Sunday, 28 June 2009


Someone once told me that you should try and do something that scares you every day. I don't suppose that means that I should drive down a busy street at 60mph with my eyes shut or watch "The Blair Witch Project" in the dark, on my own, in a spooky place. I have interpreted it to mean that I should try and take myself out of my comfort zone as often as I can. I should do things that I would rather not or attempt things to which my first reaction is a definite no.

I think my comfort zone is a pretty big place these days. I rarely seem to leave it. My life tootles along in a fairly structured pattern with a comforting kind of regularity and routine about it. If it's Tuesday it must be Rainbows kind of existence. I would like to think that as I have matured I am able to take more things in my stride, don't get as nervous or worried as I did when I had less experience and, as a result, it is more difficult to leave my comfort zone behind.

But actually I know that to be untrue. My life has contracted and the opportunities that I have to worry myself are fewer and further between. When I worked full time I had a big Nobo planner on my office wall on which I marked deadlines for filing court papers and hearing dates for cases in the Employment Tribunal. The idea was to ensure that I never missed any important dates or got my client's case struck out for failing to take action, obviously every solicitor's nightmare. And it worked. I was disciplined both about marking things on the chart and then checking to see what was coming up.

The downside of this system for me was that I invariably had a knot in my stomach when I looked at it because it reminded me which big case I had coming up and how long I had left to prepare. An advocate, in my experience, is a bit like an actress. If you are not nervous before you go on then you probably won't do your best. Nerves and adrenalin ensure that the brain can respond with the necessary speed and rapier like accuracy when you are in full flow on your cross examination. If there were no cases looming then I could relax in one sense but then would be in bother with my boss for not having enough work. And so my comfort zone was quite decidedly abandoned on a regular basis.

And now I am there again but this time on a considerably more mundane level. About two years ago our decorator was repainting my kitchen. He had recently got engaged and was in the throws of planning his wedding. He was complaining that the wedding cake was going to cost about £600. " Oh don't spend that," I said. " I can do it for considerably less." I hadn't completely lost the plot. I have been learning cake decorating skills for about ten years and have done plenty of cakes, including wedding cakes, for friends and family. But even as I heard the words coming out of my mouth I was having a conversation with myself. "Why did you say that? You will hate putting yourself under pressure to do it. But it will be good for you. You might enjoy it. You can do it. Just get on with it." You know the kind of thing.

And so now the cake is needed in just under four weeks. It's not too complicated. Three tiers. Fruit. Square off-set cakes in pink, white and black with polka dots and crystals. Not difficult really. But it has been hanging over me for months. I couldn't start too soon because cakes are hard to store but then the end of term is always busy and I had to build in time to get it done. The good weather doesn't help either! But finally I bought the ingredients and the fruit is soaking in brandy as I type. Over the next couple of days I will make the cakes and then I just have to ice them. Plenty of time. No problems. Easy. But that old familiar knot it back. It seems that what takes me out of my comfort zone is relative to what else is going on in my life. But I suppose as long as I keep challenging myself with stuff that I would rather not be doing then I will continue to grow. Even if those things have changed from a case in the House of Lords to making a cake.

Thursday, 25 June 2009


I had my lunch at school today. It was roast pork with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, peas, cauliflower and gravy and not bad for £1.70. I sat at a trestle table on a narrow bench with a rabble of 6 year olds and drank my water out of a plastic cup.

Every term, an invitation to have a school lunch with my child comes home in the book bag. Three children - three invitations. School is very proud of its food and rightly so. Worthy parents did the Jamie Oliver thing before Jamie did it. When the school was built seven years ago, the only kitchen facilities included were for reheating processed food. So, the PTA got together, elected a committee and raised funds to buy real kitchen equipment, sourced local produce and drew up a menu of food that was both tasty and nutritious. And it is still running well. The tables have checked cloths and vases of flowers and the menu is written with artistic flourishes on a blackboard in the corridor outside. It's rather like a little, French cafe.

But I dread the invitations arriving. My daughter in year 6 is no longer bothered whether I go or not. So I don't. But the younger two are very keen and would smell a rat if other mothers appeared in the dining hall and theirs was not there. There's no getting away with it. I simply have to go.

The letter arrives the week before we are invited to go in, one week for each year group so I get mine in consecutive weeks. It never rains but it pours. Of course, not being the kind of mother who shows any interest in what my children have eaten at school, I always ditch my copy of the menu at the start of each term. I end up having to stand at the noticeboard in the playground with my diary, trying to tally my commitments with a day on which the meal is one that I fancy eating.

On the appointed day, I wait in the corridor with all the other mothers, fathers, grandparents and assorted siblings whilst my child has a wee and washes their hands in anticipation of lunch. They are always delighted to see me and immediately become giddy and a bit silly. And this is one of the reasons why I really don't like going.

My child will invariably misbehave and it doesn't matter how many dinner ladies assure me that they usually have beautiful manners, I find it frustrating. But I don't feel that I can reprimand my child. After all, this isn't my arena. Any authority that I may have at home is misplaced at school. School has a way of doing things and the children are far more familiar with it than me. It is their world and not mine. But I find it hard to bite my tongue and not tell them to use their cutlery properly or sit up straight or finish their food.

