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.

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?

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.

Will 2017 be the year I finally make it as a superstar blogger?

I can picture the scene already.  Single Mum Speaks, superstar blogger, waving to the adoring masses from a glittery plinth.  Being invited onto the breakfast shows of the commercial television networks and arguing on a sofa with Katie Hopkins whilst Holly Willoughby stands by, doing her Sympathetic Worried Face.  They say visualise your goals and you will achieve them.  What was that book about the positive mindset?  The growth mindset?  The Secret?  Whatever it was I know it was about not giving up; not throwing in the towel even when you have fourteen page views and that includes those bots that allegedly trawl your site for reasons unknown and probably malicious.  I know it was about keeping going even though you’ve been going four years (happy blog-versary to me on January 1st guys!) which is at least three longer than most, and still somehow seem to have missed the boat when it comes to fame and fortune and didn’t the universe get the memo?  What was that about asking the universe and the universe will give?  I don’t know.  I only know that it was probably written in a book by someone who writes all their sentences

on separate lines.

Just like this.

For effect.

And who repeats the same mantras over and over again about how they too were stuck in a rut.

Things didn’t seem to be working.

And then.

Then they discovered the mighty Secret whereby you ask the universe and the universe gives, just as long as you have the positive mindset and can visualise your goals, and write them down, and stick to them.  And now they can give the Secret to you too, and all you have to do is hand over a couple of hundred dollars and your soul, and probably stick post-it notes on the bathroom mirror or something, to remind you that you’re Worth It.

Just like you stuck to that resolution you had been making every year since 1995 about finally finding true love this year.

And so this is the year.  Not for true love.  That one got so old I don’t even know if I want it anymore, and anyway, they say doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the first sign of madness.  Or was that talking to yourself?  I don’t know.  A blog is a bit like talking to yourself.  Especially when you only have fourteen page views and most of those are bots.

What do those bots do anyway?  Are they the ones that post those comments in the spam folder?  The ones that say “I have been reading your blog long time and there have useful information.  If you are not famous blogger yet than (sic) you should be!” and kindly offer you a link to a website selling Viagra.

But I am not a famous blogger.  Yet.  And my sense of entitlement is angry about this.  So could 2017 be the year?  Could it be the year that I finally step onto that podium and receive my award; “Superstar Blogger,” or failing that “Best writer,” or even just “The Award For Being a Blog Some People Read Sometimes.”  Could this be the year I finally get that book deal?  Could this be the year I say goodbye to teaching and hello to being one of those internet millionaires who writes all their sentences on separate lines and promises the Secret of instant success?

What do I really aspire to anyway?  I really did write down my goals.  They are stashed away secretly in the notes section of my phone, never to see the light of day, as if by sharing them someone might steal them away.  “Oh yes!” they might say.  “I want to win a blog award too!”  “I want to grow my Facebook following!”  Clearly these things cannot happen if someone else also wants them.  To think about the competition is unbearable to me.  We are told constantly that we should collaborate and build communities, but still we are all in competition.  Competition for those few coveted awards and those few places up there on the Mighty Plinth of Superstar Bloggers.  Entry to the star-studded firmament where you will be invited on a Mark Warner holiday and given a car to review.  Not that I want a car to review.  I can’t drive, but I’ll take the holiday if there’s one going.  NOT IN TERM TIME THOUGH.  SOME OF US HAVE JOBS. Jobs that are not related to blogging, and which provide a handy excuse for why we are not superstar bloggers yet, even after four years.

But then again, you never know.

2017 could be the year.

I’d better make sure I’m red carpet ready.  You know, just in case.

#SchoolsOut linky: Bumper Christmas Edition!

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Christmas, I have noticed these past two years, seems to be a time when bloggers slow down, switch off, and concentrate on packing their Instagram feeds full of cosy snapshots of family life-board games, paper hats and long walks in the countryside with children and dogs and festive knitwear.  In short, it’s the essence of hygge.

But it isn’t a time for blogging, for writing lengthy and heartfelt posts about postnatal depression, feminism, how much you love your kids or even that brand new video you made showcasing the grand unboxing of the latest freebie.   In fact, it seems to be a time when many bloggers switch off entirely and spend time with their actual families, as opposed to merely writing about them.

And that’s fine, of course.  It’s more than fine.  I take my hats off to these people.  However, it isn’t my reality.  I love my family time as much as the next person.  I love writing lengthy and heartfelt posts about all of the above (although I cannot claim to be an expert on any).  Hell, I’d even unbox a freebie on video if someone gave me one (maybe).   But I sometimes feel as though I am not of their world.  Like I sometimes feel like a fraud when it comes to motherhood, the same is certainly true of blogging.  Blogging, it can often seem, is a job for stay at home parents; unemployed but over occupied with demanding children and endless chores, looking for a way to be creative when the day job doesn’t allow it.  Or it’s a job for work at home parents, those who quit the rat race for a more flexible career-usually, I presume (although not always) with a husband’s salary to tide them over whilst they got going.

