Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Four Weddings and a Funeral

My grandmother was born the same year the Titanic ship sank - 1912. She was born in the only house she ever lived in. There she stayed through her childhood, marriage, widowhood. One icy night in early December 1998 she slipped walking across the yard of the house and lay there all night, frozen, until a neighbour saw her light on and rescued her. The night spent facing the elements gave her pneumonia, which eventually a week later, killed her. She'd already survived cancer that year, but it had returned with a vengeance. I like to think that her house and that fall somehow saved her from a much worse death. It had looked after her all her life... and kept her safe until her last breath.

She was eldest of 7 surviving children; 2 more had died: Nancy aged 4 had been killed by a car, the other a stillborn baby. When my Grandmother was 18 her own mother died, leaving her to mother 6 children - the youngest Edna was only 4. My Grandmother was so busy raising her siblings she never got around to marrying until she was in her early 30s - in that era she was practically seen as an old maid.

My Mother was her firstborn, then she had another daughter. By then her siblings had all left home, bar Edna - her closest sister, who came home, only to discover she had cancer. My Grandmother cared for her until she passed. By then, my Mother had divorced my father, so I lived there too. I have vague memories of bringing Edna icy drinks to help with the pain.

My Grandmother's hands were the oldest looking part of her: never having owned a washing machine she scrubbed everything by hand. We had no central heating; daily she built a roaring fire. At night, for supper she'd let me toast marshmallows and nothing on earth has ever tasted so gooey and sweet. Her talent for baking was extraordinary. One anorexic friend resisted all food, bar my Grandmother's famous shortbread. She came from a era of giving and supporting your neighbour, so she would mind a neighbour's child (refusing to accept any payment) until the single Mum returned home from work. She would help neighbours by paying the milkman, fishmonger and coal man if they were out. She would feed their pets when they went on holidays - open their curtains, water their plants. When new people moved onto our windy little lane she would appear with apple pies, biscuits and buns to welcome them. If a neighbour was ill she would make her healing chicken soup and carry it up the lane to them, a teatowel around the bowl to keep it warm.

Every day she would walk to the local shops - a journey that should take 5 minutes at most. But she chatted to everyone: the butcher, the newsagent, the pharmacist, the greengrocer, the neighbours etc and it took her the best part of two hours. She also visited an old lady who was immobile - brought her a daily paper and made her tea. She kept her company every day until she died. She never asked for anything, never cared for material possessions. She was all about giving to others, making time for people and treating a neighbour as you would want to be treated yourself. Looking back, she was a hero in every sense of the word. I wish I'd told her that; but she wouldn't have believed me.

A regular church goer, she would bake for Soldiers Sunday - the first sunday of every month. As I tried to sneak a jam tart, or pinch a warm german biscuit she would slap my hand away. Her Husband had died when my Mum was 21, my aunt 18. She broke the news to them as they lay in bed - refusing to cry. "Why would I be sad when I have two wonderful daughters," she said as her children wept.

She loved Tweed talc, refused perfumes and always had a great make-up line where her foundation finished at the edge of her neck. She had a set of pearls she kept for special occasions. She never wanted designer goods or fancy meals. She had simple tastes, and would have hated anyone 'wasting' their money on her.

I lived with her until I was 11, then my Mum moved in with her boyfriend. With my drama teacher I wept, worried my Grandmother would be lonely without us. I missed her beyond words. Her hairnets falling across her brow, her laugh, her soft worn hands, the smell of her baking, her brisk hugs, the way she cried 'yo' when we drove over bumps on the road on the way to relatives in the tiny seaside town of Donaghadee.

She died on Christmas Eve's eve 1998. It was the year she had fought cancer and won. She'd watched my Mother re-marry - one of four weddings I attended that year. We arrived at the hospital - a nurse had been calling us for an hour, but pre-mobiles, hadn't got through on the landline. The stone cold corridors were eerily silent, the lights dimmed. We arrived to be told that she had gone. I saw her - but it wasn't her - turned on my heel and fled.

