SWEET 16

I’m feeling strange this week. A mixture of pride and fear is washing over me. My first born is turning 16.
The boy who followed me everywhere, had to be forcedly removed from me in his early primary days. The boy who twirled me round his little finger, I couldn’t see it. He’s still here but there is another person starting to emerge.
This new person can start learning to drive this week. Wants to hang out with his friends at parties, or gatherings (gathos). He can keep quiet and not say a word for an entire 40 minute car journey. Sometimes he’s sulking but sometimes he’s deep in thought. What is he thinking? I ask strategically chosen questions but I’m not MI5. I can’t crack him.
If he’s not in the gym, he’s on the rugby field. He’s taller and weighs more than me. On a Good Friday in Gosford hospital 16 years ago he refused to be born. After 40 hours and surgery he had no choice. He was pulled from me, held up by doctors for me and the husband to see. Later we discussed ‘the look’ our baby had given us. “He looked pissed off,” my husband commented and I agreed. Our baby lay in the hospital crib, legs crossed, and seemingly relaxed. All 9 pounds and 11 and a half ounces of him. His lips pressed together in a pout, a flash of red hair which turned to white blonde in the weeks that followed.
He was the naughtiest child in mothers group. Piling chairs up at 3 to reach a box of matches. Pouring cooking oil on our rental house carpets. Once viewing a big clean empty McMansion he escaped to the toilet. Grabbed the blue-loo thing and wiped his inky hands over surfaces and walls. Threw stones at the colourbond fence until our new neighbour told him off.
At five his favourite song was by Andy Williams – Music to Watch the Girls go by. At seven he knitted himself dreadlocks and sewed them to a cap, wore them with a denim jacket. At nine he was rarely seen without a pork pie hat, Suggs from Madness was his idol. At 10 he started playing rugby. At 13 he left his Steiner school and started at the local state high. Hundreds of kids streamed into the gates wearing their primary school uniform on Transition Day. My son was dressed in a rainbow shirt and boardies. “Where’s your uniform?” they asked. “This is my uniform”. “Cool”, they replied. I still like to think so.
This will be a year of change. Of growth and adventures. Just not mine.
Happy Birthday son.

