Sunday, 30 January 2011


I have nothing to wear.

Not literally of course. My  wardrobe is full of stuff. I also have a couple of boxes under my bed filled with 'off season' things and a slight overflow into an as yet unrequired hanging space in one of the children's rooms. There are plenty of clothes. But I have nothing to wear.

Now, as every self respecting woman will know, this phrase can be interpreted in a number of ways. For me there are generally two translations that fit the bill.

The first is that I have nothing to wear because I am going to a particular occasion and none of my existing wardrobe is suitable. There are plenty of reasons why this might be. It might be a smart affair to which a certain level of dressiness is required. It might be an outing with a group of people that I have been out with in recent memory thus necessitating an alternative outfit. Or it maybe that what is there has unfavourable memories or connotations and won't give my self confidence the much needed boost to get me through the evening.

These problems are relatively rare and not to difficult to resolve. I seldom go anywhere that requires a degree of smart (which is why the difficulty arises in the first place.) This means that if such an occasion is looming in the diary, I usually have plenty of time to think it through and work out what might look nice with what. I can decide what can be tarted up with some new statement jewellery or different heels. Problem relatively easily resolved.

But the second 'I have nothing to wear' moment strikes most days at the moment. It could quite justifiably be rebranded as 'I have nothing that I fancy wearing.' Because we have reached that stage in the season when everything I own has been pretty much worn to death. Nothing still has the frisson of being new. No single item still retains the power to make me feel good when I put it on. The lovely little knitted gilets that were so beguiling when I bought them in September are now a bit bobbly, and my arms, not benefiting from their woolliness, get cold. My new Winter jeans are faded at the knee and I really am too old for the leggings that I bought in a nostalgic moment of madness.

I'm bored. I would dearly love something new to relieve the tedium. A little jaunt round the shops to chase away the mid Winter blues would be just the ticket. But my sensible head says that I should  save my pennies and wait for the turn of the season. If I buy Spring clothes in February not only will I look slightly odd and freeze but then when Spring actually arrives I'll be bored of those too.

I know that it's shallow and girly to measure my mood by the age of my clothes but let's face it. If you feel good then you have a better day. Your hair sits right, your eyeliner behaves, your skin looks fresher. I know it's psycholoical but it's January and I need all the boosts I can get.

Maybe one little shopping trip to buy a new top or two wouldn't hurt. After all the way I look at it is that if I'm happy then the house is happy. And anyway, I have nothing to wear!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


A while ago, I got an email inviting me to a talk after school. It was a subject that I was interested in but it was on a Tuesday night. Tuesdays are hectic in my house. Seven children's activities plus husband's guitar and my tutorials to factor in. I put the meeting into the "Too difficult" box and closed the lid on it.

Last week I got a reminder but things had, as they are wont to do, moved on. Now all four children would be at a rehearsal at the same place at the same time and so, delighted that something had worked in my favour, I skipped off up to school. It was ominously dark when I got there. I hung around in my car for a few minutes and then decided that all was not right. So I drove home, checked the email and, lo and behold. Next Tuesday.

I'd like to say that this was a one off. This morning my car needed taking to the garage for its MOT. I knew that. We discussed it breakfast. The arrangements were all in hand. So why, when my husband texted me at 9.30 was the car still sitting in the drive?

I know what it looks like. Mid forties, memory starting to slide. But in my own defence I really don't think that it is. It has far more to do with the vast amount of information that I have to carry around with me.

It's the same for all busy mums. We run not just our own complicated existence but those of our children and, in some cases, our husband's too. Four busy kids is no mean feat. When you add in my housewifely duties and the bits and pieces that I do for myself, it's hardly surprising that sometimes things slip off the end.

I remember whist revising for my 'A' levels how frustrating I found it that I could instantly recite the lyric of virtually every song I had ever heard but struggled to recall quotations from my set texts. That could hardly be put down to my age.

I don't forget everything. The week in week out stuff is fairly safe. But the elder two will sidle into the kitchen and mention half arranged plans for parties and sleepovers and I half listen because I'm cooking and I know that most of these things never come off anyway. And then suddenly it's the party and the arrangements fall down because there is no one free to taxi them. "But I told you!" they cry indignantly. And they did but somehow the full implications of  what they have said haven't registered and I have temporarily overlooked that I cannot be in two places or once.

