22/03/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

Sharing DNA

Sometimes I look at my boys toddling about, playing and generally minding their own business and I think: “My god, you two are the cutest, loveliest little chaps a beige lezza could hope for!” I’m not biased in any way, I’m just stating the facts as I see them and you’re all going to have to get on board.

I didn’t think I was going to be one of those parents – you know, the annoying ones that bang on about how great their kids are: “Little Jeremy is just so intelligent, you can tell by the way he picks up on things so quickly.” Jeremy is three months old and has no idea what his hands are for, but yeah he seems like a regular genius.

But now, I am officially one of those twats. Several times a day I hear myself saying, “Oh those boys are so bright!” For those of you without children, ‘bright’ is a word used for and about any child that can vaguely interact with another human being.

My girlfriend and I literally lost our shit when one of our boys learned to nod his head in time to the music. Within seconds we were imagining attending the Grammys with him: “What are you going to wear?” “I dunno, a suit?” “You don’t own a suit!” “I’ll have to buy one!” “What about shoes? You’ll have to get shoes!” Yup, we’re insane.

Being described as ‘bright’ as a toddler is meaningless and yet I mean it sincerely. I think my boys really are smart, even though there is concrete evidence to the contrary. A day hasn’t passed without the bigger one accidentally headbutting a wall at least three times a day and the little one still licks the pavement.

“Even when I explain I didn’t do it, my girlfriend did, my brain still doesn’t seem to connect the basic dots: that in terms of the conception and birth, I was completely surplus to requirements.”

I know my vision of them is slightly skewed, because when they were born I can remember thinking they were so beautiful, but looking at the photos now I realise they more closely resembled hairless, blind field mice.

I had this conversation with another mum and friend, and she told me: “Of course you think your kids are the best, it’s because they come from you and you’re genetically programmed to think that.” Is that it? Genetics? Because if it is, strictly speaking in the world of science and basic biology, I’m not actually related to them. In any way. At all.

It seems weird that I can forget that, but I do, all the time.

There are clues, the first being that I don’t look like them, unless you squint, or you’re partially sighted or you’re one of those people who has a Pavlovian reaction when introduced to someone’s kid: “HE LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU!” “Thank you! But my son is standing over there…”

To be fair they don’t really look like my girlfriend either. The little one has her eyebrows and the bigger one definitely has her nostrils, but aside from that they could be anyone’s. Don’t tell her I said that.

Day to day this genetic fact doesn’t get in the way and mostly I don’t notice it, unless someone asks me about the birth, or breastfeeding, or pregnancy. But even then when I explain I didn’t do it, my girlfriend did, my brain still doesn’t seem to connect the basic dots: that in terms of the conception and birth, I was completely surplus to requirements.

If I’m honest, the first time I really thought about the whole gene thing was when I looked through a baby book, not a book about babies but a book where you record your kid’s first steps/wink/burp and add photos etc.

Truth be told, we don’t need one because my girlfriend is already compiling all of this stuff on a ‘time saving’ application online. Apparently it only takes 16 hours a day for 400 days to complete (What isn’t easy about that?) hence why I thought buying an ACTUAL book might be an idea.

So there I am about to recommend this book to my girlfriend when I see that the first two pages are about the parents. My Mummy and My Daddy. Fine, I’m not the dad; we can change that to My Mummy and The Other One. But, the whole point of these two pages quickly becomes apparent. It’s all about the genes.

“A day hasn’t passed without the bigger one accidentally headbutting a wall at least three times a day and the little one still licks the pavement.”

“My Mummy’s eyes are this colour and My Daddy’s hair is this colour.” My brain starts going into overdrive: “Obviously we can say what colour my eyes and hair are, but actually my genetics are really null and void in this instance, so would it be more appropriate to replace my details with the donor’s? But then he’s not their dad, he’s just the donor; I mean, does it matter that I’m not genetically related to my boys? Will they care when they get older? Will they feel cheated that they don’t have a dad to learn man things about? Will they wish that the Other One would just bog off and bring Dad back!”

Above the din of my neurosis I can just about hear my girlfriend say, “So shall we buy it?” “ABSOLUTELY NOT, IT’S A BLOODY CON!”

They’re 18 months old, it’s my first neurotic wobble and I’m going to allow it, mainly because it’s in the past and I can’t actually change the fact it happened.

Being the Other Mum can feel weird sometimes; you do have to figure it out for yourself and with your partner otherwise you can end up staring wildly at a book in a shop before shouting at your girlfriend for no good reason.

I guess genetics mean a lot to some people and for others like me they don’t matter a jot. I can’t imagine loving my two boys any more if I’d had them myself, and even though we might not share the same DNA, I happen to think we’re quite alike.

After all, they’ve always got food down their fronts, they have no spatial awareness and you can’t get them to do a single thing unless it’s punctuated by applause. We’re like peas in a pod really.

12/02/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

A near-constant state of neurosis

Before the arrival of my two boys I used to be easily irritated by people with kids. Women with buggies were the worst: “Don’t mind me love! You just take up THE ENTIRE PAVEMENT and I’ll just take my life into my own hands by stepping on to the road to let you past!”

Of course I am that woman now, but I’m worse than that woman because I have two kids, so my buggy is like a spaceship on wheels and takes up the width of nearly every pavement I walk down.

