Friday, 29 May 2009


At the bottom of my street and less than five minutes walk from my house is Ilkley's swimming pool. It's a small, rather grubby affair. The changing rooms are tired, the water is generally freezing and there are no catering facilities to speak of bar a couple of vending machines. But despite its shortcomings, Ilkley pool has something to set it apart from other pools. It has a Lido.

The Lido was opened in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and entertains up to 150,000 visitors in the season and up to 4,000 a day when the weather is good. You can see that I have referred to the Friends of Ilkley Lido website for my useful and informative facts and figures. Really all you need to know is that it is a beautiful outdoor pool with a big fountain and spectacular views over the Moor to the Cow and Calf rocks beyond.

I haven't been for the last two years when the only decent weather came before the Lido opened in May or after it had closed in September. It was also quite hard work with two pre-schoolers because if they went in the water then I had to go in too. However, our family has been well represented in my absence. Each year as soon as the pool opens at Whitsun we buy season tickets for the two big girls and then that is the last we see of them. Every spare minute is spent at the Lido with gangs of mates no matter what the conditions that the great British summer throws at us.

So, last weekend the doors of the Lido were thrown open and their mobiles began to ring with other children making unnecessarily complicated arrangements to meet up. Because the girls are only 11 and 12, the levels of freedom that their friends have is many and varied. Some, like ours, have season tickets and can get themselves there and back without any parental involvement at all. Others live further away and so are given lifts backwards and forwards. Some poor unfortunates can only go if a parent accompanies them which severely curtails their enjoyment of the place. Our two wander down most days and then bring hordes of friends back with them as we seem to be a convenient place for people to collect from. All summer my hallway is clogged up with wet towels and rucksacks. This year has been slightly different as my eldest is still waiting for the all clear to swim following her operation in March. Still, that doesn't seem to stop her joining everyone else. Half the time it's way too cold to go in the water anyway.

But I have four children and the other two have been desperate to join in the fun. So, with one eye on the weather forecast, I promised that we would go for a picnic today knowing that warm sunshine had been predicted. We packed food and drink and costumes and towels and goggles and a book ( for me - I had no intention of getting wet) and off we strolled raggle taggle down the road. It was busy when we got there but I found a space away from the pool and any splashes and set ourselves up for the day.

First things first. The little ones wanted to go in the water. There are two things to bear in mind at this point. Firstly, the last time they went into water outside it was the Caribbean. Secondly, the pool has only been full for a week. The temperature of the water came as something of a shock to them. It is, of course, freezing and only warms to something approximating a bearable temperature after at least a fortnight of temperatures in the 80s. So the going in the water bit didn't last long and pretty soon we were on to the picnic which didn't last long either. Then the big ones went off with their mates and my husband took the little two to the indoors pool for a bit of a swim.

This gave me the chance for a spot of people watching. There is an interesting cross section of society there. By far the largest group is made up of teenagers - gangs of girls in bikinis giggling and flicking their hair and lads all flexing their muscles and flicking their towels. Then there are the mothers with smaller children. They fall into two camps depending on the age of their off spring. If they can swim but aren't old enough to be there unaccompanied then the mothers sit on benches or towels fully clothed reading a book or chatting. Those poor unfortunates ( and I have been there) with children who can't swim have to get changed and follow their charges around to avoid accidental drowning. There are little ones in huge waterlogged nappies or those ridiculous costumes with buoyancy aids sewn in and lots in those all in one sun protection suits that are terribly sensible but look so uncomfortable. There are lots of dads on duty because it's too cold for the mums and then there is the hardy group who go down to the Lido each day to swim their 50 lengths because it's good for the circulation or the digestion or their soul.

Of course at the weekend it is full of out of towners. The best time to go is on a warm weekday evening after school when the sun has spent all day heating the water but has dropped in the sky and is giving off that beautiful, golden, end of the day light. On evenings like that you couldn't wish to be anywhere else. As always I am hopeful for a good summer with plenty of evenings just like that. And who knows, I might even have a swim!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Bugger! Child number 3 has an itchy head. This can mean one of two things. Mild itchy scalp brought on by some kind of eczema. Or nits! Notice how, though I know that it is only the eggs that are called nits and the eggs themselves do not itch, I cannot quite bring myself to say that my child may have lice.

Having four children I have had my fair share of creepy crawlies to deal with over the eight years that we have been at primary school so far. Every so often a photocopy of a letter is stuffed into the book bag. It is from the local PCT telling me that a child in my child's class has head lice ( there, I said it ) and how I should treat it. "Who is it?" I enquire casually. I don't know why I bother. My child rarely knows. I suppose that I hope that if I can identify the carrier then I can do a quick probability calculation of the chances of my child having bumped heads with them. This optimism is misplaced. There is no way round it. If we get a letter I should get the nit comb out. I don't but I should.

I have very clear memories of the first time that head lice crossed my threshold. My eldest was in year 1 and baby number 3 was new born. I was in that post birth fug when nothing but the needs of your baby matter and so the day to day care of the other two had fallen to the bottom of my list of priorities. To be fair to me, she hadn't done much scratching or not so that I had noticed but then a brass band could have been playing Blaze Away in my kitchen and I doubt I would have noticed that either. Then one day I did catch her scratching and a quick examination of her head revealed her to be literally crawling with lice. They were virtually living stacked on top of each other duplex style.

