I wish this was a deep and meaningful blog about regret and missed opportunity. There is plenty of that, believe me, but I’m not one to blab on in a serious manner. You surely know this by now.
No – this week’s Monday Morning Moment of Murderous Intent was caused by a man who had the audacity to TUT at me for putting on my make-up whilst sitting on the train to work this morning.
Let me first explain. When I say make-up, I mean licking a finger to smooth any potential “Dennis Healy” eyebrow movements, spitting on a by-now defunct mascara to coax one more day’s worth of juice to smear on my eyelashes, and possibly some lippy if its not already been stolen from my make-up bag by the cleptomaniacal girl-child. It is not extensive in any way. I can complete said maquillage in under five minutes. Natural beauty is a blessing (OK, I’m kidding but Paris Hilton says if you think you are pretty then you get prettier. She got a book contract with that which is more than I can say for me, so I’m totally going with it.)
So I got out my teensy tiny little make-up bag on a fairly crowded train this morning and had not even commenced the strange open-mouth gape that inexplicably accompanies putting on mascara before Mr-Tutty-Visible-Nose-Hair peered over the top of his newspaper wall and let rip with his teeth-curling show of disapproval. This from a man wearing paisley and not in an ironic fashion, either.
I saw red. Literally. The tut volume itself had caused me to poke myself in the eye. I perfected the one eyebrow raised lip curl and said sweetly: “Is there a problem?” to said Neanderthal.
“Yes. Why can’t you women do that sort of thing at home.” He harrumphed before un-crossing and re-crossing his legs to reveal my pet hate – comedy socks. They were possibly what sent me over the edge. My Inner Cow raised its head, cleared its throat and began to moo as if it had chronic mastitis in every teat of its udder.
“Well, let me explain.” I began. “Before boarding this 7.15 train today, I drove 20 minutes to the station..”
“Yes, but…” He tried to interject, all blustery bravado and macho indignance. I raised a firm hand to silence him.
“Before that I rose at some ungodly hour to bathe, wash my hair etc. I also unloaded the dishwasher from last night, unloaded the tumble dryer, re-loaded it with more washing, laid out two sets of uniform for my kids, packed one PE kit, fed the fish, made tea for my husband, breakfast for my son, sorted out dinner money, debated the merits of hair up versus hair down on a windy day, picked off chewing gum from the sleeve of my son’s new £45 school blazer and killed three spiders.” I paused for breath.
“But…” He whimpered, pathetically now.
“So forgive me if I didn’t get around to putting some make-up on so as not to offend the general populace while I ran around like a blue-arsed fly.”
“Now hang on….” He pleaded, beginning to unpleasantly sweat up now just to add to his manifold attractions.
“I’m getting off the train now.” I rose with my bag in hand. ”But may I suggest that 5 minutes with a hygienic trimmer before YOU leave tomorrow morning wouldn’t go amiss. Caveman!”
And I flounced in absolute hip-sashaying perfection off the train and thankfully didn’t trip over an errant briefcase or wedge my heel in the doorway. Yessss! I wanted to punch the air. Not only did I display balls of steel in the face of extreme provocation, but I didn’t stutter, cry or dry-up mid-speech delivery. I think I may become a motivational speaker if the whole writing thing doesn’t work out.
The euphoria won’t last, I know. The trials of the working day will crush it in its usual fashion, but by God, for that brief moment I was Queen of the World.
And the moral of the story? Don’t mess with me before I’ve got my make-up on.
Around 3.00pm on any given afternoon, I am usually at the mercy of cravings for a creamy latte. Some people smoke – me, I take on liquids. This necessitates stopping work, wandering the 100 yards or so to the nearest barista where I tickle him under his milky little armpits until he delivers what I require. I then walk back to my office, sit down and….well, basically contemplate my future for 10 minutes. It’s an indulgence, I know, and those of you out there with proper jobs and toddlers under foot are probably screaming at the screen right now. But I like to do it, and everyone is advised to reduce stress. It’s this or crystal meth.
I am a blessings-counter in my day to day life as it is, and believe I have been extremely lucky to have what I have: the kids, the husband, the job, the lifestyle etc. It is not discontentment that prompts these thoughts. Rather a naïve belief that, having got this far, what’s stopping me continuing in pursuit of an ideal? We all have to have goals, don’t we? Or have I been indoctrinated into the “performance review” mould of work for too long?
