Another week of picking up school clothes and the husband’s socks which he likes to ball up and throw down the side of the sofa. In the hurry for the rest of my family to get out the house and go to school or work, milk is spilt, and half-finished cups of tea are abandoned in random places. After long goodbyes on the school gate from one daughter, while the other two pretend not to know me, I get dragged up the lane by the dogs, then come back to the same old, same old. Housework and dinner preparation. How many ways can you cook a sausage?
Afternoons are the same. The kids come home and drop their bags and coats in the hallway, so no one can get inside the house. Then they kick off their shoes and march into the kitchen to eat crisps and ruin their dinner. The first argument is about who got the last packet of salt and vinegar. I try and get them to tell me about their day. They just grunt at me and wander off. The second argument follows soon after about which You Tuber to watch.
Trying to get them to do their homework is like trying to get my dog to come back when she sees a rabbit. Impossible. We all end up shouting at one another and the husband comes home to a cold war atmosphere in the house.
Then we move on to bath time, where the girls act like I’m trying to waterboard them. It takes six towels to mop the floor after the dousing which don’t get picked up. They turn on their toothbrushes, but it doesn’t meant they are anywhere near their teeth, and even if they are, they normally lack toothpaste because it’s ‘too spiky’, but they’ll suck ‘toxic waste’ sour sweets happily. Then I try and read to them, while they thrash about in bed and distract me with questions like ‘why don’t pets have lunch’ and ‘will I get as hairy as you mummy?’.
It’s the youngest’s seventh birthday on Monday. We went into town this week to get her presents. I should mention at this point that me and the husband are both on a health kick. Our motto is ‘eating is cheating’ so we were both hungry and grumpy before we got to the shopping centre. The husband lost it in H&M when I asked for his opinion on hairbands. He threw all the clothes I’d loaded him up with on the floor and marched outside to fume on a bench.
It’s funny seeing a 45-year-old man have a tantrum, it’s also a bit embarrassing. I took him into Primark where he attacked me with a bottle of aftershave that melted the skin on my neck. He then apologised for me to everyone ‘she is incontinent and tries to cover it up.’ We went into The Works and he knocked a display of books over and pretended it was me. He was hoping his bad behaviour meant I wouldn’t make him come shopping with me anymore. I just wandered round singing ‘if you don’t know me by now, you will never never never know me….no you won’t!’.
Monday the 12th was suicide awareness day. Anyone who has lost someone to suicide will know the importance of the date. They will also know the exact date their loved one killed themselves.
We lost a friend to suicide and it’s still not sunken in. The warning signs are not giant red flags, often there are no signs at all. Wives, husband, brothers, sisters and colleagues, are left to examine what they could have done to stop it, as well as deal with the pain and the shock of their loss.
Some people think suicide is a coward’s way out. I don’t agree. Some people think it’s the most selfish of acts. I don’t agree with that either. I think, to get in a place where ending your life seems the only answer, all other rationale has long since stopped applying to decisions.
This column is dedicated to Bryn and to male suicide, referred to as ‘the silent killer’. It is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
Statistics reveal 84 men take their own life each week. Add to that, the number of people affected by the death, and the rates of suicide spread far wider.
Suicide charities have listed warning signs that someone might be feeling suicidal. They include major changes to sleeping patterns, weight gain or weight loss. An increase in minor illnesses and a loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance.
Other changes in behaviour include alcohol or drug misuse, withdrawal from family and friends and quitting activities that were previously important.
How many of our friends show these signs and are not suicidal? Even if all the signs are there, what can we do to help?
We are a society who avoid phone calls and only respond to texts, and we are too busy to write them properly ‘Hope U OK. C U L8?’. We are so caught up in our busy lives that we don’t have time to examine those of others.
I left it until the last minute to get the girls school shoes and uniform, obviously. I had plans, such plans, but much like those of mice and men, they aft go awry. Mice are probably better prepared than me actually.
