Save me, Alan Carr!

I know in some ways it’s a bit daft, but every now and then I have a pang of guilt about the little guy and the fact that he’s growing up in a household that has no men.

I mean, sure, he’s under no illusions about who his daddy is – he sees him every six weeks – but … on a day-to-day basis, he’s missing out on all the things that boys do with their dads, from fixing and dismantling stuff to poking about under the bonnet of the car.

I know that plenty of boys grow up without a father around at all, but in our gang, we’re pretty much the only ones. (I recently discovered one other single mum – one! – after four years of searching.)

I also know that not all dad are practical gurus and that I’m quite welcome to get into DIY or bike maintenance myself, but whatever a parent’s skills are, by the very nature of the beast, they can never be as broad and varied as those of two parents’.

Now, generally speaking, I’m not the sort of mum who panics because her child hasn’t mastered quantum mechanics shortly after ditching the diapers … but I do sometimes worry that I can’t help the little fella with lots of things he might be enthusiastic about. Which might, I suppose, be one of the reasons why I find myself here, back at the speed dating again.

I know, I know. The devil made me do it.

Even though these soirées tend to be about as much fun as stepping on snails in the dark, they’re also the only practical way for a single mum to meet other singles – what with having approximately zero socialising hours and all. But honestly … why I do it to myself I just don’t know.

Masochism, maybe?

Anyway, so far I’ve sat through a full five minutes of Baz’s jalopy racing (Baz doesn’t know a thing about me beyond my name); an intense conversation with a Russian nuclear physicist whose greatest passion seems to be collecting beer mats (what is it about me and Russians?); and a highly jocular, if slightly forced, conversation with a guy from the American airbase who pronounced caramel as cormel … leaving us at cross purposes for a decent chunk of our allotted five minutes.

Yeah, I know… but these are the kind of conversations you have at speed dating events.

Anyhow, just a few seats away, coming closer with every round, I see a guy with a striking similarity to Alan Carr. And throughout the beer mats and whatnot, he becomes a beacon of homeliness; a cosy, Paddington Bear-type character that I’m quite looking forward to meeting … though not necessarily in a romantic context, it must be said.

He’s not exactly like Alan Carr. Obviously.

He’s presumably less funny … and almost certainly less gay, given that he’s elected to spend his evening at a decidedly hetero speed dating session. But nonetheless, I can’t deny I’m expecting some sort of similarity. So when he opens his mouth and a deep Yorkshire baritone comes out, I nearly fall off my chair.

“I didn’t expect that accent,” I say.

“It’s the Alan Carr thing, isn’t it?” he replies, quick as a whip. “Everyone says that. They’re expecting a mincy mockney then this voice comes booming out.”

“You do have a bit of the Alan Carr about you,” I say, as if I’d just thought of it. “How does that work out in the world of dating?”

“Not as well as you might think,” he says, grimacing.

“Well, at least you seem to fall into the ‘normal’ bracket,” I reply. “You’re not into jalopy racing, are you?”

He shakes his head.

“Beer mats?”

He starts to laugh. “You’ve had a good night, then?”

“The best,” I say wryly.

Around us, everyone is starting to pack up and leave; our five minutes are up and the event is drawing to a close. Nearby, the Russian physicist hovers expectantly.

“Oh lord,” I say, tilting my head in his direction. “Beer Mat Man. Save me, Alan Carr!”

And do you know what? He does.

He holds my coat for me, then pulls my arm firmly through his, gives Beer Mat Man a robust nod by way of farewell, and marches me out of the door.

We hold our poise until we’re well clear, then burst out laughing.

“That was impressive,” I say. “Truly masterful.”

“Oh aye,” he smiles. “Alan Carr doesn’t mess about.”

Then he pulls me close and kisses me, and I think, you’re darned right: Alan Carr really doesn’t mess about.

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover

Not that long ago, there was a Very Important Anniversary that I may have neglected to mention. A very special day that was celebrated with cake and treats and a day out at the miniature railway.

Yes, as incredible as it may seem, the little guy is now four. FOUR! Can you believe it?

Who would have thought, when I brought that wrinkled little being home from the hospital (and then back to the hospital, and then home again) that one day, he would be FOUR?

