Friday, 28 August 2009


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 August 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 August 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 August 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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