Great-Aunt Becky…

Sunday 6 November 2022

A week of fantastic news for our family. My mum’s post-surgery histology report is positive. Her cancer has not spread, which is a terrific relief and means radiotherapy, not chemotherapy. And one of my niece’s has her first baby, a beautiful little boy. I set out to find a gift and am happily strolling around the aisles of new-born fashion; cosy baby-grows, adorable fleecy pram-suits, little dungarees… when my phone pings. It’s my eldest child…

” Congratulation Great-Aunt Becky!”

Great-Aunt Becky.. well wrap me up in woollen shawl and lace me into a pair of stout shoes … I sound positively ancient!

Yes into my head pops the image of ‘great-aunt Lucy‘, Paddington Bear’s aged guardian from ‘Darkest Peru!’

To my dismay, when I reacquaint myself with the writings of dear Michael Bond, it transpires that lovely Lucy, with her fading fur, felt hat and wicker basket, is only a regular aunt, an entire generation younger than my new familial role. Indeed, mention of great-aunts of any kind, in our literary annals is notably sparse and, I now discover that aunts themselves … well to put it mildly have a bit of an image problem.

Aunt ‘Em, from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the once pretty young wife now ‘grayed‘ by her tough life on the Kansas farm. The villainous Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge from James and the Giant Peach, and the cruel Mrs Reed, aunt to Jane Eyre who opens the novel with the shocking scenes of the small orphaned girls locked up in the mysterious Red Room after defending herself against her bullying cousin.

Gracious… maybe literature was the wrong direction to look to for inspiration. After all, idyllic family units rarely rear children suited to the kind of adventures that heroes such as, Paddington, Dorothy, James and Jane must face to make the plot a winner.

And a label such as ‘Great-Aunt’ does not have to define us! Why, I recall, my chest modestly puffed out with pride, sporting a new green top, I was recently described as ‘stylish’ and ‘the cool mum‘ by my daughter’s flatmates. On the other hand, I tell my niece, I am quite happy for our wonderful new arrival just to refer to me as ‘Becky’!

Getting life in perspective …

Sunday 23 October 2022

My mum has her first surgery and comes home to recover. It is not the end of the story. Hey this is the big C, is it ever going to be the end of the story? But for now; just right now, before Tuesday’s hospital visit and next Monday’s operation results, the cloud that has defined the last few weeks lifts and I feel… happy!

Yes, not just ‘okay‘, the luke-warm version of wellbeing I often settle for, but actually properly happy. My mind is only lightness, my mood upbeat, and all the little things in life seem joyful.

I do nothing special with the weekend. On Saturday, I run with my run buddy. Small boy and I hang out in the garden hot tub, putting the world to rights. I cook curry for my mum and drink some (appalling) fizz a work colleague gave me mid-week. On Sunday, we take the tram into town to shop Dinner Jackets for a family wedding, mooch around the music stores and browse the book shops. The Squares are decorated with dainty Halloween lanterns. We dine on Pad Thai noodles, steak sandwiches and terrible pies and … it feels fantastic!

I guess it’s relief, a welcome respite from the stress and worry of the previous weeks. Or possibly one of those profound pauses in life when you (momentarily alas) cast aside the trivia that often takes up so much our time and focus instead on the things, and most importantly, the people who really matter. ‘Getting life in perspective’, I think it’s called. Well for however long it lasts…I am going to enjoy it…

The big C…

Thursday 8 October 2022

Thursday 8 October; a day I’ll never forget! After a couple of weeks of wondering and waiting my mum gets confirmation that she has breast cancer and my world is rocked to its foundation …

At the moment they think it is stage 1 and treatable, but the initial diagnosis has thrown us into a world of further tests and scans, so at the moment I just have everything crossed for ‘no new information’, because I realise that I am simply not yet ready for anything more serious.

For my mum is quite a character; a huge personality brimming with life, mischief and incredible kindness. Ever present, energetic and exuding a sense of immortality…except of course … no-one is… none of us lasts forever and in the past week, as we waited in limbo for the results of biopsies and radiographs, the vision of a world that did not include her hit me like a train.

