J is away at her nannas this weekend, leaving me and W all alone. When I have told this to people I have been met with mainly 3 different responses…
1. From parents with young children, ‘Ah you get to sleep!’ Yes me and W have slept in a little more than usual, but we normally do get eight hours sleep as we worked very hard when J was born to help her be a good sleeper. Also I like getting up early, I feel like I get more done and when I have a lie in I feel like a lazy slob!
2. From new couples without children, ‘Now you get to have some romantie time!’ Me and W have been together for 7 years, so when I asked him what he wanted to do with our time alone, I was hoping he’d suggest a long drive in the countryside and a cosy little B&B. Instead he said it was a great opportunitiy for us to go through our pensions and got some DIY done! As you can tell W is a practical man and, to be fair, he was right, it was a great time to do those things, espically while we are on a budget and do not have the money for romantic getaways.
3. From my 20 year old friends, ‘Yeah you get to go nuts!’ I’m 33. I have been going out partying since I was 15 and over the years I have partied like a rock star and loved it. But now I am well and truely over it! Instead me and W ate alot of very unhealthy carbs at my best friends house. I drank a half bottle of red and had 3 shorts of Bailey’s (not a great mix), went to bed at 11 ( an hour later than my usual bedtime,) and woke up at 9 with a hangover!
However I did get one response that did truly reflect how I really felt and this came from my 84 year old gran, who said, ‘Oh no that’s too long…what are you going to do with yourself?’
And there’s the truth!
I will admit there has been time over the last few weeks when I have wanted a few more minutes in bed with W or to have some time to go to gym or have a night out with friends. But now that time is here I miss J deeply. The house feels cold and too quiet and I feel a little alone and lost.
If she were here my whole weekend would be about her. Giving her the time I don’t get to give in the week (as I work full time). And trying to make that time as fun (and cheap) as possible.
A typical weekend would consist of me smiling from the minute I see her face in the morning, and getting excited by the idea of spending time with her. Till at the end of the day when it’s time for bed and I like to talk through with her all the great things we have done and which we liked best (if she is still awake).
However I am a positive realist and I realise some time away is good for us both, she gets to do different fun things and form a deeper bond with her other family members and I get to give more attention to the other important aspects of my life.
Also if I do my job right there will come a day she will leave home and start her own life. When I think of this time I hope me and W will be able to embrace it and see it as an opportunity to lovingly develop ourselves and our relationship again. And I also don’t want to begin that phase of our life from point zero.
So instead I want to use this weekend without J as a preparation for a very distant but hopeful future.
For more information on how I tried to accomplish this please see my next installment of ‘Life without kids.’
Base of Operations. That is what they had nicknamed their small Audenshaw terrace house. She had never wanted to live in one, it reminded her too much of the opening credits of Coronation Street; poor, northern and common. But a serious of unfortunate events; including a change of jobs, a picky landlady and a panicking pregnant woman had landed them here. In a 3 up 2 down, on a slightly shabby looking street with no drive or front garden and neighbours that were a just a little too noisy for him.
“I’m not even going to decorate.” she had declared, when they moved in. “This will merely be our Base of Operations. A cheap little house that will allow us to save money for our dream home.” And for the pass two years she had, almost, staid true to her word. The nursery of courses needed to be decorated. Then her mother in law had stayed with them for 2 weeks after the birth, this meant the living room had to be tarted up a bit with some new furniture and curtains. As the baby grew safety supply’s were added, baby gates and electrical covers. Then some comforts for the little one, a toy box in the living room and a rug in the kitchen to stop any dangerous falls. When things had broken they had been fixed. But their bedroom had been left bare despite her waking up and wishing for a chandelier above her head and some retro paintings on the wall.
There were times she hated that house. Like when they visited her friends new detached 1940s house in Hyde. Huge front yard, massive green back garden, separate dining and living room. She couldn’t even think of inviting her family round for dinner-she had no where to sit them. Friends seemed fine with coming over for a coffee or pizza and chips on the floor, it made them feel like they were back in uni. But everyone hated parking there! A narrow dead end and street where the cars parked on both sides-manoeuvring of any description was impossible, her father had restored to reversing down the road, dropping her off them driving straight back out again! And those days when the sun shone through the windows! Arrr! The light easily showed up all the milk stains on the black leather coach, the dust that settled everywhere, the cobwebs in the lampshades and corners, the food stained door handles-God they were pigs. But with three jobs between two of them, a baby to look after and then trying to make time for friends, family and relaxation, cleaning was something that they did in fits and starts.
But somehow despite all its faults she had never been happier. How could happiness be so simple, she had wondered. She enjoyed seeing the local children play in the street. Come rain or shine. It was nice to see old fashioned street games and kids enjoying the fresh air. It would make her nostalgic for her youth. She loved the sound of the children centre, down the road, on a Sunday that had an unending parade of little boys and girls in fancy dress. Seeing such happiness was infectious. The fact that the walls of her home were thin was comforting to her, especially on those nights he worked late and she found herself alone. Hearing her neighbours chatting and running up and down stairs made her feel she was part of something. And the daffodils they had planted last year were now blooming right outside the kitchen window, she loved to watch them blow in the breeze while she washed the pots.
She would ponder as she bathed in her tiny tub with her even tinier toddler, singing nursery rhymes she could remember from her youth. Or when cooking up a storm in the kitchen with her best friend, a glass of wine and laughing about life. Or when the two of them would dance in the living room to the latest Bruno Mars tracks, throwing their giggling baby in the air. Or when by 9 o clock at nigh, tired and cuddling in bed with Big Bang on the Ipad and sharing a bowl of ice-cream and he would murmur “I love you” into her hair before kissing her head…
did other people feel this kind of love? This kind of happiness?
In University I met a girl called Claire. Claire was of medium height, medium brown hair, fair skin, an athletic build, big brown eyes and a full mouth. She was the type of girl woman think of as unthreatening and nice but men seem to fall at their feet for. She was kind and friendly and although she hung around in the cool set she was happy to become my friend and bring me into her group of “red of mamas” and for this I will be forever grateful.
As I got to know her and the mamas I found they all had three things in common.
They were all attractive sexy girls who oozed confidence
They had all been geeks, had their heart broken or lived a solitary life before University
They all had the gift of the gab!
And Claire was the best at it.
