Happy New Year

‘You can go the distance; you can run the mile,
You can walk straight through hell with a smile.
You could be the hero; you could get the gold,
Breaking records you thought never could be broke.’

The Script feat. Will.I.Am

This is the sort of motivational kick up the arse that would usually have me running for the nearest picket line, comprehensive solutions to the UNs top ten crisis list firmly in hand. But this New Year, as I found out, things would be a little different.

As I toasted the New Year in with a motley crew of very lovely mates, I felt renewed vigour and that classic everything-is-possible, take-on-the-world feeling rising up again. Or it could have been that night’s Chinese after one too many, who knew. In fact, the only thing missing from the evening was ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ Personally, I’m not a huge fan of that song; the inebriated slurring and bizarre hand-cross-bounce manoeuvre- which at that point in most people’s New Years Eve is a task akin to a Mensa intelligence test. Plus I’ve never understood the reasoning behind ‘old acquaintances being forgot.’ Friend-culling is a sure fire recipe for a sad and lonely life in my opinion. Anyway, I digress.

The clock struck midnight. Well, in reality, our smart phones silently and impersonally flipped their numbers from 11:59 to 12:00. We argued over the few seconds’ difference and to a chorus of ‘Happy New Year’ embraced each other and a brand spanking new 2013.
My mind raced with possibilities. Solving world peace, running a marathon, becoming a world-renowned ambassador for human rights, building a dream centre, or finally learning to be a proper housewife and sew ;) More ideas brewing than a Carlsberg factory. See, that’s one thing you should know about me, I have vision by the bucketload. Enough, in fact, to solve the drought in Ethiopia if it were actually water. That, accompanied with incessant optimism, tireless resolve, epic stubbornness, just enough arrogant self belief and I genuinely believed I could achieve anything. Excepting of course the marathon-even I know my limits. Running is my nemesis and I am instantly distrustful of anyone who claims to ‘enjoy’ this hideous pastime.

Fast forward a few hours, sense of occasion all but evaporated into the headachey Monday morning blues from hell (now complete with 4 far-too awake and excitable offspring, and 1 grumpy husband) I find myself at the local Tesco café, bemused as I struggle to work out exactly how many breakfasts I needed to order for 6 of us. No easy task.

BrainFog- the bain of my life. For the past 5 years S and I have been chronically sleep deprived. Our boy B has a rare chromosome disorder. Usually when I tell people that there are a few standard reactions; I’ll share a couple of my faves:

One. They look at me as if I had forgotten to put on clothes that morning and am blissfully unaware that my puppies are freely unleashed to the world. Cue nervous smile, quick conversation change, obligatory polite goodbye paired with some sort of sorry-your-life-sucks comment, and backing off at speed through the nearest fire exit.
Two. After a fleeting look not dissimilar to constipation as they dredge up all their GCSE biology knowledge of genetics from the useless facts memory file deep in their brain, the expression changes to pity and they spout some off-the-wall and miseducated rubbish about kids with ‘handicaps’ (a totally un-PC term for the uninformed among you) while staring intently and stroking your arm as if their life depended on it.

B’s disorder makes him an exceptionally unique little boy. There are approximately 500 people worldwide with his condition, and of those about 7 with his exact genetic make-up. As opposed to the 5.5 billion walking round like you or me. In reality this translates as autism, severe learning difficulty, ADHD, no speech, multiple health problems, physical issues, and risk of sudden death at any point. Oh yes, I’d almost forgotten- and sleep disorders. Think complicated version of Taz on amphetamines and you’re almost there.
The average wake-up call is between 4.30 and 5am. Because his needs are so complex, he needs constant care and the old parental classic of early morning TV dumpage can unfortunately not be applied. I have attempted that once, and never again after coming back a few minutes later to find him stood atop said appliance, licking our uplight (which, yes, was on). Sensory experience-hell yeah! Safe? Not so much. Not cool. And this, the reason for my ongoing BrainFog and subsequent ordering issue this particular morning.

Fry-ups finished- Tesco café not my first choice you understand but spontaneity came back and bit me in the bum when we discovered New Year’s Day is the ONLY day of the year the Toby isn’t open for breakfast. See, we are classy really.
D, O and BH trotted off to look for exciting things to purchase with their £10 Christmas cash. To reassure you, this was one of those come-in-and-buy-your-entire-life stores, we were not expecting them to spend their money on oranges and broccoli.