I mean, I know most infants start off small and get bigger – I’m smart like that – but really … four kinda took me by surprise.
Because four means big boy: lanky limbs where chubby little arms and legs once were, and a burgeoning eloquence offset by grammatical eccentricity and unfathomable logic. (Sample quote: “Mummy, can you imagine if a tiny queen comed while we were sleeping and magicked avocados all over the world and they were rolling everywhere??”)

Anyway, four also means that the boy will be off to school in September, so our days have been full of form-filling and teacher visits and the ordering of special sweatshirts with the school badge on the front.

Of course, while I’m feeling slightly sentimental about it all, the little guy is charging towards it like an enthusiastic rhinoceros … which is, I suppose, the best way for things to be.

But between school and my new job (did I mention I had a new job?), our days as a Travelling Twosome are numbered. Now that we’re limited to school holidays instead of, well … any old time … and I’m working five days instead of four, our globe-trotting escapades will have to be reined in.

Which is why we’ve just squeezed in a highly relaxing week in Timișoara, an absolute gem of a city that’s full of beautiful architecture; green, leafy parks; and plenty of Italian ice cream shops.

Aside from the little guy stepping on a bee, necessitating rather more carrying than I’d hoped for, Romania’s finest really did deliver on fun, sun and … well, not sand, but let’s say … mellow vibes.

And the mellowness even extended to the Romanian menfolk: this was the first holiday in moons where I was not accosted by buoyant balloon sellers, Freddie Mercury fanatics or anonymous Russian admirers. It’s no wonder I’m keen to go back.

Still, if the truth be told, I’m being pretty much universally ignored by the male half of the species, full stop. Clearly, I’m not known for my raging success on that front, but things have been quieter than ever – though for once, I’ve probably noticed less.

Because although I’m still as single as can be, I’m in a pretty good place right now: we have a comfortable home, I’m in a decent job, we have good friends and the little guy is healthy and happy. And I’m pretty grateful for all of that.

Looking back over the last four years, I can see that things haven’t always been so easy: we’ve moved house five times; tightened our metaphorical belts on several occasions … and I’ve endured LOTS of days without speaking to another human being.

But here we are, my little man and I, carefree and content. And if we’re counting our blessings, we might just run out of fingers.

We’re lucky to be where we are, and I’m lucky to have my quirky little guy, rolling avocados and all.

Going back to my roots

It’s a beautiful afternoon. The sun is beating down, the sea breeze is raking my hair … and I’m heaving a snotty, wailing three-year-old past the hawkers and traders ranged along the seafront.

The infant is flopping about like a freshly caught mackerel and getting heavier by the second, when an elderly gentleman with a kind face and badly broken teeth waves a yellow balloon in our direction.

We’re in Budva, a small but attractive medieval town on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast. A town which just happens to have its very own Blackpool-style promenade, where said gentleman is obviously big in the balloon trade.

“Oh, no thank you,” I say, as I hurry past, wondering how on earth he could think this was the perfect balloon-buying moment.

To my surprise, Balloon Man breaks into a trot alongside me, cooing to the boy and insistently waving the balloon, saying, “It’s free! No money. Here … good boy. Stop cry. Take balloon.”

I slow my pace, wondering how to proceed: it’s very kind of him to offer the balloon – and churlish of me if I refuse – but really I don’t want to reward my son for throwing the mother of all tantrums.

I hesitate, but it turns out that my vacillations are redundant, since before I can say a thing, Balloon Man is beaming and the boy is clutching the balloon in a grubby paw.

We thank Balloon Man and continue on our way; the wails subside to snotty hiccups and, once the little human has completely calmed himself, I insist that he returns to say thank you for his gift. And herein my mistake…

Balloon Man waves away our thank yous and tells me that his son lives in America; he has a grandchild the same age as the little guy whom he rarely sees as he’s afraid of flying. So far, so platonic.

But then Balloon Man asks me the whereabouts of my husband, and I explain that I don’t have one – which is clearly a concept beyond his ken, because he begins to berate the errant husband who has wantonly abandoned me and my son … before asking where we’re staying and suggesting that perhaps he could come and see us some time.

Luckily, I’m able to say that we’re just visiting Budva for the day; we’re actually staying in Kotor.

“I drive to Kotor,” he says, optimistically. “I look for you when you come back for bus!”

And he does.

He spies us en route to the bus station and comes to the playground where the little guy is playing, hovering hopefully while I studiously ignore him. When it’s time to pass his stall again, the little guy conveniently bolts, and I have to run and grab him before he finds himself under a car. Balloon Man watches wistfully from afar.

