The Office

So the much feared foray through the revolving doors into the building I spent the sizable slab of almost a decade holed up in, finally happened.

Having been lived a countless number of times already in both my unconscious dream state (nightmare, more like) and the more conscious idle imaginings, there is an air of Groundhog Day-esque familiarity to the proceedings. Strapping on a pair of 3 inch wedges to literally boost my esteem (I have always wondered how the vertically challenged Tom Cruise manages to maintain such a profound sense of confidence without doing likewise – especially with his leggy lady looming tall above him), I still feel myself physically diminishing in the manner of Alice in Wonderland, as I step across the threshold.

The rush of memories – of steps I trod thousands of times, in heels, flats, boots and sandals, season after season, year after year. The ghost of me lingers here like a small part my soul that I can’t reclaim.

A flash of recognition from a face that passes, I pretend not to notice; the scarlet ‘R’ emblazoned on my forehead glowing with shame. It’s enough to be within these four walls. To ride the lift up a few floors and make the pilgrimage across the whispering stares of the trading floor to my old desk is unthinkable. But of course, in reality, no one would stare, or indeed care. But it is enough.

I have gathered together the remaining items under my temporary custody that are my residual tenuous link to this place – this place and these people I have known for longer than Mr A. My company crackberry (defunct), corporate credit card (expired) – they are due to be returned to their rightful owner. My boss drops by and makes a conciliatory attempt at small talk but it is dripping in awkward unease. The content of his last spoken words so many months ago ring resoundingly sharp and unfaded; drowning out the chit chat of the present moment. After all, no one harbours a grudge better than a woman scorned.   

I agree to a future lunch that I already know will never materialise but is a necessary nicety from all parties. Preferable, undoubtedly, to suggesting a rendezvous in the next lifetime. Then I am free to leave. Stepping out into the sunshine and away from the haunting ghost of a glittering career that I once had. I pull out my personal crackberry to check for any new messages – old habits die hard.

Jostling with the Jobless at the Local Gym REDUX

 

[This article was first published on 12th May 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/get_cultured/entertainment/culture/950.cntns]

I stand corrected. It is NOT just the jobless I am jostling with for treadmill time (see previous post: Jostling with the Jobless at the Local Gym); it appears I am now rubbing shoulders with royalty down at my local authority sports centre.

Well, not royalty in reality but The Queen in her best onscreen guise – yes, none other than Dame Helen herself. I have always thought myself above celebrity worship, or even mere curiosity. But such tangible proximity to the grande dame of drama unleashed my inner Hello!-reading, Celebrity Big Brother-watching alter ego.

In the manner of an incompetent stalker, I surreptitiously watched with interest her every move, while feigning interest in the BBC news on the screen in front of me and trying to stay pace with the tireless treadmill. Unlike me, her pursuits of the morning appeared to be anaerobic, moving from one toning machine to the next (explaining those legendary bikini shots last year), all the while toting an ill-disguised open script.

I say ‘script’ but I could be wrong: A4, dog eared, bound together in a ‘this is not commercially available in print’ sort of way, with the text set out in the style of higgledy piggledy dialogue rather than blocks of text typical of more mundane manuscripts. Overcome with zealous obsession wrought by months of the unextraordinary, I harnessed my gossip girl within.

Seizing my chance when she ventured to the mat to stretch and ab-exercise, I ambled over. I considered commending her on her Oscar winning performance in the role of HRH but for the small issue that I have not actually seen it. Instead I tried to sneak a rather indiscrete peek at her script (MI5 covert mission this was not) while assuming the pretense of fumbling with a disproportionately large swiss ball.

Somewhere amidst contorting myself to ascertain the gist of her reading material, I seem to have lost sight of her presence – she abruptly snatched the script from my line of vision, dragging my gaze with it; breaking my precariously balanced pose and leaving me in an ungainly heap on the mat, swiss ball rolling to an exit to the right.

So it appears even dames are reigning in the spending in these spartan times; after all how better to convey sympathy for the poor populace than to join them? And if it’s good enough for a dame then who is a lowly out of work banker to complain? And one more thing, Ms Mirren, may I please applaud you on looking jolly marvellous – even in a Mickey Mouse T shirt and no makeup.

