Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

I feel pretty, oh so pretty
THERE IS a wonderfully funny story doing the rounds on the Internet at the moment about an unfortunate woman's attempts to pamper herself with a home waxing kit.

For those who have not read the email, all I can say is that I've yet to meet a woman who has not crossed her legs in sympathy as tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks at the story.
Those of us who have read the story really should have learned from the experience, but alas the search for beauty knows no sense and as I started to prepare for a friend's wedding this week I found myself up close and personal with the evil that is self waxing strips.
You see, I'm going to town with this wedding. Since becoming a mammy I've kind of lost of my ability to make an effort with anything- and I've rather embarrassingly gone to a stupid amount of functions wearing my trusty black trousers with whatever dressy top I could get out the door wearing before the wee man attacked me with his slabbery kisses.
Generally when you think of me and how I've looked at weddings or parties in the last two years the words "bush", "dragged" and "backwards" spring to mind.
So I pretty much decided this time would be different- for a number of reasons. First of all, this is the wedding of my very glamourous and elegant friend who generally hangs about with very glamorous and elegant people.
I already know she is going to look stunning (Gavin, you are a terribly lucky man), so I figured I couldn't show myself up by going along sporting my usual bin -woman look.
The second reason is that myself and himself get to dump the wee man in the care of my beloved mammy and stay overnight in a lovely hotel in Stranorlar. This means we get some "us" time, where we don't have to refer to each other as mammy or daddy, fight over who gets up in the night for dummy duty or be faced with the gruesome sight of two over-tired parents struggling to change a damp baby at two in the morning.
It is definitely true that himself has truly seen me at my physical worst over the last two years. From the gloriously unattractive sight of me in labour to the pyjama-ed zombiefied mammy that I transform into within five minutes of getting through the door in the evenings, I am far from the blushing bride he married four and a half years ago.
So I'm determined to look half respectable this weekend so he is proud to call me his wife when arrive at the church together on Saturday.
And that leads me back to the story of self waxing strips. You see, while I'm going to town on this wedding, my budget is not perhaps conducive to the full pampering experience.
I'm treating myself to a wee eyebrow shape and a french manicure at Natural Touch on Friday and I'll saunter down to Streaks Ahead on Saturday morning for a wash, cut and blow dry.
But everything else is pretty much down to me- and it sure isn't a matter of slapping on some lippy and heading out the door any more.

For the last three nights I've been plucking, waxing and tanning my poor neglected body to within an inch of its sorry life. And trust me, anyone who tells you waxing doesn't hurt is talking through their bikini line!
There is something exceptionally undignified about sitting in your bathroom, leg up on the toilet seat, applying warm wax to your person and then ripping the hairs out of your body. It's not big, it's not clever and it is not advisable when you have a toddler running about- unless you want his first complete sentence to be largely composed of expletives.
The joy of waxing is closely followed by the joy of exfoliation- which is somewhat akin to slowly peeling a few layers of your own skin with a cheese grater in the name of high fashion.
Exfoliation is, of course, a precursor to that other joy that befalls women in the run up to any big event- self tanning. Picture the scene, you are now a hairless wonder- your skin red raw from all that scrubbing and its time to slap on some foul smelling cream and hope against all hope that you don't end up looking like you've been randomly attacked with some orange paint.
And much as you try there is no way to escape the fake tan aroma- short off getting in the shower and scrubbing some more- except that by now you are down to your last two layers of skin and in serious danger of exposing some bone.
They do say no pain, no gain however and I hope that come 12 noon on Saturday I'll be looking my finest. I've garnered a lovely little vintage dress from Ebay with matching heels and a lovely hat which I'm more than a little besotted with. There is not a pair of black trousers in sight and with the wee man safely with his granny from first thing in the morning, there is a minimal chance of a snotter or slabber attack before I get out the door.
So I'm hoping my efforts will pay off. I'm hoping himself will be impressed that his wife is still there underneath the daily mammy costume. I'm hoping as we watch Nora and Gavin say their vows, and promise to love each other come better or worse, than he'll squeeze my (manicured) hand and be glad we are together.
And I hope, as the music plays at the reception, he can stomach the smell of the fake tan as he leads me across the dance floor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Away in a manger

ONE OF the annual joys of working in the Derry Journal is that come each Easter you get to cover the annual Feis and have a jolly old laugh about those silly Irish dancing wigs and the rather scary antics of that well known Derry creation- the Feis mammy.

You see from the moment the first wain steps on the stage at the Forum and recites a poem or dances a wee jig, all hands are on deck here in the Journal office to field calls from anxious parents wondering when their wee darling's picture is going to appear.
Until now, I've scoffed with the best of them but recently I fear I may be morphing into one- or worse still, I'm becoming the Feis mammy's evil cousin- The Nativity Play Auntie.
My darling niece Abby, aged "three and three corters" (as she would say it) is at nursery and soon to take to the stage for her acting debut in the school's production of "The Nativity".
According to herself she is going to be a fairy- but we know better. She is in fact going to be taking the starring role of the Angel Gabriel. (See Nativity Play Auntie is already wondering why they didn't see her potential as Mary, but we'll keep quiet about that for now- after all Gabriel gets to wear a more sparkly costume).
So as the big day approaches, we've all gone into overdrive singing Christmas carols over and over and talking through the story of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus (complete with the nodding of the head ala all young children).
I'm stupidly excited for a number of reasons. The first being that my own child is much too young to be given any starring roles just yet. He would be more inclined to lift the Baby Jesus (nod your head), count to three and throw him across the room shouting "Ta Daaaaa!" than sing "Away in a Manger", as that is favourite game of the moment.
The second reason is that I never had the chance to be in the nativity play myself. When I was wee, our primary school had a policy where the two P3 classes took it turn about each year to get the honour of putting on the show and when it my year, it was the other class who got to wear the tissue paper angel costumes and wire hanger wings.
It is something that has always kind of galled me, especially as my older sister got to play an angel and my younger sister (Abby's mammy) hit the jackpot and got to play Mary. (We still have the hilarious video somewhere of Emma announcing to an enthralled audience at Rosemount Primary School "Am gonny have a baybeeee, Am gonny call him Jeeeesus" (Nod of the head).

No room at the Inn
There has therefore always been a latent desire in me to be an angel, an innkeeper, a shepherd or even (I'm getting desperate here) the donkey.
So when Emma revealed that Abby had beaten off stiff competition from a host of other three year olds to get a leading role, I immediately realised this was my chance to experience the nativity- all be it vicariously.
Now, you think as a relatively sane and sensible 29 years old I would be happy enough to go along on the day, watch the show, wipe a proud tear from my eye and saunter back home again proud as punch- but no...that is not enough for this auntie.
I have reached the point of no return and done the unthinkable. Oh yes, I have found myself singing the songs with Abby and, I admit, mouthing the words in an exaggerated fashion just in case she would forget.
To give her her dues, Abby is not entirely happy about this. "I know the words Auntie Claire," she declared in a rather exasperated tone the other day as I proceeded into the second verse, even though that won't actually be sung on the day. But I was on a role- I was giving it everything, and shaking my head with gusto that the "Little Lord Jesus (nod of the head) no crying he makes".
And as she skipped around the living room singing some song about being there when Jesus was born, I clapped along in time and gave her a short (and soon forgotten) lecture on posture.
But that aside, I'm sure it is not just my bias as her auntie which makes me think her singing voice really is angelic and which makes me know in my heart of hearts that no other child on stage that day will outshine our wee angel.
And much as I'll be there, mouthing the words and feeling those butterflies in my tummy on her behalf, my biggest hope isn't that she is word perfect or utterly in tune- it is simply that she enjoys herself and always remembers her big stage debut.
All that said, I've asked Abby if her teacher, Mrs. McDowell, could perhaps find me a role in the play, but it seems I'm too big and will have to wait until I am a little girl again (Abby's words). It's hard, but I suppose I have to accept some dreams just won't come true.
Nonetheless if you hear of anyone who needs an understudy for a Mary or even a flea bitten donkey, keep me in mind. I already know all the words to "Away in a Manger" after all.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fa la la la la, la la la la....

IT IS officially December now and so my self-imposed ban on talking about all things related to Santa, tinsel and glittery baubles has been reluctantly lifted.

I now have to come out of full denial mode and realise that Christmas is a mere hop, skip and holly bush away and I'd better start getting my arse into the festive swing of things.
I'll admit, I have a big plus factor on my side this year. With the wee man approaching the two-year-old mark he has an increasing understanding of the magic of Christmas.
He screams "Sadda" at the top of his lungs should he see an image of the man decked in red, and will listen along quite nicely to my tuneless renditions of "Away in a Manger"- but even his excitement has not lifted me out of the Autumnal doldrums.
You see, this year is different to any year before as the Allan clan en masse are leaving behind the twinkling lights of the Foyle Bridge and magic of midnight Mass at the Long Tower for a weekend of festive frolics at the hands of the in-laws.
Those who read this column will know that there are two universal truths in my life. The first is that I love my mammy and daddy and will spend as much time as any 29-year-old married woman legally can in their company.
The second is that time spent with my in-laws, all lovely in their own right, fills me with a certain sense of dread and foreboding. You see, much as they can offer the sun, moon and plum pudding, it is just not the same as Christmas, Derry style.
This will be the first year I wake up in a bed that is not my own on the big morning. I imagine it will be that wee bit more dramatic than the first time I actually spent Christmas away from my mammy and daddy's house. I bawled into my pillow for several hours on Christmas Eve as himself tried to console me with Quality Street and wine. I only truly came around when we arrived at my mum's the next day, cracked open the wine and started singing Christmas carols.
But this year we are moving up a gear in my battle to become a proper grown up and that involves making my husband's Christmas wish come true by spending it with his family- for the first time in four years of marriage.
My sister-in-law, a lovely woman called Lynn, lives in a gorgeous and very picturesque village in deepest, darkest Cheshire. Her house is the kind of house that makes our wee terrace look like a shack in a South African shanty town.

