The definition of middle aged is simple. Take one thirty-something-year-old reporter. Mix with friends. Add a liberal glass (or three) of Chardonnay straight after work. Throw in some Tapas (but clearly not enough to absorb the alcohol) and come up with the bright idea of ordering ‘just the one’ cocktail for the road.
Drink four cocktails. Sing a few songs - loudly - in a restaurant. Try to encourage a friend to give her tried and tested rendition of the intro to the A Team a go. Laugh, probably a little too loudly. Forget you have work the next day. Vaguely remember the taxi journey home and wake up the next morning needing a bottle of Lucozade like your life depended on it.
Spend the next day, or two, in the horrors piecing together segments of the night out and vowing, never, ever to drink again. Eat enough junkfood to undo all the goodwork you have done on WeightWatchers over the last few months but not quite enough to take away the swaying, sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Text your friend (The A Team one) and ask did you make an eejit of yourself, knowing full well that she doesn’t remember and will be having the same thoughts as you. Decide, mutually, you are too old for this carry on.
Realise there is a reason that most of your socialising now takes place in front of the TV with just the one glass of wine and a good film. Vow that from now on you will be letting your hair down closer to home - if at all - and vow to resume acting like a responsible adult. Don appropriate mammy smile and resume housewifely duties of cleaning and playing with megablocks.
There was a time, dear reader, when things were different. There was a time when a night out didn’t leave me praying for an early death. There was a time when I could even have contemplated going out two or three nights in a row and would even have danced into the wee small hours rather than leave early to make sure I got a taxi home before the rush.
There was a time when I could be trusted with a cocktail. And I’m talking the big gulpens of cocktails they used to serve in Henry J’s as opposed to the refined efforts we had last Thursday night.
There was a time when going out for post-work drinks was all a bit Sex and the City - me, a young single woman with no children, no responsibilities and no stretch marks, slicking on some extra lipstick at the end of the day before sauntering into the bar with my friend for a few glasses of wine. We’d talk work. We’d talk hopes. We’d talk dreams. We’d have a giggle.
These debriefing sessions were a highlight of my pre-mammy life. Me and my friend (the A Team one) took such evenings in our stride. Of course there were times when we overdid it a little (and one occasion when we overdid it a lot) but mostly we were dignified because, well, the world was our oyster.
Our nights out were almost routine. There was little organising involved apart from saying “Drink after work?” and waiting for a smiley response. No babysitters had to be booked. No children’s jammies had to be laid out before you left the house. No list of instructions had to be left for either the babysitter or the begrudging husband at home. No guilt had to be felt at using one of your precious nights off to be out with friends rather than on a date night with your parenting partner (aka the husband) in the hope of injecting some romance into a relationship which now mostly involves discussions on who is the most tired and who changed the last poo poo nappy.
Your main concerns about your night out where how much money you had left in the bank and not whether or not your delightful offpsring would wake you up at 4 in the morning to have the craic.
You could handle the hangover at work because you knew when you got home there would be no one making demands on your time or energy and you lie in your pit from Friday evening til the Hollyoaks omnibus was over on Sunday morning if you wished and no one would care.
Those were blissful times. Those were times I took for granted. Now, when the opportunity arises I grab the wine glass with both hands and don’t realise that my 34 year old self definitely has a much lower tolerance for alcohol than the me at 23 or 24. I become like a mad woman on day release - relishing my night of freedom, not caring if I’m one of those older weemin who treats the bar to a chorus of ‘Going to the Chapel’ (and no, I did not sing alone). After the second glass I forget that I’m a responsible wife and mother and I let loose.
It is only in the cold light of day that I realise, fun and all as it is, the price is too high. Maybe the answer is that I get out and about a bit more, so that it doesn’t always seem like such a treat that I act like a two year old in a sweet shop? Maybe the answer is that I accept those days are behind me and hang up my lip gloss forever? Then again, I’d like to think there is life in the old doll yet.
