Tuesday, 30 August 2011

How much is too much?

There are so many things where excess is a temptation or a worry. Ice cream, daytime naps, E numbers, hours of TV.

I realise I am someone prone to excess. I've just made a batch of butter icing. It will take Herculean resolve not to thrust my head into the bowl and inhale the vanilla fluffiness. I am a born addict, or at least a born binger. I could never have smoked one fag, and very hard, too hard, for me, was drinking in moderation. I've learned to temper this temptation a bit, to try to ease my way through the sensible world of just enough and bit by bit. Tough going though, I find.

Not least because there are other excesses which seem so important. The excesses of love for example, which has two too sharp edges either side of its overwhelming need to envelop those we must cradle in our love. There's the danger of not loving enough, and the peril of smothering.

Child-centred, baby-led, child-focused: the world of parenting nowadays has moved to a frenzy of micromanagement for younger ones in which, under the guise of following their needs, we thrust onto them responsibility they are perhaps too young to take. Responsibility, like being totally in control of when and what they eat and how through breastfeeding on demand, which we must often then abruptly wrestle from them when real modern life kicks in and they need to stop eating at 3, 4 and 5 am and start having breakfast, like a normal, so other people around them can go to work/school/nursery, or at the very least get some sleep.

And it is hard to know where the need for full-on absolute 'I'd eat my heart while it was still beating and walk in rags for a century for you'-ness ends and the need for pulling back starts. The easing off is needed, not least so we don't spawn terrors, emperors walking amongst us in tiny shoes unaware for the need to share, both for social face and (a harder lesson) because a shared sense of grace, rather than entitlement, helps us all rub along so much better.

But we also need to pull back for other reasons. Yes, to allow our children to learn to fend for themselves, and protect themselves, and realise that you need to tie your laces or you'll trip. But also to help them monitor their own desires, whims and fancies.

They will have to, after all, negotiate that primrose path of consumption one day. Work out a footpath to tread somewhere inbetween attending to their own happiness and desires, and going nutzoid bananas in a frenzy of consumption of all sorts until they are stultified and spoiled by too much of all things good and bad.

I think, actually, they also need something which is a bit of a dirty (or at least misunderstood) word: indulgence. Indulgence is a tough one when you are trying to straddle the two domains of parenthood: Time-Out-Land and her sister Baby-Is-The-Centre-Of-The-Universe-Universe. But I've come to think toddlers and babies precisely need a bit of indulgence.

The temptation to correct and corral into the right combination of precocious and beautiful and hilarious and wonderful, to mould them into our image of the right sort of child, can be hampering them with our own projections. How sad, sad indeed, to have one side of your brain - say, the one learning to make jokes and connections and observations - bollocked because mid reverie you've forgotten not to lick your knife.

I think, along with our inherent pulsating desire to forge connections with the world around us, there is a desperate longing for all of us, even the shiest of toddler in the world, for attention. For our take on the world and expression of that to be attended to.

They need time especially. Time to be listened to, to stutter and whine and giggle too much before the jokes comes out. They need space to make mistakes, to be too boring or too loud or too annoying or too messy, to exaggerate and repeat themselves. To be something altogether more messy and irritating than the perfect cheeky toddler we can capture on our mobile phones and summarise pithily on Twitter. They need this to learn how to be social animals in their own right: the anti-social in them is a key to that. How can you eat nicely at the table without first eating atrociously? How do you actually find out that an evening spent moaning ruins the fun for you as well as everyone else? They have to be bad kids to be good, some days.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The soundtrack to your life

I've been thinking a lot about this, and been amazed how some trivial thoughts can cut in and demand as much of your attention as far bigger, darker or more important musings.

It started when a close friend and colleague (he who saved me on SPD-day) remarked to me and some others on his abhorring of a particular kind of TV drama. Usually American, usually angsty, populated by beautiful, young, usually angsty, characters and infiltrated, swamped and sometimes drowned in, usually angsty, music designed to tell you how to feel. Interestingly the music is often British, either to give a generic transatlantic cool or because the producers believe something about this island's damp weather permeates the tracks.

