Life is Good

Evan in Drag…

Mum got good news. A single blast of pre-cautionary radiotherapy and she has the thumbs up from her Consultant.

She was trembling before she went in. Visibly. Her hands were shaking.

When she came out she said:

Oh what a beautiful man. Gorgeous. If I was 20 years younger…

That’s happiness for you!

Rebel is become a happy woman who sits on my bed late at night and talks of hopes and dreams. I could weep with the pain of my own happiness, simply listening to her quietly growing joy in life.

The Lad is thriving on 5am rises and managing the DIY superstore staff and being praised by Regional managers who talk of his ‘headroom’… (apparently that’s his ability to grow into a senior management role).
He has become a man. I was looking elsewhere – for just a moment – and I turn back to see him full grown. He pats my shoulder and looks down at the top of my head and laughs and calls me ‘my wee Mum’. The roles are reversing (though I do have to check that what is mildly endearing now doesn’t become irritatingly patronising later!).

Baby Giant ran a half-marathon dressed as ‘Paula Radcliffe’ (who annoys – but that’s another post): 6′ 5″ of blonde wig; skin-tight speedos (courtesy of Papa Jaime) and a ripped off midi top… And was the talk of the toon. A colleague of mine – not realising he was my son – described this ‘vision of loveliness who was packing an eyeful’. Mmmm That’s my mad totally-secure-in-his-own-self boy.

The Tricky One – baby number 4 – is making a huge success of his entry to High School. Has a film star girlfriend and is just too cool to utter more than a monosyllable response to dinnertime questions.

Baby has a sleepover tomorrow and is bursting with excitement.

And I have a meeting at Victoria Quay’s Government buildings.

Life is Good.

I am not middle-aged apparently

According to a report (can’t comment on the provenance) discussed on Radio 4 today (the beauty of the commute is maverickly random radio-listening) middle-age starts at about 54 years.

Oh jeez. And there was me thinking I had a good excuse for my creaky knees, inability to party all night and general crankiness. Turns out it’s got nowt to do with my age. It’s just me. Out of shape and jaded, knackered me.

I listened to the debate – between two irritating male mid-40 yr olds – and wondered how the report writers decided on the cut-off point? where middle-age began and youth ended?

And then got a bit pissed off with their puerile arguing over which of them felt oldest/youngest and plugged in my iPhone instead. The Crystal Fighters boomed from the car speakers for a bit – I got bored with their techno-folk and returned to BBC Radio 4.

The two middle-youths were still debating.

One was 44 and the other 46. 44 felt middle-aged. He was railing against the tyranny of ‘youth’ and evangelical about ageing. 46 was insistent that he felt ‘young’. That he loved ‘youth culture’ and never wanted to stop ‘being a child’.

46 really really irritated me. I had this intense desire to shout at him. And as the Lang Whang road is a desolate wraith of a desolate haunted road, I did shout.

‘Oh ffs get a grip! You sad man. Your bloody life has been wasted on you if you haven’t learnt yet that you are OLD! And that age is GOOD!’

I ruminated over my own relatively recent but latterly happy realisation that my ‘youth’ was over (yes, I too was a bit of a late-realiser): standing in a muddy wet festival field listening to a favourite band (Elbow as it happens) and realising that actually, my back was sore with all the standing; that I hated being wet; that I hated the mud; really hated being dirty in a pair of old wellies that had seen better days and that I was dreading another night spent in a tent hunched around a hump in the field listening to wains getting off their tits on MDMA, lager and dope and having to pee in a super-size flora tub at 5am because a trip to the bogging bogs was just beyond me. I was, I realised then, just too old for all that crap. And that this would therefore be ‘the last time I’d do the festival-thing again’.

And since then there have been other blinding flashes of insight. Sadly, not of the profound variety (I don’t want to mislead) but rather, wee bits of realisation dawning on me, in a way that liberates me just a little more every time.

I am freed from the tyranny of youth. I am proud of my age. I own my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned.

One of the biggest of which – and this is bound to disappoint with its shallow narcissism – is the liberation from feeling I need to maintain my sexual attractiveness…

I am 45. I will never again have my 20yr old body back. My face is going south. I am sagging and bagging and wrinkling and drooping. My knees hurt a bit when I get up in the morning. My teeth need an overhaul. It’s harder than ever to lose weight. I look ridiculous in Topshop. I need 8 hrs sleep but can seldom manage more than 6. Thirty yr olds sound young. And 60 plus yr old men no longer remind me of my Dad.

And it’s all alright. Better than that. It’s freeing.

Mind you I ain’t giving up on the hair dye and anti-wrinkle serum just yet.