The greatest battle a woman will ever face is that when she is having a really sucky day and really, really wants a bar of chocolate but is trying to stick to her diet. My inner dialogue is on full ramble mode - it is very hard to concentrate on anything but the hum of my good and bad self chatting through the pros and cons of whether or not to ram a Mars Bar down my cake hole.
And it goes a little something like this
You have been good for two whole days. You deserve a treat.
It will take a lot more than two whole days for me to get where I need to go. If I cave after two whole days I'll never get there.
But today is Wednesday. It's a long day. And you won't get your tea til really late because of the baby who never sleeps and the whole never sleeping thing.
That is why you brought a nice healthy and filling lunch with you, which you enjoyed - just a mere 45 minutes ago.
But I feel sleepy. Surely a wee sugar boost will wake me up?
Temporarily perhaps, but when you bottom out you will feel even worse again and you will have no points at all left for your tea.
I don't need tea. (said defiantly)
You won't be saying that at 8pm. By 8pm you will be hunting the house for scabby wains to eat.
I can be strong.
Ha ha ha... says she hoking for the Mars Bar just after lunch.
But... but.... but
Look, the chocolate bar won't help. Not really.
It might a wee bit.
But will you feel worse after?
Not right away. (in denial)
Maybe.. but maybe I'll go for a walk to make up for it?
You do know you have to walk approximately 890 miles to burn off a Mars Bar*?
Dear reader, it has been a tough few months - what with the vertigo, and the meh-ness and a virus type thing which soared through our house and hit everyone but the boy and with various other life stresses.
And I've eaten, quite a lot. And I've put on a few pounds, lost a few pounds, put on a few pounds etc and not progressed on my "weightloss" journey at all. I'm still here, still needing to lose another four stone, still feeling meh and in a vicious circle of eating to make myself feel better and then feeling worse because I've eaten.
I keep trying though, reminding myself that is not a sin to fall but only a sin to lie there. And I've made myself one of those irrational promises which seems like a good idea but maybe isn't. But the fact is, I can't face Weightwatchers at the moment. I know my leader is VERY supportive and lovely and I know she understands what I'm going through but I personally find it very hard to sit at a meeting feeling like a bit of a fraud.
So I'm taking a few weeks off. I've promised myself to do my very best to get below the magic number I was at.. and indeed to my next goal (which personally is 5.5lbs off) and then I'll go back to WW. Promise.
We put the baby in her cot last night. Yes, I know she is 16.5 months old but from the night she came back from the hospital she has slept in beside me, or us, or her daddy - in the musical beds that our house has become. No one wakes up where they go to sleep and no one ends up waking up beside the person they went to sleep with.
So, we decided, enough was enough and with one near falling out of the bed despite a bed guard incident on Saturday night which put the fear of God in me (it could have been nasty, believe me) she went into her cot last night.
Much was made of “Cara’s bye-byes” and “Cara’s big girl bed”. We let her play in it for a bit and I changed the sheets - washing them nicely and huggled her as she drank her bedtime milk before kissing her and laying her down to sleep.
It took 2 hours for her to go to sleep - mostly she sat up, sang, chatted, barged a little, stood up and lay down until she eventually passed out upside down in her bed.
She slept quite well there - while I felt bereft at the missing baby beside me. After all the wee critter has been beside me for 16.5 months and had been in my tummy for the nine months prior to that. We are not used to not sleeping together.
Joseph woke at 3 and decided he wanted sleepy snuggles with mammy. Hubby was still awake so (cunningly) sneaked into the boy’s bed while the baby, now disturbed, wanted to make the most of using her bed as a newly discovered trampoline.
Joseph slept through it. I didn’t. I tried, thinking no, I wouldn’t give her any attention at all. I broke at 5.30 when the call of morning and getting up for a long day at work was getting too much. She went into the boy’s bed with her daddy. I stayed in our bed with the boy. I slept fitfully until it was time to get up for work and they all slept on while I got ready.