Her funeral was on Boxing Day. The storms gathered and the rain fell. I stood shivering in the church, wondering if I would ever feel any warmth in bones again. She was 86. Last night as I drove home a song came on the radio that I had played over and over the Xmas of '98: GooGoo Dolls - Iris. It always makes me think of her. The tears fell down my face as I missed her so acutely - wishing with all my heart she had met my beautiful children, that I could reach out and hold her hand, that she would laugh me with one last time.

They don't make them like my Granny anymore. Her era has gone: where the old guard women of the street welcomed in the newly weds and skilled them in baking, in starching white linen, in needlework. There wasn't a stain on earth that she couldn't get rid of, or a baking recipe that defied her.

My Grandmother was a truly selfless person - she had more qualities in her little finger than I have ever possessed. I will never stop missing you Annie. You and your shortbread.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Foxcatcher and Birdman

A few years ago a friend went to see the film The Social Network. It had been my favourite film of that year but she admitted that she was 'livid' with herself for not enjoying it. I never really understood her reasoning until now: I wanted to love Foxcatcher and was annoyed as hell that I didn't fall in love with it.

So why not?

It is an unsettling and compelling film, where Steve Carrell gives a career defining performance as billionaire John Du Pont who wishes to be a champion but is a mere collector of champions instead - gathering other peoples' trophies and displaying them as if they were his own. Du Pont hires Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to join his Foxcatcher team and live in his compound. From the very beginning his creepy offer would send anyone running for the hills, but Schultz, a lonely man who appears to live only to grapple with other men, it seems like the offer of a lifetime.

At first everything is hunky dory in the Pennsylvanian fort: Mark keen to impress, Du Pont desperate to be needed. But slowly their friendship begins to unravel, as does Mark whereupon Du Pont drafts in Mark's brother Dave - another Olympic gold medalist - to join the gang.

In this hollow tale, Mark Ruffalo gives an extraordinary performance as Dave - a flash of colour on an otherwise grey palette. The scene where he struggles to explain on camera that Du Pont is his 'mentor' is one of the best.  Dave engages us, we care about him and his cute family and relish the fact he stands up to Du Pont, protecting his younger sibling.

The problem with this wrestling film is that in spite of all that rolling around in bare skin, we never really get under it. Du Pont - a man child whose mother clearly preferred her horses - is completely flat, bar his spectacular nose. What motivates the tragedy at the end of the film? His unquenched thirst for his wrestlers? If the man had only come out, would tragedy have been averted? I left the cinema scratching my head. Foxcatcher isn't a bad film, it just is incredibly s-l-o-w. That combined with the sparse script that heavily relies on subtext (usually no bad thing - here just makes the film feel 'empty') and a lead that we don't really care about adds up to a film that is watchable but not memorable.

Similarly Birdman walks a similar path. It is a film where art imitates life and Micheal Keaton - best known for his role in the 80s Burton Batman flicks, is an ex-movie star Birdman who is trying to resuscitate his career by staging a Broadway play. For me, any scene not involving his mixed up, sexed up daughter/assistant played by a brilliant Emma Stone was simply not worth watching. The ending was predictable; the whimsy not whimsical enough, the special powers revealed to be real (I think?) which instead of adding to the story merely detracted from it.

Keaton is magical - playing essentially a more wired version of himself - but the one-take structure is wearing and whilst the script is sharp and occasionally funny, I left the theatre feeling ambivalent about the whole thing. Almost as if everyone who wants to appear clever will clap and praise a film who points a finger at the vacuousness of Hollywood, it's opening weekends, social media and how anyone can now be a celebrity. But we know all this - we don't need Keaton in his pants running through Times Square to tell us that...

Call me sentimental, but I want someone to champion, to love, to make me laugh and weep and run the gauntlet of all possible emotions through a 2 hour window. In short, I want HEART. In these two films I failed to find it. But that's fine - because tonight, fingers crossed, at the Globes, Boyhood should take the prize as it has it in spades...

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Time to say Goodbye....

