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It’s a Funny Old Game….

It has been a strange few weeks here at Pig Central. Having never really been at home for more than a week at a time during the whole of my adult life, I suddenly found myself thrust firmly into a weird new world of family life – together with inordinate amounts of unexpectedly free time.

Firstly, let me say I have enjoyed it. I have loved being here to make breakfast for everyone. I have really loved being here when the Mini Pig gets home from school: that fresh air smell that fills his hair and the increased noise level from the minute he enters the front door – precious moments. I have laughed aloud at the Teen and her mates as they loll around snacking after college and telling me all the gossip and funny bits. I have even enjoyed the slightly bemused by it all presence of the Man Hog – all day, every day. We’ve had a lot of fun and too many pub lunches – in between the barbed banter!

What I have realised however is:

A) Staying at home will, in my particular case, lead to diabetes, morbid obesity and eventual death. Fact. All I do is bake. Endless buns, brownies, batter-based goodies and all manner of sweet homely treats. Fantastic, some would say. But this is far from the truth. There is no consistency: said baking veers wildly from the sublime to the completely inedible. It’s anybody’s guess how some of it will turn out. I’ve produced a bun whose surface was not unlike the face of Barack Obama – go figure? Maybe a dodgy oeuf? Who knows? I’ve also produced a batch of brownies that were so hideously vile the Man Hog actually retched as he tasted one. When it’s good, I devour more than I should. When it’s bad, I devour it anyway because no-one else will and it would be a shameful waste of ingredients if it went straight in the bin. This has to stop. I must step away from the baking. And the eating!

B) If I continue to stay here, I am well and truly under the Man Hog’s feet. I inadvertently perch in “his” corner of the sofa. I tut openly when he sneaks in from the garden for a round of Hobbit-Second-Breakfast toast. I am in the kitchen cooking or ironing something when he wants to wash his shoes in the sink (a filthy habit I knew nothing about until now). The home, at least during daylight hours, has been his personal fiefdom for over ten years now. And he wants it back. Sans moi!

C) I simply cannot afford to stay at home. I see too much that needs to be done: repainting the ancient crumbly windows or, failing that, replacing same crumbly windows; a new kitchen; a complete garden overhaul; painting everything inside and then buying/making/stealing the necessary soft furnishings to go with….the list goes on and on. The Man Hog scoots away like a whipped puppy with his tail between his legs when I start any conversation with “Do you think you could just…..” I find myself chasing him from room to room with my prioritised snagging list while he harrumphs and insists he needs to check the oil in the car. The iPad glows a sickly red with the sheer strain of all the bookmarking I have done on the John Lewis and Dulux websites. I had less time before now to notice the endless decay that accompanies owning an old house but now…I see it all. It’s a little bit like Steve Austin, the bionic man….it is a house barely alive. But Gentlemen –
we can rebuild him. Or knock the bugger down and start again? Actually….put that on the snag list: New house.

D) I have discovered I’m unable to relax and am therefore not very relaxing to be around. After years of work, deadlines, ego massaging and deftly managing my own usually very limited time I now find this lack of structure means I simply cannot sit still. We went on holiday right at the start of the redundancy and that was fine – away from home I cannot meddle or control or tidy and so all is well. Back home: all bets are off. I’m literally driving the family bonkers – I think the Man Hog may even have developed a slight tic.

E) I actually need to work. The most soul-searing and honest thing that has come out of all of this is that I truly do love my family to distraction, but….without a job I am rootless. Surplus to my own requirements. Pointless. I truly like going to work and most of the time, I’m quite good at it. Staying at home – it’s a really tough job fraught with constant decision making and the potential to fail at the most basic of tasks.

So I have taken another job – a tougher one than the last and for less money, with longer hours, sporting an unknown group of people to try to win over. Daunting? Yes! Scared? A bit. Swap it for permanent retirement? Not on your nelly!

Call me a monster but I have come to the conclusion that I am a better wife, mother, friend, sister or whatever I am simply for going to work. It’s what I know. It’s what I do. It’s my function, my contribution, my commitment to the life we have built. More importantly, it’s what the family knows I do. It defines me for myself and for them. Without it, I am genuinely uncomfortable. So I’m off to do it all again – with the family’s blessing.

