Day Two of Living Below The Line

Today is the second day of Andrea’s week of Living Below The Line. We’ve developed a tag team approach to getting the word out about this.

Andrea tells everyone about how unspeakable her day was and why. Then I take up the baton. I elaborate some of the facts and figures behind what’s happening, and I compare it to how it would be for me, if I was doing it.

The main reason we’re doing this is because Andrea has no dependents and I have many. By splitting this out between us we can show you the hardships and advantages for those alone, and those who have a family to look after.

I’ve listened to a lot of people speak judgmentally about people on benefit, and poor people and how they’re lazy and stupid and how they themselves would do things so much better. If you’ve ever even begun to think you might manage ‘better’, I’d like you to start thinking about what you’re about to read. These are the things that have occurred to me just in the last day as I’ve monitored Andrea’s progress and thought about it in terms of me and mine.

As evidenced by my spectacular reaction to having to come off caffeine for four days for medical purposes a few weeks ago, there is no way that I can simply give up coffee, even though it is really expensive. If I had to, I would be unfit for work/job hunting/signing on, for at least two days. That might lead to sanctions, which mean not even living below the line. That means an instant cessation of all benefit for a minimum of four weeks. So, I’d have to find a way to get myself some caffeine and starve for two or three days rather than risk being sanctioned to starve for a month. Obviously the would impact heavily on not just me, but the rest of my family. It would be easier if I were single.

Andrea only has to look after herself. This may sound better, but it does limit her buying power in terms of how far she can stretch her money, as it’s always more economical to buy in bulk. She also has to pay more attention to use by dates etc. It’s no good buying a family pack of something only to have it go mouldy before she can use it. If she doesn’t have a freezer, or decent storage, this exacerbates this problem.

I have dependents, so I would get more money, but that money has to stretch further. Just because I budget £1 per day for food per person, that money is not ring-fenced, and if there is an emergency, it may have to be used for other things whether I like it or not. This is also true for Andrea. However, when you have children, those emergencies can come thick and fast. Things that wouldn’t be an emergency for regular families could easily push a family living below the line into crisis.

I used the example of the fact that my children are all in school. This sounds great. Free childcare during the day, free school meals. Except that it is free childcare between very specific hours, very specific hours that don’t tally with the hours a person is supposed to be working. Free childcare that doesn’t take into account school holidays or what happens when your child is sick. So you have to think about child care, and unless you have a good community and family network, childcare costs, and if you can’t afford it, you can’t work.  Free school meals are not universal, so you may not be eligible.

Then you have uniform, which children are always growing out of, or losing and which must be replaced. Some schools will only allow you to buy this from approved outlets. You have no choice but to comply, or your child gets excluded. There’s wear and tear on shoes and trainers and plimsolls. At one of my children’s schools they had outdoor shoes, trainers for indoor PE, indoor shoes, and were also obliged to have rugby boots/football boots. In early years some schools require children to have wellingtons for messy, outdoor play and indoor slippers as well as regular shoes.

That’s the basics. Then there are the extras. The school trips (some of which will be subsidised for low income families, but not all trips and not every family). The endless invitations to children’s parties (Oscar is going to two this weekend alone) and you have to factor in a gift, a card, wrapping paper and transport. The playdates (Oscar will have had two of these by the end of the week) and how you feed those extra mouths. The charity days, non-uniform days, letters asking you to send your child in fancy dress, with general ‘stuff’. The fact that in secondary school you are paying for stationery, calculators etc.

You might say that the fact that you can’t afford it simply means that they can’t have it. That’s fair isn’t it? I mean, it’s true, right? Except that how do you explain to your child, day in, day out, when they see everyone around them doing and having these things, that they can’t? Of course you can do it, but it’s heart breaking and exhausting, and relentless, because it’s all the bloody time. Often, adults will go without to give the children what they need, but this can lead to its own complications.

One of the things that’s great about being part of the school community is that it can help you with childcare. You build up a network of friends who will pick your child up for you in an emergency, or take them home for an hour or two after school for a bit, but this only works if you reciprocate. If you take all the time, eventually people stop helping you, so you have to return the favour, only if you can barely feed yourself, stretching it out to another child, or two, could mean you going hungry.

Then there’s the every day small crises that just happen to everyone, whether you’re single or in a family. Today I wrote about three things that happened this week already. One of the tiles in our shower floor is cracked. Tallulah chewed a biro in school yesterday and sheered off a lump of her orthodontic brace, and this morning the sole fell off the heel of my boot.

All minor irritations, all easily fixed, but when you’re living below the line, these things can push you from just about coping into crisis.