Horrified, I rushed her into the bath and starting to comb. There were hundreds and hundreds of lice left drowning in the water by the time we had finished. My poor baby. How had I let her get so infested? I had heard of children being hospitalized for anemia as a result of head lice. I checked her cheeks. Distinctly rosy, although her lips were a little blue from being in the bath so long. So then I checked child number 2. No lice. A miracle. I was itching like mad as you always do when someone mentions head lice. At that time I had thick dark hair which fell below my shoulders. Perfect for hiding a few bloodsucking parasites. I combed until my head was sore but found nothing. Even this was a slight. I had clearly spent so little time with my eldest that she hadn't had chance to pass them to me.

The lice are one thing. Easily removed. But the eggs. There were hundreds as you might have expected. Every shaft seemed to have at least one attached. I took to crushing them with my finger nails. Strangely satisfying but very labour intensive. We combed with conditioner every three days for weeks and weeks. To this day the smell of Pantene still fills me with dread. But why, I hear you cry, did you not just zap her with a super strong dose of chemicals and be done with it? You have to remember that this was my first child and in the same way as I didn't yet use Calpol to get a decent night's sleep, I believed the Health Visitor and School Nurse when they told me that chemical treatments do not work and that combing with conditioner is the only way to rid your child of this affliction.

But it was hopeless. Head lice are frisky little blighters. Miss just one or two and before you know it they have gone and laid a whole new batch. As the weeks wore on the lice started to attack not just my child's scalp but also the very core of our relationship. I didn't feel that I could cuddle her in the same carefree way that we had done before. I was always aware of exactly where my head was in relation to hers. It seemed distant and calculating but I couldn't help it. The thought of having lice myself made me gag although I was very pragmatic about removing them from her.

After what seemed like an age I finally made the trip to Boots and bought the strongest stuff I could find and within a week it was over. I came across the odd empty egg case but all signs of moving creatures were gone.

Over the following years both she and I caught them again on several occasions. Strangely child number 2 has never had them. By the time child number 3 started in Reception I was terribly relaxed about the whole bloodsucking parasite on the head thing. When she caught them the first time I told everyone that it was her that had caused the PCT letter to be sent and I even caught a juvenile and adult louse and stuck it under a piece of sellotape at the classroom assistant's request to show those poor, horrified first time mothers what it was that they were looking for. It doesn't get any more pleasant to deal with but dealt with it must be. Small children catch head lice just like they catch colds and chickenpox and there's absolutely nothing to be gained by being either squeamish or secretive about it.

Fortunately, child number 3 has blonde, blonde hair so any imposters are easy to spot and eradicate. I will do a quick check at bath time and at the first sign of anything moving will squirt on the mousse...just as soon as I have stopped scratching.

Monday, 25 May 2009


So I went and did day 2 of my paragliding course but this time I took the family with me. They were all very keen to come and see what I had been up to. I though that that would be OK. It would be nice to have some support and I was proud of what I had done and happy to share. But I had enough to think about so I charged my husband with the task of ensuring that the children were fed, watered and entertained for what could be a very long day sitting on a hillside watching their mum.

Paragliding is entirely dependent on the weather. That means that you have to ring at 8 o clock on the appointed day to see if the forecast is looking favourable. Assuming that all is well, then it's all systems go. There's just enough time to hop into the car and whizz up the A65 to Kirkby Stephen - which was fine when it was just me but slightly more challenging when it involved four children. They knew that we were hoping to go and had given some thought to packing a few things the day before. But when the chips are down my kids don't really do fast. They change their minds about what they want to wear, argue over who is going to take which game for the car and which DVD to watch and always remember that they haven't had a wee when I have already locked the house and set the alarm.

Anyway, despite their best endeavours, we managed to leave the house by 8.30 and then joined the throng of cars making their way towards the Lake District to enjoy the forecasted sunshine. After a slow meander we finally arrived and I met the rest of the group. Three of them were from my previous day and the others had a wider range of experience. I was the only girl.

Having checked the weather we headed for a hill which faced in to the forecasted wind and then to another one which faced the way the wind was actually blowing. The paragliders trudged our way up one side of the hill and my family settled themselves on the opposite side of the valley just near the windsock. I unpacked my wing, fastened my helmet and harness and waited. And waited. The light breeze got stronger and stronger and more and more gusty. It was a beautiful day with barely any clouds. You would think it was perfect unless you were about to launch yourself from a cliff attached to a bit of fabric and then you suddenly become aware of every breath of wind.

It became apparent that we wouldn't be flying any time soon so I ran down the hill, back up the other side and joined my family for a picnic. It was lovely to be sitting in a field in the Dales with nothing to do and nowhere to go. But I had to go back to the centre for a lecture on lift, drag and the angle of attack and so we left my lot in charge of the kit. I was a bit worried. They had already been on the hill for a couple of hours and now they had to stay there for at least a couple more and couldn't leave because of their kit guarding responsibilities. But I had no reason to be anxious. When I returned they had flown kites, found a surprisingly large haul of animal bones, played bat and ball and spotted a wide variety of mini beasts. There seemed to be plenty to do on the hill to keep them entertained.

