The Mystery of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

We are on an all inclusive summer holiday in Hampshire, aka a staycation at the grandparents’. There are enough bedrooms for everyone to have their room, including estranged separate beds. There’s space on the driveway for the seven million cars* parked outside. There’s a separate tv lounge for the girls to sit in, with a complementary line of parcel tape granny has stuck on the carpet to indicate how far away the children must stay from the television (in case of toppling). We have the run of the cupboards, and much to his chagrin I used up all my dad’s nice Leerdammer slices making a picnic to take the zoo. After five hours at said zoo with the girls and my dear friend who joined us for the day, I then drank the lion’s share of the bottle of prosecco my dad opened to celebrate Persie’s third birthday. Prosecco goes very well with Minion birthday cake.

We are lucky to have people who love us. My not-wicked stepmother, who known as Granny Bee to the girls, always makes a big effort for our visits, putting children’s bedcovers on their beds, getting out the garden toys, stocking up on turkey dinsoaurs. This time around, she also lovingly arranged some magazines and a book on my bedside table.

The book was “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I saw it and laughed, assuming that either she’d left it there as 1) a joke or 2) because she thought I needed it. I was reading-wise already occupied re-reading “Happier at Home” by my guru, Gretchen Rubin. But I thought I’d ask my stepmum about it.

Me: Thanks for leaving Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by my bed. Was it a joke?
Stepmum: No, it was your mum’s, so I thought you might like to have it.
Me: That book wasn’t my mum’s.
Stepmum: It was!
Me: Erm I am pretty sure that edition wasn’t published until after mum died. It’s definitely not hers.
Stepmum: I’m sure it was…

My brain remembers rubbish like when famous bookcovers changed. So, book nerds, we’re talking about the cartoon cover edition of the famous relationship self-help book. Published in 2002. Three years after mum died.

The next day…

Me: So I checked that book, and that version was published after mum died so it definitely wasn’t her’s.
Stepmum: Is it yours?
Me: Nope. It must be yours.
Stepmum: It’s not mine. I didn’t buy it and I’ve never read it. [The book has a cracked spine. It’s been read].
Me: Well maybe someone gave it to you?
Stepmum: Erm…
Me: Maybe dad bought it when he was doing his counselling course?
Stepmum: I don’t think so.
Me to Dad: Is this your book?
Dad: Non committal response.

So this book, which I suspect has been in the house for about fifteen years, is unwanted and unloved! Nor will anyone admit it’s theirs! I’ve decided to adopt it. Frankly, I do think I need all the help I can get when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex. And can’t help but wonder if that was my not-wicked stepmother’s game plan all along. Even if she didn’t say so.

*Tiny hyperbole but there are currently five cars parked outside. Only two of them belong to us.

What happens on tour, stays on tour

I’ve been meaning to write about my friend for a long time. I wanted to write about her because she’s a great friend, definitely part of my squad. But we said a temporary goodbye as she waddled off into a sunset with a tummy swollen with baby, preparing to add a beautiful girl to her very beautiful family. And I knew I wanted to write something in tribute to our working life together in honour of its temporary hiatus.

Do you have a work friend who keeps you on the straight and narrow? Who gets the work started, and also points out to you what you really actually need to do? My work friend has never failed to have already drafted a straw man, in an appropriate template, or to have set up that meeting, or to have been sympathetic about a tedious and frustrating meeting. She’s positive, full of humour, and brings me up, acknowledging that I struggle to reach her level of positivity and lack of cynicism. Meaning that I like to whinge. But we think a lot of the same things, and feel the same way about a lot of stuff too. It’s nice to be in concordance with someone, but to know that if you’re not, it’s an appropriate challenge, not someone being contrary for the sake of it.

Of course, one spends more hours with one’s colleagues than with one’s spouse/family. So my friend knows everything about all the work and life crap that I have been through over the past couple of years. She knows the real story, she watched it happen. She also knows exactly how many sandwiches I ate that day when I was really really hungover.**

But this is all just preamble. I knew what I wanted to write about, straightaway. It’s part of a much bigger, more complex story. But essentially, I wanted to write about the magic that happens when two or more people take a long car journey together. Conversations get to the nitty gritty quickly. Secrets are divulged. Tears are shed (by me, mostly).

