Wednesday 24 April 2013

Life Style is...

...A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group.


Over the last day or so, I've been mulling over the style of my living - the daily routine, my values - or lack of, my emotional well being, my physical health. And I felt flummoxed after these brief analyses between loading washes, sealing up removal boxes - the best I could come up with was frustratingly undefinable, nebulous, smokey-grey. I'm er... my days are... I value - umm? Oh! I am a stay-at-home mum!... Er, er I write, um, I'm a writer... I'm healthy - pah! - you're kidding yer sen!    

I can say with absolute conviction that I'm not living in any style at present - the hair needs a radical re-colouring, the bed covers - well less said the better, there's strange green stuff - straggly seaweed - frozen onto the back of the fridge, and come Wednesday evening - today - we will all be eating pizza out of greasy cardboard...

...and... and... I bite my finger nails.

Life and the stylising of it, was once so simple, well it certainly felt that way, like furnishing a shop window display - every activity, every thought, every feeling had it's place. Life was ordered. Controlled. I meditated. I yoga'ed. I ta chi 'ed. I ran. I cycled. I swam. I had a job. I studied at college. I wore flattening'ish clothes. Even The Pendulati - my cumbersome breasts - knew their size, maintained their position above waist height. And life felt emotionally easier too - I had time to process, contain, accept. Feelings flowed, weren't buried under the demands of others...     

My life now, is, well, sort of more abstract, in a Mark Rothko kind of way - colours blending, merged, lacking any definition. I don't mind at all. It's just that it's a far cry from what I was once accustomed to. After three years, I am still acclimatising to motherhood. My days are a vacuum filled with routine and dirty dishes and folding clothes and emotional holding and meeting the demands of Little A. Don't you know this kind of day so well? And before I go to bed, waving another farewell to the hours behind me, I take my anti-depressants. I need them.

After the shock of birth, the trauma, the sky-raising anxiety, the depression, the one thing that has pulled me from domestic quick sand, that has moulded me into back a woman - a functioning one, has been my writing - this blog.

So I was really honoured, extremely taken a-back, to find that I had been shortlisted in the Britmum's BiBs Awards under Lifestyle. If I am honest, I was surprised to find myself in this category. I would never in a million years have classified my blog as a lifestyle one - I don't cover crafts or health or fashion, but I guess I do tell stories about my life. Still, there are readers out there who beg to differ. Thank you all very, very much, I am really grateful for your votes of appreciation.

I have never plugged my blog in this way before. I feel a little shy doing it. But as this is a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity, I thought why not!  The next stage of the nominations is the voting which closes on May 12th. There will only be six finalists, two chosen by Britmums. Er, so, I am appealing to your generosity, your good will, to vote for me one final time. I would love to make the finals and Older Mum in a Muddle is up against some very stiff competition in this category - some really, really talented writers.

Your vote really counts - I'll buy you a bottle of champagne, make you lemon drizzle cake in return!

Thank you for reading Older Mum in a Muddle.

Vote Here


Monday 22 April 2013

The Cafe

I'm sat in a little cafe. Coco. The only artisan cafe-deli in Croxley Green. Named after the proprietor's chocolate-brown Labrador - a docile, sad-eyed dog. I pause between thoughts to sip hot chocolate, sweet and velvety. I've always enjoyed people watching in this type of establishment. You know, the type of affair decorated with distressed furniture and tasteful paraphernalia hanging sparsely on muted walls of duck egg blue and grey. A cream-white Gerber - my favourite flower - sits in toddler-sized milk bottle on my table; I used to suck on a straw from such a bottle in '76 - a throw-back to free-milk break times in reception, dressed in a dark grey pinafore, nipped at the waist by a forest-green sash.

Today - Monday morning to be exact - Coco is very quiet. Empty. I've seen other writers on other days, thinking, tapping, drinking, blinking. And an actor type dressed in the same clothing every time. A plush maroon suit. A cravat. Jet black side burns. Side burns that point in the direction of the adjacent town - Watford. But not today. It's just me, sat at my regular table for two by the window, the rumble of moping traffic in my right ear, the soulful tones of Stevie Wonder in my left, the metallic clinking of knives and forks and spoons as the owner organises the cutlery into their respective drawers.