But the main reason that I would rather not have my lunch at school is all the appalling childhood memories that it reignites. The smell, the noise, the busy hall, the plastic cups. It takes me right back to my own primary school days. The meals were inedible or at least they were to me. I still cannot eat beetroot because of my horror of the way that it turned everything it touched pink. And yet the dinner ladies used to patrol the hall like the Gestapo. No child could get away without eating. I tried everything. I used to drop gristly bits of meat on the floor under my chair when no one was looking. I chopped things up into tiny pieces to make it look like I had eaten most of it and hid what I could under my knife.

In the middle of the table was a steel bowl into which we were to drop our cutlery once we had finished. As soon as I thought I could get away with it I would ditch mine, hoping that that would mean that I wouldn't be forced to eat anything else. But there was one witch who clearly hated children in general and me in particular. She used to make me fish out a set of cutlery so that I could finish my meal. The thought of it repulses me to this day. If that dinner lady had any idea of the damage that she did I wonder if she would have been so cruel.

So now, when I am at school memories of this flood back. As I scrape my plate and throw my cutlery in the bowl I feel about nine again with no power and an over inflated sense of injustice. I have to go because my children would be so disappointed if I didn't but I would rather poke my eyes out with hot pokers! Well perhaps that's a bit dramatic but I really don't like it. But I get three invitations a year. Two children. At least another 21 meals to go. Excellent!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Somebody has criticised my little blog. It's the first time that anyone has had the nerve to say anything negative to me about it although I am sure plenty of people will have had similar thoughts.

The criticism came from a close friend whose opinion I value and trust. They are a regular reader and, as far as I know, have read all 70 postings. They criticised one posting which they thought lacked something that the others have. It was done very carefully and gently but without room for misinterpretation.

I have been thinking about this. I completely accept what was said and can understand why the friend said it. I take on board the suggestions in the spirit in which they were offered. But criticism is difficult to deal with. Even though I am an adult, I still crave praise from those around me. Something as simple as a mother complimenting me on my choice of outfit in the playground can put a spring in my step that lasts until lunchtime. When I make dinner it's lovely if someone says that they enjoyed eating it. It is a natural, human response and like a child I lap up favourable feedback wherever I can find it.

Negative comments are rarely made to me. It's not that I am perfect. Far from it. But generally people either have too much to lose or simply don't care enough about something to bother with the truth. We may have opinions about something but rather than share them with the person concerned, we tend to keep them to ourselves and then allow them to colour our view of the person in the future. Whilst it may be unfair to keep these criticisms to ourself and not give the person concerned a right of reply, life is simply easier to deal with if we do just that. Most people run scared of any form of confrontation and thank goodness they do. I dread to think where my self esteem would be if everyone who thought something negative about me told me all about it.

However, my blog is important to me. It symbolises a turning point in my life and despite the fact that is generally very light hearted in content, I take it and what I write in it seriously. My first response was to consider what was said and agree with it. But as the day wore on, I found my mind flitting back. What did I think I was doing writing stuff down and hoping that people would read it? Why did I ever think anyone would be interested? I cringed as I thought about all the people that I have told about my blog, particularly recently as my confidence has grown and wondered whether people were silently smirking at me and my efforts. This is a typically female response which, in my experience, is never very far from the surface. Just a minor scratch will reveal a rich vein in self doubt and poor self confidence. And there was a time not too long ago when I would have packed up my laptop and given up.

But actually, I needed to find some perspective. I asked for constructive criticism. I got it and that is good. In the grand scale of things it is a small issue albeit a thought provoking and interesting one. So if you read this and feel that it could be improved please feel free to leave an anonymous comment. But be gentle with me! I am only a delicate little flower.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


I always wanted four children. When I was little, my best friend was the eldest of four and whenever I went there for tea there was always something going on. It was noisy and busy and slightly chaotic and I loved it. Of course, a child's perspective of a house full of children is very different to that of the adult trying to maintain some kind of order. I never really thought about that until it was too late.

When I grew up I had a plan. Of course. Married by 28, first child by 30 and by some strange quirk of fate that was exactly how it turned out. Child number one came and our world was turned on its head as is generally the way. We decided that whilst we were in the thick of it, we might as well get on with making number two and ten months after the eldest was born, I was pregnant again. When she was born all hell broke loose. With two babies and a full time job that I was trying to fit in to four days I thought life could never get any busier. I was wrong.

Whilst you are deep in that toddler thing, you can only believe that it will get easier as they get older and to an extent it does. You start to get a little more time to yourself and when sleeping patterns are restored it's easier to function effectively. However, people kept telling me that it gets harder as the children get older. I couldn't imagine how they could possibly be right but I kept that thought at the back of my mind.

And that was it, or so we thought. We were done with two. Two adults, two children. One each or one for each hand depending on the situation. Our family unit was complete.

