April 2019

Who wants to be a Millionare?

Sunday 7 April 2019

That’s it! After one week of stay-at-home holidaying with the teens, I realise that drastic action is called for. Five days of cooking, cleaning and ferrying children around the relentlessly grey North West, to school-trip drop offs and school-trip pick ups, to dental appointments, to piano exams, to College, to volunteering, to friends’ houses and back again, has left me convinced that there has got to be more to holidays than this … for me! In particular, when the Summer holiday arrives, I simply cannot survive 6 weeks of this thankless servitude. We all need to get away, ideally on a plane, ideally to somewhere sunny and definitely to a place where someone else gets my meals ready. There is a slight snag however. My bank balance suggests that a day trip to Morecambe, with a Macdonald’s tea on the way home, is about all we can afford at the moment! It cannot be! I need some funds and I need them quickly. There must be something I can do…

I’ve tried Ebay-ing. It’s been quite successful recently and, my summary tells me, has netted me a profit of … £53.74. Hmmm… would that even pay for the taxi to the airport? I don’t bother with the National Lottery, as the odds are insane. In any case, I choose to support the Asthma Lottery and the Bury Hospice Lottery I’ve never won a penny on either, but I suppose my luck might change? I have a small monthly dabble on a betting site, but when I say small I mean really small. ‘Never bet more than you can afford to lose!‘ is my trusty motto. Wise words as these undoubtedly are, that equates to not a whole lot of money in my case! Whilst my betting summary shows that I am ‘Up‘ in all but one of the last 6 months, sadly it’s never by more than £20.36

Let’s face it, none of this small fry financial activity comes close. A family holiday is a 4 figure sum. I need a new approach. I need … a TV Gameshow? The kids and I discuss various possibilities. 

Apply for them all mum!” cheers an enthusiatic Prom-dress daughter 
Catch Phrase?” suggests my eldest

Now several years ago, I did apply for ‘Bargain Hunt’ and never heard a peep from them, so maybe I’ll just clear out the garage tomorrow. Who knows, there might be some priceless treasure buried somewhere in all that chaos? On the other hand, could Jeremy Clarkson hold the key to our Summer Holiday success? For the rest of this evening I dream of TV stardom, winning my fortune and perhaps becoming a Millionaire …

All together again

Thursday 11 April 2019

I am celebrating finally having all 3 kids back under one roof at the end of a hectic Easter Holiday! Small Boy has been to Paris and back, and also spent time away with his Dad. Prom-dress daughter has been revising for GCSEs but also hopping in and out of Manchester with her pals. And today my eldest limped home from a 4 day Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition to Yorkshire.

As she regales us with tales of 50 miles of trekking, freezing tents and surviving on very little sleep or food, I do feel quite in awe, and wonder, not for the first time,’where has she come from?’ My eldest just seems so much more driven and determined than either me or her father. She is also an incredibly attractive girl. (I do recall hooting with laughter once when my boss came into my office, saw a picture of her on the desk, looked at me and asked, “Do you ever think the hospital sent you home with the wrong baby?!!”) And as I pick her up from College, with her sunburnt nose and blistered lips and feet I think she has probably never looked more beautiful.

She is craving a Macdonalds and so we head to the Drive Thru’ for tea. We end up getting all the food for free, because I take issue with the feeble portions of ‘large fries’ and the fact that we have to go back for our missing ‘mozzarella sticks!’ I don’t even raise my voice to get a full refund, perhaps my ‘Mum the Brave’ reputation is spreading?

Back home , the family re-bond over an episode of ‘The Chase’ but decide that this is NOT the game show for me to try and win my fortune and I settle down to make the most of a rare evening with us altogether. Because tomorrow, I appear to be driving Prom-dress daughter, and half of Year 11, to a party and on Saturday, my eldest has a party, and volunteering and a driving lesson ! Some where in the middle of all of that I even get to go out too, for a meal (hooray no cooking!) It’s a good job I’m not one for a quiet life!

Hooray for a 4 day week!

Tuesday 16 April

G & T on a Tuesday, don’t mind if I do! Most of the household went back to work and school this week. Now, whilst this felt like the end of the world on Sunday night, tonight the joy of a 4 day week is hitting home, as I realise that we are already ‘half-way through’ the week. Only a couple more early calls before I can cheerfully silence that alarm once more. It’s definitely cause for celebration!!

I’ve actually really enjoyed work too, bustling about with a joyful sense of purpose and energy. Am I just refreshed by my 2 week break, or is it the 4 week itself that has cast a positive and focused spell over the whole workplace?

A small handful of firms in the UK have moved to reduced weeks and do report encouraging results. The article ‘Miserable staff don’t make money’: the firms that have switched to a four-day week’ from the Guardian last year, provides some interesting evidence that reducing working hour, without reducing pay, does not affect productivity and has the added benefit of boosting happiness and well being in the workplace. Aidan Harper, founder of the 4 Day Week campaign also argues that a 4 day working week would benefit both over worked and underworked people by redistributing time and workload more fairly.

