From hot tub to …

Saturday 19 December 2020

… to hollering, to humdrum, to … hissy fit? I am still not sure which of my alliterative choices to plump for! What it is, sadly, safe to say however is that ‘hot tub heaven’ did not quite go according to plan!

The tub is delivered and installed without a hitch on Thursday evening. By Friday morning, it is brimming with hot bubbles and up to temperature. I pop 2 bottles of prosecco in the fridge and head to work, for the final time this tumultuous term, in high spirits. Upon arriving home, alas, we peel back the covering to find the tub has lost around 50% of the water. It takes a good hour to refill and another 3 for the company ‘engineer’ to come out and give us the ‘all clear‘ to hop in. This they do, assessing that ‘the plug‘ has most probably, ‘become dislodged.’ Nonetheless by 7pm it’s cozzies, flip-flops and hot tub here we go!

And it is simply glorious. The tub and awning take up half the back garden, spectacularly transforming the outside of the house into our own personal spa. As all four of us sink into the warm froth, the sounds of laughter and happiness fill the air. We are no longer in a grey, drizzly corner of a Northern Tier 3 town; we are on holiday, in a luxurious alpine retreat, pampered, relaxed and without a care in the world.

We should just buy one mum!” enthuses my Eldest as the fizz flows in our glasses.

“I am staying in for ever!” grins Prom-dress daughter

I have drifted off into a more immediate dream of my own. This weekend! This weekend, there will be no; housework, no supermarket trips, no cooking, no thinking about work and mass testing and …. stop! None of that! Nothing but ‘the tub.’ Run then relax in the tub. Read a new book in the tub. Watch the teens having fun in the tub. Wine and beer in the tub. Utter bliss! After a year dominated by stress, worry and sadness I realise that it is just what I need! A wonderful evening ends and we head to bed.

I actually set my Saturday alarm for the first time in weeks and at 7:30am, pull on my run gear with thrice my usual enthusiasm. As I open the kitchen door however, I hear beeping and it is coming from …’the tub’. Outside, I find that, once again, the water level has dropped; this time dramatically to a level that might just about cover your toes. The machine flashing in panic, I despondently re-tap the engineer’s number on my phone. I am directed about, for a mad half-hour, trying out various ‘ home remedies’ before they announce that I am booked in for an afternoon visit. At this point I take stock of the situation and suggest that instead, as I face yet another 12 hours unable to make use of the 4 day-hire and there is no guarantee that the problem is fixable, we call it a day. And so it is that the hot tub is taken away.

The company could not be nicer. They insist on a full refund and also offer a free booking in January. Nonetheless, as the van pulls away from my drive, I sit down and burst into tears. Yes, I am ashamed to confess, I blub like a baby. With the back garden back ‘to normal’, the mirage of ‘weekend-away’ evaporates and my usual Saturday of drudge and dreariness descends like a heavy cloud. It’s covid life: grimy bathrooms, dusting and cleaning, battling around Tesco, no meeting friends, no playing music, no nights out and just never-ending worry – worry about everyone and everything. It has taken its toll on many. It has taken its toll on me. The teens fuss around with cups of tea and kind words and, lovely as they are, to escape the guilt of feeling like a ridiculous child instead of the parent I am supposed to be, I wave them away, dry my eyes and head out for a run.

Now, as ever, that does stop the tears, if not the sadness in my heart, and as I turn the key in the door, I have ‘gotten a grip‘ and am ready to carry on. Which is just as well as my 80 year old mum has called. One of her ceilings has fallen in. By calamitous co-incidence, she is also Prom-dress daughter’s accompanist for today’s re-scheduled Grade 8 violin recording. This could take a bit of sorting out. I could almost be thankful not to have the distraction of a heavenly hot tub in the garden… almost …

Give a little love …

Sunday 13 December 2020

You give a little love and it all comes back to you
La la la la la la la
…”

Bugsy Malone: Paul H. Williams

Looking back, I would probably highlight motherhood as, if not the first, then most definitely a significant induction into the the world of human kindness. As word spread of the arrival of my daughter, the gifts and small parcels flooded in, from all corners of the land. Friends and family, neighbours, the cleaner at work, the window cleaner, distant acquaintances of my parents and my in-laws parents … it just went on and on. I was utterly overwhelmed that so many should take the time and trouble to think of us. And into that same moment of dawning realisation, about how lovely most people actually are, came the sudden guilt about all the births I’d failed to mark with the thoughtfulness of a posted baby-grow or little pack of bibs. And I’ve tried my utmost to make amends every since. For that it the beauty of small acts of kindness; they spread!

