Thursday, 30 December 2010


I find it hard to decide what I would like for Christmas. When I was a child it was straightforward. I would settle on something - a tape recorder, a watch, a transistor radio, early and then channel  all my energies into hinting for it and then hoping.

As an adult it's a bit trickier. Presents generally fall into three categories. First are the things that you'd like but that you would probably buy for yourself - books, music, perfume. They are lovely to receive but if hints fall on stony ground then it's nothing that an evening on Amazon can't sort.

Then there are the things that are quite personal and rely on the giver having reasonable taste or at least, taste that accords with yours. Into this category I would place any form of clothing, jewellery, make up. I am lucky that all my friends and particularly my husband seem to triumph in this regard and choose beautiful things for me.

Finally there are those things that you would really like but which are totally impractical. An indoor pool at the bottom of the garden, a holiday home in Bali, a sporty convertible for the rare days when the sun shines. These kind of presents are strictly for day dreams only and barely worth mentioning except in jest.

So when my husband asked me, a few weeks before Christmas, I was at a loss as to what to suggest. Then I stumbled on the idea of an electronic book reader, or more specifically a Kindle. This was not a new idea to me but, in a rather irritating habit that I have, it takes me a while to come round to an idea. I  have generally rejected something out of hand before I have to perform a total U turn and come round to it with enthusiasm.

Such was the case with e readers. The idea of reducing the joy of a freshly bought paperback with its pristine cover and fresh smelling paper to a computer generated single page was anathema to me. I chuntered about how pages were meant for turning and that a book, once read and enjoyed, should sit in pride of place on a bookshelf so you could pluck it down from time to time and reconsider choice passages.

Of course, many of the books that clutter my house did not live up to the promise of the front cover, will never be read again and require weekly dusting. Once I reached that conclusion, other advantages of an e reader began to fight their way through my initial objections. No need to carry a heavy tome with me round the shops just so I had something to do on the train. No need to fill the bottom layer of my suitcase with novels when we go on holiday. No need to try and hold a weighty book above my head whilst I sunbathe on my back.

Suddenly a Kindle began to look terribly attractive. I carried out a mini survey by asking the one person I knew that already had one and he confirmed the many and varied advantages. So I asked Santa for one and then got quite excited about the whole idea and even read reviews and whatnot on Amazon so that by the time I opened my much anticipated gift I was already quite knowledgeable.

I have had my beautiful Kindle in its steel blue leather cover for four days and already I cannot imagine my life without it. I am an instant convert. I love how easy it is to read. I love that I can balance it on my knee without having to hold it and you don't have to change position depending which side of the page you are reading. I love the fact that I can read long books without worrying about having to lug them about or encounter the risk of breaking the spine and having the pages sprinkle like confetti all over the pool. And, rather sadly, I love the fact that no one need know what I'm reading. The third book that I downloaded and the one that I have spent  most time engrossed in over the holidays is the latest by Jilly Cooper - my guilty secret.

Whilst my relationship with my Christmas present is in its infancy, I do believe that we are going to be firm friends and in my book that is what a good gift is all about. So thank you husband for bearing with me whilst I slowly accepted technology and then for picking up my hint so beautifully.

Monday, 27 December 2010


It's snowing. Again. The garden is still white from the last dump over a week ago. I'm beginning to find it hard to visualise the colour green. It's no longer exciting though. Snow has most definitely lost its sparkle for me. Even the children have stopped sledging. The front lawn only has a lone set of footprints to spoil the pristine, white surface and those were made by my husband who I sent in search of holly for the pudding on Christmas Day.

I try to imagine what it must be like to live in a country where it snows heavily for prolonged periods. I know that places that expect heavy snow each year deal with it in a way that means that daily life goes on without the chaos that ensues here. But free flowing roads or not, you would still need to wrap up in an array of warm but fundamentally unflattering layers before venturing out. Footwear must be decided limited. Shoes of almost any description  must be out for months and even boots would have to be of the flat, practical and warm type. Shearling is the height of fashion this year but when spiky heels and butter soft suede are the must haves of the season then it would be no go.

The chalet from which I skied last year sits nestling into the side of the French Alps. You could ski from the top of the penultimate lift straight to the back door. Perfect. Unless you actually lived there.There would be no popping out for milk. The last lift ran at 5.00. Woe betide anyone who needs to get to the village after that time. It is snow shoes and a long and arduous trek down the path that used to be the road. What if it was an emergency? Do all pregnant women confine themselves to the bottom of the mountain for the last few weeks? Are all bar tenders actually qualified midwives on the side?

Not being a cold weather creature, I often imagine living where the sun shines every day. I dream of waking to that light that comes at the beginning of a day that promises heat. What if you could arrange a party in your garden and know that it would go ahead rather than spending all week watching the weather forecast with fingers crossed? Imagine how it would be to pop to the beach with the children after school rather than the park. My favourite part of this particular daydream is being warm. Throughout an English winter, I'm never properly relaxed. My muscles are perpetually tensed against the cold. I don't notice until the spring warmth returns and then I suddenly realise that I am no longer bracing myself.

Of course, It's a classic case of the grass being greener. My Godmother lived in the Caribbean for many years and she once said that the thing she missed most about home was the change of the season. I suppose she had a point. The year in England plods on and it is easy to work out where you've got to just be looking at the trees. At some point in each season the weather does what is expected of it - although rarely for the whole three months. And that brings some rhythm to our lives, some structure. So, now it's winter and it's snowing. And it is rather pretty- in a cold kind of way.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


It was my Book Group's Christmas get together last night. Notwithstanding the Arctic temperatures, we battled our way to my local pub where a roaring fire warmed our cockles. High heels and sparkly tops were, in the main, cast out in favour of woolly cardigans and sensible shoes and there wasn't a paper hat to be had but we had a lovely time.

As the evening wore on the conversation turned, as it inevitably would do in such company, to books. Specifically, my book. Someone enquired after its health and so I informed  them that it was in tip top condition and probably, barring some careful proof reading, was finished.

You can guess what happened next. It was like when your car starts to slid on the ice. You feel it go, there's nothing you can do about it and you just have to bow to the inevitable and wait until it comes to a stop of its own accord. The skid started gently enough - a few harmless questions about the plot, how and when I had written it, some discussion about real authors.

But then the momentum took hold of my figurative skid. Someone suggested reading it as a book group book.

This was not entirely unforeseen. Indeed, in my brighter moments, I had toyed with the idea myself. But now that someone other than me had suggested it and there seemed to be genuine enthusiasm for the idea, my car was spinning down a hill towards a selection of imaginary primary school children and a very deep river.

OK. Enough of the skid analogy but you get the idea. Not great at talking about myself at the best of time, and with the full attention of the group focussed on me, I floundered until I was ably rescued by a friend who has known me for a very long time and could see my difficulty.

The worst of it, though, is that I know this is a really good idea. My book group is a discerning, well read and open minded bunch of women who almost exactly match the audience that I was aiming at. It makes perfect sense for them to read and critique my book as we have done with so many others over the years.

But I'm not sure I'm brave enough. It would be like opening up my chest and putting my heart and soul on a platter for the world to poke at. And yet I have done this before. For the first nine months or so of my blog, I tapped away in private telling only a very small number of people how to access it. And now people are reading it all over the world.

I know I should do it. It was a genuine offer, kindly made and I should put my fears to one side and accept. And I might yet. But just at the moment it feels like the scariest thing that anyone has ever asked me to do.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


 I know what I want for Christmas. It's one of those clocks that Mrs Weasley has in the Harry Potter books. You know the one. It tells her the whereabouts of all her family at any given moment and she is happiest when each person's little clock hand points to home.

Call me fickle - it's no worse than I call myself. A few years back, when I was besieged by small children, I would have done almost anything for them all to be out. The constant irritation of a toddler hanging off various body parts is enough to tip you over the edge. I longed for a time when they could go off without me. But now that that time is here it seems to have lost its shine.

I think it's the snow that's making me come over all Mrs Weasley. My son is in Bradford, one daughter in Ilkley, one in Harrogate and one, perish the thought, on a tour of World War I cemeteries in Belgium. And that would be fine but I have this really strong feeling that they should all be inside where it's warm and safe and nothing can hurt them. I  fret that they will get stuck somewhere cold. I'm particularly worried about the coaches being able to make their way home through the snow that is falling as I type. I got snowed in somewhere once. I had a ball but it's not so much fun being the one stuck at home, waiting,  powerless.

When my mum used to worry about me it was irritating. I couldn't understand why she got herself into such a flap over the simplest arrangement. I suspect I'm worse because, in this age of 24 hour communication, my expectations are far higher than hers were. I went inter-railing for a month, sent a handful of postcards and telephoned once or twice. My eldest has been gone a couple of days and has texted every day.

I know it's a mother's job to worry but I never thought that I would. I assumed, not being a worrier by nature, that I would breeze through parenthood, taking it all in my stride. And I'm not exactly pacing the floor or anything. I just have this underlying feeling that everything is just not quite right and that it won't be right until they are all safe with each little clock hand pointing firmly at "Home".

