Thoughts, feelings and experiences

What Silly Accidents Have You Had This Year?

As we enter the final few weeks of 2012 I find myself reflecting on some of the genuine stupid accidents and mishaps I have had this year. Not content with being a clumsy oaf by nature, I make my life more complicated and dangerous by spending far too much time trapped in my own thoughts and paying little attention to what is actually going on around me in the real world.

1) Poking myself in the eye with a hyacinth

2) Sitting on a pair hair straighteners set at 230 degrees (I have the scar to prove it)

3) Slipping over on dog vomit

4) Running into a lamp post full pelt and knocking myself completely unconscious as my fiance and I raced to beat the parking inspector back to the car (I had been looking behind me to check where the evil parking inspector was when I struck the post)

5) Bashing my foot hard into a big concrete umbrella stand as I tried to walk and check out a cute guy in the pub beer garden at the same time.

6) Misjudging the position of the sofa, falling heavily on the floor on my tail bone, rendering me unable to sit down for 3 days

7) Flying off the treadmill and ploughing into a wall, trying to retrieve my now-too-big jogging bottoms from around my ankles as I ran

8) Giving myself a black eye tripping over the doormat and smacking my head on a hallway radiator

9) Being bowled over by an angry pig

10) Pulling the bedroom door handle so hard the knob fell off, leaving me trapped for 3 hours until my fiance got home

11) Dropping my spoon into my curry, splashing vindaloo sauce in my eye

12) Dropping my phone down the toilet

13) Falling arse over tit in a supermarket aisle after placing all my weight on the handles of a trolley to do that run and skid thing we all used to do as children (fortunately it was 2am, and the aisle was empty aside from my fiance and a disinterested shelf-stacker who has seen it all before)

14) Getting stung on the boob by an vicious wasp

15) Putting my weekly shopping money through the washing machine

16) Being so desperate to pee after returning home from a long car journey that I failed to notice the toilet lid was down, so I ended up peeing all over myself. Thank goodness I was at home!

17) Dropping an iron on my foot

18) Spending months promising to cook for my fiance’s family, then when the day arrived, watching in horror as the crock pot slipped through my oven-gloved hands, sloshing the entire dinner all over the kitchen floor (We had to get take-away instead)

19) Unplugging my freezer instead of the microwave before going to visit my sister for a week. That was an expensive mistake!

20) Falling face first in the mud trying to put on my wellies on the back doorstep. I panicked so much I just froze in position, and instead of throwing my arms out to break my fall, just clutched on to the welly boot, with half my foot inside it and my leg in the air.

There are many more I have probably forgotten for the time being. Walking into things, poking myself in the eye and spilling things down myself are a common occurence, so I did not think it worth listing them above.

What silly accidents and mishaps have you had this year?


Where Is My Mind?

The biting wind whips my hair against my face. It is already so numb from the cold that I do not feel the sting as it lashes against my cheek. My hat has long since deserted me. I watched it hurtling down the street at breakneck speed, witnessed by judgmental mannequins in shop windows, who noted with amusement that I made no effort to chase the escapee. Mother Nature chalks up an easy victory.

The Autumn leaves perform a frenzied dance around my feet, like hot embers caught in a whirlwind, kissing the pavement before threatening to set my trousers ablaze. I see the clouds conspiring in leaden skies to dump their icy tears upon my weary body. I pick up the pace a little, disappointed not to reach home before the setting sun surrendered to the moon. Now the ghosts and shadows will come out to play, and the innocent footfall of strangers behind me will suddenly become so full of menace. The ever-fading light brings with it a sense of dread for a lone woman on a miserable night in a quiet street, and my cruel imagination does not disappoint, as it conjures up images of muggers and rapists, with knives and guns.

The street lights should offer some comfort, but all they do is cast a sinister glow, like sickly orange puddles upon the pavement, leaving eerie dark spaces between one lamp and the next. The more I try to suppress my ever-darkening thoughts, the more traitorous they become. The black gaps between street lights are quickly filled with ghouls and wild, rabid beasts, baying for my blood with their ferocious fangs and sharp claws. My heart begins to race as I stumble on a loose paving slab. My lungs and throat burn as I gasp in panic, arms flailing as I struggle to regain balance.

I constantly glance around me, looking out for any assailants on the horizon. I hear the rustling of leaves as I pass a bush and wonder whether it really was just the wind, or some unknown entity waiting to gobble me up or suck the life from me. I may as well be 6 years old again, asking daddy to check beneath the bed for monsters. Those nasty creatures lurking in every dark crevice of my room, sending shivers up my spine and eliciting screams of panic in the quietest hours of the night.

The clouds finally burst, releasing their heavy droplets through the gloom with vehemence. The rain beats heavily upon me, soaking my hair in a matter of moments. I curse those macabre mannequins, with their hard, judgmental stares, for making me too embarrassed to chase my hat. They pretend they are rooted to the spot, all stiff and lifeless, but the moment my back is turned I am sure they set about laughing, their restricted limbs moving in robotic fashion, with their creepy plastic faces contorted into crude impressions of human smiles. I shake the images away and begin to jog through the pouring rain.

The cold rain has discovered secret ways to reach every part of my body, trickling down my neck and back, and seeping through my trainers. My feet squelch with every footstep, and my jeans are heavy with rainwater. Still I jog on wards, paranoid and scared, imagining murderous clowns, flesh-eating zombies and humanoid robots in hot pursuit. Their blazing red eyes bore holes in the back of my head. Breathless and aching, I stagger and stumble into my street.

