Head Lice: When Speciesism Is Definitely The Best Option

I like to think that I’m pretty good to animals.  I’m vegetarian, although not vegan (one word: CHEESE) and although I would never dream of being preachy about it (OK guys, I’m being preachy.  EVERYONE BECOME VEGETARIAN YOU FLESH EATING HEATHENS), I like to think I’m doing my bit for the environment, but I am no devout Jain, sweeping away the bugs in front of me to avoid causing harm to another sacred life.  Oh no, there comes a point when an animal’s inalienable right to exist, happy and free from human interference, simply has to be overruled; when a line must be drawn in the sand and boundaries enforced.

And that time, my friends, comes when the fauna in question is LIVING ON MY HEAD.

I like to think I embody the Hindu principle of ahimsa in my daily life, or at least I, um, try to.  Sort of, most of the time (don’t tell anybody about the prawn crackers.  Surely they don’t contain real prawns though, right?)  But when it comes to head lice, I ain’t no Gandhi.

Perhaps it’s the bitter experience of the Great Nit Epidemic of 2003, when my status as neither a teacher nor a parent, nor anyone who had any kind of contact with young children at that time, left me ill-prepared and in denial of the fact that yes, you can get nits at any time and at any age, even when you are twenty-three and not in possession of any young charges.

And so I was, dare I say it slightly better prepared when the proverbial itchy head returned with a vengeance sometime last week.

This time, I promised myself, this time I will be better.  This time I will be prepared.  This time I will not remain in denial until it gets to the point where an acquaintance can actually lean over and pick a louse big enough to go to work from the teeming mass of my riddled head, following a night spent in feverish nightmares of tearing vermin from my hair while I scratch incessantly.  This time things will not get to that point.  Something has to be done.

And so it was that I found myself in the local branch of Boots, five minutes before closing time, with every employee they had lined up at the tills, studying my face expectantly.

“Can I help you?” they trilled, clearly having caught a whiff of the sweet smell of hometime hanging in the air and anxious to get shot of me, the pesky customer who just has to inconveniently walk in five minutes before closing.  I caught sight of the dreaded Special Shampoo displayed prominently on the shelf behind them and wondered if The Nit Treatment still smelt like the waste product of a chemical plant with a poor health and safety record.  Why couldn’t it be on the regular shelf with the regular things, like nappies and toothpaste?  Why did it have to be there, so that I had to ask for it, and would therefore henceforth be known as The Village Nit Head, the One With The Nits.  Were people going to start crossing the road when they saw me as though I was some sort of leper, or one of those enthusiastic youngsters in the charity-branded macs who harass people for their bank details?  Was I going to be branded with the word “Unclean” on my forehead and forced to wear a bell around my neck to warn people of my approaching parasite-riddled noggin?  WHY DID I HAVE TO GO TO MY LOCAL BRANCH?

Willing the ground to open up and swallow me whole, I desperately looked towards another customer who had suddenly appeared behind me with armfuls of sanitary towels.  Maybe they could serve her first?  That looks like an urgent situation there.

Almost as I opened my mouth to make the suggestion I realised that she was in fact an employee and about to replenish the shelves.

“Um, I’m looking for something for…for…” (voice drops to a whisper) “Head lice.”

It could be worse I suppose.  It could be pubic lice.*  And at least I have a child with me, so I can blame him if necessary.

I haven’t told my mother, of course.  After an hour spent combing my hair with one of those steel combs that look as though they’ve just been dug out of an archeological excavation site full of the plague-ravaged bodies of medieval peasants while Piglet tears the bathroom to pieces, I decide that this is one that I just need to ride out alone.  I need to woman up, prove that I can do this.  I am mother, hear me roar.  And besides, I have a sneaking feeling that my mother will blame me for my own misfortune.  Too much swishing the hair, which by the way is too long, despite being only shoulder length.  You should have it all cut off like a sensible mother would.  You brought it upon yourself, you with your teaching job and your tendency to take public transport.  You probably put up a sign on the Louse version of AirBnB, inviting the little critters in, offering free bed and board and an all you can eat buffet of juicy blood.  And look, now you’ve probably gone and infected Piglet too, and his cherubic little head of wispy golden angel hair is going to be full of parasites sucking his sweet little baby blood.  How could you, you monstrous excuse for a parent!

Two washes it has been.  Two washes of the Special Shampoo, which thank the Lord is no longer like dousing one’s hair with strychnine,  but these days has more of a baby oil-like consistency that makes it undeniably more pleasant to apply, but a nightmare and a half to wash off, and you end up going into work with your hair pinned tightly back, not only to avoid inadvertently infecting half of Bristol, but so that you don’t look like you’ve  suddenly forgotten how to actually shower and have people start avoiding you and holding their noses as you approach.  Two washes, seven days apart, and hopefully the uninvited guests have slung their hook, had their final slice of my scratchy flesh, and departed for that great big head in the sky.  It might not have rivalled the Louse Genocide of 2003 (and thank goodness for that) but it was epic, people, and I for one am glad it’s over.

