Monday, 29 March 2010


It's almost the Easter holidays. Easter is a bit of a strange one if, like me, you don't do church. Four consecutive days that more or less the whole country takes off work. That's longer than Christmas and without the distractions of presents and turkey. It's generally too chilly to do much outside and whatever you think of doing has already been thought of by millions of others so everywhere is packed. Attractions, beaches, stately homes, shopping centres - they are all filled with people trying to have fun together on their long awaited Bank Holiday weekend. Even our humble little town is suddenly full to the gunnels of visitors who pile in by train and bus to fill a few long hours.

So we tend to retreat and eat chocolate and wait for it to pass. A few years ago I had this romantic notion of a country cottage by the sea. I pictured us all on a warm and sunny beach playing French cricket and wearing Boden fleeces. In accordance with my little dream, we booked a recently converted barn in Norfolk. The barn was lovely but we were virtually snowed in for the whole week. It cost us a fortune in entrance fees because that biting Siberian wind prevented more than a few minutes outside at any one time. I had to rustle meals out of nothing because the nearest supermarket was half a day's trek away and there was no Sky box.

Never again, I said to my husband. If ever I start wittering on about country cottages in England at Easter, stop me and remind me of the reality of the situation. He promises that he will.

So this year we will be at home for the Easter weekend. I have bought enough eggs to make a reasonably satisfactory egg hunt that should last at least 20 minutes if I hide the eggs judiciously and I will stock up on those DVDs we keep meaning to watch as a family but never quite do. And it's probably no bad thing as the weather men are predicting yet more snow. I will be able look at it from the comfort of my own sofa and stay inside with a warm drink and a chocolate egg or two. Let the more adventurous types go to cottages in the middle of nowhere. I'm staying put.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


I feel a rant coming on. I try not to rant in general and in my blog in particular. You haven't done me the not inconsiderable courtesy of logging on to have me witter on about something that has got my goat. But today I am cross so I am indulging myself. If you don't want to witness it then look away now.

Parenting is really hard. We all do it differently and yet we all believe that the way we are bringing up our children is both the best that we can do and the best method generally. From time to time, we might suggest to very close friends in carefully chosen terms that there might possibly be another way of skinning the proverbial cat. But in the main, whilst we are happy to criticise the way that other people (who we do not know personally) are acting, our own actions are not in open season for any passing adult to comment on.

So imagine my surprise when a total stranger took it upon themselves to question a parenting decision that my husband and I had discussed at length and are at one on. It's nothing serious and I won't bore you with the details - I know you are dying to hear all about it but general terms will just have to do here.

The stranger, who is connected to me through our children, suggested that our decision was risible. They made me feel like some strange fanatical mad woman as if I were suggesting that my children should only eat beansprouts or wear purple. And when I stuck to my guns and said that this was an important issue to us and that we didn't want it interfering with, she almost laughed at me.

I know I have some ideas that may appear odd to others and that I am uptight about stuff that may seem peculiar but I am consistent in my oddness. My decisions are carefully considered and generally have a high degree of reasoning behind them. To put it frankly, they are our children and it is our responsibility to make decisions about their upbringing. Others may not agree with me but it is not for them to ridicule those decisions or place me in a position where I feel I am having to defend what I believe to a stranger.

Needless to say I will put fail safes in place to ensure that our considered view is protected in the face of attack. But I object to the fact that I feel I need to do so. If I want advice on parenting I will ask for it from people whose opinions I trust and value. Anyone else can keep their thoughts to themselves.

Rant over. Thank you for your tolerance. Normal service will resume shortly.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I've been at it again - hurling myself off cliff tops in pursuit of my dream to fly like a bird. This time it was a pretty big hill - Mount Lachat in the French Alps and 2100 metres above sea level.

Regular readers of my blog may remember how I spent two days in the Yorkshire Dales last summer learning how to paraglide. And I was relatively successful. I flew solo, achieved short flights and got about 100 feet up. However, because of the logistical issues, not least the unpredictability of the English weather, I had resigned myself to this diluted version of the sport being as good as it was going to get for me.

Then I went skiing. As I stood on our balcony looking out at the view, I could see the familiar, crescent shaped wings floating in the middle distance. As luck should have it, our host was himself a keen pilot and he arranged for me to have a tandem flight with a friend of his who was both highly experienced and pretty handsome. Excellent!

