Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Room 101

One of my favourite TV concepts is that of Room 101 (where people have to pick 3 pet peeves which could potentially be banished forever into the mysterious Room 101). As a miserable git, I like nothing better than being reminded of all the things that get on my nerves. So much so whittling them down to 3 is a Herculean task in itself but I’ve given it my best shot. 

People who talk in the cinema (or text, look at their phones, move, breathe or even exist)

Spending time in the cinema has always been one of my favourite things to do. However, in 2017, I had to call time on what had previously been a great source of joy due to the presence of other people. I’ll confess I’m not 100% sure if it’s me who’s become increasingly intolerant with age or other people who have mutated into loud, annoying oafs. I suspect the rot set in with the arrival of mobile phones and the fact that people can’t seem to go for longer than a few minutes without checking their texts, Facebook status or whatever. Once the mores of cinema life relaxed to accommodate all that nonsense, it descended into anything goes. Every cinema experience involved me telling someone to get their feet down, stop talking or indeed just stop being a general prat. To be fair my remonstrations were always met with an apology but I didn’t sign up to be the cinema police. I simply want people to behave in a way that is conducive to me watching a film, that’s a couple of hours sitting quietly. Too much to ask? It would seem so and consequently I’ve defected to Netflix in the comfort of my own home.

  Assertiveness/ Feistiness/ Insert your own synonym

The synonyms go on and on and for some reason we are all supposed to celebrate the idea of self-promotion. Dress it up all you want but as far as I’m concerned it’s just ego gone mad and our society basically giving the green light to selfish, arrogant tw*ts. Everywhere I go I seem to find myself the recipient of unsolicited advice and it’s usually the kind of advice that allows the person doling it out to wax lyrical about their own successes. Not only is it frankly boring to have to listen to other people talking incessantly about themselves, it is setting a dangerous precedent for future generations. Suddenly everyone wants to be successful in the kind of way that requires others to bask in their glory. No longer is it a reward in itself to be doing something you love. Young people are shunning the prospect of being a nurse or engineer – far too boring. Instead they all want to be on TV and it doesn’t really matter in what capacity, it’s enough to have a medium through which they can preen and boast. We’ve created a society where everyone holds the belief that they are interesting to others and have valid opinions regardless of how idiotic or ill-informed they may be.


Another sign that our society is going to hell in a hand cart is surely our obsession with yester-year. I have zero interest in re-living the past, admittedly this could be partly down to the fact that I can’t remember most of it, but whatever the reason it puts me glaringly at odds with my fellow Brits. It seems we can’t get enough of 80s bands, school reunions and Mama bloody Mia. Now, I loved Donny Osmond as much as the next ten year old but do I want to see him singing Puppy Love as a middle-aged man – hell no! Some things are just better left in the past and no good can come from trying to recreate what once was. I was once foolish enough to attend a school reunion and it was the stuff of nightmares. My alma mater was dominated by fat, balding men who should never drink and fussy mothers who made me hope I was barren. Considering that was the 20th anniversary I can only imagine what horrors the subsequent celebrations held.  And don’t even get me started on Mama Mia.

Right now over to you – what would you consign to Room 101?

Sunday, 24 June 2018

How Do We Get Rid of Guilt?

Over the years I’m sure you’ll all agree feelings come and go. The feelings that defined our 20s might not even warrant a mention in our 40s and 50s. There’s one emotion, however, that has stayed with me through thick and thin and that is guilt.

I have an unerring ability to feel guilty about anything and everything. From as far back as I can remember I’ve carried a burden of responsibility for everyone else’s happiness, always imagining that I have been cursed with an overdeveloped sense of duty and empathy. The other day though I found myself sharing a bus seat with an octogenarian who made me see things in a different way when she said, “Women are hardwired to feel guilty.” Until that moment it had never entered my head that guilt could be gender related but the more I thought about it the more I came around to the idea that my new friend may have been right. However, despite her assertion that women are doomed to be walking around riddled with guilt, I suspect it’s probably more conditioning than hardwiring.