B was disinterested with this line of thought and beelined straight for the travelator. We spent approximately the next 40 minutes experiencing the thrill that is the motorised flat bed escalator. Rock and roll. B got especially excited at the bottom of the down where you have to step off. He wasn’t so keen on the up, except for the fact it meant he could go down again. This, I decided, was definitely not the best post-cocktails-no-sleep activity, but then again, it wasn’t the worst either- see a few paragraphs back re:running :/ When B is having a good time, he gets noisier. Think parrot/chimpanzee lovechild. People were politely staring at this point. As I looked down at my beautiful, disengaged, inappropriate, innocent, unique little boy, my heart sank just a little and I felt the gears start to shift down to an Ecclesiastes moment. Chasing the wind. How could I fulfil any of that vision which was still so sharply imprinted on my mind from the night before? I prayed, not even with words- I didn’t have any of those left. I was tired of shouting over my noisy circumstances to try and make my voice heard, tired of having my hands too full of things to reach out and be the difference in someone else’s life.

Feeling like a pancake on Shrove Tuesday; flat (and quite round at this point a week after Christmas) I herded the kids together. Exciting Christmas purchases included a huge box of plasticine-yay my floor, and some aqua beads-again, yay my floor. S, as is the custom, proceeded with the children to the car while I stood in line to pay. One guy ahead of me, 2 minutes tops.
About 10 minutes had passed at this point, and the people behind me were tutting and carrying on like the world was going to end before they got to pay for their shopping, but could none the less not be bothered to move said shopping the whole 2 metres left to the empty checkout. The Tesco cashier turned and mouthed an apology to me, and it became clear the guy in front was struggling with the money for his shopping. He’d bought cash, and seemingly wasn’t that hot with the maths, as 4/5 of the way through scanning he’d realised the subtotal actually went over his budget. To rectify, he’d been putting things back. One at a time. Value tuna. Check total. Still over budget. Value ham. Still over. Chocolate cereal. And so on and so forth. The cashier was getting increasingly irate because she had to call her supervisor for some of the overrides, and I stood watching as the drama unfolded. Eventually total price of shopping and total money in man’s wallet equalled each other, and apologetically he made as swift an exit as he could manage, helped on his way by the red hot stares of death that only apparently manifest in supermarket queues or supermarket car parks.
My turn. Cashier lady starts furiously scanning my shopping, hellbent on making up for lost time. I had some clothes that needed de-tagging, and jokingly commented on this not being her day what with all of us awkward customers. That was the proverbial last straw, and she started unleashing her fury regarding Slow and Bad at Maths guy. The thing that struck me as she spoke was this simple phrase. ‘Why would you come shopping when you don’t have enough money?’

In that nanosecond I had a small epiphany. I could think of multiple reasons why someone would come shopping and end up in such a predicament. Yes, maybe he was just slow and bad at maths. Or maybe he had BrainFog. I’ve done a lot of weird things under the influence of BrainFog. Maybe his wife just left him and it was the first time he’d ever ventured to do the grocery shopping. Maybe he’d just been diagnosed with some hideous disease. Maybe he’d just lost his child. Maybe his wife had died. Maybe he had some sort of learning disability and his carer was watching from a distance to increase his independence. As the imaginary list in my head grew and grew I felt sickened by the reality that corporate speed and efficiency were valued so much more highly than patience and tolerance of a beautifully handcrafted person, who is infinitely more of worth than any stats on how long it takes to get served at Tesco.

This was my moment to make a difference. Just a small one, but a difference none the less. Many small bricks make a palace. So I offered my small brick.

‘Why would you come shopping when you don’t have enough money?’
My response?
‘You never know people’s story.’

With that one ordinary encounter my thinking got flipped on its head and I danced a little victory dance. Tesco, New Year’s Day and I had realised something very important. No more shouting til my voice was hoarse to make a difference in the huge things. No more being frustrated at having my hands tied by circumstance.

I was going to make my whispers count.


  1. Hi Lucy - enjoyed reading this!! I also get annoyed about how misplaced peoples values are these days. Impatience seems to be in abundance - from people doing their weekly shop to those thinking they are clever and cool by breaking speed limits and endangering lives. Standing up for those values which are more important but on a smaller day to day basis is one of the most important things we can do :-) x

  2. Hi CrazyLou, yes I totally agree! Many small bricks and we can build something beautiful :) Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazing. Love it. Good read lucent. Keep it up I wanna hear more.

  4. That's all it takes, a whisper cos people switch off when you yell :)

  5. too true Lyndylou, too true :D


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