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…

This is Manchester …

Friday 21 February 2020

“This is Manchester, we do things differently here” (Tony Wilson)

Tony Wilson, ‘Mr Manchester’ himself, opened one of the earliest bars in the area we’ve called Manchester’s ‘Northern Quarter’ since the 1990s. It is even rumoured that he influenced the name! Whether or not that’s true I’ll never know but, after a glorious day exploring the chaotic and characterful streets of this corner of my hometown, I am very confident that he would love the place…

Our adventure starts in style with ‘Street Art‘ , a Skyliner walking tour of the Northern Quarter. I sport, sensible shoes, gloves, woolly hat and a raincoat. The weather is dismal. But the wind and rain cannot dampen our spirits as the tour guide opens our eyes to secret sights and delights on the pavements we’ve walked many times … but never really seen.

There is stunning art; huge and beautiful murals that touch the soul and stir the mind, creative mosaics that capture the iconic faces and places of our northern home and lamp posts decorated with tiny individual ‘rock-star’ bees. The absolute highlights for me, a proud Mancunian, however, are the details that link us back to our historical and industrial roots. The distinctive ceramic street signs are white on blue for the streets running East/West and blue on white for the streets running North/South, symbolising the ‘warp and weft’ of the weaving tradition in this area. Looking up, we see sculptures of exotic birds and other animals, celebrating Tib Street, once affectionately known as pet shop paradise. Looking under a doormat, we find clues to a previous Italian ice cream trade. High above the gates of old fish and fruit market are facades decorated with scenes depicting the hustle and bustle of Victorian life. Another market now houses the Craft and Design Centre. Our wonderful guide makes us look up, down and all around. How can I have missed it all …. for so many years?

Even with all these visual treats, two hours in the chill of a North West winter take their toll. Donuts and coffee, at a cafe housed in a former weaver’s cottage, followed by a sumptuous afternoon tea, are the only ways to thaw out as we prepare to re-enter the Northern Quarter of the 21st century.

It is now an area famed for its vibrant bars and eateries. Finding somewhere to imbibe is easy, but finding a ‘hidden bar’, now that is more of a challenge! And, as the darkness of evening begins to creep across the sky, it seems like the perfect way to round off our outing. Fascinated by unearthed artistic discoveries by day, thrilled by secret drinking dens by night. We make our way to our first, through a doorway disguised as a stack of wooden beer crates, into the elegance of a cool cocktail bar. Just like our walking tour, it is another eye opener!

It is also utter fun. It is light years away from my usual routine. It is the perfect end to my half term. It is Manchester …

New arrival…

Monday 17 February 2020

It’s half term week. What better feeling for a holiday than the sensation of sand between your toes? Except in our case the gritty granules on my kitchen floor come not from a dreamy white Caribbean beach but from the new vivarium in Small Boy’s room … as, his birthday present, Boris the Gecko arrives!

It’s not our first experience of the world of pets. Small Boy, in particular, absolutely loves animals. Sadly for him, I do not and as I am the only bill paying adult in the house, his dreams of owning a dog are definitely on hold until he owns his own place! I do feel guilty about it. Single parent guilt – the fear that despite every effort and sacrifice, your kids will miss out and pay the price for the marital breakdown – and so smaller animals have been our compromise. We began with gerbils, just a few months after my Ex left. Then came the guinea pig and Prom-dress daughter’s fish. Boris, however, is our first reptile.

We battle the gecko, used to warm climates of the world, and all his equipment home in the middle of Storm Dennis! Upon arrival, Small Boy starts pacing about like a nervous new father, avidly reading books and leaflets on gecko care and watching numerous youtube clips on each and every procedure. Nonetheless we soon have the vivarium set up and just face the challenge of food. Gecko’s eat live insects! The pet shop have given us a tub of crickets and a pair of plastic tweezers. How difficult can it be? Pretty darned tricky it turns out. As we attempt to lift any out, the pesky little creatures leap sky high from the tub and onto Small’s Boys bedroom floor. We make chase with our tweezers but one or two do escape to freedom before we get any into the vivarium itself. It’s a hilarious and chaotic scene but I am sure we will improve!

By contrast the gecko looks very relaxed moving around his new home. I leave my son, dusting insects with calcium, viewing online tutorials on feeding techniques and watching over his new arrival with wonderful care and concern. Welcome to the family Boris!

