The Great Scott Tread Mills Challenge!

Back in 2005 middlest was a year old and eldest was 4. I spent a lot of time at home with them both and as I kept them busy, the Radio kept me company which it had done since I was a kid. As a teenager I loved Radio 1 l-

I shed tears when Zoe Ball announced her engagement to Norman Cook as I sat on my bedroom floor getting ready for college , I raved to Radio 1 Dance Anthems with Dave Pearce and I partied hard to Danny Ramplings Love Groove Dance Party. I adored Steve Lamacq and lapped up the wisdom of the wonderful John Peel. The years past and I always dipped back in but then I had the kids and it became a staple part of mine and their diet. Middlest and I would dance around the kitchen to Jo in the mornings and when Scott arrived in the afternoon , he added a level of humour much needed in a home, which was struggling.

The years passed and many things changed but the radio came with us and so did the Radio 1 massive. Slowly though , the featured DJs changed and i came close to turning off Radio 1 completely but for Scott who still made me laugh.

And as the kids who as they got older, took him as their own.

Slowly , my tastes altered and I moved over to Radio 2, where I would tune into Steve Wright. To be honest , Steve had become my favourite so when I heard he was being replaced, I was disappointed. I needn’t have been though- the switch has been perfect and I look forward to getting in the car on my drive home from work, to pick up smallest, knowing that Scotts there to keep us company.

So today we have kept you company Scott…….smallest is just getting to know you and proudly marched along with you as we watched you on iplayer before bedtime (“I can do that Scott!”). As I watched him watching you, I thought about life all those years ago; we moved due to difficult circumstances, and the kids and I were fortunate enough to be signposted to the projects funded in part by Children in Need. I know that my children would not be the wonderful people they are today if they hadn’t had the support from such projects , funded by people like yourself who are selfless and want to help others.

So I just want to say thankyou from the other side of the story.

Twenty years on, the people you help today will still remember what you did.

Scott Mills, you are a legend.

Don’t tell Miss

I remember, 

I couldn’t cope with knowing what you were doing. 

I wanted to give what I knew to someone else. 

‘cause, if it stayed part of me any longer it would rot my insides 

A sin I held onto , 

that felt like the food you didn’t want in you. 

Small bits of information you fed me on paper that 

Bloated my stomach until 

Like you, I wanted it out. 

The words digested from letters we would write 

To each other. Pages and pages of schoolgirl script 

carrying secrets, we just could not say; 

Like who we fancied, who we hated  

And stuff like that which bit into my consciousness, 

swirled around my mind at bedtime, 

sending me on Monday morning 

in a dizzy state towards her office. 

The little wooden box in the main hall with windows  

that stretched to the ceiling, sprouting from walls so high 

you could not see who was in there, if they sat down. 

Your words spewed out and she jotted notes in her book 

 in the way that she did that gave away nothing of what she was feeling; 

And asked questions, like how long and where 

then she showed me the way out, onto the streets of the school 

where I was left To find my way back to you. 

which it turned out was not easy  

After Miss had spoken to you, 

You turned off down a side alley and I was left on the cold 

Hard edge of our group, a cornerstone of betrayal 

Omitted from the chitter and the chatter of life in Year 9. 

Your mum said thanks though through the intercom 

Of the flats when I went to see you  

resolute in my belief I had done the right thing. 

Then months later you said thanks too 

And I said thanks quietly later  

In my head to myself, when I sat with the bags  

Of uneaten food in layers of clothes,

For giving me the heads up on what not to do  

When you have a problem with eating  ,

And you don’t want anyone to know.

 

You do not tell anyone 

You don’t tell Miss. 

Better late than never!

I laughed out loud at The Observers Emma Beddington recollection of her  Mothers Day experiences- (Observer,https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/mar/27/mapping-out-my-life-in-mothers-days-emma-beddington )- moments she recalls and those she would rather forget. It’s an article which many will relate to and with and when you have travelled the full stretch of child rearing , like Emma , you look back and find that its the weird memories that make you smile.

Like many Mums, my memories of the years running up to the teens were filled with hand made presents; some created at home others at the childminder’s or at school. The kind of gifts that make you smile even if you if you don’t know what you are looking at.

