Sunday, 28 February 2010


X went to bed wearing her crown last night and I woke up at two in the morning chewing pink cardboard. She chases me across the bed all night at the moment. She's getting bigger. Now her legs are heavy on mine. She rolls against me and I feel jostled and crowded and end up hanging off the side of the bed. I used to roll her back the other way but now she’s getting too heavy to do that easily. So now I just hop out of bed and run around and slip in the other side.

It means my nights sleep is broken up into chapters. I rather like it. There's nothing better than waking up and knowing that there is still more delicious sleep to wolf up. X talks sometimes. Yesterday she asked me, angrily, where the pig was - her day-time and night-time imaginings are therefore much the same: all Charlotte's Web. A red- spotted velveteen puppy is her pig. She's obsessed with  taking it to school like the girl in the film.  I'm trying to read the book to her but she prefers the film. If we're out of the house the book will do but the dvd cover is probably better because it has a photo of the pig on it.

This weekend we went to my parents. Their spare room bed is the one my mother was conceived in. I hope no one has died in it. I carefully haven't asked. I’m surprised the mattress is that young. My mother’s body is doing a lot better than the mattress, it's a lot more springy and firm. A hammock would give more support than that mattress. Sleeping on it speeds up the times that X rolls into me. I think I must have run around the bed to the other side about eight or ten times each night over the weekend. But the other side is always beautifully cool and it’s lovely in the night to slip into a new space. I don't know if it's the menopause or just the amount of clothing I wear to bed but I can get quite red and hot. Sometimes I even have to take off the bed socks and the jumper and strip right down to pyjamas. 

The far side of the bed has been less slept on and sometimes I can suspend myself on the edge of the downhill slope for almost five or ten minutes, before slowly rolling into the valley where X is rolling laboriously uphill to meet me.  We wake up face -to- face in the sagging valley in the morning and have a little chat, which is often the best bit of the day.

My mother has never understood the Scandinavian habit of duvets and the bed is always perfectly made with pristine sheets when we arrive. The eiderdown is white tufted cotton and it looks like a perfectly iced christmas cake when made properly. But, in the morning, what with all the the struggling for air and rolling either side, the bed looks as if its been the arena for a bout of heavy St Trinian's pillow fighting, if nothing else. It takes me hours of sweating to get it even slightly smooth and it ends up looking a bit like a homemade cake iced by me- all lumpy with the top sliding down the sides. Sometimes my mother will come in and help explain hospital corners to get the ends tucked in right. 

We went home last night. X wouldn't say thank you or goodbye to her grandmother when she left. On the way home she told me it was because she didn't want to leave. Neither did I. It's nice there, we both get looked after and have stewed apple and custard for lunch, our favourite. X also cried when I took her to her minder today which wrung my heart out. She tried to be brave and bit her bottom lip but then just as I was going it all came out in a big woosh of sobs that she just couldn't hold in. She said she wanted to go to work with me. I still left her, though, both her minder and me pretending gaily that she was fine because the minder had scooped her up and made her wave to me. The convenient fibs of adults. 

I'm living that same lie with X that middle aged redundant men practice when they're afraid to tell their wives that they have lost their jobs; she doesn't know that I have no work to go to. If she knew I came home again she would be devastated. But I have to get on job hunting. Please find a job for me soon, oh young digital world.  I'm not proud, I'd make the tea, work hard and I don't expect anything like the salary I was used to.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Yesterday I went to check out exactly how long and painful the route to a childminding business might be. Having been through the adoption process I’d an idea that I might find the introductory session a bit patronising and irritating but it turned out to be quite soothing, 

We spent the morning reading out parts of a poster while a nice lady spoke to us in a cheerful baby voice in the manner of a childminder talking to some preschoolers: ‘So how does a baby learn language? Yes! Good! We speak to him! Good work! Yes… and we can sing…excellent! Now, how does a baby learn to walk?’

