Random Thoughts: The Mother Explosion

Coming Out, Family, Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

Like for many, 2020 has been a year like no other. For me, it has been a revelation.

Coming up to 51 years old, an experience in the summer opened my eyes to a world of oppression and toxicity, surrounding my mother. Without realising quite how much power she still has over me and my life decisions, an argument exploded between us and I have subsequently taken a ‘non-contact’ approach until I feel ready to explore what I need to do.

two deer fighting at middle of forest

I have felt guilty about this decision, I mean, family is family – you’re supposed to stick by them no matter what, aren’t you? I had a therapy session with a guy who works with the teachers in our school to help them offload and ‘park’ traumatic events which may have occurred with some of the young people on a day-to-day basis. He assured me that feeling guilty was not going to help, and neither was long-term non-contact. However, he did say that it didn’t matter how long it took, I had to do what was right for me.

This was my first obstacle! I’m a people pleaser, I seek approval, I see the best in everyone and I’ve kept things to myself for years and years in order to ‘not upset the family’. A friend of mine sent me a link to a Blogger, Bethany Webster, who researched and wrote about ‘The Mother Wound.’ I read it and my eyes were opened.

Wow! Everything Bethany Webster talks about, I have felt over the years: shame, not feeling good enough, guilt for wanting more, mental health issues and more; so much more. So now I feel ready to address it (I’m not sure my family are ready for me to address it though, but hey-ho).


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When I was a toddler, I was seriously ill and spent a lot of time in hospital. I, therefore, wasn’t perfect. I didn’t realise this at the time, but my ‘imperfections’ began here. At 15, I knew I was gay. This was in 1985. For ten years I did nothing about it. I went through sixth form, university and two years into my first teaching job before I had the courage to admit feelings for someone of the same sex. It was another two years before I told the family.

So, for twelve years, I hid the real me. I did it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I did it because I didn’t know what my friends, my brother and sister would say. So, my emotional ‘bucket’ should have been full to overflowing way back then. However, I made sure there was a hole near the top of this bucket so it never got full; it never overflowed, emotions dribbled out slowly and I dealt with that.

“He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.”

Again, I didn’t realise this was happening, it was a natural thing for me to do. Just as it was natural for me to come home from school and peel the potatoes ready for tea so that my dad didn’t have to do it all when he got in from work. My brother and sister, blissfully unaware of the feelings of anybody but themselves, were firmly placed in front of the TV watching crap programmes. I would then crack on with my clarinet and piano practice. (To be fair, I did the bare minimum here because I found it dull, hard work. This showed the further up the grades I got).

When I finally ‘came out’ to my mum, it was at Christmas – Boxing Day to be exact. It was our first Christmas without my dad, I think. He had died in the summer at the age of fifty-three. Mum had an inclination that I was about to tell her. On the Christmas Eve that year, I had accompanied mum to the local Working Men’s Club in Morley, just outside Leeds. My sister-in-law’s parents were there. It was the time when, in Emmerdale (Farm), Zoe, the vet, was about to ‘marry’ her lesbian lover. My sister-in-law’s mother (whom I’m sure knew about my sexuality) spouted off about how ‘disgusting’ it was that this was on the television. So, now I was ‘disgusting.’ Wow!

So, when I told mum on the Boxing Day of this year that I was in a relationship with A (obvious as we had bought a house together, had dogs together, went on holiday together, spent every waking moment together), her first question was, ‘Who’s the man?’

“From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!”

Honestly, what is it about heterosexual people that focus totally on the sex in a gay relationship? I mean, I never ask my heterosexual friends (and I have lots) what their favourite position is! I sighed and responded with, ‘It doesn’t really work like that.’

Eventually, Mum told my brother. He was, after all, the man of the house now that we didn’t have our dad. It is a shame that my brother couldn’t be the man of the house when it came to organising Dad’s funeral – that was left to me as everyone else fell apart. Here is probably where my mental health issues began – I wasn’t allowed to grieve, I had to ‘look after’ the family. I had to explain to my niece, who was a toddler, that ‘Grandad would always be there – in the stars. If you can’t see the stars, it’s because it’s cold so Grandad has to cover himself up with the clouds to keep warm’.