And……hopefully…..I’ll relax!

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Alas Poor Washer, I Knew Him Well…

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Alas, I am awash with washing. Piles of the stuff lurking in every nook and cranny of the house. Staring at me reproachfully as I bravely try to ignore and rise above the trauma that is my washing machine and tumble dryer both going kaput on the same day, within an hour of each other. I wish this was a tragically romantic tale of white goods love played out in the utility room; that in the end, after years spent together, Tumble simply couldn’t continue living without Washer and shuffled off her electrical coil to join him.

Unfortunately I think it has more to do with their mutual chokings on gargantuan-sized helpings of the Man-Hog’s Calvin Kleins. Exhaustion and eventual mechanical death brought on by the sheer volume (and sweatiness) of Chelsea and FC Barcelona footy kits. The used socks alone are enough to induce coma in the strongest kitchen gadget, let alone poor old frail and past-its-best Washer.

It’s times like these that my passion for all things John Lewis borders on stalking. I avidly pore through their website, lusting frantically (and frankly unrealistically) after the shiny mechanical washing problem-solvers they have on display there. Having made my choice and licked the screen picture in delight, I lurk around their free delivery page, waiting for the perfect slot to come up for me to meet the green-liveried delivery man who will restore my much-missed laundry life. Not to mention that whole “Never Knowingly Undersold” thing they have going on. I love that tag-line so much I have been known to drop it into conversation in All Bar One on a Friday night after work. It’s a life mantra actually – I’d never knowingly undersell myself. Ever. Overegging and clinical arrogance is probably nearer my mark.

So I sit and watch now as the clock tick-tocks its clicky little tune towards my 2PM-9PM slot. I won’t be there to receive my new utilitarian family members – no silver-tongued delivery spiel coming my way due to work commitments – but have instructed the Man-Hog on pain of death to call me the instant they arrive. After a week without tub-rub, rinse and anti-crease cycles, I am frantic with the need to hear him load over-ripe towels into my shiny new drum. I ache for the ripping sound of the lid of the washing tablets container. I close my eyes and sigh – ecstatic as I imagine the glug-glug of the fabric softener into my pristine new dispenser drawer…..and then there’s the drying to be done….oh my!

Really must get out more!

Photo credit: http://missionsite.net

John Lewis PLC and the “Never Knowingly Undersold” are used purely for entertainment purposes, neither the author nor this blog has any official association with the company whatsoever. So don’t sue me. Please.

Love, Loos and Armageddon Out of Here

Happy New Year to all you lovely, lovely people. I hope you all managed to have a brilliant time and got some actual R’n’R in there as well for good measure.

Having finished in the office on Dec. 16th, I returned to work today. Without doubt, a massive shock to my system. The alarm clock going off for one thing – that hasn’t happened in a while. My boy has a Pac-Man alarm clock that chimes with all the subtlety of a siren announcing all-out nuclear war. Today, it is entirely appropriate as the weather outside appears to indicate the world is indeed ending. Well, the Mayans did say it would happen in 2012, didn’t they? They’re up there now, somewhere, jigging about on their little moccassined feet chanting “Told you so!” and whipping their ancient plaits back and forth in glee. The weather is forcing droplets into my already beleaguered roof – the “plink, plink fizz” noises have nothing to do with the number of Berocca tablets I consumed over the holidays and everything to do with the slowly dissolving ancient lime plaster holding the roof up. The wind and rain buffeting around my office – which, it has to be said, is London’s very own version of Tan Hill – is testing even the Everest-approved windows and attempting to dislodge the building all together. God forbid someone releases a helium balloon over in Hyde Park – at best,  a hapless tourist maimed as it whisks down Piccadilly slapping faces at breakneck speed; at worst, all mobile phone masts downed within a 50 mile radius.

