Saturday 29 October 2011

Frankly Mr. Shankly

Nitrofartypantidril.  Yes, I’m knocking back anti-biotics that turn your wee green.  Jealous?  Think I’m cool?  Wish you could score some of these yourself?  Well, their street value is higher than a cheese and onion pasty or a chunky KitKat but I was prepared to dig deep for these babies.  I paid my vial of cloudy wee up front and I’ll pay the balance of tripe tongue on completion without batting an eyelid.  This is 40th birthday PARTY TIME!

Almost immediately after the Great North Run, my body had started to protest with a bout of hurty wee.  You know the kind?  The stuff that feels like someone has shoved a bottle brush up your flue and given it a good scrape.  That kind.  But I downed the usual foul-tasting crap in sachets, chugged a few gateway anti-bs and put it down to dehydration.  I had a holiday in a far flung destination planned.  All four of us were going on Emirates like posh people to a place with real sun, no pensioners called Elsie and Bill, reeking of stale whisky breath and Bensons at 8am, and no syringes or poo in the sea!  Not Salford Airlines for us.  No Siree.  We were going far far away to celebrate my initiation into the realm of the wise - my 40th birthday – and I wasn’t going to let a piffling UTI get in my way.  

So I got on the plane with throbbing kidneys and a week’s worth of Trianythingonceoprim to see me through.  I was uncomfortable but not uncomfortable enough to reject my in-flight meal.  I was supposed to avoid alcohol but sometimes, alcohol is just unavoidable.  Yes, perhaps that gin and tonic really would numb the feeling that I had been kicked in the back by a donkey.  And who could resist that spicy curry, so elegantly packaged in plastic and tin foil...?

By the time we got where we were going, I had sat for almost 24 hours like a banana in various vehicles.  I hadn’t slept.  My breath smelled of dog fart and my kidneys were tap-dancing along my back in hobnail boots.  I was sure I was going to die melodramatically in Morrissey style, speaking Frankly, Mr. Shankly in flippant Mancunian iambic pentameter about never quite having been creatively fulfilled in life.

Me in the sea: Bikini from Asda, body from Lidl
Incredibly though, things improved.  The holiday passed in a state of deep pleasantness, except for that time we went kayaking and got swept out to sea on a riptide and had to be towed back by motorboat...oh and that time the fusty older childless people got annoyed that our kids and another couple’s kid were screaming and shouting and running riot, happy-slapping all the genteel elderly French guests and nicking their false teeth.  Even my kidneys seemed to be on the mend.  I, horrible Queen of Moan, was enjoying myself.  I didn’t even get diarrhoea.

So I thought it was prudent to test out my newly recovered vital organs with some booze.  I drank a full bottle of wine in the space of two hours IN THE AFTERNOON with a new bride from Banbury who knew one end of a sauvignon blanc from the other.  I dumped the kids on my husband and talked crap loudly enough to make people clutch their bags to their breasts and move further away from me.  It seemed like the decent thing to do.  This was, after all, my 40th celebration.  Big mistake.

Vertigo, hangover, renewed kidney infection, loudly ticking landmine inside the head.  This was the price I paid for my misdemeanour.  This is what happens when you try to do youthful, silly, fun things to an ageing body.  Even the comedy flight home, where we shared a plane with many hundreds of squabbling pensioners going to Mecca (and given that there were no rollers or fluffy slippers, I was fairly sure they weren’t off to the bingo), was not enough to talk my body into behaving and making nice for my 40th.

So I’m back now and my whole big day has been overshadowed by knackered organs, almost certainly caused by the Great North Run, which I pushed myself to do, despite injury, because I didn’t want to let Cancer Research down.  The tragedy of making yourself ill in a bid to make others better is something even Shakespeare didn’t dream up (well, he might have done but I was busy scratching The Cramps on my desk with a compass when they were teaching us that sort of stuff at school).  Karmicly, this is a sum that doesn’t add up and I’m praying the nitrofartypantidril does the trick.  The next step, if this infection doesn’t shift, is to scan my kidneys.  Not good.  This horrormoanal woman is panicking. 

So, until I’ve finished my course of disembowling tablets and I know what’s what, the immortal words of that old whingebag, Morrissey waft around my head.

“Frankly Mr. Shankly, I’m a sickening wreck,
I’ve got the 21st Century breathing down my neck,
I must move fast, you understand me,
I want to go down in celluloid history, Mr. Shankly.”

