Friday, 10 October 2014

Being a writer I like symmetry, of things finishing in the place they started but a little changed. I began writing this blog over three years ago when life had gone to hell in a handcart, I had two small children under five and didn't know what the devil had in store for us next. I started writing this as a way to get back out there, as a veichle for a little rant , to see wether or not I could make it as a writer.        How I now define 'making it' has changed. This blog enabled me to just get on and do it. This is the last post I am writing on this site before I archive the best bits and put it to bed. It's a thank you to everyone who read it and gave me the confidence to carry on. Corny perhaps, but credit where credits due.

"There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men." Tracey Emin apparently.

My first post was a rant about the difficulties of pushing a buggy in Lewes, a venting of the frustrations of being a pre - school parent. It seems fitting that my last post deals with the subject of being a mother and a writer and so here I am three years later discussing that old chestnut, the pram in the hall debate. The myth that all your creative juices leave your body with the placenta.

The early years of motherhood nearly break most women mentally and sometimes physically. You're exhausted and addled and have days when you eye up the front door and wonder if you have time to make a run for it. This sounds awful, really awful I know, but it is true. Your figure changes for the worse, you are so much poorer at a time you could do with some treats, and you spend days on end with mini versions of yourself but on a really bad day. Creativity doesn't die with the responsibility and Mr Tumble, you just don't have the time to do anything with it.

The thing I love most about writing is that nothing is wasted. Any experience is grist for the mill. Those hard times: not knowing if my Pearl had cystic fibrosis for several months, selling everything that wasn't nailed down, dealing with a boy whose tantrums were off the scale and lasted about five years, created pulses that enabled me to write. Hard times are not exclusive to mothers, we don't have the monopoly but by the same token we do not limp out the delivery suite creative dullards.

I had to stop writing my novel because I didn't have time to make it as good as it had the potential to be; but I had the energy to write this, to compose a tweet and FB link and send it to you. One thing that motherhood and being skint has taught me and that's resourcefulness. There is more than one way to skin a cat and if that means sitting on a library computer next to strange men who jiggle their knee because your laptop has died, so be it.

In 2011 I wrote this

I may be little. I may be a woman, but I never imagined I'd ever feel like the little woman, a homemaker with no income aside from £130 per month child benefit. It feels ridiculous buying your partner a Christmas present out of his own wages, but unless I entertain gentleman callers in a negligee , the options are sparce. How did it come to this? I'd always sworn I'd have an independent career and income for the sake of my sanity, for my dignity and self esteem. I may never have believed it would ever happen to me , but now my heel is stuck between the rails and a train destined for unemployable is heading full speed in my direction. I can see it coming, I know what it is, it's not creeping up on me, it's about to plough me down.

I still don't make a fortune but I earn more than £130 child benefit and I get to write.
I'm not self congratulatory as i'm a firm believer that no one escapes that train alone. This is why I'm saying thank you to every one who put me on the right track. And when you start quoting yourself it starts to become a little indulgent.

Enough of the corn, my electric cigarette is blinking,

Note: The ever suffering Mr Porter is not mentioned in this blog - he has a sensible aversion to airing his dirty laundry in public.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The festive season kicked in with Dim Sum in Berwick St. Soho. Champagne and crab salad followed at a friends in New Road, Lewes. Having dragged my seasonal hoard home from Aldi my feasting well and truly commenced. Bombay mix, chestnut stew, partridge & pears , roast potatoes, Harvey's christmas pudding, Delia's red cabbage and a cinnamon laced, red wine moussaka, bomber cheese & crackers in the flat with chocolates from Gloucester.....undo the buttons of my jeans...Baileys, gin, cava and lashings of red wine. My thighs have long since met in the middle as my midriff expands, chin becoming more generous. I look in the mirror and sigh a little. The Jadore woman in the perfume advert taunts me in shimmering gold.

And so the age old body image crisis kicks in. New year, new me. Slim back down to fit into clothes, the Fodmap diet, the 5:2 diet, running, punishing myself with the highly dubious weighing machine in the local boots. My automatic response is to find my new found curves and folds foul, something to be ashamed of but this year things are beginning to shift a little.

