Category Archives: Nonsense

A problem not shared…

One of the inevitable consequences of spending far too much time on social media is a high level of awareness of awareness days/weeks/months.

Tweets or Facebook posts with a particular colour ribbon, personal blogs, link to variously devastating or heartwarming stories are a significant feature of my timelines.

I know, now, much more than I used to about a whole range of illnesses and conditions, which can only be a good thing (apart from the hypochondriac tendency to wonder if I’m spotting some of the early symptoms in myself or my children).

The tweets and posts more often than not, especially over a period of time, tell me things about friends or acquaintances which under other circumstances I would perhaps never have known. They are a glimpse into the lives behind the smile at the school gate or the friendly chatter in the park; an often dark hint at pain or struggle which otherwise would go unseen.

There is no way in which I think that the breaking down of taboos around illnesses – both mental and physical – is anything but positive. The burden of sickness is heavy enough without the additional load of shame, or the bitter feeling that the suffering should remain unseen.

On the grander scale of national public life, hearing about the problems of celebrities and others  can help the rest of us speak more freely to family, friends and colleagues, even if tolerance and acceptance are not as forthcoming as they should be.

Sharing and talking can help dispel misplaced ignorance and fear. They can prompt an earlier visit to the doctor which could change or even save a life.

Nevertheless, on the more intimate scale of everyday life, it can create a strange combination of knowing and unknowing. I might act differently – consciously or otherwise – to the friend of a friend I know via social media has ongoing problems with depression than to her neighbour who has never mentioned any such thing but could be in just the same position.

I’m sure there has always, in any given situation, been an unspoken hierarchy of suffering, sympathy and consideration; but has it become accelerated or even unbalanced in this world of increased, yet partial, openness?

Raising awareness and speaking out are vital, but so too is remembering that they can only ever create a set of known knowns. A problem unshared is a problem still, whether it’s public knowledge or not; some people don’t want to tell, and though chipping away at the factors which mean that is the case is vital, some never will. Sometimes I worry it’s the ones who stay quiet who need the help the most.

It’s tempting, especially nowadays when social media means so many of us do consciously craft an image of ourselves, to see what people say about themselves as a kind of full disclosure, but it’s worth remembering that things may remain unsaid, yet sore.

I’m not a fan of inspirational quotes, as I’ve said before, but this one remains true.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle

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Dear School

We need to talk.

You do a marvellous job with my children. You inspire and educate and socialise them and take them off my hands  for up to six hours each day, five days a week, 39 weeks of the year. They are happy, interested and only rarely come home with nits. I owe you more than I can ever repay.

But.

This dressing up lark has to stop.

So far this term I’ve had to rustle up a Spooky Day costume for the four year old. I’m working on the Christmas requirements (a star, a pirate and a sodding Islander, which sounds worryingly like a character from The Wicker Man). In the spring, there’ll be World Book Day, (when I have to persuade my two younger children that their Disney-inspired polyester horrors don’t really count), something Comic Relief related (I’m still finding bits of deely boppers from six months ago) and the psychological trauma of trying to create a witty, yet touching, scene out of hard-boiled eggs and empty loo rolls. 150871_10150092885059155_571262_n

It didn’t look like that on Pinterest.

This week is Children in Need, and I’m regretting the years I muttered about having to find something with spots on. This year (and I know that the idea behind this wasn’t yours) the theme is heroes.

The four year old’s a doddle. He’s borrowed one of those alarmingly padded Spiderman costumes which makes him look like I give him steroids and protein shakes for breakfast. He’s even almost reconciled to the fact that it doesn’t confer the ability to throw webs or climb walls. It’s all good.

The other two are in a pleasing state of vagueness. “I’ll go as Catwoman”, says the seven year old airily, batting away such practicalities as the fact that she doesn’t own a single black item of clothing and has never, to my knowledge, seen Catwoman in her life. The eight year old’s contribution has been to helpfully confirm that he’ll go “as a hero”. Right.