The agreed time approached and I was excited. No nerves. It's hard to explain. I am by no means an adrenalin junky. I am not interested in bungee or parachute jumps or even off road cycling. I just want to fly and to me it seems the most natural thing in the world. So as I stood on the mountain waiting for the wind to drop my heart rate barely increased.

And then wind was right and we stepped off the cliff face. Almost at once a thermal swept us up higher and higher. We did a quick flyby so my friends could take a photo and then we were off. I was about 500 metres above the peaks and we sustained our height for about 20 minutes before my pilot brought us gently to the ground on a field in the valley.

So now, with the help of my French friend, I have achieved what I have no hope of doing in England. I have flown higher than the birds and experienced what I dream about night after night. So where next? I had spoken to the club in England about picking up where I left off this summer but I wonder whether that might not be enough now that I have tasted the real McCoy. It might be like scuba diving in a gravel pit when you have experienced the Indian ocean. But then I think that maybe any form of flying, no matter how meagre is better than no flying at all. And who knows? Maybe one day I too will get to qualify and fly the Alps by myself.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


I said I was going skiing. Well, I'm back. I am in one piece and I have had a wonderful time.

Skiing is addictive. Once it's got you in its clutches there is no escape. I had managed to wriggle free for a while but now there's no hope. Not four hours back and already my ski pals and I are planning another trip next year.

It's the combination of spectacular scenery, adrenalin inducing activity and the sheer physical exhaustion at the end of the day that makes it so alluring. It makes you feel alive.

I was scared. It had been a long time since I last went and I had no idea whether I could remember the little that I had learned over previous trips. Also I wasn't sure that my nerve would hold. But it was fine. Within an hour or so I had my ski legs back and my nerve appeared to be intact.

So then I could get on with the job of enjoying myself. We were a group of five women with a variety of loose connections. Some of us had children the same age, others played in the same rounders team and we all live in Ilkley, a town where the seven steps removed theory can be reduced to three. That said, I didn't really know any of my fellow travellers. This was one of the things that appealed to me about the trip. I liked the idea of spending time with people who were a blank canvas to me. So much to learn and no preconceived ideas to colour your outlook.

When we weren't skiing, we spent our time talking and laughing. We shared stories about our day of course but also about our lives. I can't remember ever spending so much time with people that I knew so little about. And it was really liberating. I enjoyed listening to how they had spent their college days, where they met their husbands and how they had earned a crust. And most refreshing of all, no one really talked about their children because that was the bit that we did know about each other.

So we are planning to go again. Next time the skiing will be a given - no need to worry about that any more. And I know that we will all get along - we even have some in jokes to share. Meeting new friends is one of the most exciting things in life and I relish it.

Monday, 15 March 2010


I have been having an interesting and somewhat heated debate with my husband which was prompted by a storyline that is currently running in The Archers. Is it acceptable for a woman to have a baby by IVF if she has no partner and no intention of getting one?

It is an emotive subject for me as a woman because there, but by the grace of God, go I. I was fortunate to meet my soul mate at precisely the time in my life when I was looking for one. We then followed the traditional path - we got married and had children.

But what if I hadn't met someone? What if I had found myself in my mid or late thirties with no partner and my biological clock ticking so loudly that I couldn't ignore it?

This is the very situation that Helen Archer finds herself in and she has decided, albeit for slightly complicated reasons, to go ahead and have a child on her own. And so follows our debate. Is it selfish to bring a child into a single parent family intentionally, knowing how hard that will be on the parent, their friends and family and potentially the child? Or will a child born in those circumstances be offered more opportunities because a decision about their birth has been so very carefully considered in advance?

Surely, as so many children are brought up beautifully by single parents, it is accceptable to start out with that intention. Is it any better to have an absent father (and I assume here that it would be the mother who would do the parenting although I know that that isn't always the case) who leaves post-birth than no father at all? It's not ideal, I can see that. Bringing up a child is incredibly difficult when there are two parents to share the burden. It must be almost unimaginably hard by yourself. But should that difficulty prohibit someone from trying?

