Wednesday, 21 July 2010

On the Move

I am defecting.

I am changing my name...

And I am going to the other side.

Actually the horse has already bolted. I've moved to Wordpress.

If you would like to come with me - and I very much hope you do - then feel free to click HERE.

See you there.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Face Book - The Devils Work?

Being relatively new to the internet, (better late to the party than never I suppose) the whole virtual world is still fairly mind-blowing to me. I keep waiting for the novelty to wear off, but no. I suppose you might say that I was easily pleased but actually you'd be wrong. I'm excited because the internet is truly a thing of wonder. It's like having an entire and previously undiscovered universe of possibilities opened up to you. I love that all that information is right there at the click of a mouse, ready to be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. It is in a lot of ways the most significant equalizer of our time. Just look at blogging - anyone can publish - you don't need to be an established author or have an agent - you just need to be able to read and write. As an aside the internet is also a mild OCD sufferers dream. So many new things to check obsessively - E-mail accounts, Facebook, Statcounter... I could go on.

Now I have to say though that the jury is out for me on facebook. I can see all the positives and I enjoy them as much as the next person, but I'm just not sure. One morning for example when checking my e-mails, I found one informing me that a man named N had requested my facebook friendship. I racked my brains trying to think of all the N's I had ever known, none of whom matched the photo in front of me. Nope, I thought in the end. I have never seen this person before in my entire life. Just to make sure I clicked on his other profile photos and then - aha - recognition. He was someone with whom I had had a short and fairly insignificant relationship, years ago at university. It had all been rather forgettable as I now recall, except for one thing: he had lost his virginity to me. He'd neglected to tell me untill after the event, but honestly? I'd guessed.

Now, is it me or is it slightly odd that someone would just make contact like that out of the blue? I have on various trawls through facebook looking for friends, come across a couple of old lovers myself. And yes I suppose out of curiosity and fond memories and such like, it would be nice to know how they were getting on. But I certainly haven't contacted them. Why? Well because time has moved on. They could have a partner or spouse who might be less than thrilled about an old girlfriend getting in touch out of the blue, and also because the medium is so ripe for people to get the wrong idea. The problem with on-line communication of all sorts is that there is no way to judge someones tone of voice or body language, and so it's much harder to determine what their agenda or meaning might be. And so I have done what I believe to be the wisest thing and chosen to let bygones be bygones.

The next problem with facebook is requests for friendship from people who you don't even know. Why? Why would I wish for someone with whom I had never even had a basic conversation to be able to view my personal details and photographs? Why on earth would they be interested in the day to day inanities that I put up on my wall anyway? I just don't get it.

The last, and for me most pertinent problem, is the privacy settings. Now I have mine up so that only my friends can view my wall and my photographs, but I have only done this recently since I discovered that the default setting has it so that anyone is able to view anyone elses wall, whether they are friends with them or not. I wish to god I had never found that out. It has meant that I have been unable to resist a sneaky peak at my ex boyfriends wall even though it was me who originally broke our facebook connection thinking that it would be healthier and easier to move on if I didn't see his comings and goings on my home page every day! Anyway there he was looking extremely happy with his new partner. His new, much younger than me (although much closer to his age to be fair,) extremely attractive, just graduated with a maths degree, partner. Ouch. A dagger to the heart. Just when I thought I was on the mend.

Freedom of information, I have decided, can have its drawbacks after all. There are some things that you just don't want to know.

As for Facebook? It's the damn devils work I tell you.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Technical Glitches and Secret Crushes

This last week my computer, or rather my internet connection, has been down. I say down, a tiny thread of snail paced connection has in fact stayed up and running but everything has been taking sooooo long to load - indeed if it will load at all - that attempting to do the simplest thing on line has turned into more of an exercise in hair tearing frustration than anything else.

I say frustration, actually what I mean is white hot raging fury. It's always the little things that get to me. I'm pretty patient with the children, I manage to co-exist perfectly peacefully alongside all manner of idiots with whom I am expected to share the planet, and although injustice and inequality can sometimes make me angry, it is for the most part in a sad, slow head shaking sort of a way. For some reason (I know not which) it is the lost sellotape, the lids that won't screw open, the radios that won't tune in, and the damn computers that decide it is a good time to stage a go-slow that make me really hopping mad. I think it's called transference, or projection, or something. Anyway, in the end I had to just walk away. It wasn't worth it. I knew during a protracted phone call to the Orange broadband support team when I began to have lurid fantasies about taking a large mallet to the monitor, that it would be better that way.