I got the double whammy of being born the eldest child and a girl. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t made to feel responsible for my younger siblings. Paradoxically, I do remember my mother complaining about her own mother’s attempts to instil guilt. My mother was the youngest child and her mother was a widow so any signs of independence were probably viewed as potential loneliness and abandonment. As a child I would listen in horror to tales of my grandmother feigning serious illness and even throwing herself down the stairs in an attempt to get my mother to stay at home with her.

As so often is the case, my mother must have learned the dark art of manipulation at her own mother’s knee thus perpetuating a poisonous legacy of guilt. I never felt the freedom to enjoy a sense of achievement as my success would be met by a reminder that someone else hadn’t succeeded. My mother was big on encouraging empathy to a crippling degree – be thankful for your Christmas/birthday presents because other children are less fortunate blah blah blah. Even worse than this was the knack she had of informing me or my brother or sister how many hours she and my dad had had to work to pay for the said present. Neither of them slaved away in a Gulag but any joy would turn to guilt induced ash the second the words were uttered.

I did some research on this – well I asked my brother and sister about any residual feelings of guilt. My brother, in keeping with the gender theory, didn’t know what I was talking about and although my sister claimed not to suffer from guilt I could tell I’d touched a nerve from her explosive reaction. That leaves just me then and I feel guilt to such an extent that it overrides all other feelings. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died, more than sadness or anger, I felt guilt. I mean, it’s not like I gave him cancer or, given that I’m not an oncologist, could do anything about it and yet I felt the same level of responsibility  I would have if I’d held his fate in my hands.

It’s not even just the big things that have me fretting like a criminal. I love writing but can’t seem to find the balance between work and the written word. I have so many half-finished projects and ideas but rather than bringing me pleasure they are a tortuous reminder of all that I’ve not achieved. If I spend my weekends enjoying time with friends somewhere beneath the surface the accusation is festering that I’m not doing anything productive.

You would think all this sense of duty would work in my favour but in fact the opposite seems to be true. For example, my mother’s attempts to embed a sense of frugality spectacularly backfired because as soon as I was old enough to earn my own money I spent it the second it was in my pocket. If I’d worked all week to earn it then I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy it. To this day though I can’t accept a gift from my mother (even though she no longer works) without feeling sick with guilt.

If it is the case that as women we are carrying this heavy burden of guilt then surely it’s not simply our lot. I saw a poster the other day promoting mental health awareness which stated, “Thoughts are not facts” and this I think is the key to overcoming feelings of guilt or any other toxic emotion. We may feel as if we have a responsibility for other people’s well-being but in reality we have very little power over the lives of others. We may be able to offer practical help such as donating our time or funds to organisations that can make a difference but other than that maybe we just have to let it go.

The same applies to the pressure we put on ourselves to be ‘good enough’. I write when I can and perhaps that can be enough. I’ve heard other women castigating themselves for not being good enough mothers, thin enough, driven enough and the list goes on. We end up going around and around in a vortex of unrealistic expectations.

Guilt is a completely pointless emotion that brings nothing but misery so let’s stop being dictated to by a constructed idea of who we should be and just get on with living the best lives we can.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Let's Stick Together

I think we’d all agree that we are living in chaotic times. Be it Donald Trump’s tweets, poisoned spies or images of sea life being wiped out by plastic, it’s easy to feel as if we are teetering on the edge of an apocalypse.

Strangely though I’ve never felt more energised and optimistic which has forced me to the conclusion that times of chaos can actually bring out the best in us. It takes me back to the 80s when despite mass unemployment, a cold war and Margaret Thatcher, it actually felt like the actions of ordinary people were important and could make a difference. Somewhere along the way we lost our sense of empowerment amidst the illusion of those halcyon days which have now come back to bite us in the jacksie.