I think my husband and I disagree because of something that I believe he cannot feel or understand - the hormonal drive to have a child which in some women is amazingly strong. If I had not had my traditional set up, I suspect that I would have thought very long and hard about going it alone. But I am not sure that I would have been able to accept that being a mother was not for me. And with that in mind, I cannot dismiss the actions of Helen Archer as those of a selfish woman, even though her motives may be suspect.

Fortunately for me, it was not a theory that I have had to test. But if my girls came to me with a similar dilemma I think I would try to support them.

Of course, The Archers isn't real. ( No, honestly, it isn't!)But it is a real enough issue for plenty of people and it gave me something different to think about on Mothering Sunday.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


I am going skiing next week. I haven't been since 1996. I fear the worst.

I never skied as a child although I attended all the ski fit classes at school. Twice a week in the gym for six weeks before the school skiing trip departed. Not going but attending all the training. Strange child.

Anyway, I first got the opportunity to hit the slopes in 1990 when, after a couple of post work gin and tonics I agreed that it might be a laugh and got press ganged into going. We were a mixed bunch. There were some pretty competent skiers amongst us and then about five ski virgins. I borrowed and begged kit and off we went to Serre Chevalier.

I found the whole thing mysterious. I had no idea what skiing entailed. Fortunately, one of our number liked to be in control and so, for once, I just did as I was told. I collected boots, skis and poles and struggled down the snowy street to the chalet wondering if I couldn't bag myself a fit chap to carry them for me. I never did.

Day one. Ski school. Surly but handsome French instructor. Lots of giggling and side stepping up hills. I had thought I was supposed to be going downhill but hey, what did I know? And after a whole morning of ski school, we decided that we were competent enough to come down the mountain from the very top. I know! The innocence of youth. We did get down but it was touch and go a couple of times. We skied in to the village and made for the first bar we could see. My, that mulled wine tasted good.

By the time I skied my last in 1996 I wasn't bad. Not terribly stylish but competent and quite fast. I didn't fall much and when I did I just bounced back up.

Then children put my skiing on hold until I got an invitation on facebook to join a group of women to go this year. After marital negotiations I said I'd go. And now it is more or less upon me. So, how do I feel? Nervous mainly. It's been a long time so I hope the actual act of skiing is like riding a bike. But mainly I fear for my nerve. Is it still in tact or has it wandered off in a post childbirth, too many responsibilities kind of stupor?

I think I'll be fine. The thing I love the most about skiing is the feeling of space and freedom and that won't have gone anywhere. Sunbathing on a snow covered mountain is one of my favourite dichotomies. And I did paraglide last year ( and plan to again soon) so how scary can it be?

So watch this space for apres ski analysis and I will tell all. Let's hope I'm not in pot!


Friday, 12 March 2010


I went on a course yesterday. Are courses of any use? Discuss. Depends on the course I suppose but work related ones aren't always fit for purpose.

As a solicitor, I have to ensure that I keep my cutting edge, razor sharp, up to the minute intellect totally on message by demonstrating, through the collection of Continuing Professional Development points, that I have attended relevant courses. So I do attend courses. I'm not sure what would happen if I didn't. The Law Society would probably come after me with a big dog and some kind of gun or take away my practising certificate ( which is more likely.)

Actually, yesterday's course - "An Update on Employment Law" - which had a selection of eminent speakers and some mighty fine Danish pastries, was quite useful and enjoyable. I got to sit and chat to my boss/mate as we drove there and, as you know, I don't get out much.

When I had a real job I had mixed feelings about courses. At the beginning, when I was fresh faced, excited and eager to learn, I lapped them up. And this was the nineties. There was a course for everything. Law, team building, (my boss was always too busy), time management (my boss was always too busy), health and safety, key board skills. You name it, we wasted money on it.

Sometimes we had to go in a big gaggle to London on the train and that was seriously good fun. Twice a year they sent us on a residential course which could have been more aptly named " Who can behave really badly on the first night, miss most of the lectures because they can't cope with confined spaces and the smell of breakfast and then slink off early because they had a better offer?" Obviously I never behaved like that. I was a model student.

Then I grew older and wiser and the point of courses started to slip passed me. I was far less willing to give up my own time. Courses need to be in the office, in working hours and not too long or I would find a suitable excuse.

