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.
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!’.
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.
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.