Dear school, it’s not you, it’s me. I really do get it, you’re not alone, and you’re in a no-win situation. There are parents who relish the opportunity to create, whose children look unfailingly amazing, and who would howl to the moon if you cut back on the dressing-up. The rest of us, though, look longingly at the easy-wear, easy-wash, uniform sitting forlornly in the drawer. Then we turn sadly away to rattle around in the back of the wardrobe trying to put together something we know will fail miserably, or slope off resentfully to the shops for an overpriced branded onesie.

Outfits for plays are one thing, but the fundraising days are something else altogether. I know, I know, it’s all about Good Causes. You’re helping the children to think about others, and to raise money while doing so. If I’m being honest, the real cause of my complaint is that it’s a chore I could do without. I am rich in children and poor in imagination. Thinking of and creating costumes manages simultaneously to bore and to stress me, and I’m not altogether sure it does so to any purpose.

There’s more to my disquiet than laziness, though. Today, faced with the choice of making a costume which I know in advance will qualify for one of those #nailedIt memes or of spending money on some random tat destined for the bin and probably made by a child in the first place, I can’t help but wonder if this all sends out mixed messages. Giving to charity shouldn’t depend on having fun while doing so. I’m pretty sure the widow didn’t dress as a ninja before toddling off to deposit her mite. Moreover, I can (just about) afford the time and the money, but I know that a lot of parents really, really can’t. Sometimes, charity  begins at home.

They’re children, I know. They (mostly!) like dressing up. I’m not asking you to stop it altogether, just maybe…keep it for special occasions? Once a decade would be great. Thanks

ps – what the ^%&* does an Islander wear?

The Cinderella Syndrome

In three days from now, I’ll be stepping out of my comfort zone and onto a train to London, to go to Mumsnet’s BlogFest. I probably shouldn’t admit here quite how big a deal this is for me. I am a stage in my life where my comfort zone equates roughly to my postcode and a cagoule: familiar, easy, safe. It isn’t that I’m not looking forward to it, but the reality (Trains! People! Oyster cards!) is starting to daunt me a little the closer it draws.

Having booked tickets ages ago, I’ve spent the last week or so  wondering what to wear. I’ve narrowed my outfit down to something warm but lightweight; casual but smart; comfortable to wear and appropriate for everything I’ll be doing over the weekend  – but able to fit into my handbag so as not to require lugging round everywhere with me.

I haven’t quite found it yet.

To my shame, beneath all the practicalities of packing, I know there’s a lurking wish to look good. Months ago, back when I booked my ticket, I was full of plans to lose a stone and have mastered my makeup and undergone a haircut to render my mop somewhat less hedge-like by November. Instead, of course, I’ve spent this last week inhaling biscuits and coming sadly to the realisation that I can afford neither the time nor the money to go to the hairdresser.

It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself that it doesn’t really matter. The people I hope to meet have been talking to a six-year old’s scribble of me for the past three years, after all; it’s a conference for writers and bloggers, not wannabe Miss Worlds (isn’t it?). I’m not going there to size up other people’s appearances, and I’m fairly certain they’re not there to do it to me.

So why am I doing this? Why do I do it, every time there’s a big occasion that requires me to shed the cagoule? Is it just me? It’s not a new development since I left work to be at home, though the bar has undeniably lowered as the number of events requiring consideration of my appearance has decreased. Weddings, nights out, holidays even: I can understand the desire to try to look ones best, but it goes beyond this. It’s not just about finding the perfect pair of jeans or boots that actually fit.

Being scrupulously honest, there’s a feeling that if I get it just right, find that dress/shoes/lipstick/weight, the real me will magically be revealed. There’ll be a wave of a wand transforming kitchen rags to ball gown; an astonished reaction to glasses removed and hair released from its bun tumbling down the back; the glorious f*ck-you moment of walking out of a store, purse unopened, after the snooty staff realise they got you wrong all along. Why, Miss Book...You're beautiful!It is ridiculous. I am nearly forty: a professional woman, a wife, a mother. I may have dreams left in me, but I am as close as dammit to getting there, wherever “there” is. This is the real me, warts and all*, and – consciously, at least – I’m actually happy with it. I’m not waiting to be discovered, much less rescued. Is this just a hangover from stories and books and films where the heroine realises her true destiny as soon as everyone else realises that she’s beautiful? Has that moral got wrapped up in the culture of endless self-improvement that we’re all subject to; the subtle nudging to be continually dissatisfied, continually looking a way to make it all better via judicious use of our credit card?  Or am I just projecting my own insecurities onto everyone else’s happy relationship with the changing room?

