Monday, 19 December 2011

Would you employ this old mother?

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 stopped working after my second child. You cannot fit a conventional job around a shift worker who never works the same days each week. Wages minus tax, child care and travel = not enough to do an admin job that pays below average wage. After a few years of trudging to work with toddlers for a pittance , I decided to jack it in and stay at home and write. Despite some published non fiction, I am becoming less and less productive. For a completer finisher, working from home is a challenge. I can't even write a Trip Advisor review without being interrupted by a shitty nappy or the tragedy of a broken toy, expressed by a five year old melting down in operatic style. I crave deep thought, being lost in a task, being paid for doing something because someone values my contribution. I want to feel like an adult again, and not some aimless soul hanging around the school gates, praying that someone might just invite me out for a coffee. Five years of 'the wheels on the bus' and I'm about to swear in public in front of infants. Baby groups are great for babies but I'm a woman with needs, and I need a job.

So 2012 will see me dusting off the old C.V. I've lost a heel pulling it free from that rail, my confidence is bruised, my self esteem workwise is at an all time low. There's a recession on, who wants to employ this old mother. How can two years at home teach you any skills anyone paying money could use in an employee? Here are a few of the skills developed out on the floor of domesticity.

Ability to focus on budgets and decision making whilst being interrogated and abused - shopping with son who can pester every three seconds until your head explodes.

Jobbing Head Chef. Master chef has nothing on me. I can cook with a toddler clinging to my leg as another child uses the mini parsnips as Minotaur horns to headbutt mŷ arse.

Tardiness is not an option. Can rise early after little sleep.

Can work without a lunch break and view toilet visits as a luxury.

Can tolerate physical and mental abuse as part of the daily routine.

Despite being 5ft I can restrain the violent and carry heavy loads. Need a packhorse or punchbag, I'm your woman. Ummm, time to think again.

Too much time at home and you forget what you can do and what you have achieved. So here goes, a potted history of my money making exploits so far. Supervisor in a private bank, compliance bod, cancan dancer, cancan teacher, Office manager , PA, library mistress, author, blogger. Most bizarre acts performed for money include scouring the North Laines for a diamanté necklace for a chocolate dog and showing my frilly knickers on a windy pier . I have written a book in two months whilst breast feeding a newborn baby, written a collection of short stories after hours when the kids are asleep upstairs, sold burlesque vintage on a stall in the middle of winter, six months pregnant, jolly in red lipstick and an ill fitting coat. After the sale of some hot pink nipple tassels I wondered why I was making life so hard for myself for such little return. I bet Jordan doesn't have to do this I sighed, too busy in the warm writing or dictating atrocious books.

So why am I not earning a living writing? Why do I continue to fanny about with random jobs and money making schemes. Because unless there is money on the table you cannot justify a baby sitter, you may as well ask people to cover whilst you take a daytime jaunt to the pub. I want to write for my supper , pen prose for a bigger house, buy my husband a Christmas present that has not been paid for from the proceeds of refuelling an aircraft or changing its tyres in a gale force wind.

Caring for kids is the toughest job I have ever done, and however rewarding it simply doesn't pay. I asked my son what my role was and he answered cooking and washing up. He doesn't remember me doing anything else. I want to inspire my children , lead by example , let Pearl see that women can earn a living as well as breed and nurture. I am an educated, flexible, resilient and creative woman looking for some work. Until that money is slapped onto the table ill keep on penning of an evening, my short story collection WILL be ready to download by the spring. In the meantime I am not averse to selling the odd nipple tassel in the snow. You never know, I may meet a literary agent, failing that my next lead character , no encounter is a wasted experience in the life of a writer.

So I may be little and I'm definitely a woman. The train destined for unemployable my be hurtling towards me but I am slipping off my heels and letting it pass. I'm not the little woman but a fighter , a writer refusing to drop the dream. Because upon closer inspection that train's destination is not unemployable but zero self confidence. Only I can stop that train flattening me in my tracks. I'm getting in the driver seat and beeping my horn. This mother is ready for action next stop literary acclaim, get your tickets ready this will no longer be a free ride. Toot, toot!

The imagery for the heel stuck in the rails was inspired by an afternoon trip to the post office as part of my office duties. I got a heel stuck in a pavement grill and had to be rescued by a woman who hands were clad in gold sovereigns. I later realised that I only had to slip off my shoe to escape. Nothing is wasted if you file it away.

Michelle Porter is looking for work....

Monday, 21 November 2011

Let the 99% wear Westwood.

Photo captures authors best bits from Bexhill Charity shops collection 2010

"Of course, they will say, 'What is she doing, she's selling a designer collection, how can she be against consumption?' Well, you have to consume things, of course, you have to live, you have to eat. And I'm not saying don't go to the discotheque, they can do that. I'm just saying go less, do other things." She sighs. "It's so much to tackle."
Vivianne Westwood

I love Vivianne Westwood. For her tangerine tresses, her gentle Derbyshire accent and my corset collection,all inspired by her cleavage uplifting designs. She is majestic, ethereal , putting two fingers up to a society that worships at the altar of youth, at seventy she is still radical, still cool. She creates fantasy and beauty, garments and looks that I have copied but never owned. She was still creative after conception and I doff my feathered cap to her simply for that. But when she talks politics I am bemused, either she doesn't explain herself very well or she is as confused as I am.