Then we went on holiday to France. There was a family staying at the gite next to ours with three kids. Suddenly, I remembered that two children were never supposed to have been enough. A scary thought occurred to me. We could have another baby. I was only 34. There was still plenty of time. But we were just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With one at school and one fast approaching it, I could see a time when I would have a part of my life back. We could to restaurants and didn't need a high chair. We could go to the pictures and sit through the whole film. We no longer needed nappies.

But once the seed was planted in my brain there was no turning back and along came number three. Within a month I could see the flaw in the plan. With the elder two at school, number three would effectively become an only child. The first two are incredibly close and I couldn't imagine not giving number three the opportunity to have that kind of relationship. And therefore, in the car on the way to visit the friend with three brothers with whom the dream began, we decided to go for number four. Sixteen months later he was born and my family was finally complete.

To start with it was OK. Two at school. Two at home. We quickly slipped into a routine of sorts and things ran relatively smoothly. I asked no one for help and accepted very little of what was offered. I just got on with it and most of the time it was fine. Every so often I would have a huge wobble, weep for hours and through the sobs tell my husband that I couldn't cope for another minute. Then I would pick myself up and carry on. And gradually as mile stones were reached and passed, the day to day grind became easier. Sleeping through, walking, eating without help, leaving nappies behind, playgroup.

But as the actual looking after of them became easier, the parenting got harder and harder. I discovered early on that it doesn't matter how well trained you have them at home, as soon as you bring other people in to the equation, it becomes much more difficult. By year 2 at school, my eldest had begun to realise that other children in other families did things differently, were allowed things that she was not, stayed up later. And privileges depend on where you fall in the pecking order. She is my first and is forging the way. But many of her friends have older siblings and parents who no longer had the time or the inclination to be precious about the things that I was fretting about. The first time she brought bad language back from the playground I was mortified. Now my little darlings hear far worse at home but then I felt like my baby's innocence was being stolen from me right in front of my eyes and that there was nothing I could do.

Over the years all the issues that we have had have been generated by someone outside the family. Peer pressure, disputes, insecurities, friendship issues. They all begin somewhere outside my realm and consequently outside my control.

And now, suddenly, I feel like I have hit a maelstrom. I can do the day to day stuff - the laundry, food, housework. I am used to that. Where I am starting to struggle is keeping on top of each child's individual needs which, of course, are all different. I try to give them each some kind of individual attention every day but as this can't always be at a time that suits me, it doesn't always happen. A request for help with a play doh model, for example, is unlikely to be met with a favourable response if it is made whilst I am pulling the evening meal together. It seems to be a case of he or she that shouts loudest will lay claim to my time. So the eldest , who fluctuates between a sweet and entertaining child and an hormonal monster, and the youngest who just keeps talking until someone listens get more than their fair share of my attention.

But worse than this is the sheer volume of things that have to be done for each child. Compared to some of their friends, my children seem to have a modest list of extra curricular activities. My eldest spends her time performing in one way or another and number two's list seems to have a sporting bent. Number three has so far amassed only dancing, Rainbows and swimming and the little one just swims. The difficulty is that everything is multiplied by four. I didn't really consider that when I had four children. I thought of big, noisy family dinners and exciting Christmases but not the day to day issues of trying to supervise four lots of homework or ferry four children around town.

Each Sunday I sit with the pile of letters and invitations that have come in during the course of the week and my cheque book and diary and carefully note everything that I need to do on the planner for the coming week. But it's getting harder and harder to keep on top of it all. In recent weeks we have had a party that was almost missed, an extra ballet lesson that was overlooked and an optician's appointment that I failed to keep. This is not like me. Nothing has ever slipped through the net before. I run a tight ship and until now have kept on top of it all with relative ease. But the volume of stuff that four children generate is beginning to get out of hand.

To add to my difficulties we are chartering unknown waters on the parenting front as well. Child number one is pushing hard at her boundaries and doing hand to hand combat with her hormones. I need to formulate myself a strategy for dealing with this new development. The one I have been adopting so far of saying no a lot and then shouting at her when she shouts at me is poor parenting at best and doesn't seem to work. I need her to take responsibility for her share of the weekly burden rather than relying entirely on me to do all her thinking for her and it would be quite nice if I didn't get the blame for everything. But I need to not shout and criticise her and be patient whilst she works her way through it. Easier said than done!

Like all things new it is a bit scary at the moment. I am a self confessed control freak and the edges of my world go fuzzy if things start to get away from me. I know that I should try and adopted a more relaxed attitude but then stuff would get missed and that isn't fair for anyone. Until the children are mature enough to take responsibility for running their own lives then the burden falls squarely at my door. As each new parenting issues raises its head I have to decide what I need to achieve and how best to get there. Which battles need fighting and which will wait for another day. And in the meantime I need to buy a much bigger wall planner and some new coloured pens.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


A fourteen year old girl was raped in Ilkley on Sunday. It was around 5 in the afternoon as she walked her dog in the woods at the end of our road. Two youths followed her in to the woods and raped her.

The first inkling that I had that anything was wrong was when the police helicopter was out over our house on Sunday evening. It's not unusual, particularly on sunny days. Ilkley is picturesque and fills up when when the weather is good with people picnicking by the river or visiting the lido. Then, on Monday morning I drove passed the woods. The entrance was sealed off with police tape and was being guarded by two officers. It stayed that way all day.

