London Calling.

For someone who voted for independence from “London”, I have a strange fondness for the place. I have been there 4 times for an extended stay, and I have passed through it countless more.

The last was in April of last year, when we took Ele there for the first time.  She loved it too.  What’s not to like? it’s big, noisy, busy, glittery, and altogether exhilarating. Living in Aberdeen also means that London doesn’t seem so very expensive; and I have superpowers in finding decent places to eat, drink and be merry for not very much money.

Which is why the email that I received from the “Friends and Family Railcard” people sounded amazing. One night’s stay in a posh Piccadilly hotel, dinner, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, all paid for, along with theatre tickets and a gift card for Regent Street. AND a Hamley’s experience.

Travel is not included, but, hey, that’s what the Railcard is for, right?  Or…

So I enter. And I wait.  And the old Scottish scepticism starts kicking in; the offer is actually too good to be true.  I reckon that you wouldn’t get much change out of a grand for what they are offering as a prize. So, where is the catch?  I’m already on their mailing list, so snaring more customers with mailshots seems unlikely.  Buying rail tickets to London? Perhaps, but that is small potatoes beside what they are offering.  Word of mouth?  If I win, yes, but not till then.

I begin to wonder if there will actually BE  a winner, or whether it will end up like one of those awful and awfully easy TV competitions that they run in the ad-breaks for “CSI Boise Idaho” or whatever the hell it is, now.  The ones which have fallen into ill-repute.

Either way, my heart will not be broken if we don’t win.  If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

And yet…and yet… the thought of going to London, and staying in a hotel where ensuite means “actually beside the bedroom/bigger than a cupboard“, does make the heart race…

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I have lost, yet again, my hearing aid. The left one. The one for my “good” ear. I have a memory of its beeping a message to me that the battery was running flat, and, after that…nothing.

So far,  the other hearing aid is working adequately, or enough to hear conversations if I am a foot away from the speaker, or can fill in the blanks through lip-reading. Not brilliant,  but enough to get through the school day without humiliating myself too badly.  But I know that this cannot continue. And that, at some point, I must return to the Audiology department in town, and grovel for another one.  Which will cost the NHS £200. It also means a possible meeting with the scary bloke who looks like he should be doing the Sauchiehall Street taxi shift on a Saturday night, but has somehow ended up mending old people’s hearing aids.

This is my life at the moment.  This business of “misplacing” things.  In the last week, I have misplaced my hearing aid,  my daughter’s new swimming cap, and a packet of cystitis relief sachets.

They could be anywhere. A packet of CupaSoup which my husband had bought turned up in the cupboard under the kitchen sink. So did a packet of bacon. Well past its best.

It is not a new problem, but it is getting worse.  I have no memory of where I put things down, if they are not in their designated “slots.” If someone or something distracts me in the process of putting the thing away…  I see the internet versions of a comfort blanket  that an untidy desk is a sign of a creative mind, and I wonder if it’s not more of a sign that the desk user is terrified of losing anything.  Because, if it is somewhere in that pile on your desk, then it isn’t somewhere you can’t remember putting it.

There are a variety of resources online which are helpfully pointing at the menopause as a cause of this woolly-headed disorganisation.  Maybe. I didn’t have the hormonally induced “baby head.” P.N.D, yes, but not “baby head.” The DBH sees it as me being on autopilot, when I have lots to do and lots on my mind. Well, cheers. How is one supposed to sort that?  Do less, and let my daughter live even more in a house of squalor?  Think less, and,  somehow, be not me?

So far, barring the hearing aids, I haven’t lost anything truly important.  But, at 47, losing things, or failing to remember where I have put things, is worrying.

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It Goes With the Territory

I don’t know when I first felt guilt, or was made to feel guilty; but it has been an integral part of my make-up for so long, I would put it down as a personal trait.  What I can pin-point, almost exactly, is the moment when it stopped being something mildly colouring my reactions to various mishaps in life, and became the constant undercurrent of my emotions.

Monday October 19, 2009: 12.45pm.

At that time, or very close to it, my daughter was pushed out of my stomach. That alone cranked the guilt machine up to 11.  Obviously it was my fault that my body resisted any move to give her up “naturally.”  Then, I couldn’t feed her myself.  More guilt.  My bottle feeding technique gave her colic.  Yet more guilt…And so on, and so on.

