Monday, 3 October 2011

The day that changed our lives....

It's hard to believe how different my life was on this same date four years ago.
I had a different career, my son was a baby and I was married - to a very sick husband.
We've split up now, but we spent 13 years together, and we went through hell and back together too - not least on October 3rd, 2007.
It was in the February of that year that he started to get sick. We had always known it was coming but the doctors were keeping a close eye and thought he'd have another 20 years of decent health at least.
He was born with a liver condition (I won't bore you with the science) but he'd always lived a pretty normal life. I had to be tested to ensure I didn't have a dodgy gene, but when that came back clear, we decided to start a family.
If I'd known then what was coming, would I have made that same decision? I have to say no. I love my son to bits but he, and I, had it so tough in those early days. He's had to be so resilient my boy, too resilient, and I neglected him emotionally. That's really hard to admit but my husband demanded that I put him first and I did.
My husband's decline was rapid, and he was in and out of hospital for the next few months. I struggled to look after my son, nurse him and hold down a full time job. With nursery costs and only his statutory sick pay, it was tough, beyond tough.
That summer, we travelled to Birmingham to see Britain's top liver specialist and he told us that my husband was going to be put on the transplant list.
His pain and the complications had become so unbearable by then that we both cried with relief. He was so swollen and yellow that he was almost unrecognisable, he was plagued by constant cramps and pins and needles and to top it all off, he was impotent. And that's without the terrible pain. He could barely walk some days. And sleeping, forget it.
We used to joke that at least he still had his hair, and although he couldn't do anything with it, his manhood was the size of a marrow!
I wish I could say that what hurt him the most was not being able to play with his son, but by that stage, my little boy was a competitor for my time, my affection and my sympathy. There was only so much of me to go around and it wasn't long before there was none of me left.
But back to October 3rd. After a week of tests in hospital in Birmingham (a good hour away from home), and another 10 days stay after that due to getting an infection – his immune system was so weak this was almost a weekly occurrence by then – he finally made it on to the list in August.
You never know how long you will be on that list but it's a place of limbo. You have to hit the pause button on your life. And every time the phone rings, you feel a wave of nausea and a huge hit of adrenaline.
Ironically, when the call finally came, we were in Ikea, and with no phone signal, we missed it! But it's a fallacy that you only have minutes to respond. When the 'match' comes, you have hours to get there, and as soon as we picked up the message, we sped back from Bristol, dropped our son of at my mum's (all bags had been packed for months) and drove to Birmingham.
It's then, when the excitement starts to fade, that reality hits home. With the transplant scheduled for 7am the next morning, we settled in for the longest night of our lives, struck dumb by the enormity of what lay ahead.
And then the transplant co-ordinator walked in, with news of the donor. A man not much older than my husband who had died suddenly that night.
I sat there and thought about a family sat in another hospital that night, maybe even the same one, and I cried for them. And, call me selfish, but I cried for us too.
What a cruel twist of fate – that their family's loss was my family's gain. And that our fate was in their hands.
You never imagine that one day you could be giving permission for your son or brother's organs to be donated. I can't even imagine what it's like being asked to make that call.
That man's organs went to six different people – that's six families whose lives were changed forever, for the better, for the fact that one man was on a list. I hope his family take some comfort from that as they mark the anniversary of his death today
In our case, it has meant that my son is growing up with a father who is now very much a part of his life. We may have separated but he's a better dad and a better person than he ever was before. Now I'm not around, he has to look after himself and work hard at being a parent, and it's been the making of him.
His son is his world - he takes him to rugby, to tennis, to Tae Kwon Do, to school – just like any other daddy, and I hope to god that he realises how lucky he is. I hope that my son will understand that one day too.
I don't believe in a nanny state – live and let live I say - but I do believe that people should be registered as organ donors unless they choose to opt out.
So many people want to sign up but never quite get round to it. And that's a crying shame for all those families whose close ones die while on 'the list'.
So please, if you want to register, don't delay. It's so easy to do, just go to
Become an organ donor, because it will be the last thing you do....