In my defence, the boss knows about it and woe betide him if he interrupts during this afternoon hiatus. It started after I once read a book called “The Secret” which encouraged me to try “cosmic ordering” – thinking positively about the things you really want and then they will come to you. So far, fingers crossed/touching wood/good morning Mr Magpie *spit* *spit* it’s been spookily true on a few counts. Not last week’s Euromillions, obviously, but then one must not be cosmically greedy – it negates all the positives apparently.
So in pictorial terms, if I could keep all the good things I already have, but given free rein and endless money/time/good karma just “swap” a few bits around, how would I cosmically order things to start living the – modest, not greedy – future that I desire?
Number One: This is the current view from my office.
And as views of London go, its not bad. Lots of light and space. I even get to see Queeny’s chopper going over from time to time back to her bungalow over by the park. Here, however, is the office view that I would like:
This is Salcombe, or as I prefer to call it, Nirvana. The ultimate goal – sad to some who aspire to Caribbean islands etc. But my own private dream town. It’s got sailing, surfing, beaches, gig rowing, shops, restaurants, a decent coffee shop and is only 20 miles from a major town for shoe shopping and handbags. I’ve been going there for a few years now and never yet heard anyone burp in public. Heaven.
Number Two: This is the home I live in now:
And its lovely – we are very lucky. Country location, friendly locals and perfect for us and the kids. It wasn’t always like this, mind. Not sure what the “rear elevation” motto is on the pic – except I know it’s from some old estate agent details from a time when things were not as financially rosy as they could otherwise have been and we had to put the family homestead up for sale. We didn’t sell it in the end, needless to say. And in truth I always said I would never leave it – I love it – but there is a house I have seen in the right location (with the view above) and try as I might I can’t get it out of my head:
Six bedrooms and a basement. Sleeping quarters for us grown-ups, one each for the kids, one spare to kick the snoring nightmare that is my husband into when it becomes unbearable, one for guests (which in a location like this I am expecting many of) and a writing room (see below – there is a theme developing here)
Number Three: Here is what I do for a living now:
But I have better hair, I think. And here, with a lot more time and space, is what I would like to do to earn a crust:
Number Four: This is my current body image (That’s not a real beard, before you ask, being facially hirsute is not one of my issues – yet):
and here’s the figure I aspire to (if only the LighterLife people would stop pfaffing around with Pauline Quirke and return my call):
Number Five: Oh, and I’d like lots more of these types of things, purchased if necessary (well, I am 44), but ssshhhhh don’t tell the husband:
Ah well, coffee’s finished now. Back to the real world. All I know is I need a lot more dosh and time and less lattes to get it all done! Onwards and upwards! There’s a cosmos to order about!
What is your perfect world? What motivates you to keep on going in the face of distraction and routine? Would love to know how others navel-gaze from time to time.
Photo Credits: Some to Google, the others are my own.
I had a horrifying thought this morning. As I sat there, wedged into a space the size of a gnat’s chuff beside one of Kent’s fattest men, I realized that in only four short years I will celebrate (though this is hardly the word) 30 years of commuting to London. Yes, folks, it’s true. I have spent almost 3 decades shuffling up and down metal tracks for varying lengths of time in order to earn a crust. My shortest journey was from South Croydon, where the journey was a mere 15 minutes on the train plus a short walk at either end. The longest – my current one – is almost an hour and a half door to door on a good day, twice a day, five days a week. Holy crap! That equates to 15 hours a week, which is a whole day and some of the evening of my normal time awake. That’s 52 days a year and some change. This is a month and a half per year. Ouch!
It’s a depressing thought and yes, truly, I do believe I deserve a medal especially given the state of the trains here in the sunny Southeast of England.
I could dwell on the negative side of commuting – the cost, the poor quality of service, the stress, the smell of the people who do not use personal hygiene product etc. – all too easy to fixate upon. Instead, I have decided I am heartily sick to the gills of hearing everyone else on the train moaning about this type of stuff and so I have turned my thoughts instead to the much-neglected positive side of commuting. While everyone else appears to be searching and competing for the perfect commuting escape – be that working from home, working for themselves, moving abroad or enjoying gardening hell (or early retirement as some call it) – I, on the other hand, can actually see the benefits of being a commuter, especially to a working parent. Shock, horror. Here we go.
