Archive for August, 2011

Teenager alert! (and he’s only 10)

Things my 10 year old son claims he no longer likes that he used to:

*Night-time cuddles and stories – “yeah mum, like I want you in my face before I go to sleep – not.”

*Super Furry Animals, Radiohead, Wedding Present, Smiths, any of the many bands with guitars I indoctrinated him into liking as a child – “they’re, like, so old fashioned. Haven’t you even heard of Bruno Mars? Or Chase & Status? God, you’re so ancient.”

*One or two of his childhood friends – “mum, they’re so immature. And they don’t even know it.”

*His dad – “I sometimes think you just haven’t taken to me.”

*His brother – “Sometimes I wish you hadn’t been born, you’re THAT annoying.”

*Me – “Did they have exams when you were younger to get into university or were you just allowed in even if you weren’t clever, like you?”

*Having his picture taken – “If you take one more picture of me without asking my permission first I’m going to sue you.”

Things I love about my 10 year old:

*The way he insists on wearing aftershave (Lynx Africa)

*The amazing cuddles he gives me – they may be loads less frequent but when they come they are so worth it.

*The way he flicks his head to get his new fringe out of his eyes

*How he loves horror stories, even though they frighten him

*The brilliant way he amuses his brother with silly impressions and crazy voices to cheer him up if he’s sad or hurt.

*His lovely caring nature; he may try to act tough but he gives it away every time

He no longer allows me to take his photo, unless it is for a very special reason, like he’s engaged in an unusual activity like flying down a zipwire. Instead, to feed my desire to capture his lovely face as often as possible, I have to devise cunning and sly tricks.

Due to computer problems I can’t seem to upload an image to the blog today, but suffice to say they are of a “blurry/arty” nature – where he has moved suddenly on realising his picture is being taken. Several of them were taken inside the Pompidou Centre in Paris during a trip yesterday. We took part in an art project, called Inside Out. The artist, called JR, has set up a giant photobooth in the centre and each person enters the booth, sits still and an image is taken. During the process a bindi mark is placed on every person’s forehead. The resulting images are printed out onto giant sheets of paper – mine is nearly as big as me – which are ejected from a huge slot high up at the top of the giant photobooth, from where they flutter to the ground, to excited squeals from the people waiting below. It is great fun and you can see the results at http://www.insideoutproject.net/pompidou

Behind the fun lies the incredibly powerful idea that everyone is beautiful and unique. As someone who constantly struggles with self image, it was interesting to note my own reaction. While everyone else in my family ooed and aahed over their posters and laid them out on the floor to take in all their glory, I couldn’t wait to roll mine up and hide it away. Participants are urged to put their poster faces up in their own community – while I can think of a million places I’d want to display the giant faces of my sons and husband, I can’t imagine being comfortable placing my own giant face anywhere other than in the back garden. Funny how a bit of fun art can make you stop and think and analyse your own vision of yourself, isn’t it? I’ve certainly embraced one of the stated aims of the project – “to discover, reveal and share your untold story…”

You don’t have to visit France to join in – visit http://www.insideoutproject.net to find out how to submit your own portrait and receive a poster back in return.

Next to the giant photobooth were traditional, smaller versions, which produced 7x5inch prints. Felix had to kneel up to get to the right eye level for his pic – and while he was doing so I snapped a couple of candid pix. He will hate that I photographed him without him knowing it, so am I morally right to do so? It’s a tough one – I know I’d hate it.

As my son enters into the twilight world of teenage insecurity, I’m sure he, like me, doesn’t see and appreciate his own beauty, and that’s probably why he constantly asks me to erase the pictures I’ve taken of him. I won’t though – I want him to know that he is beautiful and amazing, if only he’d open his eyes to it. A lesson there for me too I think.

Crisis? What Crisis?

I’m 43 years old. Blimey.When did that happen? In my head I’m still just a flibberty-gibbet, a teen angel, a babe in arms. But I’m not; I’m 43. Bloody hell. When I got caught smoking at school, aged 15, I had to take a letter home to my parents. I recall being terrified about my parents’ reaction, and dreaded the sound of them coming up the stairs on their return home from work to confront me – yet also recall, really vividly, that in the midst of my telling off all I was thinking was how OLD they looked, with their disappointed faces and angry folded arms. And how superior I was, with my youth and brilliance.