By tea time the jungle drums were beating and whilst there was nothing on the local news that night, I received my first text on the subject. My friend had heard that someone had been raped and we pieced together what we each knew and feared the worse. I am ashamed to admit it but I was secretly hoping that if there had been a rape then the victim would be an adult. On Tuesday the rumours were rife and the word was that it was a child that had been attacked. This was confirmed that evening on the local news.

My heart goes out to the family. The horror of what has befallen them is unimaginable. But I have three girls, two of whom have freedom to roam almost at will and of course at times like this you turn inwardly to protect your own. And now I must readdress the freedoms and boundaries that I had previously considered acceptable in light of this attack.

How much freedom you give your child is a thorny issue. Everyone has a different view on what is appropriate. As my elder two reached years 4 and 5, I decided that they could walk to school on their own. It's an easy walk with only one major road which is covered by a pedestrian crossing. There were various factors that influenced my decision, not least the nature of the children themselves. They have always walked everywhere with me and so I knew that their road sense was fairly well developed. Also, they are only 17 months apart in age and have always done everything together. Whereas I would have been uncomfortable letting either one of them walk alone, I decided that there was safety in numbers. I was also heavily influenced by a friend who has three sons, the youngest of whom is the same age as my eldest. I watched with great interests as her children spread their wings and used that as a gauge as to what I believed was safe.

And so off they set to school. They waved goodbye at the bottom of the drive and then they were gone. My heart was in my mouth and it was all I could do not to follow them, hiding behind lamp posts like some cartoon character. I knew that school would ring promptly if they didn't arrive and I hadn't rung to say that they were sick. But all day I had this knot in my stomach if I allowed myself to dwell on what I had let them do.

Of course they were absolutely fine. They grew in confidence as a result of their new found independence and I regularly received reports from other mothers as to how polite they were or how sensibly they crossed the road. For that is one of the many benefits of living in a town like this with children. They really can't go very far without someone who knows me seeing them and reporting back on their behaviour.

But not everyone approved of my action. Some people looked downright horrified when they learned that I was allowing them to take this step and if I am honest the disapproval of other mothers played almost as large a part in my decision making process as my own concerns for their safety. It soon became apparent that my girls had far more freedom than most of their friends and that many believed that I had over stepped the mark. But I knew I was right. I firmly believe that you cannot wrap your children up and that they have to let them go in a controlled environment to enable them to develop the skills necessary to deal with day to day risks.

After that, the freedoms came thick and fast. Season tickets for the lido. Trips to the park. Taking themselves to ballet lessons in town. Walking home from friends houses. They have never abused the trust that I placed in them so we just kept testing out new things. As time as has gone on, many of their friends have caught up with them and now some are allowed to do things that mine still are not.

This summer, with the eldest at high school and the second about to go, we seemed to have reached a level of independence that I was totally comfortable with. And then, bang, this horrifying incident takes place right on our doorstep and suddenly I must redo my risk assessment.

My first response is to hold on to them and not let them out at all. Obviously this is an over reaction. The perpetrators are long gone. My girls did not wander in the woods before and certainly will so not be doing now. Then, I decide that they can go out but not on their own but this is not practical. They are at different schools with different friends. They have to spend some time walking to places on their own. And whilst they are aware of what has happened (although thankfully the full horror of rape is not something that they will be able to fully comprehend for a long time to come)and I have again had my stranger danger conversation with them, I have to let them go within the controlled and confined boundaries that they had before.

Of course one's approach to freedom is all relative. Those parents that raised their eyebrows at me early on all have children younger than mine or too big an age gap to allow the younger child to accompany the elder. By the time my fourth child hits 11, I dread to think how lax I will have become but clearly the parents of those of his friends who are eldest children or even only children will no doubt be horrified in their turn.

The next hurdle for me to overcome is allowing the eldest to baby sit for the others. We are not there yet, other than the odd occasion when I nip out for something and cannot face getting all four of them in the car for a five minute trip, but it really won't be long and again I suspect I will be amongst the first to let it happen. Slowly at first and in a very controlled way but steadily moving on and letting go. Isn't that part of what parenting is all about? Allowing your children to grow?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


I appear to be leading a charmed life. I am healthy. I am financially secure. I have a husband who adores me and I him. I have four healthy, contented, bright and beautiful children. I have a lovely home and I have a circle of close and trusted friends. And it's not just now, in my forties, that I have all this. Throughout my life nothing serious has ever gone wrong. My childhood was idyllic. I loved school. I chose my career path at 14 and then was focused on that throughout my education. I got the job I wanted and remained in it until I chose to leave. I have never suffered any relationship traumas. No one that I loved has died except in the natural course of life.

And now, am I tempting fate by brandishing my good fortune like a weapon? Will the gods look down from the skies smiling wryly and preparing to send me a thunder bolt that will smash my contentment to smithereens? That may well happen. It's statistically highly likely but when it does it will, I suspect, be nothing to do with fate. I don't believe in fate. Despite my husband's conviction that we were meant to be together and would have met no matter where life took us, I am much more realistic about how the course of people's lives pan out. Basically as far as I am concerned it is all about good decisions and good luck.