There was plenty of time for my mind to wander so I started to actually imagine life as a childminder. Hmmm, cunning course - designed to be so boring as to let the mind actually wander into the subject. The more I thought about it the more I decided that maybe I’d like childminding. I rather like the idea of getting a lot of children to mind me.

For a start when you’ve got a load of children as chaperones  you can’t get involved with any silly adult pastimes like spending money on clothes, or indulging in unsuitable relationships, or working in advertising. You just stay in all day and play- while the children mind the house, I suppose.

Apparently nowadays childminders are only allowed six children under eight, which is a bit measly as Snow White got seven dwarves to whistle while they worked for her. Which one shall I drop? Dopey, I suppose, as the others will do better in work appraisals. Anyway, I’m thinking of taking a Sleeping Beauty type role so Dopey will be redundant.

My childminding business has a similar concept to  Damian Hirst's studio or Andy Warhol's factory: all the ideas and copyright mine, all creation done by my studio workers. I'm thinking of a range of Hirst like splatter stuff. Finger painting is another technique I might be able to develop commercially into ranges of wallpaper and fabrics. If Kath Kidson can do it with spots, and a few patterns stolen from her granny, how hard can it be?

I was just getting into the whole marketing of the thing when they turfed us all out. So I went and picked X up from her childminder. The minder was looking a bit tired. For some crazy reason she gets up at five thirty in the morning to prep the days meals. I told her where I’d been and she gave me a look. I can’t describe it exactly. Laughter? Fear? Then her husband came in and she told him and another look went between them. Hmmm: she probably feels a bit superior because she has to cut X’s fingernails as I’m too scared, oh- and she potty trained her, oh-  and taught her to eat at table, oh - and helped when I got sick from anxiety at work, oh -  and called my parents when I fell apart after being made redundant, oh - and basically has been a walking childcare manual.

After a good natter where she reassured me about my parenting abilities, gave me a few sensible pointers to the job, and at the same time brushed X's hair, put on her shoes and put another little one on a potty, I finally took X and myself off.  

It was the bus on way home that finally saw the flaw in the minding game: it’s not minding the children that’s the difficult bit, it’s minding the parents. 

Maybe teaching is more of a doddle, they never seem to care much about the parents, especially if it's a fee paying school.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


He was dreamed up by those clever Dreamworks people to appeal to all green women everywhere who have their fat days and their difficult parents. X and I reckon he's our type of man.

I’ll give you an example of X's thinking: we were measuring up a wardrobe outside a junk shop. I was wondering how we’d get it home and all the effort involved of getting it up the stairs. X said, quick as a flash: ”Shrek’ll do it.”

She’s got Bridget Jones ‘mention-itis’ about him at the moment. He’s her Colin Firth, no question, she’s his Princess Fiona. I used to be sad that her idea of Princes and Princesses wasn’t the first seeded by the brothers Grimm, but it’s hard to compete with millions of colour-flooded pixels exploding on the screen. And, to be fair, I think Disney informed my archetype imagery more than I like to pretend.

Of course, those clever Dreamworks lot know an anti-hero - that’s really a gorgeous hero- intimately. What woman wouIdn’t want a Shrek in her world? Ok, he may not have great manners, is a bit of an ogre at times and his friends are somewhat overtalkative. But  he adores Princess Fiona, is never happier than when his hands are all over her, even when she’s looking fat and green. He’s even got his own place. Yes, ok, it’s in a swamp, but it’s cosy and he sorts it out when they try to evict him. And he’d definitely be able to help out with a wardrobe.

Maybe if my idea of a Prince Charming had been a little less charm and a little more Shrek-like then I might now be happily married to a nice builder or carpenter or something and all my shelves would be perfect and all my wardrobes carried and X might have had a Daddy Shrek.

Yes, X, Shrek would sort the wardrobe, I like your thinking. On the other hand you can always pay three quid to get it delivered and not bother with any ogres, or Prince Charmings. It's really an awful lot easier in the long run. 

