This morning I wake up in a state of eager anticipation. I take a little more care than usual getting dressed – I put on a skirt and brush my hair and everything. Why such glamour you may ask. Well, Bee is visiting her Dad and Belle has been invited to a birthday party, so I have a rare Saturday morning to myself. And this morning I have a date. A date with myself. An illicit coffee shop rendezvous with the weekend papers.

I find the papers make a perfect date. They are interesting, able to talk about a wide range of topics, they make me laugh and most importantly the don’t judge when I dip my croissant in my coffee and drop soggy crumbs on my cardi.

Of course the time limit and the rarity of the opportunity combine to pile on the pressure – that urgent feeling of having to Make The Most Of it that most parents will appreciate. In a bid to really enjoy myself as much as possible I end up visiting three different cafes, trying to find the perfect retreat, before settling on one that really looked very much like all the other two.

My date starts well, and I’m half way through the Guardian when my secluded corner starts to become rather crowded. I have bagged myself a comfy sofa, and am happy to have well behaved extras occupying the two chairs opposite. However, the longer I stay the more I find my space being overtaken.

A small boy plonks himself down in one of the chairs and helps himself to my sports section. Fine. I don’t like sport anyway. His Dad joins him in the second chair. Still manageable. But then the boy’s grandparents arrive and suddenly things are not so fine. I am forced to take my feet off the sofa so Grandma can sit down. I toy with moving but want to stand my ground – I was here first after all. And so long as I ignore Grandma’s shuffling and awkward glances I can still pretend I’m on my own. Just about.

But then it all gets a bit much. I am already starting to feel a little overwhelmed when another couple plus child appear – apparently friends of the family. “What’s going on here then?” says Dad number two.

“Just a little family outing,” says Grandma.

“Who’s that then?” asks Dad two, nodding his head in my direction.

“I’ve no idea!” exclaims Grandma loudly, as though I have just attached myself to them and they are humouring me.

“I am sat right here!” I want to yell, but of course I don’t. Instead I keep my head buried in the paper, hoping they will feel uncomfortable and drink up quick. No such luck though. Dad two plus family are invited to join them. There are now seven of them and me and everyone knows one’s company but eight’s a crowd. I do my best to stick it out but my presence at the crowded table now feels vaguely ridiculous.

It’s not long before I give up, make my excuses and push my way out through the family party. Hmph. Not exactly the romantic coffee for one I had planned. Still, I got as far as the Review section of the paper, which is further than I normally get before about Wednesday, so I probably should be grateful…

Photo credit: wonderferret

Today has not gone according to plan.

It was supposed to be my day off. I had things planned.

But instead I am at home with a sick child. Sick children really cramp your style don’t they? I know she can’t help being ill or anything, but still.

So I am in a bit of a no-mans-land today. My head was all geared up for switching off for the weekend and being away from my desk, but now here I am, confined to the house for the afternoon, and I am rather at a loss for what to do. Working from home, my daytimes, evenings and weekends tend to get tangled up. I work during school hours but really I am snatching any free time I can find to sneak off to my study. I know I have been working a lot lately, and it has got to the point where I’m not quite sure how to do anything else.

Past about 9pm I can relax a bit, as my brain begins to switch off, but during the day it won’t keep quiet. It’s always buzzing, swirling ideas around, overwhelming itself with possibilities. Often it gets so wound up turning over ideas, plotting and scheming, that it has no energy left for actually doing anything. In fact, if I sit myself down to focus on an idea, my brain starts to panic, worrying that all of the other thoughts will have to pipe down, that they might get forgotten.

All of which of course often results in me doing nothing at all. I can’t bear the thought of having to choose and leave some ideas behind, and I don’t want to start something just to have another task interrupt, so I end up staring blankly at the screen instead.

That’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon anyway, until I gave myself a good metaphorical kick up the backside and wrote this instead. It may be nonsense, but it is words on a page, and it gives me a temporary sense of accomplishment at least. Plus it has kept my fingers busy and stopped me eating marzipan fruits for twenty minutes, which can’t be a bad thing.

