Friday, 5 June 2015

This is f****** 40

So, the big 40 happened. What did I expect? To feel joyful that I had reached this milestone? To look at my gorgeous husband and daughter and feel immensely thankful? To wake up, stretch, hungry to know what adventures the next decade has in store?

No. I felt shit-house miserable.

As a child if I heard someone was 40 I imagined they were basically Skeksis from the Dark Crystal, hairless, sinewy looking vultures, hungry for a fresh slug of Podling blood to renew their life force.  If you were 40 you were essentially the walking dead.       

40 is an unmapped territory.

In your 20s and 30s it’s acceptable to slam jaegar bombs on a week day, flip flap from job to job, try on different boyfriends and friends for size, dip your toes in all of life’s various glorious pots.  But a 40 year old doing this? Heaven forbid, you’re an adult with responsibilities, plus that subscription to Good House Keeping isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?    

There are lots of things about turning 40 that have made me feel uncomfortable, here’s a few:

What the f*** happens next? In your twenties and thirties there’s a big old, exciting to-do list of activities – finish your education, find a job, sleep with the boss, find another job, secure somewhere sensible to live with a cat flap, find a partner, find another partner, find the one, and if you like and can, have a baby. But your 40s? So far on the horizon I see paying bills, raising your kid(s) and finding cheap holidays during the school holidays.  I mean, really?       

Looks – 40 is a funny one in terms of looks. The gloss of youth not quite faded but the wobbly edges of ageing starting to set in. You look in the mirror at home and think you’re still wolf-whistle worthy, only to catch sight of your reflection in the car window and wonder where Gary Busey popped up from.

I want to embrace ageing in a wholesome, wear lots of black, Goldie Hawn kind of way, yet at the same time something in me is resisting – and not enjoying – looking older.  I loathe the ageism you see, especially the items so viciously directed at slating a women’s appearance.

Poor Felicity Kendal was given a saber-toothed tear down in the Mail recently – her only crime, to be and look 68, apparently.  What do you do? You’re lambasted for trying to look younger, yet everywhere you look the media tells you to worship the cult of youth.      

I’ve spoken to a few friends about the ‘invisibility phenomena’, and how once you hit your late thirties you start to feel invisible to the opposite sex.  In my twenties, all bosoms and bravado, I could sense a pheromone ‘prickle’ when I walked into the room, now I’m grateful for the wistful gaze of an older gentleman carrying his wife’s handbag in the fruit and veg section of Sainsbury’s. 

People say it’s about feeling comfortable or confident in your own skin, but if your skin is going south, who feels ‘better?’.  I don’t see my elderly aunt stripping down to her undercrackers in celebration of her crags and crinkles every five minutes? In fact, most of the elderly women I know sadly operate at the edges of life - beetling in and out of shops as soon as they open, averting your gaze and generally getting the f*** out of Dodge as soon as possible. It’s like they don’t want to be seen. 

Jon Stewart made the point brilliantly in his piece about Bruce Jenner coming out as ‘Caitlyn’. As a man he was referred to in terms of his athletic achievements, as a woman, all the media can talk about is whether ‘they’d give him one.’ Women's' worth being defined by their ‘bangability’in 2015. Sheesh.        

Fashion – I’m finding my 40s a fashion no (wo)man’s land.  I’ve kissed goodbye to River Island and its skinny jeans and stringy things held together with gold safety pins, I’ve sacked off Top Shop for making too many square clothes –these are fine on whippet thin teenage girls, on a 40 year old woman you look like Mr Strong. So now I’m left with Zara – the boho garments not the leather look jeggings – and *whispers quietly* the slightly trendier section of M&S.

Revealing flesh is a conundrum too. In your twenties boobs are gravity defying flesh Zeppelins, in your thirties they are udders, in your forties, well, as one 45 year old friend put it, like ‘tangerines in a rubber sock’.  