Except in my case, it’s literary history.  Even Shakespeare never got it that on the nail, proving that it takes a Mancunian from the land of perpetual rain to moan with real aplomb.

Friday 7 October 2011

Buckling under the guilt

This week saw me punching the air triumphantly in a style normally only seen in schmaltzy 1980’s films like Top Gun.  No, in fact, I didn’t just punch the air.  I whooped like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (except in that film, Julia Roberts said her legs were 44inches long and I look more like a celebrating hobbit.  Also, I’m not a prozzy unless you count the time I gave my husband a Popozogolou to get him to fix the shower door).  

I was celebrating because my agent decided that my manuscript, Zeeba Marple, which is for children aged 9+, was finally ready to go off into the blue yonder into publisher land.  I have been working on that bloody novel since last November, so it’s almost a year’s labour.  It has been lovingly crafted with as much fun and imagination as possible.  It has been written and rewritten and rewritten until it’s so polished, you can see your chins in it.  It has had feedback from the savviest minds you can imagine and I’m proud of it.  I’m proud that I managed to pull my ravaged mind through the dark pureed-Weetabix years of drooling with my children in front of Teletubbies and Mr. Fucking Tumble back into the sunlit lands of intelligible adult conversation and hummus.  I am a creator.  I am an author.  I am more than my empty holdall of a belly and bingo wings.  More than just Mummy.
But there lies the rub.  I am WRACKED with guilt.  I am CONVINCED I am a slightly shit mother.  Why?  Well, I think there’s some kind of evolutionary burden of guilt for women who try to juggle quality parenting with professional success and without the luxury of hired childcare.  If you’ve tried to burn this candle at both ends, you’ll know that I’m telling the truth.  This is how it happened to me:
Four years ago, my writing passion was reignited, after more than a decade on the shelf.  I had been renovating two houses – a great career if you’ve got kids who see the fun in playing in building sand at Jewsons - but work had finished.  The housing market had collapsed and so had my intentions of being Sarah Beeny Mk II with more disappointing boobs and a rubbish accent.   Feeling at a loose end and not yet ready to go back to working in an office, I wrote a simple fairy story for my daughter.  She loved it and so did I.  I became quickly addicted to the creative fix that writing offered.  It was like hobnobs in crack cocaine form.  Better than that.  My brain was thawing out and it had survived its cryogenic-hibernation-through-having-babies intact.  Cue Julia Roberts whooping.
But I was skint.  So I went back into an office part-time, reluctantly resurrecting my fundraising career, which I thought I had successfully killed dead and replaced with power tools and the ability to talk Plasterer fluently.  Suddenly, I was balancing a three year old, a five year old, a part time job WHICH I LOATHED and my new obsession.  I was DEFINITELY going to be a published children’s writer.  This was it.  Definitely me.  I was going to show my children that with hard work, you can achieve anything.
But gradually, the more into writing novels I got, the less I could pay attention to my children as they clambered all over me, talking gibberish and smearing marmite on my dreams.  I was in the room physically  – perhaps more “there” than most parents but my mind was travelling through the Frankish Empire and flying with big bat wings through fantasy landscapes.  I was in the tunnel.  If Sid on CBeebies wanted me to pay attention, he was going to have to get his man-meat out on national TV for me to notice.
And so it has continued, this sub-standard parenting.  I must be doing something right, of course, because my children haven’t got nits.  They’re loved and can walk and eat vegetables.  But they still talk shit at me at high velocity and volume.  Now, more than ever, as my writing career really steps up by several notches, I am forced to triple-glaze over when they try to zap through to my tunnel with their laser-attack of spoken bollocks bullets.  And the guilt: it’s getting far worse.  Soon there will be book tours and possibly trips all over the world.  I will have to leave them to eat Daddy’s poisonous cooking overnight or longer.   He may not check that they’ve wiped their bums properly.  But it’s kind of...tough shit.  I have to relinquish control just for a while and the very fact that I think that kills me too.
I have no solution to this common problem of juggling.  I am going to keep writing as well as I can.  It’s who I’ve become.  And of course, I’m going to keep trying my best at mothering.  My children are still at the centre of my world, even if I do wish they’d shut it when I’m editing.  I would rather shoulder this burden of guilt and be an excellent writer with mildly neglected children than be an excellent mother with neglected dreams and a heart full of regret.