Bloat

I just got back from four days in the Swiss Alps on a yoga retreat. That’s a sentence I didn’t think I would ever write because, you know, who does that kind of thing? Who leaves their family (two wounded members*, one absent, the other three kids normal, just a bit annoying) on a Thursday morning to do sun salutations on a mountain?

Me, as it turns out. And what can I tell you about my first yoga retreat? If I were to coach you into what to expect, I would say this:

Yoga Retreats Are Not Parties

They are really, definitely not parties. They aren’t Girls’ Weekends Away with too much prosecco and trips to the village bar where you might flirt with staff/locals and dance on the table and then sleep in half the day. They are more about yoga.

The Food Will Be Quite Healthy

Bacon sandwiches, steaks, mid-afternoon crisps and beer won’t be on the menu. It will be a plant-based diet, with talk of juicing, Deliciously Ella’s recipes and an actual lentil salad. There will be cheese and charcuterie, but not everyone will eat as much of that as you. You will wonder if you are especially greedy, and whether that’s the reason that even though you are roughly ten years younger than everyone else, you are also ten kilograms chunkier.

The Drinks Will Be Herbal, But Not In An Aperol Kind Of Way

You will reacquaint yourself with camomile tea and you will look at cow’s milk with narrowed eyes, trying to remember why it was on the dirty list. A pause in proceedings will not be an acceptable reason to crack open another bottle of Cote Du Rhone because it’ll be herbal tea time. You will get to like it, although not as much as sauvignon blanc.

The Vegetables Will Cause Some Gassy Discomfort

All the lovely salads and avocado and almonds and granola will result in a distended belly and an overwhelming urge to fart long and loud at various times during the day or night, but most often while you are in your yoga class. You will learn to clench internal muscles you didn’t know you had. Try not to laugh when you hear other people’s stomachs making outrageous squeaky violent protestations because it will also happen to you. Time your trips to the loo to when everyone else is out of the apartment, or use the men’s toilets in the Spa & Wellness Centre. Turn the shower on and blow your nose loudly to cover the bowel orchestra.

If You Share A Room, Be Honest About Your Gas

It’s a great leveller.

Let me take you through pictorially.

This is the view of Anzere from Jane’s apartment – a little purpose-built 70’s village with the most excellent mid-century details. It was too much. Insanely lovely:

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This is the mountain where we did the first morning’s two hour yoga session inside the restaurant, and after, we ate a very healthy yoga breakfast. Heavy on the muesli and dried fruit, good for the detoxing, bad for the gas:

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Here is the indoor/outdoor heated bubbling pool situation. It’s also a great place to deal with your gas:

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Post-swim. Pretty much free of gas at that point:

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The cows coming down the mountain for the winter in a village festival. Dressed in head gear and cow bells. Probably gassy also:

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Raclette. We didn’t eat any of it, but I REALLY WANTED TO:

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So. What a bloody fantastic few days I had. I am much better at yoga now and it turns out that I am pretty good at iPhone games where you have to guess the film while everyone shouts at you. I am also the best at drinking the wine and a bit shit at folding yoga blankets.

I Nearly Didn’t Go Though*

A day before I left, Ned did a bit of jumping around the bedroom in a happy, deeply-entrenced-in-some-nutty-game which took him from the office chair, through the air and onto the bed. It all turned to blood-curdling screams though as Otis turned off the light at the wrong moment and Ned didn’t make it onto the bed – instead, he mashed his top teeth into the corner of a hardwood blanket box and he fractured his jaw and opened the upper gum to reveal his pearly, premature, secret little adult teeth. That is a sight you don’t ever want to see – I got a little sweaty around the gills and tried to push through the nausea when he finally agreed to let us see the damage. So he has stitches and a bit of a pale face, and has wafted about with a swollen mouth and pinprick irises for a few days.

BUT I went to Switzerland anyway, because those little teeth would still be exposed and that jaw would still be fractured whether I was here or there, right? And that’s what two parent families are for – the other one does the parenting sometimes while the main one buggers off to the Alpine village of Anzere to improve his or her downward dog. Here is the little duck face on day two:IMG_0561

The other wounded family member is Mark*, who has an unexplained swollen knee. He is hobbling around and suitably cross, and this morning he turned to me and told me that there was a large, brown, poo-like thing under Casper’s bed. It seemed that, owing to the knee situation, I was the one who was supposed to do something about it. I wondered how long the poo-like thing had lain there, and whether everyone had simply waited for me so it would become my problem. I suspect I was spot-on.