And knickers. Now I’m 40 the thong years are well and truly behind me. It’s all about the ‘harvest festivals’ – all is safely gathered in. And belts. I’ve seen so much pale bum cleavage from Mums bending over to pick up dropped toys/adjust the buggy in the past few years that the humble belt has become a wardrobe staple.

Health – Turning 40 has made me evaluate my health and the outlook isn’t brilliant. In fact, on my current trajectory I should probably have put a down payment on a wicker burial casket by now.
The last time I did aerobics I was 16, I drink at least twice the recommended  booze limit - putting the blue bin out is my weekly walk of shame – and, sometimes, I eat Monster Munch for breakfast.  
When I bend down I say ‘uh’ and if I’m tickled it actually physically hurts. Need I say more?

There are positives of turning 40, of course.   

I’m not a shy Bambi in meetings any more. I can book a holiday. I have a brilliant freelance career and a husband and daughter who I love to the moon and back. I’m also reminded every day to count my blessings - some of my friends didn’t even make it to 35, let alone 40.

I’m still here and life is unfolding as it should. And when the time comes and I’m more crabstick than crumpet I’ll gently remind myself that no one is promised tomorrow.     

What’s your experience of turning 40?           


 


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Think you're ready to be a Parent? Take this quiz to find out if you're really ready for a baby!

You've bought the cot, washed the teeny tiny baby grows in Fairy non-bio and read What to Expect When You're Expecting from cover-to-cover but are you really ready for the joys of parenthood?


Having been there and bought the vomit-stained t-shirt, I have put together 10 questions to help you find out.


Enjoy! And if you like, please share with your soon-to-be-parent and parent friends. They could probably do with a laugh. Thank you.


Test 1: Taking a pregnancy test

Women:

1.    Pick up pregnancy test.
2.    Select other random items such as wine, condoms and WD40 to confuse cashier.
3.    Take test.
4.    Stare unblinking into middle distance for ten minutes.
5.    Prepare dinner.

Men:

1.     Carry on as usual until you hear a shriek.
2.     Stare unblinking into middle distance for next 18 years.

Test 2: Two weeks before the birth

Women:
1. Carefully pack overnight bag with essential items for you and baby. 
2. Re-pack overnight bag, marvelling at your preparedness and forward-thinking.
3. Erase all memory of overnight bag.

Men:
1. Step over partner’s overnight bag in hallway.
2. Go to partner’s drawers.
3. Put oldest and most inappropriate underwear (anything red and black or adorned with Nat's Hen Party Crew Magaluf 'On it 'til we vomit' 2010 is good) into a Tesco carrier bag.
4. Take to hospital.    

Test 3: Birth Day

Women:
1. Put on an outfit you might wear when you are bedridden with Norovirus.
2. Eat some very out-of-date food.
3Use largest mixing bowl as a portable vomit urn.
4. Attempt to dry shave legs and make important telephone calls between disabling stomach cramps.
5. Ask partner to drive you to a destination 10-minutes away.
6. Try not to vomit, defecate, or punch anyone in the face during the journey.

Test 4: Prepare for the magical time at home following your little one’s birth by:

1. Not opening the curtains, putting out any kind of bin for two weeks, filling your hallway with empty cardboard boxes.
2. Sleeping for only 40-minutes a night.
3. Throwing a party inviting all your closest friends, relatives, neighbours and some people you have never spoken to, ever, from work. Do not give a start time.

Test 5: Operating a Baby Car Seat 

1. You can simulate the precision required to connect the buckles of a baby’s first car seat into locking position by asking NASA if you can practise the pilot-controlled Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) docking procedure.   

Time allowed before deep space meltdown: two minutes.

Test 6: Technology

Are you ready to share your cutting-edge gadgets with a small child? 

1. Mobile phones – alternate between dunking in toilet water and orange juice every three days. Delete all contacts apart from your manager’s mobile number. Call this repeatedly. If someone answers, rustle paper and make ‘ba ba’ noises until they swear and hang up. 


