Making memories: the ‘C’ word

The ‘festive’ C word, that is. I’m not sure I can bring myself to say it yet. C… Chr… Christmas. Aargh!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the darker nights, the frosty freshness of the morning air on the school run. I love seeing the people who clearly don’t have 6 cats putting up their Christmas trees up as soon as Halloween is done, and the scrooges who take to social media to lambast them for ruining the spirit (the irony of arguing over it which is far more spirit-crushing IMO apparently lost on them). I love the planning and the Christmas socials, especially the ones that end in someone getting terribly drunk and stripping off for Santa (usually me).

I love it, but I am not ready. I have bought one single present, which needs a very important “other part” which I can’t find enough detail on to purchase. I haven’t even thought about what the kids want this year, let alone what I can actually afford to buy them. My social calendar is packed with at least two events a week between now and New Year which is drastically reducing planning time, and I’m just not ready. However, despite this total lack of preparedness, this year feels different somehow…

I don’t know if it’s because it’ll be the first Christmas the kids are at home since Gaz and I got married, or because I’ve finally reached that stage of general comfort and ‘at ease’ with my life that has been lost for so long, but I decided early on that this year I was going to do a many of the things that I’ve always wanted to do as possible. When I feel like I’ve hit “peak Christmas” I want to immortalise the whole lot in pictures on canvas, to join our baby and wedding canvas prints, which eventually might become one of those trendy photo walls that you see all over pinterest. Truprint even have 8×8″ sizes available, which they reckon is great for showing off Instagram photos, which appeals to my lazy side & would fill in the big gaps on our wall:

So, I bought a real Christmas tree. It was actually a spur of the moment purchase on the way to Glasgow last weekend:

A post shared by Jem (@jemjabellargh) on

But I’ve always wanted a real Christmas tree and although this isn’t the grand 7ft beautifully decorated tree of my dreams, it will hopefully serve us well this Christmas and can then be put outside in its pot until next year. I feel like I’m being somewhat optimistic given the aforementioned six cats (and the fact that it’s already shedding needles in our probably-too-warm living room) but it’ll be fun to see what happens.

While that is settling I’ve been looking at sourcing terribly kitschy Christmas decorations that I remember from my childhood, including these beauties:

Partly just for the fun of nostalgia, and partly because I’ve invited friends around for 70s themed Christmas drinks and if I can decorate for both in one go it’ll be perfect: another lazy box ticked. I actually put some paper decorations up for Izzy’s birthday recently, which is turns out is also a big 70s thing, so I reckon if we can find some more they can even stay up too.

I want a big Christmas feast, which is unlikely to pose a problem as I always overcook anyway. My sister and her partner are coming round to help us eat through a week’s worth of food in one day, and I will (as usual) extend the offer of Christmas dinner to any locals on their own this year.

Oh, there are so many things I want to do. I want to start traditions this year; stuff that we can do every year because we want to, things that the kids will look back on in 10 years time and remember as being a part of Christmas. Things that they’ll want to do with their kids. I want to make memories, and I want the kids to feel a part of something. I want them to feel that even though our Christmas might not be 100% conventional — split between two homes, with multiple factions of family to share their time with — that it was always about love, and laughter. I want them to be able to look back at the pictures of these times and feel like it was the best days of their lives.

No pressure.

Tribute (Robert Addison, July 1981 – July 2017)

A tribute to Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, as read out at his service today.

It would be… incongruous to stand here and tell you all what an angelic life Bobby led. He was almost as well known by the local police as he was by us here today.

But, despite his misdemeanours and mistakes, it is no exaggeration to say that my brother had a huge impact on so many people’s lives, not least my own.

From my first days at school Bobby had my back. He, with our eldest brother Ian (RIP), dealt with a particularly annoying bully in ways that only an older brother can. He also took the piss in ways only an older brother can: with a delightful range of nicknames for me, all with a story… none of which I’m prepared to repeat to you now – I’ve enjoyed the reprieve since he left home.

