Beware of the Lady in the Red Vehicle

We’re getting a car.

It’s been a long time coming, several years in fact, but then again, my husband and I take our time making big decisions. We still haven’t bought a rug and armchairs for the living room, even though it’s been more than two years since we moved into our ‘new’ home.

We used to live within easy reach to shops and public transport, and with a five-minute walk to the children’s school, so back then there was no need for a car.  Since we moved further away from central London, however, it’s become increasingly clear that we need a car. Still, it’s taken us two years to get one. And the blame for that rests entirely with me. For the longest time I kept postponing any car-related decision, resorting to one excuse after another:

“It’s only a 10-minute walk to the underground, and it’s good exercise.”

“The girls need to learn to find their way around London, and they won’t do that if we keep driving them everywhere.”

“Cars pollute.”

“Having a car is an unnecessary expense.”

This particular argument has always been the weakest one, as the amount of money we (and I, in particular) spend on taxis every month more than matches the monthly cost of petrol, parking permits and car insurance.

The real reason for my reluctance to buy a car was something altogether different: fear. Continue reading

Nobody Wins

shutterstock_574938490“What do you think I should write about today?” I ask my daughters as we walk to school Having discarded at least two of my ideas for today’s blog, I’ve decided to seek their counsel.

“Exams,” says the 11-year old. “If I were a headmistress, I’d ban them.”

“Mean parents,” says her 7-year old sister.

Exams and mean parents: a pretty good summary of what life in our house has been like for the past couple of months. The older daughter spent every morning of Christmas break writing mock exams in English and Maths. In my defence, the blame for that lies squarely with her teachers who sent the class home with stacks of practice exams to prepare them for the real ones taking place this month and which will determine what secondary school she’ll attend next September.

Secretly, I share my daughter’s feelings about exams, not least because of the stress they impose on children and parents alike. Besides, I don’t necessarily believe they present an accurate measurement of a child’s actual abilities. I don’t tell my daughter this; instead, I cheer her on: “you can do it,” “it’s almost over,” “one more exam, just one” and so on.

The 11-year old is a fan of JK Rowling and knows everything there is to know about the Harry Potter books. If only the exams had questions not about maths and verbal reasoning, but about Hogwarts, Quidditch, Horcruxes and Care of Magical Creatures, she’d easily pass with flying colours.

Meanwhile, her younger sister keeps complaining about not getting as much attention from her mean parents as her older sibling.

“It’s like I don’t even exist,” she says, a wounded expression on her face as she stomps off to her room to play with her enormous collection of Sylvanian Families. She doesn’t realise that she’s the lucky one, that her sister would gladly swap places with her if she could. No one wants to spend their free time doing English comprehension and fractions.

“I wish I had the gift of dyslexia too,” the 7-year old confides to me at bedtime.

“I’m not sure your sister thinks of it as a gift,” I answer.

“But you and daddy got a book called the gift of dyslexia,” she insists. Anything her big sister has, she also wants.

Life is unfair when you’re the younger sibling. Not to mention how unfair it is to be the older sibling.

As a parent, I just can’t win.



I Laugh, Therefore I Am

As I predicted in my rather gloomy New Year’s blog post, the world continues to turn much the same way as it did in 2017. The NHS is still in crisis, Brexit will happen, the trigger-happy madmen running the US and North Korea are still in power, and white people still don’t understand racism.

Plus ça change.

But fret not, it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve discovered if not a cure, at least a pretty decent Band-Aid against despair, anxiety and depression. No, I’m not talking about Prozac or therapy; neither am I advocating the use of illegal substances, nor suggesting we all go on a booze-filled binge for the rest of the year.

I’m talking humour; comedy, satire, anything that makes you laugh. smiley-1981935_640

If the cause of your low mood is the lunatic in the White House, the remedy of choice is Trevor Noah, the South African comedian hosting The Daily Show since 2015. Personally, I don’t miss a single episode, lest I drown in my own bottomless pit of darkness.