Her spare room is a gorgeous sumptuous creations decorated in creams and chocolate browns and we will even have our own en-suite complete with power shower. If we want to be extra decadent, there is an adjoining room where the wee man can sleep to give us some peace and quiet.
I'm assured the day will be lovely. A cooked breakfast will be followed by a leisurely drive to my father-in-law's new house (which is apparantly in the middle of a forest by a fancy!) and a play around the garden with the wee man and my niece and nephew before dinner, a leisurely gossip and some wine. (The one benefit of my inability to pass a driving test being that himself will be the designated driver for the day).
We'll drive back to the picturesque village some time later and on Boxing Day the family will converge again for board games, a bit of craic and loads of fattening food (I'm resisting the urge to mention wine again given that I've already mentioned a stupid amount of times).
I should be in seventh heaven about the whole thing, especially as the tickets are courtesy of a freebie from Easyjet, but instead I'm in a right royal grump.
I suppose like many a good Derry woman I'm still attached to my mammy by some invisible umbilical chord and if I'm honest, I'm also incredibly selfish. I can't help but wonder if Christmas will have the same magic when it is not in my own surroundings, watching the lights twinkle on my own tree and listening to John Denver and the Muppets with my daddy.
I suppose the only cure is to catch that Christmas fever. I may have to force myself up to Foyleside for a bit of retail therapy, or force himself to pull the tree from the attic and set to work (This year's theme- whatever the wee man can't pull down/ eat/ stuff up his nose).
I'll sit down and talk to my mammy and daddy about how we can have a second Christmas day when we get back from our travels (Twice the presents, wooohooo!) and I will try to remind myself that the most important thing about the day is that I get to spend it with himself and the wee man.
I suppose it is part of growing up and maturing that sometimes you have to realise that Christmas is not so much about the day itself but about who you spend it with. And if I'm honest, I'm kind of looking forward to playing in the forest and walking down the lanes of the picturesque village.
In fact, there is a wee pub right in the heart of the town which serves lovely soup and rolls and welcome manic toddlers with open could all work out after all.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Happy December from the J-man!

Abby and Joseph send their love! Reindeers of the world unite!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Not such a desperate housewife

A FRIEND recently asked me to think about all the simple things which make me happy.

I wasn't allowed to come up the obvious, such as pay day (which isn't really that happy an occasion anyway as it's all spent almost as soon as it transfers its merry way into the bank account) or holidays in the sun (which I rarely get). It had to be more subtle than that- just those wee things which can happen quite frequently and make you smile.
It soon became obvious to me that ideally I should be living in 1955. You see the first thing which popped into my head was that I always feel lovely and happy when the wee man is in bed, the dishes are done, floors mopped and hoovered and the tumble drier and washing machine are gently humming in the background. (Or rattling and screeching as the case may be- my washing machine having finally reaching breaking point with the copious amounts of baby sick and poop forced upon it over the last two years.)
Second only to that is cooking a proper dinner (one with spuds and everything) and serving it up to the two men in my life and seeing them devour it. Fair enough, himself would eat food three days out of date so is probably not the best judge of culinary excellence, but nonetheless I like it when he proclaims his dinner was lovely.
In my continuing mission to learn to cook something more complicated that pasta and sauce, this week I even bought a brand-spanking new casserole dish to cook a variety of hearty home cooked meals. (We are officially trying to banish Potato Smilies from our freezer). I felt stupidly happy chopping my carrots, onions, mushrooms and beef to make my delicious (even if I say so myself) stew. All that was missing was a glass or two of wine- an essential ingredient when I'm on a cooking extravaganza.
As I set the table and plonked the wee man in his high chair, I realised that all this fighting for equality in the workplace etc. was really a load of old nonsense.
Perhaps we could all be that little bit happier living out our little lives cooking casseroles, mopping floors and polishing our brasses? (Afterall, as my dad recently asked out much to our smutty minded merriment when was the last time you saw a woman giving her brasses a good polish?).
There would be none of this struggling to fight off the mad advances of a toddler with octopus like arms who wants to play "Hide and Seek" while you get dressed/ change his nappy/ make the breakfast/ do all three at the same time each morning.
We wouldn't have to come in the door from a long day at the office to be greeted with the breakfast dishes still languishing by the sink- the Weetabix now congealed into a substance it takes bleach, acid and a pneumatic drill to shift- and a basket load of washing and ironing waiting for your attention. (Of course those who have actually met me will scoff at such a suggestion that I would ever contemplate ironing in the evening- but you get the general picture.)
Yes, I went to university and got my qualifications and have spent the last seven years building up a career to be that wee bit proud of. But there are times, and I'm yet to meet a working mother who doesn't feel this way, when we want to shout: "I've got stretchmarks, get me out of here!"

Can he fix it?
How lovely would it be to get up at the morning and just play with our children in our jammies until we were ready to get dressed? We could sit and cuddle watching Bob the Builder (or Dod the Duilder as Joseph calls it) for an hour, or read our books together 10 times before getting up and getting on with the housework.
Dinner would always be a home-cooked affair (we may actually succeed in the aforementioned Potato Smiley mission) and bath time (for the baby- not me!) would be more than a five minute dip in the water before being hurled at lightning speed into the cot from the far side of the room so mammy can get on with the washing.
And I would, of course, be a yummy mummy who dressed in floaty, trendy clothes, had sun-kissed hair and who smelled like a mix of home-made perfume and fresh baked cookies. It would be a far cry indeed from the harassed journalist who wades into the office every morning with bags under her eyes and a lump of weetabix or mashed banana stuck to the arse of her trousers and spends the first 10 minutes of her working day just catching her breath from the morning rush.
I am, however, willing to accept that this may simply be a case of thinking that the grass is always greener on the other side. Much as I love my son, and indeed have grown quite fond of Bob the Builder and his crew (I even know most of their names!): spending all day, every day lost in domestic "bliss" may well send me on a one way trip to the mad house.
If I'm honest too, much as I love seeing my house clean and tidy, there is a certain simple happiness in seeing the words I have written appear in print, or even better than that the first smile of the evening when I walk out of the office door to the car to be greeted with that huge smile from my son.
I think what we ideally need to do is wind the clock back a bit and find that happy medium being having it all and doing it all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Daddy was right all along

So here it is, my daddy and the J-man. Seems daddy was right all along, John Denver ain't so bad!

Friday, November 18, 2005

If Music Be the Food of Love...

EVERY NIGHT I take my son up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and we sit on our big comfy rocking chair in the nursery and look at the luminous stars which decorate the ceiling.

As he drinks his bed time milk and allows me that one uninterrupted cuddle of the day, we listen to a CD of suitable music to soothe the rather insane and crazy baby before I deposit him in his cot for the night.
Some of the songs are so cheesy they could be used to advertise Dairylea (sample names "Lullaby Wishes", "Baby of Mine" and "May All Your Dreams Come True") but latterly we've slipped a few 'proper' songs into the mix.
We're lucky in that the wee man has quite an impressive taste in music. His favourite artistes include Damien Rice, Eva Cassidy, Brian Kennedy and, bizarrely, The Keiser Chiefs (I can't explain how surreal it is to hear a 21 month old sing "I Predict a Riot" at the top of his voice).
The upshot of listening to these songs each night is that now there are certain songs in this world which I can't hear without immediately being mentally transported to that rocking chair, those sleepy cuddles and the feeling of love for a child which is at its very strongest when he falls asleep in my arms.
As I rocked back and forth with him listening to a lovely cover version of the Beatles classic "In My Life" the other night (a Canadian singer called Chantal Kreviazuk if you are interested), I started to think about songs and how they really can provide a soundtrack to your life.
The opening notes of a song really do have the ability to awaken memories that you have long forgotten or buried away as you rush through the day to day of modern living at break neck speed.
And of course, certain songs will mean more than others. For example I can't hear a John Denver song- any John Denver song- without thinking of my childhood.
My father is a huge John Denver fan, which means my mammy is too- by default-(I actually think it was in the wedding vows "I promise to love, honour and listen to John Denver non-stop"). Our childhood was one big mix of 'Annie's Song', 'Grandma's Feather Bed' (Daddy would sing "I even kissed aunt Lou!" and we would all shout the requisite "Whoo!") and the lesser known "Home Grown Tomatoes".
Each Christmas was a musical feast as John Denver teamed up for the Muppets- the only bum note being when my daddy (God love him) told a five year old me that when he died he wanted "When the River Meets the Sea" played at the funeral. (Nice song- shame about the traumatising effect on a five-year-old of thinking her daddy is going to die at Christmas! )
As the teenage years hit, the musical taste varied. "Shocked" by Kylie Minogue will always remind me of my school friends and of our 5th year social. Being so very cool and with it, myself and my friends knew all the words to the rap. We still do in fact- and perform our unique version every time we get together to have a few drinks.
The very same group can also still do a cracking version of "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips with a few drinks in us to loosen the vocal chords. Only problem is, we have to find a street suitably wide and long enough to allow to stride arm in arm down it singing at the top of our lungs ala the ladies in the original video.

"Jump Around" by House of Pain will remind me always of our painfully dreadful sixth form formal- and while it is one of those experiences you can look back on and laugh about, the actual jumping around like a mad woman to the song is now sadly beyond me due to the joys of a post baby pelvic floor. (Which reminds me...must squeeze!).
If I want to remember my late teens, all I have to do is listen to Mariah Carey warbling to "All I've Every Wanted" which reminds me of an unrequited love affair that never quite happened. I realise now what a lucky escape I had, but at the time I literally thought my heart would break that a certain college class mate didn't return my affection.
Thankfully, as the years progressed life got a little better- as did my taste in music- and the sound track to my final year at college is a wonderful mix of soul songs thanks to discovering a very cool live music scene in Belfast.
I can't hear Stevie Wonder singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" or any of the Commitments' hits without being transported to a certain bar in Belfast, dancing the night away with a cold drink in my hand.
But life is always moving on. At the moment, it's hard to get the chance to listen to any music which doesn't revolve around nursery rhymes or weird hand movements and dance routines.
My sleepy time cuddles are my music moments these days and I'm aware that all the time I'm starting my son's very own soundtrack to his life.
Perhaps when he is older he will remember the soppy lullabies, or even the fact that my daddy was right and John Denver singing "Perhaps Love" is wonderfully soothing.
But for now, the song which will remind me always of my son and of our time together over the last 21 months is Brian Kennedy singing "A Case of You". It was playing at the time my waters broke, and it plays every night when I put Joseph to bed.
Most telling of all though is the line which, whenever I hear it, I think of my child and of how I'm ridiculously obsessed with talking about him, writing about him and- generally- spoofing about him.
" I remember the time you told me,
"You said love was touching souls,
"Well surely you touched mine
"'Cos part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No Hippy Chick

WHEN I was a mere slip of a girl at 16 I loved to write the most unimaginably naff poetry you could ever imagine.

