Life can be hard to digest

I’m not saying anyone else is having a whale of a time right now, but the last six months have been quite hard going for us. The temptation to sound off to you all is a strong one, but you’ll be relieved to hear I’m going to resist, despite the fact that based on all your lovely comments over the years I think you’d make fabulous agony aunts and uncles. The trouble is that once I start, I might not stop, and since you’re already well aware of just how long I can ramble on for, I feel we could be in dangerous territory. Plus I have to make dinner soon. Sausages if anyone’s interested.

Instead I hope you’re not squeamish and please don’t read this if you’re eating, because I’m going to talk to you about bowels. Which, by the way, is entirely unconnected to how I ended the last paragraph. And that would never have needed explaining if Tesco had had a chicken big enough for us to have the roast I had been planning on making today instead.

Back to the bowels. In May I began to have issues (it’s ok, it ends well). Nobody needs to hear the details but suffice it to say that the company that makes Immodium, have since offered me an equity partnership due to my heavy investment in their stock. After a few weeks of no change, I decided to make drastic changes to my diet, before my local chemist begged me to.

I therefore embarked on a special diet of eating mostly air for two months, with some boiled rice thrown in every now and then for good measure. Obviously I still had the odd glass of wine, I’ll let you know if I ever get THAT ill.

Still no change, so it was off to the GP for me. Cue a series of sample testing to check for food poisoning and other relatively innocuous things. The samples (as I’m sure most of us have experienced by now) are easy enough to get. Or at least they are as long as you don’t own a Labrador. Unable to be apart from me for longer than thirty seconds, he chose to nose the bathroom door open at the precise moment I was standing, task completed, preparing to insert the spatula into the bottle.

I don’t want to ruin the end of the story, but I’ll give you a heads up – the spatula didn’t get as far as the bottle. That’s all I’m saying – the rest stays between me and my therapist. Naturally it was my husband’s fault for not fitting a lock onto the door in the sixteen years we’ve lived in this house. And anyone about to say incredulously that I could do it myself, clearly hasn’t seen me attempt to put together my daughter’s bedside table. Although I think that wanting drawers that actually open is being too demanding quite frankly.

Anyway the worst part over, I waited for the results. Everything was fine! Except it obviously wasn’t fine because I was still living off oxygen while watching my family of gannets tuck into their lovely food every day. There’s only so many times you can hear ‘poor you Mum. Can you pass the salt?’ before you want to throw something at the wall. Or someone. The GP obviously felt I wasn’t being pushed close enough to the edge, so she ordered more samples to be taken, this time checking for more ominous things.

Tests dutifully completed, I waited for the results. Three days later I received a call from a deathly serious medical secretary, informing me that the tests had shown cancer markers and I needed to come in for an urgent colonoscopy in two days time.

My brain decided to skip past all the crucial optimistic stuff about how many people recover from cancer and how many amazing treatments there now are. Instead it went straight to which music I should have at my funeral, did I have time to do a deep clean on the house, and how to best make my face look sincere when telling my husband he must find someone else when the time came?

I’ll spare you the description of preparing for the colonoscopy. If you know, you know. All I will say is that sipping that drink through a straw does not make it more delicious or make your body less likely to want to give it straight back to you. I had to spare a thought for my poor friend though who had recently had to do a similar prep (worse actually as it was double the amount), and got to the hospital the next morning to be told her operation was postponed.

After a rough night, I arrived at the hospital. I am an anxious patient, and I thought it was better to own up to that fact. I thought wrong. They obviously sensed that I was likely to become hysterical and try to jump out of the window at any moment, because every member of staff I had to deal with after that, edged very carefully into the room, spoke to me in hushed tones and wouldn’t look me in the eye.

However the one piece of very good news was when they looked at my sample results and announced that they were very positive and it was unlikely I had anything to worry about. With the sound of the medical secretary still ringing in my ears, I queried this and it turned out they’d made a mistake. Nobody knew why I’d been given those results but I was fine.

Obviously this was a huge relief but then I started worrying that some other poor soul hadn’t been told their correct results. Much time went by while they investigated and luckily, this wasn’t the case.

The procedure itself was very easy, and the results were indeed fine – polyps removed which weren’t causing me any problems but could have turned into something scary down the line, so I’m glad I had it done. I know it doesn’t end as well for some, and like most families we have lost loved ones to this hideous disease, so I do feel extremely lucky.

It was another few weeks before they found what was causing the problem. I have had an underactive thyroid and have been taking meds for it for over 15 years. Every year I have a test to make sure I’m on the right dose because levels fluctuate. It turns out that if you take too high a dose, it can cause all the problems I’d been having.

But I’m grateful because a) there’s nothing wrong with me (physically obviously, let’s not get into what’s going on in my troubled mind) and b) what happened made me lose 2.5 stone in 8 weeks which I am now happily putting back on in the form of alcoholic calories.

Which reminds me, it’s past six o’clock, so today’s reason for needing a drink is that my teenager has just informed me that she’s now a vegetarian. And the sausages are ready. Happily she has just informed me that she will postpone her new-found morals until after dinner.

Bring on Bedtime!

Adrenaline Junkie (Part 2)

After completing the bungy jump I told you about last time, I felt that I had had enough terror and stress for one day. New Zealand however, felt otherwise. As did my friends who reminded me that we’d signed up for an entire day’s worth of adrenaline-inducing activities, and were only a quarter of the way through.

