Sunday, 12 August 2018

School's Out Forever (short story)

I don’t know what caused it to happen or even if it was just one thing. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of years of holding stuff in. All I know is that particular day, an ordinary Tuesday in June, everything changed.

Not straight away, the day started off much the same as any other. I didn’t even feel particularly irritated, perched on the edge of a plastic chair listening to the head teacher, a man better suited in my opinion to selling used cars. I’d heard the pep-talk too many times to care that it was an insult to every half-way intelligent person in the room. “Go out there and make a difference.” I’d snapped back to attentiveness at the words that had become an unwitting parody of, “Let’s be careful out there.” If only Charnwood Academy had a fraction of the Hill Street Blues about it but I suppose that’s the beauty of a script.

Completely improvising then I tried not to engage with the perky young wannabe teachers who had the ability without even trying to make me want to weep. Not for them, with their shiny suits and overeager eyes (a sure sign of stupidity if you ask me), oh no, they’d hit the jackpot. They’d be running the place in a couple of years, these dullards who prided themselves on never having read a book all the way through and genuinely believed they were ‘outstanding practitioners’. As someone who has been a teacher for over thirty years, let me tell you the only ones to trust are the ones who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and spend their days waiting for that truth to be uncovered. I’ll give it to you straight, if you think you know what you’re doing then chances are you’re a moron.

Anyway, I digress. I shambled back to my classroom, no more or less humiliated than on any other day. The very fact that I was in the building at all, party to the eradication of anything even remotely educational, should have been enough to plummet me over the edge but it didn’t. Not yet anyway. As usual, Juicy Lucy, as I liked to refer to her in my head, was pacing the corridor where students were lining up outside my room. For reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom Juicy liked to squeeze herself into clothes that were at least two sizes too small for her. She resembled a particularly juicy grape about to explode as her short legs propelled her from one end of the corridor to the other in an undignified part walk part run. Her hair extensions and red lipstick only emphasised her general ridiculousness until I could hardly stand to look at her.

Glancing at her watch her tight lips, that not even Bobby Brown could remedy, became even more pursed. She really was a walking, talking advertisement for not smoking or teaching for that matter. I unlocked the classroom door, nodding the kids in whilst studiously avoiding Juicy’s beady eyes. “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off,” a voice chanted cheerfully inside my head but that wasn’t anything unusual. My inner voices kept me sane. I did have a brief second’s worry that this was the day when I hadn’t just said it in my head and I suppose that should have been a clue that the truth was bubbling up too near the surface where it might slip unbidden out of my mouth.

Juicy’s face didn’t look any more sour than usual though so my secret thoughts were still safely contained within. I knew she’d hover outside the room for a while and the school’s ‘open door’ policy meant I couldn’t shut her out. I was long past pretending to be nice and simply ignored the clumsy attempts to insert herself into whatever was about to unfold in the room. The kids were well used to this dance and like the little automatons they’d been trained to be had their books out without being asked, pens poised waiting for me to switch on the dreaded whiteboard. I barely glimpsed at the power point as they scribbled furiously, copying down the learning objective – whatever it said you could be sure it wouldn’t involve any independent thought.

All was well and probably would have continued to be had it not been for Shaunie Stapleton, perpetually late and even more grating. Bile rose in my throat as I watched Juicy usher her into the room, elated to have found her ticket in. Shaunie was untouchable and she knew it. Her mother was a complainer; the two of them had featured in the local paper early on in Shaunie’s school career, something about uniform and human rights. The photograph had made them look like angry conjoined twins with their scowling, pasty faces and matching hoodies. The newspaper, if you can call it that, had loved the story there’d been letters, petitions, it had run for weeks. That combined with the fact that Shaunie was want to ‘kick off’ cemented her place as Charnwood Academy’s very own Ma Baker.

Sauntering into the classroom with Juicy at her heels, she preened with the knowing awareness that everyone’s attention was firmly on her. “You know where you sit, Shaunie,” my voice offered no room for negotiation as Juicy practically bounced on the spot.
“I’m not sitting there.”
“There’s a seating plan,” I cut in, which was true for every other child in the school but inevitably Juicy chimed in.
“Where would Shaunie like to sit?”

My head felt as if it might explode as Shaunie pointed a vindictive finger at Tom Akers, the most passive child in the room. Flushing a deep red, he was half out of his seat before my voice rumbled around the room like a roll of thunder heralding a long anticipated storm. “Don’t move!” There was an unnatural stillness as our collective energy gathered into an ominous mass. “There’s a seating plan.” I addressed Juicy Lucy who had coloured almost as crimson as Tom Akers. Rooted to the spot her eyes flicked from me to Shaunie.
“Perhaps just this once,” she wheedled.
“Get out!” There was something unnatural about my voice as though it had separated from my will and I watched as it took on a life of its own. “Get out, both of you! You’re a disgrace to the teaching profession and you are a spoiled brat!”

