Friday, 31 August 2007

What's the opposite of a runner?

I have always, ALWAYS said that I am not a runner. And I have always meant it. I was not the athletic sporty type at school. As soon as puberty hit, I decided that for reasons of comfort and safety, breaking into a trot was not wise. I was, as a friend of mine says, “built for comfort, not for speed”. When cross-country running cropped up in the PE schedule (which it did every January just in time for the puddles to freeze over and the ground to develop the resistance of reinforced concrete), my like-minded friends and I would basically take turns pretending to be ill and escort each other back to the changing rooms, regretfully missing the joyful experience of dousing ourselves in freezing mud.

I carried this distaste for running through university and into adult life. I would rather miss a bus and walk home than run for it. Don’t misunderstand me, I was not completely sedentary. I swam, I played (bad) squash with a friend of mine, I walked for miles and I even flirted for a while with aerobics classes (remind me to tell you about my one and only step class!) I just wouldn’t run.

Time went on and after I had children and the middle-aged spread….well, spread, I even joined a gym. I happily underwent induction but told the trainer I would try pretty much anything but DON’T MAKE ME RUN. So I would go on the rowing machine (blech) and even the stair stepper climber thingy (hate!) but no running. Brisk walking good. Running bad.

Then for some reason, when I was 39, this state of affairs began to annoy me. I saw all sorts of people running. It occurred to me that running would be a handy form of exercise for me as I could fit it in round work and the kids. So, one day, I slunk into the gym and checked out the treadmills. From a distance. Working out which one was most inconspicuous so that when I made a complete fool of myself and fell off the end of the belt and knocked my teeth out on the floor, I could bleed and whimper in private. I sneaked onto the machine in the corner, behind the pillar, facing the wall. You couldn’t see any of the TVs from there but more importantly, hardly anyone could see me. And I ran. Slowly. Clumsily and with much huffing and puffing. But I ran. And I kept doing it. I could only run for about 3 minutes at first but I gradually built up time till I could run for nearly 10 minutes. And on the 16th December 2006 I ran for a mile. Without stopping. It took me nearly 15 minutes and I was not a pretty sight when I finished but I did it. And I was so pleased with myself, honestly you would have thought I had won the Booker Prize. But I proved to myself I could do it, even though I had been convinced for 39 years that I couldn’t. And that felt great.

I’d love to say that since I had the great realisation that our limitations are mostly in our heads that I have also taken up white water canoeing, skydiving and mountain biking and that my first novel is nearing completion but, meh. Baby steps, eh?

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

My own personal drill sergeant

I took up running a while ago (that's a whole other post in itself) and a nice by-product recently has been that my two sons (First Born aged 9 and Second Born aged 7) like to come out running with me now and again. Separately - never together. I couldn't run with both of them for fear of them jostling each other into a bush or an oncoming bus. They are capable of arguing about who gets to spit first when they brush their teeth - arguments about who gets the pavement are entirely likely.
When I first started running with Second Born (he was 6 then) I was careful to run to accommodate him. I incorporated plenty of walking breaks and made sure I didn't go too fast. After all, he only has little legs, right? So after a while, I signed up to run the Race for Life with some friends. SB was cross when I told him because he couldn't run it too, being (a) too young and (b) the wrong gender. So I promised him faithfully that I would find a race we could enter and run together.
As luck would have it, I found the perfect thing: a 2.5km race taking place 1 week after the RFL, minimum age 8 but under 8s can run with an adult and what's more, it was being held only 5 minutes away from my parents' house where we were going to be visiting anyway. Perfect! So I gleefully told SB about it expecting an enthusiastic response. He didn't say anything. Now, he can be shy so I thought maybe he was having second thoughts. I told him he didn't have to do it if he didn't want to, but if he wanted to run, I would enter us. He still seemed unsure. This is the conversation that followed:
ME: You don't have to. But if you want to enter, I will run with you. What do you think?
HIM: We-ell......
ME: Yes? What?
HIM: If I run it, do I have to stay with you or can I run ahead?
ME: (!!!!!) What, do you mean you think you can beat me?
HIM: Well, I don't want to run it if I have to go too slowly.......
ME: (Laughing now) Listen, kiddo, if you reckon you can beat me over 2.5km, you go for it. Just meet me at the finish line!
HIM: OK, I'll do it.

And of course, he whupped me. By a minute and a half. As I came panting down to the finish line, he had already finished. And collected his medal. And his goody bag. And he was chatting to his granny and downing the free orange juice.
Fast forward a couple of months. We went out on Sunday morning for a nice gentle run - half an hour, 3km or so, nothing strenuous. Towards the end of the route there is a wee hill - not big or long but quite steep. I said something to the effect that as long as we took it gently and steadily, the hill would not be a problem. SB's response? "Come on Mummy, ATTACK THAT HILL!" and off he charged.
I have created a monster.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Are you saying my money is dirty?