FINDING THE FILLING

Do you ever feel something is missing? Seemingly you have everything; lovely home, great kids, wonderful husband, all the gadgetry you could need. Despite this there is a small hole in the centre of you that needs filling up.
Back in the UK I plugged that hole (which was sometimes a chasm), with cigarettes, wine, coffee, shopping, sex. I would not leave the house without my fags and if I ever over-estimated how many cancer sticks were in that packet, while simultaneously running out of money; I would search among the fluff and cough sweets beneath my sofa cushions. Check pockets feverously, promising myself tearfully that tomorrow I would manage my habit better. That moment of lighting up, the smell of burning tobacco leaves. The hit from that first deep breath. A few minutes of satisfaction. The end snubbed out in the ashtray. Five minutes later I wanted another one.
Wine was there for bad and good days. To celebrate and commiserate. There’s a quote hitting facebook at the moment. ‘I drink coffee all day until drinking wine is socially acceptable’.
Shopping in the UK, a traditional Saturday past time. Wondering round brightly lit shopping centres, driven crazy with over stimulation. Buying skirts too tight or dresses you would never wear. Sweating in the changing cubicles; filling the trolley. And that wonderful surge of blood post purchase. Having a coffee afterwards to marvel at your selection choice. By the time you got home and tried that pink lycra skirt on, or the button up dress that gaps at the navel, it all vanishes. Until next time. Hopefully you have a job that pays for the habit.
Sex; well I won’t go into too much detail but I remember when I thought sex = love. Yeah right. That old chestnut.
Now of course we have the internet and social media. Praise the God of small things. Very small. Facebook has its upside; being in touch with my friends from the other side of the planet. Instagram is fun until I find I’m viewing my life through the lens of the next possible post. Running off when I think of a funny anecdote or a comment from my children, before I forget it, put it up on facebook for everyone to see instead of living the moment for a bit longer. Open a Twitter account my friends plead. I couldn’t cope with the trolls.
Humans – we’re all craving something. Not many of us escape this modern day phenomena. Tibetan monks maybe. The Pope.
Reality TV (possibly the worst thing to infiltrate our minds). Cheap, instantly gratifying, disposable television. No need for writers or any creativity. Brilliant. I hate it.
Food – of course. Reality TV covers that too. Judgment and belittling of guests, yet they come back for more. Cake baking – who thought anyone one could be more judgmental than the Women’s Institute’s Victoria Sponge Competition. For me it was all over once people started taking photos of their dinner. Keep it to yourself. It’s just not interesting to anyone but you.
Selfies. Say no more. Now it’s not just faces, its other body parts too. Thighs and cleavage. The world has gone mad. I did say more, I promised not to.
We are all guilty one way or another. I love my once a day coffee and was guilty of posting a photo of my son’s café coffee the other day. I hate to shop. I gave up the fags years ago. My wine consumption is pathetically small. But I love social media. And cop shows – UK ones anyway. Call The Midwife too. All those lovely babies – I can’t get enough of them.
I do try to fill the hole in my middle with writing and reading stories. It’s my passion. What’s yours? I bet it isn’t consumerism or a legalised drug of some description. My children too – they fill me up with love and pride.
And sometimes knitting. I like a good knit. Loud music in the car too, my voice sounds great without judgement from others. I don’t need the likes of Simon Cowell. Would it kill him to do up a few buttons on his shirt?
And laughter. Nothing quite like it when that hole is gaping with hurt and reproach. We should all do it more. I mean, look how ridiculous society has become. That’s got to be worth a chuckle.

DEAR PEN FRIEND, WITH LOVE

The mail is suffering, once hand written epistles filled those red boxes. The excitement of receiving a letter from a friend, pastel coloured and sometimes perfumed. The satisfying plop from letter box to welcome mat, or the sight of sloping script on an envelope, amid the usual bills, in the mail box.
I think that’s why it cost me nearly three dollars to send a single Christmas card to the old country; predictably arriving late. The post office has to make up the slack somewhere, from our slackness of the handwritten form. It’s all bills and advertising now.
The first letter I received was from my older and much adored cousin. A school project for her (will you be my penfriend?); pure newly discovered joy for me. I hadn’t even heard of the words ‘pen friend’. I was eight.
There followed a girl I’d met in the caravan park pool on holiday. She shared the same name as my cousin. We wrote to each other for years and finally met again. She was two years older and the epitome of cool. I was skinny, still wearing little girl dresses. She stopped writing.
My lovely bestie who moved to another side of Suffolk. Our lives hadn’t really begun so we wrote of television shows we’d seen. She wrote with authority and I lied. My parents didn’t let me stay up to watch much telly.
It was my family’s turn to move. From Suffolk to Cambridgeshire to Bedfordshire. I wrote to old classmates, most dropped off but one didn’t. A much loved friend who creatively wrote entire plays in her letters, using different pens for each voice. Those letters groaned under the strain of inadequate envelopes. I hovered by the letter box waiting for a thud on the porch floor. We’re still in touch and she’s as creative as ever. You know who you are.
As a teen I tried writing to pen pals from foreign lands. Marco from Italy, who was too intense for me. Bridgette from south west France who’s English was so much better than my French. Finally, Tim from America who sent a photo. A small black and white booth shot, fair Californian hair, big teeth and pulling a goofy face. He phoned me one night. Imagine. From America to me, in my parents house in a small Bedfordshire town. He asked if I would send a photo. I did. Never heard from him again. I try not to take it personally.
When I moved to Australia with the husband I wrote to nearly twenty people. Close friends, family, former work colleagues, my brother’s ex-girlfriend. I wrote of glorious skies and ferry trips past the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge at sunset. Warm weather and sunshine. Homesickness, finding my way in a strange land. I still cannot get over the kangaroo. One often jumps out at me on my drive home at dusk. They are native to nowhere else; they have a strange beauty which never fails to astound me.
Slowly these letters dropped away. People were busy and quite frankly, who wrote letters anymore? Except for one.
We still write long, long letters full of the births of our children, our changing lives. The differences between us; she likes action movies and I prefer something slower. The things we have in common; finding our way as our children grow, trying to let go and keep them safe at the same time. Grief, new loves, illnesses, funny stories, meaningless chat, how ridiculous life can be. Twenty, twenty-five pages long. I like to think we keep the Royal Mail going.
These letters are my closest link with my past. A window into both our futures. The letters have shaped my life and I am forever grateful for them. I sometimes think of us as Edwardian ladies, minus the bonnets and the Empire line dresses, in a time when letter writing was taken seriously.
I can no longer find large, coloured paper on which to write. Only A4 lined pads without covers make themselves available on the newsagent’s shelves. But recently I bought myself pretty, glittery pens in gold, purple, pink and blue. If people only realised the difference between a glib facebook comment, a quick couple of lines of an email and the rewarding pleasure of communicating by pen. From the heart, going into details about the funny thing that happened to you that morning, the stuff your children say; if we did I’m sure my Christmas card stamps would not cost as much. We’d all be at it.

