The ghosts of Valentines past

Image by Bianca Mentil from Pixabay

Scrolling through Facebook memories on Valentine’s Day is an interesting pastime. It’s easy to forget how much life has changed over the years, and interesting to remember the loves and losses of the past.

11 years ago, I was apparently “glad I’d had no expectations”. I’m just going to confess that I had to look at my CV to work out where I was in 2009 – I was in Plymouth, moderately unhappy being single, but working 100,000 hours a week, surfing and riding lots of horses at weekends and making the best of it.

9 years ago, I posted this absolute gem: “bollocking bollocking bollocks to valentines day”. SO grumpy was I that I even omitted the capital letters. Five people liked that post, four of whom I had had intimate relations with (in previous years, not in the immediate prelude to that post). Hmmm.

The following year, 2012, I posted a picture of an ostentatious boquet of roses that my boyfriend had arranged to be delivered to my workplace (not easy in a massive hospital where your office used to be a shower room). He unceremoniously dumped me three months later with no reason or explanation.

2013 – a Grumpy Cat meme. “You make me a better person: we must break up.” (I’ll come back to this one…).

2014 – another cat meme. I’m not even going to replicate it here, too boring. Two photos of my cat (one of him sharing my Marks and Spencer steak). And a whingy status about being flooded and unable to escape the village (I lived on the edge of Dartmoor at this time. Alone. Except for my cat. Am I painting the picture here?)

2015:

“Roses are red / Gender is performative / Mass-market romance / Is heteronormative” —Stefanie Gray (Facebook attribution – can’t find this poet IRL, might be bollocks. Sorry)

Also this:

By this point I’d been alone for a LONG time – functionally alone, if not always actually alone. And I was mostly ok with it. Still nursing the ghosts of a few broken hearts, hugely sceptical about romance, holding no great ambitious towards marriage or having babies. Working lots, travelling lots. But angry at mainstream media and culture for presenting the only viable and satisfying life choices as heterosexual, monogamous, economically productive and also productive of more humans.

Valentine’s Day 2016 morning, I had pancakes on a borrowed houseboat in Haggerston with my boyfriend (now husband…), having quit my job, moved to London, gone freelance, fostered out my cat to some friends, and spent the first months of London life basically living out of the back of my Fiesta in various AirBnBs, while commuting to Essex.

Valentine’s Day 2017 – he bought me tulips and we got kebabs. We were living in a rented house in the dodgy end of Stratford. I was about 6 weeks pregnant. And very surprised. Life has this habit of surprising you, is all I can say.

2018 – I think absolutely nothing romantic happened. We had a four month old baby, I’d gone back to work two days a week (that’s another post – a mother’s place is in the wrong, whatever you do, remember that, folks). I was doing a brutal commute, so I shared some wisdom about commuting sins. Maybe I will write a super-original post about man-spreading and scooters in the City another day.

2019 – nothing seems to have happened at all, or I didn’t feel the need to record it or share with the unsuspecting world of Facebook anyway. I think maybe we got a takeaway and had an argument, but I might be wrong about that.

Today, 2020. We (the small one and I) went to toddler music this morning; no major incidents were reported although there was a close call with a tambourine. We’re having a posh M and S ready meal feast tonight and prosecco, after toddler bedtime, to celebrate having survived December, January and this much of February. I have bought my husband two books which I want to read, and told him to buy me tulips. The small one gave me this after nursery school yesterday. Best card I’ve ever had.

Anyway, the moral of this rambling reminiscence, people, is that you can have a clear picture of what your life will be, and be accepting of it, have made your peace with it, be making the best of it. Or even enjoy it for what it is, not feeling the need for platitudes (still haven’t met the right one yet? No, Karen, I haven’t. Now fuck off to Frankie and Benny’s with your boring husband for nom noms and drinkies).

