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.
(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.
Chocolate 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.
EVEN WHEN I feel low and sad, I know this much to be true. I have been blessed by some very special friendships and when I've felt like giving up (as depression can make you feel) there is always someone there to pick me up, dust me off and make me realise that there are people out there who literally would save your life if you needed them too.
Things have been tough at home lately. My poor wee granny has Alzheimer's. It's a living death- the cruellest of diseases- and while she recognises my face she no longer is aware that I'm her grand-daughter. My son- named after her husband- is to her just a beautiful baby. The connection of great-grandson and the ever to be remembered and loved Granda Davidson is a thing of the past.
She is a woman who is scared, lonely and confused most of the time and her family, in particular my father and his siblings bear the brunt of the grieving process. I know my own mother means so much to me that imagining life without her, even for one second, can reduce me to hysterical crying- so to have someone, and yet be unable to reach their heart, must be truly devastating.
So our family is caught in a state of limbo. This woman, we love so deeply, is not the person we remember and yet her physical presence is the same so we can't just sit back and hope God is kind and takes her because our hearts are desperate to hold on to her and all she means.
On top of this, we have had problems in our own home- with changes in working practices making the balance between home and our professional lives harder to tolerate. My other half is job seeking and getting increasingly disillusioned with the market out there and we have to use all our strength to keep our frustrations under wraps.
Top all this off, with a move towards the longer nights and my fear about what this will mean for my depression and it's just one big happy house of fun here at the moment.
BUT, as I've said there are friends out there who know me well enough to take no for an answer and kick my rear end into touch when necessary.
Last week my dearest friend Vicki (some weirdo I met on t'internet!), sensing my depression, booked (AND PAID) for me to visit her in Glasgow for an overnighter. So on Tuesday off I toddled, sans baby, to Derry airport to board my flight.
On arrival at Glasgow airport, Vicki was waiting, smiling and ready with a hug and I felt immediately better. We had said we would use the night for a good blether, a few tears and putting the world to rights and while I know we talked a lot- mostly we just laughed and acted as teenagers would.
I returned home the following day just so slightly hungover but much more ready to face the world. And with the added support of my mad mums support network, Ruth, Vanessa, Cerise and Sarah I feel much more ready to take the world on board.
FOR THE last two weeks I have been taking a break from the hectic pace of life at work and enjoying the annual fortnight of rest and recuperation which I treat myself to every year as the summer draws to a close.
Of course, finances and a cranky toddler marring any grand plans I may have had for a fortnight in some sun kissed secluded beach with nothing but the latest Cathy Kelly novel and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc for company- I have had to settle for a holiday at home.
It’s hard to get excited about staying at home for your two week break. As I switched off my computer and set my voicemail to inform all callers that I wouldn’t be available to retell their stories for a fortnight, I felt really rather disgusted that the next two weeks would be spent in Costa Del Northern Ireland.
I took comfort in the fact that I would, at least, be able to batter my rather grungy looking abode into something more habitable and that I would get to play the full time mum role for a while again (Though, I’ll admit that is more daunting than it sounds when you are used to escaping to work for some peace and quiet!).
So with two weeks stretching ahead of me (well, us- grumpy pants Allan the 18-month-old equivalent of Victor Meldrew accompanying me every step of the way) I had to set about forging a plan of action that would A) Make sure my house was still standing at the end of it, B) Allow for much quality time with the entire Lola family and C) Make sure I wasn’t fit for Gransha by the time I returned to work.
Luckily my beloved mammy is also on her holidays so we decided to tag team it with Joseph and my niece Abby to allow them to enjoy some of what Derry has to offer.
For a long time we had been promising Abby a go on the “big bus” (the double deckers doing a tour of the city)- so we figured now was time to bite the bullet and climb those steep steps to the top deck of the tour bus to learn more about our home town.
Of course being a born and bred Derry wan, I thought I knew all there was to know about this fine city. But the bus trip was an education in itself. From our high vantage point we were able to get a good gleek into the Ebrington Barracks and we enjoyed the craic as our guide filled us in on the history of the Craigavon Bridge.