For our first road trip to the midlands satellite office, I arrived at St Ives Park and Ride in our hire car at stupidly early o’clock. I had my happiness playlist playing, and no make up on. We got lost – which is my modus operandi – and thus extended our journey by a good half an hour. Having done some initial work chat, we got into talking about the really important stuff. And that was when I asked her opinion about the butt plug. It’s part of a longer more complicated story, and in that sense, what gets talked about on tour, stays on tour. But this is a brilliant example of how my friend provides “appropriate challenge”.

Me: Would you think a butt plug with a tail would be an appropriate Secret Santa present?
Her: Yeah, I think that would be hilarious!
Me: From an older man to a younger woman? [voice rising] I think that’s inappropriate.
Her: I think you’re being uptight. If I were friends with that person and it was a good joke, I’d totally do it!
Me: Even amongst all their colleagues? In a professional environment? Don’t you think it could be interpreted as sexually aggressive? If that happened in my team, I’d take the person aside and Have A Word.
Her: No! It’s got a tail. It’s clearly a joke!
Me: Well I stand by my opinion. I didn’t even know butt plugs could have tails!
Her: I know what I’m going to get you for your birthday.*
Me: I googled. They’re really bloody expensive you know.

For our second road trip, we were joined by our colleague. We are like the three angels to our boss’s Charlie… or something like that. To mark our first road trip as a threesome, I added their own handpicked songs to my happiness playlist to represent them (Groove Is in the Heart by Dee-Lite and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend, in case you were wondering). On the outbound journey, we talked about work, but in a masterful stroke, my friend spread out her pregnant self in the back of the car on the way home. This meant that our colleague had to sit in the front seat, next to me. Maybe it was just timing, maybe it was the stars aligning, perhaps it was that skilful back seat manoeuvre, but that was the day our colleague really opened up and started to tell us about herself. Part of becoming friends is being aware of other people’s shit. And that stays on tour too.

*On my birthday, she gave me a cool lipstick set. They were from a premium brand I suspect they still were less expensive than a butt plug with a tail. She said to me “I didn’t want to spend that amount of money on something for a joke!”
**Four. Breakfast was a Tesco sandwich with a Coke Zero.

Harry Potter is Twenty 

Or rather Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is Twenty, because Harry himself is my age (ish). Oh the shock I had when, at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is revealed that Harry was born in 1980. Of course! No wonder he felt like a kindred spirit, he’s a fellow born-in-the-eighties member of Generation Y! It does explain why the books never troubled with explaining the internet. Can you imagine what Mr Weasley would make of wifi?

Regular readers will know that JK Rowling is one of my muses. I don’t like snobbery about writers, I especially dislike snobbery about popular writing. JK gets it a bit, for the quality of her writing, her popularity, her prolific output and her liberal views. But I don’t doubt that Harry Potter will endure.

I came to Potter late, Book Three, in fact! I remember devouring the first three Harry Potter books on a train to Durham, on my way to a Classics Summer school. I always loved school stories – Blyton, Chalet School, The Worst Witch, and Harry Potter was to me as comforting as a blanket, nostalgic as crumpets, and sweetly inventive as a sherbet lemon. I’d never read The Lord of the Rings, but I had been obsessed with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. And had I mentioned I studied Latin? I was already a nerd, I was bound to like Potter!

That summer, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, and that was when the phenomenon kicked off and got really really massive. I worked in our local Asda over the holidays, and the front table was piled high with thick hardback books. Everywhere you went, people were reading that brightly coloured brick, and Potter suddenly became part of the national lexicon. In the winter, the first film came out. I went to see it three times, in a north London Cineworld, when the matinee tickets cost about three pounds each. Potter, along with His Dark Materials, is one of the reasons I chose to study Children’s Literature – both series were, to my mind, part of a resurgence of a genre with the power to change and influence like no other. Scientists have conducted studies on the effect of reading Potter on readers. Less likely to support Trump apparently…

I think back to reading Potter for the first time. (I’m jealous of people who’ve never read it, who have that pleasure ahead of them – I feel the same way about all my favourite books). I remember, through the lens of Potter, what it was like to be nineteen. To have watched my friends go off to university for their first years away and taste of freedom, while my life was also changing but not in the ways I had expected. To have experienced my first romance, my first heartbreak, my first failures. Reading Harry Potter that summer was one of the ways I coped with my grief and deep sadness, with loss, with frustration, with powerlessness. The scene when Harry stands before the mirror of Erised, and see his parents, well, I still cry now when I read that. The deep inner sadness that comes from losing a parent… when I read about JK Rowling losing her mother to MS before she wrote the Potter books, so much of it makes sense. I am sure that is why she is one of my people. It’s a long and varied list and subject to change at times, because I’m fickle, but she’s up there on the laminated, permanent part.

