The Somme

First published in Carlisle Living July 2016

Carlisle Living July 2016

When my granny died in 1996, we inherited a box of family photographs. There are snaps of my mum, my aunt and uncles and endless pictures of Jock, my granny’s Cairn terrier. To be honest, here’s more pictures of Jock than all the children and grandchildren put together: Jock camping, Jock staring haughtily in the opposite direction on the passenger seat of my granda’s van, Jock sitting with his ears blowing inside out on a river bank, Jock with my granny and her wee tartan shopping trolley on the Great Western Road.

But among the photos of kids and dogs and anonymous weddings, there are postcards from the First World War. One has a picture of a little boy and girl standing in the shadow of a grandfather clock. The caption reads ‘only time will tell’. On the back there’s a message written in a scrawling unpractised hand. It’s from my great-grandfather, William Sweeney, my granny’s father. It begins ‘Dear Wife,’ and goes on to tell her that he’s arrived safely in London. The postmark is dated May 1915.

I’d always known that my great-granddad had died in the First World War, although nobody seemed to know the details. The few times I’d spoken to my granny about him, she’d been vague. Not surprising: she was four when he joined up. Still, she had memories of him at home on leave; his watch hanging on the iron bedstead and another occasion where he’d chased her round the kitchen with his bayonet in a moment of boisterous – if inappropriate – high spirits. In hospital just before she died, withered by long illness and dementia I found my gran in tears. When I asked why she was crying, she told me that she was waiting for her da, but she thought he’d gone. She may have been an old lady in a hospital ward, but in her head she was eighty years away, still missing the man who left and never came back.

After she died, I tried to put the pieces of my great-grandfather’s life together. I already knew that Will Sweeney had been born in Ireland and around the turn of the century he’d left home to work in Scotland. My mum has his marriage certificate which tells us he worked as a labourer at the Saracen foundry in Glasgow. He married my great grandmother – Elizabeth McLaughlin, a cotton reeler – in St Aloysius church on New Year’s Eve 1908. Between 1909 and 1914 they had five children, one of whom died in infancy. What puzzles me is this: if Will had joined up in 1915, it was as volunteer. Conscription wasn’t introduced until 1916 and even then, not, at first, for married men and certainly not for Irishmen. He had many valid reasons not to fight, but he chose to go all the same.

There’s a second postcard in the box of photos. It’s from Will’s sister, Margaret. On the front there’s a picture of Lismore Laundry in County Waterford. Some amateur philatelist has torn off the stamp – and with it the postmark – so it’s impossible to date. Addressed to ‘Lizzie’ – my-great grandmother – Margaret’s message is almost poetic in its poignancy; ‘(have) you heard from Will lately as I did not get a letter from him this good while and we are very uneasy about him’. She sends her love to the children and urges Lizzie to pass on any news by return of post.

Of course, you know what’s coming next. The Armed Forces are nothing if not organised. It took me about two minutes on the War Graves Commission website to learn Will’s fate. He was lost in action on 3rd September 1916 at The Somme. He was thirty. His name is on Face 10A at the Thiepval Memorial in France.

The Battle of the Somme began a hundred years ago on 1st July; it ended on 18th November 1916. William Sweeney was one of 420 000 British casualties. That’s almost the entire population of Cumbria wiped out in the space of four months.

For me, The Somme is as distant as the Armada, an iconic historical event that belongs to another world, and although the presence of my granny’s long-lost father brings it closer, there are details I still can’t comprehend. What would make a man leave all his children to fight such a war? Did he regret it once he got there? Was he frightened? Did he think he’d ever go home? What did he tell his wife and sister in his letters? What were they thinking letting all those young men die?

There’s another postcard in the box and it might be a picture of Will. He’s small and sinewy in a Black Watch kilt and he’s looking sideways out of familiar mischievous eyes; there’s a glimmer of a smile on his face. I can’t be sure it’s him – but I’d like to think it is. He looks like the kind of man who’d chase his small daughter round the kitchen with a bayonet – just for a laugh.

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The suspense is killing me

This time last week, my twitter account was suspended. I was aghast and outraged. How – I wanted to know (and I expressed that thought quite forcefully in several emails to Twitter) could I have violated Twitter’s regulations? Had I been offensive? No. Had I used foul/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic language?  No. Had I made a threat to harm another member of the Twitter community? Good lord no. Perish the thought. Then why oh why Twitter had my human right to blither on about not very much with a bunch of people I’ve never met been taken away? Answer THAT and stay fashionable.

