Wednesday 26 May 2010

On Mothering

Be warned, this isn’t my usual chipper ‘isn’t life a hoot’ type of blog. It’s a bit sad really. I am not entirely sure why but I’ve been feeling a bit ‘vulnerable’ shall we say. Maybe I’ve got the opposite of SAD and go gloomy as a reaction to the rest of the world hurtling into shorts and throwing sausages on the barbecue. Maybe it’s because I’ve finished my ‘baby’ - Samael – my YA supernatural romance novel (click on the link on the sidebar if you’d like to read a taster) and I feel a bit bereft. Or maybe it’s because my real ‘baby’ (all eleven hulking years of him) is away for the week and I’m getting premonitions (okay, seven years too early) of being an empty nester. I dunno. But as I sat at my PC, trying to write a feature on Lava Shells massage (another story) I found myself tearing up.

I got to thinking about how being a mother shifts your entire world. No matter how cavalier you think you are, however nonchalant, however non-maternal really, it changes you, deep down to the cellular level. Okay, bottom line, I worry. My lad is doing the stuff I really want him to do – he’s off with his school, doing gung-ho action stuff (kayaking, abseiling, rafting, hiking) and all the usual team and confidence building malarkey. I love that he’s there, with his friends, that he’s stretching himself and having fun but it’s impossible not to think ‘what if...’

Impossible, right now, not to think of that terrible coach crash in Cumbria. How on earth would it feel? How could you cope? I was in buckets as I watched the news. How would I feel if the mothering was ripped out of me?

I knew, when I started writing Samael that mothering was a deep theme in the book but, as I came to the climax, I was surprised to find how pivotal it was and how emotional it made me writing about it. Not just about how I mother but about my own mother (who died eighteen months ago) and about how a legacy of mothering can pass down through the generations. And how, equally, that legacy can be changed, if you are mindful enough about it – if you make the decision to do things differently.

And then, in the strange way that life has of throwing up meaningful coincidences, synchronicities, I was sent a copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin). It was ‘about nannies’ apparently and I wasn’t terribly overwhelmed at the premise. But as I read, I realised it was all about mothering. Good mothering, bad mothering, no mothering at all. And about choices, about the power to change – if one has the guts and the will. I was, quite frankly, bowled away by it. It’s set in the Deep South of the US, in the sixties (the decade in which I was a child) in a world where white middle-class mothers hand over the care of their children to black ‘maids’. The story is filtered through three points of view. Aibileen who lost her own son and is now raising her seventeenth white child. Minny, rebellious and lippy but kind-hearted and nursing her own grief. And Skeeter, a decent-hearted college girl who yearns to be a writer and doesn’t want to become just another wife and mother. Their voices (superbly captured) weave a compelling tale of secrets, ignorance, love, betrayal and friendship. It is shocking, appalling, uplifting and also very funny. I was transfixed. I stayed up one whole night, reading until I thought my eyes would drop out.

So, there we have it. Me, listening to Moby for some bizarre reason and feeling my heart whimpering. Then Adrian calls down the stairs – ‘they’ve got a blog up on the school website. You can see what they’re up to’ – and I’m there, with my magnifying glass, trying to figure out which of the boys in wetsuits and helmets is mine. Not really mine, just borrowed (I know, I know), but oh so loved and, for this moment at least, oh so safe. And I say a quiet prayer of deep thanks for my good fortune – and send out a prayer of deepest sorrow for those whom fate has dealt the hardest cruelest cards. Even when the child has gone, we still remain mothers to the core.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Let us eat cake

‘Do you ever review things on your blog?’ asked a PR, very politely.
‘Well, not reviews as such,’ I said (though I can oblige with the occasional rant). ‘I tend to write about whatever happens to wander into my life.’
At which point I went into a daydream about the various things that have wandered into my life since I started blogging and, I must say, I haven’t done too badly.

Nobody really seems interested in me as a journalist any more. PRs no longer pitch ideas to me for features or columns. They’d all much rather I wrote about their products in my blogs, or that I tweeted about them or shouted about them on my Facebook page. It seems everyone has shifted over to social media.

‘Do you realise you’re ‘highly influential’ on Twitter?’ hissed my friend Charlie who runs a successful website.
‘I am?’
‘Absolutely,’ he said, trying not to sound bitter and twisted. ‘How did you do it?’
I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I just like talking. It’s huge fun – my virtual water cooler - where I shoot the breeze and have a laugh.

Then, somehow, this blog was runner-up in the Author Blog Awards and I’ve miraculously risen (like a loaf) up the parent blogging charts and the PRs have gone bonkers. Now, as a journalist, one is accustomed to the odd freebie though, in my case, it’s usually limited to herbal throat lozenges and ointment for piles. But as a blogger, it seems the sky’s the limit.

Of course it doesn’t always pan out. For every trip to Florida and every goodie bag of lovely sports gear (thank you Disney, thank you Reebok) I’ve been offered a slew of items which are less than exhilarating: panty liners, nipple guards, DVDs that only play in the US, pelvic floor exercisers, er – marital aids.

