Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's my party

Terrible night. My six-year-old woke up about 1.30am, complaining of feeling sick and had to come into my bed. I think I managed about an hour of sleep after that. If we weren't traipsing to the bathroom, he was asking for water, tapping on the wooden bedhead or moaning: "Mummy, I feel sick." "Me too," I muttered into the pillow. I can virtually guarantee that one or other of the children are sick whenever my husband is away. It is as if he says to them: "Remember. Be good for Mummy and be sure and vomit lots while Daddy is away."

I do not know whether it is sleep deprivation but I cannot decide what to do tomorrow. Tomorrow being my birthday. In London, if I could get the day off work, I would often spend it alone shopping, seeing an exhibition or a movie and then out to dinner with my husband in the evening. I do not know where to go here. Can I replicate the birthday I would have had but in a different place or is that a dangerous thing to do? Will I compare and contrast and find my Northern life too different for my taste? Will I end up buying a saddle for no better reason than I fetched up in the saddle shop? Or, do I do something entirely different? Go for a bone-drenching beach walk alone? (Happy Birthday Billy-No-Mates.) Take the four-year-old and the baby to a castle? (If I was counting, I would estimate I have visited two castles this week.) Perhaps I will buy a birthday cake and share it with the builders. I will say: "It's my birthday and I have changed my mind about that wall you knocked down." I feel old. I am old. I am old enough to have to think about my age. Sometimes, I get it wrong. I think: "Am I 42? Or am I 43?" I once had to knock 10 years off my age when I applied for a job undercover. If you tell people you are 10 years younger than you are, they tend to think you haven't aged well. Even so, as I readjusted mentally to the new me, I thought: "This is quite nice actually. I could do this. I could start my life over again and write it differently this time."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Did something happen?

Having a black night of the soul and it is only a quarter to eight in the evening. Tony Blair may have lost his job today but I lost the TV zapper. Usually, this would not be a big problem but Tony Blair lost his job today and I want to watch the TV. Desperately. I want to watch the TV and I am about as frustrated as a former political journalist can get when she cannot find the zapper and the world at Westminster explodes in hubris and blinked away tears. It is not just that I cannot find the zapper. My eldest hid it. I know this because hiding the zapper so he can use it on a morning when he shouldn't is one of his charming idiosyncracies. I am feeling insanely aggrieved. Being a stay at home mother sucks. OK, I am not exactly a stay at home mother, I work at home but I used to have a life, not just a BBC News 24 habit. I brought my six-year-old home from school because he said he was not feeling well and let him slump in front of the TV despite his father's ban. A ban imposed because of swearing. That is to say, using words he hears, when he does things like hide the TV zapper from Mummy. That will teach me to show mercy. That is the very last time. I want to howl at the moon. I would but it is too early for the moon. I should be there sucking in that green leather drama. I should be in London. I should be talking to MPs and asking how was it for them. I want to know. How was it for them? If I cannot be there, the very least I want to do is watch it unroll on TV. What am I doing instead of having a career or even a bad viewing habit? I am throwing Thunderbirds and dressing up clothes around the sitting room getting certifiably hacked off at my lot. Hacked off does not cover it. I was supposed to go down to London today for a friend's leaving do. Courtesy of the rain, I missed my window of opportunity. My husband made it by leaving in the early hours and is not back till Friday. Now I feel trapped. It has been a grey rainy fed up kind of day. Then this evening the sun broke out, all golden and did you miss me? I could not even go out and say hello. I am held prisoner by small guards who sleep through their shift and hide my TV zapper. I may riot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sweet home

Two weeks today we are supposed to move house. Again. This time in the right direction out of the rented house and back into what is supposed to be our Northumberland dream home. Two weeks does not strike me as a long time when I look at the cottage. It still does not have a bathroom although it does have half a kitchen. There are carcasses of creamy doored cabinets but no svelte black granite tops; half an oak planked floor, the rest, polystyrene and wooden struts; half a pantry, that is to say, an alcove but no shelves. The builders have only just finished knocking another hole in a wall to connect two rooms. I was slightly disconcerted because I had forgotten the rooms were supposed to be connected. I said: "Are you sure you weren't holding the plans upside down?" They tell me they weren't.

I respect our architect's talent and creativity. He is also a very nice man who has come up with a design for a family home which works on a number of levels. I suspect he has not warmed to me after I accused him of chauvinism (perhaps I had PMT that day), reinstated the pantry which he hated and which I had agreed to scrap(women can be so indecisive) and, most recently, wanted a forensic analysis of why the wrong sort of insulation was put into the roof space (and picky. They can be very, very picky.). He had specified the type of insulation but local planners do not accept it. He said this was a recent change in planning regulations. I said: "How recent?" (I have no idea why I do not have any friends up here.) To his credit, he agreed to absorb the cost of the £1,500 to £2,000 insulation in his own bill. I am pretty sure he will not want to keep in touch after the job is over.