It could have made me mad, but having been so recently entrenched in nine hours worth of yoga practice, whereby one of the lessons is to push through unpleasant things until you emerge out the other end, I reached under the bed and wiped furiously with antibacterial wipes. It turned out it was a rotting, hairy peach. A relief, really.

 

 

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Too Many Photos of Puglia and A Long Story About The Circus

We are home from Puglia – the most Madonna-ishplace to be this summer, in all senses of the word. It was, obviously, really great. Food and wine and figs and aperol spritzes and marble-floored slippery towns and little scenes like this everywhere:

As well as a dazzling array of pork products. Oh, preserved meat! Oh how you make a buttery crusty roll so toothsome and salty and delicious! The gelato was cheap and everywhere, which was lucky because the rules are to have one a day every day of a holiday – two euro for proper non-wafery cones and two scoops piled into the top – all chocolate and cinnamon custard and pistachio and strawberry and fig.

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There were massive dogs everywhere, all allowed into cafes where the lattes were one euro and the croissants were cut open with scissors and slathered in warmed vats of nutella. That kind of national, cultural endorsed nutella usage makes you realise that guilt over nutella needs to be consciously discarded, along with device-usage guilt, drinking-at-lunchtime guilt, and taking-too-long-to-take-kids-to-the-a&e guilt. Life is simply too short.

The women were kind of squat, the nonnas uniformly dressed well and in pucci-esque prints, and the beaches were filled with women of all ages and sizes wearing bikinis with the bottoms cut into their bum cheeks, halfway between full bottom pants and a string. Like this, in fact:

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(I drew that)

So it was really great to see all these wobbling bronzed healthy women hanging out at the beach in their bikini all looking normal and non-anxious about their bits. And I also wore my bikini there and sashayed around and ate mucho pasta and kept up a steady diet of lunchtime prosecco and didn’t feel bad at all. Thank you, Italy, for your kindness towards normal women looking normal in their normal beach attire and for helping me feel that food and appetites are really ok. I got brown, hardly cooked, read four books (The Essex Serpent, Golden Hill, The Dry and PopCo) and from the monthly sprawling antique markets bought four silk quilts, murano glass, a vintage silk nightdress (made by someone with massive boobs which on me billows out and sags as it catches on my craggy lonely tiny embonpoint), and a white embroidered collared blouse which I think might make me look like Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley. Maybe. Possibly. Not really. The flea markets looked like this:

It Wasn’t All Japes Though

The first week we swelled to a group of 13, with two other families coming along – baffling the local restaurant with our overexcited late night dinners where the kids got a bit feral and broke chairs and attacked the gardens. One night though, we drove out in our three cars to a beach town an hour away to catch the circus and meet up with a family we had met on the plane over. I was in charge of one car, which was generally horrible and traumatising because of the driving on the other side of the road and my total lack of spatial awareness – it was all a bit WHOA SORRY ABOUT GETTING TOO CLOSE TO THAT ANCIENT WALL and sweating and swearing and of course low batteries while google mapping on our phones and sleepy kids trying to navigate but falling asleep and other terrifying and dangerous car-related whatnot. So this night we drive to Torre Ovo, which was like an Italian Blackpool, and we go swimming and Mark and Noah take off snorkelling. I am left holding the towels and spare clothes while everyone else finds a nicer part of the beach. I sat for a bit, waiting for Mark and Noah to come back but Mark doesn’t just snorkel for half an hour, say, but hours and hours…once he is in, you just have to wait and hang out by yourself and get a bit annoyed. It’s a years-old problem. So I finally get up and meet the others at the nicer part and then we all decide to get moving – we have to find somewhere to eat in amongst the shouty Italians and then get to the circus in time, and so Amanda and Charlotte take the kids and I wait for the snorkelers and then we see Mark coming up the beach and I say THANK GOODNESS HURRY UP ITS SO BORING WAITING FOR YOU WITH YOUR INFERNAL SNORKELLING NEEDS and he says: Where is Noah?