And here was a lesson learned. I tend to suffer from an affliction that I inherited from my mum - the urge to go home before you have actually arrived. We go on a trip and I am always thinking about the next meal or avoiding the traffic or getting back before bedtime. And yet, with a few simple pleasures they were all entertained and completely content.

Finally, around 4.00 we got to fly and they were all there to watch. I could hear them cheering as I listened to the walkie talkie in my harness giving me instructions. Although this whole thing began as something that I needed to do on my own, it was wonderful to have their support. I felt proud of both myself and them. The time ticked on. I did another seven flights and when I was too tired to work out which line was which on my wing, I decided that my day was done. In the meantime, my husband had the children cooking sausages for their tea which the rest of us could smell on the thermals as we flew.

Tired and bruised from the harness banging my arms, I recruited my team to help me pack up my kit and we left the hill. We had had a fabulous day. I had achieved my ambition and the family had spent happy time in the great outdoors.

And now I have plenty of things to think about. Firstly, my future with paragliding. There is no doubt about it - I love it and although I have only done low level and relatively short flights, I know that if I were to take it further it would be something that I would adore. It is all I hoped for and so much more. But as ever, my practical side takes over. Out of six potential flying days I managed about seven hours. I had to be ready to go at 8.00am on six days to achieve this. I had to drive an hour and three quarters to get there and I need to fly for a minimum of ten days to achieve my Club Pilot qualification which would enable me to fly unaccompanied. This is unachievable without some major sacrifices from my whole family and I cannot ask or expect them to do it.

Then there is the importance of my family to me. The paragliding thing was something that I needed to do by myself and I learned things about myself that I didn't know. But despite my huge sense of independence, I was delighted to have the interest, enthusiasm and support from my nearest and dearest. Whilst I wanted to do it by myself I loved having them with me.

And finally, the children. No electricity for a day and they were totally absorbed and entertained. I am lucky that they generally get along really well together and they rarely have big fights but I would not have believed that they would all be happy with almost nothing to do in a field all day. Perhaps that camping trip that everyone but me is dying to do isn't that far off.

Friday, 22 May 2009


Some days things just don't work out. Why is that? Not really bad days when everything looks bleak and it's hard to see the sunshine but days when things just don't go according to plan. Today was one of those days. No disasters. Just a series of slightly irritating events that are nothing on an individual basis but pile up on top of each other to result in a less than satisfactory day.

But the trouble is that things have been peculiar all week. Last weekend I was cross. I bellowed at the children when they made totally unreasonable demands of me, like asking for something to eat or whether they could watch the TV. Suspecting that I could identify the cause of my malaise, I checked my calendar. Lo and behold. Bad mood explained so all I had to do was baton down the hatches and wait for it to pass.

But it didn't. I found myself getting disproportionately angry over the strangest things. The weather, for example. It is annoying to get drenched every time I leave the house but I do live in Yorkshire. It's hardly surprising. I could feel myself being snappy with people, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. And after anger comes guilt for behaving in such an uncontrolled manner and then tears which trickle down my cheeks without warning.

It's not as if I had a bad week. This week has been packed with exciting events. On Monday I went to Leeds to indulge in some most satisfactory retail therapy. On Wednesday I went to Chelsea with a good friend and spent a fabulous day drinking champagne, spotting minor gardening celebrities and admiring flowers. This was followed by a night away in a swanky hotel. It was wonderful and I had a marvelous time. But I was still out of kilter when I got home. Then I had dinner with some friends that I hadn't seen for ages and caught up with all the gossip. A perfect tonic one might think. Added to this my daughter received an accolade for academic achievement from the head mistress and I had my hair cut which is generally just the ticket for raising confidence, self esteem and generally lifting moods. But no. My heart remained very resolutely in my boots.

The trouble with unshakable moods is that they are unshakable. If all this could not lift my spirits then I was fresh out of ideas. I raked my brain. What could be at the root of this state of dissatisfaction? And then I had a thought. The only thing that had changed was that I hadn't been to the gym for a bit. When I counted it up it was almost three weeks. Firstly there was the week after the paragliding when I could barely walk let alone pump iron. Then, I had a week when I did little but work and failed to make the time to go. And then this week I was getting ready to go away, was away and then was catching up after being away. No time for the gym. Could this be it? Could a lack of endorphins be taking it's toll?

So today I went back to the gym. Will it make any difference? God I hope so. I have missed penning my perky little postings. I am worn down by shouting randomly at my children and the ensuing guilt and as two weeks of half term holiday has just begun it's going to be pretty miserable for us all if I can't regain my former equilibrium. So, if I don't post anything for another week you will know that it hasn't worked and my sparkle has gone on sabbatical. Please bear with me. Normal service will be resumed just as soon as I can muster it.

Sunday, 17 May 2009


When we moved into our house almost 13 years ago, there were only two of us and a cat. In comparison with my two bedroomed terrace our new 3 1/2 bedroomed semi was palatial. We had barely enough furniture to fill the downstairs and we could not begin to imagine how we would ever use the space we had acquired. With four children that's how.

After the arrival of two children it, became apparent that more space would be required if we were to retain any modicum of sanity. So we added a tiny little conservatory (more like a lean-to really) onto the back of the dining room which we proudly called the "playroom". Suddenly, our sitting room could be divested of all coloured plastic and Teletubbies videos. And that was our lot for a couple of years.

