Thursday, 11 September 2014

Dear Dad

It has taken 23 years and a letter telling him he is either in or out... but finally my Dad is arriving tomorrow to visit.

I can't quite imagine him here, walking through my house. Seeing where I live, the kids' bedrooms, eating at our dining table, taking in our beautiful view. I'm beyond delighted that he's making the trip, that he's giving me his time, and most importantly of all, he's going to be with his grandkids. I wonder if afterwards, he'll stop and consider all the time that he has missed.

We'd fallen out in January, hadn't spoken for several months. My childhood resentments have long been buried, but I could never shake off the anger I felt that he had taken so little interest in my children - because he claimed, 'you live so far away.' An hours flight... Meanwhile he had his step-grandchildren to stay every weekend, devotes years to them - taking them to cricket and golf, cheering on the sidelines at their rugby matches. My bitterness at this sometimes threatened to overwhelm me.

So I wrote this all down. My buddy Chris said, 'you're a writer, so tell him in letter.' It took me several more months to finally do it. When I did, I wrote it in one go. Licked the stamp, posted it - no going back.

Now, we are moving forward. I feel so relieved - so blessed. My greatest fear had been that we would never resolve our issues, that he would die with us estranged.

His personality is HUGE. People take up smoking after he has been talking to them for 10 minutes. He is both enticing and exhausting. A whirlwind of a man. When I was little, I loved nothing more than climbing into the crook of his arm, laying across his chest. I remember his soft jumpers, 'Marc O'Polo' written across them. He made me feel safe.

Husband loves him, the children adore him. He's easy to like. As a teenager my buddies thought he was the coolest Dad - letting us drink cider and renting scary movies on VHS for us to squeal at. Deep down, I've longed for tomorrow. For him to give me his time. Of course I am light years away from the little girl with pigtails and gappy teeth that needed his bear hugs. I'm 41, with a family of my own.

Yet oddly, I there is a part of me, and perhaps there always will be -  wanting to fit into that crook of his arm.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Why are the English so cold part 2

I just don't get it. In Ireland, everyone talks to everyone, all the time.

For example, my Granny used to go to the shops every day at the end of her little lane. There was a newsagents, supermarket, butcher/veg shop, chemist/post office. That was it. It took her on average 2 hours. She went to get my Uncle's cigs, bread, a paper, some meat for dinner and a few veg. Never mind she didn't need anything from the chemist - in she would pop to chew the fat with Mr Boylan and his staff for twenty minutes. She'd take a detour and drop off the paper with an old lady who was immobile. She'd make her tea, spend some time and then head home.

During the day, she'd bake for 'Soldier's Sunday' at church, or if anyone new had moved to the street - she would arrive with an apple pie, or fresh vegetable soup. Then she'd pay the milkman for neighbours, or the fish man on a friday, and she'd mind a neighbour's daughter after school - for free - until the neighbour came home. She gave everything she could of her time, her baking, her care, to her neighbourhood and many people relied on her and valued her. Talking to people, helping them out - was just what you did.

My Dad ('the professional funeral goer' my step-sister calls him) chats to so many folk for most of his  day that he is known as The Bangor Telegraph - he imparts all the news a local paper would. When I go home (and it will always be home in my head) I am always bowled over by how warm, how charitable, how kind, how friendly people are. They always have time, always want to make your day that bit better or easier. It is a world away from London/Southern England.

In the Crown pub in Belfast - there are gorgeous wooden booths, which folk often end up sharing - whilst they sink some Guiness and a bowl of steaming hot stew. I once worked with a camera man who popped in one afternoon whilst over in Ireland filming, and got chatting to a guy in the same booth. They ended up drinking all day, keeping in touch, forming a firm friendship and he was best man at the guy's wedding. True story.