Of course, I am completely stereotyping here.  I don’t have access to the inner minds or family circumstances of others who tread the blogging path, and maybe the real reason that no one has heard of me and I am endlessly unsuccessful (although what is success anyway?  I don’t see myself as successful at blogging because I haven’t achieved my personal goals, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t appear successful to others) has nothing to do with my usual excuse about having no time because, like, job and all that, but because I am just not very good at it, but (and I appreciate I have rambled right off topic here) I do work full time, and that does sometimes make it feel like an uneven playing field.  When other bloggers switch off and enjoy their family time, I am spending that family time wondering whether I should be turbo-charging my blogging.  Like now, at Christmas.  And that is why the #SchoolsOut linky is a thing.  It is a thing, ladies, gentlemen and bloggers.  Not all of us are having a Christmas break, and anyway I have a lot of mock exams to mark so what’s a break anyway?  Let’s join together and share our posts in the linky for when all other linkies are closed:  the #SCHOOLSOUT linky!

Yes, now I have thoroughly depressed/outraged you all with my random thoughts on the parent blogging sorority (I cannot call it a fraternity when it’s 90% female.  Soz guys), I am going to cheekily ask you to link your wondrous posts below.  They do not have to be Christmassy (although they can be).  My only criteria is that you want to link them up in the absence of all other linky options and shout, hey world!  I’m still blogging!  Someone is always here on the internets!  MERRY BLOGMAS EVERYONE!

Argh hold on, wait a second.  The rules!  I nearly forgot the rules!

Yes, so obviously don’t break the precious rules, which are:

  1. Comment on the host’s post (please.  That’s what I pay my $2 Inlinkz subscription for peeps.  I need your comments to make this worthwhile).
  2. Comment on the post before yours, then we all get a little bit of the #SchoolsOut linky lovin’.
  3. Add the fabulous #SchoolsOut linky badge to your post.
  4. If you want a retweet, feel free to tweet me your post at @singlemumspeaks
  5. That’s it I think.


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Single Mum Speaks

Ignoring the News: Sensible Plan or Foolhardy and Immoral?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new obsession.  And it’s not good for my mental health.

I literally cannot stop reading the Guardian on my phone.

The Guardian has not, it has to be said, had a good 2016.  First David Bowie died, and then everything else the Guardian holds dear disappeared into a giant sinkhole, never to return.  And as the Guardian is my go-to messenger of despair for the demise of the liberal world, it has taken all my hope with it too.  Daily I find myself lapping up news stories from across the globe which seem to become ever more terrifying with each passing day.  Brexit, Trump, the fall of Western civilisation, the inevitable future collapse of the known world into an apocalyptic Dark Age.

I try to remember when I was last this miserable about the state of the world.  Was it in 2001, when I moped around Japan for about six months after September 11th thinking World War 3 was starting?  Was it during that Religious Studies lesson on war and peace in 1996 when I learned that the Russians had nuclear warheads pointed right at us and put together an urgent plan of action that involved hiding underneath my cabin bed and hoping for instantaneous death?

Was this what it was like in the 1960s, I wonder, as the Cuban missile crisis loomed, JFK and Martin Luther King got shot and Vietnam raged?  Or more terrifyingly, the 1930s, a decade which provides enjoyable viewing through the rose-tinted prism of period dramas about the well dressed and well connected, but which must by anyone’s reckoning have been a scary time to be alive.

Or is the moral of the story here simply that bad things happen.  They happen all the time, have always happened and always will.  It’s just now we have to live it all, in real time and glorious technicolour, thanks to the wonders of the internet, and with it we all consider ourselves to be roving reporters, capturing images on our smartphones, providing the commentary on the age like a tech-savvy modern day Samuel Pepys.

So what does one do?  How does one counter the sneaking suspicion that not only is modern life rubbish, but it always has been, there was no Golden Age, no matter how charmingly attired everyone was in the olden days, and all life is going the way of the dinosaurs anyway.  Should we live like there’s no tomorrow?  Hold our loved ones close and hope for the best?  Or do we just grit our teeth, batten down the hatches and ignore the news?  To do so seems somehow morally suspect, as if making a conscious decision to look the other way as atrocities rage, like the proverbial priest and lawyer who walk past in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to allow our inaction to give its blessing to those who offend us and our humanity.  Yet for the sake of my own mental health I have to believe that things will be OK.  That things are always OK in the end.  Even the dinosaurs have been jauntily resurrected in Hollywood movies and on children’s pyjamas.  That must have made the last great mass extinction all worthwhile, right?

Whenever the going gets tough-and it’s sure to get tough-I remind myself that this too shall pass, but then so will the comfort, the happiness, the good times.  It will all pass, so I guess all we can do is make every moment count, be good people, look out for each other and be the best we can be.  Like the baby Jesus in his crib getting a disturbing gift of myrrh from the three wise men, the spectre of death is always upon us.  It’s just that most of the time we are able to conveniently ignore it.  Like I will be conveniently ignoring the news when it all gets too much.