When he wasn’t taking the mick, Bobby liked to get up to mischief. I remember one Christmas – I would have been around 7 years old – he showed me the present stash he’d discovered hidden behind a hole in the lining of mum & dad’s divan bed. I also remember the sweets and crisps he nicked from the shop where he and Ian did a paper round, but we probably shouldn’t talk about that.

Bobby bought me my first ever Terry Pratchett novel, inspiring a love for an author which endures both Pratchett’s death and Bobby’s – a love I’m sharing with my two children, thus influencing their little lives.

Bobby was unfailingly irresponsible with his life at times, ignoring danger and risk to tackle pursuits like climbing onto the rooves of high buildings, riding motorbikes at ridiculous speeds with barely any protection and, in one instance, using a rope swing over a drop at The Wrekin which seemed as deep as the Grand Canyon to me at the time.

I mention these things not to glorify his pastimes, but because he encouraged me to do the same; to take risks, to try things, to be BRAVE. He was one of very few people in my life who didn’t stop me doing things because I’m a girl. He thought that if he could do it, I could too.

While his encouragement didn’t inspire me to chuck myself around on motorbikes or throw myself over drops the size of the Grand Canyon, it did inspire me to explore other “boy” things like video games and computing. It gave me the confidence in my abilities to forge a career in a male dominated industry – a career which has shaped my life, allowing me to run a successful business despite the doubters and “but you’re a girl” naysayers.

Finally, Bobby taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: he taught me forgiveness. He taught me that a person’s worth is not the sum of their mistakes, and that despite everything life throws at you, there is always good in everyone.

Terry Pratchett once wrote “no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away”. I like to think that the ripples Bobby caused will outlive us all.

Death, Depression and Drink

Content warning: suicide, mental health, addiction

On Wednesday I sat down and mentally compiled a tribute to my brother, whilst assembling an IKEA table. There’s something strangely therapeutic about putting flat-pack furniture together (at least when I’m doing it by myself).

My brother, Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, took his own life some time around the 21st-22nd July. Securely fixed a piece of wood between the rafters in his loft directly above the access hatch, attached the rope, and… well, you get the idea. Obviously something he’d planned out; who just happens to have a piece of wood exactly the right width to slot between the rafters just sat around the house? He was found on the 25th by a neighbour.

Although we were once close, my relationship with my brother was complicated. He had extensive mental health issues, in part exacerbated by the suicide of our eldest brother Ian back in 2000, the fallout of which (long story short) broke down his relationships, his connections with his children, family and friends.

I hadn’t seen him in 7 years, since Isabel was tiny; bumped into him in a local shopping centre. I kept meaning to write, to find him, but put it off: I wasn’t sure I could cope with the risk of introducing someone explosive into my children’s lives, and I felt I needed to ensure the safety of his children too.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be talking about this – we’ve not even had the funeral yet. But how do we break down barriers about mental health if we don’t talk about it? Particularly when someone with issues is left with no support network. Yes, actions have consequences, but where do we draw the line if it means potentially saving someone’s life?

Anyway. Bobby had threatened suicide multiple times since 2000. Part of me was sure he’d never go through with it. I liked to believe that he would not want to put us through “it” all over again. But if you feel ostracised, if you feel nobody cares, would that have even crossed his mind? Either way, having to deal with a suicidal brother for 17 years… it numbs you. I grieved for him again and again, every time I thought it was the end. Watching him jump in front of a moving train. Seeing him surrounded by drugs and drink. Every text telling me he’d had enough, that he couldn’t cope, that he didn’t want to be here without Ian. I cried and I grieved and then he didn’t die, he missed the train, he survived the drug cocktails.

And now he’s gone, and I expected to grieve once more, and mostly all I feel is a complicated mess of shock, regret, and relief that he is finally free from his pain.

Unfortunately, being relieved doesn’t make this shit any easier. I have been drinking. Not “bottle of vodka on a school night” drinking, but drinking nonetheless. I use it to escape my head, my own mental health, but it’s cowardly and it doesn’t work. I have also slacked off at the gym and avoided people and responsibilities.