So when, at orchestra a few days ago, she risked sending me a mildly obscene gesture and cheeky smile as someone asked, for about the 20th time, ‘what bar we are going from?’… it brought a lump to my throat. Whirring round and round in my mins was the voice that said, what if that’s the last time we are at a rehearsal together and I see her face grinning across the room?

Ansd last Sunday night when she called incensed, to discuss the Strictly Come Dancing results show, I wobbled again.

What if …….?

On this occasion, I panicked so much that I cancelled my plans for this Saturday night and arranged instead to go around for a ‘Strictly viewing party’, because suddenly every moment with mum felt too precious to waste. And all the little things… those tiny details we often take for granted … well I realised how important and special they truly are.

So the initial cautious diagnosis, and treatment plan almost comes as a relief from the far grimmer scenarios I thought we might be facing.

I am aware, or course, that no surgery will be easy, as she is over 80. In fact mum’s first question to the consultant is,

“I didn’t know that anyone my age could get cancer!”

Alas; they. In fact, the National Library of Medicine reports that ‘one in ten’ breast cancer patients are over the age of 80. If there is a mixed message, it arises from the cessation of the screening programme at the age of 70 in the UK. This does not, as I’ll admit I thought, indicate a reduction in risk rather that the increase in other health risks results in the programme not longer being cost-beneficial for the NHS.

Let’s be thankful that mum’s cancer seems, at this point in time, to have been found quickly.

For now, I hope and put on a brave face; brave for mum and brave for my children. And only occasionally, usually as I am on my own in the car, do a let a small tear fall ….

Middlesbrough

Saturday 1 October2022

When your children spread their wings and head off to live and study in other towns and cities, one very nice outcome for you as a parent is the chance to travel to and explore these new places too…

My Eldest is on placement in Middlesborough this year. Whilst she will admit to missing the bright lights of Newcastle, one upside is that she is a good hour closer the me than usual, so it is very easy to pop over for a day visit. And that is exactly what I do this weekend.

“What shall we do first?” asks my girl, as I rap on the door of her student house around midday.

“Food please!” I reply, hungry after my drive to this corner of North Yorkshire.

A short 5-minute stroll takes us to a great cafe where it is the famous local delicacy ‘parmo’ for my daughter and a truly delicious three-bean chilli for me. So good is the food that I am tempted to try the pudding menu. But my eldest is full and I ruefully remember, my (pretty ambitious) quest to get back into a dress I last wore in the previous millennium(!) for my niece’s wedding so I too forgo a further course.

Instead, we wander into the town centre and waste a happy half hour shopping small luxuries that are beyond a student budget but well within ‘mum-treating’ range.

It is briefly back to the student house to drop our purchases before we hop into the car to explore a ‘pretty beach‘ my Eldest has passed on her weekly GP visits.

And so it is that I discover Saltburn; what a little gem! We park the car in front of an elegant terrace of Victorian grandeur and descend to the cove beneath. Marked out by the imposing Hunt Cliff, the beach may well have been a centre for smugglers in a bygone era, but today is the perfect spot for a bracing walk along the windswept sands. Despite it being the first day of October, hardy children are playing in the streams and paddling in the sea, you could probably surf on a slightly warmer day. We traverse the sands and rocks and then reward ourselves with a drink in a bar overlooking the sea.

Thereafter it is back up the very steep hill to the car and as we stop to catch our breath, we spot the far better way to make this ascent; the Saltburn Cliff Tramway. This small tram-car, was first opened in 1884 to replace a vertical hoist and is now the oldest water balanced funicular still in operation in Great Britain. It is a must for our next visit!

As the Autumn sun begins to fade, we return to the student house and, after a fine cup of tea, I it is time for me to head home. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday …

Autumn Half Term 2021

It may be work on Monday, but that is still two days away which make it the perfect time to look back on a great half term, visiting ‘the students’ ….

Monday sees us powering up the A1 to return my Eldest to Uni, after she descended upon Manchester for a gig at the weekend. Small boy and I stay over, tucked into a B &B in the heart of student land and allow my daughter to ‘show us the sites’. We stroll around the Dene, with its waterfall and mill, we wander the University campus, seeking out the ‘Old Library’ where, nearly 2 years ago we came for ‘the interview’ and … over curry and wine, we meet the boyfriend (which, I think goes very well!)