It would be very easy to give up and accept that I have made a rod for my own back and may well take my oil. But I have to start cutting the umbilical cord at some stage.
I guess we will try again tonight.
It’s three weeks into the school holidays and already my house is ringing with those immortal words “I’m bored” at least ten times a day.
It seems, that despite his protestations at the end of term that he really was very ready for his holidays, the boy is missing school and all it entails - most notably the company of other six year old boys with the energy levels possessed only by six year old boys and no one else on the planet.
To try, the best we can, to combat the boredness - and to assuage my working mammy guilt - we have delved into the world of the playdate. This, of course, is a fancy way of saying we invite a couple of his friends round for a few hours and feed them tea and hope they all survive without killing each other.
Being a mildly OCD kind of a person, my first foray into playdates involved a mini-transformation of Chez Allan. The husband looked on in bewilderment as I hauled all babyish toys from the boy’s room and cleaned it until it shone. He tried to assure me that six year old boys care not one jot about dust in a bedroom as long as there were toys to play with. I disagreed.
I also disagreed that the patio didn’t need bleaching or the fence didn’t need treating or that the window boxes could do without filling. If - which was unlikely as it is July - it stayed dry and the boys got to play outside I wanted them to play in a nice environment.
The kitchen was scrubbed, the stairs hoovered, the bathroom practically fumigated and the scented candles lit. The last time I went this overboard in the house was two days before the baby was born. I was not nesting - I can assure you - but I was in panic mode that even a six year old boy may pass judgement on our humble house.
It was, I admit, more than a little irrational (especially when I found myself up at four in the morning pre-preparing the make-your-own-pizza treats for later). But the thing with playdates is, if you don’t do them well, no one will want to come again. And, even more worryingly, no one will ever ask you to their house in return.
For working, and stay at home mammies everywhere, the playdate which happens away from your own home is like the holy grail. It is a time when you know your child will have fun and when you know they will be safe and when you can just lie on the sofa eating chocolate and watching ‘Private Practice’. Those few hours are bliss and the mammy who takes your child becomes some sainted creature whom you want to shower with gifts.
Last week we had a bad day. The baby was sick with a horrible bokey, snottery, teething virusy thing and had taken up residence on my right hip. There was nowhere i could go without finding her beside me. There was nothing I could do without having a wee trail of baby slobber follow me looking at me pityfully through sad blue eyes. She was, as my daddy said “wile lookin’” and her wee face would have brought tears from a stone.
The boy tried to understand, as his sister demanded ‘CBeebies’ all day. (I tried to understand too, if truth be told but there is only so much ‘Zingzillas’ an educated woman can take). He tried to understand when mammy couldn’t read with him, or take him out in the car or do anything remotely fun but by lunchtime his understanding (and my patience) was waining.
It was then my phone peeped to life. One of Joseph’s friend’s mammy was taking some of his friends swimming and she wondered would he like to go. I almost leapt with joy from my seat. It was like manna from Heaven - a gift from the Gods - a chance to entertain my son and also save my sanity rolled into one.
When she arrived, to a house which had not a floor mopped, or a candle lit, or a pizza pre-prepared, and with dustballs on the stairs and the picture of misery attached to my sorry hip I could have hugged her. (I didn’t though, the last thing you want to do with a sainted playdate mammy is get them sick).
She took Joseph, and she kept him til 7pm. Sure I didn’t get to lie on the sofa and eat chocolate and watch Private Practice but I got to devote my attention to my sick little girl and I got to rest assured that Joseph was having a blast with his school friends.
He came back content and buzzing with all the latest six year old gossip (mostly about the World Cup, and dinosaurs, as it happens). I felt revived and while next time it is most definitely my turn, I’ll be more relaxed honest. Seems six year olds really do only need each other and the chance to be wee boys afterall.
All Annie Delaney really wants is her happy ever after. A big dress. A big day. A big commitment. She even has a scrap book filled to bursting with ideas for her dream day, her dream home and – of course – her dream man.