THINGS I DID DURING THE HOLS

Turkey eaten for the first time in nearly 20 years 1
Days spent in soggy swimmers 35
Christmas movies watched 10
Christmas Specials watched 500
Ice blocks sucked on 40
Calories consumed 150,000+
Champagne imbibed 2 good bottles
Red wine guzzled LOADS
Times when drunk too much of the above and sung
out of tune (although not anything by Paul McCartney)
I have a tendency to sing Macca when tipsy even
though I can’t stand him. Only 2 – very proud
Times went to bed wet after total emersion showers 20
Times went to sleep with an ice block wedged between
my breasts 15
Number of sons successfully introduced to
Spandau Ballet 1
Number of sons still only listening to rap 1
Days spent interstate 3
Steamy nights under canvas 2
Camping trips aborted due to extreme heat 1
Days with unmanageable hair due to heat————————-60
Days woken up with hair cross between a beehive and
a birds nest 20
Weight put on (conservative estimate- scales too scary) 2kg
Days until 5:2 diet starts 0
Sons in high school now – where did that time go? 2
Days and nights until weather becomes bearable approx 40
Visitors expected before summer ends 7

Hope 2015 is a good one for you all! I’m looking forward to returning to my normal colour – currently constantly puce. It doesn’t suit me.

Hiding the Folds (excerpt from a short story)

This excerpt from a short story of mine was published recently in the Write Around Queensland e-book of pieces no longer than 1000 words.

