All Change

August 15, 2014

“Oh for fuck’s sake, why can’t they design kitchen equipment that does what it’s supposed to do? This is FUCKING RIDICULOUS!”

Other family members looked on nervously as I flung things round the kitchen. The trigger event for this Gordon Ramsay style kitchen meltdown? While draining pasta, a few strands of spaghetti had slipped through the colander into the sink. I know, terrible isn’t it? I blame my hormones for the extreme reaction.

Until about two years ago I had only a vague notion of what the menopause entailed. I knew about the night sweats and hot flushes, but that was about it. Menopause is deemed to have happened when you have gone 12 months without a period. What I now know is that when you reach this milestone, all the drama is over. Perimenopause is where it’s really at. Perimenopause is the term for the fun-filled years leading up to the menopause, and it lasts on average for four or five years.  It’s been quite an adventure so far…….

It all started innocently enough with irregular but otherwise normal periods. This is grand, I thought to myself. Then last summer, the famous hot flushes and night sweats kicked in, but that stage didn’t last very long. Still grand. Though given the unpredictable nature of perimenopause, I suppose they might be back (great!). In the last 8 months or so I’ve experienced a range of other, more annoying symptoms.

Menopause brain

This my term for the brain fog, lack of concentration and mental confusion which can mark perimenopause and which at times has caused me to question my sanity. I’ve always been absent minded but this is on a whole new level. Stress exacerbates these symptoms hugely. During a recent family crisis I found myself making really stupid mistakes at work. I remember being horrified on seeing a cash reconciliation sheet which was clearly the work of an innumerate idiot, only to realise the idiot was me – I’d been handling payments that day.

Long hunts for the car in car parks are a regular occurrence, as I have nofainting lady recollection whatsoever of parking the thing. Worst of all was a two month long ‘reader’s block’ where I found myself incapable of concentrating enough to read a book. Tragic. I made my excuses at the book club.

Menopause narcolepsy

In the last few months I’ve learned that if I want to achieve anything after about 4pm on any given day, I need to keep away from soft furniture. If my ass lands on a sofa or bed, however briefly, I WILL fall asleep. Instantly and deeply. The fatique is extreme and overwhelming. There are also occasional spells of dizziness and lightheadness where, like a posh Victorian lady, I’ve had an attack of the vapours necessitating a little sit down because I feel weak. Smelling salts please!

Rivers of blood (You have been warned)

The periods have got heavier. And heavier. And longer. And more painful. The last one carried on for over three weeks for pity’s sake. Industrial strength sanitary protection is deployed, but fails to hold back the tide. As emergency back-up, tampons and towels are worn simultaneously, sometimes even two tampons at once. White trousers are not my friend. Underwear has been destroyed. I’m fairly aghast at this latest development and find myself equating all this blood loss with the very essence of youth draining away. Will I be a shrivelled old prune by the time it stops?

Anyway, last week I finally copped that there’s probably a cause and effect connection between the rivers of blood, the tiredness and the brain fog. I dragged myself off to the GP. Sure enough, blood tests showed that I’m anaemic so a course of iron and B12 injections should sort that out. As for the periods from hell? “You can’t put up with that” declared the doctor, making me want to kiss her (I didn’t). She’s packing me off to a gynaecologist to see what can be done to resolve matters.

Every woman will experience perimenopause differently of course. My own mother says that her periods just stopped in her 50s and she had no symptoms in the lead-up (my mother is what’s known as a trooper). I decided to write this blog post to share my experience as I’ve found that it’s still a fairly taboo subject here in prudish Ireland. Although I’ve recently discovered a website called “My Second Spring” which is a good outlet for women going through *adopts Les Dawson mother-in-law expression* ‘The Change’.

Anyone care to comment? Ah go on.

Approaching the checkout I can almost feel my heart rate begin to increase. I take off my coat and drape it over the end of the trolley. Overheating would only add to the stress. I unfold my shopping bags and brace myself.

Yes it’s time for the Great Aldi/Lidl High Speed Trolley Filling Face-Off. A weekly event. It’s me against the German Discounters and their relentless drive to reduce queuing times while keeping staff levels just one notch above skeleton.