It wasn’t long, therefore, before I found myself standing at the front desk at the skydive centre, watching everyone else cheerfully sign their waivers, relieving the organisers of any responsibility, should they be injured, or plummet to their deaths. Which, with skydiving, is presumably one and the same thing. If something goes wrong, and you’ve just jumped out of a plane from 12,000 feet up in the air, you’re not coming away with a slightly bruised ankle, are you?

I would love to be one of those people who just brushes off the waiver as a formality, just something they have to do to cover themselves. To me, the very act of signing on the dotted line, is tantamount to agreeing that it’s fine if you want to kill me, and that it’s now a foregone conclusion that this is exactly what will happen.

Then my thoughts go off on a tangent about whether or not I should have made a will. Never mind that I was in my twenties and didn’t actually own anything. I could still lament the fact that nobody would know who gets to inherit the really cool CD rack that I bought when I was a student in Manchester. Not to mention my fabulous collection of exfoliators and moisturisers, bought when I bi-annually declare that I’m really going to have a proper skincare regime this time, and then left to dry out in a drawer after two uses, because seriously, who can be bothered?

Anyway, I was faced with a choice between definitely dying later on that day, and looking a bit pathetic in front of a small group of people, some of whom I didn’t even know. I’m British, so naturally I chose the former, signed the waiver and queued up unwillingly to receive the jumpsuit and helmet they make you change into, that was to be my death shroud.

We were shown a short safety video, in which we were horrifyingly taught how to pull the parachute cord, should the instructor we’re partnered with (and literally attached to) pass out, or simply decide to die, seconds after you’ve both exited the plane. They then led us out to said plane, while I tried desperately to remember what I’d just been taught, but had instantly forgotten because I was so busy looking at my instructor, wondering if he looked like the kind of person who might just suddenly cease to exist in mid-air.

Next up was getting into the plane. Easy! For everyone else. For me, not being blessed with height, I couldn’t reach my leg up high enough to lever myself onto the plane, and I had to be given a leg-up, like a six-year-old mounting a horse for the first time.

Not only that, but during the first attempt, I put my foot onto the man’s leg as directed, and my ankle promptly gave way. My body twisted itself into a couple of very strange shapes, before I gently slid sideways onto the tarmac. After briefly wondering what would happen if I just ran away, I got back up and this time had to be helped onto the plane by two men, much to the hilarity of the rest of the group.

Once inside, my instructor proceeded to clip me to the front of his body, much as one would hook a keyring to the waistband of your jeans, only with a few more clips. I’m not a happy flyer, so it was just as well that because I was last into the plane, I was first out.

Once you’re at 12,000 feet, they open the door, and the instructor shuffles you over to it, so that you’re sitting on the edge with your feet dangling, and your stomach seeming to edge its way right up into your throat as the realisation kicks in that there’s no turning back now. And then you hear the shout ‘Go!’. You try to form the words, ‘no, no wait, wait, I’m not ready!’, but it’s too late because you’re out and already tumbling into the sky.

With the bungy you have to throw yourself off the edge, make that decision to jump. You fall through the deadly quiet sky and as the ground gets relentlessly closer and closer, the dropping sensation is overwhelming. With sky diving, you’re pushed out of the plane, and it doesn’t feel like you’re falling at all. The force of the air actually feels like you’re being held up, and almost protected. You’re flying! It is a truly incredible experience. You freefall for what feels like forever, and you don’t even think about danger.

Eventually you feel the parachute lurching you back upwards (a task thankfully completed by the very-much-alive instructor), followed by a moment of relief that everything worked as it should. Then you glide slowly down, looking out at the breath-taking scenery as you do so. I loved every single minute.

Naturally I managed to mess it up at the end when we landed, because I was so carried away, I forgot to lower my legs to the ground. I was still attached to the instructor and he had to land and then shout at me to put my feet down, so that we could stop looking like we were taking part in some kind of reverse wheelbarrow race.

Landings aside, I was on such a high after that experience, that the rest of the day’s adrenaline activities were a breeze. In fact, I loved it so much that I did it again a few days later over the Franz Josef glacier. It was a view I will never forget and would highly recommend, even if I did jump 12,000 feet with my shoelaces undone – something I didn’t realise until I looked back at the photos afterwards.

I’m putting that photo on here (as well as one from my first jump) as proof that yes, I really am that much of an idiot, and no, the passage of twenty odd years plus motherhood has not changed me. I’m not sure it ever will, but while I’m waiting, Bring on Bedtime! 🍷

Adrenaline Junkie (Part 1)

When I was in my twenties, I spent a couple of months in New Zealand, travelling around both the North and South Islands, and generally having the time of my life. I went over there on my own, but met lots of people and did some amazing things.

For example, one night a friend of mine was signing up to do an ‘adrenaline’ day involving a bungy jump, skydive, jet boat ride and white water rafting. As a Canadian firefighter, he had no fear and suggested that I come along too. Given that I’m not great with heights and terrified of flying, I said no. But he was very persuasive because a) I wasn’t sober, b) he wasn’t ugly, and c) he wasn’t ugly. And did I mention that he was a firefighter? I signed up.