Take the shower tile. We fixed it with silicone sealant. I found prices ranging from £1.90 to £8. There is no extra to fall back on when you’re living below the line. There isn’t a pot marked: ‘Bugger it, the shower has gone wrong.’ The money has to come from what you have to hand, and you just may not have it. It’s a small crack. You can still use the shower, but every day the water seeps in, weakening the floor/ceiling underneath, spreading damp and mould spores. A small problem becomes a big problem.

My shoe sole was fixed with No Nails. It’s about a quid a tube if you get the non-branded stuff. Again, maybe I don’t have a quid, because that’s three meals worth of money for me. I don’t fix it. It may be the only pair of shoes I have. Eventually the rain gets in, or I get long term health problems from poorly fitting shoes. I can’t think about taking it to a cobbler to fix, it would be about £8. I could buy a cheap pair of shoes from Asda for maybe a fiver, except that’s a week’s food money gone. I might need good shoes to go to a job interview. I can’t afford them. Employers judge appearances. It could mean the difference between getting a job and remaining unemployed. What can I do about it?

And then there’s Tallulah’s brace. NHS dentistry is a rare beast these days. Yes, dental work for under eighteens is free, but you have to find an NHS dentist who will take you. What if it’s so far from your house you can’t afford to get there? Orthodontics is one of the areas that the NHS are pinching in terms of funding. Your teeth have to be really bad to get that work these days. Tallulah’s were bad enough, which means her treatment is free, but it’s a 25 minute drive from my house to the surgery. Some surgeries don’t charge for scheduled treatment, but they do charge for emergency appointments and work. We didn’t get charged today, but I didn’t know whether I would be or not.

Along with malnutrition, dental complications are one of the fastest rising causes of admission to NHS hospitals in the UK currently. The number of children under the age of ten needing hospital treatment for dental issues has risen by a quarter in the last few years. This article in The Independent, talks about an over dependence on sugar in the diet as the culprit, but I think it’s more complex than that. Don’t you?

 

Hanging out below the line

I meant to tell you about what I’m reading. I want to tell you about all the exciting things I did last week. Instead I NEED to talk to you about my amazing friend Andrea. Many of you long term readers will already know about my amazing friend Andrea, and how many amazing things she does, including being one of my bestest, bestest friends for decades, which in itself deserves some kind of medal.

She has however, surpassed herself in recent weeks. As if taking me on as a life long project weren’t enough.

She’s been busy volunteering for The Trussell Trust for quite some months now.

The Trussell Trust is an organisation dedicated to stopping hunger in the UK. They have the largest network of food banks in the country. Across their 400 centres, they have distributed 1,182, 954 emergency, three day food parcels in the last twelve months.

They are also working on projects to help people out of debt, and with fuel banks, to help those 29 million people currently in the UK who have to think about whether they can eat or heat their homes over winter.

The Trussell Trust estimates that there are 13 million people in the UK living in poverty. Of those, over a quarter of them are children. With the current austerity measures still in place, the post-Brexit escalation of food costs, and problems with the roll out of the universal credit system, these numbers are set to rise.

A damning report in the Guardian at the end of 2016 reports that malnutrition is the fastest growing cause of death in UK hospitals. I cannot imagine this number has dropped any since.

One of the most disturbing things I have learned from Andrea, and other volunteers, is that it is not just those who are jobless who are using food banks, in many cases, all adults in a family will be working, and they still need help to make ends meet.

We are currently the seventh richest nation in the world, yet people are starving to death on our streets, and in our homes. It is quite, quite appalling.

Andrea has been putting in hours of volunteering at both her home town food bank in Hinckley and where she works in Aylesbury. What she has seen has made her determined to do more to raise awareness and money for the brilliant work The Trussell Trust do.

This week she is ‘living below the line’ for five days.

The ‘line’ is the poverty line. Set down by the World Health Organisation in 2015 it gives a benchmark for each country in terms of what is considered to be liveable poverty and what is extreme poverty, i.e. that there is simply not enough money to pay rent, bills and eat.

Currently in the UK, what this means is that those living below the poverty line have an average of £1 per day to feed themselves, and this is what Andrea is doing. She is living on £1 per day for 5 days.

So that this is not an empty gesture, she is donating what she would spend on a week’s groceries to both the food banks she has been supporting with her time. She is also attempting to raise £350 via Just Giving for the Trussell Trust so that they can develop their projects with debt management and fuel poverty.