“In the UK, we have growing numbers of overworked people,” says Harper, “but we also have a growing number of underworked people, namely gig economy employees looking for more work…”

There is not universal support from employers for a reduction in weekly working hours, but I sit here tonight supping on a tasty mix of Bombay Sapphire and tonic, with the weather set fair from Friday onwards, , with friends planning to pop in and with a couple of lovely outings on the calendar, I am certainly raising my glass and cheering ‘Hooray for a 4 day week!’

Good Friday

Friday 19 April 2019

Paracetamol…please!” I almost weep as I struggle into consciousness at the start of the long Easter weekend. Getting my pounding head up from the pillow is quite a challenge, but I do eventually manage to stumble downstairs grab a couple of pills and collapse onto the settee with a strong coffee.

There really is ‘no fool like an old fool‘ I conclude as I review, with a distinct queasiness, my decision to mix rather a lot of prosecco with rather a lot of porter on a work night out. I am not a mixer of drinks, never have been and never will be, so why oh why it always seems like such a top idea as I descend into tipsy-ness I will never know!

At least its the start of the lazy Bank Holiday weekend I think with relief, but the relief is short lived.

” I need a haircut!“, Small Boy yells cheerfully down the stairs, ” And we need to get some snacks for ‘The Boys”

With a nerve jangling start, I recall that teenage boys are actually arriving at my home, in a few hours, for …a sleepover! And I hate going to the Barbers- all that queuing and resisting the urge to scream out ” It’s just a haircut, get on with it!” as those craftsmen of the hair-trade coiffe and perfect each ‘Number 2 on the sides and a trim on top’ with a level of care and attention more appropriate to the final touches on a Michelangelo canvas!

Too weak to protest, I give Small Boy a pale grimace, grab my car keys and off we go. The queue, a pitiful 45 minute wait, is actually not as bad as usual. I even manage to shop the snacks as Small Boy holds his place in the line. It’s also a beautiful day and I find that, revived by some fresh air, I am feeling much better as we finally head for home. Whereupon, there’s more good news. A text from my mum bring the glad tidings that both Small Boy and my eldest have passed their recent piano exams. “Hooray!

I am now totally transformed. From hangover despair to euphoric happiness with the world and my fabulous family in a few short hours. On a bit of a high, I speed back into town and blow most of next months salary on a holiday for us all in the sun – “Yikes!” Is that my best decision? Who knows, but it’s done now!

I spend the rest of Good Friday filling out an application for a place on ‘Tipping Point‘…

May 2019

One very scary prom-dress fitting!

Saturday 4 May 2019

It’s a very pleasant morning as Prom-dress daughter and I set out for an appointment with the seamstress recommended by our dress shop. Armed with our prom-dress and shoes, we innocently enter the shop to find the seamstress busy with another customer.

She gives us a dismissive glance and, with an authoritative Eastern European accent, very similar to Villanelle ( Killing Eve),motions towards the changing area and raps out the instructions ‘”In there! Dress on!

The other customer has left as Prom-dress daughter emerges from the changing area. She looks completely stunning and I wait for the seamstress to notice. “Isn’t it a great fit!” I enthuse into the arkward silence, “we think just a little adjustment to the length?” the seamstress ignores me completely and views us both with utter disdain. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife as she tells Prom-dress daughter to stand on a circular platform . And then she reaches for the scissors!

” You must stand completely still, otherwise I cut it too short” she tells a petrified Prom-dress daughter, “You get the dress you stand for!

We are both a little stunned as, with no hesitation, the seamstress starts to snip away and fabric falls to the floor. She is finished in minutes, informs us that she will adjust all the dress to ensure the line and shape is correct and then, as Prom-dress daughter takes the cue to get changed again, the seamstress is gone!

Another, clearly lesser, employee emerges to give us a ticket and a bill for £20. She seems unconcerned whether I pay now or upon collection. I read a foreboding notice about uncollected garments being ‘sold on‘ and timidly enquire when the dress might be ready. With a shrug, the woman suggests in 4 weeks time and I make a mental note NOT to be late.

It takes a breakfast at Morrisons cafe for Prom-dress daughter and I to recover fully. At least we have 4 weeks grace before we have to return to the scariest seamstress in the Northwest!

Somewhere….

Saturday 11 May 2019

I was once a big fan of the radio DJ Danny Baker, but this week, his tweet about the royal baby, at best seriously ill-judged, at worst shockingly offensive has seen him fall from grace publicly and definitely personally for me too. In a week where, sadly, the divisions between us can still feel stronger than the humanity that binds us, it is poignant that my musical journeys have also drawn upon themes of racial and social tension and the fear and mistrust of any groups who seem ‘different’.