Now I can go back to embodying my usual principle of ahimsa.

*IT ISN’T.  Just to make that clear.

Pushed to the Limit By Small Child

There has been many a day when I have returned from work to find my mother slumped on the sofa, a look of exhaustion and despair etched on her face.

“It’s been a difficult day,” she would croak, as Piglet played with his cars around her, in front of Abney and Teal, making cute little noises of contentment as the Poc Pocs hopped across the screen.

“He really is naughty you know,” she would add, for effect, as I cheerfully headed for the kitchen and a cup of tea, before settling in front of the cooker and flinging pots about, cooking our dinner while my mother chased Piglet around and desperately tried to keep him from emptying the entire contents of the cupboards.

And how I would scoff.  Piglet is not naughty, I would say.  He’s a completely normal toddler.  Completely normal.  You have forgotten what small children are like, I’d say.  You imagine that we were the most perfect children who ever lived.  I would remind her about that time my brother, in his own wayward toddler years, put his head through the living room door, pointedly adding that I still remember him with his head stuck in that door.  It’s never been the same since.  We had to get rid of it and get that ridiculous bit of plastic sliding door that’s hanging off the hinges.  There you have it, EVIDENCE.  We were terrible kids.

Well that was different, would come the response.  That was an accident.  Piglet’s misdemeanors, by contrast, are deliberate and calculated, like he is actually sitting there plotting the downfall of his loving grandmother.

I would look upon Piglet’s angelic visage and know, I would just know, with the intuition that only a mother could, that Piglet was doing nothing of the sort.  He was a wondrous child, the sort that would never, could never even contemplate such a thing.  He was a paragon of virtue, a model child and, of course, nothing out of the ordinary.  All his behaviour was perfectly normal and expected.  Developmentally normal.  There was no need for a visit to the psychiatrist.  All would be well.  This too shall pass.

Well reader, now that we live on our own and Granny sits in the restored peace of her own home and watches Great British Railway Journeys each evening in restful solitude, I sometimes wonder.  It appears that I have now taken the role of tormented guardian, to be run ragged until I too am a shell of my former self. Today, for example, he deliberately poured milk all over one of my bar chairs from Dwell (RIP Dwell.  How I miss your glossy red tables and your overpriced statuettes of diamante covered skulls), and then pushed its sister chair over, just for the hell of it.  Those chairs were from Dwell.  Like all the best shops, Dwell has now gone bust.  There will be no replacing those chairs (even though I saw identical ones in B&Q, but DWELL).

My response to this, after keeping my cool throughout the previous onslaught of a) the throwing of dinner on the floor, b) the deliberate spillage of milk on the floor and up the walls and c) the near-destruction of a standing lamp underneath the television which Piglet has gleefully discovered can also be pushed over, was to be really annoyed.  Annoyed enough to put him in his pushchair for a couple of minutes and leave him to cry, feeling like a monster, whilst I attempted to fix the damage and finished my already cold cup of tea.

I now know how my mother felt on those days when she lay, pale and exhausted, on the sofa, an empty husk of the woman she had been just that morning, before she had been pushed to her absolute physical and mental limit by a particularly exhausting toddler.

And I’m hoping it’s still normal, right?

What if You Don’t Have An Amazing Daddy?

There are certain conversations that just don’t go down well in a public forum.  Naturally, once one has children any embarrassment about, for example, shouting “POO!” randomly at frequent intervals seems to dissipate.  Not so, however, with certain other conversations, such as the one I found myself having at swimming today.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” my son is shouting happily.

Bloody daddies.

All those daddies, taking their children swimming.  All those conversations the children have about their daddies, as they find themselves musing upon why they find themselves with Mummy in a different changing room.  “My daddy,” says one; “No, my daddy,” says another, seemingly puzzled at how they could both have daddies in the same building at the same time.

“Daddy!” shouts Piglet.

“No Piglet, you don’t have a daddy.”

The changing room, usually full of chatter and small children talking about their daddies, has gone quiet.

They are all going to be discussing it amongst themselves once I am gone, I think, as I take care to put Piglet’s jumper on extra slowly, to deny them the opportunity.  All those middle class mothers with the husbands and the conventional Topsy and Tim-style set ups.

As we leave the pool, two men come in with a baby.  TWO DADDIES, I think triumphantly.  The perfect opportunity to point out to Piglet that not everyone has a daddy, but not everyone has a painfully conventional Topsy and Tim-style set-up either.  Every family is different.

“You know, Piglet, not everyone has a daddy,” I say once we are safely down the street.  Piglet looks up from his pushchair expectantly.  He appears to be more interested in this conversation than I had anticipated.

“Some people have just a Mummy, and some have just a Daddy, and some have two mummies or two daddies.  And some don’t have ANY PARENTS AT ALL and have to be raised by their grandparents.  I think that baby we just saw has two daddies, for example.”