The small clay pots, the little boxes filled with chocolates, the glitter covered portraits, the ‘interesting’ cardboard animals with my name written on them. (Yes, I was once portrayed as a cute kitten and a not so cute tortoise).

I think when I look at  them; I am reminded of something of them, their capability, their personality .

Of course one of the many consequences of having more than one child is that sometimes there is fierce competition to get the best gift, which is quickly replaced in teen years with reminding each other that Mothers Day even exists.

Anyway for me , the early competition quickly faded into a phase of collaborative gift giving and as the teen years settled in, more standard presents arrived – a box of chocolates, perfume, a stuffed monkey (!), a wind up monkey on a surfboard bath toy (there’s a theme here) until the years arrived when they appreciated the things I really liked and I received books and LPs.

In the last couple if years though there has been a return to the creative years and alongside the book or monkey on a surfboard (brilliant) I have received a little something more.

And this year I waited for it.

Sitting at the dinner table, eating a meal cooked by eldest and middlest, we chatted , smallest becoming increasingly itchy to get ‘on with it’. I admit, I feel slightly excited at his revelation, what could it be? perhaps a message from Pop Idols Wagner , mentioned by eldest a couple of weeks prior.(https://www.wagnerxfactor.com/)

At the moment, I am mentally prepared for , no I am hoping for something way out of the ordinary. Last year, after dinner, I came face to face with myself on the screen of a laptop at the table , and as said picture of faded, I was told to press play. Ten slides later I had been taken back twenty odd years,  via a power-point of my best ‘Mumming moments’ (the verb , to Mum has since become entrenched in family talk). Number one was my difficulty in receiving houseguests without recourse to a super-clean; a complete deep clean of the house, even the rooms which the visitor wont be using. This included a link to their favourite you tube representation of me https://youtu.be/GBwELzvnrQg

So, plates clared away, i came back o the table to find smallest seated middlest seated not so odd and eldest still in the room all v odd , I was told to sit and as I did a beat box from smallest who held the rhythm while middlest rapped and eldest danced

“Hip, hip, hooray, it’s mother’s day , here is what we say………….”.

And so on.

Usually I end on what my Dad would say is a soupy or philosophical point but there is nothing to be added here. Other than to say it was a priceless moment that words can add nothing to nor can take away from. 3 kids being themselves a moment that i will never forget.

And then there were two

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while ……. you could miss it.”

Matthew Broderick; Ferris Buellers Day Off.

Eldest has left home…………. they actually left before Christmas, but it’s taken me a while to face it squarely, an age to clean his old room and even longer to write about him leaving. I have wondered why it has taken nearly five months to acknowledge this. Why, when it’s such a significant moment in both our lives? Some might say denial, some that I am a slow processor – some might even say perhaps it’s not that bigger deal for me. On consideration though I feel it’s because I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that his childhood is over. His leaving home has created a gap. One that no matter how much I try to fill with work or hobbies or through busying myself with middlest and smallest, is still there, gaping, loud and definite. There is also a part of me which is struggling to manage the reality that life is passing by. When children are young, they are with you constantly and to an extent time stands still. Having smallest certainly stalled that sense of aging but now, despite travelling alongside smallest through another childhood – I cannot ignore it. Eldest leaving has reminded me that I am in middle age, and he has reached adulthood. Childhood passes incredibly quickly. With that stark realisation comes a plethora of memories of childhood- the happy times and the struggles that I experienced in becoming a mother; inexperienced, immature and scared. Days spent grappling around for internal resources which I didn’t have but days which I nonetheless filled. Thinking about how and what with, it’s tricky to put it all together. I’ve forgotten a lot. So intent was I on filling their days, that it seems I didn’t stop to see half of them; so, when they come to me with a ‘do you remember narrative’, I’m ashamed to say, no I don’t. Listening to the radio one evening, I caught the tail end of a discussion where the narrator speaks about the slow movement, a group which focuses upon the work of Carl Honoré, who advocated a slowing down of what has become an amazingly fast paced world. Honoré advocates the consideration of slow parenting, a method of child rearing in which the parent allows the child more agency in their days at a pace they are comfortable with. It is juxtaposed with helicopter parenting in which parents are hypervigilant and look to fill up the days and the lives of their children, with a constant stream of activities and through the consumption of material goods. As I write this it occurs to me that how overwhelmed you might feel depends upon many factors, but I suspect of many parents a child leaving home allows them to glimpse the future. One where you will be left with what you began with. Yourself. For now, though that’s a long way off. I am blessed to have them all; still by my side are two others, the smallest of which I watched this morning as he buzzed from room to room, in and out of stories and in between various games. As he stilled, I sat next to him, and I said, “Do you know what, if I had to choose one thing only that I wanted to teach you, it would be to remember just to slow down. I have spent my entire life rushing around and I can’t help feeling that I have missed an awful lot”. So that’s my goal. To stop and take notice. Worry less about what I think I should do and focus on the present; so, the next time this happens it won’t be so difficult to try and remember the life of the child, who has just left home to make their way on their own.