Image

I don't buy this much wine or cake, honest

For the uninitiated, those who remain touchingly fond of branded groceries and have yet to embrace the unattractively packaged but keenly priced bargains on offer, the checkout set-up at Aldi/Lidl looks a little unusual. It’s Not Like Other Supermarkets.

For a start, the checkout conveyor belt is about three times longer than normal. This means you can, indeed must, deposit an entire trolley load of shopping on the belt before any of it is scanned through. Conversely, the trolley reloading end of the checkout is approximately the size of an A4 page. Before they’ll start scanning, the checkout staff politely but firmly insist that you adopt ‘the position’; narrow end of trolley flush with the end of the checkout, ready to receive.

At this point, the dream scenario for the Aldi/Lidl Project Team With Special Responsibility For Maximising Checkout Throughput Rates would be to dispense with the customer altogether. Ideally, remove him or her to a special holding pen while trolley loading takes place with maximum efficiency. This would leave the task-driven and scarily focused checkout staff free to concentrate on scanning through the maximum number of items per minute. Once scanned, items could be shoved willy nilly along the checkout, allowing them to simply slide off the end and tumble into the waiting trolley.

Instead, annoying customers get in the way, fussing pettily about not wanting their eggs smashed. Feverishly trying to prevent their pillow packed rocket salad from turning into rocket pesto under the crushing weight of the juice cartons. And, worst crime of all, PACKING BAGS AT THE CHECKOUT.

This practice is frowned upon by the German Discounters. Instead, we are invited to ‘take it to the shelf’. Behind the checkouts, a wide shelf has been installed where we are encouraged to park our trollies and bagpack at our leisure once the latest scan-and-load landspeed record breaking attempt has been completed.

Well they can think again, because my time is valuable too. I have stubbornly refused to take it to the shelf. I’m never taking it to the shelf. But I appreciate that speed helps Aldi/Lidl maintain their rock-bottom prices. So I find myself approaching the checkout as if it’s a competitive event. I’m pumped. Psyched. In the zone. Those bags are getting packed without recourse to the shelf.

I’m primed for the first bleep of the scanner. And we’re off. I focus on keeping pace with the furiously scanning checkout person while simultaneously:

  • keeping fragile items intact
  • bagging frozen items together
  • placing heaviest items in my sturdiest bags for life
  • maintaining stress levels at no higher than mild panic
  • resisting the urge to bellow “SLOW DOWN WILL YOU” at the hapless checkout person.

I emerge from this process wild eyed, red faced, yet triumphant. I didn’t take it to the shelf. A tiny victory.

 

Photo by Ruben Swieringa, Flickr Creative Commons

Absent

September 8, 2011

I’m standing outside the door of my daughter’s school half an hour after classes have commenced for the day. The school secretary’s face falls as she approaches and she sees who it is, but she forces a smile as she opens the door. I know what she’s thinking; ‘Not you again’. I regularly interrupt this unfortunate woman’s work, turning up with whatever item my child has forgotten that day, be it lunch, homework or a vital book.

When I get home, I spot my son’s recorder on his desk. He was supposed to bring that in with him today for his music class. I’m not chasing after him, his school is too far away and in any case he’s older and needs to learn that forgetfulness has consequences. Yesterday I received a note from a teacher in his new school asking me to buy a hardback notebook for him. What she doesn’t know is that the notebook was purchased two weeks ago but has been languishing in his locker ever since. He forgets to bring it to class.

Between them my kids have lost two fairly new jackets and a water bottle in recent weeks. I get annoyed with them about this, but really I don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s all in the genes; they get their absent mindedness from me.

This week I totally forgot to watch or record the second part of a drama I had really enjoyed last week on TV, despite the fact that it featured David Morrissey (I have blogged before about my embarrassing crush on him). I greeted a man with whom I had arranged a meeting with a blank stare when he arrived at my workplace at the appointed time. I got distracted when processing an online payment from my bank and by the time I remembered again the cut-off time for payments had passed.

