Friday, February 24, 2006

Keep young and beautiful

THEY SAY time waits for no man but as I have found in the last week that is also arguably true for the female of the species.

It’s no secret that in just under four months time I celebrate a very special birthday. I mention it often not because I am, unlike most of my friends of a similar age, having heart staggers at the very thought- but more because I figure if I keep mentioning himself might remember to start saving up for that present now.

You see, turning 30 doesn’t really bother me. Yes there are ambitions I still have for my life which I’d kind of hoped would have been achieved by now, but this isn’t really a time of regret for me- in fact it is a time of celebration.

If the glossy women’s magazines are to be believed (you know, the dear ones that cost a couple of quid), your 30s are destined to be your most enjoyable decade to date. Apparently women in their 30s develop a certain devil may care attitude to life, finding themselves more comfortable and confident in their own skins. This all sounds pretty damned appealing to me, as I have never experienced a moment of confidence in my skin in that last 29 years.

But in the last week I’ve noticed a certain ageing process setting in, which makes me wonder if the glossy magazines are either a) telling us a big bunch of fibs, or b) in league with some big Retinol/ Vitamin A/ Botox wielding conglomerate in the hope of selling us enough lotions and potions to keep the beauty industry going for the next 50 years.

First of all on close inspection of the “delicate eye area” I discovered the very distinct and un-ignorable arrival of my first fine lines. You may scoff at my vanity- fine lines are inevitable- but I was horrified because for the first time in my not so tender years I was looking in the mirror and seeing a proper, grown up adult face staring back at me.
I’m not a vain person as such, I certainly don’t have a reputation for wearing the finest make up or slathering myself in expensive creams (as previously stated my skincare regime generally involves a baby wipe and a splash of water)- but the fine lines bothered me.

They bothered me even more when I noticed that about three inches or so above them a smattering of grey hair had started to permeate my chestnut locks. The ageing process, it seems, has well and truly taken hold.

The upshot of these discoveries in that I found myself in Boots last Saturday morning looking for the solution to my problems. Handing over a significant amount of my hard earned cash to the sales assistant in return for the eeniest pot of eye cream in the world ever and a box of Clairol Essences Hair Dye which promises excellent coverage of grey, I felt strangely elated- as if I was tricking old Mother Nature. (As a rather embarrassing side note, when I was a child I was convinced I would become a world famous purveyor of perfumes and other such smelly stuff (you know the kind you make in the bathroom sink with half a bottle of baby powder and some roses from the garden?)- and my company would be called Clairol (geddit?) Imagine my disgust when I realised the name was already taken!).

With my purchases in hand (along with a free gift with purchase make up bag from No.7 which I am very delighted with) I visited my mother and it was then that I realised that creams and potions may delay the signs of the inevitable but there is more to getting older than noticing a few straggly grey hairs.

You see the Kleeneze catalogue was there and whereas I used to look through it and laugh at the ridiculous products (you know, the hair cutting bib and the ear protectors for when you are washing your hair…that kind of thing), on Saturday I found myself thinking “My, my, that looks like a handy wee number. Order me one of those bad boys please”.

A shocking £25 later and I have, winging their way to me, a special squeedgy for cleaning the inside of the windows, a brush which promises to reach all those nooks and crannies and a drain cover that doubles as a planter (I kid you not). I haven’t received my goodies yet, but I’m stupidly excited at the prospect (especially as the outside of my house is being painted and my new planter will look just fabulous in my newly decorated rear terrace (aka the back yard)!

It dawned on me then that not only was my skin ageing that wee bit- but my mind was too. I am getting, drum roll please, sensible. Now I’ve never been particularly wild but there is being responsible and being overly sensible and, dare I say it, a tad boring. I’m wondering if my Kleeneze purchases, even though I already love them more than life, have forced me into the latter category? Could it be that I am now hurtling at break-hip speed towards sensible shoes and a blue rinse?

To counter the balance I bought myself some impossibly uncomfortable but very pretty shoes, some funky costume jewellery and a funky pair of pinstripe trousers for work.