All change please

I met a lady the other day who has given up her career in health visiting to become a therapist in alternative medicine. . She described her training as, ‘life changing’ and listening to her; watching her speak, her experience is visceral -for her and for me.

The joy she gleaned from learning about something different and it became the impetus for a lifestyle revision and placing it alongside a neighbours recollection of their career change, the disaffection of careers and motherhood was apparent.  They too had become disillusioned by their role, this time in education and sought to apply their craft in its purest form, through drawing for a living rather than teaching others to do so. made over a decade ago, “the move”, she recounts firmly, ‘was the very  the best thing she ever did”. And as she says this you believe her- struck by the notion of a gut decision, regarding something that she knew was right for her and her family.

Each account has been framed as an epiphany type episode , a decision made in an instant after hearing the latest vagal dispatch of unhappiness. They were not happy , they recognised it, they did something about it. If I listen to my gut then perhaps I could make the change too.

The desire to do the same has overcome me on more than one occasion. The dream to write – not to teach others to do it, has run on throughout my life. But I have never tried do so professionally. One reason is doubt in my ability , the other is the children and the impact it would have if I were to take a job that required me to work outside of school hours. So the dream became a hobby, but going back to my teaching role this year ,the idea has wandered back in. It is my gut feeling that I should take the plunge, follow my desire and hearing the  lifechanging decisions of people in my life,  has made me wonder further about my own choices.

There was , of course, another thought cheering them on. Their role as a mother. Certainly , ‘The Artist’ recalls how the travails of motherhood had put pressure on their time , constraining their availability to work and so made looking for suitable work tricky. They said, “Its like having two jobs and being expected to work both full time, you cant do it”.

“Except”, we both laughed, “you have to!”.

And if you are lucky enough to be a single Mum, you may need benefit support; in which case the expectation is that you do do it. You make yourself available for work. Not an issue for most, however the bone of contention for many, is the amount of hours that you are expected to make yourself available. 25 hours a week in my case, with a child of 5 in school. This is fine until you factor in school holidays- to which my work coaches response is-,”well what about childcare?”

Childcare is , extortionate and taking away the economic implications, there is also the fact that, it is , for some of us , it is just not an option. I brought my children into this world to raise them myself not to have someone else do it for me. I didn’t factor in the doing it independently but that doesn’t mean to say that my child should be made to endure childcare because of my failure (if you want to call it that) in having a solid relationship. In June last year, the work coach and I scrolled for employment vacancies together and suitable roles were limited. All were for 48 weeks a year. Most for 37 hours per week. She looked at me expectantly and I shrugged my shoulders. “I cant do that”, I said stoicly.

“Well you need to be a bit more flexible”, she states.

Right“, I reply, “or perhaps the rules need to include a little more flexibility for people in my situation”.

The coach frowned and I continued, “You are assuming a stalwart of support and suitable childcare availability, neither which I have”.

Silence and she looks at me and then at the screen. Feeling emboldened I decide to continue,” and perhaps a consideration in the labour market of an increase of part time roles for Mums who would like to do something else other than teach. 

“But you are a teacher,” she argues.

“Yes I know that- but what if I didn’t want to teach anymore?”, I finish feeling flustered (as she is right) , and lean back in my chair.

She didn’t respond and I didn’t expect her to as the question was beyond her role – and it was maybe unfair of me to have raised the issue with her.

Instead , I considered all this and with time running out before I received a sanction, I receded – I am limited and it saddens me that I can’t make the change that I feel my gut is demanding.