So the first thing I am saying goodbye to in 2015 is.... foundation.

I have since about 1990, been a slave to the bottle (and the bleach - but that is something I aint ever throwing away). It is a surprising make-up bag accessory to be chucking out as I race towards 42 - but my skin has honestly never been better. Sure, I'm ageing, so it isn't like I have 20 year old supermodel dewy flawless California gurl skin - but with the help of two trusted buddies my skin is calmer than it has been in years. I have no need to slather on a load of pan stick to make my face look normal. A make-up artist at Mac once told me that where make-up is concerned, (and ageing) less is in fact more. She puts on eye make up, lipstick, mascara and all and then does the skin last - as she explained that the ore of your own skin that shines through, the younger you look. Heavy set make up is ageing and dulls the skin.

So who do I have to thank for my new make-up free status? My two new buddies: Nutribullet (over Xmas when I had to set him to one side as I ate Lindt chocolate for breakfast amongst other things like croissants my skin raged and gave me a spot the size of Ireland) and a Clarisonic. I know I need to get more water down my gullet (as my buddy who drinks water all the time has the best skin I know) and I should step away from Polenta cake - and leave the liquor alone - but all in all it has been a real surprise to see the difference these two products have made to my skin. I cannot recommend them highly enough. A Clarisonic is kind of a vibrator for your face, and leaves you feeling all sparkly and clean.

It is so time consuming, putting on slap - and yet in my case - so necessary. I don't want to terrify the Mums on the school run, or even my children. Make up is a saviour - giving me eyes when a night on the tiles has made them piss holes in the snow; hiding blemishes bigger than an egg; covering up eye bags that you could do your weekly shop in. So it is with trepidation that I set the main man - Mr hide behind me - aside. Who knows, by February I may be knee deep in Lancome - but for now, crows feet, eye bags, moles and pigment spots are all on show. Damn, it feels good.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Happy New Years!!!!

Yay for 2015. Cannot believe it has been 15 years since the Millennium evening... Cannot believe that I am 42 this year... Maybe I wasn't really born in '73 - I am certain they got the dates wrong, cos I feel about 18. Thank god for my Mum's xmas gift to me of a Clarisonic - next time you see me, I am bound to look 25.

I've eaten more cheese than a fromagerie stocks, sunk more prosecco than is humanly possibly and if I even look at a toblerone I feel ill. Thank god Xmas is over. It kind of unnerves me - all those days of the week that feel like a parade of Sundays. I like routine, the kids back in school and life returning to normal.

I'm excited about 2015. Why? Because reading back on this blog to last Jan, when I was filled with fear about walking away from my job in Feb - made me realise how far along the path I have come. Oh there is still more of the proverbial hill to climb - but that's the fun bit. Challenges are always the best bit, often more so than the reward.

So Broadchurch is back tomoz (YAY), a new series of True Detective begins filming with Taylor HOT Kitsch involved and there are all those fab movies coming out now in this gushing awards season. I've done Birdman - clever and funny and ODD. Didn't move me in any way. Cannot wait for Foxcatcher, Selma, Wild, Inherent Vice etc...

Time for the tree to come down, the twinkly lights to fade, the fridge to be emptied of evils. I wish you all a wonderful, kind, joyful 2015. I appreciate every one of you stopping by and checking in on me. I will still be a crummy mummy, but for Jan not one who drinks. In this new era of sobriety, I'm gonna remember to take a moment every day to be grateful for all I have. Without sounding like a new age freak who has smoked her bong too long, if life aint where you want it to be then start by changing one small thing today. Then do it again tomorrow. Keep going, one day at a time. If you have doubts, grab a pen and write down 10 things you are grateful are: your health, your brains, your coffee machine, the great book you got for Xmas, the hot shower you stood in too long this morning, for the job that pays the bills, for the mates who bought you dinner, for the partner who kisses you even when you have stinky morning breath. The more you appreciate, the more you seem to have...