Piglet nods his head in agreement, and turns back around, apparently satisfied with this answer, and now ready to turn his mind back to the usual thoughts of breadsticks, lions, emergency vehicles of all stripes and the amazing feat of engineering that is a car transporter lorry.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m supposed to have an answer prepared for these situations; a speech all ready and raring to go.  I’m supposed to have been telling Piglet all about his donor from the moment he popped out of the womb, apparently.  Gone are the days when having anything but two happily married parents was to be glossed over and never spoken of, and thank goodness for that.  Now the prevailing wisdom says we should tell our children about how they were made from the moment the event occurs, preferably using picture book explanations of IVF and euphemistic talk of eggs and seeds, but I just can’t do it.  Piglet is just like any other child.  His unusual genesis doesn’t make him some sort of special snowflake who needs to be reminded about his conception as often as is humanly possible.  Precisely no one wants to have the circumstances of their own conception explained to them, no matter how euphemistically, and besides, Piglet’s donor is not all that interesting to me.  I’ve never met him, and wouldn’t want to.  What if his values don’t align with mine?  What if he’s only donating sperm for the money and not out of the pure motive of altruistic love of creating alternative families for those who are denied children via more conventional means? What if he voted for Donald Trump?  He’s from the South, goddamit, that is almost certainly a thing.  And then what?  Could one’s political leanings be somehow genetic?  Is Piglet going to rock up one day in a Make America Great Again hat, hollering about a wall?  When I tried to explain to a mewling newborn Piglet at 4am in a hospital ward full of crying women and babies about how he was donor conceived, believing that this was what I now had a solemn duty to do, I ran up against a blank, and instead found myself whispering desperately that if he kept crying I might have to send him back to America (in my defence, at that point Obama was still president).

Piglet carried on crying and flailing his tiny limbs about, and I was wracked with guilt.  First, I had created a baby with the sperm of an American I’d never met, and then I’d considered sending him to America via Parcel Force, all wrapped up in a little bit of brown paper and a note saying “return to sender,” because he cried a lot, as newborns are prone to do, and I wasn’t sure I could do this whole mothering thing.

I decided it was probably best if I forgot about trying to explain the American connection and just concentrated on nailing the mothering thing.  It was certainly a more pressing concern, and with any luck, he wouldn’t ask where his daddy was anyway and he wouldn’t care, at least not until he could speak.

Fortunately for some, Piglet has not been quick in that regard, and only learned the word “Daddy” a few months ago, when he alarmed me one bedtime by suddenly randomly shouting “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” as I quietly despaired, wondering where he had learned this word, this dangerous, subversive idea, and wondering if I could have prevented it by having the eggs and seeds conversation every evening since his birth.  Had he learned it at nursery?  From other children?  From Charlie and Lola?  No, not Charlie and Lola.  They don’t have any parents.  Charlie is raising Lola single-handedly like the plucky hero of a novel about nineteenth century street urchins.

Or was it from the book my mother had inexplicably brought home from the library, the one called “Amazing Daddy,” which I sneakily tried to change to “Amazing Mummy” when reading it, on the assumption that Piglet could neither read nor tell the difference between male and female fictional pandas.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” cried Piglet as I opened the first page, before flinging himself at my brother, who happened to be passing at the time, and calling him Daddy too.

So has Daddy taken on the meaning of any male human, or panda?  It’s hard to tell at this stage, but sooner or later the conversation will have to be had.  Just preferably not in the swimming pool changing rooms under the glare of middle class judgement.

Feminism: The Label We Should Wear With Pride

“Miss,” the boy whispered to me during a Year 9 lesson.  “That Miss Smith,*  she’s a feminist, you know.  She’s always talking about feminism.  And….” (his voice dropped to a whisper) “we think she might be a LESBIAN!”

Ah yes, feminism, the word spoken of in hushed tones by teenage boys everywhere.  There was a nod of approval from the rest of the class, confirmation that yes, Miss Smith was indeed known throughout the school as being a bit of a maverick, a rebel who’d just as soon teach you to write articles for the Socialist Worker as teach the works of Shakespeare.  She was, in short, a bit barmy.  Given the response in the class, he may as well have said that Miss Smith was thinking of running off to Syria and joining ISIS.

“You do know Henry,” I informed him, “that you are a feminist too.  In fact, I would say that everyone in this class is a feminist.”

Henry looks at me, eyes wide, as though I’ve just accused him of being Miss Smith’s tie-dyed comrade-in-arms at a sit-in on Greenham Common.  The rest of the class are intrigued at their new designation as socialist rebels.

“You agree that men and women are equal, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

Henry looks disgusted that I could conceive of him as anything but a warrior for equality.

“Well then, you are a feminist!  That’s what feminism is.  The belief that men and women are equal.”

The class look impressed with their new epithet.  I have created a band of Year 9 crusaders for the cause.

You see, nothing dismays me more than when I see yet another woman (or for that matter, teenage boy) say that she doesn’t see herself as a feminist.  After all, feminism is just equality.  That’s it.  Not man-hating, not bra-burning, not a military takeover of the Houses of Parliament by angry women waving burning effigies of men, although there is certainly nothing wrong with burning a bra if you so desire, as long as you do so in a responsible manner and keep a fire extinguisher handy, after all those lacy ones look flammable.

