We can’t let this happen.

I haven’t posted for a while, because I got fed up with the Daily Mail etc nicking my blogs and making it look as if I’d written for them.  Somehow I don’t think they’ll be reproducing any of the following:

 

I’m very British, and so my natural inclination is to sigh and tut and bitch about world events; the only action I’ve taken so far is to re-post stuff on social media, often whilst sitting on the loo or a comfy sofa or even lying in bed, and that’s it – I’ve done my part thanks.

But we are in the middle of some sort of revolution which, if we’re not careful, could go backwards instead of forwards.  It’s definitely time for change, but we must make sure it’s for the better.

I’m old enough to have seen the world changing really quickly.  Gone are the days of Britain as depicted in cosy Sunday night tv costume dramas, and that’s a good thing.  We no longer have workhouses, we look after our sick and our poor, we educate our children.

But we’ve still got the landowners telling us what to do and how to do it.  They’re used to running things, they were brought up to believe that they are uniquely equipped to help us make better decisions for ourselves.  Unfortunately, some of us have come up with a few ideas of our own, and we’re getting good at making them heard.  And we don’t like most of their ideas any more.  And the louder we become, the more their ring of control is tightening.

Which is why it would be madness to leave the EU.  Please don’t swipe me away, Leavers, this is for you too.  You said at the time that you wanted to get control of our country back from the Europeans, which is a perfectly understandable viewpoint, but who are you giving it to instead?  The current government don’t have your interests at heart; they’re dismantling the NHS, they’re cutting benefits, our schools are somewhere around the bottom of the educational league tables of the 25th richest countries in the world (see Link 1).  In short, they’re more about money than people.

Personally, I’m more about people than money.  I like knowing that I’m entitled to work, live and retire anywhere in the EU and I’ll still get my state pension, that I’m free to come and go as I please.  I like the fusion of different cultures (language, food, music etc) right here on my doorstep, where I have neighbours of different nationalities.  I like knowing I’m entitled to free medical care when I’m travelling around the EU.  I’m grateful for the subsidies for our farmers and the funding for university research, to make the world a better place.  I enjoy the security that comes from being part of a bigger, colourful country than just a tiny island full of terrified control freaks, with everyone scrabbling for money and jobs and no holiday or maternity pay, and the highest university fees in Europe.  When people feel desperate they behave accordingly.  You think it’s getting nasty now?  You wait.

I hate change as much as the next person, but we have a choice: either we do our best to block all of those horrible people who want to live here and contribute to our economy (for the benefits question please see link 2 below), or we welcome them with open arms and work out what would help everybody live happily together.  (And we mustn’t forget that we can go to their country of origin to live, whenever we like.)  Either we grow old and bitter and twisted, stuck, knowing there’s nowhere else to go and live, or we keep our options open and share our language, food and music etc with our fellow citizens of the EU.

As a parent, I believe it is our duty to move on with the times, with our children and keep striving to make the world a better place.  This Brexit referendum seems to have  divided our nation further, rather than brought us together as one big happy family.  Is that really what we want, to be fighting with each other?

I also think it’s OK to say we made a mistake.  Here’s why:

1. The referendum was an opinion poll, not a legally binding vote.
2. Nobody, nobody knew the true ramifications of leaving the EU.
2. Both sides lied apparently, but the Leave campaigns ‘alternative facts’ were admitted to being false the very next day, by themselves. The big red bus was a big fat lie.
3. Therefore, the results of the poll should be declared null and void. People did not know what they were talking about or voting for.
4. Now that it is clear that leaving the EU will bring disaster for not only the UK but the rest of Europe, the government should be doing its damndest to look after its citizens.
5. It is, therefore, not appropriate to be calling this outcome ‘the will of the people’ now. It was then, because the facts were being made up by people using us to further their own careers. Theresa May is also guilty of this, having originally been a Remainer.
6. What MP, in full conscience, can – now that more consequences have been laid bare – honestly give their vote, awarded by their constituents who will suffer terribly, to leaving the EU?
7. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about doing the right thing for as many as possible. Leave the personalities behind, and think about the whole country.
8. America can get rid of Trump in four years; we are on the brink of making a huge mistake which will last a lot longer than that.

 

And finally, if you agree with me and think we are facing a really, really important decision and you feel like actually doing something about it, I look forward to seeing you here:

 

16195701_10155842957509368_6578485886251172383_n.jpg

Thank you for getting to the end. Rant over, but not finished – yet.