Which brings me to why I feel guilty today.  This time last year, I made the decision to stop being head of the English department in our school.  It was, at the time, a temporary post, but various circumstances had led to me holding the post for 9 months by the time that I decided to give it up.   I held the post for another 3 months, just to make sure that we had enough money for the family trip to London at Easter, and because, well, a year’s worth of experience in a promoted position would look better on the old c.v.

I don’t regret giving it up. Not one bit.  Some people are made for leadership. I am not.  At best, I am an RSM to someone else’s NCO.

My family certainly doesn’t regret it either.  I don’t know if Eleanor understands what has changed, but I think that she could certainly articulate it: “Mummy’s not tired”; “Mummy’s not grumpy”; “Mummy’s my friend again.”

And this is where the guilt comes in. Because, for a year, my little girl had a mummy who was tired, grumpy, snappy, disengaged and generally not “fun.” If I am doing anything to excess at the moment, it is the business of trying to be as present as possible with her.

I am aware of the various warnings from experts about helicopter parenting, or about the modern parental affliction of ensuring that their kids are always happy.  And there are still times when I need Ele to go off and play by herself, while I take a breather.   I also realise that this guilt is probably unnecessary, founded on very little, and not helpful for my health.

I get flashbacks to the way I was, however.  And what message my behaviour was sending to Ele during that long year – that she mattered less to me than 6 colleagues and 600 teenagers.

If “helicopter parenting” means fixing some strained bonds, and making my wee girl feel important again, then, sister:  I’ll be a goddam Apache.

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“It’s Only Pixels.”

I was unutterably crap at anything which fell under the heading of “games” when younger.  Sincerely, irrevocably, crap.  Didn’t matter if it was a board game, games in school Phys Ed., gin rummy with my father and brothers, or Hide-and-Bloody-Seek, I sucked. Big time.

It didn’t help matters that my incompetence was always made plain to me by those around me. Being beaten at badminton by your little brother (aged 6 at the time) leaves scars on the psyche of an oversensitive tweenie. As do the celebrations by classmates of your humiliating failure .  Somewhere along the line, I became a really bad loser.  And I pretty much vowed to stay the hell away from games as much as possible (with the exception of a game of Trivial Pursuit on holiday with my extended family 3 years ago, when I was again beaten by…my little brother.  It was still painful as hell.)

Which is why I was initially reluctant to engage in the role-playing games beloved of my new circle of friends in Aberdeen, when I moved here in ’97.  It took a little time to realise that, in games like Living Force, Cthulhu, Arcanis and Spycraft, it didn’t really matter that I had the hand-eye coordination of a mole with epilepsy.  The other players, not all of whom were my friends at the time, were happy to help a “noob” come to terms with attributes, and rolling for initiative, and critical damage, and what my character might usefully do in any given situation.

And I was not bad at it; not least of all at the parts where you could “role play” the character out of a situation. Hey, being able to bullshit to people straight off the cuff is 50% of what I do daily as a teacher.  So I would have fun with my characters who leaned more to the talky-talky, and less to the bashy-bashy.

Kev was my favourite: a Sullustan version of “Del Boy”, he was a conniving, self-interested con alien whose principal interest in any Living Force heroic quest was how it was going to benefit him…I miss Kev.

I always approached my gaming back then as an occasional pursuit; something to do when I didn’t have marking or teaching preparation requiring my more immediate attention.  Thus, I was a different sort of gamer from my husband.

The DBH had been gaming since he was 9 or 10.  From Atari he had moved to D & D, Doom, Warhammer, and then through a variety of games for the PS1, PS2, and XBoxWhen we moved into our first property,  I became a WoW widow for about a year.  I ended up inventing a term, “gamer time”, to explain the difference between what the DBH perceived had passed in time while he was playing, and what had actually passed.

Our new property helped end his isolation while playing, by dint of the fact that the computer was in our cold back bedroom.  So, the XBox became the console of choice, just about the time that Lego brought out its Star Wars game.  And I was back playing games.

Star Wars was brilliant for me.  As a “button basher”, I didn’t need to work out difficult combos.  I could just smash something up. I loved the Lego games for XBox, and their near cousin, “Castle Crashers.”  Which my five year old daughter is also enjoying (yes, she is better at it than me.)

But that was it for me in terms of gaming.  Until the unlikeliest gamer that I have yet met, a colleague in my English department, told me that she plays Skyrim to relax. (As well as gardening, and renovating her house, and playing with her cats.)

So, I thought that I would give it a go.  Under the expert tutelage of the DBH.

