Friday, 31 August 2012


I am on a volcanic island off Senegal. Barring an airport, a couple of small towns and our hotel there's not much here. There are no native mammals except the bat which presumably got here under its own steam. It's pretty quiet.

So I am going without my daily internet fix for two weeks. The hotel does offer wifi but we have decided not to subscribe as an interesting experiment and to keep the children off it. Usually I would check Facebook and emails as my early morning coffee brews and then be on and off the internet throughout the day. I am curious to discover how I fare without it.

Day 1. 

I turn my phone off on the plane knowing that my check in at Manchester Airport will be the last for a fortnight. Seven hours later I arrive at our hotel. It is beautiful - a cross between an Arabian palace and an elaborate sandcastle raising majestically from the dunes. I can see and hear the Atlantic from my veranda but I have to keep that to myself. I think of the photos that I can post on my return. I wonder how 'A' level results day is going and hope that everyone has what they need. I cannot check. I miss my Dragonvale dragons.

Day 2.

As I walk through the hotel reception I see a girl sitting in the wifi zone tapping on her laptop. I could just subscribe and log on for a few minutes. I don't. In the evening the sky is clear and dark. The stars are bright, far more numerous than at home and I see constellations that I don't recognise. I could look them up but I need a wifi connection to pinpoint my location on Star Walk. I decide to draw the patterns instead and check when I get home. I miss my dragons.

Day 5.

Today, somewhat inexplicably, I begin to sing 'My Brother' by Terry Scott, a song that has not crossed my consciousness for at least three decades. Had I been at home, I would have found it on You Tube and shown the kids who would have feigned interest and then scoffed at it behind my back. Perhaps the internet is not as life enhancing as I'd thought! I do miss my dragons though.  

Day 6.

Today I wonder about tides. What is vital on the shores of England seems not to matter anywhere else. I remember childhood holidays at home spent poring over tide tables to make sure that trips were properly timed. Such things seem to have no relevance anywhere but Britain. If your towel is dry at the beginning of the day so will it be at the end. Why is that? Had I been within striking distance of the internet, I would have plugged the gaps in my meagre knowledge with a quick google search. As it is, the world's tidal systems remain as mysterious to me as they were to those who wrote 'There be dragons' on maps to signify places not yet discovered. Talking of dragons I hardly missed them at all today.

Day 7.

What is the average number of children per family? It certainly isn't 2.4 any more. On this international little outcrop of rock the Clarks seem to up the average considerably. The only large groups contain more adults than children and there are a surprisingly high number of families with just one child who tags along after its parents looking bored. Is this breeding pattern common in the rest of the holidaying world then? Whilst no one bats an eyelid at four children in Ilkley, here we seem to be not just bucking the trend but kicking it firmly in the teeth. But I can't look the figures up. No internet you see. 

Day 8. 

Today I have a penchant for a cup of tea made properly with freshly boiled water and served in a bone china cup with a saucer. The bone china bit is, I suspect, an affectation brought on by a combination of the heat and my reading material. I seem to think I am in the Raj and should be floating about in white linen and taking tea on the lawn. I don't even have a bone china tea cup and saucer at home (although I could probably muster a decent coffee cup.) Had this thought occurred to me when not  internetless, I  would have found my way on to the John Lewis website and wasted 15 minutes choosing myself a new tea service after which I would have promptly forgotten the whole idea and made myself a decent cuppa in a mug. I have no internet so such pretensions will have to see if they survive my unreliable memory and wait until my return.

Day 11.

There are hardly any birds here which is strange. There are lots of noisy little sparrow types which chirrup loudly and stage daring raids on my breakfast table but other than those I've seen three crows, a single gull and a large and intriguingly brindled feather. I am used to tropical climes bringing exotic species into my world but here the skies are empty. I am certain that this island is not that remote but we don't seem to be on their flightpath. Perhaps they don't come because there's nothing for them here but toast crumbs? I will look it up - when I get home.

Day 14.

