The Chop Rides Again

 

Hold onto your hats people, the Chop is back and rearing to go. Quite a bit has changed since we last spoke so I think I should give you a quick run down:

  • After swearing off men completely I met a man and fell madly in love and I’ve now been in a relationship for over five years and married for almost two. Bizarre but true.
  • No.s 1 and 2 are now teenagers – emotionally exhausting but also true.
  • I have a stepdaughter who has a stepson of her own (four year old MonkeyBoy), and a baby on the way so the Chop is practicing grand parenting without mastering parenting first (oh suffer the little children!).
  • I’ve had a tree change and now work in the West and live in the Mountains – the Chop is a city dweller no more and feels very sorry for the flatlanders.
  • After years of a very “interesting” relationship with alcohol I’ve decided to break up with it forever. Constantly breaking up and getting back together is no good for anyone so I had the difficult conversation and told alcohol it was me, not you, and let it go. I watched it walk away into the sunset with a rueful smile, and a not inconsiderable amount of anxiety over what I would be without it, but sure that I’d made the right decision. It never calls or writes but I’m OK with that.

So that’s about it in a nutshell. I’m sure more details will emerge as we settle back in to our acquaintance but that’s a taster.

I have just turned 49 years old. I’ll admit I haven’t dealt with this terribly well. No. 1 decided I was being ridiculously avoidant and has been on a campaign of exposure therapy for some months, adding “49” to every conversation she could think of. I can’t say I enjoyed it much but I have arrived without a major mishap and the world didn’t end – much to my astonishment. However, this inexorable marching of time has brought with it some visitors I could happily live without. Most unwelcome at the moment has been the nightly uninvited guest – Hot Flushes. In bed I am now a raging furnace – and not in a good way. My husband lies there with three extra quilts (we are in the mountains don’t forget) and tries to snuggle up to share body heat while I screech “Don’t touch me!” and can barely handle a sheet touching my torch-like limbs. I now wake up hideously thirsty due to sweating every bit of moisture from my body – very unpleasant to say the least but thankfully it’s not combined with “Why, why, why did I have that extra champagne and what did I say last night?” so I can be grateful for small mercies.

Mind you, I will say that the advantage of age is that I am far more assertive these days. This could be misconstrued as impatience because I have less time left on the planet, or even simple rudeness, but I prefer to see it as a strength. I am not going to be walked all over anymore (cast off that burnt chop and put yourself first for a change!). A good example of this occurred the other day at the veterinary surgery. Despite having a husband and a good many others in my life I still felt the overpowering desire to have more cats so recently adopted two kittens. So that we don’t end up with even more we had to get them de-sexed. I will digress for a moment to confess that I didn’t realize that brother and sister cats don’t have the same taboo as we do in regards to shagging each other so hadn’t realized that this was so urgent until I caught Ron trying to have his way with Luna. I know, you don’t have to say anything. Anyway, the de-sexing was included in the adoption fee but when I arrived to collect them from the vet, after a long and stressful day of work, the receptionist told me it hadn’t been paid for. I assured her it had and she asked for the number of the carer I’d adopted them from. Getting no answer she told me to take a seat and wait to see if they called back. I meekly sat down and wondered if the smell of animal excrement and antiseptic would help keep me awake. Shortly after this I shook myself and approached the counter. The following conversation ensued (subtext included):

Me (polite but firm): Excuse me but could I collect my kittens and go. I’ve paid for the procedure and I have a long drive. (If you don’t give me my kittens I will rip your head off, march out the back and take them)

Receptionist (also polite but firm): But I have no record of payment. (no money, no cats old lady)

Me (polite but with a steely edge): I’m sorry but that’s not my problem. I’ve paid so it’s for you to sort out with the foster agency. In any case I won’t be giving you any money. (Listen girlie, I’m taking the bloody kittens with or without your permission. I’m tired and in no mood for these shenanigans)

Receptionist (noticeably less polite): I have all these other people to serve. (I’ll make you wait if you’re going to be rude)

Me (smiling but pure steel): I was here first so could you just get my kittens. (Get them now or I will lose it in front of all your customers and you will never work in this town again)

Receptionist (pure ice, no smile): I’ve asked the nurse to bring them out. (Cow)

Me (arctic but gracious): Thank you. (I win)

I promptly collected the kittens and swept out (quite a difficult move carrying a large pet carrier with two dead weights in it), leaving obvious admiration in my wake from all the other customers trying to get their pets released from a hostage situation. Well, that’s how I chose to read it anyway. Clearly there’s room for other interpretations. In any event I see this as coming into my own and refusing to be pushed around. The next time you think a woman of a certain age is being demanding, and possibly a tad impolite, perhaps you will allow that she’s just finding herself amid a torrent of horrendous age related changes and is also likely to be feeling a bit tetchy that the number of years ahead is now definitely less than those behind (unless there’s a major scientific breakthrough hitherto only imagined in Science Fiction), leaving a lot less to time available to write (or even start) the great unwritten novel.

Until next time my lovelies.

B

The Management of The Burnt Chop would like to apologise profusely. We unanimously voted not to continue representation but were cowed into submission, the result of which will be a weekly, uninvited missive. We take no responsibility for any injury caused.

