Saturday, May 30, 2015

Growing into my Phyllisness

At this ripe old age, I learned something about myself yesterday. The 47 year old penny finally dropped...

I was supposed to be working on a rather heavy and bureaucratic translation from Danish into English so was doing everything in my power to procrastinate. Eventually, for want of something better to do, I joined Marcel in the TV room. He happened to be re-watching the US series 'The Office' and was on one of the first few episodes. I'm not much of a TV watcher so had never seen either version of The Office. I lay on the couch chatting to the two biggies and at least three episodes passed in the corner of the room. I was surprised to find there was a character named Phyllis (ironically played by someone who is really called Phyllis - the poor besom has no escape!). She was plain, overweight, frumpy and in her early 60s. That seemed fair enough, appropriate in fact. It set me to thinking.

When I was growing up, no one seemed to be called Phyllis. No one my age anyway... There were a few Phyllises on my horizon. Firstly, of course there was my grandmother: Phyllis Buchanan. That Phyllis was dead so although she was meant to mean something to me, she didn't really. It isn't that I was callous. I was a child and I had never met the woman so she was a stranger to me - a stranger on a photo who looked middle aged with serious glasses and short, thick hair, nothing more. When I mentioned that woman's name, my dad looked sad. My grandfather was also sad and distant. I barely knew him either. I always felt he looked at me as a symbol that reminded him of a sad time in his life. That was unsurprising. She had died five days before my birth, presumably she had been buried within hours of my birth and I had been given her name to honour her. My parents were just 23 and 24 at the time - children really, so as the middle-aged adult I am today, I hold no animosity towards them. Having had Marcel six months after the death of his grandfather, at a considerably older age (and with the full knowledge and experience of a legacy name), I know how hard it would have been not to call me Phyllis even six months later. To think straight when only hours separated the death and birth must have been impossible.

So there was granny Phyllis (above). The other two Phyllises I remember when I was growing up were: Phyllis Diller - she was on TV occasionally and my other gran would watch her. And Phyllis (whose surname I never caught): a fictional character in her 70s on the long-running soap opera Coronation Street. My own family were not Corrie watchers, but almost everyone I knew did watch it. I knew she was old with a blue rinse, but I never worked out whether she was a sympathetic character or otherwise. So I grew up with three reference points: a woman born in 1910 and two born in 1917.

Phyllis from The Office seems to have been born in 1951. I was born in 1968.

So all of my life Phyllises have been middle-aged, and frumpy. A Phyllis is not a young person. A Phyllis is not a particularly attractive person. She can be kind or cuddly or sweet but she is old and plain. I hated my name as a schoolchild because I could not see a correlation between Phyllisness and what I saw in the mirror. I wanted to be called Phyl, because that was slightly better than Phyllis - because it was less Phyllis-y... if that makes any sense. When I was, say 20, I looked like this:

but Phyllises were middle-aged, plain and frumpy. So although I was young, thin and pleasant-enough looking, I felt plain and unattractive because that is what Phyllises look like. As a middle-aged woman now, I can see I was not particularly frumpy, but I felt frumpy then because I felt Phyllis-y! When I watched The Office last night and saw Phyllis, I suddenly realized that the reason I am becoming more comfortable with being a Phyllis as I reach my late 40s is probably because I am growing into the roll. I will one day reach an age that corresponds to my name! 
There is sadly no longer a huge gulf between the characters with that name and the face I currently see in the mirror and that makes me strangely more at ease with the persona I am meant to portray to the outside world. On a bad day, in my reading specs, I could almost pass for a Phyllis. 

I guess I have spent a lifetime growing into my name and although I will probably never like it, I at least am slowly starting to suit it. It took seeing The Office to help me realize that my problem wasn't my name itself but the fact that I never met a Phyllis of my own age. Phyllis is actually a pretty enough name, it is the fact that it has been defined by the outside world as old, unattractive and boring that has been my problem all along. I think I'd have coped better with it if I had ever met a Phyllis of a different generation, younger or older, but the fact that a Phyllis was never under 60 didn't really sit well with me till now. I needed a name that was so unique there were no preconceived notions around it, or a name that you met often enough to have no fixed idea of. But I think when asked to describe a Phyllis, you'd probably come up with Phyllis from The Office!

So who knows, 15 years from now, I may be very happy to be a Phyllis!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The cheek of them!

Out shopping on Saturday evening when Amaia suddenly noticed: "Asda copied my fashion, mummy! "

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Amaia came home today with Hamish McHaggis and his diary to fill in. 