But I am genuinely more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I relish knowing answers, being able to recall work situations from years ago and applying the lessons learned. I like the maturity of thought and political pragmatism that’s settled with age. Being able to debate electoral reform and secularism and quote John Berger and remember why it’s right and proper to hate the Tories (Thatcher) and all about mining and the car industry we used to have and the summer it snowed. I like remembering. Starting sentences of stories for my kids with ‘I remember when…’ I love having a 22 yr old daughter. I know I haven’t as much physical energy for my amazing 9 yr old – but wouldn’t change a thing.

I am finally the person I have waited my whole life to be – or I’m so much closer.

Yes, I am middle-aged. And it is good.

I know the answer to that, Miss!

Today there was a definite improvement. With some work now on my desk I am beginning to feel I have a purpose.

Sad really. That I need the external reassurance of additional hearings; of meetings with Government and analysis of legislative initiatives; of STUC Conference and the anticipation of ‘Fitness to Practice’ cases. I want to be busy. I have so much enthusiasm, wanting to master the new challenge. More significantly (and I own and accept this deeply ingrained flaw): I also need to be seen to be smart and to be contributing something of value… (ugh)

I know that I’ve always been this sad annoying wee chiel. The smarty-pants clever-clog with her hand permanently in the air. I know the answer to that Miss! I know! Ask me! Ask me!

I was put up the back of the class in English because I annoyed the Hell out of Lucy McGill my English teacher. It was she who taught me that my sheer delight and enthusiasm in learning was a bad thing. I learned not to put my hand up. Because when no one else would answer (and nobody else did) she would sneer, smirk at the class and then say Alright class – Yvonne will have the answer… Yvonne? (with the sarcastic stress on the Yvonne).

She had a poster in her class which read Those of you who think you know everything are annoying to those of us who do. I guess it was meant to be funny. I also guess that she thought that I thought that I knew everything, the poor sad sod.

Funny how I still want to punch her. But she smoked at least 20 and day – she’ll probably be 6 feet under by now.

It’s taken a long time – but I’ve gradually learned to temper the I know the answer! I know the answer! tendency – and now give folk at least a couple of minutes to make their own contribution. I’ve even discovered – sometimes – that some folks have really good smart valuable contributions of their own to make. In fact, sometimes better than anything I was going to offer.

It used to be that I felt vaguely deflated by their ‘brighter-than-me-ness’ – until I realised that, really, it wasn’t a good or pleasant or mature or secure person who felt that.

I’ve quietened my inner hand-up child for long enough now to begin to be able to appreciate and learn from other people – to use their skills to make a bigger and better thing from the whole as opposed to just me on my own…

Yip. I am still a sad annoying wee chiel inside. But I’m fighting her. Honest.

The spectacles of experience; through them you will see clearly… (Ibsen)

Just back from Specsavers where, despite not needing prescription specs for everyday use, they still gave me the hard sell.

Lanark’s Specsavers…haven’t a clue who the guy is…

I have a ‘slight astygmatism’ apparently. I already knew this, I explained – from the test they’d done on me way back in 2008, when they sold me two pairs of designer spectacles which I never wore.

Effectively the test today revealed more of what I already knew – that I can see the letters on the bottom line, as long as I squint a wee bit – but I can see them without squinting when the tiny prescriptive correction is applied. The optician suggested I ‘would be advised to use prescription glasses when watching t.v. (not something I do very often) and maybe when driving at night’.

I suggested that I might prefer not to get any glasses at all. That I might, in fact, prefer to continue just the way I always have – entirely unaware (physically) of any eyesight imbalance at all and managing just fine, thank you very much, with my ‘driving in the dark’.

I could tell she wasn’t terribly happy with my suggestion.

‘Now, Mrs Stewart’ she said slowly and carefully, coming over all Primary School Teacher-ish, as she frowned at me with what I presume she thought was a careful and intelligent look,  ‘Isn’t it better that you correct your eyesight problem now rather than leave yourself at risk of headaches and eye strain?’

She said ‘eye strain’ as though it were something I could die of. I had this vision of myself: one minute, sitting watching telly quite amiably and then, Bang! suddenly clutching my eyes as I breathed my last.

I laughed and asked (cheeky and rhetorical) – Isn’t that why paracetemol and eyelids were invented?

She looked perplexed.

And I felt suddenly sorry for her.

Look I said Let me take the prescription and go look at the frames that are out there.

Jamie was standing in amongst the racks of grim-looking frames. He had been tested too, but pronounced perfect and quickly got rid of. He looked at me as I clutched my prescription and advanced towards him.

Ha ha ha he said You need specs ya old wummin!

I looked at him. I looked at the multi-racked row upon row of spectacle frames. I looked at the prescription in my hand and then at the door.