A couple of days later, I found myself sitting unwillingly in a jeep heading up to the top of a mountain. I was doing the Nevis Highwire Bungy, where you freefall for 134m, from a cable car suspended over a valley. Just getting into the cable car would have been enough adrenaline for me. You had to climb into what was essentially a big bucket, that was pulled along a cable out to the middle of the valley, where the larger cable car was.

Helpfully, the main cable car had a glass bottom so you had the fun of being able to look down and get a clear view of your impending grave, should you wish to do so. After an eternity of waiting around trying not to look at the floor, they finally called my name.

I shuffled out to the edge of the car, my feet connected by the rope that was going to be my literal lifeline. I was then guided on to what I can only describe as a very tiny gangplank, but without the luxury of wearing a blindfold. I was told to wave at the camera, count to three and then dive off. I was witless with terror, but I managed a small ‘I’m about to die, but look how cheerful I am’ wave, then dived off the edge. Oh alright, it wasn’t a dive, like everyone else so gracefully managed. It was more of a ‘flopping reluctantly into the air’, forming the correct stance to produce a giant belly flop, and then plummeting to the ground.

I remember a friend telling me how he had laughed all the way down when he did his jump. He is clearly insane. I only remember being extremely aware of how quiet the world was, and how close the ground was getting. I don’t think I took a breath until I felt the rope stop and bounce me back up a bit, signifying my alive-ness.

At this point, you’re supposed to wait for three bounces, lean forwards to remove one of the rope loops from your foot so you turn the right way up, then they pull you back up to the cable car. That’s all fine when they’re giving you the instructions and you nod sagely to show you understand how easy it obviously is. What they don’t tell you is that you will be shaking like a leaf and unable to remember your own name, never mind how many bloody times you’ve bounced.

Eventually it dawned on me that I was supposed to do something important, and I leaned forward to get the rope loop off my foot. This is no easy task when you’re suspended upside down like a bat, and possess similar dexterity to a chopstick-wielding camel. The crew on the cable car above obviously got bored waiting for me to turn the right way up, so while my head remained pointing firmly towards the ground, and I continued to grapple with my foot in a panic, I found myself being slowly winched to a great height. Once back in the cable car, I was congratulated by the crew because they’d apparently taken bets that I wouldn’t jump, so at least my misery had made one of them slightly richer that day.

At the youth hostel that night, we got them to play our videos of the experience on the TV in the communal lounge area. One by one we watched everyone do their jump, and saw the energised and excited looks on their faces as they are lifted up with ease. In my video, the camera pans far far away to show a lovely view of the surrounding mountains, while the desperate mess being heaved up through the sky, is merely a dot in the distance. I only reappear on the screen once back in a normal position. If you can describe a trembling heap as normal.

Naturally, I declared the entire experience to be phenomenal. And by phenomenal, I mean that given the chance to do it again, I would run so quickly in the other direction that Usain Bolt wouldn’t see me for dust.

Next time, I’ll tell you about the rest of that very long day. Despite everything, I still say it was worth doing. But I think that’s only because things went well with the Canadian firefighter, who at least had a sense of humour.

To be continued…

Getting down to business

One thing I always do before publishing these blog posts, is to read them out to the kids. Since I’m usually taking the mickey out of them (in a deeply loving way of course), they are allowed to veto anything they don’t want me to say, for whatever reason.

Kudos to them for not minding most of what I say, and extra kudos to them at the moment because they’ve both had a really tough couple of weeks for different reasons, and they have been amazing.

So, I thought I might give them a break this time and talk about something else. Also because when they’re being amazing, I have no ammunition and it basically leaves me with no choice.

My mind has been wandering more than usual lately, back to some of the jobs I’ve had over the years. The first job I had apart from a paper round, was weekends at the local supermarket when I was 16. I didn’t stay long because the manager couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I was an embarrassed teenager and didn’t know how to handle it, so I left quietly. That was possibly the last time I did anything quietly at work.

From 18-21, I worked evenings, weekends and university holidays as a hospital cleaner. I really loved that job because I got to work all over the hospital, and the other cleaners were a lot of fun. For a while, I was assigned to cleaning the pathology lab. I’m not particularly squeamish so I didn’t mind the various body parts in jars decorating the shelves.

What I did mind was one night when I was cleaning a sink, a doctor who was working late, shouted across the room at me, ‘NOT THAT SINK!’ She told me that cleaners don’t have to clean that sink and in fact, shouldn’t be touching it at all. I mentioned (very casually, in order to hide the sense of doom that had already taken me in its clutches) that I’d been cleaning it every night for the past four weeks. At which point she did three things:

1) Looked at me without speaking for quite some time. Probably only seconds but it felt like an eternity.

2) Looked back at the sink.

3) Said, ‘Ah. Oh no. Well, you’ll probably be alright’.

PROBABLY be alright? In my head that was immediately translated as ‘you’ve touched something that is 100% certain to bring about your demise. It’s clearly only a matter of time, but since there’s bugger all we can do, let’s not make a fuss, eh?’ Thirty years later I’m still here, so I’m slightly less concerned. But only slightly.

The rest of my hospital days passed uneventfully, apart from the time I was cleaning one of the private rooms off a ward. I did everything I needed to do, then cheerfully offered the patient in bed a drink. He didn’t answer me, and I realised he’d nodded off. I made him one anyway, and left it beside the bed for him in case he woke up soon. It was only when I left the room, and minutes later his bed was wheeled away with the white sheet pulled up over his face, that I realised I had accidentally provided a dead person with a lovely cup of tea.