I am not sure what my builders think of me. I like the fact they take decisions. I just like to know the reasons behind the decisions. "Why have you put the pantry door on that way round?" "Why can we have a flat floor when we couldn't a week ago?" "Why have you knocked down that wall?" The builder looks at me for a split second. Sometimes, I think he is constructing his answer. Sometimes, I think he is thinking: "Why. Do you ask all these questions?" They are very patient with me but I think they like to talk to my husband. I suspect he provides them with answers rather than questions. Maybe they just feel sorry for him. Maybe they think I ask him: "Why do you want sex with me tonight?" Anyway, they have another two weeks to finish off the job and give us our house back. It will not be entirely finished. There is a string of arches in the farmyard which are also being converted. Work will continue on the arches when we move back in but I do not mind that. Frankly I will miss the builders when they leave.

I really want to move back. I feel adrift. It has been nice to be in a village to see other houses and cars drive by but I want to get on with my life. I want to move into a home where we have space, where we can stretch out and breathe. There is a pond in the garden of this rented house. We carefully covered it up. The boys equally carefully uncovered it. I want to open the door and let my sons out to play in the garden without worrying about whether they will drown. I want to fill my pantry with fancy tinned stuff that looks like art and glass jars of fruit we will never eat, not even at Christmas. I want to keep vanilla pods in sugar and have everything just so. For a day at least. That will be a very good day. One to remember. I want to go home.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Baby talk

I tell my baby girl: "I love you" one hundred times a day. The thought as natural as a breath. I chase and catch, hold her in my champion arms and kiss a perfection rounded cheek. I shout out: "I love you" as I whirl her round in celebration of my dazzling prize. Later, as we play, she sucks in her cheeks to moue a kiss, then, distracted by a brother or a toy, walks away. Disappointed in my loss, forlorn, I say: "I love you" to her back. Sitting on the kitchen floor, with infinite and tender care she tears the paper edging from a teabag, peers into the heart of her gift and fragrant pours it into her lap pot to join the rest. I, as ever, notice too late. Sigh, scoop and hug, whisper: "I love you" and pull her from the dried tea sea.

She walks now among our words, one small and trusting hand in mine. Unsteady still, sometimes she totters and then falls. Plump on her behind. Unpeturbed, she sits blank a while and then clambers up to try again to reach her goal of understanding. She says: "Mama. Loves. Loves me." True and sweet. Her mother loves her. She does not say the words she hears. She does not say: "I love you" though you would think she might. Might hope she would. Instead, she wraps herself entire in this one and truest certainty. "Mama. Loves. Me."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Womb with a view

I stayed and saw someone local. I have to say it was something of a Rubicon for me not to get on a train and go to my own man in London. Obviously, this was entirely because of my commitment to Northern living and had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact I did not think I could manage the journey without pulling the emergency handle for the guard to bring me more drugs. The local osteo was very nice. He thought I had sprained a ligament which had put my muscles into spasm. He hugged me. I like it when people hug me. He stood behind me and wrapped his arms around me and stretched me. He said: "Does that hurt?" I felt like saying: "Yes but I don't care." He pulled bits of me. Luckily, nothing came off. Nothing I needed anyway. Maybe I am taller. That would be nice. It might take me some time to figure that one out because I am still walking with a stoop. It is a shame about the stoop because my figure is lovely now I have a bad back. I have to say that it is not entirely my own work. I had to put a Wonderbra on because stooping makes your breasts dangle down to your knees. I also struggled into a pair of enormous elasticated knickers that promise to smooth away all your lumps and bumps which go all the way up to the bra and all the way down your thigh. They are the sort of knickers you buy to go with a particular silky outfit. As soon as you get home and take them out of the packet, you hold them out in front of you and think: "I do not care enough about how I look to walk round in these knickers all night." They do provide useful support when your back gives out though.

I liked the osteopath but he seemed to have a hidden agenda to change my entire life. Among other things, he advised I drank less tea and more water. Luckily he did not ask me whether I had a Chablis habit. He also said I should suck my abdominal muscles in. Apparently, sucking in your abdominal muscles makes you think about your movements more and protects you from momentum (which is a bad thing). "Guard yourself against momentum!" It is almost a bumper sticker. Finally, he said I should lie on my left side, curl myself into a foetal ball, stick a pillow between my legs and stay there. I said: "I can't spend my entire day in the foetal position much as I'd like to." But apparently, that is exactly what I should do whenever I feel the need, which will probably be just about all the time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back to basics

Gnarly I think might be the term for my body and mood. I am like Mrs Overall's younger sister. I am in such a bad way, I do not even know what to do about it. Every now and then, I crawl into bed and sob. Do I go to London to my own osteopath? Do I hang on and hope that someone can fit me in up here? My first instinct was to get on a train. Only the fact, I did not know whether I could make it from the train to the taxi rank the other end stopped me. I think I could just about make it if I did not carry a baby or a handbag. I might have to cry the whole four hours down there though. Alternatively, I could get slightly out of it on anti-inflammatories and white wine.