Being somewhat idealistic and, let's face it, a buck eejit, typically the poetry would be about some world issue and my impassioned ramblings (which never rhymed much to my dad's eternal annoyance) even made it to print in some questionable anthologies.
I filled notebook upon notebook with poetic ramblings about Mother Earth weeping, oil slicks taking the tortured souls of ducks and geese and litter choking the eternal beauty of God's own countryside (as I've said, totally naff).
I shopped for what little cosmetics I could afford in the Body Shop and covered my new-agey-looking embroidered school bag in badges and buttons proclaiming no to animal testing or displaying that wee CND logo.
My friends and I would get together and listen to wishy washy sad songs and burn incense and talk about how we wished our parents were more with it and, along with half of Derry we protested in 'Ban the Burn' rallies in the Guildhall Square.
Now, the burn did indeed get banned but as the years passed my high moral standards fell someway to the wayside. I don't go into the Body Shop as much as I used to (the lure of L'Oreal and Clarins being too much for my aging skin to resist). I'm more likely to be seen sporting a Pink Prada Bag (courtesy of a friend of a friend who went to Malaysia..amazingly Prada is spelled correctly and not Pradda) than a badge laden hippy satchel and, thank heaven for small mercies, the poetry is a dim and distant memory.
It's not that I don't care about environment. I use my blue bin religiously, I don't drop litter, I would never wear fur and I'm still pretty much a fan of the CND movement.
But I'll admit that like many people who lead busy lives, handiness has over-run my need to be a laid back mother earth type gal.
The greatest example of handiness versus doing what is, arguably, morally right relates to my child- or more specifically his bum.
From the day and hour I found out I was pregnant I developed a rather sad obsession with Pampers NewBorn nappies. I would walk past the little yellow packets with the teeny weeny tiny tootsie nappies and rub my tummy with excitement. (Obviously at this stage I was not thinking about the explosive poos that would fill said nappies..just the ickle tiny bum that would fit into them.)
I briefly (for all of about five seconds one Wednesday afternoon) considered using reusable nappies. I was assured that long gone are the days of Terry Squares and the risk of stabbing your wain in the stomach with a nappy pin.
Now we could opt for pre-folds, wraps, all in ones, boosters, liners, reusable wipes, nappy nippas and all sorts of jiggery pokery. And we could get a nappy pail, and a dirty bag and a nappy net and dry pail with tea tree oil and lavender, and nothing- but nothing on this earth- would feel as good as seeing row upon row of gleaming nappies drying on the washing line (After a wash in non-bio powder at 60 degrees with white vinegar to be used a softener).

Logical thought
I thought this through logically. I could A) Slap a cutely packaged nappy on my wee man and chuck it in the bin when he had done his business or B)Juggle the shock to my system of being a new mammy with taking on board all the above jiggery pokery of the reusable nappy dance (as I like to call it).
Pampers won.
I admit, my love of Pampers just grew with time- until we had an unfortunate "they cost far too much" incident and I switched to Tesco's own brand (highly recommended, by the way). I used to stack my nappies up, row upon row of gleaming white cotton wool, on a shelf in the nursery and I looked forward to the replenishment of the downstairs nappy box with a certain stupid glee.
Of course I thought about the impact our use of disposables had on the environment. When at one stage, in the fairly early stages of parenthood, I worked out we had gone through more than a thousand of the blighters I had a real pang of conscience. (Not enough to make me change my mind, but a pang all the same).
But two weeks ago, when my son reached the grand old age of 21 months, the conscience caught up with me. I decided, while disposables have their place- namely any time we leave the house- I would, in the interests of being cool and with it- give the reusables a go.
I felt like Claire- Mother Earth- Allan as I pranced into the Pram Centre to buy my Winne The Pooh Nappy Bucket and as I filled my basket with liners, boosters and Zinc cream in Boots I felt smugly proud that I was doing my bit for the environment.
Now I have to admit, as long you don't have to rinse poo off one, reusables are pretty good. I do get a sense of satisfaction when I fold my clean nappies and I have bought a lovely array of fleece liners in pastel colours which are just as pretty, if not more so, than the Pampers NewBorn packets.
My son's rear end looks amazingly cute and pudgy when he is wearing one and I do feel I'm regaining some of my respect for the environment.
I'm not planning on burning incense or writing poetry again any time soon however, some things are better left in the past.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven

ONE OF my favourite sayings of all time is that when the pupil is ready the teacher will come.

The lessons we will be taught by that teacher may not be easy, and may not be enjoyable (think A Level History or the fact that perhaps realising your favourite outfit actually makes you look like a Weeble)- but they are there to better us, to change us, to make us grow in some way.
Most of the time we won't even realise we are being taught a lesson until it is well over and we look back weeks or months later.
And then, sometimes, it is obvious from the outset that we are enduring something which will change us completely.
The last few weeks have been filled with these experiences for me- with lessons to be learned- tears to be shed and a healthy dose of laughter too.
It would be impossible for me to write this column this week without some reference to the loss of our dear friend and colleague Siobhan McEleney. While my personal tribute to her was published in Tuesday's 'Journal', her loss is not something which we can easily move on from.
To be honest, I, like many who knew her, have a lot of questions. We are raging at the world and struggling to come to terms with why someone so young and so full of life and faith could be taken from us.
But in my anger, my disbelief and my grief there have been some glimmers of light.
I met an old friend last week. The girl in question (because to me she will always be 16 - serious denial we are all hurtling towards the big 3-0) broke the news to me she was expecting her first baby.
What made her announcement so heart-warming and wonderful was that before now she had been unsure as to whether to not she would ever be able to have children.
If there is one sure fire way to give you a good kick up the rear end and remind you that there is goodness out there, it is to hear of an impending new arrival. (The only downside being it has switched on my very own broody button again and the big man in my life is running scared as he catches me staring soppy eyed over the ickle baby sections in the Mothercare catalogue- I've even chosen names and decided on a nursery theme...just in case!).
In addition, I've been out buying a shiny new outfit for wear to the wedding of a very dear friend in six weeks time and have met up with her to swap presents, share a couple (okay, three) bottles of wine and talk about all sorts of wedding related nonsense.

Worry about tomorrow
I have become stupidly excited at the fact that I have, for the first time in my life ever, bought a hat. (A rather grand affair in chocolate brown from Debenhams). I allowed myself to indulge in my purchase after scoring an amazing Ebay bargain with the outfit to match. Himself can't quite see the logic in my spending the money I saved elsewhere- I imagine it is a woman thing.
But more than that, I'm so very excited about seeing said friend get married in the soft glow of Thornhill Chapel, while the choir sings her favourite Christmas hymns.
I know how full of hope and love she will feel on that day and I know how a new stage of life is just really starting for her as she becomes a smug married.
I can only describe it as a time of extreme emotions, of hope, of loss, of excitement and somewhere in the middle I'm trying to keep it all together and stay as sane as possible so that the wee man doesn't realise mammy is a wee bit more mental than usual. (In fairness, I think he has twigged something is up. He keeps walking up to me, cuddling in and saying "Hi mammy, Hi Gasseph" (his weird pronunciation for Joseph) -speaking my response to him before I get the chance).
But then my attitudes have changed recently. While I'm a great believer in routine, I've allowed myself to sneak extra sleepy cuddles with Joseph in the evening because sometimes you just have to realise life is too short not too.
I've made a promise, and so far kept it, to sit down and read his favourite books to him in the evening- even it means reading "Stan the Snail" 101 times.
If he wants to practice his animal sounds, over and over while I'm desperately trying to doing the washing, I'll just plonk my bum down on the kitchen floor and act them out with him.
And If I see the jewellery to match my wedding outfit I throw my fear of impending poverty out the window and buy it- because life is for living not for worrying constantly about tomorrow (which I truly believe is the curse of many a Derry woman).
Sometimes it takes these extremes in personal experience to make you sit up and take notice. It is very easy to dooter along in life, just existing and getting through each day the best you can.
The lessons I've learned recently, and which I'll continue to learn over the coming weeks as these experiences sink in, is that there is good and bad out there. There is joy and sadness and it's up to us to make the most of what we have when we have it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A stranger is a friend you've never met!

I HAVE a very sordid secret to reveal to you all. I have a sad addiction to the internet (or t'internet as I choose to call it) and spend a disproportionate amount of my evenings surfing the web, chatting on MSN or logging in to a support forum for mums.