After a morning of our usual Saturday activities we grab a quick lunch, pick up my mum and head into Manchester, destination the Royal Exchange for a matinee performance of West Side Story. It was my Dad’s all time favourite musical, it’s music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim , it’s an epic explosion of youthful energy, sassy dance routines and musical mastery. But at its core, it’s a heart-breaking love story, a 1950s New York setting of Rome and Juliet with rival gangs now divided by race. True to form, I am teary-eyed mess by the end – God the music, ‘I have a love..’ ‘Maria’ ‘Somewhere’ … it’s too much for this emotional girl. I manage to suppress any audible sobs but I see off an awful lot of tissues! Top top production – go and see it if you can!

As the show ends, mum and the teens head off to enjoy a post-performance Italian. I set the Satnav for home, speedily rustle up some pasta of my own. Then I don my little black dress and head out to tootle oboe notes at a concert for a local choral society. It’s an uplifting evening, with several lovely friends in the audience. The second oboist forgets a crucial page turn in my main solo, but no-one but me seems to notice the 2 awkward bars of silence. I even get a bow!

But the music is West Side Story for the second time today, South Pacific, which addresses racial issues in the 1940s, Porgy and Bess, controversial as the first ‘opera’ to feature an all African-American cast and folk/spiritual music in the 1930s, ShowBoat, with themes of racial prejudice in 1920s….. we seem to have been singing and dancing around these issues for hundreds of years and to have learned nothing. Trump’s Wall, Brexit, immigration, Grenfell, The Rohingya, gangs and knife crime rises in the UK, …. more trivially Danny Baker. …

Will we ever learn to live together…somehow, someday, somewhere?

Education – the great leveller?

Wednesday 15 May 2019

In the week when Prom-dress daughter starts her GCSEs, and half the teenage world shudders with stress and probably more than half of their parent do too, I wonder about the fairness of it all.

Education, as the ‘great leveller’ has been my lifelong passion. I’ve loved the fact that a set of top exam grades from your local comprehensive is every bit as good as the same grades from Eton or Harrow. I’ve been intoxicated by the concept of GCSE results day as the one day of true equality on the calendar, when any 16 year old who’s worked hard and aimed high is assessed on the same scale as, and can get better grades than …. even the future King of England.

Education undoubtedly was my liberator, and took me to places and opportunities, that I’d never dreamed possible. I recall on my journey to University, back in the 1980s, being too frightened to open my mouth, as the train headed south of Birmingham, for fear of my Northern accent inviting ridicule. Three years later, I was ready to take on the world! And I was grateful: for the boost of confidence and self esteem; for the privilege of 3 years with like-minded friends; for 3 years of being allowed to be myself and still fit in… and I wanted to give back. I moved into a career in Education.

But how much of a leveller is our Education system in 2019? Here’s the data; and I am, not surprised. but deeply saddened that, in 21st Century England, a well developed country, the progress of disadvantaged pupils falls so far behind that of their non-disadvantaged peers. A Progress 8 score of -0.44 suggests that across this substantial cohort of vulnerable pupils, almost half their results were one grade lower than you should expect for a pupil of the same starting point. If that was your child, and 4 of their 9 grades were lower than other children who arrived at high school with the same results, what you you think? And the actual picture is even starker than that. Research is emphatic that by the time a disadvantaged pupil reaches high school, they are already significantly behind…the gap just continues to widen throughout their school life.

So GCSE results day, “the one day of true equality on the calendar?” We could not be further from the truth! The data dispels my naive utopia and just leaves, as a bad wine on a long awaited night out, a very sour after taste. ‘Disadvantage’ predominantly indicates parental poverty, with the vast majority of the cohort drawn from the population who qualify for free school meals. The data screams out, that despite the same schooling, your family background will still be the key determinant your educational success. It’s a devastatingly far cry from the ‘cultural capital’ and social mobility we aspired to in Butler’s 1944 Education Act.

Does the over- involvement of parental affluence in education exacerbate the gap? Affluence can mean money for private tuition, money to keep your child away from a time consuming part time job, money for technology and a wealth of online revision resources, lack of financial worries so more time for home support. I don’t know if this is the reason. It’s a highly complex issue and one thing is for sure, it’s ridiculous to expect any parent not to do all they can to support their child’s education. I will certainly continue to make Prom-dress daughter ‘porridge and berry’ breakfasts until these GCSEs are over, and to head out for emergency chocolate after any tricky and tearful exam.

No, it remains the job of educators to relentlessly drive this cohort with more ambition and higher expectations. Where needed, and it clearly is needed, I’d advocate positive discrimination of time and resources too. But it’s not just a challenge for schools. Think Grenfell, media attitudes to asylum seekers, the Jeremy Kyle show, the refusal of all but a few commentators to listen to the 51% of the population who did vote for Brexit, the 51% who do not recognise Britain as a fair and prosperous land at the moment. Does our nation really care about and respect the most disadvantaged in our society? I think we could strive to do so a lot better….