My drug of choice

Key ingredients of one portion of redundancy, mixed with several large handfuls of rejection, plus lashings of alone time to stew over personal shortcomings and failures, can be the recipe to only one dish: depression.

I have the urge to take up drinking, drugs or some other equally shamefully self-destructive vice, to ease this gulf of loneliness that threatens to swallow me whole.

I long to forget who I was and who I’ve become. Sadly I’ve already forgotten who I really am. I am goalless, worthless, pointless and soulless – a walking shell of an existence. How easy it is for the memory to dissipate – the feelings of a life half full, limited by a boundless horizon. Now there is only a barren brick wall – endlessly wide and terminally tall.

Obviously all my days aren’t plagued by this maudlin moroseness – because surely I’d have taken a fast track to purgatory (or some equivalent place for wandering spirits of the dead) if they were. But today I feel lost. And unfathomably sad.

I suspect, until my life regains more purpose, that I will always be at risk of a relapse into this dreaded zone of despair and desperation. And I sense the tut tuts pounding at my blog door already dishing out their disapproval that motherhood should be sufficient in itself as a standalone purpose. But tut all you want; for me it just isn’t.

But tomorrow is another day and until then there’s always the option of drugs or drink – or for wimps like me bound by the shackles of parental responsibility, more likely a slab of Green and Blacks’ finest.

Multi-tasking – who says women are no good at it?

While juggling with a 9 pack of loo roll falling out the back of the buggy; a screaming Baby-Bel engaged in a wrestling match with her rain cover; MiL (mother in law) on the phone making arrangements for a 90th birthday celebration and shopping bags in both hands, I came face to face with the ultimate insult. A cashier with clearly little else to occupy her time summoned me over (yes – she actually said, ‘Come over here’, in the assumed persona of a strict school marm). 

For a scary second I thought I was experiencing the beginning of the process of prosecution for shop lifting – the thought closely following was that I don’t have child care so who will assume the role of slave to Baby-Bel while I am undergoing my persecution by the law. But no – a swift rewind and fast forward of my previous 30 minutes reveals no need to panic – every item is paid and accounted for. We didn’t break anything or sneakily put back on the shelves any crushed/ torn/ nibbled at items. 

So what does she want? Instinct tells me to run – the last time anyone issued a summons like that was at school and it spelt inevitable trouble ahead. Obviously, I can’t confess to having been on the receiving end of it but witnessing it aplenty is enough to make me shift uncomfortably. Curiosity gets the better of me. Plus it’s hard to make a quick getaway with a laden down buggy in tow, like a morose mule. I’m still puzzled. She gestures to the packet of batteries Baby-Bel has developed an inseparable attachment to over the last few minutes. Relieved, I’m about to tell her they’ve been paid for as the receipt will testify. But before I even get started, she says threateningly, ‘Take that packet of batteries away from your child – she might eat them’. 

I am positively affronted by her implication that I am irresponsible, stupid, or lacking in concern for my own child – or indeed all three. Stunned by the brazen and uninvited assault on my maternal abilities I mumble something apologetic and stumble to snatch the offending item from Baby-Bel’s grasp. Needless to say, she starts screaming even louder than earlier and I make my hasty retreat towards a walk of shame out the door. 

The fact is the batteries were fully encased in their packaging and I never let her out of my sight AND my child is not one prone to sticking indiscriminate objects into her mouth. Though I admit it’s unlikely to be a contender in ELC’s top toy hitlist any time soon.

It occurs to me that being a parent leaves one in the position of a sitting target for uninvited criticism and comment from any coincidental passerby. Indeed my child rearing skills may leave a lot to be desired but show me a perfect parent and I’ll eat that 8 pack of Duracell myself.

World’s worst mother

If Baby-Bel kept a diary, the entry today would no doubt read ‘Worst day of my little life’. And not in a ‘teenage angst, every day is the worst day of my life, the world and its dog is knitting a conspiracy theory against me’, sort of way but genuinely so.