She has asked me to help her with the social media side of things, as her day job is such that she can’t access the internet during working hours. As well as her Just Giving page which you can find here, we have also built a Facebook Page where she will be charting her progress through the week, here.

If you can help by spreading the word, I would be enormously grateful. If you could spare some money and donate, that would be fantastic too. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. People are feeding themselves on a quid a day. If you donate a quid, you could be stopping someone from going hungry for a day. That’s not nothing.

Thank you. x

 

The jobs of my life.

It’s been another week. Whoosh, eyebrows blowing back in the wind. And there it was. GONE.

Let’s see. What did I do with it?

Mostly I was working on my business. Financial stuff is pressing at the moment. I alway knew that when the children started to be grown ups that I, myself, would need to be more grown up and actually have a job that makes regular income, and become an independent woman. Much in the style of Beyonce but without the killer dance routines and finger snapping.

I have, over the child rearing years dabbled with many ideas. I have freelanced sporadically as a marketer, as I actually used to be one before too many children stopped play. It turns out that I am no more enamoured of it than I was when I actually did it for a living.

Also, I am still fundamentally unsuited to working for other people. I am dictatorial, impatient, and prone to saying things like, ‘Why hire me for my expertise if you spend all the live long day telling me why you’re not going to do what I say, and then blame me when your marketing is still shit? Stick it up your arse. Good day to you sir.’

I just can’t seem to help myself. Consequently, it’s a very short term option for me. The satisfaction of telling someone to shove their job up their arse is soon dulled by the lack of income. Although, with one particularly irksome client, I dined off the euphoria for at least three weeks before reality bit.

I am, effectively a ‘non-working monkey,’ as my old blogging friend ‘Non-Working Monkey‘ would say. Although she is mostly non-working in her mind, attitude and demeanour, which is much more useful than actually being non-working.

I did write some novels in the last few years. One for a project of Jason’s that never got off the ground (and another one in draft). Then I wrote one for me, which, after my third go at the draft, drove me so mad with boredom at looking at my own stupid wittering, that I shut it in a drawer, had a massive tantrum and refused to look at it ever again.

It is clear to me that I am a writer, whether I like it or not. I cannot, not write. I write, almost every day. The rub is that, I am just not very committed to being a published writer with pay, such as it is. I may well go back and tidy up the novel for me eventually, but once I’d scratched the itch and proved to myself that I could do it, I no longer felt the need to be a famous writer. Which is actually good, because I have friends who are well known writers who publish their books, and it is a really, really hard job, and usually one you have to combine with other, really hard jobs in order to make ends meet, and I am just not cut out for those levels of a) isolation and b) hardness of life. You have to really, really, really want it. And I realise I don’t.

I did think for a while of going back into doing psychic stuff. I used to do this for a living, years and years ago. It matters not if you believe. I’m not here to debate you in a Richard Dawkins style manner, but the fact remains that when I put my mind to it, I can do some pretty inexplicably woo stuff. For the record I am not entirely convinced about the Derek Acorah style explanation of ghosts and afterlives. It’s not how I do things. I just know that I can tune into stuff in people’s heads and talk to them about it in a way that makes sense, about things I wouldn’t otherwise know. It is my belief that anyone can do it. You do not have to be chosen, or aligned to a particular deity. You just have to be tuned in. Like Radio Four.  Before I had children I made a decent living doing this, and teaching other people how to do it too.

In the end I stopped doing it because I got fed up of people either ringing me up to ask me what colour underpants to wear to have a lucky day, or whether the man at the bus stop was their destiny (I don’t know. It really, really doesn’t work like that. Also, you have to take responsibility and make choices, because destiny doesn’t work like that either. You’re born, you die. Those are givens, the rest is up to you. But you can make better choices with more knowledge. The woo bit is the more knowledge.)

Also, I got fed up of people a) telling me I would burn in hell as a witch, b) giving me random items of jewellery, their hand, in restaurants when all I wanted to do was eat cake and have a nice time, c) demanding proof of something I never asked them to believe in in the first place. Oh, and d) asking me to do something spooky for them that they couldn’t do for themselves and wanted, but moaning if I charged them more than 80p and a packet of Hobnobs. Conversations would generally go:

That seems steep.

O.K. That’s fine. I’m happy for you to go elsewhere.

Can’t you bring the price down?

I’m sorry, no.

But, X does it cheaper.

O.K. That’s great, Get them to do it then.

But they’re not very good.

Right.

Can’t you bring the price down?

No. I’m sorry.

Well, I think it should be cheaper.

Good. Well, you can do it for yourself then?

No.

Exactly.

Goodbye forever.