So in the past week or so, instead of blogging I have been doing other things. I have blitzed the house; it hasn't been this clean since December 2009 - the approximate fateful date on which I first plugged myself into the virtual ether. The children have clearly been set slightly off balance by their newly ordered surroundings and as a result have felt compelled to render things familiar once more by doing their very best to mess it all up again in the quickest time possible. I found a great trail of printer paper all over the house this morning, the Youngest had been making "stepping stones" apparently. Of course - silly me. It's not as if we could use the bloody stuff for anything else after all.

I have also been spending more time with other people. A few days ago I went out to dinner with a small group of friends that I don't see nearly often enough. You know that warm relaxed feeling you get when in the company of people whom you know like and accept you totally? Who know that you can sometimes mess things up royally, but who don't care and don't judge because they love you anyway, warts and all? I can state with absolute conviction that an evening of belly laughs with friends like that really does a woman good. I am current living proof.

This week has also seen me managing to read a book, sort out my front garden, survive one childs birthday and anothers last day at primary school (they have now all broken up for the summer holidays) and last but not least spend a curious and slightly worrying amount of time amusing myself thinking about who it might be fun to go out on a date with. In the end it was a toss up between Captain Jack Sparrow, Jim Morrison and Charlie Brooker. After some serious consideration I plumped for Charlie. Obvious reasons such as him being a) real, and b) not dead, aside - he is for me the ideal combination of cynical, angry and scathing, yet witty, clever and likeable, not to mention a master of the one slightly raised ironic eyebrow expression - so hard to pull off without looking smarmy, wouldn't you agree?

I have decided (I've worked it all out you see) that Charlie and I would meet at some soul suckingly awful corporate 'do' somewhere and bond instantly over how appalling it all was and how much we hated the sort of people who liked these things. We'd sit there being cynical together - Charlie of course also being devilishly handsome and impossibly funny - and then we'd sneak off on our own having realised that really we could think of a million different and better things to do. We'd go on the London Eye and eat really lovely food on a verandah overlooking the river. Then at night we'd break into the natural history museum and marvel at having it all to ourselves. It would be eerie and silent in the dim light and we'd have to try not to touch anything in case we set all the alarms off. Later we'd go and watch some fireworks fizzing around the moon from the top of a huge climbing frame, and then we'd find a really seedy pub somewhere and shoot pool untill the early hours. I would win. You can tell a lot about a man by how he responds to being beaten at pool by a woman. Charlie of course would be suitably impressed and gracious yet doggedly competitive, whilst still remaining - at all times - unfailingly and impossibly funny. No pressure there then.

Now. This isn't going to be a post about how I've had a taste of my real life back and as a result am going to lay off the blogging for a while. Blogging is a part of my real life (oh the joy when my broadband, for no blasted reason whatsoever, suddenly started working again) and besides I'm far too narcissistic to want to stop. In fact this post actually began life as a 'why I haven't been posting post' (I know, I know, yawn yawn) but then took on a life of its own and morphed unbidden into a post detailing my secret fantasy of breaking into the natural history museum in the dead of night with Charlie Brooker.

Deeply Freudian I'm sure. My mother will be so proud.

It's good to be back.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Playground Politics

The village school my children attend lies just a few minutes walk up the road from our house and is responsible for the education of about fifty children. There are two classrooms; one for the reception class and pupils in years one and two, and the other for the pupils in years three, four, five and six. At the moment I have Eldest Son in one class, Middle Son in the other and The Youngest attending one day a week, although that will all change come September when Eldest Son goes off to secondary school and The Youngest moves up to full time reception. The team of staff is made up in its entirety of a head-teacher, two classroom teachers, one classroom assistant, one cook, and a taxi driver whose main job it is to ferry some of the children to and from school, but who also doubles up as a dinner lady. She's a 'twofer' as my mother would say - twofer the price of one.

The school is very much the hub of the local community and always has a large part to play in the organisation of village activities such as the annual fete, the fun run, and the summer grass-cuts of the village church grounds in which all the parents get together to strim, rake, and then finally wheelbarrow great heaps of grass up steeply angled wooden boards and on to flat bed trucks while the children all run around shrieking and chucking the grass at each other. The P.T.A. is extremely well attended with the majority of mothers going regularly to meetings; indeed if you do not choose to get involved with the P.T.A. and by the same token do not then contribute towards the planning and running of community activities, it tends to be rather frowned upon. The more active mothers huff and sigh and whisper amongst themselves that if so and so can't be bothered to help the school raise a bit of bloody money then why should so and so's children be entitled to free school trips along with their children. What can I say... there's not much to do around here.