I can see the look of utter contempt on people’s faces, as they’re obliged to let me past; I smile and thank them, occasionally widening my eyes to assure them I’m aware of the inconvenience. Often nothing is said; every so often I may even get a smile, but more often than not I hear a muttering under the breath: “How much space do you need love…?” “Don’t mind me…” “For fuck’s sake!”

I almost always ignore these comments because I’m a better person and I can empathise with their frustration. How are they to know if they don’t have kids themselves? But on one occasion as a young woman muttered a series of fairly abusive insults under her breath, I took umbrage: “What do you want me to do, love? Transport them by hover board? Roll them into a ball and kick them down the street? Fly them overhead attached to a kite? THEY’RE BABIES! This is how we move them from A to B!”

She looked at me like I was mental, “I wasn’t talking to you! I’m on the phone!” Whatever, I think she got my point.

“I never thought I’d become one of those mums and yet just the other day I had to literally slap myself in the face to stop myself from prefixing a point about global warming with the words ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a mum now…’”

The truth is, mums can be annoying, I don’t mean your mum or even my mum, I just mean ‘mums’ in general. There is a smugness about them that you can’t put your finger on. They’re constantly banging on about how tired they are, the sacrifices they’ve made, they start sentences with the words, “As a Mother…”

Even the most liberal and relaxed of mums can sound like they could get a job writing for the Daily Mail: “When you have kids your perspective changes…” “You wouldn’t know this because you don’t have children…”

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, I have mates who have kids and they would never say any of those things. Of course not: we don’t say them out loud because if we did we’d sound like we were auditioning to play Melanie Phillips in a badly conceived musical, but the fact is we think them, we think them ALL THE TIME!

I never thought I’d become one of those mums and yet just the other day I had to literally slap myself in the face to stop myself from prefixing a point about global warming with the words “Maybe it’s because I’m a mum now…”

WHO AM I? Well, I am a mum, albeit the other one and as such I am now in a constant state of neurosis.

If you want to know what the real gift of becoming a parent is it’s basically STRESS, ANXIETY AND ALL-OUT FEAR. I’m not a neurotic person: I can’t say prior to my boys’ arrival that I’ve worried too much about well… anything.

“I no longer have the time to be the self-obsessed, ever so slightly narcissistic and inward-thinking bellend I’ve been for years. My giveafuckometer about most things has not really flickered for a while and it’s completely liberating.”

I mean, I’m not saying I’ve had no shit in my life, but overall as a middle-class woman living in England, life has been pretty sweet. And now as a parent I feel like I’ve been given two of the greatest gifts a woman who wants children can have. TWO CHILDREN! And I didn’t even have to squeeze them out of my vajayjay, I got someone else to do it. I mean talk about a charmed existence!

But now they’re here, all I do is worry about them. I literally have to go into their room about three times every night just to check they’re breathing. I have terrible uncontrollable awful fantasies that a car is going to lose control whilst I’m pushing the buggy and career into them, squishing them to a pulp, or that they’re going to get sick and die, or that they’re going to hit adolescence and decide heroin sounds like fun, or that they’ll be in the car with me and I’ll crash it because of a reason that I can’t think of right now!

I have these thoughts ALL OF THE TIME. Maybe I really am neurotic, or maybe I’m just an average parent. Whatever the reason, it’s taking up a lot of my time.

Not that that’s a bad thing because it means that I no longer have the time to be the self-obsessed, ever so slightly narcissistic and inward-thinking bellend I’ve been for years. My giveafuckometer about most things, including my career, has not really flickered for a while and it’s completely liberating. I finally have someone else that is more important than me. BUT it also means that I now have so much more to lose and that is terrifying.

Of course, you can’t live your life thinking about death and you can’t bring up your kids worrying that every step they make could lead to disaster, and yet I can’t take the time I have with them for granted either. I would donate my limbs, my organs, my eyes, my LIFE if it meant they would live to a ripe old age but you can’t do that, and life offers no guarantees for the people we love. So I can only live in the present and enjoy every minute I have with my boys, even if that minute includes scraping poo from under my fingernails or watching them throw the dinner I made for them at the kitchen wall.

And so I have to remind myself of what my mum said to me when I became a mum – what you have is all you can give and that’s always going to be enough for your children if it comes wrapped up in love.

Dedicated to Will Houghton – b. July 1995 – d. January 2016.

21/01/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

I might be a little rusty…

Welcome back! I say this because I’m assuming you’ve read the other two and haven’t just stumbled on this third instalment by accident. If you have, can I ask that you stop reading now. Yes now! You really need to go back and read the other two first, not because there’s any kind of narrative to this nonsense, but if you start on this one, your judgment may be that bit harsher. So, off you pop.

Right, where was I? Oh yeah welcome back etc. While writing this I’ve been asking myself just how honest I should be, mainly because it’s hard to be honest and sound like a good parent. Oh, what the hell, I’m going to say it out loud…

I think I might be a bit shit at this.

Not appalling or neglectful, just kind of incompetent. I can’t seem to get my head around the fact that I am responsible for two tiny boys. Obviously not just me because that would be madness; my girlfriend takes on at least 70 per cent of the ‘actual’ responsibility. If it were left to me my boys would still be eating raisins. I’ll come back to that in just a second.