Personally, I have never regarded myself as anything but a feminist.  I like to think I came out of the womb waving a placard demanding equal pay for equal work, or votes for women, even though both of those things were supposedly enshrined in law long before I was so much as a glint in my mother’s eye.

Enshrined in law they may be, but the pace of change is slow.  Women may be legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but we know the gender pay gap still exists; and although we may be able to vote, I hardly need to mention last year’s fiasco election in the US to point out that we are still far from equally represented in the corridors of power.

It also seems that there is a backlash against feminism rising on the internet.  That for every woman calling out misogyny in a public forum, there are ten trolls popping out of a dark corner to tell us to get back in the kitchen.  It may of course be my own perception as someone who would probably be described as a member of the “liberal elite,” living in a bubble of like-minded and largely similarly educated and privileged Western women, that the forces of darkness are out to get us; but like many others, I have been both alarmed and disgusted by the political developments of the past few months, most of which seem to me to be proof that feminism is still very much needed.  And so, when I hear women hold feminism at arms length, avoiding using the word for fear of seeming shrill, man-hating or a bad wife, despite agreeing whole-heartedly with its basic tenet of equality, I am dismayed.  For to quote the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we should all be feminists, and wear the label with pride, with or without our bras.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.  No one wants to be outed as being a feminist, after all.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog of my fellow blogger and (I hope) friend, the fabulous Island Living 365, as part of her The Mother Feminist series.

Why Co-Sleeping is Right for Me

As I write, Piglet is asleep next to me while I tap away at the laptop in the blue light that I fear will one day be the new tobacco, slowly killing us all by interfering with our natural rhythms, in our new house, in the king size bed that my mother fears is going to break the loft.  We have now been here over a month, and due to a toxic combination of our family’s resident Ikea furniture assembler being currently housebound with a broken leg, and my pathological fear of picture-heavy and text-lite Ikea instruction manuals, we are stuck sharing a room-and a bed-for the foreseeable future.

I never meant to co-sleep.  Co-sleeping was the sort of thing you saw on those NHS-produced warning videos featuring a stern-looking Anne Diamond about how not to kill your baby that get played in the waiting rooms of ante-natal clinics everywhere, terrifying all those present with threats of bathwater that can drown, cot bumpers that can smother, and room temperatures that are just that little bit too high (ANYTHING ABOVE EIGHTEEN DEGREES!) for a newborn to sleep safely.  The message was clear.  Co-sleeping posed a clear and present danger to the welfare of babies everywhere.  Co-sleeping was what the Bad Mothers did.  The ones that drank a small glass of wine and ate a slice of blue cheese whilst pregnant, or used their bump as an excuse to “eat for two,” or didn’t even attempt to breastfeed.  It was Strictly Not Recommended by the NHS.

And then real life got in the way.

Real life came and hit me hard.  It hit me over the Christmas period, two years ago, when Piglet’s first Christmas unhappily coincided with his first cold.  And as my mother faffed about and fretted, shrieking on Christmas morning that we should be calling the doctor because Piglet’s five month old baby squeaks sounded a bit hoarse, I took Piglet into my bed.  We needed our sleep, and the travel cot that my mother had set up in her room for the duration of our stay was not providing it.

Well reader, he’s still there.

Two years later and we are still co-sleeping.  I spent last night, as is the custom when I haven’t been required to pretend to be asleep to convince my young companion to do the same, only to end up dropping off for real, browsing online after Piglet had drifted off into his slumbers.  But last night I was looking for a toddler bed, the next stage in the cutting of the apron strings, the first whispers that one day, soon, it might be time to do the unthinkable and lie my beloved son down to sleep in a bed that wasn’t my own.  A bed of his own, decorated with cars and placed in his own little room, separate from mine.  The first stirrings of growing up and becoming a big boy.  A big boy who no longer needs nappies, who speaks in sentences and who no longer needs his Mummy like he used to.

It’s all still a pipe dream, of course.  Piglet may be growing increasingly adept at using the potty, but still insists on hiding in a corner fully dressed and nappied when nature calls with a “number two.”  His vocabulary is improving slowly, but full sentences are more of a long term goal than a current reality, and God knows how long it’s going to take to finally prise him out of my bed for good.

But I know it has to happen someday.  Someday he will grow up and no longer need the comfort of Mummy’s milky pops in the middle of the night.  Someday I will be able to sleep again, soundly and for eight solid hours, and not have to keep swapping sides of the bed and proffering a comforting breast.

You get used to it.  The aching tiredness and the endless sucking and the feeling of closeness and the ability to hear them breathe in the middle of the night; the constant reminder that they are there and they are safe.  How will I cope when I no longer have that reassurance?  How will I cope knowing that my baby is in another room, so near yet so far.  How do those other parents do it?  How do they put their babies in their own rooms at six weeks, or six months, or six years, and not ache to feel them at their side and listen to their sleepy sounds?