We've all been there as parents: you get home some stuffed toy for the weekend or even the week and your child/it (aka you) needs to keep a diary and do a photoshoot of what it gets up to. The teacher then reads your account aloud to the kids when it returns to its place of origin. Of course, its diary has often been filled out by the most competitive parent in town. And when town is East Ren, it can be a hoot! The toy has been to NY shopping for the weekend, had a three course meal at Cameron House and accompanied junior to skiing and tennis lessons, a swimming championship and several parties. Your mood darkens. When you have five kids, you don't go to NY for the weekend anymore, you teach your own kid to swim, dance and cycle because you still only have two jobs but you need to pay for a five bedroom house, not a three. Maybe I've done it too often, maybe I'm just getting too old  for it all but I got this terrible urge to write something inappropriate. Ranting over dinner that I was going to say he'd been to a pole dancing club and then passed out naked and drunk on the carpet, Charlotte looked a bit panicked and took over. I came back from a trip to ASDA to find Lots and Amaia had filled it out without me. My kids think I'm a batty old woman already!

Amaia's teacher was sweet. As we were only having him one night, she said she didn't expect photos or a fun-filled agenda, but Charlotte saved me from myself, this time at least!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Coffee man

Cappuccino maker

Léon drinking coffee

Léon's always been a wee coffee lover. Even at three he knew how to make an espresso!

We've told him he can have a little room of his own when Marcel goes to uni in September instead of sharing the biggest bedroom with Anna and Amaia as he does at the moment. He has been looking forward to it for years because he is a tidy child, and they are prone to leaving every toy and piece of clothing they own on the floor, but when asked what he'd like best, he replied: 'I'll have my own alarm clock, so I'll be able to set it ten minutes before the others so I can come down first and make myself a wee coffee to ease myself into the day!' I have to admit I hadn't expected that, but it made me laugh.

Maybe he could set his alarm 15 minutes early and make three cups instead of one. I'd enjoy the school run much better if I'd woken up to a cappuccino in bed!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nursery uniform

Amaia likes her new nursery jacket

Amaia: Mummy, see when I finish nursery next month, can you put my nursery t-shirts, jumpers and jacket up in a bag in the loft for me?
Me: Well, you won't need them again, you're going to school.
Amaia: I want to keep them for my own kids. I wouldn't send them anywhere else. Hazeldene is the best nursery in the world!
Me: And how many kids are you going to have?
Amaia: I think I'll have three boys and three girls. Our family isn't really fair to the boys!

Awwwh - the world of a 5 year old

Amaia: Mummy?
Me: Yes?
Amaia: Do you think Charlotte was the actress who played Rapunzel in Tangled? She's got the same hair and she has green eyes too... And I've never seen them together, you know!
(Hmmmm - I don't think Rapunzel has as many freckles!)

Imagine how cool it must be if you are five, to think your sister, who has the bedroom next to your own, is actually the real Rapunzel!

Monday, May 11, 2015


Anna's birthday - Dad, Amaia and I

Three years and one hour ago my dad died. It feels like a lifetime ago, and strangely, at the same time, it feels like an hour ago, a minute ago, less. If I close my eyes I can relive every moment of that afternoon.

At the time, I said I'd write about it when I was ready. I expected that'd be after a few days or weeks. With time it has become apparent that I would never be more ready, or less ready.

So today is the anniversary. Do I miss him more today than I did yesterday, or will tomorrow? No. Does the anniversary bring it more to the forefront of my thoughts? Not really. It isn't a calendar date that brings it back, it is life itself, at the most unexpected moments. I get up in the morning and Chris Evans randomly plays a Stevie Wonder track on his breakfast show and I think of him. Each May I see bluebells and I remember his love of the bluebell woods at his golf course. I see men in their 70s dragging their trolleys round the golf course on my school run and I can't help but think that isn't fair. He should still be out there. I read articles by Wee Ginger Dug such as his analysis of last week's election and think this would have made my dad laugh. I'm not even ashamed to admit that when I see old friends wishing their parents a happy 80th on Facebook, I feel that he and we were somehow shortchanged. Why did so many of my friends' parents get to celebrate their 70th birthday when he didn't, so we didn't?

