Friday, 30 March 2012


Last week the clocks changed and summer arrived. It was as if someone looked down on us as we trudged on, shoulders hunched against the wind and decided to give us a break. A switch was flicked and March became May.

And what difference the sun makes. Clever Mother Nature had been sneaking us ever closer to summer without us really taking note. Already the blossom trees were budding, the birds were calling to each and the first spring flowers were making their brave displays but add the warm sunshine into the mix and we are suddenly aware of how far on the year had got.

Five days of unbroken blue skies and warm sunshine follow and the country relaxes. Weather records are broken, garden furniture is dragged into position and barbecues are discussed. The nation strips to reveal pasty flesh which you can almost see blinking in the bright light as it is dragged from the safety of its winter garb. People smile at each other in the street and the parks are filled with children's voices.

Then as quickly as it arrives, the high pressure departs. The weather forecasts warn that temperatures will drop like stones. There is talk of sleet, though none of the longed for rain. We brace ourselves. Flimsy clothes are pushed to the back of the wardrobe, boots reappear and we continue to function under our grey skies until the next time warm weather finds us.

But now a little bit of me is more positive. I know that five days in March might be as good as it gets. I am aware that to hope for better will likely end in disappointment but I don't mind. At least now that the clocks have changed we're on the right path. I can now allow my mind to turn to dreams of long lazy days and short balmy night. Even though the realist in me knows that the summer will rival the curate's egg, it is now within sight and I look forward with a new warmth in my heart.

Friday, 23 March 2012


I recently read 'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' and like all good books it made me think. I don't mean about the book itself nor even about the concepts of good against evil and the powers of the subconscious that Stevenson was exploring. No, what interested me was the idea of something new. Stevenson dashed the story off in no time at all. It's a bit clunky and the plot doesn't really hang together but the author was so excited by the fresh ideas that were being explored around him by Sigmund Freud and others that he was driven to experiment with them as quickly as possible, just like Dr Jekyll. It was all about the zeitgeist.

This morning I started listening to something else, a book about Earnest Hemingway and how he left the confines of America to live in exciting and bohemian Europe. He could feel the vibrancy of what was going on there and wanted to be part of it. And in my course at the moment, I am studying the Harlem Renaissance and how a burgeoning arts movement drew people into New York like a magnet.

I spent my morning cleaning my house. Yesterday I studied and tidied up and cooked. The day before was similar. And the day before that. For me and many millions of others that is what makes up the essence of life -  the necessary, unrelenting and repetitive performance of mundane tasks that ensures that things run smoothly. And I'm happy with my life. I wouldn't swap it for the world.

But where is the excitement that Stevenson and Hemingway felt? What, in 2012, is the new and exciting thing that the young and the talented chase? And what about the rest of us, the ones for whom upping sticks and dream chasing is itself nothing more than a dream?

It's a talent I suppose, spotting the next big thing and harnessing its energy before it grows too big to control. It must be a talent that I don't have because I can't see what is currently firing up imaginations and drawing people en masse to a particular city or person. Maybe that kind of approach is a casualty of the internet. All the dreamers and the fighters and those with voices to be heard are sitting in rooms alone and typing furiously into their laptops. There is very likely a whole virtual subculture that passes the likes of me by but is attracting all the modern day bright young things like a moth to a flame.

I too had dreams - not like the great writers of the past. I'm far to sensible for that. Mine were practical, commercial, achievable and didn't involve emigration. And they were fulfilled. I have no complaints on that score. But I do sometimes wonder how much time there will be left for following new dreams once the children are flown. I have a very long list of things that I want to do when it's just the two of us again. Yet I wonder whether I will still have the energy or the inclination or the money to start ticking them off? Perhaps I should have started earlier?

But back then I had no desire to take off and explore. I wanted to get through my education and get a good job and begin what I saw then as the important things in life. I would probably do the same again. But if the adult me met the 18 year old me, I would give myself a good talking to. I would explain about the day to day realities of the life I was striving for and then perhaps I too might have followed the zeitgeist for a bit before I got too bogged down. Or is that a dream in itself?

Saturday, 17 March 2012


"I've got you a cake," said a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She must have seen my face light up because she quickly continued.
"Well," she confessed. "When I say a cake that's not entirely true....It requires a little effort to get it be a cake as such."
She smiled her widest smile and handed me an ice cream tub and an over copied, typed A4 sheet.
"Meet Herman."