I was forced to admit that I am a sucker for such manipulation, and that particular brand of, often British, musical melancholia, aware though I am of how badly it reflects on my kudos. When pregnant with Spider-boy I almost had to be carted off when Abby in ER had her C-section and hysterectomy. I howled on the sofa hysterical until my husband offered to turn it off. 'Noooooo' I wailed, hiccuping sobs, staring into the screen like a madwoman. 'If you turn it off I'll (hic) never (shudder) know (deep breath) what (shuddering deep breath) HAPPENS!' The gynaecological, pregno madness high drama did not help me, of course, nor the fact that I'd been watching ER woman and girl, since before university through relationships, singledom, co-habiting, marriage and now this my first term pregnancy. Neither, however, did the painfully patent spoonfeeding of emotion through the soundtrack, which I have a horrible feeling came courtesy of David Gray.

This wasn't even the worst of it. When pregnant both times I found myself sobbing in the kitchen to Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens (although at least in that case the song is classy and incredibly sad), and You're Beautiful by James Blunt (which is far less classy, let's be honest). It isn't just pregnancy though: a few weeks ago, at Camp Bestival, ignoring the swathes of self-loathing from other middleclass campers somehow embarrassed of their hunter wellies, I almost sobbed when Justin Fletcher (yes, MR TUMBLE) sang the goodbye song from Something Special, unaccompanied, with 20,000 toddlers and parents joining in.

Around my time making and birthing and bedding in with Spider-boy I became briefly obsessed with Grey's Anatomy, which is a very bad offender too, notorious for its use of the songtage to tell you how sad, or worrying, or jubilant, or angsty, usually angsty, its characters are feeling and therefore how close to tears you as their audience should be.

But I digress. The conversation deepened, between my colleagues and I, as one wondered how her life would pan out and to what soundtrack. I had a hideous realisation: I think, sometimes, as I am a daydreamy sort, I kind of do think my life is playing out like a US glossy drama with slightly obvious music, a capella for really important things.

I wondered, actually, if that was one of the reason birth was such a shock to me. Studies have been done on the traumatic nature of TV and film births, and the fact that this contributes to birth fear amongst expectant mothers. For me I suspect the opposite was true. I think perhaps somewhere in my first time pregnancy denial I had actually turned reality off and began to anticipate the future neatly packaged in a story with a defined arc and maternal caring cyphers to carry me through a birth which followed a narrative which was simple and undetailed. I'd begun to forge a fantasy, using the only real birth 'experiences' I had to date which I could bear to believe (namely Daphne from Neighbours). And in doing so was faintly surprised when my birth wasn't accompanied by Joss Stone or someone singing unaccompanied, slightly husky versions of songs from the 1950s with 'baby' in the title, rounding off with Johnny Cash's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, or something by Mushroom Music as the camera pulled back on a tableaux of me, the husband and the new person all beautifully lit and looking young and peachy skinned.

What this says about my imagination is, of course, embarrassing. And it is hardly an advert for the DVD of my life which would, presumably, have a self-involved self-deprecating commentary from me, naval gazing at every decision I have ever made, a druggy interlude full of high frequency ultrasound and strobe lighting to reflect no-one sleeping for four years, several repeated scenes and anecdotes, some cracker style jokes made with too much emphasis and a host of deleted scenes in which I am pregnant and crying down the phone to an array of poor bastards in Customer Services departments across the land.

My colleague is one better, though. He said the DVD of his life would simply be Liverpool FC winning the Champions League intercut with a static shot of him eating a plate of pie, chips and beans to the strains of the Kinks singing Waterloo Sunset. On a continuous loop.

What would be yours?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bad births

I know lots of pregnant women right now. I am so excited for all of them. Squealing, practically, for a couple. In that face-achey, find yourself smiling at nothing, can tell your eyes are sparkling, could well-up in a sympathetic hormonal fug for them way you do when someone, or several someones, who you love have only gone and started growing a bloody person (or persons).

I am so thrilled and excited. And so hopeful for all of them about the nitty gritty path they have to follow, ultimately alone, but hopefully held by others, loved and supported and encouraged in that final fight for family: birth.

It is hard to know how frank to be, and I realize there were times, especially after Spider-boy was done when I simply answered things in a straight and graphic way when perhaps I should have been more coy. The devilment of too much detail. It can be a tough balance, especially when people ask you specifics about tears and contractions and pushing and placentas and you can't easily offer reassurance based on personal experience. I find myself worrying about wording as I offer unsentimental but hopeful truths based on how and what things can and should and usually are like. And I remind them truthfully and honestly that I didn't like it the first time, I wasn't treated with much kindness and that made me feel awful, but I did it again.

