Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An embarrassing encounter

When I got up and looked in the mirror this morning, it was as I had feared.  Between my nose and top lip, I have a big red angry graze. And as strange as it may sound, I felt I would rather tell someone I got stubble rash in a random encounter with a stranger, than admit to why it is that I have a graze above my top lip.

My brother mistakenly thought it was eczema.  I was Skyping him, so that was easy to pull off!  But I’m not sure that I’ll be able to pull it off with everyone else.  School run won’t be a problem.  I’ll just stay in the car and wave through the window, and they’ll send the kids out.

You’d have thought that my face had taken enough battering this year, what with my smashing my head on concrete and giving myself two black eyes.. but oh, no…

Gay friend Julian has been on the phone in tears of laughter – and has promised to come over later to have a closer inspection, before having another good laugh at me. 

Even he admitted that despite looking like his head has been boot polished, he too would rather admit to stubble rash from a random sexual encounter, than what I did to myself!!!!

Finally, at lunch time, I met Running Man in the park.  Unlike Julian, RM was a bit more polite.  He did that very ‘British’ thing that I do too.  He pretended not to have noticed. 

Why do we Brits to it?  Why do we like to ignore the elephant in the room?  And why do I have some weird need to explain myself? 

I decided that there was no way that I could go running for an hour and not mention the bloody great red marks on my face!  So I hit it head on.

“Have you seen the mess I’ve made of my face?” I enquired.

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything.”  He replied. “But, yes!  What the hell did you do?”

And so I confessed.  In vain hope I begged him to promise not to tell everyone I know…  but frankly, I’m not that hopeful…!

“Tell them it was a random sexual encounter, tell them ANYTHING – but DON’T TELL THEM that I had a bit of bother trying to wax the fuzz on my top lip!” 

“Moustaches are very ‘in’ this season!” he quipped.  “Have you thought of wearing a novelty moustache to hide it?”  

Ha bloody ha! 

My attempts to try and maintain my appearance went horribly wrong, when I used the wrong waxing strips on my top lip.  The wax was thick and gooey, and just bloody stuck to me.  In my desperate attempts to get it off, I managed to remove a few layers of skin, leaving myself bleeding, sore and down right embarrassed.

But why do I feel so embarrassed?  Why should something like waxing your top lip – a thing that women the world over do on a regular basis – be something I’m so desperate to hide?  And am I alone?  I really doubt it.

It’s all about mystique isn’t it?  Wanting to create a perfect image of ourselves, where we don’t have hairy legs or a bit of fuzz on the top lip.

It’s a symptom of our society.  Wanting to kid everyone that our lives are perfect. 

But our lives never are.  And they would be so much happier and easier if we could just relax and ‘let it go’ a bit.

Strangely, confessing to Julian and Running Man was the worst and best thing I could do.  It had a very cathartic effect.  Maybe it was just the endorphins released when laughing our heads off – or maybe by ‘letting it go’ a bit and admitting that I’m human, just like everyone else, I felt released from the pressures and constraints of ‘womanhood’. 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Hair transplants and knocking shops….

And so, finally, he’s back!

My dear friend Julian has been to-ing and fro-ing from his Mum’s house for the last month, because his Aunt is very ill.  So I haven’t seen very much of him for a while.

But yesterday, his message pinged through asking if I was free for a coffee at 11am!  He appeared at the door looking slightly odd, before he explained that he had finally done it… He’s decided to have a hair transplant. 

Now I’ll be honest, there was a little bit of me that wanted to laugh.  Not because of his decision, but mostly because Julian is fair, and they had painted a hairline onto his head with some strange dark substance, which, to be honest, looked a bit like boot polish.  And considering his mirth at discovering me in the garden a couple of weeks ago, with my arm up to the shoulder down a blocked drain, it’s definitely my turn to have a giggle!

It’s easy for us girls to laugh about something that does not often affect our gender – but for men it is a big issue.  I know so many men who are terrified of loosing their hair.  If he’s prepared to stump up the cost and go through the pain of the procedure, why shouldn’t he?  You go for it J!!!

Well, having explained the whole ‘hair transplant’ situation, J then had me in stitches recounting what had happened to his mother last week. 

Julian’s mother owns a beauty salon.  Business has been very quiet recently, so when she received an unusual request, she said ‘yes’ when on another occasion, she might have declined.

The caller was a man.  He was very concerned about ‘discretion’.  He wanted to be sure that the ‘treatment’ he required could be done in a private room.  J’s mother assured him that he would of course have a private room and that they would be discreet. 