But luck is all relative. I will merrily walk under ladders so long as they look stable and I gave up counting magpies when I was a child. I am not superstitious in any way. I do not believe that I can control my luck, good or bad in any kind of supernatural manner. But I do believe that luck can be controlled and that I have controlled mine. It seems to me that some people have more luck than others for a reason and that reason is the choices that they make throughout their life.

Don't get me wrong. I can't control everything that happens to me. I had no idea when I was 16 that my future husband was sitting behind me in class. Meeting him and the other members of my form was just luck. Choosing to marry him and not anyone else some ten years later was a choice and, as it turned out, a good one. From that decision stemmed most of the things that make me happy and that I am grateful for today. I picked well.

I was trained well to make good decisions and learned at the hands of a master. My mum and dad taught me consistency, taking responsibility for my decisions and tenacity without my even being aware of it. Through them I developed my fierce sense of independence and a confidence in my own ability to make the right choice. Over the years, I have never regretted a decision or felt that I have made a mistake although there are a couple that I might approach differently with the benefit of hindsight. And I rarely change my mind which means that I remain committed to my chosen path and as a result invariably reach my destination.

It is easy, though, to make the right choices if you don't take any risks. I am cautious by nature and the path that I chose for myself has been well trodden by many others. Still, I know plenty of people who have taken a similar route and got horribly lost so perhaps there is some art to it.

I am also happy to take full credit for what I have achieved. With no faith in God or the gods generally or fate, I truly believe that the only body controlling my life is me and that I have to live with all that I have done and will go on to do. I now need to ensure that I pass what I have learned on to my children quietly and without any fuss like my parents did to me so that they can take from it what they will when they start to make life changing decisions.

Of course I am not so naive as to think that life will always be this sweet. I have stopped thinking that things are bound to go wrong and that, by the law of averages, it must be my turn by now, although that is very tempting. I also no longer allow myself to dwell on how catastrophically wrong things could go now that the anti is well and truly upped by having children. But as and when something difficult befalls me or mine I hope that I will be able to use the skills that I have developed thus far to try to navigate my way through. Of course, the only downside of my charmed life is that I have never had to deal with a crisis and so have no experience on which to draw. I would like to think that I will rise above the tumult and retain my general cool, collected and controlled manner. But really I have absolutely no inkling of how I will react or of my capacity to cope in the face of adversity.

Until then I shall just continue doing as I'm doing and hoping that the sun will continue to shine on my world for a very long time to come.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Now that I am home from foreign climes, I have been ruminating on the pleasures and pitfalls of travelling with people other than your family. When I go away with my family I have a pretty clear idea of how it will pan out. Basically, I organise everything, pack everything, clean the house, change the sheets, arrange pet cover and cancel the milk. Then I shout at everyone in the airport, read books to children endlessly on the flight and wait not very patiently whilst we collect the hire car. Then it's over to my husband who generally navigates us, without incident, to our destination. Once there, I unpack ( swimming kit first naturally ) and organise some food and then our holiday can begin. It's generally the same as it is at home once we get established. We are noisy, busy and all get along pretty well.

But when I go away with someone else, it's a whole different world in which I have to tentatively feel my way along to make sure that I don't spoil my companion's trip.

I should point out at this juncture that my companion in Rome is a great person to travel with. We have known each other for 25 years and so have a pretty good grip on each other foibles. We have been away together several times and apart from a fairly explosive disagreement in a tent on the French Riviera concerning hostess trolleys, our holidays have been without incident and I think we have got along just fine.

That is part of the problem though. Although I think it has been fine, what do my companions think? Before I go anywhere, I always worry that I will annoy them or get on their nerves. Will we run out of things to talk about? Will we want the same kind of food at the same kind of time? Will the fact that I am rubbish after about 11 at night be an issue? Do all travellers share these concerns or is it just born of my insecurity I wonder?

Assuming that you are managing to rub along without grating on each other's nerves, then how do you decide what to do next, where to go for lunch, when to stop for coffee. If you are not careful, you can both be so easy going and laid back for fear of taking control that no decisions actually get made. " What shall we do next?" " I'm not bothered. What did you have in mind?" " Well, I'm easy really." You can see how quickly that kind of dithering can breed irritation. It can only work if one of you takes control and that can only work if you know that your buddy really doesn't mind what happens next. Otherwise you have to reach some kind of workable compromise either because you know each other well enough or because not to do so would result in both of you being miserable.

But all of these minor issues pale into insignificance if you decide to go on holiday with another family. As far as I am concerned this is a recipe for disaster. We have some very good friends with delightful offspring but I could no more share my holiday than share my children. It doesn't matter how well you get along at home, the thought of living with someone else's children makes my blood run cold. It's bad enough living with my own! Joking aside though, the issue is that everyone parents their children differently. Things that are strictly forbidden in my house may have a blind eye turned to them in theirs. Annoying little food foibles that I tolerate in my own children could drive others to distraction. And what if you feel the need to reprimand a friend's child? Will that lead to a frosty atmosphere over breakfast? My holidays are far too precious to run the risk of any of these issues spoiling it and so I decided long ago that shared summer holidays might work beautifully for others but are to be avoided by me. I am far too anti social and intolerant.

