Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Let there be this

Portrait of Jean Morton, actress and TV presenter
My grandmother, Jean Morton, died two years ago this week. She was an actress and a television presenter, and also inspired me to write my first novel, A Sister for Margot. This is how I choose to remember her.


Dear Nana,
 It has been two years since you left us. We said goodbye one morning in May, while you were sleeping with the blankness of death chalked on your face. Sitting by your bed, I leafed through old recipe books and read your clippings out loud, in case you were still listening. In that quiet room, we breathed the same air for the last time.
Guess what? Recently you've been getting younger in my imagination. (Hurrah! How marvellous, darling!) I picture us in Ibiza again on the terrace. You have a glass of rosado in one hand and you're wearing a patterned sundress, cinched in at the waist. Your blue eyes are twinkling merrily as you recount one of your favourite anecdotes. As ever, your mimicry and comic timing are spot-on.
But I have tears in my eyes because I am not really there with you. I can see you and hear you, but I can't touch you anymore. I can't put my arm around your shoulders or kiss your cheek, warm from the sun. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In the eye of the beholder

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Another sunny day, another date with Stay-at-home Dad. This time we take his canoe out onto the river with a bottle of Rioja and a bag of Kettle chips (his idea of a picnic). The kids are with my mother and I rejoice at my new sense of freedom.  There's nothing like a bit of romance to make you feel young and carefree again.

Once we've battled the river current, half-soaking ourselves in the process, we end up at a sandy cove on the edge of a sheep field. Stay-at-home Dad tethers us up (sorry, I mean the boat) to a tree, while I sit back and admire the muscles bobbling under his wet t-shirt. Then, while he busies himself with setting up the 'picnic', I carefully arrange my legs in a flattering v-bend. 
Discussing the objectification of female beauty on the Thames
Full disclosure down by the river

Eek! I suddenly notice a bristly patch of hair just below my left knee that got missed by the shaver. Instinctively I cover it up with my right hand, but it's too far down my leg and I am in danger of performing yoga (seated twist) in a canoe. So in the end, I go for full disclosure.

He laughs and says women should be allowed to grow their leg hair if they want to. It turns out he has just had an argument with his ex-wife about the objectification of female beauty. Without consultation, she had waxed their daughter's legs, ahead of a ballet exam. He was outraged and accused her of inflicting pain on their child for the sake of a cultural hegemony. It was akin to female circumcision apparently. Crikey! The last spat I had with Errant Ex-husband was over his reluctance to wash the children's underwear.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Packing a bag, with love

My baby (all five foot of her) is leaving home this week. Alright, I am being dramatic. She is going away for two nights on a year 5 school trip. Still, how are we going to cope without her? Our household will seem off-kilter without her serene little presence, her piles of paperback novels and her flute-practise. Not least, who is going to feed the dog in the morning? 

Beach at East Wittering
Learning to let go...
Last night I was packing up her bag for the BIG trip, conscientiously working my way down the list provided by school: fleece, outdoor shoes, shower cap, medium-sized towel etc. Check! Somehow my scrupulous folding of her clothes and the orderly placement of each item into the holdall became an expression of love. 

I remember my own mother doing the same when I went off to boarding school. No nine-year old could have been better equipped for institutional life. My tuckbox even boasted a sewing kit, complete with a tub of dressmaker pins, a sheaf of press studs and a thimble. Never mind that I had barely threaded a needle in my life. The women in my family send their children out into the world prepared, provisioned and nametaped. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mummy's on her soapbox again

It is a funny business, blogging! There you are, tapping away at your computer, broadcasting your thoughts, without knowing if anyone is really listening. Back in the old days (circa 2001) a colleague of mine at the BBC walked into the newsroom one morning and told us he had started a blog. Once he had explained to the uninitiated (including me) what a blog was, my first thought was: Jeez, how conceited! Who wants to listen to you pontificating? Fast forward thirteen years and here I am doing that very same thing.

Mothers with children
'Mummy is going on about her blog again' (yawn)
Credit: Tim Bevan
Some days getting on my technological soapbox feels awkward and graceless. Then there are days when I get shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging (BiB) Award by BritMums - as I did last week - and suddenly all those hours of shoehorning my thoughts into a blog post seem worth it.

The mainstream press is often rather rude about so-called 'mummy bloggers'. Even one of my favourite novelists, Jojo Moyes, once wrote an article for The Telegraph, asking "where do these mothers find the time?" as if there were more important things we could be doing. Others have criticised mummy bloggers for focusing on the domestic humdrum of raising kids to the detriment of feminism.