Over the last week this cafe has become my haven. Weekday mornings, barring Tuesday, I've been handed a calm respite, a window of tea and toast and French onion soup - from all the packing tape, card board boxes, the excel spreadsheet detailing the contents of our lives - to work on my novel. Our flat is currently a warehouse, no longer a home but a holding space, a prologue to the next act of our story. Did I forget to mention, the contracts finally exchanged? I know! We are moving this Thursday - at long last, after the arduous journey of selling and buying began five months ago. But why am I here? In Croxley Green? Now - this morning? Well Little A started her new pre-school last week, a stones throw from our soon home-to-be. You see, we had hoped to be living here by the time term began. That didn't happen. But I still thought it prudent for my threenager to settle in before we extricated ourselves from West London. An easing in to her new life, her new routine. And it seems to have worked. Little A loves her new school. In her mind, she's already moved, is a member of the local community - arrived before Younger Dad and I!

But the constant journeying up and down worn tarmac - morphing from the A40 into the M40 into the M25 - has been, at times, very trying; not helped by going to bed later than I should - it's the novel I'm reading, can't put the damn thing down. This morning I struggled to keep both lids open as we passed under the bridge that strongly advises 'give peas a chance' - I will. I promise - and over the white teeth of the speeding markers on the motorway. Over the course of the last week, my mind has mulled over these teeth, these tyre-taunting canines. In my tired imagination, they've come to resemble fish bones instead - I'm driving over the spine of a cod and now over a haddock and now a plaice. Such is the monotony of travel.

Still this is such a small price to pay. In less than three days, all this schlepping will be over.

We will be here. In our new home.

And I have promised myself that at least one morning a week I will come here, to Coco's, and sit at my table  - the one by the window - with a hot chocolate in hand and observe and write and smile.

Now if you excuse me, I have a bill to pay, a daughter to pick-up, and yet another forty minute journey back down the motorway.  

How long does your school run take? 

Amazingly, unbelievably, I have made the shortlist of the Britmums BIBS Awards under the category, Lifestyle. I am so ruddy grateful to everyone who voted for Older Mum in a Muddle. Now if you would like to see me in the Lifestyle final six, then please, please, please vote for me one final time. The champagne is on me if I make it this far...... (nominations close on 12th May)

Friday 12 April 2013

Fizz. Froth. Hiss.

An end of day moment....

There we stood, peering over the rim of the bath. The water swaying gently, slowly settling itself until there was no movement, just the crackling sound of bubbles popping into nothing. Then she hesitated, I encouraged 'go on', and she dropped her special toy that smelt of vanilla and honey and faint roses into the water. It hissed and fizzed on the surface like a demon hangover cure, twisting and rolling like an alligator wrapped around it's prey mid kill. She hadn't seen anything like it.


That day we had shopped and shopped and shopped. Summer clothes for the both of us. Pizza and ice cream. A photograph with Tree Fu Tom. Sugar and cinnamon fingers from a warm doughy pretzel.

In the changing room I examined my skin in the full length mirror, pre-menstrual and grey, pores opened. And tired. And spotty. And sagging, deflated cells from lack of glass-in-hand irrigation. No miracle cream could plaster up the cracks of this ageing dermis.

But no matter.

"Mummy you look fabulous," as I tried on the spotty top.

"Mummy you look like a pop star," as I pulled the blue grey t-shirt with silver stars over my head.

Her words were better than any thoughtless reflection the mirror cared to offer - It lied. 

When we entered the final shop - an emporium of all things soapy and facial - we were blown away by the stifling pungency of flowers. It wasn't an aroma - that would've been light and heady upon our senses - like we were dancing with butterflies and fairies. This was the thick sickly blanket of a pollen heavy day.

The shop's ware was arranged on tables and towered high on mounted plates. And where to start? I didn't have a clue. The soaps, thick bars of milk and white chocolate, were the stuff of sweet shops. Another trick up Willy Wonka's velvet sleeve perhaps? Or was there a witches furnace, hot and burning and ready, in a secret back room? Would I find Hansel trapped in a cage? Everything looked so enticing, so seductive, so sensual - candy sweet oranges and pinks and blues. Raspberry streaks lighting up cotton coloured fudge treats. Scrubs the thickness of double clotted cream. A green uniformed Oompa Lumpa massaging smooth ointment into a customer's willing hand.

