Human matryoshka dolls

A thought keeps buzzing around my head. It’s been there for roughly the time my son’s been alive, plus ten months or so, and I figure if I write it down and give it credence it might go away, so hear me out. Please.

Women are like human matryoshka dolls. You know those Russian nesting dolls, where you start with a large one (but never unfeasibly large) and when you look inside there’s a slightly smaller one, and inside that another and another and another.

I bought one once while travelling through Russia from a market outside Moscow, and despite being tiny, it still managed ten dolls, one inside the other.

When my mum was dying (roughly the age of my son, plus eleven months ago) I told her we were trying to get pregnant. We had been trying for nearly two years (if somewhat haphazardly) and I wasn’t feeling positive, but she made me promise I would name my baby after her. A promise I made, because I was so convinced that if we did have a baby it would be a girl. After all she had two girls, my sister had two girls. Seemingly all of my friends had two girls (they didn’t, but our wedding was like some kind of fairy rampage).

When we saw him on the scan, and the scan operator said he was a boy (she said ‘you can never be 100 per cent sure, but there’s his penis and those are his testicles’), we were both in shock, because we were SO sure we were having a girl.

And I had been having this thought, ever since I promised my mum, that here was I in the early part of the 21st century, a woman who came out of a woman, and she in turn came out of a woman, and her mother before her, back before records began, back to the dawn of humanity, women coming out of women coming out of women, too many to comprehend. And I was the end of the line, and I didn’t want to be. There’s something crazy powerful in that chain. It’s the branch of the family tree where the names change the most frequently, but the connection feels the most physical.

But ‘the age of my son plus nine months’ ago we managed to get pregnant and that was that. I’m a matryoshka doll.

But every man. Every single man (I newly thought after my shock at the scan) is the tiny doll at the very centre of the matryoshka doll. The end of the line.

What I can’t get past is, why that sounds sad, because it shouldn’t be. My son is awesome for one. Really awesome, but the end of the line feels strange. And it’s not just men obviously, And this isn’t about judging women who don’t have children, for any reason. I think it’s kind’ve selfish to have them if I’m honest. It’s not about that at all.

Maybe he should own it. Maybe all tiny matryoshka dolls should own it. Celebrate it!

It’s a weird thought, but apparently there’s no shaking it, so I’m sharing it instead.

And here, take a look at the last few dolls in my own personal matryoshka.


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Empty Inside

This is a 200 word response to a writing prompt from a recent workshop, which I just got around to typing up, so I thought I’d share it…


ONCE she seduced a man who turned out to have nothing on the inside.

It started as after work drinks with friends.

Turned into evening drinks, hair let down, heels slipped off, bar furniture shoved to one side to create a dance floor, and unsuspecting punters lured up to dance to the Pointer Sisters, and then she saw him across the dance floor, pure perfection.

He’d grinned. She’d raised an eyebrow. He’d come over, and they’d danced, until the enthusiasm ebbed out of the crowd around them and they were the only ones left entwined in an empty bar.

Her friends whispered ‘he’s perfect’ as they left, and she invited him back to hers on a whim.

They kissed in the back of a cab, groped on the stairs up to her flat, left their clothes by the coat rack, fell into the bed, and then he stopped.

Utterly and completely.

She thought it might be a stroke or a seizure, but closer inspection revealed a fine ridge around his neck, and when she unscrewed his head he was empty inside.

Not one to miss the bright side, she sat him in the hall to store spare umbrellas for guests.

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The loneliness of the long distance everything

I should start this post by saying I don’t make new friends easily. I make good friends and I think I’m pretty good at keeping them, but I find it hard.

Lovely husband and I met at a thing in London. When we got talking (with no idea of what we would become to one another), it felt crazy that I was from one city in the Midlands, and he was from another, only 50 miles away. We practically lived next door to each other.

Then we started dating and suddenly felt the full 50 mile stretch of motorway last thing on a Sunday evening after each weekend together. We couldn’t wait to live in the same place.

