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I can’t sleep

Three in the morning is a wee fucker.

Two in the morning, not so much. You can pretend it’s a late night; a little extravagance. As those hands sweep round the clock, nearer and nearer to three then you can’t lie any more – three in the morning is full blown “I can’t sleep.”

It’s not nice. Three in the morning gambols round the inside of your head, searching for all those thoughts that you’ve been hiding and pulling them out for you. The tasteless joke that you told is waved in your face, the hurt expression of a friend replayed over and over again. The time when you thought you looked lovely at a party, but then saw a photograph and you looked like something that had been dug up and reanimated. The screw up at work. The parenting failure. Three in the morning loves dragging those out. You’re never clever enough, never funny enough, never good enough for three in the morning.

Three in the morning loves mistakes. Can’t get enough of them. “Do you remember the time you thought it would be a good idea to do this?” it crows. It loves setting out all your mistakes in front of you, showing them off like precious diamonds. All the while you lie there and feel your stomach contract and your cheeks burn. Three in the morning loves failure.

Three in the morning doesn’t give a shit about successes either. It enjoys playing “What if …?”. What if that scan had came back positive? What if that van hadn’t swerved and missed the car? Then it sits back and watches you as the scenarios in your head become a waking nightmare.

So you lie there, praying that the thoughts in your head become the nonsensical jumble that means sleep is on the way. That three in the morning will piss off out of your head. That it won’t come back.

Three in the morning is a wee fucker.

Cartwheels now mean goodbye

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It started raining as we left her service. Not just a gentle pitter-patter either; this was full on, “Shit, where did we park the ark” rainfall. Coats and cardigans were raised above our heads as we ran to take cover.

We laughed as we looked behind us, a fast moving flock of black filling the space. We laughed as a release, “Typical J!” someone said, as if that gave the rain a meaning. The whole service was everyone struggling to find a meaning and failing as we knew we would. There was no meaning in this, nothing could make it feel better. We just came together to say goodbye.

We all knew a different side of her. Her friends told stories about nights out with drag queens, about champagne and shoes. Her work colleagues told stories of a woman who smashed sales targets in a male dominated industry and organised team building events for her colleagues that really did build teams. Her mum and dad knew a daughter, her brothers a sister.

Her girls didn’t come to the funeral but arrived at the reception at the hotel afterwards – two whirlwinds in black and pink, smashing through the room, their presence announced by half-sobs and intakes of breath from people as they saw her daughters. The girls ignored us adults and barrelled into R, jumping into her, grabbing her arms, not looking at anyone as they collected her up and then the three of them disappeared out of the double doors at the end of the room and onto the lawns.

They disappeared up trees, through fences, into bushes. “Come and explore!” they shouted. The spell was broken. The mood lifted. We sat on the hotel verandah like we did on the sand dunes and watched the three girls as they reminded us of other days with their mum and aunty.

“Isn’t Gee like her mum?”
“Oh no, Ell isn’t allowed to eat that, her mum didn’t allow it”
“R was as tall as her, did you know that?”

And then the girls started to do cartwheels.

We thought we’d have more time together.

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C’s sister got her diagnosis just before Christmas. Cancer. Everyone reeled, but she was so strong. One massive rage and rail against the world, then she carried on as normal. She didn’t ask for a timescale because she didn’t want to be living with an end date hanging over her.

So we had Christmas. Then we all went away together as a family at New Year; a massive family gathering where everyone knew why we were together but no-one mentioned it. We had time.

We spent every weekend together that we could. Miraculously, we all seemed to be passing her house at the same time. We went away at Easter – all 12 of us in the family for two weeks in the sun. Her two girls and R running about on the beaches, while she lay on a sunbed, getting weaker. I looked after her girls so she could have some rest. The time didn’t stretch out as far before us as it once had.

She moved in with her mum and dad; her girls stayed with their dad and came to her at the weekends. The “just passing” excuses faded away; we’d all gather at her mum and dad’s house as often as we could. C and his brother would sit in the chairs either side of her, winding her up as big brothers do to their annoying little sister. She’d scowl, then out of the corner of our eyes we’d see one of the boys reach out a hand, and she’d stroke it. We needed more time.

She set up a team and we Raced For Life. She cheered us on from the sidelines.

She organised a last holiday for her with family and her girls. She picked the location and the cottage. She was looking forward to a week away. C was in Asia, and made plans to come home early on the following Tuesday to spend the last few days of the trip with us. I ran about on Thursday and Friday, getting all the little last minute things that she texted to me. I dropped them off on Friday night and waved to her in her chair in the garden. We were all looking forward to a week spent together, starting on the Saturday. Spending time.

