SMALL CO-INCIDENCE THAT WILL NEVER BE MADE INTO A FILM BUT IS STILL QUITE CUTE NEVERTHELESS:

In 2012, it snowed.

Hard.

So hard, I was convinced I was going to die.

I was sitting in my friend’s lounge when the first snowflakes started falling. It was getting late, and it was a 60 mile drive home. Usually, I’d have crashed on their sofa, but I was working the next morning and needed to get home. Driving made sense.

It didn’t take long to regret that decision. The snow fell, heavier now. I struggled up hills, the wheels spinning. I was in the “Divorce Car”, the car I’d been left with when my marriage broke down; a car I hadn’t actually wanted, and couldn’t really afford to run as it was an ostentatious, petrol-guzzling monster of a thing. Plus, it was Rear-Wheel Drive, which I didn’t know is disastrous for snow.

I was now too far into the journey to turn back; at least I was near the motorway, which I assured myself would be gritted, and safer. I was wrong.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got onto the M25, the snow still falling so quickly and so heavily. The carriageway was icy, and I lost control of my car several times, the steering wheel jerking under my hands. I was crying as I drove, muttering an incantation that I hoped would save me (although I don’t know who I was offering it up to, given that I’m quite cheerfully atheist): “I can’t die. I’m a mum, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, please don’t let me die.”

Then, I was catapulted across the carriageway.

The car spinning, in freefall, towards the central reservation.

Time slowed: “So, this is how it ends.” I thought. I apologised to my kids, that I wouldn’t be there to see them growing up. I thought of my mum and my sister. I wondered briefly if there was an afterlife, and if I was going to be reunited with my dad. I even took a moment to be sorry that I wouldn’t be going on a second date with a promising suitor*.

The car stopped, inches from the barrier, facing the wrong way into the traffic.

I exhaled, and burst into tears again.

I’d been driving for over 3 hours at this point. I gingerly turned the car around, kept driving, crying constantly now, and chanting my new mantra, “Please don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die.”

I eventually managed to wrestle the car off the motorway and, slowly, slowly, some of the way home.

At 4am, I admitted defeat. I couldn’t get the car up a hill, couldn’t turn round to go back down, couldn’t do anything other than abandon the car and walk the final 4 miles home.

As I walked, I fell into step with a man. We started chatting, as you do in weird situations; normal social conventions don’t apply. His name was Jamie and he was an interesting chap, ran an art gallery in town, lived over the other side of London but had got stuck visiting family. We chatted about this and that until we arrived at a house.

“I’m sorry I can’t walk you home”, he said, “but this is where I’m staying tonight.” He reached into his jacket, then handed me a business card, “Text me when you’re home so I know you got back safely”.

I got home some time after 5am. My Converse had frozen to my feet. I cried with relief for a while, and then collapsed into sleep.

Four years later, I was chatting with a lovely lady that I knew, a little. This time, we got onto the subject of art. She told me it’s her family’s passion, and that her son Jamie runs an art gallery in town.

“Oh”, I said, “I wonder if he remembers me? We met the last time it snowed”.

*************

*As it turns out, there was no second date, for reasons that will probably be explained in another post.

Goodbye, Steve

Me: “Hello?”

Steve: “Hello, it’s Steve from Scottish Power
here. I understand you’re thinking of leaving us for another utility company because they’ve offered you a better price?”

Me: “I’m not thinking, I’ve already switched. And it’s nothing to do with price, it’s because your customer service has been terrible.”

Steve: “But the price must have had something to do with it?”

Me: “Really, no. I’ve had a number of problems with my account since I’ve been with you, and the people at customer service have been friendly enough, but totally incompetent with it.”

Steve: “Can you give me a few more details please?”

Me: [there follows 10 minutes of me detailing numerous incidents where Scottish Power have totally failed to sort out problems]

Steve: “Fair enough, I totally get why you’d want to leave us. But, if I offered you a really good deal on your fuel, would you consider staying?”

Me: “No.”

Steve: “A really really good deal?”

Me: “Seriously, this isn’t about the money. It’s about the customer service.”

Steve: “Is there anything I can do to make you reconsider your decision to leave?”

Me: “No. There really isn’t.”

Steve: “But it’s my job to stop you leaving.”

