A second driver …

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!

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…

Cracking the code…

Tuesday 16 July 2019

After a long day at work, there’s no rest for me. My eldest has a driving theory test and I have agreed to be her chauffeur. Upon reaching our location, we are greeted by a sign announcing that ‘Candidates may NOT park at the Centre’. And so it it that I drop her off and then park myself on a dodgy side street, where I try to get on with some work.

Up ahead, a group of youths are knocking on car windows and asking for money. The driver, two cars in front of me hands over some cash and they disappear. The street is quiet after that, nonetheless I decide to keep my window shut and it starts to get very stuffy. Feeling drowsy and struggling to concentrate on my task, I turn to the internet for diversion, and am woken up by Dr Emily Grossman’s article in the Guardian,

Putting Alan Turing on the £50 note is a triumph for British science – and for equality

Hip hip hooray! Back in the Autumn, when the Bank of England launched the public vote on this issue, Turing was my man! There’s the incredible contribution his mathematical brain made to the development of computing, which is mind blowing. And, of course, his legendary code-breaking at Bletchley Park,

You needed exceptional talent, you needed genius at Bletchley and Turing’s was that genius.” ( Asa Briggs )

But with Turing, the human story is equally powerful. Under the Official Secrets Act, much of his work was to remain hidden for a long time, denying him deserved recognition. At the age of 39, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ due to a relationship with another man, a judgement that led to the removal of his security clearance. Despite his outstanding contribution to war time intelligence, he was barred from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the GCHQ. Far more shockingly, Turing also underwent ‘chemical castration’ treatment, to avoid imprisonment, and died 2 years later, an inquest ruled by suicide.

About 10 years ago, petitions began for his pardon. In 2014, the Queen granted a full pardon and by 2016 the “Alan Turing law” paved the way to retroactively pardon other men too.

We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of “gross indecency” … Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save….A pardon can go some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well-known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.

So one of the founding fathers of computing, an unsung hero of our war effort and a significant icon for equality. If, like me, you are a mathematician, its is a wonderful privilege to have lived this life seeing the world through the eyes of many of the greatest minds humankind has ever known. And this man is undoubtedly up there at the top, for his immense and lasting contribution to our modern society. I am overjoyed that he has won a place on our £50 note and, as I look closely, the image also features a short piece of binary code. Cocooned as I may be, within the confines of my clammy car, trying to decode this keeps me busy until my eldest emerges triumphant from her theory test…

I am done…

Saturday 13 July 2019

I arrive home from my final concert of the season, pour myself a brandy, sink onto the sofa and realise that I am… done!

In the last month, my amazing eldest has: traversed the UK to attend Uni Open Days, coped with Y12 mocks, trekked the Lake District peaks with pack on her pack, camped with fellow DOE expeditioners, surviving on cuppa-soup and pasta, volunteered at a local care home and performed in several concerts. Nonetheless, this week, as others break up for Summer, she completes a week of work experience in a local hospital … and I have chauffered her there daily.

On top of this extra driving, I have survived another week at work. I have found the evening-energy to rehearse and practise. There’s been no time to run. I am low on sleep and nutrition and, I am ashamed to admit, getting through most days with anadin and alcohol.

Tonight was the concert. Usually this would bring my mood soaring right back up, but all the logistics and demands of recent weeks have taken their toll, and I am now just finished. I think it goes quite well, although it’s a very fast and jazzy piece and in places I am just hanging on for dear life. But there is no buzz and I feel a little flat. I admit that the engine has stalled on my ‘Smashing Single Parenthood’ machine this week and I am squarely in survival gear right now!

I have, in all the chaos, missed important hospital appointments for myself and Prom-dress Daughter. I feel frustrated and frazzled by endless driving and traffic lights and traffic jams and hear myself screaming unspeakable abuse at unsuspecting drivers. I feel dragged down by routines and cooking and washing and ironing and just all the dreary decisions and jobs that come about when you are the only adult in the household. I feel trapped and low and on the verge of tears.

I need to cheer up and, as if sent from heaven, I switch on the TV to Simon Pegg lighting up my screen! (I’ll confess, he is a bit of a hero of mine, Run Fat Boy Run, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead comedy classics that I’ve watched many times) I’ve never heard of tonight’s film, ‘Man-Up‘. It is a totally ridiculous romcom but, as ever with ‘The Pegster’, the scenes just make me laugh out loud … and laughter always works for me. My gloom lifts like a glorious magical mist and I head to bed knowing that tomorrow is another day and a new opportunity to do things a bit better. I also wonder if Simon Pegg is single …

Road Trip!

Friday 28 June – Sunday 30 June 2019

Oh my goodness- what a weekend! My brain is fried and I am almost too exhausted to speak, after a whirlwind of Open Days, concerts, shopping and ….driving!

Friday is Nottingham Open Day for my eldest and I. At home, Prom-dress daughter has slept at a friend’s house, and so we only have Small Boy to worry about. He has managed to lose his school bus pass this morning, but it’s his lucky day. I am far to preoccupied to launch into my usual ‘that bus pass cost me good money!’ tirade. We simply drop him off on the way and then hit the motorway.

Having been promised a heat wave, we have donned summer outfits and view the clouds and drizzle of Yorkshire, and then Nottinghamshire, with slight alarm from the windows of our trusty vehicle. And though dry, it is distinctly chilly as, upon arrival, car safely parked, we step out to explore the University campus. We really enjoy the day; mixing talks and tours with the chance to look at lots of accommodation. The promised sun does eventually make an appearance too, and the first leg of our trip draws to a close with a stroll back to the car, ice cream in hand.

