Sunday 5 July 2020
The household rejoices this week, as our new oven finally arrives!
My old cooker… where to start? The door was permanently rammed shut with a long wooden pole. Even with this ingenious construction, it was slow, slow, slow! Pre-heating the oven? Well we did try but the poor, old thing never once reached temperature. A simple tray of french fries, with a packet guide of ten minutes would take forty-five. The year we attempted to host Christmas Dinner? Well, we’d seen off several gallons of Prosecco, two boxes of crackers and all our party games before there was even the hint of a ‘crisp’ on those roasties!
This weekend, I accept that enough is enough and cashing in on many months of saving up, Small Boy and I, hands sanitised and social distance observed, survey several new devices at our local appliance store and make the purchase.
Meal times are transformed! My heart is in my mouth as Small Boy and his ‘home made pizzas’ christen my shiny, new …. spotlessly clean oven. But, apart from the unaccustomed shock of eye-brow searing heat at we open the door, all goes without a hitch. We all marvel over the new, culinary experience of a pizza base that is ‘crisp’ and cheese that is ‘melted and bubbling’ on top! Throughout the week, the realisation that we can now follow recipe guidance on cooking times, frees us from the logistics of planning, even the simplest of dishes, hours in advance. Food is baked, browned and borne to plates in a blissfully timely manner.
So it is a happy ‘Farewell !’ to pale, underdone chip, luke-warm casseroles and finally sitting down to eat at 9pm at night! New oven – you are a very welcome addition to the house!
Saturday 11 July 2020
Tonight marks my first trip to the pub for over 100 days and suddenly the insane amounts I pay for monthly new driver insurance seem worth every penny!
After weekend upon weekend of ‘Ninja Warrior UK‘ and re-runs of every James Bond film in the catalogue, a Saturday Night ‘out’ beckons . Woohoo – what a prospect! I straighten my hair. I dig out scent. I try a dash of lipstick. I brush down a jacket and polish my heels. I seek teen approval on several jewelry combinations. And I am ready. There is only one snag. The pub is miles away…
Living , as we do, on the edge of Manchester, public transport is terrific …or was. The messages about using it, as we stutter out of Lockdown are not wholly encouraging.
“Consider all other travel options …”
“Plan ahead, allow extra time…”
“If your are travelling, wear a face covering, keep your distance from others, clean your hands frequently …“
So when my eldest offers to give me a lift, I am overjoyed.
Being the only driver in the house is a major pain in the proverbial for countless lone parents. In hectic non-Covid times, it was undoubtedly the source of much of my mental and physical exhaustion; single-handedly juggling the impossible logistics of four very busy lives. And for me, so rarely was there a break from the challenge of timetabling and delivering all our transport, that I once actually burst into tears of gratitude when a colleague offered to pick me up for a work’s night out! And tonight it feels very much the same.
Having a co-driver has come at a cost. New driver insurance is jaw-droppingly expensive. My eldest passed her test many month ago and we finally took the costly plunge as she turned 18. It has meant some sacrifices, money is only finite after all, but I have no regrets at all about postponing a few other plans. For me, it has meant reducing stress and occasionally feeling carefree. And that, after 10 years of single-parent grind is simply priceless. It is a life line I wish I had been able to afford sooner but, as is sadly so often the case in our strange society, it is those of us most in need of a break and some support who are least able to afford it.
Still better late than never! I am driven to my night out. I enjoy a pleasant evening in a NorthWest bar dipping its toes back into the night-time economy. The highlight however… my lift home. Yes, as the clock strikes 10:30pm, my carriage in the form of trusty Toyota Windsor, pulls into view and home we go. We laugh, we sing along to Heart 80s. We are warm. We are dry. We are happy.
A second driver, for me it is a single parent game changer!
Saturday 18 July 2020
It drops through the door and sits on the mat; the Music Centre Bill for Autumn term 2020. I scoop it up with the rest of the mail and head to the kitchen, planning to read it over a morning cuppa. But I don’t. Instead I sit, with my tea and just stare and stare at the envelope, gripped by a dread of opening it at all ….
Is it the finances? No, that’s not it. I’ll be honest, getting an invoice is never the greatest moment of the day, but this one will have a due date of September 2020 and I have two more pay cheques before then. Plenty of time to get those funds together.