 

LINK 1:  http://www.statisticsviews.com/details/feature/8493411/Understanding-Income-Inequality-and-its-Implications-Why-Better-Statistics-Are-N.html

LINK 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25134521 

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Why I voted the way I did:

I know I’m being a bit of a bore with my constant pro-Labour timeline postings on Facebook and tweets, but I really feel today is a crucial day for our country.

It wasn’t until I became a poor person that I took an interest in politics. Having been fortunate enough to have been given a private education, lucky enough to have a successful career and blessed with two beautiful children, I thought (and I quote myself here, sadly) that I was “too pretty for politics.” It seemed to me that they were all the same, that it didn’t make any difference who you voted for, nothing would change and anyway, it wasn’t really any of my business. Boring, in fact. And then, like all things that are too good to be true, my life turned out to be too good to be true. My circumstances changed, and I find myself today unemployed, on benefits, a single parent of a special needs child.

I’m currently training to be a counsellor, as (health willing) I will still have to support myself and my son for at least another 30 years. (I reckoned this was one of the few professions where looking older was an advantage!) I didn’t get any funding for this, because there isn’t any. A very kind friend has lent me the money for my college fees, which obviously I will pay back when I can. It will take about 3 years to qualify, and even then building a client base is a slow process.

If the Conservative party get to serve another term, and their plans for more benefit cuts happen, Ted and I won’t be able to manage any more. I’m not qualified to do anything except show off for a living, and the minimum wage is currently £6.50 an hour. (That’s £221 for a 35-hour week.) I’m 56 in a couple of weeks, it’s very hard to get a job at this age.

I’m sick of fighting to survive. I’m worried that I won’t be able to afford healthcare. My mortgage runs out in 10 years, I’ve only been paying back the interest so I’ll have to sell the house, then what?

I don’t feel safe. The Tories have lied again and again and again, about anything from benefit fraud to Labour being solely responsible for the financial crash. I don’t trust them to look after me or our country. And believe me, I was brought up with these people, you shouldn’t trust them either.

So I’m going with the party who care about the poor and needy, rather than the party who only want to take advantage of them.  We need support, and then we can support each other.

Let’s get Britain back to Great. Let’s vote Labour.


Depression, a view from the inside.

Poor Robin Williams. A long-term solution for a short-term problem. That’s what they say, isn’t it? ‘They’ being people who’ve probably never had to live with depression.

I’ll come straight out with it. I’ve struggled with depression all my adult life. And anxiety. And life. For people with a brain chemistry like mine, the whole bloody business of just being alive is dangerous and difficult.

I’ll tell you even more. I’m currently in the middle of the worst depression I’ve ever had. It’s been rumbling on for the last couple of years and it’s become almost unbearable. This bout has been triggered by a series of events so bizarre and extraordinary, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Which I’m not going to do, as everything I say these days ends up in the Daily Mail and this stuff is far too important to me to be treated like just another piece of crap Z-list celebrity gossip.  Let’s just say I’ve hit several brick walls at once, and I’ve tried everything, and nothing works.

Today, my twitter and facebook timelines are full of lovely caring people saying things like ‘reach out if you’re down’ and ‘what a loss’. Wonderful sentiments, I’d say the same sort of things if I thought they would help.

Let me explain, as best I can through my foggy brain, what having depression feels like. For me, anyway.

I wake up very early every morning with a split second of OKness, followed immediately by a sledge hammer blow of despair to the solar plexus. If my anxiety is up, I feel what I call The Eagle of Fear flapping at the end of my bed, saying “I’m coming to get you” over and over again. I’m terrified. Sometimes I’m already crying. I don’t feel like I’ve been to sleep at all. My body feels like it’s made of lead.

The horror of having to do a whole day again comes crashing in and I turn over and try to go back to sleep. It never works, because my mind is shouting at me. “There’s no point! You’re useless! There’s nothing out there for you! Give up, shut up, you were never of any value! You can’t do anything right!” Or sometimes it just whispers, a non-stop round of shaming statements “nobody cares, nobody really loves you, you’re unlovable, who gives a fuck, shut up, you’re crap, you’ll never manage, you’re pointless, nobody cares, nobody ever will, nobody is bothered, shut up, nobody cares” etc. All day.

Trying to actually achieve anything becomes harder and harder. I’ve given up trying to raise the funds for college in October, as I can’t get a job that will help me repay the loan. This is the second year in a row, and I really want to retrain as a therapist. I did a week’s TV work recently because I desperately needed the money. I managed to ‘act’ my way through, I was quite convincing, but I couldn’t leave the house for four days afterwards. I can do some things, like drive, as long as the Sat Nav tells me where to go as I can’t seem to remember any routes. I spend my days either walking around outside, looking at people living their lives, wondering how they do it; or inside, on facebook then twitter then facebook, obsessively, wondering if I’ll ever have a life again. I can’t imagine how anyone gets anything together like a holiday or a fancy dress outfit or even a family lunch. It’s like I’m looking at the world from behind a window, but I don’t want to knock on it in case everyone turns round and looks at me.