I wonder if you can get one of those clocks on Amazon?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


            "Charlotte flicked the switch and the tree burst into life. Tiny jewels of light shone through the branches and looked so tantalizingly pretty that she was almost tempted to pluck one from the greenery and wear it in her hair.
            The tree was a riot of colour. She had toyed briefly with the idea of a theme. The shops had been full of delicate decorations all grouped in accordance with their predominant colour. Wicker baskets overflowed with purple baubles, strings of golden pearls or silver icicles all arranged so that even the least discerning customer could plump for a selection that had half a chance of looking sophisticated and elegant in situ.
            Charlotte had wandered about the displays trying to decide which colour would look best but in the end had been unable to resist the childish draw of a few of each. The resulting tree was hardly chic but it summed up Charlotte and her view on life very nicely.
            She sat back on her heels and gave her handiwork a final admiring glance. Her hopes and dreams for the first Christmas in her flat were all caught up with the tinsel and the trinkets. Years of shared kitchens, stolen food and other people’s takeaway cartons could be swept away – a necessary part of growing up but now forgotten. Charlotte had great plans for her three rooms, four if you counted the hallway.
            She stood up and span round on her heel. Even she was surprised by the level of mess. Shopping bags from that day’s expedition to find the perfect shoes spewed their contents out over the sofa. The packaging from her tights and the new mascara that she had treated herself with were on the coffee table with a lipstick stained wine glass and several discarded coffee cups. Clothes were draped over every surface.   Smiling to herself at the disparity between her dream and the reality, Charlotte picked her way across the wooden floor to unhook her bag from the back of the chair. She checked its contents, ensuring that she had everything she needed for her night on the town. 
            As if awoken by the movement, her phone began to trill loudly and made her jump. Assuming that the call would be to confirm arrangements for the evening ahead, she extracted it from her bag and was about to answer it when she noticed the name on the screen. ‘James calling.’ Her heart plummeted. Not now. Not when she was about to go out. Decisively she rejected the call. James would still be there tomorrow.
            A horn hooted in the street below and, grabbing her jacket from underneath a glossy magazine, Charlotte took a final look at her tree and then left the flat, pulling the door to behind her."

Would you read on? Let me know.

Monday, 13 December 2010


Funny time of year, Christmas. Back in July, when I thought about the festive season briefly from the comfort of my sun bed, I pictured myself in my kitchen surrounded by tins full of baked delights. I knew that I would have a freezer full of tasty morsels for those drop in guests. Each Christmas card would be inscribed with a personal message and the details of the past year in the Clark household. Each gift would be chosen with great care and wrapped in exquisite paper and adorned with coordinating ribbon.

Fast forward five months and here we are again with the dream and the reality clashing noisily. The cake is done but as yet the tins are all empty. There is nothing in the freezer barring frozen peas and some frosty ice cream. The cards have gone but with a typed insert. The presents were carefully chosen but are wrapped in paper from WHSmiths because I just couldn't find quite what I wanted elsewhere. In short, Christmas is in danger of becoming just another trial to be endured and overcome. Again.

I blame the OXO advert. I have a big family and so apparently Christmas should be one long game of charades with an endless stream of food and festive drink appearing effortlessly from my kitchen. After we have hand fashioned our Christmas cards we should be making tasteful decorations out of dried oranges and cinnamon sticks. We should decorate our perfectly shaped Christmas tree whilst singing carols and drinking mulled wine.

The thing people most often say to me when I say I have four children is that Christmas must be fun in our house. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. By the time we get to the end of term the children are all exhausted. Add to that the almost unbearable sense of excitement and anticipation that swamps them and all that remains is to light the blue touch paper and stand well back. It's all I can do to keep a lid on the bubbling cauldron of chaos. I certainly don't have the energy for board games and endless truffle making.

When you're in the thick of the festive season, it's hard to see the wood for the trees. All I want to do is to deliver a Christmas that everyone enjoys and remembers fondly. But what do I have to do to achieve that? Stay calm and don't shout. Don't stress about the stuff that really doesn't matter and relax. Because at the end of the day, there's no right or wrong way to do Christmas. It's never going to be like the Waltons because this is real life. There are bound to be arguments and bits that don't run as smoothly as I'd like but there's no point getting in a steam about it because sure as Rudolf has a red nose that way disappointment lies.

The Christmas that I dreamt of in July and the one that I manage to cobble together in December are, without doubt, two very different beasts. What I have to remember is that it's only one day, that the children will have a nice time no matter what and that it's my Christmas too so I owe it to myself to make it fun for me as well. So I'll take a deep breath, write myself a new list and smile.

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Our bedtime story over the last few weeks has been 'Barkbelly', a charming tale about a wooden boy and his quest to find where he fits into the world (Barkbelly). Like all good bedtime stories, it has been a pleasure for both the child and the reader. It is beautifully written with vivid descriptions and fabulous imagery which brings the story to life with very little effort and it has totally captivated the children when we snuggle down at bedtime to read.

The reason for mentioning it is not only to recommend it to anyone who might be looking for books for youngsters although I would encourage anyone to pick it up. The aspect that has caught my interest is the effect that it has had on my children.

Having been adopted by a caring family as a baby, Barkbelly runs away because he fears that he has done a dreadful thing and is frightened of the consequences. At this point in the story, my children, who had been enjoying it very much, suddenly didn't want to read any more. My youngest in particular was upset by the idea of the boy having to leave all that was familiar and safe. Such was their concern that I almost had to tell them that I thought it unlikely that Barkbelly had done the dreadful thing and reassure them that all would be well. But I didn't.

Having run away, Barkbelly has a series of amazing adventures until he hits upon the idea of trying to find his birth family and then, by piecing together various clues, he finally found his mother the night before last. Last night we settled down to read about the grand reunion, ominously placed more than a few chapters from the end. The child introduced himself to his mother only to be greeted with indifference. He has a father and brothers and sisters but no one is in the slightest bit interested in him or his story. They are polite but unaffected.

Again, my children did not want to read on. They did not want to think about Barkbelly being rejected by his mother. We had a chat about why they felt like this. And they, like me, want a happy ending. They struggled to understand firstly that the boy had left his loving home and then that his birth mother does not appear to be bothered about having him back and because that was too difficult an idea for them to process, their first reaction was to stop reading. Of course, their curiosity about how the story turns out will override this discomfort and we will read to, what I trust will be a happy ending.

 I did wonder, however, whether I should stop. They did not like how the book was making them feel and I, as their mother could fix that and make everything OK just by putting it down and reading something else. But, the book is aimed at their age group and I concluded that it was better to expose them to things outside their comfort zone, albeit gently through fiction, than keep everything rosy in their world.

I understand their feelings. We all want home to be a happy, safe and comforting place and I hope that theirs is. But in the same way that the older two read Jacqueline Wilson, eventually they need to know that not everyone is as lucky as they are. Interestingly, the older two had none of these qualms when their dad read them the book. The difference between children who attend full time nursery verses those who are at home full time might make a blog for another day.

In the meantime, we will empathise with Barkbelly tonight and hope that in the end he too finds where he feels happy and safe and loved.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


I have to give relationship counselling to my children, particularly the girls, on a fairly regular basis. I don't mean with the opposite sex, although there has been a little bit of that. No, what needs constant help is managing their relationships with their friends.

It's hard being a girl. I remember it all too well. You never quite knew where you stood. Your best friend could become someone else's best friend in the blink of an eye. All it took was an invitation out to tea and suddenly the person you thought was your closest ally was off giggling with someone else at playtime. I distinctly recall discovering that I had been ditched in favour of another when the desk next to mine was empty after we came in from break. So cruel.

And now all my girls are in that same position. They get let down, left out and hurt constantly and I'm sure do their fair share of the same to others. And with texts and facebook in the mix it is so much harder. The shame and embarrassment that goes with being ditched is played out on the world wide web for all to see. I think it is even more challenging for them to deal with than it was for me when I was a child.

Ultimately, it all  hails from the same human failing - the need to be liked. I assume it's the same for boys, but I know that girls crave approval from our peers. We want to be the popular one in school, the one that everyone wants a piece of. We are desperate for our friendships to be strong and secure so that they can withstand the ravages of attack from third parties. We want to show our individuality without being mocked or if the mocking is inevitable have enough courage to stick to our guns.

And so I try to help my girls to steer a course through, pointing out how things might appear from another's point of view and trying not to take sides when all I want to do is to protect my babies from the hurt that I had to learn to deal with.

The funny thing is, that need to be liked never really goes away. Even now as I stand in the playground, often on my own for fear of interrupting other people's conversations, I fret. We all judge each other by what we wear, what we hear, what we say. The look that you inadvertently give and which is misinterpreted. The friendly smile that you do not see until it is too late to reciprocate.