I’d be interested to know how other people feel – does your brain brim over, leaving you paralysed to do anything at all? And how do you cope with it, how do you focus on one thing at a time? And more importantly, how do you manage to go into the kitchen without eating a handful of leftover Christmas chocolates every time?

Photo credit: eszter

I have recently become a member of Judith’s Room, a new forum for women writers, through which I have been able to share my writing, read what other people have to say, and generally pass the time when I should be working. The group is launching a series of new themed writing weeks and is kicking off with the seven deadly sins – a different sin for each week. What a fantastic idea! I love it. So this week I am writing about envy…

Envy is one of my favourite sins – not the practise of it of course, lust and gluttony are a lot more fun – but the fact that it always makes me think of coveting my neighbour’s ass, and that makes me chuckle. What can I say; I have a childlike sense of humour.

My dictionary describes envy as ‘a feeling of grudging or somewhat admiring discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements or qualities of another, the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another.’ Envy therefore is a particularly destructive emotion, not only for the individual, but also for the neighbour whose ass is being coveted. Envy isn’t just about wanting what someone else has, it’s about the twisted pleasure you get from seeing someone else lose it.

The problem with envy is that once you let it suck you in, it will never be satisfied. A bit like a tapeworm, but without the bloating. Become a victim of envy and the grass will always be greener. It may serve to drive your ambition, help you strive to attain a higher status, gather more Stuff, but ultimately it will leave you unfulfilled, never quite able to get the Right Kind Of Stuff, to reach the status you feel sure will make you happy.

That’s not to say envy is all bad – it can play an important part in helping you to develop aspirations and motivate you to achieving goals, but the important thing is to be sure your goals are the right ones and that you are striving for the right reasons.

When I find myself envying another person’s job, husband, income (or indeed ass), and it happens often, particularly when I am feeling a bit rubbish about myself, I try to follow through the process in my head. I might start off by reading a well known journalist’s column in a newspaper and thinking ‘that’s not fair, I could write that, why don’t they realise I am FUNNIER and give me her job instead?’ Quite a normal thought pattern I’m sure. So then I try to think about what that would actually mean. It would mean I had a strict deadline every week, which would probably bring on some kind of panic attack, I would forget to feed my children, they would run away from home…. Worst case scenario perhaps, but it temporarily prevents me from descending into a pit of silent jealous rage at least.

What would the world be like without envy I wonder? When you begin to unravel the forces that drive us in our day to day lives, the seven so called deadly sins are really what make us human. How much of what we do is driven by our desire to have what other people have, to look how other people look? Without envy, would the diet industry collapse? Would everyone stop having affairs? And more importantly, would I ever be motivated enough to get any work done at all?…

Photo credit: Rev Guzman

If you think of my blog as a life journey – as I’m sure you are, why wouldn’t you be? – then I am very much still in nappies. Less than two months in I am still finding my feet, toddling my way around the virtual world of blogging, gazing up in awe at the more established writers who all seem so much funnier and more intersting, hoping that when I grow up I will Be Like Them.

I was very excited this week then to be tagged in my first meme, especially once I realised what being ‘tagged in a meme’ actually means, as it appears to imply that other real live people are reading my outpourings, not just my mother and my closest friends,  who obviously feel obliged to support me. So thank you very much to Linda at You’ve Got Your Hands Full for helping me reach this milestone!

So, my childhood song memories…

I actually have a terrible long term memory. My sister, who is four years younger than me, is always trying and failing to get me to remember significant events from our childhood and I’m sure will never forgive the fact that I can’t even remember her being born. I do have snapshots though, isolated incidents rather than long swathes of memory, that have stuck with me so long I’m not sure any more whether I am remembering the event itself or just my memory of remembering it over and over.

A lot of my childhood memories are triggered by smell, particularly those to do with my grandparents, whose house always smelt of a comforting mix of Embassy No1 (my Grandad) and Gordon’s gin and tonic (My Gran). Even now if I pass someone in the street wearing Chanel No5 I am immediately a child again, sat on my Gran’s knee, catching a whiff of perfume from her handbag as she reached in for a handful of Anadin.