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Family Time

I have discovered, yet again, that I am not an award-winning mother. This is not entirely news to me but it is a little disappointing to discover just how far off the mark I actually am. Most of the time I can lull myself into a fall sense of achievement (they still have all their limbs after all) until I am faced with the kind of mother I can never be and, to really pour salt into the wounds, have no actual desire to be. Recently I was on holidays (with the children so I use the word “holidays” loosely”) up on the North coast of NSW to visit relatives. Before I left, every enquiry as to where I was going ended up with the other person declaring how relaxing it would be. I looked at them askance (I have always wanted to use that word). Clearly these people had never been on a beach holiday (or possibly any kind of holiday) with children. I’m not sure the word “relaxing” has any place in this discussion. However I can easily find space for “loud”, “exhausting” and “alcohol”. The other comment that almost made me wet my pants laughing was how it would be nice to do a long car trip for a bit of togetherness. What? I am starting to think that some people I know have lost their grip on reality. I very quickly disabused them of this notion and explained that the car trip would be spent entirely in our own bubbles to avoid the chance of anyone being hurt. The kids each have a set of ear plugs attached to a DVD player and I have music blasting out of the CD player so I can sing my way up the coast and pretend I am alone. This is the only way to ensure we all reach our destination alive. To be fair, it was going to be great to see my relatives but I just didn’t think I would come home from this experience with a Zen-like glow.

Once we arrived and all the cousins got together it became apparent that earplugs and wine were going to be essentials to survive the week. Trying to wander around shops with five children in tow, idly looking at lovely wisps of cloth with price tags the size of a CEO’s bonus is purely an exercise in frustration and should just not be attempted. I don’t know why I insist on banging my head against that particular wall every time. Will I ever learn? Not to mention the endless preparation of food. Why do children on holiday need to eat about 7 times a day? Looking at people holding lovely cocktails while lying on sun lounges next to crystal blue water makes me want to vomit with jealousy. I suppose I should try to look at the other side. Perhaps those people look at me and wish they were scrubbing sand out of bum cracks on a nightly basis and throwing back cheap plonk the minute the little bastards are in bed in a vain attempt to stuff some “fun” into the day. And perhaps I might win 50 million in the next Lotto draw.

Anyway, my failure as a mother was thrown into stark relief (as if I needed anymore evidence) when a friend mentioned a family she knows who always spend every minute of every weekend together so they can have “family time”. This also extended to holidays when they are all stuck together like glue every waking moment (and what’s the bet they’re co-sleepers to boot). Apparently this is the way they all like it. I couldn’t think of anything worse. The entire group immediately felt inadequate and suddenly felt the need to top up our glasses to cope.  One friend confessed that she and her husband compete as to who gets away from the children first. All heads were nodding madly in agreement as she explained that weekends are spent juggling furiously to maximize adult only time. Usually this means each of them take turns to wrangle children so the other can have precious minutes of peace but every now and then they are all invited to sleepovers at the same time and it’s like Christmas has come early. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – I love my children to pieces but firmly believe that my time away from them makes me a better parent. If this isn’t true they can complain to their therapists after I’m dead.  The other side of this is that I have fantastic memories of being a child and roaming around in groups of kids with no adults in sight. This time away from adults was precious and taught us so much about negotiation and diplomacy and calculated risk taking. What a terrible mother I would be to deprive my children of such an opportunity? So when I tell them all to go and play on the road it is purely because I love them so much and not because I want another glass of sparkling and some “adult” conversation.

I am of course truly grateful to have relatives who live on the North coast so that I can have a lovely “holiday” without spending the equivalent of 6 months rent. Cheers.

B

The management of the Burnt Chop would like to take this opportunity to thank the loyal readers for the time they have spent in Chopworld. We do hope it has been mostly enjoyable and occasionally thought provoking. The Burnt Chop has revealed that she intends to take some time away from The Burnt Chop Syndrome in order to focus on the novel she tells us has been “in her head” for the last 15 years. We must confess that it has been like pulling teeth over the past few months to get her to submit her work on time so we are quite looking forward to having more time to work with clients who are less flighty and unfocussed. She tells us she intends to use this site to preview snippets of her work so stay tuned for updates. We of course wish her well, while being more than a little relieved to have some time away from her “artistic” temperament. It has been hard.

Memory Lane

Over the past few weeks I have been having a trip down memory lane courtesy of Puberty Blues. I’m not sure what yours is like but my memory lane is scattered with the remnants of my dignity, littered with the debris of broken relationships, and haunted by the ghosts of “what if” that taunt me about all the less inspired choices I made (particularly in the area of boyfriends). But of course it’s also lined with my first love, with intense friendships, with phone conversations that lasted longer than the civil war (my friend’s father once ripped the phone out of the wall to stop one), with attempts to tape music off Countdown, with sneaky parties when parents were away, with summer holidays that lasted forever, and those times when I learnt to stay very quiet when my parents and all the uncles and aunts were having a few drinks and talking (it was amazing what you could learn). And then there are all the moments that were once painfully embarrassing but have thankfully become funny over time: like the time I put a sanitary pad on upside down only to have to rip it off again; or my first pash which felt like my whole face was being swallowed; or the time my boyfriend’s mother burst into his bedroom to find us both in our underwear “listening to music”; or the time I was felt up by the sales lady fitting me for my first bra. My memory lane is quite a crowded place that’s occasionally fun to visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Watching Puberty Blues has caused a brain flood of  teenage memories – not all of it pretty. Funnily enough I lived by a beach when I went to high school so the locations are eerily familiar, as are the boys with the salty blonde hair and the girls with school uniforms up around their armpits. I’m finding the series both fascinating and difficult. The casual misogyny is well portrayed and so horribly real. The way the girls treat each other and pander to the boys is also hard to watch. I read somewhere that the writers raised the girls’ ages from 13 to 16 to make it more palatable to the public but I have to say it is still tough to take. And then there are the parents – drinking, fornicating, flirting with colleagues! What is the world coming to? Despite the fact that I am now a parent (and know what happens at those school fundraiser evenings) I refuse to believe that my parents got up to anything beyond a bodice ripper on the ABC and just the one glass of fruity lexia.

