Monday, 28 December 2009


Nearly the end of the year. And the decade. That sneaked up on me. I have never really got the hang of the 21st century. I never know what to call the year. I think 2010 (twenty ten) will be easier to say than 2005 ( two thousand and five or twenty five or oh five or whatever, which always sounds like a phone number to me).

So the time comes to reflect before moving on to plan for the next year. When the last decade rolled in I was still working more or less full time and had half as many children and far fewer wrinkles. Reflecting on the whole decade seems excessive. The last twelve months though I can just about manage. And I like what I see. People say that time is flying by as if it is a bad thing. My view is that if I am achieving things then the passage of time is an acceptable consequence. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was anything else that was worth having.

This year, I have watched my children continue to blossom and my husband keep afloat whilst all around him sink. I have followed a number of my own dreams too. There have been disappointments along the way and low patches too but if I were to categorise 2009 it would fall into the pretty good section.

And next year? Well, I will continue to strive for the things that I want and grasp the opportunities as they float passed. And I will nurture mine and care for those that care for me. And it doesn't get much better than that does it?

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Well that's it! Christmas is over for another year. It was a pleasant enough day. The children woke early and I found all four of them under the eldest's duvet eating chocolate coins and giggling. Presents carefully chosen were, in the main, well received. The was slight disappointment from the younger two that gifts mentioned in a letter sent to Santa just before bedtime on Christmas Eve had not materialised but they were pretty stoical about it. For the first time, there was an open acknowledgement by the elder two that it was all a huge conspiracy by the adults. There was a fair bit of nodding and winking and bigging up of Santa's role. Daughter number two asked whether I still had the carrier that her Jack Wills top came in and I got heartfelt thanks from them for all the carefully chosen gifts, which was a first.

Then there was a fair bit of hanging about until the main event. A bit of St Trinian's and Bing Crosby as I pottered about the kitchen. We were 11 for dinner which is just about the capacity of our table. We lost our dining room a few years ago in favour of a much more practical, larger kitchen but this means that I have to be careful to ensure mess is kept to a minimum. Who wants to eat their dinner amongst a tower of dirty pans? Despite this, we seem to have lost two of the silver plated knives. They'll turn up eventually somewhere out of the ordinary.

After dinner there was some playing with new gifts before tiredness engulfed the little ones and all guests took that as their queue to leave. There was the clearing up, ably and willingly done by my husband. And finally Coronation Street on Sky+ and that was Christmas Day.

I often wonder how it compares to other people's. We eat late in the day so there seems to be no need for turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake although both were available. There is no gluttony (if you exclude chocolate coin consumption). Everyone saves themselves for dinner and then has plenty of time for digestion. And we don't drink much either. I'm not a big drinker, neither are my relations and my in laws are Methodists. Eldest daughter had a few experimental sips of her uncle's wine, a taste of things to come no doubt, but I don't think anyone qualified as tipsy let alone drunk.

Christmas Day in other houses always sounds much more raucous or is that just soap operas inaccurately reflecting life? Who knows? My Christmas Day reflects my life. Ordered, in control, well delivered and with the children firmly at its centre. Just the way I like it.

It takes at least four days for the house to get back to some kind of normality but that's Ok. The run up takes far longer. I only got one book this year (which was unusual) and so I shall take myself off to as quiet a corner as I can find, treat myself with a Bailey's coffee and, wearing my new lounging pyjamas, will enjoy an hour or two of self indulgence before life takes over again. Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


It's going to snow. You can see it in the heavy white clouds. You can feel it in the biting air. And the weatherman said so.

Actually, there is already snow on the ground. It fell silently in the dark of the early evening until not a patch of ground was visible beneath the white. The children woke and got on with their morning activities, unaware of the changed world outside. I knew of course but for a while I kept the secret, carefully judging my moment to tell them. And then out they ran in gloves and scarves and mismatched wellington boots to gallop around the garden in the dark and make footprints in every patch of fresh, powdery snow until no flat surface remained. And they make snow balls and snow angels and small snowy animals and they shriek and call to each other, oblivious of the still sleeping neighbours. And then cold and wet but with rosy cheeks and shining eyes they bound back into the kitchen and drip all over the floor whilst I strip them and put their gloves, crisp with compacted snow, on the aga to dry out before school.

This evening it will fall again. Inches are due to fall on the hard and now icy remains of Thursday's offering. We are going to a party tonight, not far away. No need for the car. The invitation boldly states "party frocks and dancing shoes". And so, bravely, killer heels in one hand and a bottle in the other, I shall set out with my husband across the valley hoping that my hair will survive the wind and my mascara won't run. And we will laugh and talk and maybe dance as the snow falls again. And when it is time to leave, the world will be bright with the moon reflecting off the freshly fallen snow and we will crunch our way home, walking down the middle of deserted streets with killer heels in my hand.

Next week, with Christmas food to buy and turkey to collect the snow will be an inconvenience to be conquered. But today, safe in my warm house with the fairy lights twinkling and carols playing in the background, the anticipated snowfall is magical and exciting and makes me feel like a child again.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I have been pondering the role of the stay at home mum recently. It is a job that I have worked hard at for almost 10 years and one that it is very difficult for anyone who hasn't tried it to understand.

It's a very solitary life in my experience. Whilst I have plenty of friends who do not work or who, like me do a little from home to fit around the kids, trying to catch up with them can be tricky. They, like me, are all chasing around to try and fit their domestic duties and time for their own activities in the six hours of the school day. So generally, it's just me and my kitchen.

The day starts in a very hectic and regimented fashion. Trying to get four children up, dressed, breakfasted and clean requires a degree of structure to my mornings. It is my job to ensure that they all have what they need for the day - lunch money, homework, spelling book, today's can't live without toy, musical instrument, phone. The mental checklist is taxing. Generally the world does not end if they go without something but it is less stressful for all concerned if we take the time to check.

And then they are gone and the house is quiet. Most days I have some sort of plan, usually dictated by the size of the ironing pile or the state of the kitchen floor. I have my job which calls on my time for some small part of two or three days, I go to the gym as and when and at the moment I have my course work to think about. Once a week or so I meet up with friends and the rest of the time is taken by the needs of my family and the house.

Don't misunderstand me. I am absolutely not complaining. I am in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to choose to stay at home and it was a free choice that I made myself. But it is a strange way to live, in this isolation and with your own needs almost totally subsumed by the needs of others.

I heard a piece on the radio about the life of a fifties housewife and to be honest, apart from a plethora of time saving devices and the need to apply a little lippy before my husband gets home, it could have been my life that they were describing. I have been a working mother. It is incredibly difficult to maintain any kind of work home balance but it can be done. And yet I have chosen the path that my mother and countless generations of women before her chose. Is that because that is the way that I have been conditioned to think I wonder? Or is it rather that for those who have the luxury to chose, it is the solution that works best? And now that I have three girls of my own, how will my decisions influence what they choose to do?

I like the way I live. I am good at it. It plays to my strengths and most of the time I am happy with the sacrifices that it requires me to make. I do wonder what will become of me when my children are gone but that is not something to worry about just yet. And so, a week before Christmas and in the calm before the storm, I shall spend my afternoon baking for the freezer and savouring the peace and quiet.

Monday, 14 December 2009


It's official. My life is dull. Interesting things rarely happen to me - not things worthy of mention here anyway. And what has drawn me to this inevitable and slightly depressing conclusion? I am in danger of repeating myself. Not in day to day conversation (although I am sure that happens often enough) but here on my blog. Conscious that I hadn't had much to say for a few days, I started to give thought to what I might like to wax lyrical about. "What exciting, thought provoking or just mildly humorous events can I comment upon?" I wondered.

And here is the problem. It's the build up to Christmas so there should be lots to say. But all the subjects that I thought might make jolly little postings were already covered last Christmas. I have stolen all my best material. What if I started to repeat myself? Would anyone notice? Who knows? Who knows who is reading or whether they have read all 117 postings? And more importantly whether they would realise if I started recovering old ground? Perhaps I should conduct an experiment and see if I get any comments? Actually, if I post this then I have rather shot that plan in the foot.

So I hope you, my reading public whoever you are, will bear with me in this fallow little period whilst I think of new ways of covering well trodden paths or perhaps even come up with something entirely new. I better had or I will be totally stuffed by the time next Christmas comes around. And even as I type some new ideas occur to me that might be worthy of consideration. I will go and reread last year's Christmas musings and see where I should go next. A bientot.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Clark! Too late. My eldest is in a show as I type. Again. So far this year she has been a dancer in Mother Goose, a workhouse child in Oliver, Blousey Brown in Bugsy Malone and now a Perks child in The Railway Children. After Christmas she has auditioned for and got parts in The Chrysalids, Dick Whittington and the school play.

And so, after two months of rehearsals four or five times a week she is now performing every other night for a fortnight. On the nights when she is not on stage she is rehearsing for something else which slots neatly between shows this weekend. On top of this she plays saxophone, does ballet, modern and tap dancing and plays netball and hockey for school. And then she goes to school.

Tonight, whilst she was practising her song for Sunday, the woman at the drama school told me that I really should consider getting singing lessons for her.

