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 Bombay Sapphire and ginger beer, 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, scratch cards and … Sky TV subscriptions?

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) reports 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…

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…

Sealant is tricky!

Friday 25 October 2019

I sashay tipsily through the front door to find that, whilst I have been at a fantastic wine event sampling ‘A Taste of Italy’, Prom-dress daughter has spent her evening assembling all the new furniture for her brother’s room. He has a chest of drawers. He has a bedside table. He has a trendy clothing rail. It looks terrific! I stand open-mouthed, in awe of her DIY prowess. I am bowled over with surprise and gratitude and overwhelmed with relief that this is one home improvement job I won’t be involved in. The household is only just recovering from my recent misadventure… with the bathroom sealant! Let me take you back …to Monday…

Monday 21 October 2019

As the teens are away, I earmark the start of half-term week for the task of repairing the sealant in the bathroom. I ordered the cartridge weeks ago and already, with only a few cuts and minor injuries, I have cleared the old sealant out. There’s a short delay; I find I have no sealant gun. But the oasis that is ‘Screw Fix‘ is but minutes from my home, and within the hour I am proudly unwrapping my first ever sealant gun. The instructions seem clear and I confidently snip open the correct sections of the cartridge, hook up with YouTube to uncover the secrets of loading the cartridge into the gun and I am ready. I feel euphoric! I feel invincible! I actually pose in front of the mirror, like one of Charlie’s Angels, brandishing my gun.

“You are good!“, I tell my reflection with a cheeky wink, ” Let’s go and seal that sink!”

You’d think at my age, I would have learnt that pride invariably comes before a fall!! I have indeed successfully snipped open the cartridge seal and the applicator nozzle, but I what I have failed to do, is to secure these two parts back together. As I start to to pump, the sealant seeps gloriously out of both the top and bottom of the applicator and plummets heavily into the sink. I try to remove it, but discover that silicone is sticky. It sticks to everything. My hands, my clothes, my hair, the sink, the floor, the door. In desperation, I manage to re-fasten the device and stem the flow, but I coat my hands, arms, body and bathroom even more completely in the gruesome glue. And I don’t stop here. For some unfathomable reason, I choose to plough on, ineptly firing sealant, sealant and yet more sealant at the gap in my sink. It is one almighty mess. With a face drained of colour and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I survey the carnage… it has taken me less than 10 minutes, to completely ruin the bathroom.

I scrape the silcone from my hands with a towel, head to the kitchen for an emergency cuppa and put in a mildly hysterical call to one of my friends. By the time the rescue squad appears, I have managed to clean the floor and some of the bathroom units. My jumper, however, is in the bin and the sink itself is a horror story of silicone mingled with my blood. I am lead away and placed onto kettle duties.

It takes a good 2 hours for my heroic pal to restore and re-seal the bathroom to it’s former glory. I am still a sticky, sorry specimen of gratitude as I pour us a celebratory glass of fizz. My friend tells me kindly that ‘Sealant is tricky!‘ and I vow to never go near it again…unless perhaps Prom-dress daughter is at home!

Magical Manchester

Tuesday 22 October 2019

The teens return from a holiday with their dad tomorrow. That gives me 24 hours of blissful freedom and I spend them exploring my home town. It’s a day that comes as close to perfect as you could ever hope a day to be. Sometimes you don’t need to travel far for new adventure and experience, sometimes your just need to open your eyes and see what’s right under your nose.

My friend and I hop off our tram and straight into the Northern Quarter’s characteristic chaos of cafes. The Manchester skies are unusually clear and blue and we perch on high stools at an outdoor grilled cheese bar for a quick lunch stop. It’s simple, speedy and mouth-wateringly delicious and happily replenished we take a leisurely stroll through the lovely Victorian streets to a concert hall for a lunchtime recital.

I am not sure that I’ve ever been to a lunchtime concert before and it blows me away. We step out of the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy an hour of peace and some beautiful piano playing. Mozart and Chopin fill the hall and fill my soul. I am transported far from all the worries and niggles that fill my mind on a daily basis … it is just amazing!

Manchester is famed for its lively bar and cafe scene, indeed it was recently dubbed “the most hungover city in the world”. So without too much difficulty, we find ourselves a bar to discuss the concert and over several glasses of Merlot, review the playing, catch up on news and generally while the afternoon away until it’s time to catch the tram home again.

I feel relaxed, happy and, at least for today, free of all responsibility. My mind is stirred, my heart is too. This is city life at its best. A 2019 Time Out survey ranked Manchester 15th out of the ‘48 Best Cities in the World to Visit’. Well I challenge those Time Outers to find me a city on this planet or beyond that can give me a better day than the one I’ve just had…

London Town

Sunday 20 October 2019

There is no better way to recharge the batteries than a change of location and after a terrific weekend in London, I feel like a new woman.