Politically , I can't relate to a lot of what's going on around me at the moment. It is as though words and deeds are strangers to each other. Questions and answers are no longer bedfellows. The world is full of soundbites statements and blame. Celebrities preaching to the masses from their podiums of hypocrisy like latter day Marie Antionettes. I cant even bear listening to politicians. Everyone is pointing the finger at someone else.

Take fashion for example. The root of global warming and human expolitation is often attributed to a consumer demand for fashion novelty and cheap clothes. Blame the poor for shopping at Primark they cry from their window seat in first class as they looki down on their third home twinkling down below. Vivianne Westwood believes that we should buy less but better, choose well and save up for quality garments . So do I , but when a designer skirt costs my wardrobe budget for the year , we are living on different planets. I need boots, socks, knickers , jumpers... you get the yarn i'm spinning.

We are led to believe that buying quality is buying ethically, the research I have done says otherwise. The high street stores are cut from the same cloth , price buys brand not ethical guarantees. Designers are no better and some sources rate famous politically outspoken designers as shamefully poorly on ethical and environmental standards. Agencies that support and champion textiles workers suggest that the answer is not to boycott large companies but to lobby them for better working conditions and environmental practices. Setting up small independent outlets does nothing to address the welfare of thousands of textile workers around the world. I'm confused, Vivienne is right ,it's so much to tackle.

When it comes down to it ,we are all hypocrites. Most people do not purposely or directly harm those less fortunate, but we are all mixed up together,in a system that does. Westwood flies to China, but she doesn't use a washing machine. I have shopped in Primark but have never driven a car and haven't done a long haul flight for years. We all do our bit to save and destroy our planet and society. Very few of us are innocent , so perhaps its time to stop pointing the finger at' each other and towards workable solutions. Preaching doesn't win many converts these days. I love drama, fine speeches and spectacle as a form of protest, but I also like realism, I also want to listen to the unsung heros who understand the system and work to change it from within. People who do not tar the general population as television drugged zombies too stupid to see the truth. The truth is in their pay packets or lack of it. I think we understand what's going on, we just don't know what to do about it.

I'm not a Marxist or an ist of any kind, but we can still learn a lot from good old Karl. In my opinion the solutions to the material ills of the world lie in the simple slogan 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs)' That we should contribute what we are physically and materially able to, that we should not take more than we need. Vivianne uses her celebrity and artistry to highlight the cause, this is her ability. What the hell am I going to do? If I was Viv i'd set up a company that is ethical from root to tip. That supplies the goods people need and can afford . I can get my fashion fix from charity shops and car boot sales but when the children desperately need a vital item in a specific size at the right price, the high street meets the demand. Unfortunately I don't have the money or expertise to set this up but in the meantime I can clean up my own act a little by doing the following.

1. Use a cobbler . It may cost £7 but it's still cheaper than new shoes.
2. Research the ethical practices of companies I use and let them know if I think they stink. I can send letters and emails from my humble abode.
3. Fly the charity shop flag-(unless they are 5ft and live in Lewes-keep away from my patch!)
4. Save up my £4 a week smoking money and save up for some shoes by Melissa. This may be regularly plundered to pay the gas.
5. Get a milkman. Those plastic bottles mounting up are my biggest shame.This may be more expensive. I may have to plunder the shoe fund yet again.

"I think all we can hope for is public opinion, that's the only thing that will save us.' Vivienne Westwood at OLSE.

If the occupy protests, green movements and anti capitalists want public opinion on their side they need to credit the working class with some intellegence. Need to respect their experiences and why they make the choices they make. A lot of people are new to political thought and protest and the occupations are radical, they take a while to get your head around. Just because many people can't see how it will work does not mean that they are bigots. I desperatley hope that the message will not be lost by medium of expression. 99% of us are angry at the same people about the same thing. I might nip over to Brighton and talk to people occupying there, change is afoot and we all need our voices in the mix.

If Vivianne turns up I shall tell her about my idea you never know, anything is possible in these times. I could be dressing my children in Red capes made from recycled sacks embossed with the golden orb of the queen of fashion. Now wouldn't that be fabulous!

For ethical shoes -Vegan, ethical and sexy-Yes Please Father Christmas

For great small businesses who exploit only themselves take a peek at Employing women in the comfort of their own homes

Monday, 7 November 2011


My heart knows it is wrong, but I cannot bear to lose you. Knowing that you will no longer touch my lips, darkens me. You have always been there. Watching the waves crash from Ocean to shore, dancing under the giddy lights with me. I breathed life with you but you made me suffer. I shivered in the cold for you, sought your company even when I was sick , fouled myself with your poison. You took advantage of me when I was drunk, I even lied to my loved ones for you. You threatened to kill me but wouldn't tell me when. Luring me day after day into an uncertain future Despite all this I miss you every moment,minute and hour. You caught me young and now there is nothing to compare to you. Our dirty little affair has come to an end.

I've given up smoking. Again. When a four year old berates you in the street, when you are shamed as a smoker at the school gates by your son's friends, it's time to face facts. It's not just about me anymore. I never smoked during pregnancy , it seems that giving up for me is linked to someone else. I could never give up for myself, my pop psychology puts the blame at the door of catholism. Oh who am I kidding, I just love a good old fag.

Sad perhaps, but I simply loved smoking. It gave me time out, helped me breath, relieved the loneliness of an evening. It's not true love however, it's an addiction. I will never fully relax around smoke, my brain is different to those who have never puffed a cancer stick It always will be. My first post natal cigarette in the front garden was bliss. I slipped back in an instant, the surrender was divine.Without the cigarettes there will always be something missing. Russell Brand hit the nail on the head when he described addiction as punctuation mark. Without a cigarette , i need to learn to pause differently.