Home tomorrow. As usual, I am not quite ready to return to real life and could happily stay for another few days but I am looking forward to having my computer back. It has been wonderful spending a fortnight with my family and no on else, having all my household tasks undertaken for me and spending most of my time reading but it can't last forever. It's not so much that I haven't missed the internet. It's more that it has no place for me here. Apart from the odd question that has had to go unanswered, I have not felt the need to log on whilst here in paradise but at home things are different. Life is busy and hectic and at times quite dull and the internet makes things simpler, quicker and sometimes just more fun.

So my conclusion? Pleasingly, I do seem to be able to function without updating my status three times a day and my dragons won't have died without me but as soon as I get home you can expect to see my internet presence renewed because these days it is just part of who I am.

Monday, 13 August 2012


The country is buzzing with a positive post-Olympics glow and the message is loud and clear. If you really want to do it then you can. All it takes to achieve your dreams is hard work and dedication and then anyone can do anything. I had a long chat with my children on similar lines yesterday. Through the inevitable tears that always flow when I talk about people succeeding, I explained that real achievement comes with determination and focus and that there is no alternative to putting in the hours to get where you want to go.

This message is made all the more poignant by the distinct dearth of appropriate role models that society has in this age of instant stardom. For a while a  martian visiting planet earth may well have thought that to achieve success all that was required was to spend a disproportionate amount of time grooming oneself, then to be loud and brash on a reality television show and Bob's your uncle. Sit back and watch the money role in.

Of course, despite what the media might make the martian and the young people of today believe, life's not like that. The real winners, I told my children over the cornflakes, are the people who are happy in their life because they work hard and get to where they want to go through dedication and maybe a tiny bit of luck. They are the ones to be applauded. The Olympians fall very neatly into this category but sport is not the only aspect of life that is improved by a bit of dedication. Almost anything you can name is caught by the mantra.

But is is true? As I have mentioned before, I have had two real dreams in my forty odd years. (I don't count my family as a dream because somehow I always just assumed that that would work out like it does in the fairytales.) The first is achieved and that box is ticked. The second is a work in progress. But no matter how hard I dedicate myself to my writing ambitions, will I ever actually achieve my dream and have a novel published? I do have to say that it is remarkably unlikely but that realisation doesn't dull the dream. I am still as determined to try. I do wonder though whether my natural pragmatism might colour my efforts. I push that thought to the back of my mind.

And which came first? The dream or the natural leaning towards the use of language? Do I want to write because I think I can do it a bit and might improve or because I want to write and am teaching myself how? I don't know the answer to that. What if I had decided that I wanted to run the fastest 100 metres in school, the country, the continent, the world? Would hard work and dedication have allowed me to achieve that without any obvious talent in that area? The post-Olympic message seems to be yes. I'm not so sure.

One thing I do know - if you don't try you are very unlikely to achieve anything. If you want to be good on your roller skates you can't just strap them on and go for it. It takes hours of patient practise. True instant gratification is as rare as hen's teeth.

So the message stands proud over the world, the country and my breakfast table. If you want to realise your dream then you have to focus and work and if you do that then who knows? Your dream may turn out to be even bigger than you dared to imagine.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


‘Why do you always get so stressed just before we go on holiday Mum?’ asks teenage daughter. ‘It makes everyone else stressed you know?’

‘I don’t really know darling,’ I reply through gritted teeth.

‘I mean, all we have to do is pack and then we’re off.’

‘Hmmm’ I reply and bite my tongue. Hard.

She’s right though. I do always get myself in a proper pickle before we leave the house and there is generally some kind of meltdown at departure minus one day that results in me losing my cool spectacularly. It happens every time.

It starts with the laundry. With a week to go I begin the pre-holiday warnings and pray for bad weather so that the holiday clothes can be spirited away without being missed. I ask and ask and when I am convinced that I have anything I wash, iron and congratulate myself on being ahead of schedule.

However my confidence is always misplaced. When the task of placing items into bags comes round, a major flaw in the plan is revealed. My idea of clean and my teenagers’ idea of clean do not coincide. As item after item comes out of the wardrobe pre-worn I get close to screaming pitch. After all, had I not asked for all this stuff so that I could get it all ready at my leisure?