I feel hopeful that we are all beginning to wake up finally after burying our heads in the sand for far too long. Be it on a personal or global level it seems to me that when times are tough we see the best in people and the human race lives up to the wonderful species that it actually is. Obviously there will always be anomalies, the ones who slither their way into positions of power but I don’t care about them. I’m talking about the common man, the average Joe or Josephine who I happen to think are anything but average.

It’s a shame that it takes our world being shaken to the foundation to bring out the best in us but look around and you will see amazing interactions taking place every day. Look at homelessness, we are seeing unprecedented numbers of rough sleepers and I have definitely seen a shift in people’s response to them. For too long they were seen as pariahs who had somehow brought their situation upon themselves. Working with young people I despaired at some of the comments I heard, which let’s be honest reflected their parents’ attitudes, but not anymore. Homeless people are now viewed as human beings and, especially during the recent bad weather, my heart was warmed by the initiatives that ordinary people got involved in to help. Here in Sheffield, the fire service opened up the fire houses for people to sleep in and they found themselves inundated with donated food, clothes and blankets etc. Kindness it seems is contagious and as the people running our government ignore the plight of our most vulnerable citizens, ordinary people step up to fill the vacuum.

There surely can’t be anybody whose heart didn’t soar at the recent mass protest by young people in the US, demanding reform in gun laws. Young people are changing, becoming more politicised, galvanised by the fact that we are fast approaching a point of no-return. Talking to young people, it’s heartbreaking how many of them live in fear of violence on a daily basis. Communities, starved of resources are becoming like the Wild West. Statistics tell us that last year knife crimes in the UK were up by 21% and 15% of young people questioned admitted that they carry knives. At the same time funding to youth services has gone down by 35% so it’s little wonder that in some areas the situation feels like a state of emergency. However, hope could be on the horizon as once again ordinary people are looking for answers. Last summer hundreds of people joined a rally in London demanding action against knife crime and communities are coming together to form their own prevention groups, recognising that youth clubs and sports’ clubs are what’s needed to get young people off the streets and away from the gang culture. More and more of us are recognising that waiting for the ones who should be addressing these problems, the ones with their hands on the purse strings, is pointless and people power is the only way to get things done.

I’m not a particularly emotional person but stories involving human kindness can have me bawling like a baby and surely it’s not just me who is finding them everywhere. Volunteers in Mumbai cleaning up a beach to enable a turtle hatchery to thrive, people pushing an ambulance for miles through blizzarding snow in order to get a woman who’d given birth in a garage forecourt to hospital, human chains being formed to save a drowning dog and its hapless owner. I simply can’t get enough. Truth be told all these stories make me want to be a better person, the person I was when I was young and knew I had the power to change the world. Marching for jobs for all and collecting food for striking miners whilst campaigning to ban the bomb made me feel worthwhile. Somehow we all became complacent, protest fell out of fashion and ultimately we’ve sleepwalked into the nightmare we now find ourselves in.

The world is a terrifying place at the moment and sometimes I find myself thinking how lucky I am to be in my 50s and hopefully dead by the time the shit really hits the fan. We are fast approaching the point of no-return where the environment, social welfare and world peace is concerned but I don’t think all is lost. I believe in people and that makes me believe in the future. More and more people are saying enough is enough and eventually this means the powers that be will really have something to worry about.

They know it too, which is why they are so desperate to distract us with their own agendas. We can debate Brexit and Facebook until the cows come home but ultimately people are still starving and the planet is disappearing. If we stick together with our human agenda, the politicians and the puppet masters standing behind them will simply become irrelevant. The world is becoming smaller every day and we are all part of the human race despite the fact that it serves the world’s powers’ interests to keep us all at odds.

The quote, “What unites us is greater than what divides us,” has been bandied about quite a lot lately but that doesn’t make it any less true. The main reason I like chaos is it strips away the luxury of focusing on things that don’t really matter and forces us to face the truth. We only have one world and it’s down to us to make it a better place for everybody.