By the time the final Potter book came out, I was more grown up, living in my second-to-last houseshare, in my second ever real job. I woke up early and drove to a local 24 hour Tesco to buy my book from a pile on a table in the entrance of the supermarket, and I read until my eyes were red and sore and I was hoarse and snotty with tears. I love that book so much. Not because good triumphs over evil – although that’s great – or because I realised that Harry would have been in the year above me at school. It’s not Snape’s death, either, although when we went to Harry Potter Studios we looked for Alan Rickman’s wand in Ollivander’s, to pay our respects.

The part that resonates is when Harry brings out the resurrection stone from the Snitch. He is about to meet Voldemort and he is prepared to die. The spirits of his parents, Sirius, Remus and Tonks appear. Rowling doesn’t call them ghosts, not like the ghosts who inhabit the castle. These are something different – and as the scene takes place, it’s clear that the spirits were always there with him, he just didn’t know it. And they won’t leave him, even when he drops the stone to the floor. Just thinking about that scene gets me. We can’t bring back the people we love, but they never leave us. It’s a paradox; beautiful, sad and true.

***For those of you who so kindly got in touch to ask why I’ve been so quiet – just busy, is the honest answer. But I’ve made a list of all the things I want to tell you about, so I hope that there will be more regular posts again in the coming weeks.***

The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

Huge thanks to all of you who told me what you think about this blog, and what you’d like to read more of. If anyone else would care to contribute anonymously by filling out my survey the link is HERE
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I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

Listen To The Teacher

I work in education, but I’m not a teacher. I’ve got no teaching qualifications and I’ve never worked in a school, unless you count the three weeks when I photocopied 350 reports three times over on A3 at the school my dad was headteacher of in 2001. I don’t. But the work I do impacts thousands, millions of children’s lives and life chances, it infiltrates nearly every secondary school classroom in this country. When it comes to my line of work, I’m pretty knowledgable. I was going to say I am an expert, but I’m very aware, working where I work, that there are others far more expert than I, but it is my profession and I work hard to understand the complexities and ramifications of what we do for children and their teachers everywhere.

Amidst all that, the thing I always strive to remember is, I am not a teacher. I’ve been surrounded by teachers my whole life, my parents, all three of them, friends’ parents, my own teachers, teachers who became my friends, the ex-teachers who I work with, now my children’s teachers. But I wouldn’t profess to know much more about teaching than your average well-educated broadsheet-reading liberal/socialist. You see, the problem is that everyone who was once at school themselves, seems to think they know something about teaching. I’m not saying they’re not stakeholders, I’m not saying their experience hasn’t given them insight, but are they experts? No. Which is why it makes me so angry the way that government, of any colour, messes and meddles with education despite in the main, the people doing the messing and meddling having no idea about everyday teaching and learning and how schools actually work in the 21st century.

When a fellow non-teacher came back from observing a maths lesson at a local school and said “it was a masterclass on differentiating to seven levels, I mean, I was gobsmacked” I knew what he meant and I knew what that highly skilled teacher had achieved and I was also highly impressed. But I know I could no more stand up before a class of 30 and teach them something meaningful than I could do a length of the butterfly stroke. I haven’t had the training and I’m not sure I’ve actually got the ability. Teachers are highly skilled professionals, who undergo intensive training, have to maintain their professional development year after year. But we don’t value our teachers.

You see, teachers are an easy target. It’s so easy to dismiss the late nights marking, the weekend days sacrificed to planning, the preparation. I work in a comfortable office with free hot drinks on tap and I can go to the loo whenever I want. Not teachers. They work in buildings that are sometimes not fit for purpose, without resources they need. They’re not able to get to the loo, because they can’t leave their class because their TA hours got cut due to budget cuts. They then scarf their lunch to run a club during the break. After school they’re driving the mini buses to the netball matches, football tournaments. All the kindnesses, the comfort given against bullies, the book chosen especially for a voracious reader, the encouragement given to the sportsperson in their area of talent or skill, the nights lying awake worrying about the young people in their classes.