But two more babies later and I had a hankering for a big family kitchen to match my big family. I was tired of carrying plates backwards and forwards to the dining room. I wanted a table in the kitchen. After lots of careful deliberation we decided that the best way to achieve what I craved was to brick one wall up and knock down another. Simple!

I then spent months doing what I like doing best - planning. Never has so much thought gone into a kitchen design. I was very clear what I wanted. A big table, a larder cupboard, an island and an Aga. And not just any old Aga. I wanted the big, four oven one which looks like it wouldn't be out of place in an army kitchen and where each oven is large enough to take a small witch a la Hansel and Gretel. At first it looked as if I was asking far too much of the available space, but with perseverance and hours spent moving little cupboards across graph paper I finally came up with a design that might work.

We asked three companies to come and give us a quote. The man from Magnet sucked his teeth, told me that I couldn't possibly have a dishwasher in my island and then came in with the highest quote. I rang a local kitchen firm and they sent a child with a boyband haircut. I wasn't impressed but he listened, made notes and came back with a plan that included all my requirements and one or two extra ideas of his own. The job was his.

"Two weeks," he said. Fortunately we had enough common sense not to believe him. At the time, the two littlest children were both under two and the smallest was crawling and into everything. I felt very strongly that we needed to move out at least whilst the walls were knocked down and the power was off. We moved into a holiday cottage up on Ilkley Moor for two weeks and hoped that the place would be serviceable when we returned. Of course it wasn't but we muddled through. In fact, I was remarkably chilled because my excitement at how my life was about to change far outweighed the inconvenience of washing up in the downstairs loo.

The day my Aga arrived my excitement reached fever pitch. We had spent hours in the showroom selecting the colour and learning how "food cooked in an Aga has its own special quality and that you haven't lived until you have tasted an Aga breakfast". And now here it was. Half a ton of cast iron being assembled in my new and rather dusty kitchen. " You sure you want it here?" asked the fitter " because it'll cost you a grand to shift it if you change your mind." I told him that he had the spot just right and he began to build. By the end of the day it was there and warming up nicely.

I'm still not sure why I wanted an Aga so badly. There's the whole lifestyle thing. Cath Kidston teatowels, a Labrador in a basket, herbs drying on a rack above. I don't think that was it ( although I have two out of three of those). Yes, I did love the idea of the welcoming warmth, the focal point for the kitchen and a whistling kettle but actually it was the whole cooking thing that really appealed. I cook a lot. I have four children for goodness sake. I bake three or four times a week to keep up with their appetites and those of their friends and I love the fact that I can make dinner at lunchtime and it will still be delicious no matter what time it gets eaten. It's also remarkably adept at drying school shoes, coats, snowy clothes and virtually anything that is wet. It will even do the ironing for you if you position things in the right way on top of the hotplates. It has made itself indispensable in my life.

It is quite dangerous though. I haven't had many accidents but the ones I have had have been quite spectacular. The first corker involved a flan ring that fell from my wrist down my arm, blistering my skin each time it touched it. After that I invested in gauntlets to protect me. No longer do I burn the flesh from my arms as I delve in the back of the oven to retrieve some rogue sausage.

The other recurrent accident occurred yet again just yesterday. The whole point of the Aga is that you only do 20% of the cooking on the hotplates. The bulk of cooking occurs inside the ovens to preserve the heat that is stored in all that cast iron. So, for example, if you need to fry onions you would put the pan on the floor of the roasting oven and shut the door. No splatters and no smell. Perfect. Except, when you retrieve the pan you have to remember not to touch the handle. And yesterday I was somewhat distracted and forgot. The oven is 240 degrees, the pan handle is steel and I grasped it firmly to move it somewhere else. The result was reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark but without the pattern. Fortunately, I have cultivated a large aloe vera plant which sits on my windowsill for moments like this and which works wonders on my sore and blistered skin.

Accidents aside though I love my Aga. If the house were on fire and I could lift it, it would be the thing I saved. I simply can't imagine my life without it. Or without my much longed for big kitchen table. All I have to do now is get through a meal without shouting at a child and all will be domestic bliss! Just don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Make up has been occupying my thoughts a wee bit recently. I shall use this post to pontificate about this for a while so if you happen to be a male reader who has little interest in girly stuff then I'd stop reading now. If, however, you fancy eavesdropping on something from which you would normally be excluded then continue to read in a surreptitious fashion.

So my thoughts have fallen into three categories.
1. How to continue to look about 35 when my 43rd birthday is fast approaching?
2. How to dissuade my pre-teen daughter from getting sucked in too soon?
3. Whether make up on a six year old is cute or disturbing?

Me first. The older I get the more resigned I become to the fact that I have to wear more and more make up to make it look like I don't have any on. I fear that the days of a lick of mascara and some lip gloss sufficing have left me for good. And so, fuelled by a need to maintain the illusion of youth together with a degree of curiosity, I can now be found sharking around the cosmetic counters in swanky department stores looking for the next miracle product.

I have never really been much of a make up kind of girl, going for the low maintenance approach and sticking to the same kind of formula for years. I bought my first make up back in 1981 on a Saturday afternoon in the sorely missed Woolies on Lincoln High Street. My best friend and I went to town to buy make up. She had slightly more idea than me as she had an elder sister but both of us were make up virgins. I bought a trio of blue eye shadows, a blue mascara and a thick and very smudgy electric blue eyeliner. I thought I looked the very picture of glamour and sophistication. Remember it was the 1980s before you criticize me too roundly.