I’m already finding writing this really hard work, and am tempted to stop and delete. But I won’t. I can’t. I mustn’t give up. I’m trying not to think about what you’ll think of me; but actually, to be honest, I’m beyond caring.

My depression is such that I want to die, but I don’t want to kill myself. There’s a difference. The feelings are so overwhelming and painful and huge that I know it would be so much easier to put myself out, then I don’t have to feel them any more.

But I have two children, who I love, very much, who need me to be here. Even in this state. I’ve seen the pain caused by those poor tortured souls who can’t take any more and leave for ever, and I’m not prepared to do that to my children or my family or my friends. For me, and I’m only speaking for myself, that would be a very selfish thing to do. So I just have to go through the pain, not round it or under it, just through it and I will come out the other side eventually. It’s better that just one person is suffering, rather than more. And anyway, when I’m good, I’m great. If I have to feel like the walking dead for the time being, then so be it.

I know I’ll get better because I’ve done it before, although this one feels like the worst ever but it probably isn’t, and because everybody tells me it won’t last for ever. It feels like it will though. That’s what depression is, an illness that makes you think its lies are the truth. An illness that wants to get you on your own. An illness that hates you. And it’s living inside your head, it feels like there’s no escape. An illness of feelings.

Which is why, dear caring lovely people, it’s impossible for those of us with depression to reach out to you, we’re stuck in our prison. We can’t ask for help. We don’t think we’re worth it, we can’t bear the thought of more rejection, we don’t want to rely on anyone because that’s just too painful. It feels like we’re stuck down a well and your ropes and ladders just aren’t going to be long enough. And if you ask us, we’re going to deny being depressed because we don’t want the attention, we just want to be left alone.

So, how can you tell if someone has depression? By looking very carefully. (It’s a bit like elderly neighbours in the winter, you have to look out for them, they don’t come knocking on your door asking for a blanket.) Our eyes are a dead giveaway. Literally. We are dead behind the eyes. We’re probably not in great physical shape, dirty hair, stained clothes, too thin or too fat. Or we’re ‘busier’ than usual, we’re on the run, we know what’s coming and we’re trying to get away from it. If we don’t balance our negative statements with as many positive ones, then there’s probably something up. We’re not good at returning phone calls, opening letters, dealing with emails and admin etc. We say ‘no’ more than we say ‘yes’. Actually, we hardly ever say ‘yes’.

I believe the days of “pull yourself together” are over, thankfully, and most people know that depression is a mental illness and not just a case of someone being a bit fed up. But it must be very difficult for you to watch your loved ones drowning slowly in what looks like a sea of self-pity, so what can you do to help us?

Of course, there are the well-known solutions to managing depression. Anti-depressants are brilliant, they provide a patch of blue sky in an otherwise clouded world, but it may take a while to find the right one. Therapy is great, as long as we’re ready. Eating is fantastic, but not always easy. Exercise is really good for us, but it’s hard to get the oompf together to get out of the house. Sleep is vital, but good luck with that. Here are some other things that might help:

Firstly, don’t try and cheer us up. We can’t be jollied out of this, it feels terminal and as Robin Williams has shown us today, it can be.

And please don’t expect us to tell you all about it. We can’t. It’s too big.

Your solutions aren’t helpful. Ask us what we want to do about it instead; it’s our illness, we know how it feels and we might not be ready to move yet. Hopefully we will one day, when we’re ready, but not right now.

Be consistent and reliable. If you say you’re going to call, then call. Don’t change the plan at the last minute. Please don’t let us down, even in a tiny way.  Even if we don’t show it, we are grateful for your ability to be a constant in an ever-changing world.

Keep reassuring us that this won’t last for ever. We think it will. But we hear you.

Accept us as we are today. We’re not lazy, we’re unwell. It’s like a broken leg of the mind, it takes a while to heal. Don’t try to hurry us up.

Don’t be upset if we refuse your help. Keep offering it. One day we’ll say yes.

Walking’s good. Dogs are good. Walking dogs is great. But a day out at the zoo is too much.

Text us every morning, just to say hello. We won’t reply, but we’ll know you’re there.

Hold our hand. Give us a hug and don’t break away until we do. You may not be able to reach our minds but our bodies will register your care.