They would have been at least five years younger than I am now, so God knows how my kids see me when I’m laying down the law. Youngest inexplicably thinks I’m 29. He has no idea about age; he thinks his granny (70) is 43.

So, like it or not, I’m officially middle aged. The least I can do to mark such a momentous event is to take up hang-gliding, take a lover, or take a dive into insanity. I have no desire to do any of these.

I’m writing this in a French forest, at a picnic table outside our holiday home in a Yelloh! village an hour and a half’s train ride from Paris, in the complete darkness, drunk on wine and contentment, while my beautiful family sleeps and snores feet away. The thrum of busy insect life is occasionally punctuated by a scurrying beast or the incredibly loud thwack of acorn against roof. It is amazing here; a place of complete and utter tranquility. I am at peace.

It was not always thus. Three years ago, approaching my 40th birthday, I did go a tad insane. For people who have read my blog for a while, or who know me, this was proper off the rails – for a couple of weeks I was barely able to get the kids to school of a morning, let alone be much good for owt. (By the way, I’m not from Yorkshire, but it does seem to be my default setting when merry to get all “owt” and “twas” and “twat”.)

But – and it took a while admittedly, and needed the support of my ace family  – I got through it. I still have my moments of stress and anxiety, but mostly I am totally sane. (Hahaha-hahaha-hahaha *runs like loon around holiday park dressed in nothing but a figleaf and elf ears*)

The last three months have tested my sanity to the max. I have taken on a trying new role (part time, they said – part time, my arse) combined with looking after the kids, house and family stuff, and trying to drum up a bit of business of the PR variety. If I was going to lose it, I probably would have by now. Admittedly, I’ve come close once or twice. Only two weeks ago I was so caught up with juggling work demands, childcare, general household responsibility and a million other things that, in the midst of rowing with my 10 year old, I drove off after filling up with petrol at my local petrol station without paying. Thankfully a nice policeman and the garage manager trusted in my innate honesty and recognised my misdemeanour for the absolute mindblock that it was, and let me off.

Other than that blot, I have generally remained calm and collected in the face of considerable pressure. Now, finally, three years on, I feel a corner has been turned, a hurdle cleared, a lesson learned. It seems I can cope after all; I am not destined for the loony bin just yet.

I can, it seems, do a job that I am falling in love with, despite its excessive demands on my time and brain power, while also caring for and spending quality time with my kids and family. Friendships have definitely suffered along the way, but I’m desperately planning to make amends on that score over the next few months. Generally, though, I feel I have survived a tough few months and things can now only get better.

So, now what? What have you got planned now, middle age?

As increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances face up to illness and disability, to loss and pain, it’s obvious that becoming middle aged brings increasing vulnerability to the rigours of being a mere mortal. I used to feel I was immune, infallible, that somehow I was one of the chosen ones who would not succumb to such boring rituals as getting ill or bereavement. I don’t feel like that any more. It’s a shame, losing that carefree notion of a carefree life, but there it is.

Middle aged suggests midway. If that’s true, that means I will pop off this mortal coil at about 86. Now, that actually sounds like a fair deal, speaking from my 43 year old berth. I’m pretty damn sure that when I’m 85 it will be a less attractive proposition. However, I also know too many people who have breathed their last long before getting close to middle age. It is something to celebrate you know, getting this far intact!

Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips had it about right when he sang “Do you realise everyone you know, one day, will die…” I mean, it’s hardly a revelation is it, yet we all block it out, and avoid thinking about it – but we are all DOOMED.

Time really does go fast; and it is hard to make the good times last. All we can do is appreciate every drop of goodness, every day of happiness. We can watch the sun set every night, until the day we die, but only if we also remember that the sun going down is just an illusion, caused by the Earth spinning round.