I know people who think the whole thing is too far fetched to be real but I can still remember reading the book all those years ago and feeling sure that the writers had been to my school. Bored one day, I discovered the book on my grandmother’s bookshelves and wondered what the hell she was doing with a book with “puberty” in the title, so I took it down and flicked it open. I was hooked on the first page and quietly curled up in an armchair and kept reading. I was only vaguely aware of a huddle of aunts and my mother in the doorway, looking at me and whispering. Apparently they’d bought the book and “hidden” it in Gram’s bookshelves while they decided if I was old enough to read it. I think I was about 14. Now that I was half way through it was a bit late so they nervously left me to it. The similarities to my life were uncanny – the cool girls, the surfie guys, the turf wars in the playground and on the bus, smoking in the toilets. We had moved from a totally different area of NSW before I started high school but it might as well have been another country. I was on the edges of it and felt like an alien. These girls spoke a language I didn’t understand – what the hell was being “fingered”? And the boys – well they just frightened me to death. I often wondered if my mother actually ever read the book and if she did, did she realise it was all true and on our doorstep? I think the fact that I wasn’t packed off to a nice convent means that she didn’t really think it was happening. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

Of course this is all resonating with me right now as I am on the brink of sending my first born off to high school next year. I don’t think I can do it. I’ve decided I desperately want her to be a nerd. It will be much safer – for both of us. It is such a shame I can remember those years so well. I’d be very grateful for some selective memory loss right about now – perhaps I’ll just have to induce some with some strategic valium abuse.

I am incredibly grateful that I am no longer at high school and that I’m not one of those people who think it was the best time of their life – their bar must be very low.

B

Wired

I think old Sir Cliff Richard would be very sad to discover that we are no longer wired for sound, but much more likely to be wired for sudden explosions of repressed rage. I know I have commented on public abuse before (the man who yelled at me in the dog park when his dog jumped all over No.2, the old lady who hissed at me on my bike) and you might start to think it’s something I’m doing since I’m the common denominator, but seriously people – what’s with the rush to abuse? Why do we leap straight to thinking that others are out to get us or deliberately flouting rules or cheating us in some way? Why can’t we all start at a slightly lower ebb. Whatever’s happened to “I say old man but would you mind awfully if I troubled you to take your foot off my toe?” These days you could accidentally step on someone’s toe on public transport and find yourself in a headlock, before you even register their toe under your foot, with a range of expletives ringing in the air.  You really notice this in cars. Someone makes the slightest mistake and suddenly horns are going and the errant driver is subjected to a torrent of abuse completely out of proportion to the apparent “crime”. It is starting to get to me.

This may explain why l just didn’t let it go the other day when a man in the park neglected the polite reminder entirely and skipped straight to rage. Let me set the scene – I was wandering slowly through the park with my children and my dog (on a lead) looking for a group of people I was there to meet and I wasn’t sure which section they’d be in. I had a pile of bags and was paying no attention to my dog at all. Several times I stopped and stared at groups of people in the distance trying to work out if they were the people I was there to meet. Suddenly this man loomed over me and shouted in my face that there were children playing in this damn park and it was disgusting that my dog had gone to the toilet and I hadn’t picked it up and would I bloody well go back and get it right now. He was almost frothing at the mouth. Now I could have just ignored it and gone all Zen, assuming that this poor man hadn’t been hugged enough in his life. But I didn’t. I started small and tried to explain to the man that I was very sorry but I hadn’t realised my dog had pooed, but was interrupted by another load of froth and bile as he yelled that I had seen it happen and I had deliberately ignored it. I was dumbfounded and rather than try to explain again I decided to ask him why he just assumed the worst and why he couldn’t simply have asked me nicely. I again tried to explain that I have a bag full of poo bags and that I always pick up the dog’s poo but was met with another load of abuse before he stalked off. I lost the plot and yelled after him that he was an idiot (or possibly an arsehole – my memory’s a little hazy on the details), grateful that Nos1&2 had taken off on their bikes moments before this scene transpired. I am heartily sick of being blamed for things I haven’t done.

So, in high dudgeon (best word ever), I stomped over to the closest picnic table, all riled up and nowhere near any kind of state even remotely related to Zen, and dumped all my bags violently on the table. I tied up the dog and stormed back to the area he had gestured wildly at and tried to locate the excrement in question in the biggest pile of leaves you’ve ever seen, all of which were various shades of shit brown. So, still not willing to leave it alone, I strode over to Mr Pig and “asked” him to show me where it was. He wasn’t much help but did have the decency to look vaguely shame-faced. I finally found it and hurled it into the bin feeling very hard done by.

