In 40 years I’ve not learned a lot

As part of my birthday celebrations I was going to do a blog post “40 things I learned before I was 40”. As things have been popping into my head I’ve been adding them to my list.

I thought this was going to be easy but I’ve struggled to find life lessons and useful wise nuggets to impart. So far I’ve got 6 things on my list so if its personal growth you’re looking for I am not your woman. 40 lessons! My ego was writing cheques my brain couldn’t cash.

I will share two of my philosophical ponderings with you, arguably the most important two;

1. You can sweat from the back of your knees. I discovered this only recently. It is by the far the grimmest place to sweat from after the under boob and the groin area. Also under the flap left over from a C Section scar, that’s gross. The back of the knees is the 4th rankest place to sweat from in terms of feeling like you need to shower urgently.

2. You won’t always like your kids. I felt like a terrible parent the first time I thought I hated my kid. Then I realised it was normal. I love all three of my children unconditionally. I would do anything for them and I would definitely fight bears for them. Sometimes though, what a bunch of twats.

If I can think of anything else worth sharing I will update you.

Things could be worse

I asked my husband the other day if he felt like we just lurch from one crisis to another. The past three years have felt like a never ending catalogue of drama and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon.

Last week I felt so anxious that, when I was driving to the local park with the dog, I contemplated keeping on driving and starting a new life. Just me and the dog. Some days I have been so overwhelmed that I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed and face the day, the kids, the drama or work. I’ve thought about re starting the counselling or even going to the GP and asking him to increase my antidepressants. I thought a lot. I’ve dwelled a lot. I’ve tried to cover my anxiety with food and wanted to buy 20 menthol at least every day for the last fortnight.

About ten days ago I thought I was at breaking point but here I am. Still going. Sitting at the hospital while my youngest fights off a chest infection. I’ve had plenty of time to think and I think I’ve had a Eureka moment. When you have contractions in labour the pain escalates and escalates but with every contraction just as you think you can’t take anymore the pain subsides and you get a break. I think recently that is what my life has been like. Just when I thought I couldnt take anymore I get a brief reprieve, a moment to catch my breath before I have to start again.

But all this has made me think about what my life will be like when I’m older. What if my kids move away or I end up living on my own. I’d be isolated and lonely. So while right now my life is stressful, it’s also full. Full of people and full of love. I’m going to be grateful for the fullness of my life because I know I’ll be gutted if one day it’s empty.

Moment of truth

When Thomas was a baby he had to have a small operation to correct a testicular torsion. Basically his tubes were a bit twisted.

While he was in theatre I was chatting to another lady who was also waiting on the ward. I asked her what her grandson was in for and she told me he was having a vasectomy, which I thought was weird because he couldn’t have been more than three years old. When the little boys mother came back to the ward the lady I had been speaking to said “it is a vasectomy he’s having isn’t it?. Rolling her eyes, the mother replied “no mam he’s being circumsised”.

Anyway, when Thomas was older he would often ask what the scar was from and I told him it was where he’d had a third testicle removed. I gave him a different reason for this every time. Sometimes the extra bollock was in the shape of a foam hand pointing, like you get at American baseball games, sometimes it was a V sign. I gave this answer repeatedly right up until he was 18 last month.

When he was about 7 years old I told him that when the ice-cream van put the music on that meant he’d run out of ice-cream. One day he was pegging it down the road after the van and the the music started, he stopped running and burst into tears.

He must have been around age twelve when he asked me what the legal age for sex was. I told him he was allowed to have sex when he was 21. This backfired when in a sex education class the teacher asked what the legal age of consent was and in the style of the ever enthusiastic Hermione Granger, T thrust his hand in the air and declared “TWENTY ONE MISS!”

These are the lies I have told my son over the years for my own amusement. He no longer believes everything I say but I have told him lots of truthful things. I’ve told him that I only ever expect him to do his best and try his hardest and if he can honestly say he’s done that then it’s all I can ask. I told him that I may not always like him but I will always love him. I told him that I’m proud of him and I will always try to help and support him. Ironically I’ve told him that I expect him to always tell me the truth but more importantly to be honest with himself.

The big moment of truth is tomorrow. It’s A Level results day. This is his second attempt. He fucked up the first year and he will admit this. I was proud of him for going back and starting over again but honestly, I’ll be disappointed if he hasn’t done well and I know he will too.