The truth is I would, do it again, a hundred times for either lad if it were required. Of course I would. But I would tear off my own fingers if it protected them. I'd eat my face. All the blood and wrath and dread would be made real in a woman of steel if I was called upon to wreak destruction on myself to save them from something horrible. That is love. Blinding, untrue, unreal, dangerous, real motherlove.

My concern today is more that I find it harder than I thought to not still feel overwhelmed with sadness at how much my experiences of labour and birth rubbed out a part of me. I feel that for 19 hours with Spider-boy and 39 weeks with Newborn bits of me were stole and rubbished and judged and this made me bad and somehow made bad in me. It is a disgusting thing and threatens to drown me in self-loathing. Worse, I can tell my face gets tight and maybe I don't sound as supportive and thrilled, as I am without measure, when I hear about friends being rightly and kindly and sensitively treated. And I don't want to risk ever looking like some kind of fucked up schadenfreude woman, because I'm really not. I want birth to be as nice as possible for all women, if not empowering in its often slightly less than dignified squalling than not lifechangingly destructive.

As I thought about this I read a piece today about which featured the assertion that 'the truth is that, so long as mother and baby are alive and undamaged, it can be counted a great success'. This is true, it is the holy grail, although I don't love the piece it comes from as I think it is scary and personal but doesn't admit that as much as it should. But wiser and better informed women than me can write about midwife shortages, the politics of birth, risks high and low, how those risks are calculated, how those risks can be wildly far from the mark, labour wards and home births. The debate is massive and fascinating and I am glad it is there. But in case anyone here is as troubled by birth daemons as me, I can at least offer the truth that I have found. My birth was a 'great success'. Both my births were. I know this. But they did leave me broken physically, mentally morally. A fractured egg, loathsome in the fragility and need for care, and morally rotten in the all consuming rage which still travels through me and occasionally bounces out quite uninvited.

I really thought I was over the worst of my most horrible thoughts about birth. I thought I'd moved beyond any fear or worry or resentment as the year after newborn met its last quarter, as I'd kept writing here and trolling along to talking cures, looking around for ways of seeing things anew and bright and wonderous. That any symptoms of my reaction and response to my first labour and birth and aftermath, which had caused so much pain and destructive emotion, were now mere shadows and that the nonsense of mistakes and misdiagnosis and labeling and misfortune of my second pregnancy was behind me like my bump. After all, had I not, despite a Godawful pregnancy, had the perfect healing second experience? A super speedy drug free birth of a beautiful perfect baby? That often illusive, denied to many, soothing restorative second moment to rewrite the past and feel suddenly cured of my bad experience the first time...

Life doesn't work like that though, or at least not always. And as with any other experience defined by pain and humiliation (heartbreak, loss, grief) I wonder whether it will always be with me.

I certainly enjoyed my second labour more. I enjoyed labouring at home, with my husband and my doula, I enjoyed the calm of it and being held and believed and comforted by those four warm, strong, certain arms. I felt something unearthly and intense and strange. I felt a total lack of control, but this time in a good way. A succumbing humming and buzzing through me as delivery drew nearer, a sense I was following a path with soft footfalls to pad through, supported by something bigger than myself.

I am aware, and have written many times, that I am bathed in that everyday but nevertheless miraculous good fortune. My stargazing son was delivered screaming to this world. Despite the force and surprise of his entrance and the long blue cord wrapped around his neck and belly after a frenzy of spinning he was alive, so beautifully and simply alive. I know this was the right answer.

But did that change the bottom rocking, woozy headed, sweaty palmed response I have to any thoughts about Spider-boy's bloodier bow to the world? No. I still have a headache when I think about it. Mainly, because though time passes those moments, his delivery, following hours of lonely terror and mindless screaming, seems fixed in the now even though they were four years ago.