I thought about going back into admin style work. I used to be a secretary when I first started working. I have secretaried up and down the land over the years. It turns out that it’s something I’m really good at, despite myself. I found temping worked best for me, as it avoided the risk of me shouting ‘stick it up your arse,’ when I knew I’d only be there for a week, or a month.

The thing that really, really grates about doing this kind of work though, particularly if you are a PA, which I have been in the past, is that it’s really, really hard work. It requires you to have a plethora of IT skills (and usually to be quick at learning new ones), people skills, organisational skills, diplomacy (I can do it. I just hate doing it), flexibility and a whole heap of other things which are incredibly valuable and would be well paid in a man’s job, but which women in PA’s jobs are required to give away for practically nothing, while their bosses take the credit. It’s essentially a project manager’s job but without the fancy title and commensurate pay and which requires levels of humility and sacrifice that I’m never, going to be able to achieve unless I find a miracle boss. I just don’t believe that’s possible any more, and I refuse to work ever again for someone who comes to find me in my lunch hour to demand I tell them how many lines are on a bit of A4 paper because they’re too important to count it themselves.

And yes. I did tell him to stick it up his arse.

I quickly discounted the less successful jobs I have done:

Waitressing – Terrible, poured tea into a woman’s crotch. Charged £27 for two teacakes and a pot of tea and cried when the till wouldn’t open. Cried in front of a bunch of workmen from a local housing estate when they teased me.

Retail sales – Dreadful,  shop assistant. Wouldn’t stop the rough girls from stealing jeans in case they beat me up (wise). Couldn’t get the till to open and had to shake it. (unwise) Stabbed finger with the plastic tagging gun (tetanus shot).

Lab assistant – Awful, developed allergy to latex gloves (covered in spots. Not even attractive leopard ones). Did not understand any of what the professor told me, so just made it up. This has probably set research back several decades.

Trainer of sales force in Jedi style mind trick sales stuff – Unspeakable. Hated them all. Swore. Basically ran away and ate Doritos in a lay-by while crying till I got hiccups.

Language teacher -Hideous, no grasp of grammar or punctuation from me, the actual teacher. Me and the pupil utterly bored with each other.

Tutor – See above. Also could not explain why poem about rotting fruit was definitely not about zombie fingers falling off diseased corpse and was about sex without shouting and saying, ‘Because I say it is, ok?’ No patience. Nearly died from not being able to say, ‘Shove it up your arse.’

Working for Thames Valley Police – Criminal. Pissed off CID chap because I refused to wash his teaspoon on the grounds that he had hands and could do it himself. Couldn’t work the accounts package. Sums came out wrong and so I made them correct by basically cutting to fit (no wonder they’ve had financial troubles). Realised own criminal tendency when I stole toilet rolls and the chief constable’s headed note paper.

Receptionist – Tricky – Responded to ‘Do you know who I am?’ With ‘No, I do not, but even the Queen wouldn’t get away with talking to me like that. Why don’t you go away, learn some manners, and come back to me when you can demonstrate some?’ Oddly, this was the job I held down the longest.

Working in a fundraising role at the V&A – Bad, bad, bad – Always calling aristocrats the wrong names due to the fact that I hadn’t read Debrett’s Peerage. Always getting lost and having to be rescued. Usually by the statue of Jesus on a donkey where there was an emergency phone.

I did love being a children’s librarian in school, but there is no money, hardly any books unless you buy them yourself, and so little time with the children thanks to a punitive time table.

So, now the house is festooned with clothes, for my latest project, which is entitled, how to be independent and make money without ripping people off, working for the man, working for idiots (myself excepted, obvs) and telling people to shove it up their arses.

I’m trying to incorporate everything I’ve learned over the years into something that won’t end up imploding, exploding or folding. As I have never managed to hold down an actual job for more than a year, this is tricky, largely because of my own shortcomings and boredom threshold. So wish me luck.

I have, of course, done other things with my week. I have seen Paddington II at the cinema, which was wonderful, and which you must see, because it is everything joyful in the world. I have looked at wedding venues (FUCK MY LIFE IT’S GRIM OUT THERE). I have been out for dinner. I have run away with friends. I have run away with family. I have read books (post forthcoming) and been to my first book club in years, which was great because everyone had actually read the book (a first in my experience) and discussed it really intelligently. I have recovered from my infection. I have been menopausal. I have wrangled school children, and university people. I have dreamed of being trapped in a craft shop with pugs who ate furniture.

Truly, it has all been going on.