I remember the morning I went to collect my own A- level results. As I was about to walk out of the front door my father took me to one side and said “you’d better hope you’ve passed because you’re moving out either way”. It was so cruel it took my breath away. Thomas if you’re reading this please know how much I love you and how much I want you to do well and be happy. Whatever happens tomorrow we’ll deal with it together and I will always be proud of you. Love Mum. Xx

Feeling the feelings

It turns out that writing the book isn’t as simple as sitting down and telling the story. So far its been a painful process having to relive and re-feel all the feelings again. I’m plagued by self doubt and sadness. Am I a good enough writer? Will it be shit? Have I wasted the last twenty years fantasising about writing a book when actually all along its a total pile of turd and a non story? Then there’s the whole is it a memoir or is it an autobiography struggle and then I give myself a talking to and tell myself to just write it all fucking down and worry about the rest later. This is a cycle that repeats itself many times a day at the moment.

The sadness comes in waves. I’ve been trying to rough up a plan for the book, to try and structure it so I have something to work alongside and as I’ve gone through the exercise of plotting the key events its made me feel sad. That’s the only word I can use to describe it, sad. Sad that I’m summing my life up in these half a dozen desperate situations. We were three children being aimlessly and sometimes recklessly, pulled along by two very lost parents. I feel sad that my parents aren’t in my life anymore and that as a family we are splintered and scattered across the country. I miss the time before it all went to shit, when my parents stopped being Mum and Dad and turned into “Pain Inflictor A” and “Pain Inflictor B”.I haven’t seen my father for fifteen years. My mother and I haven’t had a proper speaking relationship for about five years and it was “strained” at best for a long time before that. I’ve not seen or heard from my youngest brother in about 7 years. At times I have felt like an orphan. I miss the dad I had when I was 11, the dad who snuck me out to the shop to get my ears pierced for my birthday in secret. I miss the Mum who made awesome picnics, would have given Mary Berry a run for her money in the baking department and took us places where we could stuff our faces and build dens in the woods and bushes. I miss the little brother who I locked in my Mum’s wardrobe when I was 7 and who didn’t grass me up when it fell on top of him and smashed the mirror inside.

I worry that I shouldn’t have started the blog. That its too honest. I feel exposed and vulnerable. Its like I ripped a scab off without thinking it through and don’t quite know how to deal with the wound that’s underneath. I have concerns about how I’m coming across but I’m not paying too much attention to that feeling because I know its tied up with my low self esteem. Finally, I worry about the damage I could cause and the hurt. I don’t want to hurt my parents or my brothers. On the one hand I think that it’s my story and I have every right to tell it but on the other hand I don’t want to cause anyone anymore pain.

This is probably a very natural part of the process and my instinct tells me I should probably just go with the flow, feel the feelings and get the fucking thing written. I don’t have to publish it if I don’t want. I’ve asked myself why I’m writing it and I think there are two reasons. Firstly I think it’s a story worth telling. Who doesn’t have a story worth telling? Mostly though, I want it to reach people who have been abandoned or abused and tell them it wasnt their fault, they are worthy of being loved and that there is nothing wrong with them.

Maybe I just need to put my big girl pants on a be brave. I know I’ve done brave before but I’m out of practice. Or maybe I’m making a big mistake. What do they say, you only regret the things you don’t do? We’ll see.

Bright Lights, Big City

Growing up above an off licence in a busy city centre had pros and cons. Spending a lot of time on our own, unsupervised meant we had a lot of “creative” time. This was definitely one of the pros.

Cotham Hill if you don’t know Bristol is at the bottom of Whiteladies Road. Whiteladies Road is a long hill and every December its entire length is decorated with huge and impressive Christmas lights that stretch from one side of the road to the other.

My favourite thing about living at the bottom of it was that from my bedroom window you could see all the way to the top The Christmas lights looked amazing and I felt excited from the first day they went up every year. From my bedroom which was on the third floor of our flat, above the shop, I could see a good way across the rooftops of the city. I used to leave my window open in case Superman aka Christopher Reeve wanted to fly in and visit me. If I couldnt sleep I would fantasise that Superman and Captain Kirk were having fisticuffs over who got to be my boyfriend.

Mine and my brother’s bedrooms all had big sash windows. When we pushed them open the three of us could easily fit and lean quite far out. This meant that we could see all the comings and goings from the shop below. When we moved to Cotham Hill we became aware of “tramps”. We could see scruffy men in brown scruffy coats with long hair, long beards, woolly hats and who up close smelt quite bad. The word “tramp” meant nothing to me at the time. I didn’t know that they were homeless alcoholics. We saw them as harmless but smelly Paddington Bear type characters in their duffle coats, who liked to hang around outside our shop. The only thing we knew for sure was that they stood outside our off license for long periods of time wobbling and shouting and this amused us greatly. From our open window they could neither see nor hear us and we used this to our advantage.