No-one moved and the lack of air in the room felt like it could choke us all. “Get – out - of – my – fucking – room – now!” Juicy finally reacted, springing to life like she’d been stuck with a cattle prod. Scurrying to the door, herding a jubilant faced Shaunie with her, her eyes bored into mine silently communicating, “You are so fucked.” And she was right. Within five minutes the head/used car salesman had relieved me of my duties and I was hustled out of the school faster than I would have thought possible.

I got six months ‘sick pay’ and a reference which I suppose given the circumstances was as much as I could hope for. The money didn’t last long but I hear Argos are hiring for Christmas.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Advice I Wish My Mother Had Given Me

I’ve always been a woman’s woman and, although over the years I’ve accumulated some very dear male friends, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have lots of wonderful females in my life. Sometimes, now that I’m older, I find young women looking to me in much the same way I once looked at my older women friends – hoping for some words of wisdom to help guide me on my way. Shamefully, I’m no wiser now than I was at 20 so not much use in the advice department. Likewise my mother was never very forthcoming where preparation for life was concerned but here are a few pearls of wisdom that I wish she’d passed my way.

Focus on the inside rather than the outside

Now this was never going to come from my mum given that she’s been a functioning anorexic since her early teens. However, I think it’s really important. As a young woman I seldom felt confident about my appearance but, looking back, what a waste all those years of hiding behind a cardi were. On the wrong side of 50, I’m happy to accept that youthful skin, glossy hair and a cellulite-free body are long gone. What’s scary is the number of women, who frankly should know better, that are on a hiding to nothing chasing after eternal youth. Chemical peels, tattooed eyebrows and Russian eyelashes are the tame end of an industry designed to convince us that we can buy back our younger years. Taken to the extreme we’ve got women electing for potentially deadly surgery in a desperate attempt to reverse nature. In the words of a dear 70 year old friend, these people need to read more and then maybe they wouldn’t have the time to look in the mirror so much. I would go one step further, read, write, study – do whatever you can to nourish your inner spirit because that is where true enlightenment exists.

Don’t bank on tomorrow

I grew up in a family defined by ‘saving for a rainy day’. Money was not to be squandered, best china kept for guests and clothes ‘too good’ to wear every day. I confess once I was in charge of my own finances the sensible approach didn’t really stick but I never quite managed to shake the saving things ‘for best’ mentality. Despite the majority of my time being spent at work, I’d wear my least favourite clothes as wearing my nice ones seemed like a waste. I’d drink from ugly mugs whilst perfectly good ones languished in my cupboard waiting for guests. I had a drawer full of ‘best’ underwear which never saw the light of day because wearing it on a wet Wednesday felt too frivolous. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that all these habits are born out of the idea that it’s somehow wrong to celebrate ourselves on a day to day basis. Everything changed for me when my dad died at the relatively young age of 63. Having been careful all his life he never got to enjoy any retirement years or do any of the things he’d planned for. He left behind a wardrobe full of ‘best’ clothes which were subsequently donated to a charity shop for someone else to wear as randomly as they pleased. The moral of the story then is don’t wait – if you want to do something, do it now. Don’t save anything for best, instead make your best day now.

Why say no when you can say yes?

This started off as a bit of a joke catch-phrase between my sister and myself in recognition of the fact that we’d both become rather set in our ways and more inclined to say ‘no’ than ‘yes’. However, on January 1st, I decided to embrace it as my New Year’s resolution and uncharacteristically have actually stuck to it. 2018 has been the most sociable year I’ve had in a long time and on the whole it’s been a success. I won’t lie; there have been hiccups, like an Anne Summer’s party that culminated in me contemplating an escape through the bathroom window. In the end a not entirely fictional ‘stress migraine’ sufficed. To offset that horror though, I’ve been out dancing for the first time in far too long, embraced The Carpenters for my go-to karaoke song and discovered bingo. In short, I may have knocked a few years off my care home time by drinking too much gin and eating all the wrong food but the fun and laughter that saying ‘yes’ has brought is worth it. If you find that ‘no’ is out of your mouth before you’re even sure what’s on offer then I recommend you give the ‘why say no when you can say yes’ lark a try.

Nothing stays the same

Or to quote Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and this is a universal dilemma as we all stagger our way to the grave. The older we get the more change seems to be a big deal, I suppose because we are less inclined to try new things. However, the flip side of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is that nothing really crap can stay either. Let’s face it, you don’t get to be 50 plus without having endured a horror or two and one positive of being an old fogey is that you understand firsthand that it’s possible to survive anything. In fact, it’s not only possible, it’s inevitable. As long as you are above ground and putting one foot in front of the other then everything, no matter how terrible, will pass. Grief becomes less raw, depression lifts, pain fades and life goes on. Change is scary when it represents loss, be that youth, time or love but it’s also reassuring because it means there’s always light at the end of even the darkest tunnel.

Right that’s your lot; I’m exhausted from all this wise thinking. I might need to have a lie down. Feel free to add your own pearls of wisdom though.

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.