I'm raising my cup of tea to you all. Cheers. HNY. x

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

And so to 2015

When I was little I used to have a recurring nightmare: the world was a blank white space, with small islands dotted around. The islands were made up of black and white dots - the kind you see on a broken television screen. As I stepped onto one island, they would begin to shrink at a speedy rate. I had to jump across the huge void onto another island to save myself, whereupon it too would start to shrink. I would wake from these dreams, gasping for air - my hair stuck to my forehead, my heart racing. I could never stand still, never get any peace. 

Last week, I dreamt it again.


Whilst many have been keen to see the back of 2014, for me, it will always be memorable: for the trips away with friends, the joy of writing for a living, for getting time with my kids. for my Dad visiting for the first time in 23 years and obviously for seeing Prince. So tonight is New Years. Normally it is my least favourite event on a calendar - all that enforced merriment just makes me uneasy. They key is to doing absolutely nothing or seeing old friends - those preferably with kids - so you can all give up the hope of ever getting them to bed and just drink prosecco until you pass out. That is what I did last new years and what I shall be doing tonight. For all those who showed me amazing hospitality this year - I am eternally grateful. Nothing on earth is as great as breaking fresh hot bread with those you feel most comfortable with. Washed down with a bucket of red. 

Xmas this year - the day itself, was lovely - but I may well cancel it in future. Or do my damnedest to avoid it. Forgive me as I don my Grinch costume - but all that expense and over indulging and endless cheer - well, by the time Xmas actually came, I was over it. I think - after one more home Xmas, I shall be on a plane on Xmas day every year - jetting to warmer climes, and avoiding the month of sundays between Xmas and New Year. Those days get me every year. Blank days where kids are on a post xmas comedown and every day there is a joyful text from Lloyds reminding me I am on or near my overdraft limit. Of course I am - it's fecking Christmas! Seeing Santa, Winter Wonderland, meals out, Xmas gatherings all draining funds as we fruitlessly strive for that elusive 'Xmas feeling.'

I shall no more be hunting it. Whoville be damned. 


Usually I loathe making NY's resolutions - as they seem a guaranteed way to fail before the year has begun. So I'm gonna try and keep it less resolution and more hopes for the year. Firstly dry January is calling me. Mind you, it is a LONG old month so it may have to shut it's mouth by Jan 10th. I'm going to try and give a lot less of a monkey's what folk think. It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing - having proper careers for example, because I am rowing my own boat and it is a different wee ship. I'm where I want to be - almost - and I have my own marathon to run and all those fabulous cliches. I expend far too much energy worrying why my kid wasn't invited to a party or if the neighbours think our hedge is too overgrown or if people think I am a fool and a failure and at the end of the day it doesn't matter what folk thinks - it matters how I FEEL. How someone else is living their life has absolutely no bearing on mine - so why compare? 

This year will be my one of graft. That excites me. Having goals and challenges is the way forward - life is too short to stand still. I may blog less, live more. If I didn't have to share my blogging work on Facebook I'd have shut that one down a while ago. Whilst I love seeing old school friends looking great with their families, and hearing how old colleagues are jetting off on hols etc there are some status updates that make me want to unfriend someone I previously liked. I am certain my endless parade of articles causes folk to feel the same... It is time to set down technology and run out into the sunshine - let's hope for as glorious a summer as the one we have just had.

So - dance away 2014 and have high hopes for 2015. You never know what is around the corner...

CM xxx

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Finally Festive

Finally I feel festive! It bloody well took long enough. What did it? A friend giving me a fabulous wreath, (see above) donating to charidee and my 21 year old neighbour (home from Uni) and I supping prosecco and having a good gossip in my local gastropub. Catching up with folk who are 'home for the holidays' always reminds you that it is indeed the holidays and we should start feeling Xmassy.