Friday, 8 December 2017

More (A short story)

Shall I shan’t I? Shall I shan’t I? This is how it goes, on and on, round and round. It’s that time of year again when madness takes over and people make terrible mistakes.

It’s almost a year to the day since I made mine and yet here I am contemplating going down the same road again. Didn’t somebody once say that was the true definition of madness – making the same mistake over and over again? The trouble is now that I’ve entertained the thought that I might go, I can’t get the idea out of my head.

It’s the Christmas ‘do’ see, tomorrow night at the big hotel on the outskirts of town. We have it there every year; it means people can have a drink without having to worry about driving home. It’s never really been my thing but you know what it’s like, you have to show your face or you never hear the end of it. Before last year I’d never stayed over. I’d never had the need - moderate drinking and sensible shoes that’s more me.

At least I thought that was me until Mark Grantham. He transferred to our company when we merged with a smaller rival and I was meant to help him make the transition. It can’t be easy moving to a new job in a new town – not that I’d know given that I’ve worked at the same place since leaving school. It’s good money and secure which in this day and age counts for a lot. I’d be a fool to let it go for something more...

More, that’s always been my problem. Everyone says so, my mum, sister, friends and even Lee. I’ve never been able to shake the nagging feeling that there must be something more. “More what?” my sister snapped at me the last time I brought it up. She was furious that I couldn’t be satisfied with a hardworking husband who provides us with everything we could want while she’s struggling on her own with two kids. I help out as much as I can, of course I do, but it’s not the same. She misses the man who used to treat her like dirt before he ran off with the woman who worked in the bookies.

He’s got a new life now with not much time for his old one and now and then I can’t help but wonder if he too was looking for something more. I’m playing with fire I know, Lee and I have been together since school we’re best friends as well as husband and wife. I genuinely can’t imagine my life without him in it so why do I crave this elusive concept of more?

It’s always been there, beneath the surface, that dull sickly feeling of being trapped. Some days the thought of spending the rest of my life sorting out other people’s mortgages, living in our lovely detached house, three streets away from mum’s neat little semi, makes me want to claw my own skin off. I have to keep reminding myself how lucky I am. My sister would kill for what I have, I’ve no right to feel trapped, no right to long for something more.

What more could there be any way, I’ve got everything, hit the jackpot? I think maybe I would have carried on believing that if I’d never set eyes on Mark Grantham. I had to go and collect him from the HR office and show him around. He’d smiled and my chest felt constricted, my breathing jagged and out of rhythm. I felt awkward and ridiculous for weeks as he worked alongside me seemingly unaware of the effect his presence was having.

By the time last year’s Christmas ‘do’ came around I was spending almost every waking moment fantasising about being with Mark Grantham. Being his lover, his wife, his mistress, I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel his skin on mine, to acknowledge the charge that he must surely feel as it totally consumed me. Even though we had not exchanged a word about what was going on I knew exactly what would happen at the party. It had to; I couldn’t live in such a heightened state of excitement. It was driving me insane.

Lee had been asking me what was going on for weeks. Just the very sight of him made my flesh crawl as I thought of nothing other than Mark’s lips on mine, his hands all over my body, him inside me. Thinking about it pushed me to the brink of desire in such a way that I’d never felt with Lee. By the time the party came around I knew that Mark and I had to be together.

If my colleagues had been surprised by the fact that I’d spent half my monthly salary on a new outfit and was drinking vodka and tonics like they were going out of style, none of them mentioned it. The only person who commented on my sleek new bob and decidedly non-sensible shoes was Mark as I attached myself to him the second he came through the door.

If I’m being honest the night was a bit of a blur but it predictably culminated with Mark in my bed. His hands weren’t all over me in the fevered rush I’d anticipated and I can’t remember if we kissed. The whole thing was over in minutes and then Mark was getting dressed and calling a cab. His wife was waiting for him at their new house and as she was pregnant he didn’t want to stay out too late.