The next day, Nanna, the boy and I are on a boat trip around the bay of Kotor. The infant has been adopted by a Kosovan family, and is being petted by their kids when the captain’s mate – a rangy young gentleman and a recent graduate in economics – takes me by the hand and invites me to the bow of the boat.

We sit with the wind in our faces, soaking up the sunshine and chatting. (Another tourist asks if he can go up front too, to take photographs, but is tersely rebuffed by the captain.) He asks where we’re staying, and wonders whether we might meet up for a drink one evening.

And it’s then I have a flash of realisation: my niche!

As a woman with a child, I’ve been ignored by men for so long that I’d almost forgotten about my ‘under 25, over 55’ niche – and my apparent inability to attract any man outside those parameters. But here it was again, alive and well and living in Montenegro.

For a while there, it looked as though the Great Date may have derailed my ill fortune, but the second date was … nice … and then he disappeared on a six-week academic tour. And, if I’m honest, I forgot all about him.

After that, life has been so busy with one thing and another, I’ve barely had time to consider my single status. Still, when all’s said and done, I suppose there’s some sort of reassurance in knowing that times may change, men may come and go … but no matter what, I’ll always have my niche.

Is love finally in the air…?

I can barely believe what I’m about to say, so improbable does it seem. After months – nay, years – of tragic mishaps and countless calamitous rendezvous, I finally went on a date and … HE WAS NORMAL.

Incredible, right?

In fact, he was more than just normal, he was a very nice guy and we both agreed we’d be happy to meet up again. Cue the fireworks and streamers.

What’s even better is that the date was notable for its distinct lack of job interview-style questions: I still have no idea of his relationship history, job status or salary bracket, but I do know that he likes pisco sours and bodyweight training, is ambivalent about pumpkins and dislikes early morning appointments.

I’m looking forward to meeting him again.

But irrespective of whether the Great Date turns out to be Mr Right or not, the real gift this singular experience has given me is hope. It seems there are some interesting, fun, decent guys out there and I can start to envisage a future that may not involve being surrounded by cats. And thank heavens for that.

Anyway, since success breeds success, I suppose it stands to reason that the Phantom Texter should be back on the scene, keen to meet up and – no doubt – get down. He seems to have an uncanny knack of knowing when my attentions are drawn elsewhere and pops up at just the right moment to get me back on (his) track.

Now, you might think I’d be more excited about this – he is, after all, a devilishly charismatic gentleman, with more than a hint of sex appeal. But … let’s just say that his textual enthusiasm is well documented, but has yet to be borne out in real life.

It’s all well and good spouting on about how much you want to meet up … yadda, yadda, yadda … if you never actually get off your butt and make it happen. Castles in the air make a happy refuge in times of relationship drought, but sooner or later you need to back up those sweet words and empty promises with some real-life action.

In any case, I have a feeling that is going to be a good year.

It’s true that Cupid is a bit behind schedule, but I hope he has a trick or two up his sleeve. Because in terms of singledom, I’ve more than paid my dues. And besides, I bloody hate cats.

Another year over … and a new one just begun

2016. What a year.

A year notable mainly for the roster of esteemed celebrities who chose to shuffle off this mortal coil, starting with David Bowie and ending with George Michael via Prince, Leonard Cohen and Hilda Ogden.

Fortunately, my own 2016 was rather less eventful.

In fact, my 2016 looked almost exactly like its predecessor, give or take the continuous development of the little guy who, incidentally, visited his tenth country at the ripe old and of three – “and a half!” – and informed me that he’d be relocating to Spain, via Australia and Germany, on his fourth birthday.
I’ve applied for a deferral.

Actually, travel was responsible for most of last year’s highlights: Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Spain again, Hungary and Germany. All fun, interesting trips … although, it has to be said, not always particularly restful.

When we travel in company, it’s a joy. But I’ve discovered that solo travel with a ‘threenager’ has its drawbacks: small humans tend to throw tantrums when it’s least appropriate and are guaranteed to fall asleep just before the plane lands, leaving you to haul a slumbering sack of potatoes – plus your handbag, your 10kg backpack, their mini-backpack and assorted hats, coats and gloves – down extremely narrow aircraft steps. Bonus points if you manage to pick up the pram from below the aircraft without dropping the infant.
Oh, and there’s no lift to the terminal so I hope you’re good with carrying that lot up the stairs?

Truly, I am a beast of burden.