I've just about recovered from the X factor final - which on reflection, is the slickest production I have ever seen in my life. A military style choreographed spectacle that presses buttons marked 'CRY NOW' and 'CHEER' and we the obliging audience both in the flesh and on our sofas at home, do as we are told. It practically tells us when we can go to loo. (Interestingly Mel B never did - not once did she move from the judges' desk and when she finally had to leave - show being over - she was helped as if she was an old lady. Something odd going down there fo' sho'). Then there was the after party where I ran around shouting 'Stereo Kicks' to any young boy who walked past, (as friend who brought me hasn't watched the show so knew who no one was and I ever helpful, was keen to explain) only to be told, 'No, we are the $%XCT& band who got thrown out in week 1.'

Oh. Oops.

At 1am there was no way I was gonna make it home from Wembley Arena's Hilton hotel, not when I had just drunk my 10th glass of red and was eating some delicious goulash (well what else do you eat after a night on burgers, nachos, prawn cocktails and festive shortbread?)  - so I crashed at my friend's - furiously texting Husband that he had to do the school run. The next day I wasn't at my most productive. But I did get to bond with Fleur's Dad and meet her (the real winner of X Factor 2014 because if anyone says Panto next year and then back to the white van, it is Ben Hay-NOW).

Xmas TV hasn't really kicked in (about from Black Mirror - good but not the greatest one methinks, sorry - that be the one that Charlie Brooker didn't actually write... ) so instead I have been emotionally ravaged by the incredible The Missing. I sobbed so much in the final that my son had to come downstairs and hug me, while I necked red wine and pretended to be fine. memo to self - dramas on child abduction aren't ever gonna have happy ending). James Nesbitt that was your finest hour. I also spent an evening writing Xmas cards - something I don't intend to ever do again. Next year you shall all get an email, and I will donate to charity. But enough PLEASE of this total waste of time and money. All the cards I have received are lovely - but my kids have come home with a million teeny tiny cards the size of postage stamps and every time a door opens they scatter to the floor like confetti. I HATE THEM. Enough. Plus stamps cost a fortune (er... have I mentioned this?) and you just bin them all come Jan. I say let's give up this tragic tradition and all give money to something worthwhile instead. So if you got a card from me - enjoy, it is your last. I say this with love and festive greetings of course.

Finally I have moved onto bitter street, as I alone appear not to have a festive jumper. It seems obligatory now to sport Santa or a festive scene of reindeers shagging on one's chest. I have nothing - apart from a jumper I loved with two squirrels on it. Worn proudly to work once I was dubbed 'squirrel tits' so it now resides at the back of my wardrobe. Girls with boobs can't really do festive jumpers - or you just end up looking like a giant Xmas pudding.

So on Xmas eve you will find me at 8am doing a mad trolley dash with my mate to get the grub in for Xmas day. On the day itself we are having neighbours in for fizz and bacon sarnies, then a pub stop off to see buddies and then to another friend's house for the slap up meal. The day after we are heading off to more friends to eat (what else?) turkey sarnies in floury baps and steal our kids' toblerones. So a drinking and eating marathon as always. Maybe I should dig out some old maternity trousers so I have something to wear that fits...

Whatever you are doing: getting on a plane (show off) staying at your Ma's, meeting up with old schoolmates in the local pub and regretting the ten years you sent lusting after Colin Webster as he is now bald and bigger and than Santa, or trying to build fifty million Santa toys on Xmas eve when you are slightly pissed, please have a fabulous one. Thanks for reading, commenting, sending me private emails or abusive texts about this blog. I always aim for a reaction, so it is thrilling when I get one.

Merry Xmas love CM xxx

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Who can we trust?

Just over a week ago, I met with a whistleblower. Let's call him Bill. Bill was or maybe still is, a police officer, who back in 2004 uncovered connections between VIP people in power and the systematic sexual abuse of children in care. The deeper he dug, the murkier the waters became. To his horror, his main witness suddenly died and his senior officers told him that funding into his investigations was to cease. He was advised to forget what he knew and move on.