Then bosh, something magical comes along. And it’s all exciting and unexpected, then gradually it settles into normal. And a lot of the time it’s bloody boring and hard work and you talk about money too much and argue about emptying the bins, then you have a kid and you don’t get enough sleep and playing with toddlers is boring and he gets to have nice coffee at work and nothing’s fair about motherhood.

But at the heart of it, it’s what you make of it. All of it. And we make the best of it, me and my brilliant husband. And he makes me a better person. And the good bits are bloody brilliant. And I’m looking forward to a big steak pie tonight. And that’s a lot of sentences starting with ‘And’. And so it goes on, this life.

An exciting thing!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is artsy-vibes-n2rnmaznag4-unsplash.jpg

I mentioned an exciting thing which has happened yesterday… and here it is!

I have been working on crafting my skills as a writer in various different formats recently, and I submitted a piece of flash fiction – which may possibly be an excerpt from a forthcoming novel, in about ten years’ time – to the very excellent collaborative writers’ blog, The Finest Example (the guys who also published my article about “zero waste” as a troublesome concept, under my other writing guise as The Everyday Radical).

And here it is, A King in Darkness. I’m very proud of it and super stoked that someone else thinks it’s worthy of publishing (yes, imposter syndrome having a field day here!) So if you like it, please flatter me and say nice things and share it far and wide!

Photo by Artsy Vibes on Unsplash

Journal #4 – Breaking Cover

So it’s been a while since my last journal post, which may well be a relief to anyone who is reading this. It’s been hard to find time for this, alongside my other blog, some paid writing I’ve been doing, and life in general – keeping a toddler alive, being ill off and on since before Christmas (MEGA dull), all the adulting that is boring but necessary.

But I do like writing these posts, and I want to keep the journal aspect of this blog going, as the fiction and poetry aspect continues to develop too. More on the exciting developments here SOON – but in preparation for said exciting development, I’m planning on breaking cover on this blog, so it’s not going to be quite so secret any more. Something is coming up linked to it which I’m super proud of and want to share with people I know in real life, so – BANG. The clock is ticking for the big reveal (I edited a bunch of stuff yesterday in preparation and pruned my Twitter history… not that I think anyone cares that much, but anyway. Made me feel a bit less twitchy).

Meanwhile, some actual journal-ish thoughts. I am really enjoying reading more books at the moment. My husband has caught the reading bug, so we are spending a few more evenings now reading, rather than binge watching crime dramas, and I do also sometimes read while the small one is watching TV (so fucking shoot me now…! See later in this post for some toddler parenting thoughts!) I have genuine aspirations now towards fiction writing, and I do believe that prolific reading is critical to becoming a better write – so technically I’m working, right?

I was quite inspired by this post from Raspberry Thriller, a blogger I follow, on the books she had read in 2019, and developed vague aspirations towards doing something similar as I go along in 2020. I use Goodreads to keep a record what I’ve read and want to read (guess which list is longer?), as well as follow various authors and keep up to date with what my friends are reading (some of whom are voracious readers, I envy them for having the time…)

So anyway, I just finished this amazing historical novel, part of Alison Weir’s Tudor Queens series, which I will write a review of soon. (I want to do it separately because I need to learn how to do the menu function in WordPress and this is supposed to be my “practice” blog…)

Lastly, I read something on Twitter today which made me cross – writing about things which make me cross often helps to dissipate the crossness, so here goes. There was a guy (a writer – I am following loads of writers at the moment, in the vague hope that one day something I write will go viral) who tweeted that he wished people talked more openly about how difficult it is parenting a toddler, rather than the usual “enjoy every minute” fatuous bollocks. Loads of supportive comments, empathising, making jokes in a sensitive way, sharing examples of horrific toddler antics (like, today my son hit me in the face with a digger), mixed with acknowledgements that the good bits are great (he also sang a whole Winnie the Pooh song with his dad at bedtime last night – cuteness overload) Highs and lows, friends, highs and lows.

Then some helpful person says “just wait til you have teenagers, mate, toddlers are a walk in the park”, or something along those lines.