Come on James, ya cheeky wee rat, we’re going home.

When I said ‘Can my day get any worse’, it was a rhetorical question, not a challenge…

Why is it that some days start badly – and just keep getting worse?

One wrong turn leading inevitably and inexorably to the next, til you’re in a cul de sac with a juggernaut too big to turn.

The arse-kicking I got the other day set the scene for a difficult conversation with my ‘client’. I can’t dress my failures up as anything other than failures. Nae point. Bullshitting is not my game. But that involves laying yourself bare as a professional plonker – not a great strategy when you’re trying to reassure anyone that you really, actually, truly and in fact, know what you are doing.

Said me I accept full responsibility for the poor show. I will understand if you have lost faith and would prefer alternative representation. However, here is what I plan to do – if you are prepared to give me the opportunity to redress the balance…

Silence.

Big fat yawning silence.

It is a long time since I experienced this acute sense of plonkerishness. It hurts, big style. I reflect, during the silence, that this is my idea of hell and that I deserve it.

It’s a funny thing, but the longer silent man hesitates – and then procrastinates – the more I want to keep his case. I need to show him. Prove to him that I can win his dodgy case.

He says he’ll phone me back.

I come off the phone, shaking with a frustration that surprises me and immediately go for a cigarette or two.

When I come back in, I sit. Tapping my foot. Mind spinning and wheeling. The phone is quiet. By now I am obsessed by the need to fix that case.

I look around. I’ve nothing pressing. I’ll do something I haven’t had time to do for years… something which I was taught to do way back at the beginning when I was prosecuting Health and Safety cases. Write my case in reverse…

And so, feeling positively, sublimely virtuous and smart, I write my submission for that case now. I’ll make this all perfect. It will be textbook. This will be the submission to top all submissions. My case will shine like a shiny big diamond shines. It’ll be a stunner. Knock the spots of the employer. 

Excited, I start typing. I have quotes from the Competency Framework and comparative studies. I have ET caselaw authority. I quote lengthy legal judgement and academic studies. I have my client’s statement and all the in-gathered ‘evidence’ (so far anyway). My fingers clatter across the keyboard. I am on fire! This is smoking. I start to laugh. This’ll show them.

Four pages in and the system crashes.

I’m at home now. I don’t know what has been saved. The Office manager was still working on the server when I left.

And a 7pm email from my client says he’ll phone to discuss on Monday.

I want to believe that this is proof that there is hope. But today has been so shite, so I am not counting my chickens.

Eating My Daughter’s Love Letter

Rebel Eldest looking very gorgeous….

My eldest (who is shaping up to be not-so-much of a rebel really) took me out for dinner last night.

It was to devour a ‘taster’ menu, cooked by her friend and colleague, Iain Richardson (currently Sous Chef at New Lanark Mill Hotel).

I was a bit (just a bit) suspicious of the motive behind the invitation. Disloyal? Ok. Yes… 

My plea in mitigation? Meg has a wonderful history of breaking bad news at times and in places where you can’t go all feral on her… 

But the girl done good last night. Oh my God how good she did.

The meal was a two hour slice of food heaven:

  • Smoked Potato and Criffel Cheese Bonbons
  • Pickled Melon, serrano ham and crispy pigskin
  • Pate, Brioche and Onion Marmalade
  • Arbroath Smokie Scotch Egg without the egg served with apple puree, horseradish and baby asparagus (with little deep-fried ‘hats’) and pea fondant
  • Apple sorbet served in a hand-blown sugar apple – complete with little sugar-glass leaf!
  • Ham hough tower with puree and confit of something
  • Trio of beef (including shin and fillet) with the most amazing beetroot puree I have ever ever tasted and little potato medallions that were divine (I hate potatoes)
  • Rum Baba
  • Balsamic Ice-cream serveed with pistachio and chocolate and strawberry foam and jelly.
  • Dark Chocolate, raspberry and salted caramel macaroon with chocolate fondant and raspberry coulis.
I am almost certain I’ve missed a course – I’ll check with Meg (just to encourage your envious salivation). And Meg has some photos which I’ll post.

The other diners were unsuccessful in attempts to hide their curiosity. Eventually one woman came across to say she’d never seen so many wonderful courses – what was the occasion and how did she order the special meal we were having?

It was then that I realised that the food we were being served was just a bit different from the menu choices (which are amazing in themselves).

Meg blushed and explained she worked in the hotel just now – that it was her friend who was cooking for her.

And when Iain came out from his hideout in the kitchen it occurred to me that what I’d eaten 
was a love letter written in food…

PS She did beg a favour – will you take my cat, Mum? – relieved it wasn’t some fresh rebel occurrence, I said OK…