I got a cheap second-hand copy, created my character (Gudrun, a grey-haired, scarred, statuesque Nord for those familiar with the character presets) and started the tricky learning journey involving making my left thumb do something, while my right thumb does something else.

It isn’t easy.  Any more than trying (and failing) to learn to drive in my 30’s was “easy.” I want to apologise continually to the poor bastard NPC who is trying to lead me through the first stage.  I get grumpy with my husband who is just trying patiently to help me master the most basic techniques. I am exhausted by the time I have completed one stage.

But I am sleeping better.  And I have a proper insight into the emotional and psychological reactions that my pupils have to some writing or reading task that I consider to be straightforward.

So, say it once, say it loud: I’m a gamer, and I’m proud.

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New Year Rituals.

I have had asthma for the best part of fifteen years now.  It was brought on by a particularly severe cold one winter, and only truly kicks in to cause some breathing difficulties in cold and/or wet conditions.  So, in winter time.  Or steam rooms.

I have added it to my short but pointed list of “things that make Glasgow better than Aberdeen.”  I grew up in a damp-riddled bedroom, for God’s sake. In one of the wettest parts of Scotland. And the first time that I get a problem caused by the cold and damp, is in my 30’s in Aberdeen.

My local medical practice in Aberdeen has given me the means of controlling this gift to an incomer.  There is the attendant ritual of taking puffs from the preventer inhaler every morning and evening.  And, of course, the blue “alleviater” (not “emergency”: don’t call it the emergency one) which should be used when needed.  And the asthma nurse check-up and the flu jab.

It’s such an insidious condition, however. If I’m a bit tardy in starting the regime of morning and evening puffs, or if I forget to do it every morning and evening, or if I forget to renew my medication, well…nothing happens. At all. For quite a while.  October was positively balmy in Aberdeen this year.

And, if I’m feeling tired, then…well.. who would be surprised?  I am a 47-year-old mother of a little, lively girl (not so bloody little any more.) I teach at a time of turbulence..  The rest is recorded in sufficient detail elsewhere.  Tiredness is a natural consequence of my life, not my asthma.

Except that,  in February of this year, as in February of the last, I will be asked to blow into a tube so my peak flow can be recorded.  And it may not be good.  In fact, it could possibly  be distressingly low.  And another lightbulb moment will happen.

What brings all this painfully to my attention is the current condition of my throat and chest.  The rawness of my throat and the exhaustion in my body which kept me in bed through the bells on December 31st, have been replaced by a general chesty discomfort which my blue inhaler is working hard to alleviate.

The prolonged swelling and pain in my throat, however, brought some dark thoughts when in bed last night.  What if it was more serious?  I am 47.  If the number of additional tests and exams provided for free by the local health services are anything to go by, my odds in dodging any one of dozens of conditions and diseases are shrinking by the year.  So what happens if I get something more serious?  How would that impact practically and financially on my little family? Yes, we have various pieces of cover for critical illness for me as the primary breadwinner.  What if there are issues with the payouts for these? My in-work sickness benefit will only last so long and go so far.  Welfare benefits to people with chronic illnesses, sometimes terminal, are being scythed.  Our grandmothers on both sides are also getting old, and have their own issues with their finances.  Would it be best for Bob and me to separate, while I get treatment, so he can look after Ele properly?  All this from one sore throat.

Which a slab of Viennetta ice-cream helped to relieve the following morning.

So, the minor, forgettable, I-have-other-things-to-do rituals relating to my health – such as my inhaler –  start to seem considerably less minor or forgettable in this light.  And my grumbling fears about being selfish in putting myself first, begin to seem nonsensical.

Rather than resolutions for 2015, then, I need a set of rituals.  A ritual, for example,  which will allow me to take a puff of my inhaler in the morning, or evening, as naturally as I lift the coffee mug or toothbrush to my mouth.  Another ritual to pop a vitamin tablet, or to stay on top of my liquid intake, or to stop working at 10pm on the dot and do something relaxing (currently Skyrim.)

Apparently 21 days is the number of days required to build a new habit.  So, if I start tomorrow morning, the 3rd January, by the 25th January, I will be a smoothly running health-enhancing machine.

Ready to meet the asthma nurse with confidence in February.

Ready to face whatever diseases, minor or major, come my way in 2015.

Ready to tap out with another bug come the next school holiday in April…

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like…

There are but 5 school days left of 2014.  And, as is the norm with any approaching holiday, the “laces start getting left undone”, to paraphrase one Harrison Ford esq. on the subject of the end of filming.