During those three years, I also spent five months working as a waitress in a hotel in Switzerland. The idea was to immerse me in the German language and help my studies, which actually worked. And it had the added bonus of teaching me that I must never, under any circumstances, try to be a waitress again.

Everyone else carried out their duties with ease and grace. I was the one who got sent out with a tray of filled champagne glasses for a gala evening at the hotel bar, only to trip over some air that someone had selfishly left in my way, and drop the entire tray over half the guests. Head hanging in shame, I returned to the bar and was ordered to go back out there with another tray. My hands were shaking because I was terrified I’d do the same thing again. I didn’t, don’t worry. It was completely different because THIS time when I dropped the tray and the glasses smashed all over the floor, it was because of my shaking hands, not because I tripped. I try not to be predictable.

I’m pleased to say that eventually things improved. When I left university, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so to buy myself some time, I did some courses in computer applications. At the end of my course, the training company offered me a job, and I have been in IT Training ever since. After a few years learning the ropes, I chose to specialise in legal IT training, so now I teach lawyers and all the support staff how to use the applications they need to do their jobs.

Now I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I do like to think I’m pretty good at my job and that I’m professional. Mostly. However I don’t count the time I was running late because of messed-up trains. I walked into the training room to find everyone waiting for me. Trying to take my coat off in a hurry, I accidentally grabbed my shirt underneath the coat as well, and opened them both at the same time. Nothing like turning up to a presentation late, apologising and then flashing your bra to the audience to win people over.

Another time I was working at a firm where you had to have a pub lunch with the group you were training that day. This day happened to me a group of the firm’s VIPs. Back in the training room after lunch, I went to take my coat off and the zip got stuck halfway down. After several minutes going bright red in the face trying desperately to force it down, I realised I had two choices. I could continue the rest of the training in my coat, and boil to death. Or I could try to nudge the coat down inch by painful inch, then step out of it as elegantly as possible. I opted for the latter, and on reflection, this was a mistake. I didn’t consider the fact that I would temporarily have to lift just the one foot off the ground, and that ‘good at balancing’ is not on my CV. You can probably guess the rest.

After having children, I have been successfully able to embarrass myself far more easily and frequently. From enthusiastically pointing out sheep to a train full of commuters at 7am, to telling a lawyer in my best ‘mum’ voice that he wasn’t setting foot in my training room until he’d been to the toilet. From replying ‘what’s that darling?’ to the senior partner of the firm when he asked a question about digital dictation, to hanging up the phone with ‘love you, bye’ to a secretary I’d been helping with a spreadsheet problem.

None of these are examples of my professionalism and talent. In fact, the more I think about it, maybe I should just stick to the writing. Or better still, just the gin.

Bring on Bedtime!

Hearing is believing

Well, Easter has been and gone, and I was very healthy and ate no chocolate whatsoever. The fact that I spent the six weeks leading up to Easter, buying, eating and then re-buying the kids’ Easter eggs on repeat, is of no importance in my opinion. True, my cholesterol level was practically on its knees at one point, begging me to stop, but it’s difficult to hear with a mouth full of delicious chocolate, so what was I supposed to do?

Speaking of hearing, I am definitely struggling with mine. I have spent months accusing my family of mumbling/speaking too quickly/slurring their words (ok that last one might be me after a few glasses of wine). Yet even though they do all of these things, I have had to concede that it might be me with the problem. I’m fine if I’m looking right at the person talking, with no other noise in the background, but the second the kettle is on or the tap is running, or they turn their face away, you can forget it.

I even booked a free hearing test. I dutifully sat in the booth with my headphones on, pressing a button every time I heard a beep. Sometimes after a really long gap, I did press the button regardless, forgetting that the purpose of the exercise was to help me, not to trick the staff at Boots into thinking I was fine. At the end of it, the results were examined and the pronouncement was that I do indeed have some hearing loss. It’s a bit more than should be expected at the age of 47, but nothing that warrants any intervention just yet.

And also – wait for it – I may be experiencing a certain amount of ‘selective deafness’. Selective deafness! I mean, OBVIOUSLY I have selective deafness. I’m a mother. And a wife. The second I hear ‘Mum, I can’t find my….’ or ‘aaaargh! I’m telling Mum what you just did’, I become instantly deaf like any other sane person would.

However, it was then explained that what they meant was when you have a lot of thoughts going round your head, sometimes you think you’re listening but you’re really just processing those thoughts. Something to remember the next time I’m yelling ‘you’ll have to either come into the bathroom or speak up, I’M WEARING MY SHOWER CAP’. And the next time one of the kids speaks to me V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y with heavily sarcastic ‘you’ve clearly just been released from an institution’ vibes, I’ll just remind myself that I’ve selected this, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

The rest of the Easter holidays were thankfully spent doing much nicer things than sitting in hearing booths. My husband decided to use up his Father’s Day voucher from last year, which was for a family tour of Twickenham rugby stadium. We set off happily an hour early ‘just in case’, little knowing that we were wildly underestimating how long it takes to get across London, and just how many roads would be closed.

I’ll admit that the journey was a bit stressful. When the sat-nav said ‘turn left here’ what it actually meant was ‘turn left in about half a mile, but I’m going to say it right now by this earlier left turn, just to confuse you’. And ‘make a u-turn’ isn’t the most helpful advice when careering down the motorway. The process was not helped by the kids piping up every now and then with helpful things like ‘didn’t we just come down this road?’, and ‘the sat-nav says we’re 40 minutes away but doesn’t it start in 5 minutes?’ But we made it in the end and despite missing the first half an hour, the tour was great.