And in those moments, which return quite easily though they are over, I see that woman and am trapped as her. I watch those hours play out when I was alone and ignored, crawling down a corridor, looking a pool of blood in the hospital toilets and hoping for sanitary reasons it was, at least, mine. I recall the moment I stepped outside myself to watch the carnage because I had no place left to go, and the ghost of me I saw watching a writhing wreck and simply repeated a mantra of 'the cannot be happening, I cannot be one of those women, I cannot be being ignored, I cannot be alone in this, any minute someone will believe me, or support me, or help me or be kind'. I watch it play out as still as the midsummer night it was and I am more than remembering. If I don't sidestep any clues or reminders, if I let down my guard, I remember that along with plaintively wishing that I wasn't really experiencing it, mainly I was thinking that we, we two, entwined and stuck together, would die.

I read that back and I hate myself. What a whining wretch I am. Me and Spider-boy did not die. He was born. He emerged. He screamed and snarled and settled only for me and Mr Thatwoman. He blasted through my shocked, unfeeling fortresses of fear and ensured that in year when my lips and face felt numb for the entire 12 months he was an insistent raging heat against my cheeks, burning to get inside my head, violently pulling my love from me to ensure we had each other however broken I was. I am the luckiest woman alive, for that.

And yet I can't lose the nub of anger and outrage and loss and fury inside of me. It is like a shard of thick thick glass, sitting inside me, pushed right through my chest and down my belly. It is regret and sadness and fury at all the chances for things to be more held and contained and kind in both my first labour and my second pregnancy which were so unnecessarily torn and thrown away. It is cold but it makes my eyes bake and my face pinch. One false move, and it twists and cuts, it pulls me apart. It is an ugly, ugly thing: dangerous, deadly, deceptive. I am full of it and know it will tear my core to shreds if I let it. But can it be pulled out? Will it always be there? I don't know.

Friday, 12 August 2011

You've got me - who's got you?

That, above, is my favourite line from Superman. And, if we ever get drunk together I may tell you one of my deepest secrets: I prefer Superman to Star Wars, almost entirely on the basis of that brilliantly corny line, uttered by Lois as she is saved from a tumbling death by our hero.

I’ve liked it since children were a thing people older and more mature than us did, back in the days when me and Mr Thatwoman lurched around pubs in Greenwich making up haikus and drinking from after work ‘til bedtime.

Like many things in my life (my reading habits, my tits, my handbag, my dining room) the line has been reinvented and tugged and rearranged to fit in with the new world of being a parent. Now I want to whisper it in the dark, when I gaze across and see newborn lying, having won for another night the battle of the cot, entwined somewhere between me and him and Mr Thatwoman.

On a world of insecurities I want to capture this midnight hour’s mess of limbs, this velvety cuddle and the view I have of kin entwined. It is hard to operate a phone from above and I lose his head, my husband, me on my first attempts. It is a dreadful snap, but I have caught a shadow of the magic and it will help me remember

I have to concentrate but I can see limbs, skin, eyelashes. I can hear feel the hot puffs of baby breath, little snortlets, touch a toe, hear a sigh. And yet the scene defies proper definition. I stare and stare wondering which bits are me, and which him. It feels like a metaphor of some sort, as I search through the fuzzy half-dark trying to spy my hand, which I locate, eventually, nestled between my son and my husband. The lad is touching both of us, lips pursed like a proper newborn’s.

This time the skin on skin is at his discretion and demand, not because a midwife has suggested it. Not to encourage feeding or a placenta. Our beautiful bedtime chain has only a twist of threat, we cannot move or he could scream.

I could write here, about co-sleeping, about the fact I haven’t slept for longer than 4 hours for nearly 9 months but I’ll save that for another day and share only the epiphany I had this week. I may be wrong, by letting him sleep with us, part night watchman, on guard, part tyrant, complaining if we move ourselves or try to move him. I may have messed it up, this sleeping lark (again). He may be here, between us for a while longer. But he’s not. Wrong, I mean. He can’t be wrong in preferring to sleep protected and between us. It is a preference, a desire, and it isn’t inherently wrong or bad. It may not be practical. It may not work in the long term. Eventually I need to be able to roll over and sleep that extra hour again. And it can’t be forever. We will change things, move him to a cot, to bed and teach him to be secure there. But the desire, for now, to nestle in the heart of the mattress isn’t his mistake, it is just an opinion. He just prefers things this way. And I’m not sure I blame him.

Today is 39 weeks since newborn was born, and, as he was born a week before his due date, the last moment in time where the balance of power rests with me and my protection of him.