After I had children and worked four days a week, courses became the bane of my life. "I want the whole team to attend the Employment Lawyers Association training session on some esoteric and totally irrelevant point of law so that I can show my competitors just have much strength in depth I have and how dedicated and controlled my team are."

My boss never actually put it quite like that but his meaning was clear. I was the only girl in my team and the only parent. Try mentioning that nursery closes at 6.30 and if I don't leave bang on 5.30 I have no hope of retrieving my children for the night. Not to be recommended. When it got to the point that I was going to the courses, massively over compensating for my part time capacity and my male colleagues were sitting at their desks to make up for wandering around looking important during the working day, I left.

I looked around the room yesterday. Not one of them had a job like mine and I don't think anyone except me truly wanted to be there. And I listened and I learned some new stuff and had old stuff confirmed and I came away tired but satisfied in the full knowledge that I will have forgotten it all by next week and will have to look it up if anyone asks me. But at least I have my CPD points.

Monday, 8 March 2010


I have just had a lovely, girly day out. A brand new hotel in County Durham with a beautiful and well thought through Spa complex. Ideal. Just what was required to recharge batteries and remind me that as well as wife, mother, housewife, lawyer and taxi driver I am also Imogen Clark.

Sometimes it is great to just stop and let's face it, there's not much activity in a spa. By the time you have wandered between sauna, steam room and pool you've just about covered it. Actually this one had an igloo too - a little blue room with a machine that produced endless quantities of ice grit used to improve the circulation. So the main focus of the day was chatting and relaxing.

The women that I went with are friends of old. We all qualified together back in 1991and have tried to spend time together ever since. We have been through training, weddings, divorces and children together and whilst we don’t see each other as regularly as we used to, within seconds of being in the same place it’s as if we have never been apart.

One of the joys of being with people that you know well is not having to conform. If we want to chat we do. If we want to read we do. If we want to go off by ourselves for a while no one thinks it’s odd. Anything goes. This is something born of long and trusted friendship. We never argue but if we did that would be fine too because whatever it was would be resolved before we got home.

So probably what makes a trip like that really relaxing is not the sitting around doing nothing although that helps. It’s the freedom of being able to do exactly as you please without fear of upsetting someone. It is the ultimate selfish experience.

We have tried all kinds of activities from full weeks away to wandering around a garden centre but in the end whatever we choose to do we will come back relaxed because it’s not about what we do but the people that we do it with. And that’s what real friendship is all about.

Monday, 1 March 2010


"I'm having a party."
Ooh great.
"It's fancy dress."

Actually the last two fancy dress parties that I have attended, both celebrating 40th birthdays, have been lovely. But fancy dress really isn't my bag.

If I'm totally honest, I'm not good at parties generally. I find groups of more than six people terribly intimidating. I would rather pull my own toe nails out than start up a conversation with someone I know nothing about. I find men downright scary, having almost no point of reference with them unless they are married to someone I know and even then I struggle to think of things to say. And I don't drink so as the party progresses and tongues loosen, I find myself in the quietest place, looking at my watch and longing for my bed.

I make myself sound like a proper misery guts and I really don't think I am. If I know plenty of people and I can dance at a do, then I'm happy as a sand boy.

Fancy dress hooks into all these feelings. If I want to go to a party then I need to provide myself with appropriate armour. In my case this is finding self confidence from feeling that I have scrubbed up well. And I really can't do that dressed as an elf or a hippy or whatever it happens to be.

And then I never know what to wear. I have a remarkable lack of imagination - or at least I have in the run up to the party. After the event, the ideas for possible outfits come thick and fast. But as the date approaches my panic mounts. I think of something that it is straightforward to achieve, that will allow me to preserve a level of dignity and by extension confidence and then sort it.

I know that I should really lighten up, throw myself into these events with more gusto, let my hair down, risk a hangover and all that normal stuff. But the older I get and the greater my understanding of my own psyche becomes, the more I realise that there is little point in turning myself into something that I am not just in case I might be missing out. Give me a small group of women that I know well and I'm perfectly content. And let's face it, it's not hard to orchestrate that kind of do. I have never been a party animal and unless something most peculiar happens, I never will be. And that is just fine by me.