She chose an innocuous small cream bath bomb. One with subtle soft smells.

And not a witch in sight.

In the bath she let the water fall through her fingers, "it's so soft mummy."

But only minutes later, "I want to get out now." Uncharacteristically, she didn't want to play. Now a disintegrated milky film on the water's surface, she was no longer enchanted by her once frothing bomb. 

We watched as the water and the day drained from the bath stretching and separating the layer of tiny bubbles into shapes. I thought one looked like the boot of Italy. Another a curvy pepper mill.

"Look mummy there's a crocodile. It's snapping the other bubbles up."

"Look! Look!" Even more excitedly. "There's Captain Barnacles and Peso!"

And we stood in perfect, contented silence as the Octonauts disappeared down the plughole.

If you enjoy reading Older Mum in a Muddle, please spare a thought for me in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards - The BIBS - there are sixteen great categories to chose from but I think I'm best placed in the writers category. You can click on the badge below to take you through to the nomination form on the Britmums page - TODAY IS THE LAST DAY to nominate..... Thank you! X.


Thursday 4 April 2013

Nothing and Everything

It was just one of those days. Where nothing and everything happened.

A day when a soothing pot of tea restored the equilibrium after the afternoon's fraught tears.

But the morning began at a snail's pace, frustratingly lazy, the gloomy smog of a head cold setting the dial of my day to red - to not do very much at all. Just chill.

"Little A, mummy is feeling very tired, let's snuggle on the sofa, I'll turn the TV on."

"Mummy, can you get me some dried cheerios in a bowl and a beaker of warm milk?"

"What's the magic word?"


This is often the way, when Little A has woken in the middle of the night, not returning to her sleepy dream world until at least an hour later. And curled under the warmth of a duvet, Little A's hand resting on my crown, the theme tunes of Tilly and Friends and the Postman Pat wash over me, lulling me into a half slumber like the delicate sound of lapping water at high tide - the crunch crunch of my daughter's teeth on her breakfast cereal, the only prevention of my being pulled fully under.

We break fast at 10 am. I have my bowl of 'proper raspberry porridge', Little A - the hungry caterpillar - digests two bowls of cheerios, this time with whole milk, and a bowl of mummy-made nutella pear porridge. Then to feed my cold - unbelievably, Little A still isn't satiated - I toast some thickly cut slices of sourdough bread, generously spread with unsalted butter and mirabelle plum jam. Thoroughly delicious. After time spent colouring in, browsing social media, that extra cup of tea, our morning feast has finally reached it's conclusion.

It's 11.00 am.

In the shower I chide myself with guilty thoughts, I'm such a lazy mum, useless at getting on, other mothers are out and about by 8.00 am. 

After such a slow start, the only remedy I can think of is to make the most of the rest of the day. Little A and I dress together in the main bedroom. I watch as she pulls on her red doggy top, flattening the blond hair against her head. She falls over on the bed mattress as her feet catch in her trousers. I rub my tummy with stretch mark cream before clothing myself in what feels like one fell swoop. Little A reads a book bundled in a duvet on the sofa while I methodically sort the dirty laundry from the clothes basket into piles - underwear, Little A's clothes, Younger Dad's shirts, my jumpers (Little A's clothes always take precedence in the washing machine).

At 12.00 pm we are ready for the big, wide world. Well the supermarket to be precise. And it's here, in the baby aisle, were the morning's peace somersaults into a pool of pandemonium. Splash.

"Mummy please can I have this skipping rope?"

"Well I guess I promised you a treat," as I inspect the object of my daughter's desires, turning it slowly around in my hand.

"Mummy can I have this toy car too?"

"Sweetheart, you can't have both - you will have to chose one or the other."

"I want both. I want both. I want both. Waaaaaah."

And so it begins. She shakes her head. She stamps her feet in frustration. She screams. She barricades herself in front of the trolley. I am forbidden to move. So I kneel down at her level, "You have to choose. I am sorry but you can't have both, now I have to finish the shopping, you decide which toy you want as we go around the aisles." Of course, the situation escalates, "but I want both, I want both mummy." I plough ahead with the formidable task of calmly continuing the shopping with a mini volcano following behind.