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Life and death – and the bits inbetween

I've had two seminal moments this week.
The first was in the bike repair shop - not the most likely spot for a 'road to Damascus' moment I grant you.
Apparently, not only did I need a new tyre (I'd wheeled it in with a puncture), the wheel was buckled and it needed new brakes and cones (whatever they are).
In other words, an overnight stay was needed and it wasn't going to be cheap. As I saw the estimated bill, said to myself: “Right, that's it missus, it's time for you to grow up.”
You see, there's a reason my bike is such a state at under a year old. The wheel is buckled because I was showing off. At Centre Parcs, desperately trying to impress my teenage nephew, I attempted a wheelie while going downhill.
I'd had a glass of wine (son safely esconced at Wizard Academy) and I thought I was Superwoman you see.
I got a chance to test out that theory when I put the brake on, flew over the top of the handlebars (cape flapping in the wind...) landed on my arse and my bike careered into a tree.
My car (also about a year old) isn't in much better shape – largely due to be scratching it to death by throwing said filthy bike in the back after cycling through the deepest muckiest puddles my five-year-old and I can find.
In the bike shop, seeing that bill made me panic, coming as it did a week after I lost £800 of stuff when my handbag was stolen. I'd slung it to one side in favour of dancing like a lunatic to Rihanna in a seedy nightclub. Insurance? Oh no, I'll never need that...
And so the realisation dawned that I need to grow up. I planned one last hedonistic weekend ready to embrace the new 'on top of paperwork and looking after my possessions' me on Monday.
But then came yesterday afternoon. Driving to my friend's house, I had to slam on the brakes. There had been an accident, a bad one. I was only three cars behind it.
A motorcyclist had hit the back of a van. The bike was in one field and he was in the other. Not breathing, no pulse and attempts to resuscitate him failed.
We stood there helplessly, by our cars, until the stunned silence (it was eerie, like even the birds knew) was penetrated by the 'already too late' sirens.
I got back in the car, turned around and found a back road to my destination.
I cried all the way. For that man who was never going to reach his destination, but also for me, realising that if I hadn't been delayed by reading a text as I left the rugby match, it might have been me never seeing my family and friends again.
Moments like that make you realise that life is just too bloody short. Money, possessions, they can be replaced, but the seconds on your clock can't.
I thought about my son, who loves nothing more than when I'm stop caring what other people think and I join him in being a child.
Only a few weeks ago, we did roly-polys along the grass verges the entire length of a main street in broad daylight. We've rolled down the Cardiff barrage in front of hundreds of tourists until we've taken on so much grass we look like Wurzel Gummidge wannabes and we've laughed until we cried pretending to be giant chickens at the farm park. Oh, and we splash in muddy puddles, a lot.
Driving away from that accident, it really hit home that you need to grab at those moments and keep making them.
It's simple really, you either get busy living or you get busy dying.
So, while I will (seven months after it ran out), finally get round to sorting my son's passport and put my bike on its stand in the garage in future, I'm not about to go full circle and start sweating the small stuff.
I won't be ashamed of the massive bruise on my backside sustained from a drunken dancefloor fall, I'll see it as a badge of honour – proof that I know how to enjoy myself.
After all, if I'm fortunate enough to make it to a ripe old age, I'm sure I won't look back thinking; “I wish I'd gone out less, seen my friends less, drank less, had less sex and spent less time laughing with my child.” I want to know that I lived and let live.
Growing up? It's got to be over-rated.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Confessions of a reluctant 'dater'

