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!

Its beginning to look a lot like….

Saturday 30 November

Love, love, love the season of goodwill. Sparkly lights. Christmas coffees. Everybody keen for a meet-up, a catch-up and a get together. Today, even though it is technically still November, heralds my first festive outing, and I just can’t wait!

My tram delivers me to Victoria with forty minutes to spare. Feeling ready to get straight into the party spirit, I opt for the warmth of a station bar and order a glass of Malbec. I fish out my Kindle and for about 5 minutes, attempt to look the very picture of sophistication, reading my novel and sipping my wine. But it’s Mansfield Park. I’ve been struggling with it for weeks and this afternoon the torturous timidity of Fanny Price just doesn’t hold my attention. Instead my mind turns to recent events.

It’s been quite a week! Mum has been in, and thankfully, out of hospital. My work run-buddy has suffered a nasty car accident but, in her inimitable cheery fashion, seems to be coping with the bruises and severe whiplash. And my eldest has made it through a first University interview. That was quite an ordeal. Much has changed since I journeyed off, 30 years ago, to impress admissions tutors with my abilities to solve mathematical problems. For the 2019 interview, we prepped for days on medical ethics, NHS hot topics and our insights into life a doctor. My eldest then had to survive the MMI (Multi-Mini Interview) with 7 stations of challenging questions and the occasional role play. By the time she eventually made it home, following a 3 hour inter-city train journey and 2 hours of Mancunian tram delays, she did just burst into tears. Hopefully the interviews will get better with practice!

Phew, no wonder I’m ready to let my hair down. I savour the final moments of my Malbec and then step out. Not sure if it’s because of Black Friday or Pay Day but the city is packed and pulsating. I make my way through the throngs to find my friends and together we dive into the merriment and madness ….

Baroque n roll !

Sunday 25th November

I arrive home from a film music concert…where I’ve had to dress as a pirate! As ever, at the end of a concert, I need a drink. And as I sink down onto the sofa, almost-festive Bailey’s in hand, I realise how tired I am.

I have done concert after concert this month, which has meant rehearsal after rehearsal, which has meant late night drink after late night drink. And it has taken its toll. A ‘baroque n’ roll’ lifestyle when you are the only adult in the house isn’t always the wisest choice.

I think the problem for a single parent is this. When you take on a hobby, which is essential to your well-being I might add, there is no-one else at home to take up the slack . So on top of all my rehearsals and concerts, I am still doing all the cleaning, cooking and ironing for four. I am doing the bins. Doing the tax return. Raking the leaves. Helping with homework. Helping to prep for GCSEs, UKCATS, driving tests (and next week Uni interviews.) Sorting out asthma checks and trips to the orthodontist (I am so often at the local hospital, I actually have a loyalty card for the WRVS cafe!!) Oh and did I mention I also hold down a pretty demanding full time job.

I’ve always said that I fear boredom more than fatigue but I’ve reached the point where I am really struggling to get up in the morning and I am very snappy and irritable …with everyone…most of the time. Something’s gotta give and I resign myself to the fact that, for December, this is my music. In my inbox is an invitation to play for a Christmas concert in 2 weeks time. It even has a fee. I push away angry and resentful thoughts about the life my ex-husband leads these days. I blink back a few self-indulgent tears and start to type a polite decline…

What’s worth fighting for…

Wednesday 20 November 2019

As part of my working week, I am sent on a course that involves a ‘cultural tour’ of Manchester.  What a memorable day! It showcases the industry, the creativity and the inspirational spirit of equality that has shaped my home town. It also challenges my thoughts about the sort of future I want to fight for. Not so much for the teens, their futures seem full of excitement and of endless opportunities … but for me.

We start at the Whitworth Art Gallery, deep in University land. There is gallery upon gallery of stunning displays: photography; textiles (in honour of the proud industry of “Cottonopolis“);  a Cezanne exhibition… but the gallery that really blows me away  is “The Reno“. This celebration of the famous Moss Side club, not only charts some significant shifts in societal attitudes during the 1970s, but also sums up the journey we all make from youth into adulthood and responsibility.

“What was your club called?.… Where it mattered if it rained cos your hair wouldn’t hold up.   And what was his name?   Before your wage.   And the person you became.  That bears no relation to the person you were then. When you believed in magic. Ours was called The Reno “

Well mine was called The Hacienda or The Cellar at Uni. And I was a very different person back then. But gosh … do we really stop believing in magic… do we really give up on happy endings…. is our teenage self really lost forever?