We raided my mother’s jewellery box for a chunky bead necklace, released the beads from their thread and divvied them up between us. We cried with laughter as we dropped these mini bombs on the tramps below and everytime they looked up to shake their fists at the sky and hurl insults into the air we would quickly pull our heads back in from the window. When we decided that my mother would notice her rapidly shrinking costume jewellery collection we moved on to spitting. This incited a much more aggressive response from the tramps who became much more agitated. So much so that my father had to come out of the shop and speak to them and whose eyesight unimpaired by whatever was in the bottles they had been swigging did clock his three darlings hanging out of the bedroom window.

Another spanking was dished out. This time I belligerently told my father “that didn’t hurt”. The next one did. The spanking didn’t deter us. We moved on to Lego bombs after that.

Art Attack

My family lived above a shop premises in Bristol until I was 9 years old. My parents worked full time in an off license and the accomodation above the shop came with the Managers job. We lived in Coldharbour Road, Chandos Road and the bottom of Cotham Hill in Bristol as my father was transferred from shop to shop.

One weekend my father had mixed up a huge bowl of Papier mache and as a family we spent one Sunday making different models and masks and such using the squishy newspaper mixed with wallpaper paste. The sensation of the thick glue between our fingers and smoothing the strips of paper to make something of our design was a wholly satisfying experience.

Children are by nature impatient and we were no different. The models would take hours to dry and my parents had to return to work. Employed as manager and deputy manager in a shop that opened from 9am until 11pm, meant that for a lot of the time, my brothers and I were left to our own devices and had to create our own means of entertainment.

Papier mache Sunday was beautiful. It was sunny and bright. We were 4, 8 and 9 years old. And bored. Even though my brother was the eldest at 9 I’m quite certain that what happened next wasn’t his idea. It couldn’t really have been my four year old brothers idea. I like to think that it was a collaboration.

We had a bowl full of Papier mache and we were going to find a way to use it. Like I said I don’t recall who exactly came up with the idea but before you could say “art attack” we were at an open sash window, armed with our gluey mix and three large spoons. We decided to have a competition to see if we could hit the car across the road using the spoon as a catapult and the Papier mache as our projectile of choice.

After a few practice goes, we found we could indeed hit the car parked across the road, owner unknown, and this hugely entertaining game kept us occupied for a good hour. The three of laughing like lunatics the car was almost completely covered on the side facing us, with mashed up newspaper soaked in wall paper paste drying hard to the car in the summer sun.

Our game came to abrupt end as a very angry man walked towards our target. The three of us watched him walk towards the car we had been pelting and as he turned he looked up and saw us. We ducked but it was too late. The next thing we heard was shouting from the shop downstairs and the sound of very heavy footsteps up the stairs to our flat.

My father threw the door open and looked around the room until he spotted us. Having the good sense to scarper, my two brothers legged it upstairs to their bedrooms. Considerably slower than they were, I was unable to outrun the giant shovel hand of my father that landed on my arse as I tried to take the stairs two at a time. Grabbing my arse with both hands to try and protect it as my father rained down blow after blow giving me a sound spanking.

Worth it though.

Jaws

I’m pissed off with my husband. Not because of something he did but because of something I didn’t do.

After we had our baby I went on a mission of training and eating well. Baby joined us in July 2017 and I was determined to be fit and ready to run Brighton marathon by March 2018.

I left it the right amount of time to exercise that you are meant to after a Cesarean Section and then I started walking regularly. I didn’t go nuts with a restrictive diet because I was breastfeeding and I knew it would be counter productive. Booby juicing a baby makes you hungry so trying to diet and feed him would’ve meant I’d have fallen flat on my face and eaten the world and my newborn probably by the Friday of week 1.

Instead I joined a fitness club, followed the eating guidelines and trained hard. Training went really well and by March I was marathon fit. I ran Brighton Marathon in around 6:30 which for me was a 20 minute personal best and two weeks later I ran the first ever Newport marathon in around the same time.