I see my home in the distance – a beautiful beacon promising sunshine, shelter and safety. A distant neighbour watches this crazy girl from their window with interest. A twig catches my coat sleeve as I rush past a naked tree, and I am left lashing around like a lunatic, trying to fight off invisible tormentors. By the time I reach the end of my driveway I am panting and dizzy, fumbling through my pockets to locate my keys. Panic kicks me hard in the guts when I realise that my keys are not there. My tears are lost in the rain as I slump to the floor, my head spinning, surrendering myself to my nightmares. The church bells ring out in the distance, dragging the ghosts from their sleepy pits in the cemetery and alerting them that there is easy prey to be had in Victoria Road.


My Fiance and The Art of Faking Sickness

The dreaded man flu. The sickness that turns our big, strong men into tiny, helpless whiny little kids for as long as they can possibly milk it. The only thing worse than man flu is pretend man flu. See, what my fiance was struck down with last week was a severe case of ‘I-have-big-meetings-today-and-tomorrow-and-I-really-can’t-face-going-to-work-so-I-have-to-feign-a-serious-illness’.

I thought slavery had been abolished until I was forced to wait on my fiance hand and foot as he pretended to lay on his death bed, coughing and spluttering ceremoniously whenever I showed any momentary hesitation in rushing to get him a drink, to run him a bath, or give him a massage. You must not call their bluff, you see. It makes them angry, and then the pretend sickness will go on for much longer, and the ‘symptoms’ will be even more severe. You might even get a call from his mother asking why you’re not looking after her ‘little prince’ properly.

On the first day of fake sickness, my fiance will be mostly bedridden, refusing to eat the chicken soup I have made him, declaring that he is simply too ill to eat. I start to scan the bedroom for chocolate wrappers, knowing full well that he has been stuffing his face with junk while I have been in the kitchen making him soup. Well played, sir. No sign of your … oh no, wait! There they are, the packaging of no less than 3 different chocolate and sweets wrappers, stuffed carelessly under the mattress in a hurry. This renders the most innocent and sickly facial expression he can muster completely ineffective. He WILL eat this soup if I have to force it down his throat myself. I tell him as much, and we are pushed into a deadlock situation that demeans us both. I am spoon-feeding a perfectly healthy 30 year old man chicken soup. I am even blowing to cool it for him! How did this happen?

I let him give Tom Hanks a run for his money in the acting stakes for the first day. It amuses me enough to keep up the facade. By the second day off work ‘sick’, the fiance gets braver. Would you believe that when I got out of the shower that morning I found that he had made himself pancakes, raspberry ripple icecream, chocolate syrup, chocolate sprinkles and a huge vat of coffee. Not 15 minutes before, he had been on the phone to his boss with his weak, sickly voice, claiming that he hadn’t managed to keep any food down for the last 36 hours and that he might try a piece of dry toast for his breakfast. All I have to do is raise an eyebrow, and he’s falling all over himself to justify the huge plate of treats he has just served himself. The ice cream is to soothe his sore throat he tells me, gesticulating wildly, and I cannot begrudge him for that. He punctuates the sentence with a measly attempt at a sickly cough and splutter, clutching at his throat, his tongue out. His acting skills have taken a dive. He must have been taking lessons from my little niece. You can tell from the tongue thing. For children faking illness, sticking your tongue out while coughing is obligatory.

He wolfs down his plate of pancakes and ice cream with all the trimmings, as he watches comedy on the television. He’s laughing and giggling like he has not a care in the world. As morning turns into afternoon it’s all going great for him. I have let him off the hook, aside from a little bit of eye-rolling and eyebrow raising, so he is free to put his feet up and drop the act. But wait, what’s this? His mother is at the front door, laden down with bags of soup and medicine, her face a picture of distress. I guffaw loudly as my fiance flies off the sofa at breakneck speed and crashes through the bedroom door, throwing himself into bed and hauling the covers up to his chin.

I open the door to his worried mother, who immediately asks to see ‘the patient’. I unload her bags of fruit, soup and various cold and flu medicine in the kitchen, listening with amazement and amusement at my fiance acting his arse off for the benefit of his mother in the bedroom. If I go in there, I won’t be able to hold back the giggles, so I linger in the kitchen for half an hour, pretending to do the washing up, until she has seen and heard enough from the world’s sickest son. I am given a list of instructions on how to care for her ‘little boy’, before she shuffles reluctantly out of the door, frowning and fretting and promising to call back later.

As soon as I close the front door behind her, my fiance sheepishly emerges from the bedroom, looking all guilty and foolish. As I catch his eye, we both laugh hysterically. How was she taken in by his pathetic act? How could she not see he was faking it? I am horrified that he could worry his mother that way but touched by her concern. My fiance promises that he will call her in a few hours and tell her that he has made a miraculous recovery, undoubtedly because of her home-made soup and the medicine she got him.

We’re both glad he has come clean about faking sickness. After all the running around I had done for him the day before, he owed me and he knew it. I can’t believe he had me spoon-feeding him soup! I smile sweetly and tell him that if he runs me a bath, gives me a massage and makes me some lunch I will say no more about it. It’s a deal.

3 or 4 months from now, when enough time has passed to risk throwing a sickie again, this whole scene will play out once more …

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Do You Ever Get The Urge To … ?

I never grew out of that habit children have of doing the polar opposite of what a parent or teacher explicitly tells them not to do. I remember getting severely punished as a child for things, but continuing to do these things again and again, despite the consequences. For example, I was once grounded for a week and spanked for throwing water and washing up liquid all over the kitchen lino, so that i could do running skids up and down it. Though I knew my dad would be on the warpath if he caught me doing it again, I just couldn’t stop myself. At every given opportunity I would be at it again, flailing around on the slippery floor, my knees and elbows battered and bruised from the numerous tumbles I had taken.