During one summer we both got an office job together at Wimbledon. We had to answer phones, call suppliers, chase up the waitresses and keep everything looking nice.
One day Claire brought in a packet of 4 blueberry muffins for us to share. She had picked them up from the local Tesco’s. I wasn’t hungry but Claire dove in. Immediately the abuse started.
“Where are my blueberries!” She scorned, as she tried to find the blueberries in the muffin. Getting her plate she began tearing her muffin apart. “Two blueberries” she said. “Two! In a blueberry muffin!”
“Maybe it’s just that one” I said trying to calm her down.
Claire ripped into the other 3, trying to find more blueberries. The most she could find was three in one and 2 in the others.
“I’m not having this!” She said starting screaming.
“What are you going to do though?” I asked. “You can’t take them back now”.
Picking up the blueberry packet she scanned the back for a phone number she could find and there it was.
Once through she laid into the poor sod on the other end of the line. “I have just bought a 4 packet of blueberry muffins this morning and there are only 2 blueberries in each muffin! How dare you try and sell blueberry muffins this way!” She started. I was gobsmacked. Didn’t she realise how deranged she sounded going on about blueberries and muffins. What did the bloke on the other end of the line think of this bat shit crazy woman? After all it wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t made the muffins or been in charge of inspecting them. She shouldn’t be angry at him.
I knew she was also not going to get anywhere. What did they care if there were not enough blueberries for her enjoyment? What would she prefer? 4/5/6-21? Where did it end? She had bought them, she should have checked them. Tesco’s is a massive super store, what do they care if one little girl didn’t like her breakfast muffins that day?
But as I listened I was flabbier gasped to hear her tone turning friendlier. She was getting what she wanted!
By the end of the conversation the man had apologised, promised a full refund on her return to the store and free 4 packets of muffins at her choice!
Pondering Claire’s win I knew it wasn’t because of her beauty. The man did not know what she looked like. So why had he given in?
It must be because of the confrontational manner she had used. The poor sod had probably been trying to get her off the line as quickly as possible. People like an easy like, so to kick up a fuss must get you somewhere.
With this in mind I decided I put my idea into practice.
I had received a letter from my bank asking for money. They were in the wrong and I knew it. Usually I would have gone in calmly and spoken to the man in the glass office to sort out a deal. This time I went in ranting and raving and causing a scene.
The man became very tough and asked me to leave!
So why had Claire’s worked and not mine. What had I done wrong?
Talking to my dad about it he explained how Claire was obviously a good judge of character. When the poor boy had answered the phone she knew he was weak and mild, maybe hungover and had a little bit of power to shut her up. But the bank manager was no fool and dealt with dickheads every day, I was no expectation.
And I knew my dad was right for he is a great arguer.
One of my fondest memories of college involves my dad.
I was being picked on by a teacher. Yep a teacher. He was teaching morality at college. It was a new thing that all students had to do and he hated teaching it. You could see it in the way he would slouch into the room and then loudly proclaim the answers to all these deep questions on life, such as was there a heaven and was it ever right to steal? He usually taught business but was close to retirement and had plans to drive busses (his hobby in his spare time) when he left. He had wanted a classroom of quiet, uninterested students who would take him at his word. He did not want debate or confrontation. Unfortunately he had me in his class. I was very into thinking outside the box and hearing different points of view. I could see 2, 3, 4 sides to every story and wanted to explore them all. This angered the teacher. Every class he would force his opinions down ours (and especially me), unwavering. Looking back he was probably a sexist pig who didn’t like woman asking questions-especially 17 year old girls. I began to hate his lessons and would feel scared walking into the darkly lit classroom.
During parents evening I explained all this to my dad who went ballistic. Sitting down with the teacher my dad tore him apart. He didn’t raise he voice or get angry. He asked lots of questions and let the teacher dig his own grave. Half way through I could see the bewilderment in the teacher’s eyes. Where had this brilliant arguer come from? He wanted him gone. But my dad was not done. Bit by bit he made the teacher apologise and promise to change his ways. The following week I found the teacher had left the morality class and we had a new much nicer teacher!
Since then I have always studied my dad for skills on complaining. He stays calm. Takes emotion out of it. He likes to go in with all the facts. He will say if the person has done anything good, but bring up the negatives. Sometimes he will tell a little lie. And he will ask for a big reward, knowing he will be met half way (which is often more than he would accept). I take many of these skills into my own compliant process.
However I have found there is a massive difference between my dad and me. He is a 50 + year old man and I am a much younger woman. People treat us differently. If I try and take on my dad’s techniques completely people can see me as being too confrontational and become argumentative, with their guard up-which gets me nowhere.
In these instances I have to revert to the “you catch more bees with honey approach”. A female technique of being nice, sweet and passive gets you more. People (especially men) want to help you and feel good for being kind to a victim like you.
So a few days after talking to my dad about the bank I went back and tried it sweetly but his way. I was apologetic, said I would pay everything if needed but I was confused as I thought I had already paid, this, this and this. By the end the bank manager had let me off and given me a longer period of paying back for any other loans!
If you take the time to watch and learn from people you will see there are many different ways to complain. The logic of my dad, my sweetness, Claire’s hostility. But what I have found to be the truest is you don’t get nothing if you don’t ask.
Many a time people will get what they want merely through speaking up. In its simplest form nobody knows you’re upset until you tell them. Once you have voiced your frustration people seem quite keen to help. It is a very human and British instinct of not wanting to upset anyone. Worried about the repercussion of not helping or because they simply can’t be arsed to fight. Many companies want to give you a good service, so if it’s a complaint they like to fix it.
As my uncle the chief says “I love it when people complain. How do I know if the food is good or not unless people tell me?”
When saying this to me he was referring to have difficult people find it to complain. The amount of times I have been to a bad restaurant and smiled nicely to the bad waiter when he asked “is everything ok?”
People (especially the British), get worried about “causing a scene” and choosing their battle. And they are right too.
I once went to a very bad restaurant where my friends steak and chips where so undercooked they were still frozen. I wanted to sneak out without paying. But he called the waiter over and went ballistic. Demanding a fully cooked dinner for free. The waiter apologised, took it away and came back with the same plate that had now been cooked a little longer. It was disgusting and we walked out without paying. But the whole time I was cringing with embarrassment. The whole meal and day had now been ruined by my friend making a scene. I knew the waiter had probably spat on the plate or done some other disgusting thing (never complain to a waiter). And ultimately we were not going to get a good free dinner. We should have just walked out-which I have done and will continue to do.