I like to think that I have the self-awareness to nip the unhealthy behaviours in the bud before they get to a “point of no return”. (And by self-awareness, I mean my habit of constantly over-analysing the minutiae of my life and then wondering why I have so much going on in my head that I can’t escape from.)

I like to think that having the privilege of a support network, of an unwavering rock of a husband, of friends who are there for me 24 hours a day, and a counsellor who willingly listens to my swear-filled rants punctuated with sobs and sniffles… that all of this means I will go on. That I will grieve, that time will heal the wounds of regret, that I will forgive myself for not being there.

Until then? One day at a time.

Children’s birthday parties are exhausting

That’s it. The milestone I was dreading has come and gone. We have a lot of ‘seven’ left to go, but that initial mountain has been climbed and conquered.

Not made any easier by the organisation of the birthday party, because some bright spark thought that’d be a great idea.

For some reason, when I do stuff like this, I don’t like to do it by halves. Why buy a couple of frozen pizzas, some biscuits and sausage rolls when you can make your own pizza dough, bake your own mini quiches (that none of the kids will eat anyway), dip pretzels in chocolate and create breadstick ‘sparklers’..?

sparklers-and-pretzels

And indeed, why stop there? If making your own party food isn’t hassle enough, why not spend 3 days building an elaborate rainbow layered My Little Pony birthday cake featuring fondant icing that you will inevitably roll too thin so will fall apart when you try to put it on the far-too-tall birthday cake…

img_20161117_140452

Still, I’m nothing if not a show off. And we got through the party without death, disease or tragedy, so it’s a win for a month that has been otherwise pretty crap so far.

And I only drank 4 glasses of vodka & lemonade to get me through it.

Wedding Antics

So who got married last week? Just me? Oh :)

jaz-wedding-web

On May 16th at 11:30ish (we were early) Gaz and I officially tied the knot (as they say; no actual knots were tied). In a short and sweet ceremony where I agreed to love and cherish my “awfully” wedded husband, we exchanged rings, had a quick snog then went for yummy grub at my favourite pizza restaurant.

On Saturday night we made it all the more real with a celebration for family and friends who very kindly travelled from as far away as London, Scotland and even Belgium.

We ate a big hog roast, expensive cheeses, locally made cupcakes and the best tasting popcorn I’ve ever eaten from Joe & Seph’s. Seriously, that stuff is adictive. I don’t even eat popcorn normally and now I’m thinking about getting the catering size packs in for “emergencies”.

Music was provided by local band Lost the Plot and was heartily enjoyed by all guests. Huge thanks to these guys for entertaining us all evening, and for playing (by special request) Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”. There’s something particularly amusing about 3 ageing muscians (sorry guys) playing a song about curvy young women.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the night, including one of me dancing like a bellend (for your personal enjoyment):

what kind of dancing is that

team gazza

the look of love

And there are tons more photos are up on Facebook, if you know where to look.

I’m 30 and nothing’s different

Well howdy. It somehow got to January 20th without me noticing. Funny how this time-passing-by thing works.

I turned 30 in style, partying the night away with some of my favourite people. I even took two dresses to my party because I am that awesome. Came away with a car boot-full of presents too, which made me cry on more than one occasion. Apparently I get soppier as I get older.

Turning 30 has not given me a greater wisdom, sudden grown-up super powers or anything of that sort (which I’d kinda hoped for). Indeed, I still spent most of last Thursday in bed pretending I wasn’t an adult with Responsibilities until I remembered I had to take Bramble (MEGABUN) to the vet for his post-neuter check-up. That reminds me, I really need to finish my Pets section.