I did not take my personal safety very seriously. I remember being in the car with my dad and siblings when I was about 6. I knew the child lock was broken and we had been lectured many times about keeping our seat belts on and not playing with the car door. Despite this, I got the sudden urge to take off my seat belt and open the car door one day on our way back from school. I apologise profusely to anyone who may have witnessed a small child flying out of a moving car that day, and rolling painfully into the gutter. Fortunately I only suffered minor cuts and bruises, but my dad was absolutely furious with me. It was time to cross stunt woman off my list of possible careers.

I was once wrongly accused of shoplifting penny sweets from the local shop when I was about 7 years old. I was left humiliated and angry after being forced to turn out my empty pockets by the child-hating manager of the shop, in full view of several of our neighbours. From then on I would get the urge to steal sweets from the local shop every time I went in there. I knew it was wrong, and I knew the consequences, but I just felt like I had to do it. Once I was caught red-handed and frogmarched home by the demon of a shop manager to face reprimand from my father. I was so scared I peed myself. It was time to cross off shoplifting from my list of possible careers.

Then there was the time I ate all the buds from dad’s most prized rose bush for no good reason. They were disgusting and bitter, but once I had that thought in my head, I just had to see it through. My poor dad hit the roof when he noticed the buds missing from the rose bush, but since I had eaten all the evidence, there was no concrete proof that I was the culprit. The perfect crime, or so I thought. I got violently sick that evening and puked up poorly digested rosebuds all over the my dad’s new carpet. It was time to cross off criminal mastermind from my list of possible careers.

I regularly hid in cupboards or behind the sand tray before registration at school as a very young child. I got a kick out of pretending not to be there, then just waltzing in later and confusing them. After a while they wised up to my weirdness and it became customary for the teacher and other pupils to search the room from top to bottom for me at registration. My dad was called into the school and told that they thought I was retarded and that maybe I should go to a special school. My dad put his foot down and insisted that I remained in the school with my other siblings. A month later we were given academic tests to determine capability and I scored the highest in my class, much to the chagrin of the teacher, who was convinced I was as thick as pig poo on account of my bizarre behaviour. I would randomly jump out of my seat screaming just because I got the urge to, or I would race about shouting random words as they popped into my head. I didn’t really understand why I did what I did, but I know it felt like a huge relief to act on my impulses. It seemed that circus freak was the only thing left on my list of possible careers.

Throughout my teens I still struggled to shake off these urges to do and say whatever popped into my head. I would dread being told not to do something, because it would inevitably result in me doing it. I did all manner of stupid things, just to get that hit of adrenaline and then the sweet relief from the strange irritable tension that bubbled up inside me.

One of the worst incidents as a teenager was during a cookery class in school. I was chopping peppers to make a roasted vegetable lasagne when I got the sudden urge to do something really stupid. Catching the eye of one of my classmates, who was notorious for being a bit of a bitch, I turned the knife on myself. With my eyes wide, and her eyes wider, I thrust the knife point towards my stomach. The blade plunged through the plastic apron before I let it go. It rattled noisily on the floor, before I fell heavily to my knees and toppled onto my face. I heard the piercing screams of my terrified classmate and the sound of her throwing up in a sink. I instantly knew what I had done was really cruel, but I felt so much relief in the few minutes after I had done it. For weeks afterwards I was plagued by guilt over my mean prank, but any explanation I tried to give made me sound utterly crazed. On the plus side, I could add actress to my list of possible careers.

At university I was still battling my impulsivity every day. I remember being in my boyfriend’s bedroom and spotting a tiny tear in the curtain. I mentioned it to him, and he told me that it was barely noticeable, and that I should just leave it alone. Once I had noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it. I could swear it was winking at me. When my boyfriend was distracted I took the opportunity to act on my urge to put my finger into the hole. Then commenced a loud rip as the hole trebled in size. My boyfriend spun around in disbelief and yelled at me to leave the curtains alone, but before I knew it I had ripped the curtain almost in two. We were both in shock at what had just happened. I stood there at the scene of the crime, still clutching the curtains for a good minute or so before my boyfriend marched across the room and prised them from my fingers. He stood glaring at the 18 year old child in front of him, waiting for some sort of explanation. When I failed to provide an excuse, he simply pointed at the door – a silent request for me to leave. He didn’t stay mad for long. He endured another 3 years of this kind of behaviour.

As an adult I have still not learnt how to control my impulsive nature. My fiance and I have known each other for almost a decade, and were friends long before we became partners. That poor man bears the brunt of my impulsivity. I can sabotage the most intimate of moments in a heartbeat. If we are having a nice, relaxing cuddle, I will get the urge to suddenly jump, sending him into a panic. Or if things are a little too quiet, I have to fill the silence with a sudden loud noise. He has developed nerves of steel over the years.

The most prominent memory of sudden urges jeopardizing our friendship is the time we were on our way back from a night out at the club when I was at University. For a giggle he had jumped into a shopping trolley. I was wheeling him about as he munched on his scuzzy burger and chips from the kebab shop. As we approached the steep slope to an underpass, to cross beneath the busy road, the treacherous thought popped into my head. We had picked up quite a pace by this point, the trolley careering from side to side, after a couple of obligatory spins around and around to get us good and dizzy. I was running unsteadily towards the slope, when BAM! The thought ‘just let go of the trolley’ popped into my mind. Before I knew what was happening, I could see the shopping cart racing away from me down the hill, towards a flight of concrete steps. I still vividly remember the big, stupid grin on my drunken friend’s face as he turned to look at me, and then the way it contorted into a horrified panic as he noticed he was flying solo. I started to run after the trolley, desperate to correct my misdeed, but it was futile. He was on his own. My friend rested his precious cargo on his lap, prioritizing the burger and chips over his safety, before reaching out for the handrail of the slope. This sent the trolley into a spin, crashing into the bottom of the concrete steps, throwing chips in all directions. The trolley jolted as it hit the steps, sending his burger into the air. We both watched incredulously as the burger turned a full somersault in the air and landed unscathed back in the polystyrene tray. As I reached the bottom of the slope I saw my friend still sitting in the trolley, cross-legged and facing the wrong way, a look of shock and amazement firmly plastered on his face. If he can forgive me for that, he can forgive me for anything.