So yes, I will miss you, there will always be something missing. But hopefully not one of my limbs, a lung or me altogether. It's an unattractive smelly, business. Not glamourous, big or clever. But in memory of the good times I dedicate this picture to smoking. When I was young enough to think that wrinkles and cancer were elsewhere and that a fag in hand could still look hot.

In the meantime I will be punctuating my evening with a bag of Twiglets.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

My past in boxes

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
William Morris

Somewhere near Bexhill on Sea my past sits in boxes. The garage of mum and dad being far cheaper than the a local firm wanted to charge for the safekeeping of my shabby chic and boho tat. I could rent a bigger house for that! The owner looked shocked at my reaction, (yes I did say it out loud!). Storage is a growing industry apparently and in these times of austerity people are still emotionally attached to collections of things they can longer afford to house. People feel they need bigger houses beacause they simply own too much stuff. In this scenario we are not slaves to our mortgages but slaves to piles of junk. And when our lives are over it will be somebody else sorting through it and piling it into binbags, facing the agonising choice of what you would have wanted them to keep.

Preempting the need to downsize, I began to cull my collections, binbag my belongings. If it was neither use nor ornament it was out on its ear. I began to distill my object d'art, to cut the wheat from the chaff, everything left would please my eye or my mind. I began to curate the exhibition of my life so far. The final sort and cuts come this weekend. The last boot fair of the season, the charity shop runs will re commence and I will be left with the things I value, those items I can afford to house. In this retrospective, cabinet space has so far been reserved for the following items, things that I cannot part with, things that have no or little monetary value. The less we have the more we value and these are a few of my favourite things. If I were to give an exhibition of myself these items would have to be included. There will be no back room with a warning to parents and the elderly, my parents read this blog...

Exhibit One: A quiet child Large home developed, dogged eared, black and white photos C 1974. Taken by art students in a garden in West Dulwich. I pose with my young parents in a mini tartan dress and white pigtails. It was summer, it was always sunny in the 70's.

Exhibit Two First Loss: A 34 year old walnut uncracked. Presented to my grandfather when he was dying from a stroke. My nan kept it until she died and I have kept it ever since.

Exhibit three: Pages that will turn forever 'Works of Dylan Thomas' a gift from my dad bought from the Cut market. 'The unbearable Lightness of being' Milun Kundera from the WHsmith Oxford st when I worked as a bored shop assistant. My Angela Carters! 'The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. 'If nobody speaks of remarkable things' Jon Mcgregor and many other yellowing editions that have moved from bookcase to shelf over the years.

Exhibit four : Dreams and fates Russian wooden egg painted as a Gypsy fortune teller. Brought by my sister from Moscow where she trained with the Kirov as a child.

Exhibit Five: Letters home Box of letters from my teenage husband written whilst he served in the airforce. From my sisters and a now notorious comedian written to me at uni. An ode to a time when we took the trouble to take pen to paper and in such a formal way. These documents literally read like antiques. A rare find.

Exhibit Six: The Theatrical Years Red petticoat and black velvet frilled knickers. A red felt heart is stitched onto the back (made by Butress and Snatch) they were worn for numerous can can performances. The tiniest ever chartreuse green bustier, customised with green glass beads and metallic green slingbacks (worn for a green fairy routine). A powdered wig adorned with birds, pearls and roses sits on a white china bust (wig for a high kicking Marie Antionette routine ) A collection of corsets from Magick, Velda lauder, Vollers, and Glitzy Tarts.

Exhibit Seven: My eyes never tire of beholding you A collection of artworks. Small painting of Sappho in gold Frame by Menguin (repro). Picture of demure woman undressing in her boudoir in black ink by Dorian Drake (original). The girl with a plastic bag on her head Hendrick Kerstens. Some beautiful prints that still have no frames. A task for the curator.

Exhibit Eight Gothic Tendencies: Vintage, velvet, black cape with tattered lining and metallic clasp. Bought Kensinton Gardens, Brighton. Worn in the woods and out to dinner. A gothic comfort blanket. Robert smith of the Cure's red lipstick print on a Selfridges compliment slip (original)

Exhibit Nine Simple Jewels: Amythyst and silver ring from The Great Frog, Carnaby St. 18th Birthday gift from husband. Moonstone wedding ring Curioser & Curioser, Brighton. Granfather's Gold and Pearl tie pin from Newmarket, a prize won when he raced as a jockey. Child's pearl necklace bought for daughters first christmas.

Exhibit Ten: Micellaneous writings. Beatrix Potter pastiche 'The little Grey Mouse" written in red felt tip with illustrations. 'Spirit Bottle" Original script of the play performed at the Marlborough theatre Brighton, includes the programme. Short film script and play script written for PG Dip, various short stories ,essays and drafts. Published copy of 'The Beginners guide to Capoeira'.

I will not pay to store things that I do not use, but I am human and a sentimental one at that. Be it photos, quirky clothing or letters ,their value lies in the memories and history they help me share. I am choosing wisely so that the things I own do not dictate where I live. I can be ruthless but not too harsh, because I am looking forward to the day when the kids squeal 'You wore that!" Some of the things I own have been beautifully made by somebody and they deserved to be kept. A homage to the unknown artists and people who enriched my emotional, cultural and visual life. The tat can go but history will be preserved for posterity.