She died Saturday morning.

We thought we’d have more time together.

Her girls. Her little wonderful 8 and 6 year old girls. They definitely should have had more time.

They wanted to go on the last holiday that mummy organised so off we went to a cottage right on the beach in Cornwall.

It was the right thing to do for the girls but oh she was missed. She wasn’t there and she was everywhere.

Then we all stood on a dune and watched her two girls and R as they cartwheeled across the beach in their best party dresses “because mummy bought them for us and she loved counting our cartwheels”.

Five things I know to be true.

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1. If it is raining, I will stand on the wonky paving stone which will then shoot a jet of water right up my dress. Every damn time.

2. When my hair looks fantastic and my outfit doesn’t look like something out of the bottom of the ragbag then I will not see a soul all day.

3. Conversely, when my hair looks like a Take A Break makeover before picture I will meet everyone and their granny.

4. I do not look good in yoga pants. I do not even know why I own these things. I had one yoga class 10 years ago and it made me cry. The lessons went but the pants live on.

5. The reasons why my big black boots are in the spare room is because the zip is broken. The zip goes up but doesn’t come down. I find the boots, go, “oooh, I love those boots”, wear them, then struggle for half an hour to get the bloody things off. I need to throw them out, not throw them in the spare room.

My Mum

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She was the eldest of ten.

She helped bring up her brothers and sisters, and the youngest three thought of her as their mum.

She was very stylish. When they were older, her sisters would steal her clothes to wear themselves. Mum would sleep with her clothes for the next day under her pillow.

She wanted to be a nun when she was younger, then met my dad and that didn’t happen.

She had a beautiful voice and sung in an award-winning choir.

Because my dad was Protestant and she was Catholic they were married at the chapel’s side altar. Mum lost her faith shortly after that.

We moved to America with my dad just after I was born. He had an affair while she was pregnant with my brother and she moved back to Glasgow with us two kids.

She worked so many jobs to keep us going. She was a cutter, a barmaid, a packer, a cook. She worked as a cleaner and on the market and in the chippie.

She’d come in from the chippie late at night and kiss me goodnight and I’d smell the fryers on her clothes. I liked the smell because then I knew she was home.

She always thought she should know more. She’d take correspondence courses because she left school at 14 to help look after her brothers and sisters.

She never drank, but kept a bottle of Southern Comfort in the house “in case I ever fancy a wee drink.” She never fancied a wee drink.

She wrote letters. Every single one started “Hoping that this letter finds you well.” She signed off every letter and card, “Wishing you all that’s good.”

She had long elegant fingers, like a piano player.

She had beautiful handwriting.

She was terrified of dogs, and had a phobia of earrings and pierced ears. When my granny took me to get my ears pierced without telling her, mum went ballistic.

Mum threw up every time she saw me twisting my earrings.

She’d blister in the sun, even with full sun cream on.

Her hair was like wire wool, and she would curse when she was trying to style it. She’d brush mine and tell me she wished she had straight hair like mine.

I wanted my hair to be like hers.

She baked every Sunday. Singin’ Hinnies, bread and scones.

I loved the way our house smelled on Sundays.

She talked to all the old biddies at the post office, at the bus stop, in the street. I complained and she said that she could be the only person they talked to that day, and I should think on.

She wore Tweed perfume. I’d save up my pocket money to buy her a bottle at Christmas.

Whenever she watched a sad film she’d say, “C’mere, sit on my knee” and we’d coorie in together on the couch.

She loved a coorie in.

She never learned how to drive a car or ride a bike.

She was really funny. She’d come out with some shockingly funny things then say, “Oh, you never heard that, ok?”

She loved Walnut Whips and treated herself to one every Friday.

Every Mother’s Day I’d buy her an African Violet, and my brother would buy her three Walnut Whips.

She would have been a brilliant granny.


I went to see One Direction…even though I didn’t want to.

I went to see One Direction…even though I didn’t want to.

One Direction

Yesterday morning I was in a right bad mood. With a giant sense of entitlement that only the truly grumpy can master, I was raging about the One Direction gig. I’d originally booked for the Friday night, so the late night wouldn’t be an issue for R, but that gig was rescheduled to the Sunday.  This meant that we would be shlepping all the way to Greenwich (Greenwich ffs) on a freezing cold Sunday night, and would be getting back home at stupid o’clock when R had school the next day. I didn’t want to go.

As the time to leave drew closer, I started to get over myself. I saw lots of tweets from people wishing they were going and started to feel a bit guilty. What was the worst that could happen? Apart from deafness from the screams. R was bouncing off the walls in excitement, and it was hard to sustain the Grumplestiltskin attitude. Especially when faced with a ten-year-old whirling fiend of excitement. New clothes, new hair, new shoes, new glasses – she’d prepared for this like a bear would for winter.