The guide took us to the section where the royals sit. He asked my youngest to sit in seat 21, and then announced that this was in fact the ‘Queen’s seat’, the best-placed seat in the stadium, where only she or her guests get to sit. I can’t be certain, but I’m guessing that unlike my 12-year-old, the Queen does not use her time in the seat with her hand up her bum, desperately trying to remove the wedgie she’s had for the last ten minutes. But you never know.

We got to see the players’ changing rooms and I had my photo taken in the showers. I’m not saying that means I’ve now showered with Jonny Wilkinson. But I basically have. My husband got to run out onto the pitch from the tunnel, and I got to make him sit in the ‘sin bin’ for players who have committed an offence (backchat is apparently one of the crimes that can put them there, so I thought it was apt). After the rugby museum, the tour finished in the gift shop of course. One of the only shops I’ve ever seen my husband willingly enter.

The rest of the Easter holidays went by in a blur. We didn’t go away, but had some days out and we spent a lot of time with family which was lovely to be able to do. And now they are back at school, and we have re-entered the danger zone of homework. They’re old enough now to get on with it, but don’t be fooled into thinking this means they actually will. I have whittled the homework code phrases they use, down to the following lies:

‘I don’t have any’ = all the time I don’t check to see, this remains true.

‘It’s not due in until next week’ = it’s due in tomorrow, but I can probably do an average job in the 5 minutes before lessons start.

‘I’m nearly done’ = I haven’t started it, but it probably won’t take long.

‘I’ve had to e-mail the teacher for help’ = the question requires some thought, and possibly some research, which is frankly too much to ask, so I’m going to claim ignorance instead’.

‘I’ve done it all’ = the teacher cancelled the homework.

‘I’ve finished it – have a look for yourself if you don’t believe me’ = shows work from three years ago, that I actually helped them with at the time.

They clearly think I’m stupid as well as deaf. Still, I can always ‘select’ to ignore it all and enjoy a nice glass of wine instead.

Bring on Bedtime!

Making Memories

I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately. It will be 20 years next month since I got together with my husband. We had been work colleagues and friends for two years. Then in the year 2002 BK (before kids), when we had cash to spare, a group of us went on a long weekend trip to New York.

There are many things I could thank for us getting together (and by thank, I mean blame). Was it being away from home in the city that never sleeps? Was it a thunderbolt of electricity? Er, not exactly. It was basically vodka and red bull. A ton of it. And then me falling over but being caught at the last minute by what turned out to be my future husband.

I still wonder sometimes how my life might be different if we’d done what I’d suggested that night, which was to go to a bar frequented by NYC firemen. For some reason the boys of the group weren’t keen, and the idea was vetoed in seconds, damn it.

So that was our beginning. Two years later, he took me back to New York and proposed, and we were married a year after that. The reason we live in a house only slightly bigger than a hamster’s cage, is because we decided to blow most of our deposit on an amazing honeymoon instead. And I don’t have a single regret. We went to Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia and it was the trip of a lifetime. Obviously though, being me, it didn’t come without it’s embarrassing encounters and near-death experiences.

One day at the beginning of the holiday, we headed out on a snorkelling trip. There was only one other couple on the boat with us. The water was clear, and it was idyllic. We’d been swimming alone, but at one point I reached out and grabbed my new husband’s hand under the water and we swam together, with me pointing out the various colourful fish.

After a while we surfaced, and I glanced up at the boat, and clapped eyes on my husband, sitting on the boat casually drinking a can of coke. I turned my head to the right, and came face to face with the man from the other couple, whose hand I had been romantically holding for the past five minutes. A slow dread began creeping up my body when I realised that the man was in fact the senior partner of the firm I was working for at the time. Luckily for my career, he saw the funny side.

The safari part of our trip was incredible. The wildlife we saw and experiences we had were unforgettable. Every night we would stop somewhere to have a ‘sundowner’ – a drink at sunset, surrounded by such beauty. One particular night, during our sundowner, our guide pointed out some lions. They were a couple of miles away, but he remarked that they had definitely seen us and were sussing us out as a potential main course.

We were told not to worry and that we had plenty of time. I needed to go to the loo, so I nipped behind a nearby tree. The shorts were down, and I was busy trying to fight off the stage fright that I always get when I’m not in a situation where there is a toilet, surrounding walls and no human within a five mile radius who might be able to hear me.

Then out of nowhere came an enormous, and extremely loud roar. I just knew that a lion had to be right behind me, and I had to run. First I had to get dressed of course. Although I didn’t want to die, it would be infinitely worse to die with my shorts and knickers round my ankles – I am British you know. So I hauled everything up as fast as possible and bolted back round the tree towards the jeep, only to find my husband and our guide happily opening the picnic box and taking out nibbles without a care in the world. It was then that I learned how fast and loudly the sound of a lion’s roar can travel, and that the lion in question was still in fact two miles away. Although I still insisted on holding it in for the rest of the trip.