Armageddon aside, I want to unburden myself of some embarrassing Christmas moments – everyone has them so don’t go getting all holier-than-thou with me. My tale of woe begins in Cumbria two days before Christmas and, luxury of luxuries, with separate hotel rooms for us and the Mini-Pigs. The Man-Hog was in a state of priapic frenzy during the drive up at the mere thought of potentially 8-10 solid hours of my undivided attention. That, or he’d left his wallet in his front pocket again. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, checked in and mounted the stairs to our respective rooms. The kids were almost as ecstatic as we were and darling daughter shooed us out of their room and announced she was taking over mothering duties for the evening including baths and bedtimes, leaving the parentals free to….talk. Such was our involvement in the…talking…we did not realize until later that the ma-hoo-ssive elderly coach party we had seen occupying every chair in the lounge on our arrival had, in fact, decamped to a function room for a chess tournament immediately below our room. Our unmuffled…discussion…did not appear to have disturbed Flossie and Enid locked in mortal “Knight 2 takes Bishop 5” combat beneath us, but nevertheless we quickly dressed and went to the hotel bar to establish an alibi. Sadly, every smirk on the faces of our fellow bar-hoppers was ill-disguised proof positive that we had got away with nothing. I suggest the hotel beefs up its sound-proofing, or invests in honeymoon villas. “Discussions” are, after all, private. Either way, I couldn’t wait to leave the next morning.

We carried on to Scotland to my brother and his lovely family near Perthshire, and were joined by my nearby sister and her family for Christmas and Boxing Days. It was so great to see them all and despite having to seat 22 of us for dinner somewhere, we all had a wonderful time. The very best part about my family is the genuine love for each other’s company we have without having to try at all. Despite not having seen my bro or sis in over a year due to distance and work commitments, spending time all together was as easy as slipping on a comfy dressing gown. As effortless as sliding into cashmere bedsocks. As enjoyable as a round of peanut butter toast eaten in the bath. Fantastic. Until…

I blocked the main loo. Not just blocked it, but bunged it up an absolute kipper. My worst nightmare come true. I railed silently against unfairly oversized portions of bubble’n’squeak, ranted inwardly about forced consumption of Yorkshire puddings, of the availability of cheeses galore together with copious jars of onion marmalade. In the end, though, I had to call the Man-Hog to assist as nothing I did was working. He, being of a delicate disposition, cannot trifle with such issues without a biohazard suit and several stiff gins so he called in my brother. Oh, the shame! Bro couldn’t sort it either, so he called in senior brother-in-law. At this point, we’re talking three grown men standing in the bathroom and examining the by-product of my too-good festive frenzy while I apologized frequently in abject misery from behind them. I don’t think I will EVER live it down. Buckets were deployed and carried openly through public spaces where, of course, everyone else was gathered still enjoying stollen and Christmas cake (they’ll regret that combo as I did – ha!). At one point, a rodding eye was threatened but I became tearful at the sheer mention and the threat was withdrawn. I can still hear them all now, laughing themselves sick at my expense. The shame, the shame.

Needless to say, we left hurriedly the next day – if I was going to block anything else, it was going to be on a motorway in complete anonymity. I even left a dress and a couple of Christmas pressies behind, such was my packing haste. This was all aside from the Man-Hog’s humiliating police incident on Christmas Eve, the blobs of turkey curry subsequently discovered down the front of my new Christmas dress that NO-ONE had mentioned at the time, and the head-crushing amount of some shameful 80s Malibu cocktail consumed by yours truly on New Year’s Eve.  So, that was Christmas 2011. Perhaps next year, I can wander naked through an Edinburgh street sporting only one eyebrow or discover that I have, in fact, had the word “Prat” printed in lipstick on the back of my coat for several days. There’s surely not much else embarrassing I can do, is there?

Photo credit: http://noveltp.com

Headless Chickens….

I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently about mums and dads wanting to carve out more “Me” time in their lives to spend doing the things they want to do. I think the concept of time spent on a hobby, sport or other pastime is very important and, for some, literally a lifesaver.

It’s just that right now I’m feeling the opposite. I would dearly love to spend more time with the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pigs. Something that seems impossible to organise. It is not me separating myself off. No. It’s THE SCHEDULE.