Alternatively I slip into default setting. "Can I...?" "No." No doesn't necessarily mean that the activity is unachievable. It generally means "I cannot take any more information in, process it and reach an appropriate decision at the moment." And then later, when I have thought about the ramifications of the plan, I may change my mind and say yes. But that is rubbish! 'Mum always says no but then she changes her mind so we'll just nag until she does.' That's not it at all. It just takes Mum time to think the new plan through and match it up with all the existing plans. Perhaps I should alter the default setting to 'Maybe'?

It does worry me. Turning up to a meeting a week early is irritating but not important. The car is in the garage now. No problem. But what if the thing to slip off the pile is more important. A court deadline for work? Something that means a lot to one of the children but which gets accidentally overlooked? Some things are not quite so easily fixed.

There's nothing that I can do about the busyness. Our house is hectic. That is just a fact of life. But somehow I have to devise a better system to catch the things that are out of the ordinary, that sneak under the radar because they are one off events. A bigger diary? A bigger wall chart? A bigger memory!

Sunday, 23 January 2011


Waiting in the supermarket. Not much to do but wait. My selection of groceries is balancing precariously on the conveyor belt. I've tried to give a semblance of order to assist with its eventual packing. Cold stuff together. Boxes together. Fruit and veg stuff together. And now I just have to wait.

My eye casts round for something to distract me. The shop is full of the usual Sunday shoppers. Mothers who have popped in for a few bits. Dads with grumpy toddlers in tow. Young lads buying more beer than they can conceivable drink. And me - sneaking in the weekly shop so that I don't have to sully my Monday with it.

The woman on the till next to me only has four items. Two bottles of Italian plonk, a bag of frozen garlic bread pieces and a packet of budget hay. I wonder which she actually came in for. I suspect the hay and picture a small, furry pet sitting in a dirty cage waiting for its weekly clean out. Maybe it's the wine and the other things are needed later. I doubt it's the garlic bread. I didn't even know you could buy frozen garlic bread.

The woman in front of me has nearly finished loading her shopping into a hotpotch selection of 'use again save the planet' bags. I look again at the woman with four items and absently mindedly wonder why she didn't go to the 10 items and less counter but she looks a bit distracted so perhaps it didn't cross her mind. Maybe she really did came in for all four items.

I speculate about what people would think looking at my weekly shop. I gaze on it with a critical eye. No meat, no milk no booze, no chill cook stuff. Inordinate amounts of breakfast cereal and things to spread on toast. Yoghurt. How can one family consume so much yoghurt? Kitkats. Espresso coffee beans. Flour. A strange selection with no obvious pattern.

The woman in front has paid and is dithering about in the place where in need to stand to pack my shopping. I am momentarily irritated by her lack of thought and then check myself. Trolley rage is so undignified. No harm done. With practised speed I begin to pack into my 'save the planet bags' . One for cold, one for boxes, one for fruit and veg......I hand over my loyalty card, knowing that it means that they can monitor what I buy like Big Brother but shallowly attracted by the thought of free stuff. I pay without looking at the total. How dreadful is that? But it's always about the same- the cost of feeding my family.

I smile wanly at the checkout girl and push my way past the grumpy toddlers, mission accomplished for another week. It's a conveyor belt, life. I shuffle along from task to task doing what is necessary without really thinking. Is that how it should be? Well, that appears to be how it is.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Last night my eight year old came out of Brownies clutching a piece of paper. Her eyes shone with excitement and she could barely stand still as all her words tumbled out on top of each other.

"Mummy. We're going on Pack Holiday. Can I go?"

She looked at me with expectant eyes, willing me to answer in the affirmative. I mumbled about it being cold and that we would talk about it when we got home and bundled her into the car. As she chattered away from the back seat, I went through the familiar arguments that always dance around inside my head when one of my children takes a new step towards their eventual total independence from me.