It’s the start of half term and the teens are away with their dad, leaving me free to hop on an Intercity train and head for the capital. It’s a change of place and a change of pace and it a few days to just be myself rather than an overstretched and sightly frazzled single-mum.

In under 2 hours, I am at Euston, meeting an old Uni friend and catching up over coffee. Armed with our Oyster cards, we head to Tate Britain for Mark Leckey’s O’ Magic Power of Bleakness exhibition. Leckey’s ambitious and theatrical show, takes us on a nostalgic trip through his younger years, and as contempories, his nostalgia matches ours and we lounge on the floor letting the clever images wash over us and feeling the year roll back, until we are teenagers again too. I really enjoy it and reminiscing about my childhood, with someone else who was also alive at the time is the perfect way to remind myself that, much as Iove being a mum, there is also a side of me that’s…just me!

And over a two day trip, London just seems to exude effortless style and endless opportunity. There’s great food, great cinema, great art, great strolling along the elegant streets and great striding through the muddy paths of the glorious Hampstead Heath. Above all there’s great company. It is a rare luxury having someone to talk to about everything from work and kids, to books and art. My Uni friends are a clever bunch and I do miss the College climate of learning and knowledge. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back and do some more study one day?

But that’s for some distant day, in the future. It’s ‘back up North’ that I’m heading now on the 16:17 from Euston. Mark Leckey’s familiar yet forgotten images of the the 70s, 80s and 90s remind me of how easy it is to overlook the happy memories stored in the ordinariness of the everyday, when you have the right people in your life. And even as we leave the bright lights of London behind and head for the less inspiring facades of my corner of the North West, rejuvenated by my short break, I am looking forward to being home again.

England 6 Racists 0…

Monday 14 October

Stunned!

I arrive home pretty late this evening. As I turn the key in the lock, an excited Small Boy comes flying out of the lounge.

Mum, come quick, they’ve stopped the match!”

And they have. England in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria. England under intense public scrutiny after a defeat in their previous match with the Czech Republic. England leading this game 2-0. England have left the pitch, in unison and in protest againt the racist chants from the Bulgarian fans.

Small Boy and I watch open mouthed. The team come back on and then leave again 10 minutes later continuing to make a stand against the unacceptable level of abuse from the terraces. I have never seen anything like it. Such a move from the manager of England, a nation obsessed with football, seems truly ground breaking and very brave.

The half time commentators applaud the action. Small Boy is adamant that they should have stopped the match completely, and on my facebook feed, many of my footballing friends agree. Nonetheless, it is a bold and decisive step from our team, executed with dignity and unity. The match does resume and England do go on to win 6-0, But this is a night when they have won a far more important victory. This is a night when they have drawn a line, so that never again will footballers have to endure racist abuse, simply because they are ‘paid a fortune’ and expected to ‘turn the other cheek‘ and ‘beat the racists on the pitch‘. This is a night when, to quote Back Pages it’s ‘England 6, racists 0’. This is a night when I feel truly proud to the English.

Now we’ve seen what’s happened and what’s good about it is it has got a generation of players now, not just black players, a generation of players and people that won’t tolerate it any more,”

Ian Wright 2019

Three cheers for the baking soda!

Monday 7 October 2019

It actually works! Windsor no longer smells of stank sour milk. My car smells of … a glorious nothing! And I gratefully put baking soda alongside Anadin Extra as products I would be honoured to advertise for free.

My mum, ‘The magnificent’ is in the house when I get home. Not only is she teaching piano to all three teens and not only has she cooked a delicious pie for tea, but her bicarb has also seen off the filfthsome, foul odour that has ruined my motorised voyages for several days.

I waltz her triumphantly around the kitchen, the teens cheer in joyous relief and that glorious smell of nothing in the car, it seems like the sweetest smell any of us have ever known…

There’s no use crying over it…

Sunday 6 October 2019

I can’t actually pinpoint when I began to notice that Windsor, our trusty Toyota was beginning to whiff a little bit. But it is two days ago that Small boy finally voices what we’ve all started thinking,

“Mum, why does our car smell like poo?”

A rummage around in the boot quickly unearths the culprit, one carton of milk… one empty carton of milk! Yes a full 4 pints of the white stuff, purchased almost 2 weeks ago, must have fallen from our ‘bag for life’ as we unloaded the shopping. It has settled happily into life in the car boot and gradually leaked all its contents over fabric, the folders, the picnic blankets, the emergency jumpers, yes everything single thing in the back of our car. And my goodness does it smell … it absolutely honks !!