So, when my brother found out, all was as expected. He phoned me up – I was at a quiz with my work colleagues at the time – and demanded I return to Leeds where he would find me a nice bloke to be with! I think I laughed. I think I also told him that if I returned to Leeds, I would still be gay and he would have to meet all the women I picked up after nights out in the city. He didn’t find this funny. I was being flippant. He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.

macro photograph of water splash

From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!

So, let’s go back to my emotional ‘bucket’. It should have been full a long time ago but because I’d allowed it never to fill, I’ve coped as best I can.

Lockdown made me realise that I have everything I want, everything I need. I have an amazing girlfriend and a tiny community of friends who accept us together, for us, including the people at the church. Mel and I didn’t argue during the first lockdown at all. We enjoyed each other’s company and our relationship blossomed.

Our big argument happened in the summer when my mum and her partner visited. It was difficult for Mel and I as we had spent so long by ourselves, knowing what each other was thinking, understanding our roles within the relationship, that when we had to cater for two other people we had to vocalise what needed to be done. We wanted everything to be perfect for my mum and Frank because they’d been locked away for so long. However, Mum couldn’t resist pointing out how ‘bossy’ Mel was, how she ‘ruled me’, how I’d lost my ‘confidence’ and wasn’t the same person anymore.

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There was a moment where I went blank. My anxiety disorder took over and I was ‘absent’. I think it was at this point that I repaired my ‘bucket’. I filled the hole in so now, the bucket would overflow; and it did. Everything I had held in, the suppressed feelings of love for my first girlfriend, the hidden scars and bruises from the domestic abuse I suffered at the hands of my second girlfriend, the traumatic stories I hear every day at work and the depth of love I have for Mel, who, at her own admission, isn’t perfect (who is?) but adores me for me. She is my protector, my soul mate, my best friend. How many people can say they’ve got all that in their lives?

I consider myself very lucky and I love now, more than I’ve ever been able to love before because I am being me. In the words of Bethany Webster, I am ‘taking responsibility for my own path by becoming conscious or previously unconscious patterns and making new choices that reflect my true desires.’

It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s going to make me happy and that’s all that matters.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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When you see your first lesbian crush thirty years later and she has no idea who you are …

By Hayley Sherman: “Picture the scene. It’s 1991. I’m thirteen, she’s twenty-six. I’m an iffy-looking, greasy-faced, stalkerish teenager and she’s a respectable, married foreign languages teacher. Let’s face it, it was never going to work.”

New Year, New Queer

Louise Clare Dalton on switching labels from Bi to Queer. But do we even need labels any more?

Small Steps: Teaching During Section 28 and Beyond

Janine Norris, Lesbian, teaching

A Random Thoughts Post by Janine Norris

Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘You can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch’.

I began teaching, like a real grown-up, in 1993 in a school just outside Great Yarmouth. I have to say, it was a complete shock to my system. How had this happened? Me, in charge of classes of thirty children? However, here I was, a teacher! An actual teacher! I was twenty-three.

My first position was maternity cover for two terms. I had been employed through sheer desperation on the school’s behalf. I had had a few interviews but been completely unsuccessful and this invitation to interview came on the day of my graduation. It was a standing joke throughout the eleven years I stayed at this school that I was ‘the best of a bad lot’. The morning interviewee was so bad that they had to choose me.

It was the start of an epic adventure; my release to freedom; not having to answer to anyone else except myself.

It was here I met my first girlfriend. Thirteen years older than me, an experienced teacher with an amazing sense of humour and a nice car. I mean, I wasn’t into material things but she had everything I aspired to achieve during my career. She was bright, great with the kids and an amazing teacher.

“Once the kids started doing as they were asked and stopped throwing chairs and tables, I would be bored and I knew it was time for a new challenge.”