Now. There is a small but powerful clique at the centre of the school that has the classroom assistant at its head, her best friend the cook as her trusty sidekick, one of the fathers who is on the board of governors and who has fairly recently split with his partner (he now rents the house directly opposite her) as the third in command, and a few of the other parents as their loyal sniveling minions. They are all on extremely friendly terms with the teaching staff, including the head; in fact the father who is on the board of governors is actually having a relationship with one of the teachers whose class includes his youngest daughter. It's supposed to be a secret but it's a fairly open one really - subtle gestures of intimacy can often be seen passing between them when they think no-one's looking - and so in a nutshell I think it would probably be fair to say that the whole group is ....cosy.

Funny isn't it how one small group of people can have such a big effect on the wider community around them. One of the ripples cast in the village pond by this particular groups social brick is that of a real change in the dynamics between the children at the school. The offspring of the cliques chosen few all socialise together regularly with their parents and so have very much picked up on the overblown sense of power and influence that their parents have. They shun the children whose parents are shunned by their parents and as a result, something of a two-tier social system has begun to emerge in the village. The strange thing is that all the other parents are only too aware of what is going on. The classroom assistant (who it is quietly felt has far too much clout when it comes to the running of the school) is not well liked despite her position at the top of the tree. She is seen to be something of a bully and a gossip, the sort of person who paints themselves with a superficial coating of sugary friendliness but who is actually rather mean spirited and judgemental, very much focused on their own agenda and concerned mainly with the retention of power at all costs - a bit like David Cameron.

I used to be very much involved with the P.T.A. when Mr S was still living with us and The Youngest had not yet been born. I did the lucky dip every year at the school fete and we would always go as a family to the grass cuts. But these days not so much. The Youngest is too small to be left to roam and play unsupervised at community events while I am busy, and I do not have a partner or any extended family living nearby to help supervise her. Besides I find the group dynamics these days deeply unpleasant - any comments or suggestions made in meetings by anyone outside of the inner circle tend only to be dismissed out of hand anyway - so I've backed off from it all a bit with a view to perhaps becoming more involved again once my daughter is a little older.

Now I know full well that the clique despise me (they barely acknowledge my existence most of the time, often to the point of downright rudeness) firstly for what they probably see as my lack of contribution to the school but also because I just don't fit in with them - never have and never will. They are uber parents and uber villagers, and I'm a bit messy and a bit disorganised and a bit, well.... slummy. I'm not overly concerned by their chilly shoulders, I don't think much of them either and there are plenty of people around that I do like. My main social circle is outside of the village anyway and I find that I much prefer it that way - that it prevents village life from becoming too claustrophobic - however I do know that their superior attitude and air of exclusivity, not to mention their disproportionate degree of influence as to how the school is run, does upset some of the other mums very much and so I was wondering...

Does this happen at every school? Is it inevitable that there will always be some sort of a hierarchy amongst parents? Or is it simply that the community here is small and a little incestuous? I would love to hear about other peoples experiences of school gate politics - what say you?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

So What Now?

I didn't get the job.

My boss phoned me on my mobile while I was in the middle of Tescos with the youngest choosing a packed lunch box for her first ever school trip.

"I'm sorry Gappy. No-one wanted you to get the job more than me, but you just didn't give us the answers we were looking for."

A bit like a court case in which previous convictions for the same crime cannot be taken into account lest it prejudice the minds of the jury, my colleagues on the interview panel were not allowed to take into account the skills they know I have, and the good work they know I do. The interview questions were all scored - a point being awarded for various specific key words and phrases used by the interviewee - and I didn't score high enough on some of the questions; not because I don't know the answers, but because I just didn't say them right or go into enough detail.

So someone else will be starting my job after my temporary contract for it ends in two months time, and I will.... well, I'm not entirely sure what I will do. My boss was keen to point out that there was another job coming up soon and that they wanted to make sure to give me feedback from this interview so that I would be able to sail the next one if I wanted to apply for it, but I'm not sure if I do. The job will be in the information centre for one, and I much prefer refuge work. Also it will be five days a week which I just can't see myself being able to manage in the school holidays. On top of all that the working environments created by the two different teams are like night and day - the refuge team being a strong supportive group who take care of each other at work and the community/information centre being something of a snake pit in which nobody trusts each other and everybody goes about subtly undermining everybody else. I don't, in all honesty, really want to work there.

I also feel embarrassed if truth be told. I really appreciate their support in offering to try to make sure I get this next job, it's nice that my boss has specifically said that she knows I'm good and she wants me working for them, but really it's not their responsibility to try to make sure that I am gainfully employed. I feel as if they feel they owe me something because I have volunteered and covered paid posts at short notice for a long time now - but they don't really - it was my choice to do those things. One particularly helpful colleague from the community team said before my interview that she was hoping and praying I got the job because if I didn't it would just be "really awkward for you and everyone else." I refrained from laughing bitterly and saying "Yeah thanks for that," but it's true really. It is all a bit awkward.