I lasted ten minutes in Clarks before mohair fibers from Boden cardigans started to make me itch. I was given a ticket and told Charlie would be with me next. Charlie was having a bit of a time with it himself. The little rascal he was trying to shod was more interested in mounting the measuring stool. It must have reminded him of one of his (many) show ponies.
‘Do sit still Magnus, you need your feet measured properly’ barked the mother, then to Charlie hissed, ‘He takes after his Uncle Womble. Terribly wide.’
Had she just admitted she was doffing her brother-in-law, and what was wide? It was all too much for me before 10am. I prized my children off the shelves, where they were playing ‘cheese touch’ with a particularly hideous remedial looking sandal, and we legged it off to Auntie Anne’s to mainline sugar and carbs. Then we attempted Schuh.
Now, I don’t judge people by much (bwah har har) but I do think you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. I don’t mean designer, crocodile leather like Jimmy Nail, or spiky Jimmy Choos. I mean, how tight are they laced? Are they trainers or walking books, because a hybrid shoe makes me feel slightly bilious. ‘Hidden wedge’ wearers make me suspicious. What else are they hiding? Climbing-sandals on the school run suggest a slightly unhinged parent, or one who’ll physically tackle you to get to the teacher first. ‘Gladiator sandals’ for dancing in? Wearers should be ashamed.
Obvously, I’ve never gotten over this hang-up, or should I say, turn-up? I have an idea of ‘what looks cool’ and I want to force it onto my kids. I have a penchant for ‘shire-horse-shoes’, clompy shin-kickers.
My middle daughter wanted a pair of Lelli Kellis with jewel incrusted, interchangeable straps. They were everything I hated in a shoe. We’d gone from too middle-class to no class at all. I ranted and raved and knocked over displays before remembering she was eight-years-old and wanted the pretty shoes all her friends had.
The children are back at school. Shiny hair, shiny shoes. Smiley faces. Ok, that’s just me. Obviously, I feel like I’ve lost three limbs now I don’t have them arguing and talking in American accents all day, but I’m tough. I’ll cope. To prove to myself how strong I am, I went for my first run in months and now I can’t walk. As the Red Hot Chilli Peppers said though ‘I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl’. By moon, I mean bed, for a lovely post-drop-off nap.
The girls were not happy at pick up. The new Head teacher is making all the kids tuck in their school shirts. They demanded to change schools. ‘Mum, you said tucking shirts in was for saddo’s’ said the eldest as she wrestled out of her starchy M&S button-down.
Teaching my children to conform to the norm seems so wrong. Am I going to have to start tucking my shirts in now? What next, pulling my socks up? How can I get them to do what they are told when I’ve spent my life doing the opposite of what I’ve been advised?
I don’t think tucking in shirts is important. Shiny shoes don’t make me walk better or learn quicker. I’m all about comfort over style. You only have to look at my underwear collection for confirmation of this.
So I’m avoiding introducing myself to the new teacher. She’ll be calling me in soon enough to tell me one of my children started another ‘Penis gang’ (the shame of it) or refused to close their eyes at prayer time. I know I’m only going to end up saying something stupid and I get tactile when nervous.
She’s very pretty and wears high heels. I’ve always found ‘power women’ intimidating. People who take themselves seriously scare me. My best friend at school is the head of some multi-million marketing company. We used to get the same results in class. Now I take her son to nursery. She drops him off in her designer clothes. I open the door in a Grinch-onesie covered in jam.
Sometimes I feel envious, but mostly I feel relieved. I hated working in an office. It’s all politics and ‘who has taken my special mug’ and ‘let’s punch a puppy’ which I later found out meant ‘do something difficult that was good for the business’. Incidentally, I was the puppy. They didn’t punch me, they just made me redundant.
One boss told my I’d make a great party planner. I was working in technical security at the time. I think he was trying to compliment me, but obviously he was calling me a clown. I got made redundant from that job too.
