Monday, 28 March 2011

Has anyone seen my mother?

Some days I wonder where my mum has gone. Not in the physical sense – I know exactly where she is, in the same house that she has lived in for the past 65 years (and steadfastly refuses to leave).

No, I mean in the sense that the direct (some would say rude), immovable and inflexible old lady I am frequently presented with bears no resemblance to the patient, kind, smiley woman who brought me up. 

In recent years, my lovely mum has become a Jekyll and Hyde character and more often than not these days, Hyde wins the day.

Never one to shy away from speaking her mind, she now does so at the top her voice in the most public and inappropriate places. Like at a family dinner, when she ‘whispered’ to me that the lady at the next table really shouldn’t be having desert and it was no wonder she was so fat!

I know that everyday life is becoming increasingly tough for her…

Her limbs have started to stiffen and simple tasks that she once took for granted have become increasingly difficult, painful even. I watch these changes in my mum and realise that we are all powerless against the will of Mother Nature.

Happily, my mum has always been in sound mind but just recently there has been a subtle change. She is a little bit more forgetful than usual and doesn’t remember things I told her yesterday. On other occasions, she tells me that same thing several times and gets annoyed when I point out that she really doesn’t need to phone me ten times a day to tell me about great aunt Bertha’s varicose veins.

I do try to understand things from her perspective but it is hard to support someone who is so prickly all the time, a bit like trying to cuddle a porcupine.

I know that, for her, the world has become a difficult place and my once fiercely independent mother would suddenly rather stay at home than venture out in it. Opportunities that she would have jumped at in the past are viewed as a series of obstacles to be overcome and are just too much trouble.  And I can’t print her response to my suggestion that I get a wheelchair so that I can take her out more easily – you can imagine!

And yet, on other occasions, we still have a laugh together, mum and me.  So I know that she is still there – the woman from my childhood. Sometimes these days, I just have to look a bit harder to find her.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Jerusalem - without the jam!

There have been some changes in my life recently and, surprisingly, one of the smallest has had the biggest impact. My son, and youngest child, has started walking to and from school on his own. This leap of independence in his life has had a surprising effect on mine. I didn’t appreciate how much I relied on the school run to meet and interact with other parents. As I predominantly work from home, playground conversation provided a link to the outside world.

Realising that action needed to be taken before I started talking to the walls, I looked for new ways of meeting other like-minded individuals. Having heard rave reviews about a new branch of the WI, I was intrigued to find out how this well established (some might say old fashioned) organisation could work for a modern generation of women.

So on a cold Thursday evening, I took the first steps towards my brave new life and walked into a room full (and I kid you not, there were well over a hundred people) of women I had never met. I expected to spot maybe one or two familiar faces in the crowd, but quickly realised that I was on my own. Rather than crying into my glass of wine (yes, wine was on offer as well as tea!) I sought out the nearest friendly face and struck up a conversation. The experience was incredibly liberating.

Having just been to see Calendar Girls the stage show, images of flower arranging and jam making were fresh in mind (taking their clothes off aside). And my first experience of the WI was both exactly like this and yet completely opposite. Sarah Mills, the resourceful and engaging founder of this new branch of the WI ( has done a truly marvellous job of fusing tradition with modernity.

I must admit that as everyone stood up to sing Jerusalem, I experienced a moment of panic, with scenes from the iconic show still uppermost in my thoughts. I fully expected someone to start lecturing on the merits of purple sprouting broccoli. Fortunately there was none of that.

What I found was a group of women of all ages and from different walks of life chatting happily with one another, everyone from grandmothers to young singletons. It was lovely to see different generations interacting and it was impossible not to be drawn in and make friends. The established members went out of their way to make myself and the other newbies welcome. 

With a range of activities on offer to suit all tastes from knitting to photography, there is something for everyone. And so far no one has even mentioned jam.

Would I recommend the WI to other women? Most definitely yes. What I experienced was women at their best, being themselves, away from the responsibilities of family and working life, supporting good causes and, equally importantly, one another.

And just to ensure that I don’t completely forget the true ethos of the WI, you will be pleased to learn that I have just signed up to bake a batch of cakes for the upcoming humble jumble.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Who cleans the loo in your house?

A recent survey revealed that although many women with families also hold down jobs, the majority of domestic chores still fall to them. This does not surprise me in the slightest for in my own experience, even when our partners are well intentioned they still fall short of the mark.

I have often been grateful that my husband can cook and even admit that he is really good at rustling up a nutritious meal out of next to nothing, the only down side being the state of the kitchen when he has finished. And we are talking mess on a grand scale here, not just a few items left lying around. At the risk of sounding ungrateful (which I’m not) I often think it might have been simpler to do the job myself rather than have to spend ages clearing up afterwards.

To be fair, hubbie has tried to amend his untidy ways over the years, but the fact remains that if it was left to him, the house would be in utter chaos. Maybe (as he has suggested) I worry too much about a bit of mess but if it were left to him, I am certain that the toilet would never get cleaned. He doesn't mean to be negligent, it just wouldn't occur to him.

So, I wonder what would happen if for just one week I stopped doing things. Would anyone even notice?

Who would:
  • Put a new toilet roll on the holder when the old one runs out?
  • Hang up wet towels.
  • Do the washing.
  • AND the ironing.
  • Put the newly laundered clothes away.
  • Make sure everyone had the right kit on the right day.
  • Get them to their chosen activities.
  • AND bring them home again.
  • Organise the shopping.
  •  Prepare and cook meals
  •  AND clear up afterwards.
  •  Hoover the carpet and sweep the floors.
  •  Change the beds.
  • Do the dusting.
  • Clean the bathroom.
  • AND the toilet.
The list is endless. Maybe, if I just stopped being responsible for all these chores my family would learn to do things for themselves.

Or maybe not!

What do you think?