The following day we made it to rhino territory. We waited patiently for a while but there was no sign of any rhinos so our guide started the car. Except it didn’t start, and after twenty more times of trying, it still didn’t start, and we realised we’d broken down. Our guide went off to get better reception to call for help, leaving us in the vehicle with the words ‘I’ll be back very soon, but if a rhino starts charging at you, climb a tree’.

Ok, great, we have options I thought. Until I looked around me and saw that there wasn’t a tree in sight. Only some rocks and a handful of bushes, which were about three feet tall and wouldn’t even support a bird if it had had a big breakfast that morning. I think we might be the only couple to go on safari and pray to God that we don’t see any rhinos. Thankfully, he listened and we made it out of there safe and sound.

When our safari days were over, we headed to Zambia and did some fantastic things – went to Victoria Falls, had a helicopter flight and we even booked a day’s horse riding. The plan was to go riding, then kayak on the Zambezi back to our hotel. All was going well until our horses reached open ground, where they both bolted and were galloping uncontrollably. Apparently the best way to control a horse and get it to slow down is not to cling onto the reins, scream solidly for ten minutes, and briefly wonder whether you really should have made a will. Nor is it to close your eyes and put one arm over your face as the horse charges into woodland and drags you through a load of thorny Acacia trees. But I went with that tactic nonetheless.

After that delight it was a relief to get into the kayak and head for home. About ten minutes in, one of the guides called across to us from his own kayak in a stage whisper, suggesting that we might want to shift over to the left a bit. Actually a lot, and right now. It turned out that on the right-hand side of the river, there was a maternally outraged hippo, who would be on the warpath if she so much as caught us looking in her direction. We were instructed to row as fast as we could, but at the same time to go very slowly indeed so we didn’t draw attention to ourselves. The result was us moving at a snail’s pace whilst only our faces looked like we were running for our lives.

I know it sounds like the honeymoon from hell, but we loved (almost) every second and it’s given us some great memories to share. We were grateful to make it back safely that day, and even more grateful to receive the gin and tonic waiting for us at the bar. And I have been drinking to recover ever since.

Bring on Bedtime!

Insomnia (and teenagers) are not for the weak

I am not sleeping. I haven’t been sleeping for many months. To be fair, I’ve always been a night owl, with my best hours being between 8pm and 2am. Apart from when the kids were babies of course. Then I became a ‘small section of the afternoon’ owl, with my most alert time being between 2pm and 2:03pm. But historically I’ve always been ok with not much sleep. Now however, I seem to be speedily evolving into a creature who is both nocturnal and diurnal (yes I did look that up). Not so much ‘survival of the fittest’ as ‘scraping along of the debilitated’.

Naturally, I am not helping myself. I need to eat better and exercise more, which I would absolutely do if I had the energy to do it, or even to appreciate the Catch-22. I also have three different chronic pain conditions, none of which are serious in any way, but nevertheless make it tricky to relax.

And of course, I have a husband. Who snores. He says that I snore sometimes too, and he may well be right, but given that I am nearly always bloody awake, I’m going to go ahead and assume that it doesn’t affect him too much. Him on the other hand…I have lain in bed wistfully imagining how much quieter it would be to sleep next to a revving motorbike in a thunderstorm. I have had jealous thoughts about people who live under flight paths and next to railway stations, and I have considered going to all-night raves and snuggling up next to the loudspeaker, just to get a bit of peace and quiet.

I wish I could be like those people on the adverts, inserting their lovely new earplugs and settling down to a blissful night’s sleep. Instead, I lie there listening through my earplugs, to decibel levels on a par with a space shuttle launch, imagining where said earplugs might better be inserted. It would definitely wake him up.

Having said all that, it’s not really about the snoring, or I wouldn’t have slept for the 20 years we’ve been together. Whatever it is, I need to act fast. I downloaded an app the other day which allows you to ‘meet your future face’. I thought it would be a bit of fun so I uploaded a photograph of myself to see what I might look like in 20 years. The app decided I was currently 60, and proceeded to show me an utterly horrifying picture of a corpse that will apparently be me at age 80. It also gave a brief description underneath, explaining that because I clearly have no self-control, the ageing process has begun early, but don’t worry, I can reverse it all immediately if I just get some good sleep.

After a few brief minutes of wondering what kind of material within my reach might make the best noose, I had a brainwave. I uploaded a photo of my cat instead. The app told my cat that although it might currently have a young and active appearance, it would likely start to feel old soon if it didn’t do something about its unstable mental attitude. I felt a bit better after that, although I did immediately Google ‘is therapy for cats a thing?’ so I’m not saying I’m out of the woods just yet.

With a view to helping my sleep, and our general health, we have decided as a family that we need to do something about the amount of time spent on our phones. And when I say as a family, I mean that the children were against the idea in every conceivable way, but were overruled.

We thought we would make Sundays a family day, that would also be phones-free. We pictured warm scenes of family bonding, laughter and memory making. What we experienced was in fact World Wars 3, 4 and 5, followed by a dog walk peppered with sighs, eye rolls and moaning, and finishing up with a subdued board game with our youngest, while our teenager sat in her room and stared angrily at the wall for two and a half hours.

Not that the day was without enjoyment. We enjoyed being compared to prison wardens, kidnappers and psychopaths. I was informed by my 15-year-old that no other parents on the planet insist on spending time with their children. I mildly pointed out that she sees her friends all week at school, on several midweek evenings, on Friday nights and all day Saturday, and that we thought it would be nice to catch a glimpse of her at least one day a week. Her response was that frankly I needed to just accept the fact that it was normal for teenagers to want to be with their friends, and I should expect to spend time with her again from about the age of 20.