Firstly, there is the peace and quiet induced only by an hour and a half (sometimes more given delays) of iPod solitude wrapped inside my earphones and with my eyes firmly shut to the outside world. Where else can a mum of two find the time or excuse to sit still in a nice warm seat and indulge her passion for old Level 42 tracks? Or watch a girly chick-flick without the constant interruption of the little ones, or our old friend Guilt sidling up and demanding action, movement and the use of cleaning equipment – immediately! I swear I have also read more novels in the past almost 30 years of commuting than the whole of the New York Times and the Literary Review put together – I defy them to put my knowledge of the novels of Jilly Cooper to the test. I believe this personal space and head time has been instrumental in keeping me out of the wine rack and on the straight and narrow. And not to mention the hours of much-needed extra sleep I have benefitted from when it has all been too much the night before.
Second, there is the time to reflect on the day before, the day ahead and the weekend to come. Working mothers, by nature, must be organized otherwise the whole pack of cards will collapse on us. Commuting gives me the time to consider each person involved in my worlds (yes plural – see below for explanation) and their needs and wants, sometimes shockingly even my own needs and wants! Shoes do not buy themselves, after all, and passports need to be renewed. Routes need to be checked to and from football tournaments, and meals for four that involve some semblance of a vegetable do not appear on the table without help. I use some of the commuting time to plan what needs to happen, and move forward accordingly. Sometimes I even write it down. Get me – blooming show-off. It’s actually a pretty good way to relieve the stresses of what would otherwise be an impossibly busy life. And a stick to beat the husband with when he has failed to respond appropriately to a written directive.
Third, I can switch off my “home” head and switch on my “work” head, or vice versa depending on which way I am commuting. The mental leap between home with all its little domestic issues, pleasures and moments and the demands and nitty-gritty of a day job can rarely be melded together – at least in my job and from my own bitter experience. Neither world wants to come second in the pecking order. I think one of the biggest causes of my early working mummy stress was trying to blend the two, rather than accepting that I pass from one world and its set of rules to the other when I step off the train. We women are fabulous multi-taskers, but why have the pressure of keeping all aspects of both worlds in the front of your head all at once? It’s migraine-inducing, and that’s before you’ve tried to decipher the PTA letter your son gave you three weeks late. Isn’t it easier and more efficient to accept I live in separate universes – literally and in a hopefully non-bipolar manner? Compartmentalization. It’s the latest thing daaahhhhling. And it works. Trust me.
Fourth, I have tried and failed to seek employment locally or work for and by myself. But in the field in which I work, the jobs and the money are in the Capital. London is one of the world’s major financial centres. If I want to be paid for the effort and hours I put in, and progress somewhat towards a future distant career goal, London is where the money is. And the one thing I have always adhered to is that, if I am going to leave my children for 52 days a year, I should at least have the benefits accruing on the other side. The nice house, the holiday, the decent car and my family well-dressed, well-fed and contented. It is a sad trade-off – time away from my kids for what seems merely filthy lucher – but if I was a man/father (sorry to play the gender card but really it couldn’t be helped here), it is the normal reality of being the provider and in my case, there is simply no choice. Materialistic Mum? Yes, that’s me; I’ll be right with you.
Minor asides - there are also the small but not insignificant matters of being easily distracted – the smell of a bacon sandwich drifting up the stairs is enough for me to abandon all rational thought for at least an hour – and the fact that I suspect I would eat – constantly – a sort of unattractive cud-chewing grazing, not to mention succumb to online gambling or at the very least an internet shopping account at French Sole – I do love those little ballet pumps they do. None of these would be good things for anyone involved.
And then I suppose, for me, there is something of almost pride in the fact that I have sustained such longevity in my commuting. It is an achievement of sorts. If you look back into history, our women ancestors fought long and hard through the drudgery for freedom of choice and the opportunities I have benefitted from. If the trade-off for a decent job in an industry I understand, decent money and the ability to keep my family in a certain manner is commuting – bring on the carriages, I’m happy to oblige.
I admire and respect the mums who can and do work from home, for themselves or for others. That is the pinnacle of universe-melding, and I wish you all the best of luck with that. It gives me the vapours just thinking about it. I have perhaps even greater admiration for those who choose to give themselves up to their children and are not the least concerned with the material side of what that means – or if they are, they are in blissful denial. You should all be congratulated – that is what choice means after all and you have made yours. Commuting has been my choice these past 30 years. I think I might even miss it. Now that really is a scary thought! But bear in mind these are under CURRENT circumstances – where I still have to work for financial reasons basically. I am 44 after all. If given the opportunity to give up commuting AND work at the same time whilst remaining financially solvent, live in my dream seaside house and potter about on a boat all day came along, well I’m sure I wouldn’t miss commuting at all then. That would be a choice well worth making.