Now I am sure there must be a few readers who are sitting there thinking ‘what a little cow!’ but I know there are also people who can identify with that little voice in the back of their head that compels them to push the red button, or forces them to continue reading after they see the words ‘DO NOT READ’. The question is, when does that impulsive urge to do something you know is wrong become a problem? It may have landed me in hot water more than once, and it may have led many to wonder just what the hell is wrong with me, including myself, but it sure does make life that little bit more interesting.


The Search For True Love

After years of watching movies, peddling the idea of love at first sight, I was sure that when I met the love of my life I would know it within five minutes of meeting him. This Summer I discovered the love of my life, but it certainly didn’t happen like it does in the movies.

I went on my first date just before my fiteenth birthday with a guy of nineteen. Needless to say my father was not informed! He would have castrated my date. Looking back, I wish he had. Being young and naive, I was flattered by the affections of an older guy. He had a job and a car, and he showered me with gifts and compliments. He was handsome and I was smitten. Lust at first sight, posing as love!

After a few weeks of dating A, I began to feel pressured into sleeping with him. I told A that I wasn’t ready, and for a day or two he feigned understanding. Every time I saw him, he applied more and more pressure, until I foolishly gave in after being plied with alcohol. It was a distressing experience and I cried for hours afterwards. I had been sexually abused when I was very young, and had never really understood or processed what had happened to me. As I sobbed my eyes out, A ignored me. I felt really scared and very alone.

The next day I told him that the relationship was over. A began to cry and plead with me not to leave him because he loved me. I stood my ground. I ignored his phone calls and returned his gifts. A even got his mother to call me and plead on his behalf. After all this failed, he wrote me a letter telling me that he had cancer and that he had only pressured me into sleeping with him because he was dying, and he wanted to lose his virginity before he died. I felt so guilty that I started to hang out with him again, but it suddenly became clear from conversations with his family that it had all been a big lie. There was no cancer, and this certainly was not love.

Several months later I started dating a good Christian boy. B was smart and popular, and morally upstanding. He was kind and patient, and good at everything he put his hand to. I fancied him straight away. I knew B didn’t believe in sex before marriage, so I knew I would not have to worry about being pressured into sex again. We spent a lot of time together, though his deeply devout parents objected strongly to having me in the house after they caught us kissing in the kitchen. Still, we would walk in the cold for hours every evening, enjoying our togetherness.

The relationship with B ended after I was sexually abused one night at a party. My best friend at the time had a new boyfriend, and invited me to a party to meet him and his friends. I ended up getting locked in a room with a random guy, scared for my life. I am convinced my best friend had set me up. The situation had arisen in such a way that there was very little chance she didn’t know what was happening. I was pinned to a bed and raped at knife point. I escaped through the window after the assault, when I was left locked in the room alone. I lost all trust for everyone. Even B, my perfect Christian boyfriend. I couldn’t face telling him what had happened to me, so I ended the relationship. We are still friends.

The next significant relationship was with C when I was 18. It was the Summer I was waiting anxiously for exam results to discover if I had made it into my chosen University. I was reluctant to start dating someone so close to moving away from home. We had only 3 months, and I was still not very trusting. C went to extreme lengths to make me his girlfriend, and I eventually relented. I warned him that I wasn’t looking for anything serious and that it would inevitably end in a couple of months. He accepted this and we began casually dating. When the time came for me to leave for University we discussed our plan to remain friends, and acknowledged our relationship was over, as intended from the start. He seemed a little disappointed, but accepted this. Or so I thought.

I was terrified to be leaving home for the first time and I was so shy and anxious about meeting new people and making new friends. In the first few weeks of University, my plans to go out and spend time with my new friends and form lasting relationships with people on my campus were constantly sabotaged by C. He turned up on my doorstep uninvited at all hours without any warning, after travelling two and a half hours to see me. He insisted on me staying in with him. I pleaded with him to give me some space so that I could establish friendships and not be left out of social events. I was already homesick and missing my dad terribly. I needed to make friends.

C also seemed to be under the illusion that we were still a couple. I tried to correct him, but he refused to accept it. Then he started throwing wild accusations around, claiming that I had been cheating on him while I had been at University. I pointed out that even if I had slept with anyone there, which I absolutely had not, that it was none of his business because we were no longer a couple. He blew a fuse and started ranting about how he would kill himself if I dumped him. I was really terrified, as he paced up and down my room, holding the bottle of bleach he’d taken from my loo, threatening to drink it. He kept telling me that he loved me. It didn’t look anything like love to me.

Things with C carried on this way for a while. He would call my phone over 100 times every day, leaving scary voice mails, threatening to harm me and my family and threatening to harm himself. He continued to show up uninvited at my door. I begged him to get some help. I called his dad in tears to ask him to keep an eye on C. In the meantime I was a wreck. This was the time I started taking prescribed antidepressants. After a few months things died down. C found a new girl and was happy again. You will probably be surprised to learn that C and I are still friends. Obviously, it was a couple of years before I started talking to him again, but he did get help and is in a much better place now.

My next significant boyfriend was a University friend. I had a torrid on/off relationship with D for about 3 years. We got on so well as friends, we thought it was the natural thing to do to start dating. It was fiery and passionate, with plenty of drama. We both got easily jealous and would play games. We were young and stupid, and we made a lot of mistakes. I think we both knew we were not right together as a couple, but we got caught up in some crazy, head twisting. We clearly had a lot of love for one another, but there was a lot of respect lacking. We finally wised up and ended it. D is still one of my very best friends. We grew up a lot after we left University and we enjoy a good, solid friendship now.