I have been looking forward to going down to London to see some friends and take care of a bit of business; it does not have the same attaction if I literally have to crawl back into town. Maybe I could tell everyone: "Fell orf the hunter. Damned shame. Had to shoot the horse." That would also explain the reek of alcohol if I started drinking with my GNER breakfast bap. It sounds so much more interesting than "Dicky back. Old crock. What can you do?" At one point my husband said: "You seem to be walking better." In what world does he live? My body is completely twisted and I am dragging a foot. The only thing I am missing is a bell-rope. There are times when it is thoroughly demoralising to live with an optimist.

A small part of me feels as if I should sort it out up here and that I cannot keep getting on a train every time I want a hair cut or a newspaper. (Actually, I did get a hair cut up here a few weeks ago. I hated it. It took the guy about seven minutes. Seven minutes. Maybe it takes my London hairdresser seven minutes and he spends another 30, crouched behind my head making scissor sounds, but I doubt it.) Another part thinks: "Go to London. See your own man. Make up some excuse and stay a while."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The moving finger writes

I have done something to my back. I cannot quite stand upright. Periodically I groan a lot. I was squatting next to the children, pleading with them to chose something in a shop so I could go back to a cup of tea and a cheese scone in the cafe next door. I admit I was buying silence. I am not proud of it but I was desperate for the tea. As I stood up, I thought: "Oops." It was so bad, I was clutching at the shelves. The nice shop assistant came over. I said: "Having a bit of a problem standing up. I just need a minute." He was about 23; he thought I was 70. The car was parked up a hill. As we laboured up it, my husband said to the boys: "We'll have to roll mummy down this hill like a pig in a barrel." I was in a considerable amount of pain at this point, hanging on to my husband's arm with one hand and holding on to my six-year-old's shoulder with the other. I stopped walking in silent protest. My six-year-old said: "I don't think you look like a pig Mummy," I smiled lovingly at my child, "even if Daddy does." I did not smile lovingly at his father.

We were en route from the hospital where we were having the six-year-old checked out by a consultant paediatrician to see if he had some sort of falling down disorder. (He doesn't.) This was at the suggestion of the school after a series of incidents in which my son was hurt. As responsible and courteous middle-class parents, we took their piece of paper with its Google search results on dyspraxia, said "Thank you" and that we would "look into it". My suspicion was that as the incidents tended to involve other children (sitting on him, for instance) and he did not seem to fall over spontaneously at home, any official medical diagnosis of a problem with motor skills was extremely unlikely. If I was in the habit of swearing, which of course I am not, I would have said it was an absolute fucking waste of time for all concerned.

I know some people still consider the fact I blogged my concerns about what was going on beyond the pale. Others, however, are back on board. I liked one mother very much the moment I met her; she had no great need of my company but I felt we had interests in common and when she needed my help, I gave it freely. The first time she cut me dead, I thought: "She didn't see me." The second time when I could not move a car fast enough for her, I thought: "What's going on?" The third time, I sucked my teeth and shook my head in regret as I strapped the children into the car. Then I thought: "You know. I don't think so." I crossed back over the road to where she stood with another waiting mother. I said: "Would you call me?". I waited but she didn't call. Two weeks went by until she e-mailed.

She wrote: “There's so much I want to say and most of it focuses on the appalling attitude I have recently adopted towards you. I haven't phoned you as you asked me to do because I was afraid you wouldn't really want to talk to me. I have behaved terribly, like a stupid spoilt child, not to mention sheep - following suit, if you know what I mean. I have never meant to ignore you, snub you or act coolly towards you. It's something I've never done to anyone before and believe you me it's preyed on my mind every day since I first heard about your blog. I actually feel quite disgusted with myself. Please forgive my rudeness. I am truly sorry for being so pathetic.”

I thought: "Cor blimey." I replied: “Listen honey. Fret not... I respect anyone's right to hold a different opinion to my own. 100%. Truly." I went on a bit, but that is the kiss and make up gist of it.I was slightly gobsmacked when she told me later, over a cup of tea, that caught up in the feeding frenzy, she, herself, had not read the blog. I admire her bravery though; having the courage and making the effort to apologise in such a handsome manner. Knowing when and how to say sorry is a gift. I am hoping she will be a new marra.