Tomorrow night is the slightly belated leaving do of the colleague whose job it was that I had applied for. I want to go - she was a fantastic, dedicated support worker and colleague who taught me a lot - but I know that me having not got the permanent post is going to be a massive elephant in the room. I'm torn really - I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I also think that if I don't go it will look as though I have simply spat my dummy out, which isn't the case at all. My feeling is that I should probably go and try to hold my head high. I tried my best, I didn't get it, I'm terribly disappointed, but I'll live. It's her night anyway and we should all be concentrating on being there for her.

What do you think? Any and all advice much appreciated.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Eau de Dead Fox

I once spent an entire month smelling of dead fox.

There is a lot of wildlife around these parts. You see it if you drive out in the early morning while the mist is still hanging in wisps just above the ground and the air is dewy and cold. A whole other wild world exists outside of the harsh hurried day - foxes, rabbits, and badgers can all sometimes be observed going about their business in the fields and hedges that run alongside the long and windy road that leads out of my village and into the next town. Most often though, the badgers are dead. It's not uncommon to see more than one lying on the grassy verge in a heavy heap before the council workers come later in the morning to remove them. I suspect that the local farmers bait them and then dump the corpses by the side of the road in order to pass them off as road kill. They never appear injured, just curled up, dirty, deathly still, and always much much larger than you would imagine.

Of course lots of wildlife does tend to mean lots of road-kill too. The pheasants that come out during the day seem to be particularly susceptible to death by automobile. This is because they are extremely stupid and neurotic creatures with a gigantic death wish. I once had one walk straight in front of my car seemingly from nowhere, leaving me no time at all in which to stop, swerve, or even slow down. I remember feeling a dull thud and then seeing it roll in a perfect lightning ball of feathers to the side of the road. When I got home Mr S had asked me why I hadn't stopped and slung it in the boot to be brought home and plucked, drawn and eaten. "Well excuse me Mr Hugh Fearnley fucking Whittingstall if I don't much fancy stopping to investigate the 'of this world' status of a half dead and traumatised pheasant" I had said, annoyed. "Besides, the babies buggy is in the boot."

I live in a rural farming community and people here don't much like foxes. Entire evenings are spent by some down the pub comparing and contrasting the various methods for keeping them away from the chicken pens at night. There are "Fight prejudice, fight the hunting ban" posters and car stickers everywhere, and I have even seen a dead fox draped menacingly over a local road sign, its head dangling like some sort of medieval talismanic warning.

Consequently I did not pay too much attention when - a few years back - I saw a small fox lying dead on the road to town, it's body smashed and broken on the sticky tarmac. It was a hot hot day, I had my window wide open and I was driving to the mother and baby group where I volunteered as a breastfeeding peer supporter. My youngest was still a baby herself, cooing and dribbling and sucking on her tiny fist in her car seat next to me. Suddenly I felt a drop of something wet hit the top of my jaw just below my right ear. I looked up and saw that my rear view mirror also had a tiny splatter of pinkish red at its bottom corner. It was strange I suppose, but I didn't think much more of it untill gradually I began to become aware of an unfamiliar but distinctive smell that seemed to increase in intensity whenever I moved my head. Odd. And then - of course - I remembered the fox, lying directly in the line of my right sides wheels, blood and entrails spilling out like stuffing from its open belly.

The aroma of dead fox is hard to shake. I know because I tried. I washed and scrubbed and bathed and sprayed, but still the unmistakable smell lingered on, seeming eventually to envelope my entire being. Week after week I retraced the journey back to my mother and baby group and I can state with absolute conviction that there is nothing more guaranteed to make a new mother clutch her small baby tighter to her bosom and start to edge away into a corner than a breastfeeding supporter wailing "Sniff me, sniff me! Do I still smell of fox guts to you?" at the group facillitator.

Eventually of course the smell faded and went, but I can still now conjure up that salty musky tang if I concentrate hard enough - it will be indelibly stamped on my olfactory memory forever more. It reminds me of a time in summer in which my last baby was small. Of being so delighted to finally have a daughter. Of spending time with a group of women who are still my friends now, all of us with our new babies, going for picnics, for walks in the park, and for tea and cake at the local cafe. It is not an uncommon question to be asked what is, for you, an evocative smell and my answer of dead fox is not really a socially acceptable one I know.