It all started fairly innocuously. An event-free trip to the supermarket where Baby-Bel screamed vociferously when the time came to pay for my shopping and I had to forcefully remove a red pepper from her vice-like grip – mortifying yes yet, unfortunately, fairly mundane. A stroll to Starbucks where she insisted on pilfering a collection of their straws and cup lids – I wondered at which point they would begin charging for them as ‘extras’ like a shot of espresso or flavoured syrup.

Despite having thought about little else all weekend, I had ironically forgotten that Baby-Bel was booked in for her MMR in the afternoon. I have been plagued by paranoia after a mummy friend sparked concerns over its links with autism, stoking the irrational and usually dormant side of my personality. To be fair, it reared its ugly head last week too when I was convinced she was suffering from a bout of swine flu – Mr A naturally, and rationally, told me I was being crazy in as nice a way as possible but I assure you this is the sort of behaviour that comes from too long without the sanity gleaned from gainful employment and regular daytime adult interaction.

I think it’s fair to say the nurse actually mocked me when I voiced my concerns. Feeling small, rather stupid and still nerves a jangle, I distracted a suspicious-looking Baby-Bel from the proceedings ahead. She flailed and screamed with a might that belied her size. I suddenly felt nauseous and was actually sweating, with anxiety as well as the exertion requeired to restrain her – about the same level of perspiration brought on by a gentle warm up jog. With each scream I wanted to join in with a chorus line.

And then came jab number two. I doubt Baby-Bel will ever be trustful of me again. But at least we could go home now and resume our normal tear-free day.

Not so. While complacently basking in my success at distracting her from the memory of wrestling with pointy needles, I took my eye off the ball. Tottering around in the ungainly gait which she is currently wont, she stumbled and fell face first, splitting her top lip on her front teeth. The fault rests rigidly with me (I should and could have pre empted it with all that supposed maternal instinct right?). More unforgiveable is that, in the interim between her immediately beginning to cry and my discovery of her mouth full of blood, my initial assumption was she was just being a drama queen. I’m a terrible, undeserving mother – worse than Cinderella’s non-bio version. I half expect the door bell to ring and child services to serve me a warrant.

So now she looks like a victim of botched botox. She keeps pressing her lips together in a soundless ‘ma ma ma’ sound – presumably because the fat lip feels alien. Either that or she is miming her silent accusations in my direction.

As if it is insufficient to undergo the self flagellation of my own torturous guilt, I am also dreading the recriminations from Mr A when he returns and sees The Lip in all its purple inflated glory. Well, if it had happened while under his sole supervision, I know at whose door I would be laying the blame – and with all the combined weight of a stack of Yellow Pages at that. While drying her hair after her bath I wonder how best to style it so as to hide the evidence of the afternoon’s incriminations – how about all brushed forward to cover her entire face, in a warped interpretation of a comb-over? That should about do the job.

But I know I am unfairly tarnishing Mr A with my small-minded brush. He will tell me that accidents happen, especially when wobbly legged toddlers are involved and that I am in no way to blame. Still, I can’t help but think a better mother wouldn’t have to spend the next week staring at the error of her ways as punishment for her misdemeanour. Life might be full of sharp edges but none sharper than the pang of guilt.

The other R word

[This article was first published on 1st May 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/the_soul_clinic/at_work/941.cntns.]

First Redundancy and now Rejection – numbering in excess of the fingers I can count. On both hands.

I am learning (the hard way) that getting writing published is more onerous than pinning down a job in banking – and in this era of financial Armageddon, that really holds some considerable weight.

Once upon a time, in a moment of whimsical aberration, a bright(ish), young twentysomething fancifully decided it would be jolly fun to join the banking clique. She’d been a long time hearing of its bountiful bonuses hanging from every gilded tree, like low hanging fruit ripe for the picking by any ambitious, industrious go-getter. So she decided to see for herself and indeed endeavour to ‘go get’ some of the tempting fruit from the ‘Pick Your Own’ Garden of Financial Eden. In a surprisingly short space of time – mere months and half a dozen interviews of soul-bartering haggling later, she sold her soul for membership of the Square Mile sect.

Misguidedly she assumed that having attained membership, the subsequent process of picking and eating would be as taxing as a stroll through Cloud Nine. As it turned out, the Garden was prone to long bouts of famine, tempered only with fleetingly brief periods of feasting. And even the short-lived feasting would be a time of upheaval; hungry hoards battling for morsels of the transient banquet. Membership eventually expired with little notice; her now worthless soul flung back at her from the powers that be – having sucked it of its life blood.