And now I have no more trips in the offing apart from our family holiday in the summer. But there are lots of places that I would like to visit so if you think you could bear to share a city break with me then just get in touch and we can see if our idiosyncrasies match!

Friday, 12 June 2009


Rome is not as I remembered. The last time I was there was in 1987 so there has been plenty of time for it to change. In 1987 I set out from Lincoln station with my best friend, an unfeasibly heavy rucksack and an interail ticket. The whole of Europe was spread out before us. However, in a desire not to just see the inside of railway stations for the whole of our month, we had decided to limit our travel and focus entirely on Italy. With that aim in mind, we joined the Youth Hostel Association and booked beds in all the places of interest. Rome was fourth on the list after Venice, Pisa and Florence.

We had heard from fellow travellers that Rome was a bit dodgy and that you were likely to have things stolen by gypsy children who worked in gangs across the city. We had had a near miss in Florence so we were feeling a bit vulnerable. As a result we were cautious to the point of obsession. But it seemed to us that we had good grounds. As I recall, the city was dirty and seedy with beggars on every street corner and gangs of feral children.

The Rome of 2009 is very different. Like many cities of my acquaintance, it seems to have cleaned up its act. No litter, bins and not beggars on every corner and a friendly and welcoming atmosphere so that even when we got quite badly lost on our second night we still felt safe and not scared.

Another thing that seems to have changed is Catholicism. When I was there before, Catholicism seemed to be the very essence of the city. Every second person seemed to be clutching a rosary or trying to sell one. There were lots of those little shrines that you sometimes find in holes in walls. And lots of candles. This time I saw a few nuns in various colours and a monk who wouldn't have looked out of place in The Da Vinci Code and apart from that you wouldn't have known that we were in the centre of the Catholic world. Even at the Vatican the signs weren't easy to spot. No one praying and no real candles, just electric ones with switches.

Another difference this time was that I flew in. Not nearly as romantic as pulling into the station by train and considerably cheaper than my rail ticket. Instead of carrying my kit on my bag I pulled it behind me on a little set of wheels. We did catch a train from the airport in to the city and then a tube to our hotel. We walked up the road looking for Hotel Firenze. We walked down the road. No Hotel Firenze. We rang the hotel and they told us that they were at number 106 but when we got there the hotel appeared to be called Hotel Doge. How very curious. As it turned out they were in the middle of changing its name. Might have been an idea to mention that on the web site but not to worry. We were there now.

After dumping our stuff we set off in to the mele of chic Italians and dreadfully turned out tourists. The Italian women were slim, smart and strutting about the cobbled streets on impossibly high heels. The tourists had pasty skin, bad shorts and flat footwear. We hoped that we fell somewhere between the two - clearly not Italian but not letting the Union Jack sag either. In fact, on our very last coffee stop, our trip was made by a gentleman asking us for directions and calling us Signorinas and not the more credible Signoras. So shallow and easily pleased!

Another thing to strike us was how very old everything is. The churches are full to bursting with paintings and sculpture from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries - an embarrassment of riches. But of course the art work is a mere spring chicken compared to the Colosseum and the area around the Forum. The degree of preservation is incredible. It was so very humbling to be there and it made me feel very small and insignificant but at the same time awe struck by the buildings magnificence.

And so I passed a very agreeable four days in Rome. I was pleasantly surprised by the city and the changes that it seems to have undergone. Or could it just be that I am older and wiser? Of course, the benefits of the relaxation I enjoyed have more or less evaporated now, 24 hours later but that just means I shall have to go and explore somewhere else before too long.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


Tomorrow I am going to Rome. It's a girls' trip for me and a close friend for four days and I cannot wait. I am seriously in need of some r and r and whilst I love my children dearly you can sometimes have too much of a good thing.

Before I had children, I generally managed a week a year in the sun with my girlfriends. It meant leaving my husband behind but he always took it in good spirits. But after I had the first two, I no longer felt that I could leave for a whole week and so my annual breaks were either in UK cities or at a lovely spa hotel that we found in Northumbria. By the time I had child number 4, the chances of me leaving Ilkley started to look impossibly remote and my girly weekends were reduced to the odd afternoon at the Turkish Baths in Harrogate.

Then last year my Roman mate turned 40 and invited a gang of us to accompany her to Palma. My youngest had not yet started school so the plans to cover my absence were many and varied and at various points I did begin to wonder if it was all worth the effort. It so was. Whilst I fretted for weeks beforehand about how they would all cope for four days with out me and formulated innumerable and unnecessarily complicated plans to cover every conceivable eventuality, the moment I stepped on the plane the stress and guilt left me and what was left? Well, me really. The me that I had forgotten about. The one that can sit in a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee without fear that we are disturbing all the other customers by banging the teaspoon on the table. The me that can walk round shops, leisurely looking at all the merchandise with careful consideration rather than trying to negotiate the escalator with a buggy. The me that can finish not only a sentence but a whole conversation without interruption.