I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it differently any time soon, try as I might. And I still don’t know what to wear on Saturday.

*I don’t have warts. 

Remaining here (or, Dorothy Parker and the art of the inspirational quote)

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,A

I don’t think that Dorothy Parker did inspirational quotes, but if she did, they probably would have been the best inspirational quotes in the world.

Actually, I’m pretty sure she didn’t do them. I don’t think she paused mid-quip at the Algonquin, cigarette and bon mot held languidly in check, to gaze into the middle distance and murmur something sweetly significant about the importance of believing in oneself.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that I’m not a fan of inspirational quotes. There are plenty of times when a well-phrased kick up the arse serves to remind me of my good fortune – sometimes even when I come across it on Facebook (the phrase, not the arse, that is). What I am not so keen on is the daily stream of exhortations, carefully scripted in a beautiful font against the uplifting backdrop of a mountain or a sunset or a kitten nestled into the side of an alligator. I’m not so keen on the fact that they tend to come from the same people. I’m not keen at all on the idea that those people quite clearly see themselves as some kind of work in progress.

Here’s the thing. I am a fully grown woman. I am an adult, not some pupa or cocoon biding my time till I turn into a beautiful butterfly. Just as there is no “thin girl” inside me waiting to burst out, so my curmudgeonly contented self does not harbour a shiny-souled being desperate to reach the surface to beam on all she beholds. I am the sum total of almost forty years of life; I have a personality shaped by the people I’ve known (and been), the thoughts I’ve had, the experiences I’ve lived through. I am as likely to wake up one morning with an unquenchable zest to conquer the world as I am to suddenly become a petite brunette.

Perhaps it’s just a sign of age. Perhaps it’s natural to reach a point where malleability of character seems as fantastical a concept as happily ever after. Perhaps all these quotes fulfil a deep urge which in earlier ages would have been met with the hope of eternal redemption, a life after death for those who’ve picked up enough bonus points on their journey through this one – or, after all, perhaps there’s an argument that it’s better to work on reshaping ones inner, rather than outer, self.

Whether a spiritual or literal diet, though, it just seems a recipe for endless, unsettling dissatisfaction. I never liked weighing out portions of pasta and measuring cubes of cheese. I don’t want to get into calibrating my contentment, charting my progress along the path of becoming a Better Person. I couldn’t change my metabolic rate with a positive mental attitude and I’m not at all sure that I can make a significant difference in who I really am with it either.

So do I think we should just trudge along, eyes in the gutter, ignoring the stars above? Of course not. There are plenty of things about myself I don’t like, lots of habits I know I need to curb, tendencies I try to resist. Self improvement? Bring it on. Self-reinvention? Not so much.  I quite like the idea of acknowledging where I stand; of owning who I am; of growing old(er) as me, not fretting till the last minutes of my life about what unrealised version of myself lay dormant inside. I’m not Marie of Romania. That’s her job.

As Dorothy Parker never said: extemporanea happens. The best we can do is to try to and sing along with the song.

And if that’s not worthy of an inspirational font and a sunset, I don’t know what is.

The first audition of autumn

It is autumn. Officially, at least. We’re into September, the school holidays are almost over, the nights are drawing in.

I love autumn. It’s a relief, after the last few weeks of resentful shivering in sandals and short sleeves, to the muttered refrain of “but it’s AUGUST”, to be able finally to pull out boots and jumpers. There’s a comfort of sorts – or a certainty, at least – in knowing that the weather is only going to get worse. No more of the hoping-for-the-best, planning-for-the-worst, making-the-most-of-it of the summer months: rained off barbecues, sand-blasted beaches, hours huddled under trees watching puddles form round the swings.