It transpires that the caller wanted to have full makeup applied. 

Now I’m no prude.  I understand that people sometimes want to do these sort of things.  And if they want to do it at home, or somewhere that caters specifically for this type of thing, then I don’t see that it is anyone else’s business.  But J’s mother runs a beauty salon – and if I’d been her, I’d have been very concerned. 

But J’s mother is a very broadminded woman with a gay son – so she was un-phased and booked him in.

On the day itself, a tall, fat, bald man turned up, with a bag containing a dress and shoes.  Having been shown into the private treatment room by one of J’s mum’s employees (Emma) he changed into his dress and Emma helped him style his wig.

With wig and dress in place, Emma went on to apply false eyelashes and full makeup.  So far so good…  but of course, this was the point at which it all started to get a bit… well… ‘dodgy’. 

It has to be noted that Emma is a very nice girl, but she sure ain’t the sharpest tool in the box!

 The next request was that Emma take a photo of him on a rather old, battered looking mobile phone.  But before she took the picture he asked whether she would mind just tying his hands to the back of the chair! 

Without batting an eyelid, Emma cheerily did exactly what he asked and took the photo. 

Now, maybe it’s just me, but on hearing this story, I couldn’t help but think it was a bit ‘odd’ that a man who is so concerned about ‘discretion’ – ie, not getting found out, should want photographic evidence!  But I digress…

Photo taken, he then requested that he be left alone, tied to the chair, for an hour.

It just happened that J’s mother was busy with another client at this point, oblivious to what was going on, as Emma cheerily obliged and left the man on his own.

Finally, the ‘session’ was over, the man was untied, and Emma took off all his makeup and led him to the till to pay.

It was at this point that J’s mother appeared.  The man was £50 short.  He refused to pay anything other than cash – as his wife would see any payments on his bank cards.  After a heated debate, J’s mother realised that her options were simple:  call the police, or tell him to leave and never come back again!

She decided on the latter and watched in bemusement as he hurriedly drove off in an expensive car, dress and shoes on the seat next to him.  

The prospect of what might have happened if she’d called the police was only just beginning to sink in.  Imagine trying to explain to the police what had just happened at a respectable beauty salon!  Quite apart from having to convince them that you’re not running a ‘knocking shop’, imagine if the local press got hold of the story.  It could have ruined her business and reputation.

As J and I recovered from fits of laughter at the whole incident, J patted the new stubble growing back on his head.  And with a thoughtful look he said:

“I know people think gay men do weird things, and I know I look like I’ve got boot polish on my head, but some married men do the strangest things.”

Fair point.  

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mumsnet… I’m disappointed.

Last week I wrote a post about a woman called Lucy Allan and the horrific experience she had at the hands of social services. 

Having been made aware of my article, Ms Allan copied the link to the Mumsnet website’s discussion forum.  A heated debate ensued.  Some contributors did not believe her story (although it has been well documented); others said it was ‘unhelpful’ to parents who might need help and be discouraged from seeking it; but most significantly, many more people, who had had similar experiences, had the opportunity to tell their stories. 

The net result:  OUTRAGE!  The feed was taken off Mumsnet and Ms Allan has now been banned.

Seriously!  A woman who has: been wrongly accused of being a threat to her child; been threatened with having her only child taken into care; had to spend £10,000 in legal fees to clear her name; and finally lost her job, has been banned from Mumsnet, for telling her story.

I swear you couldn’t make it up.

Personally, I am hugely disappointed at Mumsnet, which claims:

We try, as far as possible to let the conversation flow and not to over-moderate. Mumsnet is a site for grown-ups.  

Mumsnet makes clear that it is not a lobby group, but is very powerful when it comes to campaigning.  And they cover some contentious issues.

Needless to say, things being as they often are, the timing could not have been worse.  Only days before the ‘Mumsnet’ incident, in the very same London Borough where Ms Allan had previously worked, a baby and toddler were found dead, presumed smothered by their mother.  It is a horror story like no other.  A photogenic couple with two beautiful kids… presumed double infanticide, assumed to be committed by the mother.  What more reason could there be for Social Services to be allowed to intervene and put kids into care.

But there’s the irony.  I don’t think that it proves that we should be more supportive of Social Services.  I think it just proves that they are getting it wrong all round.  Not every time, maybe.  But when they do….  the cost is devastating.

The media have speculated that the mother of these two tiny children, who were found dead, was suffering post-natal depression.  If she was indeed suffering post-natal depression, her case was missed. 

Is it too much to suggest that maybe… just maybe, if less time was wasted persecuting someone who was ‘self reporting’ as having depression (such as Ms Allan), this poor woman might not have been missed.