2. Tablets – Remove all protective covering. Smear with honey, Sudocrem and body fluids.

Download European apps of singing vegetables at a £1-a-go. Do not stop until your bank makes contact about unauthorised overdraft charges. 

3. DVD players – break off all small doors. Jam jigsaw pieces and sausage rolls into holes where doors used to be.

4. Favourite DVDs  and CDs – decorate with felt tip. Now use them as ice skates.    

Test 7: Train Journeys  

You can recreate the awkwardness of getting a small child in a buggy onto public transport by placing a chimp in a supermarket trolley.

1. Pick the train time you want to get. Don’t get this. Or the next one. Watch the one after that pull away.

2. On train, put your chimp and trolley directly in the path of anyone entering or exiting train.

3. Half way through, announce loudly that you need a poo and that it's coming right now.

4. Make remaining train journey without chimp eating ticket, cramming face between headrests or becoming the focus of everyone in the carriage.  

Test 8: Childhood Illness

If you are an ‘I haven’t been to the Doctor since I was a nipper’ type of person, you’re about to get reacquainted; Kids are one-stop-disease-shops. 

Points to remember:


1. Expect a contagion outbreak every other day. From the common cold to thread worm, kids’ illnesses are the gifts that keep on giving.  

2. Despite brand new immune systems, a child with Chicken Pox will usually be back to their bouncy self in two to three days. You, however, will be flat out for two weeks, mentally divvying up your possessions between friends and family in between death throws.

Test 9: Lifts

Think calling a lift is easy? This is how toddlers like to roll:

1. Call the lift.
2. Press the button ten times until it jams.
3. Call the other lift. 
4. Wait until doors open, bounce through gap and ricochet off walls.
5. Press lift intercom.
6. Ask Security if they are Buzz Lightyear.
7. Grin, point at or poke adult of your choice for duration of journey.

Test 10: Questions

The good thing is you have about three years before children can articulate. 

It is essential you use this time to research the bigger religious, political and social questions because very soon you will have your own mini Jeremy Paxman shadowing you barking ‘Come on’ every minute of every day.  

Common themes include:

Death: what is it?

Sex: what is it?

God: what is it?

Prepare for any answer you give to be followed by ‘why?’ and any subsequent discussion to end with ‘because it just does’.  

Right, any questions?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

£70-a-week food shop – Are you having a giraffe?

‘Phrrrrt!’ was the noise I made when Ed Miliband claimed he spent £70 on his weekly shop. Out of touch? Just a Lidl.    

The average food bill for a family four is estimated at around £100 a week. As a family of two adults and a small child our weekly grocery shopping regularly hits around the £100 mark.  Not to mention top up trips to Little Tesco.

While a friend of mine with three children under 10 said she was struggling to bring in her weekly shop at under an eye-watering £185.

Ed’s guestimate would be about right if it related to just food, the trouble is there is so much more to a food shop.

A quick review of my receipt yesterday revealed several unexpected items in the bagging area including, a bottle of Southern Comfort (but it has cherry in it), a six pack of nice ‘n’ spicy Nik Naks (they were on offer) and a strawberry chapstick. ('Pur-lease Mummy, I love straw-bees').   

Asda is a particularly dangerous when it comes to picking up every day essentials. 

I go in for a Toastie loaf and come out with two deck chairs and a Godzilla onesie.   

So how do you stick to your shopping guns?

Here’s a few tips for saving lolly on your weekly trolley. 

Vouchers – You know all those wafty bits of paper they hand you when you get your change, some of them are actually fairly decent offers.  Anything from £6 off your next £40 shop (£6 that’s like two bales of toilet rolls!) to bonus club card points, it’s all money, use them!

Shop online – I am a shopper’s dream. No list, just time on my hands and a vague idea that I need to buy some sustenance.  Stop! Shop online - no distractions, no impulse purchases and no kid bribes.