Fortunately my blue period didn't last long and pretty soon I fell into black eyeliner along with everyone else.

Then, when I turned 40 I decided that my make up needed a radical overhaul and I recruited a friend to help me to face the beautifully groomed women in the makeup halls. We picked a stand and volunteered to be made over. An hour later I was wearing more make up than I had worn in the previous year and whilst the overall effect was quite scary, I could see that the products had some merit if applied with slightly less vigour and so a purchase was made. I shudder at how much money I spent but I was pleased with all my beautiful little boxes and delicate brushes. Since then I haven't looked back and have added to my collection as and when my eye is caught by something new, always sticking to the same brand to which I now feel a strange kind of loyalty ( and because it all matches and makes my drawer look ordered.)

And so now I am sucked in. If I don't apply I look tired and in need of a good holiday but that's ok. I have made time in my morning routine. It has become part of my life, like cleaning my teeth. But whilst I am experimenting with my products, so is my 12 year old which throws up a different set of issues. She has a mixed selection of stuff ranging from the delicate and pretty to the downright nasty. I am not even sure how some of it found its way into the house. When she puts make up on she does so with a greater level of skill than I ever had and looks either pretty or way too old depending on what she puts on.

But of course, wearing make up in her bedroom is not enough. She wants to go out in it. At this point we part company. I tell her she looks better without it. She doesn't believe me. " But everyone else wears it," she says. I didn't believe her until I saw a group of her classmates in Costa Coffee. I knew they 11 and 12 but my companion put them at closer to 15. Full make up. Foundation, smokey eyes, pouty lips. The works. I am up against some pretty strong opposition. I suppose I will have to give in gracefully starting with mascara and ending up who knows where. I bought her Bobbi Brown's "Teenage Beauty" and hope some of the guru's natural beauty ethos will wear off.

Which brings me to my last point. All three of my girls have been out for tea and come home caked in colour looking not unlike Aunt Sally. That is all part of growing up and pretend play and I have to accept it, although it makes me cringe. But make over parties for six year olds? Free lip gloss with shoes? Eyeshadow in Christmas stockings? Surely there are plenty of other things that appeal to little girls. Do we really have to introduce them to such grown up fascinations so early? I have to wonder whether girls are really growing up quicker than they did in my day or whether we are encouraging them to skip through their childhood by providing them with the wherewithal. So tomorrow my six year old will have to go to school with the remains of scarlet nail varnish on as I have no hope of removing it effectively. At least she won't be the only one.

Monday, 11 May 2009


So I did it! Day 1 of my paragliding course under my belt and I have lived to tell the tale - well, blog the tale. I knew that I was booked in for my course all week but whether it happened or not was completely dependent on the weather. My instructions were to ring at 8.00 am on Saturday morning to see if it was a runner. Saturday dawned wet and incredibly windy. No flying for me. Sunday looked better and I was told to make my way to the centre in Kirby Stephen on the edge of the Lake District and we would see if we could go out when I arrived.

And so I made my sandwiches, packed my bag and said my good byes. The children barely looked up as I left on my adventure but my husband was doing his best to hide his nerves. "I'll be fine," I said. "I'll text." And with that I was off. It was a journey that I needed to make on my own both actually and in my head. This was the realisation of a dream and an important step in the rediscovery of what makes me me. I felt fine. No real nerves to speak of. Just a growing sense of excitement.

I arrived at the centre and met the rest of the group. We were a motley crew. Six in total, three men and three women. I was the third oldest which I took some comfort from and they all seemed quite normal. No extreme sport junkies as far as I could tell.

First, a safety briefing. I listened to what was said carefully and pushed any thoughts of tumbling from the sky from my mind. Then we were allocated our kit, leaped in the minibus and headed for the hills. The kit was made up of three bits. First, a helmet which would do no good if I fell from a height but would come into its own if I was dragged for any distance along the ground. Next, the harness. This looked a bit like a child's car seat but with more buckles. It was attached to my back a bit like a ruck sack and fastened round my thighs and waist. This was the thing that was going to ensure that I didn't fall. Finally, the wing itself. When the instructor unrolled his on the grass in front of me I felt my first pang of real fear. It was absolutely huge! I'm not sure what I was expecting but when I saw the brightly coloured fabric lifting slightly in the breeze, suddenly it all became very real. And then the heavens opened and we had to hop back in the minibus and back to the centre to wait for the weather to improve. I was disappointed. Having come so far I was really keen to have a go.

By mid afternoon the rain had stopped and after consulting various weather websites the instructors worked out which way the wind was blowing and consequently which hill we needed to hit.

Thirty minutes later and I was standing at the top of a gentle incline waiting for the nod. I had to lean forward, bring my arms up and inflate the wing and then run like the clappers. When it was my turn I did as I was told. The wing duly inflated above my head and off I ran. I half ran half floated down the slope until I received the instruction to collapse my wing which promptly deflated on top of my head causing much hilarity all round. It's always good to have something to laugh at in moments of terror. And laugh they did.

Then came the really hard bit. I had to gather up my wing and carry it back up the slope. The kit weighs about 15kg and so it was tough trudging back up the hillside to the starting place.