So in the aftermath, life has become a list - a list we add to every day, a list of moments and memories he missed out on. Some are momentous: like the birth of his granddaughter, of course, but even just from my own immediate family's point of view he missed Charlotte taking a stance against her father which led to his three oldest grandchildren changing their lives entirely, and their subsequent name change to Buchanan, which I hope would have blown him away. He missed my son achieving remarkable school results and getting into Edinburgh university. He missed Marcel's trip to India. He missed Charlotte growing up into a strong, clever and beautiful young woman confidently following in her brother's academic footsteps, with a rather different, calmer personality. He even missed seeing her in a dress for her prom. We didn't get to throw him a Golden wedding anniversary party last month, the same month as his friends, because he didn't make that milestone when they did. As I picked my mum up alone that night I watched the hundreds of guests stroll out laughing and smiling and realized that the whole family had missed out on that celebration. Until that night, I had thought of it as something, they had missed out on as a couple without measuring the greater joy that would have been had by it. He wasn't there when my friend died unexpectedly just a few months after he did. He missed Scotland's political awakening. Despite last September's defeat, he'd have enjoyed participating in that, and would still be fighting with us, as it was so dear to his heart. He didn't get to hear Léon learning to play the violin. And the girls were just four and two back then. Now they are clever, confident, capable little girls who would have loved nothing better than a Pumpa hug. Of course, there are the silly things too - we never got to introduce him to our hamsters - he hated cats till we got cats, maybe he'd have been amused by Rosie and Lily! He never got to taste Thomas's homemade wine, or see my little car or photograph the flowers in my garden or simply sit with us and keep our family complete. It's all our fates, of course, but you would have put money on him still being a Pumpa at just 72, wouldn't you?

So every day my heart aches for my mum, who shouldn't be alone and for my kids and Derek's who should still have a grandfather, and a little for us too - I miss sharing our life with him.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A strange thing happened

A strange thing happened to me last week...

It was Wednesday evening. Marcel asked if I'd drop him at work. Léon was on cooking duty and had asked to make fish fingers. After a quick glance I realized we needed a few extra so I intended to go to the supermarket, drop Marcel and then come home. As I was considering this plan, however, mum turned up for a chat and things got pushed. I realized I'd have to do it in the reverse order. Then I realized that if I didn't go to ASDA till after Marcel's 6pm drop off, dinner would be late. I hatched a plan B. Drop Marcel, nip into the wee Coop corner shop and be back by 6-10pm.

So after dropping Marcel I rushed, absent-mindedly into the corner shop. It's a shop I almost never use but I knew the freezer was at the back of one of their three aisles. I picked up my fish and joined the back of a short three-person queue. In front of me was a man who looked late 50s in a fleece and woolly hat, in front of him was an elderly woman. There was less than a metre between each of us. The man turned to me and looked me up and down. I thought to myself 'You are a bit forward!' as he made me feel vaguely ill at ease but said nothing and continued waiting politely in the queue, mulling over the coming election. He turned away. Then he turned back, looking somewhat disgruntled and stared at me again from top to bottom. I was obviously familiar to him, I was obviously displeasing to him. I searched my memory for who I could have annoyed but no one came to mind. He lent forward and whispered barely audibly to me 'I don't know if you read my message?' It's always so embarrassing when you know someone but you can't place them, don't you find? So with lightning speed I calculated the variables in my head. He knows me, he has sent me messages I should read, I have no idea who he is. I narrowed him down to two possibilities: someone I know through one of the kids' schools, (did I dodge a request to help out at the school summer gala day or disco?) or someone I know through politics (it's true that over the course of the campaign I have received numerous requests to canvas, drop leaflets, man SNP stalls, participate in something for Women for Indy (I ruled that one out - he didn't look like a WFI kind of guy!) - maybe I did omit to read or reply to all of them and with the election the following day, of course he'd be annoyed if I ignored him, whoever he was... Grasping for an extra few seconds to choose between the two options before trying 'Do I know you?', I looked at my feet, and saw his: sandal-like shoes, jogging type trousers... I looked at him from bottom to top and finally the penny dropped in all its shock. It was my ex-husband! It was a man I had barely seen in nearly a decade but I genuinely had not recognized him. I hadn't even come close. Maybe if he hadn't had on a hat? But I had no inkling who he was! He did look very vaguely familiar but it took three questioning looks and several minutes for me to place him. The rest of the conversation is irrelevant here, but I never believed I would come this far in such a short time. Ten years ago I was living with a man who I cannot even pick out of a line-up anymore. How surreal is that?

And as I stared at my present, in some alternative universe, standing before me, I felt a strange calm and contentment. That present, with that future is unimaginable to me now. I am so happy with my current life (money stresses slightly excepted!) and that future left me completely cold and unmoved. For years even the sight of his name attached to an email or text filled me with dread, but he has become a stranger, an irrelevance who no longer has any bearing on my present. And for that I am immensely thankful.

I definitely made the right call nearly ten years ago.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Edinburgh it is


And so the decision has finally been taken. 

