Everything Changes and Nothing Changes

Christmas has come and gone, and the good news is, we survived the festivities reasonably unscathed. No family dramas, no meltdowns, the house didn’t burn down. Plenty of reasons to rejoice in other words.

I did have a spot of pre-Christmas blues on December 23rd, fretting that this year’s celebrations weren’t going to be as I’d hoped. If there’s one time of the year I feel a sentimental affinity to my Swedish nationality and the family traditions I grew up with, it’s at Christmas. For Swedes, the primary day of celebration is Christmas Eve. That is the day children wake up to find stockings filled with goodies, that’s the day Santa visits, presents are exchanged, and everyone gets drunk on food, wine and ‘julmust’ (a sweet, root-beer like soft drink that is a must-have for every Swedish family at Christmas). Christmas Day, for us, is the day you recover from all the excess. Not so for my British husband though, for whom Christmas Day is all-important.

Sensing the slight tension between her parents, our younger daughter saw an opportunity:

“Can’t we have stockings both days?”

I think she was hoping for a Groundhog Day kind of Christmas, one that starts anew every day.

In the end, we did two big Christmas celebrations, a Swedish one on the 24th followed by the English the next day, and by Boxing Day even the children were exhausted.

As good as it was, I’m relieved to see the back of Yuletide, and I’m looking forward to next week when the children go back to school and life returns to normal.

But first, there’s New Year’s Eve. You’d think that a night owl like me would relish the excuse to stay up past midnight, but for as long as I can remember I’ve struggled to stay awake past ten o’clock on the 31st of December. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that my internal new year’s clock is set to commence not on 1st January but at the end of summer when the new school year starts. That for me is the time for renewed energy (post summer holiday), fresh opportunities and, of course, new pens.

The problem I have with New Year’s Eve is the false optimism and excitement that it demands. You’re expected to celebrate, be merry and have a great time. But what is there to celebrate?

On a personal level 2017 was a good year for me I admit, but from a broader perspective, it was in many ways a pretty awful year: Brexit, Donald Trump, global warming, starving polar bears, violence, xenophobia, racism, sexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, need I say more? And there’s no reason to believe that 2018 will be much different.

“Everything changes and nothing changes.” That, says Tom Hazard, the centuries-old protagonist of Matt Haig’s novel, How To Stop Time, is the lesson of time. And he should know, having lived through a succession of world wars, revolutions, uprisings, plagues, witch hunts, the advent of Facebook and more.

“This is the chief comfort of being four hundred and thirty-nine years old. You understand quite completely that the main lesson of history is: humans don’t learn from history.”

If that sounds overly depressing, there’s a more upbeat message to be had from Haig’s book: the importance of living in the present.

“…the thing is: you cannot know the future. You look at the news and it looks terrifying. But you can never be sure. That is the whole thing with the future. You don’t know. At some point you have to accept that you don’t know. You have to stop flicking ahead and just concentrate on the page you are on.” 

Happy New Year everyone!


Help, It’s an Emergency

I bet I’m not the only mother who occasionally locks herself in the bathroom to steal some ‘me-time’ when the house is full. When one child has declared the sofa in my office her ‘reading paradise,’ and her sister has taken up day-time residence in the master bedroom and refuses to budge, where do you go, if not the bathroom? So, that’s where I was on Saturday evening, sitting on the toilet lid, watching the second series of Netflix’s The Crown on my iPad when I heard my husband scream.

“Shit, shit, shit!”

He’s probably dropped the food on the floor or something, I thought and carried on watching.

Moments later my 11-year old knocked on the bathroom door,

“Mummy, you must come, it’s an emergency!” she said.

“I’m on the toilet,” I snapped, although it wasn’t entirely true, but whatever the ‘emergency,’ it was bound to be something the rest of the family could sort out.

The Queen was listening to news of President Kennedy’s assassination when the internet connection broke down for the umpteenth time, leaving me little choice but to vacate my temporary sanctuary. I went downstairs to see what the ‘emergency’ had been about.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to sound more concerned than I was. But as soon as I saw my husband, I knew. He was standing by the kitchen sink with his left hand held high, blood pouring from his middle finger. It wasn’t just a cut; he’d practically sliced off the top of his finger, the missing piece now lost in the kitchen chaos. Continue reading

Geek is the New Cool

“You’re so cute and adorable, mummy,” my 7-year old tells me as we lie curled up in bed. “Even with your scar and funny-looking nose,” she adds after a brief pause.