Some Thoughts on Plus Size Fashion – And a Request

It is an oft quoted fact that the average size woman in the UK is a size sixteen. I feel like I’ve known this all my adult life. It’s usually followed by the information that despite this,  most clothes shops stock a really poor selection of plus size fashion. Like many things to do with women and their place in the world, the change to stocking decent, beautiful clothing in every size has been as glacial as the gender pay gap. I’m forty six this year, and still, on the high street, is a fairly parlous choice for plus size women, for a problem that was identified over thirty years ago.

Last year I had a personal shopping client who was a size 16. Again, let me stress, the average size for a UK woman. She had very specific requirements for her new wardrobe, and my job was to cater for them. I was up for the challenge.

Here’s what I learned. Years of shopping in charity shops for myself and my children has always yielded fruit. I rarely ventured to the plus size of the rails, because I didn’t have to (this is not bragging. This is just fact). Extolling the virtues of charity shopping to friends and family I was repeatedly told that it is much harder to find plus size stuff, and that it is depressing to scan rail after rail and find nothing. I could only take their word for it until last year when I had to look for my client, although I believed it.

First of all, let me tell you that I did it. I shopped a wardrobe with her, and for her, that was exactly what she wanted, and at a fraction of high street prices. She was delighted. I was delighted. It was all good. But, I have to agree that it was much harder to do, and not just because she had very specific needs and didn’t want to compromise (understandably).

Here’s what I found, which is probably obvious, but I sometimes find that the obvious needs saying anyway.

The further up the rails you go in size, the less there is. So shopping for a size 16 is much easier than shopping for a size 18, or 20 for example. Yet, 16 is the ‘average’ so it stands to reason that there must be a considerable number of women looking for these sizes and who are not being catered for in an appropriate way and who should be getting choice, rather than a resigned, ‘I’ll have it because that’s the only one they have.’

There seem to be two ends of the spectrum for plus size in terms of quality, really shoddily made, or really great quality. There is very little available in the the middle. So, heaps of mass produced, Primark quality stuff, or the odd piece by Boden. Rarely anything at a say, Zara type price point. Don’t even get me started on designer clothes. It’s a black hole of despair.

There also seems to be two ends of the spectrum in terms of the look of items. At one end of the spectrum they seem to be going for what I call the Princess Diana maternity wear idea (i.e. hide everything with an enormous Peter Pan collar and hope nobody looks at the rest of you), which means endless colour clashes, terrible florals, lots of glitter, ‘hilarious’ slogans, cutesy animals etc. At the other end, we have just black. Everything in black, black or black to be more slimming.

The cut of things is mostly terrible.

There is too much nylon.

Why do they always assume that larger women have larger boobs? Mind you, they also assume that small women have no boobs.

Why do they always assume that larger women are also tall? And conversely small women are short?

It strikes me that too many men are in charge of designing, buying and stocking women’s clothes, or too many women who have bought wholesale into toxic ideas about women’s bodies and are happy to perpetuate them.

This infuriates me. Absolutely incenses me.

What I have also noticed in charity shops is what I notice when I’m sourcing boy’s clothes. That a  lot of it I have to discard because it is absolutely worn to death. I assume that it is so unusual to find plus size clothing that someone loves, or that fits properly, that they wear it to death and give it away only when they absolutely have to, because the chances of finding something else that is as nice, or fits, is miniscule, and the shopping experience on the whole is depressing and degrading.

Am I wrong about the conclusions I have drawn here? Tell me, if I am. Please.

Here’s my current take on it.

Fat shaming, for let us call it what it is, is happening at a mass consumer levels, with the buy in of most people in the fashion industry.

I find this astonishing (not in a good way) at two different levels. Firstly that people are so fricking judgmental. Secondly that purely from a business perspective, you would be aware that you are missing a key market sector, and even if you were a total fat shamer, on a greed level, you’d want to make money, no matter what size someone is.

I am determined that this should change. I do not see why any woman, no matter what her size or shape, should have to put up with rubbish to wear, should have to be punished in any way, or feel degraded by the simple act of opening the wardrobe and getting dressed.

A few days ago, whilst on my usual, treasure hunting rounds, I found a whole wardrobe of clothes had been donated to a charity shop I visited that were plus size. As I sorted through the rail I was delighted to see a whole array of really rather beautiful items. I bought everything I could lay my hands on. I was chatting to the lady behind the till as we bagged stuff up, and I said that I thought the clothes were fabulous and it looked as though they had all come from one home. She confirmed this for me, the lady is a regular customer, who has just moved house and had a clear out.  I thought about how carefully she had curated the things she had bought, and compared to standard high street shopping, how long it must have taken her to source all these things. And she was lucky, because we live in an internet age where you can simply order stuff now. Fifteen years ago, what I took home with me, would have been impossible to find.

