Spring Cleaning

retro-1291608_640I’m an obsessive cleaner. If I spot a few bread crumbs on the kitchen floor, I immediately grab my cordless Dyson and zap them. For serious hoovering, nothing beats my Miele.

Wet towels on the bed, dirty clothes on the floor, and jam stains on the kitchen counter make my skin crawl, and I can’t go on with my daily business until everything is clean and tidy.

Given my obsession with cleaning, you’d think our house is spotless, but alas that’s not the case. My daughters share none of my passion for tidiness, and on a bad day, their rooms look like a disaster zone. And as I write this, I notice that my desk is cluttered and disorganised, and there are coffee stains on my tax return form. For someone so obsessed with cleaning, I am remarkably messy.

Lately, my compulsion to clean has extended to the digital sphere as well. The other day I spent much of the afternoon decluttering my mobile phone, deleting apps that I’ve never used and never will.

In a bid to cure my phone addiction, I made the radical decision to ban my phone, including charger, from the bedroom.

Having removed every bit of digital technology from my bedside table, I fetched a simple analogue alarm clock from storage and set it to wake me up this morning. I must admit I checked the clock several times before turning off the light, to make sure it was all set. Putting my faith in something as old-fashioned and unreliable as an ordinary alarm clock caused me a fair bit of anxiety; would the alarm go off as intended, and would I hear it? Or would I oversleep, making the girls late for school?alarm-clock-2175342_640

You might think me completely neurotic, but I’ve got a reason to mistrust alarm clocks. Years ago (in the olden days, as my eight-year-old calls the 1990s), I once overslept the morning of my final exams in college. I’d set my alarm, but exhausted from a night of studying, I slept through the alarm and only woke up an hour after I was supposed to have been commencing my first exam. Panicking, I threw on some clothes and ran for my life. Minutes later I was standing in the door of the classroom, looking like a madwoman, but the compassion of my professor saved me.

‘Go and get some breakfast, and come back and sit the exam,’ he said.

As soon as I’d finished writing the exam, I went to the nearest shop and bought two new alarm clocks, and for the rest of my time at university, I used all three to ensure I never overslept again.

I didn’t oversleep this morning, although I only had one alarm clock. In fact, I felt oddly liberated, as if I’d already cured my phone addiction, which of course I haven’t. But, not having my phone next to me at night-time meant I wasn’t tempted to check if for emails, text messages or news before going to sleep or when waking up in the middle of the night, as I often do. Instead, I just rolled over and went straight back to sleep.

It’s early days of course, and since waking up, I have looked at my phone a number of times, but it now sits, not on my desk or bedside table, but on a shelf, hidden from view. And it feels good, really good.


Humanity Betrayed

I was four weeks old when my mother held me for the first time and three months old when I was finally discharged from hospital and allowed to join her and my 3-year old brother at home.

It was the early 1970s and parents were not allowed to stay with their children in hospital; visitations were strictly regulated, and at the Red Cross Hospital where I spent my first few months, the head nurse actively discouraged mothers from visiting their offspring. Therefore, my primary caregivers those first crucial months of my life were nurses, rather than my mother, although she visited as often as she was allowed.

shutterstock_794968318My earliest childhood memories all share a common theme: separation from my mother as she had to leave me, a toddler and a young child, in a hospital ward.

Although the separation was always temporary, I was too young to understand that, and more than forty years later I still vividly recall the image of me sitting in a hospital bed, crying with fear and anger at having been left there by my mother.

Child psychologists today widely recognise that mother-infant attachment in the first few months of a baby’s life is crucial to children’s long-term emotional wellbeing, and sure enough, I have had my share of attachment issues in life, owing at least partially to the fact that I was separated from my mother for a prolonged period shortly after my birth. Years of therapy have helped me come to terms with much of the pain I experienced as a child, although there are moments when that acute existential pain I once felt makes itself known again, such as when I visited cleft-affected babies in a hospital in Guatemala, and this week, taking in the news of migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents at the US-Mexican border.