It was 1995 when we got together. Section 28 of the Local Government Act had been introduced to England, Scotland and Wales in 1988 as an amendment (section 2A) to the Local Government Act, 1986. On the 24th May 1988, the amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this added a tremendous pressure to our relationship as we felt we had to hide everything we were during school hours. We had a handful of friends and very close colleagues who knew we were a couple but that was it. The act was repealed in England on 18th November 2003. We separated after 9 and a half years together in the spring of 2004.


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Through my Teacher Training years in Lincoln, I struggled with the academic side of things. I was lucky enough to get a place at college because of my music qualifications. I had struggled to pass A levels, took 3 years to do so, but at the time primary schools needed music teachers.

When I arrived at college, I realised that the standard of musician in my class was far superior to myself. I wasn’t an academic, I wasn’t a virtuoso musician, I scraped through graded exams and academic exams by the skin of my teeth. Sitting still to revise, write essays or practice instruments wasn’t my thing.

However, none of this really mattered due to the turn my primary teaching career took quite early on. For some reason, I always got on really well with the ‘naughty boys’. (There appeared to be no naughty girls back then.) So I ended up with classes of these challenging students and was encouraged by my first headteacher to establish an in-school inclusion class to accommodate the more emotional needs of the students. Nothing I learnt or studied in college or on any teaching practices prepared me for this. I just seemed to have a knack of engaging the group in things where they enjoyed being at school.

grange hill sausage - Google Search | Childhood memories 70s, My childhood  memories, 1980s childhood

I became a victim of my own ‘success’ and moved through various jobs in various settings. ‘Success’ meant once the kids started doing as they were asked and stopped throwing chairs and tables, I would be bored and I knew it was time for a new challenge.

I moved across Key Stages (lower and higher) and found that I really enjoyed teaching teenagers. They set the challenge a lot higher for me to work on their behaviour management strategies; every day was exhausting. Also, there were now ‘naughty girls’.

This was something I was not expecting. Girls were so much more difficult than boys. Boys would punch each other, throw a table and get over it. Girls held a grudge. For a long time. Even longer than a long time. I went through some traumatic times during this new challenge. I was bullied by students (and staff actually, but that’s another story), mainly the girls, but sometimes boys. One boy in particular enjoyed telling me at the end of a tough day, ‘I hope you die in a ditch on your moped on the way home tonight.’ Charmer.

The girls were more dangerous, though. I wasn’t open about my sexuality amongst the students, but they obviously knew I was gay. Doc Martens, short hair, riding a moped – it’s obvious, I guess. There was a group of girls who would insinuate inappropriate behaviour, subtle, but it was there. I heard them discussing me one day where they decided I would ‘probably like the Britney Spears video where she’s dressed as a school girl.’ Honestly, I’m gay, this doesn’t make me a paedophile. I hear this a lot, through misunderstanding and fear of not understanding, boys and girls making assumptions about homosexuality that are completely untrue and unfounded.

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Three years ago I was fortunate enough to join the school I work at now. It’s Alternative Provision and it’s amazing. The ethos of the whole environment is ‘transparency’. I found myself becoming brave enough to join in conversations with adults and students and refer to my ‘partner’. Shortly after I joined, I began to drop the ‘girlfriend’ word. I expected a huge, negative response. This didn’t happen. It became part of everyday conversation for the students to refer to my girlfriend, mostly in the context of ‘are you as annoying as this at home? Your girlfriend must get well fed up of you.’

“We have created an ethos within our establishment now, not purposely, by evolving, where the kids are of the opinion that ‘we don’t care whether you’re gay, trans, whatever, stop banging on about it’.”

Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘you can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch.’ These insults are no worse than being called a ‘fat cow’ or ‘a bald see you next Tuesday’. The kids want to get personal so they go for the things they think will upset you the most.