I spent years thin. Thinner than most, cold feet with no hip meat or thighs to mention. I looked good in  photos even though in reality I looked pasty and ill. The arse of a drug addict apparently and grey skin (sisters are great at telling you how it was). Being a size 6 did not lead to happiness although I could look good in a sack, and in all honesty I do miss that aspect of my starving younger self.  What I don't miss however is a crippling lack of appetite. I have very little willpower, my lithe looks were not a result of dieting, exercise or healthy eating but a feeling of general anxiety that made it impossible to eat very much at all.  Some days I could only eat a few grapes for lunch, eating out was a torture, food was a necessity and if I could simply have eaten a pill to sustain me I would have.

I no longer suffer from anxiety and with its demise came a hunger for food. A hunger that very much enjoys being satiated. I clear plates, savour tastes, I am now one of those women who likes her food!

And so in the New Year when I do my critical appraisal, I will be less harsh on myself. I will be honest. When I had gaps between my thighs and not much stomach, when my jeans hung off and my hip bones protruded I may have looked good in lycra but I was unhappy, my appetite and calories sapped by an internal raging of overthinking and unhelpful stress. And so although it is socially desirable to be thin , I'm happier and healthier in my skin.

And so what to do about not looking so good in clothes? Stop squeezing a round body into a square peg. I need to change my clothes, not my body. The High street make clothes for girls and this mother is about to call her tailor. But for now it's wine and cheese hour.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Day I met a pin up Queen

I'm currently writing a series of short stories about people over seventy, Here are the notes on Diana, an incredible woman I met in Eastbourne who has since passed.

I find it hard to look at the pictures of my breasts. Too large for a child, too large for anyone.

 They had cruel smiles those men.   I just looked up at the sun and tried to block them out, let it bleach me out until I could feel nothing. She’d worn lipstick and wanted to go with them, she didn’t mind their rough way of kissing and the dirt under their nails. I’d never had the chance to find out whether or not I even liked boys. On that that day there were six of them.

When they finished with me they left me sitting on a bench looking at the ducks on the pond. I’d taken off my tights and hidden them in one of those bins the children put their ice cream wrappers in. One of them had told me that with tits like mine I could be a pin up queen.

They took  photographs of me in the altogether, I cooked eggs and bacon in my knickers and bra for a man who owned a revue bar, he promised I could dance in the theatre. I walked out onto that stage feeling like the goddess of love, only to realise that they were only there to have a wank. Every man I ever met had a twisted smile.

During the Blitz I used to sit under the table in the children’s home as the bombs fell across London. Most of the other children were deaf. Yes, I can still remember how to sign, some things never leave you. What did I do when I left the home? I went to prison. It wasn’t uncommon for girls like me in those days.

Why did she have to die on me like that, my mother? Why even now do they seek me out?

No, no one noticed that I came home without my tights, there were the little ones to look after.

I’ve been thinking i'd like someone to help me write my story, he told me no one would be interested in a tart.

I find it hard to look at the pictures of my breasts. Too large for a child, too large for anyone. Pin up queen, google it and you will find me. They find new ways but i'm sure the dirty laugh sounds the same. Still laughing with their cruel mouths.
Can you make them interested in me? Me. I did not go under. Despite everything I outlived them all. What shall we call it? ‘Hurdles and Girdles’.

The sun is so bright today. I stare into it hoping it will bleach me out. Out in the park children are laughing as they feed the ducks.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

An Anxious Outing

The first thing we heard upon crossing the threshold of The University of Sussex was the sound of a  protest centred around Sussex House.  I smiled to myself  at the irony of it all as I held his hand tighter. We had come to take part in a study on childhood fear and anxiety and here I was confronted by something that would have brought me out in a cold sweat twenty years ago when I lived on this campus.