I say: I DONT KNOW! You had him!

He says: I sent him up out of the water half an hour ago.

And I say: YOU GO FIND HIM THEN! YOU HAVE VERY POOR HAND-OVER SKILLS! And so Mark takes off, down one side of the beach and I take off in another, and the light is fading and it feels like maybe, finally, Noah’s ability to get lost and nearly die from things might have caught up with him…and then about fifteen minutes later I see him ambling along the beach from the opposite direction, looking quite relaxed. I run to him and grab him and say that I am very glad to see him again because, you know, you could have drowned/been ambling in the wrong direction until dark and then been lost and frightened with no Italian to help you and a total inability to be streetwise about this sort of thing, etc etc and we race off to the pizzeria where everyone else is. The margarita pizzas were 3.50 euro which is nice, but everyone is going a bit mental, fighting over pizza slices and knocking over chairs and sweating, and it is time to go.

So we get to the circus a few streets away, meet up with the other family we met on the plane and sit and wait for it to start at 10pm, which feels too late to be staying up and all very ethically compromising. Eventually out come the scantily-clad ladies doing hula-hooping/pole dancing, the men in shiny white tight suits with massive chins doing juggling, then a terrible clown and some loud singing and more see-through dresses and jiggly boobs and the heat, the heat! Then after a pony trick and dancing horses, the saddest elephant in the world comes out and sprays water at the clown and it feels like a kind of funeral. An hour later it seems over but no! It’s only an interval! One in which you can climb onto the sad elephant and take a photo for a fiver. All these mahogany-coloured Italian kids and massive fat men climb on to the elephant and we watch on, saddened, and decide to leave because of the long drive home and the potential burgeoning asthma attack caused by the straw and the heat and the elephant melancholia. Out we all go into the dark, get into the cars, and we race off in different directions because of the low battery GPS situations. Twenty minutes into the drive home, I get a call from the woman I met on the plane. She is still at the circus and has Noah with her.

Which is like…OF COURSE SHE HAS BECAUSE OF COURSE THAT KID IS LOST. Apparently, he was in the queue for the elephant by himself when we left, and none of us noticed. He got his turn on the elephant, presumably looked around for us atop the poor thing, got off the elephant, wandered around for a bit, sat down, watched more of the second half of the circus, went outside, sat down by the bar and waited for us to come. The woman we met on the plane happened to go outside by the bar to breastfeed her baby and saw Noah, called us, and he went with them and watched the lions while we came back.

WHAT IF SHE WASNT THERE?

I LEFT MY SON AT THE CIRCUS AT MIDNIGHT AT AN ITALIAN BLACKPOOL!

So we raced back, knocking over a few street signs, and then my phone went dead so we had to find them, because they were at the *other* gelateria, weren’t they? And we got home at 2am and I drank a good sized amount of primitivo to settle my nerves.

Noah says it was our fault. Here we were, before Noah got lost twice:

So, anyway, like I say – it wasn’t all japes. But mostly it was.

 

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Weights

I was going to start this post not through my usual long-winded sentences, but via a grainy, insignificant-looking photo of some 5kg blue arm weights. And I would have done so, because the photo of the weights wouldn’t have been at all insignificant, but rather actually a modern portrait of a marriage, and therefore an excellent segue into my current state of mind – but Otis won’t give me my phone back so I can take a photo, etc, etc, so you’ll have to imagine it.

