Saturday, 28 August 2010


I love the way that things change. It keeps me on my toes. I think I know how things lie and then suddenly, I don't. It's always happening to me. I work out what I think is appropriate for my children to do and then they grow up and I have to have a rethink. I make a judgement about someone and then they do something that I didn't anticipate and I have to have another look. It's just life but it stops the mundane taking over.

But the changes that I like the best are the ones that sneak up on me and take me by complete surprise. For example, I had decided that I would never have a job working as a solicitor again but before I know it I'm waving my practising certificate and strutting off to meetings. I spent years saying that I am not built to run, had a go and have found that it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

The most recent development is a biggie and, if all goes to plan, will make a significant difference to my life for the foreseeable future. This time last year I was about to embark on a creative writing course at the Open University. Until then, I couldn't imagine studying anything again. I suspect that this was as a reaction to all those relentless years in education in my youth and later it was because my post birth brain was mush leaving me unable to focus on anything more complicated than Coronation Street.

But I completed my little course and loved it so I started scouting around for something else to do. Some time in the spring I hit upon a wide based arts course which looked interesting. It was a larger course than the previous one and would take up more of my time but my appetite to learn was well and truly whetted and on the basis that the more you have to do the faster you run, I threw caution to the wind and signed up. And that was it for a bit. I was happy with my choice and I thought it would keep me busy through the long winter months.

And then came the change. The course that I picked is a compulsory course on a number of the arts and humanities degree courses. And suddenly, from nowhere, my course designed simply to keep me out of mischief, became the first step to a BA (Hons). If you had said to me this time last year that I would be embarking on a second degree I would sniggered. Despite the fact that I have always harboured a desire to study English literature and history, it never crossed my mind that I might actually do it. But then two years ago I could never conceive of my having a job, writing a novel, joining a choir, paragliding and a whole host of other stuff that just seems to have happened to me.

So, although I haven't started yet, I am planning to be a student for the next six years. It seemed an awfully long time until I calculated that by the time I graduate my youngest will still only be 12 and I can't imagine much changing in my life between now and then. But then I've said that before. Long live change!

Thursday, 26 August 2010


I am gradually taking over my little corner of the house by stealth. Softly, softly catchee monkey. No one seems to have noticed the subtle but continuous process of change that is under way. You will recall that I started with my metre square desk in a corner of the lean to off the kitchen. The desk has been in situ for about nine months and I honestly can't remember what was in this spot before. Next came the shelves. Nothing grand - just three little floating shelves on the dead space above my square metre. On my shelves I put baskets because I am a girl. In my baskets there is stationery. More proof, should proof be needed, that this space belongs to a woman.

After that came the plants. There is a ridiculously over sized and over thirsty spider plant, sired from a pup that I stole from a holiday cottage in the Cotswolds. It drapes itself over the corner of the room like a curtain, sometimes curling up in disgust when I forget to water it. Then I acquired a mini orchid in a white ceramic pot. Its flowers look up at me like cheerful faces, encouraging me on in my endeavours.

Pictures next. A digital photo frame that my husband bought me for Christmas, a favourite snap of me and my son exploring Florence and some tiny shots of me paragliding above Mont Blanc last March to remind myself that there is a world outside these four walls.

This week I acquired a midget noticeboard on which I have pinned some reproduction French carte postales from the Thirties. Yesterday I waited in all afternoon for the delivery of a radiator. My corner is in the only unheated room in the house and last winter I knitted myself some fingerless gloves to wear whilst I typed and wrapped myself in blankets so that only my fingers and nose peeped out. No need for those this winter I hope.

And I haven't finished yet although I have to make sure I don't get too carried away. I have my eye on a new rug as the floor is just boards. Once I choose a colour theme then I may splash out on some new cushions for the tiny two seater sofa that shares the space with me. If I'm feeling really brave I may even paint the walls when no one is looking.