What then? It is this. Into my July morning comes the realisation that, for the first time since I can remember, there will only be two names, not three on the letter. The chances are that my eldest will not be joining the other two back at Youth Orchestra in the Fall, because she will be heading off to a new life at University. It is a sudden sign that we are rapidly approaching the end of an era. And I am blind-sided.
Of course a University place is not guaranteed for my girl this October. (Who knows what grades will emerge for her from the national machine currently calculating and balancing covid-estimates for all our examination hopefuls this Summer.) But if not this year, then next. And if not to Higher Education, then ultimately to some independent form of adult life. The time for the four of us and family life, with all our glorious traditions, daily routines, crazy plans and fitting comfortably together … it’s over in the very near future.
I’ve known it was coming, but this letter suddenly makes it feel very real and makes my heart feel very sad. I flick the kettle on again and push the letter aside for a moment. One more cuppa and then I’ll face it ….
Wednesday 22 July 2020
… with the car showroom!
The day starts so well. Having spent the first 2 days of the school holidays clearing out the garage, Wednesday sees Small boy, Prom-dress daughter and I driving to the tip. It is a third day for the grubby, dusty clothes we’ve been wearing for our labours and the car mirror confirms that I do indeed have a cobweb in my hair. But it’s only the tip? Oh and the Macdonald’s Drive Thru! How else would I have tempted my two teen helpers from their beds before noon?
Rubbish tipped and Maccies bought, we are turning for home when I notice a warning light on the dashboard, for the engine! It is only 24 hours since the car was MOT-ed and the garage who passed trusty old Windsor is close by. So we divert to their forecourt … and it is here that the day begins to unravel…
Garages are busy at the moment, with missed Lockdown appointments overlapping current car crises, and the local garage is frantic when we pull up. Cars everywhere! Not a parking spot to be seen. I gratefully espy an ‘additional customer parking’ sign and decide to follow it. Into a crowded and cramped area we venture and, as we struggle to locate a spare patch to stop in, see a vehicle advancing towards us. I wrench Windsor into reverse and begin to edge my way out. There is a close shave with a van on my side, so I yell at the kids to ‘Keep Watch!‘. The advancing car beeps its horn and I begin to feel frazzled. Both kids are mortified by the confusion P0I am causing,
“Just get out of the way Mum!”
In a panic, I swerve to get back on track and there is a sickening crunch, as I grind Windsor firmly into the corner of the car showroom.
A small crowd has gathered as I slink out of the car. Aluminium strips from the edging of the showroom window flap in the breeze. Windsor is a crumpled, twisted mess. My jaw actually drops open. The manager arrives and looks to me for an explanation. Through my sobs, I manage to tell the tale of the warning light and Windsor is driven away for examination.
We are led inside and what a sorry troop we make. Prom-dress daughter clutches a half-eaten bag of Mozzerella sticks as she shuffles forward in fluffy slipper-socks and sliders. Small boy stomps along with eyes resolutely fixed on his trainers. I bring up the rear, my face streaked with tears and spider webs, occasionally hissing out crazed phrases such as ‘all your fault‘ at the kids. Like naughty school children, we are directed to 3 socially distanced seats and grimly await our fate.
The news, when it finally arrives, is not good. The warning light does indeed herald a ‘major engine job’ and phrases such as ‘heavy bill’ and ‘car out of action for 2 weeks’ break the strained silence of the showroom. They have, thankfully, decided not to charge me for the damage to the building, but advise that the car is fit for ‘small journey’s only‘ until they can book me in. I am also on my own, when it comes to repairing the body work. Feeling a little stunned, we get up to leave,
“Errr… I’ve brought the car round for you!” mumbles an anxious mechanic.
I stare at him through glazed eyes. He points helpfully towards the door. We find Windsor, positioned so far through the exit that he is almost on the pavement. They clearly want me off those premises and who can blame them?
I happen know a good garage for body work. We call in on the way home and the cheery owner calms me down with his reassuring, positive words. Further kindness awaits at home, where my eldest sits me in the lounge with a nice cup of coffee and a bowl of pasta. Small Boy hands me the £7 he made recently from selling his old BMX on ebay. I begin to recover. I start to see the funny side.