Me: “Steve, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s your company’s customer service.”

He said he understood, and we hung up. But still, I hope Steve is OK. I hope he goes on to find other customers (and that they get treated better than I did). I hope he learns to love again, or whatever.

“I have to touch your bump”

I was so pregnant that I waddled. Everything ached. Although exhausted, I was still looking forward to supper with friends.

As I reached the restaurant, a man stopped me. He was lounging against the wall; later, I realised that he was probably too drunk to stand up straight.

“You’re pregnant!”, he slurred.
“Yes. I’m pregnant.”

I tried to walk past him, but he grabbed my wrist and started telling me how he’d never wanted kids, that he’d make a terrible father, that he wished he’d loved someone enough to have children with them, that he always wanted to have a son; the sentences clashing, contradicting and bumping against each other. He talked and talked at me, while I thought of my friends sat inside, and wondered how to get myself free. He held my wrist, talking and talking.

I suffer from extreme politeness. I stood there and nodded, horribly aware that in being polite to this man, I was being rude to my friends as the time got later and later. And then:

“I have to touch your bump.”

Now, I’m not comfortable being touched at the best of times. My skin is quite sensitive and it can be rather overwhelming. And when it’s someone I don’t know, I get really uncomfortable.

“Really? Do you have to?”
“Yes. Let me touch your bump and then you can go.”

Today Me is typing this with shame and anger. Today Me wants to go back in time to that moment and shout at the guy, leave her alone, let her go. I wish I’d handled it differently. But I didn’t, I muttered, “OK”. I was desperate to go and it seemed like a decent trade-off.

He let go of my wrist, but grabbed my top and started trying to put his other hand up inside it.

Enough polite. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I want to touch your bump.”
“OVER MY CLOTHES.”
“No. It has to be your bare skin or it doesn’t count.”
“NO. I NEED TO GO NOW.”

I forcibly removed his hand from my top.

“Fine. But take my email address. You need to tell me when you have the baby what sex it is. But don’t bother telling me if it’s a girl. I only want to hear if it’s a boy.”

I waited, furious, humiliated, hot-cheeked, while he scribbled down an address on a scrap of paper and handed it to me.

I joined my friends at the table, apologised for being late, and waited to stop shaking.

Anyway. I had a girl. I didn’t email him.

No Boundaries

I’d left my worldly possessions with my new landlady. It was a pretty big move; I was also changing jobs and cities. I’d finished my contract on the Friday, and schlepped my belongings the 170 miles to my new home the same day. There wasn’t time to unpack, only to unload the car before collapsing into bed. The next morning, an early flight for a quick holiday inbetween jobs.

When I returned home, my new landlady greeted me. She looked particularly pleased with herself: “I saw you hadn’t had time to sort through your things, so I thought I’d make you feel at home!”

She’d been through my boxes—through every single thing I owned—and taken it upon herself to unpack my belongings.

Every single thing I owned.

It’s one thing when someone takes it upon themselves to unbox your CDs and books and pop them on a shelf for you.

It’s another thing entirely when someone you’ve only met once previously has gone through your knickers, your bras and even your tampons, and arranged them for you.

She was so thrilled, with what she saw as a really kind act, that I couldn’t bear to tell her I was actually pretty upset by the whole thing.

I wound up moving out a week later, but that was for completely different reasons. I’ll tell you why another time.

All Along the Watchtower

*ding dong*

I opened the door to find two nice ladies smiling at me.

Lady 1: “Hello! Isn’t it a lovely day?”

Me: “Sure is! Have you come to sell me some religion?”

Lady 2: “Well, we were in your neighbourhood and yes, we’re spreading the good news.”

Me: “Sounds lovely, but I’m fine for religion, thank you.”

Lady 1: “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses and we want to share our joy.”

Me: “How wonderful for you! I’m Jewish and I’m also full of joy.”

Lady 1: “Would you like one of our leaflets?”

Me: “Sure, I’d be more than happy to learn about your religion, if you’re prepared to learn about Judaism.”

Lady 2: “Errrm, not really.”

Me: “Well, if you want me to keep an open mind about your religion then you need to the same with everyone else’s. Have a wonderful day!”