I don't really have any other vices (apart from the obvious Chunky Kit Kat/ Galaxy chocolate obsession). I don't drink more than my recommended weekly amount (well, not often really) and I don't smoke for fear my mammy would bat the head clean off my shoulders should I ever so much as be seen with a cigarette on my person.
So t'internet is my sole vice. It all started some three years when the big man whom I am married too presented me with a computer as a Christmas present. (It was presented on the understanding I would now work my not-so-little arse off to become the new Queen Marian of Keyes- needless to say he is still waiting for the first draft!).
For the first month or so I footered about with Microsoft Word and surfed the net on a very occasional basis. But soon, as we made the momentous decision to try to become parents I started researching the rights and wrongs of pregnancy and how best to get one's self up the proverbial duff. (No this does not mean I looked for hints on the actual conception process- just advice on the best things to do when hoping for a healthy pregnancy- There is no dirt on my home pc!)
It was then I came across a website where women who were TTC (trying to conceive- see I know all the lingo and everything) talked together and so I shared my trials and tribulations with them as I got my BFP (Big Fat Positive) and throughout my PG (pregnancy) until I eventually gave birth to my DS (Darling Son). (Yes, I know the language is terribly twee and American, but it makes typing a little easier for lazy minded folk like myself).
Himself used to look on with a mixture of wonder and pity as I regaled stories of these anonymous people who I shared my pregnancy experience with. 'Spacedust' had an irritable uterus which got her into all sorts of trouble. 'Amber19' flashed her knickers in the car park of Asda when her maternity trousers fell down, 'Webgirl' had a rather unfortunate experience during labour after eating a curry to bring on her contractions. (Not for the faint hearted, I can assure you!)
I sobbed like a mad woman the day 'Helcatt' revealed to us that her little girl had been stillborn and I whooped with joy when 'Frogslie' delivered a healthy baby boy after months of genetic testing.
(Of course, I do have a sad internet user name too which I could tell you- but then I would have to kill you!)
As the months passed I found that some of the women who I spoke with thanks to the wonders of broadband technology and I shared a special bond. I had to admit to myself (if not the rest of the world for fear of being branded a total geek) that I had made friends over t'internet.
So, we moved away from typing our anonymous messages and found out everyone's real names and started talking on the telephone. I remember the first time I phoned one of my new friends. I had to drink two Bacardi Breezers first before plucking up the courage to do so. It was all a bit ridiculous given this woman knew all about the triumph of my first post baby poop along with all other kinds of deeply personal and embarrassing information.

Meeting my friends
Last weekend I took my addiction one step further and met up with 10 of these 'friends' in real life. That involved me, the wee man and the big man travelling to deepest, darkest Lancashire. I safely deposited my two 'men' at the inlaws while I travelled on alone to meet up with my online buddies.
My daddy had the wherewithal to ask me was I sure they were real and not just pretending to be frazzled new mums so they could groom me into their cult and I was able to reassure him they were all perfectly normal(ish).
And so we met. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Here we were, 10 of us, sans babies (our usual icebreakers), all together in a living room in a quaint little village trying to remember who was who and break away from calling each other our sometimes dodgy internet names. (The poor lassie who is known as 'Lois Lane' online got called Lois all weekend though - and no, it's not me!)
We walked, en masse like a modern day suffragette movement, to a local beauty salon where we were pampered and preened and served cool crisp wine and enough 'chips'n'dips' to feed a small army and we chatted about all sorts of nonsense- just as i would with my oldest and dearest school friends.
The only dodgy moment of the whole weekend involved my own embarrassing experience while getting a facial. As the therapist explained the fancy gel she put on my face would turn to a watery consistency within two minutes as it cleared away the dead skin, I was red-faced (literally- I think she took a couple of layers off) when it took a good 10 minutes to reach said watery consistency.
"Do you not exfoliate then?" she asked- obviously already knowing the answer- and when I replied that my skincare routine largely consisted of a quick swipe of a baby wipe and a wee rub of moisturiser she gasped with horror and gave me a lecture on my skin is one step away from a elephant hide.
Thankfully my new 'friends' were there to console me with a top of my wine, a visit to the Chinese and a never ending supply of chocolate.
So, at last, my addiction is out in the open- and you can take it from from me, the internet is not completely full of weirdoes. Some of us are quite nice actually- even if we do talk like twee Americans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Going back to my roots

I'M NOT a person who generally handles change well. I like to find something I like and stick with it.

I guess that is the reason I'm still wearing worn out house slippers and tatty old pyjamas. They mightn't look good, but they are the comfiest things in my wardrobe.
Likewise, the big man to whom I am married has been trying to persuade me to up sticks and move to a bigger house- one that actually has a garden instead of the lovely plot of concrete outside the front door that we currently sport.
But I'm comfy in my current surroundings. Yes, I would love a shiny new kitchen and a plumbing system from the 21st century. I would like the wee man to have a patch of grass to kick his football around on, but the one thing I can't escape from is that I like that my house feels like a home.
It always did feel like home- from the first time we viewed it- so, for now, it is going to stay home for a few years yet. I'm much too comfortable in it to think about trying to find somewhere else with a similar feel good factor. And if I'm honest, I couldn't be bothered with the whole house hunting/ making offers/ packing/ unpacking nonsense- it would be enough to earn me a one way ticket to Gransha.
But prone as I am to sticking my head in the mud and denying any inevitable changes in my life, there are times when even I get fed up with the status quo and decide to add a little excitement into my life.
So last week, armed with my copy of "Tik a Brik" (Take a Break to the uninitiated) I sauntered into my local hairdressers and announced in a falsely confident voice that I wanted a change.
"Get rid of the blonde," I said, "Turn me back into the brunette I really am."
I suppose if I'm honest I half expected the hairdresser to laugh me out of the place. After all, it's not really the done thing to be 29 in Derry and not have blondey bits streaked through your hair. It's an unwritten rule we should all adhere too- right up there with drinking WKD and wearing pointy boots.
But I knew I had to feel the fear and do it anyway. My hair was a split-ended, dried out, rat's nest mess of multi-tonal streaks and highlights (see, I know the hair dressing lingo) and I longed for a sleak, glossy look to see me through the winter months. (Anyone who suggests I would have been better fixed eating a couple of meals of Pedigree Chum should prepare to feel my wrath!).
I know it sounds hopelessly vain to admit that changing a hair style can have an effect on how you feel about yourself, but the change back to my natural hue has been quite an experience.

Gentlemen prefer blondes?
I'm not sure I've ever been a big believer in the adage that "Blondes have more fun", but I had got used to dealing with the golden tones over the last three years. At times, they made me look glam and sun-kissed. At other times they made me look like a weird combination of Vanessa Feltz and Miss Piggy- but for the most part I had gotten used to my lighter hues. I even bought a slogan T-shirt in the summer emblazoned with "Blondes are Best".
But then I realised I didn't actually really like my hair any more. I was just staying blonde because it saved the hassle of growing it out or trying to find a colour that suited. I had fallen into a comfort zone with my hair and just like my tatty old pyjamas or ramshackle house I was letting myself carry on as things were just because, quite frankly, I couldn't have been footered to change.
So I let my hairdresser decide what to do with my bonce. And she whacked on the dye quicker than I could read all my True Life Tales and Tightwad Tips in Tik a Brik.
She then lopped huge great chunks off, leaving me sitting in a semi-gibbering state wondering if it was now inevitable I would leave the salon looking like the fat one with the bowl haircut out of "Birds of a Feather".
In all honesty though, it looks ok. I need to adjust my make up and ditch the 'Blondes Are Best' T-shirt but apart from that I'm adjusting to my new serious grown up look. The wee man took a wee while to adjust to mammy's new hair and my niece informed me she wanted me to go back to being a "blondey bear" like her- but generally the response has been positive.
But what has impacted on me more than all the comments and strange looks has been how I've felt in my self. You see I'm not a vain person. I'm not a person who usually spends time thinking, let alone writing, about my appearance. (Well occasionally, to go on and on and on about how mind blowingly fat I am- but that is another column!)
So to realise the thing that has consumed most of my waking thoughts this week has been the fact that my new shampoo (just for brunette hair, how fancy!) smells like chocolate and that I have had to reacquaint myself with my straighteners and fancy dan serums is a bit worrying.
Sadly I've become a hair twiddler- running my fingers through my shorter locks and thinking about nice wee clips i could buy it dress it up a bit. I have refused to go the shop because it was raining and I didn't want to ruin the do and I've even spent an inordinate amount of time wandering round the town looking at new clothes which match my new colours.
Dare I say it, I am embracing the change and looking to do more to improve myself. I'm still pretty sure I won't be buying any new houses in the near future though. After all, the song does say "One dye at a time...."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sleepless in Altnagelvin

Sleepless in Altnagelvin
AS ANY one who has read this column more than once will know- I love, and I mean LOVE, my bed.

And for a bed lover such as myself, this week was to offer me that most holy of grails- a night in my bed BY MYSELF! The big man to whom I am married had cause to travel to England for a few nights and while I was aware the wee man could look for a snuggle in his mammy's bed before the night was out, I was pretty sure there would be a few hours at least of stretching out, rolling over and snuggling into duvets all by myself.
In short, I was in bed-lover heaven and had planned my entire evening around this rare event. I was going to have a soak in the bath- complete with Sanctuary smelly goodies, lit candles and a glass of wine on the side.
Then I was going to dress in nice fresh pyjamas, slather my hands in expensive hand cream (a lovely present from my mammy) and take to my bed for a blissful sleep.
I was almost giddy with excitement at the prospect, especially as the wee man had decided that 4am was a perfect wake up time on Tuesday morning and with the big man being in England, I had been run ragged all day with an over tired toddler with a touch of cold.
My bath and early night seemed like the perfect end to a not so perfect day- but fate had another idea.
Like a lot of toddlers in this area, my wee man is prone to an odd bout of wheezing. Sometimes, a quick use of his "puff puff" (inhaler) is enough to bring him round and sometimes, it doesn't. Tuesday was one such night.
As Tuesday afternoon progressed I noticed Joseph's breathing becoming a little more laboured (think Darth Vadar) so by tea time we decided to go to the Out of Hours services thinking a quick five minutes on the nebuliser would leave him right as rain.
But no, the doctor wanted Joseph to go to hospital and with that my thoughts of my night alone in my bed vanished.
I am lucky in that for the vast majority of the time, my son is in the best of health. He is a one-baby destruction machine- rising at 7.30pm and sitting down for a mere five minutes here and there to grab a bite to eat before recommencing his mad running around again until he eventually falls into a comatose slumber at 7.30pm.
In that time, we will have had to rescue the DVD player from his evil clutches at least 20 times, save his toys from the bin and use a lifetime's supply of kitchen role to clear yoghurt, milk and cheese from the floor. We will have also exhausted each and every nursery rhyme or children's programme theme tune on this earth- at least 10 times- and that will be complete with actions and musical accompaniment if necessary.