To a few, I remain: "The Unforgiven". Northumberland, although a huge county, is a small world. I blog. My words do not go away. They hang around in cyber-space, witness to my awful mood, my anger, my scary desperation. I look at them, sometimes in the same way as I look at my children and think: "Cor blimey. Are they mine?" They are. I cannot walk away from them. They would cling to my leg and scream. But the words thing; that cuts both ways. Everyone knows everyone else. Maybe, not directly; face-to-face. But they probably know someone who knows someone, a cousin, a neighbour, a sister in law. I do not know everything, but I know more than I want to about those who still ramble on about the blog. I think: "Get over it." I have.

Friday, June 15, 2007


I went out to my bookgroup last night. I don't go out much - for "much", read "at all". Last month, I got my dates mixed up and missed it. I was sooooo upset, not least because no one rang me to say: "Where were you?" The bookgroup is another attempt to make friends. Is it working? Hmmm. I might as well get the word "Needy" tattoed in scarlet letters on my forehead. I am obsessed with friendship. I blame being an only child. I am not prepared to compromise on what I expect from a friendship and what I am prepared to offer in return.

I do have friends here:
*a fellow London exile who laughs as I posture and lives along the road in the big house with the hot tub. He managed to make friends. I asked him how he did it. Golf and the weekly pub quiz. I said: "I could play golf." He said: "I don't think so."
*three old ladies; one who makes tea, one who makes conversation and one who makes peace.
*a city doctor and weekend visitor. She says: "How are you?" in that way that carers do. I say: "Fine. Y'know," and cry.
*I have a friend who made me ride a horse, one who took me to the hunt and another who let me drink her cow's raw milk; Godsome friends who, doubtless, think I will burn for my sins which are many; and mothers whom I meet and fight for words while children fight for attention and toys.
What I don't have yet is a Northern soulmate. These things take time; I know that it might be a while, but I am a careful hunter. I will lie here in the dry and golden grass, let the scent of water call her and wait out her coming.

There was a price to pay for the expedition and the cake. When I got home, my husband told me the boys had lost TV for a month. A month! That is to say until we move back in to our cottage. I was about as happy as the children were. It is one thing for me to take TV away, it is another for Billy the Kid to take it away. For a month. I wanted to know why. Apparently, the six year old swore at his brother and then his father. "Where the fuck did he hear that from? " I asked my husband. "I have no fucking idea," he said defensively. Not good. I have to admit neither of us have a clear conscience on this one. I am a foul and sweary Mary. I try to keep my expletives safely locked up and away from the children but occasionally they have been known to escape their hutch and scuttle, furry and obscene, around the kitchen. No TV for a month. Bugger.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

All aboard for the double decker

I am trying not to think of London as home; to think of it instead as "London", a place I used to live. A while ago, driving the children to the beach, we came over a hill, the narrow road falling away, cutting through the fields, out to the links. Tucked behind the golf club was a big red London bus. My first thought; "There's a big red London bus." I am nothing if not obvious. My second: "Can I get on it?" Third: "Will it take me home?" Tsk. Tsk. I mean London. Will this magical bus which I have brought into existence through the power of my own sweet and heady will, take me back to London? I glanced quickly at my husband as he pulled the car tight over into the side of the hedged road. I thought: "Can he see it? Can he see the bus? Or is it only me?" I am not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved when he said: "Look kids, a bus." He turned off the engine. "Make sure mummy doesn't get on it." I thought about running for it. I decided against it for fear the bus would pull away in a cloud of fumes and dirt just as I reached for the pole. They often do. I did not want to see the children's grim faces when I turned back to them, having bungled my escape.

Yesterday, I was braver. I hopped on. The Number 19, stopping at Finsbury Park, Highbury Barn, Highbury and Islington Station, Islington (St Mary's Church), Islington (Angel), Theobald's Road, Holborn Station, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, King's Road and Battersea Bridge. At night, it even went on to Clapham Junction Station. This is a good route for me. Ding Ding. All aboard. One of my best friends lives in Islington. I could drop by, drink dry wine and eat sweet cake. Say: "You're looking well". Try not to feel too old beside her blonde and lustrous beauty. Or, I could carry on, stop off at Holborn, close to where I worked once in TV land. I could walk through to Covent Garden, browse a while among the shops. Then again, my hairdresser is in Knightsbridge, I could call by. Say: "Darling. Look at me." I could hold my hair out from my scalp. "Can you fit me in? Can you? Can you?" Sob, when he says: "No". I could console my shaggy, silvering self with French coffee in Sloane Square; then cafe fortified, mooch with intent up the King's Road, spending money I don't have, buying back a life that is no longer mine.

Instead of all this, the big red London bus rumbled down along the A1 towards Newcastle. There is something about a bus journey, even if you are heading for nowhere you want to go. You think: "OK, this time is mine. I am excused a little while. Now, where is it that I'm going? Why? And who is it that I am again?" I sat on the top deck at the front of the bus. You have to if you want to pretend you are driving. You could tell you weren't in London. I think it was the little things: green fields and cows, giveaways both. I have rarely seen winter barley growing up through the cracks of the city's mean streets. Also, no sniffing, mumbling lunatic sat beside me with a leatherette shopper; its handles held tight in knuckly hands.