No escaping one fact though – the next few weeks are going to be expensive and stationary…
Tuesday 28 July 2020
Windsor, our trusty Toyota, is driven away for his first set of repair jobs this week and, as a result, we find ourselves stationary for a few days. In many ways, it feels like a flashback to early Lockdown. We paint the bathroom. We redesign the conservatory. We auction old furniture on Ebay; our first ‘non-cot’ bed becomes ‘my own big bed‘ to another child; the kitchen table is signed up for a very glamorous new life at a Night Club in town! There is one difference however, I finally put up a music stand and tootle some oboe notes …
Usually, I’d battle through the parts for my nearest concert. But, as Covid-19 has ruled out all rehearsals since March, I have to dig into my older folders and my past repertoire. And I find The Bach Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin. Oh what memories! This is the first full concerto I ever performed in public and it took place 6 short weeks after Small Boy was born!
If you are an expectant, first-time, musical mum, do not try this! It was utter madness. But Small Boy was not my first child, he was my third. Additionally, in over 3 decades of living at the time, no-one had ever invited me to play a concerto before. It was just too good an opportunity to miss.
I was in the very early, unannounced stages of pregnancy when the unsuspecting conductor offered me the job. I agreed enthusiastically, my outward face a picture of smiles and assurance. On the inside, my mind a whirlwind of rapid, mental arithmetic, trying to fathom whether or not I’d be tootling my part in the concert hall or from the Delivery Suite itself! Of course I worried about being too tired. Of course I questioned my sanity. But I recall being cheerfully egged on by my mum,
“You’ll be tired eitherway; may as well be tired and happy as tired and miserable!”
And so I did it. I worked like a demon right up to the day my waters broke, juggling my job, two toddlers and Bach with, at times grim, determination. I allowed myself 2 weeks off, when we first brought Small Boy home and then, as he marked his 15th day, I resumed daily practice. The moment ex-hub crossed the threshold from work, I would hand over care of three under 5s and vanish to the back room for an hour of playing.
It didn’t matter that the violinist was a precocious 17 year old virtuoso. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t fit into any concert clothes, (my lovely mum bought me a roomy soloist-style sparkly top). It didn’t matter that I was completely shattered. I powered through with adrenaline and joy, reaping the benefits of all the pre-birth practice regime. The performance was terrific. It also led to tons of other gigs and concerto offers; my golden era of oboe playing.
Today, as I stumble thought the notes, I realise how much my technique and stamina have deteriorated over the last 15 years, particularly since moving North. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering,
‘Do I have another concerto in me?’
Hey, I’m the woman who performed her first concerto less than 2 months after giving birth so, to this or indeed other new challenges, never say never…
Sunday 2 August 2020
What a week! Challenged to keep myself sane with no car and then the re-introduction of Lockdown across Greater Manchester?
Originally, it was scheduled to be a few days of fun, as the teens, cases bulging, piled out of the house for a holiday with their ‘down south family’. After 5 intense months of solo-parenting, my calendar promised plans of hopping about for a few bright lights, late nights and fizz-fuelled reminders that sometimes to be a good mum, it is important to forget about being a mum! However, with trusty Toyota Windsor out of action, not only threatening to blow a 4 figure hole in my bank account, but also putting the brakes firmly on any road-trip plans, I call my more distant pals to cancel and gear myself up for an economical staycation.
I replan with gusto. I set up some local lunches and meetups for the second half of the week. To fill a couple of days near the start, and to save a few more pounds, I decide not to pay someone to tame the overgrown wilderness we call ‘the garden’, but to tackle it myself! For a confirmed horticulture-phobe, this turns out far better than I hoped.
I call upon one person to give me a lift to the garden centre and before I know it a team of gardening experts emerge from the ranks of friends and family to lend a hand. There is, as I’d feared, lots of back breaking work, clipping and clearing. Indeed, by the time we finish, the stack of garden waste bags, appears to re-enact the final scenes of the ‘Feeding of the 5000‘
” …and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14 v 13-21)
But, to my great surprise there is also creativity: planting, colour, design and beauty. And those bits, I do enjoy. Gardening – who knew it hid such secret delights?