One wallet found its way home thanks to these guys

I could blame early senility, but my life has always been like this. I have left keys in hall doors and on shop counters, a wallet on a park bench and another wallet on the London Underground. I once went on holiday with no knickers because they weren’t on my list. I’ve had to call out the fire brigade because the grill went up in flames while I was upstairs reading poetry, toast long forgotten. I don’t even like poetry.

To my shame, I can be relied upon to forget birthdays and anniversaries of close friends and family. A friend once phoned me to know why I hadn’t turned up for a lunch date at her house. I rushed over, but she never really forgave me and I didn’t blame her. Why don’t I write things down in a diary or put them in my phone? Well I do, but then I forget to look at it.

What’s to be done? Are my kids to doomed to lead lives of mild chaos, constantly accompanied by that uneasy feeling that something has been forgotten?

Photo by Ian Mansfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Crushed

September 6, 2010

 

How old is too old to have a crush? At the fairly advanced age of 45, I’m still waiting to find out.

My first crushes were the usual neighbourhood boys who seemed not to realise that I existed (fools). I then moved on to a female science teacher, various cool, unattainable older college students, unavailable work colleagues (one of whom featured in a recurring fantasy involving us both getting carried away on a conference room table) and a selection of famous men. For many years my number one crush was Daniel Day Lewis but, alas, he has not aged well.

Once my infatuation with Daniel faded, I was crush-free for a good number of years.

That all changed in 2008 when, thanks to a friend, I attended the Grand National at Aintree as a guest of the sponsors (cheers Nigel). I spotted my future crushee standing at the far side of the crowded hospitality area, gazing slightly moodily into the middle distance. The quintessential tall, dark and handsome stranger. But there was something familiar about him. Where had I seen him before? I slowly realised he was a talented and versatile actor I’d seen in several TV dramas and films. Dredging my memory, I came up with a name – David Morrissey.

David Morrissey, crush victim

I wasn’t 100% sure I had got the name right but, undaunted, I joined his queue next time he went to the betting window. As he turned to leave, I stepped up and asked if his name was indeed David Morrissey. It was (phew) and he politely agreed to sign my racecard.

And that was it. From the moment he directed that intense gaze down at me (he is very tall, and I cannot resist a tall man) I found myself once more in the grip of a ridiculous adolescent crush. He attempted some friendly small talk, enquiring if I’d had any successful bets so far. My response? An inane fixed grin and a muttered, inarticulate answer, delivered while backing away in awe. Impressive.

Since that day I have indulged in the following behaviour:

  • Regularly Googling David Morrissey, with a special emphasis on Google images
  • Once Googling his wife, the writer Esther Freud
  • Making a point of watching any TV programme in which David Morrissey appears
  • Rewatching various clips of David Morrisey several times over (as he emerged from a swimming pool, asked a colleague for casual sex in a police drama, and solicitously enquired whether his red carpet interviewer was cold in her flimsy frock – so thoughtful!)
  • Searching fruitlessly for David Morrissey on Twitter
  • Instantly following David Morrissey as soon as I heard he had joined Twitter
  • Reading David Morrissey’s blog, which has only added fuel to the flames of my crush by demonstrating his self-deprecating wit and charitable nature
  • Engaging in mildly attention seeking behaviour on Twitter in a pathetic attempt to get a response from @davemorrissey64
  • Being stupidly excited on the two occasions that I actually did get a response from @davemorrissey64.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t live alone with an assortment of cats and a shrine to David Morrissey in my house. I haven’t obsessively tracked down every drama or film he has ever appeared in – I have never watched ‘Blackpool’ or ‘State of Play’, apparently two of his best performances from the pre-crush era. I refrained from using my son as an excuse to watch my hero running around in manly armour in ‘Centurion’ after @davemorrissey64 told me it was “a bit violent” for an eleven year old (the poor man is doing his best to discourage me).