In the end I can advise my children without too much difficulty because it's all so very familiar. I think that I'm a grown up but deep down, just like them, I don't want to be judged. I just want to be liked.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


You want the best for your children. They lie there in your arms but a few hours old and you promise them the world, that you will move heaven and earth to make sure that they are happy. But can you deliver? When push comes to shove, what do you do when what would make your child happy doesn't accord with what you want?

We have a storm brewing in our house. I can see it hanging dark and heavy on the periphery of my world. So far it has sent a few rain showers to spoil the sunshine but I can see that that is only the precursor for what is to come.

As you may have gathered my children like to perform and I have encouraged that. I was the same when I was young so I can understand what drives them and I think it's good for their self discipline, sense of team and inner confidence to be on a stage with a group of people who are all relying on them. My eldest is particularly driven by the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. She adores acting, dancing, singing, playing - anything that puts her on a stage.

And here comes the conflict. She bounded in from rehearsal for the drama class Christmas show, full of excitement, her eyes shining.

"Guess what we're doing for the Spring Show?!"

My heart is already sinking. She is currently in rehearsal for three shows due to hit the stage in December, February and March.

"I don't know Sweetie. What?" I enquire, smiling weakly. You see, I have already decided that, come what may, she won't be auditioning.

"It's 'Billy Elliot'! My favourite show ever. And it's dancing as well as singing. How fantastic is that!" And then she's off, pirouetting around the sitting room, already in the glare of the spotlights in her imagination.

But we can't do another show. She will have done five this academic year before we even get to Easter. As I've said before, the children do lots of extra curricular stuff and that's fine but rehearsals take up endless evenings on top and precious family time at weekends which means that it's hard to find time to do things together. For example, we do not have a block of time this year when all six of us are in to put up the Christmas tree together.

So I struggle with my conscience, what I want and she wants in direct opposition. I can't even use her school work as an excuse. I received an email from her head of year telling me that she was one of only seven children in her year group to get "Exceeding expectations" in every subject on her report. I am certain she could do the show and still cope.

But what about the rest of us? We have been in constant rehearsals since the end of September. I cannot remember the last time we had a Sunday together as a family. My husband and I rarely go out together as we are always collecting from some hall or other late into the night. Everyone's lives are compromised by her drive to perform. And yet, I promised that I would do everything I could for her when she was a baby. Perhaps that should include ensuring that we have a harmonious home life and time for everyone else to draw breath?

The row will come as soon as the audition notices go up. I will have to stand firm. She will look at me with tears in those big brown eyes and plead and every part of my heart will long to say yes. But my head, for the sake of the rest of us, will have to say no.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


So it's finally December and  we have snow to boot. There was the usual scramble over the Advent calendars this morning and then 'The Best Christmas Album Ever' with our cornflakes. In all the excitement I forgot to blow out the Advent candle and so we seem to have skipped the 2nd and are on to the 3rd already. The great Christmas countdown has begun.

Now that December has arrived, I am allowing myself to think about the big day and its ramifications. Until now, Christmas has been this huge, black shadow lurking unmentioned behind the door. Suddenly, it has stepped out into the light and can be ignored no longer.

Of course I am not totally unprepared. The cake, puddings and mincemeat are made, I have picked up one or two stocking fillers for the children and I have some cards but there's a long way to go. And there is a month until the big day. Or so you might think. Actually, Christmas falls on the 25th, as I suspect you know, so that's 24 days. The older children's schools closes on the 17th so no chance of surreptitious shopping or wrapping after then. By the time you discount weekends ( jam packed with rehearsals, gym competitions, shows, carol concerts and other festive fun) then we're down to twelve days. School is closed for training and or snow for the rest of the week. Ten days.

So now I'm starting to panic. Within those ten days, assuming no illness or yet more snow, I have an essential hair appointment ( if you could see me you wouldn't question this), dentist and optician appointments. Not sure how they all fell now, so close to Christmas, but there you have it. No doubt when they went in the diary I though I'd be curling ribbons and messing about with fairy lights by then. Then there's the nativity at school and a coffee date with someone that I rarely see and am reluctant to rearrange. Three days.  Then I have some work to do and a chapter on Tradition and Dissent in Poetry to get under my belt for a tutorial next week. Two days.

Pass the Rescue Remedy. The thought of what has to be achieved in such a short amount of time is causing some minor hyperventilation.

But of course it will all happen. Somehow it always does. There's the internet for shopping if I could only decide what to buy. I have evenings to write cards and I'm sure we can steal a couple of hours back from the children's weekend commitments to buy a tree trim the house. If I can get to the supermarket, not that big an ask, then I can cook in advance and freeze and if I off load the children on my parents for an hour or so I can wrap. All I need is a comprehensive list and to hold my nerve and all will be well.

Right now, as I look out at the snow and see my available time floating away with the snowflakes, it seems almost insurmountable but as long as we have a turkey ( already ordered) and something to open on the big day I'm sure it will be fine. Gulp!

Monday, 29 November 2010


I'm conscious that it has been a few days since my last posting and that always makes me feel slightly unsettled. I worry on two fronts. Firstly, if I let too long drift by between postings then I will have to break the agreement that I have with myself to blog regularly. Until this year I kept a diary, scribbling pertinent facts and feelings down each day in a long line of A5 notebooks. However, after much soul searching, I decided that I really didn't have time for both that and this and so I dropped the handwritten diary in favour of my blog. So if I drop this one as well...You see what I'm saying.

Secondly, I do seem to have regular readers and I fret that if they log on once too often with nothing new to read then they will find something else to fill their time. Simple vanity really but it's as good a motivator as any.

My difficulty this weekend, as is often the case, has been thinking of a subject to write about. This was not because life has been quiet. Far from it. The last two weeks have been particularly busy in what is a fairly packed programme in any event. No, the problem this weekend has been a question of attitude more than anything else. My attitude to be specific.

I tend to think that a blog should truly represent the thoughts of the writer and whilst I have toyed with writing as an alter ego, fundamentally what is on these pages is just me, soul bared for all to see. But this tends to clash with my other strongly held belief that no one wants to read about someone else's gripes. There is nothing entertaining in listening to someone complain about what is fundamentally a blessed life. A soul in torment might perhaps appeal to a particularly empathetic reader. Likewise, genuine despair is worthy of column inches. But just being a bit hacked off? Not really.

 Only a really close friend can sit and listen to a liturgy of grumbles and be genuinely sympathetic. No one else really cares. And they are right. The chances are they have their own irritations which may well be worse. We all have to deal with the day to day difficulties of life with varying degrees of success. My view is that there is nothing amiss with having a little moan at your own predicaments but I do try to do it with a smattering of gentle humour so that people can empathise and reciprocate with a little moan of their own. That way we can all understand that the vicissitudes of life throw spanners into everyone's works.

And so to that end, I have kept my counsel this weekend, although I do own up to bleating a little bit on facebook. If I can't manage to tweak the nose of adversity and raise a wry smile at the situation then it's really not worthy of note here. I suspect this week will be less demanding than the previous two and really in comparison to a great many others, I have nothing to moan about. And so I won't.

Thursday, 25 November 2010


There's a stack of paper on my usually clear desk. It stands about a centimetre high and is printed with two pages on each sheet of A4. However, instead of leaping to file it somewhere as I might normally do, I keeping gazing at it fondly, even stroking it as I pass by.

It's my manuscript of course. The culmination of almost a year of tapping away before the milkman arrives. And I am surprised by how many words I have managed to string together. I have checked the counter on the page at regular intervals to encourage myself but I could only ever see my work a page at a time. Now that it's all there in a pile, all those words, I'm quite taken aback by it.

I didn't know it was finished when I typed what has turned out to be the last line so it was a bit anticlimactic . I had a new twist in the tale which I had opened up in the previous chapter and I was preparing to continue along that vein. Then one day, having cleared the decks to tackle another few pages, I opened the document, read the last few lines of the previous chapter and decided that it was complete. What happened next in the story was for the reader to fathom. It was the strangest feeling. I just knew it was done.

And so I left it for a week or so, thinking about where I'd stopped writing and whether I'd made a mistake, whether the reader really did want it spelling out for them. Eventually, though, I decided that they did not. After all I could go on for ever with the twisting, turning lives of my characters. It had to reach a conclusion at some point.

Of course the manuscript is not finished. It needs my erratic spelling checking, I need to identify words which the spell checker has ignored but which are clearly wrong and I need to see if I think it's any good. I have no idea when I will get round to that. I have enough trouble keeping up with the reading that I have to do as it is, let alone make time for a critical appraisal of a whole extra book.

So I'll put it in a folder and get to it when I can. Maybe after Christmas or when my course finished for the summer. In the meantime, I am now a novelist (albeit an unpublished one)!  My ambition was to write a novel and that I have done. And I'm pleased.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I have sick children this week. It's hardly surprising as the first bug of the winter seems to be knocking people down like skittles in Ilkley and statistically my odds of staying clear are not great. I'm on day seven with one returned to school today and one lying on the sofa looking wan.