We now set the SatNav for …Newcastle! As the marvellous machine recalculates our route, it’s time to check in with the rest of my teens. Small Boy has successfully made it to my mum’s house. A weary Prom-dress daughter, a little jaded from her night of prom-ing, has, impressively, managed to get herself to a College Induction Day, and a rehearsal in one piece and hopes to join the others shortly. It all sounds good, and with the navigation device promising a 2 hour and 45 minute trip to the North East we set off…

Over 4 hours, and much Friday night rush hour traffic later, we are driving past the Angel of the North and finally checking in at the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle! It’s been a very long day and after sharing Pizza, nachos and a cheeky glass of Prosecco at the bar, it’s PJ and telly time, then sleep!

By 9:30 am, on a very sunny Saturday, we are sitting, triumphant in our summer outfits, in the Medicine talk at Newcastle Uni. By 1:30 pm, having done Bio Medial Sciences, Neuro-Science, Chemical Engineering and two hall of residence tours, we are ready to hit the road and head home.

Travel fatigue is now beginning to set in. My right ankle (old running injury) and right arm are pretty sore and my eldest sighs like an old lady as she casts her shoes off in the passenger seat. Nonetheless, our spirits are high, possibly veering on hysterical – we find everything amusing, from ‘no hard shoulder’ signs to the M62 Summit sign- as we head back to our corner of the North West.

We are home by 4pm, whereupon an anxious Prom-dress daughter, who is preparing for a week of work experience (at an architecture firm ‘down south’), announces that she has ‘no work clothes‘ in her wardrobe. My eldest also needs to stock up on provisions for her Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. And so it is that, after a quick cuppa and pressing a few buttons on the washing machine, we are off to the shops and eventually sit down, to a take-away curry, at about eight.

Next morning, it’s off to York Uni for my eldest, whilst Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter and I set out for the drive ‘down south’ to deliver our would-be architect to her dad. My arm and ankle are now strapped up to ease the pain. The bandages work well and our outward journey is a jolly one. We while away the motorway hours with ‘I Spy‘ , ‘Guess who‘ and much laughter. ‘Guess who‘ features lots of rappers from Small Boy and figures from Elizabethan England from Prom-dress daughter… I do struggle to get a turn!

The return journey is far less fun. Not only does Small Boy feel a little deflated to be travelling back without his lovely sister, but I am now very tired and find myself drifting off at the wheel. I do stop to revive myself, with coffee and fresh air, but it uses up time and we only just manage to collect my eldest from the train station as she returns from her third Open Day in an many days.

We dine on the dregs of left-over curry, and just have time to nip out to buy a new bus pass for Small Boy before my eldest and I race to a local city hall for her concert. My beautiful girl takes my breath away with some stunning solo playing and for a happy couple of hours I do relax and clear my brain of the logistical load it has carried for the last few days.

When we do arrive home, I gaze catatonically at the TV for less than an hour before turning in. Tomorrow is July and tomorrow is also Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition, a concert for Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter’s first day at work experience, oh and a full day of work for me. Do you know what, tomorrow can just wait for a few hours…

The Miracle of Time

Saturday 19th January 


The children’s Dad is visiting this weekend, ‘up’ from ‘The South’. It’s a pretty long trek and so we tend to see him about once a month. After a frenetic week at work, it is blooming fantastic to wave them all off on Saturday morning and enjoy  some time to myself. I luxuriate in solitude and pleasing myself. I fit in a run, I finish an overdue report for work, I spruce the house up a bit, potter about  and then just sit in peace and quiet enjoying a very large cup of coffee and feeling more on top of things than I have for several days  – it’s utter bliss.

On Saturday evening we all head out for a meal at a local Italian I’ve been meaning to try try for ages. 


Out for a meal with your ex-husband!‘ I hear you cry, ‘How  nauseatingly mature of you!’ 

Fear not, it has taken us an awfully long time to reach this stage! And we haven’t got there my being mature, or having any clever conversations it’s simply this…time. It’s the oldest cliche in the book but, time is a great healer. It heals the wounds and takes away the hurt, until you are just 2 people again who know each other pretty well. My ex is an astonishingly well- read guy and a truly original thinker. It would be easy for anyone to while away a few hours in his company on this ticket alone. But for me above all of that, it’s just nice to spend some time with the one other person on the planet who finds our children as fascinating as I do. 

Anyway, back to the meal! We all love the restaurant, a typical buzzing and busy Italian. Ex and I catch up on work news and then both listen with amusement, at first, to my eldest who has chosen this moment to try and convince her Dad that he should buy her a car. But she puts together a strong and rather moving case which is very much about closing the travel gap between the children and their Dad and their ‘Down South family’ . I can tell that he’s considering it…which is a surprise!. It’s a lovely evening.

Whether or not the car idea ever materialises, only time will tell, but he is on our doorstep on Sunday at 9am as promised to take my eldest for her first ‘driving lesson’. It’s the traditional, jolting your parent’s car around Tesco car park experience, and she loves it! If someone gave me a ‘ magic hour of time ‘ I know I would use it to see my Dad … just for one more time. And I might well take us both back 30 years to my first faltering steps, as a learner driver, edging his Leyland Princess along the beach in Wales. It’s a special time, it’s been a good weekend….