When I first started writing and speaking publicly about my experience with cleft lip and palate, I hadn’t thought about the license it would give my kids to talk freely about my appearance, and as open as I want to be about it to them, it does get to me sometimes. Often, I find them inspecting my face as we hug at bedtime, and I know they’re thinking about the scar on my upper lip and my wonky nose. In my bid to normalise facial differences such as cleft lip and palate, I’ve unwittingly made my kids sit up and take notice of something they didn’t use to pay any particular attention to before: the fact that my face is different.

“That’s something you’ll just have to accept,” my mother says when I complain to her about my children’s fascination with my disfigurement. She’s right of course; having chosen to write and speak about my life experiences as a ‘cleftie’, I’ve opened the door to others’ responses, comments and even criticisms. Most of the time, I am ok with that, but sometimes that little girl inside me still feels hurt by the attention, because all she wants is to be pretty and normal.

The grown-up me isn’t too bothered about being pretty, but she would love to be cool. In an alternative universe, I’m a Thelma & Louise – type of woman who doesn’t give a damn about conventions, rules and expectations. I’m a biker chick in black leather, riding into the sunset whenever I feel like it, roaming the world on my Harley Davidson. I’m fearless, confident and effortlessly cool. It’s my natural state of being.


The truth is I’ll never be cool, and it’s got nothing to do with my face. I simply lack the je ne sais quoi required. As a child, I was always geeky, even when I tried dressing more fashionably. But somehow jeans and tops that looked cool on other girls my age failed to transform me. There’s a hideous school photo from when I was fourteen, which shows what a gargantuan effort I’d made to look like an it-girl and how spectacularly I’d failed. I’m pictured wearing a purple cardigan over a purple t-shirt, with purple eyeshadow to match and a backcombed fringe that makes my hair look frizzier than it already is. In my defence, 1980s fashions were always questionable.

My daughters, in contrast, have a natural sense of style and individuality that isn’t guided by how others think they should look, but by what their instincts tell them. They probably inherited their style sense from their grandmother who’s always smartly dressed, but unfortunately, that gene must have skipped a generation.

Being a geek has its upside though; it’s liberating, since there’s little pressure to be stylish, cool and popular, and it’s effortless because all you’re doing is being you. And no matter what, in the eyes of those who truly matter to me, I’m still cute and adorable…at least for the time being.

Come to think of it; being geeky is pretty cool.

All I want for Christmas…

nicholas-2991776_640We’re only a week into December, but I’ve already wrapped a few Christmas presents. I’ve also ordered the pickled herring and other Christmas delicacies from the Swedish shop here in London as we’ll be staying home this year.

To the children’s delight, that means we are celebrating two Christmases: Swedish Christmas on the 24th and English Christmas on the 25th. But if they think that means they’ll get twice as many presents, they’re sorely mistaken. And true to my family roots, I refuse to put the Christmas tree up until a few days before the celebrations begin.

Even so, Christmas frenzy is upon me, and as I resign myself to the fact that I’ve already spent more money than I’d budgeted for, I can’t help to wonder, what’s the point of all this madness and compulsory merriment? What does Christmas mean to me? I am not religious, and I have a somewhat ambiguous relationship both to baby Jesus and Santa, and to be honest, I can’t wait for the jolly season to be over. But not wanting to be a party pooper, I’d like to try finding some meaning to Christmas for the cynical and ungodly introvert that I am.

“It’s about family,” my husband says when I ask what Christmas means to him. Yes, I can get behind that idea. Christmas is an opportunity to get together with loved ones. Generosity towards strangers and especially those in need is another feature of the Christmas season, and while I applaud charitable giving, I can’t help thinking that if we had a government that cared more about people than about money, the need for charity wouldn’t be so urgent.

Evidence that the prime minister has failed to deliver on her election promise of a “fairer Britain,” came on Saturday night when the members of the government’s social mobility commission resigned in protest at the lack of government action to promote fairness and social justice in Britain.

As the government continues to measure progress and well-being of the state in terms of economic growth, people across the country face the increasingly difficult task of securing adequate care for their elderly, ill or disabled family members. According to Age UK, almost a million older people will feel lonely this Christmas, with no one to care for them and a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that nearly 300,000 more pensioners and 400,000 more children in Britain are now living in poverty than in 2012/13. Given that Britain is one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, there’s no excuse for this rise in poverty.

What will happen once Britain leaves the European Union is anyone’s guess, but most analysts agree that it will do little to improve the quality of life for those already suffering from government cuts.

If you thought I’d conclude with a few profound thoughts about the meaning of Christmas, I’m sorry to disappoint. For, if I didn’t have children for whom Christmas is the highlight of the year, I’d happily forsake the jolly season for a month-long stint in hibernation. Preferably in a warm country far away from the Brexit madness and dodgy Santas. I’d make sure to pack a tin of gingersnap biscuits though. No one makes them like the Swedes.