Thursday, 24 September 2009


This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website on 17th September 2009 and in The Blog Paper on the same date.

Oh, what a miserable day I’ve had. I sometimes suffer with conjunctivitis and every now and then it flares up – which it did last night. I wear “day and night” contact lenses which I can sleep in. I’m meant to remove them and give my eyes “a day off” once a week. I rarely do.

So, I removed my contact lenses, peered into my 3 x magnifying mirror to see the blurred reflection of a rabbit with myxomatosis staring back. That would have been me, then. I fumbled around in the bathroom cabinet and eventually found some eye drops and gel and squirted and applied both liberally. And then I went to bed.

When I woke up, I found my glasses, and stupidly decided to look in the mirror. Where was the rabbit? It had been replaced with a boxer on the losing end of a bout with Prince Naseem. I couldn’t actually see my eyes at all, inspite of squinting out of them – they appeared to have been replaced by two small aubergines.

I couldn’t get on with any office work as staring at the screen was hurting me and words just looked a blurred, indecipherable mass. Heavens, I must have been feeling pretty grim ... I haven’t even been on Twitter much today!

I could see that the carpet was in dire need of a vacuum (I may be using “see” in a metaphorical sense, having a priori knowledge that owning a full-coated German Shepherd who moults continually in combination with a brown carpet - after 2 days, I KNOW it needs vacuuming whether I can see it or not). So, I vacuumed and figured I couldn’t cause too much harm by giving the kitchen floor a good mopping.

I’d very much hoped that my husband would be home in time to collect our son from school, but he wasn’t. I left in plenty of time to collect said son - as I was not going to risk driving at any speed whatsoever. And son, on getting into the car, took one look at me and said, “Are you okay? You’re crying” – which, of course, I wasn’t but the idea of a good sob at that time didn’t seem to be a totally off-the-wall prospect at all. I restrained myself and, very carefully, drove home.

I asked son what sort of a day he’d had at school and, very stoically, he said “Good, thanks”. Except from what I could see of the expression on his face and hear from the tone in his voice, this wasn’t really the case at all.

Year 8 seems to be proving to be a repetition of last year ... son is unhappy at being disrupted by noisy and unruly classmates and saying that he can’t concentrate on his lessons because of this. I am a vile mother. For once, I didn’t pursue his response to get to the bottom of what had actually happened at school today. And, indeed, this is a story for another blog, on another day.

I sat down and realised that my husband would be expecting a home-cooked meal when he arrived home and then remembered that I hadn’t been shopping because I’d been feeling so rough. It’s a good job that my husband is set on a course of trying to regain a youthful physique. (Please excuse me while I snort with laughter for a second or two).

He’s all but stopped eating lunch and now goes from breakfast to dinner without a morsel of food passing his lips. He’s also keen on reducing his carbohydrate intake – so I thought I could make a very sparsely topped Shepherd’s Pie – not least because I only had 4 VERY small potatoes in stock.

Chopping onions and conjunctivitis is not a good combination. By the time I’d finished that particular task, I could barely see anything at all. I managed to pour some oil into the pan, fry the onions, add the minced meat, chopped mushrooms, and tomatoes and then, as I usually do, I reached for the Worcestershire Sauce – and proceeded to pour several generous splashes of balsamic vinegar into the browning mince. I added about double the amount of Worcestershire Sauce to cover up my mistake and hoped for the best.

The result was a slightly more piquant-than-usual Shepherd’s Pie and no-one complained ... or died.

And now, having administered my fourth squirts of eye drops and fourth splodge of gel to my sore eyes, they’re still sore but not AS sore and still swollen but not AS swollen and I am resolving – as I always do – to remember the importance of sticking to the regime of giving my eyes a “day off” from contact lenses, once a week. I expect that resolution will fly out of the window like all previous ones have done and once again, I will kick myself for sometimes being VERY STUPID INDEED.

Monday, 14 September 2009


This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website and was also published by The Blog Paper on the same date.

My son was nearly 4½ years old on 11th September 2001. He was taking part in his first school Sports Day. The weather had decreed that the Sports Day planned for the previous term had been delayed until the start of the new school year.

Parents had gathered to watch 28 young children go through their paces. My son and his best friend hadn’t quite got the hang of what they should be doing. One of the “obstacles” on the circuit was a small tent. They abandoned running around the rest of the course and took up residence in it. And they laughed and they giggled. And despite the encouragement they were hearing from their teachers, they stayed in that tent and continued to laugh and giggle.

I couldn’t help myself ... my son and his friend looked so cute, I had no option but to stop joining in with the encouraging noises that their teachers were making and to laugh and giggle along with them. My husband was steadfastly continuing the encouragement whilst I could barely contain my mirth at these two happy kids having a thoroughly wonderful time in a tent whilst the rest of Sports Day continued around them.

Husband received a telephone call and had to go to work. Sports Day was nearing its end & we sought permission from the head teacher to take our son home a little early. On arrival at home, I switched on the radio to catch the news. And that was when I heard about what was happening in New York.

My towers were under threat. I ensured that my son was happy and occupied and switched the television on. And for the next 18 hours I didn’t move. “My towers”. I had lived in America, in Philadelphia. My ex was a pilot. We visited New York frequently and the last time I’d seen my towers had been 10 years previously when we’d flown in a Cessna by them en route from Connecticut back to Philadelphia. And I had fainted. I suffer from vertigo and whilst flying doesn’t usually affect me, I knew the height of the towers and had a “reference point” so I simply passed out. And now I would never be able to fly past them again.

I know I’d taken care of my son – tell-tale signs of having made something to eat for him, and having bathed him and put him to bed were evidential – but I couldn’t remember doing any of those things. I seemed to be welded to a seat in front of the TV.