I mention all this not because I want to show off about her achievements. I am immensely proud of her but there are plenty of children with similar schedules around here. No, the issue is what, as her mother, is my role here? Where is the line between affording my child all the opportunities that present themselves and making sure that she is not exhausting herself and thus allowing her school work to suffer? I am not really sure. Should I stop her, make her slow down, forbid her from auditioning? I already keep some shows quiet from her to reduce her commitments and I feel bad about that because she would audition for everything that came her way if it were up to her. But school is far more important than her extra curricular stuff. So far she is doing really well there too and her tutor is in the current play with her which means she is completely aware of what she is up to.But how long can she keep going at this pace? And should I really be worried or just go with the flow until something gives?

I also have the other children to consider. Whilst not quite as busy, they too have lots of things that they enjoy doing outside school. But if I am not careful they will never all be at home at the same time and my whole life will be subsumed by ferrying children around Ilkley. And, having afforded the eldest the opportunities, I believe that I owe it to the other three to give them the same chances as and when they arise.

I suspect that the way forward is to let her keep going until she reaches a point where she can't cope and then to take her foot off the pedal for her. At the moment there is no sign of that point even being on the horizon.

So we get three weeks off before the next lot of rehearsals start. I shall relish them, then keep on keeping on and hope that I am doing the right thing.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Today was the beginning of Christmas at our house. It was the Clark annual outing to our local farm to choose an appropriate tree and bring it home ready to decorate sometime between now and the big day.

Christmas is all about tradition and this particular one started four years ago. Before then we bought our tree from wherever was convenient, with varying degrees of success. After a particular poor year with a specimen that was more twig than tree by Christmas Eve, we decided that a change of tack was required. And so began the new tradition. We had driven passed the farmer’s sign hundreds of times and never stopped. But we decided to drive down the bumpy track and take a look.

And now, armed with wellies, gloves and a trusty saw, we pile out of the car and off up a muddy track to the Christmas tree fields. It is always muddy. Never once has the ground been dry under foot. The mud adds to the excitement as far as the children are concerned. The muddier the better.

Selecting the right tree is always a challenge. No more than 7 feet tall, not too bushy but with evenly spaced branches and a nice straight top for the star. It’s amazing how small seven feet looks when you are in a wood. Every year the children complain that the tress that I am eyeing up are way too small but experience wins over excitement and we have never yet bought a tree that doesn’t fit.

The saw is wielded and the tree is chopped down and carried back to the farmhouse, all the children helping. We then pay the farmer, bagging some eggs as part of the deal. The tree is strapped precariously to the roof of the car and home we head. It would be so much easier to buy the tree at the pop up shop down the road, But where is the fun in that? And where the memories? One year our son, who was two at the time, was mobbed by a flock of geese and had to be rescued by his intrepid sister. We look for the geese every year although they haven’t tried to eat my children again. But the children will remember that for years to come and isn’t that what being a child is all about? Learning through experiences and putting the world into context by what you see around you.

So Christmas begins. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


The time is upon me. The moment is nigh. I have to submit my first assignments for consideration and marking by my tutor by close of play on Friday.

It is terribly odd. The last time I handed in a piece of work to be marked was at Law School in 1989 and I'm not entirely sure we did much of that even then. Obviously, when I was working my boss had to correct my letters but by the time I left I was far too long in the tooth for that kind of caper and was merrily marking up the work of those junior to me.

And this has an added dimension. Handing in an essay or a letter setting out the legal position is one thing. Obviously there are style issues to consider, spellings to correct but fundamentally the points made were either right or wrong. If I got the wrong end of the stick, they would come back covered in red pen for me to do again. A reflection on my intelligence perhaps but not much else.

This is a whole different kettle of fish. By signing myself up to a course in Creative Writing I am saying either that I think I can string a sentence together in a pleasing manner or that I have the potential to do so. There is no law to get muddled, no sticks to get the wrong end of. This is all about whether or not I have any talent whatsoever. And that is really rather scary.

Now obviously I am on the course to learn. If I already thought I was the next Charles Dickens then I wouldn't have bothered. So there will be plenty of mistakes in my work. But there is always the possibility that I get a seriously low mark and that any ambitions that I might harbour of writing that novel one day will be seriously dashed!

I have to submit three pieces on very specific briefs. They are written and in the main I am happy with them. So all I have to do now is press the button. I have done my dummy run to make sure that I have understood the technology so there is no reason why I shouldn't just send them. But something is holding me back. Partly it is the need to work to a deadline. I have the time still to tweak or indeed completely rewrite. But that isn't it. It's more about the fear of it being metaphorically slammed down on my desk in front of me with a huge D- in red on the front.

I will do it. I will do it tomorrow a day ahead of the deadline just in case I have a technological disaster. But I will be a whole load happier when it is out of my control and all I have to do is wait. I shall, of course, let you know how I get on. Unless it's a D- in which case I will never mention it again!

Sunday, 29 November 2009


I went to a dinner party last night. It was a lovely evening. Four couples, the optimum number to combine relative ease of food preparation with manifold conversational combinations. Three courses plus cheese, coffee and liqueurs. Perfect.

But the formal dinner party appears to be a dying breed. Either I have become persona non grata without a reason that I am aware of or people have just stopped hosting them like they used to. And I am the same. Rather than full monty dinners for eight or ten, I have tended to slip towards small supper parties for six or even four with no starter and no table cloth.

I used to do big, sophisticated dinner parties having learned how it was done from a master. My mum was the hostess with the mostest when I was a child and I watched as she prepared the table, set with white damask and silver cutlery. There were starched napkins, tall candles, place settings and sparkling chrystal glasses. And so when I began to entertain, I tried to emulate this style, although my selection of bottom drawer linen was considerably inferior. I would spend hours planning the menu. Hot starter, main course and at least three veg, a choice of puddings. And they were fun. Hard work but in the main successful. I did go through a period in the early nineties when if you went out you would get a Delia recipe and you had to hope it wasn't the one you had had the week before but generally formal dinner parties were enjoyable.

And then somehow they fell out of fashion. For me that seemed to coincide with my giving up work closely followed by the births of my third and fourth children. With my energy levels severely depleted it was all I could do to stay awake until the end of Coronation Street, let alone cook for and entertain others. The habit was lost and for a long time we didn't eat with friends at all.

When I finally came out of the preschool haze and found a babysitter who could cope with all four kids, we gradually started back on food with friends. But now it was a very different beast. More relaxed, the cooking happened after the guests had arrived whilst everyone stood around in newly open plan kitchens chatting. No starter. One pudding or perhaps even a takeaway on the basis that it was the getting together that had become the focus of these evenings and not the food.

And whilst these supper parties are much easier to achieve and far more spontaneous, I do miss, from time to time, the formality of an evening with an array of cutlery to work your way through. Perhaps I should revive them chez nous? Maybe after Christmas...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Whilst perusing my post today, I noticed that my local opera company is putting on a production of "Ruddigore", a somewhat obscure Gilbert and Sullivan show. Nothing particularly unusual about that except for the fact that the last time I heard anyone mention that show was in 1982 when I starred in a production of it at school.

I say starred. Actually all the big parts went to the sixth formers and as a lowly fifth former I was cast jointly with a friend as the Lead Professional Bridesmaid. Not a huge part. The odd duet and a bit of skipping about the stage. But that didn't matter. I was in the show and that was the main thing.

It wasn't that I was a budding actress with a taste for greasepaint and limelight. But my school was all girls and Ruddigore was a joint production with the boys' school next door. So of course I wanted to be involved. All those rehearsals with boys. At the boys' school. Too good an opportunity to ignore.

So I learned my lines - all four of them- and practised the songs and then spent a term being directed by an English Master that I didn't know but was great fun. It was the only big show that I was in and I lapped it up. From the costume fitting to the after show party I thought the whole thing was fantastic.

My eldest is now a performer although she already has far more theatrical experience than I had. It helps to remember all the fun that I had on stage when I am waiting, like now, to go out in the cold and rain to collect her from her rehearsal. And she goes to a mixed school so her motivation is probably slightly more wholesome than mine!

Thursday, 19 November 2009


The list of things that I was going to do this evening is almost endless. The main contenders for my attention, in no particular order, are:
- buns for Children in Need tomorrow;
- making a dint in my mountain of ironing;
- going to the gym;
- starting the flowers for my mum's birthday cake;
- working on my course;
- reading my Wilkie Collins for book club.

In fact, apart from the buns which could not be put off, I haven't done much. I have ended up messing about on facebook with a glass of wine. Fun but not terribly productive. It's early. There is still time to do something more worthy. Plenty of time - but no drive! It's not like I am on my knees or completely exhausted or anything. I just can't be bothered.

I never used to be like this. If it needed doing then Imogen, the human whirlwind would do it. Now it's more like Imogen, the strong breeze. But does it really matter? It will all get done. Everything always does but not before I have a wobble about having too much on and a bit of a shout.

Maybe I am just unrealistic about how much can be achieved in one day? I wouldn't be the first. What I am getting better at though is managing the guilt that comes with failure to achieve. After all, it's not like I sit around all day doing nothing. The list of jobs done is generally pretty long even if I never quite get to its end.

So I shall enjoy my drink and when I have published this perhaps I will pick up The Woman in White and get a couple more chapters under my belt. I might even nick a bun!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


You must not tell lies. I must say this to my children every week. Trust has to be the basis of any relationship and the parent/child one is no exception. And yet I am about to embark on a period of consistent and blatant lying which is not only condoned by those around me but positively encouraged.

I talk, of course, about the gigantic fiction that is Father Christmas. (If my elder children are reading this I am really sorry but you had to find out some day.) Over the next few weeks I will be telling whoppers that are, quite frankly, so preposterous that I can't believe that any right minded and healthily sceptical child is taken in.