The Set Up – Weights As Modern Marriage Situation

15 years ago, our flatmate Phil gave Mark some arm weights. He was a personal trainer, and he and his wife would come back from running the whole of Hyde Park on a Sunday, and I used to think ‘U GUYS R CRAZY’ with their red faces and pulsing endorphins filling up the shared living room – and he used to give us exercise-y tips. He wrote me out a fitness programme, the kind of which you could do with tins of baked beans as weights for your flappy upper arms (even 15 years ago, they had a kind of ancient Great-Aunt-In-A-Sun-Dress kind of unformed saggy dough look to them) and there were exercises you could do using the couch and your body weight as resistance, all while watching ‘Six Feet Under’. And Mark got a programme too, and Phil gave him these biggish weights to keep – blue and round and quite difficult to store – and they have never been used by him, ever. But they have accompanied us through four flat moves, have lain under the bed while we made and birthed and fed and grew five children, they have rolled out from under couches onto small puppies, and bruised toes. They trip you up on late night visits to the toilet, on the way to answering the cries of fevered children, send you stumbling down the hallway when you sneak in late at night after drinking too many cocktails. They are hard, and they make marks into the walls when bored toddlers ram them repeatedly into them.  They hurt when they break toes. They lift toenails off sometimes, and then there is blood. And they turn up in different rooms, all the time – so you forget about them, until you get hurt or fall over, and you are reminded of the malevolent force of the mother truckin’ Blue Weights.

So I asked, in those early years, if I could drop them off to the charity shop. Mark said No. So I asked, in those early years, if we could perhaps give them to someone who would use them. Mark said No. So then I asked, a little later, if Mark would store them in his storage unit. Mark said No. I thought of places to house them, but it only ever seemed to work if it was under the bed, along with his violins and boxes of warranties for household appliances that have long ago been replaced, and dog fur balls and hair clips and shoes that I am frightened of, and dusty dummies from babies who now are big and starting to get blackheads and oily t-zones.  So they get put back under the bed, until someone rolls them out again, and then I fall over or hurt my feet on them, and now, now, there is a new system. It is this:

I put them onto Mark’s office chair. Right where he sits, every day. There are no words to be spent over this. It is a silent tussle of wills. I will return those bloody weights to his chair every single day, where he will have to pause, as he pulls his chair out from under the desk, and see the weights, and acknowledge them, and have to move them. Every MOTHER TRUCKIN’ day. The next day, they will be there, sitting on that chair, waiting for him. And that, a passive aggressive tale of history and intimacy and despair and resentment and pain and tolerance and patience and acceptance and frustration and fondness and feet, is also a portrait of a modern marriage. Think on that, Engaged Ones.

Here is a photo essay of the first two and a half weeks of the school holidays. I have been a wicked mother, and paid some young men at Fit For Sport to take two or three of the kids away for half the week. The idea was to make the holidays a bit easier for me – and as a bonus, it turns out the kids REALLY LIKE IT! Who knew? And I walk the dog and the kids there, along the canal, and on the way back, I buy 14 Portuguese custard tarts from Lisboa and eat a few every day. So it’s been painless and mostly fun, also featuring ice cream, new baby pet geckos, teeth, chocolate and Go Ape-ing. Here they all are, with a spectacular falling-into-the-Thames ending:

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Actually, This Is 40 (nearly)

I wrote this about my impending 40th birthday (*edvardmunchscreamface*) and yesterday pitched it to a digital site, and they got back to me really quickly and said it wasn’t quite right for them. Which means I am feeling all a bit unemployed and sorry for myself – clearly I am not cut out for the life of a hard-nosed freelancer who takes rejection on the chin.

And then, again yesterday, a man beeped at me twice when I was driving to school in the Landrover and then he pulled up and told me that my truck was ‘too big for me’ and I shouldn’t be driving it, and I yelled back and said ‘EXCUSE ME MISTER I HAVE FIVE KIDS AND A HUSBAND AND A DOG SO DON’T YOU TELL ME HOW BIG MY CAR NEEDS TO BE BECAUSE ACTUALLY IT’S THE CORRECT SIZE ESPECIALLY WHEN WE GO CAMPING’ and then he told me to shut up and I said I would call the police because he was harassing me and then he drove off and I was too mad and shaky to write his registration number down but I tried to run after him and I couldn’t keep up. Totally humiliating.

Underneath this queer little photo of three/fifths of my offspring is my rejected piece, though I changed the swear words and some of the confessionals:

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“I’m a few months away from turning mothertrucking 40. Which is fine for a lot of reasons beginning with the irrefutable fact that I am still alive and functioning – no mean feat and quite enough reason for celebration in this day and age of terrorists and breast cancers and diesel pollution and Trump. I am also safely housed, my kids are wonderfully average and perfectly well, my husband and I are still married and occasionally have enough energy for sexy time, and my knees work as they are meant to, except for cold mornings and if I’ve been sitting too long.