I love the openness of the Irish, their ability to be self-deprecating and charming. They are without ego, without the need to impress - are very much 'take me as you find me.' It is so refreshing, when for the last 20 odd years I have lived in places were the majority of people I find quite cold, often to the point of rudeness. In London, after my son was born a friend gave me the number to a child maunder she knew. When I called the woman she said she also lived in West Hampstead. Then she said she lived in the same street as me. Turned out she lived next door, in the basement flat - and gene though I'd been in my flat for 5 years, I'd never met her.

Even today on the school run, a woman edged past me with her dog - not a 'good morning' or an 'excuse me.' The school run tends to bring me out in a sweat anyway - I only know a handful of people - all lovely - as I didn't do the school run for several years. Sometimes people I know, I've spoken to - look through me. It astounds me. What's the cost of saying hello? Maybe they secretly hate the Irish...

At a gathering at a woman's house recently, I was chatting to a lovely friendly Mum I know, when another woman stepped in front of me and started talking to this Mum - all the the while keeping her back to me. She could't have been more blatantly rude if she tried. Attitudes like this I can't fathom, as the Irish love to introduce folk to one another - 'Here Sammy, you know Jimmy don't you? Oh you do, your Uncle's sister's dog's friend's Mum used to bowl together... remember?'

Ultimately, new people seem to be viewed with suspicion, rather than welcomed with open arms. Whereas where I'm from, new folk are simply friends you have yet to make. Yes the Oirish are the butt of manys a joke - simple, stupid creatures who believe in leprechauns. But I'll take that any day, over the coldness of the Brits.

It genuinely has upset me over the years - several times, hot tears threatening to spill out my eyes, with the injustice of it all. Sometimes it feels like the awful moment at school where the notable team was picked and you stood there, waiting to be picked, and they still picked the kid with permanent nits over you.

My Husband - and antisocial man who loves 'alone time' - never talks to anyone if he can help it. Anywhere - being served in a restaurant, in the supermarket, on the tube, on a train home at night. He despairs at the amount of folk I stop to chat to and warns me on every train journey home lat at night that he will move away if I start yakking to folk in the seats next to us. I usually talk to the world and it's wife - and if I don't, I kind of wither inside - an unwatered plant. The best nights of my life are the ones where I have made new friends - even if just for an evening. That connection, the shared stories, the laughter - is something I love. Mind you some of my mates do warn me that THEY have come to see me for the evening - not to make best friends forever with the folk sinking cocktails at the next table.

I used to think it was just me who was such a soul, but a trip home in the summer reminds me that back where I'm from, everyone is like that. Not suspicious of others, unnerved by them, not forming any kind of judgement.  Even driving up the hill towards my Mum's house one morning, I saw through my car window a girl walking with her yoga matt. She smiled and nodded at me - as did everyone that day as I went for a run over Donaghadee commons by the sea. Not a single person I saw ignored me, or failed to say hello or give me a nod. As the wind whipped through my hair and the sea bashed against the rocks I stood for a second and contemplated the view, the sunshine, the warmth, thinking simply, there is no place like home.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Back to School

The sunshine has all but gone, the leaves are starting to fall, the temperature has dipped, the X Factor is back.

The back to school feeling has arrived. After a LONG but brilliant summer, it's time to get out the jumpers, put away the birkenstocks, find the school bags and remember to buy the school shoes. Sproglet will trudge back up the practically vertical hill to school next Wed and Sproglette will begin nursery on the Friday. I can see light at the end of the tunnel!!

Me? Well I have a new business to get off the ground that will be launching on Nov 1st and I'll be asking all you lovely readers to be spreading the word and clicking over and all that jazz. It is all very new, the opportunity just came up - but I will be working with one of my dearest buddies, so that makes it even more fun. We both are nervous and excited to be partners and to get this all up and running - having our own 'back to school' moment... Details to follow...