I’m pleased to say that the matter is now resolved. Once I had my phone back on Monday, I checked with her friends’ parents and confirmed that they spend their Sundays in a similar way, and in fact request more family time than we do.

Now that she no longer has to worry about fear of missing out, she is on board with the idea of existing in a family that might want to speak to her every now and then, so we can all relax. Until one of us actually speaks that is.

Bring on Bedtime!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Rather than attempt to describe the last week, I thought I’d just share with you a list of some things I won’t be doing next Christmas:

Number 1)

I won’t be absent-mindedly buying a Christmas tree so tall that not only does it not fit into the lounge, it can’t even be cut to size without looking like a shrubbery.

Number 2)

I won’t be refusing to immediately return the ninety-eight foot Christmas Tree, but instead deciding it will be fine in the conservatory next to the lounge, where we can at least still see it. I hasten to add this is not a lovely conservatory with nice furniture, lighting and heating that people can actually sit in. That was the original plan when we moved in when I was six months pregnant with our first. But then we had the baby and proceeded confidently onto plan B, which was to do absolutely nothing to the house ever again.

It is therefore a conservatory that houses the kids’ bikes, the tumble dryer and one old armchair covered in dog hair. It’s pitch black at night, freezing cold all the time and the only time any of us uses it in the winter, is when we dance through it, hopping from one icy bare foot to the other in order to let the dog out.

The dog has, not unreasonably, decided that since it’s in his territory it is therefore his Christmas tree and he is absolutely delighted with it. It’s fast becoming his very special friend, if you know what I mean.

Number 3)

I won’t be having anything to do with the Christmas tree lights. Last year I googled how to properly wind the lights round each other so that they don’t get tangled. For once, I had no sense of impending doom when lifting them from the box of decorations. I’d even go so far as to say I was quite smug.

If only I’d been able to see 90 seconds into my future, I would have seen myself standing in the centre of an enormous nest of wires, the air blue with expletives, trying to pinpoint my primary emotion out of a choice of hopelessness, desperation and anger.

My husband made the gravest of errors while this was going on. Several actually. Firstly, he approached me. Secondly, he stood too close to me, in clear breach of the invisible anger barrier that grows around me in these situations. And finally, he spoke. And what’s worse is what he said. He a) offered help, and b) reminded me cheerfully that the lights wouldn’t go round the whole tree this year because I’d accidentally ordered a giant tree that would make Jack’s Beanstalk look like a pot plant.

Number 4)

Last but not least, I won’t be going anywhere near an ice rink. Ice rinks are for people who have abilities. Abilities such as balance, confidence and spatial awareness. An understanding of gravity is pretty useful as well. Still, I managed to make my family laugh until they cried.

Apparently watching me sitting on the ice, clutching the sides of my skull in a panic-fuelled bid to hold on to as many remaining brain cells as possible, cheered my loved ones right up. Even more so when the young lad working at the rink took pity on me and offered me one of those plastic seals they give to toddlers to cling onto.

Despite all the above, I’m really looking forward to Christmas. It’s taken me ages to feel ‘Christmassy’ but now I do. I’m sitting here looking through the patio doors into the pitch-black room next door at my beautifully, if sparsely, lit Christmas tree, with loads to do and nothing wrapped. But my husband has just handed me a glass of red, I can hear my girls upstairs laughing together, and I know just how lucky I am to have them all here with me. And if it weren’t for them, my world would be an unhappier place.

And of course, if it weren’t for them, many many vineyards would have gone out of business by now.

Merry Christmas! Hope you all have a happy and healthy one

It’s a dog’s life

Has anyone else been to the loo, then accidentally wiped themselves with a face mask? No? Just me then. In my defence, I had noticed it sticking out of the back pocket of my jeans as I sat down, so I grabbed it and sat there holding it for reasons which I still don’t understand. And since I usually get the loo roll ready in advance, and sit there holding it until required, you can see where I got confused. It could have been worse though, at least it was a number one. It could also have been far worse, since it’s often my phone I have to rescue from my back pocket.

The only other witness to this horror was Bungle, our Labrador. He follows me everywhere, even into the bathroom. I think he might believe that since he likes to stare at people while he does his business, that he is simply returning the favour. Either that, or he hasn’t yet worked out that it’s an unlikely place for a handful of treats to be forthcoming.

Unpleasant experiences aside, the week has begun pretty well. My twelve year old was back at school yesterday for the first time since having Covid over the last couple of weeks. She didn’t have a particularly easy time of it, and is still exhausted now, but thankfully she got through it ok.

Her brief illness has shown me once again what a very determined person she is. For instance, she refused to let her complete inability to taste anything except salt, get in the way of demanding chocolate every twenty minutes. She was resolute in her refusal to get into the shower until we pointed out that even the dog would no longer sit beside her, and she realised that loss of smell is indeed a symptom. And she remained utterly convinced that the best way to concentrate on the schoolwork set for her, was to have both the tv and her Spotify playlist fighting it out for attention in the background.

So far, the rest of us have managed to escape the virus. I suspect my teenager has kept it at bay by using the same techniques she does with us – rolling her eyes, refusing to go near it, and telling it she wishes it would just leave her alone for god’s sake.

