Monday, 26 October 2009

Giving Up

Hands up who loves daylight saving? Not so much? I’m writing this at 5.47am according to the cuckoo, and I’m surrounded by children who think it’s well cool.

A few weeks ago we were tricked into buying ’fun’ wall lights for our 4-year-old boys. It was one of those euphoric Ikea moments where everything seems possible thanks to coloured plastic and insanely cheap prices. It was a classic rookie mistake of the kind rarely seen here in Bootcamp North London, where the ruling adults work on a mainly arched eyebrow ‘I’m sorry, you think your opinion counts?’ approach. The lights have, of course, been turned on and off constantly throughout the night, resulting in entirely unnecessary sleep deprivation and rows that we should have just had in Ikea in the first place like normal people.

It’s not been a great week for nerve endings. For the past seven days I have mainly given things up, sleep included. Caffeine, carbs, alcohol, fruit, sugar – it’s only for a fortnight of autumn detox but you can probably feel the tension.

So far, the lack of caffeine has done nothing visible for my skin, ripped my no-headache policy to shreds and had horrific effects on my husband – who’s also indulging in the big Give Up. What it has done, along with the shocking lack of alcohol, is put life into high definition wide screen perspective. This has in turn shed light on cavernous corners of my life that were festering nicely in the semi-gloom of a carb-infested existence. For instance, you might think that after 20 insignificant weeks of blogging, and a many not-so-spare hours researching other people’s offerings, I’d probably be a social networking expert by now right? Well sadly not. And in particular ‘the point of it all’ is still a bit of a haze.

But now, with a clear head and no clear direction, I have had time to read some really geeky books about the whole world of Web 2.0 in order to fully prepare for my genuine ‘big moment’ in the 21st century. The irony of the fact that I had to get a proper hardback book to learn this is not lost on me. Neither is the fact that, because of a very 20th century postal strike I had to get on an actual bus and go to an actual bookshop to get my virtual-life instruction manuals.

The main bit of info I’ve picked up – I can’t use the word virtual anymore, it’s sooo Dotcom. This whole gig isn’t about pretend shops anymore. It’s about real people, real-time streaming, real friends in every portal. Everything, including Wikipedia, is Internet fact, not virtual fantasy.

Next on my reading list is a history of Twitter. Yes, a history. I bet no-one in the Valley goes eight days without caffeine. How else would they squeeze five years of social coding into every Earth year. Meanwhile, I get an extra hour of pain each morning and a cup of mint tea.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Age of Politics

When I first came to London as a student in the early 90s (oh, how much more romantic would early 60s sound…), being principled was as easy as getting dressed. In between leaving the Socialist Worker lying around and introducing myself as a vegetarian, I would trot around campus in my ‘No Means No’ date-rape campaign T-shirt with carefully trashed Doc Martins and hair the same shade of plum as my distressed mini skirt, and it was clear to everyone that I was fully opinionated and ready for heated debate.

Anger is a natural state for students, along with complete inertia – but when everything from the restoration comedy reading list to the choice of bottled beer in the SU bar needs to be challenged, a state of total apathy is essential every now and then to complement the turmoil of life.

This was a time when a love/hate relationship with Katie Roiphe was as far as you had to go into real-life issues to feel politicised and engaged. Wearing a T-shirt stating your beliefs could only make them stronger. But then it was time to graduate, and start putting money where there’d previously only been a need for mouth.

And with that came the gradual stepping down from the soapbox – in tiny almost imperceptible increments to start with. I was shopping for soft furnishings on Saturdays rather than rallying in Trafalgar Square, but I did set-up monthly direct debits to charities to help pay for someone else to do the legwork. New Labour and Nelson Mandela brought an abrupt end to most of my remaining political fury, and suddenly interest rates and promotions were the only things to get a bit bothered about.

So now, after two rungs on the property ladder, three children, several career hops and a couple of poignant birthdays, I no longer have a post-it note list of the things I’m going to change about the world today. I have a nagging sense of unease about some things, a desperate sense of anger about others, and lots of things conspiring to prevent me acting on either. I’d like to blame the kids, but we’re probably back in the realms of apathy.

Last night I had a very unsettling conversation with a very old friend, which made me question the whole issues of beliefs, and whether any of them are ever any more than paper thin. There’s no way you can progress through life with the same unwavering stance you held as a teenager. Everything changes and shifts as it ages – you, your opportunities, your understanding, your priorities and the world you live in. Although I’m not sure my friend would agree, I don’t think my basic principles have changed, but maybe my expectations have. Obsessing about which secondary school I’ll be allowed to send my daughter to is clearly a very personal use of my campaigning energy, and won’t contribute a huge amount to the greater good of society. But even when you’re 18 you have to pick your battles. And I do still have battles.

Maybe you just reach a stage in your life where you have to stop wearing your anger on your T-shirt. Then you won’t disappoint the people who have been around long enough to remember the original slogans.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Working Day

Women eh? Honestly, you just can’t trust us to know what we want. Even after 38 years of being one (that’s my whole life, I haven’t switched), I am no closer to understanding what women want – not for more than about 20 minutes at a time, or the distance from Selfridges to a strong cup of coffee.