I have been warming up nicely this week with a couple of visits from the Tooth Fairy, called upon to visit daughter number 3 who lost teeth on two consecutive days. Fortunately she is only really interested in the gap and the coin unlike her sisters who regularly wrote notes to the Tooth Fairy which I would discover quite by chance as I grovelled under their pillows to find the tooth. I became quite adept at Tooth Fairy handwriting and at trying to maintain consistency between both the style of the script and the answers to the questions.

But the myth of Father Christmas is so complicated that I can't believe that I seem to pull it off year after year. Firstly the whole entering via the chimney thing is wrought with difficulty. We do have an open fire but I doubt that a small mammal could find its way down it, let alone a rotund elderly gentleman with a huge sack of toys.

Then the letter. Orchestrating a scenario when the children request the presents that are already bought and wrapped and secreted about the house is no mean feat. Many's a time when I have had to steer the child back to the gift that they had wanted but had gone off. Then one year daughter number 2, always a cynic, wrote her letter and sent it up the chimney before I had a chance to read it. I am sure it was a test.I still don't know if I/Santa passed.

Then the gifts. Which ones are from Santa? The ones I buy? What about the ones that have labels from aunts and uncles? Did Santa deliver them too? If so, how did he get them? And why is that present to my cousin wrapped in the same paper as Santa uses? One year I got so frustrated that we got no credit for an expensive gift that I said that Daddy and I had bought it. This led to an expectation that they would receive a big gift from Father Christmas and one from Mum and Dad. Disaster!

Interestingly, only my youngest has ever questioned Santa's existence. He's nobody's fool and whilst I fobbed him off with all that " It's magic!" rubbish I could tell that he was far from convinced.

And now the whole rigmarole starts all over again. I have to remember what I have said in previous years because, sure as eggs is eggs the children will. And I will lie. Unashamedly. But faced with the option of taking an honest approach and telling them that it is all invention or perpetuating the myth for another year I know what I'll be saying. Because where would Christmas be without a little magic?

Sunday, 15 November 2009


My eldest baby is 13. I am the mother of a teenager. In that terribly cliched and yet horribly true fashion, can I really believe that it is 13 years since I held my firstborn in my arms? But of course I can. There has been so much water under the bridge since then that you would need a fairly lengthy time to have passed just to fit it all in. I remember her arrival with a clarity reserved only for the special moments in my life. I can't imagine a time when I won't be able to picture that image in my mind's eye. But of course thirteen years have passed otherwise how would she have got so tall and beautiful and poised and confident? That doesn't happen overnight.

I think she enjoyed her birthday. She was up early, unheard of recently and was excited all day, a mood more reminiscent of a child than an adolescent. And of course she is a child. Notwithstanding the marking of an anniversary, she is still the same as she was before, on the cusp of something new but still not quite ready to take the step.

And what does it mean, this teenage label that she now has? Mainly it is the expectation of others that parenting her will suddenly become a nightmare. Well, there is nothing sudden about that. The older she, and the others, become the harder it gets. They have ideas of their own. It less likely for "No. Because I say so " to be adequate response to any question. And the issues that arise become more and more significant for the future. They have greater ramifications,not only for her but also for how things go with her younger siblings who are watching us and making notes in the wings.

So she is now 13. I haven't used it as a benchmark for anything so no particular privileges are attached to it. It was just a birthday like any other. But somehow, in my mind and hers, a corner has been turned. Another marker laid down. There's no going back - but why would I want to? I am planning on sitting back and enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


My girls have misbehaved. Not a minor misdemeanor which might result in Cross Mummy for a couple of minutes but something that I felt required a proper punishment to ensure that they understood that their behavior was unacceptable and should not be repeated.

Rather than shout and scream, I did the whole disappointed thing which, if you can hold it together for long enough without going mad, is far more successful than bawling at them. And I kept bringing their malfeasance up. Just when they thought I had moved on, there I was with another reason why I was disappointed. Childish I know but effective.

But these little irritants aside, we had to decide what was an appropriate sanction for their actions. And that's when it gets tricky. How do you punish an 11 and 12 year old in a way that is an appropriate deterrent but also doesn't impact disproportionately on the rest of us. When they were little I never banned the television as a punishment. The time when they sat quietly in front of the Tweenies was far too precious to give away wantonly.

First I thought of taking pocket money but they get precious little as it is. It hardly seemed in proportion with the crime. If I really wanted to cause pain I could confiscate their mobiles. The girls are never seen without them and they chirrup and ring incessantly. It would be nice to ban them just to get a bit of peace. But of course the whole purpose of them having phones is so that I can get hold of them when they are on their travels thus allowing them a large degree of independence. To deprive them would make my life more complicated and let's not forget who is supposed to be being punished here!

Grounding seemed the only option. But even this comes with qualification. Eldest daughter is rehearsing for a play. She cannot drop out of that at this stage. Then she turns 13 soon and the party is this weekend. We could have cancelled that but what would be a similarly serious deprivation for her sister? In the end I decided they would be grounded for anything that we weren't already committed to, thus excluding all those horribly expensive after school activities that I have paid for, the play and the party. So that it is. They are both "grounded" for a month. No friends after school or at weekends. No parties. No money spent on them. In fact whatever they want to do or have me buy, I just say no. And so far they have accepted that - an indication that they know that they were in the wrong and need to make amends. Let's just hope they have learned their lesson.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


So, here I am a week into my course. I don't think I mentioned what I was studying. I suspect that is because I am slightly embarrassed. Not because it's an embarrassing subject matter. Is there such a thing? Pornographic Photography for Beginners? Networking Skills for the Socially Challenged? No. My embarrassment lies in what it might say about me.It's an Open University course on Creative Writing. There! I've said it. It's not that I necessarily think that I have a novel in me, although that would be nice, or have a burning desire to have my insightful poetry published. (Don't worry! There isn't any poetry.) Really it just seemed to be the natural progression from why I started to post these little musings, a creative outlet, an opportunity to study what I enjoy.

But now I am one week in and I have to publish something for my whole online tutor group to read. I don't know these people other than the snippets of information about themselves that they have carefully chosen to share. I doubt I will ever meet them in real life. I thought that that would make it less daunting to put myself up for criticism. So much better, I thought, than sitting in an evening class in a church hall reading my work out to people that I might run into in Tesco's the next day. And I still think that. I am nervous about posting my effort to have it shot down in flames but I am happier doing it anonymously through the medium of the world wide web.

But I have a much bigger problem. I haven't actually got anything to post.
The brief is clear and I have sat down plenty of times and produced something. Some of it is OK I think but none of it does what the brief asks for. Somehow it just won't come. I would call it writers' block but for the fact that it sounds hideously pretentious. I'm not a writer and I'm not blocked. I just can't answer the question!

Others in my tutor group have posted theirs and so the pressure is really on. And here I am blogging because I know where I am with my blog. Today I have to write something on brief that I can publish. OK. I'm going to go and get on with it. When I've made some coffee, and set the table and the dishwasher needs emptying and I'll just put on some washing .........

Monday, 2 November 2009


So now it's November. And suddenly it can't be put off any longer. I am going to have to start thinking about Christmas. I know. It's weeks off. Surely it can be avoided for a little while longer? Well, of course it can. How long can it take to do a bit of shopping, bake a cake and a pudding and write some cards? Not that long really if I am honest but in my head, along with most women of my acquaintance, it is a task of gargantuan proportions that will devour me like a monstrous, mythical beast if I do not strive to control and contain it.

First things first. I have now established which of my nearest and dearest will be joining us for the big day. This assists in ordering a turkey of the correct proportions and gauging the amount of pudding required. Other things are pretty much fixed in stone. I still have the same number of children to buy for as I had last year. No extras have crept into my life. The number of friends and family for whom I like to choose gifts remains pretty steady year on year as does the number of cards that I send so I have a pretty clear idea of the size of the task ahead. I also know what three out of four of the kids would like which means I can sort that, assuming that minds do not get changed in the intervening weeks.

But despite all this logical planning, my spine still does an involuntary little tremble when I allow myself to think about what I have to achieve. But why? I am a competent, efficient and organised woman. I have run Christmas more or less single handedly ever since I left home and whilst the task has got bigger over the years it is still well within my capabilities.

So when I try to analyse what gives me the collywobbles, I conclude that it is the unknown element which makes my nervous. If all I had to do was Christmas it would be totally controlled. I could designate particular days for the list of tasks that need to be achieved and gradually work my way down in until it was all wrapped and ready to go. But as everyone knows this is the real world and I cannot spend the next eight weeks doing Christmas. I, like everyone else, have lots of other things that I need to achieve over the next two months and Christmas just has to fit in and amongst. But feeling slightly out of control and with too many things to achieve is not a state in which I find that I sit happily. This is no surprise to me or anyone that knows me. I like order and plans and carefully considered timetables into which all my tasks slot neatly, leaving space around the edges for coffee dates and books. And it is the knowledge that, in order to get to the end of the list, I will have to forgo an element of control and go with the flow that makes my palms sweat.

So I will make a list, carefully assess the amount of time available to me taking into consideration my other commitments and make a plan that I can hold onto in times of panic in the full knowledge that I always get there in the end.

Monday, 26 October 2009


Your own space? Luxury or necessity? Discuss.

It's hard, in a house that is full and busy, to find a space that is private. Our house is a reasonable size but we use every bit of it every day. There is no guest room or dining room that gets occasional use but can be purloined for another purpose the rest of the time.