Yes, the domino effect of thoughtfulness and goodwill is one of the unexpected joys of living, and in a miserable 2020, has seemed more important than ever. A couple of months ago, some of our neighbours were caught by ‘the virus’. I sent a text offering to do their shopping, whilst they endured isolation, and this week, upon hearing our news, they dropped in with bags of groceries and a tray of donuts. As we finally emerged back into the world this weekend, I wiped the sugar coated crumbs from my lips and made sure I offered to nip to ‘Big Tesco‘ for a workmate, who went down with corona a few days ago. And so the baton passes on.

Sometimes, I am humbled to say, these gestures have been far from ‘small’. In the bleakest moments of life; the death of my father, the breakdown of my marriage, the (thankfully small number of) serious crises for my children, the love and support of those around me has been so incredible, that I’ve often wondered that I’ll ever be able to repay them. Whilst I may always feel deeply indebted to some of my dearest friends, what I have been able to do, in honour of them, is this. When meeting others facing challenges or sorrows, I have now found the time and words to offer them the care and understanding I’ve been shown. And perhaps ‘passing on the baton’ is the best way to ‘repay’ my friends and family. Perhaps that’s why no act of kindness, be it small or large, is ever wasted…

Into isolation…

Saturday 5 December 2020

I guess, with all three of us at educational establishments, it was always just a matter of time, but at the start of this week one of the teens tests positive for covid-19 and we, plus our bubble, are sent into isolation for 14 days!

First things first, everyone is okay. ‘Covid-teen’ is very unwell for 36 hours, with a sky-high temperature, nasty cough, severe headache and dizzy enough to need help with any movement. Thereafter, happily, my child is quickly back to normal and enjoying meals-on-trays in front of the TV, to keep apart from the rest of us.

We all get our first experience of the covid-19 test too. Well I’ve definitely known more fun family outings! And I can assert that there is nothing quite like sticking a swab down your throat and up your nostrils in a cold, drafty portacabin, to re-focus the corona-weary mind on home hygiene. I spend the rest of the week flinging open windows, laundering at 60 degrees, pumping hand sanitiser at everyone and dousing anything in sight with anti-bacterial spray. So far so good. We still stand at only 1 positive result. Whether that is my enhanced cleaning or simply the reality of living with teens, who like to spend as many hours as allowed in their rooms, I’ll never know!

What is without question however is that isolation is a complete pain. We have to cancel and rebook; hospital appointments, a grade 8 violin exam and picking up my eldest from Uni. I creep out, under cover of dark, like a masked covid-criminal, to collect prescriptions, crickets for the gecko and ‘click and collect’ groceries. Thursday comes and goes without my mum’s weekly visit and her famous cheese and onion pie, and in its place my miserable, soggy, left-over vegetable bake is a poor substitute. School and college work shifts completely on line for both teens. I also move my job onto Microsoft Teams, but the resentment from colleagues, who have battled in on cold, grey days, as I ping into the morning meeting from my kitchen is palpable.

One rare nicety  is that  I am actually at home to look after an unwell child, as opposed to abandoning them to chance with paracetemol, the heating thermostat and my work phone number, and feel like a half-decent mum. That apart however … all rather grim

On the upside, we do make it to Saturday. Not only does the weekend  mark the motivational half-way point,  but this morning, a crate of 12 wine bottle, originally earmarked for Christmas also arrives. Now  I think most people would forgive me for opening my presents early … just this once!

From humbug to hot tub!

Saturday November 2020

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheeks, stiffened his gait…”

Oh my word… am I looking in the mirror?