By the time I came home I was so removed from the woman that left, that I'm surprised my family recognised me. "This is something that I must make time to do," I said. "I need it. It's good for my soul." But then time passes, life picks up pace and before you know it, the family planner is too congested with activities to take time out and the guilt for even thinking about time away is suffocating.

Because that's what stops me going far more frequently - the guilt. It's not so much leaving the children. They do miss me a bit I'm sure but their lives continue pretty much along the same lines as normal. No, it's the guilt induced by the team of people that have to step in to cover my absence. For example, in order for me to take four days me time in Rome, I have had to get my husband to work short days and involve my parents and two separate friends to pick up children at various times. That's a lot of favours to call in just so that I can get away. But it will be so worth it. We haven't had a break since our family holiday last August and too much time in my house makes Imogen a dull girl. Actually, it makes her a nightmare to live with so actually my family should treat it as some kind of therapy against the rigours of day to day life. And I shall return refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to face the summer term with verve and vigour.

Friday, 5 June 2009


Do parents favour one child over the others? If so, is it a subconscious act or would any parents admit to having a favourite?

I have three daughters and a son and I can honestly say that they all delight and irritate me in equal measure. But I suspect that if you were to ask them who got the most lenient treatment and they were guaranteed anonymity, they would all say my son. Including him. And I fear that they might be right.

When I was growing up there was only my brother and me. My mum was almost evangelical about us being treated even-handedly. If one of us was bought something, then so was the other one. If one of us was afforded an opportunity to try something new then the other would be given a chance. There was no difference between us apart from the obvious one and probably as a result of our certain knowledge that everything was fair and seen to be fair, we were never competitive between ourselves.

But as we got older something did begin to become apparent. If there was a spare roast potato or an extra portion of crumble it would be offered to my brother. Never me, or my dad. And because he was a growing lad and never turned down an offer of food, there were never seconds for the rest of us.

And so it continued. The older we got the more apparent it became that he was the Golden Child, favoured way above me by my mum. But did I feel aggrieved? Was I badly done to and resentful? Not in the least because for every act of favouritism that my mum made to my brother, I was afforded at least similar if not better treatment from my dad. My dad bought me little treats for no particular reason. He sat for hours outside village halls in the wee small hours waiting for me to finish my disco or party. He drove like a lunatic around Lincolnshire's country lanes so that I could get from choir practise to roller skating at the Drill Hall before the end of the session.

So we both had a parent that favoured us in age old stereotypical style. Mum with her son and Dad and his little princess. And that was just how it was. But if you ask my mum to this day if she favoured my brother she would deny it. ( I haven't asked my dad but his favouritism was so blatant that I can't believe he would have the bare faced cheek to deny it!)

And so here I am with my own children. I do not have a favourite and love them all equally but I suspect I don't treat them equally. The little ones get away with things that I would have come down like a ton of bricks on the big ones for. This is partly because my ideas have altered with time and experience and also because I now pick my battles to prevent my life turning into one long conflict. So to that extent the little ones are having an easier time of it. I can't remember how the elder two behaved when they were 5 and 6 but I do recall getting as exasperated with them as I do with the little ones.

But my real concern is the treatment that my boy receives. Do I make allowances for him, as I like to believe, because he is only 5 and cannot be expected to behave like his sisters. Or is it because he is a boy? When I was pregnant many people assumed that we were having a fourth in an attempt to have a boy. This was not true. In fact, I wanted another girl. I knew about girls and had lots of girly stuff. I thought it would make having four children a bit easier. Of course, when he was born I was delighted to have a go at something new. But I really don't think I indulge him because of his sex.

Partly it's his size. He is so little in comparison with his sisters and in fact all other 5 year olds of my acquaintance. He is the only one of my children that I can still sweep up and plop on my hip with no physical effort and he seems to enjoy a cuddle as much as I do. So when we have finished eating and he weedles his way on to my knee despite my telling him to stay on his chair, I can't help but let him stay there.

He rarely does as he is asked first time. Is this because I let him get away with stuff or because he is naturally naughty or because he is 5? The girls would say that I let him get away with stuff. I do but am I spoiling him? I don't know. I can't tell.

But it's not just me. When he was younger, his sisters did everything for him and let him have whatever he wanted to stop him from crying. I had to talk to them about elementary parenting skills. Consistency. No meaning no. Firm but fair. And now I reap what I sowed. If I break my own rules they all chorus with righteous indignation that no means no.

But he is used to getting his own way. He has a cheeky smile, a wide vocabulary and is somehow very appealing. He has learned that by smiling, being endearing and adding thoughtful details in his conversation he can woo all my friends and so get away with almost anything. Even his war-weary class teacher seems charmed. I did once tell him that there would come a time when his smile would no longer work and he said that it worked now so that was ok. And is he right? Possibly.

But am I creating a monster? Should I be cracking the whip and expecting him to conduct himself differently? Will he grow up blithely ignoring me and getting away with murder because he knows I can't help myself and thus create resentment from his well behaved sisters? Time will tell. One thing I know is that I don't seem to be able to do anything differently. He is not the Golden Child. He is just young and appealing and will learn that he needs to do as he is told sometimes in order to get his own way. Or not.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


I wonder who reads my blog. I wonder if anyone reads my blog. If you read my blog please raise your hand. Bother. I can't see you.

