With friends like these…

“You mean to say,” asks my friend over a coffee in the park, “that’s there not a single man ON THE WHOLE PLANET that you find attractive?”

Her eyes are nearly popping out of her head as she stares at me, agog.

“That’s not what I said,” I reply. “There are many men that I find attractive. It’s just that they aren’t necessarily single. And the ones that are don’t seem to be attracted to me.”

She tuts in disgust.

“The trouble with you is that even when a bloke is super-keen, you don’t notice!”

I consider this.

Whilst there haven’t exactly been hordes of men beating a path to my door of late, it’s true that, historically, I have been a bit obtuse in that department. But there once was a time – admittedly many years ago – when I was confident in my ability to attract gentlemen that appealed to me. Now, my default is to assume that they just wouldn’t be interested … mostly because they’re not.

“What happened to that guy you wrote to on the dating site?” she persists.

“Didn’t reply.”

“And the guy you were spending all that time with?”

Ah, now this was a single gentleman that I did like. And I thought that he liked me. He spent enough time round at my place, anyway… initially, at least. He was even great with the little guy. But then one evening we went out together and I made the tiniest of advances … and was so firmly rebuffed that I didn’t dare try again. And that was that.

We’re still mates, and he’s still in the little guy’s Top 10 of favourite human beings, but I’m under no illusions about the fate of that friendship.

“Wasn’t interested,” I mutter.

“Whaaat?!” She narrows her eyes. “He spent all that time with you because he wasn’t interested?”

I have to admit, it seemed odd to me. But what do I know?

“Apparently so,” I say.

My friend rolls her eyes in disgust.

“And did you challenge him about it?”

Challenge him?!”

I’m not sure what my friend has in mind, here. Ask him how very dare he spend time with me if he had no intention of making an honest woman of me? Maybe he just wanted to spend time with me. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he loves hanging out with the little guy. Whatever his motives, I doubt very much he’d change his mind just because I challenge him.

“You have to fight for what you want,” says Friend.

Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes.

“You can’t force someone to like you,” I say.

“Why not?” she says. “It worked for Belle.”

Actually, improbable as it may seem, it really did work for Belle.

Belle is a woman we used to work with, full of fun and raucous laughter, bustling and hugely efficient, but also feisty and maybe just a tiny bit pushy.

Anyway, despite having been engaged to each other for no short time, her other half took it upon himself to dump her. But she wasn’t having that. Oh, no. She hassled him and harried him and refused to take no for an answer. Now they’re married with two kids.

So yes, it worked for Belle, but that’s just not my style. I don’t want to be known as the woman who bullied someone into being with her.

“If I challenge him,” I explain patiently, “then I might lose a friend. And I’d rather have a good mate than a reluctant boyfriend.”

“So you’re just going to yearn quietly from afar?” says my mate.

“Yes. Well, no. I’m done with yearning.”

I can tell she’s about to berate me again, so I jump up brightly and suggest getting lunch. Which is, apparently, all that’s needed for the guy who’s been sprawled on an adjacent bench to come to his senses and join our conversation.

“Lunch? Yes please, darlin’!” he crows, before breaking into the sort of wheezy laugh that has you reaching for the Lemsip in emphysematic empathy.

I look sideways at my friend, biting my lip in an effort to suppress a rebuttal.

She smirks at me and, raising a suggestive eyebrow, whispers, “Get your coat love…!”

And I do get my coat. I get my coat and I throw it squarely at her head. And then we go for lunch.

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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.

Who am I?

I’ve been pondering my single status again lately – just for a change – and it occurs to me that I’m a completely different person to the one I was when I last had a relationship.

I mean, I’ve had a child since then. And it’s amazing how radically that changes things.

In the pre-infant years, I would have listed my main interests as travelling, going to the gym and socialising. Nowadays, the latter two activities are almost off my radar and the former – although still something I do whenever possible – has taken on a completely different form.

Now, my holiday destinations are not so much chosen for their cultural richness as for the number of parks and infant entertainment options I’m likely to find in the vicinity.

But it’s not just the practical things that have changed: my character has changed too. I have, in some ways, become more patient – not that you’d know it if you saw me chivvying the little man on the nursery run.