So honey. As you make your way through this life, watch people who are good at complaining and see if you can do it to. Pick you battles, use all your skills and charms. Don’t be a constant complainer or jump on a person straight away over one little thing-no one will like you for that. But all in all, don’t be scared and speak up-you never know-you might actually get what you want.
There are many things my parents did growing up that I will apply to my own parental skills. Going out at weekends, learning to swim, taking you abroad, showing you the importance of family, respecting your elders, encouraging independence. However there is one or two things I will not encourage, and this includes TV.
Since it’s inventions parents have been plopping children in front of this electrical baby sitter while the adults can get on with other tasks, such as cleaning and cooking.
And who can blame them. It was easy and it worked.
Many a child would be hypnotised by the bright lights, funny noises and silly faces they would see flashing before their eyes.
This was certainty true for me. By age 8 one of my families nicknames for me was “square eyes” as I would sit soo close to the TV. We never needed to buy a TV guide as I would know what was coming on and when. (This was back in the day of 5 TV channels and TV guides had to be bought.)
It was all light-hearted banter when I was younger, but as I grew my parents would lament how I didn’t go outside to play like the other children did. How I had no interest in games or friends but instead would throw a tantrum if someone stood in front of the TV screen. How it would take several attempts at calling my name before I would answer. And the TV would have to be turned off it my parents wanted me to remember something.
I look back now and remember entire summers passing by the French living room windows while I watched Dawson’s Creek. How lads on the street would knock on and ask me to play and I would say no as one show or another was coming on. This lack of social interaction as a kid explains why I was so socially awkward as a teenager and adult. Deciding to sit back, watch and be quiet rather than interact.
But I do not feel the blame for my TV addiction can be laid entirely on my parents. They did try and get me out and encourage friendship. I remember having one massive fight with my mother, when I was 14, during a summer holiday to a caravan park. I didn’t want to leave the caravan and go out despite the fact my mum had allowed me to bring a friend and had brought me new cloths. Instead I wanted to stay in with my friend and watch TV.
The seeds had been sown at a young age and I was hooked. I remember one day at primary school. We had to keep a journal and on Monday mornings we would write what we had done at the weekend. We could then draw any picture we wanted to go with it. Afterwards the teacher would check your spelling, handwriting and vocabulary skills. One giving the teacher mine she looked horrified! I had written about all the TV I had watched at the weekend. Including the tape cassette of Movies my mum kept in a box for me to watch when I wanted. She called my parents in to discuss my diary. My mum was horrified and explained we had also gone out shopping and see family, none of which I had written about.
I am aware not all children become addicted to the TV like I did. I watch my two nephews, now, aged 3 and 6. One is exatvly like me as a child-quiet, introvert and viewed as a little odd. While his younger brother is exactly like his mother. No attention span and prefers to be outdoors whizzing around than sat on a comfy sofa whatching his favourite cartoons.
And of course not all TV is bad for us. Some of it is very educational. I learnt numbers, telling time and spelling from Sesame street and BCC’s The Bus Stop. As I grew older the travel and historical doumentaies showed me a world in more interesting and captivating detail than any classroom book could ever do. And I think back fondly of movie nights with friends or family, sat on the floor eating take out and watching a chick flick, or being taken to the cinema by my dad as a treat on birthdays.
And good TV to this day still makes me think and inspires me to do and be better. For instance, last night Big Bang Theory Lenord inspired me to write this article, when lamenting with Sheldon that he has based his whole personality on the fictional character Spock “Well, now instead of idolizing fictional characters, you can focus on the real people who are already in your life.” I feel this is something I have been guilty of. Wondering why life did not play out the way I had been shown through the storylines on TV and often basing my actions or personality of different fictional characters.
This twisted view of reality is something I feel everyday. My joy of watching murder mysteries and detective shows is the reason why I am never completely comfortable at night or in the dark. Images of murders and rapists running through my mind. I know its why I think nearly everyone I meet is a paedophile and ready to destroy my life. (“Its always the ones you least expect and you can never trust anyone” is the motto of many a murder mystery)
I also enjoy shows about accomplishing a dream and succeeding. However this has made me feel that “anyone can become anything they want”. An idea I know, through harsh reality, to be complelty wrong. With many people never being clever enough, or talented enough or the wrong personality to accomplish their dreams.
Instead, it is only now as a 30 something, that, as Leonard said, I try to take inspiration from the real people around me and judge my reality on the actual world and experiences I live through.
Another reason I would like to dissuade you away from a life of TV is its zombing effect. How unsocial-able, unmotivated and restrictive it makes people How many times I have said to myself ” on the next break I will get up and do something” or ” just one more episode then I will go out”. If instead I turned the TV off and did all the things I should be doing instead, such as the cleaning or going for a walk or reading a book, how much more diverse and fulfilling my life would be.
I can remember spending weekends lying on the coach watching one repeat after the next and by the end of the day feeling fat from the food I had gorge on, my body drained off all life and energy, my brain zapped of all personality, unable to sleep and feeling like shit.
This Christmas I was saddened and angered to see the TV on. I visited 3 different houses Christmas day and each one had the TV blaring on in the background. Each addictive little black box showing a Christmas movie and at least one person sat in front of it, glued. Despite the fact they had seen the movie many times before and in the next room was their love ones talking and sharing seasonal celebrations.
On boxing day I had to laugh as your dad took nearly 30 minutes to pack the car for our journey home. Walking through the living room which had the Coronation Street Ominous on. I would watch him walk into the room, bag in his arms and suddenly be strook dumb, watching, opened mouth as the gripping story unfolded on the screen. “You don’t even watch Coronation Street!” I would shout to encourage him forward.
Now I know there will be those who will argue to you the TV is a relaxation tool that allows you to tune out for a while. And this is completely true and I do not begrudge anyone who at the end of a long days work likes to put their feet up and watch a programme or movie. However this should be for 1-2 hours a day, max! Not throughout the day!
Convincing people of this in the present day though is hard. As we are living in an age were binge watching is encouraged. Advert after advert encourages us to watched whole series in huge chunks. Giving up our weekends or being late for work in order to watch them. WHY! What possible benefit does this give us? A walk in the fresh air, a swim, visiting our friends and family would be just as relaxing and far more beneficial.