It really is a rather strange feeling. Here I am rambling on about things that catch my interest and sometimes bearing my soul to a degree that could be considered more than is prudent especially when I have no idea who I am talking to.

Every so often someone will make a direct reference. " I read your blog and noticed..." whatever it is. So then I know that they read that posting. But most of the time I type stuff, post it and off it flies into the black hole that is the world wide web. No one ever makes any comments either. At the bottom of every posting "0 Comments".

But if I did know, would that stifle what I write? Yes. More than likely. Perhaps I should stop wondering about it. Maybe I should behave like a child who has decided that they must be adopted and that their real parents are royalty. I can pursue my own little fantasy that hundreds of people look forward to logging on or that no one reads it so I can write what I like, depending on my mood.

So, if you do read it and feel the need to reveal yourself then go for it. Or don't and I will just keep wondering.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


A friend of mine went on a sailing trip last weekend and that reminded me of a whole part of my youth that I had forgotten about. On further reflection, I wondered if those memories might support a quick trip down memory lane.

My relatively brief dalliance with boats began when my dad decided that he wanted to learn to sail. I was only little when he joined Glossop Sailing Club and took himself off to night school. I don't remember taking to the water myself at that stage (except perhaps in a double fibreglass canoe that he made in another night school class.) But I do remember spending what seemed like hours at the water's edge with my brother waiting for dad to come in. I think the dinghy was a Graduate but I may be wrong. It's about 35 years ago! We moved house and consequently sailing venue. Winsford Flash. Hardly more inspiring than Glossop scenically but we also got a slightly bigger boat - a Snipe and that together with our advancing age and swimming ability meant that we got to go out with dad more regularly.

Mucking about in little boats was one thing but my dad's best mate had a small cruiser on Lake Coniston and we often went up to spend the day with them. This was more like it. Beds, a galley, a real loo and loads of little cupboards filled with everything one might need for a day on the water. We used to tack up and down the lake, my brother and I feigning knowledge about which rope controlled what. It was great.

Whilst I, as a pre-teen, had a passing interest in most things that I was exposed to, my dad had got the bug so when his friend traded up, we bought his cruiser and secured ourselves a mooring, firstly in the unfashionable end of the lake and then right outside the clubhouse with the people that took the whole sailing thing seriously.

And once we had our boat we spent as much time as we could on it. By then we lived in Lincoln so it was a long way to go but regular weekends and most school holidays were spent on the lake. And most of the time I loved it. As is often the way, most of my memories are of long, hot summer days swimming across the lake from one side to the other or catching minnows from the jetty in jam jars filled with bread. Of course I know that it was the Lake District and so by the law of averages there must have been more wet days than sunny ones. I do remember it snowing on us fairly regularly and I still believe that your upbringing has been sheltered if you haven't weed in a bucket in the middle of the night and then had to chip the ice off it in the morning in order to throw it away!

Actually sleeping on the boat was great. I think it had six berths but would only sleep six if two of the occupants were midgets. It was just right for my parents, brother and I as long as we didn't grow much more. At the appointed hour, we all used to wriggle ourselves into our sleeping bags, my brother would make the boat rock violently by throwing himself about his berth, my mum would scream and tell him to stop and we would fall asleep with the gentle lapping of the water all around us. In the morning the water was always calm. There would be wetland birds calling and the sound of the rigging banging against the mast. As I stuck my head out of the hatch, I could usually see the mist rolling off the water and even at that age, when you often fail to appreciate these things, I could see that I was in a very privileged place. You could always smell bacon too as all the other cruiser owners came to life.

As I got older I met more of the sailing club regulars who sailed Scorpions and Fireballs each weekend come hell or highwater. Going to the boat then took on a whole different complexion. I was 15 and they were boys. Pretty soon I had got myself a lovely boyfriend who could sail the rest of them into a cocked hat and I used to sit proudly in the club house waiting for him to cross the finishing line in first place and then greet him as he came back in, blue with cold, with a big kiss. Sleeping on the boat with my parents grew less attractive and we used to camp on the nearby site and buy chips from the van and halves of lager from the bar. I was growing up.

We moved house again and by this time I was 17 and could stay at home when my parents went to the boat. We were also closer geographically and could realistically go for the day. My visits became less and less frequent and other interests and my A levels sort of took over. I didn't really go again until I took my husband a few times before we had any children. We loved it but it was summer, we didn't have to do any of the horrid bits and pretty soon we had toddlers and it all seemed a very distant dream. Shortly after that my dad sold the boat and that was sailing gone from my life. Whilst I would never describe myself as a sailor, there is something really special about the part that the lake, the club and the people that I met there played in my adolescence. Being a small part of something like that made me very proud.It taught me a whole host of outdoor skills but also played a huge part in developing my independence and my creative thinking. I look back on those days fondly. Even the day that I ran the boat aground and had get the rescue boat out. But that's another story.