Just fucking STOP doing this, please, humans. It’s so unhelpful. Yes, being pregnant might be easier than having a new born for some people, but telling an insomniac pregnant person who can barely walk but needs to pee every 20 minutes that they will never sleep again, or pee alone again, once the baby’s born – just why would you do this? It’s never going to make the person in question feel better. Would people do this in other circumstances? Imaging someone telling you they were going for a gall bladder operation – would you tell them that you know someone who had a horrendous recovery and the operation went wrong and they nearly died? No? So why would you say this to someone who’s about to give birth? Imagine a teenager talks to you about how hard they’re finding their GCSEs. Would you say, “suck it up, buttercup, A levels are much worse?”, “just wait til you go to university?”, “just wait til you have to pay 40% tax and work 70 hours a week?” NO, you wouldn’t, unless you’re a tosser. So don’t be a tosser to parents. Please. It’s hard enough as it is without these sorts of empathy fails.

Ah, better now. Thanks for reading, if you’re still here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Buy me another beer…

This is “flash fiction”, apparently… (I had to google it). In response to one of Peter Wyn Mosey’s excellent writing prompts.

“Buy me another beer and I’ll tell you why I did it”, she smiled at him across the table. She was trying to be enigmatic, but she wasn’t entirely sure it was working.

She watched as he obediently stood up and wandered over to the bar. He looked slightly dazed. With a good view of his broad back and swimmers’ shoulders as he tried to get the barman’s attention, she reached for her phone to send him a text.

– Changed my mind. Red wine please. Big one.

He scuffled for his phone in his pocket in response to its buzz. He turned around, gave her a thumbs up, then turned back to the bar.

“So, tell me then?” he said, returning a few minutes later, carrying a bottle of red wine and two glasses. “I thought it might take a while,” he added, sheepishly raising the bottle in his hand before he set it down on the table.

“Well, I did it because I could, really. It’s hard to resist when it’s there on a plate. I could make excuses, about being vulnerable, I could say he took advantage of me. And yes, I was, and he did, but I still made a conscious choice. He flattered me, and I liked it. He was the boss, he told me how brilliant I was all the time. I was sufficiently insecure to fall for it, and yet I sort of knew I was falling for it as it was happening.” She took a gulp of wine.

“But he was married! And to another colleague! You must have known it would end in tears,” he said.

He sat back in his chair and pondered the situation, watching her drinking her wine and trying to come up with a response. It didn’t surprise him that this guy had wanted her. In much the same way as he himself wanted her right now. But she was keeping him at arm’s length; she always had done, since the moment they’d met, even though the chemistry was undeniable.

“Well, yes of course. But ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this weird self-destruct thing going on. I used to call it the “fuck it” button. It was almost like a test – how bad can I make things, before I finally break everything?”

“Well, you nearly did break everything. You nearly got sacked. Thank god you didn’t, though. Where would we be without you?”

“Now you’re flattering me… honestly, don’t go there!”

He sighed. If only he’d met her five years ago, before Ingrid. Before Niall was born. He fingered his wedding ring absent-mindedly. It was all starting to feel a bit inevitable.

She watched him, smiling and sipping her wine.

Journal #3 – Happy EU day

So I’m going to give away all my political allegiances in this post – and it’s going to be a far cry away from making any sort of progress on fiction writing today, but I just have to get this out! (There seems to be a new genre of novels emerging about Brexit, so maybe this is relevant to the long term dream, but anyway – this is my anon space to write whatever I like.)

We didn’t leave the EU yesterday and I’m happy about it. I’m happy that MPs managed to hold back the new deal, and I’m happy that they managed to make No Deal illegal, for now at least. I’m gutted that John Bercow is stepping down, as I think he’s the saviour of democracy to be honest, and I’m fucking dreading an election.

I feel totally powerless at how awful things could become with a strong Tory majority. I hate so much of what they stand for. But I also have huge qualms about the Labour Party and the way it’s being run. I’m not a proper socialist – I don’t have a huge problem with the House of Lords, I want to send my son to a private school, I don’t hate rich people just because they’re rich, and I don’t think inheritance tax should be increased. Why shouldn’t people benefit from the hard work of their parents?