So yes, on Saturday tat be gone, you can't take it with you! I only wish i'd hung on to that crushed velvet fanny pelmet from Thunderspussy.....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Land ahoy! I have made it to forty...

This time forty years ago I was about to make my debut south of the river. Kings College Hospital Lambeth, just up from the arches where my great grandfather stabled the horse that pulled his rag and bone cart in Camberwell Green. Somewhere in the the building a Beatles daughter had been born. My mother was served her tea on a silver tray, rock royalty and commoners were treated alike in the NHS. She never did get to spy Paul Mcartney from her hospital bed, but I lucked out that day. My dad was not a Beatle but a striking postman, my mother a professional in the business of common sense and selfless love. I'd hit the jackpot, this pair would always be there for me.

It's just another year but there's something about knocking on that paint chipped door of forty that makes you question what you have built for yourself inside, what you have achieved as a woman. Unfortunately personal success and achievement in our society are marked by a glittering career and money in the bank. As I opened the door to forty I expected to find a little more, I expected to at least own my home.That elusive career never did show itself and this dogged my thirties as I lurched from redundancy to cunning plans and artistic endeavours. I found my niche in literary fiction only to realise that it is of the hardest markets to crack, I have never made life easy for myself.

I spent a large part of my thirties beating myself up, I didn't need criticism I was too busy annihilating myself. I went to university full of passion, I would not just be a housewife, I would be a career woman. At forty I am a housewife, not because I'm a woman. but because I couldn't play the corporate game, say the right words at interviews and this is a revelation even to me, because deep down I didn't really want it . I'm not a suited go getter in Prada heels ,I am a thinker and an artist and my place is at home. Not behind a hoover but a keypad, being literary ,creating fiction. For my fortieth birthday I'm giving myself a break. I may be no Kate Moss but I've seen worse. Like Minnie the moocher, I may be small but my heart can be the size of a whale and i am often overwhelmed by the love that surrounds me.

Like my Romany ancestors I don't believe that a house is a home. It's the people that breathe life into a place , into your life. Sometimes when things are bad the Porter family cuddle up on the double bed. We tell each other we are on a ship and that the only thing that matters is what's on board. We could go anywhere. Tomorrow is not only my 40th but speak like a pirate day. The good ship Porter is ready to sail forward into the unknown. Its captains have weathered many a storm together, king George and Pearl are ready for action as we face the perilous ocean ahead. As I take to the high seas of my forties I am confident in my crew.

Tomorrow as I hit forty I finally realise that life is simply an accumulation of moments, not a constant stock take or judgement day. Be you the daughter of a postman or a Beatle you get the life you get, by giving myself a break I am loving life in all its complexity and simplicity. Giving myself a break feels bloody marvellous, who cares if I'm a financial ruin, I once wore a powdered wig to the Cafe Royal, have spent twenty three years bathed in the most beautiful blue light of my lover's eyes. These are a few of my humble achievements and all those colourful mistakes and follies are all fodder for my fiction. I may have to wield my cutlass for writing time on this crowded ship ,but I'm taking it one day at a time. Here's to all those who have sat through the performance so far! This is no curtain call by a long shot.

Michelle porter 1971 to ....... Whenever fate fancies

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I Heart London but it's a little broken

I am a Londoner but I don't live there anymore. My family started with a kiss on Clapham Common, I shopped with my mother in Croydon, teenaged in Brixton, many of the people I love still live there. London will always be in my heart because it started beating there.

Seeing pictures of it burnt out, people frightened, ugly scenes of riot shields and crowds running amok took me right back. Right back to being a child when loud voices outside the house could be the riots spreading into our street and when a neighbour invited my mother out on a trip to join in the looting. Brixton was a few miles away but the fear spread across South London, I was the kind of child that worried and imagined the worst would erupt at any moment, I used to lay in bed worrying about German bombers FFS.

Brixton gradually got better, became buzzier in a good way, people started to see it as cool. But i'm not sure people's lives really changed or that the problem got sorted. deprivation and trouble moved elsewhere, further out to places that lacked vibrancy, facilities and access to the things that make living in London great. South London has always had a moody edge, i'm just surprised it has taken this long to finally erupt.

And so it erupts and I feel sad and anxious for many reasons. That life is only going to get tougher, people poorer and the streets more dangerous, that division and racism will rear their ugly heads. I'm still that worrier , on a bad day my visions resemble armaggedon. Now I worry for my children and what the future of Britain will hold for the young. Whatever happens our world is changing. Wether or not it descends into increased deprivation and violence depends on how we change with it. There are enough resources, knowledge, and love to go round and now is the time to share it.

I am a londoner and watching it burn was heartbreaking. I am English and I am terrified as I watch the flames spread. My family is made of different races, we share cultures and wisdoms and are richer for it. At the moment I feel pretty bleak but in these times we turn to family and I hope that as a society we defend and mend our communities together, wherever our hearts started beating.

On a lighter note, Lewes is quietly middle class as usual, but i'm now worrying about bonfire night....