We have created an ethos within our establishment now, not purposely, by evolving, where the kids are of the opinion that ‘we don’t care whether you’re gay, trans, whatever, stop banging on about it’. We have explained the oppression and the history and the factors surrounding Section 28 and they understand that, but in their minds, because they see it every day and recognise that everyone is the same, it’s time to move on. Fair enough.

Obviously, they have yet to see the evils of transphobia, homophobia, etc., in the wider world, but I’m hoping that each of these individuals will stand up and be counted if they are ever unfortunate enough to witness an incident of this type of abuse.

Big journeys begin with small steps.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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A Silent New Year’s Eve in a Field in the Middle of Nowhere

By Hayley Sherman: “At midnight, where fireworks exploded around the globe, just twelve hollow clangs of a cowbell sounded somewhere in the distance, then the disappointing toot of a depressed owl. Then more silence. Happy New Year to me!”

Random Thoughts … Operation: Rescue Melly

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Relationships

By Janine Norris

What do you do when your girlfriend’s miles away and falls ill with a life-threatening condition?

Mel and 1/5 of a horse face.

I made a mad dash with a friend on Thursday morning to Lichfield in Staffordshire. My girlfriend, Mel, had been working up there since Monday. From the Tuesday she had struggled with a dreadful headache and violent vomiting. This was nothing new. She has suffered with migraines for a few years now (since she met me actually!) and in the last 3 months has had cyclical pattern of headaches and vomiting at least twice a week. She had finally agreed to book an appointment with the doctor and was due to attend soon.

On Wednesday evening she phoned me and was crying. Mel is not a person who cries easily. She’s my strong, brave, sensible girlfriend who gives me the power and permission to be the emotional cry-baby; it works well.

By now I know it’s serious. I ring her the next morning and she says she just wants to ‘go to sleep and not wake up’. That’s how bad the pain was. I messaged her best friend, Bex, who is our anchor. She’s bright, logical and a great problem solver. She immediately tells me to contact work and get to hers as soon as possible. We need to launch ‘Operation: Rescue Melly!’

“As I went in, the room was in complete darkness and it was obvious to me that Mel was very poorly. Her head, she described, felt like it was squeezed in a vice and she wanted to ‘dig it out’. She wasn’t totally lucid either. I got her dressed as best I could and got her in the van to begin the journey home.”

I jumped on my ‘pocket rocket’ Ninja 650 and whizzed to Baylham to meet Bex. We then began our 3-hour long journey to Lichfield. I messaged Mel to let her know we were on our way.

When we arrived, Bex drove straight off back to Ipswich; she had an important ‘Zoom’ call to attend that she might just get back to work for if she was lucky.

I went to the hotel Mel was staying in and found she’d left her key card just peeping out from under the door. As I went in, the room was in complete darkness and it was obvious to me that Mel was very poorly. Her head, she described, felt like it was squeezed in a vice and she wanted to ‘dig it out’. She wasn’t totally lucid either. I got her dressed as best I could and got her in the van to begin the journey home.

Now, everyone who knows us well, knows that Mel hates my driving! Not just mine, to be fair, she’s a nervous passenger. However, I’m her true love so she’s allowed to criticise my driving whenever she likes (that’s the law of girlfriends apparently). During this drive from Lichfield to home, I knew I was going to have to get her to hospital as soon as I could. Not just because she didn’t know where she was, what day it was and what she had been doing that morning, but mainly because she didn’t comment once about my driving!


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I am awaiting the speeding tickets through my door at any point. I drove super aggressively because I sensed the urgency. I was overtaking, undertaking, flashing my lights, beeping my horn, swearing – I mean, I do suffer road rage normally but this was different. (I apologise to anybody I may have upset on the A14 that day.)

When we arrived at A&E I checked her in and obviously couldn’t be with her. I found a car parking space and couldn’t even put the coins in to get my ticket. A very kind gentleman helped me out with this, and now I’m a pro.

Mel was admitted to the assessment unit and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

This was a shock to us all. The doctors said that 12 hours later and it would be a completely different story. I’m hoping this will give me special dispensation for my crazy driving that day.