Tuesday, after a post-lecture lunch with our lovely girl, we hit the road once more; destination Edinburgh and Prom-dress Daughter…

Gosh it is wet and wild in the Scottish capital and parking… just a night mare! I have a £60 PCN on my windscreen within 15 minutes of arrival. But all of that just evaporates away as a familiar smiling face bounces into our city centre hotel room and whisks us out for food … and cocktails. The next day, my two younger teens spend happy hours together perusing local bookshops. All three of us ‘nearly’ see the Art Gallery… come to think of it, I ‘nearly saw’ it about 15 years ago too, on an Edinburgh weekend with a best friend. On that occasion we got side tracked by the bar; this time it is the more wholesome excuse of covid- secure tickets selling out!

Never mind,…’ I cry recalling my previous visit, ‘…even if we can’t do the Gallery itself, the gift shop is great!’

And, to offspring who love to hear those retail tills ringing, the gift shop does indeed prove a hit; and maybe it is this very moment that catalyses a spell of clothes shopping too! Small boy perfects his ‘oversized clothes’ look with a pair of very (very) large jeans and Prom-dress Daughter, who has managed to shrink most of her clothes in the student launderette, gratefully seizes an opportunity to boost her wardrobe.

All too soon it is Thursday and Small boy and I must bid farewell to yet another family member and turn the car towards England once more. I detour via the Lake District, where my son is meeting up with his Dad for a few days, and by now, as heavy rain, foretold in ‘amber warning’ forecasts, viciously sweep across the North of the UK it proves quite a trip for us all. My Ex -hub is delayed by vehicle fires in one direction and we have to navigate several road floods in the other. Eventually, several hours behind schedule, Small boy is handed over … at a truck stop and I head home!

And the fun is not over for me either, for I am not the only parent with offspring in Higher Education. One of my very best friends now has a child at a Northern University, which gives us the perfect opportunity to meet up too – hooray! She comes to stay with me for a couple of days.We drink plenty of wine, she catches -up with her lovely family and as the younger generation leave for their own parties and social events, we head into Media City for a bit of culture at the Van Gogh alive exhibition and… wow!! I can, and will, post pictures but to appreciate this incredible show, you need to go in person. I can best describe it as a ‘concert of art‘; as we are enveloped in a vibrant,visual exploration of Van Gogh’s art and life with a gorgeous, rich musical soundtrack to stir the emotions and give the experience a magical and immersive quality. We watch wide eyed and open mouthed and just love it!

But as Saturday dawns, my friend too must drive homeward. Small boy returns and we collect Boris the Gecko from his boarding quarters at the local pet shop. I decide that I like half terms … a lot! Work will start again on Monday but for now.. I am already dreaming of my next school holiday …

We holiday not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Books I love because of my children…

Saturday 23 October 2021

Dame Jacqueline Wilson is on the radio this morning, talking about a concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra to celebrate her books and, if I lived in London, I would have set out to the Barbican right there and then to get a ticket! Because, I love her writing. Lively characters who just dance off the page and plots that hook you from opening chapter and are ‘can’t put this down‘ engaging. But here is the thing; I didn’t read these books as a child. No, I chanced upon her through my own children. At bedtimes, we’d read them together and she made such times magical and a truly (unexpected but) delightful parental treat. So, as I sit in my lounge with a large cup of coffee, I decide to indulge and look back at my other favourite finds from the, ‘reading to your children’ years…

Now, to be clear, my favourite quartet are not necessarily the books my children read the most. Small Boy’s obsession with ‘Captain Underpants‘ and the ‘Hunger Games‘ era, when I barely saw my eldest without a book for weeks, are not titles I read a single word of. Why? Because by this stage my offspring had moved into the realms of independent literary appreciation and I simply left them and their imaginations to it. The delicious time for me to discover new children’s authors and to venture once again into the fantastic world of children’s fiction was a far narrower window. It came in the short span of years when I read to my trio of toddlers and it was here, amongst the cherished jewels I still hold dear from my own childhood, that I uncovered new titles, great new writers and, just as I had done as a child, set off on amazing new adventures.