The tide is turning, it seems, if you’re prepared to hunt stuff out, and mail order. On the high street, things are still lagging behind.

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I posted some of my finds up on Instagram, and within hours, had already begun to sell pieces, which is good for me, and good for my buyers. As I have washed and ironed over the last day or two, I have decided to focus a lot more of my hunting on finding good quality, plus size fashion, not only because I think it’s business savvy, but also because I think women deserve to be able to find well priced, beautiful clothes, whatever size they are. Everyone deserves to feel fabulous.

As you know, I am not a plus size woman. This is not down to hard work or an enviable life style of coconut water and spiralised courgette. This is down to sheer luck*. I come from a long line of plus size people, and one day I am fairly sure that my ‘luck’ will run out. I am not bragging. I do not feel superior to anyone. I genuinely want to help, but I know I might put my foot in it with the language I use to try and help, or things that I might not know, or things I might not understand, so I would like your help.

Tell me, if you are a plus size shopper, what is good and bad, what would help and what wouldn’t, what I can do, if anything to help you and other clients have the best shopping/buying/wearing experience possible.

Thank you.

N.B. I am posting this on both my regular blog and my Boostique blog as I’d like to get a decent range of responses if possible.

*I am amending the post as I go. For example, I know saying that I am ‘lucky’ in terms of my size is not the right word, as someone has kindly pointed out. I don’t mean that it’s brilliant to be thin. I mean that I am lucky that I have naturally fallen into society’s idea of what is a desirable body shape. I need to find a better way to talk about it, so I will have a think and edit when I have come up with something.

Wattle Woes

There are many times in the last week I have thought about blogging, and then the tide of life has swept me off and away, and I have only just managed to get round to chatting to you.

As ever, my life has been a rich tapestry of stuff and things. Monday saw me frantically getting the smalls ready to go back to school, faced with the: ‘Mum! I really need £18 in non-sequential bank notes, four hair nets, a small vole called Kevin and some trousers,’ thing that every parent dreads. I congratulate myself for no murdering having taken place, and the fact that I managed to get all the things and do all the stuff that was required.

On Tuesday I managed to stay in and welcome the man who was supposed to be fixing our French windows, but who actually sucked his teeth and told me he couldn’t possibly fix them until February 13th. Again, I congratulate myself for the lack of murdering. I also managed to remember to take two, small tablets at midnight, as part of another crazy ass requirement for the weird set of hormone related tests I am having at the hospital.

On Wednesday I had to get up ridiculously early and go to the hospital to have more tests, including one which required me to lie down for half an hour before having a blood test taken. I presume it was to let all the hormones they needed, rise to the top like cream on milk. I do not know. Anyway. That was the end of that set of weird tests, and now I wait.

Things got better later in the day when I went to a wonderful second hand book shop in an old barn just outside of Bedworth. Bedworth is a murderers sort of place and not really somewhere you associate with terrific second hand book shops with wood burners and squashy sofas, and a terrific tea room, but there you have it. An everyday miracle. I went with the parental units, and we browsed and oohed, and ahhed and I bought books because you know I would. Then we ate enormously delicious sandwiches and all was well.

Thursday was another day of highs and lows. I woke up with a weird lump under my chin/throat. Sort of like a really sore turkey wattle. It had appeared a few days earlier but I thought it was a spot. It was not a spot, and it grew and grew like Topsy, and by the end of the day it was really hurting quite a lot and I was rather concerned that I had some strange chin cancer, which would be about my lot, because what I haven’t had in the last twelve months isn’t worth talking about, frankly, and what’s one more bizarre lump when all is said and done? I ended up going to the emergency out of hours doctor, to get an appointment with whom was rather like being on The Crystal Maze. It turns out that a split at the side of my mouth that I’ve had since before Christmas and which keeps re-opening, had got infected, and instead of infecting my mouth, had taken a small journey into my chin. Which was nice. I also have an infected ulcer in my throat, which got all swole up and exploded. This, along with my wattle of doom and my scabby lip, is making me gloriously attractive and if it weren’t for the fact that Jenn came and did my hair on Thursday morning and I am now gloriously magenta and indigo, I would have had to shoot myself in the face.

