Penny, Berkshire, UK


I seem to have read a lot about handbags of late. By way of explanation I had a baby in September so I don’t get out much. Aside from my baby, low rent TV and magazines are pretty much my main sources of entertainment. According to my admittedly pedestrian sources we’ve had quite a few handbag related stories and incidents in recent months. Harriet Harman huffily proclaimed that she’d never spent more than £5o on a bag. Thousands of people who clearly had very little else to do queued for hours on end for a £5 Anya Hindmarch “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” tote, and Grazia magazine seems to wet itself on a fairly regular basis over the latest “It” bag. Its official – bags are the new shoes. Er, so to speak.

My own relationship with handbags has been an on/off one. I own a lot of bags. Some are cheap, some are what I like to call investments. Not that it’s relevant now because (and I suspect this is the fate of most “must have” bags) they’re now all stuffed in a cupboard. On the rare occasions that I do leave the house the only thing that can be seen dangling from my arm is my sons changing bag and, possibly, a string of dribble. It is for this reason, among others, that I will never own an It bag. I can’t pretend there’s not a part of me that wouldn’t like to. In the fantasy version of my life (oh come on we’ve all got one) I’m always thin, effortlessly well dressed and fabulously accessorised. This vision inevitably includes the sort of exquisitely stitched, soft-as-butter leather bag that just screams cash. Or, back in the real world, credit. Apparently, the mean average cost of a handbag in Selfridges is now somewhere in the region of £800. (more…)

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I live in Reading which doesn’t quite qualify as a City – we don’t have a cathedral you see which is how UK towns and cities are differentiated. You can apply every few years ago to become a city based on other more economic criteria but Reading has been continually thwarted in its attempts to do so. I think that tells you everything you need to know about Reading. It has ideas above its station but remains deeply mediocre. When market research companies want to gather data on the average they come to Reading. The main shopping areas are full of the usual retail giants – we don’t do small shops in Reading. We do out of town supermarkets instead – visitors to Reading can feel safe in the knowledge that they will never be more than 5 minutes away from a Tesco superstore. During the day the town centre seems to be disproportionately full of teenage Mums and men that wear slogan T shirts – you know the kind of thing. They aren’t funny or indeed particularly offensive – just indicative of a lack of imagination and a propensity to feel slightly hard done by. During the night Reading folk come out to play and descend into a horrible mess of Bacardi Breezers, strong lager, violence and vomit.

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As readers of my previous posts will be aware I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of advice of late – not all of it welcome. There have however been times in my life when I’d have welcomed some intervention although admittedly, when I think about the multitude of mistakes I have made over the years I realise that in most cases I simply ignored the advice I was given. Doesn’t everyone? Looking at the pieces of advice that I really have taken to heart over the years most were proffered by my parents. Annoyingly they were right and I’m sure I’ll be dishing out the same pearls of wisdom to my future offspring in the years to come. I’m just as sure they’ll ignore me as well until they find out for themselves. I now find myself in the peculiar position of offering advice to younger friends and, in particular, to the people I manage at work. Gratifyingly the latter tend to take my word for it and have benefited accordingly, my friends less so. Am I surprised? No. There are some lessons we all have to learn the hard way.

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Pregnancy can be a very trying business. Your body feels like its one big science project. Every day brings some new wierdness or challenge. I won’t give details here (although please feel free to refer to my previous posts for some illustration) because I don’t want to scare those of you who are yet to embark on this biological rollercoaster. Suffice to say it can be quite tough to deal with at times despite the joy that also goes with it. You’d think that the last thing that friends, relatives and indeed complete strangers and the government would want to do is make things more difficult for you. But they do – and how.