Dicken’s brilliant description of Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’, this month’s Book Club read, leaps off the page, as I lounge in bed with my Kindle, enjoying the luxury of a lazy Saturday morning. It actually is me. I’ve spent so many weeks grumping and grouching about in the punishing world of corona virus life, that you probably can see misery etched onto my face and could re-christen me Ebeneezer! Well enough is enough. Before I hear clinking chains lumbering up my staircase, I’d better channel my inner ‘Tiny Tim’ and start spreading some festive cheer!

Mum is already in our bubble, so I call to confirm her for Christmas dinner and then I extend my invite to a couple of others who might also be on their own. Everyone is delighted and I do start to feel much more positive.Buoyed with success, I text ex-Hub and by noon, he too is booked in for a stay during the travel window. Next I finally sign up for my very patient brother’s Mid-december trip to Lightopia

Mum…calm down”, cautions Prom-dress Daughter

But I do the very opposite.

Pottering out to put some recycling in the bins, I hear splashing noises and lots of giddy laughter coming from next door. Peering over the fence I see the entire family… in a hot tub! It turns out that they have hired, not bought it, from someone on our estate who has a veritable fleet of the rubber pools, complete with gazebo and prosecco! It sounds like the perfect addition to my yuletide plans. All three teens, on the family WhatsApp, are keen and I boldly contact the company owner.

Armed with prices and dates I do now take a moment to pause. One false move on the booking day and I could find myself sharing the hot tub with either my 80 year old mum, or my Ex-Hub! I look carefully at the calendar over a large coffee, take a deep breath and then … take the plunge!

Well it all certainly lifts the mood. And here’s to plenty more Christmas spirit! In the masterful words of Dickens,

I believe that it (Christmas) has done me good, and will do me good; and I say , God bless it!

Blinkin’ Technology..

Friday 13 November 2020

As we sink onto the sofa to enjoy Friday night’s takeaway, I feel a sense of harmony return to the household after a week of technological dramas …

The xbox is the first casualty, exiled to the boot of my car on Wednesday evening, as Small Boy, in obnoxiously rude mode, finally pushes me over the edge. My response, in trusty parent fashion, is to go for his most prized possession! He boldly eyeballs me to shrug this off, but his mood quickly blackens further. I leave him stabbing angrily at his homework on the PC and steel myself for a tense few days.

Next day, the Fifa 21 (for xbox) guys and I head out to work. A hectic morning only gets more frantic as I pop back to the office at break to discover that my work laptop is gone. The bag is there, the charger is there, the xbox (thank the Lord) is there but, mysteriously, the old battered computing machine is not.

A hasty retrace of many steps proves fruitless quest and I resolve to face the music and report it missing. (My files are all backed up and password protected, they do store a lot of data.) The boss mutters about; times being ‘hard‘ and ‘hungry kids in search of a quick bit of gear to sell’ . My work besties are less convinced,

I don’t mean to be rude Becky’ laughs one, ‘but this is you! You’ll have left it somewhere crazy!’

It’s a fair point and after asking the site staff to keep their ‘ears to the ground’, I carry on with the day.

At 2:30pm, as my Year 10 class are discovering the delights of the ‘magic multiplier’ in compound interest calculations, one of the cleaners sidles into the room looking excitedly conspiratorial.

A laptop … ” he hisses through his face-mask, “….has been seen in the Reprographics room’

And there I find it, sitting innocently on top of a photocopying machine. I apologise, thank all concerned and beat a rapid and sheepish retreat.

By the time I make it home, cook a meal, lock horns with an unrepentant son and devote 2 hours to some school work, I am exhausted. At 10:30 pm, one hand on the whisky bottle, I am poised to tune into ‘Corrie‘ on playback when a whirlwind of weeping hysteria bursts into the room. It’s Prom Dress Daughter, holding a very broken laptop in her shaking hands.

The screen – it’s all multicoloured. My EPQ! My History coursework! All my Lockdown lessons! My UCAS form! What am I going to do…?”