The reality is that feeding them, changing nappies and getting up 20 times in the night is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a parent. You have to know stuff, lots of stuff, all kinds of stuff – I’m saying ‘stuff’ because I still don’t know what it is; I leave that to my girlfriend. The amount of time you need to spend on the internet researching this ‘stuff’ is a full-time job.

“You would think with a job as full-on and all-consuming as being a mum you’d do your research, look up some of the basics even. Not me.”

Now I would go into the detail but it’s boring, and probably why I haven’t done any of it myself. But as boring as it is, it’s also ESSENTIAL so you know how your kid should be developing. I don’t do it. And I don’t need to do it because in my head I still think it’s the 70s and by that I mean:

‘What would my mum do?’

I think this is a pretty foolproof response given that I’m still alive, and I’ve always thought that my mum did a pretty good job of bringing us up. She was strict but fair; protective while also allowing us the occasional opportunity to maim ourselves.

As she had four kids in five years I’ll put this down to exhaustion on her part, but whatevs. The point is, she is my go-to when it comes to a lot of my decisions. As it turns out, things have moved on since the 70s… quite a bit, in fact.

My first ‘mum’ mistake (for the sake of this article anyway) was giving my boys raisins as a snack. Most of my childhood was made up of health foods, dried fruit and carob bars instead of ACTUAL chocolate.

Sweets, biscuits and crisps were for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and arbitrary Saturdays where my mum would surprise us with a fun-size Mars Bar that we would literally suck on for four hours solid, not knowing when we might receive another oily caramel, weird nougat thing.

Coming from a household where sweet things were mostly hidden or banned, I figured raisins are a healthy and nutritious snack for my young boys. WRONG! Did you know that in every raisin there are 2458 cubes of sugar that can rot your children’s teeth to two tiny brown nubbins? DID YOU KNOW THIS? DID YOU??

“My girlfriend went on a research binge, reading books, Googling the hell out of his symptoms, scouring blogs and forums. I on the other hand spent my time watching funny cat videos on YouTube while calmly and firmly telling her he was fine.”

Forgive the hysteria, but if you feed your kids raisins in public this is the kind of questioning you’ll be on the receiving end of from a passive-aggressive middle-class mum reassuring you that it’s just best that you know this sort of thing, while carefully banking your faux pas so she can tell her NCT mates at the next coffee morning, “Raisins you say? SOMEBODY CALL SOCIAL SERVICES!”

The truth is, I don’t know anything about well… anything. This is the story of my life. Anyone who knows me, will also know that I don’t let my lack of experience or know-how stop me from doing ‘anything’. You would think with a job as full-on and all-consuming as being a mum (And let me tell you it IS a job) you’d do your research, look up some of the basics even. Not me. “How badly can we really mess this up?” Well, pretty badly as it turns out.

I’ll give you an example: The smaller of our twins – whom we’ll refer to as ‘the little one’ to protect his identity – had a terrible time for the first six months of his life: discomfort, erratic sleep, not feeding regularly and not putting on weight as quickly as his bigger brother.

Understandably we were worried. Now my girlfriend went on a research binge, reading books, Googling the hell out of his symptoms, scouring blogs and forums. I on the other hand spent my time watching funny cat videos on YouTube while calmly and firmly telling her he was fine.

Now before you go all out and judge me, which frankly I would too, we as a couple had pretty much gone through all the possibilities: colic, reflux, silent reflux, constipation, cranial something or other. But it was becoming obvious that it wasn’t any of these things and as the symptoms were worse at night we got the help of a sleep specialist.

In one night she told us that she thought he was actually in a lot of pain, which was probably because he had an allergy to dairy. “Great!” my girlfriend said, relieved that we might have found the reason. “WHOA!” I said. “Who is this woman? She’s spent one night with our son and SHE KNOWS something we don’t? I mean, what the…? Can I get a bit of support here? Should we be taking our son off your nutritious boob and on to some weird formula just because some random woman says so? I think NOT!”

Anyway my girlfriend put him on some weird formula and less than 24 hours later he was fine. I know, I know, I hate me too.

“My mum was strict but fair; protective while also allowing us the occasional opportunity to maim ourselves.”

It’s not just the responsibility bit that I’ve failed at; I also don’t feel like I’m one of those mums that’s willing to go the extra mile for my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have given up a lot of things for my children – mainly my LIFE – but there are certain things I’m just not prepared to do.

On hearing about our little one’s allergy and how pleased we were that we’d successfully introduced dairy into his diet again, I was told firmly by another mum that that was a bad idea: “Dairy protein isn’t healthy; you’d be better off giving him almond milk.”

“Er, OK…” “Honestly, Jen you can make it yourself! Soak one kilogram of almonds in water overnight, then in a blender grind the almonds…” I zoned out at this point “…and then sieve the milk through a pair of tights. Easy eh?”

Not really, no. I’ll tell you what is easy: opening a bottle of whole milk and pouring it into another bottle. THAT is easy. Stop judging me! He’s not intolerant anymore and he loves milk… and raisins if I’m honest.

So, what have I learned? Well, having kids is harder than having a cat, that’s been a big lesson. Oh and my girlfriend’s always right. What else? Yes, yes I know! When in doubt get your girlfriend to Google it. OK, fine! I’ve learned nothing. Go away.