Anyway, travel aside, the biggest excitement of 2016 has been buying a house. Well, waiting to buy a house. And not a whole house. Obviously.

(In this city? On a single salary? Don’t make me laugh.)

Actually, I’ve been waiting to buy the darned thing – that is, 30% of a shared ownership flat – since June. But here we are in January and … fingers crossed we’ll be done before February, or else the little guy and I will find ourselves sitting on a pile of boxes in the middle of the street.
But what of romance, I hear you ask. Did the fat little fella with a bow and arrow make a last-minute appearance, saving 2016 from the designation of romantic wasteland?
Reader, he did not.

Sure, the Phantom Texter popped up from time to time, promise much and delivering … um … absolutely nothing. But when that’s the romantic highlight of the year, you can be sure that it was a pretty poor vintage.

Actually, last year was possibly the most romantically bereft period of my life. No one notices a mum with a kid. And, let’s face it … if I’m not at work, I’m with the kid.
Not that I hold the little guy responsible in any way. He starts conversations with anyone and everyone – regardless of age, colour or gender – and many a happy exchange has been the result of his chatty nature. I just need him to focus his efforts on single men of a certain age and demeanour.

And here’s the rub: I just don’t know any single men.

Few friends from my single era remain, and every single one of my mummy friends is happily married. Single men are entirely outside my sphere of existence. I probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than meeting my other half.

But I should hate to think I have yet another year of singledom ahead. Sure, I get along fine on my own, but a partner in crime would be nice … if only to help me carry the kid off the plane. (I jest.)

So join me as I raise a glass to the nascent year, and cross your fingers too. Surely there’s someone out there for someone like me?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Happy birth… oh, never mind

Guess what? It’s my birthday again. And this year I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of … indifference.

In years gone by, my day of birth was a cause for excitement and celebration – or at least a couple of good nights out with my mates.

In more recent times, it’s been an uncomfortable reminder of the passing years, and the ever-diminishing possibility of becoming a mum again.

But this year … this year I just feel largely … disinterested.

If truth be told, I’m more excited that I’m having a night out. It’s been nearly THREE MONTHS since I had a night out on the town with my mates – or what’s left of them.

(I did manage to sneak in one or two cocktails with a dear old friend when I went to visit my mum, mind. And thank goodness I did, or my sanity would have been completely out of the window by now.)

I know I bark on about it all the time, but the single hardest thing about being a lone parent is the isolation: you’re either in full-on mummy mode or sitting by yourself on the sofa, whiling away the hours until bedtime.
So the opportunity to leave the house AND hang out with grown-ups seems like a miracle of bounteous good fortune.

Truly, I am blessed.

The weird thing is, I’ve kind of forgotten how to snazz myself up for a night out. As I realised when I was trying to envisage some kind of outfit that would be suitable for a celebratory soirée, my work wardrobe is far more daring and sexy than my civvies. Scary, right?

Obviously, I’ll be going with mates who won’t care if I turn up in a bin bag, but since this is a rare opportunity to get my gladrags on, it’d be nice if my imagination could stretch to something more than jeans and a Primark tshirt. But I seem to have become the antithesis of glamour.

For example, a friend recently bought me a voucher for a photo shoot, complete with makeover. Now, I admit that I’ve never been much of a glamour puss – para boots and dreadlocks were more the order of the day for me – but I think this experience underlined how very little primping and preening happens on my watch.

Although I’d stated my preference for minimal make-up right from the start, the young lady still trowelled on what I considered obscene amount of gunk and goo … resulting in a less-than-ecstatic response from yours truly.

In fact, I looked so continually horrified at every stage of the makeover that the young lady eventually threw her hands in the air and, with good-natured exasperation, capitulated to my desire for, “less eyeshadow, please”, “not that much blusher!” and, “my own lipstick might be a bit less … red”.

I think the defining moment was when her query about whether I did my own eyebrows was met with a blank stare. Do…? Eyebrows…? She knew then that she was dealing with a rank amateur.

(The photos turned out great, by the way. And I looked like myself. Or rather, a very smooth version of myself.)
Anyway, this all goes to show that maybe I should up my game. Women of my age surely need all the help we can get with our je ne sais quoi … not to mention our dwindling appeal for the opposite sex. (Ha! As if any of them are looking.)