Plus, I'm still grafting on another project that has been in the making for over 2 years - but broadcasters take their sweet ass time - so we are trying some new back door approaches... crossing my fingers that it takes off this year my mate Matt said, 'It deserves to.' Indeed - only one door needs to open... I'm Babbling (am loving it) and also am hoping to do a trial script very shortly, so all in all - I'll be keeping busy. How on earth I'm gonna fit all that in the the mere 3 hours that Sproglette is at nursery daily, gawd only knows.

But, I am in a really good place - as I am finding/have found ways to make an income (hopefully!) without having to be at a job full time. Without having to dash up and down the M25 and fork out £1.2 K a month in childcare... Without having to feel like I am failing at both my job and at motherhood. It means Sproglet can go to football club on a Wed, back to swimming on a Friday and all that kind of stuff. It means I am around for homework and reading and spellings and suddenly having to rustle up some costume or cake or whatever. (Not that I'll ever be rustling up a cake - we've been there remember?).  I feel MUCH happier. I call the shots, work out my schedule and whilst it will be a bit of a juggle, I am confident I can make it all work. Somehow! I've missed the comradeship of work - which is why this new business will be perfect - as I won't be alone writing all day - which sends me a bit mental. I'll have a bit of both in my life - and that balance is what I need.

I left my job in Feb and although I haven't been financially stable/in any way loaded - it was the best thing I ever did. All the new things that have come my way I never could have anticipated - but all have helped me in my seemingly eternal quest to have a career around raising kids.

I'm not there yet - trial has to be written, business has to get off the ground, other project needs a green light - BUT there is hope. Fingers in many pies. Pies have a good chance of cooking. A-bloody-men.

This has been a long slow process and there's still lots to be done. Wish me luck! In the meantime, enjoy the back to school feeling - and so begins my favourite time of year...

Did anyone mention Halloween?!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Why I did the Ice Bucket challenge

The nomination was inevitable. As soon as any kind of craze hits social media, it is rare you can escape it. I was dreading it - for several reasons:

No. 1 What with every celeb under the sun - bikini ready - make up in place, getting covered in ice to show how good they still look, even sopping wet - the whole idea is somewhat in overkill. Started off cute (Benedict Cumberbatch, Gwyneth Paltrow) and then when Katie Price does it with one of her never ending stream of husbands, you know something has hit bargain basement.

No. 2 If you do it - it kind of looks like you want the attention - to show how good you look in a wet T shirt like some awful competition at a Hooters bar. Plus apparently (although how on earth would they know?) only 20% of folk who shower themselves in water, actually donate. With something that has reached the zenith of it's potential and has gone from cute to cloying, that you know the time is up.


This video. There is no cure. The thought of being 'locked' inside my own body, unable to move, is perhaps one of the most horrifying thoughts one can have. Anyway, I'm not here to preach...

Now I know there are a million good causes out there - and what matters to me charity wise, isn't gonna be the one you would pick to donate to if your numbers came up in the lottery... So why this one? Well no one set out for this to happen - it wasn't a cynically marketing ploy - it happened spontaneously. Chris Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, was nominated by a buddy to do the challenge, similar to the one screened live on air by Golf Channel Morning. kennedy chose to support ALS as he has a relative suffering the disease. Buddies took on his nominations, and it began to go viral.

Now the charity has over £10 million in donations.

Today, I was nominated and my husband - who hates all forms of social media and isn't on twitter, Facebook, etc, agreed to drown me in icy water. I did it, posted it, donated, nominated on - but still felt a bit, well embarrassed. Like I had done something oddly 'wrong.'

This was compounded when a friend I had nominated texted to say she was ill and unable to do participate - adding that she was agreeing with the swell of public opinion that it wastes water. A total  buzz kill from the off. Already a judgement.

Now I'll accept that in California (exceptional drought conditions mean that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has stepped up it's water wasting patrols) this may be the case. But here in the UK - where it is raining so much you'd get a bucket of water if you left a tub out there for a couple of hours?

It's just a bit of fun people. As long as you donate, who cares whether you pour water or fucking whiskey over your heads? If you donate quietly or stage a three hour production that deserves an interval during viewing - who the fuck cares?