28/12/15 Tales From... The Other Mother

The perils of small talk

Now that I’ve made the decision to write these articles/updates regularly, I am very aware that being a parent and stories of other people’s children are BORING. I know this, I really do. In fact I’m conscious that even when my friends ask me about my boys they’re just being polite.

Just recently I made the mistake of launching into (what I realise with hindsight was) one of the most dull anecdotes I’ve ever told: “Oh my God it was so funny because L tried to climb into this box but he couldn’t. Ha ha ha! And then he just got stuck so we had to pull him out! Ha ha ha!” *tap tap tap* “Is this thing on?” See what I mean? BORING.

You’d think something as huge and as life-changing as parenthood would make you more interesting. No, in fact it makes you the opposite of ‘interesting’ because nothing ‘interesting’ happens to you anymore. The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders. Try starting a conversation with that anecdote and it’ll be your last of the day.

“Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.”

During my girlfriend’s pregnancy all we heard from other parents was, “It’s so exciting! It’s a magical time; you’ll get so much from your kids; you’ll grow as a human; they’ll make you a better person, it’s so fulfilling!” And it is all of those things.

It’s also ever so slightly horrific.

For a start, you have no more time. I mean NO TIME to do anything. Not even to go to the toilet. If I’m on my own with the boys, I have to poo with the door open. I’m a 40-year-old woman taking a dump while my two one-year-old boys chew on a bog roll; this is not what I envisaged from parenthood.

The truth is I don’t know what I envisaged. To be honest I’ve probably watched too many Pampers adverts. I just thought there’d be a bit more giggling in soft focus and a lot less screaming in stereo.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a mum blah blah blah, but there is a part of me that cannot believe how I took so many things for granted. Before I had children I used to have fantasies about travelling, going for expensive meals out, weekend city breaks, nights in a hotel with my girlfriend, you know the usual guff. Since the boys arrived I fantasise about commuting to Reigate to work full-time in an office doing data entry, just for some ‘me time’.

Travelling anywhere with twins requires organisation. If you go away for more than one day you have to pack with military precision. You cannot wing this shit. I know this all too well after leaving the house without any spare nappies and having to wrap my son’s bum in my jumper. (No I don’t have that jumper anymore.) Fortunately for me and for my boys, my girlfriend is the most organised woman on the planet. She’s the kind of person that makes a list of all the lists she needs to make. I find it frightening that she always knows where her keys are – it’s like she’s a witch or something.

It’s just as well she is otherwise we’d never leave the house, which at times might be preferable to having two boys screaming in the back of the car for an hour while we try to navigate our way through traffic.

“’Which one of you is ‘mum’?’ Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her.”

The other problem with leaving the house with two small humans is the endless small talk you have to suffer with strangers. You’d think people had never seen a couple of babies before. Other parents are the worst: “Oh my God, they’re so adorable! I have a son and a daughter, they’re 28 and 24 now, they’ve both graduated from university and have great jobs!”

All parents do it, they have to tell you they have kids and then give you their CV. “Not only did I have children, I have two successful ones which means that I’m a shit-hot mum and winning at life… anyway, good luck with these two.” I’m sure that’s not how it’s meant but what the hell am I supposed to say to that? “That’s wonderful! My son just learned to hold a cup so we’ll be on the blower to MENSA any day now.”

The other lot that can’t get enough of us is basically any human type person that has ever met a twin. “My Mum is a twin!” “I’m a twin” “I have twins!” “My favourite movie is TWINS!” OK, no one has ever said that last one. Again, what are you supposed to do with that information? “That’s great to hear, thanks for letting us know… OK, BYE NOW.”

Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.

“Which one of you is ‘mum’?” Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her. All conversation is then directed at my girlfriend.

“Twins are so much work; you’re doing a great job!” At this point either one of us could say something, but we don’t; we just continue with the most awkward conversation in the world.

“Still it’s great to have a friend helping you out!” Yeah I’m the helpful friend who changes nappies, gets up half a dozen times in the night to rock my ‘friend’s’ boys to sleep, cuddle them when they’re sick, feed them when they’re hungry. I’m THAT helpful.

I know we’re both at fault here and more recently we’ve decided to just deal with the question as it comes up and say, “We’re both mums.” Two weeks ago, the question did, unsurprisingly, come up again. This time we were at a Christmas fair in rural Sussex. It was obvious we were the only gays in the village that day; I was also the only vaguely foreign person there too. In fact we were the only people there under 50.

“The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders.”

After spending 20 minutes watching my girlfriend haggle over a birdhouse (don’t ask) we eventually found ourselves in a small room. In the corner, three elderly women were knitting baby clothes and we surveyed their wares on the table in front of them. With our boys strapped to our chests, the dynamic was pretty obvious and my immediate thought was, “I don’t want to get into this conversation.”

Naturally, questions were asked: “How old are they? What are their names? Are they sleeping through yet?” We took it in turns to answer before I decided to find a clean exit to the chit-chat by buying something. “I think we’ll take these booties, they’re for a friend who’s having a baby… Not for us ’cause we already have two…” Jesus, why are you still talking woman?

There was an awkward beat as I saw the women take in the scene before them. In my head I could feel their judgment and confusion but before we could make a hasty retreat the third woman, who had been sitting quietly and hadn’t asked us any questions, took my money and said, “Well, they’re very lucky to have you both.” I was so disarmed by her comment I nearly welled up. “Oh thank you… we’re… um… yes, well we feel very lucky too.”

