Showing posts from November, 2013


When I tried to imagine a future without my mother in it I pictured a short illness or a long decline. I never considered a zebra crossing on a dark night and a car that didn't brake in time. My mother was planning our Christmas stockings and her spring tulips. Now she is in a coma. And my mother, who used to listen raptly to every trivial detail we told her, lies unheeding when we talk. They say the hearing is the last thing to go. So I tell her that I'm wearing lipstick like she always begged me to; that I've dead-headed her pansies and burnt the supper I was trying to cook my father. I want her to nag me about sterilising my dishcloths and taking my Vitamin C. I want her to tell me, like she always does, that she will make things be all right. But I realise, as I gaze at the battered body in which my mother somewhere hides, that we are blessed. 'All I can, while I can,' she always told us. And she has never failed. Whether or not she returns to us, it'

Self-Confidence and How to Lose It

Self-confidence, I always thought, is one of the gifts of middle age. Through my timid teens and twenties I looked forward to the day when I could stride forth in my polyknits, oblivious to public opinion. And that day almost dawned. No longer do I delay pressing the button on pelican crossings in case drivers are inconvenienced by stopping for me. I am equal to ordering dinner guests to leave by 10.30pm so I can get to bed on time and am comfortable bearing a bumper pack of loo roll up the street from the Co-op. There was a fatal flaw in my theory, however. With middle age come children and there is nothing like an adolescent daughter to make you see yourself in your true colours. 'Have you thought that it could be YOUR fault?' cries the 11-year-old when I ask her to stop shouting. I pause to reflect and I realise that, yes, I am sadly culpable as a mother. It is my fault that my scarf doesn't match my red beret, thus inflicting needless humiliation on the walk to scho

Shrunken Horizons

I was offered a free smartphone last week by a company I was planning to write depressing things about. It took ten minutes of emails to persuade the press office that, my incorruptible virtue aside, I have no desire to own one. Why should I want to be pursued by emails and tweets, while minding my own business in a garden centre, when I have a £10 handset that lies reliably dormant in the depths of my handbag? Then a box from another PR arrived for me at the office. My misgivings about bribes and freebies instantly fled. Painfully I tumbled from the moral high ground for inside, swaddled in festive paper, were three large bottles of washing up liquid. 'I think,' said an older colleague, watching my excitement, 'that you need to throw everything in your life up in the air and start again.' I packed my booty reverently in my briefcase and I reflected on the shrunken horizons of middle age. There was a time when it would have required a date with the Vicar to induce t

Middle-Class Stress

It has been a wearing week and we are all assembled in the marital bed trying to muster energy for the morning. The Vicar announces that we need to decide on our summer holiday destination so that the prospect of relaxation can coax him through the parish toil. Tiredly I set down my tea and brace myself. The Vicar likes hot sun and piazza cafes; I like cool cloud and wilderness. The 11-year-old prioritises high-street shopping; the 9-year-old adjusts his preferences to whatever will curry favour with the Vicar and me and most provoke his sister. Me (hoping for an easy life): 'I liked Cornwall last year.' The Vicar: 'The sea's too cold in Cornwall and it will rain all week.' Me (still hoping for an easy life): 'You liked the gite we had in Brittany this summer.' The 11-year-old (rearing up from beneath the duvet): 'No, New York! Why have we always got to go to the same places?' The Vicar: 'You've been to France twice in your life. I fanc

Birthday Blues

I assumed, having survived my 11-year-old's birthday party last month with the temporary mislaying of only two children, that I was an expert in the subject. I knew, for instance, that the combination of of nine guests, a flour-filled ball, white jeans and the London Transport system was a risky one and so, to celebrate my son this week, we decided on two guests and the family Skoda. But once again I had failed to think ahead and so here, for your instruction, dear readers, is the next chapter of my party survival guide for pressed parents. Before embarking on an outing to the local soft play centre - or indeed, any physical activity involving small boys - ensure that you: Clear your diary for the rest of the week to accommodate twice daily trips to the Fracture Clinic. Start collecting pound coins several weeks in advance to feed the ticket machines in the hospital car park. My experience suggests £20 in loose change is required in a 36 hour period. Fill yourself up guiltle

Fast Living

The family service is beginning and, scanning the pews from behind my hymnal, I realise that the Sunday School teachers have forgotten to turn up again. Hastily I pluck up a pew sheet and skim through the gospel reading. It turns out it's All Saints Day. Luckily the introit hymn is a long one and grants me the duration of five verses to decide how to instruct an infant audience on the Lord's Chosen. Unluckily the only saint that springs to mind is the one who had her breasts cut off and flourished on a platter. I do not feel equal to improvising mammaries with the only equipment I have to hand - three biros, a packet of tissues, a pen knife and a tube of peppermints excavated from the bottom of my handbag. The hymn ends and the Vicar dispatches the Sunday School to the church hall and I bellow insights into meekness, humility and gentleness above the din of my small charges who are chasing each other shriekingly over the furniture. Despite a golden radiance, achieved by a g

Domestic Mysteries

Last week, with the single press of a button, I managed to dye an entire laundry cycle, including half the Vicar's underclothes, bright pink. As I burrowed frantically through the under-sink cupboard for the bleach I'd just bought, and found instead five half-filled bottles of white spirit, which I have never knowingly owned, I realised that domestic life is full of mysteries that defy science. There's the inexplicable fact, for instance, that the molluscs of Middlesex choose to commit mass suicide in my tiny kitchen drain - and the related conundrum that, despite the combined IQ of my family far eclipsing my own, only I am deemed capable of scraping out the slug stew that causes the sink to drain over the patio. I would be grateful, therefore, if the world's great minds would leave off fiddling with the Higgs boson and find an explanation for why... Each time you halve the contents of your laundry basket it doubles. No matter how many bottom sheets you buy, the