Looking after sick people does not come naturally to me. I know I'm their mother and everything but my beside manner is appalling. When I was a kid we didn't do ill. I was brought up to believe that if you were not on top form you put up and shut up. Only if you were actually at death's door should you mention it and then you were packed off to bed with warm squash, Junior Disprin and a little bell to ring in case you needed assistance.

As a result of either this attitude or my general hardiness, I only recall two periods of proper illness in my life so far. Glandular fever after some ill advised, but very enjoyable snogging when I was 16 and flu which became pleurisy whilst living in damp student digs when I was 20.

So when my children struggle down to breakfast with some imagined ill, duvet wrapped round them and faces long, my first reaction tends to be irritation. Days off school mean that my plans go awry and, selfishly, I am generally reluctant to give things up and try to salvage what I can.

As with all mothers I am a pretty good judge of the seriousness of the ailment. It generally depends on which child is complaining. Some of them are hardier than others. We go through a check list of questions. With the high school kids I ask whether what ails them is bad enough to justify a day off and all the catching up that that entails or whether they could battle on knowing that I am around should they need to be airlifted home. They generally go. With the little ones there is usually some party in the offing which prompts miraculous recovery when mentioned.

If that doesn't work then I generally stomp about for a bit whilst I come to terms with my lost day. They are children after all and they are bound to get ill from time to time. What I can't bear is the moping. If you're ill then that's fine but I really don't need an Oscar winning performance. Just do it quietly with the minimum amount of fuss.

Now I'm resigned to it. I would imagine that I will be stuck in for at least another two days, always assuming that the others don't succumb. And that's OK. I can beetle about with toast, glasses of lucozade and Calpol until they have recovered. Each time they catch something they build up more immunities which has to be a good thing and it gives me chance to work on my Florence Nightingale act which, to be honest, isn't going to win me any awards any time soon.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


When I was two and a half my mum took me to dance class. There was a little dance school in the Cheshire village where we lived run by a formidable Madame. She must have been at least a hundred years old, or so it seemed to someone of my tender years. She wore long black skirts and carried a stick with a brass knob that she banged on the floor to beat time.

So when my eldest was a similar age I rang the dance school here in Ilkley. A friendly chap answered the phone. "Can she take direction?" he asked. I had no idea but it seems that she could because she's still going to class eleven years later, as are all her siblings. Between them they spend about ten hours a week at dance school ( It's a real home from home for us.

Every two years, the school puts on a show in the King's Hall, the spectacular Victorian theatre in Ilkley. The first time we were involved my eldest was three. She skipped onto stage dressed as a ladybird or liquorice all-sort or some such costume chosen to delight and for a minute or so her class pointed their toes and pirouetted to the resounding approval of the audience.

Fast forward to this weekend when the biennial dance show hit the town again. Now all four children were taking part in various numbers across various disciplines with multitudinous costume changes. There are around 350 children involved across six performances with over 700 individual costumes. It is run with military precision, each child receiving clear instructions as to where they should be, when and with what.

Whilst the Principal coordinates matters back stage, her husband zooms around the venue with a clipboard and a microphone. He knows the name of every child and generally some entertaining fact about their mother. He greets everyone with a cheery welcome as they enter the vast building, often somewhat awestruck by what they are about to do. He marshals his army of mother helpers who spray unruly hair into styles suitable for ballerinas and apply stage make up to little cheeks. No one ever raises their voice, except perhaps an exasperated mother at their own child. The pervading sense of calm excitement cascades from the top downwards and you rarely see a nervous looking child.

And then the lights drop and the show begins. Class after class hits the stage, each child donning a fantastic costume. The numbers are choreographed so that every dancer, no matter what their natural talent, gets a turn at the front of the stage. The show flies by with a traditional ballet in the first half and more upbeat routines to familiar hits in the second. Very rarely does anyone forget their dance and any mistakes are covered ably by the older members of the cast who assist the younger ones through every aspect of the show, from entertaining them whilst they wait their turn, to dancing on the edges of the stage just in case someone should have a momentary lapse of memory.

Of all the events my children take part in it is my far my favourite. And I cry every time. I cry tears of pride for my own children and for the fact that they are part of such an incredible venture. I cry for the triumph that each dancer feels as they stand on stage smiling and collecting their applause. I cry for the fact that there are so many teenagers involved who choose to spend their spare time dancing when they could so easily have given up. I cry for the inevitable group for whom it is the last show before they venture off to university. But mostly I cry for all the hard work by the Principal and her husband for whom this incredible spectacle is the culmination of months of planning and practising. And I am grateful, more grateful than they will ever know.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


I was having a discussion yesterday about what constituted a pushy parent. We seemed unable to agree on a definition although it was clearly  disparaging  as everyone was keen to defend themselves against the charge.

My idea of what constitutes a pushy parent was formed when I was quite young. Or at least, I had a pretty clear idea of what a pushy parent was not. I just had to look round the tea table for a couple of role models. My parents encouraged, cajoled and supported but never pushed. They afforded us opportunities in life, but as long as we gave it a proper shot and didn't give up as soon as the going got tough, they never made us do things. I could see around me the parents of friends who got terribly aerated at Sports' Day and seemed disproportionately nervous as we waited to do a music exam but my parents just wanted me to do well.

I suppose some aspects of pushiness might be no bad thing. The list of sports players at the top of their game with their parents always in camera shot is long. Would those children have achieved their adult success without their dad taking control of the coaching? Who knows? Child starlets with pushy parents, however, seem to fair less well long term.

The other aspect of pushiness that I identified as a child is the parent who brags about their child's achievements. There is nothing wrong with a bit of pride for your off spring amongst friends, as my facebook page will pay testament to. What is more difficult for me are parents who have to relate everything back to the achievements of their children. As the conversation ambles about touching on various subjects, you can see them almost bursting with their need to bring matters round to their child and how wonderful they are without even feigned interest in anyone else's.

This was something my parents never did, much to the disgust of my brother and me. So concerned were they about not appearing  pushy, that they totally failed to ever even mention our successes, let alone kill the fatted calf.

I think ultimately whether someone is a pushy parent depends upon their attitude. Doing lots of extra curricular activities wouldn't constitute pushy unless the child was begging for it to stop. If the child enjoys what they do then I see no harm. After all, having accomplishments is something that people have strived for ever since leisure time was conceived.

However, living through your child and boasting unrestrainedly about what they have done suggests a lack of self worth on the part of the parent and in time may lead to similar feelings in the child who feels pressure to keep up with the parent's aspirations for them.

I don't consider myself a pushy parent - does anybody? I am rightly proud of my children and will continue to encourage them down their chosen paths. And if, from time to time, my pride bubbles over and I share that with friends then you can see it as a backlash against my upbringing rather than a need to compare my child with anyone else's. After all, we are all just doing the best job we can.

Monday, 15 November 2010


It can't possibly be good for me to be this cross the whole time.

Actually, it's not the whole time. I'm quite calm at the moment and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out why that might be. It's 11.47. It's silent in my house and I have finished my morning's chores.

Rewind three hours or so and it was a very different story. I was so angry that I wouldn't have trusted me with scissors. I screamed and shouted and stormed my way around the house like some demonic dervish. And it's not for effect. Just at the moment, the feelings that I am subjecting my family to are pure and unadulterated rage.

I know why of course. I am tidy and organised and able to plan ahead with military zeal. My children are not. Of course they aren't. They're children. They are on this earth to have fun and worry about number one and my role, amongst other things, is to facilitate that.

But there are only so many times that you can iron clothes that end up on the floor, tidy a room that is a mess minutes later and cook food only to be asked for more before the first lot has hit the sides without feeling an enormous lack of self worth. My job, or what I see as my job, is completely pointless. I sort stuff. They trash it. After a while it can get you down.

It's not just the futile repetition of tasks either. There is the futile repetition of questions too.

Me:    Have you done homework?
Child: Yes.
Me:    (Some time later.) Have you done your homework?
Child: You already asked me that.
Me:    Sorry. Just checking. Well, have you?
Child: Yes.
Next day.
Child: Why is there no ink in the printer?
Me:   Why do you need the printer? I thought you'd done your homework.

Is it any wonder that I get cross?

It's all my fault, of course. I make my own life infeasibly difficult. I demand perfection from myself and that inevitably has to impact on those I live with. I watch as my hard work is snatched away from me by someone who doesn't care that the jigsaw pieces are in the wrong boxes or the cushions are all over the floor. But I do care. I care passionately and at the moment the conflict between my priorities and those of my children is causing me stress.

I need to find a way of managing it. There's not much point hoping that things will change. They are children and I am me. But with the children's commitments building to a terrifying crescendo and Christmas just around the corner if I don't find some equilibrium soon I will start to scare myself, let alone the kids.

It's just a phase. It, like all the others, will pass. In due course my focus will shift and they will try harder and calm will be restored. Until then I will continue to have no voice and I will buy some rescue remedy which makes not a jot of difference but is a welcome placebo. After all, which is more important? Me having order and control or my kids being happy? It's a no brainer really.

Friday, 12 November 2010


I've had a virtual week. I don't mean literally. Of course my week has been real and grounded in the physical world. I mean that for the first time in ages all my contact with my friends has been via the internet.