Ellen’s footsteps echoed along the corridor overlooking the courtyard which wasn’t bathed in sunlight but the distant lukewarm glow of a London afternoon. The town planners had thought to call it ‘Lincoln Fields’. There were no fields and Lincoln was a good three hours drive away. Trees were planted in tiny soil circles and imprisoned by concrete, much the same as her mother who had been imprisoned here since she was a young vibrant woman. Ellen had escaped – unemployment, drug abuse, spotty teenage mothers with ugly howling babies at their hips, soiled nappy smells and rough cut tobacco. Ellen’s hair looked different to her old friends on the estate. She had acquired a sheen, whereas the estate girl’s hair clumped and matted.
“Or-right, Elle?”
She nodded at Chantelle or Jazmyne, she could never tell one estate girl from another. Ellen’s expensively tailored suit and French perfume were a world away from the girl’s sweat shop acrylics. She didn’t feel proud here, she felt embarrassed. If her mother hadn’t raised her to appreciate beauty she would be trolling up and down those corridors in flip-flops and fake designer-wear herself.
Ellen tried the key in the door; it caught in the lock. She must get that seen to – one day it would refuse to budge and her mother would be trapped forever.
“Haven’t seen your mum for a few days, Elle.”
Chantelle was still there, breathing instant coffee fumes in her face. Her unwashed hair hung in strips like flypaper. Ellen felt guilt tapping on her bones, a light tapping, a tiny hammer like the one that broke the toffee at Christmas. She should come more often. Chantelle slunk away and cold lack blew from her childhood home as Ellen crouched over the letterbox. “Mum? It’s me; I’ll use my key. Don’t get up.” A couple of visits ago Ellen had waited at the door while her mum shuffled up the hallway. A broken ankle, swollen three times its normal size.
“I did it dancing,” her mother had laughed. It was a lie of course; it had been years since Linda had gone dancing. More likely she had fallen on the wet linoleum in the bathroom. Those horrible woolly mats she had down didn’t have a non-slip rubber underside. What with a leaky shower and the lack of damp proofing it wasn’t just the floors that sweated, it was the walls too. There had been a time when her mum loved to dance. She’d go up West to the clubs with Queenie. Like most of her mum’s friends they didn’t stick around for long. It didn’t help that Linda constantly talked about a more beautiful life: packing it all up in one of those fancy suitcases and pushing the key through the letterbox on her way out; moving to somewhere on the continent where she would work hard and enjoy the sun; meeting a rich man with a yacht big enough to do the Tango on. Linda had dark, exotic looks; no one was quite sure where they came from.
She would tell Ellen of her dreams but the girl had worked out early on that her mother hadn’t included her in her plans. “Of course you’d be around, Elle, but men don’t like snotty children hanging about now do they?” When Linda went dancing she forgot she even had a child. Ellen was left to mind herself. Linda’s babysitting money was taken up with cabs into town. Drinks, not covered by Linda’s meagre budget, were readily provided by shady men. At home, when it got dark, seven-year-old Ellen would turn all the lights on, the telly up loud for company and squeeze under her bed, clutching a bear won at the fairground. A tall man with a strange accent had shot a couple of plastic ducks and won it for her. He was the closest she’d come to a father but her memories of even him were sketchy and hard to pin down. Linda had never told her real father that she existed, which seemed harsh in the world she lived now. “How can he not know?” Daniel, Ellen’s boyfriend, had asked her.
Linda had moved out of her violent family home and been given a small council flat on account of her pregnancy. It was the first space all of her own before she gave birth to Ellen who was, by all accounts, a small, sickly infant. Linda had been embarrassed that her child’s screams could be heard through paper-thin walls but she was too proud to apologise. She had painted those walls in bright colours that were looked upon with distrust by the few friends she brought home. There was something too vibrant about her, as if she belonged somewhere else, somewhere foreign. Ellen was fair but had good bone structure and she was tall. Linda held a stray memory of the good looking stranger who wore a smart grey suit as she pressed up against him in a doorway behind the brewery in Kings Cross. Linda thought he possessed more than a passing resemblance to her daughter.
Ellen leaned down to the chair and slid her Chanel covered lips across her mother’s papery cheek. She tried not to recoil. Her mum’s wrinkles were deepening and the layers of skin seemed to separate, taking air between them like small pillows. Linda was dressed in a shapeless, grey dress and a sad blue cardigan into which she seemed to be shrinking, shrinking from life. How long would it take her to disappear so that Ellen would no longer have to visit this filthy estate? Shocked at her unkind thoughts she fussed over her mother, straightened her clothes so she looked more human, less like Mrs Pepperpot before she shrank.
“I’ll make coffee, Mum. I’ve bought that exotic blend you like.” As Ellen moved briskly about the kitchen she told herself it wasn’t her job to save her mum.