Speaking of teenagers, another reason why yesterday was a good day, is that my older daughter turned 15. Someone please tell me that 15 is the year they start to turn back to your normal, affectionate, enthusiastic pre-hormonal child? And if you can’t, just lie to me.

Birthdays are different though. She does at least still get excited about the day, and genuinely wants her family around. I even witnessed sibling kindness. On more than one occasion. I looked around wildly for my camera, but it was too far away and, just like David Attenborough himself, I didn’t want to disturb the wildlife and make them flee.

She is seeing her friends this weekend, so last night was a family gathering. It all went very well, although we nearly had a disaster at cake time. Unfortunately, Bungle thinks that the ‘Happy Birthday’ song is dedicated to him. It all started one August. My husband’s birthday is on 20th, mine is the day after and my mum’s is a few days after that. We were all together on holiday for that birthday week, and had brought the dog with us.

By the end of the week, Bungle had learned that every time someone sings happy birthday, there is laughter, hugging and of course, food. Basically all of his favourite things, minus sticks and tennis balls.
It’s now his favourite song and he gets hugely excited whenever he hears it on tv, and zooms around the room in circles, regardless of what might be in his way. If he could access a jukebox, he would definitely play it on a loop. But we refuse to give him the cash.

Last night, I carefully lit the candles on my daughter’s cake, carried it into the room and got as far as ‘hap…’ before I was set upon by a hulking black Labrador eager to assist. He jumped up, nearly knocking me for six. It was only thanks to some serious acrobatics on my part (which I learned one winter when I unintentionally did the splits after slipping on some ice) that I escaped without injury, and more importantly, saved the cake.

So a good day was had by all, especially Bungle, and I thoroughly earned my wine that evening.

Bring on Bedtime!

Wine flies when you’re having fun

It’s almost a month since I posted that I was away for the weekend with some of my closest ‘mum friends’. It’s no coincidence that it’s taken me this long to write another post, since I have only just come through the recovery process.

Gone are the days of being seventeen with no hangover, or twenty-five and curing a mild headache with a McDonalds and more beer. Or even thirty-five and suffering for a day but by the evening knowing that a nice glass of wine will sort it all out. At the age of forty-seven, my brain has passed on an unwanted message from my body, which amounts to ‘By all means drink for two nights in a row. Just know that you will spend the next two days keeping Boots in the headache tablet business, followed by five more days of the bone-crushing tiredness normally associated with the slow approach of death’.

At the end of the weekend I announced my resolve to never drink again. Which was greeted by a certain amount of snorting, and ‘yeah right’s, and a large amount of advice. The advice boiled down to ‘you actually need to drink more, because you haven’t been training hard enough’. My friends, ladies and gentlemen. In an age of increased awareness of the long-term damage that alcohol can do, and at a time when people are trying harder to achieve a healthier lifestyle, their sound advice is to ‘drink more and power through’.

I do joke about it on here, but actually I don’t really drink that much. Don’t get me wrong, since my daughter became a teenager, the urge to drink is present during 99% of our interactions. Sometimes more. And sometimes I get a hankering for a vat of wine when she’s not even there and I have to enter her bedroom and god forbid, look for something under the bed. I realise this is becoming a running theme, but genuinely last week I found sixteen Wotsits, a pile of sand (don’t ask), a broken photo frame, three odd socks and a bulb of garlic. I don’t know why the garlic was there. Honestly, I don’t want to know. At least I know she’s not a vampire – concerns had been running high at one point, since we see so little of her during daylight hours.

Hormone levels have reached crisis point lately. I’m very much looking forward to the time when my first-born, one of the lights of my life, centre of my universe etc. doesn’t greet me with an eye roll because I have dared to put my face into her line of vision. Conversations often run as follows:

‘Sweetheart, can you please put your towel back in the bathroom’

‘In a minute’

‘Ok, but…’

‘Oh my GOD, I SAID I’d do it in a minute. You don’t trust me do you?’

‘I do, it’s just that you’ve said that the last eighty-five times I’ve asked, so the hope of seeing it done is waning a little’

‘I’m DOING SOMETHING’

‘You’re on your phone’

‘I’m researching something for my English homework’

‘Since when did your English homework involve googling ‘hottest Korean boy band member 2021’

‘I can’t believe you’ve been SPYING on me. You’re the worst mother in the world’

The fact that it was a lucky guess on my part is something she doesn’t need to know about of course. I prefer her to think of me as omnipresent, and since she is already exasperated by my very ability to breathe, I’ve got nothing to lose really.

You really do have to develop a thick skin as the mother of a teenage girl. I don’t just currently hold the title of ‘worst mother in the world’ by the way. I am also credited with not understanding anything about anything, hating fun, being too old to know what I’m talking about, and of course deliberately trying to ruin both of their lives. I’m considering investing in a trophy cabinet.

Yet just when I’m in the process of googling ‘where on a teenager’s skin might you find the 666’ or ‘alcohol delivery within an hour, UK’ she will come and say that she didn’t mean any of it, and she loves me, and I will forgive it all, because for one whole minute she will drop her ‘don’t come within 10m of me’ restrictions and I will be allowed a cuddle. And I have my girl back! Until the next time I’m looking for the towel that is.

But it’s ok, I can cope with anything now that I have a simple mantra to live my life by. And that mantra is ‘sobriety is not for everyone’.

Bring on Bedtime!