All you need is …

Friday 14 February 2020

Valentine’s Day! It is the national day of love and my teen household is a flurry of cards, soft toys, red envelopes and dreamy smiles. Prom-dress daughter has a party. My eldest, groomed and glamorous, heads out for cocktails, just as a grinning Small Boy arrives back from a cinema date … and then proceeds to wrap his love-struck lips around slice upon slice of pizza. It makes me jig It makes me smile. Because there is nothing better in this life than the thrill of being ‘in love’. That giddy cloud nine feeling when your face cannot stop beaming, your mood is sky high and nothing gets you down. Or is there….?

The thing about that first magical flush of ‘in-loveness’ is that it never lasts. And it’s not the thing you miss in a break-up. You miss the deep connection and the bond that’s come from years of experiences together, happy and sad, and an understanding that doesn’t needs words anymore. You miss, not so much the person, you ‘miss us’ the unique partnership that you once made together. And one of my best partnerships at the moment …is my family.

I’m going to be truthful, my family life is teenagers. At it’s worst, it’s like World War 3 at our place. Somewhere in the middle, it’s a relentless set of logistics, many dismally dreary, to organise with me, rather alarmingly, ever at the helm. But at it’s best … at its best it’s in-jokes, communal songs, crazy card games, unstoppable laughter and shared joy. It’s also team work in a crisis and we’ve had a fair few to deal with – 21st century life is tough for teens! And at these best of moments, the happiness I feel, all consuming overtaking happiness, really is the best feeling in the world. Let’s call it by it’s name, this is love … and it actually is all you need…

Coming of age…

Friday 7 February 2020

This week is double birthday week in our house. Small boy careers further through his teenage years and my eldest turns 18…

As 18 is a landmark birthday, I agree to a small gathering. We stock up on snacks and festoon the house with balloons, banners and bunting. And, at 7:30 pm sharp, the house is invaded by about fifteen sixth-formers, brandishing bottles of booze and alive with youth, energy and party spirit. They are delightfully polite but as the music strikes up and my careful array of plastic glasses is cast aside, in favour of larger beakers and…just glugging it from the bottle, I sense that I am pretty irrelevant. I resolve to ‘leave them to it’ and retreat, to hole myself up in the dingy den inhabited by Small boy and his xbox .

By 8:30 pm, it already feels like an endless siege. The noise is incredible. There’s singing. There’s shrieking. There’s laughter. There’s …. my hoover…? Small boy, racing to take up sentry duty at the door, reports a sighting of ‘Vanish Carpet Cleaner’ disappearing into the lounge. I crave a large whiskey, but I have work in the morning and force myself to swig on a Diet Coke instead.

I make a half-hearted effort to persuade Small boy that ‘Netflix with Mum’ could be as much fun as gaming with his mates, but he is unimpressed. Accepting (inevitable) defeat, I balance my lap top in one hand, my coke in the other and head upstairs. Prom dress daughter, looking calm and unperturbed, is plugged into her phone and writing an essay. I decide to get on with a bit of work too. At least it’s productive… if not quiet. Endless troops of teens giggle and gaggle their way in and out of the bathroom and at one point a party goer, who has got drink all over her hair, pops tipsily in to ask for a hair dryer!

At 10-ish, I pack Small boy off to bed and am tuning my radio into Question Time when he bobs excitedly back into my room.

“Mum …. did you hear that? Something’s smashed!”

We venture down together to find the merry bunch sweeping (and hoovering) up the remains of one of my glass bowls.

“Mum!” slurs my eldest affectionately, “Don’t worry we are all ok!”

As no-one is actually injured, and my hoover is clearly having a night to remember, we wish them all lots of fun and head for bed.

And that’s the last I hear as weariness takes over and, in the middle of a BBC debate about Tracy Brabin’s off-the-shoulder jumper, I drift off to sleep.

In the morning … all is quiet … all is tidy… all partying is over. And, as I set off to work, I know I have learned a valuable lesson. When Prom dress daughter turns 18, I am going out for the evening!!

Some days are an up-hill …

24 February 2019
A mood of back-to-school gloom hovers over the house today and for me the weather is only making it worse! Whilst everyone else rejoices in the unseasonably warm weather, my single-mum eyes just look out of the window and think ‘Garden!