But I will probably vote Labour anyway, as that’s they most likely way to keep the Tories from winning in our constituency. Can I do anything else? Should I do anything else? I’m not going to go door knocking for the Labour party; I’m not convicted enough. I don’t think arguing online with Leavers and Tory voters is particularly helpful – and anyway, in the social media echo chamber we all live in, I mainly get fed left wing stuff in my news feed and most of my friends are much more left-wing than me. So do I sit back now for 6 weeks, stop watching the news, tune out of Facebook, and accept whatever happens?

It doesn’t feel like ENOUGH. Nothing ever feels like enough to me. I have no idea why I have this ridiculous god complex, that I have to flog myself to death saving the world. I should probably just keep my little stash of food replenished, take my kid to the park and forget about it, right? But what if Boris fucking Johnson gets a huge majority, gets in bed with the Brexiters and we are faced with Neofacism in 2020, and we didn’t do anything?

I suppose what I need to do is write a character who is grappling with this stuff and see where it takes me. The reality of course is that my one little vote won’t make a difference, my one little window sticker won’t make a difference. But not doing anything definitely won’t make a difference, so doing something is better than nothing. And THAT’S a sentence any respectable editor would harangue me about, and justifiably.

It’s also “No fun November” in our house – less booze and less treats, to pay for Christmas and for me to finally try to make some headway on the weight loss front. So happy bloody Friday, people!

At least we’re still in the EU.

Journal #2 – sandpits, eyeballs, Friday night parenting

I’m supposed to be napping, after a classic 0445 start this morning. Instead, #amwriting, while sitting upstairs listening to my husband doing bath time with the toddle-monster.

He is a deeply precocious child when it comes to music – I first felt him kick when we were driving through Tynemouth listening to a particularly jolly movement of a Mozart horn concerto (no. 4 I think, but I would have to check), and now he likes Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. He calls the first movement “the mem song” and he sings along to “mem” rather than “la”. He used to say “mem mem mem” a lot when he was tiny, before real words, so we developed “to mem” as a verb, meaning to babble away cutely, and also to bimble about aimlessly. As in, “have a mem about at the park”. (Oooh, spell check doesn’t like bimble either, maybe that’s not a real word…? I mean amble, potter, that sort of thing).

So a few annoying things have happened over the last few days. I’ve been having trouble with my eyes, through over-wearing of contact lenses and general exhaustion I think. But I’m vain and I hate my glasses so I’ve been disobeying orders and not abstaining sufficiently from contact lens use. I am scarred by the truth of my past here – I started wearing contact lenses when I was 15, and up to that point no boy (or man!) had ever looked at me with any interest whatsoever (in my awareness, anyway). Then suddenly, wham! Boys everywhere paying me attention. This was on holiday in Italy and I think that might have had something to do with it, but anyway, in my teenage mind, contacts made me tolerable to look at, and it’s stuck as an intractable belief.

So I hate leaving the house in my glasses. And I hate that I hate it. I hate that I care about appearances and that I’ve got such a thing about it. But my eyeballs can’t stand it, so I need a mindset shift soon. It’s thought-provoking. And deeply annoying.

Meanwhile, we went to the sandpit today and also to the zero waste shop, to buy some shampoo and conditioner refills. My other blog is about eco stuff, so during nap time I wrote about that and some other switches I’ve made. There was a bit of standard toddler drama at the sandpit over digger sharing, and some helpful tutting from other parents when I moved the small one from one sandpit to another. I was essentially moving him out of the way of some sand-flinging older kids, who were on a holiday play scheme and not being supervised terribly diligently, but he likes watching older kids so wasn’t hugely impressed at being dragged away. Pom Bears bribery occurred. I gradually give fewer and fewer fucks about the opinions of these sorts of judgey mothers, which is just as well, really.