Some supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose offer free delivery slots if you spend a certain amount.  

Meal planning – I am guilty of being a one meal shopper. Yes it’s yawnsome but you’d be amazed by how much you save by planning next week’s meals in advance. 

Meal planning reduces random trips to the supermarket and is a great way to make meals stretch. So if you’re having a chicken roast on Sunday, use the leftovers to make a chicken casserole or chicken goujans the next day. 

Less meat - As my Dad always barked when I was little: 'Eat the meat!'

Meat is the priciest part of the meal. Plan a few meat-free meals every week, such as pasta, jacket potatoes or home made pizza.

‘Whoops’ aisle – Elbows ready! The Whoops aisle is the place for items that’s just about to go out of date or where packaging is slightly damaged.  There are lots of bargains to be had and you can always pop stuff in the freezer to have another day.  Check out Kate Barrett’s blog – who rustles up gourmet meals for just a few pence: http://domesticgoddessingonashoestring.blogspot.co.uk/

Do you have any ideas for frugal food shopping?

Let me know on here or on Twitter @melissablamey




Thursday, 1 May 2014

Peaches didn’t die of a heroin overdose but a broken heart

The headline that Peaches might have succumbed the same way as her mum, of a heroin overdose, struck more of a chord with me than I would imagine.

Yes, I was shocked as anyone at Peaches sudden passing but to discover that it might be in the same way as Paula died says much more about Peaches’ state of mind.

To her thousands of Twitter followers Peaches was a beacon of light, living out the perfect young mum existence, raising two boys, mashing vegetables, walking her dogs, painting Easter eggs. But beneath the veil of wholesome, home-spun fun, life might have been quite different.   

What I have learnt is that becoming a mother doesn't necessarily erase the loss of losing a mother.

I didn't lose my mum to such rock-and-roll circumstances as a heroin overdose but to common, household-name, cancer.

Loss of a parent at any age is visceral and raw but for children and young adults it seems  particularly destructive, leaving many forever weakened and fragile by that loss. 

It’s scary to admit that when I became a mother myself, it helped, but it didn’t heal. In some ways it made the absence more apparent.

In the early days I would see new mums with their mums everywhere. Steering them through the down times, the sleepless nights, the sore bits, the days when they didn’t have time to shower.    

I was fortunate to have a lovely supportive partner. But when I find myself huffing into a paper bag outside Sainsbury’s to stave off another panic attack I wonder, is this me or what happened to mum still?

You see sometimes on the really dark days (luckily these are few and far between), I resonate with those people who are brave enough to square- up to the unknown and slip into a drugged sleep.

I suspect there is nothing afterwards but maybe, just maybe I would get to see my mum again.
  
I imagine sharing a Guinness with her on a sunny Autumn day.  She would probably bark at me 14 years’ worth of stiff talking to.  

Asking why I didn't leave ‘so and so’ sooner, why I still highlight my hair (you’re almost 40), why I wrote such a verbose inscription on her grave (grief does funny things) and, importantly, why I gave away her car boot treasure.

My mum died aged 49 and like many people whose parents have died I expect to die at the stroke of midnight on the same day.  I also think that despite the warnings I am pursuing the same path.

There are many steps I could do to avoid breast cancer and yet here I am, blithely drinking my daily allowance of alcohol, not exercising and rarely checking for lumps and bumps.

Perhaps Peaches was on a sabotage mission too?

In trying to recreate the idyllic childhood she had had and taking thoughtful well planned steps to avoid inflicting pain she felt, history repeated itself anyway.
  
Consciously I want to avoid the same route as my mum’s death; sub-consciously I suspect there's something darkly comforting suspecting it might be the same.

Whether the cause of Peaches’ death proves to be true or not, I hope that wherever she is she’s at peace. Or enjoying a natter and cold Guinness with Paula.

Good night sweet girl. 