By the time it came to my second run there was a slight crosswind. This proved to be problematic for me. I only weigh a little over eight stone wet through and whilst I could get the wing up, it kept pulling me off course before I could get any speed up. I had three goes and could sense the instructor's growing frustration with me as I failed to do as I was asked. In the end, he left me and went to let the others have their turn. This was hard for me. Never before have I been the one in a group that can't do it or holds the others up. I could feel my confidence oozing away.

When it was my turn again I gave it all I had. I got the wing up and started to run and it was fine until the wind took me and I lost control. I bounced up and down from the ground, landing on my feet each time but with an increasing sense of danger and then I lost my footing, hit the floor and was dragged a short distance until the wing lost its shape and collapsed. Shaken and with a sore elbow where it had taken the impact of my fall, it took a few moments to compose myself. I signalled back up the hill that I was alright and then began to fold my wing to carry it back up the hill but I could hardly remember what I was supposed to do and it took me a while before I was finally striding back up the hill.

But the gods were clearly smiling on me for the wind dropped and the crosswind left us. As part of the exercise you have to keep running even when you leave the floor. I have to say it feels really strange to be running in mid air but it looks absolutely hilarious. There were some bikers who has stopped for a break near where the minibus was parked and I could hear their laughter echoing around the valleys.

My next run was fine and after that we stopped for refreshment and then set off walking to another slope to see what we could make of that. When we arrived I realised that our moment had come. There was a gentle slope but then a sharp cutaway, obviously the point that, if all went to plan, we would become airborne. So this was going to be it. My first proper flight. I leant into the wind, raised my arms and started to run. I lifted off before I got to the cutaway and then suddenly I was high, flying noiselessly. I had to concentrate on my steering to make sure that I landed where I was supposed to but for a brief moment I was able to take in my surroundings. The clouds of the morning had dispersed and the sky was blue and visibility perfect. I could see the mountains of the Lake District and beyond. It was incredible. I became aware of the ground approaching. "Run" shouted a voice behind me so I ran as hard as I could and up I went again, not with the same height but enough to allow me to savour the moment again. I landed without incident, gathered up my wing and set off back up the hill. By now, carrying the kit was really hard and the hill was long and steep. I got to the top and sat down on my harness. " That was fantastic!" I said to the instructor. "How high was I?" "About 100 feet," he said.

As I sat there contemplating what had just happened, I realised that the wind was now hitting the back of my head rather than my face and so our flying was over for the day. We headed back to the pub for a brief post mortem and then wended my weary way home.

And how do I feel? Sore mainly. This morning all my muscles ache both from the exertion and the tension that goes with adrenalin. But mainly I feel elated and proud. I only did one relatively high flight. It was short and I have only had the smallest taste of what paragliding is all about but I am hungry for more. Day 2 is scheduled for next weekend, weather permitting and it can't come fast enough for me.

Friday, 8 May 2009


So here's a question. What is the purpose of a little blog like this one? Here I am sitting in my kitchen tapping away about things that have aroused my interest or been food for thought over the last few days. But why did I choose this particular medium to express myself? Being a resolute diary keeper for over two decades would you not think that that would be enough to satisfy my desire to record things for the future? It seems not.

I began to write as an attempt to regain some element of creativity into my life and I chose the Internet as my medium because that fitted neatly with my need to become more technologically aware. Obviously, I required the help of my far more technologically able husband to set it up but since then I have managed to run it by myself, even entertaining myself and you with a change in background from time to time.

This week I took a further step, one that I had been thinking about for some time but which has required a level of confidence which I simply didn't possess until now. I published my little blog on my facebook page. I didn't go the whole hog. It isn't in my profile shouting about its presence for anyone who is on that page to see. No, it slipped in quietly as a status comment, to be picked up by those of my current facebook friends interested enough to follow the link and then be washed away in the tide of information that floats through my page each day. But I have still opened it up to a wider audience and that is a little bit scary.

I don't know who I thought would ever read it when I started. Nobody, I assumed and given the quantity of information available I think it's a fairly safe assumption that no one will read it unless specifically directed towards it. So to start with it was just my husband. He read what I wrote and made encouraging noises. After a few months I dropped my blog into conversation with people in passing but despite one or two expressing a polite interest no one had actually read it as far as I knew. Then I gave an old and close friend the actual address knowing that they would follow this through and have a look. I was seeking approval and encouragement from someone who would be honest with me. I hoped the feedback would be positive but I was more than ready to take criticism. I then told a couple more trusted friends and had a readership of about five.

Then a strange thing happened. I was in touch with a cousin regarding a family party and he made a couple of comments that made it clear that he had read it. He had found it through google whilst looking for my contact details. This made me think. It was a bit odd to have my cousin, who I hadn't seen for years, reading quite personal details of my day to day life. Odd but strangely satisfying. But as a direct result of this came my immediate family and suddenly I started to feel a little bit exposed. I have always been quite sparing with what I have shared about myself with others and yet here were some of my musings available for general consideration. " If you didn't want anyone to read it, you shouldn't have put it on the world wide web" said someone. A valid point but there is a marked difference between having your thoughts read by some random stranger who is casually cruising through blogspot and your nearest and dearest seeking them out on purpose.

I found myself giving thought to the sensibilities of these people as I wrote, being careful not to upset or hurt anyone, sanitizing my postings for fear of reproach. This would never do. That's not what this is all about. So I stopped and tried to return to writing what I please. It is slightly more difficult when I have an idea of my readership but not impossible.