CHRISTMAS UP-WAYS DOWNSIDE

I may have finally got the hang of an Aussie Christmas. But it took time. I came from a place of festive lights in the shops, reflecting off the wet pavements in November. Christmas parties to be negotiated and aligned with your partners. Office dos, finger buffets at acquaintances and endless festive and boozy pub lunches. My favourite was my last employers in London – we whistled and a drink’s trolley appeared. For free – anything you wanted. Except advocaat – no one could get the lid off.
The really strange thing was the boyfriend (before he became the husband) used to disappear pheasant shooting in Northampton on the very day I had booked to trudge around Richmond (Surrey) snapping up Christmas presents for both our reasonably large families. Dickens and Jones, Next and Marks and Spencers. By the time I’d made it to Whittards (connoisseurs of fine tea and tea related-products) I was loaded with carrier bags and damn near in tears, I was straight. It was cold out but over-heated in every shop. I was simultaneously sweating from the armpits while any dribble turned into an icicle.
The food list was enormous – even just for us. Turkey, three veg (not including those horrible brussel sprouts). Ingredients for bread sauce, cranberry sauce and single cream for the mince pies.
Christmas day involved the two of us, cavorting on the wrapping paper, watching an old fashioned Christmas movie – (‘Father Christmas, Father Christmas, he’s the greatest man in the whole wide world’ in a Cockney accent). Me sweating over a stove while Mr C shouted out the good bits from lounge room.
Next day we visited my parents and did the whole thing again (except the cavorting). The day after that it was his parents turn to host. Both sets lived in the country – one west and one south. We drove back into London watching the tide mark of smog in the sky. Suddenly noticing the traffic outside our door and feeling several kilos heavier. Three days of turkey, the occasional goose.
There usually followed a trip to Northamptonshire for another pheasant shoot – not for me. Terrified of birds, I hung around with the girls, trying not to get plastered before the menfolk arrived back smelling of game.
New Year was spent in our local. Everywhere else you had to get tickets. We did win the worst dressed couple one year. On purpose.
You’d think after all this excess we would welcome a simple occasion in our new home. Australia. But after over 30 years of traditionally eating ourselves into a lava, cold fog on the night air, it took a while.
The food I changed immediately once down under. Seafood extravaganzas, sushi, and when the boys came along different roasts. Never turkey. Until this year. First time in nearly 20 years since I cooked a turkey, but food was never the issue.
The problem was getting that Christmas-feel in a hot clime. In the lead up to our first Christmas, backyard cricket on a steaming lawn, a friend turned round and said, “oh, it’s getting all Christmassy.” Well, not for me girlfriend.
We started playing Christmas songs earlier and earlier. Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Buble and Dana. Even Deano didn’t do it. Endless watching of Love Actually, Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street’. Snow scenes and Robins on Christmas cards from the old country. Tinsel blowing in the dragon’s breath of humidity.
After almost a couple of decades, we’re starting to let our ideal of the festive season shift. It’s a summer holiday. We have a family lunch out, a trip to the beach on Boxing Day and a cinema date to escape the heat between Christmas and New Year.
We’ve almost let go. This is the year of the Televisual Christmas Special, courtesy of the BBC and the ABC. Doctor Who, Miranda, The Moody’s. We’re not giving up the telly.
New Year’s Eve we’re in bed by 10pm. The party invites have dried up but they are starting to open up for Son No. 1. As he used to say as a toddler ‘everything is up-ways-downside’. In more than one way.