Over the years, I have regularly daydreamed about a room of my own. In my mind's eye I have selected tasteful decor and furnishings and know exactly to what uses it will be put. However, back on Planet Earth I know that only when a child has finally and irreversibly left home is this likely to happen and who knows when that might be, so I don't indulge myself with that particular fantasy very often.

But having a space was becoming a genuine requirement. I have had a job for almost a year which requires me to work from home. And now I have my course too. To date, I have always set myself up in the kitchen with laptop, files, papers, coffee and gentle Elizabethan music playing in the background. This is just about satisfactory during the school day or in the evening when the kitchen is no longer required but hopeless the rest of the time. I decided I needed a desk which was for my exclusive use and where I could leave papers out without fear of coffee or worse being spilled on them. Where I could drop in and out of tasks as time or children allowed without having to pack it all away every time something pulled me back into the rest of my life.

So I wasted the best part of a morning wandering around the house with a tape measure trying to find a space that would suit. Not easy. In the end I found one square metre that I could claim as long as I had a reorganisation of the rest of the room. And so I bought myself a tiny but extendable table and some shelves and awaited delivery.

Four weeks on I am not quite there. The shelves aren't up and I have yet to find a desk lamp that I like yet but I feel at home. And suddenly I realise how important it is to have a space dedicated to a particular task. Already when I sit at my table I feel my mind clearing, shunting to its edges the day to day details that usually fill it. I slip into the role of real solicitor or student, depending which cap I am wearing, rather than someone who is playing at it in her spare time. It gives me a sense of purpose and belonging that was lacking before. It may only be a stolen corner of a room used for other purposes but it is all mine.

The children are under strict instructions that they must treat my table as if it has a forcefield around it and that touching it or anything on it will be punishable by instant death! Over time I will work out what I really need around me, space being clearly at a premium and will create my own cocoon from which, hopefully, great things will be produced. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Parents' evening at the primary school this week. We have done 14 so far. We know the form, what to expect, what the teachers will and won't tell you about your little darlings. We make our way to school with children in tow to avoid having to get a babysitter, look at the children's work and the displays on the wall and then listen to the teachers telling us what we generally already know to be true. It's a bi-annual ritual that we are happy to go through.

It's not that we are jaded by it but it does have a certain sense of inevitability about it. I remember so clearly the first time we went when our eldest was 5. Of course we wanted to know that she had settled well in to school but we could see for ourselves that she was happy when she went in and happy when she came out. What we, and I suspect all parents, want to know is how bright our child is and where in the class she falls. And of course that is the one piece of information that it is nigh on impossible to extract from a reception teacher at our school.

So we got used to that and learned that as the children progress through the school, more information about their academic achievements is forthcoming but it is always fun to listen to the frustration of the new parents in the playground the next day.

But this year we had to do secondary school parents' evening. This is a whole different kettle of fish. Firstly we had absolutely no control over it. We were entirely dependent on our daughter's efficiency in obtaining us slots with the relevant teachers at time intervals which were achievable. This in itself is quite an achievement for a 12 year old and one that has eluded the sons of a number of my friends. But she did a good job and we got to see most of the important teachers within a reasonable time period.

So, we sat and waited in a variety of crowded venues trying not to overhear what was being said to other parents but somehow failing. Someone had told me that rather than waiting for your time slot and risk missing another, you should just sit down in front of the relevant teacher as soon as they became free. Not very British but it's dog eat dog in the world of parents'evenings at Ilkley Grammar. We got the hang of it pretty quickly. Most of the teachers seemed to know who our daughter was so that was a good start. One just sat and smiled at us and didn't speak. At all. It was most disconcerting. Even our daughter got the giggles. Perhaps it was his way of getting through yet another evening. Or perhaps he wasn't a teacher at all but just someone who wandered in from the street.

Anyway, we now have another one under our belt. Only another 25 to go!


In Ilkley there is a lovely shop called Create. It started out as a pottery painting place and then diversified into wool and now it is an Aladdin's cave of all things crafty.

I like crafty. There is something so satisfying about forming something with your hands, using skills that women have been using for hundreds of years. Food doesn't really count because it is gone so quickly but to make something that will last and is useful to boot has always floated my boat.

I can't remember a time when I couldn't knit although I have only very vague and possibly inaccurate memories of my mother teaching me. I learned to crochet whilst working in an old peoples' home when I was 12. I have never really mastered sewing but I can embroider quite well and with this handful of skills there are lots of projects that I can sink my teeth into.

Create periodically runs courses and from time to time I take myself along. This week there was a crocheting course. Nothing too taxing: just consolidating skills that I already have and giving plenty of ideas and inspiration as to how to use them to create beautiful things.

I love these days. We sit around a large table with plenty of coffee and introduce ourselves. We are women of a certain age with varying degrees of ability but a hunger to learn. And then the tutor appears with a handmade bag from which she pulls gorgeous little trinkets beautifully crafted using the skills that we are about to learn. The excitement amongst the students is palpable because a love of yarn and what can be done with it is something that we all share. You can see cogs whirring as we all try and work out how we can adapt each pattern to suit our stash of available wool or how it might look if you changed the colorway or used a bigger hook or a smaller one.

And the rest of the day passes in a blur of chat and laughter and cursing and coffee and before you know it you are heading home with a bag of goodies, an enormous sense of pride and an insatiable desire to get on with the next project using the new yarn that you have almost certainly bought with your course discount.

I probably won't see most of the women that I met until we land up on another course together but the camaraderie that is born of spending a day learning a new skill with like minded people is difficult to replicate in other parts of my life. And yet I am still a sponge, eager to learn new things and develop the skills that I have. Maybe not skills for life but certainly skills to add pleasure and a sense of purpose to an otherwise busy existence. And that in itself is of immeasurable value to me.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Parenting is hard. No one ever said it was easy but the older my four get the more challenging it becomes and the more serious the consequences of getting it wrong.

So I, like everyone else I know, am doing my best and hoping that I am not making too many mistakes or causing too many psychological problems for them in later life. A lot of the time I try to take a similar approach to the one that my parents took. That seemed to work well for me in the main. But the way my children respond to my parenting is very different to my experience.

Let's take back chat as a good example. It is rude, prolongs arguments beyond what is necessary and suggests that the child has the upper hand. When I was a child you did it at your peril. The only people you would dare to back chat were your siblings. Not your parents or other people's parents or, heaven forbid, teachers. Back chat wasn't tolerated at home. I just wasn't allowed to do it and that was that. And my children aren't allowed either. But they do. Every day. Each time they answer me back I pick them up on it just like my parents would have done but it makes not a jot of difference. I just can't seem to make them understand how totally inappropriate it is.

Today my eldest lost her shoes. She left them behind after PE and when she went back they were gone.If I had lost my school shoes my world would have come to an abrupt end. Her defence was that she needed some new ones anyway so what was my problem? She's right - she does. But surely that isn't the point? And despite my best endeavour to explain to her that losing shoes was unacceptable, she just didn't get it.

My conclusions? Maybe it's not the way that I am parenting but the external influences that are causing the problems. The television is full of people giving back chat. " Whatever!" is a national catchphrase. Whereas when I was a child Grange Hill was a bit edgy but only on once a week, my children are bombarded by images of children kicking against authority all the time. Even the Disney channel serves up a regular helping of stroppy pre-teens. And the shoes? Well generally the message seems to be if it's broken or lost just buy a new one.

So perhaps I am fighting a losing battle. It certainly feels that way. But I can't give up. Surely, the children will get the hang of it eventually and start behaving as I would like if only to smooth their passage through domestic life. And if the shoes are lost she did need some new ones so why get aerated about it? Nobody else's parents do apparently - just me! Perhaps if my kids ever have children of their own they will see what it was that I was trying to do and appreciate it. Time will tell.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


It's 7.30 on Sunday morning and I am in bed. This is very rare. I had to do a deal with my husband to achieve it. I usually wake first in our house. How I love that moment. I am awake and they are all asleep. It is peaceful. I can hear birds and the vague hum that the house makes but which is generally lost in the cacophony of sound that surrounds it. Immediately there is a problem though. I cannot lie here enjoying my solitude. I need to be somewhere where I can move around, read, make coffee. I need to get downstairs.

This is easier said than done. Getting out of my bedroom without waking my husband is easy enough. But I have to pass the four bedroom doors of the children to get to the top of the stairs. The doors in our house have latches rather than handles and no matter how gently I lift the brass, it always gives a metallic tap as it hits the top of its keep. Generally there is a scampering of feet at this point. The little ones are not allowed out of bed unless they hear someone else so their ears are highly tuned to pick up any sign of movement.

Assuming I can get out of my bedroom without alerting anyone, I then have to work my way along the landing. This is reminiscent of my teenage days when I knew precisely which floorboard could be relied upon to take my weight without creaking and giving me away. Even if I can pass, ghost like along the corridor, there is always the chance these days that a joint will click loudly. A knee or an ankle showing its displeasure at early morning movement by shouting out in protest.

I stand still and listen hard. The latch, the floorboards and errant body parts are all dealt with and still I am alone. Down the stairs one at a time, avoiding those that complain. A little rush of movement at the bottom to disable the burglar alarm before it gives the game away. And then, occasionally, rarely, I am downstairs and they are all still asleep upstairs. I shut the kitchen door gently, brew coffee as quietly as is possible and set myself up on the sofa with my mug and a magazine for as long as I am allowed to get away with my solitude.