Of course she can go on Pack Holiday. It's what Brownies is all about and she will come back a slightly more confident and accomplished child. But knowing all that doesn't make it any easier for me. She is eight. She has only slept away from us for one night in her whole little life and this is for a complete weekend. Of course, the fact that the site is ten minutes walk from here, that the Brownie leaders are highly experienced and that she will be with her friends should all make it easier to deal with. But somehow it doesn't.

Strides by my children into the big, bad world are coming thick and fast these days. No sooner have I got my head round something  new than something else pops up to fill its place. Each child is growing and testing and learning whilst I struggle to take it all on board without capsizing. And it doesn't seem to matter if one follows in the footsteps of another. Both the big two went on pack holidays at a similar age and they survived unscathed. Knowing this should make it easier to handle this time round but somehow it doesn't.

I suppose this is how it will be now. The children will race, pell-mell towards whatever opportunities life throws at them and I will bring up the rear, trembling slightly and ready to pick them up should they stumble. It comes with the parenting territory, as they say. Have child will panic. No doubt my own mother will be harbouring similar thoughts when, in a few weeks time, I hurl myself off the top of the Alps again attached only to a flimsy bit of cloth. I tell her not to worry, that I will be absolutely fine and am more than capable of looking after myself. Perhaps I should listen to myself a bit more carefully?

Sunday, 16 January 2011


There comes a time in a girl's life when she has to think about keeping fit. Realistically, that time came and went some time ago for me. To be fair though, it isn't a consideration that I have entirely ignored. Over the years I have offered more than a nod in the direction of exercise and have a reasonable residual fitness level as a result.

But if I'm going to be entirely honest, for me fitness is not about resting heart rates and a sense of well being. I can live without the aching muscles and physical tiredness that you get after a hard session at the gym and I've never been that turned on by endorphin rushes. No, it's all to do with vanity. If I'm going to make an effort to do some exercise, it will be in the pursuit of the body beautiful and preserving what I have left rather than ensuring a certain fitness level. If things stayed put without me having to bother exercising then I wouldn't.

With that in mind it's not always easy to know which exercise path to choose. I have done gyms and I am quite disciplined once I start going. But after a while it's just so dull. No one seems to chat so I take to wearing my ipod and not conversing either and then it's really boring. There are plenty of classes around but I have a phobia of having my time accounted for and so I'm really nor keen on regular commitment. I did run a bit last summer and I enjoyed that but I went at sparrow's croak and ran around the woods in the sunshine. In the dark when it's cold and muddy, running loses its appeal.

So I have turned to the exercise video. The fact that I call it that shows how long it is since I last had one. It was Jane Fonda's Workout in the early 80's and it was all about leg warmers and feeling the burn. This time round I bought Davina's Body Buff and set to in the sitting room. She's so smiley that you can't help but smile too and she offers little words of encouragement to camera which makes you feel like she's talking to you and you alone. I wouldn't say that it's fun exactly but it could be worse.

And so far so good. I'm making an effort to fit it in to my life in the same way that I used to make gaps for the gym. It's a bit repetitive  but I haven't done it often enough yet to know exactly what's coming next so it still retains a small element of surprise. As for results, well we'll have to wait and see but hopefully when we get to summer and the big reveal, the situation will be no worse than it was last year and it may even be a bit better. I know that just like King Cnut, I can't hold back the tide of time but I can give it a run for its money!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Do you remember when there was only one phone in your house? It was attached to the skirting board in some communal place. If you were posh you might have an extension in another room. If you were trendy as well as posh you had one with a long curly cable which never hung properly so that you could wander as far as the stretched cable would allow to afford yourself a degree of privacy.

Can you recall when you rang people after 6 in the evening because it was cheaper and when phone calls during the day were reserved for matters bordering on an emergency? I  clearly remember my parents walking past me tutting loudly because someone important might be trying to get through. They would mouth questions about whose call it was and then relax visibly when they learned they weren't paying for it. And if I was chatting for longer than half an hour, they would make me hang up simply because being on the phone was a waste of time and what could I possibly have to say to my friend when I had been with her all day at school?