It's not like I have been a recluse. I have spoken to real people. I had a tutorial at one point and there were flesh and blood students there. I went to my cake class and a meeting about choir and a Jamie Oliver party and I spoke to my boss on the phone several times. But all the time that I have spent just talking to friends has been online.

I'm not really sure what to make of this. To be fair it's quite unusual. Generally I make the effort to invite people here for coffee during the course of the week but this week it just didn't happen and at the risk of hugely offending the people that I generally see, I am fine on my own.

Is this a bad thing? Should I allow my online relationships to take priority over actual face to face time? I think the answer to that is probably no. Online is stuff is fun. It involves a wider variety of people than you would ever get all in one room in the real world. Flirting, arguing, inane chitter chatter. It's all scarily easy online and I don't tend to have those kinds of conversations elsewhere. My real encounters are generally with one person at a time so there's not much banter and I almost never talk to men vocally because there just aren't any in my world.

But, as someone online pointed out recently, who really knows what is going on? It is much easier to be something that you're not if you can't see the whites of your friend's eyes. Happy, sad, angry, tickled - it's all the same online. A careful selection of words and you can give whatever impression you fancy.

I must hasten to add that what you see in any aspect of my life is pretty much what you get. I wear my heart on my sleeve for all to make of as they will. But what worries me is that I do have a tendency to solitude and it  would be frighteningly easy for me to spend my entire time beetling around my house and relying on facebook and Open University forums for any social interaction.

I'm aware that I'm walking a very thin line and in danger of upsetting friends both real and virtual alike but, honestly, I need them all. Between them they provide me with support, entertainment and stimulation. Does it really matter whether they do this over a cup of coffee or by a one line posting in a chat room? I imagine that as long as I maintain as healthier balance as I can between them all I can't go far wrong. However, if you think I have fallen off your radar please give me a little nudge. It wasn't intentional.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


My eldest will be fourteen this week. Now, I'm not about to say that I can't believe it or wonder where the years have all flown to. I have slogged through every minute of those fourteen years since I first assumed parental responsibility and my life was changed forever.

What does seem to have come round quite quickly though is the concept that my child has now reached the acceptable age for babysitting. I don't know if there is a legal age before which you leave children to their own devices. If there is then I have certainly flaunted it, having been nipping out during the day without all the children in tow for quite some time. But certainly in my neck of the woods, when a child hits fourteen they are suddenly and miraculously endowed with enough common sense to be responsible for other children.

Our own non family babysitter was fourteen when she first came and looked after my four, although half of them were generally in bed asleep by the time she arrived. At the time I thought she was terribly grown up in comparison to my own little angels, the eldest of whom was then nine.

Now that my daughter has reached a similar stage, she suddenly seems rather young for all that responsibility. Would she know what to do if her charges won't stay in bed or cry for their mum or someone comes to the door or the house sets on fire? Well, actually, she would probably just ring me and I would nip round and sort it out for her but you take my point.

She has been counting down the days until she can offer her services both to us and to our friends. She has been eyeing up likely candidates amongst her siblings' peer groups for a while. She is ready to make posters and advertise her services to the world. I am slightly more circumspect. I see a number of hiccups with her plan.

Firstly her own scant availability. What with rehearsals, shows, parties and sleepovers there aren't so many windows in her calendar. Then she has to coordinate with my requirements. Obviously, having trained her for this important task for her entire life, I get first shout when a babysitting requirement arises.

Then there are the practicalities. Will she be able to cope with a late night? Will I be able to cope with the following day? Will I have to be available when she is babysitting in case of disaster? Will I have to wait up until she gets home? How will she get home? The list of troublesome questions goes on and on.

Until her dance card starts filling up, I shall monopolize her services myself. She and her sister can share the responsibility of guarding their siblings as they sleep. My husband and I have long dreamed of the day when we could pop out to our local for a quick drink or a bite to eat on a whim without having to book the babysitter weeks in advance. However, I had failed to realise that by the time the big day came, we would either be too busy ferrying children or too exhausted to make actually going out feasible. I can't imagine that my new found freedom is actually going to make a huge amount of difference. Ah well. Perhaps when they've all left home?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


I've always wanted children. It was up there in my childhood dreams with a fairy tale wedding and a never ending supply of midget gems. I don't know whether it was something that I ever truly thought about or it just became part of my life expectations by osmosis. I sometimes wonder whether the only people who really think about whether to have children are the ones who decide not to.

Anyway, along they came according to plan. Four little pink bundles with squidgy faces and perfect finger nails. It's hard when they're babies, especially the first. You have no real idea what they want. You work your way down a check list until you can make an informed guess about the reason for their distress. Everyone has an opinion on what you are doing and shares it with you whether their view is welcome or not.

Then it gets harder. The baby starts to sleep, which is a blessing but then it starts to move of its own accord, which is not. Next, they learn to talk. This might seem like it should make things less difficult but actually results in your child expressing their own ideas about how things should be which generally run counter to your own.

At the moment it's really hard. My younger two are pushing at my authority. Each instruction is tested to destruction. Nothing is taken at face value. For every order there is a counter order. I hear myself bickering with my six year old about whether he should put his socks on or not and my heart sinks. In frustration I shout. It doesn't get them to do as I say. It doesn't even make me feel better. It just makes me throat hurt.

The elder two are jogging along quite nicely but they are on the edge of the dark lands where there be dragons. Make up and short skirts and high heels that make them appear as if they are looking for things that they can't possibly understand. Illicit alcohol at parties that they attend. Talk of weed in the park. Constant requests to do things that I consider unsuitable because 'everyone else is going'. It's all new and scary.

I feel like I am being pushed round a ghost train ride with a blindfold on. Some things leap out at me and make me jump. Other dangers lurk in the darkness as I stumble past, unaware even of their existence.

The combination of the challenging younger two and the adventuring older two is exhausting and terrifying in equal measure. The rebellious little ones rob me of the resources that I need to deal with the obstacles facing the big ones and I am left spinning, hoping that soon we will have a period of consolidation so that I can catch my breath and check for holes in my sails before the storms blow up again.

When I had my little babies I had no idea how difficult being a parent really was. If I had known, would I have gone ahead with quite such scant consideration for the future? Of course I would, as would most of us for otherwise the human race would be no more. I just have to keep doing the best that I can as each day passes and hope it's enough.

Sunday, 7 November 2010


Feeding the family continues to trouble me. The same old meals churned out week after week boring not only me to shop for and cook but the poor family to eat.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across a new programme with chirpy Jamie Oliver taking me through menus in real time. I like Jamie Oliver. Yes, he did get a little bit over exposed in the early days but what he was doing was new and exciting and everyone wanted a piece of him. Having been brought up with the precision of Delia, Jamie, with his slugs here and his handfuls there, was like a breath of fresh air. I never really bought into his whole lifestyle thing. I live in Ilkley. We don't even have a decent deli let alone fresh food markets but simple food made with quality ingredients made sense to me.

Since then I have watched Jamie's career with interest. I admire his passion. He never seems to relax and opt for the easy path through life. He believes in real food strongly and he is prepared to put his head above the parapet and try to make a difference to the nation's eating habits even though there is nothing really in it for him personally.

So back to Thirty Minute Meals. I watched with interest as I cooked whatever mundane meal I had planned for that night. Jamie buzzed around his kitchen creating two or three dishes that all looked delicious. I can do that - I thought.  So I hotfooted it to Smith's and bought a copy of the book ( at knock down pre Christmas price ) and spent a happy evening flicking through and choosing menus that I fancied and that there was an outside chance of the children eating.

Then I had a brain wave. Instead of spending all Sunday afternoon slaving over roast meat and all the trimmings, I could do a Thirty Minute Meal instead. Genius.

I went to the shops to buy the ingredients. Phew. All those herbs don't come cheap. Then I set to. The book gives the recipes in the order that you should cook them  in order to create the meal in the time scale. The planner in me insists that I cook like that anyway but it was refreshing to have the thinking done for me. I followed the plan. The meal took me a little over thirty minutes but I felt obliged to substitute his pudding for something containing apples as we have them in abundance.

The results were delicious. The only problem was that I had forgotten that one child was eating out and two were rehearsing until after I had gone out to sing so we didn't get to eat it together. I haven't looked in the bin to see how much of my meal ended up there but I was happy.

So well done Jamie. You have managed to get me to try something new because you made it look achievable without too much effort on my part. May your ideas and enthusiasm continue to infect me for years to come.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


"In the wee small hours of the morning, while the whole wide world is fast asleep, you lie awake and think about...." Well, just about anything really.

It's 4.55. I know this because the beside clock projects the time in red numbers on to the ceiling above my head. My eyesight's not fantastic so I have to squint a bit to make the shapes discernible but there was no mistake. Not yet 5.00 ' clock.

Now I'm an early bird as a general rule. I go to sleep at 10.30 every night and so I'm generally awake and ready to face the day by 6.15. And that's fine. It suits me. But even I draw the line at getting up before 5 so I decided to close my eyes and go back to sleep.

