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The ongoing drama of navigating single parenting and life after divorce, supported by wine, travelling and friends.
The ongoing drama of navigating single parenting and life after divorce, supported by wine, travelling and friends.
A friend has just sent me the link to an excellent website from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for anyone either travelling or living abroad:-http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/staying-safe/Locate/ The countdown has properly begun for my son now. Visas mostly ready - although today he has gone to pick up his passport from the Thai Embassy and I'm a little worried because he has managed to lose the very important pink receipt he needs to collect it. Failing at the first hurdle does not bode well for the rest of his trip does it. What if they won't give it to him? Can't find it without the relevant number? Several other parents of the mates he's travelling with are now on a roll - they've had meetings, done spreadsheets (SPREADSHEETS??), shared insurance information and yellow fever stuff and I'm beginning to get gap year parent envy - or inadequacy - or something....I'm still hoping to sit down and watch "Midnight Express" with him - if only for that fantastic soundtrack, but other than that and vague mumblings about making sure all the boys check Adam's Apple's VERY CAREFULLY in Thailand and avoid getting drugged on coaches by refusing offers of food or drink, it's been a little patchy. He's talking a lot about the 12p bottles of beer in Vietnam which my friend pointed out must be made from old socks for that price - I suspect it's made from substances even worse than old socks. Still slightly of the opinion that he's a big boy now and should get on with it all himself but can't quite help wondering why I haven't done a spreadsheet yet and what would be on it. I have just gaily clicked on to "Travelling in Thailand" on the above mentioned website and got this and am now even more freaked out because he is going to be on that border they're talking about:- TRAVEL SUMMARY We advise against all travel to the Preah Vihear (Khaoi Pra Viharn in Thai) temple area and the Ta Krabey/Ta Moan temple area located on the Thai-Cambodian border due to the presence of troops in the area and the risk of outbreaks of fighting. Remain alert to the local situation when travelling in other border regions and at land crossings between Thailand and Cambodia. See Safety and Security - Local Travel - Cambodian border. We advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border. See Safety and Security - Political Situation. There is a high threat of terrorism. Bomb and grenade attacks have been indiscriminate, including in places visited by expatriates and foreign travellers. Sporadic attacks continue in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. On 13 January as a precaution the Thai authorities increased security measures in Bangkok, following warnings of a possible terrorist threat. On 16 January the Thai authorities found a large supply of bomb-making materials in Samut Sakhon, 38km south west of Bangkok. You should exercise caution, especially in the cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani. See: Safety and Security - Terrorism. Large areas of central, northern and eastern Thailand were affected by flooding between September and December 2011. The National Travel Health Network and Centre has issued advice and information about the possible increased risk from illness and disease in areas that have been affected by flooding. Contact your GP for further advice and information before travelling. It is not uncommon for political demonstrations to take place in Thailand, including in central Bangkok. You should avoid demonstrations and any other protests. By law, you must carry your passport with you at all times in Thailand. Tourists have been arrested because they were unable to produce their passport. See: Local Laws and Customs. Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs are severe and can include the death penalty. See: Local Laws and Customs. Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. See General Insurance. Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling or where you live so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency. At times of heightened tension, we suggest you also follow the British Embassy on Twitter and Facebook. 847,198 British nationals visited Thailand in 2010 (Source: Thai Immigration). Most visits are trouble-free. See General - Consular Assistance - Statistics.