Monday, 1 August 2011

A Perfect Day (for muck spreading)

Status update No. 1: Our glorious summer trip begins with a drive to the Lavender Railway, for billowing steam and a vintage style picnic by the tracks. I'm having a good hair day, my coral clog sandals and 40's inspired dress add to the vintage feel of the adventure. We hop back into the car and our frolicsome four head off to find an archeological dig. They've unearthed a Roman bathhouse and we can't wait to see the golden mosaic tiles, They have activities for our little Ceaser too! And then to the river for a cooling glass of alcoholic ginger beer after posing by the Edsel for our friends on facebook to coo over upon our return. Much river rambling later and we return to Lewes for supper at the Grange. A leek and goats cheese frittata made with the leftovers from last weeks shop. As the heat of the sun fades we amble back to our bijou abode, holding hands as George skips ahead and Pearl sings in the pram, blackberry stains on her golden curls. As we lay in bed later that night with the smell of the countryside through the open window we cannot stop laughing...
Who the hell are we trying to kid. I laugh so hard I think I will stop breathing....Another day with the Porters and we are delirious. The smell through the window is manure, so pungent you can literally smell the shit.
I've been laying it on with a trowel here, did you notice?

Status update mark two: The day begins and the four of us squash into the Ford Fiesta. Ignoring the carpet of crisps underfoot I imagine the Lavender railway, sitting pretty on upholstered carriage seats as the Sussex countryside rolls by. The budget packed lunch of pickled gherkins and peanut butter sandwiches won't matter as a suited guard clips our tickets. Why oh why after 40 years of life do I still insist on imaging the world through rose tinted retro glasses. For a pessimist I have a fabulous imagination. The Orient express it is not. Not even a carriage awaits and we board what can only be described as a cattle truck that may have been used in a film about Nazi Germany. The seats are torn and people try to smile as they peer through the bars, sooty steam blowing back into their faces. The staff are lovely but it's all about the engines and I feel as though I have been invited into my grandad's shed. I try not to sulk but I can't help it. I am that teenager on a family trip, only this time it's my family and I am responsible for this error of judgement. I pull myself together and have to admit that the billow of the steam is impressive, I grit my teeth as we travel backwards and forwards along a short piece of track. We find a little bench and unpack our lunch. We try to be philosophical about the smell of the countryside until we realise that the stench is a leaking nappy and we head to the car for an emergency trip home. A change of outfit is paramount.

We will not be deterred. The Archeaolgical dig awaits. It boasts stalls, activities, a peep at the Roman remains and it's free! My obsessive use of Twitter is at last justified!
In short, it's a pile of rubble. I kick myself for believing the hype as we walk back to the car. All that dust hasn't done my coral clogs any favours. The river is indeed beautiful, but there is only so much relaxation to be done with a kamikaze toddler in tow, I notice that romantic types are kissing behind the reeds and calculate that canoodling by the riverbed cannot be done without babysitters for about twelve years. To the trusty pub, an iced alcoholic ginger beer can never disappoint, not even the wasps put me off. They have stopped serving chips and dinner looms as a disorganised mess. It's ok I chirp, I have goats cheese, leeks and eggs at home, we can picnic at the Grange. A tantrum ensues , it is never wise to shortchange George on a promise of chips.

As I chop the leeks I feel bohemian and spontaneous on this summers evening. Until I open the fridge and realise we are out of milk. I carry the omelette mess in a tiffin tin with a bottle of wine and the rest of the gherkins to the Grange, in my quest for the perfect summer's day I will not be beaten. Halfway through our picnic we are advised that the grounds will be closing early due to an open air play. I am galled that I did not see this advertised, I bet it would have been fantastic . sitting on a travel rug, hamper full of..... Oh Michelle listen to yourself. You get cramp and eaten alive by midges.
Wake up and smell the muck speading. There is rarely such a thing as a perfect day however much we spin our status updates. But where there's muck there's a laugh and I haven't had such a hoot in ages.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

We all have little scars on our heart. Pain that has healed over to help us love, laugh and live again. Every so often these hidden marks are lightly touched and although they no longer bleed they are still painful when unexpectedly prodded, the fingers of other people's news opens up old wounds.

Although I didn't know her or see her perform, she has often sung into my ear as I walked along the street, I have danced with her, she accompanied my sister as she walked towards her groom on her wedding day. Like millions of others I didn't know Amy, but when I heard of her death one of the scars of my heart was touched. Her life like many light and easily cut free, heavy in the burden of loss that is repeated so many times throughout the centuries and thousands of times a day. It may be fake to cry for a woman we did not know but we should always be touched lest we lose our humanity.

In Camden Town shrines are being built, sick jokes are told, her songs are being played, people jostle to tell their story of her. She was a celebrity and so she becomes public property, like a cartoon figure it can be easy to forget that she was real. The biggest trajedy of all is not that a genius has been lost prematurely but that the natural order of a family has been broken , a mother and father will have to bury their own child. This is what touched one of my scars. I have been witness to this trajedy a few times in my life so far and it is not a sight I ever wish to see again. When I listen to her music now I will think of the fact that however close you hold your children they will find their own way , lightly given, lightly taken. Sometimes this love is so heavy it is unbearable.

I didn't know her but her death touched me, reminded me that each person we love is only one and that eventually they will be blown away as a feather. This is the unbearable lightness of being. The heaviness is that which is left behind.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Music to wash cups by

Domesticity. Grist for the mill, but do we really want to hear about it. No, me neither. 'Write about what you know' they say. I am laying down my own personal creative gauntlet. You may not want to hear it, but i'm cranking up the sound anyway. This is high kitchen sink drama an ipod epic, a survival guide for behind closed doors.