The neutering went well, which will probably mean he ends up with a girlfriend-bunny at some point. Preparing for “I told you so”s in 3, 2, 1…

This year is already starting to look like a busy one, with vague wedding stuff being planned. Much to the disappointment of certain people Gaz and I are planning a “run away and do it in secret” style wedding. No fuss, minimal expense, just us and the legally required amount of witnesses who may or may not be dragged in off the street beforehand. I’m not sure I could deal with anything else, it’s not my cup of tea.

On a similarly personal note, I’ve an appointment for the end of the month to speak to my doctor about sterilisation. My hormones have been in overdrive lately which is making me super broody, but the reality is another child would be a massive physical, emotional and financial load which I just wouldn’t be able to deal with. Feeds weird to think I’ll never carry, birth and feed a tiny baby ever again but taking the pill is a pain in the arse (despite some minor benefits for my probable PMDD), and with Gaz’s total lack of desire for kids of his own, it just makes sense. I have two beautiful, smart as hell, pain in the arse kids and that’s more than enough.

Teach your children to cook

Would it be controversial of me to suggest that failing to teach your children to cook is neglecting a hugely important of parenting? That is, missing out a huge part of a range of life skills that should be imparted upon your kids.

homemade lasagne

As I lovingly prepared a homemade lasagne earlier (by which I mean threw it together to satisfy my own cravings) I caught myself yet again feeling utterly indebted to my mum and my nan (dad’s mum) for having given me both culinary skills and the encouragement to experiment, which is the root of most of my dishes.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum was no Michelin star chef. She can’t cook meat (anyone who eats beef and lamb well done might as well not bother, sorry mum), and turkey twizzlers were regularly served in our house growing up til that bastard Jamie took them away, but her spaghetti bolognese is rivalled only by my own (of course) and she makes a mean syrup sponge pud.

My nan was of the generation that hand made everything and grew a whole lot of what she cooked too. I have fond memories of my nan’s rhubarb crumble, with fresh fruit straight from the garden and proper custard made the way you’re supposed to.

While I’m not naive enough to believe everyone has the time to both grow and prepare their own food these days, I think relying on the freezer section in your local supermarket and introducing your kids to fresh stuff just once a week alongside your roast does everyone a disservice. It robs children of the opportunity to experience and help with meal prep and robs the whole family of tastes beyond miscellaneous processed yellow crap.

Cooking at home is cheaper and better for you than ready meals and takeaway, and a necessary skill as a self-sufficient adult. Teach your children to cook.

First Week

So, it’s been just over a week since I returned working from home. A week of exercising self-control, willpower and planning. A week of trying out a new routine, of getting used to waking up in the morning thinking “I don’t want to go to work… oh”.

The ~Grand Plan~ for this time round was to break up my working days into chunks, taking time for me and juggling the kids / school runs / etc better. My weekly routine is supposed to look a bit like this:

Monday: long run first thing, work efficiently til 3pm, pick up the kids, bit more work after their bedtime
Tuesday: work on location with client, pick up the kids, workout, bit more work after bedtime
Wednesday: full day of super efficient working, evening off
Thursday: work on location with client, pick up kids, workout, bit more work after bedtime
Friday: full day of super efficient working, evening off

(With a bit of work over weekends as required)

My routine last week looked more like this:

Monday: half-arsed run first thing, on the phone til 3pm, pick up the kids, all the work after their bedtime
Tuesday: work on location with client, pick up the kids, failed to workout, work after bedtime
Wednesday: procrastinate all morning, do as much as possible in the afternoon, evening off
Thursday: work on location with client, pick up kids, workout / bit more work after bedtime (win!)
Friday: procrastinate all morning, do as much as possible in the afternoon, evening off

Which, while not ideal, has made me realise that I really struggle to get my head going in the mornings if I don’t have the impetus to do so. I also work best towards the end of the day / evenings. Fighting against that is going to cause me problems in the long run, but I don’t want to end up spending all my evenings working thus sacrificing time with Gaz.

Perhaps if I move my workouts to as soon as I get back on a Tues/Thurs, that frees up an hour after the kid’s bedtime which I can use for work. I could do the monotonous / mindless stuff like admin, invoicing etc on a Weds/Fri morning and then crack on with the more brain-intensive stuff in the afternoon, leaving me free to take those two evenings off. In theory.