I'm in the process of setting up a new campaign and already have several new recruits - MAGY'S = "Mothers Against Gap Year's". It's all too much - we are not coping well. My soon-to-be-travelling-to-the-end-of-the-world son is sitting behind me filling in a Visa application to Cambodia (and farting). He is off to various embassies today and to get his Japanese Encephalitis jab (I still don't know what that is but it better be worth it because it's costing me somewhere in the region of £78 and that's on top of £150 for a rabies jab...). I've been relatively calm up until now, because of course it's a good thing that he's off to spread his wings a little. Flee the nest for a minute. I know SEA really well - I couldn't love it more. I have never felt safer. However putting myself into the mind and body of a 19 year old boy with 6 mates is an entirely different matter. Their brains function differently. They're not sensible. Now that I'm getting a little more involved in the detail I've noticed my stress levels rising. My friends aren't helping - mothers of two other boys who are going with him - they are not only far more hands on than me but are beginning to freaking me out about things like losing visas and border controls. Here is an email my friend sent me yesterday:- "After being very laid back about their forthcoming trip - am now feeling completely sick about the whole thing!! Was online last night checking he'd got the right info re visas etc and went on a few sites about safety, crime rates, healthcare, emergency services or lack of them!! Also read a few students real life experiences and freaked myself out. Anyway obviously haven't slept a wink and now becoming completely paranoid so Catholic priest booked in for major blessing plus have asked a girl who has recently come back from travelling to meet up with them to chat about her experiences of travelling through Asia. She's back from uni for a few days so thought it might be a good idea to get the boys together with her for a drink. I know my son won't be impressed that I'm now interfering but his whole approach so far seems very naive and vague. Nowhere in Asia seems particularly great for blonde English teenage youths but Cambodia - well certain parts - sounds really scary. Sorry don't want to make you nervous and I'm sure they'll be fine but I think the reality of them being away for a long period of time in strange lands is just hitting home!" My response:- FFS - the bloody rubber ring thing in Laos!! Shall we just follow them in disguise? I think I can get my mother to come for 4 months. Should be fine. Would be good to get together. Maybe we could also find somebody who looks awful who spent some time in a Thai prison to come to the pub for a drink too? Just to put them off? Know anyone? Hers:- Yes any deterrent is a good idea - this weekend I'm planning to run continuous showings of Apocalypse Now, The Deerhunter and The King of Siam - that should be enough to put anyone off!! Be good to meet up soon. Mine:- "Don't forget "Midnight Express" - that's the best one!! Must order it on Amazon now. Anyway. You see how easy it is to whip yourself up into a frenzy of total panic. At this rate I'll be at the airport refusing to let go of his leg and shouting at all the security men to stop him. I wonder if this is because he's my firstborn and it's all new. Another phase in his life that I want to be involved in, take an interest in. Like all the 85,000 photos I took of him when he was born, started crawling, walking, swimming, going to school - as if he was the first child to ever do all that stuff. Isn't it incredible how much information you can absorb at each stage - I was so knowledgeable on breast Vs bottle feeding and prams and primary schools and contagious water born diseases you can catch in swimming pools. I've got notes on his growth, his first words, I've even got a little box of his teeth. Surprised I haven't got test tubes full of poo samples to be honest. I wonder how much that level of focus from a parent affects the child long term and whether it's therefore a good or bad thing that my third child is going to have an entirely different experience. He is at the opposite end of the spectrum and is convinced that there isn't one photo of him growing up and to be honest, although I try to convince him otherwise, I haven't found it yet. I have no memory of his first words, no photo album of his first year, no little umbilical cord clips (yuk) and no box of teeny weeny teeth. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that once, when I managed to lose his tooth before it went under his pillow for the tooth fairy I "borrowed" one from my little box that belonged to his older brother - but it was a little brittle and the wrong colour and he wasn't really convinced. Does this mean I'll be far more chilled when it comes to his travels? Maybe I won't even notice he's gone....Unlikely. He's my last child. He gets just the same amount of love from me, but in a different way. Must ask him about it all though and maybe try harder in future - wonder if he will want me to come with him to the hairdressers and save some locks of hair and other such stuff....
Trying to get a teenage boy to commit to a plan is not only deeply frustrating it is virtually impossible. It's like playing the blink game in which you challenge your opponent to blink before you do - mostly it's impossible to play with a teenager because they're asleep or too chilled to even tell whether anything is going on behind those eyes and even if they are focused on you for a minute they're too distracted to ever lose. I don't think they don't do it on purpose though - they live their own personal lives like that - all last minute meet ups and change of venues - even birthday plans between mates seem to materialise about an hour before the event. That's how a lot of them function I guess - or at least I hope it's not just my son who behaves like that. I don't know why I am remotely surprised then that his plans to travel round half the world next month are not exactly coming together. I mean I'm certainly not going to get an itinerary, let alone an address. At least he's busy earning the money to support his adventure - working in a pub and coaching football at his old school which is great, but I don't see any signs of digging wells or teaching English or even shearing sheep looking very likely at this late stage. Just a lot of him randomly mentioning another country - "maybe we'll go to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and then back to Malaysia but I'm meeting some mates in Chiang Mai and then we'll...." honestly it's like they're getting on a bus to go to central London - how will they meet their mates? Where will they stay? The main default setting for the group appears to be about making sure they are in the right place at the right time for The "Full Moon Party" in Thailand (and I suspect that it's title is more to do with exposing ones buttocks to everyone rather than the natural satellite of the earth). He's meant to be off to Australia next month and there are a few friends of mine that I'm sure he can stay with (for a few nights) but I can't get him to email anybody in advance to find out what dates would be appropriate to visit or indeed if they are even going to be in the country. My suggestion that it would be a teeny bit rude to just appear on the other side of the world is falling on deaf ears. "Don't worry mum, it'll be fine...." is not very reassuring - last time I heard that he ended up in a Polish prison. I guess, (as it was with the two Aussie teenagers that recently stayed with me) it will be ultimately down to the parents to do the organising. Anyway, he's got retakes coming up very soon now so it's better if he's not too focused on the next far more exciting stage of his year. I note that instead of past papers and revision timetables being looked at on Google there are the beginnings of some mobilisation to the cause. The thing is that secretly these teenagers are clever and know that if they leave it long enough somebody else might do the work for them. They are entirely capable in every way when they want to be. Here are the first stirrings of his Gap Year planning taken from my Google history:- Claiming back your tax when on a gap year Applying for an Australia visa from the UK (god, watch out Aussie friends - leave the country before it's too late) STA travel Cheap flights from Australia to Asia Convert Australian dollars to GB Quantas airlines Cheap beers in Asia (I made that one up but I'm surprised it's not there).