Of course change is inevitable and so after speaking to another neighbour about her passion for her job a few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and I applied for a job as a community reporter. I pushed aside the maternal worries and sent over my CV with the words, “life is too short to be going to a job you dislike”, still rolling around in my mind.

And i waited. And I thought about what I had done and was excited but before long there was something else bothering me. That something else, slapped me in the face when I heard nothing from the news desk. I was disappointed. Disappointment which highlighted to me just how much I want to write but also disappointed that i could even have considered leaving the kids at a point when they and I am not really ready for me to.

Ok, technically I wouldn’t be leaving them, but I would be making the kind of change that, they, especially smallest would struggle with. I couldn’t do that.

So perhaps that was my epiphany.

I too have grasped the messages being communicated by my vagal nerve. The discomfort of chasing something at odds with what I have, was too much for me to bear and so I have turned around and decided to stop seeking change and sit with what I have.

It might not be what I want forever but its certainly where I am happiest for now.

What’s the story?

(A spoken word piece)

I have always been a stickler for a story.

In class at Primary, I would set my imagination to work, creating lengthy tales for my creative writing lessons.

Time spent picking at words, shifting them on the fine lines of the creative blue workbook;

That was the same as my best friend Paula’s, which was the same as Nathan’s, which was the same as Ben’s, which was the same as Kelly’s.

But inside it wasn’t the same- inside mine, the words wound their way round margins, beyond pages and into gaps until there was no option but to ‘give that girl a star’; A house point; A recommendation slip; A cup in assembly.

So perhaps it was inevitable,

That I would take the need to make a story that bit further

than the notebook and use the landscape of life as a pencil.

Now I am in that story that I created.

That I have waited for,  My reality is one that I have carefully crafted -this,

this life, an attempt to become some One

(With the emphasis on the one, because the other part

Of the story has not begun, the part where the stranger walks in and you realise that they arnt a stranger, they are the person that you have known, but just haven’t met them fully yet.)

And it is funny because in this story I have created on purpose,

The thoughts and the plans the characters and settings are now a reality. I am,

living it. Living the dream except you could take the ‘dre’ and perhaps place another three letters alongside them. Like ‘ad’ or ‘ary’. Because it is tiring and its convoluted and its lonely at times.

But at the end of the week there is the sense of having done something worthwhile

And I guess to me, that is important, to do something worthwhile

But when it takes the smile off your face, what does that say

When the end of yesterday

Is still chasing you, even after you have turned into the street of today

And the life you have made has taken a little too much energy

Replacing it with complacency

In how I present words, muddying the narrative of my role as a Mum.

And there was smallest insisting they bring the red ball and I said no and carefully explained why in my best, “I’m pretty tired, but here is my last bit of text book mumming for the day, way’.

” No, I am not listening to you”, arms folded, head turns.

And then I exploded and having run dry of real reason, I stuck with what I gave and got a blast of five year old obstinance which I deftly swallowed and internalized as my own. And there we sat head to head, horns locked, until I eventually decided that sitting in the car while I waited for the situation to deescalate was probably not the best use of our time and so I ordered us both out. Hand in hand we marched, hum shouting out his annoyance at me, me, who he wanted to run away from at the that moment, because I was not being fair, and I had made him angry.

Me asking him not to shout at me, otherwise mute , in the rain, crossing the road in the spotlight of the car head lamps illuminating his red face and my staunch frown

Until we got home and the temper rises and then falls, the words getting put on paper, (I cannot help at this moment being amazed at his ability to write a sentence. telling me what he would like to do, which is to give me a hug) ,and so we embrace and he goes upstairs to tell middlest about his love for his family, while they cruise round the kitchen preparing tea and singing.

His evening sets off again at a pace more suited to him.

I meanwhile, sit on the floor in the bathroom

And deplore, in that instant, myself, the feeling , sweeps over me and tucks itself in around my feet and mind, where it stays like a shroud, reminding me of what I should have been in that instant what I should have  done, how I should have felt and what I have done to his small mind, just by failing to be what he needed right then.

Then upstairs to help prepare tea

And clean the living room

And play Mandy and Norman with smallest

And finish the washing

And put smallest to bed

He tells me I am wonderful

And I feel the punch of mother guilt that I was not calm.