Abby- being all of three and a half- managed to look interested most of the way round and has mimicked our guide ever since now referring to her home town as “Derry City” and nothing else.
Next on the agenda was swimming. Now anyone who knows me will know that hither to now, me and swimsuits don’t really go. I never wanted to be accused of scaring small children with my ginormous butt and orange peeled thighs but now having a small child of my own I decided some sacrifices were in order.
I squeezed my lumps and bumps in my swim suit and headed to a place where I had whiled away many an afternoon as a child- Lisnagelvin Leisure Centre.
Long gone is the scary twirly slide which always seemed to shake a bit as you climbed the stairs (maybe that was just me?). It has been replaced by a new, state-of-the-art climbing frame with multiple slides to suit all ages, abilities and (thankfully) arse widths.
My son is a real water baby, but if there is something he loves more than throwing himself around the swimming pool like a man possessed, it is cars. Find anything remotely rounded in shape (bowls, dummies, sweets, volume controls on his grandad’s precious stereo) and Joseph will make like Michael Schumacher and mimic driving like a man (albeit a very short man) on a mission.
The fact that the climbing frame at Lisnagelvin has many such spherical wheel type objects on them means that after a relatively short time of me hiding in the relative safety of the water, I found myself stood, exposing my swim-suited body for all and sundry to see while Joseph played “Car” for 20 minutes.
It was around that time that two things dawned on me- first that I needed some time away from the 2ft maniac my child has become and secondly that if standing on the climbing frame is to become a regular occurrence then I really need to do something about body image.
Hence me breaking one my own golden rules and joining a gym. I have always been the sort of person who rolls my eyes when someone mentions a gym membership knowing full well that three weeks down the line their gym bag will be lying untouched in their front hall as they sprawl on the sofa with a pizza for company.
So there was no one more shocked than I to find myself at the City Hotel on a cool Friday night signing my name on a dotted line and receiving a membership number.
And, to be fair to me, I’ve only missed one day since (and that was when the Apprentice Boys had made escaping from the Waterside too arduous a task even for me). It has given me an hour away from the wee man each day- a time to think, plan and get thin and if we happen to stop off for a bite of lunch after our swim- sure that’s no harm- we are on our holidays.
The swimming, combined with haring around after a manic little man has meant this holiday hasn’t exactly been relaxing- but it has been fun, non-stop and for the first time ever I’ve actually lost weight while on a break from work!
Of course we have only had a taster of what Derry has to offer. Today, weather permitting, we might brave the Toucan One or I might go for the ultimate work out by pushing a buggy around the City Walls.
Then again, I might just do what every good Derry person should do and head out to the shops; buy a couple of floury baps, a copy of the Journal and catch up on the gossip. Isn’t that what all the tourists do?
I need a hero! I WAS a bit shocked and saddened to hear yesterday that former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam (she of the groovy wig and Good Friday Agreement fame) is critically ill in hospital.
The BBC didn't report what was wrong with her, only that she had been admitted over the weekend and was, in those famous hospital words, "critical but stable"- whatever that means. Mo Mowlam is a woman I've admired for many years. She was Secretary of State when I first started out as a journalist and I had the privilege to meet her on one of my first outings as a reporter. I'm pleased to say she was genuinely as lovely in real life as she appeared on the TV. (Which was a good thing because back then I still got totally star struck to see any of the big name politicians of the day.) I remember her taking me by the hand and introducing me to the people who I really needed to talk to for my story. It was as if she sensed I was new to the job and a wee bit shy and rather clueless and I'll always remember her for that. The news that she was seriously ill got me thinking about all my heroes- all the people out there I would love to meet and it also reminded me a conversation I'd had with a local law lecturer about people I admired. The lecturer had asked me which female journalists I really looked up to. I muttered a quick answer about Kate Adie because hers was the first name that came into my head. I didn't want to sound ignorant (though looking back, I probably did), but the fact is I'm not all that wooed by fame and fortune, more by the actions of people. Kate Adie, fair play to the woman, has had a remarkable career, but for all I know she might be a narky old baggage to work with. When it comes to news presenters, allow me to look at Dermot Murnaghan any day of the week- who is the most handsome newsreader on the box, but I can't say I really hero worship any of them. When it comes to talking of female journalists that I admire, I look a wee bit closer to home- to the people who, like Mo Mowlam did, offered a hand of friendship and support when I was new to the job and starting out. People like Siobhan McEleney and Suzanne Rodgers (both of whom will be raging I've even mentioned them here) who pointed me in the right direction and made sure I didn't seriously mess up my career before it had even started. They are not going to find themselves opening the BBC News from Niger or the Middle East- but that doesn't make them any less of a reporter than Kate Adie and her sort. Their acts of kindness make them more memorable in my book than any big shot, headline grabbing hack.