I try to think of something positive to say but we’ve all been there, sobbing in despair as years of our life’s work vanish into the electronic ether, before we finally learn to save and back up every thought, deed and word in least 3 different places. In frantic denial, we turn the sorry machine on and off endless times and scour the internet for crumbs of advice and salvation. At midnight I put in a call to the PC world help -line. The advisor only appears to be concerned with wriggling out of any warranty, joyfully informing us that a ‘screen mishap‘ is not covered. But when I do press him on the issue of rescuing the files he actually sounds confidently optimistic, outlining a plan involving, the laptop, a HDMI cable, the TV screen and a memory stick.

You can see the light of desperate hope in our eyes as we race around the house to gather the parts. If only one of us knew a how to hook the whole ensemble together? Well we may not … but we know a man who does! At half twelve, a dazed, groggy Small Boy is dragged from his bed into the lounge and in a matter of minutes his abandoned xbox cables now attach his sister’s laptop to the TV screen and … boom! We are in business. Hordes of files are triumphantly transferred to portable hard drives and any, indeed, functioning machine in the house. We are all ecstatic… and, moreover, a team once more.

No-one gets much sleep and the morning arrives far too soon, but before I head off to work again, I do find time to get the xbox out of the boot. And when I get home, my son gives me a hug and, with a smile, announces that curry (which he doesn’t like but knows is my favourite) is on its way. And so the week ends, all crises solved, olive branches exchanged and, for the moment at least, a happy homestead again …

Feeling Grinchy…

Friday 6 November 2020

I have no doubt that people will be able to have as normal a Christmas as possible..”

Boris Johnson November 2020

Oh do ‘Shut up!’

Stringent covid -19 restrictions are imposed nationally across England for the second time this year. Tier 1 residents, after 5 minutes of social isolation, flood media channels with their motivational messages, cheery Dunkirk spirit and ‘top tips‘ for ‘surviving lockdown‘. I am sure they are well intentioned, but for this North West mum, after months and months of this misery… I’m just not feeling it.

What am feeling, driving home to a radio coverage of the PM bumbling his way through a Press Conference, is growing fury. The Home Nation plan to ‘Save Christmas‘ finally tips me over the edge! Oh do stop central Government treating us all like 5 years old? Rules. Nursery Rhyme slogans. The Naughty Step of Tier 3. And now, if am am a ‘good girl’ Papa C will still bring me presents? It is simplistic. It is patronising. It is, quite frankly, an insult to suggest that so many weeks of; rudderless leadership, emotional hardship and at times sheer despair can be balanced out by the chance to pull a few crackers with the in-laws on Christmas Day.

At work, this week we send a further 5 cohorts of pupils home. Around 200 young people, completely devastated, faces etched in panic and often close to tears

Please no, Miss. This is the third time I’ve been sent home this term!”

My mocks … what about my mocks?

“I was off for the last 2 weeks I’ve only been back a day”

“Miss, I’ve has Covid already!”

Next week, to reduce pupil bubbles, we shall cancel PE lessons …

What am I supposed to say? (I shriek at the radio)

Hey, your education’s in ruins but don’t worry, we’ll all be able to have a fine Christmas dinner together!’

What is an appropriate response to the frantic parents who call, in ever increasing numbers, weighed down with concerns about their children’s anxieties and well being?

Oh never mind any of that. Ho ho ho! Santa Claus is coming to Town’

What utter crap!

Or am I wrong? Christmas is a great thing after all and usually my favourite time of the year. Perhaps some twinkly lights and a few glasses of egg nog is just what we do need in these grim times. Let’s face it, without a festive fortnight, the months ahead look relentlessly bleak. In the unforgettable lament of C.S Lewis’ Lucy Pevensie,

Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” “How awful!”

Source: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Perhaps a better response is to ease up on Christmas … and just turn the radio off!

Fags, scratch cards and Sky TV!

Thursday 29 October 2020

Today I buy my first ever scratch card! Let me explain why…

A 6 mile run takes me from and to the garage, as hardworking Windsor indulges in an Autumn service. I also rake garden leaves, file my tax return, turn the house upside down looking for Small Boy’s missing coat and get through tons of washing. By 7pm, my thoughts turn to a treat. But as I pour a modest gin and ginger, toxic voices on a local radio phone-in make me realise that I am really selling myself short and missing out on a whole world of wild living. Apparently the rest of the single-mum sisterhood are out squandering their child benefit on a giddy cocktail of fags, Sky TV subscriptions … and scratch cards?

