We have a family roast every Sunday. We are never allowed to switch it up or get creative. It’s always the same thing with the same sides. Hours of cooking and piles of grease, but for half-another, the happy sound of chewing and gravy sploshing over Yorkshires puddings as big as baker’s hats.
We don’t eat together as family often. Friday nights is fish and chips or pizza, but we tend to lurk round the table and eat with our hands. Awful, but that’s how it happens. Ice cream is devoured from the tub, spoons wrestling and clanging to get the cookie dough bits. The odd elbow jab.
When we do sit together it’s all ‘sit properly, don’t just make yourself a drink, offer everyone. Oh look, you’ve spiled it’. It’s chaotic and messy and unwanted broccoli is slung under the table. It’s my favourite part of the week. All those years of pureed food and worrying they might choke. Now we sit and scoff and wipe sauce off our chins with the backs of our hands. We’ve no one we need to impress.
Food is what keeps our family together. The children only come to me to ask for something to eat. The daily texts from the husband are (him) ‘What’s for dinner’ (me) ‘I don’t know. What are you making?
We cluster in the kitchen by the fridge or the cupboard that houses the crisps and biscuits. There are always smears of Nutella on the work surface, half-drunk cups of tea, or glasses full of sticky Ribena.
The dishwasher always needs emptying or filling up. I give myself a daily facial by opening it while it’s mid-cycle to get the cheese grater.
Our Sunday roast is still being washed up three days later, because who tidies up after all those carbs? Post-roast we slump on the sofa and argue over what to watch on the TV. We never agree on anything, so spend a happy wasted hour flicking through the ‘view next’ screen on Netflix and then give up.
This is family life. It’s not like the Bisto advert from the 80’s where the mum brings in something new and exotic and says ‘Michael, remember Preston?’ and they all tuck in and enjoy the stir fry. It’s loud and we can never find the oven gloves, so dishes are dropped on the table with a ‘*** that’s hot!’. I don’t wear a pinny. Knives and forks are tossed in a pile, abandoned for spoons.
The eldest is home from her school trip. Some of her class came off the bus and cried as soon as they saw their mums. Mine dropped her suitcase at my feet and began walking home. She didn’t say anything, just answered all my questions with ‘fine’. I tried to be cool about it, but I felt dismissed and discarded. I made her a pot of tea and opened the biscuit jar. She slumped on the sofa and fell asleep.
Later, when I went to unpack her bag, I discovered she’d written to me every night in her diary. What she’d eaten, what she wore, how she missed me. She’d bought me a pen with the last of her pocket money. I will treasure that diary forever.
The fact she took the time to write it means so much to me. She didn’t have to. She could’ve just chatted to her friends and eaten strawberry laces. She thought of me. Of all the kindnesses I’ve known, the little ones always mean the most.
I tell my husband this when he buys me a birthday present, but never a card. He doesn’t get it. He also doesn’t get why I don’t like being woken up at 2am by him cheering ‘DE-FENCE’ as he cheers along to NBA Basketball on the tv in the bedroom.
I’ve started a writing course in London which I can’t find the way to. The husband came with me for the first session to show me the way. He walked at 100 miles an hour saying, ‘left here, right here, round here, up here, left, keep up, have you remembered all this?’
Obviously, I got lost on the way home and on the way there the next week. I face-timed him to help me and he called me an idiot. I hung up on him and then sat on the pavement (right next to where I was supposed to be but didn’t know it) and cried. I’m rubbish with directions. I can’t work out which way the blue dot on my phone is going when I use the map app. I end up off the page.
If the Chinese girl from my course, (who’s only been in England for two weeks, and has no problem navigating her way round High Holborn) hadn’t noticed me I wouldn’t have found it at all. I would have gotten a taxi back to the station, given up and gone home. Some role model eh?
When you find something easy, it’s hard to understand why others struggle. I find it easy to spot things that are right in front of me. The husband doesn’t. He finds it easy to not notice the dishwasher needs loading and the dogs are barking for dinner. I don’t. I find it easy to always put my keys and phone in the same place, so I can find them again. He doesn’t.
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!’.
I went to France with my brother to surprise my parents and left the husband to host a sleepover with eight excited girls. I was hoping for a phone call to tell me I was a hero, a legend, a queen. He said it was a breeze and ‘more fun without me’. I spent Friday trying to get to my parents’ tiny village in the middle of nowhere with my brother, who is so scared of flying he has to get so drunk he almost can’t get on the plane. His ears pop when in flight so he shouts loudly, and it’s normally swear-words and comments about the people in front.
I wanted to sit quietly and read my book. He stopped me by plucking out the leg hairs poking through the holes in my jeans. ‘Urgh, you are disgusting, why don’t you shave?’
I had to explain to everyone he was my brother, not my husband. The fact he looks like a ‘stretched on a rack’ version of me, except annoyingly better looking, should have made it obvious.
We almost missed the flight because of him. I made us miss the stop to my parent’s village because I thought I’d lost my phone. We ended up miles away with no trains and no taxi’s in sight.
My other brother, Dora the explorer was on an interrail trip round Europe and couldn’t understand how we could have messed up our itinerary in such a spectacular fashion. He had all his boarding passes printed and saved in a laminate folder.
We finally arrived at 11pm and hid in the garden to surprise everyone. My dad was so shocked the first thing he asked was ‘when are you going home’. I then spent two days wedged in the back of the car with my brother’s ‘manspreading’ their legs, so my knees knocked together. Dora played Iron Maiden as loudly as he did on car trips when I was a kid, while my other brother threatened to spew from his hangover.
How can three children be so different? Dora loves wine so much he has an app on his phone that tells him all about the bottle he is drinking. ‘Mum, did you know this wine is in the top 2% for the region?’ I was like ‘How interesting, please tell me more, and can I see the photos from your four-hour red bus tour of Paris again?’.
My other brother drank anything that would get him blotto quickly and then jumped in the freezing cold pool. The most annoying thing about him is the fact that even when drunk he is better than everyone at everything. He won at bowling, he won at pool, he even won at shooting targets. He doesn’t even look once he has the ball or shot lined up, he just smirks at you instead.
Dora cooked pork fillets that were so tough you could use them to kill a man. He claimed they were lovely but fell asleep with a mouthful of the leathery stuff, proving how exhausting it was to chew. Mum kept marvelling at how ‘all her children were together’ while I marvelled at how we all managed to function and lead relatively normal lives.
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.