And so now I have opened myself up to a whole new layer of readers. I had a pretty good idea which of my facebook friends would have a look and so far there have been no surprises. I feel fortified by my courage and some day the link may make it to my profile (although not yet. One step at a time.) I like to think that by more people reading what I have to say, a greater understanding of who I am will be reached and that from this deeper and more meaningful relationships will be forged. Time will tell. In the meantime, I will continue to write and hope to entertain to some degree those people kind enough to take the trouble to read it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


I have a facebook page. I admit it. I am not alone. According to the news reports facebook has 200 million members worldwide. That's quite some membership - an exclusive little band of followers. And each day I check my page to see who is doing what. It has become part of my life.

I admit I was sceptical. When I first googled facebook back in August last year it was because I was trying to track down someone that I had known well at college and then lost touch with. I searched against the name and was faced with lots of entries some with thumbnail pictures. It's been a while since I have seen the friend and I wasn't sure that I could identify them from the blurred images that were on my screen. But in order to get any more detail I had to sign up to facebook. I was nervous. Remember that this was just at the time that I was taking my first, faltering steps into the 21st century and I wasn't really sure what kind of Pandora's box I might be opening by entering my details.

Feeling intrepid and more than a little curious, I signed up. Almost instantaneously, someone who had been my friend in the late seventies popped up requesting to be my friend. I clicked yes and I was off. In fact the friend that I was trying to find remains elusive but I have gone on to develop something of a facebook habit.

The concept sounds ridiculous to anyone older than about 35. A website where you can bore people who you know barely well enough to be claimed as an acquaintance with the minutia of your life. Where you can record what's on your mind at any given moment and assume that that may be of some interest to someone else. Where you can have hundreds or thousands of "friends" and be whisked off in a new direction just by viewing someone else's friends list.

The ball got rolling quite quickly. Once I was on my childhood friend's list, I was picked up by lots of people who remembered me from school. Suddenly, I had lots of friend requests. I said yes to them all. It seemed rude to decline. Sadly, however, I couldn't remember who most of these people were. They had stayed in the same town throughout their childhood. I had moved away and had an unusual name and so appeared to be recalled with relative ease. However, I moved all over the place as a child, not really staying anywhere longer than a few years and people who passed through my world when I was 9 have long been forgotten.

Undeterred, I read all about their children's sporting prowess and nights out planned in pubs that I knew nothing of. At the same time, I searched for people that I would like to be in touch with but generally with little success. Back then on the rare occasion that I found someone that I both knew and would like to be in contact with I often lacked the self confidence to ask them to be my friend. I looked at the pages of younger friends or teenagers that I knew and saw pages and pages of entries. I was beginning to feel inadequate.

Then one day I decided that I needed a strategy. By exploring all the settings pages, I discovered that I could eradicate friends and so I spent a very satisfying evening culling anyone of whom I either had no memory or no desire to stay in touch with. That done I decided that my way forward with facebook was to ignore the popular trend to try and amass as many people as possible and instead stay selective. And so, if I received a friend request from someone who didn't interest me, I ignored it. Very satisfying I must say. I even caused a modicum of outrage when someone took umbrage at my decline. Excellent.

My friends list is now a select little bunch of people that I am interested in or fond of or would like to get to know better. There are one or two who hang on for old times sake that I can't quite bring myself to ditch. Every so often I will find someone new and send them a request - or an email without a request depending on how antisocial I'm feeling.

A lot of what appears is puerile or dull or holds no interest for me at all but every so often someone will say something that is either thought provoking or entertaining and this adds a dimension to my somewhat solitary life that wasn't there before. As facebook grows and more and more people of my age become involved, I may have to change my aproach but at the moment facebook and I get along just fine.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


I,like many women of a certain age, belong to a book club. In fact I am the founder member of mine which has been running for five years so far and is still going strong. We meet once a month in each others' houses to discuss the latest book choice and any other subject that tickles our fancy. It is something that, most of the time, I enjoy and look forward to.

I didn't set out with the intention of starting a book club. What I was actually considering was going back to university to study English. I greatly enjoyed the subject at school and, had I not read Law, I believe that English would have been my course of choice. Law is a means to an end. It's not much use for anything except being a lawyer and five years ago I thought that that part of my life was over. I felt that I wanted to study something that interested me and to study as an adult who wanted to learn rather than a child pretending to be an adult who had too many other things to think about.

However, there was one little fly in the ointment. I had four children, the eldest of whom was only seven. Perhaps now wasn't the best time to be committing myself to a three year course? Instead I gave some careful thought as to what I was hoping to gain from undertaking a second degree. I decided that what I really wanted to do was to read good books and discuss them with other people. The solution was obvious, required far less effort and was considerably cheaper! The next time I was out for coffee with my closest friends I tentatively mentioned my embryonic idea of a book club and was greeted with such a high level of enthusiasm that I was left with no choice but to set it up.

There were four of us at the outset and we all decided to invite someone else to join. The idea was to invite as diverse a group of people as possible to enhance our discussions but as it turned out everyone other than my choice had children at the school. Pretty quickly we were eight and we were off. We quickly discovered that the hardest part of a book club is choosing what to read. In the early days when we were all feeling a little bit insecure, we thought we would take it in turns to pick a book. This led to our first defection when someone took umbrage that the group didn't appreciate her choice and left. It was a terrible book though!