I learned a lot that day, and not just that knitted booties for a newborn baby are going to itch like hell. That day I was reminded that being the other one is no different from being any parent – you just have to remind people who don’t know, that you’re not the friend, the help or the nanny. You’re the “other mother” and if your kids have two parents that love them unconditionally, well they’re more than lucky; they’ve hit the jackpot.

25/11/15 Tales From... The Other Mother

Being “The Other Mother”

I am a mother but not that ‘Mum’. I’m the ‘other one’. Confused? OK, let me back up a bit. My partner (she’s a woman; we’re not solicitors) gave birth to two beautiful boys last September. Already there’s a lot to take in here: gay mums, twins, solicitors – believe me, I’m still reeling myself.

The thing about being the ‘the other mother’ is that added to the life-changing experience of becoming a parent is the never-ending explaining that comes with being the non-biological Mum. Yeah I did just describe myself as a box of detergent. You’d think after saying that out loud to strangers on more than one occasion I’d strike it from my memory. Nope, it’s become my go-to response. What the hell is wrong with me?

When I’m out with my boys people just assume that I’m their only mum and that’s fine by me. The difficulty comes when people ask questions: “Was it a difficult birth?” “Are you breastfeeding?” “Does your husband help with the night feeds?” The answer to all of these questions is of course, “GO AWAY!” But I don’t say that; instead I stare blankly into the middle distance searching for the right way to explain my situation.

“I’m not their mum. I mean I am their Mum but I’m the other one. What I’m saying is, I didn’t squeeze them out of my… you know…”

At this point I find myself gesticulating vaguely between my legs while trying not to make eye contact with a woman now staring at my crotch with a look of confusion and discomfort on her face. Unsurprisingly, I’m not making many ‘mum’ friends.

It’s not like anyone cares – I live in Brighton, for crying out loud! A place that prides itself on its alternative, gender-queer, trans-focused, vegan, green-voting, allotment-loving, feminist-led, gay-loving, organic, muesli-munching credentials. Let’s be honest, we didn’t move here by accident. So what is my problem?

For a start I’m acutely aware that I didn’t grow them in my uterus for nine months, suffer fainting episodes in my second trimester, carpal tunnel syndrome in my third, as well as swollen ankles, painful tits and a bladder squeezed to the size of a fun-size Milky Way. And to top it all, NO BOOZE!

People have asked me, “Jen, how did you decide that you didn’t want to be the mum that carried your baby boys?” And to that I always reply, “I put a lot of thought into my decision, but the real reason is… because I’m not fucking stupid.” Why the hell would I go through all of that when I can get someone else to do it?

I am of course acutely aware that outside of Brighton our ‘alternative unit’ may challenge some people’s idea of what a family should be. I have been asked ridiculous questions like, “Who’s the ‘dad’ in this situation?” Um, there is no dad in this situation; there are two mums in this situation. I really hope that’s cleared that up.

“Yeah but, who’s going to teach the boys to be men?” We’ve bought a couple of box sets of Top Gear so I think we’ve got that one covered.

“What if you make your kids gay?” Here’s hoping we do, and to make sure it does happen we always dress our boys in gold lamé onesies and only let them listen to show tunes while watching Xanadu on a loop. No, they won’t be particularly ‘manly’, whatever that means, but on the flip side they won’t be raging misogynists either.

The truth is my girlfriend and I are just like any other new parents on the planet. We’re not doing anything differently or better or worse, we’re like everyone else: completely clueless. I’m not going to lie to you, most of our parenting skills have been taught to us by Google. We spend half our lives asking each other questions we know the other one has no idea how to answer: “When are they supposed to start walking?” “Are their poos supposed to be as big as this?” “WHY WON’T HE STOP CRYING?”

My boys have been on this planet for a whole year and I’ve learned a lot, the main thing being that being a mum doesn’t begin and end with conception, pregnancy or even birth. Being a parent begins the day you’re handed a brand new baby human and told not only is he yours, but that you’ll be responsible for him until the day you die. What the WHAT? We’re one year in and the journey has only just begun. God help us.

15/07/14 Tales From... The Archive


Festival season is upon us and I for one am delighted to say that I won’t be going to a single one. Firstly, I think I need to clarify what I mean by ‘festival.’ I’m not referring to an arts festival like the Edinburgh Fringe, (I will be performing there AGAIN because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that having my hopes and dreams crushed whilst losing a huge amount of money annually in Scotland is a compulsion I can’t shake) or indeed the Hay festival where a bunch of middle class white people chat about their love of poetry and the exciting renaissance of unaccompanied folk music. No, I’m talking about the kind of festival that finds that other bunch of middle class white people, drinking endless cans of cider whilst dancing erratically in a muddy field to music that sounds better on your stereo at home. The highlight of this kind of festival is that at the end of a long day where you might be drunk/tired/sunburnt/freezing and suffering from heat stroke/trench foot/exhaustion/hypothermia you get to sleep in a tent. Who wouldn’t pay £250 for that privilege? As it turns out, me.

