Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Weather with me

I don't know what to wear. After the hottest April since records began, I am now feeling cold due to the easterly winds that are biting us, and am carrying a coat around just in case. I have terrible sunburn on my neck and shoulders (and one ear), so I'm clad in layers and a scarf to cover up the burns and stop them worsening, and to prevent the angry patches of skin from showing. Also, at present, the scarf is keeping me warm. Judging by the temperature now, I'll not change a clout till May's out.

Monday, 2 May 2011

William and Catherine, and all that

They tied the knot on April 29, 2011, sparking many a street party

I feel I should write something about the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. If I had written a post about it a few weeks ago, I'd have peppered it with more than a touch of cynicism, forcing an attempt to make myself take note, in the interests of being a journalist and an observer of life as we know it. But as the day approached, like a slow-moving tsunami, my excitement grew, my patriotism soared, my love of romance made my heart beat faster and my fondness of this country, with its amazing history, brilliant eccentricity and strange weather, rocketed.

I was up early on the big day with my little one; her dad was playing cricket somewhere in Sussex. She stood in front of the television as William and Kate exchanged vows and rings, wondering why Mama had a sudden, and unexpected, tear in her eye and spoke a little strangely, due to the lump in her throat. I don't know why, but I was moved by the ceremony and by the hopeful faces. I was surprised that I cared. Perhaps it was the cumulative goodwill. Perhaps it was witnessing history. Perhaps I am just an old romantic fool.

I told my little girl that the man in scarlet uniform would be king one day, and that, in all likelihood, her generation would see at least three monarchs, if not four, in its members' lifetimes. She listened, carried on playing with her yellow and red plastic toy giraffe and again stood between me and the television talking to me in toddler-speak, but I nevertheless caught the main bits and pieces of the proceedings.

Later, we went for a walk and passed several street parties in full swing. The fluttering of Union flags, bunting, and the sound of chatting and laughter were wonderful. Something that could elicit so much positivity, and (republicans aside) be devoid of the cynicism that taints just about everything else we encounter these days, can surely only be a good thing...

The new Duchess of Cambridge

Thursday, 14 April 2011

They're not just for Easter...

Is it just me that believes Cadbury creme eggs were available all year round in the 70s and 80s? They aren't Easter fayre, are they? Do I have false Cadbury's memory syndrome?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Friend or foe?

There is an organisation that purports to bring together women who are about to have babies. It sometimes even welcomes the men in their lives, acknowledging that they, too, are about to become parents.
The idea is to create support networks and to educate these fledgling parents by explaining what happens in labour, childbirth and, if you are lucky (which I wasn't) you'd learn how to bathe a newborn, how to change her or him and perhaps get beyond the 'breast is best' brainwashing. Encouragement and guidance = good. Guilt and emotional blackmail = deeply damaging for some women (so: BACK OFF).
This cost around £300. I wish I could have that money back. There is so much, so much, that I could use it for. Even if I were to buy fairy lights and string them about my person, purchase a few bottles of glitter and decorate my face, some new shoes, some chocolate cake, a daily latte... all of these things would be worth more than the five-hour long sessions that peppered my pregnancy. Yes. Someone in their wisdom decided that Sunday afternoon sessions that stretched from midday till 5pm – without a break – would be a good idea. Being pregnant and sitting in one place all day, during the summer, without a chance to walk or eat properly, is really what you want, isn't it...
Anyway, aside from the lack of teaching anything remotely useful, this organisation also failed in its promise of sisterhood bonding. What a surprise that early proximity and the intimacy of the subject matter, which made the seven couples seem to get on, eventually result in bitchiness I've only ever encountered in a playground. One woman claimed in one breath to have been violated by a midwife (she used the phrase, "it was like rape"), and in the next, discussed how she'd get her bits sewn up "so they were just like they used to be" for "her man's pleasure". Nice to share that after one meeting, dear.
The other women in the group ranged from being fairly nice to weirdly competitive – so stupidly competitive that they'd comment negatively, with smug faces, on how much posset (milk) other babies brought up after a feed (erm, they ALL do it). The group existed for about four months once the babies had arrived and then it splintered as alliances based on levels of wine-love and woman-hate were established. My midwife, who became a friend, told me she sees this "all the time". Sad. The effect on me was initially deeply hurtful. Fresh into motherhood and having been ill due to it, I felt alone and confused outside my immediate family. Hormones helped to compound this. However, I did keep a friend from that group and we found common ground beyond our babies and are still in touch, albeit infrequently.
My friends from 'before' were – mainly – as ever, and I love them for it. And I have met some wonderful women since that pseudo-bonding £300 experience (yes, I am bitter about that cash!), who have enriched my life. My child has plenty of fun with their children. I have plenty of fun with them. It's relaxed company, and like the best things in life, is free. Apart from the occasional latte and glass of wine.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Due to developing an illness that affects one in 300 women, or something like that, I was told I should consider having what purists might term an unnatural birth. The baby was at risk, and so was I. So, her birthday was brought forward and I was booked in for the first operation I have had, bar dental surgery. I was so tired, so very exhausted by weeks of illness and not being able to sleep due to the Woman Next Door (WND)'s bloody noisy, ongoing building work (another story)... But there I was, with S, on the early morning of motherhood, nervous as hell and looking pretty unpretty, my skin dull and blotchy. The place was spotless, utterly clinical. My surgeon and the anaesthetist had warned me of all the complications, which included death, so I was suitably shaken.