Perhaps patient isn’t exactly what I mean, but … tiny tantrums definitely teach you the value of a poker face, and no one knows the meaning of the phrase, ‘pick your battles’ like the mother of a toddler.

As a matter of fact, patience isn’t exactly a family virtue and I admit that I may not have always been the most mellow of partners in the past. So … would I be an easier person to be with, now that I’m a mum? Or would the poker face that I so ably display with the little guy be completely redundant in interaction with grown-ups?

Not that I’m likely to find out anytime soon. The Forester and I have exchanged one measly text, which doesn’t suggest super-high levels of engagement from either side. And, of course, I discovered that the Phantom Texter is married.

It almost went without saying, didn’t it?

He finally declared his intent, and I told him how flattered I was (and I was; he’s a highly attractive gentleman) … but didn’t he have a wife? To give him his due, he didn’t deny it or answer obliquely – just expressed regret that he was now no longer a contender for my attentions.

On the one hand, I’m truly disappointed; on the other … do I look like the kind of woman who’d be happy as a mistress??!

It never ceases to amaze me just how many men – men who are otherwise kind, intelligent and reasonable – think it’s OK to play around behind their partner’s back. I honestly don’t get it. If you love her, why would you cheat on her? And if you don’t love her, why would you stay with her?

I suppose the phrase, “having your cake and eating it” applies, and the answer to the question is simply because you can. Unless I have a peculiar ability to attract that sort of ‘gentleman’, I’d keep a very close eye on any man I got involved with.

Or maybe women are just as bad. I wouldn’t know.

Anyway, it’s just my luck that the first gentleman in months (if not years) to pay me any kind of attention turns out to be ineligible. It was fun to look forward to his messages and, if I’m honest, have someone care about how my day was, how I’m feeling and whether I’m alive or dead.

(Apart from my mum. My mum cares. Obviously.)

Because let’s not beat about the bush here: it gets awfully lonely being a single mum in a world of coupled-up parents. I’m sick and tired of being the ‘strong woman’; I just want someone to give me a cuddle, make me dinner (toast is OK) … or even just talk to me.

I mean, I love the little guy to bits but there’s only so much you can say about Peppa-bloody-Pig before you want to climb the walls. Weekends of undiluted toddler talk are pretty tough.

But I don’t want to be ‘the other woman’ and I never will. Alone is the last place I want to be, but alone with someone else’s man? No thanks.

And the seasons, they go round and round…

And so the interminable rain of summer has given way to crisp, bright, quasi-autumnal days.

(I know. This is England. It does weird things like that.)

It’s been a busy summer: the little guy and I holidayed with a dear friend in Riga (Latvia has now become his default destination whenever I query where he’s beetling off to), visited the abuelos in Spain – a trip that went much better than I could have predicted – and had countless jaunts to the seaside, the countryside and a host of assorted festivals.

In fact, just last week we were at a Scarecrow Festival – the highlights of which included the little fella ringing a church bell and posing next to a scarecrow version of Freddie Mercury … a sight that had to be seen to be believed.

The piglet is, of course, growing like a weed. He’s pretty much out of nappies, in the daytime at least, and prone to startling me with sentences like, “Mummy, it’s quite hot in here. Could you open the window so I can have a bit of cool air?”

He’s two. I mean, not even two-and-a-half. Can you imagine what he’s going to be like as a teenager?

Anyway, for the moment he’s delicious and delightful and funny and surprising, and getting more so every day.

And what of romance? Well, very little. Surprise, surprise.

My mingling with the opposite sex is sorely limited by my inability to leave the house. Or, to put it another way, unless I happen to meet Prince Charming at the supermarket checkout, I’m scuppered.

Since I’m officially done with dating sites, I’ve signed up for a speed dating soirée, to try and force my hand: I’m hoping that seeing the whites of their eyes will induce me to look more favourably on the catalogue of candidates up for selection.

I’m steadfastly refusing to look at any of the participants’ profiles ahead of the event, though. I know myself too well: I’ll have talked myself out of every single one of them before I even get through the door.

Yep, things have been quiet on the western front, to say the least. The only hint of romance – the merest twinge – has come from a most unexpected quarter. In fact, it’s such an unexpected quarter that I’m keeping it verrrrry close to my chest.