Only problem is, the current man on her arm isn’t so much of a dream as a nightmare and as for the man currently in her bed… that’s a whole other disaster in the making.
With her relationship, and her life, heading into a tailspin Annie realises she has to re-examine just what can make her happy, while trying (and failing) not to make things worse.
But it’s never going to be easy – especially when she sees her friend Fionn heading straight towards her own big day with her Mr Right. But then Annie misjudges the difficulties Fionn faces with Mr Right’s very own Little Miss, not to mention the ex waiting in the wings.
Turning to her sister, Darcy, for support Annie has her eyes opened to just what can make you happy – or indeed make you sad. And she ponders that age old question – is there ever such a thing as the perfect relationship?
I was cleaning the house today, mooching about, doing the dishes, loading the washer, trying to ignore the feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach and the feeling of dizzines at the top my head.
As I cleaned I switched on the TV for some background noise and Oprah was on. Now usually I'm working at this time on a Monday so I don't get to see Oprah but she was talking to some woman about weightloss. My attention was pricked. The woman - who is Star Jones - (I had no idea who Star Jones was..) had lost a big old pile of weight, it seems.
So I watched and I listened. I didn't get to hear how she lost the weight but she talked about how she felt afterwards. This bit almost made me cry. She explained how one day she was changing in the loo of a airplane after losing weight and came out and a man looked her up and down with approval.
"No one had ever looked at me like that before" she said and in that instant I knew what she meant. Sure my husband loves me and all but when it comes to members of the male sex I'm not a person who grabs attention for the right reasons. No one looks at me in that *that* way and do I know how I would cope if they did?
Still, weigh in is tomorrow and hopefully the backward slide will be reversed.
And, a quick google of what Star Jones looked like before and after highlights just why she gets those admiring glances now.
...in advance of its launch tomorrow (12th) in Sainsburys... and I admit we felt special. We have it before everyone else you see and we feel dead posh and important.
But, what does it taste like, or look like? Can chocolate and wheat mix? (In fairness in my head almost everything mixes with chocolate, except maybe fish...) Will the children want to eat it? Will they want it again or will it just the allure of a once off?
You see I have awkward children. They don't like breakfast. They have to be "encouraged" to eat in the mornings and after a long time of being increasingly creative with breakfast foods to get them to eat we figure anything that lasts more than two days in a row is a winner.
So we opened the box. The boy (6) was impressed. He takes after his mammy in her chocolate obsession. I pointed a portion with WeightWatchers and two biscuits are an impressive 2.5pts, so with cold skimmed or semi skimmed milk you are looking at a points value of three for a filling breakfast. That's me sold - esp beside some of the other cereals on the market which three spoonfuls seems to a portion make.
The boy tried it first, and loved it. He finished the bowl in record time. Declaring that 'Mammy, this is 99 plus 1% excellent'. He has eaten it every day since. He opted for it with cold milk and crunchy.
The baby has had it with warm milk and mashed up and she is also a fan, and I don't feel like I'm poisoning her because the nutritional information speaks for itself. It may contain chocolate but is still low fat, low sugar and high fibre. And SHE EATS IT. And my baby NEVER eats anything.
Me? I broke the Weetabix ban and have to admit, with cold milk and crunchy it's lovely and I'm tempted to get some natural yoghurt and try it with that as well.
Did it make for a happy breakfast in the Allan household? It sure did. And we will be buying more.
Chocolate Weetabix is available from Sainsbury's from July 12 and from other supermarkets from the following week.
We're all hoping aren't we? I'm holding my fingers tightly crossed and really, really hoping that come next Thursday when the City of Culture is announced the judges will have decided that Derry/Londonderry is the place worthy of the title.
I'll admit something, I was a cynic when this first started. For one, our major theatre doesn't seat very many people and is nigh on impossible to get parked near to. Secondly, it's Derry and traditionally not very many good things wing their way Derry's way.