In need of a boost…of juice!

Friday 17 May 2019

I am appalled at how rubbish I am on this Friday’s run and it leads me to commit to a week free from alcohol, free from toast and rich in … juices! Now that could be a real challenge!

It’s our first fine Friday for many weeks. We tough, Lancashire lasses have doggedly run through rain, sleet, snow and gales over the grim and grey winter months. Some colleagues have marvelled at our unstoppable madness, and many have chortled at the sight of us returning windswept and wild from our endeavours. So the upturn in the weather has us giddy with excitement. Many routes are proposed. Reservoirs and valleys are spoken of, as are fields and trails but eventually we settle on a beautiful route through the woods. It should be a glorious treat … but it’s also a three-hill-killer and I am quickly slain. I do get through it, mainly because the one rule of Run Club is that ‘we never stop’, but it is a huge struggle. I am at the back, I am red faced, I am dry mouthed, I am hot, I am bothered and I am slowing down with every step! How can this be, I ponder? How can I go running twice a week and now start to go backwards? It makes no sense and I start to puzzle about what is different.

I am under the weather this week, in fact I do have to confess to a ‘Granny Nap’ today, when I was shocked to jolt back into consciousness from confused doze on my desk at work. Could that be it? It was also an off road route. Is that too much for my trusty trainers? And continuing the doubt in my running shoes, I add, to sound like a bona-fide athlete, that I do carry a permanent and painful niggle in my right ankle. So like the proverbial bad workman, do I blame my tools? Umm …one thing that certainly cannot be helping is that break-time toast at work and wine-fuelled evenings, out and in, have developed into definite guilty pleasures of late! A doctor friend recently told me that he aims for 2 alcohol-free evenings a week … and I’d be struggling to meet that threshold at the moment. Here, at least, is somewhere for me to start, healthier diet.

I have a plan! After a few moment clattering around my kitchen cupboards, I unearth…the juicer! I place it proudly on the worktop, dust it down and then gingerly plug it in and risk the on- switch. It whirrs back encouragingly and I decide there’s no time like the present. I rummage around in the fridge for a few wizened fruits and vegetables and off we go! With in moment I am triumphantly sipping on a glass of green sludge which tastes…pretty good actually. It’s surely giving my weary body the boost of nutrition and energy it needs! I put aside, for now, the chore of of having to clean the thing, and raise my sludge glass , ‘To a week free from wine and toast but rich in nutritious juices! To a fitter and faster me!‘ …

Juicing Diet: Day 1

Monday 20 May 2019

Day One of my healthy juicing diet does not go according to plan!

Juice Diet: Day 1

I am up before 6 am, but that is because Small Boy has been sick! As I am, bleary-eyed, dealing with this, Prom-dress daughter, who needs to set off “Now Mum!” because “I have a GCSE Warm-Up session this morning”, discovers that her school skirt is still damp. I finish with the disinfectant, steer Small Boy back to bed and hastily try to iron the skirt dry, whilst my on-edge daughter hops nervously around the living room in her tights spooning down porridge and some chopped up apple (because I have run out of berries!)

A few minutes later, slightly less damp, and cheered by many ‘Good Luck‘ hugs, Prom-dress daughter races off to catch the bus and I head towards the juicer armed with a chopping board and knife. But this is a day when not even one piece of veg is destined to feel the chop, because the phone now rings. It’s my Ex. He is very excited about a plan for Small Boy to head ‘Down South’ for a World Cup Cricket Match. But the travel is complicated …too complicated …for everyone … except my Ex. I try very hard to find a way to squeeze it onto the busy calendar but eventually, having entertained many of my Ex’s variations on a theme of me spending hours I don’t have driving the highways of our land, I have to say no! Small Boy will be disappointed but, as I hear him racing across the landing to chuck up once more, I decide that the news can wait!

Small Boy announces that he now feels ‘much better‘, but he is the colour of my magnolia walls and I decide that a day off school is due. I call his school, I call my mum, who agrees to pop in, I sort out dinner money and bus fare for my eldest and, grabbing the remains of Prom-dress daughter’s apple I now head to work.

I make it home again by 6:30 pm, Small Boy looks much better and even manages some tea. After eating, it’s GCSE Maths Revision for me and my middle child! We call it a day by 9:30pm and I am now alarmed at how much I am craving some alcohol. The only offering in the cupboard is the dreg-ends of some Cherry Brandy but even that looks tempting! Somehow I resist and sit back with a cuppa to evaluate Day 1. On the plus side, I did avoid break-time toast and alcohol. But the boost of juice-fuelled goodness? Errr …does eating half an apple count!

