explore the difficulties for adults not engaged in sport and activity. These are varied and, in some cases, complex but most barriers are internal ones and I find their fear that exercise is ‘not for people like me‘ a little heart breaking. Would those battling to find the confidence to move to a more active life really be helped by a timing chip? Competition, yes it is great if you are a competitor. But if you’re not? If you are the name at the foot of the list how does that feel?

I once took the kids to Parkrun. Two were fine, but Prom-dress daughter got in a panic about the number of people in front of us compared to the dwindling amount behind.

What if I am last?” she whispered tearfully.

I really don’t care if we are last ” I encouraged her in reply “In fact I will be proud. We are out here running and keeping fit and that’s what really matters.”

But it wasn’t what really mattered to my daughter that day and she refused to finish. The same child ran happily around the laid back and festival feel of the Race for Life 5K and has recently completed a 6 hour Duke of Edinburgh hike. Her fear was the list and the label. Because for every top 10, others must be condemned to be in the bottom 10.

I may have stumbled across running because of single parent circumstances but now I love it. Love the oxygen in my lungs. Love the freshness in my face. Love the strength in my legs Love the calmness in my mind and lightness in my soul. Love the feeling of life and vitality. I claim there’s a ‘runner’s glow’, a joy that comes from just being out there and feeling your body move. And, whereas I have long since lost any of the toy medals you get given at the end of a ‘race’, this feeling stays for ever! And I would love to empower more people to experience it.

I did once post on a Parkrun forum the notion that this event could become the one timing-free race in the running calendar. It went down like a lead balloon (I still quake at the memory!) And probably rightly so. One very valid point, in a tide of perplexed pb-obsessed outrage, was with over 2 million runners Parkrun have clearly found a winning formula so why meddle with it. And they are right, I have absolutely no right to hi-jack their event. So perhaps instead, when I have retired and have some time, I’ll set up my own event. A strava-free zone, where ranks, times and judgement are vetoed. It’s our pace, our distance, our minds and bodies growing stronger with every step and we just ‘run because we love it’.

An extra day!

Saturday 29 February 2020

Leap-year day! I make myself a strong morning cuppa and sit down with a stack of mail to contemplate the day ahead. It’s mostly junk. I tip out the contents of an Asthma Lottery envelope, fully expecting some ‘extra raffle tickets’ to fall out. But it’s a letter. I am a winner. Blimey … I am quite a big winner. I read and re-read the letter in disbelief. I scrabble through the papers looking for the cheque. Can it be true? Prom-dress daughter reads the letter for a second opinion. She thinks it is. The two of us start to jump around the lounge, then three of us and then four. What a great start to the day!

Now I do feel the need to clarify. When I say a big win, it’s only big in relation to our usual £25 triumphs. I am not about to give up the day job… even for a day! However it is a big enough win for the Asthma Lottery to ask if they can use my name in publicity and, to my great amusement, to offer the services of a ‘model’ to represent me visually!

You’d think that would be the highlight of the day, but it is not. That comes at precisely 2:15 pm. Small Boy is off into town, to buy crickets and sand from the petshop … and then to head onto a date! But I am not ferrying him around the unique logistics of this trip. My eldest is! Yes, I have finally managed to fund car insurance for my lovely girl, who passed her test many months ago. There’s no denying that it is a hefty financial hit, but today, as the two of them set off with a bundle of car keys, and for the first time in 10 years, I don’t, it feels worth every penny!

I actually don’t know what to do with myself at first. My afternoon suddenly has a full extra hour of peace and quiet and pleasing myself. It’s unheard of. It’s unnerving. It’s magical and it’s not to be wasted. I am heading out too today. In an hour and a half I am setting off to Yorkshire, for a meal and a night at ‘The Opera’. Do you know what. I am going to get ready, properly ready. Hair washed and straightened ready. Full face of make-up ready. Lotion and perfume ready. Matching earring ready! Try out more than one outfit ready!

It’s a whole new world, and I think I could get used to it, every day, not just on this (unexpectedly lovely ) extra day…