But it’s unnerving to finally get here, this hackneyed eve of middle-aged-ness. It looms over you as an age you might remember your parents having been, something not too far away, yet distant enough to be only the concern of other, older people. It is spoken of in misinformed half-truths concerning potential early menopause, or maybe hyper-fertility, of the onset of sprouting mysterious wiry hairs and skin tags, of cougars and fluctuating hormones and upper arms that have given up.

I know in the olden days, before 40 became the new 30, that a woman in her 40’s might well have an ageing perm or some sort of blowsy Diana cut (remember, she was only 36 when she died, and I am sure I still look younger now than she did then), maybe with a grandchild, perhaps even shifting to non-fashiony wide-legged slacks and comfortable shoes way before Phoebe Philo said it was ok. And I know that women now don’t necessarily become invisible and irrelevant as soon as 39 ebbs away; instead finding excellent looks from Zara alongside the taut-skinned teens, reinventing themselves as first-time mothers or going back to work with multi-tasking skills and a hunger to get back into paid employment with a fervour they never had in their 20’s. They go out! They are partners in law firms on massive wages! They drink negronis with their cackling best friends! Some of them direct films! They can negotiate heels relatively well and they are happier in their emerging lines and stretch marks than they’ve ever been! So it’s exciting and freeing to be at the cusp of this other stage of my life, and I am thankful for it.

But oh, how 39 makes you examine what isn’t working, and what never did. It forces you to look at all those fork-in-the-road times when you bloody well took the left when you should have taken the right – all those tiny, insignificant moments that led to bigger things that equal who you really are – the patchwork of choices and accidents that lead you to where you live, who with, what you do, what you didn’t end up doing. I see now that law school was utterly wrong for me, and at a huge expense that would have been much better spent on travel, or buying a first flat somewhere. I see that I should have pashed more people, and worried about the size of my bum much less. I should’ve learnt how to manage money. I should have chased a media job, started running earlier, worn sunscreen and left my eyebrows alone. I have never really lived in a home that I have owned, and so my kids’ childhoods have nearly passed me by without any thought to decorating their rooms nicely – they have just had to fit into whichever spare corner of the various flats we have lived in. I also forgot to go live in New York.

And what works? Well, we remembered to get a dog before the children grew up and left home and had to moan about a pet-free existence to their future therapists, and so they have had that, instead of IKEA coordinated rugs and lamps. I didn’t change my name when I got married, and I regard that early show of strength against the pressure to do so as a sort of enduring triumph. I have learned to cook well but also to outsource or frankly ignore all those rubbish bits of domestic life that I don’t like – and as such, ironing boards in my family are spoken of as urban myths. I have discovered that my love affairs with books and my female friends are the things that sustain you and feed you and help make you a whole person. I have travelled and written things and had as many children as I fancied and am at peace with my mothering body which wears its scars well. I never brush my hair but also never leave the house without a slash of bright lipstick that I believe fools the world into thinking I am groomed and therefore together. I wear leggings to yoga and don’t take them off all day because I am no longer ashamed of what the back of my thighs might reveal about my worth. I let myself have fun.

So it’s nearly here – the October birthday that feels like the ending of something and the beginning of another. I intend to drink and to eat cake and surround myself with people who also limp a bit when they get up from a chair. I’ll let you know what it all looks like from the other side.”

So, anyway. Here’s a photo of Otis who fashioned his pancake into the shape of a lady-part. I didn’t suggest it, honestly:

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I leave you with the dog, who has taken to hiding under the new curtains and peeping out a tiny bit, in the manner of a Vermeer:

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Kinder Than Is Necessary

 