Not in terms of the schoolwork itself.  Pupils who have had experience of  my classroom on the last day of term will be familiar with the Smartboard notice which directs their attention to the fact that the holiday starts at the end of the school day, not before.

More in terms of the general operational standards of my home.  I can’t completely let go.  That would be impossible. And it would be hypocritical to pretend otherwise, given the barney that I had very recently with the D.B.H about the housework, and who is doing what, now that we are both working full-time.  But, knowing that round the corner is the opportunity to tidy and clean the flat properly from top to bottom, means that the inclination to maintain a normal standard of order…well, it isn’t really there.

Running off to my mum’s house in Glasgow for Christmas week raises a dual problem, however.  On the one hand, I could accept that, in the period while I am in Glasgow with my daughter, until the DBH joins us on Christmas Eve, the flat will have all the hallmarks of a man living the single life again for four days. I could accept that, when we get back, a modest and tactful period of tolerance will be required before I can fasten the apron strings and get stuck in. On the other, I could pretend to myself that, before we travel on Saturday,  I could somehow build a bulwark against the tide of unwashed dishes, filthy carpets, zombie dvds, and randomly placed pieces of clothing, and then go away in denial of what will actually happen.

The reality will be that he will maintain what is by anyone’s standards a reasonable level of order in my absence.  I just won’t see that, because all I see when I look around our tiny two-bedroomed flat is clutter, and dust, and dirt, and failed expectations as a homemaker.

The internal voices of censure get quieter towards holiday time, louder when work gets more stressful.  It’s as if, when control and order at school becomes more complicated, I need to exert it on my home surroundings.  Interestingly, the smallest part of the problem in both cases – my “kids”, by profession and by blood – are the easiest to hold to account for it.

But it isn’t the sheer amount of random stuff that my daughter has, on almost every surface of the flat.  Or my husband’s crumb blindness. It is my own self-flagellation that I am failing, on a daily basis, to deal with the sort of duties that my mum managed ,with three kids and a husband who worked ridiculously long hours.

This is all, of course, arrant nonsense.  And it would not matter, then, if we were in a four-bedroomed house with an attic, a garden shed, built-in wardrobes, and a kitchen bigger than a Rangemaster fridge freezer.  The same bullshit would be swirling around my head like coffee dregs in the sink.

Recognising all this, however, will not make it go away.  And I will, probably, be building that bulwark on Friday night.

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I have one coffee per day, usually. It begins in my thermal mug around 7a.m., fresh from our metal cafetiere (I haven’t been able to break it. Yet.) I carry the mug down the communal stairs of our flat, along the road, onto the bus to work, and onto my desk, where, over the course of the morning, I will either finish it, or it will be too tepid to enjoy finishing.

Because this is my only coffee of the day, albeit somewhat extended, I exist in a sort of denial about the advice against drinking coffee given to me by my physiotherapist.  The lady currently trying to help me regain some control of my bladder.  The lady currently trying to ensure that I don’t wet myself again in public.  As I did recently. Because of drinking a mug of coffee and a glass of coke in close succession.

I get it.  I really do.  Coffee is an irritant and a diuretic, and messes up very effectively all the drinking-more-water improvements that I have made. But, beyond the kick it gives physically, is the psychological, ritualistic element it has in terms of starting my day.  What else do I drink that isn’t going to be a poor cousin of that morning mug? Decaf? Dandelion?!  Even tea is off limits. Given that I drink tea at navvy strength, this is probably a good thing.

Giving up coffee also means having to acknowledge that I can no longer treat my body in ways that have hitherto been entirely irrelevant to its capacity to function.  It means accepting that I am middle-aged, no matter how poorly that sits with me.  It means, possibly, probably, having to address other “denial” areas. Like the fact that alcohol makes me cranky the following morning.  Not, “I have to get up and look after my child and I feel like warmed-over crap” cranky. More hormonal-and-hangry cranky.  Like the fact that if I don’t start weaning myself off chocolate and cakes, I will share my late father’s Type 2 diabetes.

Like my hearing loss.  My hearing is going and it is never coming back.  I have to think seriously about lip reading, possibly sign language.  I try not to think about the impact possibly on my family over the next 5, 10, 20 years.  My uncle is almost completely deaf now, and his  hearing loss came much later in his life than mine has.

This getting old thing is getting old.  And I haven’t even reached 50 yet.

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