Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Lets go to the beach, beach.....

Ok so the holidays are here and, up until just about the time the kids broke up from school, we were experiencing a 'heat wave' (it's now a normal British summer where if you go out for the day you need to pack everything from Factor 50 to a full set of waterproofs and possibly some waders) but, whatever the weather, at this time of year many British families are propelled towards the beach.  

Now I go to the beach quite a lot.  I'm very lucky. I have a range of beaches about an hours drive away and for this I am highly blessed and make the most of them.   So I have quite a lot of beach experience.  

And by this I mean REAL beach experience.  I love the beach but I have what I would call 'realistic expectations' and looking around me on some beaches, at the amount of marital disharmony and general stress, I think it's time that I brought expectations down a little.   

The problem is many people are drawn to the beach with expectations derived via commercial propaganda in the form of advertising.   This has seeped into their sub-conscious and over-ridden their own, real, previous experiences.  

Back when I was a child, what you expected from the beach was some (if not all) of the following: 

- a long trip in a hot car with no air-con, a trip during which your thighs would become actively sealed with the car seat covers resulting in searing pain every time you moved. 
- a rug to sit on. 
- sandwiches full of sand even though the beach you were sitting on was usually made of pebbles or grit. 
- sandcastles
- horrific blisters from the jelly shoes that 'saved your feet' in the rock pools. 
- an ice-cream if you were very very lucky
- a go on the 2p slot machine thing if you were even luckier and it was a beach with 'facilities' 
- sunburn/windburn/hyper-thermia/delete as applicable.

But nowadays? 

Well people are shown images such as this: 

And this: 

And this: 

And this: 

and I think that for some of them this is what they sub-consciously hope for.  

Let me just give you a gentle reminder of what is wrong with these photos......

The top one - we will forgive her the flat stomach and lack of stretchmarks and instead focus on the fact  THERE IS NO SAND ON HER TOWEL.  This never actually happens.  Within minutes the whole thing is a sea of sand.   As is your bikini gusset and ear holes.  There is also nobody else sat near here.  In real life, as soon as she had cracked open that Kindle, 6 lads on the beers sporting horrific sunburn and playing some tinny music on an iPOD would have rocked up.  

The next one (which I stole from the The Celtic Sheepskin Company who do make very nice clothes yadda yadda yadda) is even more misleading as it makes out that your 'beach essentials' are a pair of flip flops and a nice cotton outfit.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  If you have children you will need about 30 others things too - mainly enough food so that you don't have to keep leaving the beach to source more.   However - be careful not to take the 'be prepared' thing a bit too far here.  I have noticed a recent trend for people to arrive at the beach and pretty much set up what appears to be a fully functional camp, complete with catering facilities and basic navigation systems.   This does seem to slightly defeat the object of going to the beach in the first place but hey, who am I to comment if you feel a 60ft square secured area is necessary for a bit of sunbathing,  a few sandcastles and a hot dog?  

The third one down - cheesy family in the sea.  Where do I start?  It won't be like this.  I've actually noticed that unless men are actively doing something on the beach (like surfing or trying to start a fire or drinking 8 cans of Stella before mid-day) they are not particularly good at it.  They don't like just sitting around.  This can lead to tensions.   I saw a magnificent example of this recently.  Couple with small child paddling in the sea..... words were had about how cold it was and her whinging about not wanting to go in.... more words were had..... she stalked off in a big humph.... he screamed the immortal words 'THAT'S IT, YOU JUST FUCK OFF BACK TO YOUR FUCKING PHONE AND YOUR FUCKING CANDY CRUSH'.  

Oh how I laughed.  

Happy holidays.  

Although shortly after that karma took me down when a large wave rolled me over, skidded me along the shingle and dumped me at the feet of a shocked looking man.   I subtly returned my left breast to my swimwear, rolled over as gracefully as possibly (i.e. not very gracefully) and crawled off in a nonchalant way which screamed of 'yeah, and of course I MEANT to do that'...... (whilst silently crying into my sand-encrusted beach towel).  

And finally the last picture.  Well where does one begin with this? Don't study the picture too hard, the 'dad's' teeth are so white they might blind you.  But the thing is that 'family' in the picture give you the false hope that a day at the beach is effortless.   And here's the thing.....unless you fly to the Maldives, Mauritius, the Caribbean or some such other place - this is VERY UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY.  

What is more likely to happen in this country is this: 

This is a real life photo of a real life family (well two families.  Kind of) on a beach in Cornwall this year.  