Mammy instinct
So to see him sick, and to see him so sick he is no longer interested in singing "Twinkle Twinkle" is hard going. It kicks in that mammy instinct which makes you want to swap places with your child and feel their discomfort or pain for them.
And it also makes you realise just how useless you really can feel in such circumstances. All I could do was make sure he had his Postman Pat pyjamas, a cuddly puppy and a mammy who didn't mind being slabbered on!
So Joseph, his granny and his (by this stage slightly emotional) mammy piled into the car and made our way to Ward 6- where he was hooked up to a nebuliser and given one of those scary little metal cots to sleep in.
And they gave me a fold down chair, a blanket and a pillow and I tried my best to grab a few hours shut eye. It was far from the relaxing evening I had planned . It was in fact both emotionally and physically draining.
As I stood in the hospital, the room we were in almost a mirror image of the room I had spent my first night as a mammy in with my tiny newborn 20 months ago, I felt a wave of emotion hit me.
Scary as it was to have a sick little boy to care for, I knew I was lucky beyond words. I knew Joseph would get better and he would be back to his destructive little self soon. And I promised myself that from now on I would be a better mammy- who didn't complain at having to share a bed, or at the banana mushed over the DVD player or at singing Twinkle Twinkle for the millionth time.
Thankfully he is now well on the road to recovery and despite my sleepless night I'm still here (not quite conscious- but here all the same) and with a different view point on parenthood.
And so this week, I'll finish with someone else's words which I think are appropriate.

Just for today
Just for this morning, I am going to step over the laundry, and pick you up and take you to the park to play.
Just for this morning, I will leave the dishes in the sink, and let you teach me how to put that puzzle of yours together.
Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the backyard and blow bubbles.
Just for this afternoon, I will not yell once, not even a tiny grumble when you scream and whine for the ice cream truck, and I will buy you one if he comes by.
Just for this afternoon, I won't worry about what you are going to be when you grow up, or second guess every decision I have made where you are concerned.
Just for this afternoon, I will let you help me bake cookies, and I won't stand over you trying to fix them.
Just for this afternoon, I will take us to McDonald's and buy us both a Happy Meal so you can have both toys.
Just for this evening, I will hold you in my arms and tell you a story about how you were born and how much I love you.
Just for this evening, I will let you splash in the tub and not get angry.
Just for this evening, I will let you stay up late while we sit on the porch and count all the stars.
Just for this evening, I will snuggle beside you for hours, and miss my favourite TV shows.
Just for this evening when I run my finger through your hair as you pray, I will simply be grateful that God has given me the greatest gift ever given.
I will think about the mothers and fathers who are searching for their missing children, the mothers and fathers who are visiting their children's graves instead of their bedrooms, and mothers and fathers who are in hospital rooms watching their children suffer senselessly, and screaming inside that they can't handle it anymore.
And when I kiss you good night I will hold you a little tighter, a little longer.
It is then, that I will thank God for you, and ask him for nothing, except one more day.............

Monday, October 10, 2005

Driving in my car

OKAY, I have a confession to make, I am officially the worst driver in the world. That is, I would be, if I could ever actually manage to pass my test.

You see 10 years ago as a confident and exuberant 18-year-old I sent off for my Provisional Licence with high hopes that I would soon be cruising the streets of Derry in my very own set of wheels. A school friend had a car and she was considered to be the coolest of the cool, so I was determined to follow suit.

I never quite bargained on the price of lessons however, and me, as an impoverished student, never got round to booking any until the age of 21 when, the search for work looming, I realised that I needed my licence to stand any chance of getting a job.

Dutifully I started to learn. And while the actual basics of driving are easy enough for me (apart from the dodgy change from third to second gear), I am officially too much of a coward to be safe on the roads. I swear my driving instructor spent most lessons with his head in his hands or trying to assure me it was actually safe to drive at more than 20 miles per hour.

After many (too many to admit without looking like a total eejit) lessons and a few heart stopping moments driving in fifth gear over the New Bridge, I attempted to pass my test. Two failed attempts and five years later, I’m still trying.

Now I’ll admit that I failed the first test in style. I don’t think there was a single box left unticked as I shuddered to a halting stop about half way into the parking space at the test centre. I swear I heard a huge sigh of relief as I got out of the car (from the unlucky soul who had the misfortune to take me out on my test and from half of the Derry driving population).

The second time I failed on my emergency stop, and in that moment it put an emergency stop to me learning how to drive. You see, I don’t fail tests. Never have, so to fail at something so basic as driving was a blow to my over inflated sense of self importance. I mean, 17 year old boy racers pass this test every day!

I have tried on and off again over the years to get back behind the wheel with varying degrees of success. I was doing quite well last year til bouts of morning sickness made the emergency stops unbearable and now, well now I’ve managed to get myself on the insurance of our own car.

However, one thing I have learned is that getting a suitably qualified driver willing to sit in the passenger seat is not as easy I thought it would be.

My mother, God love her, visibly pales when I ask her. She remembers all too well the many heart-stopping sessions she had sat beside me in the bumper cars in Portrush when I was wee. She compares the look that would come across my face as the cars started up to one of demonic possession, therefore getting into a proper car does not appeal all that much to her now.

My daddy, God love him, is willing to give it a go, but I fear his exasperated sighs as I crunch the gears or stall the car for the 500th time in a one hour session.

I have to wonder how driving comes so easy to some people. My other half loves to drive, he fears nothing (not even the multi-storey car park at Foyleside), whereas I shudder with nerves if there is even one other car on the road at the same time as me. And as for roundabouts….pass the valium before you even expect me to tackle one of those bad boys!

I will persevere however, because being able to drive gives you lots more freedom (or so I’m told). I still have my dream of owning my own set of wheels (himself having decided that “our” car is in fact “his” even though I’ve paid for half of it!). I like to think that one day I can jump behind the wheel and head out the road, when the notion takes me.

And, if truth be told, I want to beat the stigma of being 29 and licence-less. Everyone expects you to drive these days so admitting that you are “just going to ring a taxi” is a little embarrassing.

I’m sure with enough effort and the help someone with a strong heart and a death wish I can get over my fear of driving and soon become Queen of the Road.

In the meantime, if you happen to pass a wee black Micra with a terrified looking female driver and an even more terrified looking passenger then be sure to give me a wave.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wanna read the old stuff???

And now for your viewing pleasure...

Please read with caution

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Under my Duvet

I HAD the joyous misfortune this week of being sick as the proverbial pig. It was joyous simply in that it afforded me one glorious day to lie doing my dying swan act under my comfortably warm duvet with no one making any demand on my person.

The wee man was despatched to child care. Usually I am of a belief that mammies are not allowed to take their bed with the lurgy- but as my stomach churned and head thumped I decided to bury that parental guilt deep down and have a care-free day at home.
The big man whom I am married too, looked suitably concerned as I mumbled "aaahm gonny be sick" over and over again, and decided to play the role of the dutiful carer furnishing me with cool glasses of water, diet coke and the occasional Twix (between bouts of feeling truly awful- of course.)
He didn't even complain (too much) when I did the heating hokey cokey. (You know the one- "I'm too cold...put the heat on", "Now I'm too warm...turn the heating off", "Ach, I'm too cold again...put the heating on..." etc etc etc).
Best of all though, he nipped out to Eason and purchased for me the newest book by my most favourite lady in the universe Queen Marian of Keyes. It seemed apt that as I crawled about in my scratcher trying to find a position comfortable enough to appease both the sore head and dodgy stomach that Marian's "Further Under the Duvet" was my companion.
I can't remember the last time (it was certainly pre-baby) that I had a day to myself. Where ideally this would be a day where I could run about the shops or watch a nice movie while gorging myself on Maltesers and chilled white wine- having a baby free day, sick or not, was a relatively pleasant experience for me.
First of all I was able to sleep in. Once the obligatory phone call to work was made, I closed my eyes and fell into a restful sleep. I wasn't doing the typical mammy thing of sleeping with one eye open waiting for the inevitable cry of "Nonny, Nonny. Time for breakfast."
I knew I could sleep as long as I wanted and if I wanted to watch a wee half hour of Trisha, then go back to sleep then I could. I knew that as my tummy rumbled and swirled, I wouldn't have a pint sized ball of energy scream with joy as he bounced up and down on the bed or try to physically pry my eyes open as I tried to sleep.
And I knew I could read my book- the highlight of my literary year- without jammy fingers turning and tearing the pages at a speed of light.

Taken for granted
It's funny that in my pre-baby days such days were taken for granted. Being sick was a pain in the rear end which stopped you from doing all the fun things you wanted to do.
I was never one for lying in my bed all day, sick or not- 10am being the latest you would find me sleeping to. I would be up, housework done, showered, dressed and ready to face the world by 11am latest. I would wonder what exactly to do with my day- never quite appreciating the joy that is doing sweet frig all from morning to night.
But somewhere along the line there has been a sea change in me and now I crave my bed more than anything. Perhaps it really is a case of you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
So now being sick (taking the actual sick feelings out the equation) is a blessed relief from the rush and constant fuss of working, mammying and trying to keep house. And losing yourself in a good book is about as good as it gets for sheer escapism.
So I slept til around 12, waking feeling refreshed as the proverbial daisy for the first time in about two years. The big man to whom I am married was then ordered to provide a light lunch and cooling refreshment while i dabbled between the writings of La Keyes and a rather moving episode of Doctors.
Having discovered, thanks to Queen Marian, that laughter definitely is the best medicine I was able to move from my bed at around 3pm to do that joyous thing from childhood- lie on the sofa continuing my dying swan act in front of the TV.
It reminded me of those infrequent sick days from school where you sat sipping Lucozade and having your mammy come in from time to time to refresh the cool face cloth on your forehead and ask if you were ok.
If you were really lucky, she would plump your pillows and tidy your blanket to make sure you were as comfy as could be and would encourage your recovery by tempting you with lovely chicken soup or ice cream.
Enjoyable as my sick day was, it was all too soon over. The wee man returned just after five demanding his tea and to be played with until he almost puked with excitement. Then the washing had to be done and the floor needed brushed and the tumble drier needed reloading.
It was back to reality with a bang- to a place where mammies don't get sick and taking to your bed is unheard of. The Marian Keyes tome remains half read, the big man to whom I'm married hasn't served me a single cool drink since and the wee man woke the next morning with his cry of "Nonny, nonny. Time for breakfast!" (Well, actually that morning he managed a solitary cry of "Mammy" much to my delight.)
And so I returned to work and to the real world, assured that sometime -probably about two years from now- I'll get another duvet day and appreciate it as much as this one.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

If you are happy and you know it...