There were no more significant relationships after D. I went on a few dates, but nothing really came of them. I was tired of looking for love at the ripe old age of 22. My experiences were nothing like the love I had seen in the movies. I gave up. I had known lust at first sight but never real love. I resolved never to go looking for love again. If love wanted find me, it knew where I was. Hiding in the corner, protecting a bruised heart and an even more fragile sanity.

This summer I discovered my True Love, 6 years after my last serious boyfriend. Do you know who my TL is? None of that love at first sight crap. None of that knowing from the very first moment I clapped eyes on him. My TL is my best friend. The guy I have known for almost a decade, who has been there, holding my hand and wiping my tears through every challenge I have faced. My stoic knight, standing by my side year after year, through thick and thin, hoping to be noticed as more than just a friend.

We met while I was still at University, dating D. We were working the same summer job. I was new to the job and full of nerves. He rushed in and saved the day when I needed help. We soon became close friends. We spent a lot of time together, and I lived with him for years as a housemate after my father died. We got on so well that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize our friendship. We have seen each other every day for many years. I knew that he had fancied me when we first met, but I was sure that had faded as the years rolled by.

This Summer my best friend and I finally came to a realisation. We were never going to love and trust anyone else more than we loved and trusted each other. If one of us started dating someone else, our friendship as it was would suffer greatly. We would both be unhappy. As this realisation dawned on us, we made a decision. We would risk everything. Our friendship on the line, we decided to start dating each other. It was something we had never allowed ourselves to think about before.

It was a revelation. After just 8 weeks of dating, my TL proposed to me. We had wasted enough time. We now know how much we want to be together. I waited all those years for love at first sight, believing that was how it would happen. I had watched all those movies showing unrealistic portrayals of how love should be. And all the while I missed my knight in shining armour, standing patiently by my side all along.


My Family & The Man With Eyes In The Back Of His Head

On the last Friday of every month my partner and I make the four hour journey to my sister’s house and stay the whole weekend. The mornings there always start the same way. At some ridiculous hour before dawn my two young nieces will appear beside the bed, giggling excitedly, tickling me and tapping me on the forehead. I will hear my sister muttering a groggy apology from her bedroom, and the heavy snores of the girls’ father who works late shifts at weekends. They are exhausted.

Once they are satisfied that I am fully awake, and have had their morning cuddle from me, the girls begin to harass my partner. He wearily removes sticky little fingers from his ears and nostrils, knowing that he must keep his eyes closed, or he will definitely have to wake up and play. Sometimes, if he keeps his eyes closed and stays still for long enough, the girls will give up and allow him five more minutes of precious sleep before the assault continues. My partner and I don’t have children yet, but we see how these two little mischief-makers run their parents ragged.

My youngest niece cannot talk much yet, but she sure can move! She races unsteadily from one side of the room to the other as fast as her little legs can carry her, making a beeline for all the things she should not be touching. If you take your eyes off her for a single moment, she will swipe your phone and use it to hammer her building blocks together or put it in her potty with the entire contents of her juice cup poured on top. Or she’ll find a pair of her mum’s shoes, a million sizes too big and attempt to walk in them. We all know how that ends. With my niece flat on her face, bawling. Two minutes later she’ll be at it again. Then commences an awkward half an hour of hunching over the toddler, ready to catch her if she should topple, because simply removing the shoes causes far too much screaming and crying, and despite living in a house packed to the rafters with toys, over-sized shoes are apparently where all the fun is at.

My older niece is full of questions. She wants to know everything about everything. She will interrogate you for hours on end, without pausing for breath. When she was younger you could fob her off with silly answers that would make her giggle for ages. Now she has no time for silly answers. She’ll put her hands on her little hips, roll her eyes and sigh, telling us not to be ‘so ridiculous’. When she’s not asking questions, she’s dragging you around the house trying to involve you in all her games. Games in which you have to participate, but are never, ever allowed to win.

Despite what I have written here, I love my nieces very much. They are very sweet a lot of the time, but the point I wanted to make is that they are very hard work. There are two of them and two parents, and they still leave both parents exhausted every day. I just cannot help but sit and wonder how on earth my father raised five children all on his own. How? How?

He must have had eyes in the back of his head. He joked about it often enough. He ran a tight ship at home, but I suppose you would have to with five little tearaways on the loose. I often refer to him as a superhero, because I am convinced that you would need special powers to do what he did. My dad reassured us that he never for a single second thought about giving us up for adoption in all those years. It takes a very strong man to stand by his children when the odds are stacked against him. I am so proud and so grateful for all that he did for us.

When my father died several years ago my whole world fell apart. He was the centre of my universe. The only way I got through it was realising just how blessed I was to have him in the first place. Of all the dads in the world, I was lucky enough to get him. I will not be bitter about losing him any more. I will be grateful that I got to spend so many years with him. Rest in peace, daddy.

Any single parents out there, I salute you!


Do You Remember When Rain Was Fun?

The colossal, black clouds are crying thick, heavy tears today. I draw back the bedroom curtain a little so I can trace the course of a single raindrop down the cold window pane with my finger. I want to go outside and dance in it, like I had as a child, to feel totally free again. I had such fun in my childhood, getting soaked to the bone as I splashed around in countless puddles wearing my polka-dot wellies . Puddle jumping, we called it. A perfectly legitimate pastime for us on soggy afternoons, so long as dad was not around. He used to worry that we would catch a chill, you see.