It’s at times like these that being a single parent has its advantages.  No husband to roll over and take up space, or to complain or simply be too big and too present to allow me to share the bed with the true love of my life, the tiny one that I place my hand on in the dead of night, just to check he’s still there.

Soon the day will come when he no longer needs me to fall asleep and stay asleep, so for now I will enjoy it, look forward to the freedom of being able to read a book in bed again once he is tucked up in his new bedroom, and hope that blue light isn’t quite as bad as it looks.

Ode to American Apparel

There are no words.

I keep hearing the words.  An article here, an article there.  Usually in the Guardian and written by somebody who clearly squeezed themselves into a disco pant on multiple occasions in 2009, even whilst simultaneously hating the brand and all that it stood for, and how in hindsight everything seemed so sleazy, like we would one day look back on it with the same level of disgust that we might now view a picture of a grinning Jimmy Savile in a gold shell suit.

But this is not going to be a high-minded think piece about how one clothes shop could epitomise the backlash against fourth wave feminism before the backlash even properly started.  This is going to be a love letter.

Because I loved you, American Apparel.  I loved you with a passion that not even Topshop could inspire.  Topshop had the occasional ropey piece, the occasional random bit of shiny plastic boob tube that it just couldn’t pull off, that looked so tatty next to the Joni jeggings and the normcore floral dresses that you could wear to work if they weren’t just that little bit too short.  But it just didn’t have what American Apparel had.  That sense of wonder when you walk into the shop, that sense that you could just pick up a little T-shirt there* and a grey marl hoody with weird batwing sleeves** there, and a hoody that was a dress***, goddamit, an actual dress!  Like who would have even thought of such genius.  And then a shiny bodycon dress****.  And another one!  In luminous pink!*****  And leggings to match, because every girl needs a pair of luminous pink leggings******, right?

If I could make a mountain out of all my American Apparel clothes, I could probably put the entire company back in business.  We could just sell all my clothes!  Please, American Apparel.  I know it’s no coincidence that your fortunes started to fade just as I got too old and fat to wear your clothes.  I need to keep them now though, right?  They might be worth something one day.  I could get those old luminous pink leggings out on the Antiques Roadshow and we can overlook the chewing gum on the back, and they will be worth thousands.  Fiona Bruce could do a whole feature on my American Apparel collection, while I stand there, eyes welling with nostalgic tears, about how I used to be thin, and young(ish), at least just about able to get away with top to toe spandex atop my Jeffrey Campbell platforms, and oh weren’t those just the days, those carefree days of the noughties when one thought nothing of dropping £70 on a pair of trousers called disco pants that you practically had to be sewn into, and then buying two more pairs in different colours because they were just so great, and a pair of miniscule hotpants in the same style, just because.  Who doesn’t need a pair of shiny nylon hotpants?

American Apparel, I would love to say I boycotted you, you with your dodgy ethics and your even dodgier CEO, but I loved you, and I was happy to pour a hefty chunk of my salary into your failing profits each month.  I’m just sorry that I alone couldn’t keep you afloat.

Farewell, American Apparel, and thank you for all the good times.

American Apparel belt
American Apparel. Great for random shiny bits of gold. And breaking into your friend’s flat (she was locked out. No felony was committed).
American Apparel T-shirt
American Apparel T-shirt, great for those pensive moments.
American Apparel bodysuit
Strong American Apparel game here. Gold leggings, matching headband and shiny silver zip-up leotard. Come on, we all had one.
American Apparel leggings
It’s all gone full American Apparel with pink spandex leggings.
American Apparel jumpsuit
Chilling on the beach in California in, yep, American Apparel in its spiritual home.
American Apparel dress
More great American landmarks for American Apparel.

 

American Apparel skirt
Not quite sure what I’m doing here, but I’m definitely wearing American Apparel.
American Apparel dress
2011 was when the American Apparel bodycon dresses were at their most ubiquitous.

 

American Apparel jacket
It always looked good teamed with a monstrous pair of shoes.
American Apparel LBD
Farewell American Apparel. Thank you for the memories, and the clothes I’m now too old to wear.

 

*I have one.  Um, maybe more than one.

**It was a thing.  I have one.

***A thing of beauty.  I have one.

****Got that too.

*****God, I loved that dress.

******Where did I put those again?

 

Decorating Piglet’s Room With Arty Apple

You might have heard that I recently moved house.

I think everyone has heard about the Terribly Long House Move; the move that has taken half a year or more with all the hanging about waiting for this chain and that chain, and oh-my-God-isn’t-buying-a-house-the-longest-thing-ever.  People I have never spoken to at work keep making enquiries at the photocopier about how the house move is going, and have I settled in yet because the last they heard it was a total nightmare.

I still haven’t settled in. Sometimes it feels as though I am making excuses as to why I can’t actually spend a night there.  There is no washing machine so what am I supposed to do, hand wash everything like it’s 1760?  OK so now there’s a washing machine, but no fridge, and yes I know it’s cold outside, but surely there are foxes and what did people do in the olden days before refrigeration,  if it’s not too traumatic to ask?  OK so now I have a fridge, but there’s some weird thing going on with the nearest plug socket being inside a cupboard, and I can’t deal with this right now.  Does anyone have a drill?

