Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bitter Pill

In my memories it is always hot, but seeing as I grew up in Northern Ireland, the wettest place on earth, I doubt that was the case. The windows are wide open and I'm sweating over study notes on Hamlet/The Crucible/School for Scandal/Death of a Salesman while the whoops and shrieks from children playing in the street relentlessly continue - a mantra trying to entice me away from my desk. I remember the secret stash of cigarettes hidden in my locked old bureau so I peel my thighs from my plastic chair and am onto them in a flash. The thrill of getting caught half the joy as I practice blowing smoke rings into the cooling dusk air.

I can't pretend I religiously studied for my A levels. Some Politics revision began the morning of the paper - but there were enough evenings where I finished a sketch for art at around 3am or I'd scribbled 13 sides of A4 paper on Willy Loman to say that I'd put in some effort. I could have worked harder for sure, but that isn't the point.

I toiled through GCSEs, A Levels, a BA Hons degree and 2 careers in television (late nights holed up in the blistering heat of an edit suite - coffin sized - perfecting my presenting showreel for the zillionth time; pouring over another draft of my CV late into the night; sending showreels by VHS - do you know how expensive that all was?in those days; having meeting after meeting after meeting in the vain hope of a new job; surfing 4 week contract to one day contract to 2 week contract - in and out of work like a yo-yo as I endeavoured to get more work; attaching helium balloons to my showreel in the hope some Exec would be lured into watching it by such a gimmick; researching this company and that person then flattering them by knowing every last detail about their career to charm them into employing me - and on and on and on) - FOR WHAT?

No one took me aside at school and said - "Oh this career you're after - well, all that blood, sweat and snotty tears - forget about it, cos when you become a Mother it doesn't matter - you won't be able to juggle and 'have it all.' You'll be the one having to compromise and be riddled with guilt and be seen as so less employable to the point you'll have no idea how to make a career work around your kids." Fuck I wish they had.

When I had Sproglet I was presenting on a crappy Quiz channel that paid exceptionally well for only a couple of hours work. I needed to work less than 10 shifts a month to comfortably live. I earned more than I do now as a full time script editor. The day of my 13 week scan I went to my boss - a lovely German family man with a child of his own - and spilled beans about my own growing bean. He was delighted. However a month later he sent round this email to all crew/producers on the channel:

Hi All,

It becomes more and more obvious that CrummyMummy is expecting. I think it’s great and I don’t have a problem with it at all. But some others might have. That’s why I would like you to do the following:

Whenever you’re on Shift with CrummyMummy please make sure (by watching and briefing vision mixer and camera op) that we have tighter shots (head, shoulders etc.) most of the time. If you need CrummyMummy in full shot: No problem but just have it as long as it’s necessary for the show.

I don’t want to make a fuss about it. This is more an informal recommendation than an official announcement.

Thanks for your support.

I took him aside and asked him why he'd sent this and he replied that it was because his boss - a strapping German goddess - apparently liked animals more than kids and he didn't think she'd take to kindly to having me waddle around with a huge pregnant stomach - even though the majority of viewers that we robbed daily, sorry, watched the quiz channel daily (and spent all their hard earned benefit cash trying to win) were in fact parents.

Then he promptly left and told me I was a 'sitting duck.' I was so stressed about losing my job whilst heavily pregnant that I took to bringing a Dictaphone with me every day to work, should they try to axe me. I wasn't staff - just a contracted presenter who could be let go of at any given moment - even though I had worked there for almost 2 years. Big boss knew I was up the duff and one day queried why I always covered my stomach by a large cushion - and found out the whole 'hide the fact CM is preggers' plan. She didn't axe me - mainly because the channel announced it was shutting down and all the other presenters immediately defected to a rival channel. But ole whale features here was unemployable with such girth and I ended up doing even more shifts to cover the gaps - working until 6 days before I gave birth. They did ask me to sign a drafted document detailing that I wouldn't sue them (they were an American owned company) should I go in labour and give birth in front of the jackpot machine as I was persuading viewers to count the rings/boxes/dots. I honestly think they would have carried on filming regardless as long as the viewing figures continued to rise.

The channel shut down a week after I had Sproglet. I'd managed to save enough pennies to survive for 3 months but i knew that in that 3 month period I'd have to lose the baby weight, find another job - oh and master motherhood. No pressure then.

Am I bitter? Well, yes. I've worked my ass off all my life for minimum state maternity allowance and had no cushy employed staff job where I got to take a years paid leave. My start to Motherhood was one filled with money worries and stress at the prospect of finding a new job. I did by the way. I had a screen test 5 weeks after Sproglet was born at another inane quiz channel. They had met me before- at 8.5 months pregnant, but claimed a tad unfairly that at that screen test I wasn't 'enthusiastic enough.' Wonder why....

Anyway, they employed me 2 afternoons a week and I managed to get a child minder next door to me. I started back exactly 3 months after I'd had Sproglet - my breasts threatening to take over the entire screen in every shot. The day after flew to Ireland for the day to screen test for another show - which I got. Which was handy as I arrived at Quiz channel one afternoon to be met with a load of miserable faces in the gallery - they'd all lost their jobs. As it turned out - so had I. They axed us all that day and as we were only booked on a week to week basis - they owed me nothing. I had to go live on air knowing that when I came off I was unemployed again - with a 5 month old baby.

I got the job in Ireland and so flew home every Thurs - Sat to do the live Fri night show with Sproglet in tow. Easy? What do you think? After that show ended I thought, I just can't do this merry go round any longer - so spent a year slaving away to become a script ed. Regular paycheck - that's what I need. If I ever want more kids, I need to have paid maternity. 14 months later I got my job. Boy I celebrated. All the hard work had paid off. 13 months later they told me I'd have to leave when I'd done 2 years there. They don't want to make any more folk staff... that's the way the cookie crumbles.

So here I am again - no chance of maternity pay should I want more kids, no job, with the knowledge that any other script ed job would involve me being on set from dawn to dusk while the drama is being shot. How to do that with Sproglet's schooling and Husband's crazy job hours....???

Yes, yes, I know I'm writing my book and thank god for that - but I'm just wondering how the hell everyone else does it? Some women have the ease of going straight from one maternity leave to another one. Some have understanding bosses who know they need to leave bang on 5 to get to the militant nursery before they shut up shop on the stroke of 6pm. Some have relatives nearby to help through all the awkward moments when you get called into an urgent meeting at 5, or you've a raging fever and can't get out of bed or the kid itself is riddled with chicken pox and is banned from nursery for what feels like a lifetime.

I never knew it would be so hard. That I'd live in a state of panic about one little thing going wrong - traffic on the M25, the inability to leave work on time, forgetting Sproglet needs XYand Z at school today, snow disrupting everything. I never knew there would be so much compromise.

So when I think back to that girl looking longingly out of the window, wishing she was racing on her bike to her mate's house or illicitly smoking in the park, but instead shoving her head further down into her books - I want to go back and tell her 'fuck it, go for a fag, what's the point anyway?'

1 comment:

Bazbox said...

You're such a force of nature lady. Always have been. Bxxx