Oh, to be completely drenched in rainwater again! Not caring who should stare and judge, as I kick and slosh, twirling around and around with my arms spread wide. An open invitation for all to join in and remember the simple pleasures in life. Free fun! Roll up! Roll Up! Forget your worries and your troubles for a few minutes. Stomp and dance and smile and sing. The clouds may be gloomy and grim in charcoal skies, but surely that alone is reason to frolic. An act of defiance against the darkness and depression.

As a child I would imagine our rebellious dances in the rain having special powers to chase the clouds away, and bring Mr. Sunshine out again. On those rare occasions when clouds did part after a torrential downpour, we were rewarded with rainbows and gleaming sunshine. We would marvel at how powerful our sun dance must have been, expecting congratulations and thanks for our services from our parents, who are less fond of the rain. We would pay no mind to all those times in the past when we failed to bring back blue skies and conjure technicolour arcs. We would celebrate only our success. Our victory was rewarded with a hot bath, comprising mostly of bubbles, and though there was a look of scorn upon my father’s face as we squelched up the front path in our sodden wellies, dripping from head to toe, I knew he was secretly pleased that we had fixed the weather for him. They were magical times.

I kneel unsteadily on my bed, opening my window just enough to push my hand out, catching some fat, heavy raindrops in my palm. I watch them trickle down my wrist, then course slowly down the length of my forearm. The chill of the air does not reach me until I notice the man at the traffic lights, raising his head to look up at me, his expression indecipherable on such a gloomy afternoon and at such a distance. I instinctively recoil into the warmth of the bedroom, snatching the curtain closed as quickly as I can. I become aware of the blood rushing through my ears, as my heart beats violently in my chest. The curtains flap wildly in the breeze, threatening to reveal me cowering behind them. I hear the faint bleep of the traffic lights, signalling that it is now safe for the unknown man to cross the street. I sit shivering now, trying to calculate how long it will take for him to make his way over the crossing and disappear from view. I desperately want to close the window, but I cannot bear the thought of being seen. Such is life with extreme social anxiety.


My Dad, The Superhero

The biggest mistake I ever made was believing that my father was invincible. After a few too many drinks on birthdays or Christmases my dad would speak of plans for his funeral. I always laughed and called him a silly old fool, keen to avoid the subject. I told him that he would probably outlive us all. Having been such a constant, solid, reliable presence in my life, it was difficult to imagine a time when he would not be around. He was my superhero and superheroes just do not die.

As a single father of 5 children, my dad ran a tight ship at home. Bedrooms were to be kept exceptionally clean and tidy, and were only to be used for sleeping in. We were never late for school, taking a day off was allowed only on those rare occasions when one was genuinely on their death bed, and homework was to be completed on the day it was set. Chores were shared equally and were carried out immediately after dinner. If you had spoken to me at 8 years old, I would have told exaggerated tales of child slavery. If you were to ask me now, I would say that I wish I had complained less and found more ways to help out. Hindsight is such a valuable thing.
Misconduct carried punishments. Extra chores, being banned from the computer and being grounded were commonplace.

Occasionally, for bigger misdemeanours, we would get a shoe across the backside. I know a lot of people do not agree with spanking children, but we actually found the other punishments much harder to bear than this. We all knew that my dad didn’t actually want to hurt us. We could see it in his face before the shoe made it’s appearance, and long after the shoe had resumed residence next to its pair. During a conversation with my older brother when we were about 7 or 8 years old, I remarked that the spanking with the shoe didn’t really cause any pain. My brother said that he had noticed this too, and that he had found the best way to handle a shoe punishment situation was simulate crying immediately dad picked up the shoe, so that the punishment would be over quicker, and spare dad too much distress. We all became quite good little actors and actresses when the shoe came out. We never had the heart to admit to any of this to dad, even after we had grown up and left home.

Money was always tight, but we were never short of food. Dad was an excellent cook, and the only time we ever turned our noses up at the food on our plates was when he served liver and onions about once a month. We had loudly protested many times, but he insisted upon serving it again and again, because it’s ‘good for you’. I can see how being in possession of my own liver is good for me, it is a vital organ after all, but I could see no advantage to consuming the internal organs of another animal. Liver days were okay for a while. We had a little system, my siblings and I. Prior to dinner one of us would conceal a plastic carrier bag in our pocket. We would all linger at the dinner table, eating our mashed potatoes and onions, and chopping up the liver for effect, so that dad wouldn’t notice we were not eating it. Then, while dad went to the kitchen to rinse his plate, the carrier bag would be whipped out of one of our pockets in a frenzy, so that we could all quickly throw our liver into it before dad caught wind of our deception. The liver-laden carrier bag would remain hidden under the table until an opportunity arose to sneak it out to the bin. Our system worked well for a couple of years until we were caught red-handed. After our lie had been discovered, my dad would sit with us on liver days until we had all finished everything on our plates. The were some epic stand-offs in those days. Some of us would sit at the table retching and holding our noses for several hours. Dad triumphed every time. We did not leave that dinner table until we had finished every last morsel.

Now, I would not have described my dad as my superhero if there was only this strict side to his nature. To the casual observer I hear he was rather imposing. He had the stature of a grizzly bear, a very blunt and direct manner, and a quick temper with anyone who dared question his parenting skills or attack one of his cubs. While we saw a lot of his tough nature, we also had the benefit of his softer side. We often regarded him as a big, cuddly teddy bear. He was the most attentive nurse when we were sick, his huge tummy was the best cushion to lie upon when watching television in the evenings, and his hugs offered the safest haven you will ever encounter. His sense of humour was second to none, and his bargain-hunting skills were incredible. On the tightest of budgets he was able to provide the most veritable feasts and a warm, comfortable home. While our holidays were not extravagant breaks abroad, we did take coastal caravan holidays at every opportunity and spent plenty of time bonding as a family.

