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?