Not a stalker, honest! I do, of course, like all of us have heroes I've not yet met. Any regular reader of this column will know I have a rather unhealthy obsession with the author Marian Keyes. It's akin to the obsession I had with Princess Leia from Star Wars when I was wee where I used to sit and pray and hope she would come to Derry and be my bestest friend. Now, I'm not as crazy to offer prayers up for a meeting with Queen Marian (All Hail), but the woman does come across as the kind of lady I'd love to sit down for a natter with. She has been painfully honest, but utterly hilarious about her own life in her books and I just think we could have bucketloads of craic and say "feck" a lot and decide to be the bestest friends ever if we met. (I know that sounds supremely stalker-ish so rest assured I've not harassed the woman- just read her books!) All that said, I'm not sure I could actually go ahead with meeting her, or any of my heroes, if the chance actually did arise. I would be afraid of two things; first of all that they would be really boring, arrogant or just generally horrible and second of all that I would lose the ability to form a coherent sentence in the face of such fame. As a rather sad and spotty teenager I was obsessed with Bros and would while away many a weekend entering ridiculous competitions to see if I could get the chance to meet my idols. While I would sit watching "Going Live" to see if my name was picked out of the hat I would secretly hoped it wouldn't be, because I knew I would turn into a screaming, blethering eejit if I ever came face to face with Matt Goss. While I worshipped the very ground his Grolsch topped brogues walked on, and knew every lyric of every song he ever sang, the fact is we had very little in common. I was a wee teenager from Derry, he was a famous singer from London who would have been meeting with us mere plebs because his PR people told him it was a good idea. I doubt he would have, as I dreamed, fallen in love with my sparkling wit and begged me to move to London and marry him. Any meeting may have shattered my illusions of what he was really like and destroyed my teenage notions of love and romance forever. Perhaps then a meeting with Queen Marian would shatter my illusions that she is one of the funniest, most down to earth women on the face of God's green earth. But then again, my meeting with Mo Mowlam exceeded my expectations. Perhaps I was lucky, or perhaps there are just some genuine heroes out there.
I'm allegedly going swimming tonight, so if you hear of any freak tidal waves in the general Derry area do not be alarmed- it will simply be the result of ample body displacing ample quantities of a water from a hopefully quiet swimming pool.
You see, I'm trying to get fit again. I need to lose weight because, as you may have realised from my rambling here in I'm broody- but I'm not being fat mamma jamma next time round.
I crave a neat bump, some stylish maternity clothes and not being greeted with gasps of disbelief when I tell people I'm expecting. (They all just thought I was eating too many turnovers of a morning!).
I also want to be fit for my son. We went a walk yesterday morning and by the end of it I was praying for a merciful release.
I am unfortunate enough you see to live at the top of a very steep hill. It makes life wonderful walking anywhere as its downhill all the way- but coming home is another matter. I'm a puffing wreck by the time I'm home. I'm sweaty, my legs are aching and I'm feeling like a lump.
I certainly don't feel, or look, like the lithe and lovely mammy I hoped to be. I don't want my son to be the one with the chubby mum at the school gates and I want to be able to take him swimming without feeling embarrassed as me and my thunder thighs wobble out of the changing room.
The last time I went for a proper swim (not a paddle with the wee man), I was 3 stone lighter and a helluva lot fitter. Wish me luck.