But all this aside, I feel that even I myself have diverted from the crucial point.

Ms Allan herself is not suggesting that social services should be disbanded or vilified.  She is simply asking that they are accountable – just like everyone else.  That parents who are being accused of being a risk to their children have a right of reply.  A right to know WHAT they are being accused of and accountability if they are wrong.

And as for Mumsnet…  I have always thought it was a great forum.  I like the fact that they support family issues.  But on this occasion, I think they copped out.  The very fact that this topic has caused such a furore, demonstrates just how important it is to people.

Sorry Mumsnet… but I’m disappointed. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear...

Social Services – Isn’t it time they became accountable?

I have been trying to write this blog post all week.  But I have been going round and round in circles – because it’s such an emotive subject.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been considerable media coverage of Lucy Allan, who was wrongfully accused of being a risk to her child and threatened with having her only son taken from her, by social services.

Rather than spell out all the details in this post, I will put the links to the articles at the end of this piece.  But in brief, Ms Allan went to her GP suffering from depression.  She saw a locum, to whom she voiced her concern that her depression would affect her son, to whom she is very close.

This conversation triggered a chain of events that would finally lead to her being investigated by social services, being at risk of having her son taken from her, losing her job and having to spend £10,000 on legal fees, to prove she was of no risk to anyone.

It’s the kind of story that sends a chill down your spine.  A tale of faceless people, making devastating decisions which rip families apart.  And with absolutely no accountability. 

In Ms Allan’s case, the ‘powers’ that be have conceded that she is of no risk. But they are under no obligation to apologise.

In the greater scheme of things, Ms Allan was one of the lucky ones.  Being well educated, intelligent and considered; having a kind and supportive husband and the financial means to fight her case; she is no longer in imminent danger of losing her only child.  But the fact she was even considered to be of risk, will remain on files for the next two decades.

Over the last couple of years, going through divorce proceedings and a huge upheaval in domestic arrangements, I have undoubtedly been suffering from stress and depression. 

There is absolutely no doubt that this has had an impact on my children.  How could it not affect them?  It was the one thing that worried me more than anything else and I tried hard to protect them from it.  But I didn’t go to my GP.  I dealt with it in my own way, bumbling through, often really struggling and feeling alone.

At this exact point in time, I can count four female friends who are going through their own traumas.  Each and every one of these women is deeply concerned about the impact it is having on their kids.  But not one of these women is prepared to go and talk to their GP about it, because of what will be written on their files and because they are so concerned about the possibility of social services becoming involved.  Ms Allan’s case just confirms all their fears.

I was brought up during the 1970’s, when attitudes towards parents’ rights to treat their children ‘as they saw fit’ were entirely different to today’s socially accepted views.  Whilst many of the changes in attitudes we see today are for the good, I fear that in certain areas, it has gone way too far.

There will always be extreme cases, the ones that hit the headlines, where children have been subjected to horrific abuse.  I don’t think anyone would question the need to remove these children from their homes.  However, I strongly believe that there is an enormous middle ground.  Families who are struggling to cope, for a variety of reasons.  But instead of making it a priority to help those struggling parents in order to keep the family unit together, the first response seems to be to remove children. 

Over the years I have met countless people whose childhoods were less than ideal.  In today’s day and age, these people could well have been removed from their parents, had social services become involved.  But is this what they would  have wanted?  To be put into foster care, or a children’s home.  Ripped away from their family and friends, from their school and everything that is familiar to them? 

I very much doubt that they would.  They would probably just rather their parents were given help and support, to overcome the issues at home, and create a more stable environment for everyone in the household.

Surely the whole purpose of ‘child protection’ is to protect the child – not just remove them, at the drop of a hat, from loving parents who might just need a bit of help and support.  Why is there not more emphasis placed on helping families, rather than punishing them?

The legal system in England states that we are ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  We have legal rights.  Evidence against us has to be presented.  And when the state carries out a huge miscarriage of justice, apologies and compensation are paid. 

But when a child is removed from its parents, they are not assumed innocent.  They are not presented with the evidence being used against them and no apology or compensation is made.  But this all pales to insignificance when a child has been taken into care.  When is the last time you have heard of a child being returned to its parents, when the social services have been wrong?

Surely it’s time for the system to be reviewed. 

After all, if the Social Services are doing a good job and not harming children, they have nothing to fear… 

Isn’t that what they say to the parents….? 

To see more about the case involving Lucy Allan, or support her campaign to improve UK child protection legislation, click on the links below:

This Morning (please be patient through the ads!)