So once more, the For Sale sign is being pinned to my soul. The resell value, as with a second hand car, well below the original untarnished version. This time, I am attempting to peddle my unworthy wares to the publishing posse, who so far seem marginally more discerning than their banking brothers, spurning my every awkward advance. As I battle on through my ‘death by a thousand paper (rejection letter) cuts’, it dawns on me that if banking has taught me one thing then it is the virtue of thick skin.

Sugar and spice and all things… pink?

Before Baby-Bel had turned 6 months and was barely mobile, her Great Aunt gifted to her a scarily life-like baby doll, complete with its own pushchair. Aside from giving me the heebie-jeebies as a result of its ability to blink, drink, cry and babble, Baby-Bel today revealed that it also wears a pair of real child’s pants (aged Newborn) – wee-ird. While she engaged in interacting with her inanimate friend, it occurred to me that the path is already being laid out before her, dictating the choices society deems apt for a Girl.

As hard as I have tried not to swathe her in a snow storm of pink, I have gradually found myself relenting. Moreover, the majority of the clothes she still wears are gifts from kind friends and family – all under the spell of the pink pixie. Plus, I am known to be partial to a touch of prissy in pink myself. But having said that, Baby-Bel wears mostly trousers (practical – who can be bothered with hauling on a pair of tights after every nappy change?) and I prefer dark colours (all the better for hiding dirt and stains) – so her ranking in the girlie stakes is, at most, mediocre.

I am increasingly wary of forging and enforcing stereotypes on a child who currently is open to boundless options. She delights in her cousin’s toy cars and most certainly harbours a slightly destructive boisterousness typically associated with little boys (being made of puppy dogs’ tails and all). But that doesn’t worry me. I embrace her liveliness, curiosity and willingness to explore the small world of which she is aware. My only worry is that she is already being defined and presumed to be of a certain inclination, through no conscious choosing of her own. And I have myself to blame as much as any other.

This morning I picked out 2 birthday cards – one with a big yellow tractor for a boy (might as well have the words ‘alpha male’ emblazoned on it) and one with 3 ballerinas in twirling frou-frou pink tutus for a girl – I rest my case. Who’s to say whether the boy might not prefer a bit of Billy Elliot-inspired frippery? Baby-Bel might still be at an age where a good deal of the toys she shares at her play dates are very much of a unisex nature: shape sorters, puzzles, musical instruments, walkers and ride-ons. But there is a fork in the road ahead. Barely perceptible initially; you’d be forgiven for thinking they were just two lanes on the same dual carriageway – blink and you’ll miss it – bare left for ladies; right for the road to manhood. The fast lane permits more reckless attitudes and bravado – think fire engines, trucks, building bricks, guns (well, less so than in my day); the left hand lane encourages pursuits of a more leisurely and altogether meek manner – fairies, doll houses, dressing up (as nurses to the boys’ doctors). Come to think of it, boys are groomed to do, rule, build, provide. And the girls? It seems they are groomed to nurture and fantasise.

I’m no feminist and will happily have doors courteously opened for me by gentlemen but I am left wondering, what if Baby-Bel decides her inclinations are altogether more boyish than the hackneyed norm for her ilk? Will it be a case of access denied or worse, the abandonment of dream goals for the sake of convention? I want her vista to be wide as the Sargasso Sea; not halved at the outset by stultifying conformity. After all, I come from a culture where sons are the prized bull in the herd; daughters incite near indifference. As for inheritance, girls don’t count – it’s a boys-only club so on my brother all will be bestowed.

It suddenly dawns on me that Baby-Bel has gone disconcertingly quiet – usually a sign she is indulging in activities of a forbidden nature (last time she was emptying out the contents of my bedside drawer). Sneaking a peek, I find her with her thumb pressed firmly in the eye socket of her baby doll, intent on gouging out the eye ball. Hmmm. Perhaps it is premature to be worrying over her subjugation. Furthermore, it seems her maternal instinct might even rival my own meagre offering.