From here on in he has more experience of being alone in the world, than being inside me. It is another re-enacting of the slice of the cord, another reminder. I feel almost sad at the milestone moment. I’m conflicted about how far we’ve come and how fast. So I’m almost looking forward to bedtime and the last minutes of today when I can look at a world, and, like when there was a great belly full of him, still feel like I don’t know who exactly has got who.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I rescript a riot

So Spider-boy has some questions. Several questions. He's been at nursery, he's had the radio on, he's overheard us talking to friends and relatives. He's wise enough to save the first couple of questions until I am trying to shut the front door after our guests have left while gingerly edging his sleeping brother to a cot. He knows I am unable to run, or risk him repeating too loudly.

'So,' he starts. 'WHAT IS LOOTING?' And so it begins. A whole rigmarole of things to explain which are so very hard, mostly in their brawny simplicity. We talk about stealing, about taking things that aren't yours, about smashing and bashing things up and making a mess, about ruining other people's stuff. He's horrified, and fascinated, that grown ups and big boys and girls could do this too. He's preoccupied with the idea that the phone shops are ruined. 'Where will people get phones?' he pleas. 'I wanted a phone when I'm a Daddy'. He's wide eyed and worried.

The baby is snoring now and I start tidying up a bit around him. I'm feeling harassed, it has been a long day. I hear the click schwpt of his lips pursing and opening up. 'But what about the man?' he asks. 'There was a man. There was a man in the story. What did he do? In the beginning...'

Cut through the bone to the marrow my lad. And get thee to bloody Westminster. Or somewhere. Slicing through the flesh and meat to find the substance. I only wish I was making it up. I wish I had imagined the precocious persistence. But no. This is the truth of it. And my response, which may or may not have been right, but which was to re-script a riot.

It started with a gun. A man who had a gun. A bad man? Possibly a bad man. Probably a bad man. A man with a gun that shouldn't have been his. A mistake, an accident, something terrible happened. The police went to collect him and they had guns too. When a gun went off more people shot at each other. No-one wanted anyone to die, but the man did. He died. He was shot.

And then there were people. People who loved the man, because even people who have done naughty things have people who love them and don't want them to get hurt. They didn't think what happened was fair, they wanted to know what happened, they missed the man. They wanted to understand the mistake. So they went to the police and they waited. And that is okay, even though it can look scary when there are lots of people together and they are upset or cross or worried. It is okay, it is right, for people to ask questions if they don't frighten anyone. They, we are allowed to ask questions to make sure everything is fair. This is called a protest.

But then there were other people, who were angry about the man and angry about other things. And they got cross with everything, with the police, with other people, there were so many of them and they were so cross they started breaking stuff up, burning things. Setting things on fire: shops, buses, cars.

And then, then, there were more people. Another group of people. They saw the protest. They saw the fights and the smashing and they realized the police were busy. They saw the police were trying to stop everyone breaking the shops and houses and to stop people getting hurt. So they started to smash things up too, but in other roads, not near the police. And then they started to take things, to break the windows and the doors and steal things that weren't theirs.

By now we're in the kitchen, and Mr Thatwoman is helping out too. We fell in to a rythm and a mutual decision, that we would tell the truth as far as we could. We dreaded the why? We, after all, have a long whiny horrified desperate, shamefaced, disbelieving why? too. It doesn't come. He's followed the narrative and thought it through. He has a couple of clarifications - 'are the people who smash things up and steal things baddies?' Yes. And did they go through the doors and the windows to steal things' Yes.

Another pause. And a summing up. He sifts through the information and has two comments. One: Who WHO? would burn a bus? and two: Where is Spider-man? And I put those questions, his real questions, on this strange bloody week, not as a joke, but because in many ways I think they are as valid as so much else that I've read.

We certainly need to try to understand what has lead to this, and we're naive if we think it is merely a product of social deprivation. I can't see how that doesn't link in, I can't believe those with such economic constraints can't be close to boiling point. In fact I can't imagine why so many of the poorest aren't at boiling point. But there's more going on than just a lack of hope, security and opportunity feeding on grisly opportunity and the chance to catch the establishment and those with more with their pants down. There's something to do with capitalism and morality here. And a good deal of feeling put upon because you're watching others live the life of Riley.