Well that was an embarrassing class I've just taught. I was wearing a new hoody thingy over my vest top. Black. Halfway through the class when I'd got a bit hot and sweaty I took it off and carried on teaching. We were all facing the mirror and I was at the front. I raised my arms above my head to do a back stretch which everyone copied. To my dismay the black fluffy new bits of the fleece had all amassed into the crevice of each armpit. I looked like I had gorilla armpits. Big black hairy patches with a little bit of chest hair for good measure as well. Suddenly I had to completely change my routine to anything that allowed my arms to be by my sides whilst surreptitiously attempting when possible to scrape off the fluff. Which wouldn't come off. In the meantime I had several texts and phone calls from my teenage son that loudly vibrated in the corner. WHAT IS IT WITH TEENAGE BOYS THAT MEANS THAT THEY HAVE TO BE ANSWERED IMMEDIATELY?? If I don't respond, there is a reason. I'M WORKING. He now has some jobs so thinks the world is supposed to revolve around him. He's done well so far finding jobs here and there. He's got a bar job that pays £6.00 an hour which is only just above the minimum wage. Did an event at Madame Tussaud's the other evening and again, whilst the pay is crap was delighted because after a 10 hour shift he can make a reasonable amount. "So when are you going on your gap year?" said my youngest son whilst we were all eating together the other day. "Umm, I'm on it actually" he said. "What? You are actually on your gap year?? What actually now? Whilst you're eating baked beans on toast at home?" he asked incredulously. "I thought you were supposed to be on a desert island or something?". "Yeah. Well that comes later....when I've made some money". So today - all day, he is busy making money. Today he has a labouring job. Then he has an hour off before he does a 5 hour shift at the pub this evening. He's going to be knackered. Thus he was up with all of us for the first time in about two years at 7am which caused havoc with our one bathroom. My other two children were not amused. Then there was much discussion about what he should be wearing and ten minutes of me trying to untie the laces on a pair of shoes he needed. Whether he should take a packed lunch etc. I offered to cook him some eggs "NO I HAVEN'T GOT TIME" he shouted as he left the house with a piece of toast wedged between his teeth. 10 minutes later I got my first text saying "mum, I've forgotten a pair of gloves - can you drop some off after you've dropped the others at school?". God. Yes. OK. Find gloves. Leave 5 minutes earlier in order to do a detour to him. THEN fifteen minutes later came the second text "mum, can u drop my cigarettes off please?" "Are u joking?" I said. "No, the builder smokes and I've left them at home - pleeeease". Forget it. Stop smoking. He was meant to be going to university today. I had it in my diary. His friend has gone without him now and his mother texted me to say how sad he was that my son wasn't there with him and how bad she felt about leaving him there alone. I discussed it with my son. "Mum, he said" rolling his eyes, "he's absolutely fine. He's just sent me a text saying "beer £1.36 and the fittest people I have ever seen". All good then.