Juicing Diet: Day 2

Tuesday 21 May 2019


Day 2 gets off to a fine start and I actually leave for work, on time, with a green juice in my bag. At break, as others abuse their bodies with coffee and toast, I smugly sip upon my nutritious sludge feeling virtuous and … invigorated! (Whether this is the vitamin boost, of carrots, spinach and apple, to my system, or simply the euphoria of actually having got a juice ‘to bottle’ only time will tell.) Then comes the text…

Mum, it went really badly 😢😢

It’s disaster and despair from the maths GCSE paper for my lovely Prom-dress daughter. I try many encouraging replies but there is clearly no consoling her, and there is clearly only one remedy for this situation … ice cream! I arrive home early-evening, via Tesco, laden with tubs of Ben and Jerrys, a bar of dark chocolate and a bag of salted peanuts. It’s surely breaking every diet regime known to mankind but I really don’t care. The treats, some family time and a good old sing- along to a favourite ‘Adele‘ album brings the smile back to Prom-dress daughter’s sad and disappointed face. At least for a few hours. After tea it’s Physics revision …. not our favourite thing…

So Day 2 in review. Still no alcohol or toast and I even managed a juice! I doubt that a double bowl of ice-cream and a fistful of salted peanuts will have done much to improve my running speed … but let’s face it some things are more important. Being a ‘fitter and faster me’ would be awesome, but trying my best to be a half decent mum is surely what I’m really here for….

Juicing Diet: Day 4

Thursday 23 May 2019

I find myself really getting into the routine of a daily juice, and today I recklessly push the boat out with a daring dash of lime …for extra zingy goodness!

Break-time toast is definitely a thing of the past! It’s evenings without a glass of wine I’m finding tricky. Prom-dress daughter has no exams tomorrow, my eldest has a ‘Reading Day’, and Small Boy is teaching himself a bit of Billy Joel (Piano Man – aww he knows it’s my favourite) … so a mood of relaxed, happy holiday tranquility envelopes my homestead and a chilled glass of white would be just perfect. I resolve to be strong, which with only Cherry Brandy in the house, is not the most difficult challenge of the day! Also, tomorrow is a work night out, never an occasion for sobriety, and I decide to save myself for that. With my halo firmly in place, I opt for an evening cuppa and set off to investigate some new juicing recipes.

This set of tempters, from Juice Meister, Jason Vale look amazing https://juicemaster.com/recipes/juice-recipes/….

Who’s Bruce Hornsby Mum?

Sunday 26 May 2019

One of the things that is brilliant about families has to be the mix of generations. The ‘elders’ are often naturally assigned the role of ‘teacher’, and I do owe a lifetime of debt to the inspiration, spirit and sheer joyous times my parents and grandparents gave me. But, additionally, I learn tons from my kids about life, love, tolerance … and this week music! I suppose it is that very mix of the young, listening to but also challenging and changing the old, that is the way the world moves on… the family as the microcosm of society?

Tips for different generations working together…

This morning I am driving two of the teens to Wales, to spend some time with my mum. Small Boy and I rise early, to wrestle his bike into the car, alongside conventional cases, basketballs … and a set of weights! By 8:30 am, we are all done and just waiting for my eldest to complete her packing. I opt for a second cuppa. Small Boy heads for the piano and soon the lyrical runs and melodies of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ fill the house. Wow – that is sounding amazing after only a few days. My talented son then moves onto Elton John (‘My Song’) and Bruce Hornsby and the Range (‘Just the way it is’). Spluttering into my tea, I realise, with a glow of pride, that this is a catalogue of many of my favourite songs. I have inspired my child to appreciate great songs of the 20th Century. I am passing on my wisdom and emotional depths to the next generation. I hurry to the piano room to share this thought, but am quickly knocked off my perch,

Who is Bruce Hornsby Mum? I am playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac

Ha ha ha … that’s me told!

Tupac (stage name 2pac) produced a rap version , featuring the Hornsby classic, in the 1990s. Small Boy plugs me into his phone to listen …. and I love it. The rap adds an angry relevance and urgency to Hornsby’s original track about poverty and racial division in the US. Here’s a mash up if you want a listen … the language on Small Boy’s version was a little too fruity for my blog… and I prefer the rap over piano, as opposed to key board!

And this is my second musical mash-up of the weekend. Had a great night listening to the Black Sheikhs in a Northern Quarter pub, as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. I can really struggle with jazz , so was surprised at how much I enjoyed this gig. The quest of the Black Sheikhs is to jazz/swing-up a full range of pop tunes..anything from Bowie to Bieber; Adele to AHA. Some worked better than others; Bieber unexpectedly good, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ a bit of a low point for me, but the whole set, and the whole bar, was jumping with energy and humour from start to very late finish. Top night!

My eldest now appears with a plethora of bags for her short stay in Wales, so I only have time to say, let’s make the most of the range of ages in our households. Let’s rejoice in mixing old with young, mashing-up and mixing up…it can only make ideas grow and strengthen and build communication and respect across the generational divide. Rap on the car radio anyone?