It's pathetic really the affinity that I am building with this tiny spot. The rest of the house is lovely and I spend more time in it than any other member of my family so its not like I'm short of space. But this little corner is where the magic is going to happen and I want it to be just perfect.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Something strange is happening to me. It's something that I have never before encountered but I'm liking it. I keep thinking that I should pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming.

I am entering the fifth week of the summer holidays and I am calm. I have not had to raise my voice much. My house is not reminiscent of the Corporation tip. I have not had to resort to locking myself in the loo with a bar of Galaxy just to get through the afternoon. Life is sweet.

The school summer holiday is a double edged sword. I love that everything stops. I don't have to race out of bed at the crack of dawn and scream my way through the morning routine. If everyone is still in their jimjams at 11 'o clock that's fine. Who cares? I can stop juggling the after school activities around each other, grabbing food where we can. Life takes on a much more sedate pace and is much the better for it.

However, it also means weeks of time yawning out in front of us waiting to be filled. The house is constantly full of children with the attendant mess. The kitchen resembles a 24 hour diner with a constant stream of snacks and meals being required despite my protestations. And the part that I find the hardest of all, I am never on my own. My life becomes subject to almost constant interruption so that everything takes twice as long to achieve.

In previous years, somewhere about now I have been reduced to telling my offspring that I can no longer stand it and that I am going to have to leave. I witter on at length about how it is not fair that I have to spend the whole holiday picking things up, sounding more like one of my errant children than a responsible adult. I scream and cry and stamp my feet and start counting down the days to the school gates reopening round about week four.

But this year it's all going well. I have to admit that I'm bored but that aside things are fine. The children are all getting along well. The big two come and go with various friends in tow, either sleeping here or not as the mood takes them. The little ones play endless and incredibly complicated games that I neither understand nor am invited to join. Every so often they fall out and I have to listen to their woes, pass judgement and then off they go again.

I will accept that it's not the most exciting holiday. I can count the number of trips out on the fingers of one hand but the children are happiest just being at home. They are not interested in going anywhere in the car, only wanting to leave the house if they can walk to our destination.

I wonder whether this is a product of their ages at the moment and so is unlikely to be repeated. Maybe next year they will have drifted apart and will need more entertaining? Who knows? All I can say is that for this year at least the summer holiday is not proving to be the ordeal that it usually is and for that I am eternally grateful. Still, there are another two weeks to go. Plenty of time for s
disaster to strike.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Yesterday, I met up with someone that I haven't really had any contact with for nearly 30 years. As I had breakfast with my family and we made plans for the day ahead, I told my children where I was going. The younger two didn't bat an eyelid. But the elder two were interested and slightly worried for me. "Are you nervous? What if you don't get on? Will it be awkward? What will you talk about?"

These were all valid and intelligent questions about issues that I might have worried about at one time. They, with their young heads, are just starting to feel their way tentatively around the minefield that is social interaction. I am old and experienced and have enough social weaponry in my armoury to get me through most awkward situations.

But of course I didn't share their concerns in this case. Yes, it had been a huge number of years since I had seen my friend but I knew that we still had plenty in common to see us through a day of conversation. In fact, and rather strangely, I think we have more in common now than we did then.

Back in the day, she was my best friend's older sister. She flitted in and out of my life, usually around when I was at their house but never really spending any time with us. She was sharp and funny and pretty and I was slightly in awe of her in the way that teenage girls can be of someone who is that little bit further on in the complicated process of growing up.

Then I moved house and for a few years my friendship and consequently the connection with the family stayed strong in spite of the miles between us. My friend and I visited each other, went on holiday together, wrote endless letters and spoke on the phone. My connection with her sister was reduced to learning big pieces of news only.

And then work, marriages, children all took over our lives and my relationship with my friend dwindled to Christmas cards only. Ever pragmatic and seeing the obvious difficulties of keeping every relationship alive with their former vigour, I let it go.