My conductor, a former management consultant, and the driver, a former miner, bought the Routemaster bus two years ago. It costs £15,000 to buy and do up a bus. It has done 3 million miles since it was first commissioned in 1966 and carried an estimated 3 million passengers. They call the bus "Kenny" after the mayoral man who sacked it from its city job. Now, instead of commuters and shoppers and metropolitan folk, it carries golfers and tourists up and down the a 39-mile stretch of Northumberland's sandy, castled coast. Yesterday, it was gentle and retired folk from Worcestershire admiring the oats, asking interested questions about sheep, heading for a day of puffins and history.

I like Kenny. I put my hand on his proud metal bonnet and felt it throb. I could tell Kenny likes me. I rang his bell. Twice. We have a lot in common the two of us. We're about the same age, we've been around, we've seen things, we're natural Londoners, we're probably both a bit too big, back end wise. Admittedly, no one points at mine like they do when he thunders past but Kenny and I have a bond. If I ever run away to London, I am taking the bus.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Alone on a wide wide sea

I am "interesting". Don't you think? I do such an interesting thing. Blog. Did I mention I have a book deal? That is interesting isn't it? Let me tell you about it. Let me tell you about blogging. Really. I am such an interesting person. You will never guess what I did this week. I sheared a sheep. Before I sheared the sheep, I chased a fox. Have you realised yet what an interesting person I am? Oh yes, I picked a fight and moved a house. These are the things you do when you are interesting. I could tell you a story or two. Oh yes, I could tell a tale of ghosties and goulies and things that go knock in the night. I could reach out for your hand and have you gulping down your sorrow, then traitor to your tears, make you laugh at my jester wit. If you listened that long. You would have to listen. To me. Me. Me. I am worth listening to. I might have to ask: "Have I told you this already?" Even if I have, you might not mind because after all, I am interesting. I haven't always lived here. Once upon a rainy days, I lived in London town. Did you know that? Do you read my blog? It is an on line diary. They are very popular these days. Mine is anyhows or used to be. And a book, I am writing a book if ever I find the time in my full and busy life. I sometimes ask myself: "How do I manage with the kids and all?"
But I do. I will tell you about it if you like. At length.

I have become a man. As a woman, I would have conversations. I prefer not to do that any more. As a man, I am free to lob my anecdotes in your direction and fully expect you to catch them. I have not yet become a character. I am as yet too young for that; doubtless it will come. As a man, I do not expect to have friends. They take up so much time. Time which I could spend being interesting. Time I could spend telling you about myself. A friend might disappoint. I prefer to avoid disappointment. I know people up here though, oh yes. Quite well: some of them quite like me. And I know more of them than I did. Not just my builders either. I have drunk tea with some, broken bread with a few. Obviously, I earned my place at table. "This is Wifey. She moved from London and she blogs." Cue my witty take on Northern life. But friendship, ah friendship, that is another story. Not mine.

Monday, June 11, 2007

It's a duck, dammit.

School is having an anti-bullying week. That is good. For the record, I am very happy with the practical strategies the excellent head and her caring, professional staff have put in place since my child was bullied.

Let's start from me being happy. Look at me sitting in the classroom, see me smile. I am relaxed and "happy" and prepared to listen. Indeed participate. Though I hate to participate in workshops. The only other workshop I ever attended was an anti-racism workshop at my son's previous primary school in the East End of London. Naturally enough, the only parents to attend an anti-racism workshop were those least likely to be racists. When I gently made that blazingly obvious point to the earnest and trendily multi-cultural woman in charge, (sorry, "running" the workshop,) I was told that we could feed back what we learnt to the other parents at the school gate. That is to say, we could hazard which of the young mothers sported a Union Jack hip tattoo underneath her thong and white sweats, then engage her in conversation about her right to wear a burkha. How exactly do you start that conversation: "Hello, you look like you might be a Nazi. How do you feel about Islam?"

We hardly need an anti-racism workshop in our school. There are no ethnic minority children. "Our" children are white; occasionally, they are freckled. Instead then, of raising our awareness of the dangers of racism, parents were invited to a workshop on emotional literacy and bullying. Hah! The problem with politically correct workshops is they turn me into a raving fascist. I am, to all intents and purposes, sitting still. In reality, as I listen to the liberal drivel which is sold to you as fact, I feel my orange plastic moulded chair move further and further to the right, so far and so fast, the world starts rushing by me in the opposite direction in a hasty pudding blur of Jerusalem and fireworks.

The workshop on emotional literacy started off: "When I am included, I feel..." We took it in turns to fill in the gap. I said "happy". I could have said "surprised". Then went on to: "When I am not included, I feel..." I said "gutted" That about covers it.