AUTUMN WAS once my most favourite time of the year. I love the changing of the colours, the blustery weather and switching on my collection of Tiffany lamps to ward off the longer nights.

Lately, however, the autumn nights have lost some of their appeal. Yes, I do still very much enjoy basking in the comforting glow of my Tiffany lamps and sitting on my comfy (second hand) sofa listening to the wind and rain battering against the windowpanes- but increasingly I've found it has also become a time for reflection.
Being a bonefide pessimist (I try to be optimistic, honestly, I'm just not very good at it) my reflections don't tend to warm the cockles of my heart so I have to make a conscious effort to think happy thoughts as the darker nights creep in.
This week I was asked what has been the best day of my life to date. It prompted me to make a list of very positive experiences which I'm determined to hold on to and remind myself off on those nights on the sofa when the whistling of the wind isn't enough to make me smile.
I would love to be one of those women who puts hand on heart and says that the day I became a mammy was up there in my "perfect day" list- but let's look at this realistically for a moment.
Labour hurts. It hurts a lot. And you get poked and prodded in your most intimate of areas by complete strangers. That happens a lot. And then people use words like tearing. In my case, they used that word a lot.
Oh yes, I had a beautiful son by the end of it- but that wasn't without a considerable amount of blood, sweat, tears and a very genuine offer by me to pay for a C-section if it would "just get this bloody baby out". (They declined my offer, despite me shouting at my other half to get the credit card out of my handbag and hand it over).
The end product is indeed perfection personified- but the day itself was an emotional and physical rollercoaster that is not exactly up there in my mind for utter perfection. (Put it this way I won't be gathering together a group of singers or bands and re-recording that Lou Reed classic to celebrate the event!)
So, having quickly ruled out the most obvious choice for my 'Best Day Ever', I began to rack my overworked brains for another memory which could take the top title.
Being a pedantic pain the rear end, I also made a decision to rule out the second most obvious choice- my wedding day. Yes, that day was fabulous. I felt like a princess from beginning to end (with the notable exception of screaming I was too fat as I put my dress on just at the moment my nerves reached fever pitch).

The overwhelming emotions of the day- joy, gratitude (to my family and friends- not to himself- he was the lucky one!), and excitement will never leave me. A wedding day is a one off. It can never be repeated, and as I thought more and more about the situation I realised the best days are those unexpected moments of perfection where you feel all is right with God and the world.
And so I recalled the moment when myself and my brother and sisters were crammed into the back of our ramshackle family car singing "Oh We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money" on the way to a family holiday.
Or I recalled the day myself, my aunt and my sister cycled our way to Grianan Fort from our Rosemount home with a packet of custard creams for a picnic and an old radio. We pushed our bikes up that mammoth hill singing "I Have Confidence" from the 'Sound of Music' and as we freewheeled at a fierce (and probably exceptionally dangerous) speed back down the hill we roared with laughter the whole time, giddy with our own childish sense of achievement. (Even better that we overtook a tractor and garnered a few dirty looks from the grumpy driver).
And coming more up to date, when myself, the wee man and the big man whom I am married to went on our family holiday to Rathmullan this year we had a day that, in my mind, comes as close to perfection as could be.
We set out early for a drive to Glenveagh National Park- somewhere I hadn't visited in years and himself had never seen. Being a mammy now, i fulfilled my pre-ordained responsibilities of making far too many soggy tomato, egg and onion and ham sandwiches and packing them in a cool bag.
Wearing suitable quantities of sun cream (I guess I can be an optimist some of the time) we walked through the gardens, played in the wee park and laughed as Joseph toddled unsteadily through the grass whooping with delight to have both mammy and daddy all to himself.
And then we sought out a certain seat which I know my own daddy loves. (My poor other half was dragged the length and breadth of Glenveagh as I determinedly refused to give up until I found that perfect spot).
And as I sat there, staring out at the lake, feeling the heat of the sun and hearing my son and husband laugh and giggle to themselves I felt at peace.
Contentment doesn't come all that often in this mad and crazy world, but at that moment and on that day, there was contentment in abundance.
So I guess when I'm feeling a little blue during the dark winter nights, I will just close my eyes and imagine my comfy sofa is that bench. The glow of the lamps will try their hardest to mimic the glow of the sun and I'll thank God and anyone who wants to listen that even though I'm months past that perfect day I can still hear the laughter of my husband and son whenever I want.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake
WHEN I was a wee girl the mammy of one my school friends made the best birthday cakes in the world- bar none.

We used to love being invited to her daughters' birthday parties because you just never knew what you would find on the table when you showed up with your birthday card, best dress and £1 box of Maltesers from Dorian's Newsagents in Beechwood.
One year there would be a beautifully decorated tennis court moulded out of a marzipan and icing- completed with little figures hitting a ball back and forth across the net. The next you would find a glamorous Barbie doll bedecked in a glorious ball gown- the skirt of which was made entirely of sponge cake and multi-coloured icing.
While equally delicious, my own mammy preferred the quick baked victoria-sponge-slathered-in-chocolate-and-smattered-with-smarties approach to birthday cake making.
My friend's mammy, however, had birthday parties which were in another league. She introduced us to the concept of Top Hats (those wee marshmallow and chocolate treats) tray bakes and green Quosh (we only ever had boring old Kia Ora in our house).
She was the uber mammy of the 80s, with a perfect house, a gorgeously groomed garden and a mind full of weird and wonderful party games to keep us all amused. You were no one on the party circuit if you didn't get invited to her renowned bashes- and no party was complete without at least one child throwing up through sheer over indulgence.
(To prevent any distress or offence being caused to my own mammy or any other mammy whose party I attended as a child- all the parties of my childhood were fun and greatly appreciated.)
Perhaps all the other mammies of the day wanted to hit uber mammy a good slap, but as a naive little girl I thought she was the bees knees and promised myself there and then I would be the kind of mammy who baked her own biscuits and created birthday cakes all the other parents would envy.
Needless to say, I've not lived up to my promises. Joseph's first birthday cake came courtesy of Doherty's Bakery and the nearest he has come to home-baked wholesome cooking is the carrot cake a colleague of mine baked in his honour.
So in a fit of mammy-guilt combined with a mad notion that I could make Nigella Lawson look like Waynetta Slob I set about opening my very own Allan home bakery last weekend.

I reasoned that the cost of stocking a hitherto bare baking cupboard with a variety of flours, flavours, fillings and sugars would be a worthy investment as my freezer and cupboards filled up with batch upon batch of delicious bakes and treats ready to take on any daring member of the yummy mummy brigade.
I searched the Internet for suitable recipes and tortured a few friends along the way to share their own baking secrets (including the colleague of the delicious carrot cake fame) and I familiarised myself with the concept of vanilla essence and baking powder. (I'm still not entirely sure what the difference is between baking powder and bicarbonate of soda- a bag of freshly baked peanut butter and raisin cookies goes to whoever can tell me!).
So on Saturday afternoon I donned my designer pinny, pulled my hair back off my perfectly made up face and set about becoming Claire Allan, Uber Mammy of the Noughties.
Within a short time, however, I started to grow a little flustered as I sifted, folded and battered my concoctions to within an inch of their lives. My image of domestic bliss was shattered somewhat when, instead of standing side by side with my son enjoying some bonding, I instead felt my blood pressure raising as the wee man decided it would be more fun to stand beside me calling "Ut nonny, ut!" (Translation "Up, Mammy, Up!")
When he tried for the 13th time to climb into the oven ("Ah wan light nonny") I had to call my husband through to rescue his child and what was left of my sanity. There was I, standing amid a cloud of flour, a trail of cookie mix splattered on every surface while himself looked on at me with a mixture of pity and disgust. I realised then I was more Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show than Nigella Lawson- all that was missing was me shouting "Put de chicky in de basket" in a funny voice.
But an hour later, with the wee man ensconced safely in the living room, I stood in my reclaimed kitchen watching my cookies cool by the window, breathing in deeply the delicious aroma of home baking; and I felt great about myself.
I even felt, dare I say it, somewhat of a rebel. After all us modern women aren't supposed to be interested in baking, cooking or anything that could possibly be construed as being tied to the kitchen sink or cooker.
But I felt I was carrying on a tradition- where mammies baked for their children on Saturday afternoons the city over. And as Joseph made "yummy" sounds while dipping his chocolate chip cookie into the remains of his spaghetti bolognaise after dinner (he is a strange child) I felt like a success.
I still doubt I will be of a standard to perfect the best birthday cake in Derry by the time his next big day rolls around- but somewhere down the line I hope someone will fondly recall Joseph Allan's mammy and her status as queen of the birthday bashes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Some quick grumbles from a mad mammy

(Fat) Sod's Law
So men have an easier time of losing weight than women! It's enough to make me take my scales and throw them out of the bathroom window in frustration.
A survey by Slimming World revealed this week that men lose weight faster, and tend to stick to diets longer than their female counterparts. I haven't dared reveal that I've read about these results to my other half for fear he would simply start doing his "superior man" dance around the house before deciding to lose a couple of pounds and dropping a stone with relatively no effort whatsoever.
I tend to agree that men do have an easier time of losing weight than us girls- but they also get away with being overweight a lot easier than we do. They tend not to spend their teenage years yo-yoing up and down the scales either- therefore not screwing up their metabolism to the point it takes virtual starvation to drop an inch.
In my next life I'm definitely coming back as a man.