But then a year ago, the big sister popped up on my facebook page and we began to tentatively strike up a friendship. We discovered that over the years our lives had taken similar paths. Both lawyers, both with daughters, both a dab hand with a Kitchen Aid. It is hard to develop a relationship through two line comments but it seemed to happen with ease. The obvious next step was to meet which we did yesterday.

I had a great day. There was no reason why it should be tricky. We had thirty years of news to share and that alone could have taken the whole day. But also we seemed to have found the embryonic beginnings of a friendship in its own right. We discussed feeling slightly disloyal about meeting without her sister, who was the reason that we had ever crossed each other's paths. But it felt to me as if each of them will play a different role in my life. Her sister was my closest friend in those important teenage years, the one with whom I grew up and shared all my new experiences. Now that we are adults, it is the elder sister with whom I seem to have things in common.

I would dearly love to see my first friend again and hope that some day I will but I will also enjoy nurturing this new friendship because that is how life turns out sometimes. When I got home, my girls asked again. "How was it? Was it awkward?"
"No," I replied. "It was lovely."

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


It's nearly my birthday. If you lived here you would know that because I am taking every opportunity to mention it. It entertains me to tell my family a couple of times a week that my birthday is fast approaching lest they forget it. I am reminded of my birthday each time the 14th of the month comes round. (I wonder if that happens to everyone but I suspect not.)However, I only drop it into conversation early in the year if it's a significant month: quarter birthday, half.

But as the big day approaches I get more wanton with my reminders. "It's my birthday two months today!" I chirp. My family smile indulgently at me. They are used to it.

I have always liked birthdays. Not just mine but the birthdays of anyone close to me. I like to mark the passing of time, make sure that people know they are thought of on their special day. Sometimes it is but thought that they get but that is, as they say, what counts.

After my children were born I began to play that game that mothers play. As each anniversary of their birth came round I would say to my husband, "Just think. Two years ago we were in the hospital. Can you believe how time has flown?" It occurred to me not long ago that my own mother probably does the same thing - it's just that the numbers are bigger.

And the number is pretty big this year. Forty four. Not one to make a song and dance over but worthy of note nonetheless. In my head, I plan celebrations for myself of varying degrees of extravagance and expense. A large party with caterers for everyone that I have come into contact with during the course of the year. A smaller house party for close friends with nibbles. Dinner out with a gang in a restaurant. A drink with a handful of close friends. Coffee and cake with a chosen chum. Where the plan settles depends on how I was feeling at the moment that I dared too commit myself to something and invite others to attend. This year I was feeling brave the day the plan became dinner out.

Because, whilst I go on and on about my birthday to my family like an eight year old, for weeks in advance until I drive them all potty, actually I don't really want much fuss. I'm not keen on being the centre of attention. I don't need masses of thoughtful gifts and cards to have an enjoyable birthday, although they are lovely to receive . I am happy to make my own cake. I would actually be quite content to spend the bulk of the day on my own and I often do.

I suspect it's more about making sure that I am remembered and not taken for granted.
Mentioning my birthday ad nauseam guarantees that I make myself the focus of my world for at least one day a year and I take pleasure from the planning of celebrations that I have no intention of seeing through to fruition. It's all part of that dream world that I inhabit so much of the time.

So I am now counting down and shamelessly dropping hints about nothing in particular because there's nothing I particularly need or want. My birthday will come and go quietly as it always does but there's no danger of it being overlooked!

Sunday, 15 August 2010


There's been something amiss in my house this week. It took me a while to work out what was lacking. All children present and correct. Ironing board in situ. Laptop up and running. So what was the problem?

No flowers. I always have flowers in my house and this week there have been none. When I thought about it, I realised that there were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, we had been away. Flowers do not survive holidays and so were all cleared away before we left to save me coming back to piles of sad and shrivelled petals. Secondly, Sainsbury's had moved its flower display so I walked right past them when I was doing the weekly shop and finally, the sweet peas that I cut from the garden had all faded without there being any more ready to cut.