Nothing doing. Ten minutes later I peer at the red blur and realise that I haven't, as I'd hoped, dropped back to sleep and that I am now properly awake. This gives me three options.
1. Read my book utilizing small torch which nestles in my bedside cabinet precisely for occasions such as this. But I don't really fancy that.
2. Get up and go and do something useful. This involves sneaking like a thief past my son's bedroom door and the chances of my getting to the stairs without him hearing me and bouncing out of bed are almost nil.
 3. Lie there.

I plump for option three and spin subjects round my brain whilst I choose how to use this unexpected time. I start with  my book and how I am going to get to where I need to be without contorting my characters. But that makes me want to get to my laptop so I settle for blog topics instead. A few random ideas float round my head but nothing that grabs me. I move on. Eldest daughter's birthday next week. Need to confirm her present with her and order it. Party invites are not yet out. I shudder as I think of the gargantuan sleepover she has planned.

I change direction quickly although my heart is pumping a little faster. I skip through the diary entries for the rest of the week and suddenly think of something that I had almost forgotten. The adrenalin makes my skin tingle and then feel slightly clammy.

What else? I need to make my Christmas Cake and get it coated. It has to be ready for class next week. When will that fit in? Those pumpkins are going to go bad if I don't roast them and do something with them today. The wind will have brought all the apples down. I must bag them up and offer them around.

Faraday on my course next. It's quite a long chapter. That's OK. I like my course. Need to make time for my blog though and my book. I squint at the ceiling. 5.35. Only seven weeks to Christmas.

Oops. I really didn't mean to let myself go there but there I went and now I am in full blown panic and I have to get up. I can't just lie here when there's Christmas to organise. I don't know what I thought I was going to achieve at that time but the rising fear means that I can no longer stay still. I creep along the landing and head downstairs taking small son, who calls out as I pass his door, with me.

It's ridiculous. I know it is but somehow in the wee small hours of the morning everything suddenly looks insurmountable. I will get through it all. You always do somehow don't you? No need to fret. What's the worse that can happen? Why didn't I think of that at 4.55?

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Hallowe'en confuses me. There are lots of things about it that I just don't understand. Mainly, what happened to the traditional English Hallowe'en of my childhood? No knocking on doors - that was for Mischief Night a few days later. Dressing up involved sheets and black sugar paper and activities revolved around apples. Simple, harmless, cheap pleasures. Lovely.

Then when my children started at the local Church of England primary school I was confused again.  I discovered that some Christians had a huge issue with it as a celebration. This was entirely new to me and took me completely by surprise. No hint of Hallowe'en would be tolerated at school and instead the children were asked to dress in bright colours and attend a Light Party. No one ever really managed to explain to me what was wrong with what I had always understood to be a Celtic festival to mark the end of summer. Perhaps that was connected with the celebration moving away from apples and towards terrifying latex masks. I don't know. It confused me.

Then adults and Hallowe'en. What's that all about? As far as I knew it was something for children but apparently I'm wrong. As I walked my children round to parties last year I was the only one not dressed up. Party hosts entering into the spirit I can understand. But dressing up just because it's Hallowe'en is not really for me.

Three of my four children have been invited out tonight which has delighted them as they will be able to go trick or treating, an activity that is banned here. I banned it when the big ones were small. There were no children where we live and I didn't think my neighbours, who we didn't know, deserved to have my children, who they didn't know, begging for sweets at their front door. Different if you live in a neighbourhood with lots of children but we don't so that was that.

But trick or treating they go and come home with mountains of sweets. We don't do sweets here either. I know. I sound like a real killjoy and they do have sweets sometimes but not by the bucket load and not regularly. So instead of being  a treat, they devour sweets from their stash every day until they are all gone. Not really a treat anymore.

Last year, horribly aware that I was fast becoming the Scrooge of All Hallows I did think about joining in, maybe even having a party. But as the date approached and the supermarket filled with orange and purple plastic I just couldn't do it. I think it's because what was an ancient tradition has been hijacked and turned into an excuse to make money. If I were to have a party I would like it to be like those of my childhood and the children would go home feeling terribly robbed.

I'm sure I'm missing out by not participating and one year I may surprise the children by arranging a giant do with spiders webs and glow in the dark skeletons. And then again...

Saturday, 30 October 2010


I had an idea earlier in the week. Take That announced a tour and I decided that it would be a lovely treat if I took my two big girls together with my first ever friend and her daughter, who also happens to be my god-daughter.  I rang my friend and she agreed that such a trip would be fun and as it was my idea I volunteered to get the tickets.

I did my research. The tickets would go on sale at 9.00 on Friday. I checked out the approved ticket agencies, made sure I could remember my ticketmaster password and waited.

I like Take That. I always have done. Not in a mad, passionate, fan kind of way. I was 24 when they formed so a bit old for all that. But I liked the fact that they didn't take themselves too seriously and Gary Barlow writes a jolly good tune.

Friday dawned and I was up with the lark, unable to sleep for that feeling of excited anticipation that you get before a holiday. I got myself showered and dressed and was ready at my computer and logged into ticketmaster at 8.55. I watched the clock tick round not daring to nip to another page in case I missed my moment. 9 'o clock. I went to the appropriate performance, clicked 5 tickets....and it crashed.

This wasn't entirely surprising. The gigs were well advertised and almost every woman in the land seemed to want tickets. I persevered. I loaded, it crashed, I refreshed, it crashed. I sat there, with two computers refreshing pages, for four hours. I despaired as messages popped up on facebook telling my who had been successful in their quest. I tried other approved sites with no success. I kept at it.

But it was half term. My husband had a day off and we had planned a family trip to Harewood House. So I turned off the computers and went out. I reasoned that if I couldn't get on to the site then neither could anyone else. At Harewood I had ticketmaster on speed dial but with no luck. All the talk in the adventure playground was of tickets and tips as to how to get them. Most people seemed to have theirs already.

Home again and my campaign began with renewed vigour. The congestion had lifted a little but whilst I could get tantalizingly close, the page would crash at the crucial moment. And then, finally, after thousands of attempts I  got as far as putting my credit card details in. The on screen timer counted down and my hands shook as I typed, terrified that it would crash before I could get my details in accurately or that I would run out of time.

And then suddenly, there it was. A message confirmation. Five tickets for Take That were finally mine. I'm sure they could hear the whoop of delight in Manchester.

The whole experience reminded my of something that I had forgotten about myself - my sheer, bloody minded, determination to get something if I want it enough. It wasn't even that I was so bothered about the actual  tickets. The world would not have ended if I hadn't got them. It was more that I would not be beaten and give up when I had invested so much time in the fight. It's not a quality that I have had to use for years but I see it regularly in one of my children. I know that it's slightly ridiculous that I am reminded of  my  determination  in the context of something so trivial but I'm glad that it's still there, lurking deep. You never know when it might come in handy.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Hormones. Who'd have 'em?

If you're a bloke reading this then you can either go and check some sporting results instead or read on, smug in the knowledge that you will never have to experience first hand the affliction that is female hormone swings.

So there I am merrily getting on with my life. I'm busy. I'm happy and, apart from shouting at the kids occasionally  I'm reasonably even tempered. Life is sweet.

It starts with the need for chocolate. Not a little "I fancy a bit of chocolate if there's any in the cupboard" kind of need but a "If I don't get chocolate in the next thirty seconds I may be forced to tear the arms off anyone that gets in the way of my pursuit for it" kind of way. It's a tell tale and fairly consistent sign of a rush of hormones but I regularly fail to spot it and recognise it for what it is. I indulge myself with something sweet and continue with my life.

Next I get a bit cross. This is nothing unusual. As already confessed, I am wont to shout at the children if they don't do as they're asked. Again, no alarm bells ring. Then I explode for no easily identifiable reason. The girls metaphorically dive for cover, exchange knowing glances at each other and try to steer their brother, who can't yet spot the warning signs, from impending disaster with frantic hand and facial gestures that they think I can't see.

Now, it's starting to register. I have not turned over night into a confectionery guzzling ogre. Well, I have as it goes but there is a rational explanation. Hormones.

Sometimes the prevailing mood is not anger but melancholy. Suddenly life is all too difficult. I don't have the energy to shout and I slink off into dark corners and feel self indulgently sorry for myself. And again, despite the fairly consistent effect on me for the greater part of my life, my hormone wobble always takes me by surprise. I feel hard done to and uncherished despite knowing neither to be the case.

I imagine that it could be challenging living with a woman who is a martyr to her hormones. But just consider for a moment what it must be like to be the woman. One day you're skipping along, happy as Larry and the next. Kaboom. Straight into a brick wall of unexplained emotion.

They come. They go. It passes. We move on. But if I had been in charge of blowing life into that spare rib, I think I would have given greater thought to precisely how the side effects of a reproductive system that most off us only use a handful of times in a lifetime might impact on the human race's daily lives.

Now, where's that Terry's Chocolate Orange?