June 2019

Saturday 1 June 2019

June gets off to a great start with the successful collection of the prom dress! Having read a rather alarming review of the shop, recounting the unfortunate tale of an altered dress being too small and the seamstress traumatising the customer in question by insisting that she must have put on weight and that ‘Chubby’ should aim to ‘lose a few pounds’, I decide to leave Prom-dress daughter at home ! As a solo crusader, I nervously venture inside ….to my relief (or is there a slight tinge of disappointment), the seamstress is not on the premises, but the dress does look great. I hand over my £20 and head swiftly for the exit.

On my Saturday run I am also faster – lots faster. I can’t be sure if its the juices, the lack of toast and wine or just the fact that I’ve had many more hours of sleep this week, but I don’t really care. I knock a full 5 minutes off last Friday’s 10K time and that feels fantastic.

So June, the start of Summer what will it bring? My musical calendar is filling up nicely and my head is happily full of Beethoven, Bach and Bernstein. Concerts and rehearsals jostle for space alongside University Open Days so it will certainly be a busy month. And as ever there’s bound to be some lessons about life, about love and about living in there too. But when it comes to those there is no calendar or forward planning…in many ways I think it’s what makes life so exciting!

When my job feels like the best job in the world!

Friday 7 June 2019

Today is leaving day for a lot of our young people at work. It’s a flurry of signing shirts and penning messages in leaving books. I get a lot of thank you cards then I get this…the letter above from one of my students. It just takes my breath away.

I feel emotional, I feel overcome and I feel very humbled. I can’t actually believe that a student would write this about me. But I am very glad that they did. I pin it proudly to my notice board and know it’ll be there for as long as I am.

What a privilege my job is!

To Gothic Spires and Birthday Cake

Saturday 8 June 2019

Woohoo, following a few false starts, with my tentative steps back into the dating world, I go out on a really great date!

We do theatre, we do roof-top drinks, we do food but above all we do laughter, at some points I am actually shaking with unstoppable laughter. My date is clever, easy to talk to and incredibly funny. He also does flowers, such a large bouquet in fact, that the waitress notices them and asks me the occasion. I nonchalantly fib that it’s my birthday and only blush slightly when, at the end of the meal, a large slice of birthday cake appears and the restaurant hears me serenaded with an Asian chorus of birthday song!

Fun-filled as the evening is, that’s where this liaison ends. For several reasons there is no romantic ending to relay. Nonetheless, it leaves a lasting impression because it reminds me of how much I love the company of an intelligent and cultured man who makes me smile and, more than that, makes me feel comfortable with being myself. Because I find that I am funny too, in fact I had forgotten how many great stories and anecdotes I have gathered over the years.

It’s fantastic being a mum and it brings me lots of happiness, but it’s terrific to just be yourself on occasion too, and to reminisce about your own childhood … with someone who was also alive back then! Some of my stories remind me of the amazing friends I have journeyed through life with and I have not been in touch with some of them for ages. I think it’s time to reconnect and I do. I spend a very happy evening messaging some old pals, even finally embracing the 21st Century world of Apps to reach the more far-flung. It’s a joyful experience and the wonders of new technology suddenly make the world feel like a much smaller, funnier and more friend-filled place. Now that has to be a lasting and lovely legacy of a great night out. As for the Gothic Spires…well that’s a private joke….

The beginner’s guide to…. Open Days!

Saturday 15 June 2019

Today my eldest and I head South for a University Open Day. But it’s not any old ‘South’, it’s the city where the children were born and I lived for over 10 years. So I am confident, I am calm, I am pretty ad hoc with my planning … and I learn the error of my ways!

We are on the road by 6:30 am and soon cruising down the motorway. It’s a familiar route I’ve driven many times but, as there are several ‘Queue Likely’ warnings, I boldly decide to experiment with a slightly altered course. Not my wisest move, as it turns out. I miss several key junctions and, even with my eldest using her navigation skills to get us back on track, we probably lose half an hour. (It suddenly strikes me that all my kids are pretty impressive with a map. I fear that with my sense of direction it’s become one of life’s necessities!) Despite the detour delays, we make time for a coffee stop, turn the volume up loud on the radio and sing our way merrily down South … until we hit the traffic!

We are about 2 miles from our destination when we grind to a complete halt, and we are still sitting in the jam as the time for our first Talk comes, and goes. Several packed buses, speed past us, in their designated bus lane, mocking us with their ‘Main Campus’ destination signs. My eldest chooses this moment to remind me that there had been a ‘Park and Ride’ option. I now regret waiving aside the regular emails the University sent me, trusting instead to the claim that “I know this town!”