Songs don’t feature so prominently – my Mum only ever had ears for Neil Diamond and has never been a big music fan generally. Most of my song memories come from periods where I have spent chunks of time with my Dad. One that sticks in my mind was from a week we spent in a caravan in Durham – oh the glamour that was my childhood! My Mum was on an OU residential course and we had gone up to stay nearby in case she got scared and wanted to visit us. The soundtrack to that week will always be U2’s Joshua Tree, which I remember my Dad playing every evening as he cooked us dinner before we settled down to our daily dose of Monopoly.

While we were on holiday that week, I also remember sitting in a pub, hearing La Bamba and my dad offering me some kind of monetary reward if I could memorise all the words. At least I’m pretty sure that was the song. Memories for me have that dream like quality – you try to capture them and they seem to get further away and less clear, until you wonder whether they were ever there in the first place, or if you just made it all up.

Being a mother makes me think more about memory, and I am conscious of the fact that everything I do is creating memories for my children. I wonder which will stick out for them – the silliest of things probably – and I feel sad sometimes that lots of our happiest moments together will end up forgotten by us all. On the other hand, some things are probably best forgotten. When Belle was a baby, she would only tolerate car journeys without screaming if someone sang Agadoo to her over and over again. Try as I might, I just can’t wipe that memory…

So now I’m going to tag:

Emma at Mommy Has A Headache

Kathryn at Crystal Jigsaw

Ellen at In A Bun Dance

Vix at Vegemitevix

xx

Photo credit: Ben Dobson

There are some women who seem able to remain effortlessly poised at all times. Others are more like Bridget Jones, stumbling from one mishap to another. Most women though can probably remember a time when they’ve found themselves cringing with embarrassment, wanting the ground to swallow them up.

If you can remember such a moment – a glass of red wine sloshing onto your friend’s new cream carpet maybe – then you can begin to imagine the mortifying shame that must have been felt by the clumsy art student who this week stumbled and fell into an £80million Picasso, tearing a six inch hole in the canvas.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York, where the accident occurred, have kindly declined to name the student and have offered reassurances that the painting can be restored in time for the Picasso exhibition in April. It still makes you cringe though to imagine that gut wrenching, slow motion split-second where she knows she is falling, but is powerless to help herself.

I had a rather embarrassing moment this week when, driving myself and a friend to a meeting, I misjudged a corner and crashed into a verge. My first thought as I struggled to avoid a telegraph pole, was not for my safety, or that of the car, but for passenger and my ego. Fortunately no one was hurt, but all I could think was how embarrassing to make such an awful mistake and to crash your friend into a hedge.

My friend Lucy has had more than her fair share of embarrassing moments, including a late night tumble that resulted in a trip to the dentist. “I’d been at a party full of important people,” she confessed, “and was very nervous, so I had drunk quite a lot. I was late leaving and could see my bus disappearing round the corner. I ran for it, attempting to leap onto the back, but I missed, and smashed my face into the pavement. I could hear people saying “Oooh!” but I got up and felt fine. When I woke up the next day and looked in a mirror though I realised that I’d knocked out both my front teeth…”

Unfortunately, unless you can maintain a permanent air of Judi Dench like grace, these types of mishaps are unavoidable. It could be that as women we are distracted by our multi-tasking brains, but more likely it is a combination of hormones and high heels, conspiring to turn us into Bridget style stumbling fools. Note to self: the next time you’re feeling clumsy, steer well clear of galleries.

Photo credit: Andrea

In preparation for my first writing workshop this week over at Sleep is for the Weak, I am writing on the theme of false assumptions – those funny things that people think about you that seem to come from nowhere.