Autumn is the most orderly of seasons. It’s full of known quantities. Perhaps that’s why, together with the fresh-startness of the new school year, it feels like a good time for beginnings, despite the evidence of things drawing to a close outside.

It’s not that I live divorced from nature. There are fields at the end of my road, trees in my garden, and I have the best part of an hour’s school run on foot in which to feel the subtle wax and wane of the morning chill.

To my shame, none of these are why I truly know that summer is over and autumn is here.

Instead, I know that this is the case because The X-Factor is back on TV.

There is nothing particularly autumnal about it, for all its wist and yelling fruitlessness. It not even that I particularly enjoy it. 

No.

It is more its briskly efficient arrival at the end of August, sweeping us all up from the shapeless haphazardness of summer and depositing us firmly into a reliable schedule of weekly dates till Christmas that gives it away. Just as school shepherds shiny-shoed children back through its gates, so do Messrs Cowell & co provide us with a useful structure and routine as we stare into the dull dank months of British winter ahead. For me, it works like a telescope. In early September, with my feet still smudged with the dirty remnants of a sandal tan, I can see the me who will be watching in December, haloed with fairy lights and the crushing consciousness of unfinished present shopping. As Christmas approaches and the last few sing for their lives (apparently), the flashbacks to their auditions, in vest tops and bare legs, remind me of the carefree summer me I’d like to think was there once.

Once term starts again, I know that time will run away from me. But The X-Factor promises to be by my side through the giddy slip of the year to its close, past pumpkins and pyrotechnics and poppies, till I’m delivered blinking and chastened into the bleak, bleached world of January and The Bridge. I know that Strictly Come Dancing fulfils much of the same need in many, and I do watch that too, but my commitment has been hampered by fearful years of seeing it through a haze of pyjama’ed small children attempting the cha-cha-cha too near to the fireplace.

So, come Saturday, I’ll be tuning in again; phone in my hand, sound turned down, invisible bingo card ready to mark off the obligatory “journey”s, “dream”s and “means everything”s which we seasoned viewers know carry more or less equal weight to the singing. Resigned in the knowledge that three and a half months of my life are about to vanish as swiftly as the contestants’ fifteen minutes of fame, and happy to know it too.

Strong

When I was a very little girl, I wanted to be a dancer. There are photos of me packed like sausage meat into strained black lycra, carroty hair in a home-cut page boy, chubby satin-clad foot not so much pointed as angled forlornly towards the floor.

I devoured books about ballerinas. I plotted my application to the Royal Ballet School. I dreamed of my debut at Covent Garden,  all tutu and rapturous applause.

Luckily for all concerned, we moved house away from any chance of ballet classes when I was seven, and the dreams died away. It was only as an adult, looking back at the photos, that I could smile ruefully at the suddenly glaring disconnect between my remembered self-image and what must have been painfully clear to anyone looking on.

I can’t remember the first time that I started to perceive of my body as something to wish otherwise. I do remember being proud, for quite a lot of junior school, of being the tallest and the biggest; of being able to beat some of the boys. Bookish by nature, I was never that keen on sport, but I ran and rode my bike and played out, thinking no more of how I was made than what it let me do.

At some point, though, I became aware that my extra height and my added strength were no longer envied. I started to stoop. I chose clothes that draped and flowed, in the catastrophically unsuccessful hope that they would somehow make me look smaller, more fragile. I stopped eating in the presence of other people,  deluding myself that they would see me as more delicately girl-like.

A small coterie of girls in secondary school was sporty, an even smaller group of one or two managed to be both sporty and cool. A natural lack of aptitude and a substantial dose of bullying met head-on with a new-found aversion to being thought unfeminine, and I (usually fake) limped through my teenage years with excuses to get out of netball or hockey or cross-country running, lingering, when the notes and the weekly periods didn’t work, on the touchlines hoping not to be noticed.

By the time I went to University, almost six foot tall, overweight, and trying desperately to be invisible in shapeless clothes and a face hidden by hair, the thought of doing exercise was as likely to occur to me as that of admitting to liking Take That.  Exercise was for Other People: a strange subset of humans who felt compelled to sweat in public. I was too busy perfecting self-effacement through emerging only in darkness and drinking myself into oblivion.