I love flowers in my house. Nothing grand. Some freesias, a few gerberas, maybe a lily or two. Somehow they connect the inside with the outside so even if it's overcast and damp outside I can pretend that I have just wandered in from my garden, trug in hand and beautifully arranged some freshly cut blooms artfully in a jug.

That said, apart from the aforementioned sweet peas, I never cut flowers from the garden for the house. This is partly because my garden is not yet mature enough to have large drifts of flowers to cut and partly because flowers look so much more beautiful and last so much longer in their natural habitat. I have thought about growing flowers specifically to cut but have decided against it because I know that I will never be able to bring myself to chop them down.

I adore flowers but it's not just me is it? As all men know, most women go weak at the knees for a bouquet. We can't help ourselves. Even though we know that the quantity of flowers is usually in direct proportion to the level of guilt prompting their purchase we can't help but be delighted. Large bouquet. Heinous crime. And yet, we still gasp in gratitude when the delivery man knocks on the door.

Strangely though, you can have too much of a good thing. One year my husband sent me a massive bouquet on the 14th of every month. It started out as a bit of a game. January - thank you for Christmas. February - Valentine's Day. March - my half birthday. By the time it got to June I was taking the arrival of my flowers for granted. By September I was beginning to think that it would be better to have a few flowers each week rather than lots all at once which then died leaving me without for a week. Talk about fickle. In the end, I had to tell him that I didn't want to sound ungrateful but that little bunches now and then would be just as, if not more, appreciated.

I think it was the predictability of the flowers' arrival that took away their magic. They weren't any less beautiful because they were expected but most of the delight for me is in the surprise of receiving them. So today I shall go and buy myself cut flowers. I have tried with flowering plants, which ought to have the same effect on me but somehow never do. It has to be cut flowers in a vase but then I'm a happy girl.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


It's been a month since I last mentioned my little book, the pinnacle of my childhood dreams and focus of my leisure time. I have decided to make it my policy to refer to it at fairly regular intervals. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as one of the main eaters up of my day, it makes sense to mention it from time to time in this chronicle of my life. But secondly and crucially, if I keep telling people about it, it makes it much more difficult for me to abandon it when the going gets tough. Whilst I am by nature a completer/finisher, I am much more likely to live up to my title if the alternative is having to admit that I didn't complete or finish. Too much pride to give up when everyone knows what I'm up to.

So, now you understand my somewhat warped reasoning, on to the task in hand. Well, so far so good. After taking the wherewithal to write with me to France, I spent a peaceful hour or so each morning typing away before breakfast as the warm sun leisurely popped its head above the surrounding trees. This boost in productivity meant that I managed to get to the end of my story except for writing the actual conclusion which, as yet, alludes me.

So now I have returned to the beginning to tackle draft two. It's about six months or so since I started with my handful of characters and bare idea of a plot. In that time, my characters have developed, moved on from where they began. I have had more chance to see how they speak, how they think, how they respond to those around them. So going back to the beginning is allowing me to flesh out the early descriptions, give more back story which hopefully will help explain to the reader why they are as they are. Now that I know what makes them tick, it's easier to think of reasons why they tick that way.

Also, the story has changed. Ideas that featured towards the beginning of the first draft were abandoned later on when they did fit with what came after. Suggestions have been left undeveloped, little roads to nowhere in the text. Whole scenes, which were designed to lead the reader in a particular direction, are now redundant and so have to be cut or altered to fit where the story actually went. Minor characters have gained and lost partners or children where necessary for the purposes of the plot and all those inconsistencies need fixing.

Despite all this chopping and changing, my four main personalities remain fundamentally as I originally imagined them and for this I am grateful. It gives me the foundations that I need to build everything else and without them I would be lost with nowhere to go.

So on we march. I am certainly not writing a Booker prize winner, more a gentle page turner but that's a good place to start. My confidence in my own abilities ebbs and flows with each day that passes. Last night I dreamt that a friend had written a book, found a publisher and had it in the shops whilst I had been penning draft one. And it was a brilliant book. I was very relieved to wake and realise that it wasn't true, delighted that my nocturnal inadequacies were not based on truth.