Nonetheless, this is quite unseemly behaviour for a middle aged woman. What do I think is going to happen? That ‘Big Dave’, as a fellow-sufferer on Twitter has dubbed him, will read one of my tweets about him and promptly dash for the next plane to Dublin in order to come and ravish me? Hmm, perhaps not.

What is the matter with me? I have a tall man of my own – my husband is six foot four for goodness sake – and we have been happily married for fourteen years. I suppose that is the key to understanding the middle aged crush. The youthful thrills of fancying boys and anticipating first dates are now so many years in the past and as they say, I’m married, not dead.

I don’t know if David Morrissey will be my last crush before I give it up for good. But as he has starring roles in two upcoming drama series (‘South Riding’ and ‘Thorne’) I reckon I’m destined to continue rewinding his best bits and benevolently stalking him on Twitter for another while yet.

 Sorry Dave.

(Photo courtesy Paul Cantrell)

My Secret Shame

August 3, 2010

  • I have a secret. My secret is this.

About once a month, when nobody else is around, I get into my car and drive to a fairly grim retail park on the northside of Dublin. When I spot what I’m after, I pull up the car, roll down the window and speak to a teenager wearing a baseball cap. I hand over my money and am given a package. I drive off again, to a quiet spot in the car park. Only then do I open the package and get my hands on……a Big Mac Meal.

I love Big Macs. I love the cheap white bread of the soft sesame seed buns. I love the ‘secret sauce’. I love the melted plastic cheese. I even love the pickles.

But my McDonalds habit fills me with shame. I never discuss it with friends or family. I always use a drive-through (sorry, ‘thru’) rather than queue up at the counter with my tracksuit-wearing fellow customers. I park well away from other cars while eating the food, and always dispose of the packaging before I get home.

This shame has got nothing to do with problems around food or eating or an obsession with weight loss. Up to the age of about thirty, I was a skinny person. Since then, a combination of motherhood, encroaching middle age and reduced mobility (I need a hip replacement) has changed that. I have a definite muffin top and could do with losing about a stone, but that’s probably never going to happen. Diets are alien territory to me, I have limited will power and frankly, I just don’t care that much. Being quite tall, I tell myself I can carry a bit of extra weight.

Cooking is a pleasure, I love to eat well and can cook a mean Thai green curry from scratch. My weekly bag of organic, locally grown produce is delivered to the door, there are very few foods I don’t enjoy and I love visiting the occasional fine dining restaurant. But pizza, fish and chips and Chinese takeaways also form part of my diet and I have a weakness for tortilla chips and Mr Kipling’s French Fancies. However, I never feel guilty about eating any of it. Basically, I pretty much eat what I like.

So, how to explain the unique shame of the furtive McDonalds trips?

Could it be because I associate it with the most miserable experience of my working life, when I worked as a ‘crew member’ as a teenager? I still remember it vividly; the hyperactive, bossy managers, the smell of vinegar on my hands from the huge plastic buckets of pickles, the beeping of the machines instructing the drones when to flip the burgers. Most of all I remember the catchphrase ‘Time to lean, time to clean!’ (© McDonalds Corporation) being bellowed at me several times during every shift – I wasn’t the most motivated of crew members.

We were given free food if we worked a sufficiently long shift. The rumour among the crew members was that they put some addictive ingredient in the food. Did this get me hooked? I doubt it, except in the sense that the human body craves fat, salt and sugar.

I have read ‘Fast Food Nation’ by Eric Schlosser. I have seen Morgan Spurlock’s documentary ‘Supersize Me’. But my mortification predates these exposés of McDonalds and other fast food companies. I was embarrassed before I even learned the truth, but it wasn’t enough to put me off. My cloak and dagger trips even continued during the BSE scare.

If I have to pick a reason for my shame, it must come down to snobbery. Your stereotypical McDonalds customer is a young, working class mother giving her kids a treat, someone popping in for a milkshake on the way back from the methadone clinic, or a hoodie-wearing teenager attracted by the sheer cheapness of the food (€6.50 for the Big Mac meal!). In other words, not me.

My visits will no doubt continue, though now that I have posted to this blog, they are no longer a secret. I have finally outed myself. I’m lovin’ it.