Eventually, I got antibiotics from a small, heavily fortified shed, in a rough area of town. I managed to drive the wrong way towards it and ended up abandoning the car in a deserted bus stop at 10.20 p.m. Hot footed it across a muddy quagmire and made it to the pharmacy/shed with moments to spare before they closed. It was all very stressful, but it got sorted, and now I am dutifully trying to take my medication. Which is not easy when you have to take four a day on an empty stomach, and you eat as much as I do.

On Friday I spent the day nursing my wattle and plangently moaning. In the evening, I wrapped the wattle up and took it out, because Tilly and I had a hot date. We went and ate delicious food at the new Pho restaurant in town (called Pho, amazingly). We learned it is pronounced ‘fuh’ which is quite interesting. You say it a bit like a cat sneezing. Anyway, we opined that nobody in Leicester will ever call it FUH and we must keep calling it FOW, even though it is wrong, or we will never be able to meet anyone there, ever, and that would be a  shame, because the food was great. Then we went to see Three Billboards at the cinema, which was amazing and brilliant and if Frances McDormand doesn’t win that Oscar it will be a mockery of a sham. I felt very grateful for such a lovely daughter, and amazed that eighteen years ago I was cradling her against my chest and letting her throw up all over me, and now we’re going out on a date. No tongues. Not with my wattle.

On Saturday, my lovely friend Kim, who has moved away for a bit, and who I miss a whole, very lot, came to Leicester and we had coffee, and ate biscuits and caught up on all the gossip, and it was lovely.  In the evening, my lovely friend Andrea, who has also moved away (I think it’s me, probably I’m too diseased now for people to live near me for long) came, and ate dinner with us, and stayed over, and we caught up on all the rest of the gossip, and it was brilliant. Also, my wattle had gone down, so I was mostly only scabby, which is better, all in all.

Today I have been sorting out my Depop shop and sorting out my EBay, and parcelling things up to send off to people tomorrow, and listing new things, and feeling good that I am slowly getting back into the business. I’m feeling particularly glad that I invested some of last year’s earnings in a tailor’s dummy, given that I have not been in the best shape to be modelling anything at all in recent weeks. Smart move.

I have been getting back into cooking in the last week, after a month of basically living off of Christmas snacks of one kind or another. It has been really, really nice to be making things again. I decided today, pottering around my house, making beef stew, baking bread, listing clothes, that if I had to do this for the rest of my life, I would not be in the slightest bit sorry. So that’s good.

Our Only Hope

It may be because last week lasted about twenty years for me, due to the caffeine withdrawal, but it feels like January has already been going on for much longer than a month, don’t you think? I checked the date today and was absolutely horrified to find out it was only the 7th. To be fair it’s also that my kids haven’t gone back to school yet. Tilly goes back to uni tomorrow, but the other two aren’t back until Tuesday, so things aren’t in their regular groove, and I’m a bit lost.

Did I tell you I’ve had two dates this year already? That may also be adding to the confusion. Usually, what with one thing and another (largely being crap) we manage about two dates a year. We have unorthodox dates all the time, like sneaking off to the supermarket, or hanging out in Screwfix, but these were actual, real dates. I got taken out for lunch on Friday, which was very nice indeed, and then today we not only went out for lunch again, we also went to see The Last Jedi together. Alone. With no children. I did ask him what he’d done wrong (nothing, apparently). I also insisted he tell me if he was dying (he isn’t). These were just because dates. The best kind.

The novelty never fades. By the time Jason and I met, I already had the girls. Tallulah was one and Tilly was four when we moved in together. There has never been a time when our lives have not been festooned with children, so love them dearly though we do, we treasure any time we have together, alone.

We went to see the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. I absolutely loved it. It was so good. I cried almost all the way through thanks to Carrie Fisher, who I still miss quite viscerally, which is weird, I know. I can’t help it. Thank God I didn’t try to go and see it last week. I would probably have exploded. Anyway, I’m no film critic, but it was everything I wanted in a Star Wars movie. It was true to the original films. It was funny and sad and full of shooting and adventure, but also thoughtful and hopeful, particularly in today’s depressing climate. The only thing that could have improved it for me was some kind of Han Solo flashback, because he was always my favourite, although he did get mentioned a fair bit.

It also had loads of excellent roles for women, who did not have to get their kit off, or have massive boobs, or be helpless. Also, there was a decent, more reasonable representation of people just generally in the film, i.e. people of all colours and ethnicities as well as a better ratio in relation to gender. I said to Jason in the car, that if the whole of the human race was wiped out, and alien anthropologists only had films to go on, they’d be mistaken for thinking that anyone other than a white, male, was a rare bird indeed for the most part. It is wonderful to see such mainstream, popular films, doing something to address this imbalance.