But … you know when someone seeks you out and repeatedly texts you and there’s nothing particularly untoward in the content of those texts … except that the person had no real reason to be texting you in the first place? Well that’s how it is.

In fact, when someone asks you if you consider it “inappropriate” that they’re texting you, well … that almost suggests that they do … doesn’t it?

Maybe I’m reading far too much into it, and maybe he just wants to be friends – do men ever do that? I’ve got no idea anymore – and discuss life, the universe and everything, but … my famously ineffectual instinct suspects a more amorous intention.

Anyway, the Phantom Texter is an attractive gentleman, and eligible in many ways but, unless I’m very much mistaken, as married as married can be. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not in the business of stealing other ladies’ men.

Eligible gentlemen may be in extremely short supply, but when I find one, I want him all to myself. Surely that’s not too much for a girl to ask … is it?

The big bland

So here we are again. AGAIN. Yet another promising conversation with a seemingly appealing gentleman.

Actually, I say it as if it were something that happens every day, but the truth is that the majority of conversations I’ve had with ‘gentlemen’ from the dating site either fizzle out in a mutual wave of apathy or never get started in the first place. (And that’s without counting the guys that introduce themselves with a LOL. We all know how I feel about that.)

Anyway, after extensive correspondence over the course of a few days, The Chef professes to be very excited to have met me … and I must admit that I feel a cautious enthusiasm as the conversation continues and we build up an easy rapport.

I know all too well, however, not to get carried away: it’s frighteningly easy to get on swimmingly via text or email or whatever and then find out that you have nothing in common once you meet in the flesh. And so it is that I end up suggesting a quick coffee one lunchtime – quite a sneaky proposal, since it requires a mere cycle into town rather than any complicated babysitting arrangements.

I’m almost surprised when he agrees; too many of these guys seem to be looking for a penfriend and recoil in horror when you suggest meeting them face to face. But in fact, he’s so keen on the idea that he decides he’d rather do away with a swift caffeine fix: he’d rather take me to dinner, all the better to enjoy my company over the course of an evening. Wow.

And so it is that Friday night sees me pop the little guy into bed then skedaddle into town at top speed to meet The Chef at a cosily intimate restaurant for a sophisticated dinner à deux.

As I park my bike across the road, I see him waiting outside. He’s a little older and more tired-looking than his photos suggest but … hey, I probably look tired too; I’m not going to quibble about that.

We start chatting immediately and there’s not a minute of awkwardness. In fact, the waiter has to return three times before we’re anywhere near ready to order.

As the night wears on, the conversation flows along with the wine. The food is good and it’s pleasant to be out and about like a grown up again. Overall, the evening is … fine.

Yes, only ‘fine’. It sounds strange to damn it with such faint praise; we’re having a nice time. Or at least I am. And yet, and yet … he occasionally shows a slightly chippy side to his character. And he keeps talking about the grand side project he’s working on but can’t tell me about. Nothing to mark him as an out-and-out weirdo but, still…

I feel slightly on my guard, but willing to reserve judgement. After all, almost all of my previous boyfriends were ‘growers’ and to be honest I’ve had so many failed dates that I’ve lost perspective on the level of attraction that’s required before you agree to meet someone again. He hasn’t exactly bowled me over and I can’t actually imagine wanting to kiss him yet, but neither does he repulse me. I’d be happy enough to meet up for another coffee or something, without any expectations. Is that enough?

In any case, the evening ends rather abruptly when I realise that it’s 10.35pm. Although I’d warned him at the beginning that my babysitter had to leave at 10.45 on the dot, neither of us had kept an eye on the time, so suddenly I’m scrambling to get the bill and get my coat on and get out of the door, and our goodbyes are rather perfunctory.

I arrive at home panicked and breathless, but I’ve made the deadline and the babysitter takes his leave, leaving me to mull over the evening’s events. Principally, I feel … nothing really, not bothered one way or the other. Which is a bit of a strange way to feel.

Anyway, it soon becomes apparent that he felt more or less the same way, since our frequent correspondence stops almost immediately. I feel oddly indifferent. And since ‘meh’ is unlikely to be the basis for a solid relationship, I have to conclude that it’s not a bad thing.