And so it was that I was introduced to Dame Jacqueline Wilson. I picture my two girls racing up to their attic room, fluffy and clean from bathtime, to dive under the covers ready for the next chapter of ‘Double Act‘ or the ‘The Illustrated Mum‘ and I’d be as excited as them, because she is such a terrific writer that, never mind the kids, I simply couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Dare I confess to occasionally reading on, even after both of them had drifted off to sleep? For me her gift was to draw you in, hook, line and sinker, to the world of her young characters and make you care for them completely. My absolute favourite, ‘Best Friends‘, stayed in my head and heart for days and I do recall my two little daughters staring at me wide-eyed as I stumbled to the end, my voice choking on that final chapter.

But I’ve already hinted at four, so here are my other three:

Judith Kerr; oh my goodness I still feel a tingle of excitement at the sound or sight of ‘The Tiger who came to Tea‘. A family member gifted the children an edition complete with a tiny china tea set that we would fill with water to act out the famous ‘tea scene’ as my trio of toddlers would ask me to read it again and again and again. Every word was a joy but my most-loved scene was always this one; the mother’s calm response to what should have been the strangest request she was ever going to receive, ‘Do you think I could have tea with you?’ asks the tiger, ‘Of course, come in’ says mum! More learned critics than I have hypothesised in depth about this little book, reflecting Kerr’s own childhood experiences in Nazi Germany, but this is my favourite point because it is at this moment that you cast aside adulthood and become a child again. Because in a child’s ‘imaginative play ‘ this is exactly what would happen to keep the game going. Why there is a large carnivorous predator at the door… come on in, we’ll find you a cup and plate and make conversation!

The Tiger who came to Tea: Judith Kerr

And onto Lauren Childs and her inspirational creation Clarice Bean. One of my friends passed on these books, as her own daughter grew out of them, whereupon we all fell in love with Clarice (and Betty Moody and Mrs Wilberton). So much so, in fact, that this one made it onto audio book version for the car and turned long dreary car journeys into a delightful escape into the imagination. So funny, so sharp and such brilliant writing that the tying together of all the crazy capers and plot lines would keep us guessing until the final page. Having listened to it so many times, I can probably recite huge chunks verbatim and the best ‘Clarice quotes’ live on in our household even now, and why wouldn’t they …

I say ‘Mom, how come you don’t change into an evening gown for dinner?’ She says ‘I do, it’s called a bath robe.

Lauren Child, Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

And to finish, JK Rowling, Harry Potter and well …what an incredible read. Her words filled my head with pictures and my heart with emotion. Perhaps more so than any other writer she took me back to that feeling I had as a child of ‘living in a book’. Yes, below the age of 10, with my head perennially stuck in an Enid Blyton, I’d often appear to be present in the room but the truth was that I was nearly always not really there! No, I’d be away on Kirrin Island with the Famous Five, or in the dormitories of Malory Towers with Darryl and Sally. And Harry Potter did this for me again. She was also my first find of the ‘reading to your children years’… in fact it is a faintly ridiculous tale.

As I was pregnant with my eldest, I foolishly told my husband that the midwife had proclaimed it ‘never too early’ to start reading to your babies. Read to them in the womb! Read to them when they are a day old! They won’t know what you are reading so read anything; it could be the perfect time to read ‘War and Peace’. Well my husband decided that it was the perfect time for me to read ‘Lord of the Rings‘. Quite why I agreed, I’ll never know but, as we brought my Eldest home I did indeed, every evening cradle her in my arms and subject her to Tolkien. Yes I ploughed my way through all three of those lengthy tomes, engaging with the story of Frodo and Sam, but finding all the complicated names, tribes and battles for power tortuous on occasion. However, by the time Prom-dress daughter appeared, the cursed ring was safely consumed in the fires of Mordor and I was free; free to meet Harry, Ron and Hermoine! Well what a difference. From the second the Hogwarts Express drew into the platform, I was addicted, gripped and invested. I devoured those books whether I had any children to listen to me or not! The books sparkled, fired the imagination, flooded my head with lavish images and, at time, pulled my heart from my chest. Reading to my toddlers became a cherished half hour of the day when I, as much as them, escaped from the stresses, strains and toil that parenting small children can bring.