Seriously? Who are these people?

They’ve been spurred into vitriolic action by the last week’s Free School Meals vote in the Commons. Here a majority of MPs chose not to extend the provision of holiday meal vouchers for our poorest families; an additional Covid -19 measure that was secured over the 6 week Summer break in response to a campaign by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford (MBE).

Following the rejection of the Bill, the media is initially swamped with positive stories of local business and councils stepping in to provide free meals in place of central funds. Campaigner Rashford reflects on this spirit of generosity, avoiding any anger or political posturing with his comment that he ‘could not be more proud to be British’. However, at heart, Britain is not a united country. The splinters of division deepen as this current crisis wears on and the ‘undeserving poor‘ are always an easy target for those who thrive upon judgement and scorn.

Because this debate revolves around responsibility for ‘hungry children‘, parents in general and mothers in particular are quickly in the firing line for those aiming their guns at ‘state handouts‘. John Penrose, husband of NHS Test and Trace chief Baroness Dido Harding, blames ‘chaotic parents‘. Pompous, middle aged men blame modern women and reminisce about the ‘good old days’ when their mother’s fed the entire family for a week on a bag of turnips and a couple of potatoes and ‘no-one ever went hungry’. Personal responsibility is hurled like a weapon at struggling parents.

“Why should I pay for other people’s children’

Dont’ have children if you cant afford to feed them!”

As for single mums, well let me introduce you to the root cause of those empty food cupboards! It’s us… prioritising flashy mobile phone contracts, TV streaming services, cigarettes and alcohol … oh and let’s not forget the scratch cards … above feeding our offspring!

Is there any truth in these stereotypes? I search for some facts and find that whilst data on smart phones, and ‘on demand’ TV platforms does show a growth in ownership amongst ‘lower income’ families in the last decade, the proportions still do not match those of more affluent groups. Meanwhile, more conclusively, the CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) does report a sustained rise in child poverty between 2010 and 2020, and cites the proportion of children from lone parent families living in poverty at 44% in 2018-19. Both the TUC (2019) and the CPAG highlight a ‘jump’ in the proportion of poor children from ‘working families‘. The pandemic has made the situation ever more stark, a Guardian article this month highlighting the “surge in numbers” of pupils applying for free school meals.

In many ways I am lucky. Eleven years ago, lone parenting did not push me into the ‘eligible for free school meals’ bracket but it did transform me overnight from a woman who for 40 years had scarcely considered money, to a person who thinks about, worries about and loses sleep about it all the time. I will survive and my children will not starve but my point is this; shit happens! Having walked in these toughest of shoes, I know that these tired and clueless stereotypes of single mothers as “uppity and irresponsible women” (Boris Johnson 1995) are not only cruel and unfair, they also draw attention away from the real issues; those of deprivation, division and inequality in our 21st century society. They scream out about how little many of our leaders (and smug radio callers) know about the lives that the population lead.

Which is why I trust and align myself behind those that do. Marcus Rashford has used his profile to campaign for a fairer world than the one he grew up in. And speaking in the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord Griffiths whose family relied on free school meals in the 1940s also makes a striking contribution, describing how he ‘can still smell and taste the panic’ of holidays in what was a ‘threadbare existence‘.

Because when money is an issue on top of everything else, life is ‘threadbare’ in many ways, stripped of fun and an endless battle of stress and worry. One of the nicest posts I saw this week, came from a bakery who were delivering food parcels to local families and including a bunch of flowers, to “brighten someone’s day”. Now they really do understand!

It is at this point that I decide stick 2 fingers up to the snobbery and prejudice of the radio callers and buy my first every £1 scratch card. As I uncover my numbers, it a moment to dream of a carefree life, cushioned from financial crises by a windfall of a few thousand? Not really – 11 years have taught me that there never is an easy way out! It is however engrossing for 10 minutes and everything else melts away for a few blissful moments. In a life of sometimes relentless grind that seems priceless…

Half term’s here!