So is it any wonder when they do all this, against the backdrop of funding cuts, a national curriculum that regressed to the 1950s, which doesn’t value the creative arts, against Academisation, performance related pay, against a testing regime which is unreasonable, against qualification reform in all areas, that teachers are telling us as my friend told me “We’re on our knees”? Teachers are leaving the profession some in the early stages of their careers, others after long service. I read about a couple, who are quitting education all together, because of the “bland and joyless” curriculum they are forced to teach. My friends alerted me to this impassioned post on Facebook by a teacher, Rebecca Bee, which went viral, as so many of these posts do. There is something very wrong here.

Why is nothing done about it, when a large group of highly qualified professional people are telling us, over and over, that this can’t go on, that their job is getting harder and harder to do? Whether that group of people is doctors, nurses, teachers, carers… Because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Because it doesn’t fit those lovely emollient soundbites they want us to swallow. Because it doesn’t fit their ideological journey to a country that sounds fair and sounds reasonable, but where inequality and opportunity no longer exist. Rather than admitting that schools need more money, that teachers need more support, that children deserve better, the government is fannying about the edges with free schools and “bring back the grammars”. Bring back an education worth having for every child. Stop measuring educational success on an arbitrary set of assessments. Start thinking about what skills children need to become independent adults in a world of zero hours contracts, social media, automation, payday loans, revenge porn.

Why is it that those of us who read those Facebook posts and newspaper articles and talk to our friends and our children’s teachers, why is it that we don’t we do something? Why are we not marching in the streets, alongside our teachers, in solidarity? Why aren’t we adding Facebook buttons about how much we love our education system, in the same we declare our love for the NHS? On the one hand, for people like me, it’s because we feel powerless. Because it’s inconvenient, and uncomfortable. Because it might have greater ramifications. Because it might mean that all that soothing political pepto bismol we’ve been swallowing is wrong. Because it makes us feel guilty for our lack of care, motivation, when we have our own things to worry about or our own cosy existence to preserve. Maybe next time teachers strike, we should be there with them, not whinging about it on social media.

But for others, the reason they don’t declare their admiration for our teachers, for our schools, is that their own schooling experience let them down. They worry about their own kids at school, because they remember what it was like. Maybe they still resent schools and teachers a little bit. Because they hated school, they hated exams, they felt stupid or frustrated, or they were desperate to get into the world of work, or their skills and talents weren’t recognised. Their education wasn’t a staircase to a successful adult life. It was a fenced in prison and they couldn’t wait to jump the wall. For some it won’t have mattered that they didn’t succeed in conventional ways. For others, they’ll feel their life chances were forever stymied by the fact they hated double maths on a Friday morning. To those people, I want to say, we can make it better. We can work together to make sure no child feels the way you did.

I’m willing to accept compromises for the meanwhile, because I know that no matter which flavour of politics is in government is, education and schools will never be perfect in its current format. A change more fundamental, more dynamic is needed, and I believe we’ll get there, one day, hopefully before the human race has to abandon earth for one of Saturn’s moons. And hey, maybe June 8th won’t effect that change, but miracles do happen, and it could be a start.

Muses 

​My muses are two women who never allowed “the pram in the hall” to stop them from creating. Here’s a picture of the double aperture ampersand frame on what I laughing call my “writing desk” – my two muses, pride of place, reminding me that I ought to stop procrastinating and start writing. Cause, you know, there’s no excuse. That’s why I chose two quotations by them as the descriptions for this blog.

Sylvia Plath, obviously. Enshrined by some in popular cultural discourse as shorthand for some kind of overwrought hysterical wronged woman, the poetry gets glossed over too often for the story behind the headlines. And I’m as susceptible to that as anyone, I think I’ve read all the main biographies, the journals, and then there’s Birthday Letters… At the painful quick, Ted Hughes was a serially unfaithful husband and Sylvia Plath was mentally ill (BPD? Bi-Polar? We’ll never know). Two flawed people, their failed marriage and their children. It’s the poetry that makes their story so unique, the power of the words left behind, speaking through the years. I’ve never really understood why some fans chiselled the “Hughes” off her gravestone. I get that it was in protest at the patriarchal oppression her husband inflicted upon her in death (rearranging the order of her last collection of poems) as in life, but that for me implies a level of public ownership of the poet that just isn’t actually real.  
Sylvia Plath is, for me, sixth form, finally getting poetry, grief, love, and aspiration. She’s in a little part of me, my writing… there is enough of her work assimilated within my own voice me for me to feel the burst of pleasure you get when you recognise an old friend when I read her work.