This is why several months ago I decided to run a little personal experiment. I wanted to see if I could dramatically cut down the amount of time I spent in front of the TV. This had been prompted by not wanting you to pick up my habit of TV being a large source of entertainment and relaxation in her life.
As my experiment started I was disgusted by how much I did rely on the TV. It was one of the first things I touched in the morning and last thing at night. It took part in nearly all aspect of my day. While I was eating, cleaning, socialising and chilling.
I immediately decided I would not have it on for “background noise”, where I was doing things and only half watching the TV. Instead I put the radio on. Being very irritated by my usual radio station that repeated the same songs throughout the day I started listening to other stations and have found several other shows and music generes I now enjoy listening to. Including classical music, talk shows and radio plays. I feel this has made me a much more rounded sense of music and culture.
I then decided I would only watch shows I really wanted to and would stop watching any old shit just to “fill the time”. Doing this really stream lined what I watched and how often. Eventually I found I was watching a lot less TV and if nothing was one I turned it off. This promoted me to downgrade my TV package which saved me £20 a month. My electrity bill also started coming down more, as although I had replaced TV with radio the radio is a lot less cheaper.
The other benefit is I find myself concentrating on more important issues than the TV and loving it. Im a better cook now I fully concentrate on the food and don’t “nip off” to watch a show. I play with you more, instead of sat half watching TV while you play on the floor. I get many “weekend jobs” done in the evening such as answering letters and emails or managing my budget more efficiently. I talk to your dad and concentrate on what he says, sitting in the kitchen, chewing the fat is a lot of fun.
I have not got rid of the TV completely. I still turn it on in the morning to watch the news when I’m feeding you and in the evening after dinner to chill out. And you father has convinced me that I should allow you to watch children’s TV on weekend mornings, as he has found memories of this as a child. Cereal on his pyjama clad lap as he stared up at the screen. However this will not be for long. I also do find myself going to bed a little earlier in order to read or write as “there is nothing good on”. And I have refused your dads idea of having a TV in the bedroom/kitchen or bathroom.
Personally I am surprised to have found how easy it was to give up and how little I miss it. Instead I waver between being very irritated when I see it on and knowing that I have stuff to do-like a person talking none stop in your ear when your trying to think. And appreciating the good shows and movies that I allow myself to watch.
However I still have some strides to make. I would like to have dinner without a TV on and instead talk or listen to music. But your dad has said a big fat NO to this. The TV is on more than I would like at the weekend. Especially during these cold wet months were going out is unappealing and costs more than we can afford. The trick I’ve found with this is to plan my weekend so as to avoid the TV or just live like it doesn’t exist.
As for you my darling daughter. I hope this article goes some way to explaining the life you will be leading and my decisions behind it. You will probably hate me at some point in your life for coming down harsh on TV and IPad (or there future equivalent). However you will not be completely restricted from it, as I can not control what happens in other peoples home, such as your grandparents and aunts house. But I do hope that you will come to see TV as a minor distraction in this big game of life. And that, unlike me, you will go out and play, socialise with friends and not let the real world pass you by.
Buying presents at Christmas is something you will probably want to start doing when you get your first stint of pocket money. As a child buying presents for my love ones was fun. Thinking about what they liked and what I could afford. Liquorice allsorts for my mum, socks for dad and Boots beauty boxes for sisters. But as an modern adult life tries to suck the love, thought and sacrifice out of these gifts and instead replace it with worry, shame and guilt. So honey hear is some advice I have for you on buying Christmas presents.
Present buying should be heartfelt and fun.
The amount of people who get stressed at this time of year is staggering. Pushed into spending too much. I know people who work over time and extra weekend jobs to pay for this time of year. Buying gift after gift. So many mothers I know look at the pile of presents under the tree and wonder if it is enough? (Enough for what?) Others will get into debt while those unable to buy, buy, buy will feel embarrassment and depression.
Because, the western world would have you believe the gifts you buy reflect on the success you have made of your life.
In England we are bombarded with images, sounds and smells that all tell us to in order to have a good christmas and be seen as normal people we must pay, pay, pay!
And the guilt, of not living up to these commercialised standards (unlike English snow at Christmas) is laid thick. With the undertones of adverts hinting that however much money you spend on someone reflects how much they mean to you!
But, be aware honey, this is all a lie that has been fed to us to spend, spend spend. If we don’t, we are scrooges who hate Christmas and who cant just have a good time.
2. Christmas is NOT about the presents
Christmas means many things to many people.
Looking back over my past Christmas the memories I cherish are of being with family. Waking up early and sharing the excitement, a special breakfast, a festive movie, a long winter walk, a stuffing dinner, drinking till you cant stand, laughing till it hurts, leftovers, board games, the queens speech and Christmas songs. I love how my mum tells the same stories every year and they are still hilarious. I love watching the dads assemble the gifts they bought the kids. I love watching the children play in the wrapping paper. I love assembling my little pile of presents and thinking where to put them and when and what I can spend my vouchers on.
In fact the presents themselves rank very low in my favourite memories. This is not because I didn’t get a lot. I was a child of the 90’s and on Christmas morning the presents would spill out from under the tree, almost blocking the living room door. But, as a child, I really only remember two Christmas gifts. My Little pony and Design Wheel. I remember these as I loved them and used them everyday.
This is why I am so saddened when parents become stressed at this time of year. Trying to give their children a good Christmas. When really it means more to mum and dad then the kids.
3. Do not worry about “appearances”.
This is hard and something I still deal with. Especially in the world I live in of social media and live streaming Facebook seems to exist to show the world how “wonderful” your life is.
Don’t get me wrong. I have pangs if jealousy when I find out the people around me have been brought expensive presents or have spent hundreds on pounds on their love ones, or have bought 11 present for each of their children.
But then I sit and wonder how happy are they really?
Did the person who buy it have to get into debt to afford it, see less of their love ones while working over time? Did the gift last or live up to expectations? Was it bought purely to make others jealous and then stuffed in a cupboard never to be used? Or did they truly love and cherish it and not care what others think. I have to wonder.
It seems to me getting the things we want or the flash expensive gift only brings us fleeting of happiness. And if the gift were to give any more depth of feeling does that no just show how shallow and limited the person who places there happiness on it is.