My mind is still whirring with this one as we stride off to visit other Mancunian treasure. The Manchester Art Gallery, the  National Football Museum and finally The People’s History Museum.  We see great objects, some beautiful, some innovative, some highly emotive. We watch film archives and listen to iconic commentaries. We relive the struggles of women, of working men and of ethnic minorities for acceptance and equality.   It’s a  treat for our eyes, our ears …. and our hearts.

At the People’s History Museum, exhibitions are united around the theme of ‘Ideas worth fighting for’ and the contribution that ordinary people have made to building a fairer world where all are valued . It’s inspiring and very much epitomises Manchester and these streets that have seen PeterlooEmmeline Pankhurst  and the founding of the Co-op Group.  For a Mancunian, there can be no better way to close our cultural tour.

And so  ends a lovely day.  But in a few weeks it will also be the end of a decade. As we welcome the start of a new one; and one in which my role as the primary carer for 3 children will end, I ask myself ‘What will I be fighting for?’ And I just don’t know. But I am sure that I want to make the most of the time I have left and try to make a story…. a story about ideas worth fighting for or just a story about making mischief? I really cannot decide. But I do want a story worth telling. In the words of  ‘The Reno’,

“We are all pages in the book of our time on earth.”

The wonder of a Wall

Saturday 9 November 2019

Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the  fall of the Berlin Wall. What an iconic event it was; the lasting symbol of a wave of revolutions that swept the Eastern Bloc in Europe at the end of the 1980s,  whilst in China, by contrast,  the popular demonstrations demanding greater political freedom were crushed by the authorities in Tiannamen Square.  And all of this  happened in my lifetime. Thirty years, gosh these were such moments of living history, that I still can remember where I was.  I heard about the events in China in a Youth Hostel in Singapore,  backpacking across SE Asia. (Here are some of the (many) pics!) By the time the Berlin Wall fell, I was back at University, watching the incredible images on the TV, feeling stunned, scared and inspired by the power of people to change the world.

And I’ve been privileged to walk this earth at the same time as other hugely significant people too. I also remember where I was the day Barack Obama was elected and the day the first TV pictures appeared of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Unthinkable drive and determination, resilience and resolve to fight on and make this world a better and fairer place. It is awe-inspiring. 

When I was a teenager, trekking and travelling and exploring new places,  life felt fantastic; exciting and full of promise. Faced the challenges of growing up, shouldering responsibility and the daily grind of working life, I have sometimes felt a little lost however. So it’s good to pause and be more outward looking. Because today, the remarkable people in this world and the momentous events I’ve witnessed, make this  seem like a wonderful and precious place to be.  I  cannot wait to see what the next few decades bring … and to play a part in it…

Fridaaaaay!

Friday 8 November 2019

What a week! I raise a very well earned glass of Vouvray to making it to Friday in one piece.

I love to be busy but when, at the end of the week you cannot be sure what any of your kids have done for food, you know one of them went to a Mathematics Lecture in Manchester but not how they got there or back, you know that two of them have been doing important assessment weeks but have no idea how any of it went ….its clear that you have not spent enough time at home.

It’s been tough decisions about my personal life. It’s been concerts. It’s been rehearsals. It’s been late nights at work. It’s literally been something every night and the wheels have slightly come off as a result. On two mornings this week, Small Boy has run out of uniform. Today he ran out of dinner money. I’ve lost my work shoes. I’ve helped no-one with revision. When I called to see how Spaghetti Bolognese was going on Tuesday, it sounded like World War 3. There’s even a cry for attention from the car as Windsor’s dashboard announces that ‘Oil Maintenance is needed shortly!’ It’s just not good enough. Time to say ‘no’ to anything non-essential next week.

But it’s Friday night. The best moment of the week. We do takeaway. We do The Apprentice (on i-player.) We order some more uniform for Small Bay. I book my car in for a service. I listen to news about lectures, trips and school exams. I cross a few things off next week’s calendar. And I feel calmer. My head is clearer. My heart is lighter. My mood is high. I love Friday…

November blues

Monday 4 November 2019

November gets off to a sad start. For various reasons, I decide to call time on the relationship with the rather nice man I met several weeks ago. Everything tells me it’s a sensible decision. Everything tells me it’s the right decision. But it is very much a decision of the head; and that can’t stop my little heart from plummeting into the depths of missing and loss for a few days.

I miss his smile. I miss his lovely voice. I miss our long chats about nothing and nonsense. I miss feeling special. For now I just feel pretty down … and I know that I have probably made the rather nice man feel pretty down too. Breaking up, as a teenager or a middle-aged mum, it’s just never good!

I know I’ll shake it, but for this week I’m allowed to be sad. Let’s face it, if you don’t care enough to cry…what is the point?