I work as a lawyer and as part of my job I have to comply with money laundering regulations. You will probably all have come across these. They’re the rules which mean you have to give details of your name, address, date of birth, blood group and star sign if you want to open bank accounts, speak to any government bodies or rent DVDs of Disney movies for your kids.

In my line of work, it often means I have to tell a new client “Well, before I can apply for your divorce for you, I need two forms of identification, one of which must have a recent photograph and one of which must bear your current address. I need to photocopy those and certify the copies which I will then keep forever. This is just to check that you are who you say you are and not an international terrorist laundering your ill-gotten gains by pretending to get divorced.” No wonder the clients look at me like I’ve lost the plot.

I know the idea of the regulations is to stop bad people from being able to move their funds around, but would they really want to do that by approaching a local lawyer for a divorce? Or to sort out a problem with their double glazing? I also have a real concern that the fact that you have to hand over proof of your identity to do anything these days (try opening a savings account online if you don’t believe me) means that dozens of copies of your personal information are floating about in the records of big companies and institutions all over the place. Heck, I have files in my office with information like that on pretty much all of them. Doesn’t that just mean that there is far more scope now for unscrupulous employees of such places to make a wee bit of cash on the side by using or selling that stuff? Or am I just overly cynical? (I’m a lawyer so cynicism does kind of come with the territory).

And the problem now is that people who work in financial and other institutions now won’t do ANYTHING without interrogating you for as much personal info as they can, even when it is patently not required by any kind of regulations. It’s just downright nosy. Want a for instance? This is the conversation I had with the guy who answered the phone at the online Bank where I have a savings account. Bear in mind (1) I had to produce all sorts of vouching of my identity to open the account in the first place; (2) all of the money in the account was transferred there from my account with a major High Street bank and (3) I had already, to get to speak to the guy, gone through all the security checks involving my mum’s maiden name and what colour the cake was at my fifth birthday party.

ME: I’d like to withdraw £X please.

HIM: Certainly, that will be transferred to your account with Big High Street Bank – when would you like that done?

ME: As soon as possible, please.

HIM: OK. Now, can I ask what you want the money for?

ME: ……….what?

HIM: I need to ask what you want to withdraw the money for?

ME: Why????????

HIM: For money laundering regulations.

ME: But………it’s my money. I paid it into that account.

HIM: Yes but I have to ask you the purpose you want to withdraw it for

ME: But…..but……you’ve already money laundered me when I opened the account, the money came from my bank account. It’s going back to my bank account. Why on earth would you need to know what I want to do with the money once I withdraw it?

HIM: Well, according to my screen, I need to ask you….

ME: !!!!!!!!!!

So I told him I needed it for drugs.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Break it to them gently

We have a cat. She is a lovely cat, very pretty although not always terribly bright. She is very easy going and does not object to being manhandled or, say, hypothetically, wheelbarrowed around the kitchen for fun. If you sit down in her vicinity she will wander past and brush against you to say hi. The children are very fond of her as she has been around forever as far as they are concerned. FirstBorn is fond of her. SecondBorn LOVES her. He goes in to say good morning to her when he gets up. He makes a point of going in to say goodnight to her before he goes to bed. If I can’t find him to send him to bed, chances are I will locate him lying on the kitchen floor in his pyjamas communing with the cat. They are very close.

And here’s the thing. The cat is getting on a bit. She was 15 years old in May (some time – not sure of the date because she was a feral kitten born in a cardboard box factory). And while she is in good form, still eats well and goes out hunting (admittedly she can only catch butterflies when in season and birds who are already at death’s door), realistically she can’t have a great many more years in her. I have tried very subtly to prepare the boys for the fact that she won’t be with us forever. They have never dealt with death close to them and I don’t want it to come as a shock to them. So I have been trying gently to let them know that the cat won’t always be with us but that is natural and nothing to worry about.

I needn’t have worried. SecondBorn came bouncing up to me the other day with the immortal line “Can we get two kittens and can we call one Pixel and the other Furpuss?” I gently point out that our elderly cat wouldn’t take kindly to two kittens running riot in the house. SecondBorn didn’t skip a beat “Yes, but when she’s dead, can we?”

Sunday, 19 August 2007

That title....

Yes, that title. Well, I was trying to think of something witty and catchy and memorable and I was failing. I wanted something that reflected the life of a 40ish working mum of two and that also managed to convey the depths of my insecurity. Then I remembered the day my younger son (now aged 7, then aged 4) was watching me get ready. He knew I had been going to the gym and I had told him why I was going, particularly that I was trying to be a slimmer mum. He looked at me, very seriously, and then said "Mum? The gym isn't working." So there you go. The gym isn't working. Welcome.