Still I do know my way around and remember a pretty handy place to park, when we eventually clear the traffic. And then we dive into the throngs and the cut and thrust of the modern University Open Day. Blimey, a lot has changed since I trundled around my Universities of choice, back in the 1980s! In my decade, it was a day off college, eating marmalade sandwiches on the train, meeting a student, having a quick tour of the lecture halls and accommodation before heading back home for tea. Absolutely no-one came with their parents! Today, the entire city centre is taken over by Open Day visitees and their attached families. Student guides, in brightly coloured T-shirts, congregate on every street corner, handing our maps and giving directions. There are traffic wardens, stopping the traffic to shepherd the crowds across the road, pop-up food stalls and drinks stations. It’s insane! It’s bewildering!

But, whilst I am a chaos of dis-organisation, frantically failing to make sense of a University map, made soggy and dog-eared by the torrential rain, my eldest has done her homework. She waves her phone expertly at student guides, to register us for a terrific schedule of pre-booked talks and lectures. We have an amazing tour of some Science labs, where lecturers, passionate about their subjects, actually blow out minds with their knowledge, brilliance and enthusiasm. Suddenly I know that this is the world for my girl. She has had the sense to prepare as well for the Open Day as she does for everything, and that why, despite a slightly delayed start, we get so much out of it and she will get so much out of a University Education. I feel super-proud to be her mum.

We sing our way back up the motorway and finally arrive home at 8 pm. I have had plenty of time to learn some lessons. Here they are, as my tips for other beginners to the Open Day carousel:

  1. Do book overnight accommodation if you can: our 14 hour day was a bit of a killer!
  2. Do have a look at the road map and plan your route in advance.
  3. Do read the emails the Unis send you and follow their advice on parking: I am first in the queue for any future Park and Rides on offer!
  4. Do think about what your child wants to get our of University life and book the tours and talks to match
  5. Definitely do look forward to some fun quality time with your brilliant child and enjoy every minute, including the road trip itself!

Festival Time !

Sunday 16 June 2019

This week I hear that The Cure are playing Glastonbury and it makes me smile because, back in 1986, when I hitch-hiked to Glastonbury, they were the headline act. Unfortunately on that occasion, I went for a ‘little lie down’ in my tent and managed to sleep through the entire set! I briefly contemplate pulling on my green wellies and heading South Westward in 2019, to see if I can actually hear them play this time… but I realise that the full-on-festival chapter of life has probably passed. The Buxton Festival, that’s more my scene these days! And it’s to Buxton I head today, for a concert where I have agreed to dep for an oboe-playing friend…

It’s my debut performance with the Buxton Musical Society, the friend I am depping for is a brilliant player, the only rehearsal before today’s concert is today’s rehearsal and … I am not the best with directions. Taking all of this into account, I set off ridiculously early and am calmly on the approach to Buxton when I hit local roadworks and grind to a complete halt. And so it is that instead of making an elegant and timely entrance I race in, flustered, windswept, my head pounding and …. spectacularly late.

The rehearsal is in full swing and I have completely missed one of the pieces. From this point on however, my stress levels are eased and soothed away, for this is the Buxton Music Society, who, I am to discover, are the loveliest of people. They are delightfully posh and I crash into the middle of much guffawing over an anecdote about ‘the young Simon Rattle‘ and someone called ‘Jonty‘. But as I stand there looking forlorn and a little frazzled, they divert their cultured and eloquent tones to making me feel like a VIP, rather than a hapless and hopeless time keeper. Calmed with hot tea and kind words, I am soon in my seat and ready to play. The orchestra sound superb, which means that, as I float my oboe notes into the mix, it’s easy to sound good too, and I am soon really enjoying myself.

As the rehearsal ends, talk turns to tea. My friend has told me that I will ‘be fed‘. Expecting a few sandwiches and a long wait in a cold church before the concert, I have loaded up my Kindle and put some work into the car boot. But, oh no, this is not the Buxton way! I am collected, with 3 other orchestra members and driven off to the home of a Musical Society member for an amazing home cooked meal and just outstanding hospitality. As I tuck into my second helping of crumble and custard, I notice that my headache has gone and that I am feeling relaxed, content and very well fed. It is certainly rare but very agreeable to feel this well looked after, and it clearly suits me! I chat enthusiastically about ‘triumph’ of our hosts’ fine fireplaces and share musical moment and musical acquaintances with my fellow orchestral colleagues. It is gloriously civilised and I love it!

The concert goes very well, with committed performances from the orchestra and choir, and the young violin soloist, in particular, is astounding. It’s after 11 when I finally arrive home. I may have missed The Cure back in 1986 but today, not missing all of my rehearsal and not missing any of the concert or my fabulous meal, seems like more than a fair exchange…

The Prom

Thursday 27 June 2019

Today it’s Prom-dress daughter’s big night.