It has now been proven that Anxiety Disorders are genetic, inherited from those relatives that quite literally drove you round the bend. The awkward ones, those who lacked confidence or panicked at the slightest change in routine, the one you tried your damndest not to take after.  That grandmother that took a cocktail of pills to keep her together because she suffered with her ‘nerves’.  I swore I would never take after my grandmother and I fought the fight for 39 years, stomach churning, mind racing and blaming itself , the anxiety eating into my self confidence, a parasite that stopped me gaining weight and achieving my full potential. I never sought out a doctor because that would be to fail, to admit that I was like her. But then came my boy.

The thing about being a parent is that you are forced to face yourself head on.  I didn’t want him to be like me, but he was. If I couldn’t face up to and like the difficult parts of me how could I love him, help him through those daily struggles that had become part of my routine.  I sought help and vowed to help him too. Because like me he’s a strong little thing and despite the anxieties he gives life a good go.  And so together  we boarded a train, shared a packet of monster munch and strode forth onto campus to face our fears.

We spent the day answering questions on fear, I put my hand in a box that could potentially give me an electric shock and entered a room to meet a snake that turned out to be simply a shed skin. My boy had a ball but more importantly learned that it is ok to talk about the way he feels, to acknowledge anxiety.

It’s hard to write posts like this because despite modern advances in the understanding of mental health, the fear of being labelled a ‘nutter’ adds to the condition of anxiety. What people do not realise is that most sufferers of the condition do not huddle into a ball at the first sign of trouble but battle on day to day internalising their fears whilst maintaining a swanlike veneer. We are not unreliable, flaky or delicate, just hard on ourselves. Although a genetic condition, patterns can be broken and if my boy does develop an anxiety disorder I hope that he can challenge it in the way that I have.

Confidence may be genetic too apparently, which is why those with anxiety often box below their weight. Since confronting anxiety I have learned a new way to fight and my confidence has soared.  The best lesson I can teach my boy is that we are all in this mad soup together, that as complex emotional beings we all suffer in our own little way.  That worry and fear bear no fruit.

In my family we have acknowledged that we are like each other and we are standing together. Let’s hope that me and my boy's little adventure on campus add to the understanding of our particular malaise for generations to come.  Meanwhile he has already spent his Amazon voucher presented to him for his part in the study. Any clues on how to break the pattern on money burning a hole in your pocket gratefully received.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Little fishes are sweet- dish of the day no 1

Delia  lied to me and I am covering the abyss with sliced banana. It would have been far cheaper to buy a ready made cheesecake, but our hosts are new friends and I don't want to feed them ground hooves that have been squirrelled away into toffee sauce.

Time to nip downstairs and buy the wine, fold the emergency chairs and balance the grand Grand Canyon of culinary creations up the hill to Library Pigg's flat. Will he take his glass eye out this evening, will he show us the Olympic torch, will both of our children stay dry at this crucial stage of potty training.

There's something about sharing a Sunday dinner with friends that warms the cockles. Pretences dropped, wine quaffed and life filling you up despite the chasm that sits beneath the sliced banana.

Banofee Cheesecake: Page 184 'Delia's Winter Collection'

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nothing to say

Following the recent shootings in America, the author Lionel Shriver was approached by the media for her opinion on the tragedy. Having written the novel 'We need to talk about Kevin' the story of a juvenile serial killer, she was expected to provide some kind of explanation for events that have shocked the world. To her credit she declined, she had nothing to say. She is a novelist who uses a dramatic narrative to explore the darker aspects of the human experience, in her opinion the facts speak for themselves.

Sometimes there is nothing to say. Since the news broke we have not watched the conventional news. From experience I know that the media cover these incidents in such a distasteful way, that one can end up feeling like a voyeur of other people's grief. The bare facts spoken are enough, without the endless images, videos and exploitation of people's grief, the close ups of emotional agony that have no place being broadcast across the globe. It as though these people have stumbled unwittingly into a reality show at a time when they deserve privacy the most.