But as I grew older I put Plath aside as a childish thing, as if I was beyond that intensity, that passion, that longing. Then I came back to her, and developed a new found appreciation. There’s fresh realisation, and another layer of recognition. Re-reading the Wintering poems with renewed interest as bees are one of my own personal symbols of happiness. After years of struggling to improve my own writing, appreciating how she clearly was an immensely talented and accomplished poet. But I admire Plath most now because she wrote her Ariel poems when she was a single mother of two young children.

The world was different back in 1960 and you could live in North London in lodgings for nothing in comparison to today etc and even then Sylvia Plath was part of a creative liberal elite and would have probably had the money for household help but… She did it. She wrote. She wrote, I suppose, because it was her calling, because of the flames of pain and rage that licked inside of her that made her burn so brightly, so briefly, fuelled her. I admire her so because she did it despite being a mum. Despite having to do the baths the teas the park the bedtimes the face-wiping spill-clearing monotonous drudgery of motherhood. Because if there’s one thing guaranteed to get in the way of creativity it’s the inspiration crushing relentless exhaustion of caring for young children.
And so to JK, national treasure. Queen of the Twitter put-down. She’s a bit marmite, you know. Some people don’t appreciate her (yeah, you know who you are). I know she’s one of those lefty liberal rich types and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but she gave so much of her fortune to charity she slipped off the rich list. Above all, there’s something about her that reminds me of a form teacher who’d give a Year 9 girl really good advice, probably because that’s kind of what she is.

The pictures of JK Rowling when she was first published show a woman with long red hair who really could have been Harry Potter’s mum from the description in the book, posing in the cafe where she used to write. I secretly love how glamorous she’s got as she’s got older, blonder, more polished. Yeah, it’s to do with being rich, but also, she’s clearly so confident, she found herself. And she deserves to feel proud of what she achieved. JK did it too. Wrote because there was no option for her but to write. Coffee shop, baby in the pram, she has described so many times how she hit rock bottom, felt like a terrible failure, and… out of it came something magical. She’s not the best writer in the world, but what she’s achieved is amazing.

So since this is *write more* live more, I thought it was important to check in with the writing bit. I haven’t written enough. I haven’t written nearly enough. All the stories, in my head, unwritten. All the ideas in my own personal cloud. This blog. The unfinished novel. Got to crack on and do it. What if I die and no one ever has read my writing? Maybe that’s what the whole of my 35-year-old midlife crisis has been about. Maybe I need to learn a bit from my muses, make the most of my inner fire, and go for it.

Holidays 

There was radio silence for a bit there! Sorry. Simply busy with other things – the Live More part of Write More Live More, I suppose. And of course, I did put out the survey. More on that in another post.

The girls are on school holidays, but of course Hampshire school hols don’t match Cambridgeshire school hols. Luckily my stepmum doesn’t work Fridays, so I took last Friday off and drove us down to my family. The M25 was hell on earth. If ever get to purgatory it’ll be the M25… anyway, we survived the three hour journey and were greeted warmly with a late pizza lunch, and a walk to the park with ice creams followed by a trip to Pets at Home and Home Bargains. The girls thought it was brilliant.