One Direction

We got there in plenty of time. One recommendation if you are going to the O2 and subscribe to Sky, then pre-book for Sky Backstage on the Rewards site. It’s fantastic, especially if going with kids. Everyone who works there must be told one thing – make everyone who comes through that door feel like a rock star. Which they did. If we were in a queue for anything, the staff would start talking away to us. I went to the bar and spent four quid on a bag of Randoms and you’d have thought I’d dropped the big bucks on a Jeroboam of Cristalle. There was free facepainting, massages, a pool table, and a 3D TV studio.  The 3DTV studio was an early highlight. Watching two pre-teen girls rock out with their bad selves to “WMYB” in 3D television will cause you to pull a muscle in your sides. I am still sore.

One Direction

The gig. I’ve seen 1D twice before. Once at Wembley as part of the X Factor tour, and then again at Hammersmith. I could not tell you anything at all about them, they made that little impression on me. I liked the thought of them, because my daughter and all my nieces love them and I have a lot of online friends who do too. For me that’s all they were – a band that people I liked, liked.

One Direction

When we got onto the floor there was a man sitting behind us with his three tween daughters. They were hyper even before the gig started, and dad was just sitting there, bright yellow earplugs in, reading his book. He caught my eye and the two of us did the “OMG what have we let ourselves in for” eyeroll of sympathy.

I was hooked from the introductory video. It wasn’t “oh look at us, look at our wacky hijinks and we are going to have so much fun tonight and we don’t care about you”. It was fun, and charming and and said “We are going to make you have so much fun tonight”. Which they did.

One Direction

Three songs in and grumpy dad behind us had chucked away his book and was up dancing and clapping. R started jumping up and down from the first song and didn’t stop until they left the stage. K, her fellow tween two years older than R, danced and sang and clapped all the way through it. J and I, the supposed responsible adults were right in there as well.  How could I be churlish or not have fun when surrounded by so many people having a good time and 5 guys determined to give it to them?

One Direction

All during the gig the band members were talking to each other and to the musicians in the backing band, off mic.  When they were front of stage near the audience they would wave hello and start talking off mic to people below – at one point Harry was having a conversation with a fan and said, “oops, I’ve got to go” and ran centre stage for his solo.  Near the end of the gig, Niall was chatting away to the audience for ages and Zayn stood up from left of stage, wandered over to the other end of the stage and whispered something into Louis’s ear.  The two of them laughed and he wandered back to his stage position, the whole exchange for all the world like a guy who remembered that he had something to tell his pal.

One Direction

They enjoy what they are doing, but it’s not like watching the cool kids having fun at the next table in the dinner hall while you’re sitting there with two sad digestives sandwiched with butter and drinking a Panda Pop. They’re constantly on the go, waving at fans, bouncing around, bringing everyone along with them. It’s impossible not to share the joy of it all.

One Direction

I thought that I would go for a walk or go to the loo or fill my ears with hot buttered popcorn and writhe on the floor in agony during “One Way Or Another/Teenage Kicks”. Those are two songs that I don’t want anyone messing with. Yet again, my attitude has changed. During this song R flung herself at me, jumped on my back and threw her arms around me. The two of us bounced up and down, she was so filled with joy at this and was BELLOWING into my ear. How can you not love that? I get it now. 1D haven’t “stolen” my songs, I’ve still got them. These versions aren’t mine; I’ve got mine and R’s got hers, but for three minutes we shared them. I can enjoy both.

One Direction

Zayn walks this way…One Direction

…and then he walks that way.One Direction

Harry – I thought Harry would be the “too cool for school” guy. Not a bit of it. He was right in there with them all, and his reactions and chats with the fans when he was off camera and off mic were funny and lovely.

One Direction

Louis – Louis made me cry. I won’t say why, because I know people are going to see it and I don’t want to spoil it. But if you have seen it then you know what I am talking about.I was a useless mess.

One Direction

Liam – During “Little Things” the crowd was singing back to them. He got all choked up and after the song when he was standing beside the keyboard player you could see him saying, “Did you hear that? Amazing. Incredible” and pointing to the crowd, then wiping his face with his hands. Big softie.One Direction

Zayn – He didn’t get much of a chance to talk to the crowd – Liam, Louis and Niall were taking all the best slots. Poor Zayn. He was always waving and smiling at fans.One Direction

Niall – God bless him. He got the biggest screams of the night. When he got a close up on the big screen, when he got a solo, when he got his guitar out or when he did anything the crowd went crazy.