Anyway, soon I will have no more excuses.  All white goods, bar a tumble dryer, are now present and installed.  The pantry has been painted and has even been cleaned, and best of all, there are actual beds to sleep in.

However, there has been a heavy price to pay.  Literally every waking moment that is not already accounted for by work or the meagre few hours sleep I am permitted to take is spent at the new house, decorating, primping, buying everything in the local “factory shop,” stocking up on pointless wooden boxes with hearts on the side and gigantic boxes of washing powder with the instructions mysteriously printed in Portuguese like they fell off a container ship bound for Brazil and mysteriously ended up in the back streets of Bristol.

One of the “projects” that has so far been pushed to one side as I embark on my quest for the perfect kitchen, courtesy of some interesting ideas from the Great Interior Design Challenge (thank you BBC2.  Who needs Bake Off when you can watch people fearlessly tearing up people’s spare bedrooms, shamelessly stapling net curtains onto lampshades and doing doodles of the Clifton Suspension Bridge all over the walls and it looking ABSOLUTELY FINE) is Piglet’s bedroom.

“Do you want a Thomas and Friends duvet and pillow case set?”

My mother is thundering down the Whatsapp, live from Wilko, where she has strict instructions to purchase only boring cleaning products that she cannot possibly get wrong, and not under any circumstances to buy anything remotely decorative and which I might want to align with the overall “mood” of the house.

I answer in the negative, to be met with accusations that I am a “meanie” who does not care for my child’s preferences for his own bedroom.

I beg to differ.

Piglet’s bedroom has a theme.  It is a theme that must not be spoiled by garish Thomas and Friends/Paw Patrol bed linen.  It is tasteful and understated with a hint of vehicle chic.  In short, it is the sort of place where one might find this.

Arty Apple

Arty AppleArty AppleNow the overall theme for the room is “rustic/tasteful meets vehicles,” which may sound like the mood board of a particularly insane property-hunter on Escape the the Country with a classic car collection, but which basically means that pictures of vehicles are allowed, as long as it’s just the odd hot air balloon shaped mobile and embroidered bunting with cars on, not car-shaped beds (I considered it, but very quickly vetoed the idea as the work of Satan’s own interior designer) or Thomas and Friends duvets (I may live to eat my words next time we pass one in a shop if Piglet is present and in switched on tantrum mode).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the bunting is from Arty Apple and is embroidered with Piglet’s (real) name (I did consider “Piglet” but thought he might take against it once he learns to read), and is car flag bunting with cars on, as Piglet’s official Favourite Thing.

So Piglet’s room is not quite done, and as yet is but a bed, the bunting, a chest of drawers and some very long curtains, but we are getting there.  Is my place on next year’s Great British Interior Design Challenge assured yet?

Homeowning Dream Turns Into Crack in Ceiling Horror

My mother is livid.

“YOU DON’T NEED A KING SIZE BED,” she thunders.  “NO ONE NEEDS A KING SIZED BED!”

I calmly point out, quite tactfully I think, that king sized beds might have been considered wildly hedonistic luxuries back in the 1970s, the sort of thing that Rod Stewart might have had in his gold penthouse, probably featuring himself clad in furry leopard print pants and draped across a succession of leggy blondes, but nowadays, king sized beds are considered fairly standard, even for those of us who don’t consider ourselves large enough to actually need one, and who don’t anticipate sharing it with anyone other than a toddler.

I want a king sized bed, I insist.  I have wanted one ever since Piglet fell out of the bed that time and I wished he had the extra rolling space.  I have wanted one ever since the crushing disappointment of buying a standard double five years ago, only to realise the king size would have fitted in the room after all.  And now, after eighteen months borrowing my brother’s old bedroom and overstaying my welcome in the king size he abandoned in there, I have got used to the luxury.  I am converted.  I can never go back.

“WELL,” says my mother abruptly, and not without a hint of puritan disgust.  “It’s your funeral.”

You see, my mother is convinced that the larger the bed, the greater the danger to the physical stability of my new house.  According to my mother, whose qualifications in building and associated trades stretch to putting up some Thundercats wallpaper once thirty years ago, it is not safe to house a king sized bed in a loft conversion.  Naturally I, whose quantity surveying qualifications stretch as far as googling pictures of ceilings (more on this later) and painting my bedroom door an ill-advised shade of purple in 1996, have no argument with which to return the charming predictions of my own inevitable death in a loft-conversion slash king sized bed related accident, and am forced to google tragic accidents involving lofts on the train to work the following morning.  If loft conversions really were inherently unstable, surely the Daily Mail would have something to say about it, probably involving single women of tragically advancing years and their unnecessarily oversized beds.