Don’t ask anything of us. We have nothing to give. You’ll be the first to know when we have. We can’t deal with stress, or pressure, or any of their more insidious relations like time-keeping and good manners. We are too busy trying to stay alive.

I agree, Robin Williams’ death is a great loss. But it was a bigger loss to him. He lost his self, his soul and his future. Why would he want to carry on?

If you’re depressed right now, then let’s remember that we only have to do today, that’s all. Nothing more. We can do just a day, can’t we? And don’t forget, we haven’t always been like this. The good days will come back. We’ve just go to do as much as we can, when we can.

When I’m better, I’ll write again and let you know what helped.
See you on the other side.  Shazbat.

xxx


My Snow Story

“Don’t take the car out unless it’s urgent.”

I just heard a weatherman say that on the radio. Now if, like me, you have ‘invincibilitis’, you’ll think you’re above warnings from people with qualifications in meterology and you’ll be absolutely fine. Well. Put your car keys down, chuck another log on the fire and listen to this.

On 5 January 2010 I got into my car with my son Ted, 11 at the time, and Godfrey the pug. (Who doesn’t live with us any more but that’s a whole different story.)

Godfrey’s only got one eye (an unfortunate incident with a rosebush) and so the other one was regularly checked out by a brilliant ophthalmic vet called Kim Jorgensen in Petersfield, Hampshire. The journey from Brighton normally took about an hour and twenty minutes.

The weather was typically January grey, not raining, just very cold. About six miles away from the vet’s surgery, it began snowing. Not normal flakes though, great big ones, like cotton wool balls. Ten minutes later, the motorway traffic ground to a halt. After a while, people began getting out of their cars; there was already about eighteen inches of snow. It became clear that we were going nowhere very fast, if anywhere at all.

This amount of snow fell in about 15 minutes.

This amount of snow fell in about 15 minutes.

I got chatting to a lorry driver called Jason; when he offered us his comfy warm cab for the foreseeable future, I quickly agreed. (Not without taking a photo of his numberplate first, I hasten to add.)

Use them for all your lorry requirements, they're great.

Use them for all your lorry requirements, they’re great.

Jason was a treasure, shared his Coke with Ted and his corned beef with the dog. We were just rifling through his DVDs (and no, that’s not a euphemism) when the traffic started moving again, so we ran back to the car. Hilariously, the pug jumped out of the cab not realising how far up we were; Ted and I had to scrabble around underneath all the snow, but we found him, unharmed. (His face was like that before all this, I promise.)

And that’s where we stayed for the next ten hours. The cars in front kept stopping and starting. Forwards for 20 yards, stop for 20 minutes. Forwards for 50 yards, stop for half an hour. Eventually, the Army arrived to lift the abandoned cars out of the path of the snowplough. As the cars at the back of the queue tailgated the snowplough, we couldn’t get a place in the line. It took us ten hours to travel six miles.

Being programmed to be as good as my word and turn up for the appointment, no matter what, I did – at 3.30am. I drove past the surgery, not entirely sure what to do next. (I found out later that the staff were also snowbound, and we could have stayed the night there. Don’t.) Lost, I asked an RAC man who was parked up on a bridge above the motorway for a route home.

As he was talking, a TV camera crew appeared out of the darkness, from GMTV, wanting to know what it was like being stuck for so long etc. It didn’t seem bizarre, as things were already bizarre. I did my best, in the middle of the night – and with no make-up on I might add – and off they went. (It was later written in the Daily Mail that I had sought them out in order to further my career. I’m honestly not that clever.)

I did my best to get us home, but it was impossible. It began to dawn on me that we were stuck in the car for the night. Thinking it was a big adventure, having been told it was, Ted (and the dog) fell asleep and I began to freak out. Which was more likely to kill us: freezing to death while we slept, or the fumes from keeping the engine on? So I stayed awake all night, turning the engine on every ten minutes, for heat. My phone battery was very low and I didn’t have an in-car charger (I do now), I was – well, terrified. No-one knew where we were, including me.  Panic.

As dawn broke, I realised to my horror that we had been parked very near a 24-hour petrol station, where people had been congregating in the warmth for the night. But we had smoky bacon crisps and cream soda for breakfast, so it wasn’t all bad. Ted loved it, the dog had a flapjack.

The Hampshire police diverted us to Haslemere, where cheery Dickensian stereotypes were sledging and snowballing, happy about the day off work. I hated the snow by now; after all, it’s just frozen rain with good PR.

The view from the car when we slid our way into Haslemere.

The view from the car when we slid our way into Haslemere.