Bill wore the expression of a man who knows such horrors he can barely sleep at night. He was jumpy, paranoid, with a pale pallor and rings under his eyes. Why did I meet him? I had discussed the  recent news of Theresa May opening an enquiry into the alleged abuse of children by a VIP paedophile ring with a police friend of mine. (May has yet to find anyone to chair this inquiry as both people she put in place have had to step down due to their 'establishment' links.... Will this inquiry be botched due to 'lost' evidence and witness accounts? Will it go nowhere like the 1984 dossier? Can we trust May to see this through to the bitter end??). My buddy casually mentioned an old colleague of hers - saying that he was disillusioned with the police and had been told to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to keep his job many years back. I asked to meet with him, hoping to persuade him to take his story to Exaro - the online newspaper that appears to be one of the only media outlets who actively want to cover this story. The mainstream media have barely touched it.

We talked for almost 3 hours, during which I broke down in tears. We were discussing an 8 year old child who went missing the day of the Royal Wedding in 1981. I was 8 that year too. His father was telephoned weeks after his son went missing, and told that he had been taken to the Elm Guest house, where he had been killed. Some of his remains were found a year later. No one has ever been charged with his murder.

I thought somehow, that talking to Bill, maybe writing up his story, would somehow contribute to the pressure that must be applied to seek out justice for these children. The tragedy is that many of the abused kids - now adults - have turned to drugs or crime as a way to obliterate all they have endured and therefore will be discredited witnesses. The most sickening aspect of this whole story is that those in power, those with links to the Royals, MPs, high up police and judges - they preyed upon the forgotten children in society: those whose parents had died, who had no one fighting their corner. They were used like pieces of meat. They had no one to tell.

Bill's story was a mixture of paranoid bizarre theories, truth, first hand evidence and suspicion. Therein lies the problem: so many people have hidden in the shadows - unable to tell their story so the only places they can turn to are the areas of the media which allow conspiracy theories to flourish. What is fact gets blurred with fiction and it is hard to know the real raw truth in it all. But certainly, the dossier written by Geoffery Dickins in 1984 and given to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan, that was mysteriously 'lost' must come to light. Those who have spent years protected by their rank and connections, must now pay. They must be named and shamed. Operation Fairbank, Operation Midland have all been opened to try and get to the bottom of what happened at the Elm Guest House and Dolphin Square. But if the police have allegedly covered up these grotesque rings for years, what results will we get now? Just more cover ups? Or someone hung out to dry whilst others remain anonymous - having literally got away with murder - the murder of children?

The tentacles of this whole sickening operation are far reaching: government, police, media, social services, all complicit in the abuse of children. Those who kept their heads down for fear of losing their jobs are just as guilty. Anyone who doesn't come forward with what they know, is every bit as culpable as those who have blood on their hands.

There is nothing that upsets me more than the abuse of children. They are the most innocent and vulnerable members of society - none more so than those in care. Bill wants justice for them - the those whose voices have never been heard. For those who are brave enough to speak out, when years ago they never could. For those whose lives have been shattered because of the horror they endured. For their loss of childhood, for their loss of themselves.

Bill has a good team of journalists, supporters, charity bosses etc around him. Thankfully he is not a lone wolf speaking out about what he knows, what he has witnessed. He is passionate and determined - disgusted at those retired officers who only now are speaking out, NOW that they have fat pensions and security, do they spill the tragedies they knew of. He thinks they are cowards and I agree.

That night I took my 8 year old son swimming; as I dried his small frame I noticed how tiny he is. How fragile. I started to quietly cry at the thought of anyone harming a single hair on his head. That night I barely slept. I felt sick to my core. My stomach churned with all I had heard and I couldn't shake this overwhelming sense of sadness. Two good friends listened and helped me put all I had heard in perspective.

The next day Husband hugged me tightly and let me weep on his shoulder. I just couldn't comprehend the cruelty in the world, as cliched as that sounds. I didn't write up Bill's story - that is his to tell. I didn't lead him to any journalists - he has them ready and waiting. There was nothing for me to do. Except this. Share it on my blog. Ask anyone who knows anyone who ever was in care, who was ever abused, to speak out, get help - you will be believed. I hope that in 2015 these vile bastards get exposed and the punishments they deserve. May the victims get some resolution, some peace. It is the least they deserve.