Now I’m perfectly willing to accept that my panic of the last week or so is quite possibly a late 20s crisis of sorts, so let’s hope that those magazines are right and by the time June rolls around I’ve found a degree of comfort in being who I am- dodgy drain covers and all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore...

VALENTINE'S DAY was a bit of a non-event this year in the Allan household.

While previously we have celebrated with a nice home-cooked meal or a delivered bunch of flowers, this year we somehow managed to forget the whole thing- despite the plethora of red hearts and roses in every shop window.
As the most romantic day of the year dawned, we sat side by in the side in the car on the way to work and laughed when we realised we were both as bad as each other in the romance stakes.
In a show of extreme non-bitterness I serenaded himself with a dazzling rendition of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and went about my way, only occasionally staring at the office door longing for a special delivery.
When work ended I went home to my wee man (himself being up the country working) and the closest I got to mad romance was a snuggle with a two year old who offered me one of his mad open mouthed slabbery kisses.
Himself came home a few hours later, bearing a shiny new Tesco bag which contained, or so I hoped, a box of expensive chocolates, some champagne and a perhaps a single red rose. Sadly my hopes were shattered when I found it merely to contain a Pot Noodle for his tea- not the most obvious gesture of love and affection.
Having officially moved out of the newlywed category (we married five years ago in May), I wondered if the magic is simply slipping from our relationship?
After all a survey this week said, rather gloomily I hasten to add, that married bliss lasts a mere 12 months. After that the embers cool, the magic fades and all that awaits is a lifetime of drudgery and complaining about her or him indoors.
Even more worrying is that, according to the authors, somewhere between year three and five (so slap bang where me and the Mr. are right now) we are supposed to experience a final resurgence of love before it all heads downhill again- this time for keeps.
I dread to think what's ahead of me next year then if this year was to be our final flurry at love- Perhaps some supernoodles or a cup-a-soup?
Then again I'm not quite sure those responsible for the report are right. After all, if marriage is a big old disappointment after year one then how do you explain those millions of couples who make it to their Silver weddings anniversaries and beyond?

Being the old romantic that I am, I believe that love- and marriage in particular- is best founded on friendship- one that can wax and wane but which will ultimately have moments of love and passion no matter if you have been together a week or a half century.
I'm very lucky in the that my parents have always shown me an example of how a marriage should work. Sometimes, admittedly, that has involved shouting at each other and a certain degree of door slamming, but mostly the message I've learned from their relationship is marriage can be the most amazing thing on the planet- if only you bother your hump to work at it.
You see I'm not naive enough to think that over the last 31 years of marriage they have not contemplated, on several occasions, putting some arsenic in each other's cuppa, but I know they are still quite firmly in that "happily married" bracket.
They have learned, over the passage of time, to ignore those little things that niggle, to enjoy the things that make them happy and to remember that marriage really is for better or worse and anyone who tells you there should never be any worse is talking through their rear.
I think our society has just become so disposable these days that so many people think it's okay to bin something if it isn't quite in perfect working order anymore.
I'm shocked at just how disposable marriage has become. That doesn't mean I'm enamoured with the way himself leaves his stinking socks on the bedroom floor expecting them to magically fly to the laundry hamper. I hate the way he leaves coffee rings from his cups on the desk, worktops and tables. His inability to look after Joseph and do anything remotely resembling housework rankles- as indeed does the Pot Noodle for Valentine's Day incident- but my marriage isn't disposable in that way.
It struck me, as I waited for my card and my flowers, as I joked all day with himself about the lack of passion in our relationship, as we sang that Neil Diamond song to each other, that the real love is not in the giving of gifts (although I'll never turn one down) but in the fact we are comfortable sometimes just to be together and we know what to say or do to raise a smile or a laugh from each other.
And we aren't doing too badly if every day, after nine years together and five years of marriage, we still say "I love you" and still get that urge to talk to each other sometimes just to hear that familiar voice on the end of the line.
Sure, Emily Bronte may never write a novel about our all encompassing passion- and they'll never rename St. Valentine's Day as The Allan's Day in honour of our great love but I'm sure when all is said and done, five years from now and for longer there will still be some magic in our marriage.

