15 August 2018

Mamma Mia and Me

July 2008 and Mamma Mia burst across UK cinemas screens while I was mired up to my eyeballs in heartbreak confronting a surprise divorce. I had been so excited about the film’s release being a huge Abba fan but when the time arrived, it was the last film I wanted to see as a newly single mum of three kids under six. Plunged into a situation, not of my choosing I knew it was sink or swim. Initially, sinking was preferable, but my support system of family and extremely loyal friends soon kicked in. They had my back and when a dear friend, Pippa, suggested I blow my tax credits on flights to visit her in Jersey, I knew it would be as good as therapy.

            Arriving at Jersey airport with the kids in tow, Pippa unsuccessfully hid her shock at my skeletal frame. However, her husband bluntly stated I resembled Amy Winehouse after a twenty-four-hour drug binge; I laughed because I knew I was a car crash. Unbelievably, that week was infused with much laughter, drunken shenanigans, general joie de vivre and constant eating in an attempt to improve my cadaver appearance. On our last night, Pippa suggested we go to the cinema and watch Mamma Mia. I agreed only because I had parked my grief at the airport; I needed a holiday from my head. The film’s solid female friendship vibe filled me with a welcome warm feeling, despite crying continually from about halfway through. Watching Donna comb her daughter’s hair sweetly singing Slipping Through My Fingers felt like a pestle pummelling my heart into pâté, and the happy ever after finale hammered the rusty nail in the coffin, reducing me to a sobbing mess in the dark. I remembered thinking that kind of contentment was so beyond reach, and I couldn’t even contemplate arriving in a place where just feeling ‘normal’ was a goal.
            Flying back to reality, leaving Jersey and Mamma Mia behind I had to face the onslaught of stark single parenthood stretching out before me with no sparkly distractions. I decided to take a leaf out of Mamma Mia’s book and make the most of my crap situation. While my ex took the kids away on the family holiday we were all supposed to go on, I foraged a ticket for an underground festival and turned feral for four days, washing naked under a standpipe, imbibing illegal substances, dancing until the small hours, kissing a handsome man in the dance tent, making friends with strangers, remembering who I used to be before three children and ‘forgetting’ that one of those days was my wedding anniversary.

             After that summer, life continued at a glacial pace towards the magical land of ‘normal’, occasionally contentment settled gently upon me, especially once Vicki and baby Daisy moved in and we espoused Nicola, another single mum, forcing her to have fun with us in our crazy patchwork family. Once we’d assembled the single mum commune, with most weekends consisting of shared activities, kitchen discos dancing to Abba, cooking Sunday lunches and endless bottles of Mateus Rose, life turned a corner and actual happiness reared its long-forgotten head as we lay on the grass staring at the stars on summer nights, wondering if it was all supposed to happen and we were somehow being freed from a situation that no longer served us. I wrote an anonymous blog documenting our trajectory, warts and all. Vicki named it The Girls of the Single Mum Mansion.
            Before I knew it, I was actually divorced (that was a dark day), but I’d finally finished the children’s book I had been writing (a good day!). In turn, I miraculously acquired a publishing deal, then another, then another. Vicki and Daisy left the commune to fend for themselves and I met Neil and remarried. My eldest little sister moved in all the way from Scotland to begin her life in London – I’d suddenly gained another child. Life rumbled on, then out of the blue my publisher dropped me leaving me devastated and rudderless, so my agent suggested I turned to adult writing, something I vehemently shied away from. ‘But you have nothing to lose,’ he protested. ‘Turn that blog into a book.’
Jersey 2018

            Fast forward to summer 2018, The Single Mums’ Mansion has been successfully published and Mamma Mia Here We Go Again is number one in the cinema. The last ten years book-ended by both films have felt like an undulating drama like no other. I took the kids to see Mamma Mia Two the night before we all flew to Jersey exactly ten years after the first trip as a single parent family. As I cried in the dark when young Donna gave birth, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratefulness and proper contentment, happy to be repeating a journey with a different outlook. Pippa said the same thing: ‘Look how far you have come since you last saw Mamma Mia, you were broken then. Now you’re a phoenix from the flames, dancing to Abba.’ Thank you for the music, Mamma Mia, I hope I’ll still be frantically dancing in ten years’ time with another wealth of experience under my belt.

By Janet Hoggarth, The Single Mums’ Mansion is out now as an Ebook on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play and iBooks. The paperback is released on October 4th 2018.


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