4. Remember it has not ALWAYS been this way.
What I think annoys me the most about present giving at Christmas thou is historically this need to buy more, buy bigger and buy more expensive is a new trend.I know my parents and grandparents tell very different stories of Christmas. Of feeling grateful for the one gift they got and playing with that all day. Perhaps it is something we adopted from the commercial loving Americans or perhaps it stems from the materialistic 80s. Either way this “tradition” of buying a lot of gifts is something we have made up, purely to feed the money gods. So the norms people are presenting of the indulgence and Christmas going hand in hand is simply not true and a norm only in that persons head.
5. Love can not be bought.
Lastly I will not be buying a lot of gifts as I have a baby girl and I do not wish her to think my love and her happiness can be bought, wrapped and opened under a tree. I want her to know I love her all year round. That even if I was a billionaire there would never be a present I could buy to show my love. That there is more to us as people than the things we own. That there are children in our own city who will receive nothing this year and instead will be asking for a little peace and safety, rather then a trip to the toy shop. Of course she will be getting gifts, but I will refuse to feel like a bad mom for not spoiling her (even if it is just one day a year).
So instead of living by the current media rules of present buying-buy alot, pay alot and shop till you drop. I would like to suggest, honey, that when you feel yourself stressed by the modern world and all its pressures you, (at least momentarily) reject all its principals and instead make up your own norm.
Here is some of mine to help.
1.By as many presents as possible locally from independent shops.This puts money back into my local community, the money goes to people who need it and is environmentally friendly, as products don’t have long to travel.
2.If I see something I like for someone throughout the year I keep it and place it in my Christmas bin. That way I will have a little collection of things that shows I have thought of them all year long.
3.Any vouchers you get on which you want nothing, spend them on others instead of throwing them away. This will help financially and again show they have been thought of.
4.Save money for big presents you know people have longed for, buy in sales then store away. It will be a really surprise and make you giddy knowing how happy it will make them.
5.Listen to the people around you. When they say they want something get it. Don’t make a list-you never check it. And the pressure of woundering what to get the person you love so short notice can only lead to buying Christmas themed tat!
6.Buy present for people who have been a part of your life. Not the people you feel obliged to buy for. The ones that have helped and loved you throughout the year. This is a time to say a loving thank you to them. The others get last minute socks and pjs.
7.If you are good with your hands or have a skill try and use that as a Christmas present. Again it shows thought, personalisation and is usually a bit cheaper.
8. Don’t buy charity items unless the person is passionate about that charity. Yes it is morally right to spend your money on helping those less fortunate, rather than buying another pair of socks. However, its a sad fact of life that no one really apprechiates this.
9.Remember Christmas is one day of the year, don’t bankrupt yourself or feel stressed out. Those who love you will understand and know you give love to them all year round.
The other day while hanging out with my mum, your gran playfully commented on your babbling “oh she’s a noisy baby, be quiet little one”. In a half jokey tone I said to you “No don’t be quiet honey, you are a lioness, let me hear you roar.” And I let out a loud roar. You caught my eye, smiled, giggled, a let out the cutest little roar. Everyone fell about cooing, kissing and hugging you.
The following week I told this tale to one of my mummy friends who has a baby girl 4 months younger than you. Her eyes lit up and she admitted she did the same to her husband. “Whenever he shushes her I tell him not to.”
Nither one of us said our determination to encourage you to speak was because these noises where the first babblings of speech and verbal communication but because as woman we were both painfully aware of how girls are often still told to be seen and not heard.
A quiet little girl is cute and pleasing. A noisey little girl is attention grabbing and distruptive.
Every woman I knew grew up with this idea and for years it has effected our behaviour. No more painfully so than through the difficult teenage years.
I have very vivid memories of being 15 and madly in love with my very cool first proper boyfriend. He and his friends were the best things I had ever seen. They were into rock music, hung out at coffee shops at weekends, played pool in the city centre, skateboarded and went clubbing at nights.
I felt very honoured to be part of their group. Espically as I had been a greasy, spotty, swot for a few years, who had quietly spent her weekends at all girl sleepovers or movie nights with friends and families.
They were a great bunch of lads and they all treated me brilliantly. However as we sat drinking coffee, playing pool or listening to music I would feel very uncool. This was not their fault. I didn’t give them a chance to shout me down as I never spoke up. In my head all my thoughts, opinions and ideas seemed very stupid and immature compared to these worldly males, who spoke of religion, politics and history with such confidence.
I never told them lots of things about myself. Such as I preferred pop music to rock. Or that I would much have rather spent my weekend nights in an R&B club then a dingy rock club. I found skate boarding silly and hated the way they dressed
But instead of telling them any of this I would pretend this side of my personality didn’t exist, and until I could substitute it for one which would be more suitable to my surroundings I simply kept my mouth shut.
This did not mean my brain was turned off. Oh no. Instead I would sit and watch, learn from my surroundings and try and soak in whatever it was that made this crew so cool.
Sitting in the dark sweaty rock clubs, where I coundnt mosh, my back to the huge speaker, letting the base pump through my body, cooly taking it all in, in my little tarten skirt, high leather boots and black velet tank top, hoping I looked as sexy as hell and was acting as cool as could be.
But as I watched I realised something. The boys around were cool because they were so much more comfortable and sure of themselves then my little scared self. They seemed to know they had a right to be themselves, have an opinion and voice it. And even if they were wrong they argued it out. But it didn’t matter if they were wrong or right, what mattered was the speaking of it, of your thoughts, of you.
In comparison the girls me and every other girl I encounted were constantly searching for approval. Trying to find out what they should say to make you like them and if they didnt know what to do they either lied or kept quiet and tried looked prettye. Either fading into the background, hoping no one would ask their opinion or constantly be in hypermode, trying to please the whole world, but especially the sexy boys.
How I was to behave given this new realisation happen becaue of two men. The first was a friend of my boyfriend. was a fun guy who I could have a laugh and a chat with. However he was also a renowned womaniser who liked his girls young and virginal. One day we were sat in a coffee shop waiting for his latest girlfriend to arrive. He had been dating her for 4 months-which was a long time for him to spend with any one girl. Asking how this one had been able to keep his heart for so long, he admitted, smiling, it was because “She doesn’t speak. In four months she has only spoken a handful of times to me”. He voice was deadpan and I saw a few of the guys around me show signs of approval (To be fair not all of them did and some called him on his exist attitude). However the seed had been planted. I did not want to be a girl a man loved without every really knowing who she was (if she even had a clue herself). I ranted and rave at my friend and his dispicable behaviour. Years later he married a very succesful woman, so I do wounder if my words reached him.