So there you have it. It still has no title, by the way. The front sheet just says "My Unnamed Book." Still, there's no rush. I can't imagine that I'll be finished any time soon.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Packing. Chasing round the house collecting all essential items that each member of the family might conceivably need during two weeks in a foreign country. Of course, there are shops abroad but it is a personal challenge not to forget anything. An unpleasant and slightly stressful task but one that holds as its reward a holiday.

Unpacking. Washing, ironing and putting away all the essential elements of the holiday, all so carefully thought of and gathered. An unpleasant and not in the least bit stressful task but one that holds as its reward... well. Nothing really. Just putting things back in their rightful place so that someone can wear, soil and discard them again later.

So I stare at my post holiday ironing pile and wonder, as I do each year, why we ended up taking all that stuff? How much of it was actually required? How much it was actually even worn?

Every year it's the same. I decide that we don't need much. We have a washing machine so we we can wash as we go, thus reducing our need still further. Of course there are six of us so even the bare minimum requires a couple of bags and what we can take is also limited by what we can carry and how much we can realistically get in to the minuscule boot of a seven seater car.

But even then I hope that what we take can be reduced. I make little piles of clothes for each child, trying to cover all eventualities. We tend to travel towards the sun so the weather isn't an influencing factor. But they need costumes and shorts and t shirts and a couple of things to wear when we go out in the evening. And I am the same. Some variety for the photos but little required. Economical shoe choices and a couple of neutral pieces of jewellery.

But then there are the towels - six beach towels take up some space. Suncream for six, cameras, endless chargers and plugs, things to ward off mosquitoes and dozens of books. And suddenly, there we are again. Back to four bags just like last year.

The difficulty is always that until you have had your holiday you are never entirely sure what you might need. This year and with the benefit of hindsight I know that the kids wore almost no clothes during the day and that we ate out at lunchtimes and not in the evenings so all smart clothes were redundant. I suppose this year I packed for last year's holiday where we shared a pool with other famililies and ate out at a local pizzeria rather than barbecuing on our own.

So as I do battle with the pile of things that need repatriating in their various wardrobes, I need to remember what I did wrong this year and store that knowledge up for next year, when, no doubt the holiday will be different again and yet again I will pack too much stuff.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Some time in May I developed a sore patch of skin on my chin. Hormones, I assumed and waited for it to go away. Then we had a break at Centre Parcs and not surprisingly a week of chlorine did my patch no favours at all. It was larger and redder and sore.

When we got back from the Lakes, I took to the Internet and did that most fatal of all things, a google search. I peered at all manner of skin diseases and ailments until I was sure that I had identified the one that was afflicting me. Perioral Dermatitis. Effects women mainly, cause not entirely clear, treatment no face creams on make up on the affected area and antibiotics for two months. I looked at the pictures and I looked at my chin. No. It couldn't be. Surely?

I took myself off to the GP feeling like a fraud. I explained about my non illness and thrust my chin forward to allow diagnosis. He mentioned a type of dermatitis and prescribed a mild steriod cream. "The one that says in block capitals DO NOT USE ON FACE," I asked and we laughed at the things that pharmaceutical companies have to put on their products to protect themselves.

"It couldn't be perioral dermatitis?" I almost whisper, not wanting to insult the GP or suggest that my twenty minutes on the Internet was in any way the equivalent of six years at medical school and countless years of experience. "No," he assured me.

So I left with my prescription, delighted that I didn't have something that need a prolonged course of antibiotics. But a month later my chin was no better and whatever it was was spreading round my mouth and eyes.

I went back to the doctors' and, through the vagaries of the appointment system, saw someone else. He looked at my face and looked at his screen. "Perioral dermatitis," he said. "Antibiotics for two months and be careful what you put on your skin."