Next on the agenda was our wedding. I wasn’t too concerned with dropping loads of weight. My husband to be knew he was marrying Mandy Dingle not Mandy Moore, but I did want to feel nice. I kept up with the training and I kept up the eating well. Wedding day came and although I did feel a bit Dame Edna Everage, mostly because I don’t wear pretty flouncy dresses and heavy make up as a rule, I did also feel beautiful. As beautiful as Dame Edna Everage ever looks. Madge would have been proud.

Wedding over. Marathons over. Healthy eating over. Here I am 11 weeks married and 11 weeks away from my next marathon, a good stone and a half heavier than I was when I said “I do”. Ever since then I’ve been saying “I do” to doughnuts, meatball sandwiches, cake and custard and full English breakfasts. I need to get a grip of my shit.

This weekend we are camping at one of our favourite places that has its own lakes. We bought a dinghy with some of our wedding money with the intention of spending hours cruising up and down, relaxing like a couple of millionaires on a private yacht.

The problem is I exceed the weight limit for our inflatable barge. My husband’s problem is that he pointed it out. Instead of just gritting his teeth and hoping for the best he callously shouted to the shore “this boat ain’t gonna take you babe” so while he rows to his heart’s content this land whale stomped back to the tent to drown her sorrows in a cup of tea and a packet of Bakewell tarts.

When my husband returns from his aquatic adventures I will tell him “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

The Cake

My mother tried to commit suicide approximately 10 days after my 13th birthday, at the end of August. I was crushed. I loved my mum so much. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t love enough to want to stay or why she wanted to leave us.

I burnt my arm once with boiling water. The pain of the mother trying to kill herself was similar to the intense deep burning pain of the boiling water as it ate through all the layers of my skin. It was pain that went right through to my core. I felt it in my heart and in my stomach which was cramped so tightly I couldn’t I eat or shit.

Following “that day” my mother was committed, for her own safety, to East Glamorgan Mental hospital. That’s where she stayed for what felt like a year but was probably closer to 6 months. Visiting her in hospital was awful. It was awful because my father cried everytime. It was awful because it smelt awful. Mostly it was awful because of my mother cried everytime we visited and because of the other inpatients.

As far as I could see the only thing the hospital stay did was prevent her from being able to attempt suicide again and give my father the opportunity to exploit my mother’s absence and abuse me. I hated going and I hated leaving. I hated seeing my mother in that place and I hated seeing the other inpatients. From a child’s perspective it was like One Flew Over The Cuckoos nest meets Girl Interrupted. I found it upsetting seeing my mother surrounded by these weird creatures and seriously doubted her ability to get well in this place. I hated that they talked to her and that they saw her as one of them. As far as I was concerned she was my mum and she didn’t belong in this awful place. It was a traumatic time for me and my two brothers.

It was now the beginning of December and my mother had been an inpatient for three months. It was her birthday and she was still in hospital. I decided that I was going to bake her an amazing cake and take it in. I anticipated that on seeing the amazing homemade cake she would be really impressed, see how much I loved her and get better. My best friend helped me create a huge cake which we covered in chocolate and dessicated coconut. My mum loved coconut. I was really chuffed and I knew my mum would be too.

My best friend came to the hospital with us that day as she also wanted to bask in the cake glory. If my mother was pleased with the cake she hid it well. The strange creatures, who also lived in this terrible place with my mother, circled our family like vultures, eyeing my baked glory and by the time our visit was over so was the cake.

I was completely gutted. More than that, I was furious. How dare they eat my mother’s cake. I had made that cake for her not for them. I had a lot riding on that cake and they ruined it. I plotted my revenge.

There are lots of things that I have done in my life that I am ashamed of however this is not one of them. To this day I am totally apathetic about this incident. The adult (that hides expertly) within me is able to rationalise that my mother’s fellow inmates were all also normal people who were suffering with various forms of mental ill health. However my thirteen year old self is still pissed off about the hijacked birthday cake.

I decided that I would bake a new cake and take it into hospital on my next visit. This time the cake would be for my mother’s non compos comrades. I baked the cake. This time I replaced sugar for salt, a hefty serving of mustard powder, and a good handful of black pepper. This cake was going to be vile. I decorated it with marzipan and couldn’t wait to take it in. My friend and I chuckled to ourselves and congratulated each other on our evil genius. It was the best fun I had that entire 12 months.

The evening of the visit came and I proudly presented the new cake. Again they circled and the cake was cut into generous slices and distributed about among the patients who gobbled it down in huge mouthfuls not waiting to taste it.