The world had changed and it would never be the same again. A “war on terror” had begun and, however hard I tried, I couldn’t see that there would ever be an end to it. I still can’t. And I still can’t close my eyes at night without seeing images of the ‘planes flying into those towers or of the towers collapsing. The world order changed that day and it is never going to change back.

In 2006 on 11th September, I felt compelled to do “something” ... anything ... to release the emotion that I felt about that day. I’m no artist but with paper and charcoal I drew my interpretation of Ground Zero. And, in some way, found some sort of comfort for having got onto paper that which I couldn’t put into words. That picture hangs in our hall – barely on show, mostly hidden by a tall cupboard ... but I know it’s there.

Eight years on, I don’t need to watch the many programmes about 9/11. I live with that day in my head. I hope the images of it remain in other people’s heads forever too. If we refuse to forget, then maybe we can remember to not let it happen again. I don’t know. I only hope.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

From Cool to School in 48 hours

This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website on 9th September 2009 and was also published by The Blog Paper on the same date.

I’ve just spent six weeks with one of the coolest kids in Bournemouth. I am not just talking “cool”; I’m talking UBER-COOL. My son has been on school holidays for a month and a half – routine was abandoned to the four winds and, for the main part, inspite of an odd day here and there when the uneasiness of slight boredom crept in – he has occupied himself very happily by posting his artwork to an arts website and writing reviews of comic books for his blog. The weather – as we know – wasn’t up to much but we managed to have a really enjoyable time together.

We didn’t have a “summer holiday” this year as finances wouldn’t allow – although, the end of the school holiday culminated in a weekend in London. It would probably have been less expensive for us fly from Hurn to “somewhere” abroad for a week than the exorbitant amount of money we managed to get through in the capital. Never mind – it’s “only” money, isn’t it?

My son, at the tender age of 12, found his spiritual home at Camden Market. He’s a tad young to actually “be” a Goth or an Emo but his taste in clothing very definitely veers towards “Emo” and Camden is, indeed, Emo heaven. He’s been after a long leather trench coat for a very long time. He hasn’t actually nagged about getting one as he’s far too subtle for that – he just bookmarked so many webpages showing the sort of coat he wanted that my PC very nearly ground to a complete halt. I’ve now been able to delete all the bookmarks because, at Camden, he found one. Kerching. He also found some absolutely inappropriate tee-shirts (the kind that make grandparents spin in their graves prior to their actual demise). Kerching. We drew the line at some truly vile black boots which appeared to have coiled springs located in their soles.

From Camden, where 1½ hours’ parking cost us nearly £7.00, we headed towards Shaftesbury Avenue where the iconic Forbidden Planet shop is situated. Another paradise for artistic kids and adults who like comic books, models of comic book heroes and posters. I didn’t grumble (and what’s more I didn’t allow my husband to grumble either) when son chose a couple of books he wanted to buy. I’m just very happy that I have a child who enjoys reading. I realised we’d actually managed to find bargain parking in Camden when I was charged £11.00 for 2 hours in an NCP in Gerard Place in Chinatown. Kerching. My only solace was that public transport for three of us would have equalled the amount we spent and at least we had the convenience of having the car with us. But, by the time evening came and we were due to see Omid Djalili as Fagin in “Oliver” at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, I’d decided that I’d actually had enough driving in London for one day and we actually took cabs to and from the theatre. Kerching.

The show was marvellous – it far surpassed my expectations (because, having been a very regular theatre-goer when I lived in London, I’ve sadly now become accustomed to being rather disappointed by touring theatre companies’ visits to Bournemouth which, try as they might, simply DO NOT match up to West End theatre productions). Three seats in the stalls, however (well ... if I’m going to see a good show, I want to sit in good seats – very good seats) cost us more than two nights in our hotel. Kerching. Never mind. This was our summer holiday!

We headed back to Bournemouth on Sunday – early in the day – in order (a) that we wouldn’t be tempted to spend any more money and (b) that the uber-cool kid in the long leather coat could get an early night or two before re-starting school today. And yesterday son’s face showed the benefit of the first early night – the mandatory Goth dark circled eyes had disappeared and a 12 year old boy was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. But as the day wore on the bright-eyed kid transformed into a very, very subdued little boy.

He’d had a hard, hard year in Year 7 last year. He’d been looking forward to attending a school with fantastic facilities and specialising in his favourite subject – art – but the reality of actually being there had hit him with a huge shock. He’d been the victim of several very nasty bouts of bullying (actually resulting in the suspension of several older boys); his lessons had been continually disrupted by constant changes in staff and really he was NOT looking forward to his first day back in Year 8. When I took him to school this morning, he looked very young and very forlorn (his appearance not actually being helped by the fact that age 11 jackets and trousers were miles too short for him and age 12 apparel is miles too long). He didn’t glance back at me when he got out of the car but it pained me to leave him there and I have been worried all day long.

When I collected him this afternoon, a Year 8 kid got into the car. Not uber-cool, not forlorn, just a Year 8 schoolboy. Apparently the day hadn’t gone as badly as he’d been expecting it to and the Year 7 boys were now the objects of the derision of the Year 10 and 11 boys. Year 8 and Year 9 boys seem to escape the worst of the bad treatment. The Year 8 schoolboy I bought home with me was hopeful that the rest of this year will go well and that he’ll be able to settle in and get some work done. He was wondering whether there was anything that he could do to help the Year 7 boys settle in quickly and not have such a rough ride in their first year at “big school” as he did.

Good to know, as a parent, that despite his uber-cool holiday demeanour and his quite strange taste in attire, my Year 8 schoolboy seems to have his heart very much in the right place.