So what’s going on here? Why can’t we be more gentle with each other? If he’d just politely let me know I would have thanked him profusely and picked it up immediately. If, after this approach, I had told him to sod off and mind his own business then he would have been completely within his rights to crank it up to the next level. Why did he start at the top? You’re not leaving yourself anywhere to go if you peak too early. Not to mention the stress on your body as the anger just churns around looking for a victim. Funnily enough, a little while later I noticed that his children had left their bikes all over the bike path, completely in the way of all the other kids on bikes and skateboards and various other wheeled thingies. Even when No.1 almost ploughed into one of them on her rip stick, he made no move to get his kids to put their bikes out of the way. I could easily have made a point of commenting on his lack of consideration for others, but I didn’t. I let it go. It wasn’t worth the distress it would have caused me so I just felt pleased that I wasn’t him and didn’t have to live inside his head. That would clearly be very tiring and he’s going the right way towards an early heart attack.

I am not sure what I’m grateful for in relation to this situation – possibly the fact that I chose not to one-up him. That will do.

B

Waiting

I hope you don’t feel hurt but I have to tell you that I really don’t want to be inside writing this right now, I just want to be outside in the sun. I am having a bit of a love affair with the sun at the moment and like to take any chance I get to have some. Mostly because I am sick to death of being cold but also because this is the only time of year I can lie out in the sun without worrying too much about being burnt. It isn’t ridiculously hot and it feels so delicious on your skin. So why don’t I just pack up and go out I hear you ask? Well that would be because I am waiting for carpet cleaners to arrive and I have been given a window of between 10am and 12pm for them to arrive. I know this is a pretty good window as windows go, as it is only 2 hours, but still, why don’t they know how long the jobs will be (surely they’re used to it by now) and give or take half an hour? A friend of mine was once given a choice of two 5 hour windows by a telco (before or after 12) so she chose the morning and of course the technician never showed up. An entire day was wasted, just waiting. If I’m really honest I should also tell you that I have a pedicure (a deluxe one no less) booked at 1pm and am concerned that waiting for the carpet cleaners will impinge on my little bit of luxury. God now I sound like one of those women who have staff and do nothing but have facials. Unfortunately this is not my real life, this is what happens when you get a bit of a tax return – pay lots of bills, have the manky carpet cleaned, and hope there’s a little bit left over to do something you never do. This is why I am now waiting in a window and desperately hoping they’ll arrive soon

With these windows it always seems to be that they arrive at the very tail end of the window, never right at the beginning, but you have to prepare as though they’ll be at your door at the earliest time. Sometimes this just means being dressed and decent enough to receive callers but today I had to race around getting everything off the floors so they can get at the carpet. Of course this means that all this stuff has be put somewhere else so my kitchen currently looks like a junkyard and all the beds are piled high with god knows what. Why, why, why do I have so much crap living on the floor? The answer to that one is simple – no damn storage. None. This house was a storage free zone when I moved in and now has limited space on the tops of wardrobes and under beds but that’s it. I drool over the storage section of the Ikea catalogue like it’s porn. Going to Ikea and actually touching the storage is probably akin to a live sex show but I can’t say for sure as I have never been to one – Ikea is enough for me. A few references to Ikea storage systems in Fifty Shades of Grey would have spiced it up no end for me, let me tell you. Ooh baby, I’m going to tie you up to my hemnes and beat you with a pysslingar. Excuse me while I cool myself down with a wet krama.

Oh well it’s clear we’re no longer aiming for the first half of the window as it is now 11.07am. Sigh. You know, I don’t seem to have much patience for waiting these days. I simply don’t have time for it, I’ve got too much to do. One of the advantages of cycling to work is that you completely avoid waiting for public transport. Before we all had mobile phones and you couldn’t call to let people know you were running late you would simply have to wait wherever you were to meet people. Most of us had a waiting threshold – i.e. how long you would wait before leaving. Mine was between 30 and 45 minutes depending on who it was. Serial offenders would never get more than 30 minutes and any bloke who kept me waiting for 45 would almost certainly not get a second date unless he showed me the injuries sustained while being hit by a car because he was desperate to see me and recklessly ran across a road to make it on time. Nowadays you madly send txts to let your friends know you are just around the corner and will be approximately 3 minutes late. I’ve noticed I start tapping my foot at around the 5 minute mark. I don’t think this is a good thing. 20 years ago I would have sat happily on the Town Hall steps watching the world go by while waiting for people to turn up – and I wouldn’t have needed anything electronic to keep me entertained either. Oh dear, now I’m sounding like an old crone bemoaning the loss of the good old days.

I have to say I am very grateful for mobile phones and other technology and I’m glad I don’t have to live without it. As someone who is a bit of a maniac for being on time, I do like the fact that people can let me know when they’re late and on the rare occasion that I am late I can send an extremely apologetic txt. I’m just a bit worried that my ability to be patient has been seriously eroded. But now that I’m about three quarters of the way through this window I have accepted the fact that this is following the usual pattern and there will be no carpet cleaners at my house before 12. I have decided to be ok with that. It could be worse – I could be waiting for a telco. You know what? A new Ikea catalogue came in the mail yesterday, I think I’ll go sit in the sun in the front yard and fantasise.

