Your lipstick mark
Hope’s had a heck of a week. She’s mingled with the ‘stars’, been served champagne (well I have) by practically naked men, sat through fascinating conference sessions, walked in St James Park, waved at the Queen and been in pram, push chair, taxi, car and train. I’ll have to come back in another ‘entry’ to some of it as it’s all worth observation, but for now, the conference …
I had been told a while back about something called BritMums and to be honest thought how weird, a group of Mummy Bloggers. I signed up to it quietly and didn’t really do anything with my profile on the site, to be honest, I’ve forgotten my password as well … but then I had an email about the BritMumsLive conference in London with Ruby Wax and someone I admire hugely, Sarah Brown, wife of former PM Gordon … that made me look at the conference schedule and I was fascinated that there was a whole event dedicated to helping people improve writing and think more carefully about blogging and, well, generally meet other writers and, that scary word, network. I registered but didn’t really think I’d actually go so it was with some surprise that Hope and I arrived at a place in the City of London called The Brewery and were ushered indoors by a nice man in a bowler hat.
We nearly ran out just as quickly as none of the other ‘Mums’ looked shattered and dishevelled like I do, the reception was filled with racehorse sleek women with perfect make up, shiny glossy hair and an air of confidence which was, frankly, terrifying. There were some 500 women and about 20 men at the event. I went to the s-x desk to collect my name badge and felt all flustered when it wasn’t there only to be pointed to the a-s counter and be told that badges were in first name order. I’ve never had that at a conference before and it was a lovely thing to do. Then I put Hope’s push chair, my ruck sack, her changing bag and my handbag in the cloak room (days of travelling light – not that I ever did – are long behind me). I timidly went up the stairs into a low ceilinged room full of yet more glossy maned women and stood, hiding behind Hope, in a corner until I spotted cake … I ate several slices of blue berry and strawberry cake and had a bit of a sugar rush recovery and wandered around the ‘stalls’. A really interesting mix of sponsors including Lego, Crocs, Disney, Warner, a fresh juicer company and Give As You Live … at this point the lure of the Lego stand became too much and I decided if a conference was sponsored by Lego it had to be a good thing. Particularly when they had a Lego mushroom under a Lego tree on their stand!
Hope grinned at people, they came over and chatted to her and I held her tight and nodded proudly. Nothing like a smiley girl to help you ease into a situation. Then a bell went and we were all herded into the downstairs hall for the introduction from two even more glamorous American women Jen and Susanna who set up BritMums (I know, I thought it was odd too them both being American but they are wonderful). Then Ruby Wax stood up and started talking about her charity Black Dog Tribe and everything started getting fascinating. The room was wonderfully laid out, the whole place looked so professional and slick, a far cry (sorry) from so many of the Govt and Corporate events I’ve attended over the years. At that point Hope decided she needed to make her presence felt and started chattering loudly and then developed an entertaining (for her) case of wind … so I fled from the room and went and changed her. When I got backed I’d missed the main thrust of the presentation but had made friends with a lovely girl from Care UK.
The afternoon panned out with sessions about writing and getting published, Hope chatted cheerfully during most of them, I felt so bad trying to shush her when normally I’d be congratulating her; most have been confusing for the poor little soul. Then the evening blogging awards (the BiBs … Brilliance in Blogging) drinks reception was announced and we were led into a sparkly night club of a room to be served champagne to the sound of pounding rave music. I stood at the side not wanting to freak Hope out with the music and looking around for a glass of champagne and a very beautiful toned and virtually naked man in a tiny apron appeared, flashed his very white teeth and offered me a glass. It was hilarious and huge fun … the Wine Buffs were a group of 5 or 6 beautiful men who make a living being ‘naked butlers’ … this also broke the ice and I started chatting to three particularly wonderful women who became my constant companions (and it turned out were as nervous as I was). One was also an ‘Older Mother’ although she was only in her late 30s or very early 40s, another was an older single mother who had much more grown up children and the other was one of the sleekest of the women there and she is the mother of a little chap with special learning needs and another little person. Together we laughed, chatted about our writing and surreptitiously eyed up the waiters. Then I decided it was time to take Hope to rest and have an early night. She slept like a dream in her little portable basket, I stayed awake all night reflecting on the day and worrying about waking up late.