It turns out that Herman is a German sourdough friendship cake. His ethnicity is questionable. I doubt he has ever seen German shores but he is sour dough. When I finally read the instructions, I discovered that Herman had to be kept in a bowl in a warm place and stirred and fed with flour, milk and sugar. After 10 days he is to be divided into quarters allowing you to pass him on to three friends - hence the friendship bit. Then you bulk out the mixture with various tasty ingredients and bake him. There was one point on which the instructions were very clear. He must NOT be allowed to die. No pressure then!

So for three days Herman sat on my worktop and bubbled. My kitchen was filled with the wholesome aroma of yeast and I felt like an earth mother. Herman was fitting well into family life. Then we went away for a few days. What to do? My brother was coming to feed our cats so I left him a quickly scribbled note explaining Herman's welfare requirements and left. Sneaky. On our return, both the cats and Herman were thriving and I stirred him and fed him until we finally reached the day of division and baking.

I thought hard about who to pass the mantel of responsibility on to. Who would ensure that Son of Herman could continue to bubble and make yeast smells once Herman had gone to that great oven in the sky? I thought of two people that I deemed suitable reliable, decanted Herman's offspring into their own ice cream tubs, copied the instructions and smugly handed them over with a warm glow that I had played my part in this cake chain letter. I then baked myself two Herman cakes and posted my success on Facebook.

It seems that I was not alone in having had a house guest. Lots of other people commented that they too had been involved. In fact, it appeared that Ilkley was awash with sour dough cake. I even heard tell of one portion that had been left on a doorstep anonymously under cover of darkness.

Some time later I got a text. Did I want Herman back? There was no obligation but I needed to say quickly because Herman was headed for the bin. Well, call me a sentimental old fool but I couldn't let old Herman cark it so back he came to bubble and smell some more and this morning I have baked two more cakes and Herman, or at least my branch of the family tree is no more.

I try not to think too hard about the hygienic elements of an enterprise such as this. Lord knows where Herman came from, how many work tops he had sat on before mine, how many fingers, cat's tongues or paws he had come into contact with. Baking will surely have destroyed all impurities. If not then most of Ilkley would be ill or dead. And once baked Herman really is remarkably tasty, trussed up as he is with cinnamon and apple and raisins and vanilla and all manner of other delicious ingredients. But in the future I don't think we'll be at home to Herman. There's only so much sour dough cake that a girl can eat.

Friday, 9 March 2012


I am just back from my annual jaunt to the French Alps without my family. Early each March I meet myself coming back as I try to organise my life to run without me for a few days. I cook and clean and call in favours. I placate complaining children who are unsympathetic to my need for time without them. I force the guilt aroused by my self indulgent frolic to cower in a dark corner of my overcrowded mind and I leave without a backwards glance.

And whilst I am away I gradually relax and remember who I am when I'm not mummy and wife and housewife. I don't react if a child calls for help because it isn't me that they want. I make decisions without considering anyone else, selfish decisions that feel strange to start with but quickly allow me to feel in control of my own destiny in a way that I rarely do at home. And I think. I am able to think because my mind is not jammed with who needs to be where and what's for tea and whether everyone has a clean shirt. My mind becomes free for my own thoughts, private thoughts that might otherwise get lost.

Skiing is the perfect activity for thinking. Those vast blue skies and white tipped mountains are so awe-inspiring that the mundanity of life is forgotten. Long, lonely drag lifts with nothing to do but not fall off provide the perfect opportunity to unravel complicated decision making. The cool mountain air brings a clarity to my thought processes that I struggle to achieve at home.  I gradually slip back to being the real me, the one that I like to think I am deep down inside. That me is calm and unflustered. She doesn't bark orders or have 'no' as a default setting. She can think things through to the end without interruption and then act on those thoughts. The trouble is that I only manage to be that person for a few weeks each year. I do have to ask myself if the real me isn't actually the one with the exploding head and the loud voice.

I always try to come home from time away with something learned or discovered. This time I have decided that I have to make time for my mind to be quiet in and amongst the cacophony of my life or I may drive myself mad. I need an on/off switch. Because what is the point of having thoughts if they are never properly formed, having ideas that get forgotten in the melee of family life? I need to find a way to block out the noise sometimes and let the mountain air whistle through my mind whilst I'm standing in my kitchen. I'm not sure how to achieve it but it must be done before the noise drowns out everything else.