B

Desire

Desire I have to confess that I have followed the herd and have finally succumbed. That’s right, I bought Fifty Shades of Grey. Not only did I buy it but I read it in about 5 minutes and then bought the next two* (ooooh it’s so easy on a Kindle). The reason I gave in was pure curiosity about what book it was that has finally brought erotic fiction out of the closet. People have been getting off on erotic writing for centuries but talking about it and reading it openly seems to be new. I can remember years ago reading a book called Eat Me by Linda Jaivin. It was fabulous, a turn on, and not something I would have talked about with anyone but my very closest friends. And I certainly wouldn’t have read it on public transport! I did lend it to someone and never got it back so I think she must have liked it too. Years before that I read all the Virginia Andrews books (Flowers in the Attic, My Sweet Audrina etc.) and totally got off on all sorts of sick shenanigans. We were all devouring them but no one ever mentioned why – we never talked about the sex aspect. But now you’ve got all sorts of women openly reading Fifty Shades and discussing it at length. Women walk to work with their battered copies tucked under their arms for all to see – not hidden away in the bottom of their bags. The book club I have just joined is currently reading it. I am very curious to see just what kind of discussion I will be having about this book, that is simply a series of sexploits with the barest whisper of a plot joining them together, with people I don’t know. I will certainly let you know how that goes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of a book that is roundly criticised for not being well written or not being authentic about the bondage scene, one thing you have to give it is that it has made women’s sexuality a water cooler topic. No matter that the heroine is an idiot and the “hero” is a control freak with mummy issues – everyone is talking about sex and what gets them off (or perhaps that is just a sad indictment of the people I hang out with).

After many discussions about the differences in the way men and women respond to sexual stimuli I decided to do a little experiment. It has often been said that men are much more visual while the erotic centre for women is in the brain. This is why porn companies started producing porn specifically for women that apparently has a storyline as well as sex. The conventional wisdom is that men just need the sex with no pesky storyline getting in the way. Anyway, having never been a porn watcher (a friend once lent me some “women’s “ porn and I watched it for about 5 minutes before switching off because the “acting” was so embarrassing I couldn’t bear it), I decided to look up a bit of an “intimate” video and some erotic fiction on the internet and see what happened. Well let me tell you, watching two agile strangers artfully huffing and puffing just left me cold. It was all a bit interesting from a clinical point of view – “oh is that what it looks like when you do that?!” – but nothing was happening south of the border if you know what I mean. For the next test I looked up some very basic erotic stories and found one about a woman having her way with her boss in the office. I know – total cliché, right? Well, the temperature in my body rose quite substantially while I read it. It wasn’t particularly well written and it wasn’t even that long but I think the fact that you aren’t seeing anyone in front of you means you can imagine yourself into the situation you’re reading and therefore experience it yourself – well at least the receptors in your brain can.

During the course of my research I have discovered people who find both film and the written word equally stimulating – lucky old them, hey? I guess they will be well taken care of when the film version of Fifty Shades comes out. I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of a film version. I would be happier if it wasn’t American – they will have to water it down too much to get an appropriate rating and they can’t make realistic sex scenes to save their lives. If only it could be made in France or somewhere in Scandinavia (with Alexander Skarsgard) it might be worth watching. And there’s the next problem – casting. Everyone has an opinion on who should play Ana and Christian and since beauty is in the eye of the beholder there is no casting suggestion that will possibly ever please everyone. If it has to be made in the US then my money’s on Taylor Kitsch (delicious Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights). I don’t care who plays Ana because I won’t be looking at her (but please not Kristin Stewart).

But, let’s be honest, what my grandma used to call “horizontal tap dancing” totally beats porn or erotic fiction hands down … or over there … no, no, just there … oooh that’s the spot.

B

*Just a warning – No.2 is a bit of a bore. I think the novelty wears off after 1.

Modern Leprosy

Sometimes I feel like a leper. Like I just don’t belong anywhere. I’m not wanted here, I’m not wanted there. And even though there are laws about where I can and can’t go, some people ignore them altogether and abuse me for being in the right place. It really is very hard to be a cyclist. Cars treat you like second class citizens and try to kill you regularly. Then, if you dare try to escape them and just pop onto the footpath for a second so as to avoid dying, pedestrians abuse you. And speaking of pedestrians, the other thing they do, which drives me right up the wall, is to step onto the bike paths without looking and then, when you ride yourself in front of an oncoming car in order to avoid colliding with them, they look at you as though you’re a dangerous lunatic. There is no warning when they do this, you’re just cycling along minding your own business (on the damn designated bike path) when they suddenly swerve mid-step, hop off the curb and are in front of you before you can blink. It’s unnerving AND REALLY BLOODY DANGEROUS. I tell you, it is sheer luck that I haven’t ploughed into one or driven in front of a car to avoid one. Luck and extremely good bike skills. Which is the other thing people forget – to be a living cyclist you do have to have a certain amount of bike and road sense. This is tested on a daily basis and hones your reactions and your sense of where you are on the road. Ok, can you tell I’m building up to something here? Yes, I have a major gripe.