Since the beginning of January Marcel has been evaluating the pros and cons of accepting to study Law at Glasgow university, my own alma mater, in the knowledge that that would probably force him to live at home with us till he was 23, or to move to Edinburgh and study there. At first, despite concluding that living at home could be rather depressing in comparison to real student life, it looked like a no-brainer, Student accommodation in Scotland is outrageously expensive - £120+ a week for the room alone, though at least we don't pay tuition as in that neighbouring country. After an in-depth analysis of the bursaries that could be applied for at Edinburgh uni, he concluded that the difference between the two was less significant that he had first suspected. Given he doubted that he'd end up staying in Newton Mearns, commuting 2 hours a day by bus at a cost of more than £5 much beyond second year, he has decided to take a leap into the unknown and move to Edinburgh to live on campus. It certainly looks like he will not be much more in debt at the end of his five years than if he had stayed here for a couple of years then moved into town.

So we're all very excited now as the countdown begins. Léon has already asked if it would be rude to move his posters through to Marcel's room already!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The bracing climate

First there was 22-4-15...

... then there was 27-4-15

I love this country...

Friday, May 01, 2015

The torture is finally at an end

It's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster week anyway. Marcel left school on Monday as I blogged the other day. As I sat there listening to they adults all those tiny kids I'd known for thirteen years had become, my desire for all my kids to get the same opportunity became stronger. Of course, I know there are many good schools, including the one where Amaia would have to go if her placing request was refused but I wanted her to be able to join that family, if you like, that we and the other four have all been part of for thirteen years. Over and over in my head, I rehearsed having to tell her that she would not be joining her four siblings, but instead would be going to school with the little girl who lives up the street who is five years older than she is. I rehearsed telling Anna and Léon that they would not get to take their sister proudly into the p1 playground on August 13 but instead would wave to her as I dropped her at the start of a different and alien journey to them.

Amaia herself has been becoming increasingly agitated by the whole process. Two months ago the kids who were going off to school in August had all been given colour-coded badges at nursery. Firstly, she was given the badge for our catchment school which freaked her out as she could see it was different to all the others in her group. When I pointed out that was distressing her as she was still waiting on a placing request being accepted or refused, the nursery removed her colour-coded badge. This cheered her up temporarily. She was told her coloured badge wasn't available yet as she was waiting for a letter to confirm the colour. As time went on however children started to ask her if she wasn't going to be a school girl after all as all the older kids had badges and only the ante pre-schoolers had no colour coding. She felt quite confused and was a little distressed by the whole thing.
As a parent I tried to sound optimistic but couldn't promise her anything so talked up the advantages both of the kids' school and of the neighbour's, while inside I was falling apart emotionally - not just because the logistics of being two places that are seven minutes apart for the next four years would be impossible but because I wanted my family together. That's all I've ever wanted. That is the norm in Scotland. Siblings attend the same school and staff get to know them as a family.

I'm not the kind of person who would have got on the placing request carousel just for fun. At first I had two kids. I enrolled them in my catchment school and they were there and happy and settled when my marriage broke down. They lost their family, they lost their home. One was in p2, the other p5. At that point I had a choice to make. I could move them from their school too and force them to lose all their friends when they were at their most vulnerable. Their friends and their school were the two constants I could keep for them to try to help them through. Or I could drive them seven minutes a day and keep a tiny corner of normality in their lives. I opted for the latter. But by opting for the latter I forced myself into this cruel and stressful system. I also stupidly assumed I'd simply move back across the one road that separates me from my old catchment before it came time to send the others. I hadn't counted on economic downturns and redundancies. So I'm stuck on this roller coaster for another seven years until my last child enters her high school. It's not good for my psyche.

The council takes 151 days to process your application in total. Of course, you don't think about it every day. It's at the back of your mind most of December and January when you are enrolling them in school and filling in forms. In February, people in other council areas start to hear about their requests so it pops up now and again. In March nursery starts gearing your child up to move on so then the stress cranks up, and April is unbearable. You listen for the postman every day and every day you are disappointed. By the end of the last week, you contact the council but they won't tell you over the phone till the final deadline (30-4) is past by over a week. You start to dig through previous applications and when you see they are dated a day earlier, you lose it completely. By Wednesday I could no longer function. I lay awake all night sobbing my way through how to be in two places at one time and how to tell my baby she was going to be all alone. When her letter finally did come through yesterday with a positive response, the other kids replied with 'So you won't be stressed and shouty anymore then?' (Léon), 'Told you, you didn't need to get yourself in such a state' (Marcel) and 'Good, will that be you back to normal and no longer stressed?' (Charlotte).

Life is stressful. Life has been stressful for the last six years or more and placing requests are the straw that breaks my particular camel's back. With this year's over, I will now try to wind down and teach myself to breathe again until December 2016 when I need to submit my next one. And I will desperately try to work out my finances with a view to moving a mile so I don't need to do this ever again... but I doubt, given the state of the country, that's on the cards, this soon anyway.

But today, I'm away up to the loft to dig out Anna's little p1 Kirkhill blazer to show Amaia, as she is now more than ready to start getting ready for August.