The point of this story is not to criticise the GP. It's a difficult job and he hadn't had the benefit of hours spent comparing my skin with the hideous photos on the Internet. No, it's how it makes me feel that interests me. I am devasted. The skin on my chin is now only lumpy and no longer red but the skin around my eyes is bright red, puckered, sore and downright flaky. Check out my photo and see for yourself. In fact, I look positively reptilian and I am relieved that I have a genuine excuse to wear sunglasses a lot ( being on holiday and all.)

But really I feel as if someone has taken part of me away. I have never really thought of myself as particularly vain and yet I quite clearly am. I am obviously so shallow that a slight blemishing of my skin leaves me distraught. There will be very few holiday photos of me this year because I look so awful. And old.

So there we have it. I am as vain as a peacock. But is that really so difficult to understand? So much in life is based on first impressions and much of the impact that we make on others depends on how we feel within ourselves. Girls all know how almost anything can be achieved on a good hair day. I don't feel like me and so consequently the rest of my life is affected.

I'm hoping that by the end of my treatment I will be back to normal although I fear for my eyes. At almost 44 I need all the help I can get in that department. And in the meantime I shall skulk around in the background of my life hoping that no one looks directly at me.

Monday, 2 August 2010


The children want a cat. Notwithstanding the apparent reticence that my husband and I were displaying at this suggestion, they spent the whole of lunchtime discussing and ultimately arguing about what this fictional cat/cats will be called. It now has a first and second name (assuming it is male) and various nicknames. It's colouration is as yet undetermined but the positioning of its bed has been finalized.

There will not be a cat. Or a dog or indeed any other household pet once our aged guinea pigs finally shuffle off this mortal coil. It's not like the children have been deprived of animal company. We have had fish, a selection of rabbits, the aforementioned guinea pigs and some chickens. We even had a cat. But we have decided that there will be no more when the current incumbents die.

It's always the same where pets are concerned. Lots of nagging by the children to achieve their heart's desire. Then there is an initial period of enthusiasm when the pet arrives. The children develop a whole new sense of responsibility. They play with it, feed it and clean it out without being nagged and I am tricked into thinking that having a pet is fine and wonder why I held back for such a long time?

And then I remember as I traipse across the lawn in the pouring rain to fed said pets, bring them in at night, shovel their cage clean. (Obviously I wanted to phrase that slightly differently but there may be children reading.)

Another reason for having pets, apparently, is to prepare the child for dealing with death and grieving. In my experience, the grieving period lasts for about twenty minutes and then the pet is forgotten and they are already nagging for a replacement. I don't really buy into that "Pets are good for kids" thing.

Actually, and this is just between you and me, I would like another cat. Max, my first cat, came with me as part of the package when I got married. Following the well rehearsed cliché, I acquired a cat when I bought my first house. A pretty tabby with slightly stumpy legs and a gentle temperament, she came to me courtesy of the Wharfedale branch of Cats in Need. She followed me around, never really warming to my husband or each additional child and brought me little presents, both dead and alive as cats are wont to do. She died when she was 17 and I have missed her ever since.

So why not give into the children and get a new one? Because a new cat will be all cheeky and mischievous, will claw the furniture and pee in the bath and bring mice in for breakfast. When I was young and single that kind of stuff was endearing but now it is just another thing that I have to clear up and sort out. But more than that, if cat mark II lives to be 17, my youngest child will be 24 and hopefully gone. Do I really want to still have pets when I could be jetting off around the world spending the children's inheritance? Whilst when I got Max I didn't really look much further ahead than the next weekend, now I can see a cat cramping my post children freedom.

That thought process is ridiculous. I know it is. To not get a long living pet because of what may or may not happen in its potential lifespan shows a degree of control that even I balk at. But fortunately, I do not need to question my dodgy judgement because my husband has put the complete kibosh on it. He doesn't want a cat and that is that. I can hide behind his decision and not question the sanity of mine.

The kids will get over it. No doubt there will be something else that they can't live without along soon enough. A dog maybe? Or a horse? I think not.