The obstetrician sliced through my abdominal muscles instead of parting them (as is normal with most Caesarean sections), as my years of kung fu had rendered my stomach muscles 'so tight!' that the team couldn't stretch them. A compliment, at any rate, and one that made me smile as I waited in fear/hope/excitement as my insides were tugged and pulled with immense force. I had imagined that during a Caesarean section the baby was always lifted out calmly, gently, peacefully... but the fact is they try – where possible – to give the baby something akin to the experience of birth. In reality, they push the little being from its warm cocoon through the incision and out into the brightly-lit, impeccably clean theatre with its white walls, scrubbed and greened theatre team, metal implements and an absolutely massive digital clock on the wall, (which had stared back at me as a spinal tap was inserted).

After this part – the 'spinal', as it's called by some – I lay down as the powerful anaesthetic coursed through my body, deadening my nerves. They sprayed an icy cold substance up and down my sides to determine where sensation began and ended, a process that was repeated until the correct vertebral markers were numb. It was a staggeringly quick process and one that added surreality to that which any new parent must feel. One minute there's no child. And the next? "Meet your daughter," as this tiny person is held above the blue cloth they pin up to stop the mother and birth partner (S, in my case) seeing the gory business. Afterwards, I asked S what he could manage to see, and he said: "just lots of blood". I recall hearing the words: scalpel, knife, suction, gutters... and forced S, at the time, to tell me in great detail about his week at work. Also nervous, he got through this quickly and moved on to a ghost story. I think. I was terrified. My hands were clammy, my brow sweated and the oft-repeated warnings of what might happen to me and the baby rang in my ears. A Caesarean is not an easy way out. To believe so is incredibly stupid. What kind of fool would choose a major abdominal operation with a higher mortality rate than the other option?

The birth itself involved so much pressure being applied to my chest that I suffered excruciating pain in my upper back once we got home – and at one point screamed for an ambulance, as I (really) thought I was about to die of a heart attack. But it's not uncommon, this pain. This squeeze out of the womb helps the baby to do what it would do naturally – take a breath and cry to clear its lungs to begin its life independent of the umbilical cord. I cannot begin to describe the feeling I had at that moment. It was out of this world for its sheer uniqueness. My life, at a stroke – in the beat of a tiny heart – had changed irrevocably. I had taken a fork in the road that would lead us to life anew.
The scar is still numb. I couldn't touch it for weeks after the dressing had been removed, and then, only tentatively, peeking at it shyly as though it might open and reveal my shiny, scarlet innards. It's neat, about six inches across (having shrunk from nine) and sits beneath where I might wear a bikini if I chose to do so. Neat work by the startlingly young-looking surgeon who performed the operation. The skin is looser than it was before and, while I was back into my favourite fitted jeans fairly quickly, there is more sag, more excess, more softness. As my abs were cut open, it's unlikely I'll regain my muscle tone of old. I don't worry about these things. I don't diet. I do my best to exercise (a little). But flat tummy or not, my scar will always remind me of all of the above and more: of where I was and where I am now. It is the best kind of body art. No Chinese saying, no Inca symbol, no bird or butterfly could mean more.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Usually, rays of sunlight imbue me with something to keep me going. This afternoon, following a mad, manically busy morning, all I have wanted to do is shout, swear, throw things and generally behave like a madwoman. On such days, things break. I drop things. Things seem to fall over with no intervention. Things. Get. On. My. Nerves.

My shoulders have springs coiled inside the sinews. I can feel them snapping, tightening, acid curdling.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Let's just act as though I've been here all along...

Hmmm. Why start with all that "why is it February 2011?" stuff? What's the point? Time will fly and the alternative is that we die, so let's just accept it. Thank you for being here and listening. If you are an old friend, a reader who kept pace with me for the past few years (bar the last), I apologise. My thoughts have flicked to this blog and flicked just as quickly away. But I always hoped to one day remember the password and get cracking again.

So, I've been standing in the room all along, a little quietly, observing and listening. Cocking my head for the sounds that envelope my being in this new world where I am me, but I am also another's in a way that I have never been another's. My time is shaped differently. It's sometimes replete with exhaustion (though this sensation is far less than it was a year ago). Time is also lit up with the sparkling, tingling, stunning newness that can only come with spending time with a mind that is yet so unfocused but so interested that it picks on just about anything to hang its hat on. A dog. A leaf. A face. A smile. A bird. Music. Books. These things become fascinating for me anew and I could cry with delight. I remember, feel, how much I enjoy music, how it lifts me from the doldrums or lets me drown in its catharsis. I love walking with no agenda, seeing the trees go through their cycle and life spring up. The winter sunshine invigorates me. I have hardly any money. But I have all of these other things. And I see them reflected back in similar eyes to mine. And the responsibility and wonder hits me again.
If it's not too late to say it: Happy 2011.