Now, proud as I am to be a Derry wan - and very proud I am too - I couldn't but feel we were pitching out of our league. Yes, we have Seamus Heaney, and Brian Friel and Cathal Breslin, Nadine Coyle, Jennifer Johnston and a whole other pile of dead famous people among our midst but we don't really have the infrastructure to host the UK's largest arts events for a whole year.
And then there was the embarrassment that was local political parties throwing the rattly out of the pram over a UK banner flying high over Derry/ Londonderry/ Doire. We seemed destined to shoot ourselves in the foot before it even began.
But as the campaign has built momentum, as we have edged nearer to the finish line, something new and exciting has started to creep in. Derry has started to hope. We have started to value ourselves. We have started to stand up and say we are proud to be who we are and we are on a winning streak.
The most emotional week I had recently was undoubtedly that in which in the Saville Inquiry reported back, exonerating all those who were killed or injured on Bloody Sunday and pointing the finger of blame squarely where it deserved to be pointed.
Two days after that report - that most momentous and gloriously sunny day - I went to the Nerve Centre and watched the 'Voices' video - the short film made to support the bid and I was blown away. (Of course the fact that my sister and two gorgeous nieces feature, albeit briefly, in the video had absolutely nothing to do with that, honest guv.)
I've always been been a staunch fan and supporter of Derry. I've set my three bestsellers on the banks of the Foyle and been delighted when people from outside the city have contacted me to say they now see the city in a new light. But when I saw the Voices video, I saw the city in a new light myself and it was a damn nice light.
Gone are the barriers, checkpoints and building sites/ bomb sites of my childhood. Gone are the rusty slides and hard concrete floors of dodgy parks. Gone are the same old people rattling on about the same old past. Gone is the fear and replacing it all is a sense of hope and of pride. And great shops, restaurants, bar, clubs, parks, community groups and even the fountains in the Guildhall Square are a good job.
The pride that Phil Coulter sang of in 'The Town I Love So Well' - in those lines 'There was music there, in the Derry air, like a language that we all could understand' seems to be back. Derry looks and feels like a cool place to live. It feels like the place it always should have been - but which we lost somewhere along the way. It feels like a place steeped in history - a gateway to the North and the South. A place with a young, vibrant community. A place with a remarkably talented and vibrant community who give and give and give and never stop to ask for much in return.
I'm hoping that the judges in the City of Culture bid have seen all this. If I can have my eyes opened to a place I see every day and see it as something special then surely those looking at Derry with fresh eyes will see what we have to offer.
Personally I'll be standing on the sidelines on Thursday, waiting to see what lies ahead - planning a chick lit convention or something equally fabulous - should we get the go ahead.
But I won't beat my chest and shout about the unfairness of it all if it doesn't happen. As far as I'm concerned those behind the City of Culture bid have already achieved what they wanted to and more - they have given the people of this city a sense of place, a sense of pride and a sense of hope.
So, as Thursday approaches and I start to feel even more emotional and melancholy about the place which always has been and always will be home to me, the words of Phil Coulter sound in my ears once again.
"For what's done is done and what's won is won
And what's lost is lost and gone for ever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
In the town I loved so well".
Oh, and if you want, you can watch the video here!
The baby got her first proper shoes.
She has started to take faltering steps... a few at a time and my heart is both filled with pride but breaking.
I read somewhere once about how buying a baby's first shoes is a difficult time for a mammy. Of course I'm delighted she is progressing, growing, developing and becoming independent. Of course another part of me knows she is one step closer to being completely independent.
She is my last baby... there will be no more... so I want to cherish every tiny little moment as much as possible. The shoes, the smiles, the wee bunches in her hair, the cheeky grin, the penchant for singing Lady Gaga (change the words to Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma baby face and you have a perfectly acceptable song to to sing to your child...) the need to do everything for herself... yesterday.
Oh baby, I love you. Just don't grow too fast.
... but I am managing okay.