But I am beginning to realise that there were distinct advantages to the parent of a central phone for the family. My mum always knew who I was friendly with because she could monitor the frequency of calls from various people. My dad could tease me about my boyfriends because if they wanted to speak to me then they had to get through him first. If they decided that there was a more legitimate use of my time than chatting, they could ban me from using the phone completely, telling my callers that I would ring them back. And if, heaven forbid, someone unwanted rang, they could shield me from the call with a little white lie.

I have none of this luxury. If our house phone rings it is almost invariably my mother. The rest of the time it sits silently on its cradle. Since the girls got mobiles, all their telephonic communication is conducted in private. Not for them, sitting on the stairs in a draught. I have no way of knowing who rings or even when they are on the phone. If a call came when I was doing my homework, my mum would tell them that I would ring back. I have no such control.

In fact, with the introduction of modern communications all control is lost. The children deal with their own calls, texts and emails and I am entirely excluded. I'm not saying that that is a bad thing. Everyone is entitled to privacy and let's face it, there was little enough of that when the call came through into a room filled with your family all watching "The Generation Game."

But it is not a breach of their privacy to have a handle on what's going on. If someone upsets my child, I may never find out. If someone rings more than is necessary I have no way of knowing unless they tell me. And when boys start featuring in their world, I will have to rely on them telling me rather than by asking strategic questions when someone rings more than once.

My children don't know any different. They would scoff at the systems that were in place when I was their age. But I do think that being constantly available makes life more difficult not just for me as their mother but also for them. I wouldn't deprive them of their phones. They are a product of the age in which they live and are consequently more or less obligatory. But I will have to devise ways to make sure that they are supported and safe in the world that they build for themselves. And their dad needs to find a way of making potential suitors squirm because that's what dads do.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I don't like to moan but I really struggle with winter. Now that Christmas has gone, all that stretches before me is three months of grey skies. I know the sun shines occasionally. It was shining today. But for most of the winter, Ilkley is grey and cold and damp.

Perhaps we should shift Christmas? Winter is still a novelty in December. We have no need of a distraction from its rigours. In December I still savour log fires and endless scarves and getting excited about snow. By the time we stagger into February, I have had my fill of ash and all things woolly.  A big celebration then would be just what the doctor ordered.

Sadly Christmas is over and there are still months and months of winter to go. Somehow it zaps all my enthusiasm. It's like a huge dementor, sucking all the happiness out of me. I seem to retreat into my kitchen and can't find the strength of character to pull myself out. I wear jeans the whole time because no one can see what I have on under my coat. My hair frizzes in the damp and my skin loses its glow. Suddenly everything becomes such an effort. Marshalling the children into hats, coats, gloves etc to go out and get cold seems too much like hard work and they are happy at home so we stay in. But that makes me feel guilty and further down I spiral.

Life is so much easier when it's warm. I can wander off with just my bag without having to worry about what I have on my feet. I can wear what I like. I can busy myself doing outdoors tasks because being just outside is such a pleasure. Even the catering is easier.

But then I have to give myself a good talking to. I live in a country where it's cold a lot of the time. I have no real plans to change that and so I can hardly waste half my life every year waiting for the sun to come back. I need to dig deep and find the strength to grab winter by the throat and wrestle it into submission. I need to learn to be oblivious to the cold and the dark and to function as effectively whatever the weather. Or I can just sit here with my hot chocolate and wait for the spring.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Astronomy is trendy. There's no getting away from it. It's everywhere. Each astronomical event is reported on the national news and there have been a string of programmes on TV over the last year with more to come in this. I even have an app on my phone telling me which constellation is which and providing me with the astronomical picture of the day.

I have been wondering why this might be. Having completed an astronomy course myself last year, I am certainly more aware of the press coverage but that doesn't explain the large budget that the BBC seem to have allocated to it as a subject. It's certainly nothing new. For as long as man has been looking up, he has been charting the progress of the stars and planets around us. Gazing at the stars and asking why and how and what is as old as we are.

It might be that in these austere times some comfort is to be gained from grasping hold of how small and insignificant we are as human beings, notwithstanding the huge day to day problems that many face. And of course, it doesn't cost anything to stand outside and stare at the sky which has to be an added attraction at the moment.