Sunday, 24 October 2010


I am buzzing. As you know, I have just embarked on a degree course and yesterday it was the first Day School of the academic year. With my timetable printed off and my bag packed, I headed off for Leeds Met with a sense of nervous anticipation, not quite knowing what to expect. I found my way to the lecture theatre - no mean feat - and then sat as a desk at the front. The room was full of eager faces from all walks of life and I listened to and participated in all the sessions with great gusto, fully immersing myself in everything that the day had to offer.

I came away brimming with enthusiasm for my course, for the Arts, for life really. Last night, I sought out alternative modules that I might like to take as I make my slow but steady progress towards a BA (Hons), in subjects that I never previously had any interest in but suddenly seem fascinated by.

But my underlying feeling as I dip my toe in the clear, bright waters of academia is relief. For a while back there I did wonder what had become of me and how my future could possibly offer me anything cerebral.

I had always loved knowledge and learning. I was recently rather affectionately called a 'girly swot' and it was a fair description of my days in full time education. My the time I qualified, I was somewhat jaded by formal learning but the mammoth task of becoming proficient in my chosen discipline stood before me like Mount Eiger and on I went, collecting knowledge and squirrelling it away.

And then I had my children. Four pregnancies in seven years left my memory a laughable shadow of what it had been. My powers of concentration dwindled to nothing so that even sitting through a film to the end became a challenge. But most frightening of all I had no interest in anything outside the confines of my busy family home.

To start with this was fine. I barely had the energy to stand up straight, let alone consider the state of my cerebellum. But as the years rolled on I began to fear that my thirst for knowledge was gone forever and that felt like a huge and unanticipated sacrifice. Perhaps, I, like Faustus, had made an exchange, albeit unwittingly in my case? My brain for my children.

And then, out of the blue it reappeared. It started in small measures. Reading more than just the book club novel in a month, tentatively doing a little legal work, scribbling in my blog. And now a degree.

I should have been more patient, had more faith. My need to know had not gone anywhere, it was just taking a back seat whilst I focussed on other, more important tasks. And now I feel like I have to make up for lost time. I am sure that my enthusiasm must be palpable and I'm sorry if it's irritating. I'm sure it will wear off a little as I progress. But for now I am just so delighted that what I believe to be a major part of my psyche is still there, that you will have to forgive me the old, self indulgent skip down the corridors of learning whilst I regain my composure!

Thursday, 21 October 2010


So, my book is almost finished. Note the optimistic use of the word 'almost'. There is still some work to do. I have a character whose fate I have not yet finally fixed on. I also need to decide whether to give it a happy or more pensive ending which sounds like a big job but really just depends on how I close the final chapter.

After that it will be a case of proof reading and tidying up and then it will be complete. It's taken me the best part of a year, written in snatched hours as and when. There have been lots of early weekend mornings when the house is quiet and a fair bit of thinking as I walk around fetching children. I have never taken my laptop to a cafe as I dreamed I might and it has always come second to the other calls on my time but I've got there in the end.

I have to say that writing a book has been an extraordinarily interesting and enjoyable process. When I started last January, I had the bare bones of an idea and a couple of jumbled characters in my head. The plot has chopped and changed and morphed itself into something quite different from the one that I began with. The cast of characters grew and then shrank and whilst they have, in the main, ended up doing what I thought they would, they have not all got there by the means that I originally intended.

At various points I got stuck and had to come up with a new angle to start the process up again. Some of the ideas have been left along the wayside to pick up  if I ever pass by that way again.

The strangest part of the whole process for me has been that my book is not a bit like I imagined it would be. It has been said that we all have a book in us but until you try to release it you can't tell what yours will be like. The way the words have come together for me is quite different in style to other things that I've written. This surprised me. I had assumed they would all be pretty much the same. I also now know  that I am not a literary genius and will never pen a Man Booker winning tome. But I haven't enjoyed the task any the less for discovering that.

And so, when I finally put the last full stop on what I have written, what will I do with it next? Do you know, I really have no idea. Most of me wants to put it away in a drawer and get on with the next one, the plot of which is already building in my head.

But a tiny part of me, and I do mean tiny, has to wonder whether I should send my manuscript out into the big, bad world to see if it can make its fortune. We'll see.

I think that the most important part to me is that when my book is totally finished, I will be able to say that I once wrote a novel. And then I will place a big, fat tick next to that particular life's ambition and move on to the next one.

Monday, 18 October 2010


I'm no spring chicken. I'm hardly past it but I think it's fair to say that the first bloom of youth sailed over the horizon quite some time ago.

Every so often, I have a good, hard look at myself to monitor the gradual but inevitable slide in to middle age. Overall I don't think I'm doing too badly. I still have all my own teeth for example! I feel fairly fit and can cartwheel across the lawn should the mood take me. I can't quite remember what colour my hair is but I don't suppose that really matters.

But the place where the tell tale signs of ageing really matter to a woman are on the bits that  are on show the whole time - her face, hands and neck. It doesn't matter how spritely the rest of me is feeling. If if look in the mirror and all I see is wrinkles that I swear weren't there the last time I looked, then I can't help but feel age creeping up.

I have reached the stage where, whilst I long to keep my laughter lines ( don't you just love that little euphemism?) at bay, I am old and sceptical enough to know that wonder products are a bit of a con. In the end, how my skin ages is down to a few factors, not all of which are within my control. I drink a reasonable amount of water, I take care in the sun and I don't smoke.These things I have a say over. I can do nothing about my genes. Whilst they don't appear to be doing me any disservice so far, they are what they are and I can't change them.

So, I'm not about to spend the housekeeping money on expensive creams and lotions, hoping against hope that one of them might actually manage to hold back the sands of time. Instead, I have decided to help myself. I have abandoned sparkly make up and heavy foundations which emphasize the creases. And I smile a lot, so you can't spot the lines that are there when my face is in repose.

As the winter plods closer and the sun kissed tan of the summer becomes a memory, I have to accept that each year the position is slightly worse than it was the year before. The eyelids are lower, the wrinkles deeper, the skin tone patchier. If I think about it too hard, I mourn my lost luminescence which no amount of miracle make up seems able to recover. And I really don't like the thought that this is as good as it's going to get and that it will only get worse from here.

I don't like it so I don't think about it. It's not about what you look like but how you feel  apparently and I feel great. Yes, it takes the skin on the back of my hand a disconcertingly long time to 'spring' back when I pull it but how often do I do that in my daily life? I truly think I'd rather have the wisdom that I've acquired along with the wrinkles than go back to when my forehead was smooth but life was a mystery. And I have my beautiful daughters around me so that I can see clear, peach smooth skin every day - it just isn't mine.

I have reached the conclusion, as with many other things in my life, that I can't do anything about it so I'm not going to worry about it. Yes, it will continue to get me down from time to time but so do all sorts of things that I can't control. Better to make the best and carry on. How very British!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Have you noticed how the things people say sometimes stick with you for years? Somebody once told me never to fall out with friends over things our children have done. Wise words indeed and ones that I return to regularly.

Today I was thinking about the thought provoking words of another friend. It was when I still had children at home and we were having that conversation that stay at mums often have about the likelihood of ever returning to the workplace in any meaningful fashion. Her children were older than mine and she said that she did not intend to return to work. However, she commented, you have to work really hard at not working.

I have thought about that a lot over the subsequent years. Whilst I do have a job of sorts, things are so quiet at the moment that it doesn't really count. In essence I am a busy, stay at home mum. I run the house and the kids and fill the rest of my time with things that I enjoy.

Sounds a doddle doesn't it? Take today for example. I have nothing particular on my agenda so this morning I have done some washing, laid the fire, tidied up and made some brownies. Then, as my treat I have a had a bit of a bash at my book. This afternoon I have a couple of errands to run in town and I would like to push on with the book I'm reading. Sounds lovely I'm sure to all you working people. And it is.

But actually, spending day after day with no structure and no boss requires a massive amount of self discipline. There are days when I can find absolutely no motivation and it's all I can do to make my own lunch. This is why I take on so many other things. It is an attempt to maintain some sense of self worth for it doesn't matter how many times your husband tells you that you are doing a wonderful job. It can be soul destroying staying at home all day

And that's what my friend meant about it being hard work not working. How easy would it be to slip into either a malaise of boredom and stagnate or get swept up by fun and totally ignore the dull stuff? What would happen if I didn't do the ironing? Eventually my husband might complain that there were no clean shirts but to be honest he is more likely to get the ironing board out himself. If there was no dinner on the table then there's always beans on toast or the chippy. No one is going to sack me for having a poor attitude - or at least not immediately.

I remember a while ago talking to someone who had lost their job. A few months into their new lifestyle, they were confessing that they would have to find something to do or they would go mad. But that is my life you're moaning about, I thought and has been for ten years. The lack of daily structure and the endless list of mundane tasks is how I fill my days. Having no job is not always the soft option that people think it is.

Of course, I love that I am in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to stay at home and I really wouldn't choose to do anything else. I fill my time with a wide variety of things both fun and not so fun to make sure that I feel fulfilled at the end of the day. But in the end, I have to agree with the wise words of my friend. It's hard work not working.