I have, for a while now, been complaining that working from home is not what I’m good at –that I miss the free posh water, the fresh-from-uni eye candy and the unmanageable hours of office-based earning. And then last Friday happened. Give me a rare chance to get out of my trainers and away from my lonely workspace and into a pair of heels and onto a train to an actual face-to-face creative meeting, and I spend the three preceding nights fully awake worrying about it. Not the creative meeting bit. I can do that my sleep, if I could get any. The heels bit (specifically which ones and how high is appropriate) and the train bit (specifically the inevitability of missing it after dressing three children, throwing out placatory pain au chocolate and leaving them with their father for the school run of their lives). What’s wrong with me? Isn’t this the dawn of a new life I’d been longing for? And do the answers to these clearly rhetorical questions involve the words controlling, neurotic, contrary, or is this just what motherhood does to us?

I remember going to meet my first new client after the babies were born (actually, two years after they were born). I spent the entire train journey close to tears after realising that my nail varnish was a bit chipped, and obviously the man I was going to meet was going to see this as a direct indication of my working style – sloppy, inattentive and possibly a little slutty. In retrospect, I’d be surprised if he even knew what I was even there for. Poor makeup application was not his concern. And the look on my husband’s face when I told him of my honest fears was not kind.

Having said that, as I left for my train on Friday, he suddenly announced his firm belief that I should go back to an office job. Based mainly on the heels. Actually, I think based entirely on the heels. It was clearly a while since he’d seen me face-to-face and with a hair do sans Weetabix. And while I don’t want to get all ‘Mad Men’ on you and imply that my day can be made perfect only by the wink of approval from a man with his own expense account, it did make me feel good. In the same way as I liked my daughter seeing me in a proper working outfit, heading off to save the world from the scourge of bad website copy. And I liked being let-off the school run for once, and turning left not right outside the house.

But I didn’t sleep for fear of all these changes. And this is when I have to admit that, for me, the working mum question is purely and simply one of routine. Going back to an office would offer me the glorious predictability, time sheets and weekly childcare schedules I can only dream about. However, if I work from home, I can earn, shop, lunch, web surf, spend every afternoon with the kids and still have precious time for all those domestic chores. I just need to embrace the randomness of each day, which after eight years of organising my life around the unbending schedules of mealtimes, nap times, snack times, playgroup times, bath times and over-night clothes washing to save any accidentally unstructured day time, is making me feel light-headed. It’s going to take some practice to remember the genuine pleasure of wearing heels before 8pm.

Monday, 5 October 2009

May contain shot

I know it’s statistically the most common thing to waste money on, but my monthly gym membership has now been completely unused since the start of the summer holidays and I have totally failed to get back into the habit of a morning run or humiliating high-kick around the aerobics studio since the kids went back to school. (I made up the bit about the statistics, but it seems like a reasonable assumption, along with the assumption that no-one will care enough to check.)

Also, my gorgeous basket-on-the-front bicycle is too dangerous to ride because a tiny screw has come out of the thingy that goes through the metal pole which holds the basket in place above the front wheel. Without blinding you with science, this means that the metal pole could slip through the front wheel spokes at any time and deliver me the kind of knee and elbow injuries I’ve not experienced since the mid-1970s.

On the positive side, our shower has finally been fixed. Which is actually one more reason not to go to the gym. And so the yin yang of my life is once more perfectly balanced. I have access to early-morning revitalisation in my own home, but still have a tiny screw missing from my bike, thus adding several sweat-filled hours of tube travel to any journey that could have been completed in minutes on my Dawes Heritage. Vitally, there’s still something to moan about.

I’ve started following a number of American blogs recently, and of the many excellent examples of wit- and sarcasm-soaked confessionals I’ve read, there’s a definite sense of optimism that I don’t believe you generally find in anyone working to Greenwich Mean Time. Daily life is a menu of rich pickings for amusing observations, irritating events and even painful repression therapy, but there’s no sense that any of it is an inevitable consequence of being American. Unlike us Brits who, banal as it sounds, still approach life with the attitude that if all else fails we might just make it to supper with nothing more than an unwarranted parking fine.

Reading the blog comments is the best way I can substantiate this claim. Most of the US ones are fairly unnecessary but wholly supportive. In fact, overwhelmingly complimentary. On even the most popular Brit sites, comments are either of the self-apologetic nature (sorry, I probably shouldn’t say this and it won’t be anywhere near as clever or funny as your post but…) or downright practical. Or, my particular favourites, the passive aggressive ‘why did you feel the need to share this’ type.

The other evening, I was at a very English restaurant in town ordering the very English game pie, and the waiter (nationality unclear) reminded me as he took my order that the pie ‘may contain shot’. Metal shot. Naturally I simply smiled my thanks and set about eating a supper that offered substantial risk of a bullet cracking my molar and necessitating months of NHS waiting rooms and overpriced yellowing crowns. Stiff upper lip, grin and bear it. Without a healthy portion of shot, life would be far too easy. And I’d be biking to gym without a grazed elbow to moan about.