Wednesday, 29 February 2012


I've been getting myself in a bit of a pickle recently. It happens from time to time, generally when I have too much to coordinate. The fret lasts until the mountains have been climbed and the streams forged and I emerge at the other side with a satisfactory sense of a job well done.

My husband reckons that I'm a worrier but that's not it. A worrier is someone who sees disaster around every corner, who fears death and destruction at the slightest delay in arrival, someone who worries if they don't have anything to worry about.

But I tend to trust that things are fine unless I hear otherwise. No. I'm not a worrier. I'm a fretter.

I start to fret when there are events on the horizon that will require careful planning. I am good at planning. I like to think things through so that every eventuality is considered and closed off. And most of the time that is fine and dandy. After all, my life is one long logistical challenge and if I spent the whole time fretting about all the arrangements I'd be bonkers by now.

What makes me fret is multiple plans. Day to day I can do but if you start to layer things on top I begin to twitch. For example, planning a holiday is fine. It's complicated, sorting washing and packing and arranging for the cats to be fed and the milk stopped and the fridge emptied and the house clean and the currency bought and the agenda fixed and the tickets printed off and the gadgets charged but it's fine. I enjoy the challenge.

But layer a holiday with some thing else, say a show that involves us all for ten nights but not necessarily the same nights. Who is where, when they need collecting, who will sit with the ones left at home, what will they be fed and when?

Then what about a birthday chucked into the mix for good measure? Not just any birthday but one that only comes round every four years. Cue high expectations and even higher fret levels. Heavily themed party, dressing up, cake. You know the kind of thing.

Ok, now I'm properly fretting. My head feels like it's going to explode as I try to work out how I'm supposed to remember everything and manage it all without dropping a clanger. There are subsidiary things floating around too. An assignment for Uni with the necessary reading round, an election, two book groups, a gym competition, a ballet exam and a school show on top of the 32 activities a week, homework, teenage girls, music practice, cooking, tidying, laundry, cleaning, shopping.

And now I start to sound like a martyr but I don't mean to because my life is only more complicated than other people's by virtue of having more children to factor in. The point is that it makes me fret. I convince myself that I cannot possibly get it all done and that I will overlook something crucial and there will be a disaster and it will all be my fault and my children will hate me for ever and on and on into a huge, dark, spiralling black hole of fret.

Of course it does all get done. I stamp around the place and have a little weep and  there are a few broken nights but step by step we get up to the top of the mountain and admire the view. And then we turn round and spot the next rise with a whole new set of things to fret about and then it starts all over again!

I'd love to be a calmer kind of person, to float through life singing ce sera sera and not getting into such a tizzy. But I'm not. I can't help it. It's just the way I am. A natural born fretter.

Next week I'm going skiing with friends to unwind and recharge. Of course, until then I shall be fretting about who will have the children and what they'll eat and who will pay the sax teacher and if they'll remember to feed the cats and................

Sunday, 19 February 2012


We were in Amsterdam last week and we visited Anne Frank's house. It was harrowing and heartbreaking as you would expect. All those people hiding for all that time and all in vain. But what made the biggest impact on me was unexpected. At the end of the tour there is a short film that Otto Frank made in the 60s. He said that he didn't know that his daughter was keeping a diary and after he had read it  he had thought that perhaps he didn't know his daughter at all, so deep and personal were the things that she had recorded.

I am an inveterate diary keeper. I have them going back to the 80s, recording my life as I saw it. The major events are all there. School and exams, my first boyfriend, university, my working life, my wedding and the birth of my children. And then, about two years ago, I stopped writing. January came and I chose not to buy a diary. In fact if truth be told, I stopped really writing when there became a possibility that someone would read them. After the birth of my children the function of my diary changes from being an account of my innermost soul to a simple record of day to day events, no less valuable but not what I wrote a diary for.

So when I heard Otto Frank speak about Anne's diary two things struck me. Firstly, as a mother, is it true that you hardly know your children? I tried to exclude myself from the generalisation. He was a father and a father in an era when openness was not embraced as it is today. Of course his comments didn't apply. But my objections sounded hollow even to me. How would I ever really know what was going on in the heads of my children? Even when they are young, they keep things back, things they think might upset you or get them into trouble. Eventually I concluded that there is nothing wrong with not knowing your children as well as you'd like. As long as they are happy why does it matter? Surely it's simply vanity to assume that you know what goes on inside another's mind.

So then I looked at myself. Throughout my life I have recorded, albeit unintentionally, how I have changed and developed as a person. You don't necessarily spot the shifting opinions as they happen but a comparison of the musings of one year with the next will show a developing psyche as it deals with life's hurdles. I change all the time. I know this because I blog and play on Facebook and by these two media I am able to see how my responses to situations alter. But you have to dig deep to spot it and it all smacks a bit too much of navel gazing for my liking. Better to write a diary and record those changes honestly and in one place.