Friday Night: Barefoot in the kitchen listening to Edif Piaf 'Ma Vie en Rose'. The air is humid and her sweet sorrow fills me. I am Juliette Bincohe from 'Chocolat' as I stir the Sag Panner. I am the little sparrow as I warble along, a five foot urchin in the back streets of Paris. I am not a fading star at forty, but a tragic Diva plunging the dishes into very hot water.

Friday Night: I want to go out dancing. Imelda May is singing of Handsome Devils and she gets my foot tapping. I dance through the daily grind. Knickers shaken and hung out with a burlesque flourish, I shimmy and lindy hop before I tackle the towels. Domesticity is no obstacle as I lasso a tea towel around my head, i'm getting a little over excited and I haven't even opened the wine. I strut down the short hallway running out of space, I shimmy my shoulders to the sound of dirty trumpets and enter am empty bathroom. Life's too short to clean the loo on a Friday night. A night that will end in broken glass and our four year old son buggering off out with his new friends as we settle down to a night by the disused gas fire.

Saturday Morning: Amy Winehouse 'Frank' as I wash the wine bottles from our night in. 'You should be stronger than me" I croak and wail. I wish i'd washed up the curry things from the night before. I go all South London and sassy, the aubergine cubes clogg the plughole adding a little urban grit as I unplug the sink. Pearl Rose crawls in and tugs at my leg. A bit of Led Zepplin methinks. She's that type of little lady. I hope the rain will stop soon as the accidentally broken window may let water in. No drunken dramas here. Just a heavy hand closing an old sash . Luckily the passing dog walker was not injured. George returned home at 10.30pm off his face on fudge cake, reporting that the neighbours have a boat in their lounge. They do.

Saturday Morning Second Sink Load: My hands are submerged in the boiling water. I can never get the mixer tap thing right. The rain is pummelling the poppy heads in the garden and the trees quiver in the short bursts of breeze. The steam from the water creates mist on the kitchen window. My view of the garden is temporarily blurred. I am listening to Goldfrapp's 'Felt Mountain' her voice mainlines into the quietest part of my soul , the beautiful bit that i'm proud of , the bit that makes me strong. I remember I have to wash my hair before Pearl wakes up and run a bath to the ethereal strains of Goldfrapp's 'Horses Head'. I feel decadent as i wipe the sink with a make up wipe.

Saturday Lunch: Man and boy are back from a Claws and Jaws petting party. Man's eyes are glazed but George got to hold a coackroach. We're all getting on top of each other this wet weekend and the ipod dock has run out of juice. Houmous and pitta prepared to the music of the house. The moan of the washing machine, muffled television , the singing of toys. I am granted a pass out of here and walk to the Union music store. They have free American folk music on a saturday.

Saturday Night Dinner-it's a wrap: Twenty four hours later and Juliette Binoche has left the building. The sky outside is grey and threatens more rain. Morrissey sings of there being a place in the sun for everyone as George saturates the kitchen window with his water pistol. As I slam the onion onto the chopping board there is nothing else for it, its time to get in touch with my masculine side. Cue Led Zepplin and a 'Whole Lotta love' . Nothing beats rockin out when the mood strikes, nothing beats Led Zepplin full stop. A brief respite in the sublime before it's back to the grind. All this excitement has worn me out. I decide to have a quiet night in.

Dance as though no is watching. Don't you dare! Dance as though you have an audience of thousands and a backing band to boot. That way you'll give the performance of a lifetime every time. Women of the nation, shake a tail feather as you unload the dishwasher, samba with the mop , shimmy for England as you stir the pot, inject some drama into the domestic.

I notice that the ipod dock is often in the kitchen when I return from my daily jaunts. The hoovering and washing up done, his large marigolds hanging over the tap.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Because we are all 'worth it'

As she shakes her silky hair she tells us we are 'worth it'. When we buy our children the latest treat it is because we love them. When we are bought frivolous gifts it is because we are special. In an age of austerity is it about time we stopped attaching such emotional importance to the things we can no longer afford to buy?

As I approach 40 I have to admit that I am not a naturally thrifty woman by nature. I love beautiful things and have spent many a pound on decadent shoes and wallpaper that was so fine I wanted to peel it from the walls when I moved house.I am cursed with the affliction of having a good eye for detail in these matters and it has cost me dearly. I admired and wanted not only their beauty but the warm feeling of treating myself , to reward myself , to cheer myself up. Sometimes I even shopped in anger. After a bad morning in the office I charged into town and bought some hot, red ankle boots. Don't get me wrong I flaming enjoyed those boots, but it is only in retrospect that I understand my erratic purchasing treats and i'm not alone. Many of us buy things as a way of self medication as a way of telling ourselves we are worth it. The fact is, we are all worth it, the question should be, can we still afford it? There is no shame in being down at heel if you are going through tough times. Pulling your belt in should not be seen as an indicator of low self esteem but a good measure of common sense.

It is not only the things we buy ourselves that demonstrate our love. We are under increasing pressure to treat our children on a daily basis, as though a well turned out child is more loved than the next. It is as though buying that cheaper alternative for our cherished offspring is telling them that they are not worth it. It is a nonsense that has to stop. You cannot gild a lily , nothing that money can buy competes with that winning smile. Parents are encouraged to use sweet treats and gifts to reward good behaviour. They can have it when they have deserved it, when they have earned it. At some point wether they deserve it or not becomes immaterial . Many people simply cannot afford it despite working hard , despite being worth it. When we put so much store in the material, it is no wonder that purchasing power and self esteem are so inextricably linked.