 This is an interesting topic for me, as I’m pretty sure people are quite often not sure what to make of me. For a start, I’ve been told I look younger than I am – 32 this April – and the perception of youth can often effect the way people interact with you. A couple of years ago for example, a salesman came to the door, trying to flog gas and electricity. I answered, and he asked me if my mum or dad was home…

 Age gives a woman a certain gravitas and I do often worry about not being taken seriously. Sometimes when I meet people for the first time I want to come right out and explain – “I may look young and have the voice of a child, but really I am a proper grown up who knows how to do stuff. Honest.”

 Add to this the fact that I was pregnant at 16, when I looked about 12, and I’m fairly sure I must have attracted some curious glances in my time. Not that I have ever really been aware of it. I’m just me inside, and I forget sometimes that other people can see my face when they are talking to me.

 Another occasion I remember well was when I got my GCSE results. I was particularly geeky at school, a straight A student and prize winner, and everyone I went to school with knew it. (I made sure of that – hence not having many friends at school…). My boyfriend at the time however went to a different school and when his friends – whom I had known for some months – found out my results they were stunned to say the least. “Blimey,” they said, “we’d thought you were pretty stupid!” Charming.

 A couple of times in the last week people have made reference to me being terribly organised and orderly, an assumption which I challenged, not least because it made me feel terribly dull. Who wants to be thought of as ‘the woman whose files are arranged nicely’?

 It’s true that I am fussy about some things – I do like my books to sit flush which the edge of the shelf, and have been known to arrange them in colour order – but I don’t think this makes me hugely organised. In fact, a quick glance around my study or bedroom would show quite the opposite. Piles of magazines, newspapers, unread letters and mountains of clean and dirty washing, merging together in one giant heap – hardly the hallmark of a neat freak.

 And then of course there are the friends who see me scoffing sweets and quaffing wine like the grape is about to become extinct and assume I am some kind gluttonous lush with no self control. Oh hang on a minute…

 The lovely photo is taken by my friend Dean, who I happen to think is a very talented photographer. You can check out his stuff here.

Being a parent is all about making sacrifices, I understand that. My role as a mother defines so many aspects of my life – where I live, how I work and how I socialise. And as a single mother, my children also impact on my ability to form new, serious relationships. (At least that’s what I hope the issue is). It can be sad sometimes to see potential partners pass you by, but it is ultimately a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

I totally accept the restrictions of early motherhood. It is the choice you make when you become a parent after all and, as many teenagers, although not mine thank God, are fond of saying, they didn’t ask to be born. There are some areas of family life though where I don’t feel I should compromise or where I seem to revert to a childish competitiveness, not flattering in a parent. Board games for example. I know you are supposed to let young children win, or at least give them a chance, but I just can’t. I know it is The Wrong Attitude, but I don’t see the point in playing if you’re not playing to win. I used to try to hold back, but I couldn’t do it. I argue with myself that I am teaching them some kind of valuable life lesson, but deep down I know I am just being mean.

Another good example happened this morning. I had made the effort to get up 20 minutes earlier than usual, to try and avoid the stress of needing to leave for school, but having a child only half way through a bowl of porridge. My teen though had apparently got up 20 minutes later than usual, and was in rather a flap. “I don’t have time to wash the bread knife,” she announced loudly as she charged into my room at 8.15am, “so I can’t have any lunch today. Now have you seen my scarf?”

After watching her spend a good five minutes looking for the clearly crucial scarf, and with much stomping and sighing along the way, I glanced up to see her about to leave with my waterproof coat. “Hey!” I cried. “What are you doing?”

“I can’t find my coat,” she said, looking at me with palpable disdain.

“Well you can’t take mine,” I said. “I have to walk to school too you know.”

“Great! So what am I supposed to do then?” she shrieked.

“Why don’t you wear your other coat and a hat?” I offered.

“A HAT?” she spat back, as though I had deliberately made up the word just to annoy her. “I don’t have a hat.”

I know this to be a lie, and made moves to find one for her, but by this point she was too cross to reason with. “Don’t bother,” she said, “I’ll just get soaked.” Reinforcing her point, she took her school bag out of the waterproof one I had put it in, and stepped out into the pouring rain.

Sacrifice my career and love life? Sure. Just don’t ask me to give up my coat.

Photo credit: mugley