But anyhow, coming back from this reverie, I realised the PR was saying a magic word.
‘It’s cake.’
The blogging/tweeting world runs on cake. Come 11am everyone promptly stops talking about whether we have a government or how to market your e-book and mutters about muffins, brownies, biscuits and chocolate.
‘Really?  What kind of cake?’
‘Organic cake.'
Oh, well that's okay then. 
'Respect Organics,'she continued.  'They sell them in supermarkets. Shall I send you some samples?’
‘Well, a sample couldn’t hurt, could it?’

The next day the postman struggled up the steps (ASBO attached to his backside like a plug) with a vast box. I’d imagined a few slices – but, ye gods, she’d sent us eleven full-size cakes. ELEVEN.
‘Why eleven?’ asked James, lining them up on the table. ‘You reckon someone got hungry and ate one on the way?’
Frankly that hadn’t crossed my mind but it did seem a strange number.
‘Three into eleven doesn’t really go,’ he continued. ‘Though none of us like ginger so that leaves nine which is three each - bags me the chocolate ones. You like banana and Dad likes carrot so we’re sorted.’

I’ll have you know we conducted a very thorough clinical trial on these cakes. We tested them every which way and gave them marks out of 100 for variations in texture, flavour, density and colour. Oh, the hell we did. We scarfed the lot in a deeply unseemly fashion. Were they nice? Damn nice actually – and not remotely what you imagine when you think ‘organic’. These are the least ‘worthy’ cakes I’ve come across: very light, very moist, wildly sweet and revoltingly moreish. Surprising really, given they are all (bar the chocolate cake) dairy free.
If I’m being very picky I suppose I prefer a slightly more rustic, ‘home-made’ feel, maybe a bit more chew in the banana loaf.  But I was a minority (so very fashionable really).

With my ‘responsible reviewer’ hat on I should add that they’re available from supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons and you can find out more by clicking here

I might just mention (apropos of nothing in particular) that I am very partial to the following...

Diptique candles (Baies is my total favourite); Jo Malone soap (wild fig, LBM, oh any really); Aromatherapy Associates bath oil; Green & Blacks chocolate; novels of pretty well any description; Moleskine notebooks.

And I would just add that I could really do with a ‘grown-up’ posh handbag (um, Mulberry or Westwood would do the trick), a washing machine, a 32" HD TV, a Landrover, a week on a fat farm and a family holiday somewhere without the Euro.
Just sayin'    ;)

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Should children get the vote?

I never write about politics. Hellfire, I never talk about politics. It’s just way too fraught and people are way too angry. I’m one of life’s ditherers – I just don’t see things in black and white. In my time, I’ve voted Labour, Liberal (yes, it was a long time ago!), Tory and Green. You could call me a floating voter – I say I see both sides of the equation.

Maybe it’s because of my upbringing. My father was a staunch Labour man, always had been, always would be. He was working class, ergo he voted Labour. Though quite what he would have thought of Gordon Brown saying we should all strive to be middle-class I have no idea (actually I do know – he’d have been hugely affronted). My mother, on the other hand, voted Tory (even though she read the Guardian and loathed hunting). Come election time we would go through the farce of each of them putting up their poster in the window, only to have it torn down by the other.
Anyhow, enough of all this.
I’ve just been tagged in a meme by Ellen Arnison on the rather fab new parenting website Readyfor Ten. In it she asked her son what he thought about the election. So, in the spirit of the meme, I put James in the hot-seat before school this morning and asked for his opinions (no leading questions; no interrupting – Radio 4 it wasn’t!).

Why are we having an election?
To change the power of the country; so we can get some change happening.

If you were allowed to vote on Thursday who would you pick and how would you decide?
Conservative. Because I like the name and the slogan. I don’t want to follow you or Dad – I just like David Cameron the best out of the three. The other two are just eeeughh. I look at Gordon Brown and he looks like a toad or something. Nick Clegg looks like he just killed someone and is going off in a Chevrolet Camero.

And what laws do you think the new government should bring in?
I’d keep most of it the same though I’d try and stop the war. I don’t know really. Um, free education and medicine - except for private. Try to get out of the credit crunch. I would get more people to pick up litter – there would be a fine if you dropped litter and more cameras to catch you. Adults have more power but children should have a little say.

(at which point I interject and suggest that, if he’s saying it’s all fine as it is, why isn’t he voting Labour?)

Cos Gordon Brown makes too many slip-ups. He’s a bigoted man. (knowing look)

Should children be allowed to vote and why?
No, they shouldn’t. Because they could just do something silly like vote for the Monster Raving Loony party and all the children could vote for that and then the MRLP would get in and you’d think, Oh God, the whole country will be on a downer.
People are silly about it. They like the slogans. A few people talk properly about it at school but not many. I think children would vote for smaller parties, like the BNP and UKIP so the country would go down and people would leave it and go to other ones like the US and then we’d be underpopulated and then we’d be attacked by Japan and Korea and be blown up.
Nick Clegg’s the same – he’s trying to get rid of nuclear stuff and so other people would come and blow us up.

So there you have it - keep it the same, yet make it different.  Don't vote for small parties. Don't run into Nick Clegg in a dark alley. 

Time is short – with the election tomorrow - so if you fancy this meme, just grab it. Out of the mouths of babes...