Gosh, great memories! My teens are all grown-up now and for me, the world of children’s books is a closed chapter once again but not forever I hope… roll on the grandchildren years….

An evening with Andy Burnham…

Thursday 14 October 2021

Going out on a school night? For the chance to hear Andy Burnham speak, I decide to give it a go!

It is almost a year to the day that Manchester’s Mayor was trending on Twitter as the ‘King of the North’. The nation watched on and the residents of the Northwest were gripped as he stood on the steps of the Town Hall in defiance of the Government’s tiering system and the decision to plunge our area into a set of restrictions without the funding to make these effective. Has this fight been vindicated? Some would say yes. The most recent update of the government’s performance during the pandemic, ‘Corona virus: lessons learned to date‘, drew this conclusion about the tiering system, not the words an administration committed, in name at least, to a ‘levelling up’ agenda, would have wanted us to read,

The two months between September 2020 and 31 October 2020 were an unsatisfactory period in which the comparative simplicity of the rules in place from the evening of 23 March onwards were replaced by a complex, inconsistent, shifting and scientifically ambiguous set of detailed restrictions. The rules had previously been a matter of broad national consent, but that sense of national solidarity began to erode, as the uncomfortable stand-off in Greater Manchester showed

Source: Corona virus: lessons learned to date (12 October 2021)

But even without this, for one may argue that, ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’, what our region does remember, as this year’s local council elections verify, is that someone had the passion and bravery to take such a stand on our behalf. We actually mattered to someone in politics. And it is really for this reason that, when I hear that Mr Burnham will be speaking at an event nearby, my friend and I, purchase tickets, and set out to lend our support.

I must admit that most of the event is just fun; (hot) buffet, bar with (too much) red wine for me, lots of interesting people to talk to and plenty of laughter and entertainment. Even amidst this social frivolity however, Andy Burnham’s speech is a great highlight. His ‘3 point plan’, for our region and our country, is clear, positive and purposeful and, just as I found one year ago, I feel my mind and soul waking up from the slump of months of dismal, dreary political news and thinking, ‘Yes, there is a better way! Yes there is some point in standing up for what you believe in! Yes there is still a place for values and principles 2020s Britain! Yes, you and your work do make a difference.’

Isn’t that what we all need, as we battle through each day? To know that we have a purpose and that we do matter. It is certainly true for me. So even if I do find the Friday 6am alarm call, with a mildly hungover head somewhat of challenge, I am happy to affirm that, on this occasion, it was definitely worth it …

My son gets a haircut …

Saturday 9 October 2021

This weekend, Small-boy is booked into an appointment at my hairdressers instead of being sent on his customary walk to the local barber.

Have you taken leave of my senses?” I hear you wonder.

As both girls have flown the family nest to university, have I turned my poor son into a daughter substitute who must accompany me on coiffure outings to sip cappuccino, eat Biscoff biscuits and talk hair products with the styling team? Actually; it is probably the complete opposite….

This has actually come about from me listening to my teenage child! Yes parents of small children, be cautioned; the lovely days of kitting your child out with economical biannual trips to Sports Direct or the ‘F &F‘ aisles at Tesco and, similarly, perching them on booster seats at the hairdressers for a cost effective over-short, made-to-last-a-few-weeks cut, do not last forever! No, alas, those cheery, chubby toddlers, with their grubby hands and paint spattered cheeks only go and grow up … and start to make their own choices about what they wear and how they look! I could call it the ‘Teenage years‘ but, as lots of you will know, it can happen even earlier than that for the more determined offspring.

In many ways, I think I had an easier ride than some, particularly with Small Boy, who definitely made it to High School before he really gave his clothing or hair a second thought. But now he is pretty clear and… yes the word is ‘unshakeable‘ … about having his own look and style. And this, at the moment, means ‘growing’ his hair. And so it was that a few weeks ago he, peered out from under his unruly locks and threw into the conversation,

Mum, now that my hair is getting quite long, do you think I should get it cut properly… at a hairdresser who knows about curly hair?”

I suggest that the barbers are probably also more than capable of branching out beyond a ‘two on the sides and longer on top’ brief, but he remains unconvinced and eventually I think, ‘Why the devil not?‘ plus, it would be nice, however we achieve it, to see his face again and call my salon to make enquiries and the appointment is made.

