20 Things I Want My Teenage Daughter to Know – Notes From a Menopausal Mum

Sara Bran by Mia Bran aged 6

My mum by Mia Bran

1.Choose a personal theme tune early on and stick with it. This is extremely useful for the cinematic enhancement of dramatic life moments such as break-ups, anniversaries and celebrations. It will also provide comfort during time spent on runways waiting for Easy Jet flights to take off (approx. 98 hours in the average lifetime),  childbirth and terrible sex. My theme tune for example, is Saturday Night Fever and when my daughters were born, there was only wah-wah guitar in my head. That and the vision John Travolta’s white nylon-clad buttocks. But that’s Pethidine for you.

2. Enjoy those perky nugga nuggas. One day you will be able to tune into Radio 4 with them.

3. Laugh often. Some day this will be accompanied by small amounts of wee.

4. Whereas I could floss my teeth with your underwear, you could raise a small family of baboons in mine.

5. When you kiss someone, kiss them like you could die. Abandon all reason, climb inside the moment heart and soul, surrender to love and all its possibilites, and then steal their wallet. (I have found that being a combination of Jane Eyre and the Artful Dodger is practically irresistible to men).

6. The same boy who is currently breaking your heart will one day be capable only of breaking wind. One day, he will be an unemployed security guard living in Leighton Buzzard with a wife he hates. One day, his hairline will receed. And also his gums. (N.B. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental).

7. You are rubbish at sex and will be until you are at least 30.

8. When (if)  you say, “I do”, it is perfectly normal to have an evil genius voice inside  your head going, “Hehehe… or do I?”

9. The intangible feeling that you should either be doing something else, be somewhere else, living a different life or that you’ve forgotten something important, never, ever goes away.

10. It is still a man’s world.

11. Karaoke is a cure-all for all ailments for all women. There is, in fact, an underground insurgency taking place in karaoke bars around the world vis-a-vis the above fact of it being a man’s world. Fuck burning your bra. Wear a good one with decent support and SING SISTER SING!

12. If you decide to mother, do it unconditionally and with complete abandon. Thinking you can still do anything else leads to utter despair and an addiction to Jaffa Cakes

13. Also, if you decide to mother, during pregnancy, sandpaper your nipples daily. No one advises this but it is a genius idea and prepares you for the reality of breast feeding.

14. In mid-life, inexplicably, one armpit will start to smell worse than the other. (Or is that just me?)

15. Some day, you will really understand what sisterhood is all about and it will save you. Now sisterhood is all, “Can I borrow your Top Shop jeans,” and “Will you hold my hair back while I chunder up this WKD?” but one day, you will find solace in another woman’s empathic smile as you wipe baby sick off your jacket. You will love beyond measure those girlfriends who drag you out to celebrate your divorce. Sisterhood will save you when the blokes all start popping off earlier than us tough old birds. When we stop being in competition with each other and judging one another’s mothering/parenting/looks/size/shape/choices, women are awesome.

16. Whatever your age, if you have music in your bones, nothing will be as joyful as standing in a muddy field at sunset when the bass kicks in.

17. When you are a teenager, there’s a lot of hassle about best friends, boyfriends, bitchy friends, twitchy friends, new friends, old friends. In middle-age the only friend you need is good lighting.

18. That old saying about being a ‘Wise Woman’ in later years is actually a misreading of the term ‘Pies Woman’ which is what you become after you stop giving a damn what boys think.

19. Because I was born with all my eggs, as all women are, it means that when I was in my mum’s belly, you were there too. Remember your maternal grandmother’s story and pass it on. It matters.

20. One day you will look in the mirror and see me.

Empty Orchestras: On Karaoke as Medicine

Music Karaoke Medicine

The room is dark apart from the blue glow emanating from a giant flat screen. The wallpaper is lush and there are velvet cushions everywhere. There is a button on the wall that reads “Booze’. When you press it a young male appears who, enthralled by your mightiness, brings alcohol. I already assume I must be in heaven but it is about to get better.

I love it here. It feels like an illicit womb that I am temporarily sharing with seven sisters. I’m ready for whatever is conceived in this secret place tonight but you should know Dear Reader that usually, whatever happens in a room like this stays in a room like this. Until one of you blogs about it.

It transpires that I am not in heaven but in the karaoke bar above the aptly named Paradise Pub in London’s Kensal Green. Karaoke translates as ‘empty orchestra’ and no phrase on earth sums up the pathos of singing your heart out in a darkened room apart from some unallowable juxtapositions of words like happy/sad, mortifying/liberating or brilliant/awful. Why oh why oh why is singing loudly with your mates such a stress reliever? Why does it feel so damn good that I actually had a comedown the next day?

Perhaps the answer lies in the physiology of singing. Apparently you need a ‘vibrator’ (the vocal folds of the larynx) an ‘activator’ (the air from our lungs) and a‘resonator’ (the throat cavity) to make a singing sound. If this all seems vaguely sexual, that’s because it is. In what circumstances do women let go and allow big primal sounds to come out of our mouths other than in the bedroom or when we give birth or when we sing? The facts are that singing has a balancing effect on the hormones, increases oxygenation of the blood and works muscle groups that only pilates and gynecologists can touch. Singing makes most people feel bloody brilliant psychologically and physically even if the vibrator/activator/resonator alignment is a bit out of whack and the resulting sound is something only a mother could love. All these ‘well-being effects’ are multiplied when humans sing as a collective; if there’s one thing we cannot resist, it’s resonance.

The ritual of karaoke unfolds like this: at the beginning there will be performance anxiety but luckily its pervasive laxative effect can be easily countered by saucily named cocktails. You and your friends will attempt to ignore the huge karaoke screen that glistens alluringly in the corner like a pole dancer’s pants. The two dead microphones lying on the table in front of you will seem impossibly big and way too phallic to handle. Suddenly, several cocktails in, one of you (in our case my mate Polly) will go for it. It’s Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon. “Yoooooooouuuuu, consumed with what’s to transpire…” and there it is. The Banshee-wail of the undervalued, underpaid, overworked mother is something magical. (David Attenborough voice) “At the same time as this siren call of the Kensal Rise she-wolf cuts through the night air her husband, miles away, experiences a mysterious chill whilst watching Police Interceptors.” Such is its power ladies and gentlemen, such is its power.

Once the full force of ladies doing karaoke is underway, it’s like unleashing a hurricane on a Wendy house. My sisters and I were unstoppable for the next two hours becoming increasingly high on singing loudly. In nature, a bunch of females making this much noise would be viewed as sending a signal of either empathy or warning to the surrounding tribe. Judging by our waiter’s increasing reluctance to respond to our booze bell, we were perhaps sending out the latter message. Mind you, if confronted by a room full of wild-eyed women-of-a-certain age screaming a rendition of “Sister’s Are Doing it for Themselves” with the kind of ferociousness usually reserved for the January sales, I too would be scared shitless.

I know the NHS is cutting back, but couldn’t we just have a little singsong session every Friday at the local surgery? If they had karaoke in the waiting room, most patients would self-cure and cancel their appointments after one communal round of Rod Stewart’s “We Are Sailing”. Karaoke as medicine could save the NHS millions of pounds. The ironic thing about all this is that I used to be a singer. For fifteen years I lived breathed and puked music until one day, worn down by disappointment, I decided I’d had enough. I placed my music on the pyre named Thwarted Dreams and simply stopped singing. My Kensal karaoke night was a timely reminder that one can sing for many things other than ambition; for joy, for love, for life itself.