So tonight I’m going to push the boat out: I’ve already painted my nails (whoo!) and I may even apply some foundation. (Steady on…)

So if you spot a gussied up dame, caked in panstick and swanning about like Zsa Zsa Gabor with a cocktail in her hand, that’ll be me. Pop over and buy me another, why don’t you?

Cheers!

The storm before the calm

Sometimes, being a single parent is hard.

Sure, you have to watch the pennies, so any luxuries tend to be on a smallish scale; there’s no one to take a turn when your kid is waking every hour because they’re too hot/too cold/in desperate need of a tissue cos snot is bubbling out of their nose; and there’s no one to help you wrestle your pram, luggage and wailing, overtired infant down the stairs at those end-of-the-world airport gates that Ryanair seems to favour. But, hey, plenty of people in ‘traditional’ families have those kinds of problems too.

No, the thing that I really miss in my one-parent wonderland is someone to share a glance of understanding, or a roll of the eyes, when things get tough.

And when I say, “get tough”, I’m referring specifically to the Age of Infinite Tantrums.

I feel bold enough to talk about it now that it has – dare I say it – passed (for this week, at least), but … my goodness! … the AIT has pushed my mummy powers to the absolute limit. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s been my toughest mummy challenge to date.

Now, I know that tantrums are pretty testing for any parent. But imagine that, on certain days, the only person you speak to outside of work is a grumpy three-year-old.

Next, imagine that, on other days, the only person you speak to AT ALL is a grumpy three-year-old.

Challenging, right?

Enter the Age of Infinite Tantrums.

Suddenly, everything you say or do has the potential to provoke a full-on, face-down, snot-streaming tantrum. You cut the toast the wrong way … despite the extensive survey you undertook, knife poised in mid-air. You took a shower. (Yes, I know. You do that every morning but .. how could you?) You cleaned you teeth first. Waaaaaahhh!

It’s like stepping on snails in the dark.

Yup, tantrums always suck and I’ve done my bit of standing by, trying to look nonchalant while my small human lies petulantly spread-eagled on any number of shop floors, but I thought we were doing pretty well; we were getting through the terrible twos and the subsequent ‘threenager’ years relatively unscathed.

And then the AIT struck: two solid weeks of tantrums, every morning and every night.

“Two weeks?!” I hear you sneer, “Two measly weeks? Big deal!”

I know. I know. Two weeks. It’s not long, right? But, dear friend, kindly reserve judgement until you’ve walked a mile in the moccasins. And once you’ve experienced it, try doing it on your own.

Truly, despite my overwhelming and unerring love for the little fella, I thought I may boot him up to the moon through sheer rage, frustration and puzzlement.

Furious internet research furnished me with gems such as, “stay calm; your child needs reassurance that these big feelings are OK – that he is OK”.

Now, this works fine for the first forty minutes (yup, forty) but by the time the little guy reached his zenith – an impressive one hour twenty of full-on, eye-popping screams and snot-smeared rage – I was feeling, let’s say, a little ragged.

Even bundling him onto the bike for some cool, soothing air had little to no effect; he was thrashing like a freshly caught salmon. In fact, he was thrashing so hard I thought we were going to crash the bike.

So, dear lady who stopped to talk to me despite my hysterical son and my tear-filled eyes, I know I said thank you at the time, but what I really meant was THANK YOU. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

Because not only did your presence distract my beloved infant, finally stemming the near-eternal tide of tears, but it made me feel that I wasn’t alone. And that made it a whole lot easier.

But the tantrums kept coming.

And then, ten days after The Great Tantrum, we had an evening of my calm – an evening devoid of purple-faced rage and pencil throwing.

The next morning, as soon as I went to wake the little guy, I knew I had my boy back. There was no grumpy face, set in pre-whine mode, just a cheeky little phizog beaming up at me.

“Mummy,” he said, “I’m not going to have a tantrum today.”

And he didn’t.

Of course, it would be lovely to say that that was the end of it … but, naturally, it wasn’t: this is real life. The next day, the mere thought that I might be brushing my teeth first enough to set the little guy off. (For the record, I wasn’t; I was getting some trousers from the little guy’s wardrobe.)

Truly, these are testing times.

Still, as they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I now have a whole new raft of infant-tackling tactics in place, and my fingers firmly crossed.

But if you see me wrangling with an apoplectic infant, please be brave enough to look over and smile, or give me a sympathetic roll of the eyes.

In the absence of a stiff G&T, it might just be what I need to get me through the day.