This is so weird. I've even got "son off to uni" written in my diary I was that sure of it. Now it's all change and HE'S STILL HERE!! In my house. For another year! Actually I"m very pleased although we're going to have to sort out a few new rules. Things like 1. Stop sleeping so much 2. Get out of bed before 3pm 3. Get a job. 4. Work out where the dishwasher and washing machine are in the house 5. Work out a way of making lunch by yourself that doesn't involve standing in front of the fridge staring mournfully into it waiting for a three tiered sandwich to leap out by itself. 6. Find out where the local supermarket is and how to pay for your own items. 7. Start revising for retakes in January. 8. Start working out how to pay for your travelling later next year. and so on.....I'm showing him newspaper articles of depressing stuff - the three 19 year old's that had just started their travels all being killed on a coach in Thailand - so desperately tragic. Their mothers have launched a campaign to make more people aware of how dangerous it is to be on a coach after dark in Thailand - their road traffic accident figures are about 10 times higher per year than ours. He has sent out CV's and even had some interviews. He's got a trial shift in a pub tomorrow and some event work to do so I think he'll be fine. You just want them to make the most of the time and not waste it. I am thinking of going with him on his gap year - anyone else want to come?
In a "be careful what you wish for" sort of moment, having pined about the thought of not having my children about all week and worrying about being bored and lonely I was unexpectedly given the chance not to be - suddenly overnight, I had the responsibility of looking after an 18 year old spectacularly gorgeous Aussie male. He's been touring about Europe and staying with me most of this week - it's a huge shame my son hasn't been around for him to play with. They used to go to nursery together - haven't seen each other since they were 5, but I know they'll get on. Luckily he hasn't been bored - it wasn't at all difficult to enlist the help of my son's girlfriend and her merry band of friends to "look after him". His parents are very good friends of mine who moved back Sydney a long time ago now. I love that we're going to be able to share our kids as they go global. I'm sure it's the start of a long line of youths from around the world needing a bed in London (and I'm sure my kids wouldn't turn down the offer of a bed in Sydney either!). Perhaps I should make it a business. I could open a hostel.....Nope. Bad idea. Being new to this game it's a little difficult to know just how to treat them. Should I be taking him out every day sightseeing? Or simply leave him to his own devices? Should I wake him before noon? Involve him in everything that I'm doing? Seduce him? (joke). He hasn't been a problem at all. Great company in fact. I took him to see my brother and his wife last night. We had a BBQ and although he was meant to go and see some mates, he seemed to be having so much fun he made them join us. Late. By which time we were all talking bollocks about rude and inappropriate things in an effort to show off (felching and Bukkake - sp? pronunciation? were mentioned I recall, as was why my brother chose to wear a minor's light on his head to cook the meat and so was shagging). Pathetic really. We felt a bit sorry for his friends because all three of them appeared to be relatively sober, until suddenly, just as I was trying to work one of their accents (is it Scottish? Or Australian? Or American?) he discreetly announced he was just popping off down the road for a TC*. Came back and carried on (no then, accent not relevant - just pissed and slurry). Anyway, I'm not taking my duties too seriously. I suspect my job is simply to ensure that he enjoys himself, doesn't die and gets on a plane home some time soon. He was previously travelling around Greece on a moped (sadly 3 of his friends had a very bad accident on a quad bike and one is still in hospital with a ruptured liver). He survived the chance of being gored by a bull in Pamplona (is it just Australians and a few locals who are mad enough to do that? Sadly an Aussie died this year I gather) and he has survived arriving in London during the riots. When his mother and I met all those years ago with our gorgeous little boys, we used to sit and watch them do ballet performances together, play Firemen Sam together, poke each other with sticks and we honestly couldn't have dreamt that we would be having conversations like the following just a few years (well 14 years) later.... Here is some of the email correspondence I've had this week with his mother:- HER Hi How are you? Hope you’re having a nice summer break although I did see that the UK has had some rain recently. Unexpectedly J is booked on a flight to London (Gatwick) and arrives in London tomorrow at 6pm. I don’t know if he has rung you at all but I was wondering if you were around and was there any chance of him staying at your place. Don’t know if that will suit. If not, that’s fine he can book himself into a hostel. He’s due back in Sydney next Wednesday 17TH so his flight must be leaving on Monday 15TH. Hope he's not too smelly. ME Of course it's fine. No problem at all. He hasn't called me but I'm sure he will. Sadly R is not here until Saturday. But I'm sure I can find him some friends to play with in the meantime. ME Just to let you know yr son is asleep in R's bed and safe from the riots - I think his lip pirecing looks cute!!! HER Thx so much for letting me know. Glad he's tucked up safe in your house. I was a little anxious when I read that Clapham Junction was one of the places hit and he was having to stop