And then there is the coverage of the killer. A disturbed individual who was let down by their society, a society that made it possible for him to access lethal weaponry. I haven't been able to avoid all media , the front pages on display in the supermarket today illustrate the usual attempt to create a new story from one which needs no further dramatisation. Computer games, music, Gothic clothing are to blame not the gun or the mental illness that goes untreated. An isolated and evil individual remote from the society to which he belonged. I deplore this aspect of the media, the hunt for new stories, utilising the techniques of dramatic writing to wring the emotions. There are few people who will not be touched by the facts, the rest is cheap and fuels a macabre fascination that dehumanises us all.

My child is six. One night he walked into the front room and looked at the television. I wasn't watching it but I looked up to see a grainy black and white image of the Yorkshire Moors, a child's body was being lifted into an ambulance.  'He was sexually abused and killed' the voiceover said. My son looked at me but we said nothing. It was a moment we shared but there was nothing to say.

I haven't watched the news because I cannot bear to see. My sorrow changes nothing but a change in gun laws could have saved lives.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Standing by the flag

Proud :Feeling pleasurable satisfaction over an act, possession, quality, or relationship by which one measures one's stature or self-worth: proud of one's child; proud to serve one's country.

Fear not dear readers. I have not become a poster girl (sic) for British nationalism, a royalist or a patriot. I was asked to pose for a portrait at Vintage Nation before the bargain hunters piled in to paw the second hand wares. I was asked if I minded posing by a Union Jack, to be honest I was ambivalent. I was more concerned about my double chin and the prominence of my baby belly/wine waist. Post Jubilee I had become de sensitized; bunting with polka dots, retro 70s, retro 40s, in shop windows, even French fancies popped up in red, white and blue.I didn't give it much thought but on reflection it has forced me to examine why I feel no connection to the emblem of the nation, if
I am even proud to be British.

I was born in London, hence I am British. This is a fact and standing by the flag illustrates this if shown overseas. In this country however it could be misconstrued, a symbol of my pride, of standing up for British values, institutions, history and foreign policy. Am I proud to be British. No. Am I ashamed of being British. No. Nationalism has no bearing on my feelings of self worth or identity.
Much British history involves the subjugation of other nations, a jingoism that taints much of what people feel being British is about. In this sense Britishness is measured on feelings of Superiority and racism.I spoke to a Brazilian friend of the family today who chose to leave England because of the racism and bigotry he faced teaching in British Schools. I felt sad that young people can still be so closed minded in this day and age, that their bigotry and agression limit their experiences and that their rejection of the 'foreign' is to embrace a monoculture that exists not as a celebration of its own culture but as a rejection of others.
I am not highly patriotic but I'm not ashamed to be British.I dont feel the need to apologise for actions that are out of my control. I don't perpetuate hatred in my daily life but by the same token I haven't personally faught against Fascism as my fellow Stallholder Cyril did in WW2. I have great respect for him as one of the last survivors of the Normandy Invasion. He defended his country and as an ex dairy farmer he provided milk for the other soldiers by miking cows that had been deserted. I have great regard for him but it's not pride.Im grateful that he gave a part of his life to protect us against a fascist invasion.He did that, not me.I can only be proud of my achievements, my children's and family's highpoints. I have a hand in this. If I am proud of my nation and stand in the golden glow of its achievements, I would also have to apologise and stand shame faced as drunk Britons invade Europe or attack international students on the streets.
I am ambivalent not reactionary. People often critise this country as a teenager would their parents. It can't do anything right. I am disgusted at the way politicians are dismantling many of loved institutions but there are worse places to live. Britain is culturally diverse, vibrant and eccentric in places. Like human nature it is good and bad simultaneously. It is what it is. And in the context of the above photograph the flag is a backdrop, a piece of cloth signifying the country the photograph of this short woman was taken in.
No, I dont find pride in a flag but in things and people I have a hand in making, achieving or developing. I has a surge of pride today in the corner shop. My tiny daughter elbowing her way into the crowd of kids huddled round the penny sweet shelf. She nearly sent a man flying as she returned with her bounty 'Nake' she hollered as she held a rubbery sweet snake aloft in her fist.That's my girl.
Copyright for the above photograph belongs Emma Duggan