The next day we got a taxi across London, Hope in her second best dress, and arrived just in time to hear Sarah Brown talking about her marvellous work with the Piggy Bank Kids, I introduced her to Hope, chatted like a gawky school girl briefly and then wandered around the exhibition before going back to a session on Blogging for Happiness. This was quite the most moving session I’ve ever attended at a conference and it was incredible to hear what it was that prompted women to start to write; death of a child, terminal diagnosis, post natal depression, stress and obviously many more ‘happy reasons’ all underpinned by the absolute love and respect they had for their children. Suddenly the conference was no longer scary and instead of feeling an odd fish out of water I became part of a collective, Mum-eration of, no not starlings, Women. The warmth, the support, the empathy that was shared and freely given was something I’ve never experienced before in this way and echoed how I felt in the maternity unit before and after Hope was born.
I sat through a session on Blogging for Social Good, something I felt I’d done when I went to Madagascar for the Kitchen Table Charities Trust a few years ago, which really got me in to writing and fundraising, and was impressed by the line up there particularly by the remarkable, flamboyant, outspoken but humble Camilla Batmanghelidjh. She’s raised literally millions for two children’s charities (particularly Kids Company) to improve lives in a very immediate and direct way for so many children … afterwards I had to go and give her a hug and just thank her for being so inspiring (a silly habit that’s got me into all sorts of trouble over the years). She took Hope and kissed her on the side of her head and chatted about a wonderful exhibition coming up in London called Child Hood. She then realised she’d left some of her gloriously pink lipstick on Hope’s head and rubbed it a little but to not much avail so Hope spent the rest of the conference with a wonderful perfect pink lip print on her head.
Then I went to a session by a quietly spoken but equally inspiring author called Andrea Stuart, who works with the Faber Academy and spoke about writing and researching family memoirs … Hope really joined in her session but I managed to contain her noises to happy chirps and we stayed to the end. Somewhere during the day we had lunch. When I say lunch, don’t think dried up sandwiches, think Thai curry, perfect polenta and smoked chicken … I had fourths!
The final session was bloggers reading from their blogs … it was humbling and inspiring in equal measure and when a very beautiful mother called Hayley read about the birth of her beautiful daughter Natty … she was born with Downs Syndrome, I, along with the other 499 people in the room, was moved to tears by her courage and generosity of spirit, Read her blog post here at Downs Side Up.
I left to go home and walked down the stairs with Hope and probably the most glammy of all the Mummy’s there who turned out to be Katy Hill the Blue Peter presenter, I’m more a Valerie Singleton, Lesley Judd era girl myself but Katy was lovely and as we went down the stairs we shared stories of our small people.
The conference goody bag was large enough to need several cart horses to carry it so I was glad to be able to put it under Hope’s push chair and I walked away from BritMumsLive absolutely shattered but on a wave of warmth and newly boosted faith in the goodness of humanity. I will absolutely go the conference again, next year I probably won’t be able to take Hope, as she’ll no longer be a ‘babe in arms’ … but maybe a toddler all being well. She slept on the train on the way home, I stared out of the window like a zombie reflecting on how courageous women can be (I did meet some lovely bloke bloggers as well who were an absolute credit to man-kind) and how incredible people’s stories are. Hope woke up and chatted a little before falling asleep and turned the other way and I noticed she still had a perfect pink lipstick kiss on her head. Two days later it is still there (what was that longstay lipstick!!!??), as is the warmth and respect I feel for not just the two American BritMums founders but everyone else I met there. The goody bag is quite the best I’ve ever been given and had a wonderful child’s atlas that I know Hope will treasure. The inspiration and warmth I feel as a result of this event will stay with me long after the lipstick mark finally fades.