My only criticism is that I’m not really that worked up about Kylo Ren as the bad guy. Partly I think it was because I was trying to place who he looked like through the film. I finally worked out that he’s part Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and part Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Also, he was very sulky teenager and I wanted more ravening evil for my money. But it was a small thing and mostly I could ignore him, so that was good.

Also, I want a Porg.

And Carrie Fisher to still be alive.

 

 

I talk about wee

I note I didn’t even bother with a title for my last post, which just goes to show what headfuckery giving up caffeine does for you.

Chaps, chaps, chaps. It was only for four days. Yet it felt like about seven lifetimes. Seriously, I think I’d rather have another hysterectomy. It was hella horrible. The main reason it was grim was that I had a migraine. A migraine that went on for about twenty years. There was vomit, and shaking, and splitting, splitting pain. As I haven’t had a migraine since the summer when my evil hormones were stopped at the point of entry, this was a shock to my system to say the least.

The good thing was that it made me grateful for the fact that now I only sweat and cry a lot, whereas before I would go blind, have splitting head pain and vomit a lot, plus sweating and crying. So all in all, hysterectomy for the win.

Some people, it appears, sail through caffeine withdrawal. When I spoke about it before I had to give it up, I had an even split of ‘ah, you’ll be fine if you just have decaf, it will fool your system.’ and ‘farkinell, have Jason and the kids got a safe space to hide in?’ It transpires that my body is not fooled by decaf, and took it upon itself to re-enact Renton’s come down from heroin in Trainspotting. So that was nice.

I’d be a shoe in for the part, if they ever decided to do an all female version.

Anyway. I had to give it up for three days prior to a twenty four hour urine test, and for the duration of the test. I also had to give up paracetamol and alcohol, which was not even funny. I also had to give up pineapple, aubergine, walnuts, peppers and tomatoes, but frankly, once you’ve given up drugs, drink and coffee, you might as well be dead, and throwing a no pineapple clause into things is neither here nor there.

Then there was the piddling into receptacles. I drink a lot of water. If there’s one sop to health I do try to adhere to, it’s keeping vaguely hydrated. I have a strange fear of becoming a husk. It might happen. So I am vigilant, vigilant about the water. They gave me a jerry can to pee into, and I could sense it probably wasn’t going to hold 24 hours worth of my wee, but you know, I nodded and smiled, and bought a plastic measuring jug from Wilkos with which to decant the widdle, because peeing into the neck of a jerry can is no fun, especially when you’re a swivel eyed, lunatic because of all the things you haven’t been allowed to have.

So I weed for all I was worth, and decanted, and weed and decanted and it was very boring and I was still feeling like shit, so I stayed at home, which was much less taxing than carrying around a giant jerry can swilling with pee that smelled like a field of rotting cabbage (ewwww) and your own personal measuring jug, so small mercies and all that. And lo and behold, by half eleven at night I had filled my can to the brim with life enhancing piss, and was clearly going to wee more. I thought about whether I needed to get an even distribution of wee, and whether it would be worth tipping some of the earlier wee out and giving a middle of the night, early morning wee a chance to be full of, or lacking in whatever the hell it is they’re testing for. Then I thought I’d probably end up pouring wee down my sleeve because I was tired and emotional and am always clumsy and really I just put the lid on and chucked the jug away and hoped for the best.

In the midst of all the Heart of Coffeeless horror I did think that as I’d got this far with it, I might give caffeine up for good, and power through and become a paragon of health. I thought it might help my blood pressure. One website I Googled on the second day of withdrawal, just in case I was actually having some kind of hideous seizure and mixing it up with caffeine withdrawal (I wasn’t) said quitting could bring blood pressure down. As we know, my blood pressure may rise up in the night and strangle me at any time, so I thought it could be good and healthful and new year’s marvellous to just keep on trucking with the no caffeine thing.

On Friday morning when I woke to the realisation that my jerry can was overflowing, my heart too, overflowed from the bed, took me downstairs and made me a cup of fully caffeinated coffee. I drank half of it, and frankly people, it was miraculous.

It was a bit like that bit in the opticians where you’re squinting into his weird goggle things, and he’s sliding lenses in and out of the frames and it’s all blurry, blurry, blurry and then suddenly everything is in crystal sharp focus and you feel amazed and euphoric because you can see, and it’s all very crisp. That. That is exactly what even half a cup of decent coffee does for me. I was all sharp and crisp and focused and I felt bonkers, but good bonkers, and like I didn’t want to kill myself/sleep for the rest of my life. So I’m back on it, and no more widdling into household receptacles for me, thanks.