I sat back with a smug smile and enjoyed the chaos I had created with my disgusting cake. I’m lying, I’m not apathetic about this incident at all. I’m still quite proud. We’ll talk about the consequences I faced over the cake another time. For now we’ll just enjoy the moment.

Bon appetit X

Life’s too short for hoovering

The jobs in my house that currently need doing include;

•Hoovering up the dogs hair that has been left for so long it’s evolved from dust bunny to tumbleweed. We used to have laminate flooring now it looks like we’ve got a carpet.

•Sorting out the front room. This room was used to pile stuff in as a kind of temporary holding area when we first moved in. Twelve months ago. It’s now the shoe room, pram room, car seat cupboard, office and the room we eat in on a Sunday after we’ve fought over who’s job it it to clear all the shit off the table. We need to sort this room once and for all but it feels like a job of Titanic proportions and we can still shut the door so maybe we’ll leave that for now.

•I started emptying the small bookcase in the living room to take it to the tip. The shelves are all bowed and I can’t open the bottom drawer so it’s no good to anyone. I cleared all the books off it and it was ready to go but I didn’t get around to it and now it’s taken on a new life as a surface that has accumulated it’s own micro climate of junk. I think it’s trying to demonstrate that it still has use. There’s a parcel that lives on it that I promised to post to someone back in April. It’s grown a pile of paperwork that I don’t need but can’t risk chucking out. It is also where the wax melt burner lives and that needs to stay in the living room to duel the dog stink.

I’d love to have the energy or the will to do this shite, but I don’t. Life is too short for housework. The kids are fed, they’ve got clean clothes and no-one will pick up dissentry from the bathroom. When I get free time from work, my commute, washing the clothes, feeding us and the kids, walking the dogs, cleaning up dog shit and baby shit I haven’t got the head or the motivation for anything else. In the precious little time I’ve got left over after all that I’d rather go for a walk or a run, read a book or play a game. I’d rather spend time with my kids, my husband and my mates.

So if you come to my house, it’s not a carpet it’s dog hair and yes we’re all covered in it. You’ll leave covered in it. Deal with it cos I’ve got better things to do.

You are not alone

I thought I was going to vomit on the train heading into work this morning.  I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across a link to Wales Online.  I don’t watch the news in the evening, so I hadn’t seen this headline until this morning. “Welsh Government lawyer and police officer jailed for sex attacks on young children” was the header.  It wasn’t the header that threw me it was the photograph of the two perpetrators, one of which I knew.  You don’t expect to see the face of people you know under headlines like that one.  It was like a kick in the stomach.

I worked with Dean Roberts for 5 years in a former job, he was Police Community Support Officer and I was a Communities First Development Officer.  Dean and his colleagues would work with us on different community projects and represent South Wales Police at community meetings for us.  It was more than a working relationship though it was a friendship, we would regularly chat and banter over coffee in the office and when he got married he and his wife invited me.  I was so happy for him, he was such a nice guy and a good laugh.  It was a lovely ceremony and we had a really nice day. In 2012 I changed jobs and left the area. We stayed in touch through social media. When he applied for the regular Police force and got accepted I was so pleased for him.  A short time later he cheated on his wife. I was gutted and disappointed for his wife when they split up and unfriended him on Facebook. I didn’t see him again. Until this morning. His mug shot staring up at me from my phone screen.

I had no idea of the crimes Dean would go on to commit, neither did his ex-wife or his parents or his friends or colleagues.  You cannot tell a paedophile from the way they look, or dress or speak. I can’t speak for all survivors of sexual abuse I can only speak for myself, but I would say this.  Predators like Dean and my father and other paedophiles are experts at hiding their true nature.  They portray themselves to be confident and charming. Their power lies in secrets and shame.  They abuse and continue abusing because they make the victim feel inferior, embarrassed and ashamed.  Abusers will tell you that no-one will believe you. They will persuade you that they are justified in their abuse because you either owe it to them or you encouraged them. This is not true.  Abusers will create a relationship based on fear and intimidation.  As a victim you feel powerless and ashamed.

When you speak out, you take away their power. The truth is abusers operate in this way because they know that their victims WILL be believed. They must project the blame onto the victim because they cannot bear the weight of the guilt themselves.

The most important thing I want say to anyone reading this who has suffered this type of abuse or is currently in this situation is – IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  YOU WILL BE BELIEVED.

You did not and do not deserve it and you are not alone.

It is not okay and it can stop.

If you have concerns about a child you can report it here https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/report-abuse/

If you are child who is being abused you can talk to someone about it here https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/contacting-childline/