So, the other day I’m riding along happily (with my “oh I love being on Spike*” buzz on) and I come to a road that I never ride on because I want to live. It’s one of those roads near the city that only doctors drive on. You can tell because they are clearly all rushing to a life or death emergency and must get there in the next two minutes, every day. Whenever I get to this point I hop carefully onto the footpath and ride slower than I can walk for less than 50 metres before crossing another road and taking off down a side street. I do this every afternoon and have been doing it for the best part of 2 years. The footpath itself is about 2.5 to 3 metres wide. Can I just pause to add in here that if there are ever more than about 2 pedestrians I usually jump off and push my bike until I am clear of any one. Can I also just add that I Have Never Hit Anyone, Ever. Ok, to continue, the other day I do my usual routine and ride up on this footpath and keep right over to the left because there are two pedestrians coming towards me. There is easily 2 metres clearance between us and I am at crawl speed.  At this point a sweet old lady draws up alongside me, practically steps into the trajectory of my bike, and yells at me to get on the road. I was so taken aback that I lost all composure and my inner teenager, sick of being blamed for everything, rose up and yelled “like I bloody hit you!!!” at her back. And then I felt awful. I mean I don’t yell at old ladies, for God’s sake. I’m nice. And then I got mad with her. Old bag ruined my bike buzz. It was totally her own stupid fault that I yelled at her. And then I felt ashamed again for yelling at an old lady … even if she was a bitch. Oh God imagine if Nos1&2 had witnessed that?! I wished fervently that I had been the bigger person, maintained a Zen like calm, and ignored her.

I kept on cycling feeling all hot and pissed off because I wasn’t doing anything wrong and because I felt like I was the scapegoat for all those cyclists who zoom down pathways taking out anyone in the way, pay no attention to road rules, and who wear entirely unnecessary amounts of lycra. Oh all right, technically I was in the wrong. I was on a footpath and I didn’t have a child under 12 with me. But in my defence, I know exactly what I’m doing (most of the time) and have pretty good control of my bike. I do not have a death wish and there really are some roads that would be simply suicide to ride on. Do pedestrians really want all cyclists to be brutally taken out by speeding cars? Do they really hate us that much? If I’d been riding dangerously then I would happily take the abuse, well maybe not happily because if I was one of those cyclists I probably wouldn’t give a damn. But, as is the usual way when you belong to a minority, all of us are being censured for the actions of a few. How often do you see news stories about cars behaving badly? Exactly. They are the mainstream and can do whatever they want and no-one notices. But one cyclist yells at a pedestrian and suddenly we’re all aggressive hoons. Oh my God, I am the victim of rampant Wheelism. I am having the t-shirts printed as we speak – Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad (with deep apologies and thanks to George Orwell)

I am grateful that despite the danger and discrimination I can still enjoy the wind in my helmet and the bugs flying down my throat as I ride up hill and down dale every day. All I ask is that we can be a bit more caring and sharing with each other. Surely getting to work isn’t important enough to kill a cyclist over?

B

* My bike’s name is Spike the bike and yes he is named after Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer because he’s gorgeous, could hurt me really badly, and I may not always understand how he works but I want him all the same.

Enough

I am enough. Enough for what? Enough for anything. Enough for anyone. Just as I am. Now. Today. Right this minute – not when I am thinner or fitter or smarter or busier or less busy or a better parent or more loving or more loved or richer or more powerful or thriftier or a better cook or less anxious or better looking or published or more creative or a better friend or a better daughter or more organised or tidier or when I own a house. I am enough. I truly am. And I’m happy to report that I actually mean that. I have been reading a book called The Gifts of Imperfection* and while I haven’t agreed with everything the writer has said (particularly her definition of “spiritual”) I have found that her thoughts on accepting oneself and being authentic have very much resonated with me. I think I have had a voice in my head most of my life telling me I’m not good enough but, and I’m not sure how to put his without sounding a bit spooky, it stopped today. I’m not sure if it’s in response to this book or in response to something a very lovely friend said to me the other day. She told me that when I put myself down I am hurting someone she loves (or something very close to it). I have to admit this comment has made a big impact and I have thought a lot about it since. Whatever the reason, that voice has stopped and I plan to enjoy the silence.

I have always struggled with praising myself – as though it’s akin to pride and therefore must be followed by a very public and humiliating fall. I used to be horrified by the idea that anyone would think I am proud so I tended to guard against it by being self-deprecating. And I most certainly never wanted to fall (literally or figuratively) in public. Even as a child I never allowed anyone to comfort me if I hurt myself. What I wanted was for everyone to pretend it hadn’t happened. As a teenager and young adult what was worse than someone hurting me was them knowing they’d hurt me. I would go to great lengths to make sure no-one knew (or even suspected) I cared – about anything. Letting people in meant giving them the means to inflict pain and therefore have power over me. The unfortunate thing was that fiercely guarding myself against pride and feeling hurt ended up guarding me against showing who I am and liking it.

I have been working on this with varying degrees of success, particularly over the past few years and for the most part I’ve been fairly satisfied with the progress I’ve made. I have even been able to say I am proud of myself without feeling I may be punished. While I am definitely less harsh with myself than I have been in the past, in times of crisis or uncertainty, or if faced with the disapproval of another, my default position is often to blame myself for not being whatever it is I should have been in that situation or for that person. And what I realised recently is that what I have been doing is trying to ignore the voice rather than get rid of it altogether. As though it has a right to be there and my job is to work really hard at not listening. How much easier it is when you don’t have to struggle to not hear it – when it’s just silent. I am feeling quite extraordinary actually and I’m not sure how to describe it. Clearly the reading and thinking I have been doing have had more of an effect than was immediately apparent. Maybe it’s also because I realised that I can’t expect to teach Nos1&2 how to love themselves if I can’t do it myself.

