Friday, 30 November 2012

The homing instinct

 As I get older my desire for a place of my own increases.  Simon never worried about it; his father would suggest on rare occasions that we take out a mortgage and become landlords but it never happened.  Simon was too busy buying Very Nice stuff for himself and was secure in the conviction that the Church would look after him come what may.  I, being downtrodden and terrified of my own shadow  let alone anyone else's dutifully kept quite and, to be honest, the housing market scared me.  How I managed in front of a class (or classes) every day continues to befuzzle me.

Now I'm 48 (I'm clinging to the 8 until I have to let it go at the very last second), sick, damnably poor and at the whim of landlords.  It is a frustrating experience.  Despite ourselves, Mark and I cannot help but play a game in which we state what we would do if this were our property.  Maybe we both have a masochistic streak, I don't know.

Magnolia sucks.  I like the flower but the colour - ugh.  I'd prefer stronger ones but, of course, changing the colour of the walls is pointless.  I had great fun in a former rectory and went wild with period colours, painting after I'd put Flavia to bed or before she woke in the morning but at least then there was some security of tenure.  I feel a tad embarrassed sometimes when Flavia's friends turn up and the window frames are quietly rotting, the paint chipping and slightly stained but cross my fingers and hope they know we are merely tenants.  We could, of course, ask the landlord to redecorate but what would be the point?  If they agreed then the colour choice would hardly be ours and it would, in all probability, result in the rent going up.  The advantage, of course, is that if we add an extra scuff or two it is unnoticeable.

The only change we've made is to have loft insulation installed.  There was none but being poor does have some advantages - under the Government scheme we got it done for free.  Unfortunately they don't have a similar scheme for double glazing or solar panels but there we go.

It's the lack of security that bothers me most.   At any time our landlord could decide he wants to sell the house or convert it into flats or a brothel or - well, just about anything.  We have a stack of boxes cluttering the former outhouse and neither of us want to let them go; last time we gave our boxes away our landlady decided she wanted to sell the house and gave us a couple of months' notice (ouch).  It took us longer to move than we had anticipated and drove home the knowledge that neither of us is as young (or as healthy) as we once were which really made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So we accept the tired paintwork, the little bits crumbling here and there and enjoy the house as much as we can.  There is, however, one advantage to being a tenant - double glazing salesmen can't get away fast enough!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Of Proms, Promises and Maternal regrets...

Flavia is having bouts of Prom fever.  Yes, I know it is far too early and I have (in my previous life) castigated girls who were more interested in transport and necklines than their upcoming GCSEs but I do understand and if she has to get slightly absorbed then it's better now than in May.

It is, however, somewhat amusing.  Initially she wouldn't be caught dead at the Prom; then came the (dismissed) news that one of her friends was planning a preparation party before they were driven with great pomp to the venue.  Nothing for a while but finally I was informed that Kourtney (another friend) was very keen to go and Flavia was considering going with her as a favour.  A week or so later, Kourtney was apparently claiming that the desire to attend was Flavia's.  Now there appears to be little doubt - they're going.

Flo's picked out a dress (over £100.00 but Simon, in a burst of generosity and, I suspect, conviction that tomorrow never comes has offered to pay for it).   It is incredibly pretty.  Neither is it tacky or of the, 'see my wares' variety.

I used to dismiss Proms; we didn't have them in my day (death knell phrase) and I couldn't really see the point but in my autumnal days I am feeling more generous.  My reasoning is simple (and it's why I haven't shot Flo's choice of dress down in flames even though she could quite easily get away with a £10.00 variety from Peacocks or wherever).

I've never been to a party.  Never dressed up and gone out and had all that anticipation and excitement that comes with it.  I've seen these things in films - watched School for Scoundrels with Ian Carmichael only the other day...people actually dressed like that to go to dinner???? - but the closest I've ever got was a staff party at Simon's erstwhile school where jeans and drunkenness seemed to be the order of the day (sigh).

It's probably my mother's fault; she reared me on musicals and films from the 1940s where women wore court shoes (that in itself explains something), always seemed to be chic regardless of their occupation and regularly went to sophisticated, magical places.  Whilst I never actually envisaged myself as Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly (ahhh, wouldn't that be exquisite?) the impression remains.  I'd love to go to a party; I'd love to wear a glamorous frock or gown, be coiffed and primped and feel confident in myself as I dance and scintillate throughout the evening.  It appeals to the very depths of my feminine core and I mourn that it can never be.  I'm forty-eight (nearly forty-nine) and whilst I appreciate that age has little to do with it, it does mean I've managed almost half a century without being within even a whiff of such an occasion.  My chances, therefore, are decreasing.  Hell, it's ten years since someone other than Mark cut my hair so there is no way I'd ever be in the position of going to a glamorous party.

