Category Archives: tragedy

WTF, dog owners of east Berkshire?

A month or so ago I noticed that my 3-year-old Converse trainers were looking a little worse for wear. By which I mean they had crossed, like many an elderly pair of shoe (or indeed person) over the line of general infirmity and were now disheveled, smelly husks of what they had once been. So I decided to indulge in a new pair of trainers and, when I saw a pair of slip-on, memory foam Skechers with psychedelic uppers and 30% off, I snapped them up faster than you could say, “30% off what, though?”

A day after they arrived, I took Lara out to the lake down the road from our house with her trike. Inevitably, I ended up dragging the trike and carrying Lara around most of the way… but, hey ho, I had my new shoes! The colourful patterns sparkled in the sun, the soles felt lovely and grippy with their deep grooves and the memory foam soles felt delightfully squishy underfoot. Alas, this was not the only squishy thing underfoot. About halfway around the lake I started to smell something. Something bad. Something disastrous. It seemed to be wafting intermittently, and at first I assumed it was coming from somewhere nearby – maybe the lake? Maybe the overflowing doggy bin we’d just passed? Sadly, no. When we arrived home I discovered the worst had happened. And it had happened all over my brand new shoe.

To say I was mildly irritated is putting it, well, irritatingly mildly. It did NOT help that when I took the shoe outside to wash off the damage the stupid, cheap hose we bought last year kept popping off the outside tap. Ten minutes later I was soaking wet, my hands were freezing, the hose had sprayed god knows what back into my face and there were still stinky oozings nestled deep within the cursedly deep, grippy grooves. But I soldiered on, and several broken twigs, curses on hose manufacturers, shoe designers and dog owners later, my shoe was finally passably clean. Or at least no longer quite so smelly.

I was angry at the time (not the least because this wasn’t the first time I’d worn in a new pair of shoes this particular way). I was – to quote a former newspaper colleague – incanfuckingdescent at the time. But once I’d cleaned myself off, changed my clothes, posted the obligatory disgruntled Facebook status and had a glass or three of wine, I forgave and forgot. Until today. Today we went back to the lake. Today I took great pains to watch exactly where my no-longer-virginal Skechers trod. Unfortunately, one cannot explain to a 22-month-old that she must stick to the path lest an errant canine bottom has hovered over that interesting patch of dry leaves she’s scurrying off to explore. And, sure enough, I tried to believe that telltale smell was coming from the bin. Or the lake. Or – gods be good – that other toddler’s shoes. I checked my own shoes several times. I didn’t check Lara’s until we came through the door. Until I shut the front door and could still smell the Stench of Footwear Doom. Cue curses, cue hose battle, cue outfit change.

On the plus side, her feet are so tiny the area covered by the offending substance was far less than that on my shoe. It didn’t take long to clean. And, biggest plus of all, they weren’t new shoes. And I should be grateful, I suppose, for the small mercy that this particular dog hadn’t hovered over the spot where she stumbled on a root and went face-and-hands splat in the mud. TBH, probably wouldn’t have laughed so much if it had.

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The sublime, the ridiculous, the meowing of the National Anthem…

There are moments in life where you have to take a mental step back and ask yourself: “How it come to this?” Maybe it’s as you step off stage on a West End show to rapturous applause. Maybe it’s as you massage a new bunion after a 12 hour shift at Butlins. Or maybe – and here we steer decidedly away from the Grey’s Anatomy style intro – maybe it’s mid-verse through a rendition of God Save Our Queen done entirely as a cat, complete with paw gestures.

Parenthood is filled with these moments and – because there’s nothing like a numbered list to organise the most inane of one’s thoughts – here are a few I have come across so far:

 

  1. The crashing realisation you have turned into your own mother. You find yourself putting ‘y’ at the end of every noun (ie ‘duckies’, ‘milky’, ‘trouseys’, ‘bibby’), as well as spouting total mental-sounding phrases such as “Good morning sleepy weepy beepy! Time to get uppy wuppy woo woos!” You spend hours before company comes round vacuuming rooms they will never step foot into, organising your pant drawer, removing other half’s reading material from the toilet, arranging the bath towels so they hang in neat squares and hiding all laundry hampers. Then there are the times you are supposed to be leaving the house. Your other half is tapping his watch, your baby is strapped into the car seat, you’re already running 10 minutes late and yet, and yet, you find yourself inexplicably compelled to do the hoovering. This whole moment may be the most pivotal and devastating of them all.
  2. Talking to yourself in public. You’re in the supermarket with the bubba, having a nice time being out of the house, among other grown humans who don’t pull your hair or throw yoghurt at you. The baby gurgles happily from the trolley babyseat as you chat absently to her, telling her what’s left on the list to buy, asking her to remind you which brand of ale Daddy likes again, debating whether we should just give in like we both know we will and buy those chocolate chip cookies… Then you look up and realise everyone is staring at you like you’ve Lost Your Shit.
  3. Scrolling through questions you have Googled today. These, inevitably, range from the fairly justifiable… (‘Can a 7 month old eat eggs?’, ‘How much should I breastfeed the baby after introducing solids?’, etc) …to the embarrassing… (‘How to help my constipated 7 month old poop’, ‘When will my hair stop falling out?’)… to the asinine… (‘Why is my baby farting so much?’ ‘Can you tell at 7 months whether baby will be a genius/psychopath?) Sometimes I wonder how our mothers coped at all without Google.
  4. You’re eight weeks postpartum. You’re struggling through your first exercise class after having the baby. You do a star-jump. You also do a little bit of a wee.
  5. During the eternal quest for that golden baby giggle. (And by this I mean the proper, squeaky belly giggle as opposed to just hanging open their mouth in a big grin and squealing.) Impersonating a chicken, pretending to eat your baby like a sandwich, the aforementioned meowing of the National Anthem, mimicking Simon Cowell’s voice in a squeaky falsetto, woofing with a stuffed dog on your head, blowing raspberries on their belly and – crowning moment – jumping from foot to foot singing Row Row Row Your Boat in an Irish accent with jazz hands. All perfectly acceptable endurances to bear in the quest for the golden giggle, particularly if you, like me, have an extremely serious baby whose expression of choice is the unblinking stare. And, just in case you didn’t believe me…

I know, I know, you were hoping for the jazz hands, right?