On a more positive note, there is very dramatic leaf fall going on round here at the moment. I do like trees. A lot more than people, sometimes.

So. Friday night now. Fakeaway fish and chips (also knows as oven crap or yellow food) and starting a new box set is on the cards.

I haven’t really got a clue what this blog is going to be. At the moment it seems to be all about parenting and my rambling stream of consciousness. I have plenty of other writing ideas, but not much time to write them, so if you’re reading this, bear with me and I will try to keep it interesting. There will definitely be some more poetry soon.

And hi to my new followers today!

Mummy blogs that talk about wine o’ clock are generally fucking annoying, aren’t they? But it is in fact now wine o’ clock, sorry and all that.

(This is a photo of some daytime wine that I consumed some time ago, not actual live blogging of tonight’s wine. Just so we’re clear on that. I’d hate to mislead anyone).

A haiku about parenting

I shared this on Twitter yesterday and found the wonderful gang of writers surrounding the hashtag #5amwritersclub.

And I really did write this at 5am.

It is 5 am.
Why the fuck is he awake?
He's pretty cute though.
This is actually sunset, not sunrise – sorry – and not an actual view from my house, more’s the pity.

Journal post… first of many?

Part of the purpose of this blog is for me to be able to write freely about all the stuff I can’t write in my main blog, because it’s not pertinent to the theme or because it’s too personal. I have a feeling these journal-type posts are going to be SUPER dull to read, but it seems to be part of learning to be a writer too, this journal malarkey.

I have actually just written some prose – I had this MAD dream the other night where the whole of the opening scene of a novel came to me, complete with the full name of one of the characters. So I have just written 250 words – not the most productive session, I know. But it’s the most I’ve written in a very long time, so may possibly qualify for celebratory chocolate.

Otherwise, I’m feeling bored, frustrated, grumpy this week. Lots of boring stuff to sort out domestically, an extremely fractious toddler, some frustrating HR-related issues for the freelance work that I’m doing. NHS bureaucracy at its best. I sort of hate the word “bureaucracy”, sounds like the sort of thing idiot Brexiteers go on about, but in this case it’s definitely appropriate and there’s been a clear sense of “computer says no” in the whole interaction.

ANYWAY. We went out this morning to a Christian playgroup, essentially toddler church. Not my usual Thursday morning activity of choice, but it’s free and runs in half term so seemed like a good idea. And wow it makes me sad. I used to believe in all things Christian, very passionately, and I just don’t anymore, for various reasons. Maybe this is something to write about another time. But I kind of miss it. I definitely miss believing in life after death and a greater good. There was a moment during the prayers when the lady leading the session told us, “it’s ok to pray for things for yourself. God doesn’t always give you what you want though, but he will give you what you need”. Tell that the the 39 Chinese people dead in a lorry this morning in Essex. Tell that the the food bank users and the people having their benefits cut. It’s that sort of infantalising of life that made me turn away from organised religion, among other things.

Anyone still with me? Who knows. Plan for the rest of the day is to go and feed some cats (my other life as a cat sitter). I’m a bit concerned about them as they’ve been AWOL all week, except for coming in to eat their food, and I haven’t actually seen them. So hopefully they will make an appearance.

Then this evening the husband is out, so I can eat food he doesn’t like and do some more writing, probably. And drink a moderate amount of wine, and feel moderately guilty about it. The story of me and wine is definitely a post for another time.

If you read this and have anything to share about the experience of reading my journal ramblings, I will be most interested!

Snug

Your head
no longer fits snugly under my chin.
You say you want cuddles,
but invariably
you mean wriggles.
Some days you are a tiny dictator,
pounding your insistent fist,
and wailing your thwarted will
across the horizon,
biting your displeasure,
an imprint on my skin.
The cat is no longer safe.
And yet.
Before the sun comes up,
when you call me,
your voice a battery-powered crackle
through the walls,
I pull you in
and wonder what sweetness
another day with you will bring.