There's something so frightening about a small but deadly swathe of a generation brought up with a major pharmaceutical telling them 'they are worth it' and in that one phrase summing up a conflation of self worth and pocket money. Why shouldn't they be 'worth it'? I understand that feeling and can sort of see the logic, we're all worth it with our tax breaks and our organic children's clothes, why shouldn't they be worth it with a plasma TV? Why shouldn't they get the sweets for once? But there's more even than that. Something ugly and horrible and rampant - it is about greed, and envy, about a lack of interest in society, about an ignorance of and loathing disdain for productivity. When did the small business man or woman with his or her good idea suddenly become worth trashing? It is as terrifying a sight, this swag grabbing, as the torch wielding. It seems frenzied and unstoppable and so, so, so bloodymindedly unreasonable. And there's something about a thrill too, the thrill of being frightening, of living up to the hooded stereotype, of getting away with beating up on the adults.

Even more, though, there's confusion and misinformation and ignorance. An inability to contextualise the world or empathise with it. Who would burn a bus? Precisely someone unable to read their world in any cogent depth. A bus? A BUS? Public transport, that well known instrument of oppression and the man! But I'm ranting now. As so many people are.

The thing is, though, we must calm down as it is all about the questions from here on in. Without the right questions the actions won't fit. And although asking for a superhero is too late, and too fanciful, too childish and too pat, it is at least looking at the world with hope and imagination. Which must be more important than looking for self-esteem in some stolen trainers or, in a story which starts its main chapter with a gun, asking for rubber bullets.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


My faith in my city is strong, and my doubt in her is only a flicker. Like the occasionally blue flashing lights which catch a reflection on the street across my own and splashes onto my lounge window. If I stand in my back garden tonight the sirens are still surround sound. If we stand in our bedroom we can hear voices and traffic and nee-naws and buzzing (helicopters, I think). Yet this isn't so unusual. We are sort of used to it. We live near a police station and a hospital, the roads are big the area is dense there is always a lot going on. The riots, yes, they are new, but the sirens no.

When Spider-boy was a baby we went to stay with my mother in law. She lives in a sleepy little village, with a tiny shop run by residents and a handful of buses a day. Spider-boy, already a dreadful sleeper, had a horrendous night. That morning we went walking through a tiny lane. He cried and writhed and screamed and shouted, and then an emergency vehicle passed the village. At the tinny siren call he sighed, and fell asleep. 'London lad', we laughed. 'You can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy'.

I was proud my sons were born here and I feel so attached to their town mouse-ness. I like that about them. And it is palpable, even though they are very young that they are city-wise. They aren't usually fazed by foreign metros, buses or roads.

Both my children were born in London. So was I. My early memories are of living South of the Thames athough my family moved up the country when I was just out of the infants. I only moved back in my early 20s but I've already reached the point where I've lived here more than I've not. I think I can call it my town. When the July bombings happened I felt so furious, and so shocked, and so palpably strongly pulled to the cracked tarmac beneath my feet. My grief connected me to the city under my soles. And yet tonight I feel strange. It has taken me until around 5 to midnight to work out what I feel. What I feel mostly is afraid.

Last night there were riots, horrible, desperate, frightening, intense, destructive riots in Tottenham. Later, our local shops were attacked. The high street was mesmerising when I went out this afternoon. My husband and I felt compelled to go in the pouring rain, to check in on @biggreenbooks, to see if the reports on twitter and online were true. It was fucking routed. The whole place. Highstreet names, independent stores. Greedy, outrageous, cynical, dangerous mobs had raged and stolen.

Simon from @biggreenbooks has written about his outrage, at the mindless and unpleasant criminality. The wanton disregard for neighbours and neighbourliness. The pissing all over a local economy and community, the sickening greed of it all. What has stealing clothes from Hennes got to do with police brutality? I appreciate it is rhetorical, and there are discussions to be had about deprivation, cuts hitting the most deprived the worst, breakdowns in links between authorities and communities.

It feels worse in a borough, Haringey, which lets face it, has a rank reputation, particularly if you don't live here. I've always felt that the dangerous and nasty, beleaguered brutal Haringey was a fiction. A narrative about social decline which missed what I see every day: the optimism, the invention, the business, the busy-ness, the mix. There's litter and bustle and lots and lots of people, for sure. But that's what I find all over this city, even in the posh bits, it isn't restricted to my area just because most people are poorer.