If like me, you’re not a fan of the incompetent politicians occupying Downing Street, and whose inability to grasp reality means that Britain is fast heading towards a collapsed public health service and rising knife crime, check out the spot-on writings of John Crace, The Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer.

If Crace fails to turn the corner of your mouth upwards, look no further than Bridget Christie, one of the sharpest, funniest stand-up comedians Britain has to offer today. Her post-referendum show, Because You Demanded It, where she tore into all things Brexit, literally saved me, an EU citizen living in Britain, from the gutter of fear and despair following the Brexit vote. Sadly, the show is no longer on, but this spring Christie will embark on a country-wide tour of her next show, What Now? I’ve already got my tickets, and whether or not he wants to, my husband is coming with me.

Speaking of stand-up shows, not unlike a ‘prepper’ (semi-lunatics or survivalists who prepare for the apocalypse by stockpiling everything from toilet paper, canned food, first aid kits to more questionable items such as weapons), I’ve spent the first ten days of the new year buying tickets for a range of stand-up shows, to ensure my own, if not physical, at least mental survival through 2018.

I’m also stockpiling funny books and rereading old ones. Belatedly I’ve discovered the ludicrously funny 1978 radio comedy show of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I’m currently listening to whilst journeying here and there on London’s public transport. Some of my fellow travellers throw me an odd look when I laugh a bit too loud but perhaps they’ve not yet discovered the truth of life:

I laugh, therefore I am.

Don’t Be New, Be You

shutterstock_479905366“Don’t be you, be new…” sings Peter Pan, reimagined as a slick lifestyle guru in Baddies: The Musical. Together with an unbearably smug Cinderella who wants the world to be as perfect and beautiful as she is, Peter Pan is on a mission to rebrand the Big Bad Wolf, Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin and the Ugly Sisters, because “Bad guys are out of fashion.”

My family love this musical so much that we’ve seen it twice and though it’s been more than a year since it was last shown at the Unicorn Theatre in London, we still live in hope that Wolfie, Hook, and the others will return one day.

As always around this time of year, the lifestyle pages of newspapers and magazines are filled with motivational articles about personal reinvention, lifestyle changes, advice on how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, 12 steps to a better life etc. A new year, a new you; Baddies’ Peter Pan would approve.

Meanwhile, my family keep singing our favourite songs from Baddies at home, although we’ve changed some of the lyrics because we’re on the side of the bad guys, not the narcissistic Peter Pan and two-faced Cinders who, as it turns out, aren’t the goodies they make themselves out to be.

“Don’t be new, be you” goes our refrain, which I find a particularly fitting motto for those of us who’ve stopped making New Year’s resolutions we’ll never keep, and whose cynicism prevent us from celebrating a new year as if it were a newborn baby. After all, there was nothing profoundly different about us or the world on 1 January 2018 and 1 January 2017, 2016, 2015, etc., and there’s no reason to believe that January 2019 will be all that different.

And that’s ok. For what if, instead of spending lots of money, time and effort on creating a new, improved version of ourselves, we chose to accept ourselves as we are?

Life is too short and too precious to fret about the jeans we no longer fit into, the three strands of grey hair discovered one morning when staring bleary-eyed into the bathroom mirror, the growing number of wrinkles in our face, various sagging body parts, etc.

“You still look young,” someone tells me, thinking they’re paying me a compliment. But so what if I look my age? I’m 45 years old, and I’m so much happier with myself now than I was when I was 15, 25, 35.

There’s great liberation in growing older; I no longer worry about what other people think of me, whether they like me or not, find me attractive or ugly, cool or geeky, want to be my friend or not. All that pressure starts to wane as you grow older, gradually becoming replaced with the freedom of being who you truly are. Now that’s something to celebrate.

My heart is not made of gold, and I can be a right bitch sometimes. I criticise, I judge, I’m guilty of hypocrisy and much more. But at least I have enough self-awareness to know this about myself. I’d so much rather be one of the Ugly Sisters than Cinderella.