No matter what you do in life, haters gonna hate. So for Fran and her nomination I did it.  Brrrrrrrrrr.

Monday, 25 August 2014

When the rain starts to fall....

Another rainy bank holiday. There is nothing quite as predictable, as a wet weekend the minute the words 'bank hol' are whispered. For once, I don't mind. This summer has been glorious, in more ways than I ever imagined, so the relentless rain doesn't bother me at all. I'm finally blogging again - it feels like this year my blog has taken a bit of back seat - maybe because I get to vent about all kinds of subjects over at Babble, so there is less to vent about here. Who knows. If you are still here reading - Gawd bless you.

Anyway, the reason that I write is that the other day I read an article on friendships - where Relate did a survey and discovered that a whopping 10% of people in the UK don't have a single friend to turn to. It reminded me of all the times as a Samaritan, I'd talk to people who felt they had nobody to share their bad (or sometimes good) news with. It always made me eternally grateful for the friends that I have - the people that I love, the people that I can rely on.

So what makes a good friend? Over the years I've had all kinds of criteria for people who I called 'friends.' There were those that I used for connections to great parties and venues in my shallow 20s; those that seemed incredibly important at the time we worked together - only to never speak again once we moved on; people I met for just one evening but felt like I'd known them all my life. Then there are those we gather as we go, and somehow, never put down.

Friendships though are very different to family relationships - as with family you are pretty much tied there for life. But if you don't live up to a friend's terms/expectations then they can drop you like a stone. Only twice in my life, has someone I loved and cared about dropped me without explanation. They simply stopped talking to me, taking my calls, and left me high and dry wondering what I had done. Both times were devastating. Perhaps because I pride myself on being a good and loyal friend - and would never intentionally hurt someone I valued, I simply couldn't understand why they would assume the worst in me - not even bothering to explain why they no longer wanted me in their life. Plus, I had always hoped that if I upset or annoyed a friend, they would value ME enough to ask me for a coffee, talk over why I'd upset them and we could move past it. I respect enormously anyone who has ever called me on my behaviour - as at least they gave me right of reply.

So what do I look for in a friend? Humour, warmth, shared interests, loyalty, generosity (of spirit) and  kindness. Obviously there is the old 'chemistry' that means we click with one person and not another. I'm pretty outgoing, find people in general fascinating, and always want to hear 'their story' - so making friends has never been a challenge.

But what keeps a friendship going? You can meet someone you work with, bond over work and stress and daily grind, and then one of you moves on to another pasture. Then, really, is the test of the 'friendship' - because to maintain it, you'll have to pull your finger out and arrange meet ups and hang outs - and that all takes effort. Circumstances play a huge part in whether or not a friendship survives - as we move around the country/countries - take new jobs, start families, the time we have to devote to our friendships becomes all the more squeezed. We strike up friendships with those living near us, and gravitate towards those who are in similar situations - juggling bringing up kids, hating the commute, 'we're hoping the council will let us extend...' blah blah.

Crucially I think friends have to be honest with one another - and in being so - are at their most supportive. The difficulty of course, is that most of the time this kind of support can be unwanted, or at the very least hard to hear. I can't be friends with anyone who doesn't appreciate honesty, or can't be honest with me. I loathe flattery and manipulation and value those who can tell me I'm being a twat, or to stop worrying about unnecessary stuff, or simply advise me in a way that I maybe don't want to hear - but I NEED to hear.

Most of all, my dearest friends bring me comfort. I can be my idiotic self with them. I can drink too much, swear, cry, be fearful, sad, happy and everything in between. They still love me. Fuck knows why - they must be good listeners that's for sure. My oldest friend I met aged 3, 38 years ago. My newest friend I made in 2012. The majority of my buddies I have known 30 years, or at least 15, save for those I met in the last 6 when I changed careers in 2008 and also moved house/area.