The day before had been a peculiar one. I had asked EduTwitter what house names they had at their schools. As a funny little joke, I added

WARNING: Unless you are anyone who says Gryffindor/Hufflepuff/Slytherin/Ravenclaw will be BLOCKED.

As you can see, I tagged Ms Rowling into my reply. What a hoot.

There was, I reckoned, no way that JKR would reply. Anyone who’s glanced at my blog will know that I have been vainly attempting to get Russell Crowe to tweet me for the last four years. I’ve tried a number of amusing and intriguing ways to attract Russ’s attention, but with no joy. You can read the sorry story here. Russell Crowe has 2.77 million followers, JKR has 14.5 million – what are the fucking odds*?

A few minutes after I’d posted and received a number of earnest replies (Larkin, Heaney, McDairmaid, Duffy, Hughes … Aylward, Bronte, Curie, Fry, Keller & Nightingale), the improbable occurred. JKR (or ‘Jo’ as I like to call her now), quote tweeted and replied to me. Blimey! This was a turn up for the books.

 

JKR 2nd tweet

The next few hours were tricky. My phone started to buzz with notifications – not to my tweet, to Jo’s – but because I was tagged in I received her notifications too. There was the mortification that my most viewed tweet ever had a typo in it, but a certain exhilaration that Harry Potter’s author had paused a moment to chuckle over my tweet and post a non-sequiteur that showed she hadn’t really read it properly. Still, the thought was there and – as many of the subsequent replies mentioned – she’d outed herself as a Slytherin.

Then I got a bit fed up. I wasn’t quite ready to ‘mute conversation’ in case something exciting came up, but the phone was fizzing in my hand like an underfed Tamogotchi. However, I continued to field the notifications.

Once we’d got into the thousands I’d had enough. A couple of Twitter pals made mildly amusing jokes and I answered not entirely patiently. I’m not used to Twitter notifications sending my phone haywire. I’m usually quite pleased if three people comment on my tweet. For a moment I considered this is what life must be like for @oldandrewuk and I vaguely wondered how he stands it.

Before I finally muted the conversation I had a quick look at my Twitter impressions. This is an analysis of how many people have viewed my tweets in the last 24 hours. Usually, it’s between 15 – 25 000. By Saturday afternoon I had almost 500 000 impressions.

Later that evening, I discovered I couldn’t tweet. This was irritating. Then a notice came up on my screen telling me my account had been suspended for violating the Twitter terms and conditions. I could make an appeal and leave it in the hands of Twitter who’d get round to sorting it ‘within a few days’.

Oddly, I could read my notifications and I received a number of tweets @sezl asking what the blithers was going on. Fortunately, I have several Twitter accounts (oh come on, who doesn’t?) and I tweeted anxiously from one of those accounts as @sezl in exile. It turns out that was a very bad move as being suspended from Twitter is the same as being excluded from school; until the terms of the suspension have been lifted, you are not allowed on the premises. Even to hand in your maths homework. In hindsight, tweeting from another account could have made matters worse.

What was rather lovely, was fellow tweeters asking – even emailing – to ask if I was ok. There were a couple of hashtags #freetheCarlisle1 and #free@sezl which I found immensely touching.

There were lots of suggestions as to why I had been suspended: I could have been hacked; the spike in my notifications could have made it look like I was a bot; my brother suggested jealous Harry Potter fans had maliciously ganged up to thwart my blossoming friendship with Jo … it was QUITE the puzzle. Still, I was frustrated and upset. I hated not being able to tweet or see what was going on. I had a strong sense that I was being treated unjustly.

Fortunately, there was no need to print the #free@sezl T shirts  or organise the march on Downing Street. Twitter took pity on me and messaged to explain the reason I had been suspended and asked me to sort it out. All I had to do was delete a single offensive tweet. A number of people had seen it and reported it. Twitter reproduced it in order to enlighten me.

I had, on Saturday – as a JOKE – tweeted @JamesTheo and suggested that if he didn’t stop posting daft replies to my house names tweet I would actually hunt him down and kill him. Unfortunately, I left JK Rowling tagged into my tweet. To all intents and purposes, half a million or so Twitter users saw a tweet written by me that looked as if I was threatening to murder the Queen of Hogwarts. The worst bit was, I hadn’t even remembered that I’d written it until I saw the evidence in black and white.