Of course my children can’t see what I’m getting so aerated about. The clothes aren’t dirty as such. They are just worn. They can pack them and then wear them when we get there. This absolutely does not accord with my idea of how packing is done. I throw all offending items into a pile as big as a funeral pyre and shout a lot. More laundry undertaken with very bad grace and lots of stomping.

After the laundry comes the house. I want it to be tidy before we go and preferably clean so that on our return it feels good to be home. However as fast as I tidy at one end, the children are getting things out at the other. My suggestion that they sit in the garden with a book falls on deaf ears. Today they want to do painting, or Hama beads or dressing up and promise faithfully that they’ll put it all away afterwards. Is it any wonder I get myself so stressed?

My pre-holiday requirements are very simple. I just need an empty house for three days and all would be well. A pre-holiday holiday if you like. I need quiet so I can think through every possible scenario and then pack for it. I need to make lists of what will be happening in our absence and make sure its covered before we go. And most of all I need to clean the bathroom and not have anyone else use it!

Of course, I’m existing in cloud cuckoo land if I think I’ll get anywhere near my perfect packing environment. I have to work with what I’ve got - a houseful of excited children and a busy husband. So this year I’m going to beat them at their own game. I shall extract what needs washing myself. I shall take myself off to quiet corners and make lists in peace and I shall lighten up on the cleaning front because let’s face it, a lot of dust can settle in a fortnight.

Hopefully the net result will be that we will get to the airport without my relationship with the children being in tatters and I will be ready to start the challenging task of relaxing all the sooner.

(By the way oh loyal readers. My blog has its own Facebook page. Please ‘like’ it if you do. It's at Imogen Clark at Home. Thank you.)

Monday, 6 August 2012


I've been to the Olympics! Can you believe that? Well, if you know me you may find it slightly surprising. Sport really isn't something that occupies my mind in any meaningful manner. At school I wasn't bad at PE. I never had to suffer the humiliation of being the last to be picked for a team although I was certainly never the first. Sport just never captured my attention but then none of my family was interested either and so it's hardly surprising.

When we learned that the Olympics would be coming to London however I was instantly determined that I would go to see the gymnastics and that I would take whichever of the children wanted to come too. Of course that all changed when the tickets were released and I discovered just how difficult it was to actually get tickets for the sport that you were interested in - and just how expensive. With regret I abandoned the plan.

Fast forward several months, more ticket releases and a considerably lighter purse later and my Third-born and I were London bound in a wave of excitement. I don't think I, or many others, had appreciated just how gripped by the Olympics the nation would become. Wall to wall tv coverage combined with the school holidays and an unprecedented level of success in the medals table have meant that the country has a buzz about it that I'm not sure I've seen before. Well, if the likes of me, who would never watch televised sport unless there was a gun to my head, is enthralled then the rest of the country who is actually interested is bound to buy in to it.

We had a great time. The trampolining was fascinating to watch and very exciting even though the British competitor just failed to make the cut into the Final. We went on the cable car, we watched the big screens in Hyde Park and were amazed at just how well our capital city had managed to scrub itself up for its big day. I have never seen London as clean or as friendly. Nothing was too much trouble and everyone was wearing a smile. It was almost uncanny.

I have to say that I did have the feeling, having been unable to get tickets to go into the Olympic Park itself, that it was all happening somewhere that I wasn't and my Olympic experience was not quite complete but such is life.

The feeling that I am left with now that I am home with my BBC coverage is one of relief. For so long my home nation has been down at heel. We have moaned about the weather, the bankers, the economic disaster, the government ( whatever its hue), the NHS, fat people, drunk people, lazy people. I could go on and on. I'm not saying that hosting a successful Olympic Games is going to change any of that and, whilst I will be delighted to be proved wrong, I fear Legacy will be a one year wonder. However, we have proved by the way in which the country has transformed itself that we still have the ability to think positively and focus on things that I see as important - hard work and payback, dedication, working as a team, pride in achievement.  I was worried that we had spent so long blaming someone else for all that is not great about Great Britain that we had lost the gumption to do anything about it.

The buzz from the Olympics will die down after a while, the nights will draw in and Christmas will be upon us before we know it but I will be able to lie slightly easier in my bed knowing that deep down we are still a nation that can do more than sit and lick its wounds.