X isn’t the only one to have Prince Charmings have been on her mind. I got a romantic valentine email from William Blake the other day and, try as I do I cannot for the life of me imagine who might be bothering to transform themselves via google into a mad poet just for me. And it’s a bit upsetting that it does seem to bother me. 

But would X or I really want any prince Charming around these days, however Shrek- like and reliable? And would Shrek send a romantic email? I think not.

 PS: So we paid the men extra to deliver the wardrobe and carry it up the stairs.  They charged an extra tenner in the end and one of them asked if I was a teacher because I pointed where I wanted the wardrobe to go. Even though I measured up the wardrobe doesn't fit the space for some weird reason. It looks horrible and was so hard to get up there that I won't be able to ever get rid of it without paying loads more money to some other men. Shrek, where are you? 

Tuesday, 2 February 2010



X and I were at a christening recently and, just as the water was poured onto the baby’s head, she said, in her clear-bell voice:' I want to kiss your bottom'. Everyone turned to look. I don't know what made her say it but I do know what caused it.

Bathtime fun and games have been a big part of my daughter and I bonding together. In fact the very first time my daughter- to -be came to her- home- to- be was the very first time we bathed together. X was nearly a year old. It was a special day – it’d taken me six years to get to be approved and then finally matched for adoption with X. I’d known her for three whole days and  ok, I admit it- getting naked with her was a bit like consummating our relationship, I don’t deny it.  

I was still very much on trial to see if I could cope with X. It had been arranged that I’d give her supper and a bath, put her in her night-things (eek, so many holes and buttons and poppers) and then drive her back to her foster parents to go to sleep. 

I was terrified of her- convinced that I’d kill her by mistake somehow, and then have to go back and explain what had happened. I rehearsed conversations to the court in my head: 'I was just putting her in the bath and she slipped, m'lud'. She looked as pale as an effigy to me and when she fell asleep I shook her awake because I thought she might have fallen into a coma. She was as physically alien as,well, an alien.  So far the whole meeting her thing had been absolutely nightmarish, if I’m honest. A three day assault course in parenting and proving that I could look after a baby that I still couldn’t even get to sleep in her own house let alone mine- I mean, ours. 

I probably wouldn't have thought about jumping into the bath with this baby that I didn’t even know yet if it hadn’t been for the foster mother telling me that foster parents aren’t allowed to have baths with their foster children whereas, of course, real parents can get in too- any time at all that they feel like marinading in strawberry bubbles or sitting on a plastic fish.

So, after I’d carefully undressed her (eek, so tiny, so pale, but maybe not quite as fragile as I had thought) I looked at her sitting there in the water gazing up at me and I thought, ‘sod it,’ and stripped off and got in with her. It suddenly seemed deliciously naughty and -after six years of proving myself earnestly worthy to adopt  - fun.

She cried. 

Which was  great bonding because I could see where she was coming from.  I feel like crying too when I see my body these days. Not so much yummy mummy as multi- tummy mummy.

I’d like to say that this was a big change in our relationship but it wasn’t really. Afterwards she wouldn’t fall asleep -until, of course, the moment her foster mother took her from me. Then the foster mother asked, looking up at me from under her lashes: ’did you get in too?’. Feeling a tincy-wincy bit as if I was admitting I’d snogged her son behind the bike sheds, I admitted that I had. 

‘Knew you would,’ she said, ‘I was thinking about it while I made the tea.’

It was a bittersweet moment. I felt for her, she who was losing X, had loved X like her own children but had never been allowed to get in too.  She was nice enough to say that she thought that attachment parenting was the best way and that sleeping and bathing together was a good idea. I didn’t tell her that X cried when I took my things off, though.

One has one's pride. 

The next few months were challenging for X.  Some days everything was alright, other days nothing was right; at least, I couldn’t make anything right. She grizzled, she cried, she whined, she snuffled, she moaned. She didn’t so much go to sleep as sometimes lapse into exhausted semi-consciousness.  Even when she was asleep she didn’t relax.  She twitched and kicked like a dreaming dog. But, once in a while in the warm bathwater, (not every time, mind you), she’d slither across my soapy skin and rest her head on my shoulder, her blue eyes gazing up at me. Sometimes she’d stay there, moored in the crook of my arm and let the warm water gently sway her close. 