I find one story about a collapsing loft, and it seems to involve Tyrone from Coronation Street putting his foot through someone’s floorboards.  I conclude from this that if the best Dr Google can prescribe is a plot line from Corrie, I am probably safe, and the king sized bed is duly purchased.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with my house purchase.  It’s coming along nicely.  The hasty paint job I have inflicted on the pantry is at the very least an improvement on The Great Purple Door Incident of 1996, and I have even managed to visit a branch of Wickes without being laughed at and chased from the car park with torches by DIY enthusiasts howling in derision.  I am starting to feel something verging on smug.

“THERE IS AN ENORMOUS CRACK ALONG YOUR KITCHEN CEILING, YOU KNOW!”

crack
LOOK HOW LONG IT IS.

And then, just like that, my bubble of smug is burst.

I am living in a Condemned Building.  I am going to be escorted out by people in dust suits and hard hats, sobbing as I clutch Piglet to my breast, sniffling that all I wanted was to have a nice little garden for him to play in, and a room of his own so that he didn’t have to sleep in with Mummy until he leaves home.  Termites are going to be crawling out of the woodwork in droves and eating the roof.  I am going to be like poor Tyrone, falling through the floorboards in a repeat of a thousand melodramatic episodes of soap operas.  It’s going to be like that time the Argy Bhaji restaurant fell on Syed’s head in Eastenders and I refused to watch it ever again in protest at the ridiculousness (I kept my word).  Who’s laughing now, Eastenders scriptwriters?  Who’s the one crying and admitting that it was true, sometimes buildings do just randomly collapse on people’s heads when they’re eating their dinner?

I have developed a sudden fascination with all things crack-related.   Cracks in plaster, cracks in ceilings, cracks in elderly walls (what did you think I meant?)  I have started scrutinising the toilets at work which, I am happy to say, are absolutely full of cracks.  Cracks in the walls, cracks in the ceiling (what did you think I meant?)  And they have been standing straight and tall for literally centuries without falling down.  I find myself gazing idly into people’s windows like a crack-obsessed peeping tom, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of ceilings old and new and scanning them for cracks.  Plaster cracks, concrete cracks, who even knows?  All I need is some flimsy reassurance that yes, buildings sometimes contain cracks, and no it doesn’t mean that I am taking my life in my hands every time I enter one, or that the foundations are collapsing into a great big sinkhole and I’m going to end up like that man in Florida whose bed fell into a sinkhole while he was sleeping in it, and they couldn’t even get in there to fish him out and just had to assume he died a horrible death, swallowed up by a gaping chasm as though Satan himself had come up to personally deliver him into Hell.

I have come to my own conclusions about the crack.  After spending an evening prodding it, I believe it is something to do with the drywall, even though I’m not entirely sure what that is.  Dr Google can tell you a lot, but cannot allay my fears that the huge bed is going to come crashing right through that ceiling crack.

Mother knows best, as they say.  I just hope that proves to be false on this occasion.

Twenty Questions I Have Asked Myself Whilst Watching Kids’ TV

Children’s television.  Not a day goes past when I don’t wonder whether I have ruined my beloved child for life by plonking him in front of In The Night Garden at ten weeks old in a futile attempt to persuade him that going to beddy-bye-byes before 11pm was a really good idea.

Let’s just say that the glassy-eyed vacant CBeebies stare of his youth has now been replaced by a virulent strain of standing too close to the television and being buffeted by the “television rays” (they are a thing, according to my mother), gazing catatonically at anything involving cartoons, large vehicles, cut-price Gladiators replacements on early Saturday evening ITV or swarms of terrifying insects, and most devastating of all to his future as one of the world’s foremost intellectuals, repeated requests each morning to watch “choo choos” on Mummy’s phone.

It’s not all bad though.  The future may be bleak, but my knowledge of contemporary children’s television programming is reaching Mastermind levels of specialist knowledge.  Or at least I’d do better than the hapless contestant on Celebrity Mastermind the other day, whose grand score of three on the specialist subject round I proudly matched, even though the subject in question was the life and times of Arsenal football club, and I haven’t properly sat through a football match since that time the Romanian team all dyed their hair blonde at Euro ’96.  Are footballers still wearing plasters on their noses?  Anyway, I digress, ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you, from the fount of my new-found superior knowledge of the world of baseball cap-wearing puppies saving the world in recycling lorries and bizarre towns and islands populated by talking trains, twenty of the questions I have asked myself whilst watching children’s television.  You’re welcome.