At some point (after the Guinness and snakebites abated, strangely enough) the weight started to come off. I made my peace with being tall. I started to eat a bit more normally, but there was always a niggling urge to reduce a bit more, occupy a bit less space. I’d make self-deprecating remarks about being in drag if someone complimented me on a special outfit. I’d try not to stand next to women who were much smaller, because the sense of ungainliness would linger for hours.

I was diagnosed with a joint condition, and a tiny bit of me air-punched (feebly) – I always knew exercise wasn’t for me. I wrote myself a note and opted out of PE for good. And I made sure that everyone knew I couldn’t lift; couldn’t run; couldn’t do anything particularly physically demanding, despite my size. I felt, in a dark, twisted way, that the discomfort and the small degree of enforced weakness bought me back some of the femininity I’d somehow forfeited by being tall and broadly-built.

I’m ashamed of myself, now.

Perhaps it’s my age, perhaps it’s a zeitgeist thing, but it’s  become harder and harder over the last few years to keep excusing myself from physical activity.

Friends started to run, and post their times on Facebook. People I’d always thought of as One Of Us started to talk about gyms and footwear and personal bests. Perfectly normal mums from the school gate would jog past the house of an evening, pink and sweaty and not very fast, but doing it nonetheless and not apparently suffering from some form of personality transplant when I spoke to them next. I admired, and sighed, and waved my precious get-out-of-running-free card, but slowly, because my joints were getting worse.

Then friends who really did have more serious physical problems than me started doing it, and the foundations of my contented state of inactivity started to shake a little. I would have got up off the sofa, but my back was killing me.

And then, in September, back from our summer holidays, we joined a gym. We wanted to get the children swimming and my husband (who had been one of those naturally sporty people before being corrupted by a job, children and marriage to a couch potato) was approaching a milestone birthday and was, if not in crisis, determined to regain some of what the sedentary, sleepless years had stolen.

I could tell you of my nerves before my induction. I could tell you of my first impressions of the inside of a fitness studio and the jangling terror of walking into a class. I could tell you of the cringing mortification of wearing clinging, Sainsburys-fresh workout clothes and spanking new trainers; of the wheezing, creaking ache of my body after a pitifully few minutes’ work. You can probably imagine them all.

Did you think I was going to tell you of a transformation? Of a dramatic before and after; of talents discovered; of a life changed? Sorry.

I’ve learned that I am not, and never will be a runner. But I have learned that I can power through kilometres on a cross trainer, upping the level and the time each week, turning a blind eye to the clash between my dripping beetroot face and orange hair in the mirror. That I can cope with a Pilates class which a few months ago had me giggling hopelessly at the seeming absence of any muscles in my body. That I like feeling a sense of my own strength.

My personal bests aren’t medals for races, or times beaten, or in the gym at all. They’re the fact that I can stand up from the floor now without hauling myself up against something. They’re the feeling of power in my arms as I rest my hands on the steering wheel rather than hanging on limply. They’re the quiet awareness of capabilities I didn’t know where there: a confidence, a completeness.

I still ache in my bones, and sometimes they’ll still flare and stiffen and swell. But I can feel now the rest of my body knitting and bulking to take some of the strain, a whole clever system of support I’ve denied for my entire adult life. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to value my body again for what it does, rather than how it looks.

Questions I have been asked today (3)

What is Harry Potter’s first name?

What would happen if you gave someone everything they wanted but nothing they needed?

Why do boys have boobies?

What’s Isabelle’s mummy’s rabbit called?

Can I have my ears pierced?

Is this tomorrow?

What is Harry Potter’s second name?

When is it the cat’s birthday?

What is a horse?

Who would [insert character from Harry Potter] be in Percy Jackson?

Which Greek god would you be, mummy?

Can the cat do spinjitsu?

Does Luke Skywalker do spinjitsu?

Why can’t I have my ears pierced?