Of course, such mornings are rare. Generally the little ones are awake at the first hint of a noise and we all go down together leaving the big ones and husband to sleep on. And then, even though they are at the opposite end of the house, my curl up on the sofa is not quite so relaxing. I have to make drinks all round before I can get to my own coffee and my magazine perusal is interrupted at regular intervals by requests for assistance or to mediate in disputes.

So last night I made a deal. Although I would wake up first, my husband could get up and deal with the children. I brought my lap top upstairs in anticipation. Nothing spontaneous about this plan. Of course, as it turned out I had to shepherd the little ones downstairs, sort the sky box to a suitable channel and then gently kick my husband to wake him so that he could keep what was left of his side of the bargain. But the net result is the same. I am in bed, with coffee and it is peaceful. The sky is clear and bright. It's going to be a beautiful day.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I feel let down. Someone who I trust has turned out to be not ready to give me what I had hoped for from our relationship. That's twice this year that I have given a lot and had less in return. The circumstances of the two situations were very different and the people involved played very contrasting parts in my life. But the net result is the same. I am disappointed.

I have always been a private person. That sounds rich, given my weekly outpourings through this blog but that is different because I have no idea who, if anyone, is reading. So it's almost like talking to myself but less certifiable. I have never had barrel-loads of friends who will gather round like clucking hens at the first sign of trouble. Whilst, to an outsider looking in, such camaraderie appears attractive, I don't think I ever give enough of myself to invite it. Those that choose to be friends with me have to see something that they like beneath the surface and wait for it to emerge. There's no instant gratification being friends with Imogen Clark. But I like to think that my friendship is worth waiting for if you are interested enough. I try to be loyal. I can listen and I am quite good at suggesting solutions to issues when they arise. I know that being a good friend goes a whole lot deeper than that but for the purpose of today's thoughts, those are the bits that seem important.

But sometimes I give and get nothing back. That's OK most of the time. People lead very busy lives and are sometimes so wrapped up in their own issues that they don't have much time to devote to someone else's. Overall though, isn't that the essence of a true friendship? Someone who will give as much as they can notwithstanding what else they have on their plate?

I wonder if I expect too much but then I look to my small but loyal group of friends and see that, without exception, they would meet up to my expectations.Perhaps it's my judgement that's gone awry? Maybe the ones that have let me down were never capable of shouldering the burden that I gave them to carry? It is highly likely to be a storm in a teacup and after a brief, but awkward blip our relationship will continue pretty much where it left off. But part of me will be more cautious next time.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


A knock at the door. There stands the postman with a big brown box. I accept it with a smile and a word of thanks. I am excited. I look at the box and gauge its weight. But I am busy with Saturday morning stuff and so I put the box by the bread bin and, savouring the thrill of anticipation, I continue with my tasks.

And what is in the box I hear you cry. A belated birthday present? Some eagerly awaited book from Amazon? No. It's my Open University course material. I knew it was on its way. I had seen from my virtual pigeon hole that it had been dispatched and the fact that it says "The Open University - Urgent Educational Material" on the box was a bit of a clue.

And so there it sat by the bread bin all day. There were some quiet periods when I could have opened it and had a look at its contents but somehow I needed to enjoy the moment, linger over it, taste it. And quite a large part of me was nervous about opening it - like an envelope containing important news. It is almost like a Pandora's box. If I don't open it then I still have the option of turning back, continuing life without adding to it the complications and pressures that studying may bring. The requirement to find still more time in my already bulging diary. And the risk of failure, which whilst not in the forefront of my mind, is a fairly frequent visitor.

But if I do open it then that is the start of something new and exciting that may widen my world in ways that I cannot yet anticipate, introduce me to new people and new skills and take my life in a different direction.

And so, at a quiet moment when everyone else was occupied I take myself off with my box and quietly, cautiously open the box. Come on Imogen. Dive in. The water's lovely.

Monday, 28 September 2009


Monday morning. Start of a new week. It's busy in our house with all the things that should have been done on Sunday night. In and amongst everything else I notice that my eldest is quiet. She mentions that she doesn't feel great but apart from the uncharacteristic silence, she looks fine. Not pale or peaky. A bit tired maybe but nothing to worry about. And as I am remarkably unsympathetic with anything short of terminal illness, I give her a brief once over and then carry on with my morning.

When she leaves for school she is still quiet but I kiss her and wave her off. Ten minutes later my phone rings. She is too ill for school and she's coming home. OK, I say and send her straight to bed.

Now that I have to do something about it I start to think about what might be the matter. I cast my mind over her weekend. Following an extremely busy week, she went to Pizza Express on Friday night for a birthday party. Saturday was her drama class and then she went to her friend's for a trip to the cinema and a sleepover. She came home at lunchtime on Sunday, had some lunch and then went to an audition. Then she played with her siblings, did her homework and saxophone practise and went to bed.

And there, in a nut shell was my answer. My daughter was exhausted. And it was my fault. In and amongst our busy weekend, I had not given any thought as to the impact that back to back activities and no down time would have on my 12 year old. I only noticed when she collapsed by which time it was too late.

I went to speak to her in between listening to reading. cleaning teeth and chivying clothes on to my younger two. I told her that she was not ill but tired because she had done too much at the weekend. I said that she had to alter her priorities and that she couldn't get to a place where she missed school because she had made herself ill by being too busy. " You should have said no to the sleepover," she said. I pull a face at her and she gives me a wry half smile back. I leave her to it. She is, of course, right. I should have exercised more restraint over the activities and made sure that she had time to recover from the rigours of the week. But she was happy and having fun and so I just let it happen.

To be fair to me, I am usually more careful. My default setting when she asks me to do something is generally " No". But somehow this weekend I forgot that she is only 12 and, at the same time, my duties as her mother.

When I got back from walking the little ones to school she was dressed again and ready to go. She had decided that there was a difference between ill and tired and so went to school. I was proud of her attitude and her ability to make such a mature decision. But I think we have both learned something today.

Sunday, 27 September 2009


As part of my personal campaign to fill my life with exciting and challenging things I decided that it might be a good idea to study something. After battling my way through the education system to reach qualification at an earlier stage in my life I have always thought that I have had my fair share of formal learning. Until now it has held no appeal. It crossed my mind to study English but attentive readers will recall that that resulted in my setting up a book club rather than a second degree.

But it has been a strange year and so when the thought crossed my mind earlier in the year, I invited it in and made it a cup of tea. I stumbled across the Open University website and quite by chance found exactly what I had been looking for. My heart lurched. I was excited but at the same time all the voices telling me exactly why I can't do stuff were giving full voice to their concerns. Time pressures. Feelings of inadequacy. Fear of failure. Beard phobia. You know the kind of thing.

Anyway, I talked to my husband and a discreet friend and decided that if I still felt the same in a month or so I would sign up. I did so I did.

I received the wherewithal to log myself onto the OU website and found a ludicrously large volume of material about everything you could possible imagine including lots of tips for home study. Find a fixed time of the day that suits you and a quiet environment in which to work. That's me stuffed then I thought. But it's only eight hours a week. Surely I can fit that in somewhere?

Well, we shall see. My course material arrives in a couple of weeks and then I am off. Expect more over the coming months.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


I decorate cakes. I have done for many years. The first was the seven dwarfs in a bed for my boyfriend's birthday when I was a teenager and then I worked my way through my Jane Asher book during the course of my twenties.

About ten years ago, I noticed that my local college did a course in Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft so I signed up. I walked into the first lesson and pretty soon discovered that I was the new girl. The class had been going for years and all the ladies were a little older and considerably more skilled than me. Undeterred, I listened carefully and came home with a handful of jasmine flowers made in sugar. I was delighted. It had been a long time since I had made anything at all, let alone anything so delicate. And so that year I made a spray of flowers and holly for the top of my Christmas cake and was terribly proud.

The class was fun and I learned a lot although there were a couple of students who couldn't help letting us know how much more knowledge they had than everyone else. The teacher was very adept at diffusing the arguments that ensued. There is nothing funnier than a group of women all trying to score points whilst retaining the social niceties. It is not something that I can do but it was highly entertaining to watch.

Then after about eight years the funding was cut and the class folded. The teacher began to run private classes and the one that I could get to was in Bradford so I signed up.

Now the Bradford class is very different to the Ilkley one. It's younger for a start which leads to a different type of conversation but the women are so down to earth and no one is left in any doubt as to what is meant. There is no prettily dancing around the point. My vocabulary is improving weekly but mainly with rude words. And the level of skill is incredible. I am competent. I can rattle off a spray of flowers and a bit of piping but some of them would put the cakes in Betty's window to shame.

I can't see me getting any better - I have certainly plateaued but I love to marvel at the things that are being created, for fun, all around me. And yet to look at this group of women you would never guess what they have in common, let alone that they have this astounding talent. It's amazing what you can find when you stop to look.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


Time is passing too quickly. I don't mean the years although, Lord knows they are flying past with a frightening velocity. No, I mean the actual days. I wake up with the best intentions and a long list of tasks to be achieved and I go to bed with a mild sense of disappointment having not got nearly as far down it as I had hoped.

I have vague recollections of waking up of my own accord in the morning, stretching indulgently and wondering to myself - well. What shall I do today? I suspect that harps back to the pre-children days. I must have still had housework to do but you don't make much of a mess when there's just you. Now if I am not careful whole days get engulfed by the stuff.