I was cross. How could I have been annoyed at that face?

And we read a book

And middlest serves tea and we listen to NKOTB on single which she brought me from the charity shop, and we chat about Spotify, and we listen to the Sweet Harmony by Liquid and then I drink a glass of wine.

And it should be fine because its Friday, it’s my free day

And it is my night

Where I write and listen to Tom Ravenscroft

With incense and chocolate

But not tonight. I escape to the bath and lay and then go back

And sit with dirty traces of cortisol that have left

Me sad and uninhabitable

And watch the EastEnders omnibus

(You are not being nice)

And stir hot milk in the pan

(No I will not)

Where I can see a line of burned milk forming

(You are so unfair)

And I drink the hot chocolate and read Ali Smith

(You have made me so cross)

And resist the urge to look at what Putin’s doing to the world

(I am so sad mummy)

And turn off the light

And ignore the urge to recall it again.

That will corner me tomorrow,

In the story I write now.

Got to keep going

How many ways can I keep you entertained,

How do I keep the wolves at bay,

How do I keep the balance

When its tipping left to right,

Back towards a far off month

Unnamed,

Where the hope of a new day lies

In a seed of thought, which allows

for just about anything

I still have faith in you

I am thinking out loud, trying make sense of a block. A block that emerged years ago I think but did not become apparent until late last year.

Abba released a new album on November 5th 2021. I started to write about it, then I stopped. I listened to it, then I pressed pause. I have tried countless times to start this copy again, each time finding something else to occupy me. I have been wondering why that is. Perhaps I was not as big a fan as I purported to be? Maybe it’s because music doesn’t play the part that it used to in my days. Not like when I would sit and listen to lots of songs. It used to be a process- an event even; I would read or hear about an album and then either go to Woolworths or travel on the 88 to Colchester. I would buy and then go home ,sit and play the album, from start to finish without interruption.

CDs emerged and with it the power of skipping forwards and backwards easily and then of course along came the streaming services; Apple, Spotify, Deezer etc. All fabulous but for someone with a naturally busy and very distractable mind, they are a nightmare sometimes. When you are a fan though, these services enable you to pick up new music in the home, especially exciting when a old band takes a new path. Like Abba.

For me, It is not like when Take That reformed, or when news came to me via The One Show that STEPS were taking to the stage again. I am not a huge fan of either; I like them, OK I really like Take That, but I do remember the reactions of people that I know; the excitement in them recalling just how significant they were in their lives.  The music, the posters, the concerts; how they spoke to only you in a sea of thousands of faces- even I was smiled and waved at by Danny New Kids on the Block when I was 12.

I remember being taken to Wembley Arena by my sister to see NKOTB. The excitement when she did the big reveal in the tunnel on the way out of the tube station. I remember thinking how nice it was what she had done. Of course I am sure she had a good time, despite not being an  fan, NKOTB the allure of the concert, particularly from visiting band can be incredible and music, well it has the capacity to reach across  generations. My favourite band is The Jam and I was a babe when they were formed. Half the songs on eldest’s and middlests Spotify are from artist’s famous prior to her arrival.

Music is timeless and sometimes something more.

My sister loved ABBA and subsequently so did I. Still nestled in my Vinyl collection is her battered copy of the Album Super Trouper and ABBA Greatest Hits Volume 2.

At some point her love turned into our love and a second copy of Greatest Hits Vol 2 emerged, one of these remains, again in my stack of vinyl. I has always puzzled me when I requested this as I would have been 2 or three when these were released making me wonder whether this was purchased not for me but because the first had been played beyond recognition. It would not surprise me.

She loved singing and she loved all their songs;

She loved Super Trouper, I loved Chiquitta

She loved Does Your Mumma, I loved Money Money Money.

We both loved Gimme Gimme Gimme

WE would play the vinyl on an old 1970s multi record player. Not a portable affair but a proper set , housed in a teak casing, with a drop bar upon which we could line up the next record to be played. It had two speakers positioned in the room to transmit best the best of what was a predominantly abba playlist. They played one after the other although I remember the holding bar on the record player didn’t work quite as well with LPs and you would sometimes have to manually override the catch to let the record drop fully.