Having negotiated the up-hill-and-down-dale nature of the icy country roads on no sleep, we crossed the border into Surrey, where the police made us turn back again. By now it was lunchtime the next day, I was exhausted and badly needed to rest, anything, before driving back to Brighton. My phone battery had finally died, and all the hotels were fully booked. In the absence of anything else to do, I parked up and had a cry.

You can see how much snowfall there had been by the top of the wheeliebins.

You can see how much snowfall there had been by the top of the wheeliebins.

Amazingly, a burly man in a 4×4 who was out towing stuck cars in a christianly way tapped on the window and offered to take us back to his house. I took a risk and said yes, thinking I could always kill him first and then sleep on his sofa. But Sandy and his family were just lovely, even though he woke me up after an hour to say it had started snowing again, we’d better leave now or we’d be stuck there for a couple more days.

He gave us a thermos of soup, and showed us an illegal route back onto the A3, which had been officially closed. That was an eerie drive, being the only car on the motorway, the snow making the road almost invisible. My most frightening moment of all was when someone threw a snowball down from a bridge; it hit the windscreen with such a smack that I thought we’d been shot at. I can still hear the sound now.

We arrived back in Brighton at 7.30pm the day after we’d left. That’s a 28-hour round trip. Fittingly enough, the same parking space we’d left from was free. (This is as rare as hen’s teeth in Brighton.) Ted and I and poor Godfrey took to the sofa and the fire and the telly in a big way, for a couple of days, until it had all melted away. I sent a lovely new thermos to Sandy, and I commended Jason the lorry driver to his employers. He hadn’t told them about us, because he’s not supposed to pick up passengers. But they can’t have been that cross because they sent Ted a model of their lorry.

I was heartened by the kindness of strangers, admiring of my son’s ability to adapt in adversity and utterly freaked out by the power of something that looks so innocent and beautiful but can be so menacing.  Ted and I still aren’t keen on snow, it’s fickle and untrustworthy.

Ted and Godfrey, home safe and sound (apologies for rubbish photo, was a bit mental...)

Ted and Godfrey, home safe and sound (apologies for rubbish photo, was a bit mental…)

You know when they say don’t go out unless you have to? They mean it.


Dear @David_Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

I’ve had a good idea.  (I should warn you, I’m not into politics, I’m into people.  Sadly these two don’t seem to go together any more, do they?  I do think this might solve some of your problems though.)

So, here it is:

As I’m sure you know, single parents can only manage to keep their families alive by relying on benefits.  I know we’re fortunate to have them, but it’s not enough to live on, it’s only enough for very basic survival.  The Child Support Agency is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, and there is currently no legislation in place to force absent parents to support their children in any way.  We can’t get jobs because no employer is prepared to give us 3-4 months off work a year so that we can look after our own children during the school holidays.  Childminders, nurseries and other babysitters are not only extremely expensive – they cost as much as we earn – but they don’t do nearly as good a job as we do.

(It might help to remind you here that most of the dissatisfied youth who were rioting in 2011 were from single parent families, out working during the school holidays to make ends meet, thus leaving their children to roam unsupervised.  I haven’t got the actual figures, but I’m sure you have.)

And we want to work.  It’s horrible not being able to support your own family, its demoralising being so powerless and we’re being forced to set a bad example to our kids.  Believe me, we’re isolated enough without being refused entry to the workplace as well.

Students suffer similar problems.  They too have to sign off from Life.  From the minute they start to study, they not only stop earning a living but also owe you a huge amount of money.  I’m sure they’d like to work some of that off as soon as possible, and support themselves into the bargain, but what employer would only need them 3-4 months of the year?

I’m sure you’re there already, but just in case:

Jobshare!  The single parent could do it during term time, and the student during the holidays.  Your Benefits costs would go down immediately, and your Student Loans would be paid back sooner.  And if you gave employers an incentive to put a scheme like this into place, well, I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.  Good idea, isn’t it?!  I think so.

But then again, I’m not into politics.  I’m into people.  Maybe we should talk to each other?  I’m free all day every day – during term time.

With love and hope, you just never know,

Annabel xx


Welcome to twitter!

Dearest Harriet,

First of all, it’s great that you want to be on twitter.  It’s a brilliant way to bring together a profile for your website, and it’s a good way to re-introduce yourself to the world when you’ve just had your baby, and I think you’ll find it really good fun.