The vodka buzz had left my system as he’d thrust mechanically into my body, taking with it the thrill of my fantasy. The thrill that had made me happier than I could ever remember feeling. After an uncomfortable goodbye, I’d sobbed out all my disappointment and failure. What kind of person was I to risk everything I had for sordid sex? I was no better than a cheap tramp.

I promised myself I was going to cherish my life with Lee after such a horrible near miss. I did, I have, and now here we are a year later. Mark Grantham was never the kind of man to stay long. By February he’d been promoted to regional manager so there’s no fear of seeing him at this year’s party. But still ... should I go?

My dress and shoes are in the back of the wardrobe and I’m sure Debbie could fit me in for a blow dry and manicure. It might be nice to dress up for a change and then there’s Colin in sales who I’ve been thinking a lot about lately...

Saturday, 28 October 2017

How Grown-up Are You?

I had to buy a new fridge this week and as always happens when I dip a toe into the world of grown-ups (where people expect you to know details like the measurements of the space available and whether you need a freezer section) I found myself flummoxed and feeling totally inadequate.

Before you ask – no I’m not a teenager or even a delayed twenty something. I’m a woman in her fifties who can’t seem to successfully navigate the path into adulthood. I suppose before we continue we need to ascertain some definition of adulthood. According to my mother it’s all about maintaining a home that doesn’t look like you’ve permanently been burgled.

Only last week when her washing machine was on the blink, I offered to step into the breach and help her out. My offer was met by abject horror and the rather dubious comment, “You’ve got to be joking, I’ve seen what you do to your whites!” I don’t do anything to my whites other than bung them into the machine with a bit of detergent but it seems that’s where it’s all going wrong as my mother bored me almost to death with a litany of products designed to keep your whites ‘white’.

My mother enjoys any opportunity to attack my domestic know-how primarily because she sees it as the root cause of my inability to bag myself a husband. Her lack of grandchildren has long been a thorn in her side. Ironically it’s no doubt my lack of progeny that has to a large extent facilitated my lack of maturity. Having never had to care for anyone other than myself has meant I can do pretty much what I please when I please, which doesn’t engender a sense of responsibility. Frankly I’ve never even had a pet.

Surely though being a grown-up is not just about not being a slattern. There must be non-house proud adults out there who can assume control when things get hairy. Despite spending most of my adult life with 30 plus children in my care at any given time, I’m definitely not the one to look to in an emergency. There are eleven year olds more able to cope in a crisis than me. My instinct the second there is an aberration from the norm is to look around for the nearest adult or in the absence of one a small child will do. To be honest I’ve found that some children are actually fifty year olds trapped in small bodies, probably just waiting for their physical beings to catch up with their personalities. Tragically I’m more Benjamin Button and suffer from the opposite.

I’ve been on many residential school trips both at home and abroad but only ever had to take a position of responsibility for one and let’s just say never again. It was a week in London and involved, in no particular order: hospital visits, children lost on the tube, irate parents, no sleep, alcohol and Italian boys. By the end of the week my nerves were quite literally shredded and I needed complete bed rest. If that’s what it’s like being a responsible adult then I’d rather have arrested development.

How much of being a middle-aged teen is circumstance and how much is personality? There’s no doubt in my mind that my lack of dependents has allowed me to wallow in my own sense of misplaced youth. My diet consists of mainly sugar and the occasional jacket potato. I can’t even remember the last time I bothered to attempt cooking a meal. Clearly unless I wanted to be responsible for malnourished off-spring I wouldn’t have this luxury had I chosen to reproduce.

The personality bit must come into the mix somewhere though as I’ve never had any desire to reproduce. I’ve always known that I’m far too selfish to want to put anyone else’s needs above my own. I like to spend my time reading quietly and watching Netflix, helping children with homework or indeed having to listen to their tedious prattling would get right on my nerves. Don’t even get me started on toddlers who evoke in me an intolerance that would put Mussolini to shame. I am a person who should definitely not be inflicted on others, a joy-snuffing, curmudgeon best left to my own quirks and failings.