The second came from a boyfriend I had at 18. By now I had had enough. I had a brain and I was going to start speaking from it. Only by talking about the things that interested me could I decide what my opinions were. I was going to talk and let people argue back. Convince me. Learn more about me, others and the world around me.
My latest squeeze took a vast amount of pleasure of arguing with me. He used to love to wind me (and everyone else) up. He was a great arguer and would sit and argue the sky was green and the grass was blue until you either walked away or killed him.
He was frustrating and fun in the same amount. And arguing with him often left me feeling incredibly stupid and angry. More than once I walked out on him, slamming the door loudly, after another heated debate on something or other. But at least my mind was working. And although I never won a fight (even when I was right) I learnt that using my voice could not only be fun.
Looking back I’m glad I found my voice. Even if I made more than one barman laugh at my loud silly comment just as the pub went quiet. Or made more than one person cringe at my crude questions. When I did argue Im sure I was not right all the time, nor was I classy, but I was still figuring out who I was, what I liked and what my opinions were and the only way I was ever going to know these was to talk, discuss and even have a few heated arguments.
I will admit there have been a few times over the recent years where I have thought it more prudent to bite my tongue then speak my mind (especially where family is involved). But these are the moments I now regret. As the people I love and who I have daily in my life do not know who the real me is. Keeping the peace, meant my parents, sisters, brothers in law and friends never knew how passionate I was on issues of sex, gender equality or the environment. I kept quiet as I was worried I would be shouted down, or seen as stupid. But now I would rather be shouted down and let out a whisper then be silenced all together.
So my darling girl. Never let others silence you and never gag yourself. Instead speak, discuss, argue and roar. Only then will you find your true self and the truth of those around you.
This week Paris was the victim of a terrorist attack. I visited Paris In my early 20’s and was struck by the romance of it. The pink blossom trees, the music that filled the air, the art and grace of it all. It saddens me to think of the violence and chaos that its people and tourists had had to endure because of the deranged mind of an extremist.
I have read and heard many things since this terrible event struck. However one thing that angered me was a heavily pregnant woman writing online that this atrocious act had made her fear the world she was now bringing her daughter into.
I have to admit for a while in my youth I too thought I would never have children as I did not want to bring a child into being that would have to live with all the hate, terror and evil of the world.
But to focus on the darkness means we never see the light.
This was demonstrated to me in 2011 when London was hit by riots. Our own people looted, ransacked and destroyed their city. People across the nation feared it would come to their cities as well. I remember leaving work early the second nights of the riots as my employers were worried over their employees safety. In horror we watched as police went to war with the street fighters. Water cannons were eventually brought out and after a while things started to settled down. The entire country was either saddened or angry by what had happened. The newspapers started trying to find blame, the government, immigration, students and it all felt empty and rotten.
Then something amazing happened.
The people of London came to the streets with their brooms, buckets and sponges and started to clean up the streets. Watching the shop keepers, bikers and homemakers mucking in and taking back their city and their dignity made me smile and remember that the whole world is not bad. It may seem that way when a few terrible idiots do something horrendous. But the vast majority of the world are good moral people trying to lead a pleasant life.
While pregnant with you a strong thought hit me. Once you were born my main job in life would be take care of you. Not just as a mother but as “a guardian”, to guide you, to keep you safe and healthy, give you an education and morals, to show you a good life and bring you a life filled of happy moments. The more a pondered this thought the more I realised that is what all people should do for one another. We need to take care of one another. My parents, grandparents , teachers and brownie leaders, all took care of me as a child and each played their part. And as I became an adult I tried to do it back. Looking after my friends, sisters and boyfriends. Sometimes with great success and sometimes not. Whatever the outcome we all tried to support one another, dance with them through the happy times and give a shoulder to cry on through the pain. It saddens me when I see homeless people as I believe there support system has failed them (either by their own doing or others lack of love) but they do act as warning signals as what becomes of us without the support and love of others.
As you grow I’m sure you will see more hatred and violence. I grew up in a world were the memory of Nazism was still fresh in gran mothers mind, IRA in my parents and “war on terror” in my own. There will always be evil. However do not bow to it.
Whenever there barbaric events happen I always remember the following. In WW2 Britain was hit by the Blitz, and Hitler tried to weaken the British moral by night after night of bombing. However, it backfired and only strengthened their resolve. The day after the 7 July London bus bombings Londoners were waiting for there buses to work. They refused to let the terrorist win. In 1996 Manchester was bomb by IRA. All I remember of it was a loud bang, no one being killed and the rejuvenation that happened to the city afterwards. New shopping centres and flats being built.
Yes there are evil people in this world. Corrupt governments that do shady deals rather then solve problems. Abusers who turn children into killers and manipulators who will let hundred of people die for their own self interest.
But there are also amazing people.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for daring to be a girl seeking an education. She survived and now fights for the right of female education. Aung San Suu Kyi was under 15 year house arrest for standing up to her government. She is now running her own political party. Doreen Lawrence son was murdered in a racially motivated attack, started her own charity and reformed the police. These woman show us that though the darkness of horror and abuse of women light can still shine brightly.
As amazing as these woman are thou honey there are other ways to help. Every year my boss goes to Africa to check up on the children he supports through education. This week your grandfather bought a sandwich for a homeless man in Brighton. Last month your father found a note on his car from a stranger who had pumped his flat tire. This month Auntie Amy is supporting a charity that gives toys to children from poverty families and you will be making a shoe box for a local families in destress.
So my darling girl. My advise to you is when the horror around you strikes. Do not dwell on the evil of it all and do not become numb to the pain and sadness. Instead light a candle. Say a pray. Kiss your love ones and tell them how you feel. Show your respect for the innocent that has gone to soon and think how you can help. It may be big, it may be small, it may be for the event itself, it may be to show love and kindness to others, but do something, for we are the quiet army, the soldiers of peace and we will not let the bastard’s win.
Sally was another girl I met at work and her name suited her. She was long and tall. But she also looked Amazonian, toned arms and legs, long blond hair, piecing blue eyes and a “bony” face. But she wasn’t vain or boastful. Instead she was incredibly approachable and friendly. When I looked at her “Suddenly I See” by K.T Tunsell would snap on inside my brain.