Dad watched us carefully as we grew up, all the time looking out for our personal strengths and interests. Once he had figured out what each of us were good at or interested in, he would make sure that we had whatever we needed to get better at it. Some of us were good at more academic things, others were better at sports, and some excelled in more artistic ventures. Whatever we wanted to do, we knew dad was behind us one hundred percent. I always suffered from a crippling lack of self-esteem, believing that I was no use at anything, despite being the only one of my siblings to go to Grammar school. For the benefit of any non-British readers, the Oxford Dictionary describes this as ‘a state school to which pupils are admitted on the basis of ability’. What faith I lacked in myself, he more than made up for. He was sure to let me know he was proud of me, and good grades were always rewarded. I would never had made it to university if it was not for his constant reassurance and support.

As you can imagine, raising 5 children on your own is no walk in the park. I look back with a sense of shared guilt at how hard we made things for him sometimes. He always did his best to reconcile differences between warring siblings, but somehow he would always come out worst. He understood that he was dealing with 5 very individual personalities, but the moment he treated any one of us any different from the others there were protests of favouritism. Arguments between siblings were quick to flare up, but could just as easily disappear. When dad was in a stinking mood, stressed about health and money worries he could not explain to us, we often united against him. I don’t know at what stage my siblings started to understand his position, but by my early teens I began to realise just how difficult his life must be.

He had the occasional girlfriend, but the relationships never lasted long. He made it clear that he had to put us first, and no woman he dated could handle the pressure of 5 children. Dad had sacrificed so much for us after our mother walked out of the family home when we were all under 7 years old. He was a man fraught with anxiety. Dad worried constantly about making ends meet, and I recall hearing him pacing the floors at all hours trying to figure out how to get through the next day. Whenever he was ill he hid it from us so that we would not worry. When he suffered any injury or ailment, he soldiered on without a word. If questioned, he said he was fine.

Once we all got older, things started to change. With each child that left the family home to start life as an independent adult, the rules relaxed a little. Punishments were not as tough and dad got softer and more sentimental. He had grown accustomed to a busy household, and soon we would all grow up and leave home. Once or twice he confided that he would be lonely without us all. I assured him that I would never be far from home. Then his mask began to slip. Daddy Invincible suddenly became less strong and more mortal. He took lots of medications for various ailments and though his arms were still the safest place in the world to be, there was no denying that he was becoming more fragile.

I was the 3rd child to fly the nest. I moved 120 miles away to university. Far enough away to achieve some level of independence, but still close enough to visit home every other weekend. I was immediately homesick. I fretted day and night about him, but he always insisted that he was fine. Dad and I exchanged calls, texts, emails and letters regularly, each worrying about the other. There was never any doubt that I was loved and missed at home, and that he was ridiculously proud of me. He told me almost every day I was away.

Doing well at university was my opportunity to repay him for all the sacrifices he had made for me. I still battled with my chronically low self-esteem, feeling stupid and unworthy of my place at university. My final year thesis/dissertation was awarded the highest grade possible. It was placed in the university library for other students to read and reference. Rather than celebrating my achievement, I felt sick about it. What if the grade I had been given was a mistake? I felt like a fraud.

This all changed when I graduated and moved home. My daddy asked if he could read my dissertation. It must have been mind-numbingly boring for him, but to his credit he sat there and read every single word of it. I was so touched by his interest in my work that I went to my room and cried. He ranted and raved to anyone who would listen about how clever it was and how proud he was of me. This was the happiest day of my life.

Just a few short months later I returned home one evening from a friend’s house to experience the worst day of my life. The feeling of dread hit me the second I noticed the morning post still on the mat as i pushed the front door open. I stumbled to my dad’s bedroom, noticing the door open and the light on. Empty. I staggered quickly but unsteadily down the hallway, calling his name, holding onto the wall to keep me upright. I just knew that something was wrong. As I burst forth into the front room I saw my dad slumped face-down over the arm of the sofa, twisted at an unnatural angle. I heard a deafening, high-pitched scream. It took me a long time to realise that the sound was coming from my own mouth. I glared in horror at his cold, lifeless body, pleading with him to get up. This was surely not happening. He would stand up any moment now, with his big, silly smile and shout “April Fool!”, even if it is September.

That was the day I learned that superheroes do die.


The Girl Who Declared War Upon Herself

Continued from the previous post …

When you live in a world where even the inanimate objects show more signs of life and purpose than you, you’re doomed. The glass, the tablets, the air in my lungs and the beads of sweat upon my brow in moments of panic, they all share my desire to escape from me. Day after day I am trapped in my own mind, a cruel and hostile territory full of anger, fear and unrest. Year after year the war rages on, as the wrath of my psyche wreaks havoc with my body and soul, savaging its way to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – complete destruction.

It was a revelation to discover some months ago that I had declared war upon myself. I did not realise it until the battle was long underway. Now too many years of bitter conflict have taken place, and warfare is all I know. I am hardwired into this and though I have tried my best, I cannot reach ceasefire.

So enveloped by this inner turmoil have I been, that I frequently forget that there is a world outside. This world has always seemed inaccessible to me, so it is now unwelcome. However, the outside world demands my attention from time to time, so it comes crashing through the barriers I have built up against it, rushing to the battle lines to join ranks with the traitor that is my own psyche. When this powerful allegiance takes place, I become paralysed by fear, and my defeat appears imminent.

The oppressive regime place their many hands upon my throat, squeezing the life from me. The once raging fire in my soul has now dwindled to a tiny flicker, waterlogged by my own bitter tears. As the smoke and ash of my burnt out hopes and dreams join the clamour to suffocate me, I know that any witness to this spectacle will testify with certainty that the very first hands upon my throat were my own.