At one point of the show One Direction go right overhead. As they approached R was going bats. She was jumping and waving and was glowing in excitement. Then Niall caught her eye and he waved and smiled at her. Oh my giddy aunt. The expression on her face. Just for that I will love him forever.

One Direction

That’s all. We were going to leave before the encore to make sure we didn’t get stuck in traffic, but that was never an option once the gig started. With humour, chat and a fun stage show (and whoever is directing the big screen videos and also the live segments, they are brilliant.) we were there until the very end. And didn’t begrudge a minute of it.

One Direction

R ran in to school this morning, absolutely shattered, but gave me a massive high-five as she was singing Kiss You.  That morning a year ago when I sat with umptyump windows open on my PC, cursing to all while struggling to get tickets now feels like the best morning’s work I’ve ever done.

One Direction One Direction One Direction One Direction One Direction

1981 Playlist

Hat tip, as always, to @wkidstepmother

Right. I cannot believe that I was scratching around for songs in 1980 when this monster of a song was left off. When I had the “oh FFS” moment and saw that it was released in 1980 and I missed my chance, I groaned. Then I realised that it was still in the charts in 1981 so with some jiggery pokey, it qualified. Go nuts, and don’t forget the Joker.

Ace of Spades – Motörhead

Swords Of A Thousand Men – Tenpole Tudor

Not punk, not New Romantic, not Adam Ant, but with tinges of them all. I quite like shouty chants in a song, so this is ideal. I even shout along to the “there was hope in our English hearts” bit.

Hitsville UK – The Clash

Clash purists are going to hate this, but bear with me. I love songs that have a story. Oblique lyrics are great too, but give me a song with a beginning, middle and an end and I’m happy. I’m a simple soul. I also love male/female voices singing together; the male voice low in the mix and the female one slightly higher. This song has both of these things. And for anyone shouting I should have waited a few years and used The Clash 80s card for “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” that was supposedly written about the female vocalist on Hitsville UK, so it all ties together.

Shut Up – Madness
Picking one Madness song out of everything they released caused hours of discussion between me and Husband. We don’t even have the same Top 3. But then again, he had sod all to do with this endeavour so his arguments were invalid. I finally whittled it down to Our House, Embarrassment and this one. Then memories of the gospel choir on Wings of a Dove kicked in. Too much choice! Shut Up won the hallowed spot by the very scientific method of “it was first up in shuffle”.

Labelled With Love -Squeeze
One of the experts of the story song.

Hazel O’Connor – Will You

Breaking Glass should be shown as part of the Friday night music strand in BBC4.

Reward – Teardrop Explodes

Can’t talk, bouncing around the room.

The Specials – Ghost Town

Thank goodness for Terry Hall and his many aliases, because if I had to pick just one song of his over the years I would be tearing my hair out.

Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses

Even if I compiled this playlist in the height of summer, I would put this song in. This was another of my mum’s charity shop finds for me, and it was on white vinyl. She later binned it when I moved out, not knowing it was in my pile of treasures that I kept at hers so I wouldn’t lose them as I bounced around between Glasgow, Brighton and Burnham. It could have been worse though. When my pal Dougie moved to Burnham, his mum threw out his complete collection of 2000 AD comics. But Gordon took the biscuit. He went home one weekend from Brighton to find that his dad had turned his bed frame into a garden gate. Poor Bedless Gordon.

How ‘Bout Us – Champaign

This could be filler. This could be great. I am undecided. Depends on the mood that I am in. The emoting in the video makes it worth its inclusion.

Four From Toyah EP – Toyah

This is meant to be an EP, but I only remember ever hearing It’s A Mystery. I’m going to have to dig out the rest for a listen.

Lately – Stevie Wonder

Because I can’t have Superstition. Superstition should be in every playlist, ever.

Wordy Rappinghood – Tom Tom Club

I bought this years later, on a cassette, with my own money. I was so proud.

I Go To Sleep – Pretenders

I love Chrissie Hynde’s voice and attitude. Even singing Smelly Cat.

I’m In Love With A German Film Star – The Passions

This confused the hell out of me when I was younger. It sounded so different from everything else and I had no idea what the lyrics were about.

The Southern Freeez – Freeez

Another one where I just love the singer’s voice.

Is Vic There – Department S

Best letter ever in Smash Hits two weeks after this left the charts. “Hi. Vic here. Any messages?”

Under Pressure – Queen and David Bowie

The phrasing, the voices, the tune, the lyrics. Love love love.

Love Action – Human League

One of Sheffield’s finest.

Fade To Grey – Visage

When I decided that the New Romantic stuff looked quite fun.

Next up, 1982. With The Associates, Heaven 17 and Soft Cell.


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