 

Happy Easter holidays, folks…

 

 

Dog’s Breakfast

The Gove asked
The Wilshaw, and
The Wilshaw asked
The Inspectorate
“Could we have school readiness
by age of five, Ofsted?”

The Wilshaw asked
The Inspectorate,
The Inspectorate said
“Certainly,
I’ll go and tell
The Telegraph
Before it goes to bed”

The Inspectorate,
Observed
And he went and told
The Telegraph:
“We’re going for school readiness
by age of five”, he said.

The Telegraph
Said sleepily
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like children-led
Instead.”

The Inspectorate
Said, “Fancy!”
And went to
His Majesty.
He curtsied to the Wilshaw, and
He turned a little red:
“Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But other ways can work, if
They’re
Really
Children-led.”

The Wilshaw said
“Oh!”
And turned to
The Gove:
“Talking of school readiness by
age of five; Ofsted
Says many people
Think that
Children-led
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little
Children-led
Instead?”

The Gove said,
“Bother!”
And then he said,
“Oh, dear me!”
The Gove sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
And went back to bed.
“Nobody,”
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A nursery man;
I only want
A little bit
Of school readiness
By age of five, Ofsted!”

The Wilshaw said,
“There, there!”
And went to
The Inspectorate.
The Inspectorate
Said, “There, there!”
And went to the shed.
The Telegraph said,
“There, there!
I didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s headlines for his hobby horse
“school readiness”, Ofsted”.

The Wilshaw took
The headline
And brought it to
His Majesty;
The Gove said,
“Headline, eh?”
And bounced out of bed.
“Nobody,” he said,
As he binned the
Guardian,
“Nobody,” he said,
As he talked down
The evidence,
“Nobody,
“My darling,
Could call me
A nursery man—
BUT
I do like a little bit of school-readiness, Ofsted!”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10741986/Ofsted-all-parents-should-get-a-checklist-telling-them-how-to-raise-their-children.html

With enormous apologies to A.A. Milne

Becoming Mrs Bennet

Where once we had a social life, we now have Netflix.  Actually, where once we had conversations, we now have Netflix. It’s utterly addictive: watching just one more episode of whatever is our latest fix rather than talking to each other or doing work or indeed going to bed at a halfway reasonable hour.

Last night, sated on House of Cards and The Killing and The Bridge, we found ourselves watching the old BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

It came out originally just after I’d done the book for GCSE English, one of the rare pieces of literature to survive being studied and remain a favourite. I still love Jane Austen, love her cool, elegant, dispassionate study of her world. Elizabeth Bennet has always ranked high on my list of People Out of Books I Want To Be.

I was never pretty or nice enough to be Jane. I did a passable Lydia/Kitty when drunk. (Did Kitty and Lydia drink? Perhaps if they thought they could get away with it, but probably not snakebite and black.) I had sinking moments where I realised I was really, probably, Mary. But who wouldn’t want to be Lizzie? Pretty, lively, clever, with integrity and wit enough to secure a marriage for love to a man of means? Yes please.

And so, I’ve always read it and watched it as Lizzie. I know the contours of her everyday so well that I live them with her, as familiar and unquestioned as my own. I love our close bond with Jane. I squirm at our younger sisters’ shameless exhibitionism. I relish our father’s barbed tongue and acid asides. As for Mr Darcy; do I really need to explain?

Maybe it’s because I’m making plans for my husband’s approaching fortieth birthday. Maybe it’s because my own is not far behind. But last night, I realised – properly realised – for the first time that I am twice the age of Lizzie Bennet. That I am old enough to be her mother. And, as I giggled and writhed at Alison Steadman’s familiar, bustling, self-absorbed, ridiculous Mrs Bennet, I realised that of the two, it’s not the daughter whom I resemble most.

Mrs Bennett is a caricature, of course;  drawn in lurid tones for comic effect. I’m not that bad, I promise. It’s just that until last night, I’ve never before felt sympathy for her. I’ve never before seen a glimpse of myself in her circumstances and preoccupations.