We went to the coast on the Saturday. My girls don’t know how lucky they are experiencing Aldeburgh and then the New Forest! On the journey down I sat in between the car seats in the back of my stepmum’s people carrier, holding a hand in each of mine. When we arrived at our destination there was a road train taking daytrippers to and from the car park and cafe to a golden sandy beach and beach huts stacked in a row. And another cafe. I sat on a rock, paddled a little, and watched Persie run away from the foaming incoming tide. The edges of my jeans got wet, even though I rolled them up. Rosa got sunburnt (bad mummy), but in my defence she was the only one of to do so – we realised later it was because she had been nearer the water and the rays had reflected on her to lovely cheeks. 
I forgot my phone, so no photos, of either the beautiful beach or the girls, tastefully anonymous, or my outfit, which that day was my camo shacket again. The one that looks awesome with red lipstick. Although I was wearing the Maybelline vivid matt nude flush, lipstick fans. My dad, who annoys me all the time, as dads do, asked me as we boarded the little train for our ride “what is this army jacket?” And my stepmum, who is one of the funniest people I know, said “it’s not working, we can still see you.” I chortled, good humouredly, and glowered at my dad in the “regress to teenagerdom” way that seeing my folks brings out in me. Then Rosa pressed the emergency stop button on the stationary train that they had to switch it off with a key, and I told her off until she cried. Parenting fail.

Seeing the girls enjoying themselves with my folks was precious. Persie laughing being read a story (Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, children’s literature fans) her granny making her giggle as Chu sneezed. One evening we re-watched Fantastic Beasts (it’s a perfect film, in so many ways), another Rosa snuggled up to granny and watched the motorbike racing (don’t ask). My folks took Rosa out for a special day trip just for her while Persie and I caught up with my oldest (longest standing) friend in a picturesque country pub. After our lunch, we deliberately took her for a drive, taking circuitous routes around the country lanes so we could chat as she slept. My friend and I said our goodbyes as Persie snoozed, and for the next two days she asked “Where’s mummy’s friend gone?”.

Since we returned, it’s been very relaxed. I’ve had lie ins. LIE INS MULTIPLE! I’m running down the stocks of my fridge and cupboard, so I ate mashed potatoes with beans for my dinner last night. The girls’ dad has been experimenting with flavoured gins, which is lethal for me, as anyone who knows me IRL will be aware. I visited The Kimono and had my hands *and* feet done. I’ve been to the same cafe three times in two days. I’m reading again. Real actual books from my box of books. Not even on kindle! Gasp! Everyone needs a holiday sometimes, but I’m so glad I’m having mine in the two places I call home.

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Emptrix Nata Sum

I had to start with a little Latin joke for all my Classicist friends out there. Back in the day, Past Times sold a shopping bag which had this slogan on it, and it means “I am a born (female) shopper” literally, so… born to shop.

Shopping is not a pastime. I like to remind myself of that when I find myself just tootling out on to the high street, with time to kill, a song in my heart and my debit card in my wallet. Shopping is not a pastime, I remind myself when I browse idly on fashion websites instead of writing. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I tell Rosa when she begs begs begs to go to Bury, or to Westfield in Stratford, so that she can go shopping. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I convince no one when I make my regular pilgrimages to Ikea and Costco.

Oh, but who am I to blow against the wind? Because I am a really good shopper. For myself and for others. I love nothing more than a shopping mission, than to track down the perfect something to a brief, I love to research and can spend hours weighing up the pros and cons of one version of the same thing versus another. But I know my tendencies (thanks Gretchen) and I am a satisficer, not a maxmiser and I love abundance, not simplicity, so I am not actually that discriminating a shopper. And if I don’t have something in mind, but am just browsing, I will quite happily make rash impulse purchases. In fact, it turns out, I’m pretty much a rash, impulsive kind of person.

Loving shopping and cheap fashion might make me shallow and unethical, and I probably ought to worry about bigger things. But sometimes, you need to think about the things that don’t matter, because if you thought about the things that really matter all the time, you’d go mad. I love the book The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, as glossing over the fact it’s about a young woman with an addiction and a debt problem, it’s the on the funniest, whip-smartest books of its kind, and if it had been written by a man would be called satire. Anyway, in it, she just longs to be ‘the girl in the Denny and George scarf’, hoping that becoming that girl will mean she is transformed into the person she feels she really is. I totally get that. We all know that having that pair of boots, that top, that dress, that hat won’t fill the holes in our souls, nor will being the girl in the red boots/ with the kick ass lipstick make life’s decisions any easier, or get someone to love us when they’re emotionally unavailable, or make being a mum any less relentless and exhausting. It’s just a plaster on the wounds. But plasters stop the wound getting infected, while your clever body gets on with mending itself. So I guess that makes shopping Savlon for the soul. It doesn’t fix anything, but it helps briefly, while you work out how to fill the hole in your soul or mend your broken heart.