Not as smart as I look
A scary number of years ago (19!) I passed my 11 Plus with flying colours. I went on to study at Thornhill, where I got a respectful nine GCSEs and three A Levels before gaining a 2:1 in my primary degree before gaining a post graduate Diploma and Masters Degree in Newspaper Journalism.
It's scary then that I can't manage to answer the questions pitched at today's school wains.
The BBC have been testing our knowledge of basic English and Maths and my scores have been embarrassing to say the least. I no longer remember the difference between a simile and a metaphor and as for cubing, squaring or doing other weird and wonderful things to numbers- well it's all a blessed mystery to me.
I guess it is time I embraced the concept of life-long learning again.

Ladies- some decorum please!
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Desperate Housewives- especially Teri Hatcher- whose portrayal of Lois Lane prompted my career in journalism. (Still waiting to meet my Clark Kent).
However I've been a little disgusted and ashamed to read of the alleged off screen scrapping between the co-stars over who is regarded the most famous/ who looks better on screen and who should win the awards.
When Felicity Huffman (the fabulous Lynette) won an Emmy this week for best comedy actress it was rumoured that Teri Hatcher refused to have her photo taken with her co-star because she was jealous.
Whatever the reason for the spat between the housewives, it's about time they wised up and acted their age- not their teeny weeny shoe sizes.
I'm sorry but it when it comes to my store of sympathy i'm afraid I'm all out when it comes to feeling sorry for rich, gorgeous actresses who's only concern is who stands in the centre of a photograph.

Grumpy old woman
I'm afraid that as I approach the grand old age of 30, I find I am becoming increasingly less tolerant of other people and their "endearing little habits".
So for your information, habits I find particularly annoying at the moment include:
*Not saying thank you when I stop and hold a door open to allow you through- funnily enough I'm not actually employed as a full-time door-open-upper!
*People who drop litter in the street, or worse still tell their children it is okay to do so.
*Rude shop assistants who would rather talk to their friends than bother to say "please" and "thank you" when serving you.
Are manners something we have forgotten about in the 21st Century or do we just not care anymore? It's about time people got back to basics and remembered that politeness costs nothing.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Back off the big girls

THERE IS little in the world that makes me happier than curling up under the duvet on a windy winter morning with a hot cup of tea, some warm buttered toast and Phil and Fern for company. (Phil and Fern being on the TV of course- and not actually in the bed with me).

Watching This Morning is a wee bit of chicken soup for the soul- it doesn't challenge you in any way- it just washes over you making you feel instantly that wee bit brighter.
When it comes to Fern and Phil erupting into fits of giggles, I can't help but laugh along too and I get the distinct impression that sharing a bottle of wine and a chocolate cake with La Britton would be the best of craic.
I see Fern Britton as a kind of "every woman". She has been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and made the documentary about it. But while she enjoys her success as a presenter on TV, you just get the impression she doesn't see her work as anything other than a laugh a minute.
So it annoys me when people choose to attack her simply because of her weight. It would seem there are people out there, even in these so-called enlightened times who just have to act the playground bully and do their best to find faults in people and highlight them for the world to see.
Last week one of the weekly glossies printed pictures of Fern in her bikini enjoying a family holiday. Now, fair enough Fern is never going to give J-Lo a run for her money in the figure stakes- but she was grinning in the photos- clearly not giving a rat's bum about what people thought of her.
Of course, she was berated for being a big lump of a thing and had to fight back with responses along the lines of "big is beautiful" and she would rather be "big and jolly than skinny and miserable".
You would have thought that would have been enough to call off the hounds, but no. Someone had to persist. While reading the Daily Mail (not my usual read I hasten to add) I came across an article by Amanda Platell.
Ms. Platell asserted that Fern Britton simply had to be lying to say she was happy at her current size. She followed that comment up with a suggestion that the bubbly presenter was actually a selfish oul bint (or words to that effect) for "choosing" to be obese and risking her life.
And there, you see, is where my blood started to boil. Because, as far as I'm aware, none of us "chooses" to be overweight or obese. I didn't wake up this morning and walk out of my house to say (ala that wee man from 'The Fast Show') "Today I'll will mostly be a big lump of a girl"- and I'm pretty sure Fern Britton didn't either.
Now I will concede, when the mid afternoon lull hit today I did in fact choose a chocolate brownie over a piece of fruit and I have on occasion been known to choose to eat a bag of chips rather than a bowl of pasta- but nowhere along the line have I made a conscious decision to eat myself into oblivion.

Matter of choice
If it was a simple matter of choice, I would be a size 14. My hair would be naturally highlighted. My shape would be more hourglass than pear shaped and I would feel confident to strip off in communal changing rooms.
|'m pretty sure that give the choice, Fern Britton would like to do the same- but it's not that easy. Like me I'm sure she has always been on the heavier side of things. Funnily enough just feeling that little bit bigger than your friends and colleagues can have enough of an impact to make you convince yourself you in fact a big fat lump of a thing so that you don't really realise that extra weight is creeping on here and there.
And then, being women, we have the added joys of pregnancy and the weight gain that goes with that to contend with- and trust me from bitter experience I can tell you that juggling motherhood, a full time job and attempts to get to the gym can be hard going.
I'm sure that Fern, along with myself, know our weight isn't exactly our healthy ideal. But we don't need people like Amanda Platell telling us we are a drain on the NHS because of it, or that we are putting our needs before those of our family- because quite frankly it's not true.
It has taken me 12 months to lose a paltry 19lbs. But that said, as I swim or walk five times a week I'm quite sure my fitness levels would put some skinny minnies to shame. I've bravely overcome my dread of wearing a swimming suit to take the wee man swimming, or do my own 40 length sprint five times a week. I am a frequent figure on the so-called "Fat Arse Boulevard" (The river walk to Sainsbury's) and we have just had to retire one buggy due to overuse by me and walking partner Joseph.
To look at me though, as you would looking at Fern Britton, you would just see a "grand big girl". You may, like Amanda Platell, want to make me think I should be ashamed of who I am and what I look like. But you don't actually know me. So to all those skinnies who like to judge us bigger girls, please remember you don't know about our own struggles, our victories or whether or not we are happy. So unless you have walked a mile in our oversized jeans you should really keep your opinions to yourself.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Back to school!

Back to school
DO YOU ever have that "back at school" dream? You know the one where you find yourself sat in a classroom about to sit your History A Level and panicking that you can't remember any of the facts and figures any more?

It's one of my most common recurring dreams- right up there with my teeth falling out or being at work without my shoes.
The dream usually consists of me feeling physically sick at the thought of being back in front of a teacher but suddenly realising, after some minor hyperventilation, that I passed the exam, I'm married, with a job and I don't need to sit any more exams (We will ignore, for the purposes of this column, the fact that I've not passed my driving test yet!).
The sense of relief I feel when it dawns on me that I'm past that "wee girl at school" phase is amazing- in fact I would go as far to say that the trauma of the dream is almost worth it for the relief factor. (It's like having the teeth dream and realising when you wake that you still have your choppers!)
So then it seems a little crazy (and a tad masochistic) that I would take it on myself to sign up for a night class.
But on Wednesday night I left my nightmares behind me and took part in my first ever night class- First Aid. While not exactly as fear inducing as A Level History, the very thought of going back to a learning environment did make me feel more than a little nervous.
I was never afraid of school as youngster, I quite enjoyed my years at Thornhill and even stayed in education for a further five years after to gain the qualifications I needed for this job. Perhaps, that is my problem; I'm all "schooled" out. So to walk into a classroom (okay, a playgroup with all the toys pushed to one side) gave me a case of the wibbly wobbly wonders.
I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that my knowledge of first aid before now has largely been gleaned from watching ER and Casualty. I had half a notion what to do in the event of a burn or a nosebleed and I knew (sort of) how to put someone in the recovery position thanks to a couple of years in the Briginis as a youngster- but that's about it.
As a responsible adult I felt it my duty to learn a little more though (the fact that the wee man has the capacity to scare the holy bejaysus out of me by turning blue or faking asthma attacks may or may not have something to do with that decision).

Feel the fear...
It was that thought that made me put my own fears and concerns about being a pupil again aside and go along anyway.
So, with a friend for support, I arrived at my class on Wednesday night (courtesy of the Templemore Early Years Centre). There we met "First Aid Doug"- who would be our teacher. (Immediately I breathed a sigh of relief we were not being faced with a teacher who demanded we respond in sing song voices "Good evening Mr. First Aid Doug").
Within an exceptionally short time I realised that my knowledge of first aid was, basically, shocking. Apparently, according to First Aid Doug, my attempts at the recovery position (before learning the proper way) would have me up in court for sexual assault and possibly murder.
So I decided to start listening as best I could as we learned all about airways, breathing and circulation, along with the use of the new fancy defibrillators which I'm now convinced every workplace or community centre should have.
Of course, much of it was spent in a state of shock (hand over mouth, shaking my head, feeling quite faint- I thought I might have needed some treatment myself) as we heard about some of the more traumatic experiences of a First Aider.
While we discussed the finer points of saving our children from choking, we all panicked a little as even though we were only working with a doll- all of us being mammies knew that if it came to our own children, or anyone else's, we would be fighting panic at the same time as trying to remember the proper way to save a life.
But then, I realised, wouldn't the panic be 10 times worse if you didn't have a notion where to even start? So taking some deep breaths I practised my back pats and chest thrusts (not nearly as exotic as it sounds).
The only truly dodgy moment for me was when my (size 12) partner had to practice the Heimlich manoeuvre on my not-quite-a-size-12-girth: rather than breathing feeling as was my mission, I breathed in as hard as I could to shrink my stomach in as much as possible.
That one blip aside, my return to the classroom was not as a painful as I thought it would and when I returned home I didn't have a single dream about sitting an exam, wearing a school uniform or trying to remember the facts of the Irish Famine. (There was an unfortunately bizarre dream about me trying to force my post baby bulge back into my wedding dress- but that's irrelevant).
My course continues next week. According to First Aid Doug, we will learn about bandaging, dealing with diabetics and get a chance to try CPR for ourselves on the adult sized mannequin. Dare I say, I'm actually quite looking forward to it!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Suffer the little children

THERE IS something seriously wrong with the world when a quick glance at the BBC website on a Wednesday afternoon flags up three stories of inexplicable neglect or cruelty to children.