Just when I am sure I am drawing my last pained breath, I hear the sparse band of allies, making their way through the smoke and rubble, joined by my precious angels. I hear my angels’ wings fluttering in the breeze as their sweet voices, full of innocence and love, wash over me.

“You Are My Sunshine
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away”

I feel the hands start to loosen their grip around my throat, as the smoke begins to clear. Awed by the presence of angels, who are now nurturing the tiny flicker of fire in my soul, enemy forces begin to retreat. The angels stoke and feed the fire, with gentle kindness and patience, giving rise to a fragile peace in my weary mind.

I can still clearly discern my enemies upon the horizon, full of menace. They are far enough away to pose no imminent threat, but close enough to remind me with their evil eyes that we have unfinished business. Even angels so bright and beautiful as mine cannot soothe away such ominous dread. But they have bought me some more time, regardless of whether I feel I want or deserve it.
I take a deep breath and i hear the voice of an angel in my ear.

“Guess what, Auntie?! My tooth fell out yesterday. And my little sister has two new teeth growing”, my angel tells me excitedly over the phone. “If you put the webcam on today, we can show you”.

The sweet voice of my niece startles me, and I realise that once more I have been preoccupied with inner thoughts, rather than fully engaging with the outside world. With an overwhelming sense of guilt, I shake my dark daydream away and throw myself into conversation with my niece.

“So, how does that song go again?” …

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Panic and the Prisoner

I’m 28 years old and i still sleep with the light on. Last night i woke up bolt upright in my bed, covers strewn across the floor, cold and frightened. Tears stung my eyes, as my heart raced, and i struggled to catch my breath. The terrifying images from my nightmares take a long time to blink away. It was the sound of my own strangled scream that had woken me. I’d been calling for my daddy again. I spent the rest of the night shaking, willing the morning to arrive more quickly. I never liked the dark.

Sometimes i wonder if i have grown up at all, or if i’m still that scared little child, trying to make sense of the world. I live a suffocated and limited life. I lift my curtain a little to peek at the world outside. The cold, watery winter sunlight rests upon my pale skin. I can almost feel it burn, as I watch the cars go by, and the children playfully nudging one another in the street as they make their way to school. I watch the world turn from the confines of my bedroom, until my head spins and i feel sick with envy. I won’t be going out today.

I’m held prisoner in a first floor flat. I’m hesitant to say ‘my’ because it doesn’t belong to me, and to use the word ‘live’ would be misleading. I don’t live, i merely exist. Day after day i sit here. I do nothing, but i feel everything. My captor keeps me here in isolation. Sometimes i can venture out, but not often. My captor is always with me. She tells me the world doesn’t want me, doesn’t need me. And at least here, in this room, i am safe. Well, as safe as i can be. Going out is a dangerous and terrifying ordeal. I am better off here. But i’m lonely.

With teeth clenched and eyes narrowed, i study the face of my tormenter. I’m filled with a cocktail of emotions as she glares back at me. Her fat, ugly face angers me. She contorts her face to mimic my expression. I change my stance, and she sychronises. I put down the mirror in disgust, and i cry. Big, fat self-pitying tears, mixed with hatred and bitterness. My jailer and i are one and the same. I’ll never be freed from her, because i am her. Inextricably combined forever.

I laid upon my bed, holding my knees to my chest, for an indefinite amount of time. My head feels as if clamped tightly in a vice. The pressure is insufferable. Very slowly and reluctantly I roll out of my pit to fetch a glass of water. I tiptoe as lightly as i can across the carpet. I must be careful not to make a sound because I do not want to incur the wrath of the downstairs neighbour. I have only seen him a handful of times in the 3 years since i moved in, but he’s a cantankerous old man, full of rage. He resents having to work, while i do not. I hear him ranting in the evenings to his timid wife about benefit cheats like me. The able-bodied who refuse to work. I have two arms and two legs, so what is to stop me working like everyone else? He works to pay my benefits you see, so that i may loll about all day, ‘living the life of life of Riley’. I don’t know who Riley is. I looked it up once, but I didn’t find a definite answer.

As i take a glass from the cupboard and rinse it under the icy cold water, I again make a wish that the man downstairs would stop reading my post. If he wasn’t so nosy, he might never have known that i do not work. He likes to select the most important-looking letters and tear them open clumsily. He makes no secret of what he does. I’ve never confronted him about it because i’m too scared, but he will only claim that it was an accident. At least he always leaves them upon the bottom stair for me to read after him. I worry that if i make a fuss, i might never receive a letter again.

I hear his voice in the hall as he leaves for work. I quickly creep back into my bedroom, spilling the freezing cold water on my toes as i go. The shiver works it’s way up my body, coming to a crashing crescendo in my already throbbing brain. A wave a nausea grips my stomach,as I run to my bed and draw the covers around me. My heart beats out a powerful, arrhythmic dirge against my ribs, as i fumble blindly for my beta-blockers on the bedside table. If i have a panic attack now, it’s my own fault for forgetting to take my Propanolol upon waking. My hands shake as i wrestle to free a little pink tablet from its foil prison. The first pill slips through my hands, propelling itself from the packet, fully embracing its new-found freedom by taking refuge under the bed. No doubt seeking solace with countless others who had ventured there before him. The second pill spills out onto my hand, and a grip it tightly. I feel my heart force itself into my throat, and despite the chilling temperature of the bedroom, i feel the first beads of sweat breaking out upon forehead. With complete lack of dexterity, i manage to guide the tablet into my mouth, before gulping down the entire glass of water. Panic makes itself at home as the glass slides from my grasp, defiantly unwilling to stay trapped with me in this hell. It’s too late. I’m suffocating. I think i might really die this time.