There are several things that need saying. First, I have to apologise to JK Rowling and her fans as I never I never intended to upset anyone. Secondly, thank you to all the kind people who got in touch with Twitter on my behalf in the mistaken belief @sezl would ever post anything mean. Next, I apologise for my own self-righteousness – I did write something awful and being suspended was fair. And last, Twitter reporting seems to work. If it looked like someone had threatened  to harm someone I cared about on Twitter and I didn’t know the context, I’d report them and expect their account to be investigated. Meanwhile, I’m so relieved to be back. I promise I wont do it again.

* The odds of JK Rowling seeing and responding to my tweet are slightly higher that the odds of me winning the jackpot on the UK lottery. Yes, did buy a ticket. No, I didn’t win.

 

Wee Scots Grannies

First published in Carlisle Living November 2014

Until I was about six, I thought everybody had a Scottish granny; a wee Scots granny with a rain hat, a tartan trolley and a Cairn terrier: I honestly believed it was the law. As my English maternal grandparent was known as ‘Grandma’ I even assumed the name ‘Granny’ was exclusively Scottish. As I got older, of course, I realised that this was no more than a stereotype and that not everyone receives a copy of The Broons or Oor Wullie at Christmas or understands the lyrics of ‘Hi Jock My Cuddy’ and that some poor creatures have no granny at all – let alone the fabulous, legendary Scottish type.

My mother, a small fierce woman with an unexpectedly warm heart – imagine Lady Macbeth played by Julie Walters and you’ll have her – is a dedicated Scottish granny.

When Tom and Jessie were little they spent a lot of time at my mum’s. There was a point, when Jessie was about four and played a game called ‘going to the post office, then picking up my prescription’ when I wondered whether she might possibly be spending a bit too much time with Granny, but, really, it didn’t do her any harm. The highlight of the week was Tuesday Tea. Tuesday was the night I worked late and my parents picked the kids up and gave them their dinner. Tom and Jessie loved Tuesday Tea. Granny and Grandad served them spaghetti Bolognese or tuna pasta bake or scrambled egg on toast – or whatever they wouldn’t eat when I made it – and afterwards, there’d be Mulan or Calamity Jane in the living room with the gas fire turned up to five bars.

There can, however, be a dark side to the Scots granny. Like Sergeant Fraser in Dad’s Army, my mother has a propensity for hollow-eyed Caledonian gloom. Whenever I drop in to see her, she gives me a rundown of surgical procedures that her friends and casual acquaintances have most recently undergone and she regularly updates the schedule with current or speculated outcomes – rather like a medical shipping forecast: ‘Colonoscopy: moderate to fair … stent and pacemaker: variable, becoming cyclonic …’

And like any true Scots granny, she also has a thrifty streak. A word of warning here though – ‘thrifty’ is not the same as ‘mean’. She might warn you to go easy on the washing up liquid, but at a moment’s notice, she’ll lend you three hundred quid to get your clutch fixed. Last year, when the supermarkets were running one of those ‘spend £40 and get a fiver off’ deals, my mother handed me her unused vouchers with a quavering hand on the grounds that shelling out forty pounds in a single shopping expedition was an act of the most wanton decadence. When I suggested that she used them to stock up on a year’s supply of washing powder and dishwasher tablets, she gave me an ominous look implying she might not outlive the dishwasher powder and the last thing she’d want in the event of her untimely demise was a cupboardful of unused detergents. By the way, if you’re worried that she’s reading this and might take offence – don’t. A copy of Carlisle Living costs three pounds – that’s a day out in Poundland. She only reads my column if there happens to be a copy in the waiting room at the dentist, so it’s unlikely this will get back to her before next spring. Anyway, even if she did read it, she wouldn’t tell me she’d enjoyed it. It might make her laugh out loud, but what she calls ‘Scots Pride’ would forbid her from mentioning it, in case a word of praise might make me too big for my boots. Fierce love can burn within the Scots granny’s heart, but expressing it out loud is taboo. Even when Jessie – the apple of her Granny’s eye – left for Nepal last month, my mother thought that a hug goodbye was a step too far. ‘When did all this hugging start?’ she grumbled. And while I’m with her on false displays of affection between relative strangers (why does everyone sign their texts with kisses these days … really …?) I had to point out that it’s perfectly ok to hug your beloved granddaughter before she goes off to the other side of the world.

There may be some of you thinking ‘… hang on … this sounds like MY Granny, and SHE’S not Scottish … ‘ and I’m aware that some of my mother’s grandmotherly qualities may well be universal. Jessie has just contacted me to tell me that Nepali grannies are just like her granny. ‘They’re  tiny, with short black hair and they carry bags of shopping twice as big as they are.’ So perhaps these wise, fierce, indomitable women, who love us without words or vanity, exist everywhere – not just in Scotland.