And when I read the paper to try and engage with the world outside my window, I am told that I should be making my windfall apples into crumbles for the freezer and planting green manure in my veg patch. But the apples lie on the lawn as if to mock me and the soil is bare where my veg was. By the time I have finished doing all the day to day stuff, I can't seem to find the drive to do the extras. The nice bits if you like. There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in my day to fit it all in.

Perhaps I need a new approach. I could decide that today I am not going to do the hoovering but instead I will bake cup cakes with exotic looking frostings. Or instead of ferrying the children around to after school activities, we will all go for a romp in the woods and build shelters with bracken and make warrior face paints from mud. Or instead of washing, up we could have a huge bonfire in the back garden and watch the sparks soar up into the sky until after dark.

I look around me though and realise that it's not just me. Almost all the women I know assume that other women are better at managing their time, make more exciting meals, spend more quality time with their children and are able to find plenty of time during the day to relax in whichever way suits them best. In actual fact, we are all just running around trying hard to hold it all together as best we can.

I know that I could make my life easier by taking short cuts but I don't think I would gain any satisfaction from taking that course. Do I really need a freezer full of fruit products? I think what I really crave is time to think - time when I can clear my mind of the day to day mundanities and let my imagination wander where it wishes without getting bogged down with what is for tea and whose birthday is coming up. To achieve that I will need to be more disciplined and not allow myself to become distracted by the voices in my head. And perhaps I can get up earlier! Who needs sleep?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I am watching Nigel Slater. He is showing me, in his slightly patronizing way, how to make speedy suppers for my family. I suspect he doesn't have four children with countless activities to supervise, reading to listen to, homework to chivy along or musical instruments that need practising, thus freeing up plenty of his time to make rhubarb tarts with custardy cream for a mid week tea. I haven't got a hope. It's getting to the point that if there is something/anything on the table at 6.00 it's a bit of a miracle.

But if I am honest, the main difficulty is not how busy I am. It's my levels of enthusiasm. I have always loved cooking. I learned a lot at my mother's knee and then developed a little skill and a lot of love for cooking over the following twenty years. I have a collection of recipe books to rival Nigella Lawson and they are all well thumbed with notes in the margins and pages stuck together with stray drops of sauce.

But when you have to cook for 6 every day and when 4 of those 6 have very fixed ideas about what they will or won't eat, the joy of cooking kind of loses its sparkle. The same things get cooked week in week out and the dust settles on the books as cooking something for fun becomes a dimmer and dimmer memory.

And this is what all my female friends say to me. If only someone would tell me what to cook and then I could just do it.. they all moan. But with me it seems to be worse than that. I just can't seem to muster any enthusiasm at all. I stand in the supermarket staring at the shelves and have absolutely no idea what to buy. There is nothing that I fancy eating let alone cooking. I suppose to cook something new requires thought, time and planning and then there is the crushing disappointment when more of it goes in the bin than is eaten. I think I shall make a deal with myself. Cook something new once a month and hope that some of the old enjoyment returns. Or perhaps I should teach the girls to cook and become an executive chef.

But then I also read that until the 1800s, cooking was the second most common cause of death amongst women after childbirth so perhaps I am right to give it a wide berth. A death in the kitchen would be so messy.

Sunday, 13 September 2009


Secondary school appears to have stolen my children and sent me back two teenagers in waiting. Well, my eldest is almost a teenager and I have had a year to get used to the changes that came almost as soon as she put on her blazer and tie and marched up the hill to big school. But now that daughter number two has been there a week I can see it happening all over again and this time I am more able to watch the development with interest rather than just close my eyes and hang on for the ride.

It started with number two in the summer holiday. We had the same level of excitement, the same degree of planning for route to school and who to walk with but there were slightly less nerves. Maybe it is because she doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve like her sister and so didn't share them with us but also I think there was a degree of confidence born of experience. She had watched her sister take the selfsame steps just twelve months before and doubtless had countless conversations about it and so was a slight advantage to her and to her friends.

The first sign of the emergence of the maturing child was the haircut. Side fringes appear to be de rigueur. By this I mean having a section cut into the front which hangs just over one eye in a fashion that must impair vision but is, apparently, all the rage.

And then the big day came. She looked small and neat in her uniform, but not quite as small as her sister had done and when she arrived home she had adopted the post school slouch, tie undone. shirt untucked, skirt rolled high to reveal thigh, something that took her sister a couple of weeks to achieve.

But despite these relatively insignificant outward appearances, something inside her has changed too. A new air of confidence, of pride in her books, a sniff of the beginning of something fresh and exciting. And this time I want to soak it all up and enjoy it because before too long she will become a seething ball of hormones, grumpy, taciturn, volatile one minute, childish, eager to please and entertaining the next. Just like her sister.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


It's my birthday soon. I love birthdays. I will be 43 which sounds quite old to me but I am ready to embrace my new age with open arms.

I remember someone telling me that in your twenties it's all about career, your thirties is all about babies and by the time you hit your forties you have a degree of financial security, your career is stable and the children are no longer babies and so need a different but arguably more enjoyable kind of care. And so life becomes more fun. And I think he was right. I am having more fun in my forties than I ever had in my thirties.( I think it's fair to say that my twenties were a riot but so long ago it's hardly comparing like with like.)

It's not that I am out every weekend partying. In fact I rarely party, stay up late or drink too much these days. But what I do have is a kind of security - a confidence born of maturity and experience. I know myself well and am happy in my own skin. I can predict with a fair degree of accuracy how both I and those who are close to me will react in any given situation and I have faith in my own ability to exercise my judgement in a way that gives the results that I wish for. I would, of course, love my skin to have its youthful elasticity and glow and for the well established furrows on my brow to be less defined but overall I would rather have the self assurance that comes with age than a smooth complexion.

And so I shall celebrate my birthday and refer to my age with pride should anyone be interested enough to ask. Cake anyone?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


I have a new phone. It is fantastic, apparently. It can hold all my music, take marvelous photos, allow my to interact with my facebook page at the drop of a hat and be at the constant beck and call of anyone who chooses to email me. It can even make phone calls.

But the fact that I have a new phone is an indication of just how quickly my life is changing. Three months ago I decided that I needed a new phone tariff to keep up with my ludicrous text habit which was far out stretching the allowance on my existing contract. At this point my husband, master of all things technological, asked me if I wanted to upgrade my handset. I scoffed at him with such scorn that I am now ashamed to bring it to mind. " Why?" I asked, incredulously. "Why on earth would I need a phone that can do more than call, text and take pictures?" " Are you sure?" he asked, wisely. "It might be useful to be able to access your emails when you are out and about or blog from somewhere if the mood takes you?" "No thank you," I replied, primly. " I am perfectly happy with my phone. It does everything that I will ever need."

And so I got a new tariff and on we went. But then it started to occur to me that the points that he had made were valid ones. I began to develop an uncharacteristic curiosity about his iPhone and started searching the Internet for whizzy handsets. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to tell him that he had, in fact, been right all along and notwithstanding the fact that I had categorically stated, not three months before that I didn't want a new phone, I did.

And so now I have it. It is touch screen and everything moves about in a slightly ghostly fashion. I have no idea how to set it up so that it works like I want it to. I have worked out how to text, of course, and I have taught the predictive text some useful swear words but more than that I cannot yet do. In fact, it rang when I was on the train but I couldn't work out how to answer it!

I will learn all this stuff. Slowly but surely and with a lot of help I will gradually work it out. And then I will be ready for anything.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I had a health scare. Not a big one and I got the all clear and am absolutely fine but it made me think. Generally I am fit and well and have taken my good health for granted without ever giving it any thought. Apart from a bout of glandular fever after some ill-advised snogging as a teenager and pleurisy after living in a damp student dive, I have never really been ill.

But looking around me I start to notice more of my friends ailing, bits breaking, parts starting to malfunction. Whereas they had never questioned their body's ability to do what was asked of it, all of a sudden their bodies are kicking back and refusing to behave as requested. Inability to read a menu without peering seems pretty common as do damaged joints and ligaments. Other people have more mysterious ailments which involve blood tests or scans and a degree of worry. And the more people they mention their problem to the more people they discover with matching symptoms. It must be our age.

And so when I saw my GP and then got fast tracked to the local hospital I could not help but imagine the worst. For the week that it took for my appointment to come round, I could think of little else and whilst statistically I knew that the likelihood was that I would be fine, I could not help but play out the possibilities in my imagination. I knew what the ultimate outcome might be but the main thing on my mind was the sheer inconvenience of being ill. Not now, I though. Not now that I have finally started to move forward. I couldn't stand the frustration of having to put everything on hold whilst I battled back to health. I suspect that sounds trite but that was my main response to what I was about to encounter. I also discovered that I am far better at pushing things to the recesses of my mind than I thought I was. And so I was able to focus on the day to day practicalities of being ill rather than the longer term issues.

And strangely, when I received the glad tidings that I was fine it was as if I had recovered even though there was never anything wrong with me in the first place. I was filled to the brim with the thought that life is short and all opportunities must be grasped before they float away and are lost for ever. And at the same time I feel like a fraud because all that I had was a scare and yet I know people who are dealing with serious illness every day of their life. But all that I can do is to count my blessings and carry on. To paraphrase Nietzsche, what doesn't kill me will make me stronger. I have emerged feeling humble and incredibly lucky and I am sure that I shall never take my good health for granted in quite the same way again.