I suppose that’s the biggest advantage to working for myself again: I get to actually try this stuff and fiddle with my routine. I don’t have to force myself into a 9-5 pattern with barely half of those hours at peak productivity and then wonder why nothing is getting done.

In defence of spur of the moment decisions

I think often as a grown up, being able to spend time thinking about and rationalising decisions before acting them out is considered a desirable trait. Sleep on it, we’re told. Write pro/con lists and weigh up consequences.

I say bollocks to that.

Last year I came out of a counselling session with the realisation that my relationship was toxic. I ended it straight away.

A week later Tony mentioned OKCupid on twitter and I suddenly decided I need to get laid (classy bird, me) so I signed up and uploaded the first picture of my face to grace the interwebs in over 10 years. I found Gaz. (Although he says that picture was terrible. Nice to know.)

Not so long after that, Gaz and I met. I made a decision that night which worked out pretty well…

While I was on holiday with the kids earlier this year, I woke early one morning and decided to ask Gaz to move in with me. He said yes. (He moves in this weekend.)

A month or so ago I suddenly decided I needed to quit my job. I asked Gaz if it would be a terrible idea. He said it was … but I did it anyway. I have all of my original clients’ ongoing support and jobs booked in the calendar til September.

So, you know… maybe spur of the moment decisions aren’t so bad. After so many years of letting my head talk me out of everything, letting my heart rule for a while seems to be working out OK.

Protected: Oh, Mother’s Day

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The realities of being a lone parent

When I split up with Karl in May I joked to friends about the relief of no longer having to buy 5 packs of bourbon biscuits every week, not needing shares in a dairy company to buy the sheer amount of cheese he got through, etc etc. Har har, very funny. The realities of being a “lone parent” (single is clearly the wrong word in my case) extend further than that.

I’ve had to rapidly extend every frugal habit I’ve ever practised to every avenue of my life, which includes living off 4 slices of toast and a spoonful of peanut butter some nights just to make the food stretch further (and because I’m lazy).

I’ve had to actually talk to utility companies, which Karl used to do ‘for us’, and deal with the annoying levels of security each one in place. Severn Trent Water, for example, had absolutely no security in place and I was able to create and log in to an online account and change all the necessary details without any double checking on their part. PlusNet on the other hand wouldn’t speak to me or make any changes to the account, despite the username being “jemandkarl”, the payments for the Internet coming out in my name etc.

In fact, even now my Internet is still registered under Karl’s name, because when we finally managed to get through to the department we needed to speak to (after hours on hold and being passed back and forth) we were told that I couldn’t just switch the account to me without cancelling and recreating it, which would leave me without Internet for a week or more: not a workable solution for someone who requires the Internet to earn a second income.

And then there’s the monotony of the daily routine: school runs, tiredness tantrums, feeding and bathing two under 5s on my own. The constant stream of washing, cooking, tidying, reading bedtime stories and all the other mumsy shit that I have no choice but to get on with, because I can’t say “you do it tonight dear”.

No longer can I just nip out for a run because I need to clear my head, I have to schedule it around “daddy time”. No longer can I nip to the shop for evening snacks to comfort eat because I feel like crap. No longer can I go and grab some fish ‘n’ chips because I can’t be arsed to cook after a long working week.

And that reminds me? Working as a single parent. Ha. I don’t know why I bother. The second I get paid, my bank account is raided for childcare, mortgage and bills. There’s nothing like living off a single income and a series of mini life disasters to get you acquanted with your overdraft, that’s for sure. The only thing keeping me afloat at the minute is the fragments of self-employment income I bring in working a couple of evenings a week.

Of course it’s been just over 4 months now, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot written down it feels like a lifetime in terms of the scope of the changes that have happened to our lives. This lone parenting lark is bloody hard work… physically and emotionally.

Still. No regrets.