Mother of the Bride

First published in Carlisle Living May 2017

Breaking news: my daughter Jessie is getting married. I know. On the 1st June. I KNOW! That makes me mother of the bride. Bloody hell… I know. As I have no idea about weddings, I thought it might be best to google ‘mother of the bride’ to see what I’m letting myself in for. As I feared, I discovered a world where I simply don’t belong. According to the internet, the mother of the bride is a poised creature with blonde highlights clad in pale blue or rose pink or lilac. She wears a medium court shoe and her wistful smile is shadowed by the brim of a picture hat. This woman is sailing gracefully through her menopause. Even from a distance it’s pretty obvious she’s wearing control pants that gently minimise her curves without cutting off the circulation to her hands and feet. There’ll be no massive queue outside the toilets at HER daughter’s wedding while somebody wrestles herself back into her Shapewear.

You see? None of this is good news for me. Hats are out for a kick-off. I’ve never worn a hat that didn’t make me look like Paddington Bear. And we all know that once a hat is on, it’s impossible to take off without incurring hat-hair or a sweaty red weal across the forehead. I can’t wear heels unless I’m standing still – even then I need something to hold on to – and pastels may be forgiving to ageing skin but I prefer black. Of course, it turns out black is an absolute no for the mother of the bride unless she’s making a passive-aggressive comment about her daughter’s intended. As I’m very happy Jessie is marrying Matthew and I wouldn’t want any of the guests to infer maternal disapproval if I rock up in my customary crown-to-toe black, black is definitely out.

Mind you, there’s more to the mother of the bride than just standing around looking effortlessly glamorous: she has duties to perform. Apparently, she should discreetly and tactfully advise her daughter on her choice of wedding dress. Crikey. Where do I start? The lovely fragrant lady on www.bridalmama.com looks like she knows what skirt length and neck style will suit her daughter. I don’t. Even if I did, my discreet and tactful advice about clothing – well about anything – has been indiscreetly and tactlessly knocked back since 2007 and I’m under no illusion that Jessie will welcome it now. There won’t be a veil so I won’t be called upon to arrange one over anyone’s face on the morning of the wedding. As for the time honoured custom of the bride’s parents taking to the floor for the second dance (really … that’s a thing), there’s no need to discuss this with my ex-husband. I’ll take it as a given that he’ll be willing to forgo that treat. Meanwhile, I’ve scrolled through the webpages and although it’s now considered acceptable in the 21st century for the mother of the bride to ‘say a few words’ at the reception there’s nowhere that suggests it’s OK for her to give a full blown speech. Despite practically all other elements of the wedding being unconventional, the bride’s mother maintaining a dignified silence is one tradition Jessie is determined to uphold.

I should probably add that in a post-feminist twist – which will surprise no one who’s met her – Jessie is refusing to identify as a bride. Therefore I think it’s perfectly reasonable that I refuse to identify as her mother. I’m just the person who gave birth to one of the humans who’s getting married. And actually, none of this matters. I don’t mind what my role is: I’m Sarah and I’m going to Jessie’s wedding.

Shopping for Clothes

First published Carlisle Living October 2016

Those of you who know me, or even those of you who’ve cast the briefest of glances across my by-line photo, will be aware that I’m a woman of size. There was a time when – reader, brace yourself – I was an even larger lady, but through a relentless programme of steering clear of the ‘deep fried’ section of the menu and plodding clumsily along the flatter roads of Cumbria, I achieved a substantial weight loss. Indeed, it’s a little known fact that between us, John Myers and I have lost double the body mass of Roger Lytollis. (I need to point out here that Roger is, of course, a human being in his own right. John and I haven’t fashioned him and an identical twin out of our discarded adipose tissue in a bizarre modern Frankenstein experiment.)

As I’m writing this, I’m aware that your eyes are sliding incredulously back to my photo; ‘Really Sarah?’ you murmur under raised eyebrows and over lowered specs ‘…an entire Lytollis Twin you say ..?’ And then you purse your lips as I nod affirmatively. I know. I’m still what my kids call ‘a big ‘un’ and there’s work still to be done and I’m coming to terms with the reality that no matter how many Kit Kats I turn down, I’ll never be described as ‘slender’.