  1. Why does Katie Morag only have one outfit?  Are things really that tough on the Isle of Struay?
  2. And why is it a kilt?  Stereotyping, much?
  3. And is her poor brother actually sewn into that onesie?
  4. Why did they change the theme tune to Thomas and Friends?  Some things really were better in the old days.
  5. Why is it necessary to distinguish between male and female characters in shows where the characters are all animals, planes, etc, by elongating the female characters’ eyelashes?  Is that what defines us women, a bundle of eyelashes?
  6. How has Baby Jake’s mother not gone completely insane and thrown herself off the top of that lighthouse, living in there with eight children?
  7. And while we’re on the theme of lighthouses, do the residents of Pontypandy have superhuman strength that enables them to cling to the side of lighthouses, edges of cliffs, etc, for hours on end or is Fireman Sam just really quick at rescuing?
  8. How much council tax are they paying in Pontypandy?  The helicopter costs alone must be astronomical.
  9. Or does Norman Price foot the bill every time he calls out the mountain rescue for one of his naughty exploits?
  10. Why does the token woman (or female dog, to be precise) in Paw Patrol need to be pink? Really?
  11. What does everyone see in Mr Bloom?  There’s something very fishy about a bloke who talks to vegetables, if you ask me.
  12. Did the makers of Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave run out of names when they got to that last one, or did they just not know what noise a panda makes?
  13. What noise does a panda make anyway?  Surely it’s not “Dave”?
  14. Am I the only one who thought Lucas from Eastenders was the famous one in Old Jack’s Boat?
  15. Did anyone else notice that Aunt Lizzy in Teacup Travels is Bridget Jones’ mum?
  16. And can anyone else not exactly put their finger on what it is that they hate about Topsy and Tim, but just know that they loathe everything about it?
  17. Are there any kids’ TV programmes that actually pass the Bechdel test?
  18. Am I the only one who thinks it actually looks quite fun to be a member of Peppa Pig’s family?
  19. Where are Charlie and Lola’s parents?
  20. Sarah and Duck? The mind literally boggles.  Any TV programme that involves a talking cake is a friend of mine.

So there we are.  My mind is literally overflowing with children’s television.  So much so, that I don’t think I can actually understand grown ups’ programmes anymore.  Forget box sets.  I’ll be watching endless re-runs of My Family on CBeebies and sticking pins in my eyes.  My version of Netflix and chill involves calming a hysterical toddler with Blaze and the Monster Machines while I try to cook dinner.  Television, I surrender.  You belong to the tiny tyrant now.

Dear Men of Instagram: NO

I thought I had seen it all.

I thought I had endured the worst that the dating world had to offer.  I’d been on every dating website going.  I speed dated, I met people through MySpace (remember MySpace!).  Hell,  I even went to one of those hideous “lock and key” parties that were all the rage in 2006.  As I’m sure that one day someone from a distant civilisation many thousands of years hence will be looking at this blog (hello internet.  Are you still there?) wondering what a “lock and key” party actually was, I should probably make it clear for the historical record that this was not the sort of thing that one might find going on in the suburban enclaves of South London in the 1970s, with fondue in one bowl and car keys in another.  It was a singles night of the classical sort that could have come straight from the pre-Internet days when the height of technology-assisted matchmaking could be summarised in an ad for Dateline on the inside cover of the Sunday Times magazine.  The classic singles night, with a twist.  The twist being a gimmicky rebrand where all the women had to carry around miniature padlocks of the type one might use to secure a suitcase, and all the men had miniature keys, and you had to find your “perfect fit” (I know.  I KNOW *sticks fingers down throat and pretends to vomit*).

I thought I had resigned from the dating world years ago.  I thought I’d handed in my notice, collected my things and flounced out for the very last time, never to return.

And then I joined Instagram.

Now it might be because my social media accounts contain the dangerously triggering code word “single,” as though that was something that defined my status not as someone who is merely not married, but who must ergo, be desperate.  Desperate enough to accept the many tempting offers of “chat” from random men from every corner of the world who send me witty and engaging messages such as “Hi,” “Hello” and *heart shape emoji.*

Men of Instagram, hear this.

I did not join Instagram as a method of meeting men, which is just as well because as a method of meeting men, it sucks.  If the best you can come up with is to trawl through my feed looking for the two photos I have which actually show my face, rather than the six thousand which are pictures of my son, a frothy latte or some trees, and then send me a one-word message inviting me to speak to you, then you are desperate indeed.  Far more desperate, even, than me, and I went to  a Match.com lock and key party.

Perhaps I am being unfair, harsh even.  Maybe these men are simply ahead of the curve.  Maybe Instagram is the new Match.com, and “hello” is the new chat up line du jour.  Gone are the days when you could idle up to somebody at a lock and key party and make some hideous double entendre about keys and locks and tick the online boxes when you wanted to see someone again.  Maybe the Insta-world is full of young(ish) men eager to impress and maybe even settle down with someone with a GSOH.  Maybe I’m missing out on being the next Insta-sensation in the world of dating; the woman who wrote a blog about being a single mother by choice, and ended up with eligible bachelors hammering on the proverbial door in droves, desperate to cling to the coat-tails of my Insta-fame by announcing themselves as my suitors and knights in shining armour, here to rescue me from the ravages of single motherhood.

So my message to you, O men of Instagram, is this.  If your opening gambit is “hello,’ “nice” or a heart shaped emoji, please do not spam me with your desperation.  If, however, you are looking for a jaded singleton weary from decades of online dating, have all your own teeth and a GSOH, feel free to contact me.  For the love of God just do it through the accepted channels, and not a social media account where I share pictures of my child, my coffee and the local trees.  Dear Men of Instagram, NO.