Those were our bonding moments, I think.

Illicit moments. She was still in the care of the council until I legally adopted her six months later. So, strictly speaking, I should have maintained my physical distance from her just as the foster mother was expected to.  But X's social worker was very nice about things like that and even turned a deaf ear to the fact I called her cot a cage and had her in with me. Well,we all maintained the fiction that she started the night in the cage - I mean - cot. Gradually, washing and sleeping together, we got a bit less scared of each other and relaxed. 

She's certainly not shy of me now when we bathe. Yanking my pubes is a favourite game, as is chasing me all over the bedrooms trying to plant a kiss on my cellulite. But now I’ve changed the rules of the game:‘ Not: ' I want to kiss your bottom'- 'I want to kiss your cheek!’

Which, I suppose, is the kind of duplicity that masks much less innocent games, but it saves me getting in hot water in church.





Monday, 1 February 2010



Whenever I feel despondent about having lost whatever looks I ever had I think about poor Natalie Portman.  Beautiful though she is these days it must be a hard thing to live your life with celluloid evidence that you'll never ever be as breath-holdingly, mind-blowingly , eye-tremblingly perfect as you were for a few fragile months when you were thirteen and made a film called Leon.

I cheered myself up with this thought after a visit to the doctors that had made me feel, well, worse than I felt before I went there. 

My upset feelings have upset my skin. I've been answering questions in a troublesome legal document called 'Further and Better Particulars" Better? As if the particular points I've already raised were not good enough? Or do I mean nasty enough? Legal language gives me a wry smile. However, since the allegations are serious ( at least, to me) I've tried hard to answer precisely. But it isn't easy to take the most painful time of one's life and re- examine it forensically, with diaries and notes. Remembering how my difficulties at work impacted on X is the hardest part: the number of times, late at night, we waited for the bus in rain,sleet and snow. No wonder she got chest infections. Her first words were 'nice hair' courtesy of an ill-considered brief resulting in a whole weekend cooped up watching the same commercial over and over at the editors. Reliving it all makes my skin flare- up, tender and painful. 

The doctor prescribed penicillin and suggested that, now I was fifty, I should answer a yet more questions - this time for some NHS survey: how was my eyesight? Had I noticed becoming deaf? Had I broken any bones recently? Needed a hip replacement? Was I still still steady on my pins?Did I get confused? Was I forgetful?

'Um, these questions are the same if you're 80,' said the doctor, 'so you may think they don't apply to you yet.'

Trouble is, lots did: eyesight- dreadful, confusions- yes, deaf- yes, I've really noticed how hard it is to hear people these days, especially on my mobile. I clutched my toddler and and tried not to feel as old as Methusula or, at least, Silas Marner. I'd been feeling quite jaunty up till then, attractive, even. Ha!

On the way home a friend called and reported excitedly that he'd seen a girl in a bar the day before that looked a bit like I did when I was thirty-ish, 'it made me remember what you were like in your prime,' he said. 

'Prime? What? Like meat?'

' Yes, you know - before you went off a bit,' he said cheerfully. I turned off my mobile so viciously that I accidently discovered the volume switch. So, on the plus side, it seems I was confused- I'm not quite as deaf as an 80 year old. 

Maybe it's not eczema that's breaking out, maybe it's the maggots tunneling out of my decaying skin.  I don't really care for myself. There's something rather liberating about having 'gone off. I can wear pop socks, skirts with comfy elasticated waistbands, jumpers that smell of mothballs and no one will care. Except someone will. Poor X,an old bat for a mum is not a good look at the school gates. 

As for the 'gone off' problem - I'll just have to style it out somehow, like Quentin Crisp or Barbara Cartland. Any style tips anyone for a mummy the NHS have in mind for an ear trumpet?