I drank my tea while the nice lady wrote things on her large pad of paper hanging from the board. Alert. Alert. I picked up my ginger biscuit and put it down again, uneaten. I have to be seriously disturbed not to finish a biscuit. The people who might be involved in a bullying incident include a "receiver". "Receiver"? Why not: "Victim"? She said she would come back to that. That was the moment the chair started travelling really fast through space and time.

We talked through a Lowry painting called "A Fight" where a man is having his hat pulled down over his head by a nasty looking oik while other cloth capped figures looked on. We talked through how the various players might feel; how you could not tell what was happening and who was doing what to whom because we were only catching a moment. Yeah. A moment where a Frankenstein looking bloke was moving forward towards a smaller, fat guy and ramming down his hat over his ears. Maybe, the Frankenstein guy, a Quaker, had snapped after three years of homophobic abuse by the short, fat, godless, debt collector. Maybe it was what passed for playful banter in Salford, around 1935. To me, someone has to start a fight, that is to say, the nasty oik and he was enjoying it. The painting was called "A fight" not "A beating" - fight, implies the other person was also involved in the fisticuffs. That too is loaded.

Then again,I have so much to learn as far as art appreciation and emotional literacy is concerned. Naively, I had thought in a bullying situation, there was a bully and a victim. I checked the handout the nice lady had given me, to make sure I had not misheard. It is explicit. There is a "person (or child) who is bullied" or who is a "target of bullying (rather than "victim")." It goes on: there is a "person doing the bullying, using bullying behaviour (rather than "bully")."

It goes on: "The reason for this choice of words is that bullying does not come about as a result of fixed personality traits in children, leading them to become a "bully" or a "victim" (both terms which can imply a permanence and resistance to change)."

I hesitate to suggest that some bullying comes about because the bully is an obnoxious piece of work. I would also question whether the words "bully" and "victim" imply permanence. People who promote strategies such as this one, have a habit of asserting their own system of beliefs, as if they are the Word of God. When you challenge them, they look at you as if they would really like to shake their heads in sorrow. If pressed, they flick on to page 59, headed "Frequently Asked Questions by Frequently Difficult Mothers" and then drown you in educationese gobbledegook.

The handout continues: "In fact, research suggests that many perfectly nice and popular children use bullying behaviours on occasions, and many are unaware of the devastating impact which their behaviour has on the children they target."

Well that's alright then.

Because you can attach the words "research suggests" to a statement does not make it true. I would also suggest that if they are "targeting" children to bully, I doubt very much whether they are "perfectly nice". These bullying children are being "bullies". If any one of my "perfectly nice" children used bullying behaviour, I would, without hesitation, call the little wretch a bully.

"It would also seem that anyone could become a target of bullying if the context allows this to happen."

"Context" presumably means the enormous, jug-eared 14-year-old who insists on pinning you against the walls and thumping you repeatedly because he thinks you are gay. The jug-eared one, is not a bully, he is demonstrating "bullying behaviour" for his own reasons. Doubtless, remembering that, would make it hurt less.

Then, outrageously, it asserts: "For most children the roles will be dependent on a situation, and they will be, over time and in different contexts, target, witness and person doing the bullying." That is to say, we are all bullies, passive bystanders and sometime victims. Patently and 100% not true. The nice woman assured us that in all likelihood, we had all been guilty of bullying behaviour or at least witnessed bullying. I wanted to groan out loud at this point; I wanted to clutch my face and shriek at her.

Forget God. Who listens to God these days? PC evangelists say these things as if they are stating scientific, provable facts. Not true. When I dared warble: "Not true" and that she could perhaps speak from her own experience but not for anybody else, certainly not for me, her answer was that perhaps I just "hadn't realised" what I had been doing. I did groan out loud then. How do you answer that one? Unless it is to beat her witless with a Lowry painting.

My child was excluded by other children from activities and was on the receiving end of aggression. He was for a time a victim. Point. Par. Ends. The school acted. They did a good job. He is no longer a victim and I am an altogether happier mother. I was not happy sitting in that classroom listening to politically correct drivel, passed on as received wisdom. At the end of it, I was so angry, my paper stick people shook in my hand as I gathered them to me in all their blame free glory. I was not shaking for my child. I was shaking for the children out there whose lives are misery; fat girls and misfit boys who will hang themselves this year or next. They will do that because of bullies. Let's use the B word.