Assisted by my trusty team of decorators, I was feeling on top of the house and my grown-up homestead duties until the sun came out! The garden, which I’d hoped to cheerfully ignore until mid-April, is suddenly a verdant abundance of weeds and rapidly growing grass and it demands more immediate attention. With a sinking, and all too familiar, feeling of being impossibly overwhelmed, I add ‘weeds’ and ‘lawn’ to my to do list! Coping with the endless demands, of all the adult jobs at home, is a daily battle for any single parent and, for me, the garden has to be the worst. I think about starting a Single-Parent co-operative where we all help each other out. I don’t mind a bit of extra ironing or a few more bathrooms to clean, if someone is going to weed my garden, and deal with drains and pipes in return! However, as that’s not likely to happen soon, I consider heading out in search of weedkiller.

But the thought of gardening is not the worst thing for me today. The sunny weather has reminded me of the ‘pretty nice fella’ I broke up with a few months ago. This is just his kind of day. I picture him dusting down his shorts and heading out for a glorious hilly bike ride. I remember how he used to come clattering triumphantly back from his adventures into my kitchen, a little bit sweaty, but his face alive with energy and smiles.And I know he won’t be clattering into my kitchen anymore, because he clatters into someone else’s now, and that hurts. And what hurts even more, is that the sunny weather marks the arrival of Spring and I realise that it’s not enough that I have made it through Winter, I have to make it through Spring, Summer and all the seasons ahead. I have to make it through year upon year without my ‘pretty nice’ friend, partner and lover by my side. And that is …heartbreaking…

I am overcome by a wave of sadness and I know I need to do something to stop it, because if I let these tears start to fall I don’t think they will ever stop. I decide that weed killer can wait, pull on my trainers and head out for a run instead. One thing to love about running is that it’s a perfect analogy for life. You know that the reward for every up-hill struggle is a downhill where you can recover and repair. There’s sometimes even a fantastic finishing line. And although I know there’s no magical happy ending for me this time, I’ll settle or a bit of recovery and repair right now …

Slam dunk!

Thursday 21 February 2019

One definite advantage of single parenting is that you are always learning new skills. This week it was assembling a basket ball stand…

Small Boy ordered the stand in question with his birthday money, and it is delivered at the start of the week. It’s quite a large parcel to arrive in a house already coping with decorators. By the end of Tuesday, we all bear the scars of at least one encounter with a sticky doorway and Small Boy holds the record, with gloss paint on his feet, his arm and his bum! In addition, we have the daily challenge of rehousing the contents of whichever room the decorators next plan to whip back into shape with their rollers and brushes. In the middle of this interior upheaval, it seems perfectly sensible to ask Small Boy to wait until Friday for his hoop to be built.


Friday is going to be dry‘ I reason, ‘We shall be able to put it all together outside‘ 

Small Boy however is a third child, and he has learned to ignore parental procrastination if he ever wants to get anything done. And so it is that I return home on Tuesday night, from top night out of cocktails and catching-up , to find not only the entire contents of the lounge in my kitchen but also a semi-assembled basketball stand!

I decide to bow to the inevitable. Next morning, with two of us on the job, we make quick work of the allen keys, nuts and bolts and presently the only job remaining is sand, to weigh down the base. I head out to Wickes on this seemingly simple mission but soon find myself gazing in bewilderment at an unfathomable array of choices for our ballast. Who knew that there were such things as ‘sharp sand’, ‘tarmac sand’,  ‘flagging sand’ , ‘yellow’ and  ‘grey’ and ‘silver’ sand  in this world? Thankfully, a very helpful woman points me towards the ‘Building Sand’ shelf and I am soon staggering back to my car with two 25kg bags clearly up to the task of ensuring that our basket ball stand, once filled, will never move again!

Back home, despite the grey gloom and drizzle, Small Boy and I wheel the stand outside and now face a whole new challenge. How on earth do we get 50kg of heavy wet sand into the tiny aperture available on the plastic base? Small Boy is an inventive child and fashions a few funnels out of paper and card but none of them are a match for the sand and eventually we are just scooping the stuff up with an old kitchen jug and ramming it through the hole. Our hands and clothes are covered in soggy red sand, we see the decorators chortling away from an upstairs window and we thank the Lord that next doors’ builders had finished their tea break before we began. We brave it out, as a team, to the very end. Triumphantly we wheel the completed stand into place and high five with gritty hands and grubby grins. 

Not the prettiest of jobs but we did get the job done and it feels great.  As Small Boy happily heads out for a few slam dunks, I do feel like a half decent mum….

Spring time spruce up!