If you’ve ever been laid off, you’ll know how soul destroying it could be. One company I worked with made a long-standing employee redundant, but he kept coming back into work, pretending like it hadn’t happened. It was really awful, but also quite funny. When his key fob stopped working, he snuck in with the postman. He didn’t have a computer anymore, so he just kept making us tea. We had a special meeting about him and were told not to accept any beverages he offered. We all know I’m a rule breaker. I got fired for that one.
At least at home I only have meetings with the cat. ‘You know why I’ve called you in. You’ve poo’d in the shower again. We’ve talked about this before’. The cat looks at me like my old boss used to. I slink off and bring her back lunch. She’d love to punch a puppy.
They thought I was joking “But mum, you’ve not gotten dressed for three days. You haven’t even been out to get milk, and now we are going, camping?” I didn’t realise how unspontaneous I was. How bad I’d gotten.
“Are you ok mum?” the youngest one asked, looking concerned, “have you run out of your tablets again?”
“No I haven’t, and yes I’m fine. We’re going camping. Why is that weird, why do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“Because yesterday you made us hide under the living room rug when someone knocked on the door…” said the middle one.
I realised how desperately I needed to get out the house. I’d become a hermit. A recluse. That one from ABBA who moved into a forest and never went out.
The husband was all for it. It would get the kids away from the TV and out in the great outdoors. He dug out his beloved mini BBQ and the Decathlon inflatable tent. He filled his pockets with sausages and the cooler bag with beer. He was keen for me to leave my pit. Stop taking to the plants and stroking cushions.
I’m writing this in the middle of a field. The tea kettle is about to whistle. It’s also about to rain, but never mind. We have hot chocolate and marshmallows. How cool am I? (Ok, don’t answer that. According to you readers, my writing is excrement, my poodle-hair-do is ten years out of date and I only have this gig because I’m ‘doing’ the editor. I know you don’t think I’m cool.)
But I feel cool. This time three-years ago, my beloved Maurice was killed in the Shoreham air crash disaster. Thanks to my friend, I’m not at home crying. I’m doing something he’d approve of (not my wonky tent erection). I’m living.
When I went to Firle Vintage Fair I missed him so much it was a physical pain in my chest. He loved ribbing me about the ‘tat’ I bought. His daughter used to dance there. This year, I signed me and the eldest up for Charleston lessons. This is to show I honour people not here. I will make an utter fool of myself in front of a class full of people with rhythm. I will make my daughter laugh. I will think of Maurice laughing at me. He had the best laugh.
Tonight, I’ll tell the kids that ghost story about the man who cut off his wife’s finger before pushing her off a cliff and how years later his car broke down on a windy night on a lonely dark road. How the door he knocked at was opened by a beautiful, eerily familiar figure. How over a candlelight dinner, he noticed she was missing a finger, and when asked where it was she screamed ‘YOU’VE GOT IT!’ Gets the kids every single time. It’s best told really quietly so the kids are really close to you when you get to the final sentence. My friend Meg told it to me all the time and she was the best. I used to wet myself in fear, aged 13.
While this is a distraction from missing Maurice, the knowledge is still there. I was with my brother and our kids the day of the crash. At the exact second Maurice’s car was hit, I was bouncing on a trampoline, laughing my head off. There is a video of me, head tossed back in joy. I watch it and hate myself for being happy.
I didn’t know though. I didn’t know and even if I did, what could I have done? I was there when my aunt died, and it was awful. It was like being in a dystopian nightmare. I wish I hadn’t gone. I wish I’d been on another trampoline, suspended in the air and the second before I found out the world had turned on it’s axis and I was going to have to live with a splinter inside me for the rest of my life.
But people die, and we are left with ghosts and grief, guilt and shame. We show appreciation for our lives by getting up, saying yes, dancing badly and putting the kettle on. In the words of Big Joe Turner ‘Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands. Get yourselves in the kitchen make a noise with them pots and pans.’
I’m trying, but underneath it all, how I miss you my friend.