So, with my opportunities of wearing a stunning dress and feeling more Cinderella-like than the female herself my sympathies are very much for Flavia and her friends.  So what if she spends a fortune on a dress she'll only wear once?  In forty, fifty, sixty years time she'll have the amazing memory of it and how she felt when she had it on and I'm damned if I'll take that away from her.  I just hope Simon doesn't renege on his promise as he usually does.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Guilt: Who would be a mother?

I hold my hands up in admission - I am a guilty person.  If the Police are behind me when I'm driving I automatically feel guilty even though I have insurance, road tax, a road-worthy vehicle and my driving is exemplary.  I'm a knee-jerk apologiser (as opposed to an apologist.  I wish) which is annoying because, since my mother also apologises for everything, even things far beyond her scope of influence, I know how frustrating it can be to the listener.  I try not to do it but - sorry!

Over the last few years I have, both silently and on occasion to her face, apologised to my daughter for landing her with such a sorry excuse for a father and I do feel terribly guilty about it.  The activities she loved to do are no longer within her reach because of funds (or lack thereof); her father is incredibly, awe-inspiringly self-absorbed.  He wants her to go to Oxbridge and become a barrister because he didn't have the nerve to take the entrance exam and it would sound so good, 'my daughter, the barrister.'  Right now she is certainly interested in the Law but at the fuzzier end of the lollypop so to speak.  He once pointed out to her that, under our influence she'd be lucky to be a waitress in a roadside diner (our response was to tell him she wanted to open a tattoo parlour - hey, got to get one's kicks somehow and since I'm not allowed to kick him, the least that can be allowed is a little tail pulling).  I've apologised for his violence (physical and verbal) and the fact that he does everything within his power not to pay child support (I worked out the other day that it comes to somewhere around £1.00/day) because of his loudly voiced poverty but which doesn't stop him going on a few holidays a year and buying Very Nice Clothes Indeed (do not get me started on the CSA!)

I have also experienced guilt at the knowledge that her weakness for asthma and migraine comes from my side (oh, joy) but now, I gather, I should kneel before her in abject abasement.  The Experts have decreed that migraines come specifically from the maternal side.  Not only that, but giving Calpol to a child can trigger asthma.  I should think the number of mothers who didn't give Calpol to their children (certainly those of Flavia's age) are infinitesimal - damn, it was actually strongly recommended after the first MMR jab (yes, she had them and I watched with dread for any negative signs).  So she is doomed three times over.  I say mothers gave Calpol because for the most part that's true; fathers are, generally speaking, more hands off and, I am convinced, less likely to have the Guilt Gene.

They (the ubiquitous, put them against a wall and shoot them 'They') also blame the mother for a child's autism.  Caught the 'flu whilst pregnant?  Your fault!  Have a drink whilst pregnant?  Condemning your child to a lifetime of idiocy and low-paid work (unless they manage to get into banking or politics).  Not enough sunshine?  Higher risk of Junior suffering from MS.  And that's before birth. After that the pressure is even greater: certain foods could give children cancer; making them eat fish could reduce the chances of asthma but if you shout at them (something I've tried hard not to do but I can't, hand on heart, say I've never snapped) you can increase the risk of not only asthma but also cancer and heart disease.  As if we haven't got enough to bear.  Whatever we do for our children, however pure our intentions we get blamed and have to suffer the mental flagellation for the rest of our lives.   It's amazing the human race has survived this far!

The thing is, most of us do our best.  No alcohol. No soft cheeses (admittedly that wasn't hard for me - I prefer hard British to soft Continental), no cheesecake (argh).  Months before becoming pregnant I checked with the doctor as to my meds, only to be told by a different doctor three months into the pregnancy that Migraleve causes miscarriages - something I really needed to hear since I didn't get morning sickness but daily, blinding migraines.  Yet still we're being told we are to blame for whatever may happen to our children - not only now but in decades to come.  In fact, we - the female of the species - are specifically to blame for problems our grandchildren will have.  If that isn't kicking us when we're down then what is?