FUN AND LAUGHTER ON OUR SUMMER HOLIDAY

When I met my husband we seemed to be each other in drag, we were so similar. Over the years our differences have become more obvious. We still share a similar sense of humour – except when he does an ironic feminist joke which falls flat and makes me shout. We like to do the same things – hang out reading and swimming in the sunshine. Call that wallowing – not swimming. He reads non-fiction and I read fiction. I have to admit I can’t completely trust someone who never reads fiction. Or worse, someone who thinks fiction is not as good as non-fiction.
Movies – he likes car chases and shouty films. He’ll watch fantasy, psychological thrillers, spy movies. We overlap on the thrillers and spy movies but mostly I love foreign language films. Mike Leigh, Woody Allen and decent comedies. He’ll join me in the Scandinavian but not the French, Italian or German. Funny. He did mention when we met that he loved German films. That avenue of pleasure has since been confiscated.
We agree on how to raise our children. Disagree on what makes food healthy. And holidays. We agree that we should go on the same holiday. But that’s where it ends.
I want to visit Italy and several of the Greek Islands. Santorini for its beauty. Hydra for its creative history and Thassos – that’s where we honeymooned. I would also love to visit Paris (painfully – I’ve never been. Done France but mostly ended up with men who hated cities, which included Paris). Every fibre of my being wants to spend time in the UK. Ireland, Scotland, Wales and my beloved England. Most of all I want to wander round London, using the tube at will. I’ve loved the tube since I was small and we travelled across to the south via public transport on family holidays. It’s a miracle of travel – you move along a coloured line – say green for the District Line, or yellow for Circle Line – and pop up somewhere different. Magic. Public transport in Australia is not magic. It’s slow and horrible. The country is too big to run ‘away days’.
Husband is quite interested in the Greek bits – knows how much I want to see Italy but that’s it. He wants to travel round Australia in a campervan; even the red bits in the middle where you could be on Mars or another hot, fiery planet out there in the solar system. If I’m going to travel in a campervan round Australia I want to hug the bits on the outside. The bits where a perfectly clean ocean can lap at my sandy toes. I do not want to spend days and days traversing across a desert. With people tagging along as it’s too dangerous to do alone. Car breakdown, flat tyres, getting bogged. I will be at my worst in the heat and the sand and I don’t want other people to witness how vile I can be.
These holidays are a long way off yet. Growing boys to feed, send on lovely trips to Paris (I will soon be the only person in this house who hasn’t visited the City of Lights), skiing trips, rugby trips etc. We both had new (to us) cars this year. One day these trips will happen. I’m thinking about shaking off the husband in Venice and hitchhiking to London. Trouble is he’s my proof reader and he’ll know of my dastardly plan by now.

NANCY’S CIRCLE

I’m meeting Eva, my granddaughter, at a café in town. A Moroccan couple run it, they sell dishes of chickpeas with couscous. I love the spicy smell. When I was young we distrusted foreign food. As if they were trying to poison us! Charlie wouldn’t eat pizza, “I’m not eating anything made by the Italians. I haven’t forgotten the war.” I served it once and he folded his arms, lips set in a line. The old sod, strictly meat and two veg, he didn’t serve in the war. Flat feet. Did I have breakfast? I can’t remember.
I walk into town, gets my old legs working. Past lines of terraced houses like brick coloured icing piped along each side of the road. Back gardens concreted over, the flowers in pots, high wooden fences. When Charlie and I moved in everyone had wire fencing you could see through. We grew vegetables, put out water butts to catch the rain, hung over those fences on warm evenings, swapping gossip and comparing ailments. People don’t talk of illness now. The fear of death. It’s just a circle, starts at the beginning and ends at the end. Today people want to live forever, with botox and vitamin pills. Not me.
When it comes to sex my Eva can use those rubber things, whereas I fell pregnant. Disastrously, but deliciously, pregnant. I refused to tell anyone who the father was. The baby was mine. I would call her Beth. I shuddered at suggestions of knitting needles and ‘aunts’ who would know what to do. And the convent? Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. I wander what Our Lady would have thought of what went on there. Not a sacred heart between them. I didn’t want my baby wrenched from me and given to ‘deserving’ parents. Who said I didn’t deserve her? God? The Virgin Mary? Or those bloody nuns. It made Charlie seem a good idea.
My feet throb as I reach the café and my cheeks are aflame. I find a seat near the window, I don’t want Eva to miss me. I ask for a glass of water and wait for my girl, listening to Moroccan folk music. The café is decorated in deep shades of red and violet and I can smell lemons. Charlie and I grew them. Strange that a man so cruel would love to nurture, green shoots and small children. So wonderful with Beth but he never forgave me for not giving him a child.
“Bitch! You think you’re so beautiful! See how you look after this.” His arms raised, the jolting blows. Black- eyes and bruises. I cut my hair and wore shapeless clothes. It didn’t keep him away. That’s what you get when your brothers pay someone to marry you. But I got to keep Beth and Charlie got a wife and servant. A fair exchange? The old bastard’s dead now.
Eva comes bursting through the door wearing a floaty orange dress. All aglow with bangles tinkling.
“Sorry, Gran.”
I stand to let her kiss me. “Don’t worry, dear. Would you order me one of those fancy coffee’s I can’t pronounce?”
Eva smiles and my heart warms. Only my girl would wear orange more than halfway through her pregnancy.
“You mean a macchiato, Gran?” She giggles. “Nancy’s been kicking all morning. Must have been the curry I had last night.”
“Eva, you can’t call her Nancy. It’s so old fashioned and ugly.” Secretly I am pleased, another circle. But Eva’s Nancy will be loved.