I can put up with being fat despite the downsides. There’s the obvious risks – and if the headlines on the Daily Mail health pages are anything to go by, I’m lucky I’ve made it past 30 without my heart exploding – but that’s the least of it. Can you imagine how mortifying it is to have your own children tell you that in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, they’re not hanging around until you catch up? And even if you do – by some fluke – manage to stick with them, they’ve considered using you as bait to throw the undead hoard off the scent?

The worst of it is looking for clothes. I want a capsule wardrobe that’s plain, black, longline and sheer: what’s available is garish, frilled, cropped and bulky. If I’m aiming for a certain portly dignity – elegance – even, the last thing I need is something that makes me look like a long incarcerated inmate facing the parole board in an outfit that’s been hastily whipped up out of the ping-pong room curtains. When you have an idle moment, google in ‘plus size clothing’ and you’ll see what I mean. Honestly? You’d get the same result if you typed in ‘failed clown’ or ‘tubby dominatrix’ (although you might want to set your search engine to ‘safe’ before you try that one). It has occurred to me this stuff is commissioned by the Department of Health as a form of aversion therapy. Why else would the ‘cold shoulder’ be considered an acceptable style of jumper? Why would I want holes cut out of the sleeves of an otherwise perfectly lovely top so my porky little arms bulge out of them like an unpricked sausage? It’s as bad as those blouses with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on the front, or a sweatshirt with ‘Live’ laugh, love’ embroidered in sequins across the bust. I have enough trouble with perfect strangers staring in horrified fascination at my bosoms, without them spelling out the glittering message scrawled across them.

The answer, of course, is evident, if not simple: I need to carry on shunning confectionary and keep on running. With any luck I’ll achieve my goal of being the best dressed survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse.

‘Carlisle Living – the Musical’

First published in Carlisle Living September 2016

This month, I bring you ‘Carlisle Living – The Musical’. It’s a story of one woman’s struggle to write her column told via the medium of music, song and dance. Like most modern musicals it tends towards the gloomier end of the emotional spectrum: imagine ‘Rent’ or ‘Les Mis’ with fewer laughs. Unfolding in real time over two hours, Carlisle Living! is set in a poorly maintained semidetached house. There’s comedy, heartbreak and a ground-breaking use of mobile phone technology. Take your seats as the orchestra tunes up …

The curtain rises on Act One to reveal an untidy living room. The hoover is left carelessly across the kitchen doorway; a pile of unironed washing totters on the arm of the sofa. A spotlight picks out the slumped form of a woman – Sarah – at a table with an open laptop in front of her. She is typing. As she hits the keys, discordant notes play. Sarah types with increasing ferocity and the notes build into a cacophonic crescendo. Suddenly she slams the laptop lid shut and breaks into the opening number, ‘I Don’t Think I Can Ever Write Anything Funny Again’. As she sings, a beautiful young woman – Sarah’s daughter Jessie – comes downstairs and sings a melancholy counterpoint ‘You Weren’t That Funny In The First Place’. The duet ends when Matthew – Jessie’s boyfriend – arrives for breakfast. Sarah returns to the laptop and resumes her discordant typing.

In the kitchen, Jessie and Matthew perform a wild salsa-inspired number ‘Carnivorous Boyfriend’ while making a giant fried breakfast with sausages, bacon, hash browns and thirty-four eggs. As they conga into the living room with plates, overfull cups of tea and bottles of ketchup, Sarah attempts to ring her son Tom. The phone screen is projected onto the back wall of the stage. There is no reply, and Sarah sings the wistful ‘FaceTime Unavailable’.

The arrival of the Amazon Delivery Man creates a diversion. Jessie has ordered 800 things off Amazon Prime and all of them require a signature. ‘Sign Here Please’ is more upbeat but the mood is soon shattered when Sarah is left to put the packaging in the recycling and loads the dishwasher. ‘Clearing Up’ segues into the heartrending ballad ‘Broken’, when Sarah finds the dishwasher, washing machine and boiler aren’t working. As she sings, Sarah trips over the Hoover and breaks off the crevice tool. Act One ends with a reprise of ‘FaceTime Unavailable’ with Sarah trying – once again – to contact Tom without success. The curtain falls as she does the washing up by hand.

Act Two kicks off with a rollicking song and dance showstopper – ‘Is It OK If I Pay After Pay Day?’ – where The Man Who Mends the Boiler, the Washing Machine Man, and his assistant The Dishwasher Apprentice troop through the kitchen, dismantling and reassembling Sarah’s household appliances until they’re mended. Jessie and Matthew join in and hilarity ensues. Once the final repair man has departed, waving gaily, Sarah rings Tom. This time, he replies and their duet –‘Connecting … ’ – is projected on the wall. Sarah tells Tom about her domestic disasters and Tom responds with his solo, ‘How Come You’re Such a Clumsy Old Troglodyte?’.