Last year I decided I’d been to my last Festival, I don’t have the stamina for it. Yes it was fun when I was in my twenties, it was all new and exciting! I could watch my favourite bands play live, crack open a beer at 10am and wear tie dyed drawstrings trousers with no self-awareness. To be honest at 19 I could have had fun in a skip, I was young, carefree and desperate to ‘experience’ life.

These days I want to limit my experiences as much as possible. To be honest I get upset when my girlfriend buys the wrong brand of coffee. It’s hardly a surprise then that festivals feel like less of a holiday and more of an endurance test; the crowds, the standing around, the needing to pee after I look at a cup of water/beer/soda/coffee/tea. What the hell is that about? It’s like my bladder enters a state of panic as soon as I walk on to the Festival grounds. Where’s the nearest toilet? Will there be loo roll? Can I cope sharing a lavatory with the 6-7000 people who have been in there before me? What if I somehow fall down the loo in the middle of night and no one finds me until Sunday! Hang on, how big is this bloody toilet? FINE I’LL DO IT IN THE BUCKET IN MY TENT! Don’t judge me, we’ve all been there right?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of sitting on the grass in the sunshine with my good mates, drinking a cold can of beer and listening to a band I love. Unfortunately what usually happens is that I find myself wading through mud having lost my friends three hours earlier and regretting the 6 cans of warm lager I’ve downed to numb the misery as I trudge towards a bunch of portaloos that have flooded.

These days I can’t even get close to the bands I want to listen to. I don’t have the stamina to compete with those blonde girls in uber short shorts with their designer wellies and Aviator sunglasses elbowing me in the face to get to the front. And who is that tall guy and why does he always stand directly in front of me? TALL GUY! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

Sadly my girlfriend loves a festival, I think this maybe because she thinks she’s still 19 years old. So while I would rather have my eyeballs rubbed up and down a pebble dashed wall than head to Glastonbury my girlfriend is practically in mourning because we won’t be in the thick of it. Of course compromise is everything in relationships, which is why I’ve put up a tent in the living room, cranked up the stereo and chucked a packet of sausage rolls in her sleeping bag. She was delighted….ahem.

Yup, we’re going to Latitude next year.


29/05/14 Tales From... The Archive

Oh I do like to be on the Queer side…

I’ve recently just got back from Australia I say that mainly because I want you to know that I’ve been to Australia. That’s how my career’s going people I have to leave the country to get work…

No but seriously I am incredibly successful (in my own head) and being away does give you permission to reinvent yourself and rejuvenate your work. I love Australia and Australians, they’re a bit like us except they’re…well happy; even they’re casual racism is more upbeat. I never tired of being asked this question, “What kind of wog are you?’ You’ve got to give it to the Aussies they have a way with words. For those of you who haven’t been to Australia you won’t be familiar with this expression. It’s basically a term used for anyone of Mediterranean descent, being half Spanish and looking entirely not English I am 100% wog.

Don’t be alarmed the term ‘wog’ has been claimed back by the Greeks, Italians and Spaniards in Australia. In fact it was a Greek woman who wanted to know the exact nature of my woggishness. Once I told her I was Spanish she was delighted because her cousin had been to Spain once and she loves tapas! Naturally we had A LOT to talk about.

Obviously as a gay woman that doesn’t own a dress or a pair of shoes without laces, I don’t always fit in for other reasons. Having been called ‘a f*cking queer’ by a charming group of lads shouting from their car as I walked down the street just the other day, I realised that ‘queer’ was a word I had claimed back years ago.

Some words can hold power particularly those used to denigrate a group of people or highlight a perceived difference. For years being called ‘queer’ was considered an insult, but now if anything it’s a compliment! For me being queer is an accurate description of the misfit I am and will always hope to be. Most of my friends are queer weirdos and a lot of them aren’t even gay. Who wouldn’t want to be queer? The alternative is of course being straight (how awful!) That’s right gay people can be straight (Hello Peter Mandelson) and straight people can be really bloody queer (Hello Grayson Perry.)

When it comes to queer vs straight it’s a no brainer, cause ‘the weirdo’ wins every time.

07/02/13 Tales From... The Archive

Comedian? Don’t make me laugh…

I consider the profession of a comedian to be highly dysfunctional. Nothing about stand up comedy screams anything other than MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES! What kind of a job is making people laugh anyway? Ridiculous. Why would anyone want to stand on ‘stage’ (if you’re lucky) in front of several hundred strangers (if you’re lucky) and try and make those people laugh? (If you’re lucky.) Who in their right mind would do that for a living? Not me! (Ok, fine me.)

If we were to delve a bit deeper into the psychology of why anyone ‘needs’ that much attention or validation from a room full of people in varying degrees of inebriation, we might learn something and I for one am wholly against that. Instead I’m going to blame my chosen career in ‘showing off ‘in darkened rooms in front of strangers on my Mum. I feel confident saying this as I know she’s never going to read this because unlike me, she’s got a life. So, I think I can say this wholeheartedly and without fear of reprisal: IT’S MY MUM’S FAULT.

Like most adults that have refused to accept any responsibility or grow and develop in anyway, blaming my Mum has worked very well for me these last 38 years. I’m actually really good at it. The reason why I blame my Mother is for her unwavering belief in me. Ever since I was a child my Mum would tell me I was funny, “You are so funny Jennifer tell the joke about the Doctor…” “Knock Knock” “Who’s there?” “Doctor” “Doctor Who?” “You just said it…” “You could be a comedian!” That’s right; when I was 4 my Mum said I could be a comedian. Let’s not forget that this was after I told one of the worst jokes ever to be invented in the world EVER. SO IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY COMEDY YOU CAN BLAME MY MUM!