It’s often the case that’s the strongest opinions on how you conduct yourself whilst incubating the next generation are proferred by those who have yet to become parents. Take for example the following comment directed at me by the man who unfortunately looks like he’s likely to marry my sister in law. As said sister in law and her intended arrived home for the weekend my very lovely father in law was doling out the gin and tonics and, at my request, had given me a glass of tonic water only accompanied by the usual ice and slice. When blokey saw my drink he immediately greeted me not with the traditional “Hello, how are you?” but with a “I hope there’s not gin in that.” Sadly he wasn’t kidding around. It took every ounce of self discipline I had not to respond with “Hell yeah, its my fourth. I’m just nipping out for a fag actually would you like to join me?” Because I love my husband dearly I avoided creating a scene but I’m sure you can see why I was tempted. (more…)

There a few situations that make one consider body image more than being 20 weeks pregnant. I am pleased to report that the morning sickness that made my life a misery for the first few months has faded so upon waking the first thing I do every day is put my hand on my tummy and give it a rub – its my way of giving my baby a cuddle. The second thing I do is pad over to the full length mirror at the end of the landing, turn sideways and see if its grown. I like what I see. When I see my bump growing I imagine my baby growing getting bigger, stronger and healthier. As each day passes I’m a day closer to meeting him or her at last (not that I’m impatient or anything). So, picture my fury when I nipped into Boots at lunchtime to stockpile yet more acne treatments (yes as soon as the sickness faded the spots kicked in – thanks be to the pregnancy gods) and noticed the front cover of “Closer” magazine. “Closer” magazine for those who haven’t had the privilege of reading it could be said to represent the nadir of the celebrity swamp fest that has overrun the UK in recent years. It primarily concerns itself with making asinine pronouncements on women “celebs” for being too fat or indeed too thin. These are presented alongside diet tips, celebrity gossip etc. I use the word celebrity in the loosest possible sense of the word. Having a bit part in “Hollyoaks” seems to qualify one for inclusion. Closer makes the likes of the Cosmopolitan magazine of yesteryear look like Rockets Scientists Weekly. Most of the time I don’t care. I have simply conditioned myself to ignore pictures of Nicole Ritchie looking like a gurning twiglet. Today, something caught my attention. This was a picture of a very pregnant Jordan with the headline “My bump is gross”. Yes, apparently although she can still get into her size zero jeans Jordan is desperately unhappy because she has a bump. Given that this is her third child one would have thought she perhaps knew what to expect but apparently its all come as rather as a surprise.

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I am in my second trimester of my first pregnancy – 17 weeks and 2 days to be exact. According to every pregnancy book I own (and believe me that’s a lot) by now I should be glowing. I should be a rosy cheeked, energetic, gently rounded icon of impending motherhood with model skin and teeth. Instead, I look like a pissed off walrus with acne. The first thing I did upon waking this morning was run to the bathroom and vomit bile for around 5 minutes until I cried. Whoever the hell came up with the concept of women “blossoming” and “glowing” in pregnancy was clearly someone intent on finding yet another way to make women feel like crap about themselves. And there just aren’t enough of those in the world are there?

I feel cheated. I bought into this myth that growing another human being would make me feel more womanly and that my bump would make me look cute and sexy in a pre millennium All Saints kind of way. I don’t have a neat little bump. Instead, the middle section of my body looks like its been upholstered. And I swear my ass is getting bigger by the day. I have been reasonably content with all of this because at least the sickness had stopped. I spent the first 14 weeks or so of my pregnancy being or feeling sick on a fairly constant basis. I’d get a little window between about 10 and 2 where I felt faintly human but most days that was as good as it got. For the last 3 weeks or so its been fading – I still get the odd hiccup first thing but I can live with that. It felt like a great big cloud had been lifted from over me. Then, WALLOP this morning. Its back. If there are pregnancy gods they’re not playing fair.

Why do other people insist on perpetuating the myth of the pregnancy glow? It’s customary at this point to blame the media and, lets face it, they don’t help. I didn’t see many pictures of Angelina Jolie looking like death when she was pregnant or read about her battle with stress incontinence in “Heat” magazine. But even people that are meant to be on my side seem to take pleasure in telling me how their pregnant sister/friend/colleague is looking and feeling fantastic. People that have had kids also seem to take great pleasure in telling you that they never had a day of morning sickness either. Many seem to think it’s a personal virtue rather than sheer bloody luck of the draw. Progesterone and I don’t get along – that’s all there is to it.

Is this the beginning of competitive motherhood? In a few months time will I be competing at the coffee morning in the who had the most “natural” birth? contest? Will I be trying to keep up with a clique of Yummy Mummies or feeling a desperate need for my child to win the best potato print competition at nursery?

Answers on a sickbag please……

Penny, 34, England