Monday, 21 April 2014


It's a radiant day. Londoners have shed their winter layering to celebrate the sun. A hand through the hatch of the ice cream van is tirelessly doling out  99s. New leaves are unfurling on the horse chestnuts and my children have torn themselves from their iPods to play Piggy in the Middle in the park.

I drift into small talk with the woman who has spread her rug near ours. I've been struck by her high-spirited affection for her two small boys. We begin with the weather and graduate to jumble sales. Then she tells me how a stranger raped her in her native Zimbabwe. I notice there are knife scars on her cheek. The rape resulted in a baby. Her parents adopted it. They'd always wanted a large family. She was stricken with post-natal depression, but noone diagnosed her despair.

She fled to England to escape her past. Her parents came too, bringing the child. The child closely resembles the rapist and she found it traumatic to look at him.

Now she works as a live-in nanny mothering someone else's children. The family has just moved her from Birmingham to a Home Counties village where she knows noone and where hers is the only black skin.  'It was time,' she says resignedly. 'Time to start anew. Again!'

I want to ask her if she still sees her own child. If she dares hope for another baby or if her past has destroyed her faith in love. But her two blond charges have reclaimed her. She darts off for a game of chase. From a distance she is a carefree figure prancing over the grass in a pink designer dress she'd bought for 40p at the village fete.

The morning has shadowed a little with the trauma that she's shared. So much pain borne so smilingly. And I look afresh at the throngs basking in the spring sun and wonder about the histories hurting inside them. Then suddenly I am inspired by the thought of the courage borne invisibly beneath the mundane. And I am consoled to be reminded that for all of us, like the unfurling trees, there is always time to start anew.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Katetakes5 whose blog inspired me to start my own, has invited her followers to celebrate 2013 with five photos from the family album. It must be an Irish thing doing this four months into its successor!
I'd thought 2013 was a year that I'd prefer to forget, but my albums have reminded me how much there is to be grateful for.

My 11 year-old is more grown up than me, her cosmetics collection more extensive, her behaviour more decorous and her hobbies more sophisticated - but this picture reminds me that beneath the Benefit foundation she is still my little girl.

Disillusioned with school-gate gossip about SATs tests and marital relations I decided that we middle-aged matrons needed to Get Out More. This was the second in a programme of undignified conduct before pick-up time. 

Reunion. The 9-year-old meets his cousin over from Oz. 

My parents' 80th birthday party. My mother, five hours older than my father, declared that a melancholy date had been turned into one of the happiest in their long lives. Which is a comfort for us now.

This is the last photo taken of my mother shortly before she was run over. And this was my last trip out with her. We took her to Buckingham Palace and she said she would remember it forever as a golden day. That memory was erased that November night, but I shall now never forget.

What did 2013 do for you?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

How to Be Normal

'Have you got your outfit yet?' asks the school-gate mother. I have been invited to her grand engagement party three weeks down the line.

'Is it fancy dress?' I reply, alarmed. The only disguise I possess is a French maid's outfit, required for a long-ago murder evening at theological college. I don't think it will be suitable for me to make a public appearance with the Vicar in a frilly garter.

She is bemused. It is not fancy dress, but every female guest has been haunting TK Maxx to assemble a killer look for the occasion. Now I am bemused. My nights out number three or so a year. When it's curry evening with the Ladies from the Choir I don my chunky-knit dress in case of draughts. When, more rarely, it's a Do I rely on my funeral suit. It's the only garment I possess not made of pilled wool. It has never crossed my mind to buy an outfit.

Now it's half an hour before the party starts and the 11-year-old has confiscated all my black viscose.  I reach resignedly for the chunky-knit. The 11-year-old repeats her daily lament: 'Why do you always have to embarrass me with your uncoolness?'

Fortuitously I remember a piece I read in The Sun while hanging around the barber's. Celebrities, it seems, have been eyeing my woolly distinctiveness with admiration. Exhausted by the effort of looking exactly the same in their designer bling, they crave the individuality of a BHS cardie. All these years I have, unbeknownst to my daughter, been cultivating 'post authenticity' according to the New York trend agency K-Hole which has identified the new craze for looking ordinary. Normcore they call it.

Jack Wills must have clocked my polyknits on my reluctant visits with my tweenager, for its creative director says he's working on introducing The Special Ordinary and The Perfect Boring to its clothes rails. My matronly look, carefully nurtured over decades of M&Co sales, proclaims, he says, my uniqueness, soul and intelligence. Even Vogue has acknowledged that my corduroy smocks, the labels bleached blank by 12 years of hot cycles, express 'ingrained authority and inner confidence'.

I explain all this to my daughter who is looking mortifyingly 'yesterday' in Juicy Couture sequins. I fancy she looks sceptical, but I'm certain that under cover of darkness she'll be creeping into my closet to try out my tweeds. I know too that the trendy young mums will soon be jettisoning their Louboutins and their Pauls Boutique and begging loan of my bobbled cardies.

It's a new sensation for me to be a fashion guru, but I feel it's only fair to share my expertise in readiness for their transformation. The important thing to remember is that the Normcore look should combine utilitarianism with thrift and a total indifference to style.  Here, therefore, are the essential steps to Perfect Boring Ordinariness (while sparing your wallet the strain of Jack Wills):

Junk those salon stylists and curling tongs. Invite a trusted friend round for a Gordons every six months and hand her a pair of scissors, then all you need to do is filch a rubber band from the postman.

Ensure you choose cardigans with snug enough sleeves to lodge a store of tissues (BHS slouchers tend to lack pockets). The cardigans should include the colours of at least two different body fluids to ensure longevity amid family life.

Try to choose corduroy bootlegs with elasticated waists for flexibility should you suddenly need to entertain guests on the trampoline.

Footglove flatties from M&S suit every circumstance from putting the bins out to a night on the tiles.
All your efforts at boringness will be undermined by an unsuitable mobile phone, so keep that iPhone 5 for pillow talk - this is the must-have handset on the school-gate catwalk.

If you have any tips for those disillusioned fashionistas do share them here.