This is not a light bulb moment for me. I have toyed with the idea of a diary ever since I gave one up. My iPad stores various Journal apps, each more aesthetically pleasing than the last and I have written things down from time to time behind the security of an obscure password. But when I mentioned writing a diary on my iPad to my eldest she looked at me in horror. "You can't do that!" She exclaimed. "It's not a proper diary if you don't write it with a pen." And I think she might be right. Tempting though it is to start typing behind a little app icon, such a function lacks the soul of having to find it in your heart to form the words on the page. It's a bit like the difference between paying on a credit card and counting out the cash from your wallet. One thing is for sure though. If I venture back down that path I need to be honest with myself and not give two hoots about whoever might read it. Rather like writing a blog really.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


Forget what's going on in America. Imogen Clark is standing for election as a Parent Governor at our secondary school. There are two vacancies and a startling seven nominees. The voting has opened and now I just have to wait and see.

I've thought about standing for Governor before - well every time a vacancy comes up in fact. We get notification of a position to be filled and I consider it carefully. I even got as far as writing my little statement once. But then something always holds me back: a better candidate; a reevaluation of available time; sheer, unadulterated terror of the whole election process.

Anyway, when the letter appeared this time, I girded my loins and decided to have a go. I read the instructions. 'Nominees should prepare a short statement setting out the skills they can bring to the role.' Oh Lord. Flummoxed by the first hurdle. What on earth should I say?

Even now as I type this I have come to a spectacular halt. I have skills - which of us doesn't? But what are they and how can I organise them into a coherent cohort? As I sat at my computer pondering, I realised how much easier this task would be if I still had a proper job. In a work environment, blowing my own trumpet long and loud was something that I had to do to stay afloat. And I knew what my skills were because they were all nicely listed for my in my annual appraisal.

At home it's different. No one tells you what you're good or bad at any more.
'Well, Imogen. Your baking skills aren't bad and I'd hang my hat on those if you're looking for promotion but those shirt sleeve creases leave a lot to be desired.'
You have to dig deep and honestly to identify those transferable skills.

Then you have to write them down without sounding like an idiot. We've all read personal statements that make your toes curl but what is it that they say that puts you off and what makes someone else appeal? It's a minefield! In the end I decided that I should stop fretting about how I came across and just write about myself as honestly as I could. I would either strike a chord or I wouldn't and there was nothing I could do about that. And if I were elected then worrying about what others thought wouldn't really be part of the job description.

Eventually I managed to churn out half a page of who I am and sat back, relieved that the task was completed. I took a final fleeting glance at the instructions letter. 'Include a short statement.... and a CV.'!
At this point I almost gave up! A CV! Not since 1987 have I done that. I didn't even know what to put in it. Thank God for the internet.

Anyway, I now await the public vote. My statement doesn't really match the others. It's less business like and more Mum at Homeish but then what would you expect? That's who I am. The business bit of me went into retirement over a decade ago. But just because no one pays you for what you do doesn't make it any less difficult or valuable. If the voting public like what I have to say then perhaps they'll give me their vote. If they don't, then I'll be ever so slightly mortified for a day or so and then I'll just get back on with life at the pointy end.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


I am a fan of technology. I'm just not awfully good at it. But I'm trying to learn.

I first decided that I needed to improve my almost non-existent knowledge when my primary school aged children started running rings round me on the PC. I was frightened of the big bad internet and how it was going to harm my children. I had visions of them watching hard core porn or being cyber bullied. These were the things that we were constantly warned about and so this was how I thought.

I now have four children who are all more savvy with a keyboard than me (but who obviously as yet lack my wit and experience). I have never had to close down unsavoury sites. They sometimes find things that contain language that I'd rather not hear but it's nothing worse than they pick up in the playground. They just look for things that interest them (which on the whole tend to be age appropriate) and then use the information in ever more creative ways. I appreciate that that might not be everyone's experience but it is mine.

And the more I learn, the more I come to realise that this fear which is, in the main, a fear of the unknown, is really holding us back. As parents, we have a tendency to fight against the tide of technology, refusing to let it change what we know. Our children carry round in their pockets more technology than we needed to take man to the moon and yet we ban them from using it. An we connect technology with all the bad things in the world. I was the same. I wanted my children to know how to use a library card reference system, a phone directory, a train timetable. And of course I still think that they need to have a passing understanding of these things but they are no longer relevant to the world that they are growing up in. This stuff is now done with a click.

When I was a kid my Dad could fix a car. In his youth, engines were simple and unreliable so knowing how one worked was crucial. I'm sure he could not have imagined a world in which people wouldn't be able to look under a bonnet, locate the problem and sort it. But how many of us can? Even mechanics hook the car up to the electronic diagnostics these days.

My point is that things move on and we have to move with it. We cannot stand, like King Cnut, with our feet in the sea. Yes it's new and it's not how we did things but that doesn't make it wrong. The catalyst for this post was something I watched on the apple page today. I urge you to watch it too.  Just imagine if we had had textbooks where the pictures moved, where we could look up words we didn't understand just by touching them, where we could add our own notes to the pages without being told off, which were updated continuously rather than out of date as soon as they hit the shelves and then churned out year after year regardless, that weighed the same no matter how thick they were or how many we carried. I could go on and on but you take my point.

The more I learn, the more excited I become. I do have the odd wobble and look back longingly at a time when new information was fed to me in a way that suited the Victorians. But that world is gone and I am going to try to embrace the new one and work with it. To be honest, the more I think about it the more I believe that I will not be doing the best for my children if I don't.  And I'm excited!