In an attempt to try and make the choices less personal I suggested that we follow the Richard and Judy list. The benefits were obvious. If no one had chosen the book then we could all feel free to voice our views about it truthfully without fear of upsetting anyone. The downside was one of pure snobbery. Weren't we intellectually superior to Richard and Judy? It turned out that we weren't. There were one or two duds in the list that we followed but we also read some cracking novels and in that first year our confidence in ourselves and each other grew considerably.

Now we have developed a new system to choose books without criticising the picker. When your month is approaching, you come to the meeting with a couple of options and then we vote to pick the one that we will read. This way the ultimate decision for the choice lies with the group and not one individual and it seems to work quite well.

Over the years we have got to know each other much better. I can generally predict who will enjoy a book and who will find it a bit of a challenge. Certain people tend to choose particular types of books, biographies for example or women's fiction. Also, some people don't always get the book read and turn up full of excuses and apologies.

It doesn't always go quite as I might hope. Sometimes the book only gets a cursory mention in and amongst the latest playground gossip. On nights like this it is very plain that the book club is a poor substitute for my English degree. A couple of months ago I was on the verge of leaving. I had decided that my time with the group had reached its natural conclusion and I went to the meeting ready to resign. As I sat there following the discussion and waiting for the moment to drop my bombshell, it occurred to me that despite its failings this was something to which I belonged and that in itself is worth more to me than I had realised.

And so I go on. Each month there is always a bit of a rush to get the book finished in time and often I never get to read anything but the club selection which can be a little limiting. We have just had our second departure. One of the original four now has a full time job and no longer has the time to devote to our group. We are faced with the interesting task of selecting a replacement. Everyone has an idea as to who might add something new. There has even been discussion of introducing a male member. Radical. Not what I would choose. Men change the dynamics and that isn't always a good thing. But we will see which way the vote goes.

So here we are, five years on and still going strong. When others have fallen by the wayside our club soldiers on. Will we stay the course for another five years? Time will tell. Will I ever get round to studying English again? I really do hope so.

Friday, 1 May 2009


This weekend there is an anniversary to be noted in my life. Not a big one to be celebrated with cards and balloons and much levity. It will pass quietly, without fuss and be remarked upon by no one but me. But each year as it passes I think about how life might have been had I not taken that brave and, as some people thought, uncharacteristic decision almost a decade ago.

I write, of course, about my decision to leave my career behind and paddle off downstream towards who knew what leaving behind almost everything that I had known as an adult but sure in my conviction that it was the right thing to do. It was nine years ago this weekend that I astounded my friends and colleagues and left paid employment to take up the challenges of life at home with two small children, then 3 and 2. After 11 demanding, exhilarating, exhausting, fulfilling and often terrifying years of working for a large, commercial law firm, I was to change the direction of my life forever and take on something entirely new.

I had a leaving do in a bar near the office. My team, friends such as had not left already and those partners to whom I had been close came to wish me well. Other people popped in for a quick drink, anxious to ensure that yet another leaving do should not clog up too much of their Friday night. I was terribly worried that I would cry, be unable to speak, my throat thickened by rising emotion that I would be unable to control and so depart with reddened eyes leaving the impression that I was regretting my decision. I regularly express my emotion through tears and have always found the end of things difficult to face, even if I am not keen to hang on to them.
However, my fears were unfounded. I graciously accepted gifts and best wishes and breezed out into the warm Spring evening without shedding a tear. With barely a backward glance in fact.

I am me and so of course I had a plan of action. I had had my three months' notice period to try to work out how I felt. My main worry was that the essence of me was a lawyer and if you took that away there would be nothing left. I could not remember a time when I wasn't dreaming of being a lawyer, studying to be a lawyer or being a lawyer. I couldn't imagine a me that wasn't defined by what I did. (As it turned out, I was right to have this concern and it has taken a very large part of the last nine years to figure it out.) To start with, when new people asked me what I did in the real world I proudly gave them my cv. Over time, my previous achievements have become far less important and are only revealed if I feel the need to pull rank - a rare occurrence indeed.

I decided to treat my new life rather like a sabbatical and give myself three months off during which time I would not give any thought to what was to become of my career. A couple of quite big clients had said that I could take their work with me and do it from home as a consultant. I was even offered a part time job as a lawyer at the university. But I felt that I had to give this "stay at home mum" thing a proper chance to work and so, whilst I couldn't help but read the legal press and keep my knowledge up to date, I spent the Summer in the garden making sandcastles.

By the time the Autumn came I wasn't much further forward with my life plan but I had decided that it wouldn't involve the law and so I rang the clients, thanked them for their faith in me and severed those ties. I then spent the following eight years submerged in babies and preschool paraphernalia only to emerge, slightly shell shocked but relatively unscathed, when my youngest started school last September.

I am still sure it was the right decision. Had I not left I would never have had my third or fourth child, a thought that I can hardly process. We would never have achieved the stability that we have created for our family and I would never have shaken off the fear that I was spreading myself way too thinly to be of any use to anyone. But each May, as the anniversary flies by, I allow myself a slightly self-indulgent moment of wistfulness as I wonder how it might have been.