It is Sunday evening and Mel is still in hospital. She has horrifically high blood pressure and is still vomiting and on pain medication for her headaches. She is due an MRI on Monday or Tuesday and if nothing shows in that, then she has to have a Lumbar Puncture. Oh, and her bloods have gone to Addenbrookes in a taxi for specialised testing.

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However, this isn’t really the blog I want to write. The best part of this situation is the ‘group chats’. We have various group chats but the two that kept us both going over this hideous time are ‘Everything BUT wood’ and ‘Whore Needles’.

‘Everything BUT wood’ includes Mel, me, an old colleague of hers (Milly) and her Paramedic husband, Shane. Shane and Mel are obsessed with everything chainsaw and how much seasoned wood they can collect to burn on their respective wood burners. When I informed ‘Everything BUT wood’ of Mel’s bacterial meningitis diagnosis, Milly immediately ‘googled’ to make sure she was thinking of the right meningitis.

                Milly: …. It came up with bacterial vaginosis … get those antibiotics pumping!

WhatsApp messages have been an absolute god send throughout this situation so far. The best part for me is that, during my 40-minute journey to hospital and back, I stay informed. The new van we have has the ability to read out messages as you go along. I can honestly say that I have been crying with laughter at some of the threads and some of the single comments.

My ‘siri’ is set to a female with an Irish accent. When she reads the messages to me it makes it even funnier.

We have another Group Chat entitled ‘Whore Needles’. This is taken from a character from an adult comic or something and was named because of the appalling behaviour of our friend Bex’s horse at the time. She (the horse, not Bex) was often referred to as a ‘Whore Needle’ or sometimes shortened to ‘The Needle’ when she was being particularly mare-ish. We spend a lot of time going to horse shows with Bex and her new horse, Harn.

Harn is a huge, ginger Arabian cross thing who knows how handsome he is and therefore shows it off at every opportunity. He has 2 favourite moves whilst out in public. His first is waving his front ‘paws’ in the air at his ever-increasing fanbase. His second is raising his back ‘paws’ in a game of ‘eject the rider.’ Due to this, Bex can become fairly nervous and can behave a little like a Diva at times.

Harn playing ‘Eject the rider’!

The following conversation occurred following Mel’s diagnosis:

Bex: Morning! I would just like to say that I know I can be a vile thing at competitions. However you didn’t have to go quite so far to get out of grooming on Sunday.

Mel: I was going to say the same – anything to avoid you at a show.

Conversations have continued pretty much in the same vein.

Mel: (prior to the show on Sunday) Good luck and enjoy and I look forward to reviewing all the photos of your shiny boobs.

Mel is usually in charge of cleaning Bex’s show BOOTS to the highest standard – without her there, she was concerned about the level of shine. ‘Shiny boobs’ was NOT what Mel wanted to write.

Following a hospital meal, Mel (who has a very healthy appetite, it’s fair to say) sent a message.

                Mel: Gosh, I’m absolutely stuffed after that hospital cottage pie, said no Melly ever.

Following a visit from the on-call doctor about her increasingly painful head, Mel reported:

I’ve just seen the duty doctor but unfortunately she was about 12 and was clearly on work experience so she’s probably going to prescribe me a lollipop.

It’s been a difficult few days for everyone concerned, and Mel can be a very serious character at times. However, her humour has stepped up and this is helping her to refocus her mind so that she is not dwelling on the ‘what might happen’ thoughts. Her observations of people, situations and the environment have been her saving grace, most definitely.