We have reached a literary graduation point here in our two-bedroomed-over-furnished-and slightly-hoardy-flat that we call home – the age of Young Adult fiction has arrived! Literally! Via Amazon! (rather than an actual bookshop because my ethics get hazy when it involves venturing out too far). And what a joy. The bigger boys have been reading proper books, all I Capture the Castle and Lord of the Flies and David Walliams books and Judy Blume, as well as The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole, The Outsiders and books like Wonder by R J Palacio – the kind of books that just might move them in some way, might permeate the solid wall of pre-teen ego, tempestuous hormones and general non-empathy and help turn them into kinder people. And I am making my way through them so we can talk about them and have some sort of family bookclub where we all sit around the table and eat crisps and drink age-appropriate beverages and laugh and tell each other our thoughts and cry and get closer. That’s my plan anyway (other plans include: giving them a nice room one day, teaching them things like who Cindy Sherman is so they can get the pop culture references in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, baking with them and not shouting). So, Wonder – about an 11 year old boy who has been born with a terrible facial abnormality and who bravely starts middle school after being homeschooled – has kindness and unkindness at its core.  There’s a bit at the end when the headmaster gives the graduation address and tells the kids that the best thing to do is to be kind, and more than that, to be kinder than is necessary. Which, if I learn nothing else for the rest of my declining years, might be enough. All the best people are kind.

Not Otis so much though, who apparently has been bothering the babies at nursery with a few sneaky shoves and a bit of heavy-handed forehead-tampering and shouting a bit too loudly near their ears. He’s too young to read Wonder, so I guess it is up to the rest of us to model better behaviour. Hands by your sides, inside voices, gentle touches, GET AWAY FROM THAT CUTE TODDLER.

He did make a very delicate and highly decorated salt dough thing for Father’s Day, which was baked and painted and glittered and tied with ribbon with a very nice laminated generic poem attached. He came home from nursery, gave it to both me and Mark, then took it back and started eating it. Perhaps he’s been spending too much time with Magic – the both of them are fairly unfussy when it comes to foodstuffs. Here it is, after it had been sampled and then rescued:

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There’s nothing like a half-eaten turd-shaped salty lump of glittery baked flour to say “I Love You”.

So, mid-week last week, Neradah and I took off from our jobs and homes and children and yoga classes and drove to the New Forest to a poshy hotel to get massages, lie in a hammock, eat dinner and many items of carbs, have a sleep, have a massive breakfast and then drive home past the wild ponies and horses. This was me in the hammock. I instagrammed it, then deleted it because of my unsettling generous thighs. Deleting a perfectly lovely photograph of your hammock, shoes and legs is bad form, so here it is.

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This is us later, after really great bread, salty butter, and deep-fried broad beans. Later though I got the meat sweats from the pork and Neradah got the bad tarragon dressing. There were words with the rictus-grinning waiter, and he ignored it, and we felt a bit cranky, which made the sorbet taste a little of discontent:

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But look at The Pig’s library! So much more tonal than my place:

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Then on Saturday we camped out for a night in the communal gardens across the road with the neighbours. Ours was the biggest tent – a three-bedroomed monster that only smelt a little of damp and degradation – out of shot because it took up a quarter of the garden. We had a barbecue and made s’mores, which I know of only through lots of American The Babysitter’s Club-type fiction of my youth. They tasted of sugar and comfort and smoke. There was an altercation between Mark and some Scandi-type people who kept bringing their husky into the garden (dogs are NOT ALLOWED and Mark is *quite* the unofficial warden) and then there were tears about paddling pools and the banning thereof. Local politics are a drag. And the best thing? Otis decided that tenting wasn’t for him, and so he and I snuck back into the flat and slept like kings, I tell you. KINGS.

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If camping is all about going over the road for a bit, hanging out with your friends, eating marshmallows and drinking somebody else’s prosecco, then sleeping in your bed with no need for earplugs because your husband is in a tent a few meters away, well – I’m ALL IN.

 

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Last Week

Sometimes when I feel like writing something, I don’t really have anything much to say to start with (and it’s possible you can tell). Other times, there is so much to write about – a saturation of things, like how my hideous tooth-stump got crowned, and the night last week when Rebecca, Lorraine, Tomas and I hosted a pub quiz to raise funds for our communal garden play area and pretty much no one came, and then how we went to all those summer fair things over the last few weekends and there was too much lemonade in the Pimms and too much sunburn. It’s a weird time of the year: everything fun is squeezed into a month, and the weather has been so hot that everyone is a bit sweatily punchdrunk and we are all being poisoned by the dirty air while we waft around in last summer’s sleeveless dresses and we wonder why our arms aren’t at all sculpted even after four months of committed yoga classes. There’s a little persistent arthritic knee action and we keep having marital disagreements about who should cook on the weekend. What a time to be alive!