I was 22 and was running the Business Centre for the brand new Hilton Hotel in Manchester. It was a very glamorous job. The first client I had was a famous boxer who used all the conference rooms to advertise his new fight and do a weigh in. There was plenty of press and hot bodies that day!
The building itself was also amazing and towered above the skyline. Everyone was intrigued by it. As its employee I used it as my own personal playground. I wondered all around. I got friends discounted hotel rooms, I had work friends I’d visit in the basement kitchen and sample some of the amazing food, take the lift up to Cloud 23 (on 23rd floor) on my lunch breaks, which was the hotels bar and had a glass hole in the floor that allowed you to view down to the swimming pool, 20 floors below! I used the gym and pool for free and met my mate Rachel (who was a gym instructor) there. I got to sample the new menu for the restaurant and loved to gorge on the fresh croissants and coffee we offered for guests in the morning.
The Hotel was ran by a very powerful woman called Brenda. With peroxide blond hair and bright red lippy. She could be an outrageous flirt and a forced to be reckoned with.
My uniform was a very tight blue dress and brown necktie, a massive step up from my previous kitchen and supermarket stuffy uniforms. And when I wasn’t busy hob nobbing with celebrities or running around the hotel, I would spent my time either flirting with the cute gym guys and hotel electricians or would chat away with my French co-worker.
Looking back it all sounds very glamorous and it was a massive step up from the waitressing jobs I had been doing 3 months previously. However there was 2 problems
1.I was massively board. I often sat around all day with nothing to do and had not yet discovered the joys of the internet. The only thing that took up my spare time, was chatting to my work mates on the company’s internal messaging service. However we didn’t realise our conversations were being watched. So they were soon stopped once we were pulled into Brenda’s office and asked who “the drunk waiter with the drinking problem who steals the hotels wine was?” We were told we had to give him up or risked loosing out jobs-sorry Lawrence.
2.The hotel business is incredibly corrupt and the more outwardly glamorous the hotel the more rotten the core.
My boss was called Chris and he was a big heavy set man in his early 30’s who had a fiancé at home but tried it on with everyone at work. By the time I had left he was in an all out affair with a Team Leader, Samantha, who freely admitted she was sleeping with him to get a promotion.
My bosses second in command, Bill, was a lot more handsome but a bigger dick. He wore tight suits and pointy shoes and had no time for you unless he could get something out of you. Weather that be a pay rise, more power, an ego rub, sex or drugs. He was having a proper relationship with Samantha’s Second in Command, Claire-who was already eyeing Samantha’s job. I remember leaving the job shortly after catching Ben and Claire in the mixed toilets during the work Christmas party snorting coke of the basin sinks!
And although I had a few trysts while I was there I was not banging every Tom, Dick and Harry in the customer toilets during my lunch break as many of my bosses where.
In the end it was just not the place for me and I wanted to leave, but I didn’t know what my next step should be. I had finally worked my way up into a good position in a global business and I didn’t want to leave it for a shitty little job and I didn’t want to stay in hotel work where I knew the same sin lay. I was now university educated and I thought I might like to travel but other than that I was stuck.
Then she entered my life.
It’s odd how the right people can come into your life just at the right time. Maybe its fate, maybe it’s because you are just keeping your eyes open that little bit wider.
She was a waitress and part of my job was to make sure the new waitress where aware of how to serve correctly (I had three years of waitressing behind me so I was an old hand). When I met Sally it was obvious she knew what she was doing, she had had plenty of experience and was very level headed. So I made her a Team Leader and we got chatting.
It turned out she was a year older than me, had finished university two years ago and had also studied an English Degree. Since leaving Uni she had divided her time between England and the rest of the world. She was usually in England during the winter months when she could easily snag a waitress or bar job and see her family. But the rest of the time she worked as an ESOL teacher. I learnt this meant teaching foreign people English. During the summer months she got work in camps teaching children and the rest of the year she worked in schools and independent colleges teaching all ages.
During the quiet hours at work she told me how she had got her teaching qualification within a matter of months online and that is was quite cheap. Then she signed up to a couple of respectable ESOL teaching supplying business’s and had worked in America, Europe and Asia. She was now hoping for Australia or New Zealand. She gave me a few tips, like how some companies will pay for flights and set you up in a nice place during your stay. While others will put you on a plane, take your money and run as soon as you reach a foreign land. “Do your research” she said
As we talked a lightbulb clicked above my head and was getting brighter and brighter. This was the life I wanted. To teach people and be of some use. To travel and see the world. But return and see my family, friends and homeland from time to time. YES, YES, YES.
What impressed me the most about all of this was SHE DID IT ALONE! She wasn’t relying on a boyfriend or friend to come with her. She planned and did it all herself, by herself. “Arnt you scared?” I asked “Don’t you worry?”
“No more than I should” She answered. “I keep my wits about me, do my research, I don’t put myself in dangerous or silly situations, I surround myself with friends I meet, If I feel scared I leave, I find out where my embassy is, my local police station etc. I don’t keep a lot of cash on me, I always let someone know where I am and I always keep my phone charged”.
“Sounds like me on a Saturday night” I thought
“Yes the world can be a dangerous and scary place and things do happen. But it can also be fun, friendly and inviting and to shut yourself away from it all in the fear of the darkness is no life at all” she finished.
Wow! Yes, yes and yes. I want that life.
But could I actually do it?
To test myself I went to the one city I had always wanted to visit-Paris! I had planned to go after university with a friend, but she had pulled out last minute. I still had the cash saved, waiting for another time. Why not let the time be now! I did as Sally advised. I did my research, I found out about the dangers of Paris, I booked my hostel, got a tour book, found out the local embassy and I went for 4 days and 5 nights.
It was the beginning of one of the best adventures of my life.
Yes I made a few silly mistakes. The hostel turned out to be on a back street where hookers hang out. Meaning I couldn’t walk down the street in the dark on my own. But next time I checked on google earth and read a few more reviews. Then there was the creepy stranger who followed me through Paris until I ducked into a posh hotel knowing the receptionist would speak English and would shoe him off. I started wearing a ring on my wedding finger, to stop getting attention on the underground and tried eating pigs totters stew-yuck!
But I did it! And I did it all alone!