So yes, at almost forty i'm still not a naturally thrifty woman, but old dogs can certainly learn new tricks. I put that critical eye to great effect in charity shops and sales, I am the bionic woman with my eagle eye. Beautiful presents will still be gratefully accepted on the big day but if times are tough let's just clink glasses. We are all in it together, not seperated by love tokens that don't tell us how much we are worth, but how much our family and friends currently have in the bank.

Buying a new pair of shoes today was about a hole in a sole not a hole in my soul and yes they were red. Old habits die hard and at half their original price they were most definitely worth it.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Not drowning but waving

"When people ask, 'How are you?' have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you…" Mayo Angelo.

When the parish priest asked my nan how she was one Sunday after mass, she lent on her stick and let rip " To be honest, I just feel like jumping in the river and letting my hat float. " My nan could moan for England and although her constant rants about her "bloody knees", and the rising prices on the Streatham High Road drove us up the wall, I'm beginning to admire her sentiment. We live in age where putting on a front and being positive have reached critical mass, as though saying how you really feel is akin to wetting yourself in public.

The Internet is teeming with chat rooms and forums full of people pouring their hearts out. Many are lonely, some depressed others seem close to letting their hats float. Nobody has asked them how they are but they feel a need to tell someone because everyone they meet seem to be coping so well. They are referring to the followers of the new cult of positive thinking. Having a moan about relentless toddler tantrums, financial hardship or hating your job is letting the side down. People have become fearsome with their evangelical Zeal, Negative comments or moans are shot down with withering one liners "Oh it's not that bad". " I wouldn't go that far" or my personal favourite ' You just get on with it". I find this brand of pathological positivity oppressive and I'm nowhere near a river in my hat.

I feel like an idiot abroad, if someone asks me how I am I tell them, it was the way I was brought up. I do not expect sympathy or solutions I'm just not a very good actress, I can't help it if my personality is not in vogue. In my mind it is not positive thinking that improves your life it's taking action. A shitty situation is a shitty situation. Brushing it under the carpet with a smile is simply storing up more cleaning for later on, I'm all for dragging the carpet out and giving it a good beating. Some things in your life need changing, not looking at from a different angle with a false grin on your face. Am I the only one that finds moaning hilarious? It lies at root of much of our British comedy , much more of this forced jollity and we won't have anything left to laugh about.

My grandmother never did jump in that river. She lived into her eighties surviving the last rites by six months. She was a woman who danced her way through the blitz but had no truck with the stiff upper lip. People may have looked the other way when they saw her coming but there was no denying she was a tough old bird because most of the time there is no choice but to get on with it, it's a given isn't it. If I've learned anything it is that people don't always want to hear it and the world has it's place for sunny types. But there is also a place for people who like a good old fashioned moan and you may just find, if you let your guard down a little, people won't just smile and cross the street they'll seek you out. Not for sympathy or solutions but for a little bit of recognition. It's not drowning but waving, because we all have to get on with it, it's just comforting to know we are all swimming in the same river.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Eastbourne -Where Magical Realism was Born

As I pushed Pearl Rose out into the blazing sun, I felt as though my heart had been kissed and punched simultaneously. Having been discharged from EDGH Pediatrics outpatients clinic, we were leaving its foyer for the final time. Moving into the future away from Eastbourne, a place that had broken and made me all at once. The lesson that some daughters can be saved and that others can't. How lucky I was to be walking out directly into that day.The bitter sweet feelings I experienced as I marched forward into this summmer's afternoon were sublime and brittle in the stop of a heart. I felt the overwhelming magic of being human.

Over the last five years this concrete theatre of life has been the stuff of dreams and nightmares ; of new beginnings, near misses and final curtains. Within those walls I witnessed miracles and lost a friend. Behind it's closed doors and hospital curtains I have sat in various states of pain, wonder and trauma. The butchery of the birthing room, the lonely nights nursing tiny offspring weak as fledgling birds. one fed by a tube into his nose, one born with her eyes wide open but no fat on her minute body. The floodlit trauma of A & E, where I sat and calmly counted 16 health professionals arrive to care for my boy. Wheeling them both into the x-ray suite, one after a fall down a full flight of stairs, one struggling for breath as the pneumonia took grip of her lungs. The pain of being told that you have lost a child and the elation of seeing her days later pulsing 4mm big, a miracle the size of a Pearl on a hospital screen. The first scan of my unborn boy looked as though he was being cradled by an angels wing, when we walked out of the foyer back to the car it had started to snow.

My house in Eastbourne overlooked the hospital and as I took a break from my writing I would look down onto its ugly spread, it's chimney smoking come snow or shine and I would often marvel at how much of who I am was made within those walls. Such Realism, such Magic. I have since found out that Angela Carter the mother of magical Realism was born in Eastbourne and I can't wait to tell my children that they are in good company. One day I will write about its corridors , it's lamp lit wards at night and the octogenarians in their dressing gowns and matching slippers, whose best advice for fighting pneumonia was to keep the babies fingernails clean.I won't write about its realism but its magic and in the spirit of Angela Carter even the Porters will have gilded wings.

Meanwhile the baby has started to cry and I tut as I glance at my unfinished glass of wine. Too much magic and I may burst. Goodbye Eastbourne you've been emotional.

Nothing is a matter of life and death except life and death.
Angela Carter

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

These are not posters for the NSPCC, but fashion shots selling couture to grown women.