After an hour of washing, cutting and scrunching, he emerges, looking a little unsure, but after a quick trip home to ruffle it up a bit and ‘thumbs up’ approval from both sisters on WhatsApp, off into town he goes.

‘Does it make the start of a whole new hair-cutting era?’, I ponder. Who can tell! The Teenage years are one unexpected roller coaster of surprises with unexpected highs and lows at every turn. And so they must be, for they are about a child taking those confusing, daunting but also exciting steps to adulthood and independence. And, I hope, being able to talk about, listen and, where appropriate, hand over autonomy (and budgeting) on simple things, like haircuts and clothes makes it a little bit easier to be there for the more challenging and difficult conversations along the journey too.

Well that’s my hope …

Running with headphones…

Saturday 2 October 2021

Just in from my first ever run with headphones! Bloomin’ brilliant and … why have I never done this before?

Why indeed? For me, there are two reasons and the first is quite serious. It is about safety; women’s safety. Several years ago, I was talking running with one of my friends and she told me that she had ditched the ear buds after being mugged by a man who had attacked her from behind and she had not ‘heard him coming’. And sadly, particularly in the week when the news is dominated by the heartbreaking testimonials from the Sarah Everard trial and female fear becomes, again, the topic of much media debate, my friend is not alone. From the NBC articles in 2018, Scared to run alone? Women runners share their best safety tip, running without earphones, in certain situations, comes in at number two.

“One important thing I have changed in my running routine is that unless I am around a lot of people or running on the boardwalk during the day, I no longer put headphones on,”

Christie Maruka, a fitness enthusiast who runs/speed walks daily

The second, I can only put down to the frantic nature and financial strains of single parenthood. For years, I simply could not afford a phone that had an earphone port! As for one that could play music or understood what a podcast was; well that was an even longer wait. My kids had them, as cherished birthday or Christmas present but for their poor old mum (let those violins play now!) there was no-one in my life who combined caring enough and earning enough to bestow such a gift upon me. But about 3 years ago, as technology advanced and prices fell, I did finally treat myself to a device that coped with more than just ‘calling and texting’ and could in fact take pictures and play sounds.

But that was several years ago; why the delay until today to finally attach a pair headphones? It’s time. Time for me to stop and learn how. If you are a single parent your entire life, it often feels, has no space for you. Frequently, you inhabit domains where you are the only adult and, hence, the first port of call for solving problems for everyone else. Amidst helping with homework, revision plans, clubs, friends, exam stress, health, future study decisions, driving lessons …. and so on you simply drain of the motivation to stand still and explore ways to make your own life a little bit easier or nicer.

So what changed this morning? Work panic … that’s what! Our new boss has introduced the team to weekly readings from book on leadership psychology. Last weekend, I left my copy at work and had to make my excuses at the Monday meeting and, as I wake up this morning it hits me that I have done exactly the same thing again! Yikes! What to do? My Kindle is dead and the only charger is now in Edinburgh with Prom-dress daughter. So I type ‘audio book’ into Google and 30 minutes later I: am enrolled on a 30 day free trial with Audible; have scrabbled around the house to find an only slightly damaged pair of headphones; have laced up my trainers and am ready to go. Necessity… very clearly the ‘mother of invention’ on this October morning!

And what of the safety worries? Well it is 9:30am and I do only run on busy roads, so I decide that it is the perfect situation to try and chip away at some of the limiting fears that can impede my life as a woman. In fact, my logical mind interrupts, road safety is likely to be a bigger peril to avoid today. I say my logical mind but it would be more honest to admit that I did recently read Paula Radcliffe explaining that,

“I actually don’t listen to music outside when I run. I prefer to be aware of what’s going on and in tune with my surroundings. Keeping an eye out for bikes or dogs coming out of nowhere, I like to be aware of that!”

Paula Radcliffe 2019

Whatever the reason, I set the volume to sensible level that still lets the background noise in, and set off.

And I love it. Both the run and the ‘reading’ fly by like never before. I definitely on the road to conversion, already wondering ‘what next?’ ; when I finish this book. Mmmm, maybe music …

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…