From my conversations with Sally I went to Paris, which led me to leaving the hotel business and getting 2 teaching qualifications, this led to me working in Madrid for a year and teaching English for another year in England, then having a career in education for the next 4 years after that! True by the end it wasn’t what I wanted anymore but I wasn’t the same person as I had been at 22 bored and sick of the waste of human life around me. Is it any wonder Sally was like a angle in the darkness.
So darling. My advice is if you find yourself stuck in life, unsure of where to go or what to do, keep your eyes (and heart) open for some inspirational real women who can show you the way and guide you through the dangers. The power of speaking to these people is immense.
There will be people you will meet in your life who will inspire you, who you will grow and learn from, who will give you an insight into yourself and the world and who will ultimately make you a better person.
The following chapters are of people I have met whose stories have stayed with me and who each taught me something about myself-the good and the bad
Chantelle and I worked together in 2003 as Kitchen Assistants for a huge canteen ran by the NHS for Manchester Dentistry School.
Everyday we would come in at 8’o clock. Put on our blue aprons, brown hair nets, white plastic gloves and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for over 500 hungry training dentists and nurses. We also cleared tables and worked the cash machine. I liked the job as it was in the middle of Manchester atop of a huge building with massive glass windows, which gave a spectacular view of the city I love. It was also easy work, with nice people and I was only there until I started University in London that September.
Chantelle was 17, smaller than me, incrediably skinner and the deepest shade of orange I had ever seen. (She once told me she went on the sunbed everyday for an hour!) She had long brown fake hair which she wore in a long pony tail, big bambi eyes and a Julie Roberts mouth. From all of this you would have expected her to be quite pretty. But to me she just looked weak. Her eyes were full of confusion and fear, her teen skin was already wrinkled from all the sunbathing and make up, her fake hair looked too heavy for her lollipop head, so she constantly had a look of being “dragged backwards”. Her tiny work uniform hung off her, making her looked buried and her thin twig like body seemed far too venerable.
Her small voice gave the impression she was 12-well this and the fact she had retained no information since Primary School, so she had the same brain as a 6 year old.
Everything was new and frightening to her. She was petrified to work the till as it was an old manual machine in which the user had to mentally work out the change. She was beyond stressed of making a mistake and being called up on it.
All of this made her a very enduring but comical girl, who I wanted to protect and yet tell silly tales of to my friends.
The silliest thing she ever did though is rather graphic and disgusing so skip forward now if you are of a weak disposition.
One morning I came into work at the same time as Chantelle and we went to to the changing room together, chatting away. This was the first time we had changed together, but she didn’t seem embarrassed so I tried not to be either, while I got dressed as quickly as I could, keeping my eyes firmly closed. When we were dressed and ready for work I said I was just going to use the ladies before we started making breakfast.
“I’ll come too” Chantelle sang. As if we were in a club together and making the toilet run part of the fun!
We sat in cubiles next to one another, at this point Chanettle decided to tell me in great detail about the poo she was having! Its shape, size and colour! I could not believe what I was hearing and was in fact lost for words. I started to wounder if this kind of thing gave her a sexual kick and that’s why she had been so keen to return to the loo with me.
Then she started to tell me she was on her period and again started describing the contents of her sanitry towel! Was she having a fit? What on earth made her think this kind of talk was acceptable or that I would be interested.
On my leaving the cubicle, Chantelle also existed. I was expecting to see some kind of homour on her face and for her to tell me she had been playing a pratical joke. Instead she looked at me with pure innocence and sweetness, as if she had just been telling me a Tellitubbies plot line.
Finally getting my words together I asked “Chantelle, do you usally talk to people about your poos and period?”
“Why yes. When we go to the loos together me and my friends always talk about them”. She said smiling.
“O….K.” I answered. “Well its nice you have that kind of closeness. But when your not with your bestfriends you should just keep that kind of information to yourself, as it makes people uncomfortable.”
Although I was keeping my voice steady inside I was shaking with laughter that I was having to tell a 17 year old girl not to describe her bowel movements in graphic detail to her work colleagues.
Chantelle took my advice kindly and never spoke to me of it again.
I have to admit I told a lot of people that story as a funny, shocking antidote about the stupidity of some people. It would always work. People would gasp and fall about in a fit of laughter as I gave them word for word what I had heard through the cubicle wall, in Chantelle’s, little girly voice, giving my best doe eyes impression. I even told our fellow work colleagues as a cautionary funny tale not to enter the loo with her (always making sure Chantelle wasn’t around when I did).
But this was short lived.
Shortly before I was due to leave for university I found out Chantelle had a long term drug dealing possive boyfriend who hit her all the time . Chantelle didn’t think his behaviour was wrong. She loved him, loved the fact he was so “passonate” about her and beside she was surrounded by domestic violence everyday, so just saw it as normal life.
I felt so ashamed. Here I had been using these poor girl as a but of a joke in order to get a few laughs out of people.
As with the toilet incident I tried to give her advice and explain that it wasn’t right or normal. If he loved her he would never want to see her in any pain and his posseive nature showed he didn’t trust her. I also gave her domestic violence numbers and cards. But when she came in with a black eye as “Rich had found one of the cards” I stopped. I was out of my depth, I knew no one I could turn to for advice or who I could introduce her to, I wanted to help but I was out of options, as horrible as it sounds she became a lost cause and I began to think she would never get out.
I sometimes think of her. I wounder did she survive? Did he go to jail and did she meet a nice man. I doubt it. Knowing her I can see her family and friends would never have allowed her to escape. She had probably been a victim of domestic violence from her own family and her lack of physical boundaries makes me wounder about rape and incest.
So my darling daughter, from Chantelle I learnt a very valuable lesson. After I had learnt the truth of Chantelle’s cruel and tragic life I felt terrible for the funny gossipy stories I had told of her behind her back. (As well as the guilt and shame for being unable to help her). I had thought her lack of boundaries had been a sign of stupidity. Instead it was a sign of the messed up universe she had grown up in and come to believe as normal. I stopped telling the story of Chantelle and instead whenever I wanted to gossip about the stupidity of a stranger I would stop myself. (Hopefully more often than not) as I don’t know the life that person has led and I can not judge them against the same standards as my own life. We are all different, and the educational benefit we receive, will not have been given to everyone. Nor will they all have had loving parents, protectors and defenders who will encourage and comfort them.