But my Mother’s encouragement didn’t end with me. My youngest brother and I were led to believe that we were BOTH amazing at impressions. My Mum would make us do these ‘impressions’ in front of adults. Argh! Can you imagine anything more cringe worthy? What was worse, I LOVED IT! At least my brother had the self awareness to realise that we were actively humiliating ourselves in front of people that halfway through our terrible impression of Prince Charles were also fantasising about smothering us while we slept. Not me, I swanned into the room taking centre stage and feigning embarrassment, “Moi? Do a turn? Why I couldn’t… Ok I COULD! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!!! No one likes a precocious child. NO ONE. Apart from my Mum who has always thought her kids were the bees knees and thus through her eyes, I did too. Never mind that the only way you could recognise any of our impressions was because we included the person’s name in our repetoire, “My name’s David Bellamy and I’m walking through the undergrowth….” “Hello I’m Sean…Yesh Sean Connery…” and my personal favourite was listening to my brother just say “Ronnie, Ronnie Corbett here…. hmmm my producer…Ronnie…” over and over and over again.

All the while my Mum is watching us and beaming with pride, “Jennifer you could be the next Meryl Streep!” “Really Mum?” “Oh yes, every actor starts with impressions! Just look at Dustin Hoffman! Tootsie is a very good film. He did an impression of a woman and his career took off!” “I think he was famous before Tootsie Mum.” “I don’t think so – I think he put on a dress and Poof! He was famous. You know, maybe if you wore a dress sometimes Jennifer you could get famous too.”  At this stage in my career I’m willing to try anything. Thanks Mum.


06/02/13 Tales From... The Archive

Food Glorious Food!

I do love breakfast. I say that as a person without a proper job, which means breakfast can be leisurely and indulgent. I don’t remember loving breakfast so much when it meant smashing a piece of toast into my face as I ran for the bus.

Ah those heady days when I had a regular 9 to 5 job. I’ll be honest with you, I could no more do a 9 to 5 job now than I could listen to Rhianna’s album all the way through. It would probably kill me. Lunch was a shining beacon in an otherwise depressing and soulless day. If you’ve ever had to sell ‘space’ yes I sold advertising SPACE to people, you’ll know that the only way to get through your working day is to obsess about the minutiae of your life. When is my next cup of tea? Should I go to the toilet before or after this phone call? Why is Linda Baring wearing a black bra with a cream chiffon blouse? In fact, why is she wearing a cream chiffon blouse, it’s 2001 for crying out loud.

The only other way to survive is to become heavily dependent on alcohol and/or Class A drugs. I settled for alcohol as the idea of snorting anything off a public cistern has always made me queasy. Also drugs are bad blah blah blah. People in sales have a reputation of being a boozy bunch and I’m not going to lie, when I worked in sales I drank. A lot. The reason why people in sales drink at lunch time is because if they had to do their job sober they’d be self harming with a pack of post-it notes by 3pm.

So other than the moment when I could actually go home, my lunch break was the highlight of my day which otherwise was only broken up by occasional trips to the photocopier and lengthy visits to the toilet. You know your job is dull when you get excited about the prospect of a mid day dump.

These days I get just as excited about my lunch break. It makes no difference if I’m at home, traveling to a gig or holed up in a hotel in a town I’ve never heard of. When 1pm arrives I’m thinking about food. Why? Because I like food! In fact it’s the one part of my day that I can legitimately go ahead and stuff my face without the guilt. We’ve agreed as a society that lunchtime is the correct time to be eating, which unfortunately can’t be said for my 11am biscuit, my 12pm latte, my 2pm pack of crisps and my 4pm slice of Banana cake. These times are arbitrary and therefore meant for abstinence.  WHO MADE THESE BLOODY RULES?

My days are punctuated by treats, snacks, meals, hot drinks, cold drinks, luke warm drinks, ok nobody likes a luke warm drink but you get the idea. These little tid bits help me get through my day. I’m not interested in buying the latest technology or the most fashionable item of clothing. But what I do want is good food on tap ALL THE TIME. There, I’ve said it. I’M GREEDY. I want poached eggs in the morning and salt beef for lunch, I want prawn risotto for dinner and a big fat glass of red wine with every meal! In the time it’s taken me to write these 613 words I will have eaten a frittata with bacon, peppers and mushrooms, a tuna salad, three biscuits, two coffees and half a dozen walnuts (don’t ask.) It’s been a good day. In other news I urgently need to join the gym.

20/11/12 Tales From... The Archive

A ‘Sense’ of Style

Apparently I’m taking part in a photo shoot for Stylist magazine. This isn’t me boasting, ok this is boasting but it’s also a factual fact. I’ve never been styled before and it’s raising all sorts of anxieties in my already neurotic head. For a start, I worry about someone looking too closely at my face and noticing all my flaws; like my massive pores, acne and wiry moustache. That’s not me saying this, that’s my girlfriend and she never lies. Unfortunately.