And now obviously we do, and our small person with us.

His arrival has created some life changes, such as me leaving the job I wasn’t that attached to in the first place, and Lovely Husband deciding to train as a teacher, and on the whole I think these changes have been good, but they have meant that we have less money, which means less ability to travel to where our families are, or our friends.

These changes also come on the back of other less good changes, like losing my mum.

I’m saying all this because we’ve come to the conclusion recently that we’re both a little lonely, and we don’t exactly know why, or how to fix it.

Lovely Husband sees folk at work, and I made a few friends on maternity leave, but they’ve now gone back to work in the main, and it’s a lot harder to make new friends with a toddler, who is inevitably damaging themselves, another child, or someone’s property the minute you strike up a conversation with a friendly looking stranger.

I miss my mum dreadfully, but I think this is more than that. I don’t know if we are enough to keep us going. And I know there are couples who just up sticks to far flung corners of the country or the world, chasing dreams and jobs and all sorts, but I don’t think we’re those people. I think we need people to feel comfy.

I don’t know what the solution is, because if we move away from where we are to get closer to one family, we move further away from the other, which sucks, and if we move further away from both we’re worse off, but if we stay here, we stay lonely, unless we magically manage to make new friends.

So if you’re planning your ideal life, should that be a consideration? Should you factor loneliness avoidance into it? Or if we had more money, would the distances seem smaller?

Because we are trying, to plan our ideal life. Isn’t everyone? Mine has more sleep in it, and more writing.

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The nature of grief

These are the things I have learned about grief.

My grief is not necessarily like other people’s grief. My grief may be like your grief.

My grief is a thing which sits in the corner of my vision. I am always aware of it.

If I choose to I can turn and look it straight in the eye. I can cry for hours if I do this. I can scream at it or shout.

None of this will make it grow or shrink, but I could lose days or weeks to doing this if I chose to and it would still be there at the end of it.

I could turn away from it, ignore it completely, but it would still be there whenever I turned back.

Mostly it talks to me. It tells me how much my mum would like this chill in the air, the colour of the changing leaves. It tells me (as I dig my allotment) she never wore gardening gloves, that’s probably why her nails broke so often, she always wanted good nails.

It tells me it’s been two years since we last spoke.

Most of the time I nod and agree. I don’t have to look at it.

Sometimes I smile.

She loved autumn, which is when the plants die away, but the colours shine out. Does that mean she was more of a painter than a gardener? I smile at that.

Occasionally though it says something shocking.

My son will never miss her like I miss her, because he never got to meet her. She didn’t even know he was going to exist. Every time I look at him, that’s how long she will have been gone.

These things shock me so much that I have to turn and look, I have to cry.

I hear it speak daily, but these days it only shocks me a couple of times a week.

I hope it will think of fewer shocking things to say as time goes on, but I like it talking to me.

For me grief is love. Grief is my love for her.

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Making hay (because everything else is too hard work)

In November of 2011 I was starting work on a new patchwork quilt. I know, because I wrote about it on this blog.

It was designed around the idea of looking down on fields from above, where they begin to look like a patchwork quilt of their own.

So I found a patch of Google Earth that was sufficiently fieldy, and several bags full of green fabric, and I got started.

Only life never seems to work out that way for me, and journalism exams, exciting theatrical writing opportunities, a house move, familial earthquakes and a new baby (not to mention my own inbuilt inability to finish things) all crept in one after another to stop me from getting too far along in it’s progress.

Skip forward six years…it’s so hard to say that without feeling ashamed, but…I’m back.

I can’t seem to write. My brain does not have the required space at the moment. I haven’t slept properly in a long time. But I can piece things together. I can trace shapes, and cut out baking parchment and find fabric, and I can sew. Huzzah!

So instead of feeling rubbish about my unfinished novel (there’s always time to feel rubbish about something) I am very very slowly, putting together the rest of my fields quilt, field by field. It is happening. It will be finished. And if it isn’t, it will be because I’m writing again. I’m calling that a win either way.