Every weekend at our Dads, on went the ABBA,

Chiquitta turned to Kick your teeth out,

Thank you for the Music- with a heavy emphasis on the Uh-Huh

The air guitaring to Does your Mumma

The attempt to keep up with he speed of angel eyes leaving us breathless and ready for  something a bit more down tempo,

Which was usually

The winner takes it all.

All sang with much generosity on our behalf, me taking the low note and my sister the higher range performed with gusto into the obligatory plastic hairbrushes. And of course there was a bit of mirror watching on both our behalf.

Over time our tastes and lives evolved, she moved out I moved in and we would see each other less and less but the affinity through Abba remained, we would always ,always put on Abba, in the car, in the kitchen. A track for every occasion and with age our favourites altered.

She moved towards songs like Mamma Mia and Voulez Vous, songs which she played with her Nanny charge and her fellow Nannies; I started to hear more closely slower tracks like Winner takes it all,  and then of course was Dancing Queen. Nights out and parties with her friendship group saw her gain a reputation for being the one who loved ABBA and she was nick named the Dancing Queen.

It was played at her wedding and as the first bars rang out it housed the only moment, the  only time my Mum , Dad sister and I have danced together. Or shared any happy moment together.

And as with any good song the happiness it can facilitate is just as easily superseded by the sorrow.

At her funeral I remember looking at a wreath , the card scribed with “you will always be our dancing queen” and it was the first time I was exposed to the realisation that other people felt the same too, they associated her with Abba.

 Then two months ago I was driving home, listening to BBC Radio 2 and Ken Bruce was playing. I wasn’t really paying attention until he said

And here is the new one from Abba

The first bars opened and I felt overwhelmed.

I cried. I stopped the car and I cried. Abba had reformed and she would never get to hear them,

I didn’t examine the song for imperfections – because it was perfect. The voices that came from the radio was my sisters and mine, voices from round the corner a long time ago, in the bedroom, the kitchen – definitely in the car – on the dancefloor and ……….from that flipping tape!!!

Years before, I must have been about 17, she was nannying in London and another nanny friend moved back to NZ. She really missed her and the first Christmas she was gone my sister decided, for some reason -and I never really asked her why-  that we should make a tape of us (notice how I was dragged into this ),singing abba to send to her. AS a gift. Bizarre.

At home I dug the tape out , but like the new album I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it all straight away. When I did I cried. Throughout most of the tracks. I chose carefully when I would listen to it as I knew it was something I would find hard. I don’t usually cry about her anymore. But I knew this would be something I would find sorrowful.

‘Listening is bittersweet, each song plays, strums upon the memories we share, except those memories are now only mine and with every year that passes, I find reminding myself of who we were back then more exacting. Until that is I play Voyage and then you are there in the moment because when I hear them , when I listen to the lyrics I hear your voice. Listening to I still have faith in you and don’t shut me down  I hear myself in conversation with you now but not ever and in return, I hear your voice in reply. And it is your voice that I hear every time I play abba and perhaps it is the reason that I know I will only play the album a few times- because it is strangely echoic of conversations we will never have, a Christmas song you have never heard from a band that you never thought would get back together – even though you have never sang those songs, I hear your voice in single one of them . To me, when I hear Abba I hear you’.

So I play back our Abba Tape. It was an odd idea of yours to make a mix tape of songs in this format,  however given life’s trajectory, I am glad that you did  because actually it is the only recording of your voice we have. Other than ABBA of course.

I wonder if the person in New Zealand had the same thoughts about this reunion and she was prompted to dig out her cassette of the two strange pommies singing Abba, into a battered twin cassette player mike.

“I have learned to cope to love and hope

And although I may not have done everything right

I have done it in the best way I could at the time.

I still have faith in you” (Abba,2021).

Eliza.

School days part 1

For smallest, who has started school.

Ride the wave

Here we stand at the divide,
Lining up to receive
other influences.
Like swarms of insects
in the distance,
coming closer.

A black cloud of Mums
Wringing hands on the edge
Of a playground
Waves of memories
Flicked back through sands
Then pulled under.

Its at times like these
Our substance shows itself,
Troubles ripple against
The threat of a north east offshore,
Then caught in a riptide,
What I am is suddenly all there

My love for you laid bare,
And as the moon
Pulls against the water within,
I turn and letting go
I pray every aid I have given you
let’s you float.