But as I am your big sister, I thought I’d boss you about a bit before you get started.  I am no expert, and this is a bit cocky, but Here are the Twelve Twitter Commandments according to the gospel of me:

1.    Choose your @ name carefully!
There are millions of people on twitter, and although these names very rarely get spoken out loud, you need to have a memorable one.  Don’t use numbers, @harry375 looks a bit boring.  Have a catchy one, like @harrypops, which can be read easily.  If that’s taken, try @Harry_Pops etc.  I see you’ve chosen @harryspopbakery, which is fine, hurrah!

2.    Always have an avatar, don’t be an egg.
Nobody really responds to the twitter egg picture rather than a nice photo of you or your logo, because it’s a bit too anonymous.  Use a strong image and don’t ever change it, it’s good branding to be recognisable from your avi.

3.    We can all see you.
Don’t put anything on twitter that you wouldn’t mind shouting from the stage at a sold-out Wembley Stadium.  There is no such thing as a private conversation on twitter, unless you DM (more about the technical stuff later) it and even then, they sometimes turn up in the wrong place…

4.    Be nice.
Many people seem to use twitter as a public forum for venting their spleen, imagining themselves to be hilarious or worse, interesting.  It is one thing to criticise someone’s work – if you know what you’re talking about; it is another to launch a personal attack just because you don’t like the shape of their nose.  Celebrities have feelings too, even if they can’t show them.  Never has our mother’s saying “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” been more appropriate.

5.    Don’t do a search on yourself.
If people want you to see what they’ve said about you, they will use your @ name.  If you search your name, you will see what they’ve said about you behind your twitter back.  This is usually not worth investigating, although I have been known to swoop down from the twittersphere and freak those bitches out.

6.    Don’t argue.
Just like real life (which this isn’t) people disagree with each other.  If you can keep it to a healthy debate, all well and good.  If someone starts getting a bit aggressive with you, send a pleasant tweet back inviting them to unfollow you.  If they continue to be nasty, block them.  This means they can’t contact you again, and you won’t see their tweets.

7.    Feel free to unfollow.
As well as weirdos and perves out there in the untraceable cyberworld, there are also some utter bores.  Any decent tweeter won’t ask why you’ve unfollowed them, most don’t even notice.  If anyone is rude enough to question your decision, then it looks like you made the right choice.

8.    You are the impresario of your own timeline.
If someone is following you, they will see everything you tweet as well as all your RTs.  Some stalkery-types will even look at the marginally less public conversations you are having with other people.  Bear them in mind when you do anything on twitter, nobody likes someone who clogs up their timeline with endless non-funny jokes or political polemics etc.

9.    What to tweet about?
Nothing is too boring.  We want to know more about you which is why we’re following you.  (I once tweeted ‘Just got a new hole punch. Please RT’ for a joke and some people actually did.)  It’s almost impossible to be too dull.  And it’s a twitter rule that the more you tweet, the more followers you get.  It’s very important to make sure you don’t boast as well, nothing worse than making your followers read how fantastic you are.  We’ll make up our own minds, thanks.

10. Don’t expect people to answer you, but always answer them.
It’s easy to take huff if someone doesn’t reply back to your witticism, but if they have loads of followers, just have a look at their Mentions feed to see how they can get inundated with comments and views.  But now that you know the disappointment and shame from having a tweet just hanging there, be kind to your own followers.  Don’t forget to eat though.
 
11. Never underestimate the power of twitter.
Although this can be seen as a fun game of strategy to see how many followers you can accrue, it is also a very public forum.  Very.  Don’t get involved in any hate campaigns, they’re just cruel, but do show your moral fibre by RTing or blogging about anything you feel strongly about.  Don’t forget, it was twitter who got that little Scottish girl’s school food blog back up and running.  We make good stuff happen and you can be a part of that.  Twitter is also fantastic at giving advice, some of it sound.

12. Have fun.
Twitter is not real, it’s just for fun.  There are some anonymous wankers on here, and there are some anonymous superstars too.  Don’t get too corporate with your tweeting; nobody really cares about your business, but it’s OK to be reminded that you have one every now and then.  It’s also OK to be the comedian’s audience, rather than try to be one yourself.  And it’s really OK to be yourself, or a character, or both.  It’s an unregulated, anything-goes, messy playground for people who are good at spelling and punctuation.  Just don’t threaten to blow up any airports, and you’ll be fine…

THE TECHNICAL STUFF
 
Each tweet has to be a maximum of 140 characters long. You can make them longer via a technical thing I could tell you about but won’t bother because nobody bothers to click to read on.

If you want to tweet a link to a website, it’s best to use a shortened link as it takes fewer characters out of your allotted 140.  Copy your URL, then paste it in to bitly.com and it will be shortened for you.

