Monday, 31 December 2012


In January, I shared my New Year’s Resolutions.  As 2012 draws to a close, I feel it only fair to honestly review them.

1.    Relearn to focus.
Getting there.  I still watch television with the laptop and/or ‘phone close by but I have become much better at not turning the television on at all and with the odd show I really like the computer gets a definite back seat.  As I become a student again in February I really need to continue working on this.

2.    Be a better friend.
A horrific failure on this one.  When I wrote these resolutions, I hoped my marriage was reparable.  It turned out that it wasn’t.  The echoes of this have spread through every facet of my life and reverberate into the most obscure corner. 

In a (largely unsuccessful) attempt not to bore everyone to death with how miserable this year’s been I have kept a lot of the darkness inside.  One of the results of this is that there’s not a lot of room left for other people and their lives.  This has led to me being a lousy friend, though also an incredibly grateful one.

3.    Be able to turn stop in both directions.
I have practised and practised and practised and all I can do is resolve to practise more in 2013.  I WILL nail this. 

4.    Explore different ways of making a living.
Started this.  Didn’t get anywhere.  Anyone want to pay me for being me? 

5.    Stop being the drunkest person in the room.
Achieved this on a technicality by hanging around with a lot of very drunk people, rather than by drinking less myself.  Result. 

6.    Get happy.
Definite progress here – I’m certainly much happier than I was at this time last year.  I have a wonderful bunch of friends, for whom I’m very grateful, an amazingly generous and thoughtful family, a great job, a lovely house, my health and (almost) my freedom.  Short of a lottery win or Johnny Depp realising he’s completely in love with me, I’m not sure how things could get much better. 

According to a survey, 92% of New Year’s resolutions are not kept, so I’d say that my score of 23/60 is not bad at all.  How did you do?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Lonely This Christmas?

2012 was the year my marriage became irretrievable.  I found myself single for the first time in nearly 14 years and it was tremendous.  The freedom to be entirely self-centred in my own way in my own space was joyous.  I revelled in the silence of my own home and the cocooning effect of being surrounded entirely by my own stuff.

After a while, however, I began to miss the intimacy and affection that comes with having a boyfriend, as well as just having someone to hang out with, so I started to dip my toe into the treacherous waters of dating as an adult.  It has not been a success.

First there was The Colleague.  A school trip to Spain working with a guy I had always shared a mutual attraction with, fuelled by sun, sand and senselessness, led to a romance of sorts.  On our return, failure to communicate properly meant that weeks of flirting was only made flesh a couple of times before he suddenly and inexplicably went mute (a male habit I was to experience several more times this year) over the summer holidays.

Unbowed there was then The Barman’s Friend.  It was with this guy that I experienced for the first time the strange phenomenon of ‘phantom dating’.  This is when a date is arranged, only to be cancelled at the last minute; in hindsight it is clear that the male in question never actually intended this date to happen.  Why organise it?  We’d only been out once before - really, he wouldn’t have broken my heart if he’d just said that actually, he didn’t think I was his cup of tea.  He even led on the arrangement of another phantom date, only to cancel once again a few hours before kick off.  A layer of sudden, inexplicable muteness on top of the two phantom dates and another one bit the dust.

Bank Holiday weekend brought The Hippy into my life.  Beautiful, sweet and interesting, this one goes straight to the top of the ‘I would let my friend date them’ pile for being not only beautiful but the only one to actually have the cojones to tell me that he didn’t think it was going anywhere and therefore we shouldn’t waste our time.  I completely agreed with him (though I would have wasted a bit more time – did I mention he was beautiful?) so we parted happily.

The Colleague decided this would be a good time to start pursuing me again.  Two phantom dates and a sudden, inexplicable muteness later and he’s back with his ex.  They’re welcome to each other.

Next came Twinners.  Instant mutual attraction, physical and mental, led to weeks of flirting before a proper meet up.  One lovely day followed by complete rejection and sudden, inexplicable muteness.  See the pattern yet?

With my self-esteem in tatters, I finally met someone who I could reject before they rejected me!  What a hideous world where this seems like a good thing.  Red was a good-looking, nice guy, but his grammar was terrible and he had annoying eyebrows.  Game over, I’m afraid.

Dating disasters of 2012 finished with Beardy.  A breakfast date that lasted all day with texts that evening and a second date planned for the next day all combined to make it appear that the tides were turning in my favour.  But no.  Stood up.  Merry bloody Christmas.

Logically, I should now be swearing off dating for good.  The evidence suggests there’s something fundamentally undateable about me, but I say screw the evidence!  I love that feeling of flirting with someone new, of getting excited when the ‘phone makes its text message sound, of going over and over every word they’ve said in your head.  If boys knew the extent to which I dwell on every possible version of our future together, having only known them five minutes, they’d be terrified, but it comes from a place of hope and indefatigable romanticism, not psychosis.  Not all women want to stop you seeing your friends and control your life.  Some women want to be with you in order that both your lives can be enriched and enhanced.  Some women really do want a partner, not a browbeaten shelf-fixer.