She’s not out of the woods yet, but she’s in the best place she can be. We are both so incredibly grateful and thankful for the work the NHS do, all day, every day. She honestly could not have had better treatment. Yes, the food portions are not as big as she is used to (which is no bad thing), but they are nutritious, hot and very welcome. Yes, the on-call doctor appeared not even to have reached her early teenage years yet, but that’s a reflection on how old we are now, not a reflection on the doctor. (I mean, who hasn’t recently looked at a police officer and thought ‘blimey, shouldn’t you still be in school?’) What we have realised is what is important in life. It’s not money, cars, houses, holidays, etc., etc. It’s people who love you/care about you/make you laugh and your health. Thank you for reading. Hopefully I will be able to update you on her progress soon.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Small Steps: Teaching During Section 28 and Beyond

By Janine Norris: “Don’t get me wrong, the insults still come thick and fast. Most recently I have mainly been ‘a short-haired, lesbian bitch!’ My general response to this is something along the lines of ‘You can’t insult me with fact and I’m not always a bitch’.”

2020 Vision

By Josie Quinn: “This year, Christmas is going to look very different, and it’s going to be really difficult for a lot of people, but that just makes it all the more important to be grateful for whatever moments of cheer we can manage.”

The Journey to Living a Queer Life

By Louise Clare Dalton: “This year I’ve had a chance to be that kid again. To follow my instincts. I marched into a salon hungover and chopped my hair off just because I fucking wanted to. I came out to my mum over the phone on Pride, I even asked my now girlfriend (she’s fantastic btw) out on our first date …”

Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.

Rather like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of The Hobbit (but not on such a grand scale), the start of Lockdown brought about some unexpected guests. The ‘guests’ were the school Guinea Pigs, Mary and Marjorie.

Nobody else working in the school could take them home for Lockdown, so I immediately jumped at the chance. It’s common knowledge that my girlfriend and I much prefer the company of animals than people, so our home was the perfect choice.

Marjorie

I had to dismantle the ‘run’ that the students had made for the girls for it to fit in the back of the car. I struggled with the hutch, carrying it by myself and, finding super human strength from somewhere (generally stubbornness and determination), I managed to get everything in the car. The pigs travelled in style in a cat carrier in the passenger-side footwell.

On arrival home, I carefully unloaded the precious cargo and struggled down the side path to the back garden. Could I have asked my girlfriend for help? Yes, but she wasn’t expecting visitors!

Once I had settled the girls in their hutch with bedding, fresh vegetables and salad, I called my girlfriend, Mel, who was still working at her desk in the house.

She came into the garden, a little unsure of what was in store – she hates surprises. I explained that nobody else could take the guinea pigs home, so I had offered to look after them. I rattled on and on about how I would look after them and she wouldn’t have to do anything so that I took responsibility. After all, on this occasion, I hadn’t consulted her on the matter. We usually make important decisions together, but this was an emergency. Nobody was allowed back on the school site after today and the pigs needed a home.

I introduced Mel to ‘Hairy’ Mary and Marjorie. She asked if she could hold one. I handed her Mary. A huge grin appeared on her face and she said, ‘I feel like I’m eight years old again and I’ve been chosen to look after the school guinea pigs for the summer holidays.’

And that is where my story begins.

Life in Lockdown for Mel and I threatened to be rather difficult. Mel has worked from home, alone, for the last twenty years. She is a Business Management Consultant working mainly with land-based businesses, mainly farms and farmers, so when she isn’t working at home, she’s out and about, in the middle of nowhere, advising farmers on how best to move forward with their businesses.


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As schools closed suddenly, there I was, sitting in the opposite corner of the lounge at a desk of my own, having no idea how I was going to cope. I’m not a desk worker. I’m a fidget. Similarities with some of my students with ADHD are prevalent in my personality. Mel is calm, professional and totally focused on her work. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it was better than either of us ever imagined: We no longer had to make excuses for not going out, we enjoyed each other’s company approximately 99% of the time, we learnt new things about each other, and we became interested in each other’s work. I was astounded at how knowledgeable Mel was when it came to advising farmers via Zoom, and she finally got to see me teaching and interacting with the students I had talked so much about.

However, what actually made Lockdown more memorable was the presence of Mary and Marjorie. We had no real idea of a guinea pig’s needs, so Mel researched everything we needed to know. We took advice from people we knew who had had (or still had) guinea pigs, and the girls began to thrive.