Most of my children have gone back to school today. The eldest goes tomorrow and then it's head down til Christmas. But I mustn't let the day to day mundanities get in the way. This is September. I love September. It's where things start for me. It must be a throwback to my own school days which, although many a moon ago are still writ large in my memory.

Traditionally fresh starts are made in January. With the excesses of Christmas out of the way and a new diary with clean pages to fill, that would seem to be the time to make some changes. But it is still the depths of winter and the drab, greyness of January and February make it difficult for me to feel positive about anything, let alone initiate change.

But September is a whole different kettle of fish. New clothes, new pencil cases, new timetables, new classmates. And on top of that, the season is on the cusp of changing. There is a nip in the air but the sun still has some heat in it on a good day. Blue skies, orange leaves and conkers. I defy anyone to pick up a fat, shiny conker fresh from its shell and not smile. And whilst, regretfully, I no longer have a new pencil case, the opening weeks in September do mark the beginning of a new phase.In recent times these phases have been in my children's lives. Starting play group or school or secondary school. But this year I have room in my head for me too. And change is in the offing. My job looks like it might step up a gear. I have signed up for an Open University course. I need to get some more structure back into my visits to the gym which, by necessity become a little haphazard in the holidays. And on top of that, I have all sorts of leisure interests that I wish to pursue. Add that to my existing commitments and the house and family and I have a lot to be excited about.

Sadly however, as I type the rain is hammering down on the windows, I have full length jeans and winter boots on and I did the school run in a mac! Still, I refuse to let anything shatter this feeling. It is precious and needs to be nurtured and protected from demons so that I make the most of it before it wears off and I am longing for the next holiday.

Friday, 28 August 2009


My blog is one year old. As is usual when anniversaries are noted, the year has flown by in the blink of an eye leaving me slightly surprised both by the passage of time and by the fact that I have published 87 postings.

When I first had the idea of making a few jottings, I was just beginning to wonder what my life would become when I finally packed my youngest off to school. I was teetering on the edge of a brave new world and was filled with excitement and more than a little trepidation. But I was also hoping to leave behind the place that nine years of staying at home with small children puts you in. I had had enough of that routine as one might expect. But I was also starting to realise slowly that the woman waiting patiently for the rest of her life to begin was a shadow of her former self. A pale imitation, as they say. My self confidence was on the floor and somewhere along the way I had lost the essence of me.

When I re-read those early postings, I see not only a nervousness at expressing my thoughts out loud - an over eagerness to draft my sentences in an entertaining and intelligent way. But also a certain desperation which I no longer feel or even really recognise. A degree of mania that I didn't really realise had taken hold until I was a little further down the road and looked back. As I emerged and my confidence grew, slowly at first and then with startling speed, I started to appreciate quite how much I had changed. It's strange how you don't notice these things at the time.

And now, a year on, I truly believe that the person writing this now shares very little in common with her alter ego of a year ago. Finding my feet, finding my job, finding some true and loyal friends and finally finding the essence of me have resulted in an inner strength which I thought was lost. I have plans and dreams again and I am incredibly excited about the future. Bring it on.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Meals out with children can be challenging. Meals out with children on holiday can be enough to test the patience of a saint. I am not a saint and my patience is a fragile, easily broken kind of thing. There are several reasons why the holiday dinner table is a little more stressful for me. The main one is my own ludicrous expectations. I am on holiday. I have looked forward to it for a disproportional length of time. I have dreamed of sitting outside some picturesque Tuscan restaurant, warm in the last, golden rays of the day, the cicadas chirping with a large glass of chilled wine surrounded by my tanned and happy family. It's never quite like that.

Firstly,the usual bed time for the little ones will have come and gone. They are tired, hungry and want food now. No leisurely perusing of the menu, looking up of interesting local dishes in my pocket dictionary and pondering over which bottle of wine to choose. It's head down into the menu, locate the meals that they will eat and look around hopefully for a waitress who will take our order in my stumbling Italian as quickly as possible.

It is at this point that I would hope for interesting discussion about that day's activities. How does the Leaning Tower lean that far without falling over? Wasn't it beautiful at the top of the Campanile? What Italian words did you learn today? To be fair, my elder two are up for that type of conversation and enjoy the " What was the best bit of today?" chat. But the little ones just want food. Now.

Fortunately, there is often some kind of distraction for the kids and they all desert the table to play on the swings and charm the locals. And briefly my dream becomes a reality. I take a sip of wine, admire the view and start up a conversation with my husband about how lovely Tuscany is and when it may be feasible to move here. And then they are back, dusty and demanding pizza.

As the meal progresses we get louder and louder. That would generally be fine in Italy. They like big families and children and don't seem to mind the noise that they create. But of course, in the main the restaurant is populated by middle class English families with two teenage children who spend the whole meal texting or scowling at their sibling and so make no noise at all. My stress levels mount as I struggle to maintain some level of decorum but nevertheless drinks get spilled, wasps get swatted with great gusto and eventually all my fellow diners can hear is me making ever louder shushing noises in an unsuccessful attempt to maintain order. I know I am on holiday and should go with the flow but that really isn't one of my life skills.

We have pudding and what my youngest doesn't eat he tries to secret in my handbag for later. No lingering over coffee. It's home for bed and story before they get too grumpy. All in all as meals go it is a success. Everyone is fed and watered without me having to lift a finger. It's not been quite as relaxing as I might have hoped but it does get easier with every passing holiday. And ultimately in that kind of setting I am guaranteed to have a lovely time no matter what.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


The wanderer returns. After a year of planning and dreaming, my annual summer holiday has flown by and I am left with a tan, a few tenacious mosquito bites and an enormous pile of laundry. And that is fine. I will do the ironing whilst I catch up with Coronation Street and Jam and Jerusalem. The English summer is still stumbling its way through August and I have a couple of weeks before I get thrown back in to the whirlwind world of school. And so all is well.

And I have plenty to think about. I decided a few years ago that every time I go on holiday, I come back a little bit different. I used to find these Holiday Resolutions somewhat draining. Whilst I was away I would decide to change my life on my return. You know the kind of thing. Who needs television? When we get back I will not reach for the remote as soon as the children go to bed but I will sit with a edifying book and read until I retire, tired and with my mind expanded. Or I convince myself that I will overhaul what I cook and that in my evening reading sessions I will select tasty and yet unusual menus from my plethora of underused cook books which will in turn delight my family and thrill them with different dishes every night.

Of course it never came to anything. Old habits die very hard in my house and the Autumn tv schedules always look too appealing to ignore. And cooking new stuff? Well no one eats it anyway so I soon slip back into cooking the same five meals that I have always made. And as I approach my 44th year, I know that about myself. I have seen the futility of that kind of resolution and when they cross my mind I push them firmly to the back where they belong knowing that they are doomed to fail.

And yet as I grow older they have been replaced by something else - an altogether more realistic type of change. It struck me that as I lay on my lounger trying to tan my front ( which cannot be done whilst reading unless you have incredibly well developed arm muscles) that I should use that time to think. Not about little day to day changes to make me feel better about my lifestyle and try and prolong that holiday feeling, but about the big stuff. What I want? Where I am going? Who I am going to take there with me? These are the things that never get any headspace in the real world because life is too busy and noisy and by the time things have quietened down enough to hear myself think, I have lost the desire or ability to do so.

And so I have returned filled with plans and dreams - some achievable, some possibly not but all of them worthy of surviving the first few days of life at home. And so, as autumn approaches and my tan fades I need to hold on to these thoughts and use them to inspire me to move forward in my chosen direction so that by the time I get to next year's holiday I can see my progress and start again.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Is it cheating to listen to a book rather than read it? If you don't actually turn the pages but still absorb every word is it the same?

I love to read. I have done since I was a child. I had a selection of treasured tomes which I read over and over again. I still have many of them. There were a few classics and then some relatively new books that have gone on to become classics - like Dr Seuss and Flat Stanley. I would spend hours reading Asterix the Gaul, not appreciating until much later how clever it all was. And Enid Blyton. Lots of Enid Blyton. Mainly fairy tales but a bit of boarding school stuff too which made my little state primary school seem very dull by comparison.

Then, as I went into the 6th form my reading took on a slightly more pretentious air as I read what I thought to be reading rather than necessarily what I would have chosen. I churned my way through more modern classics - Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Bell Jar, The Wasp Factory. You get the general idea.

And on it went until my thirties when I spent most of my time too exhausted to do anything other than give the odd magazine a cursory glance. I could remember the pleasure of a really good read but I didn't have the time during the day and couldn't stay awake long enough at night to get through more than half a page.

But gradually things improved. My energy levels were restored, if not to their former pre-children levels, then at least to something approximating normal. I set up my book club (See 3 May 2009)and began reading again. I enjoyed it immensely but as time went on I found that I only had enough time in the month to read the book club book which, enjoyable though it was, was very limiting.

And so I began to listen to books on my ipod. I bought myself an ipod as part of my "reintroduction to technology" process last year. Gradually I worked my way round itunes and learned rudimentary control of the clickwheel (although it still drives me mad by undertaking random and seemingly unilateral action.)But I don't often listen to music on it. I have a little for the rare occasions that the mood takes me but mainly I listen to books.

The benefits are that whilst I clean my house or walk to town or work out in the gym, my mind can be doing something much less boring. It means that I can read my book club book at night but also lose myself in something of my own choosing at other times, consequently enjoying far more writing during the course of the month. The downsides are that people assume if you are wearing earphones that you are listening to music and so talk to you. This is really annoying! I am listening and concentrating on the plot. If someone speaks to me I have to scrabble around in my pocket to turn it off and invariably I miss part of my story and part of what the person is saying to me. But worse than this is when I knock the clickwheel and it whizzes me on without me realising so that I have to try and refind my place. Much harder to do than replacing a lost book mark.