Perhaps at the core of good friendships, is a shared history - of events, (school leaving, uni years, marriage, travelling, career start outs, weekends away, weddings, christenings and more parties than you could shake a stick at). There is a knowledge that no matter how many months you go without seeing each other - the minute you sit down together it is like you spoke yesterday. There is an unspoken agreement that the friendship is there and should you ever really need something - they'll be there for you. Which makes me hold up my hands to count - that if life ever really threw the book at me - who would be there for me, who would hold my hand, offer me anything from a bed to sleep in, to a huge hug? I feel beyond lucky that I can count over my two hands and beyond.

The older I get the more I realise though, that friendships can't be taken for granted, as much as we often do. That just because you've known someone for X amount of years, if they behave badly towards you every time you see them - then why have them in your life? I'm less tolerant than I was back in the days when my life revolved around my social life and dating. Now, I've got kids, I've got responsibilities, I've got less money to spend on catching up with friends, when I've got cricket lessons and holiday clubs to pay for. (As an aside, how on earth did I ever have the money to socialise as much as I did - christ in 1997/98/99 I don't think I ever stayed in!) Time is more precious than ever, so I'm only going to devote it to those that make time for me, and who want to put in as much effort as I do to keeping our friendship going.

In the article I mentioned, Tim Lott asked what the secret is to long friendships? I have pondered on this - wondering for example, why I kept in touch with so many school friends and yet not one of my Uni buddies? What made us all stick together through primary school, grammar school, uni, jobs, etc - even when some of us live a sea apart? I don't have the answer. Lott thinks the secret is an absence of pride.

He writes, "Too many [friendships] falter on stubbornness or the determination to hold on to offence. Successful ones rely on humility and the recognition of human fallibility." 

So maybe that is the key after all - that the heart of real friendship is that we accept our friends for all their failings and they us. That we can always say sorry and move on. That we can make mistakes and still carry on, because life without that person in it, isn't quite as shiny after all.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Carpe Diem

Years ago, I decided I wanted to volunteer. Give something back - try to be there for others when they needed a friend the most. So I went to an open day, did all kinds of role plays, met some fantastic people, and then had the obligatory interview. The girl who interviewed me reeled off all kinds of questions, to suss out if I had any prejudices (we all do, unwittingly or not) and whether or not these would float to the surface and obstruct my ability to be a Samaritan. Then she asked me, 'Have you ever tried to commit suicide?' It was somewhat of a shock. Mainly because I had anticipated practically every question - but not that one. The most obvious one of all.

I looked at her, blinked back tears and replied quietly, 'yes.'

It is perhaps the greatest of all the taboos - suicide - to discard one's life, seemingly without regard for your loved ones - all those you leave behind. Some call it 'selfish.' But they have no idea what they are talking about - as in the throes of depression, one feels that taking their life will in fact bring a calmness, a resolution - the only one they believe will work - and in doing so they will stop being a burden to all those who are trying to help them.

As a Samaritan we were taught to explore suicide - not to hide away from the topic. Most people don't kill themselves the very day they decide to do it. Most put a plan in place, get their things in order, or try and resolve situations, before they actually do the deed. The warning signs are usually those who have been incredibly down, who suddenly are very up: you would assume they are better, or 'cured' when in reality they have a plan in place and it has brought them comfort and a resolution - the light at the end of their very dark tunnel.

People assume that most suicides happen on days of celebration - like Xmas day. But that is also not true. Often when depressed folk have hoped that something - a holiday, a new job, Xmas - will work out, and then it does not, do they realise that hope is futile and there is only one way out.