The other aspect of what I’ve been reading is learning how to be vulnerable and authentic. To let people really see you and allow them to see how you really feel and then just sit with the uncomfortable feelings this can arouse. Because to be vulnerable and authentic is to be able to say how you feel, state what you need, and set boundaries without changing to suit someone else or become what you think they want. This is particularly hard in relationships (of all types) where being completely yourself is taking a risk that someone won’t love you just the way you are. We can turn ourselves into pretzels trying to be what someone else wants when the best thing in the world is for someone to love the real you. The alternative is presenting an edited or constructed version of yourself for approval then struggling to maintain the façade while feeling more and more hollow as time goes past. Because the façade always fails. Your true self fights to be known. And so it should. Because it’s enough. With the wisdom (for want of a better word) I have gained over the years in good, bad and indifferent relationships and friendships – I am now certain that one real connection is worth a thousand false ones. I have spent some time shedding relationships from my life so that the ones that are left are real and valuable and worth putting time into. I’d rather have a small group of people around me who really know me, and still like me even when my faults are exposed, than hundreds of “Facebook” friends.

About a year ago I learned that feeling hurt wouldn’t kill me and that showing people I felt hurt wasn’t the end of the world as I knew it. I was not diminished in anyone’s eyes. I also learned that even though I had started to speak more openly about my feelings I wasn’t taking care of my needs or setting boundaries. These elements must go together. You have to know what it is you will and won’t accept in your life and you have to be brave enough to stick to it and draw that line in the sand. The other crucial lesson for me was to discover that as a passionate person who needs to connect, the other person in the equation must want that too. There is no point embarking (or thinking you are) on a journey of discovery and openness with someone who wants to stay hidden – it’s an emotional train wreck waiting to happen. But I’m starting to think that that train wreck is one of the reasons I have spent time musing on vulnerability, authenticity and self-acceptance and may well have a lot to do with why I know now that I am enough.

One more thing – at the risk of sounding like a “self-help” column (which this most definitely is not) I would just like to say that even though it is fabulous to grow and learn about ourselves the destination is not your “perfect” self. You will never be perfect, you will get shit wrong, you’ll shout at the kids, you’ll chuck a sickie, you’ll have too many glasses of champagne, you’ll forget to feed the dog, you’ll let someone down, you’ll bitch about someone, you’ll eat a whole bag of chips, and you’ll berate yourself for all of it. But in between you’ll laugh with your kids, you’ll tell people you love them, you’ll help a friend, you’ll decide not to sweat the small stuff, you’ll take the dog for two walks in one day, you won’t care that the house is a mess, you’ll go for a huge run, you’ll have a long chat with your mother, you’ll take some time out just for you, you’ll be kind to yourself, and you’ll forgive yourself for anything you need to.

Hmm … once again I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this (or where I started) but it’s a bit of food for thought that I thought you might like to share with me.

Am very grateful for having the capacity to think and feel.

B

*Book by Brené Brown

Freedom is all it’s cracked up to be

Today is a red-letter day for me.  It is the day I have finished paying (literally) for some of my bigger and more disastrous mistakes.  It is the day I get my life back – both financially and emotionally and finally let go of the shame that got me here.  Oh don’t worry I’m sure to still feel guilty and stupid on and off but because I took control and fixed it myself I no longer feel like such a monumental idiot.  And I have to say, given recent stories I have read about people being so gullible that they’ve parted with enormous sums of money (due to internet liaisons) with no hope of recovery, my idiocy pales in comparison.

I don’t think what happened makes me unique in any way.  It was partly due to living outside my means for a few reasons: trying to make up to the kids for leaving their father; allowing people to live off me; paying other people’s debts; and regularly mistaking wants for needs in order to fill an emotional void. This was then combined with a payout for my share of the marital home, which disappeared as swiftly as it appeared in my account, and several offers of pre-approved credit on my cards.  As you can gather – a recipe for disaster.

A few years ago I finally woke up and did not like what I saw:  my kids were getting too used to being bought whatever they wanted (not the upbringing I had experienced let me tell you); I had too many people in my life who should never have been there in the first place; my outgoings far exceeded my incomings and I was in more debt than I could handle; and no matter how many pairs of shoes or jeans I bought, the hole in my chest just got bigger.  Every time I felt panicked or out of control I would go and buy something.  It didn’t have to be for me – I just craved the momentary calm that descended when I had a comfortably heavy store bag swinging from my arm.  An hour later and I would feel terrible and buyers’ remorse would overwhelm me.  But I never took the things back – that would be admitting that I’d made a mistake.  I would just get angry and quietly hate myself.  I felt like I was being devoured from the inside out and soon there’d be nothing left but a shell.  And oh the guilt.   Nos 1&2 were trusting me to look after their lives and all I’d done was manage to steer the ship onto the rocks and strand it there, leaking fuel at a rapid rate.