My only consolation is I’m not the only Peter Pan in existence. I suppose it used to be a condition more associated with men who couldn’t grow up because, coddled by their mothers and wives, they didn’t have to. Gender equality however means that these days we are all free to be adult children. In fact I know quite a few of them.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

How Classy Are You?

Last week I went to a showing of a film called Strike A Rock, a documentary which follows the ongoing struggle of women in the community of Marikana following the Marikana Massacre in 2012. It’s taken me a good week to recover and not for the reasons you might think.

Harrowing as the film was it was the ensuing Q&A session with the director and two of the Marikana women that made my blood run cold. Q&As are the bane of my existence, I’ve never been to a single one that hasn’t left me squirming in discomfort. I knew the minute I saw the white, middle class audience, a sea of Palestinian scarves and ethnic fezzes that this one was going to be a corker.

Anyway the film was fab but predictably everything went downhill after that. One ridiculous question followed another and the only thing that kept me from crawling under my seat was the fact that English was not the first language of any of the guests of honour and so hopefully they had no idea what the would-be warriors were wittering on  about. Events finally hit rock bottom when the Marikana women spontaneously burst into song unleashing something bordering on maniacal in the audience as they clapped, swayed and God help me ululated in response.

Before you ask, yes I am well aware of how shallow this makes me – faced with people fighting for the most basic of living conditions I’m fretting about mortification by proxy. In my defence though it’s a class thing. You see Philip Pirrip style I’m a working class girl thrust into a middle class world and have spent my entire adult life staggering from one debacle to another, a leg straggling each camp and let me tell you it’s not easy.

Back in the early 80s being working class was like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. As education became more accessible, university lecturers bent over backwards to accommodate anyone with a northern accent, no doubt imagining we were down the pit or up chimneys when we weren’t in their classes. How my posh friends would seethe when I got let off for not handing essays in on time or not being bothered to attend tutorials whilst they got penalised and threatened with getting kicked off the course. All that changed, however, when more and more working class people went the Educating Rita route and my golden ticket became two a penny.

Becoming a teacher in the 80s meant taking on new sensibilities as the profession was still at that time a bastion of middle-classness. Dinner became lunch, tea became supper and frankly I didn’t know if I was up or down. The thing about life though is that we all adapt to our environments and so I embraced bread sticks, humus and candles (even though I had more than enough for the electricity meter). The only time my mask would slip was under the influence and what can I say, you can take the girl out the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl.

Fast forward thirty seven years and I suppose I’ve grown accustomed to the middle-classness of my chosen path and in fact now find myself snobbily appalled by our modern lack of standards. You see, we’re never satisfied. I may no longer shudder at the mention of a pashmina or chaise-longue but there are two things still guaranteed to give me the heebie-jeebies. One is the aforementioned Q&A sessions and the other is the humble dinner party.

How so? I hear you cry but believe me dinner parties rather than being occasions of innocuous get-togethers are fraught with more hidden dangers than a mine field. The obvious hazard is alcohol which can do you in more effectively than any IED. First off I don’t know anything about wine and am just as likely to guzzle the ‘ironic’ Blue Nun as savour a Sauvignon Blanc. Dinner parties to the uneducated palate can drift into University Challenge territory. And don’t even get me started on cheese. When faced with Yarg and Roquefort how I long for a bit of cheddar.

Then comes the dinner party chit-chat where if you’ve over-imbibed you can come off like Arthur Scargill as your working classness takes umbrage at its middle class surroundings and gets all shouty and belligerent. The look of fear in the other guests’ eyes warn you to rein it in but that pesky Blue Nun is colluding with your inner working class hero to ensure you’re going to spend the next three weeks avoiding everybody you know.