If you have never been depressed - you'll never understand it. It isn't the same for everyone - but my bouts of depression (there have only really been 3 in my adult life, 2 post natal) make me unusually quiet. I don't want to interact, don't want to eat, don't want to tap into the joys of life. At those times I felt utterly numb. Like I was being dragged down to the abyss, unable to get air, unable to see anything further than the apparent tragic waste of me living. I wanted to curl up and hibernate and never wake up. Sleep was the only pleasure I enjoyed - a temporary respite from an otherwise anxious state. Depression clouds all judgement. It stops rationality, the ability to accept sympathy, the ability to empathise. It sucks the very life blood from your soul leaving you a hollow husk of sadness - a blank canvas with no colour.

It is time we talked more openly about being depressed, about all kinds of mental health - without fear of judgement, without pity, without shame. Often the loudest, happiest sunniest people are the ones with the darkest thoughts, the demons in their heads. They fool us all, whilst they can never escape, or fool themselves.

Today I awoke to the news that the incredible comedian, actor, father and husband, Robin Williams, had killed himself after a bout of depression; the outpouring of grief and tributes all state one thing - what a lovely kind man he was. He clearly had a devoted family and many friends, a genius talent and an enormous body of wonderful work. And yet, he is gone. May he rest in peace.

"I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Robin Williams (as Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad - 2009).

Monday, 28 July 2014

It sure goes quick

My best friend's Mum told me a while ago, "You only have your kids until they are about ten. Then they go; off seeing friends, having their own lives and before you know it they are off to Uni. It sure goes quick."

At the time I think my daughter was 1, my son 5. Days were fairly exhausting, life was all about routine and endlessly trying to entertain them. I kind of wished the years away. Which is funny, because now I'd like to slow them all down.

We've been away in York for a week and husband swears that our Sproglette has changed in that time. She's had her fringe cut, started making silly faces in photos and was obsessed about finding yellow bikes dotted all around York in celebration of the Tour de France having passed through a few weeks back. She's excited about starting school nursery in September and is demanding a party in December when she is 4, but wants to invite only boys.

All the endless opinions and questions she throws out; she is suddenly more than ever, her own little person. 3 for me is the age that kids are at their cutest - still a smidgeon of baby face in them, funny phrases trotting out their mouths and they still break out into dances no matter where they are. They've yet to feel judgement, or coldness or censorship. They just are. Sproglet at 8, is much more aware of himself now - happy (thank god) to kiss me and hug me still - but not so much in front of all his school buddies. He thinks One Direction are rubbish and is football crazy. He has a growing sense  of what he deems cool, what isn't. He has yet to care about his clothes or hair that much and I'm hoping vanity won't feature for a few years yet.

More than ever, I'm digging time spent with them. All too aware that the sand in the timer keeps falling and every step they take is one further away from me. Don't get me wrong, I still love ME time - what little of it I get, especially in the school hols - but when I'm with them, I'm really focused on the time I'm spending - not thinking ahead, not fretting about work or money - just being. It's doing my head all sorts of good. This year has been one of my finest - for no major, significant reasons - more lots of little ones: I've been invited along on 3 different friends' holidays, seen Prince, been offered two jobs I never would have expected and have thrown myself into a career change that has made me excited and nervous - both good things. Plus, I finally wrote my Dad a long overdue letter in the hope of healing our fractured relationship and the upshot is that he is coming over to stay from Ireland, in September - his first visit in my 23 years living in England.

On bad days I'll wander around my house wishing I had the money to repaint the hall, or fix the broken tile that has been chipped for 6 years in our dining room; I'll wonder why I don't have things all worked out just yet (fingers in pies, but pies not quite cooked), I'll hanker after that bigger house, bigger garden, flatter stomach... But on good days - and there are more of these than ever - like today when a spontaneous ice cream meet up with a mate and his son meant Sproglet and I learnt how to loom (important skill I assure you - and if you don't know what it is - be thankful!) and Sproglette and I walked in the rain laughing and Husband built me a fan for our bedroom - the mundane moments bring unbridled joy. Perhaps because, as my friend's mum said, this time will pass. They will grow and leave me, so I had better enjoy it all while I have it.

One day, they will be gone.