Tuesday 19 February 2019
Marie Kondo eat your heart out!

Half term has met Spring fever and we are clearing out and sprucing up with avengeance. A seemingly endless array of outgrown, sometimes never worn, teenage clobber is tempting buyers on Ebay. Kitchen and lounge cupboards have been ruthlessly cleared and we have made several satisfied trips to the Charity Shop and the tip. But best of all, decorators are in my house…

Three years ago, I did naively take on the task of decorating all three of the kids’ bedrooms myself. It was a week of untold misery, chaos, back pain and as, one by one, my initially enthusiatic trio of helpers trickled away, isolation from the world. I got paint on the carpet, on the furniture, on the bed sheets and I swear some of it is still in my hair. ‘Never again!’ I vowed by the end and have been saving up,  since that day, to get other rooms done by a professional. That day has arrived and it’s a whole new world. I sit sipping coffee, taking a breather from our Spring clean fest,  whilst Soft Taupe brings warmth to my lounge and Goose Down’ grey, adds pazzazz to the kitchen. I have nodded sagely and I hope convincingly, as the the decorators have talked a new language of  ‘filling cracks and holes’, ’emulsion’ and ‘primer’. I have certainly made them plentiful cups of coffee and think that tomorrow my gratitude will extend to a plate of biscuits too!

But that can wait for tomorrow because tonight I am out with a friend exploring some of the newest  bars in our corner of the North West. Which means, even though there’s no paint under my nails, I better start getting  myself spruced up…

I have no words…

18 February 2019
Prom-dress daughter is safely back from her school History trip to Krakow. This time the pick up is 1am and when we get home we make two drinks and sit on her bed to look at her pictures.

I see the photos she’s taken in the Jewish Quarter and those she’s been allowed to take at Schindler’s Factory, Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is deeply shocking and …. I have no words….

Book Club

Friday 15 February 2019

Book Club


Dropped my middle child, Prom-dress daughter, off at 2:30 am this morning for a school trip. Not wearing her prom dress, I hasten to add, rather sporting a new Top Shop jumper and very excited. I found the ungodly hour a little harder to cope with and the 6 am work alarm, chirping into action after only a few hours of snatched sleep, particularly tough. Somehow I made my way through a busy and productive day but I am now fading fast and relishing the thought of curling up in bed with ‘The Lover‘ …this month’s Book Club read!

Inspired by last Summer’s holiday in Sligo, and a trip to the Yeats Visitor Centre, I joined a Book Club a few months ago. If you don’t know it, the Sligo Yeats Visitor Centre is a pretty inauspicious building and I’d probably have seen off the display of artifacts and extracts in under 10 minutes, had it not been for the tour guide. Brimming with enthusiasm, knowledge and a whole ton of Irish charm, this man brought the world of Yeats, in an era of political unrest and a thirst for national self-determination, to life. Suddenly I was reading every word in the place with fresh eyes and a brain stretched completely out of its comfort zone and I was converted. Converted away from the ‘easy read’ drivel clogging up my Kindle and back to a world I’d once loved of challenging, beautifully crafted literature, steeped in the culture of its time that stirs your emotions and sometimes makes your head hurt with questions and conflicts. I did think seriously about signing up for some OU literature course, but looked at the calendar, had a reality check and have put that one on hold for a few years. Small steps then, I’d start reading better books and discussing them with better minds than mine. I’d join a Book Club. 

After a fair bit of searching I found one. We meet each month in a local pub. It’s actually the pub of my teenage years and I do often giggle inwardly, wondering what my teenage self would make of our room of middle-agers, nursing our drinks, and talking books! That is …when we do talk books! A little like Yeats himself, who, I learned last Summer, found time not only to discuss matters literary but also to talk politics and pursue affairs of the heart, we can often wander from the plot of the book.  Current affairs, personal memories, stirred by a setting or a story-line, and even Piers Morgan have all been topics of debate but that’s the joy of a good book; you never know quite where the journey will take you! And the books have been good. I’ve read more and read better in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years. Much as I would recommend running as the physical exercise of choice for any parent, but particularly us doughty single parents, I’d go for reading for the mind. For me it’s affordable, it fits into any spare moment and it’s a total brain stretch, sparking curiosity, overtaking my thoughts and just transporting me away from the every-day grind for a few precious moments each day. 

But enough blogging for tonight, ‘The Lover‘  is calling this weary woman to bed …