Yesterday I even put make up on - and proper make up, not the "only cover the spots" kind. I even used mascara and it looked nice.
Then I went for a drive, and sang Lady Ga Ga with my baby girl and wrote about 1500 words.
Now all I need to do it switch my brain off - the constant "but" and "what ifs".
Like so many people I suppose I need to learn to be happy in the here and now instead of focusing either on the past or on the possibilities of the future - which are all still just possibilities. My life must move beyond the "I will be happy when I lose weight/ get a UK deal/ move house etc etc" monologue.
I need to be happy now.
Anyone care to share what makes you happy? Maybe I could give it a go. I'm up for almost anything as long as it does not involve fish of any description.
I got an email today about Chocolate Weetabix. I'm getting a free box in the post, it says.
I'm very excited.
And a little apprehensive.
You see when we were little we were force fed * regular Weetabix. I loved it, don't get me wrong, for years and years and years. I feed my own children it because, it's damn good stuff and it keeps you regular **
but I've not eaten it myself in aaaaages.
And I want to. It's low in WW points, high in GI and as I said, keeps you regular.
I shall report back shortly on the great Chocolate *** Weetabix**** experiment.
*We weren't actually force fed. Just served it, every day, with warm milk.
** TMI, I know. Sorry.
*** One of my most favourite things in the world ever.
**** How can the two things mix??? I dunno! Time will tell.
But my head has been up my rear - i'm starting to come out of it now, I think. This particular depressive episode took me by surprise. Everything was going tickety boo - book was selling well, kids were fine etc and then bam I woke up under a black cloud which hasn't wanted to shift in, ooooh, about a month now.
But today feels a little different. I've been doing all my usual self help thingies - reading my note from the universe, checking my angel cards, writing a little (not always easy with vertigo, which the doc thinks is stress related) and sleeping around the clock.
Last week I was plagued with nightmares every night - thankfully they seem to have stopped but I'm freewheeling it this week on no medication waiting for the prozac to exit my system before I can start my new tablets.
I'm doing a lot of thinking.
One of the major reasons for me feeling as low as I do is the feeling that I'm not good enough. It's not surprising that a great deal of my books deal with the feeling of being not good enough - I think a lot of people feel that way.
As an exercise to myself the other night I listed my achievements in my head... I know pride is a sin, but if you don't mind I'm going to share a few now.
Later today, I'm going to post some very bad poetry I wrote once about life and the achievements which count which are not academic, or professional or whatever but I need sometimes to remind myself - and perhaps the world - that I'm not "just" anything. I've done a lot for someone of 34. Perhaps the person I need to remind about that most of all is me.
Maybe you could all do the same? You might surprise yourself?
I drive a car. It took me seven years and four tests, but I did not give up.
I was the only person in my journalism course to pass the Masters element first time round. I went to graduation on my own (well, with family, of course) and loved it.
I freelanced for a year writing for local, regional, national and international newspapers.
I covered everything - courts, councils, breaking stories, front page leads, human interest features.
I secured a staff job when I was 23 and started with the Derry Journal where I'm still there, still working and, where eight years ago, I became the paper's first female columnist.
I covered the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, was first at the scene (reporter wise) of several attempted murders, covered crown court trials, cut my teeth in the magistrate's court, wrote extensively on domestic violence, city centre violence and other issues which plague our city.
I pitched and ran three consecutive Children of the Year Awards for the Derry Journal - rewarding the best in the young people of the city.
I have written three bestselling books.
I wrote my first book in six months, got an agent straight away (first agent I queried) and got a book deal by the end of that year. This is not to make those who didn't get lucky straight away feel bad about themselves,I'm just fed up of always apologising for my success as if I don't deserve it. I do. So there.
I have been a spokesperson for Aware Defeat Depression.
I've been on TV - I've even done a life on air broadcast for Sky News as their roving reporter at the scene of a gas explosion. I've appeared on discussion programmes about PND. I've done radio. All of this inspite of chronic self esteem issues!