We also began to thrive. Our mornings began with a dog walk by the river, then coffee sitting in the garden watching the pigs explore their new items (boxes, tunnels, food, etc.) we had placed in their run each day. It was a peaceful time.

On the third Thursday of Lockdown we went into the garden to put the pigs to bed for the night. We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.

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The next morning, we put the girls in their run, and Marjorie was moving but dragging her back legs behind her. This, for us, was a heart-breaking sight. We booked an appointment at the vet. When we arrived, we had to wait in the carpark for the vet to come out and take Marjorie inside. He returned with painkillers and suggested we wait a week to see what happened.

We decided to put them both to bed as normal and see how she was the next morning. Needless to say, we went to bed that evening sobbing. We had grown so fond of the girls and the guilt we felt was immense.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

By Sunday, it looked as though Marjorie was deteriorating. She couldn’t keep herself clean, so we were bathing her with cotton wool and warm water. She was still eating and moving about, but we were concerned about her quality of life.

On Monday morning, I opened the hutch door and she had clearly not moved all night. She was dirty and sorrowful looking. I made the decision to phone the vet and book her in to be put to sleep that afternoon.

The tears Mel and I cried over that little girl were huge.

In my usual fashion, at lunchtime, I left my desk and popped into the garden for some fresh air and outdoor stimulation. Something told me to look at the pigs. As I looked in the run, Marjorie was running around, playing, her back legs dragging behind her, but she looked much brighter. I cancelled her vet appointment. She lived to fight another day.

Mary

There were a couple more close calls, but she still seemed happy in herself and was eating. Eventually, we booked in to see the ‘Exotic Animal Vet’ (who knew guinea pigs were Exotic Animals?). She took her away, examined her and returned, saying she definitely had feeling in her legs and toes (as she had moved her legs when she pinched her toes). She couldn’t feel any broken bones, so really wanted us to give her a bit more time. She explained that if she was no better within the next month, we were to go back and she would reassess her quality of life. This vet actually said, ‘Don’t give up on her just yet.’

We took her home and began doing very small exercises with her back legs each morning and evening. Over the next couple of weeks, she began ‘paddling’ one of her back legs, and a few days later, did the same with the other.

Approximately a month after seeing that vet, Marjorie was 95% back to normal!

For me, this was a miracle. The resilience shown by this tiny creature was out of this world. Needless to say, the girls are very special to us. They are going to stay with us for the rest of their lives, and they continue to give us so much pleasure and happiness.

Marjorie has doubled in weight and is definitely the pig in charge; Mary doesn’t mind, as long as there’s food around.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

The power of guinea pigs is incredible. However, don’t agree to have them as pets until you’ve researched thoroughly. Their intelligence, curiosity and dietary needs are far more complex than people realise.

We will have Guinea Pigs for ever.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time?

I was born cursed.

“Cursed with what?” I hear you ask.

Well, let me tell you. I was born cursed with the ginger gene! To many of you reading this now, you may feel this is a dramatic over-exaggeration of my hair colour. Some of you may be ‘ginger’ and love it. However, growing up ginger in the 70s was no easy task.

When I say ‘ginger’ I mean ginger. Not ‘Strawberry Blonde’, not ‘sandy,’ but actual ORANGE. On top of this, there were 3 of us. Me, my younger sister and my older brother. All orange!

As kids, we would be out and about with our parents, shopping, on holiday, whatever. Wherever we went we would be stared at. I mean, literally, people would stop and stare at the 3 of us. In today’s context we would be chart-topping superstars as part of ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack; we could all sing!

It wasn’t just the staring either. People would touch us. Touch our hair. Without permission. I’ve heard pregnant women say similar about strangers thinking they have the right to touch the ‘baby belly’; people they don’t know walking up to them and stroking their bump even in this day and age.