But I believe that the major factor in the re-emergence of astronomy is its current face on TV, Professor Brian Cox. He is certainly easier on the eye that Sir Patrick Moore ever was but it's not just that that's brought him to the forefront of the public's attention. Nor is the fact that he used to be part of a successful pop band, although that does add to his mystique somewhat.

No, the main reason that Prof Cox has fired up the imagination of the nation is that he is passionate about his subject, which is in fact particle physics. Every time he opens his mouth we want to listen because he makes what has always seemed so inaccessible, interesting and, more surprisingly, comprehensible.

I'm not suggesting that what he imparts on the TV is more than scratching the surface of his knowledge but it seems very important to him that nothing is dumbed down. He just finds a way of explaining things simply and step by step so that it can be grasped by people with only a modicum of knowledge, like me. And if interviewers do try and simplify what he's saying and in doing so get it wrong, he's not afraid to correct them.

And that is my point. Whether a subject picks you up and whisks you along with it depends on who is teaching you. Every so often someone who is passionate about what they know and interested enough to want to share that knowledge with others wanders into your life. If you're really lucky it happens to you at school. Of my five schools and countless teachers, only one managed to pass on to me a passion that has lasted throughout the subsequent decades. Not a great ratio I think you'll agree.

This is why I get so cross about those who enter the teaching profession as a second career, not driven by a vocation to inspire young minds but because it fits well with their own childcare arrangements. If all our teachers were like Professor Cox or my music master at school then just think what our children could achieve.

So I say hats off to Brian. He has inspired me, with my B grade 'O' level physics, to think that science is not just for brainy geeks and that I might be able to follow if I listen hard. He makes me want to know more. He makes me want to ask questions and discover things for myself and that is rare indeed. I wonder if someone could do the same for my maths!

Saturday, 1 January 2011


Happy New Year.

As I have mentioned before, I love the start of things. With my leanings towards the over sentimental, I'm not much good with ends. They make me wistful and weepy. But beginnings? That's a horse of a different colour, as they say. I love the freshness, the tantalizing opportunities, the just not knowing how it will turn out that comes at the start.

The new year is no exception. I am eager to get the clutter and tat of Christmas behind me and to sweep through my house restoring clean lines and clear surfaces. And of course my mind is drawn to resolutions. I like thinking about them, I like asking others what they are hoping for. But I rarely actually make any these days.

I used to. In my youth I regularly resolved to be thinner, fitter, more interesting. Then in my thirties the theme was all about rescuing myself from the melee of nappies and broken nights. Me time, books and personal grooming all featured regularly. I'm not sure how far into the new year any of these worthy ambitions continued but I did at least consider what I wanted to change about my life and try to address it.

When I thought about resolutions a couple of days ago I came to a startling conclusion. I couldn't think of anything that I wanted to change. That makes me sound smug and horribly self satisfied, as if I am a perfect being living a perfect life. Of course that's not the case. But, I have a pretty strong grasp on what is realistic and what is not. I know that there is no point making certain resolutions because I don't want the outcome enough.

For example, I could resolve to compete in the Ilkley Triathlon. I know that with appropriate training I could get round the course in one piece. But I don't really want to. I'm not driven to achieve it and the training would take up precious time that I would prefer to spend on other things. I could resolve to take up something new. But my life is full and if I took on more I would have to sacrifice something else. The list  goes on and on. For every potential resolution I have a perfectly reasonable answer for why it is unachievable.

I have come to the conclusion that rather than resolving to change things, I just have to keep on trying to do my best. Some days, my best is better than others. When I have let the children watch the telly for hours on end and have been grumpy, my best is pretty poor but it was the best I could do that day.

So I don't make resolutions any more, or at least not in January. If something takes my fancy, I'll have a go. If I'm shouting at the kids too regularly I'll try to mend my ways. If I've been on my own for too long, I arrange to meet someone. It's an ongoing process and not something that I decide on New Year's Eve and have abandoned by the beginning of February.

As I strip my house of twinkly trinkets, my mind will scamper through the possibilities that 2011 holds in store and I will get excited that somewhere, in the middle of all the dull day to day routine, I might find a diamond, nestling in the dark, just waiting to sparkle.