I think the catalyst was getting very sick and realising that, due to the very unhealthy relationship I’d been in, I had alienated most of my family and many of my friends and could not admit to any of them that I was so deeply in trouble.  I also realised that the relationship itself was sucking me dry (in every way) and, for my own health and sanity, had to end.  The next step was gathering myself back together and starting a process of healing – physically, financially and emotionally.

I bought a book called Escape from Debt: Make a plan, take action, get happy and love your life* and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I can still remember with perfect clarity the day I cut up all my credit cards.  I felt like I was leaping off a tall building with no net to catch me.  It was strangely exhilarating.  Before I lost momentum, I quickly organised a debt consolidation loan, worked out a budget for the basic essentials (being brutal about needs vs wants), and had any left-over money going straight from my fortnightly pay onto the loan.  The hardest part was sitting down and explaining to Nos1&2 what I had done.  It is very painful admitting to your children that you are not perfect and have got it really wrong but I needed them to have a basic understanding of what was happening to help them adjust to life without treats every 5 minutes and presents only on birthdays and at Christmas.  I have to say that they were, and remain, champions who now really do understand the difference between wanting and needing – a rare quality in children today.  I am enormously proud of them.

I chose to pay off the loan much faster than I needed to so that I could rid my life of debt as soon as possible.   I also didn’t think I would be able to forgive myself for being so stupid until it was done.  It has been a tough few years.  Not just because of the money but because of the constant recriminations.  These did not once come from anyone else – only me.  I repaired the relationships that mattered and have been constantly supported from the sidelines.  But I did the hard yards myself.  Today, I made my last payment.  I am officially debt free.  I actually feel lighter – and I’m not being dramatic.  The minute I made the final transfer I felt my shoulders lift.

I may not own anything but I do not owe anything either.  Any money I earn now is mine.  I have learned that instant gratification is not gratifying in the slightest and that credit is a trap that only benefits banks.  I have taught my kids that if you can’t afford something, you wait.  I still don’t have credit cards and have discovered that those shiny things you think you really, really want lose all power once you leave the shop.  I have also finally forgiven myself for the bad choices I once made – both financial and emotional.  Now that I know how to live cheaply I can start saving to travel and have adventures and enjoy an unencumbered life.  I feel fucking brilliant.

B

* The book is by Tim Williamson and if I am in any debt now it is to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faking it

I want to stab out my own eyes.  I want to erase the horror from my brain.  I want to go back to how it was before – before I knew that The Shire existed.  Oh my God in heaven – who makes this unbelievable shite?  And who are these people?  Where did they find them?  My jaw hit the ground in the opening minutes and I don’t think I shut my mouth until the end.  I do wish the cast would shut their mouths though.  I have never seen such vain, vapid and empty people in my life.  The two girls whose lips were heading up their noses, with their boobs following close behind, were cautionary tales if ever I saw one.  From what I understood, the two of them are in their mid 2os but at the rate they’re going they’ll have no original parts left by the time they’re 30.  Their lips are fake, their boobs are fake, their foreheads are fake, their tans are fake and you can’t see their faces under the three inches of make up so who knows what they actually look like.  I couldn’t really look at them straight on as it was quite disturbing to the eyes.  I think it’s because my brain couldn’t compute what I was looking at so it made me feel quite squeamish.  The most amazing part is that they think they look fabulous.  I guess I should be celebrating their confidence but I find it so stunning that I can’t.  Haven’t they seen pictures of the Duchess of Alba (speaking of cautionary tales)?  Or that Wildenstein woman who looks like a cat? That’s clearly where they’re heading and they don’t even care.  Ooooh it just makes me love my wrinkles and my face that moves.

The, err, confidence of these girls is surpassed only by that of the local royalty – Princess Beckaa.  Clearly the extra “a” is there to add a bit of class (either that or she can’t spell – take your pick).  This girl’s life appears to be almost totally without meaning of any kind unless you count spending Daddy’s money as a worthy pastime.  However, you do have to feel a bit sorry for her because she seems to have some kind of affliction where she can’t go past a mirror without looking at herself in it.  This must slow her down quite a bit.  At least she has the warmth and comfort of best friends who cheerfully tell her that she has an enormous arse and are happy to tell the nation that her nose-job makes her look like a pig just seconds after swearing to her face that she looks gorgeous.  Oh with friends like these she’ll go far.

I could go on but I am making myself sick. If anyone is looking to start a business in the area I’m thinking a skin cancer treatment clinic is the way to go.  The slip, slop, slap ads have obviously never been allowed on Shire televisions.  The idea of looking like an old leather handbag by the mid-30s is also not something anyone is worried about on this show.  Their bravado knows no bounds.

You know what is truly horrific?  I watched the whole episode because I could not tear myself away.  Oh I hate myself sooooooo much.  And do you know what’s worse?  I know I will probably watch it again.  I must go and smash all of my televisions immediately.  It is the only way to save Nos1&2 and me from having our brains sucked out through our noses. I’m starting to think that The Shire is a Trojan horse.  It looks like an innocuous little “reality” tv show but is really a mind control invasion system sent by another planet.  One day we’ll wake up to find ourselves enslaved by beings with no facial expressions and gigantic mammaries who have come from the planet Botoxia.  Oh God – not the anal probe!!!  Quick everyone – switch off! Switch off now!  It’s our only hope!

B