But then, of course, there’s quite a few of us who aren’t alive anymore. Manchester, London Bridge, that dickhead who ran into the mosque last week, and then the terrible, awful, devastating fire at Grenfell Tower have changed my worldview a bit. I have never known a tragedy before – not really, not one that sits so close. The tower is near us; it’s walking distance in the neighbourhood west of ours, streets away from the crummy old soft play area where our kids all had their birthday parties when they were little, a glance to the left when we are all at Portobello Road market scoffing crepes and vietnamese baguettes. It’s the tower you drive past on your way out of the city, along the A40, as you pootle along in your Landrover on your way to a National Trust garden to scramble around the countryside and eat a pub lunch in the manner of carefree middle-class comfortably housed people. It’s in the neighbourhood where some of your friends grew up, where some of your friend’s families lived, where one friend’s mother worked in the nursery at the base of the tower. You could see the smoke filling the sky on Wednesday morning from my Bishop’s Bridge school-run vantage point and on my Thursday morning early jog, the air around the canal was acrid with plasticky chemical fumes. At Barnaby’s secondary school, where they are planning a whole-school peaceful fundraising walk from Holland Park to Kensington Gardens on Friday, one of their pupils escaped, another pupil and his family are still ‘missing’, and an ex-pupil is missing as well. (‘Missing’, of course, is just the shittiest euphemism for ‘dead in the sweltering burned-out tower that used to be their home’.)

So of course I have no ownership over this ugly and avoidable thing that happened last week – it wasn’t my home, or my mum, or my stuff that was cremated, and I don’t want to pretend that I am affected in any real way. I have a safe home. I am cared for. My kids are safe when they sleep. And while it is raw, and it is real, and it is local, it is also so much more that that, because I guess it doesn’t really matter that I can walk down there to sign the wall or that I can say ‘I know someone who knows someone’, because, well, whatever – it is a human thing, and a political thing, wider than the postcode.

There were babies and kids the age of my kids’ age who died in there. There were disabled elderly people in that tower. People from different parts of the world, parents who also took their kids to the soft play area and people who also considered west London their home, all lived there. They probably also ate those crepes sometimes and dropped their kids off at the holiday programme at the Westway Sports Centre to learn how to spray paint graffiti onto MDF and came out to watch the Notting Hill Carnival in August every year and eat curried goat. Some of those kids who lived in that tower wore the same school uniform as my kid does. The week before last, Grenfell residents voted in the general election and some fasted for Ramadan and many of them probably spent too much time playing on their phones. And for no reason at all, their homes burned and some of them died. Or, maybe more importantly, they died because people in charge didn’t see them as worth protecting or caring for, although that was their mandate. A systematic and shameful series of hard-eyed choices led to that horrible burnt out tower and to those few hours of horror and poisonous smoke and ruined lives.

So what do you do? Donations of Otis’s too-small jeans isn’t going to cut it. Visiting the tower again and getting in the way of the people who are busy trying to rebuild their community – well, that’s a bit shit too. Crying quite a lot about it – equally useless.

There was one girl who got out of the tower and the next morning, in the clothes she had escaped in, she sat her chemistry GCSE’s. Smoke in her hair, damaged, without her chemistry notes, and no home to go back to. With neighbours dead. What a bloody hero. We should all employ people like her. Maybe the best thing we can do is start seeing everyone as just as important and valuable as The People Who Are Like Us. And maybe we need to be getting involved and helping when things have calmed down a bit – when it isn’t dominating the news every night, and when the donation money has dried up. Time to join the Labour party, maybe.

Anyway, Tooth

Is fixed:

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Summer Fair stuff

Soho Food Feast and Marylebone Summer Fayre shenanigans, and haircuts and cheap aviators:

Podcast

Second one is down, about to be edited – we will release our 45 minutes of pure conversational brilliance very soon. Probably.

One Last Thing

When I asked Helen, wise and glorious Helen, brainy lady and vicar’s wife Helen, what you might say or pray to God after such a terrible thing as Grenfell Tower, she sent me this. St Augustine, apparently:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give Your Angels and Saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest Your weary ones.
Bless Your dying ones.
Soothe Your suffering ones.
Pity Your afflicted ones.
Shield Your joyous ones.
And all for Your love’s sake. Amen.