But it is the truth nevertheless.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Gappy goes to London (Cybermummy 2010)

The evening before Cybermummy I took a train for the first time in years to London Paddington. I approached the ticket office at my journeys starting point like an eager puppy, my huge bag swinging heavily against my legs as I heaved it off my shoulder. "I want to go to London" I said breathlessly to the man selling tickets from behind the glass partition. He was wearing what can only be described as an expression of monumental boredom, although I did also - I'm sure - see a slight look of alarm pass quickly over his face as he considered this shining eyed, slightly over excited woman in front of him. As he handed me my ticket however, accompanied by a gentle explanation as to how it also allowed me to travel on the tube, his features quickly settled back into their obviously familiar arrangement of weary indifference. He had, it seemed, come to the reassuring decision that I was merely a harmless imbecile as opposed to an unhinged, dirty great bag carrying, maximum security escapee.

I got to Paddington, took the tube to Waterloo - hot air blasting up in my face from the tunnels like a hairdryer - and from there made my way on foot down to the South Bank. The atmosphere was like a carnival. The evening sun was still shining, the enormous ferris wheel that is the London Eye loomed excitingly up ahead and there were happy, relaxed looking people outside all the cafes and pubs celebrating the end of the working week. I walked across the road towards the little food market where an old friend of mine has a stall selling fairly traded olive oil and spices. All the smells mingled into one delicious warm spicy bready aroma as I tried to count how many different languages I could hear being spoken. Somewhere in the distance a small brass band was playing some New Orleans style jazz music and it all just seemed to me in that moment to be as perfect a city scene as one could ever hope for. I hung about the market for a while then helped my friend to pack up her stall. As the sun began to dim we made our way slowly back to the to the small flat that she shares with her Palestinian husband and baby son.

The next morning I was awake before the baby. Butterflies flitting in my stomach, I showered, dressed and made a cup of tea. My friend got up bleary eyed to see me off and I hugged her tightly goodbye before heading out in the morning sun to the tube station and hopping on the eastward bound Piccadilly line to Earls Court. A short walk from there to the Ibis Hotel and that was it. No going back, no running for the hills. Cybermummy had officially begun.

It was all very much in stark contrast to the slightly bohemian, international feel of the South Bank the night before. Every credit to the women who had obviously worked incredibly hard to bring it all together - it was without doubt extremely well organised. It looked smart and professional, everything happened when it was supposed to, the food was good and the time-table was clear. The freebies were plentiful and the PR's and company representatives were out in force. It was..... slick.

I however am not slick and if I'm honest the blatant commercialism bothered me. I don't have a view on what anyone else chooses to do on their own blog - it is their space and their business and we are all free to take from blogging what we will - but I personally don't like having people try to sell me shit, and I'm not interested in being used to sell shit for other people either. There are obviously many cynical company big-wigs out there who feel that mummy bloggers are a prime market for milking - there was even a babies bottle in our swag bags - and for me that side of things just left a slightly off taste in the mouth.

I have also never been required to 'network' before. Turns out I'm shit at it. I met some lovely lovely people but they were mostly people with whom I had made a virtual connection anyway and so already felt some affinity with. My poor blue 'business' cards were left sadly redundant as I discovered that I couldn't quite bring myself to press them onto people I had had no contact whatsoever with other than a two minute schmooze over a cupcake. I think in Twitter speak that that could possibly be referred to as a #putyourselfouttherefail. Ah well. I was clearly never destined to be an internet rock star anyway.

No. The highlight of the day by far in my opinion was listening to blog posts being read out by the authors themselves. There is something incredibly moving about hearing a blogger read their own post in their own way, using their own emphasis, their own meaningful pauses, and their own real emotion. Even posts that I had read before in their published form and so recognised straight away came strangely alive for me when I heard them spoken out loud by the women who had written them. It gave a real glimpse into the wealth of talent that is out there in the blogosphere and it was at this part in the proceedings more than any other that I felt a genuine kinship with my fellow women bloggers. Real womens lives and real womens experiences were laid bare with such beauty and raw honesty and I was struck by the strength of my response. We have so much more in common than we often think.

What else? Well.. I also discovered that I am a veritable platinum mine of information when it comes to the all important subject of the lyrics of pop songs released from the nineteen eighties onwards. My fellow pub quizzers were gasping in what I imagined was, ahem... sheer admiration at my recognition of the poetic talents of the likes of JLS, Luther Vandross and Kylie. Um... I also won a prize. Oh, and there is now a picture of my (clothed) arse on Tara Cains blog for anyone who's interested.

Bang go the last vestiges of my anonymity ;-)