Monday, 11 October 2010


This weekend one of our guinea pigs died. Having looked a bit out of sorts for a few days, it chose the day of my eight year old's birthday party to finally shuffle off this mortal coil. This resulted in its having to spend a night unceremoniously dumped in a shoe box coffin on top of the wheelie bin until a more auspicious day could dawn for the funeral. Said guinea pig, Jojo, has now been duly dispatched with appropriate levels of solemnity and the matter is dealt with.

Or is it? Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that I have stated quite unambiguously that when the current pets, said guinea pig and his brother Nibbles, die there will be no more,  bringing to an end the tradition of pet keeping in this house.

Nibbles is still looking pretty sprightly so the issue could be pushed to the back of the cupboard for a wee while yet except that my eldest already has the bit between her teeth. As is generally the case in my experience of the death of animals, Jojo's blood had barely turned chilly but she was asking whether I would change my mind and allow a replacement of some description.

And now we get to the issue. Guilt. Again. In its many and varied guises it seems to haunt my life. It forces me to analyse why I have made this ruling and see if it stands up to scrutiny now that the hour of its enactment is approaching.

I'm sure you know how it is. The kids get a pet. There is great excitement whilst it is named. It gets manhandled ruthlessly until it nips someone and then it lives a solitary kind of existence in the garden. The children feed it only when reminded and moan incessantly when it is time to clean it out. Every time we go away I have to beg favours from my ever generous brother to do the honours. So what is a pet really adding to our household?

On the other hand, do I really want my children growing up remembering that they didn't have pets because their mother wouldn't let them. I can just hear the dinner party conversations in thirty years as my children recount tales of how they begged but their cruel mother was unwavering. A pet isn't really that much hard work if it's a small furry one. It's just that my life is complicated enough and one less thing to factor in would be welcome.

Nibbles is in mourning. As I merrily go anthropomorphizing his behaviour the guilt builds. Not only is there the issue of his being the last ever pet but now he is all alone with his brother from whom he had never been parted gone. It's enough to bring a tear to my eye.

Hopefully, Nibbles will get a grip and snap out of it and the issue will be put to bed for a while longer. Or perhaps I should just throw caution to the wind and get a new cat, my secret wish when my practical head is off duty. Answers on a postcard please!

Friday, 8 October 2010


We have a Literature Festival in Ilkley. It's in full swing as I type. It was launched by WH Auden in 1973 and since then has gone from strength to strength, attracting writers and visitors from all over the country.

Each summer, the programme is published with great trumpeting from the local rag. Those organised enough to have become a friend of the festival the previous year get priority booking. This is a prerequisite to acquiring some of the more sought after tickets. Everyone else queues up, in very British fashion, outside the book shop and the tourist information office on the appointed day to snap up what they can.

There then follows an entertaining few weeks of chopping and changing whilst people barter with their tickets amongst their friends and relations. 'I'll swap you two Ellen MacArthurs for one Alistair Campbell.' 'Anyone got a spare John Simpson?'  On it goes. Someone is always left with extra tickets that they can't shift and texts fly backwards and forwards so that nothing goes to waste.

The visiting writers seem to me to fall into two distinct camps. Firstly, there are the people who make a living doing something other than writing but then write a book ( or get someone else to write a book ) all about it. In the main these seem to be the big hitters of the festival. Worthy politicians, political commentators, sports people. Tickets to see them fly out of the door and they fill the big venues with no difficulty.

 But I'm not really bothered about them. If I could attend everything without having to arrange babysitters then I would probably go but as my resources are more limited, I keep my powder dry for the second type of writers.

These are what I like to to call the real writers. The ones who actually make a living from writing books. Endlessly fascinated by the actual process of writing a novel, I go early, sit myself right at the front and invariably ask the incredibly dull question at the end about how they plot their stories or what their working day looks like.

I love it. I can't get enough of it. I would be happy if they dispensed with talking about the actual book entirely and just talked to me about what it's actually like to be a real author.

But this year it's slightly different. I still ask my questions but now the answers are even more fascinating to me because  I too am having a go. My little book is almost complete. This adds a whole new dimension to my interest. I can nod sagely as the eminent, talented and, most importantly, published authors before me talk about the frustrations of plotting and characterisation.

Now,  having dipped my toe very gingerly in the water, I am able to appreciate how very difficult writing a book is. In many ways, it is awfully disheartening knowing that my meagre little offering will never stand up against the greats. Everyone thinks they can write a book. Actually discovering that the book that you write does not to turn out to be what you expected is slightly peculiar. I will never again be able to think of myself as the next Hilary Mantel or Sebastian Faulkes if only I got round to putting pen to paper. I  now know that it will never be. My book is not like that at all.

This time next year, I will take my seat in the front row, surreptitiously following the rover microphones, knowing that my novel  is finished and tucked away somewhere and that I can place a large tick next to that particular ambition. But this year I can still pretend that I too am a writer  and I'm having a ball..

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


My book for Book Group this month is Shappi Khorsandi's "A Beginner's Guide to Acting English". It's an autobiography which covers the comedienne's life between the ages of three and eleven. I enjoyed it. It was an interesting look at Iran and England in the 1970s and 80s through the eyes of a child and some of her stories were so poignant that they brought tears to my eyes.

Reading autobiographies always leaves me pondering the same puzzling thought. How do these people remember their lives in so much detail?

I suppose that Shappi will have had help focussing her memories from her immediate and extended family. She was very close to her elder brother who presumably would have a clearer recollection of certain events than she would. Sometimes, my brother and I will reminisce about stories from our childhoods and I am always taken aback by how differently we remember something that we both experienced together. So, such conversations may be the trigger for a memory but it won't necessarily result in a memory that is entirely yours.

Her parents will have told her things too. Stories get passed down a family like folklore. Do I remember my brother falling out of the back of a moving car or is it just that I have heard the story so many times? I'm not sure.

Photos assist of course. I have lots of dim images in my mind which I suspect are as a result of hours spent looking at images in an album rather than a true memory of the event.

What struck me particularly about the book is that she writes about how she felt when various events both happy and sad happened around her. Now I might be able to dredge up odd snippets of my early childhood - a holiday here, a show there. But they really are snippets. I could not give you any details of my day to day life and I certainly have absolutely no recollection of any feelings that I might have had. It may be that she can't either and that, with the benefit of hindsight, she has imagined how she must have felt at the time. But the book  reads like the true memories of a child. Grown up emotions superimposed on someone young stand out a mile, like a picture drawn by an adult in a childish hand.

I wondered about this for a while. I have never thought that my memory was particular poor and yet I appear to have lost whole tranches of my life. After I had fretted for a bit, I reached a conclusion. The things that I can remember are the out of the ordinary events. The rest of the time I was happy and loved and just getting on with being a child. Perhaps when your life is made up of the out of the ordinary, it sticks firmer in your mind together with how you felt at the time? So, moving from your home and your friends and family to a country where you knew no one and could not even communicate, would  not be something easily forgotten.

So I stopped worrying about it. The reason why I can't remember my childhood is because it was happy and safe and secure and nothing ever made me feel in danger or frightened. The bits and pieces that I can recall are enough to remind me how life was and as I cannot imagine why I would ever need to fill a book with the details then that is enough for me.

Friday, 1 October 2010


I have recently had a rather unsettling spat with someone. It was over the internet with a man that I don't know and am never likely to meet. Had we met face to face I would probably have decided that he wasn't my type of person and moved on. As it is I have come across him on a forum in which I wish to participate and so will have to continue to run into him.

Like most people, I am not naturally confrontational. I would rather drink a glass of warm white wine than trouble the waiter to change it. I rarely row with anybody, even my family, preferring instead to steer around potential flashpoints than confront them head on.

But I have had two rows in two years which is probably more than in the whole of the ten years before. Both were conducted by electronic means and this makes me wonder. Is it that as I get older I am more prepared to say what I think rather than sweeping it under the carpet and chuntering in private? Or does the fact that the other party is not there in person make it easier to say what you think without fear of the consequences?

I'm not sure which is true- maybe a little bit of both - but, in this age of electronic communication, it is immediately obvious how easily petty arguments can brew up. Unless you know someone incredibly well and can actually hear the words they type as if they were coming out of their mouth, then it is worryingly easy to misinterpret their comments. An exclamation mark carefully placed to suggest that the comment is made in jest could  accidentally indicate sarcasm. It's not surprising that we have developed a whole language of expressions crafted from punctuation marks in an attempt to ensure that our comments are not misunderstood.

And the speed with which such conversations take place sometimes mean that very little consideration has gone in what has been said. I can honestly say this does not apply to me as I generally think pretty carefully before putting pen to paper but it is easy to fire a response off in anger and much more difficult to retrieve it.

I think I probably do still give confrontation a wide birth but I'd like to think that had the recent conversation happened in the real rather than the virtual world I would have dealt with it in the same way. But we'll never know will we?