When behaviour and actors in that behaviour are not given their proper names, the names everybody understands, it undermines faith in the rest of the strategy. Blithe, my nice lady assured the parents and teachers gathered before her, we did not want a "blame" scenario. Why not? What is wrong with blame? The flip side of blame is responsibility. Let's be sure and tell the kids. Step up to the mark, accept responsibility for your actions. Own it. Say it out loud; you are the only ones who can. "I'm a bully and you can't touch me for it."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fretting again

Sunshine licked my window pane, I thought: "The beach! The boys!" But the beach had other plans. Fretful fingers crawled out from the sea into my yesterday, across the sand, reaching for the marram grass to pull themselves, safe, on to land. Cloud curtained the castle as if a wild-eyed illusionist had swirled a gold silk lined cape and said: "Voila! Join me after the advertisement and I shall make the Eiffel Tower disappear and reappear in this snow globe." Close-up of an empty snow-globe.

Sandy families havered, hovering behind their turquoise plastic windbreaks as foggy walls walked across the beach to join them at their picnicking. Go; they moved whole. Stay; they watched their legs painted out in a white wash. I looked for the Lord or a long since gone loved one to come through the mist and smile at me, hold out a hand and with the other, gesture to the fog. I thought: "Am I dead? Is this how death will be? A swirling knee high mist and clammy chill? A feeling, somehow, somewhere, the day went astray?" I could not see the robed Lord; decided the departed could wait a while more.I gathered up wet suited boys, tight tethering me to this world, reached for their hands instead, and said: "Let's go home."

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Am mired in the muddy suspicion: "Is it my imagination or is the world out to get me?" Some drunk put his elbow through the front window of my rented house. How did that happen? We are living in a little village. The noisiest I have known it, is when they ring the church bells on Sunday. I lived in the East End for 10 years, did a drunk ever put his elbow through my lounge window in the East End? He did not. I am presuming it was a drunk, there is an outside chance it was a thief who decided to steal a child's toy. The children's toys are piled up on the window sill. I looked at the scattered glass shards littering the plastic garage and the box of farm animals and thought: "Surely, someone has not tried to steal a Thomas the Tank train?" You would have to be very bad or very sad to steal a child's toy. I gave the offender the benefit of the doubt and decided it was an anti-social drunk staggering home from the pub. I cannot believe they were so very drunk they cannot remember they broke a window. I would have apologised. Dropped round a card. "Terribly sorry. Absolute skinful. Broken window. Chagrin everywhere." I might even have signed it. With a name. Not necessarily mine. A Cockney apology would also have involved a jar of jellied eels on the doorstep the next morning.

Then I was driving home from the school run. The roads are occasionally very narrow and there was a hairpin bend. I hug the edge when I take a bend. Just as well. I had nudged round the bend only to see a huge lorry bearing down on me from the opposite direction. I looked for a way out. I do that a lot at the moment. There was nowhere to go. I often find that to be the case. The only place left for me was up the bank and into the hedge. I ground the car into the greenery while the lorry driver did what he could to swerve. How we missed each other I do not know. Time stopped and I watched him climb down from his cab. I let him come towards me. I am thinking: "I wonder if that sheep sent him." I was not entirely sure I could get out of the car because of the angle I was at. He said: "Are you alright?" I am British. I may be hanging out into the road at a 45 degree angle but, of course I am alright. "Fine," I trilled, "are you alright?" He was British too. And a man. He was equally as alright. Reassured, he drove off. I let him. I think he drove off because he was in shock. I was still up the bank. I thought as I watched him pull away through my side mirror: "That was stupid. I am not sure whether the car is still drivable." It was but I wasn't. I turned to the baby. I said: "Mummy's going to get the car down now." The baby, strapped into her seat, was also at a 45 degree angle. The green leaves of the hedge pushing against her window. She had enjoyed the ride so far. She beamed at me. Trembling slightly, I bumped the car down and took the road home very slowly. I was not that far from the cottage. I almost went in to ask my builders for a cup of sweet tea but I would have cried. I do not think you should cry in front of your builders unless the bill is unexpectedly large. The branches have whipped the side of the car and the passenger door is slightly dented. My husband is in London. I haven't told him yet.

I have had two previous car accidents. Once, a long, long time ago, I was crossing the country to visit a cousin with cancer when a sports car overtook me, only to clip the central barrier and spin across the motorway, coming to a halt side on, smack bang in front of me. Unavoidable. Unavoidable by me anyways. I was shaken up but fine; the car was a write-off. I made a mistake. I rang my cousin and explained what had happened. I had a choice: I could catch a train and go home or I could catch a train and finish the journey I had started. I went home. I should not have gone home. I should have gone on with my journey. My cousin died and I never got to see him.