I recently listened to A Tale of Two Cities, book club's selection for the month. I would never have finished in time had I tried to read it but I was able to listen night and day and I was done by the time the meeting came. " That's cheating!" remarked someone. But is it? I achieved the same end. I absorbed all the words that Dickens wrote in the right order. I know the plot and the characters and could appreciate the beautiful prose. And in some ways it is easier to fully immerse yourself in the book when someone is reading it to you, rather like it was when you were a child and were read to before going to sleep. And I would never have finished had I tried to read it so it brought me something extra.

Listening will never replace reading for me until I can no longer see to read. There is something so entrancing about opening the cover of a new book and turning the pages, seeing your progress through them day by day. But listening brings me something else.It allows me to continue to "read" in situations and at times when otherwise it would be impossible. It lets me cover more ground and take in books that I would never even try to read in the conventional way. But best of all it gives me something else to think about as I clean the bathroom and for that alone it has to be given full recognition.

Monday, 3 August 2009


In less than a week the Clark family go on holiday. I love going on holiday. Who doesn't? Preparing to go can be hard work but it doesn't matter how challenging it may be. If there is a chance of me going somewhere where the sun is shining then I will be there no matter how much sweat is spilt in the process.

And believe me - sweat is spilt. Mine mainly. Because in the week before I go I turn into some kind of whirling dervish. First there is the packing - obviously. I do it for me and the children. My husband can be trusted to do his own and remember to take what he needs. I think of everything else. Clothes for all eventualities, travel plugs, cameras, chargers, art equipment, gadgets to kill mosquitoes, books for all ages, toiletries, Calpol etc..etc.. I also have to pack it all into a remarkable small space. It's amazing how little boot space there is in a 7 seater people carrier hire car. So unless the children want to spend the journey under a holdall, I have to keep the bags to the minimum.

I do lists of course. We have no spare bedroom so I can't do that fantastic laying out thing, where you start a week before and gradually add to the pile as things cross your mind. No. I have to do all of it in one go. So I need a list. The list follows me about the house and even finds its way to my bedside cabinet so that when I wake in the middle of the night in a blind sweat with the most essential holiday item in the forefront of my mind, I can quickly scribble it down and go back to sleep without having to worry about remembering it until morning. Don't laugh. It's a good system.

Of course, the late packer's nightmare is good weather before you go because then everyone wants to wear the holiday wardrobe which is all beautifully laundered, folded and smelling of summer meadows. No danger of that this year.

So the packing is one thing but that is a walk in the park compared with the other things that I insist on doing before I go. It's lovely to go on holiday but at the end of your relaxing fortnight you have to come home and what better than to open the front door to a clean house? And clean sheets? And no outstanding laundry? And a meal in the freezer just ready to reheat? And so this is what I do. As well as all the usual stuff of cleaning out fridges and bins and cancelling the milk and arranging for someone to feed the pets and water the plants and post any birthday cards that might be necessary whilst I am away. And add the children in to the equation and it all becomes a tad more stressful.

Keeping the place tidy with the children around is hard enough. There is a limit to the amount of time that I can force them to stay outside. Short of actually locking them out (which I have done in times of dire emergency) I cannot stop them getting things out. After I have put them all away again, I have to clean but they will insist on using the loo or having a shower or sitting on the plumped sofa cushions. You get the picture. It's so inconvenient! Then I change all the sheets but rather than being faced with 5 lots of bedding when I get home, I have to wash and iron it all, along with anything else that has found its way into the laundry basket. And of course I have to do this at the latest time possible or the sheets will have been slept in too many times to be clean by the time we get home.

The upshot of all this preparing to go on holiday is that I get progressively more frazzled as the week progresses so that by the time we finally hit the airport I can only snarl in response to anyone that dares to speak to me.

I do this every year but I am sure it is all worth it. I always get there in the end and I do feel smug when I get home. But once, just once, it might be nice to just pack and go and not worry. Nice but so not likely to happen in my house in this millennium!

Friday, 31 July 2009


I am disappointed. It's not unusual. It happens to me most years but this year is worse than usual because of raised expectations and early promise.

Why is the English summer such a let down? It has such great potential. Give me England in a fine summer and I would want for nothing. But it never really comes off. I'm not much good at the other seasons. I can't understand people who declare autumn to be their favourite. End of summer and head down into five months of misery as far as I can see. I can just about get spring because it is new and has promise of good things to come. Anyone who tells me that winter is their favourite season is truly certifiable and needs to be given a wide berth.

I do find winter a bit of a struggle. The beginning bit is ok. The first few fires and frosts and woolly scarf days are a novelty and I love Christmas. But I'm not terribly good without sunshine. I get a bit low as we slog our way through weeks of grey in January and February. I am cold all time and unable to warm my cockles without actually sitting on a radiator. But I dream. I imagine myself outside in the evening with a chilled glass of wine and a great book. I picture long days out with the children, eking out the remainder of the sun's warmth well past dusk. Or sitting outside a pub with bare arms as if I was abroad. I flick hopefully through magazines and catalogues looking at outside lanterns and wicker garden furniture.

This year I was filled with a strong conviction that the summer would live up to my dreams. Not only did the weather men promise a barbecue summer but simply by the law of averages, it had to be a belter this year. And it began slowly but with great promise. Here we go, I thought. Hold on to your sunhats. But July has been unsettled and August is likely to be the same and suddenly it's September and it's all over again for another year.

I should really move. The north of England is not well served for the dry, bright weather that I crave. Lincolnshire had big skies and little rain and when I lived in London it was much warmer. But here I shall stay, making the most of what little sunshine there is and dreaming of climate change.

Someone suggested to me that instead of being so excited and then disappointed year on year, I should be more accepting of the Northern English summer and just take each day as it comes. After all, I know I am likely to be disappointed so why not manage my own expectations. But I am not ready for that yet. I still love to dream in March that it will be tropical in July. Despite the odds being pretty firmly stacked against me, I still listen to long term weather forecasts with the excitement of a 12 year old, not the cynicism of someone in their forties. And I think that's how it should be. Just because something is unlikely to happen doesn't mean I shouldn't hope for it with all my heart.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


There is very little more likely to make me feel inadequate than a school holiday. I know I am not alone in this. Somehow I never quite live up to my own expectations. We are just into the second week of a unusually long break of seven weeks and already the world is full of women losing the plot.

The trouble is I always build myself up for the holidays inappropriately, taking no heed of many years of bitter experience and with my rose coloured spectacles perched firmly on my nose. I crave mornings when I don't have to get everyone up, dressed, fed and out of the house by 8.30 with all their necessary bits and pieces. I long for weekends that aren't clogged up with dance classes and birthday parties and sleepovers. But what I always forget is that all that schooling and carefully structured entertainment has to be replaced with something else.

I am lucky. Four children is a team. Nice even numbers so that no one gets ganged up on. Split into two age groups that can be mixed and matched in a wide variety of combinations. They rarely fight and are singularly undemanding in terms of proactive diversion. They can generally find things to do with only a modicum of direction from me and if all else fails there is always the Sky box.

So entertaining the children seems not to be a problem. It's entertaining me where my issue seems to arise. I am happy in my own space and company and don't mind if my social life grinds to all but a stop. I have my phone and manage the odd cup of tea with other mothers who are from the same laissez faire school of managing holidays as me. But when the children are at school, I have a quick tidy up in the morning and then I can please myself until they come home. Well, it's not quite like that but you get the general idea. But in the holidays as fast as I can tidy up one area of the house they move to another and start to dismantle that. Someone did suggest that I didn't have to tidy up all day but could save it all until they have gone to bed. However, anyone who knows me will know that that just will not wash with little OCD me.

And the food! If I am not tidying up I am preparing or clearing up some meal or snack. And the laundry! All four of them insist on wearing something clean every day so instead of a few bits of uniform and some polo shirts, I have literally mountains of ironing.

"So why stay home?" I hear you cry. Well the alternative is a trip out. We do do trips out although, as you might have guessed not as many as others who have fewer children and more enthusiasm. We do both the simple trip to river and paddle kind of trips and the more complicated leave Ilkley, picnic, entrance fee, ice cream, sick in the car on the way home kind of trips too. The kids have a great time (although not so much better than they would have in the garden with a few mates and a hose pipe.) But I find it really hard. No adult to talk to and as a busy, never sitting still or relaxing kind of mum, I get just as bored as I do at home but with no distractions to entertain me. How I long to be one of those mums who sets herself up on a blanket with all her children around her and watches them play til the sun goes down. But I'm not. I can do 15 minutes - tops.

I know all this stuff so I don't know why it surprises me year on year. It has rained on and off all holiday and apart from a couple of wanders into Ilkley we have yet to leave the house as a family. The kids seem totally content and chilled but I am starting to twitch! I do know people with activities planned for every day but I don't hold with that kind of holiday. I don't do kids camps or friends for tea or camping trips or train rides to the seaside. But I don't really want to do self-imposed house arrest either. I think I will have to find myself a summer holidays hobby that you can do in snatches of ten minutes between cleaning and cooking and ironing and tidying up and directing play? Or perhaps I should get on with enjoying the lack of structure and plan some really exciting stuff for when I get my life back.