On the Road Again

I AM a woman of many talents, but sadly, I have to admit driving is not one of them.

They say that God loves a trier and if that is true then I'm glad to announce that even though my driving is deeply questionable, I'm up there with the best of the them in the Big Man's most loved people ever list.
I have held a provisional driving licence for a shocking 10 years now and while I've managed to pass two theory tests and fail an equal number of practicals, I'm no further forward in my quest to head out on my own and start cruising the fine streets of Derry in my own wheels.
It all started when I was 19. It was then I decided I would love to learn to drive and duly sent off my application for a licence. I even bought some sunglasses (to cope with the glare on sunny days) and some tapes (yes, tapes- it was in the era before CDs) to listen to as I cruised the highways and byways of the North.
Sadly I didn't get much further than that. I listened to the tapes and wore the glasses, but didn't so much as get behind the wheel of a car until two years later when, at 21, I realised that a licence would greatly improve my chances of securing gainful employment.
My driving instructor, God love him, tried so very hard to make me a safe and competent driver- and I was, honestly- as long as there were no other vehicles within a two mile radius.
When he caved in and allowed me to sit a test (one month after I secured this job on the understanding I was a learner!) I surprised no one by failing horrendously. (People often ask what I failed on, the easier question would be to ask what didn't I fail on?) I remember the day well, returning to the office having made the mistake of telling everyone I had been out of my test.
My colleagues had the good grace not to laugh. They sympathised, shared their own driving horror stories and advised me to book for a cancellation straight away. I did, subsequently failed again (on a dodgy emergency stop that time), and they were equally supportive- warning me not to wait five years before getting behind the wheel of a car again- and I kept my promise. Instead of waiting five years, I waited six and a half.

Glaring truth
In fairness I've had a few sessions behind the wheel between now and then. Most of them have confirmed to me the two most glaring truths of my young existence. The first is that A) I can't drive for toffee and B) Although I'm terrified of other traffic, driving would make my life 100 times easier.
So it was with heavy heart, and a certain sense of trepidation, I set myself the goal of finally getting through my test before the age of 30 (which is looming ever closer).
I booked some lessons with the man who drove me to the chapel on my wedding day- figuring if he could deal with the gibbering wreck I was that day he would be well matched to deal with me and my terminal fear of roundabouts.
So we started again, just before Christmas, and I shocked myself with my ability to remain relatively cool and collected behind the wheel. Want a three point turn? (sorry- turn your car in the opposite direction using forward and reverse gears), I'm your gal. I can reverse a car around a corner in a second and am pretty comfortable with the whole reverse parking malarkey.
I was starting to feel good. I bought new sun-glasses. I downloaded some music for the CD player. I started to warn himself that I would soon be taking over all driving responsibilities and had started to gaze lovingly at pictures of shiny new Micras.
Mr. Driving Instructor conceded I was doing well. He told me to book my theory test. I did, and I passed. (Full marks, I thank you) and I started to visualise tearing up the 'L' Plates and tossing them in the air with a celebratory cheer.
And then, you see, it all started to go horribly wrong, culminating in me saying a few bad words and fighting back tears on my last lesson. Mr. Driving Instructor seems to think that it is because I'm now thinking too much about the test and starting to panic.
My lovely friend Vicki has assured me that when her test was around the corner her driving went to pot too and she was convinced she would fail, but I'm not really believing either of them. I just think I'm destined to be one of life's passengers.
The temptation is now exceptionally great to pack it all in and resign myself to a life of buses, taxis and lifts from the very lovely Erin Hutcheon (who demands only £2 for a trip to the Waterside, more than half the going rate of most taxi firms).
But then I've promised myself I won't be a quitter this time. By hook or by crook, should I fail 100 tests and become a talking point in the local test centre, and should Mr. Driving Instructor start to factor me into his pension plans- I will drive some day.
I will get in my car, switch on the engine, listen to that Bon Jovi tape (I know, I know, I was young and impressionable) and cruise into the 'Journal' office (well the car park, not the actual office building) like the cat who got the cream- 'R' plates raised aloft in a uniquely choreographed victory dance.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bye Bye Baby

BECOMING A mother has much the same impact on your emotions as an induction to the gym has on your body.