Tents Nervous Headache

When the kids were smaller, we’d go to Camp Bestival every year. One night, I was startled awake by shouting. It was 4am. It transpired that a group of revellers had returned to their respective tents, and were shouting their conversations between them.

I laid awake for a while, listening to them yell about who fancied whom, what a bitch so-and-so was, and I wondered what to do next. I figured that we were at a festival, everyone was there to have fun, I should ignore it and try and sleep. But, having said that, it was 4am, they were so loud it was impossible to ignore them and go back to sleep, and it was disturbing my kids.

I struggled out of my sleeping bag, into my wellies and over to one of the tents. I blinked hello at the young man and woman sat there, somewhere in their early 20s, and tried to find my best “cool mum” phrasing.

“Hey, I know you guys are having a lot of fun. But it’s pretty late now and you’re waking me and my kids up. We’re only in the tent behind you. Perhaps could you keep it down, and in return, I’ll stop the kids making too much noise in the morning when you’re sleeping it off?”

“Oh! I’m so sorry!”, replied the woman politely.
“Yes, sorry about that”, her friend joined in.

I thanked them, staggered back to my tent and into sleep.

We had a busy day on the site the next day, enjoying bands and relaxing in the sunshine. In the evening, we returned to our tent to find that someone had let it down.

Surely they hadn’t…? But that would be so petty… perhaps it was just a co-incidence? I managed to put the tent back up, and we went to sleep.

At 4am, I awoken again by the revellers returning to the field. That time, I got to hear them shouting about how they’d “taught the fat bitch a lesson by letting down her tent”. The young woman who’d apologised earlier was busy doing impressions of me: “Yeah, she was all ‘WHY ARE YOU HAVING FUN? WE’RE AT A FESTIVAL, YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MISERABLE!'”

I listened to them cackling and shrieking about me for a while, wondering what to do. I did contemplate going back and talking to them again, but decided I’d probably be better off sticking my headphones in and listening to anything else.

I’m never usually one for revenge, and I’d like to be able to tell you that I rose above it, that I was the better person, that I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, angry and sleep-deprived the next morning, I emptied the girls’ potty onto the doormats outside their tents. If you happen to be reading this, loud festival go-ers, I’m sorry. x

The Art of the Compliment

I lost quite a lot of weight a few years ago.

I was round at a friend’s house for tea. She was busy in the kitchen, when the doorbell went. It was a good friend of hers—someone I’d met before but hadn’t seen in a number of years—and he greeted me with some surprise.

Friend-of-Friend: “You’ve lost weight!”

Me: “Yes, I’ve lost weight.”

F-o-F: “You’ve lost a lot of weight!”

Me: “Yes, I’ve lost a lot of weight.”

F-o-F: “Your husband must love that!”

I was totally thrown by that last sentence; in my world, love isn’t measured or contained by body size. My shape has indeed changed over the years, and it will change again, and it’s no measure of my worth.

Then, there was the insinuation that he used to find me unattractive, but now thought my appearance was acceptable; this troubled me. Why was this guy—who I barely knew—assuming that my relationship and my body were any of his damn business?

I wish I’d picked him up on it.

In a parallel universe, I’d have launched into an eloquent speech explaining all the above. Occasionally, I enjoy imaging myself simply shouting “OH FUCK OFF” as I slam the door in his face.

For the record, I was too flustered to think of a suitable comeback and instead stammered out a factually accurate but deeply unsatisfying reply:

Me: “I’ve no idea what my husband thinks about it. We split up a few months ago.”

The ensuing silence was immense, awkward and well-deserved.

The Shed of Doom

Having a productive sort of day, I decided to assemble a shelving unit in the shed.

It was a pretty easy job, but as I triumphantly pushed the final cap into place, I shrieked. I’d managed to trap a chunk of my wrist skin in between the pole and the cap, thus painfully attaching the whole unit to my arm.

I was stuck fast, pinned in place, like a lo-budget version of 127 hours.
I had no tools to hand to take the shelving to pieces.
I couldn’t reach my phone to call for help.
I was royally stuffed.

Eventually I managed to drag the whole shelving unit, still attached to my arm, to the door of the shed where I started shouting. Thank goodness some kind soul came to my aid and freed me from the unit (and my own stupidity). He didn’t even laugh at me. What a gent.