There has been much talk of the sexualistion of children, of dressing them more modestly to deter pedophiles. Of banning padded bras and stopping the intense marketing of cosmetics to increasingly younger consumers. Whilst I am in favour of retailers being held to account over such vile marketing and tacky products, I have been deep in thought this week pondering the beauty ideal persistently promoted by the media and how this in turn promotes the sexualistaion of very young girls. Are we further sexualising children by promoting a pre pubescent ideal to women, through constant media images of thin as the beauty ideal?

Small hips and breasts, thin thighs and tiny waists are all pretty standard catwalk requirements and like haute couture, represent a high ideal in the beauty industry. Although the models like the clothes are otherworldly, their aesthetic filters down into the mainstream and in turn many a female gazes up. Its unobtainable quality adds to its desirability.

Shape GB, the first ever national sizing survey of children, cites the average waist for an 11 year old British girl as 27 inches. Considering fashion models average 23/23 inches, many children have surpassed the given beauty ideal by the time they hit puberty. This is why, until recently. many models were under 16. Parents may worry that their children are being encouraged to grow up too quickly, whilst they in turn are terrified of losing their childlike frames. Looking like a child is increasingly being equated with sexual attractiveness and this is far more worrying than the headline grabbing padded bra. Constant images, unlike a few saleable products, cannot be removed from the shelves. They seep into our consciousness from an early age and may take generations to undo.

The model in the photos above is over eighteen .

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pink Stinks and I'm up to my neck in its signature scent

I knew the rot was setting in when I wondered aloud why Bob the builder was wearing earrings. It happened to be a female character and as a sociology graduate I was rightfully ashamed of myself. I deserved to be put in the stocks and have Haralambos text books thrown at me. I've been devouring gender stereotyping theories since I was 16. I've taken two term courses on feminist literature, written dissertations on the matter and here I was with a son, knee deep in Thomas the Tank Engine, stubbing my toe on diggers as I hung out his blue pants.

Fast forward a few years and one daughter later, I am again hanging out the washing. (No this will not descend into the tiresome division of labour debate.) I stand back and realise that I have created an entire pink wash, we've later renamed this the "Barbie load." Why does a woman who swore never to marry in white or shave her legs, buy her female offspring a pocket mirror that tells the infant peeping into it that she has pretty hair. It was a Bob in earrings moment and I decided I needed a kick up the proverbial.

Like everyone else I'm a product of my time. I played with Sindy dolls, devoured Enid Blyton and was force fed a Catholic doctrine, whose chief female role model was a compliant Virgin, so beautiful she never needed to wear make up, (According to Sr Francis.) I loved girly gubbins but my main passion was for books, and as I grew, the books became a bit more radical. I read Germaine Greer on the back of the bus for fun. So why was that poxy pink mirror with its cutesy voice irritating me from the toy box, as I sipped my wine? Because I detest Bob the builder, couldn't give a hoot if it's a digger or a fork lift truck and if I trip up on another Thomas figure again I'm going to kick it from here to Christmas. I hate boys toys, am sick of camouflage, dinosaurs and skulls. I went overboard in the opposite direction and now all this pink is making me feel a little sick.

It is time to be mindful. I am not above it all, just because I understand it. Meanwhile the mirror is no more. Tossed overboard on one of our jaunts out in the pram. Pearl Rose has now adopted George's fighter plane, it runs in the family but that's another story. Meanwhile I want to know why builders need to wear earrings at work?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I knew childbirth would hurt and that sleep would become the new sex. I'd heard the horror stories and braced myself for the early years of motherhood hell, but nothing prepared me for my new mantle of social leper. When I bought a pram they didn't tell me I may as well ring a bell to warn people I was coming. I have come to discover that mothers in public places are not revered but reviled. We buy extra large prams to bump you with on purpose and have the audacity to wheel our offspring into shops, taking up space that real customers may need to browse the goods. "That' s it go on. Take up half the shop and don't bloody buy anything" one Lewes shopkeeper ranted as I left. I gripped the pram handles swallowing an overwhelming urge to shout abuse back through the door. I veer between fishwife and weeping sap, I'm still the same person but positioned behind a pram, I'm a nuisance on three wheels.

And then there are the trains. They have these designated spaces for prams and wheelchairs just by the toilets, a pole position for anyone travelling with wheels. I can tuck myself out of the way instead of standing in the corridors trying to keep the pram stable despite its knackered brakes. It's dog eat dog near the toilets. I've been pushed aside and am regularly beaten to the spot by a man who likes to stretch out his legs as he eats his McDonald's breakfast. Sometimes when he sees me coming he pretends to be asleep. And then there are the bus drivers who tut as you take too long to fold up the pram, an infant wedged under your arm screaming blue murder. I don't expect people to help because i'm physically struggling, but it would be nice not to be harried, talked to like an imbecile or pushed out of the way. Like the day I struggled past the barrier with a few heavy bags and the nice guard carried them on for me-ah wait! That was the day I left the kids at home and didn't really need a burly man to help me with my things.

I don't expect people to fawn over my kids, just to respect the fact that my baby can't walk yet and that the pram is not an irritating gadget but a neccesity for the time being. One day my kids may be wiping YOUR arse, spending their money in your shops and if I've done a good job helping you onto the bus. My particular issue is a feminist issue , part of a broader problem of mutual respect and tolerance. I've decided to stop apologising for myself. Fishwives have a point. I'm not a sap but a mother with bruised calves, a short fuse and a right to go about my business.

I notice that the aforementioned Lewes shop is going out of business. I did smile as I pushed the pram up the cobbled hill.