In dairy, she pulls and pushes against the trolley, tears flying from her angry blue eyes. In wholefoods she is violet with rage, screeching, wailing, channelling her fire into physical strikes against my right thigh. We find ourselves obstructed by a brown tower of stacked crates, and in turn we frustrate a lady behind us. As she passes I notice her severe silver bob, her strong jawline, her ankle length black coat, she's tall but stoops over her trolley. Could she be 75? I don't know but there is something rather resilient about her, clearly made of tough stuff. She reminds me of a hawkish buzzard or vulture. Then she stops, turns to me and says with her nose in the air, "look how angry she is, what an angry little girl, totally out of control, no discipline, you need to discipline her."

The stooping buzzard continues her shopping as if she's just handed me a bouquet of flowers. But I am rendered speechless. And I feel terribly mortified, totally judged and inept. Why do some people think it's acceptable to publicly judge a parent? It's like the modern day version of medieval stocks. Maybe they should hand out tomatoes and potatoes and cabbages so shoppers can lob them at will at unsuspecting mothers.

Little A continues her frustrated onslaught. I feel every eye in the supermarket. At both ends of the aisle I can see customers and shop assistants staring - some smiling sympathetically - in our direction. And then, like passing through the eye of a hurricane, the eerily calm centre of a storm, the tantrum simply stops.

"Mummy I want a cuddle," she says between quiet sobs,"can you put me back in the trolley?" With Little A fully cuddled, nestled in the plastic seat, I turn my back to her pretending to choose a bag of wheat free penne slumped on a shelf while hot self conscious tears roll down my face. I just can't let Little A see that I am crying. I try making a phone call to Younger Dad - sorry I can't take your call right now, leave a message and I'll get right back to you. Frustrated, I take few deep breaths, and a few more still, and one final breath to steady myself. I'm ready to take on frozen foods.

"Little A, I have come to a decision," as I place the petits pois on top of the pork, "because you lashed out at me, and the trolley, you won't be getting any treats this afternoon. And when we get home you are going on the thinking cushion."

"But mummy, but mummy, I want the skipping rope. Waaaaaah."

And so it begins again. The storm continuing apace. I calmly wheel Little A to the baby aisle and place the skipping rope back on the shelf. And then I calmly wheel the trolley to a small checkout queue, my face parked in neutral.

"Look at you - I feel just like that when I shop at M&S," A kind voice interjects behind my back, and it has the effect of slowing down Little A's latest tirade - her shyness dampening the blaze.

I turn around to face a warm presence. Her cheeks are ruddy from tiny broken veins. In her hat she wears a miniature fresh daffodil. She's dressed head to foot in green and brown. A mother hen. And then she says something that's so reassuring, so comforting, that administers an antidote, some happy medicine for the earlier poisonous criticism,

"You're doing a brilliant job mummy, keep it up."

And I wanted to hug her. To say thank you, oh thank you, thank you once again.

I don't think she'll ever realise how much she made my day.

How did you handle a public meltdown?
Have you been publicly criticised for your parenting?

If you enjoy reading Older Mum in a Muddle, please spare a thought for me in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards - The BIBS - there are sixteen great categories to chose from but I think I'm best placed in the writers category. You can click on the badge below to take you through to the nomination form on the Britmums page - there's only one week left to nominate..... Thank you! X.


Monday 1 April 2013

100 Word Challenge - Fear

...A woman in a purple two piece. Jet hair. A stringy man next to her. Pensive, serious looking.

Both sat at the back, their robotic eyes scanning the congregation.

"David was my brother..."

Their eyes closed in on us. I turned away, feeling laser like strokes up and down my spine.

Something wasn't right.

"Char," I whispered in her ear."Have you clocked those two at the back?"

Charlotte turned. Then looked back abruptly, tears replaced by fear.

"He had years ahead of him, taken far too soon..."  

"What's the matter? What's up?"

"I don't believe it Chrissy, it's the guy who pushed David."

I'm linking up with JB47's 100 Word Challenge. This week's prompt was... I don't believe it...

This is part of a wider story. You can read the other instalments in the series here.

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