Those of you out there with babies and toddlers experiencing the full-on 24/7 that comes with that territory are not aware yet of the subtle shift that begins to seep in at around 9-10 years old. We spend our kids’ formative years teaching them life skills, independence and self-esteem only to have that come and bite us right on the behind about 10 years into Project Parenthood.

With independence and confidence comes exploration and activity. The kids want to do, see, experience and embrace everything they can – in addition to all the activities they already do that we, as their nurturing parents, have arranged. And my local area, for a rural community, is surprisingly comprehensive in its variety of opportunities. So it is not enough that Mini-Pig Boy plays or trains for football three times a week already. Now there is rugby and, today, a vague murmuring of rock-wall climbing Saturday club. Mini-Pig Girl already spends as much time out with friends as she can (pocket-money and catty girl group arguments permitting!). Now she’s playing netball league (albeit at my instigation) and is out two nights a week minimum. She is also looking for Saturday work which will no doubt eat up a further day of the week that I then cannot spend with her. I can’t selfishly stand in the way of her earning her own money. She has Primark and Hollister Co. to support after all. Single-handedly it feels like! Thank goodness for quite hefty teeth braces still present in the mouth – at least boyfriends are not on her personal radar too just yet.

Man-Hog has started going to the gym a few times per week to coincide with the Boy’s football training. Consequently I have a giant toddler in the house again nodding off into his dinner plate and emerging, gravy-stained, to stagger up the stairs for a hose-down and an early night – the gym having sucked the life-force out of him. Between this and his plans to manfully prevent our 400 year-old house crumbling to a dusty heap while the woodworm point and laugh openly, he really is quite busy. I haven’t had Loose Women‘s entire lunchtime episode re-told to me in weeks. I am happy about that, by the way!

Me – well I’ve just come back from a weekend’s race-sailing. Not a weekly occurrence, I grant you, but a hobby that cannot be done within an hour’s session; that requires at least two days to achieve anything useful. I play netball twice a week, every week, and work 12-15 hour days with the commute. I’m not complaining about it, it is just how it is at the moment.

Besides all this, the Man-Hog and I still try to fit in an adult social life. Even more important in a country environment where effort must be made to meet up.

So we have had to devise THE SCHEDULE. A running tote of who will expire from exhaustion first. (My money’s on the Man-Hog – he’s out of practice and likely to fall at the first hurdle.) THE SCHEDULE allows our poor over-taxed neurons to work out who is going to be where and require picking up at what time. It has addresses and driving directions to sports fixtures all over Sussex. It has netball grids of all three teams playing league in Eastbourne each week. It also contained, up until last weekend, the days and times of England’s rugby World Cup journey. Hmph. Those slots have now been filled by domestic tasks and the occasional foray to the supermarket. Shortly, I suspect, it will have the times at which we may pee and sit down. I kid you not.

What THE SCHEDULE does not contain, nor seems willing to factor into its demanding little squares, is any family time. I miss my family. I miss having the Mini-Pigs sitting on my lap watching Thunderbirds on a Sunday morning. I miss sprawling on the floor with the Man-Hog and his Sunday papers munching baked doughnuts from the local village shop with a side order of calorific-guilt – so bad, yet so good. I miss little people bathtimes where many a fun moment was had with a kitchen jug and some silly string. I even miss the “I’m boooorrrreeeedddd!” whines of the recent summer holiday…..I know! Shocker! But at least we were together and bored. I clearly didn’t appreciate that time enough.

I could choose to curtail family activities that stop us spending much time together but I shy away from clipping their wings in these days of computer games, endless TV and potential childhood obesity. I could say no to shopping trips, sleepovers and playdates at weekends, but wouldn’t I just make myself entirely unpopular and the recipient of several gut-shaking door slams? I could cut the labels out of Man-Hog’s jeans so the size doesn’t upset him and force him to the treadmill; but wouldn’t such marital deceit be discovered eventually, inducing a crisis necessitating his dive into the nearest comforting Pot Noodle?