The only bright spot is that I'm not OCD with regards to cleanliness.  We don't live in squalor, despite what my ex-husband might say and think (but this is a man who measures the distance from  the edge of his desk to his pens, pencils, ruler and pad of paper) but things have a tendency to be messy.  It doesn't matter how tidy I might be, Mark and Flavia have a far, far higher tolerance level  to clutter and junk generally.  Thus I have a choice; either work myself into a state of permanent exhaustion (easier done than said with my medical history) or try to take it philosophically rather than falling into a depression).  Now, They have decreed that an ultra-clean house can actually help to cause allergies.

Finally something that won't be keeping me awake at night.  Only another hundred or so Guilt Trips to go.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

School and the necessity for lying

I know, I know, a hideously long time since my last update but it was not intentional; more a tree falling in the forest moment (or moments) coupled with playing with my meds.  I keep hoping I can reduce doses and my body keeps telling me where the door is!  That, coupled with a torn muscle in my calf - frighteningly easy to do if one has Sarcoidosis - and a cold plus Flavia's GCSE mocks and I gave in.  Or gave up.  Depends upon one's point of view.  However, muscles, aches, pains and meds notwithstanding I am again...well, I was going to say thrusting myself into the fray but I think cautious toe-dipping is closer to the truth and, if I'm honest (and I do try to be - I'm a lousy liar) more in character.  I'd love to be the sort who strikes out boldly and takes risks and I'm always mentally cat-calling at those in films who just stand there waiting for the tidal wave/alien invasion/bomb blast/lava to overwhelm them but I'm also reasonably sure I would do just that.  I would like to imagine I'm the sort who would be cool, calm and heroic in a crisis but I know it just isn't the case.  Cowering in the corner is far more my style unfortunately.

As I say, Flo has had her mocks - sort of.  She managed just over a day but then fell (figuratively if not literally).   The dreaded migraine came visiting.  She did go in for the second day but the school 'phoned around 10.30 to say she had to go home.  Or come home.  Whichever it is (my spelling and grammar used to be reasonable but the Sarc has put paid to that.  Or at least, that's my excuse and I am sticking to it!!)  I felt a little annoyed, actually (rephrase that - considerably annoyed).  Because of the Sarc and FMS (etc) I am unable to work any more.  Three darling, sweet doctors have told me that and, although being categorised as 'retired due to ill health' is lowering - especially when one is still (just) in one's forties - I can't argue with them.  Or I suppose I could but it is too much effort and thus too much energy.  Thus we are poor.  Beyond church-mice poor.  Poor old Flo tried to tell the school she was willing - I can't say many of us would be happy having to stay in our place of employment when feeling lousy? - to stay in school until she could catch the school bus home but they were having none of it.  She 'had' to come home.  Which is all well and good but they wanted me to collect her.

This is part of what annoyed me.  Being formerly in the trade I understand that they are in loco parentis but they were rather assuming that 1.  I was not in work and 2.  I was mobile.  There are days when I'm not although pumping myself full of painkillers does help in that regard.  If I couldn't collect her they would put her in a taxi and I'd have to pay for it on her arrival.  This is where I boggled (I can be good at boggling.  I've practiced it for years).  Excuse me?  How many people in today's economy have £20.00 lying around let alone those whos children are eligible for free school meals and for whom I have to ask assistance for any trips?  The arrogance was breath-taking.  Whilst I know we are at the reasonably extreme end of the excess funds spectrum I know we are not alone - £20.00 is a lot of money - hell, it is the cost of their (extremely overpriced) sport sweatshirt.

However, I did what any mother would do and girded my loins to head north, taking money out of the rent to do so and giving thanks that at least it wasn't raining - in itself something of a novelty.  I kept Flavia abreast of my progress via text (about the only function on a mobile 'phone I can cope with) and, sure enough, as I approached the school she appeared.  Which rather begs the question of why did I have to collect her?  Okay, she didn't have the money for the train journey home but apart from that niggling little issue my question remains.  I didn't have to sign her out.  I didn't have to announce my presence in sonorous tones.  I didn't even get as far as the school door.  So why was it imperative that I spend over £5.00 we didn't have to make the hour's round trip?

I have the utmost respect for admin staff in schools but I can't help wondering if this was some sort of power-trip.  From now on, Flo takes £2.00 to school with her and if she gets ill again I shall tell her to lie and say I'm at the school gate.  I dislike lying and have always tried to teach her that the truth is best but in this instance I shall bow my head to necessity and accept that to survive in the world it is a requisite and often admired skill.  Unfortunately.