And it still does. I have washed lots, binned even more, scrubbed and sprayed like a woman possessed, but nothing gets rid of the stench. I discover that there’s a whole industry of websites and YouTube videos devoted to the dilemma of ‘Milk in the Car’, and I am left befuddled about where to start. Additionally, a friend cheerfully informs me that it is the very longevity of those noxious, sour odours that makes ‘spilling milk all over the ex’s car’ a favourite revenge act for wronged spouses and scorned lovers!

So ignoring the Autumnal nip in the air, we drive around town with the windows permanently wide open. If some unfortunate friend needs a lift from us, I leap from the vehicle when they are still yards away to pre-warn and apologise for the ghastly horrors that await as they open the door! We are getting desperate and I decide that my only option is to throw money at the problem.

On Saturday , after dropping the teens at their morning rehearsal, I postpone my run in favour of a trip to the car valeter. But the professionals are not optimistic,

“It’s milk love, its a killer. There’s really nothing we can do!”

Despondently, I decide to leave the car anyway, downgrading to a £12 mini-valet, and turn my thoughts back to my Saturday run. Suddenly inspiration strikes. I smile. I brush my hair out of my eyes. I tighten my laces. I straighten my running top and I set a course…to my mum’s house.

Within 15 minutes, I am enjoying a coffee in mum’s kitchen and she is a confident reassurance of home grown remedies for any stain or odour that you can mention. Sour milk does not daunt her. No, she laughs in the face of this feared opponent and fills me a bag of ingredients ‘guaranteed’ to send those stomach-churning stenches packing. Now I’ll not lie, running back to the car with a plastic bag jangling with bottles of white vinegar, brushes and pots of bicarbonate of soda is a bit of challenge. The streamlined Strava brigade, I meet along the way, refuse to make eye contact as I clank and clatter past. But I don’t care, it is utterly worth it, because I now have a plan. I know my next step…I have hope in my heart!

So tonight, as I sit mulling over … bathroom sealant (it’s my next DIY adventure!), Windsor is a frivolous froth of baking soda, vinegar and water. Will it work? I guess I’ll know in the morning…

I just can’t get enough…

Thursday 3 October 2019

October arrives this week. As I awake to icy mornings and the central heating clicking into gear, my thoughts turn to the challenge of turning up the temperature in other areas of my life too!

Very unexpectedly, quite out of the blue, I have recently met a rather nice man. It’s very, very early days, but he does make me smile … quite a lot. I’ll even confess that occasionally, as I come off the phone I have even found myself feeling a little dreamy, warm and fuzzy too. Now youngsters, block your revolted ears, but older readers, possibly having to contemplate a new relationship, take heart from my next relevation. Whilst marital break-up isn’t an experience I’d wish on anyone, one upside, of being flung back into world of dating in later life, has been the discovery that love, romance and that initial spark of connection, are every bit as exciting in middle age as they were in my younger years. The reflection in the mirror may well show the ravages of time but on the inside … we are all still in our mid-twenties!

But I digress, back to the rather nice man. We have managed a couple of outings, but I fear, I really do, for our fledgling relationship ever really taking flight … because it is so blinkin’ difficult to meet up as a single parent! With my ex due to visit, this Saturday was supposed to be a night of togetherness, but ex-hub has just called to tell me that he is ‘busy’. ‘Busy?’ I’d like to too busy to look after ‘our’, children until I have a gap in the diary, just once in a while! And my beloved teens don’t help the situation either. Is it just my offspring, or do all children assume that a mum’s only goal and motivation in life is to run them, fund them, and organise weekend life around them and their social lives?

“I just assumed you would be able to pick me up from my party mum!”

was my eldest’s response when I suggested that I might be out on Saturday night.

I put it off, but eventually do call, apologetically, to explain my dilemma and brace myself for the brush off. But the rather nice man, who is very laid back and incredibly considerate simply says ‘Wherever and whenever you can”, as we rearrange our plans. And I am sure that a mid afternoon movie will be great. It’s just that, at the risk of sounding like a complete floozy, I had hoped for a little more from my Saturday night!

Could I invite him here? I think not, far too soon. I have no intention of parading any men around the home and into the teens’ world, until I am sure of how I feel about them. But how do I ever get to that stage? It’s a veritable, vicious circle and I am not sure there’s a way out. I turn to alcohol. I turn to music. And on comes Depeche Mode “I just can’t get enough” ….it speaks to me on many levels!!