Yes, you've guessed it. It reached 4.30 on a Wednesday afternoon and the weekly panic about what exactly I'm going to write this column about this week kicked in, so I began my usual trawl of websites- from the weird and wonderful to more serious pages of online news services.
And as I clicked on the Beeb, I immediately saw three stories that made me realise that there simply was no other subject I could write about this week than the ongoing madness in this world that leads mothers to kill their children, or leave them neglected while they put their own needs first.
The first story was that of the murder of baby Alexander Gallon who was killed when arsonists set fire to his home. The news announced a 21-years-old woman had been arrested in connection with his death.
The fact that someone could willingly set fire to a house with a baby still inside was shocking enough- the fact that the person in question could well be a woman seemed even more shocking. Women are supposed to be nurturing creatures, surely?
But then reading on down the page, it's clear we are not perhaps the selfless creatures we would once have thought. The next story was that of 24-years-old Kelly Ann Rogerson who left her children (aged 4, 2 and 11 months) in the care of a teenager while she went on her second holiday to Turkey in the space of a month.
While the report stated the children were well cared for, I have to ask why any mother would think it acceptable or right to leave her children (basically who are still babies) in the care of a teenager while she swans off for fortnight in the sun?
And that was quickly followed up by a story of a woman who had appeared to jump in front of a high speed train with two children, thought to be her son and daughter. Both the woman and the young girl died instantly; the boy- thought to be three years old- is in a critical condition.
Now God knows what drove this woman to take such drastic action, but it is hard for any right minded person to comprehend the sense of desolation that must drive anyone to take the life of their own child.
While obviously my experiences as a mother colour to some extent my views on cruelty to children, it is not my maternal instinct that makes me react with anger or disbelief to such stories- it is the human side of me, that which simply knows the difference between right and wrong.

Childhood innocence
A quick look around in the world today shows that childhood innocence is not protected as fervently as it was back in my day. (Not that I'm ancient or anything, but I am a child of the late 70s/ early 80s).
I'm sure bad stuff happened back then. I'm sure mammies went on holidays without their wains and I'm sure some desperate souls took the lives of their children, but it didn't seem as common and it seemed to evoke more of a reaction than it does now.
My mother often recalls our early years with affection (I'm sure she is wearing super strength rose tinted glasses). Like many families in Derry of that time, we didn't have two brass ha'pennies to rub together. We lived in a wee council house in Creggan and Christmas came courtesy of the Derry Credit Union. Holidays were infrequent and there was never any talk of a break somewhere foreign for us children, or indeed for my parents.
But my mother maintains these were happy times, and for the most part I remember them as being such. Of course we knew of stranger danger, but we could still walk to school without fear for our lives- and you didn't do an in-depth vetting process before allowing your children to visit the neighbours up the street.
But, without a doubt children came first, or at least to me it seemed this way. And if the papers carried stories of neglect to, or murder of a child it was greeted with utter shock and condemnation the world over.
Sad to say but Ms. Rogerson, who went away on holiday without her kids, escaped without so much as a prison sentence. I'm sure we are all horrified at the death of Alexander Gallon, but next week I doubt we will be able to remember his name- because there will be another case to take our attention- just like we moved on from the deaths of Jamie Bulger, Sarah Payne, Hollie and Jessica, Victoria Climbie and countless, nameless, others.
We all know caring for children is hard work. Similarly we all know that there are more pressures on the family unit now than ever before. There are few and far between families who can afford to make the decision have one parent stay at home to mind the wee ones.
But what we seem to have forgotten in all of this is that our children rely on us for everything- from food and water to a sense of security and affection. It's time we all start focussing on those core values again and allow our children a childhood they can remember for all the right reasons.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Let's get physical...

My sister, YaYa, aka Bridezilla, aka the lady who has asked me to act as chief bridesmaid on her behalf in 22 months has started dress hunting.

You would think that there is no need for such activity so early on in the planning process, but the fact is she saw a dress she liked (loved) and wanted to try it on to "get the notion of buying it" out of her head.

Needless to say, the notion is still there..firmly rooted and the deposit it winging its way to the bridal salon as we speak.

And while that in itself does not create a problem for me, the fact that while we were there the wee shop lady pulled out bridemaid dress (not dissimilar to the one of the left) which I fell in love with does.

You see, I'm a "quare big boned girl" and such dresses-pretty as they look- are not designed for the like of me.
I'm more inclined to be dressed in something which has a certain tent-like quality to it and which hides a multitude of sins.

But I want to look pretty on the big day. I want to make my sister, my husband and my son (who will then be 3 and a pageboy) proud of me. I want the wow factor myself.

So I'm trying to lose weight. I reported a few weeks ago that I was going swimming- and I've kept my word. I've been to the pool six days out of every seven building up from a rather pathetic 12 lengths on the first night (I thought I may actually die) to a more respectable 40.

I want to hit 50 then add in more gym work. I'm also getting my eating on track.

The last time I was so dedicated to weight loss was before my own wedding. Funny, I thought I was fat as a pig then and so was shocked to see my slimline sis struggle to fit into my dress on Saturday (We got it out of the box for a bit of a laugh and to prove to YaYa that certain styles did suit her).

This time I'm starting early, with 22 months to go I am going to wow them in the aisles (literally) with my devilish good looks- and when the sweeties come calling I'm going to look at this picture and stop myself from going overboard.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Please, please, please, please, please

*I am waiting a response from Marian Keyes' publicist as to whether or not she will let me interview her*
My nerves are wrecked....all fingers crossed all over t'internet please!

Pack up your troubles

(apologies that this is samey to the column below!)
IT WAS a great comfort to me to realise last week that, when it comes to letting my hair down and partying like it is (or was) 1999- I've still got what it takes.

The occasion? A child-free sojourn to sunny Scotland to visit my bestest Scottish mucker for a night on the town in the delightful town of Paisley and relive the wild and heady days of my youth by drinking alcopops, cosmopolitans and trying to sound posh when translating a menu in a rather snooty restaurant.
My two day break in sunny Scotland was designed to "de-fry me head" after a hectic six months at work and the pressure of dealing with an increasingly crazy toddler who has decided once again that sleep is for wimps.
Of course I felt a stab of guilt when I kissed the wee man goodbye before setting off to City of Derry Airport for my flight to Glasgow, but that quickly faded when, sat in departure lounge with the fabulous new Cathy Kelly book and a glass of finest Chardonnay I realised that no one would be making any demands of me for at least 24 hours. This was to be my time- time to remember that behind the mammy, the reporter, the daughter, the sister, the wife was still Claire- the person who liked nothing more than sinking down into a soft seat with a good book, a glass of wine and a Kit Kat Chunky.
Having spent the last few flights of my life (not that we are jetsetters or anything- we just have family in England) trying to physically restrain my child, it was a joy to sit in the seat of the wee plane which would ferry us over the sea to Scotland and allow myself to relax, gazing out of the window at the fields and sea below.
And it was yet more of a joy to arrive at Glasgow airport to be greeted by my lovely friend Vicki, who promptly announced it was time to go to the pub, having left her own brood in the careful care of their daddy.
Needless to say it felt just a little bit hedonistic and decadent to be sat in a bar at 5pm on a Tuesday evening, sipping blue WKD and talking about all sorts of nonsense. I knew I didn't have to be sensible, all I had to do was enjoy myself. (Needless to say we declined the chance to take part in said bar's regular pole dancing competition even though they promised that suitable underwear would be provided!).
We later moved on to a lovely restaurant where we decided to play the role of the Sex and the City starlets by ordering Cosmopolitans and a light bite and where we proceeded to talk the night away for another three or four hours until we reached the stage where, on standing up, we realised that the alcohol content of said cocktails must have been higher than we thought.

A short taxi ride to Vicki's home, (during which time I didn't understand a single word said between my Scottish companion and the equally thick accented taxi driver), heralded the start of the next stage of our adventure which involved eating enough Galaxy chocolate to sink a small ship, practising the Cha Cha Slide and assuring Vicki's rather suspicious husband that we hadn't had that much to drink...honest.
After falling into bed at around 1.30am (record late night for me- I haven't seen half one by choice since my pregnancy days!) we woke the next day to enjoy a lovely cooked breakfast and a saunter around the shops with Vicki's three children in tow. I enjoyed hanging out at such shopping meccas such as Clearance Matalan (a must for dedicated shoppers) and Asda, whose clothes range is more than a little impressive.
I returned home to the bosom of my family that evening, less stressed, more relaxed and ready to take on the craziest toddler in the world once again. In fact the break did me so much good that upon arriving back at City of Derry I could hear my son shouting and giggling as he waited in arrivals and I had to stop myself from leaving my luggage behind just to run and get a cuddle from him.
Now, it's not that I don't enjoy being a parent or even that I don't enjoy work- but I do miss, on occasion, the relative freedom of life as a young 20 something student who, admittedly, didn't have two pennies to rub together but somehow managed anyway to go out two or three nights a week.
Last week I felt I needed to get away to allow myself to remember some of those heady days when life was certainly less complicated- if a little less colourful for my modern experiences.
The hangover, I'll admit, was hard to take and so I guess it's not the kind of life I could easily revert to and when I take time to appreciate what I do have then I'm glad my life has taken the path it has.
But it is nice some times to kick up your heels with a good friend, put the world to rights and leave your responsibilities behind if only for a short time. It doesn't make you a bad person or irresponsible in any way, just wise enough to know that recharging the batteries from time to time can be the perfect way to set yourself up for another stint at the grind stone, and another year of singing the theme song from "Fifi and the Flowertots" on a continuous loop.
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