Call it a divine domino effect, but as our honest efforts and toil catalyse the garden into some sort of shape, I roll seamlessly into the the more social events of my stay-local week. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I manage a Prosecco and strawberry picnic in the park. As I am dropped off, I allow myself the foolish optimism of thinking that the week is really going rather well. That same Thursday night, smiling and tipsy, I flick on the TV and the news report on the Greater Manchester Lockdown, freezes my grin and brings me crashing back to sobriety.
” … from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other…” (Matthew Hancock)
Oh my goodness! For this single mum, the return to social restrictions feels like the prison door slamming shut. Saturday night restaurant plans – up in smoke. Monday lunch plans – down the drain. No-one even allowed in to help with the garden anymore! Those divine forces clearly have other plans for me this week. At least there’s gin in the cupboard …
Wednesday 5 August 202
After 6 months of hair-style wilderness for the females in our house, I finally secure us an appointment at the local salon. Does it feel momentous? Why yes it does! So much so in fact that I even take before and after shots. Hairdresser Nina, you are a ‘magician!‘
The set up at the Covid-aware salon is an impressive one. Staff have changed their working hours and shifts to create separate teams. Hand sanitiser, masks and visors are everywhere. Customers now have to hang up their own coats and the frothy coffee, with a Biscoff biscuit, is a thing of the past. Nonetheless, it is an hour of more pampering and attention than I can remember for a very long time … and Nina has surprising news!
“Your hair is in a great condition!”
Yes it is overgrown. Yes it has lost all shape. Yes with a cute animal mask I could re-invent myself as a lion. But none of that is news to anyone that knows me. My Gaelic roots ensure that I have always gallavanted through life with a signature crown of ‘crazy hair’, capable of reaching epic proportions in the wind and rain. What is less well know, however, is that my hair takes my stress. I pick it. I twirl it. I tear it. I damage it. I have been ruining my locks since high school. Some years are worse than others. A year or so after my marriage break-up, it was so patchy I actually treated myself to hair extensions to give my real hair a chance to recover. It worked brilliantly. Not only was I warded off touching my hair by the fear that the costly tresses would fall out, but it also won me over psychologically. I saw how great my hair could look if only I could mend my ways.
Sadly no effect lasts forever and the ensuing decade has been one of highs and lows for the old barnet. What I was not really not expecting was that 5 months of social distancing, which I have found a real struggle, would help, But it has. The ever-supportive Nina is delighted and fusses over my curls like a proud parent. I have to conclude that although it has been decidedly dull and dreary at times, Lockdown has clearly been less stressful for this stretched single mum than our pre-Corona calendar. My hair is doubtless very grateful. I am left trying to avoid scratching my head as I try to square the circle of returning to the best parts of ‘normal’ without ramping the levels of stress right back up again …
Thursday 13 August 2020
It is A level results day. I haven’t slept. I am up at six. Pacing the house. Hoovering for no reason. Depositing half-drunk cups of coffee in several rooms. By the time my eldest disappears to her room, to view the 8 am grades, I am on the edge of bursting into tears. Everything goes very, very quiet …until,
“Mum, can you come here please?”
And then I do cry. My girl has the grades she needs. After four years of unbelievable slog, barriers and hurdles one of my children is off to Medical School. It is so fantastic. It is almost impossible to take in.
2020 will be marked in educational annals as the Covid exam year; when exams were cancelled and pupils were given calculated grades. It has caused a national uproar, centred on the disparity between the standardisation of state and private school results. I expect the chapters of this year’s grade awards still have further pages to turn. But as the story of our marathon to Medical School reaches its end, I can say with some surety that if you want to experience first-hand the battle to break into an elite circle from the outside and even just to be allowed your entitlement to ambition, tell the world that you want to become a doctor!
Even though it has been daunting, and at times demoralising, I don’t want to put anyone off. I would do it all again in a breath. For this single mum, even without the final outcome, the whole experience has been an unforgettable rite of passage. Transporting me from life as a parent of a child, to becoming a parent of an amazing young adult, unique person and great friend. We have shared so much, and this includes laughter and fun as well as the tears and moments of despair. I have learned far more from my inspirational girl than I might ever hope to have taught her. It really has been some of the best of times…