Monday, 28 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 10 September 2009


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 September 2009


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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