I wait for my coffee, listening to the music. If my life were a song I know what the title be – ‘Nancy’s Circle’. Something with a strong melody.

THE YOUNG ONES

Youth is everywhere.

It’s in the gym for starters. I’ve just joined after an absence of 10 years. It’s the first thing I noticed. There’s such a lot of it about – hard, tanned flesh and calves that intimidate the crap out of me. Tiny shorts over tiny bottoms, looking like two small apples. I know apples are supposed to be in cheeks and peaches are bottoms but it felt wrong to say that. I’ll stick with apples. The shorts are bright and draw attention – shocking pink, sunshine yellow. Even when my bottom was smaller I can’t remember ever wanting to draw attention to it.

This youth obsession: I try to avoid celebrity mags – firm faces, firm jaw lines. Foreheads that can go out without fringes – my preferred face lift. Cheap and lasts until the humidity hits.
Even the middle-aged are young now. Divas I have grown up with, actresses I know are older than me have shaved off a few years.

I remember when Cher had womanly hips – when I idolised her. Clad in denim and singing about gypsies, tramps and the other one. Whose is this panto-face starring out of a frame that must be 70 by now? For the love of Sonny, woman, stop! A cross between Charles II and a china doll. Nothing’s moving on that face, baby. Not ever.
I have two sons to send out into the world, with only me, to let them know what’s normal in the world of women. Son No.1 joined the gym with me. That’s not strictly true – I joined with him. Helicopter parenting again. I do most of my workout in the woman’s gym and occasionally, apart from me, a woman does come in. Mostly its girls – so young they look to be still at school. They stretch and bend, bottoms in the air. I’m intimidated. Surely my son doesn’t think women look like that.

But looking around a lot of them do. On late Friday afternoon we regularly attend the gym for a workout. My wild Friday nights now involve two glasses of preservative red and a bit of telly, and my son is still under my blades (helicopter). But what are these young things wearing tiny bits of lycra doing on party night? I want to yell, ‘Go child! Go into the night. Dance on tables (the way I used to attempt to firm my buttocks), laugh like a drain with friends’. I don’t.

The beach is another place for the young. I’m lucky to live a short drive from one of the most beautiful beaches. I wear a one piece now, in slimming black. Tight and sucking in my marshmallowly bits. I hope that everyone’s eye sight is as short as mine so they can’t see my thigh dimples, and the dazzling pasty, whiteness of my body. The beach is the place for the beautiful. Where I live all the ages look great to me.

Years ago an Italian mayor banned any woman less than beautiful from the beach. There was a big furore about it. It seemed to me then that European beaches were full of all ages and sizes. Maybe because I was young and gorgeous. Or maybe our obsession with our appearance has changed us. Suddenly I feel sorry for those young things in the gym. All that time spent on how we look on the outside. Is there any time for fun, for meditation? For listening to music, having a laugh? They would still look amazing without weights and exercise balls. Running to nowhere with a mirror in front of them.