London Evening Standard
Support Lucy Allan's campaign to improve UK child protection legislation HERE.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The 40-something Triathlete!!!

40 Year Old Woman Does First Triathlon (wearing red nail polish) and Survives!!!

I had really wanted to post about this yesterday, but I have to say, I was so wiped out, I didn’t have the stamina.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I have been training for my first ever triathlon – at the ripe old age of…. 40-something!  And the event took place on Sunday.

This whole plan was hatched a couple of months ago, when a friend of mine, Claire, suggested it.  Feeling a little nervous, I ran it past Running Man (who has a lot of experience doing triathlons), who thought it was a fantastic idea.

Unfortunately, having signed myself up, Claire pulled out due to illness.

Although I really wanted to go ahead with it, the thought of turning up on my own was terrifying.

But then things started to turn around.  Claire volunteered to be a Marshall, as did Sarah, who also agreed to look after my eldest for the night, as I had to be at the event at 6.00am to register.   

And then, the night before the event, I got another supporter.  RM’s cycle race had been cancelled, due to the horrendous weather.  He was really disappointed, so decided he’d come and join Claire and Sarah in supporting me. 

Suddenly, I started to re-gain a little bit of confidence.  After a quick supper at Sarah’s, I raced home to set out my kit for the next day and set the alarm for… oh-my-god… 05.25…!  Believe me… I don’t ‘do’ mornings!

As the alarm rang at the appointed time, I rolled out of bed and into my new Tri Suit.  As I did so, I could hear the rain pouring down outside.  It had been raining all night and was showing no sign of abating.

At 6.00am, Running Man arrived at the door.  All of a sudden it started to feel ‘real’!  I started getting anxious.  I didn’t want to be late.  I was worried about coming off the bike on the wet roads, or maybe just drowning in the pool!  What if I couldn’t find my bike, amongst the 99 other competitors’ bikes or got disqualified for losing count of the number of laps I’d done? 

For the first of many times that morning, RM just said:  “Stop worrying!  You’ll be fine.  Just enjoy it!”

And then we were off…

Having registered and parked my bike, RM and I went to wait with the other competitors before going into the pool.  And this is where I probably went a bit ‘wrong’!  I had a dreadful cough and cold, so decided a couple of ‘puffs’ of Ventolin would be a good idea.  I then downed a Caffeine shot to get me going… 

And we were off to the pool.  After a short briefing I was in the water – and feeling very anxious.  Four lengths later, I came to a grinding halt.  The combination of nerves, Ventolin and Caffeine had made my heart start to race, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I started to panic and almost burst into tears. 

My friends were all waiting for me at various stages of the race – and so was my son!  How could I possibly tell them that I’d only managed to swim four lengths, before having a panic attack and pulling out.  As the world came crashing down on me, I felt a tap on my shoulder from the Marshall, checking that I was OK.   I asked if I could take my goggles off, having mistakenly thought that wearing goggles was obligatory.   Once I’d removed them, I instantly felt better and decided to continue with the swim.

Panic over, I completed the swim and scrambled out of the pool, running through mud and rain to my bike.  Having put my wet muddy feet into my socks and shoes, I threw on a warm top and waterproof jacket and was off.

The bike ride went much quicker than I had imagined, although all I could think of was the panic attack in the pool.

As I returned my bike, the sound of my son, Sarah and RM cheering me on gave me a real boost.  As my run began, my legs felt like jelly and the rain and wind were whipping my face.  I tried to tiptoe round the puddles – but it was hard going.  And then….  I needed a pee!

I have joked about this before – and I guess it was inevitable – but I had no choice but to have a Paula Radcliffe moment.  Fortunately, there was no one in sight and a very handy tree!

As I ran on, I could see Claire in the distance, shouting words of encouragement and ready to hand me a cup of water.

“You’re doing really well!  Just keep going!”  she shouted as I set off again.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes when people are encouraging. 

Finally, muddy, wet and exhausted, I saw the finish line.  My son’s voice rang out “C’mon Mum, SPRINT!”  And just as I was about to cross the line, some twerp, young enough to be my son, sprinted ahead of me.  WHAT A T*SSER!  My son was not amused!  Neither were the Marshalls (who gave him the same finish time!). 

And it was over.

I had completed my first ever Triathlon.  I was hugely disappointed that my swim had nearly written the whole thing off, but, I did it!  I finished the course… and three really great friends had got out of bed at 6am to witness it! 

Did it boost my confidence?  You bet!

And will I do it again…?  

Have a guess!

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