Pictures may follow, but knowing my new scheduling abilities, expect them around 2019.

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I sang my son a nursery rhyme today and it made me cry.

Just as I’d reached the word ‘spout’ I had a sudden memory of my mum and my gran sitting around the dining table in Mum and Dad’s house on a Sunday morning, wittering away about nothing in particular in their own witty, and wonderful way, and pointing out different plants in the garden as they came into flower.

And as quickly as the memory arrived I realised how gone all of that is now. How then, which feels like last week, belongs to another time, another version of me who had a mum and a gran, and lived at home with my parents, and drank endless cups of tea out of teapots to a background hum of familiar voices naming flowers as they bloomed.

Now I am a different person. A wife, and a mother, who hardly uses her teapot, because no-one really drinks tea in that same deliciously lazy way with me, and who doesn’t know the names of half the flowers in her garden, and struggles to think who to ask about them.

Those two people, those two versions of me, should have had a chance to overlap. My life shouldn’t have separated itself into a before and after with quite such a severe and deep cut.

I love my life, I love Lovely Husband, and Lovely Son, who is such a smiley boy, and who has just learned to crawl, and who is obsessed with wanting to play Daddy’s piano, and with a book about a badger, and who laughs so very well, but I want my son to know those wonderful women so much it makes my heart hurt, and I want him to know that version of me too, that tea drinking Sunday morning version, and without them I don’t know how to be her anymore, so I cried for a lost life, and for stupid timing, and for teapots.

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A new world

It’s possible I’m having a midlife crisis. I turned 40 a few weeks ago, and frankly if this is my middle I’m doing pretty well, all things considered, so I’m about ready for one.

Life has changed inconceivably over the last 18 months. If I were the kind of person to feel defined by the roles I fill in life (and lets face it, who isn’t at least a little?) I am things I was not, (a wife and a mother), and no longer things I was, the most recent of which is a journalist. I’ve taken voluntary redundancy with no plans to start a new job until we qualify for free childcare, which will be when the boy child is two or three (not sure on current legislation).

It still feels odd, insecure, a little dangerous. Possibly because I’ve been unemployed before, always in a desperate flurry of panic. But this is deliberate. I’m jumping off a cliff and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I’ve had to talk myself into it. And part of that conversation centred around the idea of following your dreams, because I want my son to be able to look at his parents and see that that is a possibility. And my dream isn’t local journalism, or at least my dream was not the job I just left, so I feel determined to step away from it and try and head toward something new.

This new world though is a peculiar place. At home trapped under a sleeping infant and unable to nap (damn you ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ advocates) I’ve been trying to watch good things. Nothing too sweary, or dumb. Lovely husband joked with me the other day that I’d spent my day watching ‘Loose Women’, which made me realise I am not that person. I’d listened to the Today programme and The Life Scientific, and later I’d watched a documentary about Shakespeare’s mother

I’ve watched a lot of Netflix documentaries. I don’t know if this is good or bad, because I don’t have any time right now. None at all. I don’t have time to write this blog post. My baby is going to wake up in less than an hour and I’m going to regret not having been asleep right now. I’m sleep deprived, and isolated, and possibly far too open to suggestion

And I’ll tell you in short so that you don’t have to watch hours of documentaries yourself, but we should all be cutting refined sugar out of our diets, and eating more plants, ideally going vegan.

We also have too much stuff. Too many nick nacks, too many items of clothing. My son is eight months old and he already has too much stuff. His stuff is taking over my lounge.

And we throw too much stuff away. We shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, and then we throw it into landfill. Food containers and toiletry containers, and endless reams of kitchen roll.

I’m a big believer in the Gandhi philosophy of being the change you want to see made in the world, but at the moment it has made me give away half my wardrobe, and watch YouTube videos on how to make my own deoderant (equal parts coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda and cornflour melted together with the essential oil of your choosing).

So really I guess my question is this.

When do you know if it’s a mid-life crisis?


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