If you like someone else’s tweet a lot, you can re-tweet it so that all your followers can see it too.  This is the famous RT.  Some people set great store by how many RTs they get, as they see it as a measure of success.  You will also get lots of charitable folk asking you to RT their justgiving page for a marathon bike ride etc.  It’s up to you if you do that or not.  Some people do fake RTs from people like Jedward and the Dalai Lama, just because they are naughty.

This # is a hashtag.  They are threefold: (a) if you’re all watching the same tv programme, you can click for example on #theapprentice and watch everyone else’s comments on that thread go by.  Or (b) you can play a hashtag game which is going round, like ‘prawn to be wild #fishsongs’ etc.  And (c) it can enhance your tweet, ‘just fell over the cat. #drunk’ for example.  [Vital bit of information for mac users: the # key can be found by pressing ‘alt’ and the number 3.  I was cutting and pasting it for at least a year before I found that out.]  Oh, and NSFW in a tweet means ‘not safe for work’, ie it’s a rudey.

DM stands for Direct Message and it’s a message that is private between you and a follower.  Be careful though; don’t post any photos that you want to keep secret as they show up in your Recent Images.  And make sure you’re really REALLY DMing someone – we’ve all done it…

Speaking of photos, you can add one by clicking on the little camera icon.  Obvious, I know, but possibly the question I am asked most.

Sometimes you see a tweet with a padlock beside it; this means the person has protected their tweets and you have to apply to be their follower.  Personally, I disapprove of this – especially as it is rarely someone with much to hide.  They are usually trying to escape the glare of someone they don’t want to read their tweets; I think the same effect is achieved by openly tweeting under a pseudonym…

If you are having trouble with a company, like BT or M&S or anyone with a customer services department, tweet them directly and they will answer you within minutes.  It’s a shortcut to success, they don’t want your followers to hear of any shoddy service and they like to show off about how quickly they can resolve it too.  I always thank companies publicly when they’ve been helpful.  And name and shame when they haven’t.  (Make sure you get their name right though, I just gave hell to a poor man in France called @edf.)

On a Friday, you will see people tweeting lots of @ names with #FF on the end.  This is ‘follow Friday’, where tweeps recommend good people to follow to their followers.  The cardinal rule with this is DO NOT RT these tweets as they are boring and nobody cares.  Just politely thank the #FFer and get on with your day.

10. Once you get good at tweeting, why not freak yourself out by trying a twitter client.  These are other methods of tweeting which each have little idiosyncracies to enhance your twitter experience.  There are as many as there are tweeters, take your pick.  I use tweetdeck on my home computer – which is like trying to fly a very chatty plane – and echofon on my iphone.  And sometimes I just use the twitter website itself.

Now I’m sure I’ve left loads of stuff out, and I’m also sure that twitter will let me know what that stuff is immediately, but in the meantime there should be enough information there to start you off!

Now get tweeting…

Oh and PS – if you want to read this but haven’t got time right now, you can always ‘favourite’ it for later…

PPS No need to follow everyone who follows you, who you follow is your choice entirely.

 
 


How’s Ted doing? And how are you?

Well, it’s a beautifully sunny Sunday morning in October (anyone else old enough to remember ‘seasons’, ah those were the days, eh?!) and I’ve been prompted to post here once more.  People have been kind enough to ask how Ted and I are getting on, now that he’s away at school, and so I thought I’d tell you.

The two-hour drive to the school was fine, business as usual, we had the normal argument about what music we listened to.  (I’m not a massive Iron Maiden fan and he’s not keen on The Carpenters, for some reason.  We compromised with the Kaiser Chiefs.)  It was no different than any other car journey, except for one small moment when his great big hand clasped mine.

“You OK?” I asked.  He nodded, with a crinkly smile, and took his hand away to turn the music up.  I cried at the windscreen for the rest of the trip, and he predicted a riot over and over and over again.

He’s living in a house with eight similar 13 yr-old boys and a wonderfully tolerant and smiling houseparent, who is known as ‘Miss’.  There are three beds in his dorm, which has an ensuite bathroom.  There’s a massive TV downstairs, a computer, lots of squashy sofas, a kitchen for toast and snacks and they have a house meeting every Sunday night.  I think it’s probably nicer than being at home.

After a meeting with the senior staff and headmaster, I tried to hang round for a bit but Ted made it quite clear he wanted to get on with his new life now.  So I took a deep breath, and asked for a hug goodbye.  He refused.  He ran upstairs to his new bedroom instead.