I don’t stage-whisper to friends at social occasions about the eligibility of possible suitors for my children’s hands.  I don’t trade in gossip about settlements and scandal (not audibly, at least).  I don’t have to worry that my estate will be entailed away from me if I don’t produce a son (unless “estate” means “house”, “entailed away” means “repossessed”  and “produce a son” means “pay the mortgage”). I don’t think I make myself ridiculous in social situations, not least because I almost always have to drive.

But I do have long, fraught conversations about schools and catchment areas. I do fume and fret about property prices and the best place to live. I do worry about saving and stabilising and doing all in my power to secure and smooth my children’s future. I wish I were worthier. I do care about other things, some of them passionately. But what honestly keeps me awake at night? They’re all three of them sleeping not far away.

Mrs Bennet’s main ambition in life is to marry her children to wealthy men, and (the introduction of same sex marriages notwithstanding) that’s definitely not mine. Perhaps, though, there’s a different way to interpret what lies behind her silliness and narrow mindedness. Perhaps they are just the natural consequence of the general vertigo-inducing responsibility of making choices for small human beings whom you love beyond all else. Perhaps we’d all look a little ridiculous, if the things which mattered most to us were bared for all to see. It’s hard not to be narrow-minded when it comes to your children. It’s hard not to succumb to an attack of the vapours at the sheer liability of it all.

I am still Lizzie in my mind. I probably will be when I am a hundred (on the days when I’m not Jo March or Anne Shirley; assuming, of course, that I get to a hundred at all). She’s the heroine, after all; she’s the promise and the anticipation of being young and having all the possibilities of life as yet unfettered and unrealised. But you can’t grow up to be someone younger than you are; you can’t live without those fetters and realisations changing you. I wonder who else I’ll read differently as I get older. I wonder who else I’ll see myself in, even when I’d really rather not. You can’t be the character at 40 you wanted to be at 20. Can you?

How to be a Wild Thing (or Paleo for Toddlers)

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Of all the unlikely things ever to have happened in my life, joining a gym has to come top. Exercise to me has always been like vegetables to my children: essential, yet minimal and never voluntary. And yet, I find myself now pretending to row and ski and fall asleep on the floor do Pilates several times a week.

Among my new-found gym-based knowledge is Paleo: a diet for people for whom avoiding crisps is just not challenge enough. The idea, apparently, is to eat like a caveman. There are adverts for it everywhere: on the walls, by the equipment, on the back of the loo door. I don’t know about its followers’ dinners, but I’m feeling hunted.

It struck me this morning, though: why stop with food? What else could we learn from our Neanderthal ancestors*? What, in fact, do our children already know?

1. Don’t waste daylight

Perhaps my children just haven’t caught up with evolution yet, and think that being awake as soon as the sun rises gives them an advantage over their competitors (for which, read “their parents” *yawn*)

2. Don’t waste food

In a harsh prehistoric environment, there was no Mr Tesco to bring fresh supplies. This might explain why I regularly find crusts of bread down the sides of the sofa, sweet wrappings scrunched under pillows and lumps of broccoli under the table (on second thoughts, this last one might have another cause)

3. Defend your territory

So that’s why they will fight to the death over their bedroom, their toys and (on one memorable occasion) fresh air

4. Fight or flight

What I take as an opportunistic bolt from my side in the playground is, in fact, a honing of the reflex to bolt in an emergency (or on seeing a small colleague with an exciting-looking toy)

5. Don’t trust the dark

know that there’s nothing to be scared of in the middle of the night when the lights are all out, but they have an atavistic impulse to see a woolly mammoth or a sabre-toothed tiger in every shadow. Muuuuuuuuuummmmmy!!!!!

6. Travel lightly

Cavemen weren’t burdened down with coats or hats or gloves. Why tolerate it nowadays?

7. Appeal to the tribe

As well as being equipped with those heart-meltingly huge eyes, human babies have an innate ability to evoke the urge to protect in any adult they encounter.  This might explain yelling blue murder when being required to do something against ones will in public.

8. Caves

The wanton dismemberment of soft furnishings to build a den is, in fact, a primeval instinct to retreat  into a confined space. Children and dens. I rest my case.

*disclaimer – on reflection, we may not actually be their descendants.