@melissablamey







Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Food Bank Bucks

If, like me, you are still rubbing your tummy like a happy Samiad after a glut of indulgence over Christmas then perhaps it’s timely to think about food banks in Bucks.

This was my 39th Christmas and despite the joy of being able to share it with my little family, something ugly crept in and gnawed at its glittery edges.

Maybe it’s the downturn, maybe it’s growing older but this year I was acutely aware of the grubby consumer Grinch pawing at my purse.     

Supermarkets, stuffing their aisles with goodies to eat from September, adverts touting sales before Christmas day, Easter eggs on sale from 1st January, all before the pounding of weight watchers and gym membership started.

It’s like we’re on a giant fun fair ride whose only aim is to shake as much change out of you as possible.   

The ‘Pig Goes Pop’ game my 4-year-old received for her birthday has become a cheap plastic reminder of what we have become.  

Born, consume, pop.

Each day the need in Britain grows for food banks.

Unemployment, escalating energy bills and rising food costs are pushing more people than ever before to the financial brink and into food poverty. 

Hunger is horrible.  Or, at least, so I am told.  

I am fortunate enough to only know hunger through choice. True hunger ebbs and flows.  First you feel shaky and weak, then pain which fades until all you feel is hollow and tired.                 

Speaking to Kate Vale, Food Bank Coordinator of One Can Trust - a Bucks-based charity that provides free emergency food parcels - there are around 12,000 children in Bucks living in income poverty.

This translates to approximately one in five children in High Wycombe going to bed hungry.

Sadly, the demand for short-term emergency food parcels in the area is growing. Latest figures from One Can Trust show that number of food parcels issued in 2011 was 225; in 2013 this figure rose to 3,347.

In order to use a food bank you must be referred by a registered agency, such as a healthcare practice, social services or a homeless centre.

Donations, from schools, supermarkets, companies and individuals are delivered to the Big Yellow Self-Storage centre on the London Road. The food is then checked (it must be within use by date), sorted and packed by volunteers for delivery to those in need in the area.

There are around 100 volunteers who generously give up their time to help One Can Trust pack and distribute the food parcels; however, there is always need for more.

I know there are wider term issues to consider here.

I appreciate that food banks are a quick fix, a sticking plaster for something fundamentally wrong with the system - whether that’s cutting people’s benefits, rising unemployment or something else – but we and the Government can’t ignore the rise in food banks.      

I hope to give up my time soon. If you can give up one or two hours a week or offer food donations contact One Can Trust here http://onecantrust.org.uk/contact-us/ or call 07731 789313.
  


    

Monday, 9 December 2013

The road to Mandeville is strewn with sick

It's a major boob when people involved in a car accident at the entrance of Wycombe hospital are forced to travel 45-minutes to their nearest A&E for treatment.

Wycombe has a population in excess of 133,000 and yet for some ludicrous reason the decision was taken to shut our A&E two years ago.     

This means anyone injured or seriously ill must be transported by ambulance or car to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough or Stoke Mandeville – both a toe curling, over hill and dale, 45-minutes away.
Official NHS statistics show that dispensing with our A&E has increased the number of people waiting for treatment for over four hours by five times at both Wexham and Stoke Mandeville hospital.
Perhaps even more scary (and as yet to be documented – surprise!) is the inevitable rise in deaths and babies born in lay-bys that the closure has undoubtedly caused.
Road to Hell
Last month my partner developed a kidney stone.  His second one this year, I am familiar with the routine.  
It starts with vigorous back rubbing, followed by some moves like Jagger then the cushion-biting death throws kick in.  
I realised that my plan to drop my daughter at nursery before hot footing him over to Stoke Mandeville was dashed when Jagger put in an early appearance.

Ushering Matt and my four-year old daughter into the car I started the long, winding journey to Stoke Mandeville in morning rush hour.
We weren't even clear of Prestwood when the guttural man-screaming started.
Trying to save my daughter post-traumatic stress therapy I tried to reassure her that Daddy just 'had a tummy bug' and cranked the volume of 100 giggly wriggly toddler songs as loud as it would go.