I don’t choose my friends by their looks. I wouldn’t love my sons any less if they weren’t beautiful (I don’t see how that is possible, but I wouldn’t). The husband, bless him, has aged like me. As if he’s enjoyed every minute of it and would now like to sit down with a cup of tea and a cake. I love him all the more for that. I don’t want him to show me up now, do I?

LIGHTS OUT!

From time to time, since I was a child, I have had problems getting off to sleep. As a young girl I would lie patiently in my bed for, say, ten minutes after lights out, before shouting at the top of my voice “I can’t sleep!” Waking up everybody in the house. Soon after that my mum acquired some ‘sleeping medicine’ from the doctors. Pink, strawberry flavoured and most likely a placebo. It did the trick.

As a teenager I learnt that counting sheep was pointless. I’m not a natural with numbers and became stressed that I might have missed one or ten. I also felt pressurised into not losing any sheep. As if at any moment the shepherd would appear at my side with his crook, and a cross face.

In my twenties, quite frankly, who cared whether I slept or not. I could talk all night and go out for coffee at dawn in London. I didn’t want to miss a minute.

Then came babies. As if I’d turned my back for minute and there they were. Cute little feeding vessels waking up for feeds every two hours. I ironed to get myself back into sleep mode. My husband was in heaven. I’m not a natural housekeeper either and here was a pile of work shirts beautifully ironed. I was a mixture of Martha Stewart and a mad witch with hair that hung in clumps. Eyes darting left and right hunting for the next piece of crumpled cotton.

Having babies waking in the night is like trying to sleep on a long-haul flight. In fact in those early days I often dreamed of getting on a flight to London just to be waited on. To watch back to back movies, with no fear of interruption.

Today I’m an eight/nine hour a night girl. For health reasons I need my sleep. There’s none of that talking until dawn these days. And I’d given up tripping the light fantastic way before I had a clue what it was. These days I have a few tricks to getting off to sleep.

An old favourite is decorating a house. It’s always the same house. A big, doubled fronted, bay-windowed Georgian English one. The living areas on one side, the study and kitchen on the other. There’s a beautiful garden out the back; a small table with two chairs. I decorate the house in sunny colours. There’s an Aga in the kitchen. Believe it or not I’ve never made it upstairs, where you would think my imagination would design a bedroom where slumber beckoned. No need. Despite my love of decorative design I’m asleep before my feet hit the bottom step. Problem solved.

Sometimes I run through my old boyfriends. Counting them off on my fingers. Remembering their names, their charms, their faults. One boyfriend looked evil when he laughed. Another called me ‘Cherub’ which I hated. It’s not as successful as the house project but I rarely get anywhere near, in my list, to the man sleeping next to me. Snoring; probably the reason I can’t get off to sleep in the first place.

Recently I found myself running through people I admire and why. Bob Geldof of course. A good man but an angry man too. I like a bit of edginess and let’s face it Bob was the first person to say the ‘f’ word on the telly. That I could remember anyway. Speaking to middle England – ‘give us the f..ing money now’.

Russell Brand. I disliked him on sight but the first time I heard him speak on the television I was hooked. Funny, sexy and clever. What more could I ask for?

Finally Germaine Greer. For all that she’s done for feminism, her sharp intellect. And swearing. I like the swearing.

Except I’m not doing it again. I started to get into arguments with imaginary people justifying my choices. Then they came up with their choices, which I obviously hated. It went tits up (a lovely expression). It turned out to be as bad as when I write angry emails in the dark, hoping that would do the trick. Anger is good for painting walls and pounding bread dough. It’s hopeless in the quest for sleep.

Back to decorating and evil laughs. Justifying my admirations to no one. Sweet dreams.