Tonight I waver. Not about the community, my community. Trudging through the shattered glass in the rain Wood Green people walked. In their myriad difference (age, gender, denomination, political persuasion, sexual orientation, race) they all looked and sounded the same - subdued, upset, shocked, angry. Openly talking their way past the ransacked shops, all of them unbelieving and fairly fucked off. Most of them talking politely to the police.

I flicker in my resolve just a small bit though, knowing what my kids could hear if they were awake, what they might have heard last night, and asking myself can I bear for them to be soothed by this anymore. Do I have the guts to ride it out? How I hope so.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

They're Learning

Life and movies don't always collide. Although I suspect anyone who claims never to have imagined themselves in a pop video whilst rammed into the back of the family car on some endless sweaty holiday journey is probably lying. We've all done it, melted our world into a movie in our head, in my case looking to my parents like I was in a sulk whilst I was more likely pretending to be some Kate Bush / Bonnie Tyler rip off in an American teen landscape ripped straight from rock and roll.

When you watch kids watch movies you see them so immersed sometimes, they can barely contain their pure emotions - my son is IN LOVE with Mr Bloom's French singing aubergine Sebastian. He's changed his name, and tells me, eyelashes fluttering on the edge of sleep that at his work he goes to vegetable festivals where there are lots of Sebastians singing along with runner beans. It is a simple but full immersion. It has echoes of baptism - he emerges from watching blinking his way back into the world.

I love it when movies catch me this way too. People often talk about Steven Spielberg's child's eye, his obsession with childhood and related sentimentality. I quite like his films though, and don't mind the tips towards the mawkish every now and again. I think, if I really tried, I could make my self cry with full chested heaving sobs if I sat quietly and thought hard enough about the moment when Elliott looks like he might be dying in E.T. Or the girl in the red coat, with her clever, clever little plan only foiled by the width of a bed.

What I also like, however, is Spielberg's knack of tapping into the parental eye too. The mixture of pride and frustration in Hanks' weary civil servant as he tracks down DiCaprio's endlessly creative and mischievous little boy lost in Catch Me If You Can, for example. The film works because Hanks' character is attracted to DiCaprio's lad, pulled to watch him grow up, keen to capture him but relishing his daring moves from new skill to new skill. Damn that reminds me of being a parent.

My favourite of these parental moments is in Jurassic Park. I know everyone loves the kitchen chase (an important life lesson that, check your mirrors, remember you can look behind you by looking in front, stop your baby brother from making noise if a reptile's on the loose), but for me it is the moment when Muldoon notices his theory in action - the raptors are learning, and have split to surround and attack. He notices that he was right, just before they tear him up (off screen), but what does he say? He says 'clever girl'. He's secretly thrilled by his scaly kids and the way they've reassessed and conquered their world. Again.

I get this with Spider-boy, so much. My new favourite thing is hearing adult idioms as he articulates his view on the world to me. 'Guys,' he says, squinting into the festival sky where a rogue lantern illuminates a thousand Cath Kidston tents, 'actually, do you know what that is called? It is called in the distance'.

Today my littler son had a sore and swollen eye. I had to work from home with him watched by helpful friends and or snoozing softly while I tapped away, and get him to the doctors for drops and bits and bobs. He isn't properly sick again (turn around touch the ground spit on the floor) and has, in fact, just rubbed his snuffles around his face and made everything a little bit icky. That's okay then. Phew.

When I was making my lunch, I had him in the kitchen with me. He was rifling through our mountain of camping washing and crawling around. I turned to get a fork from a drawer and get a drink from the fridge. The wee sod climbed three stairs whilst I was no doubt congratulating myself on the benevolent neglect school of parenting he and so many second siblings are subjected to. He didn't even grunt and complain, as he has with other milestones. He just did it and then sat at the top staring back at me, before turning over, bum in the air, and gliding along the floorboards to the proper stairs. By the time I'd reached him he was going for the second stair the first one not even a challenge. Like Muldoon I see, if not death, the catastrophic end of one phase of life hurtling towards me. The bugger climbed the fucking stairs. Nothing is safe. He is properly able to escape my clutches and my kitchen. Like Muldoon, I heard my self say 'clever lad'.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A Bad Fit

Fashion. She's my nemesis. I like clothes and I used to like clothes shopping. At least I think I used to like clothes shopping and have fond memories of trying things on in Miss Selfridges and the indie shops in Leicester when I was a teen. They are mainly memories of a couple of seasons where I hit my stride in opaque tights and short black flowery print dresses, or long floaty tunic tops, denim cut offs and a velvet hat. Yes a velvet hat. And a choker. Oh I was one of those teenage girls in 1994.

