Returning to Work: From the frying pan into the mire

The commute

My poor blog has been more neglected than a bikini line in winter. 

I’ve been working full-time you see, and I’ve also been letting things fall through the cracks.

Like many working women, I am still holding the domestic space together while trying to cope with the demands of full-time work. (This survey found that working women generally still do + 17 hours of  housework per week compared to men’s – 6 hours . Hang on, what?)

I’ve managed to forget music lessons and food shops, I’m haphazardly organising birthday parties, homework and play dates. I’m burning pizzas and missing school plays, concerts, and parent’s evenings.

I’m out of the playground and into the commute; away from the frying pan into the mire.

I’m trying to rally the troops, the children and my partner, with lists and memos; I have employed help – a cleaner and a child minder, and I know what a luxury that is.

And yet, and yet…

The jumble and scatter of life squeezes out my writing, these words that are my yoga and my Prozac.

Working life smooths out my edges as I polish myself down and re-imagine a woman I had forgotten; Our Lady of the Meeting, Doyenne of the Filofax, Director of Deadlines. Employee.

No more coffee mornings. No more spending hours honing a blog piece about pants or being a wanker mum.

I’ve been away from office life for so long, I fear that my brain is no longer malleable enough to accommodate the new connections I need to make. All my neurological pathways lead to my kids; they are my entrenched pattern, my learned behaviour.

While my part-time existence as a writer was isolating and badly paid, there was space. Time to reflect and get some perspective… too much fucking perspective to quote what’s-his-face from Spinal Tap.

It is a special kind of asthmatic wheeze, this squeezing out of the days, this stringing out of the hours to the last mote of air. Where are the morsels of time, those spaces in which we breathe?

Tell me how you do this thing you fellow working mums…

The Secret Map of Motherhood

Map of EuropeSome days I am not big enough for this. This unexpected battleground of “Please will you…” and “Eat this…” and “Where is my?” and “Don’t forget to…” and all before 8am.

Some mornings, I plan the whole route in my head; the Overland train to West Hampstead, West Hampstead to St Pancras, then the Eurostar to the solar plexus of Europe, Paris. From there, anywhere. Within hours I could be curled up in the boot of Italy or reading by a fire in a log cabin that overlooks a freshwater lake or dipping my white toes in the Black Sea, salt on my lips. Because some days, that is where motherhood sends me; to a hidden corner of an imaginary map of freedom I hold in my head like the teenage heart holds a kiss.

Some mornings, I plot my escape all the way back from school to my front door. But with each step, the colours of my Ordnance Survey drain away like anaesthesia. I pass a canopy of spider’s webs strung from window sill to boundary wall, a patchwork of flattened paper cups, spittle and shit, and then I am home again. What keeps me coming back to be the punch bag of my daughter’s growing. Is it duty? Is it love? Sometimes, on days when I am not big enough, I am not sure; but I always do, and I always will.

All This Scratching is Making Me Itch: Are Tights a Feminist issue?

Vintage Stocking Ad

Vintage Stocking Ad image from http://vi.sualize.us

The leaves are coming down which means the tights are going up in our house. While the Teenage Songbird is dressing her shapely pins in skeins of sheer and shimmer,  the Biscuit Thief and I are just plain itchy and scratchy. We, with our highly reactive ‘sensitive’ skins,  practically BLEED with annoyance the entire autumn/winter season because of the brutal and perilous world of tights and wool in general.  As an added bonus, my seasonal look is topped off by a nose that becomes my personal temperature, mood and alcohol gauge from September to February with a neutral setting of ‘shiny, scarlet and dripping’. I spend the chilly months living in fear that the thin, papery husk of skin holding me together might, at any moment, rip open like the Hulk’s shirt, causing my guts to tumble out onto the gum-strewn pavement; the shiny burgundy reds of my liver and kidneys disappearing among the sodden autumn leaves.

Getting the Biscuit Thief dressed for school in the autumn/winter is a confusion of limbs, tears and static. She’ll put on one skirt/tights combination, dance around like a whinging monkey in tin shoes for twenty minutes, then remove the whole lot about five minutes before we have to leave. She then tries on every pair of black trousers she owns until she finds THE ONES THAT AREN’T ITCHY MUMMY. She is anti-tights, anti-trousers, anti any kind of containment really and I feel her pain. Winter is just SO CONSTRAINING. It totally elevates my desire to train as a trapeze artist or pilot to the top of my ‘to do’ list, and I come over all tubercular, pining with empty longing every time I come across an unopened pack of 70 denier. I just can’t sit still while the heating clicks through the pipes and the rain spits the earth from my window boxes for weeks on end; winter makes me figuratively and literally ITCH.

I have yet to find a cold weather solution that works clothes or activity wise and so, I feel, I must move somewhere warm where I can bake my leathery vellum dermis on slow burn all day in just a pair of pants.  I need, frankly, to let it all hang out.  I lived in California for a while and I’ve got to say,  I loved the freedom of  life lived outside all year round, released from the unbreathable layers of textiles required for English living.  However, I did miss the  toasty comfort and nostalgia of the British autumn and the ego-pummeling vehemence of our winters for that is the stuff of tortured poetry. Yes, I missed the conviction of the seasons when I lived in California because I so desperately require structure for my mind, but ah, how my body loved its freedom from fibre.

My grandfather owned a wool mill in Yorkshire and lost his world to acrylics and nylon, so perhaps it’s some kind of ancestral destiny that I should forever suffer the itch, the itch. Apparently there isn’t such a thing as a wool allergy, it’s more that the coarse wool fibres poke into one’s skin causing irritation and inflammation, frazzling the nerves and causing the release of histamines. Wool turns me into an irritable splatter-painting of blotchy crimsons. To wear it feels like allowing millions of ants shod in tiny, heated stilettos made out of needles to perform a Busby Berkley tap dancing routine on my torso leading to the incredibly sciency question, WHY DON’T SHEEP ITCH? I find acrylics, nylon and lycra no less annoying than wool; it’s a case of clothing claustrophobia! Scarves, tights, polo necks, hats, and mittens; these are the moth-luring terrorists of my clothes cupboard and I want them extradited.

Tights come packaged with all sorts of schmexy word kisses like ‘gusset’, ‘denier’, ‘sheer support’ and ‘control’, but this just disguises the fact that they are in cahoots with yeast and cystitis, home to thrush and the peppery sweat of inner thighs. Tights are basically giant acrylic-mix condoms for legs; unsexy, good for one time use only, and prone to holes. And yet leggings, leggings are just wrong, reminding me too much of my own state of permanent indecision. “Are you trousers or are you fucking tights?” That’s what I want to say to leggings. And as for jeggings! Jeggings are in such a state of identity crisis that the idea of them makes me shudder even more than the thought of Jeremy Clarkson leaving a pube hair in the soap.

The important question is, are men doing it? Are men doing tights? Are men doing scratchy gusset torture? They used to, before they realised that it’s pretty hard to rule the world if you are itchy, yeasty or have a raging forest fire in your bladder. These days, the only men in tights are the dancers it would seem, and those playing Hamlet.  And so I leave you with this question, are tights a feminist issue? or do I just need to wear jeans until the bunnies get frisky?