 

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Teeth and Nails and Jobs

Last night, while I was lying on the couch/reading the Sunday Style supplement/watching Britain’s Got Talent on catchup/playing on my phone/drinking tea/eating the last of the cooking chocolate/chewing a particularly stubborn bit of my nail, doing all this at once, or thereabouts, because I am Queen of Multi-Tasking with a social media addiction and the shortest of short attention spans: well, my tooth broke off in two because of the horny-nail chewing. (This is one of my dirty little habits, alongside the enthusiastic chewing of the skin around my fingers, making tiny animal sculptures out of the hair that comes out after shampooing, compulsive psoriasis-picking of the scalp and behind the ears, swearing and eating food that is well-past the cut-off date or has been scraped up off the floor).

This is not an exhaustive list.

It went ‘pop’, kind of, and crumbled, and it ended up swimming about on my tongue and I picked out out and it was a proper fang. And what is left is a discoloured filling and half a real, dead tooth, and my tongue cannot leave it alone and when I smile, you see the gum and a sad little greying half tooth and I am reminded of those kids whose parents only ever gave them Fanta to suck from a bottle. I look decaying. I look like those enchantresses who take the youthful potion made with some sacrificial fluid but the potion is running out and specific bodily parts are becoming corpse-like as they run out of time to get more potion from the virginal maid whom they must harvest the sacrificial fluid from, but luckily some hero will get to the enchantress first and save the day, etc etc. I look like I have one of Miss Havisham’s teeth.

I AM TOO VAIN TO TOLERATE THIS PHYSICAL RUIN! The NHS dentist can’t see me until Thursday and I fear I won’t be able to smile until then, or even exit the house for any other purpose than an unsmiling school run. Thank goodness I am not expected to look nice this week. No one can fit me in, not even the private dentists whom I would be willing to pay all my money (there’s at least 27 quid in my account) and maybe some of Mark’s. So I must endure this terrible situation for another two days. TWO DAYS!

Here I am, gurning into my phone to take a photo of the true dental horror:

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I might look very devil-may-care, even jolly, maybe mid-punch-line – but I can assure you I am not. I am in the depths of despair.

In Other News

Otis got dressed up by some lovely 11 year old girls last week and Mark got mad:

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I applied for two full-time jobs and no one got back to me. I think I apply for jobs quite badly – I am a bit casual in my covering letter bit because I think that my charm will shine through – that it will bedazzle any potential employer, quite frankly, if I just stay true to myself and chat a bit. It reminds me of the time that I applied for jobs with the Law Society when we first arrived in London – and I got a call back from someone quite quickly. I was delirious with the excitement and couldn’t believe how easy it had been – but then when I spoke to the guy, he was actually ringing me to talk me through my CV because it was so terrible and I couldn’t be representing the New Zealand legal profession in quite so shit a light. I think also he thought he was saving me from myself. And so he went line after line, doing a bit of laughing, if I recall, and a bit of telling off, and afterwards I cried and cried.

Then there was that time I went into the High Court in New Zealand soon after graduating and asked if there were any jobs going in any offices where I could effectively intern and some woman said yes, come back in a month, and I did, but then, all cheaply-suited up and eager, she said she had forgotten all about it and I had best be getting on home.

Then there have been two redundancies, one at six months pregnant from a job that I had found myself hastily plonked in after the project I was originally hired for had been shelved and another because I wasn’t very helpful. The only job I have kept is this one looking after my kids, and that’s because no one else will do it.

Now I have talked myself into the most maudlin mood. Here are some photos of half term outings, which was mostly a happier time and place, when my mouth was an unbroken thing.

Firstly, a day at Southbank, with a food market (below) and a sandpit and some mudlarking on the Thames foreshore even though the sign at the top of the slippery muddy stairs said STRICTLY NO ADMITTANCE:

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The zoo, for which we pay a yearly membership of about a million pounds:

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And Kensington Palace Gardens, which takes five minutes to walk to and costs us nothing and where my two youngest boys held hands and played swinging games:

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Right. Cheer me up by letting me know what your dirty habits are.

 

 

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