But it was a brief love affair, because for all the 'YES!' excitement I think of when I remember trying on my patch work dress of loveliness (which I wore until it almost fell apart and then hid in a wardrobe at my parents' house) or a black see-through mini baby doll with peachy red roses which made me look, with my choker and white pink lipstick, the absolute dogs bollocks, I also remember crying in changing rooms. Sobbing, sometimes, in my bright white bra, realizing nothing I tried on fitted, let alone suited me. That yet again I'd selected something which would never suit me or fit me and that I might just have to cut myself out of and pay for out of sheer panic and shame.

The crying started when I was about 17. It hasn't really left me, and furthermore created another trend, a terrible spiral which I've been edging round and round in ever since. For the second half of my life, I realize, typing that out.

I've been buying clothes because they fit around me. Not because they look nice. Not because I have any sense of style. Not because they reflect anything about me or make me look or feel great. Not even because they fit properly, but just, you know, because I can get them off and on again without a struggle.

There have been brief moments, in that intervening time. where I've hit a look that was on trend and worked it a little - dresses over leggings, skinny jeans and Scandinavian type tops, a summer of three-quarter combats, vest tops and cardigans, a good couple of winters with slip on round toed ballet pumps. And oddly in pregnancy I found a groove in the capsule wardrobe that being so bent out of shape required. There was at least relief in having 8 things, a couple of dresses, one cardigan, a couple of tops, some jeans and later some cords and tunics.

I'm also a classic example of the 'fat girl likes handbags because AT LEAST THEY FIT' cliche.

And though occasionally I've pleased the Gods of TK Maxx and found something classy (that fits, but that I quite like) mostly, I've fallen for comfort and only looking passably unfat, sometimes just fat but with shape. Photos attest that in the wearing these clothes let me down as badly as I did in the choosing of them. I've detailed my endless search for the perfect cardigan before, and that has provided some shockers. I don't scour Vogue, but I pay a bit of interest to the fashion pages. Mainly because, like eating chocolate for breakfast it combines a brief moment of interest and a huge morning hit of self-loathing.

It is such a bad move, paying any attention to what is on trend when you are actually wearing Sainsbury's jersey which looks like badly washed Boden on the first wear and like, well, Sainsbury's jersey after that. I don't want to express my entire personality or make a statement, and I don't have a very modish body shape or face - I look like a fucking clown in most make up and have features, but in an ordnance survey map way, rather than ones that would be celebrated in Grazia.

But I've lost my babyweight and can't take refuge behind the bulletproof vest of a massive bump or maternity gear anymore. What's to do? How do you go about finding a look when you are a panic buyer with no experience of buying stuff you actually like for the last decade and a half?

I'm as elastic as bagel dough and have a strange shape left over. It isn't a firm figure more a smudged composite of what once was with no obvious strengths to play to but it is mine, and I am now being let loose back into adult country, the world of work where one is supposed, at the very least, to look like one is together some how.

My plan hasn't extended to finding a look, answers on a postcard on how to either become someone who styles it out, or finds the right shops to be sidelined into not offensive and reasonably not rank looking.

I have a stopgap solution though. This has been to buy a new pair of boots and wear an interim uniform of dresses and those, or jeans and smart tops, while I read FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and HOW TO BE A WOMAN. I have inhaled the latter, thanks @caitlinmoran and realized that at the very least I have a pair of yellow shoes which I can wear when my pelvis gets better, and agree with her about undergarments, clothes you can't afford and stepping away from Per Una (as well as waxing, birth horror, being fat, feminism, and SHOUTING WITH CAPITAL LETTERS, of course, natch). I'm wondering if the other one will at least remind me that I can think my way out of rag hell as much as I have spent my adult life thinking my way in.