If I only had a brain... BELIEVE IT or not I am quite an intelligent woman. I have a plethora (see I even know how you use the word plethora) of letters after my name and somewhere in my house there is a nice little bundle of certificates proclaiming to all and sundry that I am a smart cookie.
I have always been academically minded. I was determined from a young age that I go to university and, after realising my degree qualified me to do absolutely nothing bar sign on the dole, I made it back to university to study for a Masters which would qualify me to sit here at this desk and write about all the goings on in this fair city. I even got a First with my dissertation on the ethics of genetic research and my thesis on the portrayal of women in the modern media graces the library shelves of the University of Ulster to this day. I'm not telling you all this to show off- merely to illustrate that once upon a time I had a brain. For now, it would appear that it has shrunken to a mere shadow of its former self. I know they say pregnancy decreases your brain capacity- but I had expected some 18 months down the line to have rid myself of my baby brain tendencies and for normal service to have resumed. Sadly, that is far from the case. My life is one perpetual gaff of forgetting important dates, misplacing important phone numbers and letting time run away with me so that invariably, I only remember that important appointment an hour after it was due to start. This week has been exceptional. I found myself yesterday morning rushing to the shop beside the "Journal" to pour through their selection of birthday cards having forgotten it was my brother's birthday. This may not seem like the worst crime in the world; but for me it was huge because I had always been the kind of person who bought birthday cards at the start of each month and had them all signed, sealed and ready to be delivered long before the big day arrived. Now, however, you will generally find me staring at the last dog-eared card in shop (complete with dodgy picture of an old man fishing) in desperation as the clock edges closer towards party time. Making a holy show of myself seems to have become my favourite past time. This week, in the course of being a professional journalist, I managed to delete an important email. Luckily with the help of some Internet research and a couple of quick prayers to St. Anthony I was able to track down the relevant information again. There I was, armed with the relevant phone numbers, ready for a big interview and for some reason, I got caught up in another story and missed my time slot. I'm only glad my unlucky interviewee couldn't see my face blazing as I mumbled my apologies down the phone.
Mad for post-its Of course, most of the time I can handle my new found stupidity quite well. My desk often resembles an explosion in a Post-It factory with reminders stuck to every surface, and my daily diary is book-marked to within an inch of its life. Birthdays, generally speaking (obviously there are exceptions), can be brought to my attention with the aid of a reminder programmed into my mobile phone and our fridge at home is a magnet-crazy bulletin board of appointment letters, rotas and self penned reminders. But once upon a time I didn't need such things. I was the Queen of multi-tasking and my brain was veritable filo-fax of useful information- now it spends a good half hour trying to remember that the Bay City Rollers sang "Bye Bye Baby". I can, of course, take extreme comfort in the fact that where the intellectual ramblings of Marx and DeBeauvoir once lived, now the words (and actions- they are very important don't you know!) of at least 100 nursery rhymes reside. In fairness, I don't really do too much to help myself. My younger sister is what you would call a brainiac. She would, in fact, label herself a science geek (she even knows how to swear in Latin). She permanently has her nose stuck in some heavy tome about the future genetics of the human race or some high brow novel about feminism or world politics. She reads for pleasure the kind of books I only read under duress as part of my university course and instead of kicking her heels up in front of "Wife Swap" or "Holiday Showdown", she'll happily watch Panorama until worrying thoughts about old people are coming out of her ears. She can still hold a rational conversation AND she too is a mammy which, I guess, kind of dismisses my theory that my own new found stupidity is related my child-bearing experience. She never seems to have those blips where her brain goes into melt-down and she spends 10 minutes trying to think of the word she wanted to say. But I'm not a fan of highly intellectual reading and documentaries. I get enough of the news each day at work to want to bring it into my relaxation time as well. I'm happy as Larry with the latest chick lit adventure or a nice Romantic Comedy on DVD. That is taxing enough for my wee brain to handle. All I can do is thank God they don't do a 10 yearly review to see if you are still worthy of the letters after your name. In years to come, when I'm in my dotage, the evidence will still be there for all to see that I was once actually quite not the dumbest girl on the block.