Anyway, five years later, the shelving unit still looks ace, so it was totally worth it.

Locked In

I made myself really ill once. Obviously, accidentally. But I didn’t understand how to look after myself.

As usual, I was doing too much: my A-level mocks, running a local youth group, acting as the programme controller for a hospital radio station. That probably would have been enough on its own, but I’ve never been one to understand when enough is enough. In my infinite wisdom, I then decided to arrange a residential weekend, including a Ball on a Boat (these were quite the thing in the 90s in North London), for the national youth group. Single-handedly.

There are many things I’ve done in my life that started as terrible, terrible ideas, then became terrible, terrible experiences. This was the first of them.

If you’ve ever tried to arrange an event for more than three people, you’ll know what a hassle it can be. Arranging a night out for the other parents in your daughter’s class? Challenging. Sorting out a trip away with your buds? Tiring. Planning and managing a weekend away with 75 fellow teenagers, where you’re solely in charge of organising food, entertainment, accommodation, transport and the sodding Ball on a Boat? A living nightmare.

I barely slept in the two weeks before it. There was so much to sort, plus people phoning me up at all hours of the day and night. On top of that, I’d caught a nasty cold and really felt quite horrible.

The ball wasn’t the disaster it could have been. By some strange grace it all went reasonably smoothly. I think I even managed to have some fun at some point, but I don’t remember much about it. What I do remember—with hideous clarity—is the morning after the event finished.

I woke up, but I couldn’t get up. My body was heavy, unresponsive, seemingly unconnected to my brain. It wasn’t that I was so tired that I couldn’t get up. I simply couldn’t get up. My limbs weren’t working.

The next 18 months of my life are strange and painful to look back on. I had many good periods, where I could get to school and enjoy a normal day. And many others where my body simply shut down again. One day, I was sat at the kitchen table, looking at a glass of water. I was thirsty. I desperately wanted to drink. And I tried to lift the glass but I couldn’t even get it off the table. It was simply too heavy. I simply couldn’t do it.

After numerous tests and trips to the doctor, I got what was effectively a non-diagnosis. The doctors had ruled everything else out so, by a process of elimination, they told me I had ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome*. It’s still really poorly understood today, but 25 years ago things were even worse.

I really don’t remember much from that time but the one thing that did stick is how people treated me. A number of my friends—not proper friends, I now realise—didn’t believe I was ill. I was teased for having “yuppie flu”. I was routinely pulled out of classes by my teachers—when I was well enough to attend—and accused of faking my illness. My mother would write me notes explaining my absences; I was accused of writing them myself. The school eventually threatened to keep me down a year if my grades didn’t improve. I wasn’t offered any help, only the prospect of punishment.

I still don’t know exactly how I got well*. I tried everything: diet, vitamin B injections, protein drinks, hundreds of strangely-named supplements. And something must have worked as the cycle of wellness, relapse, wellness, relapse finally ended. There was no fanfare: one day I simply stopped relapsing and stayed well. It took a long, long time to start trusting that I would actually continue to be well this time.

Did I learn anything from my illness? Well. I didn’t learn to pack less into my life, I continued to be strenuously, stupidly busy. I didn’t even learn to take better care of my body until relatively recently. But I did learn to be grateful for my health. It’s still easy to take it for granted, but everytime I feel unwell or tired now, the fear returns. Perhaps the relapse is finally here. Perhaps this has only been an extended, but ultimately temporary, period of wellness.

I am profoundly grateful that I was only unwell for 18 months. I know some people suffer for a lifetime. If you have any form of chronic illness, I wish you good health plus compassion and support from those around you. If you don’t, I wish you not only continued good health but also an appreciation of it.

And for me? I hope my body never takes me prisoner again, but I accept that it’s out of my hands.

 

*I’ve been reading more about ME recently and I’ve been questioning my (non)diagnosis of it. Apparently most teenagers who develop viral illnesses will recover spontaneously within 2 years during their teens to early 20s; this would explain my relatively swift recovery. Only a small percentage of teens who suffer from a viral illness like this will develop long term ME/CFS. So, it’s quite possible that I didn’t ever have ME in the first place. I’m deeply thankful for that; the insight into what life must be like, with full-blown ME, was more than enough for me.