A colleague of mine has recently had cancer and lost all of her hair. She said that one of the most uncomfortable and almost distressing parts was when her hair began to grow back and people would stroke her ‘stubble.’ Generally people she knew, but some outside of the family.

I suppose the ‘Curse of Ginger’ could have caused me a lot more trouble. There were not so many gingers about in those days and many of our ‘community’ were bullied for their hair colour. On reflection, the targets of bullying were mainly boys with a ginger chip on their shoulder, so they would attack first in order to defend themselves. This did not usually turn out well.

My brother and I were both quite placid and easy going, so there was no real need for us to be singled out and bullied for our hair colour. I mean yes, there was the usual name calling—‘Duracell,’ ‘Carrot top,’ ‘Ginger nut,’ etc.—but I was never bothered by it. My sister was a totally different character, so nobody in their right mind was going to have a pop at her!

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An observation I have made about the ‘Ginger Curse’ is that, generally, if you are ginger, you hate it; if you are not ginger, you love it and want to be ginger.

Redheads (a polite way to say ‘Ginger’) are apparently the rarest ‘breed’ of the human population with only between 1 and 2 per cent natural gingers. Research has been taking place for years into the ginger gene. In the year 2000 it was discovered that the ‘mutation’ of a particular gene (MC1R/MCIR) causes gingerness and its unique characteristics.

Here we go again! Such negative connotations into the ginger gene—mutation! Come on! What about ‘Transformation,’ ‘Revolution,’ ‘Metamorphosis?’ These are all far more complimentary than ‘Mutation’. As it is, our gingerness causes us to be more sensitive than the rest of the world’s population (scientifically only physically more sensitive, but who knows, it could have an effect on our mental and emotional sensitivity too?)

Over sensitivity to temperature changes is a definite physical symptom I suffer as a ginger. In the winter, one minute I’m fine and within a millisecond I’m shivering like a Chihuahua being forced to walk in the rain. As a ginger, I am more sensitive to pain which is why, if you visit my home, you will find enough painkillers to stock a village pharmacy. During major operations as a child I required 20 per cent more anaesthetic than the kid in the next bed and I was far more susceptible to bleeding out as blood doesn’t clot as quickly. (I remember all these details from the doctors, nurses and surgeons from my weeks at a time in hospital.)

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time? I knew I was definitely not straight when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I began my teaching career in the early 90’s amid Section 28 that I knew I was most definitely gay.

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My first true love was a senior teacher (13 years older than me) and we were together for 9 and half years. However, for all of that time, due to Section 28, due to her not wanting to upset her elderly parents, due to her not wanting to attract attention, due to parents of pupils making derogatory comments following rumours around the village where we lived, we behaved outside the home as ‘just good friends’. This most definitely took its toll on our relationship and I ended it, feeling guilty. I left with nothing.

As if this wasn’t/isn’t enough, I have battled a severe anxiety disorder which presents (when unmedicated) in a range of ways: at worst, panic attacks so debilitating I can’t function enough to even get out of bed to take a shower; at best, I have extremely tidy, alphabetically-rearranged, colour-coordinated kitchen cupboards through an attack of OCD.

I am aware of an addictive personality which is not always a negative attribute (alcohol, food, self-harm), it can also have positive influences on my life. For example, during the recent lockdown, my obsession has been with maths! For me, this has been fabulous because, as a primary-trained, non-specialist maths teacher teaching GCSE maths to excluded teenagers, I feel that, at last, I am ahead of the game.

So, the ginger curse could have been much worse for me. I haven’t ever embraced it. I have yearned for my hair to turn naturally grey for years but it’s as stubborn as I am. I am currently rocking my natural colour, which is certainly less orange than it was when I was a child, and there are definite sprinkles of grey in there, so things are looking good.

In the grand scheme of things, I am in good health, have an amazing career and a loving, generous, kind partner. Curse of Ginger? I’ve got this.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

Read all of Janine’s Random Thoughts: This is not a Diary Posts

Read more blogs by incredible LGBTQ+ Women Like Us.


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