Monday, 26 October 2009


Your own space? Luxury or necessity? Discuss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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