Approaching the main roundabout in Great Missenden the vomiting started.
Overcome with pain (kidney stones are the male equivalent of giving birth apparently *raises eyebrow* - but that’s another blog) Matt started to throw up out of the passenger window.

The first round exploded onto a sulk of schoolchildren waiting for their bus. The second lot - and if this is you, I can only apologise – hit a cyclist head on - all to the cheery strains of ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’.     
     
When we finally arrived at Stoke Mandeville I abandoned my sick-soaked partner at the entrance to deliver my daughter (albeit with a five-mile stare) to nursery.

Later that morning I then made the journey again to collect a much more subdued Matt from A&E.
Rambling from the effects of Tramadol, Matt muttered something about being called back in for a scan but that it was likely to be sometime in the next 48 hours.
Sure enough as soon as we arrived home in High Wycombe there was a message from the hospital asking Matt to come back for his scan. That was journey number three.
Annoying? Yes (especially if you're in tremendous pain or a passer-by being sicked on). Life-threatening? No. 
But what of those poor Wycombe folk critically injured, seriously ill or in labour? What happens then? A 45-minute journey is simply too long.

Any fool can see that shuttling patients cross-country won't cut costs (hello - fuel!?) or help a patient’s outcome – at best they might throw up on pedestrians, at worse, they might not make it at all.
Something needs to be done.
What do you think? 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Would you live in a murder home?

Having worked in the house-building industry for over a decade I am always intrigued to hear what becomes of ‘stigmatised’ homes – these are properties which may be shunned by buyers because of their association with negative events, including suicide, murder or paranormal activity. 
Last week it was revealed that the cottage where Mark Bridger murdered five-year old April Jones was to be put up for rent again after the Local Authority allegedly refused to buy it and knock it down.
But with April’s abduction and murder still raw in everyone’s mind, who would want to rent a property knowing it was the site of such a horrific crime?
Homes where particularly shocking and emotive crimes have taken place are frequently demolished - partly out of respect for the family and also to allow a grieving community to move on. Not to mention prevent the site becoming a haunt for ghoulish souvenir collectors or 'terror tourists'. 

Who could forget the iron-mongered sign of 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester that became synonymous with serial killers Fred and Rosemary West?
Dubbed as the ‘house of horrors’, the world’s press focused on this unremarkable terraced home as it gave up the remains of nine victims, including their own daughter.
In view of the media attention and recognising that very few would want to live in a house with such a notorious past, in October 1996 Gloucester City Council had the house and adjoining property demolished. In its place an innocuous footpath was laid to the city centre.
More recently the home in Derby where six children tragically died in a fire caused by their parents Mick and Mairead Philpott was demolished. The plan is to build more housing on the site.
Whilst the home where 12-year old Tia Sharp was murdered by her grandmother’s partner, Stuart Hazell, was also knocked down to give way for new homes.
Buyer Beware
But what happens to less well known homes where dark events take place? Once the police tape is removed, a slap of fresh paint and back on the market for an unsuspecting buyer to snap up?
Well until very recently this appears to be the case. Guidance stated that it was up to the vendor to decide whether to disclose details.
However, under new guidelines introduced earlier this year by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) agents, sellers and landlords must now disclose all manner of skeletons in the closet - ranging from ASBO neighbours to whether the home has been the location of a serious crime.
For me personally, houses don’t commit crimes, people do. However whilst I would have no problem living in a house where someone died of natural causes, if the home had been the scene of a particularly grizzly crime, I would definitely have reservations. 
How would you feel about living in a home with a horrible history? 

Perhaps you have even lived in a stigmatised property or know someone who has?
I am currently researching stigmatised homes and people's experiences of buying/renting and living in them. 

If you would like to contribute, please let me know below or email me direct at melissa_blamey@hotmail.co.uk