James Dyson said of his vacuum cleaner, “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vaccum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”  I’m not quite at 5,126 failed dates yet, but I have learned to move on from the sudden, inexplicable muteness much more quickly rather than clinging on to some hope that it will pass.  I have learned that after one phantom date, he’d better do some serious ass-kissing to get a second.  I have learned that very few men are brave enough to actually say what they feel; I don’t know whether this is arrogance that they think I’ll be devastated or cowardice that they think I’ll be horrible to them, in reality neither of these things will probably happen, I’ll just be grateful not to have any more of my time wasted and move on.  Most of all, I have learned that when you have the right person, you should hold on to them with all your might.  James Dyson may have moved on from failure 5,126 times but he was also smart enough to stop at 5,127 and not tinker with what worked.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


“Who is that obnoxious woman?”  In an unguarded (beer-fuelled) moment, an acquaintance of about a fortnight revealed that this was their first impression of me.  Ouch.  Obviously I chuckled and pretended that I was able to take the comment in the spirit of friendship in which it was given, but man, that smarted.

We all know that first impressions count; I check my teeth for greenery before a job interview and generally try not to leave the house with food down my front.  These physical things are fairly easily managed, but is it possible to control the impression our personality makes quite as closely?  Should we?

In first encounters with new people it is impossible, and probably undesirable, to reveal the full complexity of one’s character; we present a two-dimensional caricature which will be fleshed out as and if the relationship continues.  What you see will depend on the context of our meeting and what we both want from it.  If we’re meeting as professionals, I’ll want you to think I’m competent, fairly serious and reliable – at this point it’s not necessary for you to know about my bacon addiction and propensity to down Sambuca like it’s the end of the world.  If I fancy you, I’ll be striving (probably unsuccessfully) to come across as witty, intelligent and slightly frisky so I’ll try not to bore you with my views on our education system.  If I’m drunk, I’ll think I’m hilarious and you’ll think I’m an idiot.  The fact remains, however, that I AM all these things; competent, fairly serious about my job, reliable, witty, intelligent, slightly frisky and often an idiot.  There’s no acting or fakery going on here, just different facets of Karen being allowed to sneak through the armour first.

One of the many joys of growing older is realising that we cannot, and should not, be all things to all people.  Chances are that if you think I’m obnoxious I probably have a similar opinion of you, and on a planet of 7 billion people that’s absolutely fine, there are others for us both to get along with.  

Am I a bitch because I won’t pretend to be something I’m not?  Because I won’t pretend to agree with you or find your offensive views funny?  Because I speak as I find and tell it how it is?  Fine.  Woof.  But the thing about bitches is that they may be scary when they snarl and are handled incorrectly but when you understand them fully they are rewarding, affectionate and fun to be around.  Just don’t try to tickle my tummy until we’re fully acquainted.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Clearing out my filing cabinet recently, I came across this list that I wrote and promptly forgot about in 2001, entitled simply ‘WISHES’.  In case you can’t read my handwriting, here they are (faithfully transcribed – dreadful grammar included).

Live on small island – samos / jersey / sing. etc.
Own boat.
See northern lights.  (or southern lights).
Travel 1st class.
Eat massaged cow.
Have uplift.
Lose 4 stone.

Three of these things have inadvertently been crossed off and I’m still fairly keen on achieving the other four, at least for a while.  I like to think I’ve grown and developed in the last 11 years but it turns out that I’m still fundamentally the same person; I’m not sure quite how to feel about this.

What would I add if I wrote the same list now?  Well, these past wishes seem to neatly fall into categories, each representing a specific desire in a general area of life.

First is the ‘where to live’ wish.  All my life I’ve wanted to live somewhere with a sweeping view.  Living in a field on a slight rise I have this one nailed.  The only way to improve it would be to have some water in my eye line; the sea, a river or a lake would add an extra dimension to the vastness of green stretching in every direction from my home.

‘Stuff to own’ comes next.  I wouldn’t say no to a boat, obviously, but actually on a list of wishes this is the only one where I’ve really nothing to add – I have everything I need already.  If it were ‘stuff to have’ then honesty forces me to admit that I’d like someone to share it with, though is that something I wish for with the associated sense of pining and longing?  Not really.  Not yet.

‘Things to see / places to go’ is the section that I could fill pages with; South America, Great Barrier Reef, Great Wall of China, New Zealand, Vietnam, a desert island paradise, West Africa, Alaska, the list goes on, and on, and on…  A shorter one would be places I have no desire to go; Casablanca (HATED it).  End of list.

Travelling 1st class is one that I have technically achieved, though Virgin Trains form Manchester to London isn’t really what I was thinking of when this was added, so this one can stay exactly as it is.  I can’t envisage a time or situation in which this will ever be possible, so it stays.  I am ever wishful.