Even though I know what he’s like, and that he didn’t mean to be mean, I was upset because it wasn’t the goodbye I had planned for us.  There were no speeches on a ‘thank you for all you’ve done for me’ theme, no whispers of being strong for each other, no dry ice.  Typical Ted.  Unpredictable right to the end.  I was hurt, but I shouldn’t have been.  That’s the thing with these children, nothing is as it’s supposed to be.  I nearly managed to laugh about it on the way home.

To an empty house.  I didn’t feel I could go in.  I sat in the car for a bit.  Eventually I dashed in, grabbed the dog, and walked him round and round the block until I felt ready.  Nobody there.  I can’t remember what I did, but the next morning I didn’t have to wake Ted up for school, I didn’t have to wake up at all if I didn’t want to.  I didn’t have anything to do.  I didn’t have to do anything.

My lovely daughter (@Molly_McQueen) is now 24.  So for 24 years, I’ve been a mum, first and foremost.  I am no Mother Theresa, I can assure you, my kids will vouch for that.  I swear too much, I am always late, I am not very good in a kitchen scenario.  (I once made Molly a pizza that still had the polystyrene bottom on it.  Luckily she noticed after a couple of bites.  She got me back by phoning a kids TV show and winning a competition called ‘My Mum’s A Rubbish Cook.’  They sent us a Chinese takeaway.)

But I’ve always taken being a parent very seriously, as any decent human being would.  It’s only now that I realise how much I’ve shaped my life around theirs.  Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t sacrificed everything for them; I’m far too selfish, and I abhor spoiltbratism with a passion.  And I’ve certainly not made either of them my partner – just reading the phrase ‘emotional incest’ put a stop to that.  But I think I found a way for us all to rub along together, and now I don’t have to any more.  And that feels most peculiar.

I kept in touch with Ted for the first week.  Or rather I tried to.  He wouldn’t respond to any texts, or answer his phone.  I had to phone Miss to find out if he was OK.  Was he showering every day?  Did he have enough tuck?  Would you mind cleaning his glasses for him while he’s asleep?

Back home, I couldn’t get used to the empty house thing, and so I became very Busy.  Having only ever walked to the car, I signed up to run 10K for Amaze in November, which means lots of training and complaining three times a week.  Mealtimes didn’t happen, I ate odd things at odd times.  I drank more coffee with more friends than I knew I knew, I made lots of lists about lots of things that had to be done immediately, I walked the dog so much that he hides now when I fetch his lead.  I tweeted so much that I tried to unfollow myself as I was clogging up my own timeline.

After about ten days of this empty nest mania, Ted began to communicate.  He texted ‘cm’ which means ‘call me’ in teenage monosyllabia, and to cut an already long story short, he came home for one Saturday night.  (Only to pick up his Games Workshop stuff, it turns out, but still.)

As soon as I saw him, I could tell he had already changed.  He was brighter, he held his head high, he actually smiled at me.  In the face.  As soon as we were away from the school, he gave me a hug.  A big one.  He told me he’d missed me, but he’d missed the pug more.  I was happy with that.

On the way home, he told me he’d learnt how to cook and that he’d like to make meatballs and mashed potato for supper.  “It’s much easier than you think, Mum.”  He’d been teased by one boy, and the school had sorted it out immediately.  There weren’t any hot girls in his year.  He was in the top stream for everything except Maths.  He’d lost all his pocket money the first weekend, shopping in Southampton.  He liked all the teachers, every single one.  He’d only had two showers.  For some reason, his glasses are getting much dirtier than usual.  He needs a laptop to play Minecraft on.  He feels really happy, all the time.  He really loves me but no offence, the food’s much better here than it is at home.

As anyone who has any experience of Aspergers will tell you, this was quite a speech.  I’d never heard anything like it.  Over the weekend, it became apparent that Ted’s needs are finally being properly met and that the fine young man I always knew he could be is being made now.  When I took him back, another boy ran out of the house to greet him excitedly, he was pleased to see Ted and Ted’s never had that before.  He’s never had a friend, or a sleepover, or any form of true companionship.  That boy came to stay for two nights last weekend, and the sound of them laughing at some nerdy geekfest on the computer was just heavenly.  I thought my heart was going to burst with gratitude.

And knowing this has given me permission to get up and get on with it.  I know it’ll never be the same again with me and Ted, my work with him is done, but it’s time for us both to move on with our own lives.  I’m finally enjoying the freedom that I used to yearn for, and so is he.  I’m doing slightly less staring into space and rather more stepping out into the world.  Stand back Martine, this is MY moment!

When I drove Ted back last Sunday, I asked him to mark the school out of 10.  “That’s easy”, he replied, “20.”

No wonder he’s not in the top set for Maths.