You leave the delivery room feeling things you have never felt before and experience a strange mixture of excitement and absolute terror about what you have signed up for.
Only, unlike a gym membership, you can't just cancel the Direct Debit after six months and go back to your slovenly ways. A child is for life, not just for maternity leave.
There are no dress rehearsals with parenthood- no try before you buy, no guarantee that if you are not happy with the results Lever Brothers will give you your money back. Once you are there, feeling as if, both physically and emotionally, a ten tonne truck has run over you, you are there for keeps.
Yesterday was my son's second birthday and as well as celebrating the limitless joy he has brought to our lives, I will be raising a glass of wine to myself in honour of the achievement that is surviving the baby years with my sanity relatively intact.
The thing is, you see, being a mammy to a baby is damn hard work- Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or supping vodka out of a secret hipflask in work to cope with the strain.
That's not to say it isn't wonderful. I would not for the life of me change my child. I love the bones of him- from his oddly dimpled shoulders to his pudgy hands- his curly topped head to his squidgy be-nappied bum.
I love how he can spot the trail of an aeroplane in the sky from any distance, how he pulls his highchair out to the middle of the room and shouts for "passtttaaaa" in the evenings and how he can sing any theme tune in the world and somehow end up in a 'Bob the Builder' medley.
But life has changed irrevocably from what it was before. I only ever thought I was tired before I became a parent- just as I only ever thought I was fat before pregnancy ravaged my body, and I only ever thought what it was like to be scared until I saw my own child lying in a hospital bed being nebulised.
Himself and I planned our foray into parenthood with meticulous precision. We made a decision to wait until we were married, with a mortgage and established in our careers before we decided to start our family.
When I found out I was pregnant- on the fifth anniversary of my first date with himself- we were overjoyed and set about preparing ourselves and our home for our new arrival.
The walls of the spare room were painted a creamy yellow and accessorized with borders proclaiming our new child would be "My Little Star". We went pram shopping, crib shopping, clothes shopping, nappy shopping- the works- and turned our house in a mini version of Mothercare.
We read enough to know what to expect- or so we thought- because, you see, no amount of nappy buying, or reading, or surfing t'internet can prepare you for what it is really like.

I still remember with a certain degree of hysteria the night we brought our little one home from the hospital. My friend came to visit and helped me prepare the mountain of bottles i would need to get me through the night ahead and when she left I went to bed. I put my 6lb 90z baby in a cotbed which was ridiculously huge for his tiny frame and then I stayed awake most of the night listening for his breathing, waiting for his hungry whimpers, checking he was really there and it wasn't all a surreal dream.
By the next morning the eyes were standing out of my head with exhaustion and it dawned me this was a bigger commitment than we had ever really contemplated.
In the months that followed we found our feet but the thing with babies is that the wee monsters are always growing and changing and throwing a spanner in the works. First we had the trauma of returning to full time work and leaving my child with my aunt (who is wonderful, I hasten to add), then we had to cope with weaning, bum-shuffling, cruising, crawling, walking, talking and at the moment the latest test of our spirit comes with the introduction of the Naughty Step and a now very active toddler insisting on clambering in and out of his big boy bed at 4 in the morning.
But probably the hardest thing I have to deal with as a mammy, is realising that my baby is not a baby anymore. He is now a toddler- an independent minded little person who knows exactly what he wants, when he wants it and how he is going to get it.
As a mammy it's both rewarding and heart-breaking to see your child grow up. It's rewarding because the sense of pride is immense at seeing the person that little baby becomes, but heart-breaking because you feel in some ways you are losing that special bond that started the minute you got the positive result on a pregnancy test.
Of course, I know he will need me for some time. There are bums to be wiped, shoes to be tied, bruises to be kissed better and stories to be read.
And I sincerely hope the happiness continues to outweigh the stress- because I really don't think my editor would take too kindly to me drinking on the job.
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