I know we’re supposed to live in an inclusive society and I spend my days trying to convince young people that their origins don’t define their future. None the less it only it takes a Q&A session or a dinner party to remind me that no matter how much we think we can none of us truly disentangle ourselves from our roots. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Surprise

I know people like to judge me, I’m the stuck up cow who never joins in with the summer fayres, Christmas fetes or whatever other nonsense these yummy mummies spend their time organising. What these people, my neighbours, fail to realise is that I simply don’t have the time. Ever since I became Head of Human Resources at one of the top three hospitals in the U.K. my focus has to be work.

They can look down their noses at me all they want but I’ve achieved everything I ever set out to accomplish. It’s not been easy and my personal life has had to take a back seat but luckily my husband understands. You can’t break into the top three without some sacrifices. John and I met at uni and have been together ever since. To be honest, neither of us had much experience and sex has never played a major role in our marriage. We connect on a deeper level than that; the intimacy we have is far more powerful than sex.

My sister says it’s not healthy to live in each other’s pockets but what does she know? She’s got a divorce and a string of failed relationships behind her. We never had much in common even when we were kids; she was the apple of both my parents’ eye, pretty, sociable and not clever enough to make anyone feel threatened. I, on the other hand, came out of the womb with the drive to succeed. Boyfriends, pop stars and inane TV programmes were of no use to me.

The last time I saw my sister she decided to issue a few ‘home truths’. It was quite out of the blue and I don’t know what brought it on but she called me a ‘hard-faced cow’ and said I had no friends or real family to speak of. She’s never understood me so I don’t know why I felt so disappointed. I haven’t got time for friends and the nature of my job means I have to be hard. I’ve had to let people go who I’ve known for years and any attachments would make that difficult.

Anyway that was about six months ago and since then everything’s changed. So much so I’m tempted to email my sister and tell her how wrong she was. It all started with Olga – obviously with my busy schedule I have to have staff and Olga had been with us for years. I suppose she was what you might call a housekeeper; she did the cleaning, shopping and generally kept things ticking over. At least she did until she became a grandmother and her daughter couldn’t afford to pay for child care. I mean why people have children when they can’t afford to pay for them I’ll never know. It was an enormous inconvenience but there was no dissuading Olga against becoming an unpaid nanny.

As it turned out the whole thing couldn’t have worked out better as I found Tess and she is quite literally an angel. Despite all my training and instincts warning me not to get involved with an employee, Tess and I have become the best of friends. Even John adores her and he’s not a social creature by nature. Somehow it’s as if she’s opened all of the windows and let the sunshine into our lives. She even moved in with us after some sort of misunderstanding with her flatmate and now I can’t imagine life without her.

In fact John and I have been talking a lot lately about something so incredible it hardly seems possible. It was actually John’s idea, which is unusual because he normally leaves that kind of thing to me. However he’s so fond of Tess she must have inspired him to think outside the box. We’ve really never met anyone quite like her before, so full of life and adventure. We’ve become a sort of family. For the first time ever I look forward to coming home from work, wondering what John and Tess are doing. I’ve even left work at the same time as everyone else on a couple of occasions and we’ve watched TV together with pizza ordered in from the local takeaway.

John’s idea then feels like the next step. You see we never wanted children and, now that Tess has shown us the possibilities, it’s too late. My child bearing days are over. I feel silly just saying it but a surrogate could be the answer and who better than Tess? When she came to us it was because she’d run out of money travelling around the USA and most of Europe. She’s a free spirit and why should a lack of funds clip her wings? It’s the perfect solution, we get what we want and she gets her freedom.

Obviously we will have to work out the fine details and we’ve not really broached it with her yet. John is convinced she’ll agree and they are so close I’m sure he’s right. That’s why I’ve taken a few hours personal time and I’m going to surprise them and put our plan to Tess. I can’t leave this kind of thing to John; he’s not got much initiative which is why I’m surprised he came up with this idea in the first place. I can’t wait to see their faces when I arrive home early. An afternoon off is quite unheard of.