That's right - it is not a refugee camp.  It is a day out on a British beach.  

The family is mine and my friend Emma's (Emma's the one who got drunk and bought something like 350 silver foil take-away cartons off Ebay, just 'because').  

We love this photo so much because a picture really does speak a thousand words.  

But I will add some words anyway.  

So first things first, our cars are parked behind the white building you can see on the far horizon.  About a mile away.  A mile is a long way with whinging children.  It's a fucking long way with 6 whinging children.  

The second thing is the actual sea is about a mile in front of us.  The tide is out.  Right out. 

The third thing is when we left our cars to search for the elusive sea it was beautiful sunshine.  

The fourth thing is that it is not now beautiful sunshine and a large cataclysmic storm is rolling in across the ocean.  

Note that we have no need for flip flops, beautiful cotton beachwear or fluffy beach towels. We have no need for Kindles, or Ray Bans or string bikinis.  Me may actually be in need of a deck chair or two but we could never have carried them there.   Our beach towels are those crumpled wet things covered in grit under the big bags.  The big bags are full of crisps and sandwiches - there was also cheese but we lost it in a battle with an over enthusiastic Golden Retriever.  

The child in the clashing outfit on the far left is my eldest son - the one with Aspergers - who looks happy enough counting waves and no doubt pondering the statistical risk of us all being hit by lightening.  Still - it should be said the same happiness level could be achieved by sticking him in a window which overlooks any reasonably busy highway.  

 The child sat on the rock has been to search for sea caves, in which we can shelter from the storm in order not to die. He has returned with the news that he has found one but it is quote:  'not family sized' so we are going to have to pick who we take and who we leave behind in the great lightening escape......

The woman in the purple hood is Emma and she's having strong words with one of her sons who is somewhat hysterical about the prospect that we are all about to die and is begging for a right to enter the sea cave. 

The one with the shovel is mine and probably plotting who to knock out with the shovel in order to secure a sea-cave ticket.  

The tallest child, holding some shoes, is a teenager and probably wishing he was at a foam party in Ibizia.  

Hell actually I'm taking the picture and I wish I was a foam party in Ibiza.......

I honestly can not for the life of me remember what happened after this photo was taken - but we are all still alive so it wasn't a lightening strike.   

And with that I'm off to stay on a British beach for a week with my mother, both kids and 2 dogs - in a small caravan.  

May the Lord have Mercy on us all.  

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Notes from a Small Foggy Island

Erm hello (wanders shyly onto Internet blog-stage, staring at the footlights and hoping my skirt isn't tucked into my knickers). 

How are you all? 

Glad I came back - it appears I have 288 blog comments that need authorising.   No really.  Here's a typical example: 

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Did you get that Internet People? If you want to get 'matted up a fiddling to a greater extent' then you need PENIS ADVANTAGE PENIS ADVANTAGE PENIS ADVANTAGE.  And a 'manlike mate'.   Wow - not actually a man then, 'man like' will do......

Just imagine If I'd never come and shared that with you? You're lives would have been all the poorer.  


No really I'm glad I came back because it makes me sad when I don't blog - it makes me feel like something is missing, some weird connection, some part of who I am is gone and I'm failing.    So why don't I do it more often? If it feels good and it's free and it doesn't hurt you why don't you do it more? 

I can't really tell you - I can give you reasons, I can tell you that I'm so busy, so tired, that very often as soon as my children are upstairs I go to bed myself.  I can tell you that for a large chunk of my life I work for the NHS and talking about anything to do with that on a public forum could easily get me struck off - and quite rightly so - which makes me paranoid about everything less I slip up and end up in Daily Mail.  I can tell you that I feel oddly vulnerable and disjointed and like I just don't want to come out and play a lot of the time.  That I swing between fear and loathing, ecstasy and joy and very often just inhabit the safe ground of the island of exhaustion between the two.  

But all of those things are only part of the picture.  I think the bigger picture is that, like all general nutcases out there, I'm a failed perfectionist and thus my thinking goes along the lines of: 'must blog that - what a crazy day' (too tired to blog....) 'oh god I failed, I didn't blog, well there's no point carrying on now, everything is ruined, people will have given up me anyway.......'.... and so on into a spiral of self-defeated hatred repeating the same thought pattern day after day because you don't have the energy to do anything else.  

That looks ridiculous written down but I know there will be loads of you nodding along because you do it with other things - diaries and fitness plans and diets and keeping your house tidy and all the other best intentions which aren't really grounded in a reality suited to the real you.   If you aim for perfection all you will ever do is fail HARDER. 