Until this summer, I hadn't been on a date for almost 16 years.
Sounds like a confession at an AA meeting doesn't it? “Hi everyone. My name is Barbara (it's not) and I'm frigid.”
In fact, I'm not sure that I'd actually ever been on a 'proper' date – you know the 'turning up to meet a virtual stranger at a pub bricking yourself type'.
I'm 33 now and I met my ex when I was 15. Together for 13 years and married for five of those – let's just say, when I emerged back into the world uncoupled, it was utterly terrifying.
So terrifying in fact that it took me three whole years to decide that I might actually want to 'date'.
It's not like I'd been a nun for those three years; there were a string of utterly inappropriate liaisons, mostly with 'lads' at least a decade younger than me or people I had no business liaising with (Facebook status: in a relationship).
Maybe it was necessary 'therapy' after a mighty shit few years (more of that later), maybe not, but eventually, you're going to get tired of being a bit of a tart.
And so, sick of fumbles in the dark with boys who can't handle their drink dribbling down their muscle tops, I decided (against my better judgement) to wade into the world of online dating.
Profile and photo uploaded, it still took me weeks to actually subscribe. Call me weird but the fear made me sick to my stomach. I mean, this meant I'd actually have to interact with men while sober – it didn't bear thinking about!
If you've never tried internet dating, do it, even if you're not single (I'm sure half the blokes on there aren't anyway). It is beyond hilarious.
Some blokes winked so many times, I was worried they would stay like that if the wind changed, others got unbelievably ratty when you didn't reply to e-mails, some even wrote poems and then there's the other extreme – the ones who can't even be arsed to exchange an e-mail with you and just give you their mobile number to call. Do you really think I am that desperate for a shag?!
Which reminds me of the time a 22-year-old conquest of mine asked me if I was going out that night. I was but in a town eight miles away and he said, deadpan serious: “Oh, that's okay, you can always pay for me to get a taxi to yours when I've finished with my mates.” The audacity of it! Boys weren't like that when I was growing up, were they?!
Anyway, back to the online sweet shop. Some blokes look half-decent and and then you look where they live. I mean I've always fancied visiting the Congo, but it might make going on a date to the cinema a bit tricky.
Oh and never ever trust the photos. I actually went on a date with one guy and let's just say, he'd obviously posted a picture from before he'd swallowed a couple of Ford Cortinas.
But I'll finish with my all-time favourite. The 49-year-old guy from London who messaged me this: “I love your profile. Please don't be put off by the fact I haven't posted a photo. My agent told me not to. I'm a famous Australian film director, so for my own safety, I need to get to know someone before I can reveal my identity.”
Bloody genius. Nothing to do with the fact you look like the back end of a bus then?
Of course, reflecting on it now, it could have been Mel Gibson. Shit, shit, shit! What's my match password again?!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hearing voices...

This is not really a mummy blog – that's the first thing to say. So, if you dipped in hoping to read about the harsh lot of the single parent, I'd suggest you just click that little cross in the corner before I disappoint you. And if you came here for solo parenting advice, then boy have you come to the wrong place.
Now, I am a mum, but quite honestly, people who drone on about their kids and expect me to join in because I have one, they bore me to tears.
So, why have I joined the blogger brigade? Well, I guess I'm pretty confident I have a story to tell that people will find interesting. No point being self-deprecating about it. If I didn't think I was interesting, I wouldn't be stroking my own ego by writing about myself. Can't promise I'll stick at it though – never was much good at that, just ask my ex-husband.
People always say to me (usually between guffaws having heard about my latest misadventure – and there are many...) that I should write a book about my life. And what have I always said back (why did I just do that, I hate people who refer to themselves in the third person, it's so pretentious?)
My reply is always: “Are you mad? I'd be sued. How many lives would I wreck? Whole governments could fall!” Well, okay, so that last bit is a slight exaggeration, but you see where I'm coming from.
Hence, I am exercising my right to remain anonymous. Look at it this way, it means I can be honest, brutally so at times, about everything apart from my identity.
I fully expect that a lot of you won't end up liking me very much.
I also know I'll pretend I don't care, but I'm a Leo, and I'm only happy when I'm being admired so just be aware that I'll beat myself up over your disapproval. No pressure or anything.
I guess if I'm going to convince you to keep coming back here, I should give you a flavour of what's to come. But I'm still trying to decide where in hell to start, and there's a lot I want to share with you.
So for now, I'll just issue a few more words of warning to those of you who are still with me. What will follow will not be for the faint-hearted. My moral code tends to go AWOL with alarming regularity (and it used to be so dependable damn it!)
I am a parent, and I'm not half bad at it, but I'm also a single woman, I get drunk (again with alarming regularity), I fall over a lot and I'm wildly inappropriate (these states, surprisingly, are not always linked).
The words 'single'' and 'parent' – they just don't belong together you see. The two entities are so tough to tie together, I'm starting to think I might by schizophrenic.
Now that could be a good starting point for a blog...
I guess you'll just have to wait and see which one of my voices pipes up first....