there. And then read that they hit a Restaurant in Notting Hill. It's unbelievable. And thanks for that bit about the lip.......I'm sure I'm going to think it's cute too......Not!!!!! Just as long as his teeth don't rot and fall out. That would be $7000 of Orthodontic work down the drain! Thanks again. ME All good although i have temporarily lost him.... Bought him a razor and a toothbrush and he is looking positively human! We had dinner on Wed night with my Aussie friends and of course they all knew the same people!! R's girlfriend took him out for a HUGE night after that - right into riot land (although all calm now) in Tottenham Court Road to "Cheapskates". God. 99p shots I gather and he got in at 4am. We had a brief chat when he got up about midday and then he went to see his mates. He stayed there last night so I am waiting for him to get up and return my text. Not sure what his plans are today but we'll talk. I am hearing mumblings about an extension on his flight? That is absolutely fine by me if it works for you. He's just lovely. No problem at all. Lxx HER Thanks for the update and so glad to hear that R's girlfriend clearly let him astray by "dragging" him into the middle of riot land.....I bet he's annoyed he's only just discovered this place at the end of his journey with shots for 99p. His friends would have loved a place like that. Insider information certainly does help! I hate to think what he looked like when you first saw him. Was it bum fluff on the chin? And did the piercing fall out while he was shaving?? Thanks for being flexible with him and his plans. Hope he's not getting in your way at all. And isn't it a small world with who knows who. Haven't heard from him at all so I have assumed he's been out and about (or asleep). Will try and call tomorrow. It's 11pm and I'm going to bed for 3 hours before I have to get up again to pickup daughter from an "after's" Party after their school social. Does that happen in London? For their "formals" they have "pre's", the formal and then "after's" at someone house. I didn't even see her as she got changed at a friend's house but all I know is that the dress is ridiculously short and she is wearing 10 inch heels. And then I have to set the alarm for 6.15am as she has an early netball match. Don't think the goals will be going in tomorrow somehow after only 3 hours sleep! ME Ha ha - couldn't see any fluff on his chin - he just mentioned he needed a razor - perhaps for his chest hairs then? I guess it's a bit difficult to shave around a piercing? Although it's on his lip - don't think he's got hairy lips? - OK will stop thinking about the logistics of that now... He's texted so now I'll just wait another three hours for him to respond to my second text - R's GF (oddly) very happy to lead him astray again tonight - think they're going clubbing. He suggested I go with them??? Is he mad??? Tempting though. The local girls are all pretty impressed with the Aussie boys I think. An "AFTERS" party?? - thats just taking the piss. He should be here after being out tonight but don't call before 2pm ME He's still alive..... R came back late last night so they went out for a bit, but don't think they got in anywhere as it was all "over 21's" rule - so came back quite early. He's been hoping I would spill the beans on some stories about you guys - the only acceptable one I've told him was about our New Year's eve party in Scotland and about how the men wore kilts and then took photos of their testicles underneath the table!! (Sorry - think I might still have the evidence somewhere). Not sure of plans in next few days, but he'll just hang out with R now - we'll probably do a BBQ here tonight if I can locate my other two children now they're all back from Portugal. * TC = Tactical Chunder
This whole gap year thing is going to be a nightmare. I wonder whether I'll be able to put my firstborn off by saying he has to fund the whole thing himself and that it has to be educational in some way. Although, I will make a little exception if he would agree to learn Mandarin in China or Taipei or build a school in Zambia, then I would contribute something, but otherwise he's on his own. Last night I went to a lovely farewell dinner for my god-daughter who is just about to set off on her Gap Year....although in fact it's only half a gap year of travelling with three other girlfriends because it's taken her a while to save up the money. I did have a moment, towards the end of the evening where I went from being hugely impressed to feeling slightly sorry for everybody else around the table. Mostly me. Obviously. There she was having a gorgeous meal, looking young and beautiful and we were all offering support and good tidings for her to have an extended luxury holiday. I slightly began to struggle when she talked about her plans. Starting in Australia, then off to the Far East bla bla until I wanted to cry with jealousy. OK, she has been juggling 3 jobs in order to pay for the whole thing, but still I couldn't help wishing I could have a space like that again in my life to be so free - YES OK I can do it in a few years when the kids have left BUT IT'S NOT THE BLOODY SAME IS IT, when you have rubbish legs with veins on and a fat arse and wrinkles and a body that won't stay where it's meant to in a bikini (A bikini? Did I actually just say that. No chance). I WANT A GAP YEAR. Even if I have to go to cold places so that I can sit on the beach in a kaftan. I gave her a card that said "What's wrong with your mother coming on your gap year?". My poor son is going to be so disappointed when he find's out that I'm not actually joking.
The ongoing drama of navigating single parenting and life after divorce, supported by wine, travelling and friends.