So anyway I felt a bit crap and then yesterday I read something which kicked me up the arse.  

Ages and ages ago on the amazing blog that is Hyperbole and a Half there was an, in my opinion, timeless piece about depression: 

And then she never came back.  And I often wondered what happened next and it generally made me feel rather anxious and sad.  

And then 18 months or so later she came back with this (yes that was in May, but I've been under a rock since May so I only just noticed): 

And I read that last night. Then I re-read it 4 times this morning and it's just genius.  The bit about the dead fish.  Genius.   Sad but genius.  

And I thought if she can come back after 18 months of hell then why am I letting this little gap stop me forever?  Just because my mum used the May Bank Holiday to watch the snooker without my (dead) dad and drink so many Rusty Nails she fell down the stairs to be found a day later and escorted by me to hospital where she cried and wailed to a rather alarmed Triage Nurse..... 'it was Ronnie....Ronnie O'Sullivan! It was because of him! I fell........the snooker, my husband is dead, bloody good match, waaaaaaa, Ronnie, waaaaa'....  Well you can't let these little events stop you can you? Even if they do rather unsettle you.  

Once upon a time I wrote that grief is like a moth.  It waits on the wall in the corner of your peripheral vision, almost part of the furnishings but you do know the moth is there, even when you don't acknowledge it.  And then suddenly, now and again, it rises up, clattering and flapping into the light and right into your line of vision and there is no putting the moth to the back of your mind until the lights go out and it settles back to the corner where it came from.  

Well I think for some people the grief has never retreated to the moth stage.  They are stuck in it still being a fog. A thick dense black fog. It's never retreated to their peripheral vision.  It's what they wake up to BANG every morning and then try to grasp, but can't, as they struggle through the day, as it slips through their fingers and leaves them disorientated, scared and very often lost.  

And it's what they go to sleep to - what they breathe in and breathe out and what lies up against them in bed when there is no one else.  

I think for some people living like that is pretty much intolerable and the only way they get even a moment's respite is to drink.  But then all to soon the fog comes back denser and thicker and even more choking and the days merge into one long hopeless field of nightmares.   

And I think that's what my mother's grief is - between the days when the fog lifts a little and the warmth of the sun can briefly be felt - in the main that is what she lives with - a swirling sea of thick dark fog, lost and confused and utterly exhausted. 

And it is exasperating and infuriating and frightening to be amidst it - to be expected to step into the fog when all you've ever craved is sunshine and be there for the other person and it's easy to get lost in a world where you just sort of survive (again) and forget to take time to do things you enjoy, like blogging.  Or your fear that you have nothing worth saying and doubt you could ever write a decent blog again.   But then one day - like yesterday - something jolts you out of it and you find the strength to do it differently - to pick up and carry on........

So even though I've very tired and even though I'm rather irrational and even though I often find myself moribund with panic as my brain does this: 

'get dressed do hair boil kettle feed animals feed children clean up dog wee load car find those forms find some shoes charge phone remember to turn washing machine on  find bank card remember I need petrol what is the point of life what if someone else dies when is this going to get easier what if it never gets easier now what's the dog eaten why does the fridge smell when will I be able to buy a freezer have the kids spent too long on Minecraft did ALL the escaped  Guinea Pigs get eaten by that escaped ferret or are some still living wild is my mum lying at the bottom of her stairs what is my bank balance what shit have I bought off ebay how will my guttering ever get fixed we have no food but if I go to the supermarket I will have a panic attack, fuck it we can all life of brioche and apples... AGAIN WHY ARE THERE SO MANY BIGOTED IDIOTIC PEOPLE IN THE WORLD AND SO MUCH INEQUALITY AND WILL ANYONE EVER SORT IT OUT if I water the plants will it rain today thus making my actions pointless if I just drink tea all day and don't eat will that mean I'm back in control and that everything will turn out fine and everyone will be happy try not shout try not to damage anyone or anything breathe and breathe again'

about every 30 seconds, on repeat until I go to work and when I get back from work my brain does this

'ffffffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz BED'

Even though I constantly get told I move mountains but only ever feel like I'm under them, even though I can't save anyone but feel like I at least have to try, even though all of these things, I need to get over the mental blocks and just write shit down. Because let me tell you - despite everything there is some bloody hilarious shit that goes down here.   And I have a duty to share it.  

And anyway, here comes the summer holidays........(raises mug of tea and prays for salvation or failing that PENIS ADVANTAGE).  

Love ya,