My family is still sleeping. The forest is still alive with rustling and creaking and scuttling. I feel like I am the only person awake in the whole of France. A candle burns fiercely beside me, my glass of wine stays resolutely filled up, as if by some magic hand (mine, if truth be told) and the air is still. The stars are shining bright in an arc over my head. It’s a beautiful evening, still warm enough for me to be sat here on the laptop outdoors at the midnight hour. I could be in paradise. I’m not, it’s only France, but I’ve got everything I need right here, within feet of me. But most of all, right now, today, I may be middle aged but I’ve also got peace of mind and a happy heart. Who could wish for more?

 

 

Facebook?

Facebook, oh Facebook – what for art thou Facebook? I’ve been on Facebook for three years now, lured in by my friend Elizabeth (who almost immediately stopped using it, the bugger) and then enticed to stay when a friend moved abroad for a while.

In that time it has been a source of comfort and despair, a portal into other people’s lives and a link to the past; a place to post my joys and (very occasionally) my miseries; somewhere to seek people out when bored, or drunk, or lonely. It’s been a short cut to friends and a way of discovering and establishing new connections.

When all’s said and done, I am definitely in credit to the bank of facebook – it has given me far more back than I have ever put in. I’ve connected with near neighbours and found an easy way to keep in touch with relatives near and far.

I enjoy the ‘live’ interactions – when you post something and get an instant riposte, and so begins a banter, with all its weird tangents and footnotes and crazed insights into the minds of people you thought you knew but who actually have hidden depths (they can recite a Shakespearean ode! they also like Throbbing Gristle! they too think the new Orla Keily wallpaper is to DIE for!)

I like viewing people’s pictures, particularly to have a nose around their homes and gardens; I enjoy being kept up to date on their biggest achievements, holidays, nights out, how well the kids are doing, and so on.

I mostly enjoy some of the excellent witticisms, which tend to come from other people’s threads rather than my own (thank you especially Mark Nelson & Sophie Everett, for being funny and entertaining and having friends on the same wavelength). Were I to abandon Facebook the single thing I would miss most would be Friday Night Build Up (you’ll all have to befriend Sophie to get in on the act).

At other times these are precisely the things that I hate about Facebook. A wise woman (well, Suzy Scavenger) once warned me that joining Facebook was akin to going to a school disco; if you were one of the popular kids, you’d probably love it, with your 6,000 friends and 50 apps and mad social life and dazzling existence. The rest of us would be stood around like wallflowers on the margins, feeling like failures for not being interesting or witty enough.

Facebook, you are truly no use in times of trouble. In my experience, the worst thing to do when you’re feeling life’s a bit crap right now is to log onto Facebook. You won’t feel better; any feelings of worthlessness will be further enhanced by seeing everyone else living it up on holiday, or announcing their recent promotion or lottery win, or telling you how marvellous their kids are (especially when your own has just told you you’re the worst mum EVER in the history of the universe.)

If you do decide to issue a cry for help and bare your soul about your miserable existence via a status update I’m not sure the existentialist musings of Dave, who you last saw on a bus in Redditch in 1987, will do the trick; nor does it help when Michelle, who you don’t like that much but felt you had to befriend when she sent her sixth request, tells you to keep smiling 🙂

So, my summary is this: Facebook is fab when you’re feeling fab; great too when you just want cheering up and happen across some witty friends online; but is shit if that’s how you’re feeling.

Of course, all this analysis hardly matters a jot. By the time my kids are old enough to have their own facebook accounts, in three and eight years time, it will be passe, history, yesterday’s news. After all, nothing ever lasts forever. (Remember Friends Reunited?)

It’s already been supplanted by Twitter, a medium I started to use a few months back for work purposes. (I even get measured on my twitter interactions, which is pretty galling.) However, I’m learning to love it – for a homeworker like me, Twitter is the equivalent of standing round the coffee machine exchanging a few words with workmates about the issues of the day. I’ve made loads of connections, helped by the fact that I have something people want (access to free editorial space for their company, idea, etc). I’m meeting up with three Twitter followers on Wednesday in fact. What I really like is that it’s in real time – people respond there and then, just like in conversation. For a home-aloner like me it’s a perfect place to enjoy a coffeebreak.

Well, not perfect exactly. That would be a coffee break with real friends. Nothing’s better than the real thing.