The only other collision was also a very long time ago. I was late for a job. I was trying to sling the car into a car parking spot to run into a political meeting. I was not very good at parking. I reversed. It is always advisable to look into your mirror before you reverse your car. I forgot the mirror trick. I reversed into someone's car. He was very nice about it; bearing in mind he had only bought it the week before. We swapped details and he rang me that night to ask me out on a date. I figured he was desperate, already trying out the "You'll never guess how grandma and I met kids" line in his head, or, very stupid to want to date a woman who had reversed into his new car. Possibly all three. I turned him down.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bad hair day

The country is odd. Everywhere you go, there are animals. You do not walk down a city street to find it teeming with wild dogs. Not unless you are very unlucky. Here, however, fields are pocked with sheep or cows while the roads hop with hares. The animals though are never left to enjoy their bucolic peace. Someone always wants something from them; their meat, their milk, their young. Yesterday, it was their wool.

I went to watch a gang of New Zealand shearers in operation. Five hunky men with big biceps, torn vests and distressed jeans, sweating to the sounds of the eighties. I may not be a gay man, but, I could appreciate what they were offering. Any relationship, however, you could just tell, would be abusive.

The shearer tumbles a fat, woolly sheep over a wooden gate. Whoomph! He is not going to buy her dinner and a red rose. His buzzing machine shears hang from the metal gallows above him. "Time to leave," thinks the sheep. Too late. She should not have answered that internet lonely hearts ad. It was never going to end well. Pop rock from a dangling boombox belts out in time to a bleating beat. The sheep is sitting on her back end, black hooves waving in the air when our macho shearer hero shoves her foreleg between his own ragged, muscular legs. She grits her teeth and wonders where she put her mobile. Hunched over her body, he starts to strip her.

Down the belly and into the lower reaches, down the inside of a hind leg and then up and around her tail end. One hand moves with the machine, the other stretching the skin; it is beginning to get chilly down there. Up and along her side to the spine; the flesh showing tremble pink underneath striped white fuzz. Down the foreleg and shoulder. He tilts back her head and holds it against his six-pack, pressing the vibrating tool up and around the throat; he throws the loose noose of fleece around and over her head and pushes her onto her back to reach round her bared shoulder better. Suddenly, her head is between his legs as he works down the second shoulder to the last leg. She is thinking: "I am never drinking Tequila slammers again."

It takes a minute and a half, maybe two, to strip a sheep of her dignity. The shearers straighten, only to haul out another sheep, clicking a counter to show they have a new squeeze between their knees. I cannot believe they do not dream of sheep at night. I do not want to know the details. I am certain that sheep dream of them; an electric barbers' shop from hell with kiwi demons.

The gang spends around six weeks in Northumberland and Scotland, with each man expecting to shear around 250 sheep in a day. At this farm, on this day, they were shearing Beulahs and Texel crosses. They shear twice a year in New Zealand and most of this group have recently arrived from Canada. Belly wool is taken off first and discarded. Aside from that, the fleece comes off in one piece. The "gang" also includes two "wrappers" who throw the fleece on to the floor, clean side down, tuck in the neck end, fold first one side then the other and roll it into a bundle. The bundles are then tossed into a large plastic bag for one of the wrappers to stomp down, much as grape pickers stamp on grapes. The wool pack is then sewn up with cord threaded through by a large nail hammered into a needle.

Each fleece will bring around £1 from the British Wool Marketing Board; each sheep sheared costs the farmer around £1. Traditionally, the belly fleece and the little tufts of wool that come off during the shearing were all sold. Even muck on the tufts was cut off to allow those tufts to be sold as well. Now, the price of wool is low enough to mean the tufts are left where they lie. As the farmer said: "Cash wise, it is a useless exercise. We do it for welfare reasons or they are eaten alive by maggots." I saw a maggotty sheep. Not pretty. He went on: "The other reason is they get heavy with the dew, and they roll over on to their back and can't get up. Then a crow will come and peck their eyes out." I did not see that, thank God. Nor do I want to, even if I am trying to get to the heart of Northumberland.

The "ganger" in charge, shouted me over to him as I folded and rolled a fleece, grease on my hands. I thought: "Lucky me". It has been a long time since a rugged New Zealander showed an interest in me. In truth, thinking about it, a rugged New Zealander has never shown any interest in me. He was called something indisputable male. It might have been "Dave". Perhaps, it was Gnasher. I walked across and looked down. He had a sheep between his legs. I thought: "Should I be here?" He gestured me to throw a leg over. I thought: "I am never going to get an offer like this again." I used my knees to hold the sheep in place, holding the shears in one hand and a leg in the other. I think it was the sheep's leg. I was tense. It might have been Gnasher's. In which case, he should drink less and eat more. As Gnasher helped me push her head between my legs, I thought: "I hope sheep don't bite." This is not the thought you want to be having as a sheep stares balefully at your backside and you give her the worst haircut of her life. They don't; at least, she didn't. She would have had good reason. She was definitely having a bad hair day. The only good thing to be said about my shearing was that I did not actually kill her. That and the fact it brought me closer to Gnasher. I do not know which of us was the more traumatised by the end of my shearing; me or the sheep. Me, I think. Strangely, he did not ask me to run away and join his gang. I could learn.