So no, I will not do that, For now, THE SCHEDULE, like a Cyber-Man on a completely incomprehensible episode of Doctor Who, rules the world. I am holding my breath and hoping that, in continuing, I won’t wake up in a few years and regret giving in to it. I hope family time will return, perhaps in a newer and even more fulfilling way, at some later date. Until then, I do have some nice nostalgic photos and a lot of netball trainers to console me.

What about you? Me-time or family-time: how are you making it work?

Words fail me….

….And that doesn’t often happen! Yesterday I lost my best friend, my cohort, my partner in crime. My reason to get up early in the morning. The one I kissed goodnight last before bed. He who I always cautioned “Night, night – sleep tight. If you see any bedbugs, slugs or grass snakes – holler!”

Fred came into my life at a time when I needed him most. I had just lost my Mum and was feeling similar to a ring-doughnut: seemingly complete on the outside but with a great big hole in the middle. Fred slowly ate his way through my miserable exterior and took up residence firmly in the hole in my heart. And there he stayed for the past few years.

There was a pecking order in my house – Fred, kids, Fred, husband, Fred, fish, Fred. Everyone got it. Everyone understood it.

Now there’s a hole again, and I don’t have the words to describe how I’m feeling. To those who know me, its obvious how devastated I am. To those who don’t know me so well, they are a little embarrassed by my reaction to this loss. I apologise to those I make uncomfortable.

One day, the hole will heal and I will be whole again. For now, I’m lost and the rest of the family feels that too. Kids are resilient – they’re playing badminton in the garden already. Hubby was distraught yesterday, but will recover in his ever-practical manner. I’m glad for them – moving on is healthy. But I’m not so sure about me.

Fred was my soulmate. My pride and joy. He was also my dog, a gorgeous fat black labrador. RIP Fred –
words fail me…….xx

Sshhh, commuter sleeping here…..

I had a horrifying thought this morning. As I sat there, wedged into a space the size of a gnat’s chuff beside one of Kent’s fattest men, I realized that in only four short years I will celebrate (though this is hardly the word) 30 years of commuting to London. Yes, folks, it’s true. I have spent almost 3 decades shuffling up and down metal tracks for varying lengths of time in order to earn a crust. My shortest journey was from South Croydon, where the journey was a mere 15 minutes on the train plus a short walk at either end.  The longest – my current one – is almost an hour and a half door to door on a good day, twice a day, five days a week.  Holy crap! That equates to 15 hours a week, which is a whole day and some of the evening of my normal time awake.  That’s 52 days a year and some change. This is a month and a half per year. Ouch!

It’s a depressing thought and yes, truly, I do believe I deserve a medal especially given the state of the trains here in the sunny Southeast of England.  

I could dwell on the negative side of commuting – the cost, the poor quality of service, the stress, the smell of the people who do not use personal hygiene product etc. – all too easy to fixate upon. Instead, I have decided I am heartily sick to the gills of hearing everyone else on the train moaning about this type of stuff and so I have turned my thoughts instead to the much-neglected positive side of commuting.  While everyone else appears to be searching and competing for the perfect commuting escape – be that  working from home, working for themselves, moving abroad or enjoying gardening hell (or early retirement as some call it) – I, on the other hand, can actually see the benefits of being a commuter, especially to a working parent. Shock, horror. Here we go.

Firstly, there is the peace and quiet induced only by an hour and a half (sometimes more given delays) of iPod solitude wrapped inside my earphones and with my eyes firmly shut to the outside world. Where else can a mum of two find the time or excuse to sit still in a nice warm seat and indulge her passion for old Level 42 tracks? Or watch a girly chick-flick without the constant interruption of the little ones, or our old friend Guilt sidling up and demanding action, movement and the use of cleaning equipment – immediately! I swear I have also read more novels in the past almost 30 years of commuting than the whole of the New York Times and the Literary Review put together – I defy them to put my knowledge of the novels of Jilly Cooper to the test. I believe this personal space and head time has been instrumental in keeping me out of the wine rack and on the straight and narrow. And not to mention the hours of much-needed extra sleep I have benefitted from when it has all been too much the night before.