Friday 23 October 2020

Oh my goodness! The final bell of the day rings and a mood of unadulterated joy erupts throughout the building ‘Half Term’s here!’

I have spent the day wearing both my mask and visor, desperate to make it to the end of the day; the end of the week and the end of the half term without catching covid. I am on a quest to go nowhere near anyone who might cause a notification to pop up on the dreaded NHS test and trace app! I am practically sitting in the corridor for my performance management meeting. I skip and dance my way through 3 lessons, firmly fixed to the ‘teacher zone’ cordoned off at the front of the classroom. Just the last thing you want, after the toughest of two months in school, is the news that you have to spend half term isolating your kitchen!

Not that we can do much in a region cast, as expected, into Tier 3. Nonetheless for an exhausted team of teachers, the elation of making it to the finish line cannot be subdued today.  So how do I feel …. I put it in song. A song that I sing aloud to the wonderful pupils filing out through the year 11 exit …this song (stolen from Friends) … with the lyric changed to ‘Half term’s here!’

We are worth fighting for…

Saturday 17 October 2020

“…it is wrong for some of the poorest parts of England to be put under a “punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected”. A Burnham October 2020

Manchester houses the People’s History Museum, a collection of Ideas worth fighting for’; the UK’s only museum entirely dedicated to sharing the stories of the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who championed, then and now, for change and rallied for rights and equality. In the city which witnessed the Peterloo Massacre, the birthplace of the Cooperative movement and home town to Emmeline Pankhurst you find the perfect location for this national museum of democracy. And for me this week, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham has reawakened that local pride in boldly challenging unfairness and prejudice.

It has been inspirational to have a public figure blast the ridiculous and insulting premis that North West residents flaunt ‘The Rules‘ more than people in any other city in the UK and are to blame for the dangerously high levels of covid-19 cases. Instead let’s highlight the levels of deprivation in our region which mean that more of our residents will struggle to socially distance because they: do live in crowded housing, do not have cosy ‘working from home with a lap top and wifi’ options and do have to use public transport. Instead let’s highlight the national disgrace of the ‘Track and Trace’ system which has sent key workers into hospitals and schools like unarmed soldiers into battle. Instead let’s highlight the resources needed to address the spike in infections cased by students, in a region that houses many of the nation’s finest Universities.

Above all, how amazing to see our mayor standing up and fighting for us. With a passion and conviction, almost shocking it is seen so rarely from our elected representatives, he has told a distant Government that the people of Greater Manchester deserve better. After months of aimless Lockdown gloom and despair, I feel inspired and alive and know what we are fighting for in this region at least. It is for human dignity and the quality of people’s lives. Now that is an idea worth fighting for. That matters and we matter too. And I have not felt that I matter for a very long time…

“(We ) are being used as canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed”

Just a call…

Tuesday 13 October 2020

It is 6pm. I am just packing up for the day when my Eldest calls. It’s been a hell of a day.

Another

We confirm a member of the school community has tested positive for Covid-19′ day

Another

‘We are diverting all staff onto emergency cover until half term’ day

Another

Teach your lesson; post your lesson; live stream your lesson; everything three times your lesson’ day

Another

Your fault. Follow the rules. Don’t blame test and trace. Schools stay “open”. We’ve given you three extra weeks, … We’re all in this together‘ day

I push it all aside and tune into my daughter’s bubbly chatter.

It’s true, she has blown month one’s budget in just over 2 weeks and a giggly, joyful voice takes me through the mis-calculations and ‘very valid’ reasons why ‘money’s running a bit low’. I hear crazy tales of cinema bookings for Newcastle-under-Lyne instead of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surprise of finding yourself in a screening of ‘Harry Potter‘ … instead of a romcom. I hear about mishaps with keys and the saga of a broken phone screen. I hear the cheerful acknowledgement that arriving in the North East with a suitcase full of crop-tops but no winter coat probably wasn’t her wisest move…

And I hear, life and laughter and happiness. And it makes me smile and at least for the rest of today, remember what living is really all about…