One f*ck up after the next

I f*cked up at work. Not devastatingly. Not enough to have serious repercussions on my life or my job (I hope!) I’m not going to share what I did, not because I’m ashamed, but because this is the internet and I don’t want to make a bad situation worse. But needless to say, I wrote something which royally pissed off a very respected client and source.

I think it’s great that at journalism school we’re taught about what we can’t broadcast, what we shouldn’t write, who we shouldn’t quote. It’s great that we graduate knowing exactly what happened in the case studies that make up our legal yesses and epic nos. But it doesn’t change the fact that when you’re working, there will come a time when you will read what you have written and either say “NO” and hit that delete button, or say “F*CK IT” and hit send/press print/open your mouth and start reading. Sometimes it pays off to take a gamble, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I felt terrible about the mistake I made this week, until I talked to some of my colleagues, and remembered stories I had been told by past colleagues and journalist friends. Then it got me thinking… A true, respectable career in journalism seems not so much pitted by these f*ck ups as paved by them. I’m not saying it’s good to repeatedly piss people off and alienate important clients, listeners, viewers, readers; but there’s an undeniable glint of pride which creeps into a seasoned journalist’s eye when they tell you about the time they had to take out an affidavit to ensure their back was covered with a slightly dubious source, or how relieved they subsequently were when their byline was dropped from the finished article.

I may not be willing to share the latest f*ck up of my progressing career as a journalist, but there are other stories. Seasoned readers of this blog will know of postal-worker-gate. That was probably the earliest… Then there was the time I wrote about a drugs bust, quoting (rather too heavily as it turned out) from the objecting onlookers rather than the police presence. A week later I was summoned up to the station for a ‘friendly chat’ with the chief inspector and sergeant. Terrifying. There were countless misquotes surrounding village shops and local committees. I recall popping into a farmers’ market, introducing myself to one of the stall-holders and then getting a rather stern telling-off from a member of the WI for some long-published discrepancy about coffee mornings or jam jars or something.

Then there were the emails. The lovely, sterile typefaces forming caustic judgements on your ability to listen, to recount, to talk, to tell… to write. I was told I ‘lowered the tone of the Gazette’ because in a reply email – yes, EMAIL, not published article – I used the word gotten. (I resisted the urge to point out my occasional lapse into this so-called ‘abhorrent Americanism’ was not in fact due to the influence of modern television on my language choices but the fact I’d had, until very recently, an American father) I’ve been told – sometimes nicely and sometimes not so – I’m not very bright. I’ve been told I’m a horrible writer.

There are other stories. The worst stories – the ones where there is no gleam in your eye or belly-rippling giggle under your words – are those mistakes that hit you like a punch in the gut. The blade gripped in your hand, cleaving an insouciant tattoo into your own back as you press send.

In July 2009 two teenagers and a nine-year-old boy died in a car crash in my reporting patch. I covered the story for the paper.A week later one of the victim’s family members came to see me in tears because of an implication taken from my recounting of the events. An implication that their boy had not been acting responsibly. When I realised what I’d done to them, the bottom dropped out of my world. It was a level of shitty feeling equal to finding out my dad had cancer. You don’t hear so many of those stories, but they are there, behind the tobacco stains and the fatty livers, lying at the root of what makes journalism a crappy job.

But, on balance, it’s those gleams and those stories – those indignant phone calls, impossibly stupid decisions made in those squeezingly-urgent moments of deadline – that makes the job balance out. Because, when it pays off, those f*ck ups can make you.


Hey world, why all the tradge?

“Adele wrote 21 when she was in the depths of break-up despair and a little bit fat. She’s now happy, in love and getting fit… Her next album won’t be half as good.”

If I’ve overheard it once, I’ve overheard it a million times. And not just about Adele and the beautifully melancholic whine-fest which I can only listen to if I reeeeeeeeally want to that is 21. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know because it was constantly drummed into me that tragedy is easier to write than comedy. Is it because the world is sick with cynicism? I learned at the age of 15 in a very poorly-executed GCSE Speaking and Listening presentation that you can’t, for love, money, or the desperate pitch of an eraser at an over-achiever’s head, MAKE an audience laugh. So why is it so easy to make them cry? Or, should I be asking, why is it so easy to make them want to cry?

As a journalist I have always found the most popular stories – whether that’s measured by website hits, comment, or even ye olde letters to the editor – are negative. Always. And I don’t have to link to a pyscho-babble article in the Guardian to say why: People love tragedy because it makes them feel better about their own lives. It’s why EastEnders is still going after nearly 30 years, it’s why the glossies and the red tops are always searching for that one in 10 billion shot which’ll make Cheryl Cole look fat and why that story probably got more hits than any government budget updates over the past 5 years combined. And it’s probably the reason why Someone Like You, in all its wailing glory, was the best-selling UK single of 2011.

Today I found out that my last post, that heartfelt, yowling whine from one of the most teeth-pullingly frustrating times of my life was one of the deciding factors in my current employers offering me a job. A job which I love and which has given me everything I so wanted for so long. There’s a lot to be said for tragedy.


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