Second, there is the time to reflect on the day before, the day ahead and the weekend to come. Working mothers, by nature, must be organized otherwise the whole pack of cards will collapse on us.  Commuting gives me the time to consider each person involved in my worlds (yes plural – see below for explanation) and their needs and wants, sometimes shockingly even my own needs and wants! Shoes do not buy themselves, after all, and passports need to be renewed. Routes need to be checked to and from football tournaments, and meals for four that involve some semblance of a vegetable do not appear on the table without help. I use some of the commuting time to plan what needs to happen, and move forward accordingly. Sometimes I even write it down. Get me – blooming show-off. It’s actually a pretty good way to relieve the stresses of what would otherwise be an impossibly busy life. And a stick to beat the husband with when he has failed to respond appropriately to a written directive.

Third, I can switch off my “home” head and switch on my “work” head, or vice versa depending on which way I am commuting. The mental leap between home with all its little domestic issues, pleasures and moments and the demands and nitty-gritty of a day job can rarely be melded together – at least in my job and from my own bitter experience.  Neither world wants to come second in the pecking order. I think one of the biggest causes of my early working mummy stress was trying to blend the two, rather than accepting that I pass from one world and its set of rules to the other when I step off the train. We women are fabulous multi-taskers, but why have the pressure of keeping all aspects of both worlds in the front of your head all at once? It’s migraine-inducing, and that’s before you’ve tried to decipher the PTA letter your son gave you three weeks late. Isn’t it easier and more efficient to accept I live in separate universes – literally and in a hopefully non-bipolar manner? Compartmentalization. It’s the latest thing daaahhhhling.  And it works. Trust me.

Fourth, I have tried and failed to seek employment locally or work for and by myself. But in the field in which I work, the jobs and the money are in the Capital. London is one of the world’s major financial centres. If I want to be paid for the effort and hours I put in, and progress somewhat towards a future distant career goal, London is where the money is.  And the one thing I have always adhered to is that, if I am going to leave my children for 52 days a year, I should at least have the benefits accruing on the other side. The nice house, the holiday, the decent car and my family well-dressed, well-fed and contented. It is a sad trade-off – time away from my kids for what seems merely filthy lucher – but if I was a man/father (sorry to play the gender card but really it couldn’t be helped here), it is the normal reality of being the provider and in my case, there is simply no choice. Materialistic Mum? Yes, that’s me; I’ll be right with you.

Minor asides – there are also the small but not insignificant matters of being easily distracted – the smell of a bacon sandwich drifting up the stairs is enough for me to abandon all rational thought for at least an hour – and the fact that I suspect I would eat – constantly – a sort of unattractive cud-chewing grazing, not to mention succumb to online gambling or at the very least an internet shopping account at French Sole – I do love those little ballet pumps they do. None of these would be good things for anyone involved.

And then I suppose, for me, there is something of almost pride in the fact that I have sustained such longevity in my commuting. It is an achievement of sorts. If you look back into history, our women ancestors fought long and hard through the drudgery for freedom of choice and the opportunities I have benefitted from. If the trade-off for a decent job in an industry I understand, decent money and the ability to keep my family in a certain manner is commuting – bring on the carriages, I’m happy to oblige.

I admire and respect the mums who can and do work from home, for themselves or for others. That is the pinnacle of universe-melding, and I wish you all the best of luck with that. It gives me the vapours just thinking about it. I have perhaps even greater admiration for those who choose to give themselves up to their children and are not the least concerned with the material side of what that means – or if they are, they are in blissful denial. You should all be congratulated – that is what choice means after all and you have made yours. Commuting has been my choice these past 30 years. I think I might even miss it. Now that really is a scary thought! But bear in mind these are under CURRENT circumstances – where I still have to work for financial reasons basically. I am 44 after all. If given the opportunity to give up commuting AND work at the same time whilst remaining financially solvent, live in my dream seaside house and potter about on a boat all day came along, well I’m sure I wouldn’t miss commuting at all then. That would be a choice well worth making.