Following public outrage in the US and abroad, Donald Trump signed an executive order yesterday to end the policy of separating children from their parents at the border – a policy that his administration callously employed in order to deter further people from trying to cross the border – but more than 2000 children have already been taken away from their parents, and there is no system in place for securing their reunification. Child psychologists have already spoken out about the life-long psychological scarring that may result from prolonged separation and detention. Others have pointed out that amongst the children currently in US custody, some have special needs, including Down’s Syndrome, and for these children enforced separation will be particularly cruel.

Comparisons to Nazi Germany, the Pinochet regime in Chile, where hundreds of children born to parents who were either detained or ‘disappeared’ were given to regime-friendly families, and the stolen generation of Aboriginal children in Australia, to name but a few examples, are not exaggerated. We would like to believe that the past won’t repeat itself, that the words ‘never again,’ mean something, but the reality on the ground tells a different story. Progress aside, we still live in a world where the truth of our common humanity continues to be sacrificed at the altar of xenophobia, racism and greed.


shutterstock_1084780622I’ve been ghosted. [1]

By my gardener. Well, he wasn’t mine, to begin with, I suppose, but for me, it was love at first sight. Platonic love, of course, but still.

I had high hopes for the garden. Three years after we moved into our house in North West London, and following several false starts, it seemed my husband, and I had finally met someone who understood what we wanted to do with the small plot of land we call a garden.

Mr Gardener swept into our lives and dazzled us with his impressive knowledge of all things horticultural and a dreamlike vision of what our garden could become. My husband was finally going to get his herbal garden, and I would have my roses. It didn’t hurt that Mr Gardener was a tall, handsome man with a delicate manner and a voice that seemed to sing rather than speak. I was completely seduced, and in fairness, so was my husband.

It started out well. Having paid a 60% deposit, Mr Gardener came as planned to clear up the green area in front of the house, rearranging plants and inserting some much-needed colour. My husband and I loved it and couldn’t wait for him to tackle the main garden at the back of the house. Confidently, we paid another deposit into Mr Gardener’s bank account and looked forward to the day he was scheduled to come again.

Except, he never came.

My husband called him, no answer. He left a message.

‘Where are you? We thought it was today you were coming.’

We heard nothing back, so my husband called again and left a new message.

‘What’s happened, are you alright? Please be in touch.’

Still no reply.

We kept calling him for a week, but all we got was his voice mail.

‘Something must have happened to him,’ I said. ‘There must be an explanation.’

Two weeks of no contact and my husband started leaving threatening messages on Mr Gardener’s voice mail.

‘If you don’t call us back, we will have to go to the police.’

Still no response.

‘We’ve been had’ my husband said three weeks later. Although my head agreed with him, my heart kept coming up with excuses for Mr Gardener’s absence.

‘Maybe he’s been in an accident?’, ‘or Home Office has deported him,’ ‘or he’s been attacked and is lying injured and incapacitated in hospital.’

‘No, Jenny, we’ve been conned.’

‘But he knew all things about gardening,’ I protested. ‘He wasn’t a fraud.’

A month and a half later, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that we’ve been ghosted. But even though we’ve found a new, honest, gardener who seems to know what he’s doing, I can’t help wishing that Mr Gardener would come back. All would be forgiven.


[1] [Ghosting: when a person cuts off all communication…with zero warning or notice beforehand. Source: urbandictionary.com]


Writing The World As I See It

In the last week, I’ve learned a lesson about blogging: the title matters more than I thought. While I might agonise about the contents of my blog, I rarely think much about the title for each post. So last week when I wrote about racism and white privilege, I lazily titled my post, White Privilege. In hindsight, I should have given it a more appealing title if I wanted to get my readers’ attention, because this blog post, as important and as heartfelt as it was, turned out to be one of the least read posts I’ve written since I started blogging nearly three years ago.

In contrast, any blog I’ve written on the travails of motherhood has consistently attracted at least twice as many readers as my post on racism did. The only topic less attractive than racism, it appears, is disfigurement and disability, which after all were the focus of my blog when I first started out. Continue reading