Kobe beef was an anti-climax when I finally got the opportunity to try it (though this is possibly because it will have been fake – I’d love to try it in Japan).  Delicious, don’t get me wrong, but three times as delicious as the other steaks on the menu?  Nope.  So what ‘thing to eat’ would take its place on the wish list 2012?  Anything someone else has cooked for me because they love me and they think I’ll love it.  I don’t care if that sounds like a bit of a cop out – I am pretty much in a position to buy whatever I fancy to eat so it’s the intangible part of the eating experience which becomes sought after.

The last two are both to do with how I look, and it’s pretty representative of my priorities at 24 that this section gets double the wishes of the others.  It’s pretty representative of my acceptance of ageing that if I had to fill this slot on a wish list now it’s be something totally unattainable like having hair that doesn’t go grey or a self-maintaining bikini line.

It’s interesting to me that there’s nothing on my list about my career – I was days away from starting my teacher training when I wrote this, so I guess I thought I had it all wrapped up.  I’m still teaching, so my 24 year old self was probably right not to waste a wish on that one.  There’s also nothing about relationships – I was two years into what would turn out to be a 13 year relationship so didn’t think that area needed help either.

I guess the message is that whilst things may change on the surface, core values don’t migrate much from where our adult moral compass deposits them.  I wonder if I’ll still feel the same as I ride my boat to my island?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Private School Girl

I blame Enid Blyton.  As a child I devoured her books, becoming particularly enchanted by the boarding school worlds she created in the Malory Towers and Naughtiest Girl series.  This combination of tomfoolery, midnight feasts and loyal friendships seemed right up my street so obviously I asked my parents if I could go to boarding school.

Tempted though I’m sure they were, they didn’t pack me off straightaway but when I was doing my GCSEs they said that if I was serious about the whole boarding school thing I could go away for my A levels.  A necessary condition was imposed and achieved when I earned a scholarship for half my fees so off I went at age 16 to live in a middle-ranking school for my two years of sixth form.

My education up to that point had been entirely within the state sector and all my ideas about private schools and the people who went to them were a result of the stereotypes delivered through mainstream media.  I expected plummy accents, sneering attitudes and a great view of the underside of everyone’s chins as they looked down their noses at me for being from a comprehensive school.

Rocking up on my first day with a nose stud and a massive chip on my shoulder it quickly became clear that I was the one with the attitude problem.  As I recall I was one of only a couple of new pupils who’d come from the state sector but as it turned out, the only person who thought it remotely relevant was me; everyone else was far more interested in killing time until the parents left so that they could go and have a smoke behind the pavilion.

Going to boarding school for sixth form meant that I experienced both worlds at an age where I kind of understood what I was looking at.  Obviously my experiences are based on one comprehensive and one boarding school, I’m sure other people in other places see different things, but here are some of my observations.

Private school is less tribal.  It’s almost like it’s one big tribe, whereas my comp was much more cliquey.  All the girls at sixth form wore their beautiful, swishy hair in the same way (a pony tail not quite pulled through the band – they all looked to me like they’d just got out of the shower and not sorted their hair out) and the boys all had Tintin quiffs.  Strange brands I’d never seen before were everywhere and rugby shirts were definitely the order of the day.

There was a new language to learn; rusticated, gated, prep, san, exeat, master and the one that caused me the most bother – tab.  It took me a while to realise that it meant cigarette so for the first day or two I thought everyone had a massive LSD problem.  Oops.  None of the teachers, sorry masters, were called by their names either; nicknames abounded and learning which could be used to their faces and which couldn’t was a perilous tightrope that all the new students had to walk.

Was my education better there?  Well, my A level results certainly do not remotely reflect what I now know to be my abilities – but educational success is not measured solely in terms of exam results.  I learned a pretty big lesson about not prejudging and living in close and constant proximity with others was a timely tolerance-building exercise.  Without that school I would never have had the opportunity to sing evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral and St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, I’d probably never have gone to an opera and going from a school that put on a single production each year to one that churned them out at rate of more than one a term provided a wonderful outlet for my dramatic (aka showy-off) tendencies.  Students arrived at the school from all over the world and from a massive range of backgrounds – mixing with this huge range of people, and their families, gave me a confidence that has stayed with me into adulthood.  (I am also able to handle larger quantities of alcohol than my size and gender would suggest – this is very definitely a legacy from my boarding school days.)

This post was going to be bit of a rant, fighting back at those who lambast private school pupils as though they’ve been handed something on a plate.  I didn’t get great A level results because I didn’t work hard enough; my parents paying half of my fees didn’t guarantee anything.  It turned into a more affectionate reminiscence, which is telling in itself.  It’s not the right avenue for everyone, but for me the combination of educational experiences provided the best and broadest foundation I could possibly get.  Toodle-pip!