With that little spot of self-justification over, I have some exciting new purchases, bought in about half an hour on the high street, and it’s all very exciting.

Firstly, Maybelline Vivid Matt Lip Colour in Nude Flush. I read about this on The Pool and I am currently all about the matt lip, so I decided to give this a try. It’s not got the staying power of the Revlon equivalent matt lipcolour, but it’s relatively long lasting and I love the colour, a pleasing slightly bubblegum tinged springy pink, that looks good with grey eyeliner.

Secondly, Rimmel Insta-fix 2-in-1 primer and finishing spray. I picked up one of these at the supermarket on Saturday and have been so impressed with the results so far that I bought a second for my handbag for work, where the air conditioning wrecks my skin, and seems to evaporate my make up regardless of what base I wear, cheap, expensive, light, heavy, liquid, powder, liquid-to-powder, cream, fluid… you name it, the work air conditioning evaporates it off. So I have high hopes that this can stop that happening, as you can use it under your make up, to fix your make up into place after applying, and during the day to refresh it, so I’m hopeful this is going to solve that problem. There are more expensive versions of this kind of thing out there, but I like cheap and cheerful and being able to buy two guilt free.

Thirdly, I’m a bit obsessed with pink and grey this week. I can’t wait to wear these cheapo New Look tops with my grey jeans. Remember I was fretting about not having a pale cardigan to wear with the yellow cold shoulder top? Well, this crochet backed long-length number will be perfect, and it’s got a slightly boho look that I really enjoy. Alongside it, I couldn’t resist the printed tee-shirt, which says Rosa Fortuna and a picture of a playing card – two of my favourite things, roses and cards…

Finally, the sun came out and my ancient M&S sunglasses had seen better days. I don’t buy expensive sunglasses, because I have children, and also I like to wear them in my hair a lot, but I am thinking of getting a prescription pair for driving and also, seeing… but in the meanwhile, these two pairs at Boots from their own range are cheap enough not to worry if you lose them, but not as cheap as New Look where all the glasses sat wonky on my wonky nose and ears. The Ray Ban style pair have floral patterns on the arms, and the cats eyes are suitably oversized for pretending you’re a 50’s film star going incognito. Oh, that’s just me?

Full Moon on Cambridge Station

Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same

Train in the Distance, Paul Simon

I met a friend after work one evening this week, and got a late train home. I found myself waiting on the platform, for a little while, because there’s only one train an hour. I had long enough to wait that I was able to get a seat, and the evening was mild. I had my phone, so I had music and reading material. The Norwich train was sitting at the opposite platform and when it departed the cacophony in the relative quiet of the evening was intrusive, unbearable. The train screeched away, the noise fading, and I found myself thinking, probably with some irony,
“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.”

Like magic, I pulled the song down out of the cloud. I’ve not listened to it properly for years, it’s not on Graceland or the compilation we kept in the car. I’d forgotten the story of the lyrics, and I’d forgotten the bridge, which I’ve copied above.

I watched trains come in and out on the far platforms. The London train arrived, streams of people flowing out. I saw someone I used to work with but didn’t know very well, from afar, and I wondered how he is, whether his new job makes him happy. I considered the people with the shopping bags, the parents and older children together, the commuters, the people in groups, the ones alone. As I grew tired of people watching, my attention was caught by the moon, glowing behind a misty veil. Hanging low, pregnantly round, fat and yellow against the industrial silhouettes cast by the train station furniture and the blocks of flats and houses. She was beautiful and mysterious, holding on to her secrets, casting rings of light around her in the damp air.

The song played and finished.  I listened to some more Paul Simon.  He is my favourite songwriter, ever, it feels like his songs are ‘woven indelibly into my heart and my brain’, to quote the end of the song. I boarded my train, the artificial light within the carriage hard on my eyes. The guard smiled at me when he checked my ticket, because I was looking especially pretty that evening, with red nails and my bright blue coat. I read a book on my phone but it was no sufficient distraction.

The lines kept on going round in my head, like tickertape on a loop.  Walking home, I glanced up again, the moon was half hidden behind clouds, but my heart was full and glowing with my own secrets and mysteries.  Thinking about my failed negotiations, the love songs I’ll never sing.  And thinking most of all about my own disappointed believer, the game we played, and the sadness that it had no winners but at least two losers.