In the lead up to the shoot I’ve been asked all kinds of questions from, “Who is your favourite Fashion Designer?” to “What skirt shape best suits your body?” Sadly I am unable to respond to these questions because I HAVE NO IDEA! Do people really have a favourite designer? I struggle to have a strong opinion about the two cardigans I own. I don’t read fashion magazines, or worry about what accessory matches the buttons on my blouse. In fact I don’t own a blouse or a skirt for that matter.

I’m not saying I don’t like to look good. Of course I do and I would love to think that other people might think I have a certain style and finesse. Ok, maybe finesse is pushing it I’m basically hoping they don’t think I got dressed in the dark, or that I only have peripheral sight, or worse, that I simply can’t dress myself. I can dress myself if someone is in the same room telling me what to wear, “TAKE OFF THAT V- NECK JUMPER, YOU LOOK LIKE RONNIE CORBETT!” Fashion, for me is a bloody minefield.

Meanwhile, I’ve explained to the stylist that I don’t want to be put in a skirt or a dress or anything flouncy. So, it looks like I’m wearing a suit. Which is fine. You know, a suit. You can’t go wrong with a suit. Can you? More recently heels have been mentioned, can I wear them? Not really, no. Would I consider just standing in them? Er…yeah maybe. Apparently the trousers will cover the shoes. Won’t that look weird, like I’m on stilts or something? What if everyone else looks really glam and I look like I’m going for an interview for a job as a legal secretary? This is typical, the one time I get a bit of attention and some styling and BOOM I end up looking like Hilary Davey! Or that woman from the Apprentice or any other women that wear suits to work. I don’t want to look like I’m temping for Office Angels! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

In the end I e mail the stylist at ‘Stylist’ and try to explain to her in detail exactly what my look is, “Hi, I just want to give you a couple of tips on ‘my style.’ It’s quite unique and…er… classic..” I’ve heard people use this word before and I’m pretty sure that I’m on the right track, “I like to wear clothes…like…you know t-shirts and jeans and shoes and stuff…so…I really hope that helps.” It doesn’t. Bloody hell how does Alexa Chung do it? How does she know that pop socks with patent brogues and a puffball skirt will look so good together? She’s clearly a genius, because I’m looking at her thinking, “You know what that outfit needs love? Tights.” Clearly I know nothing.

Three days later and I’m at the shoot, they’ve gone with a blouse and trousers. I’m told I look ‘AMAZING!’ As only a woman in a blouse and slacks can. If I’d known I looked this good I would have shopped at M&S sooner. My look is also enhanced by makeup which I’m told makes me look 10 years younger. I believe them because it sounds a lot better than, “Are you going to bleach your moustache or what?” I’m amazed at what makeup has done to my face. Prior to arriving I had dark rings round my eyes, acne on my chin and a 5 o’clock shadow. Now, I am positively glowing! Every line and blemish on my face has now been filled with L’Oreal filler. I am so worth it.

I’m surrounded by women, there’s 3 three of them all telling me how good I look. JEN YOU LOOK SO GOOD! Oh my God, do I? Do I really? “Yes! Now slip on these heels and go and get your picture taken!” I oblige and slip on the heels. Ok, that’s not strictly true, I put one heel on and stare about me with a look of panic in my eyes, “Can someone give me a hand here? Sorry I’m just having trouble standing… I don’t think I can feel my left toe, is that normal?” I have that feeling of defeat I used to experience as a teenager when trying to put lipstick on unguided. Robert Smith had nothing on me. Here I am again, a woman in her late 30s who can’t even stand in heels. There are women up and down the country who not only can stand in them, they can walk, run, even skip in them. Why has no one ever given these women some kind of award? These shoes are so uncomfortable! I’m standing as though someone has shoved a rod up my bum and is pushing me forward on a pair of tin cans tied to my hands with string. In short, I look like I need help. “What do you think?” “Er…yeah Jen, you look …er… you look good…maybe take the shoes off for now…”

Finally at the photo shoot I’m told I can just stand still but move my hips, which I do. This doesn’t seem so hard after all, “Jen can you remember to smile?” “What? Yes, sorry am I not smiling?” “No, you look like you hate someone…” So, I just need to stand, swing my hips and smile… “Jen, you need to do something with your arms, they’re very stiff.” “What do you want me to do with them?” “Just move them about, but try to make it look natural.” Right, fine, so I just stand, swing my hips, keep smiling and move my arms, “Ok Jen your smile looks demented…” “What? Sorry I was focusing on my arms…” “Don’t forget to smile.” “I am smiling, this is how I smile!” “Remember to put the weight on your left leg and push your hip out…” “WHAT? I CAN’T! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MY ARMS AND FACE ARE DOING!”

In the end a white box is brought out and I’m told to sit on it, “Jen if you can just sit on the box, lean back a bit but bring your arms forward and tilt your head a little to the left, as you would naturally.” AS I WOULD NATURALLY? Mate, I have never sat on a box in a studio in Holloway with a three safety pins pinned to the back of a Nicole Farhi blouse with three inches of makeup on my face and a pair of heels that are challenging my ability to walk without the aid of crutches. NONE OF THIS IS NATURAL. Obviously I don’t say that, I say something like, “This is a lot of fun. Sorry what am I doing with my arms again?”

It comes out December 5th; if I look in anyway human you can thank Stylist magazine. They are simply genii.