We have had such lot of fun on this year’s Prom-dress quest; from our initial shopping outings, to the ‘Very Scary Prom-dress fitting’ and now the evening itself. I recognise that ‘The Prom’ has becomes a landmark in the UK school calendar, in a way it simply wasn’t when I was this age. And I am a mum who likes to embrace a landmark! I find such special occasions perfect for building memories and laughter to share, long into our family future!

Prom-dress Daughter looks so happy among her lovely friends and I know she’ll have a terrific evening. In 16 years she’s come a very long way. This is my little girl, who spent her first week of life in SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit), who was too shy to answer the register for her first 6 months at school and who, on the day her dad left us and her siblings were overcome with anger and sadness, baked cakes to cheer everyone up. Tonight she stands before me as an amazing and poised young woman and I could not feel any prouder.

Road Trip!

Friday 28 June – Sunday 30 June 2019

Oh my goodness- what a weekend! My brain is fried and I am almost too exhausted to speak, after a whirlwind of Open Days, concerts, shopping and ….driving!

Friday is Nottingham Open Day for my eldest and I. At home, Prom-dress daughter has slept at a friend’s house, and so we only have Small Boy to worry about. He has managed to lose his school bus pass this morning, but it’s his lucky day. I am far to preoccupied to launch into my usual ‘that bus pass cost me good money!’ tirade. We simply drop him off on the way and then hit the motorway.

Having been promised a heat wave, we have donned summer outfits and view the clouds and drizzle of Yorkshire, and then Nottinghamshire, with slight alarm from the windows of our trusty vehicle. And though dry, it is distinctly chilly as, upon arrival, car safely parked, we step out to explore the University campus. We really enjoy the day; mixing talks and tours with the chance to look at lots of accommodation. The promised sun does eventually make an appearance too, and the first leg of our trip draws to a close with a stroll back to the car, ice cream in hand.

We now set the SatNav for …Newcastle! As the marvellous machine recalculates our route, it’s time to check in with the rest of my teens. Small Boy has successfully made it to my mum’s house. A weary Prom-dress daughter, a little jaded from her night of prom-ing, has, impressively, managed to get herself to a College Induction Day, and a rehearsal in one piece and hopes to join the others shortly. It all sounds good, and with the navigation device promising a 2 hour and 45 minute trip to the North East we set off…

Over 4 hours, and much Friday night rush hour traffic later, we are driving past the Angel of the North and finally checking in at the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle! It’s been a very long day and after sharing Pizza, nachos and a cheeky glass of Prosecco at the bar, it’s PJ and telly time, then sleep!

By 9:30 am, on a very sunny Saturday, we are sitting, triumphant in our summer outfits, in the Medicine talk at Newcastle Uni. By 1:30 pm, having done Bio Medial Sciences, Neuro-Science, Chemical Engineering and two hall of residence tours, we are ready to hit the road and head home.

Travel fatigue is now beginning to set in. My right ankle (old running injury) and right arm are pretty sore and my eldest sighs like an old lady as she casts her shoes off in the passenger seat. Nonetheless, our spirits are high, possibly veering on hysterical – we find everything amusing, from ‘no hard shoulder’ signs to the M62 Summit sign- as we head back to our corner of the North West.

We are home by 4pm, whereupon an anxious Prom-dress daughter, who is preparing for a week of work experience (at an architecture firm ‘down south’), announces that she has ‘no work clothes‘ in her wardrobe. My eldest also needs to stock up on provisions for her Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. And so it is that, after a quick cuppa and pressing a few buttons on the washing machine, we are off to the shops and eventually sit down, to a take-away curry, at about eight.

Next morning, it’s off to York Uni for my eldest, whilst Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter and I set out for the drive ‘down south’ to deliver our would-be architect to her dad. My arm and ankle are now strapped up to ease the pain. The bandages work well and our outward journey is a jolly one. We while away the motorway hours with ‘I Spy‘ , ‘Guess who‘ and much laughter. ‘Guess who‘ features lots of rappers from Small Boy and figures from Elizabethan England from Prom-dress daughter… I do struggle to get a turn!

The return journey is far less fun. Not only does Small Boy feel a little deflated to be travelling back without his lovely sister, but I am now very tired and find myself drifting off at the wheel. I do stop to revive myself, with coffee and fresh air, but it uses up time and we only just manage to collect my eldest from the train station as she returns from her third Open Day in an many days.

We dine on the dregs of left-over curry, and just have time to nip out to buy a new bus pass for Small Boy before my eldest and I race to a local city hall for her concert. My beautiful girl takes my breath away with some stunning solo playing and for a happy couple of hours I do relax and clear my brain of the logistical load it has carried for the last few days.

When we do arrive home, I gaze catatonically at the TV for less than an hour before turning in. Tomorrow is July and tomorrow is also Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition, a concert for Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter’s first day at work experience, oh and a full day of work for me. Do you know what, tomorrow can just wait for a few hours…