Sarah realises the events of the day have provided the material for her column. She resumes her seat at the laptop and types. A glorious melody pours from the computer as she plays and performs the closing number ‘Carlisle Living’. The cast – including a projected FaceTime Tom – join in, one by one, leading to a rousing finale. As Sarah triumphantly types the final note – the curtain falls.

Imposter Syndrome

First published in Carlisle Living  – July 2014

Like most children, I spent a significant portion of my childhood pretending to be grown up. Dressed androgynously denim and plimsolls – as we all were in the 70s – pretending to be an adult chiefly took the form of dressing up as a lady and imagining I had long hair. For one happy summer, my friend and I shared a wig that we took in turns to wear, sometimes in the privacy of our own homes, more rarely, on an expedition down the road and on one thrilling occasion, a trip to the newsagents to buy a sherbet fountain. In order to mark that special event, I completed my ensemble with a pair of my dad’s Foster Grants, which – apart from a crack across one of the lenses – were nearly as good as new.

In my mind’s eye, I was a very glamorous lady, with long flaxen tresses who’d just parked her sports car nearby and was breaking her journey by popping into a shop for a fizzy liquorice treat. Of course I’m now fully aware that the wig fooled no one and if the newsagent thought anything about the confident stranger swishing around the penny sweets tray, it would be why she was wearing the pelt of a dead Border terrier on her head and a pair of broken sunglasses.

When the wig was unavailable – Juliet had ownership of it on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (she got more goes because it once belonged to her sister) – I’d have to make do with tights. I really hope as I write this, that I’m not the only person who wore tights on her head pretending they were plaits. If that does turn out to be the case, I urge you, before you judge me, to try it yourself. A pair of old tights – clean ones, obviously, I’m not a monster – pulled over your head with the legs dangling down over your shoulders make a simple but stylish coiffure. And when you’re nine, prancing about with waist length American tan hair, one of your grandma’s discarded handbags and a pair of clip-on earrings, is about as grown up as it gets.

It’s a digression I know, but another favourite childhood diversion was fashioning a nun’s habit from bath towels and striking a series of poses in front of the bathroom mirror wearing an expression of stern serenity. It’s always been a source of mild regret that I never had the opportunity to take Holy Orders, because, although I say it myself, I cut quite a dash as a nun. Mind you, the convictions that tend to steer one towards the religious life – the determination to live chaste in selfless austerity, not to mention faith in God – are convictions I lack. Looking good dressed in a habit and wimple are probably very low down on the list of reasons to join a convent. Thinking about it, it’s probably not on the list at all.

The trouble is, I’ve never really lost the feeling that I’m only pretending to be a grown up. When I’m driving the car down the motorway, for example or signing a legal document or assuring the person in the call centre that I am indeed the sole account holder, I still experience a flutter of anxiety. What happens if they find out it’s not a grown up and it’s only me? I’m not sure who I think is going to challenge the authenticity of my adult status. I have the vague idea of some kind of avenging force, perhaps a combination of Brown Owl – who wouldn’t let me play Snow White in the Brownie pantomime – or perhaps Mrs Oswin, my primary four needlework teacher who told my mother not to get her hopes up about me because I couldn’t get the hang of cross stitch. ‘Wait a minute …’ she’ll say .., storming in, ‘You’ve put Sarah Ledger in charge? What were you thinking? She can barely thread a needle!’

I’m told this is a common delusion, that there’s even a name for it – ‘imposter syndrome’ and all adults, even those who exude confidence and shoulder great responsibility, see an anxious nine year old peering back at them through their grown up’s disguise, whenever they look in the mirror. Although it’s a bit disconcerting to realise that other grown-ups with really important jobs – the Archbishop of Canterbury, say, or Kirsty Wark or Theresa May -have moments where they think they don’t actually know what they are doing, it’s nice to bear in mind that we all share that most human of conditions – self-doubt.

To some extent, I’ve got my disguise sorted. Most of you would not mistake me for anything other than a rather imposing middle aged woman. However, on some days, I still wish I had something in my wardrobe that makes me feel as sophisticated and self-assured as an old nylon wig that’s been through a boil wash and a pair of cracked sunglasses.