April 2021 – June 2021

April 2021

Vaccine 2!

beckyjo125

Monday 5 April 2021

Is it just me or do other people turn on the TV and just wonder ‘what on earth‘ is everyone talking about?

An erstwhile fan of the Smiths, I did, long ago, claim that Morrissey has a ‘lyric for every situation’ and the line racing around my head most Spring mornings in 2021 is that the news , “says nothing to me about my life...” Never more so than with the vaccine.

In December 2020, when Margaret Keenan became the ‘first person in the world’ to get the Covid-19 vaccination, it was a joyful and emotional moment. Not only our first real chink of light in the grim lockdown tunnel but also a fantastic symbol of humanity; that the first person to be chosen came not from the ranks of the most powerful but from the population of those most at need. After months of a devastating global pandemic, whilst it made clear sense in terms of medical resources, this was also a powerful symbol that we chose to value our grandparents and loved ones as highly as great leaders and the economy. We cared about everyone….or did we?

Several months later, a generation of jabbed adults appear to have forgotten about those still at risk, and have turned their thoughts towards: vaccine passports, foreign holidays and seats in football stadia. I am lost because, although millions of ‘stay-at-home’ adults, for whom age was an easy filter, are now wrapped in AZ or Pfizer protection, one person very lose to my heart is still waiting. My second child has not yet received her vaccination, despite being assigned to a higher priority group that anyone else in our house, and we really would like that extra layer of protection for her. Not for exotic beaches, or trips to the theatre, or nights at the pub, but just to reduce the risk of hospitalisation. This, in brief is why.

Five years ago, a severe run of asthma attacks, resulted in my daughter being hospitalised on three separate occasions. The first; a bewildering blur, introduced to the world of ‘blue lighting’ and oxygen-masking as frightened novices. The second; a complete body blow, as my head and heart had to accept that asthma is not something you cure, rather an ever present condition, that may strike at any time. The third, and most severe was a wake up call for me that, single parent or not, I needed to do better.

The third occasion included the most aggressive treatment. Due to oxygen levels dropping unexpectedly, my girl was required to undergo several hours of intensive treatment, attached to a mask and machine that made her incredibly ill. She would struggle, wave at me in panic. I’d remove the mask. She would be sick and beg to stop, plead for even a short break. The nursing staff would kindly but firmly re-attach the mask and she would be made to continue. It went on all day. By 9pm the nurse arrived with the latest readings and the awful news that she would have to resume treatment for the third time that day. I was aghast, because I would not be there. I was the only adult in the house and had two other children, both under 15, ‘home alone’. The nursing staff assured me, as I left, that they would ‘look after her’. But they did not. Not due to lack of kindness, I hasten to add, but lack of staffing. My daughter was left, struggling alone on the machine, ringing a bell that was never answered and vomiting into her own slippers. Eventually, some one else’s mum came to help her and clean her up. Imagine my shame!

As I listened to her account the next morning, and dropped the gruesome slippers into the garbage can, I promised her that ‘never again’ would she do this alone. If our hospital system relied upon parents sharing in the non-critical care, I accepted that I had failed to play my part. It was time for me to swallow any shred of pride I had left and beg for yet more help and favours from friends and family to enable me to stay on the ward in future. Happily, however, fortune shone on us over the ensuing years. Transferred from our patchy primary provision to Consultant Care, we benefitted from a return to the routine calendared checks, we’d enjoyed when living ‘down south’. My daughter’s meds were cranked ever higher, but on the upside her asthma seemed relatively under control. And then corona virus arrived.

I watched the scenes of patients in Italy on ventilators, fighting for breath. I heard the chilling news; that covid- patients were allowed no visitors and it was like re-awakening to a former nightmare. Any promises I may have made to ‘always be there’ suddenly looked very flimsy. Ex-Hub and I discussed our daughter uprooting to move to live with him for the duration of Lockdown 1, but for various reasons decided against it. Instead she lived in her room, eating meals off a tray, working, sleeping and being alone within the family unit. In April 2020, came the truly tragic story of a 13 year old child dying alone in a UK hospital. We were stunned but deeply thankful for the subsequent decision by Matt Hancock to change these rules and sanction limited visitors for covid patients. And gradually, life became a little more bearable.

Indeed we grew used to the virus. We followed the rules. We returned to school and college. We kept ourselves as safe as possible and I’d be lying if I claimed that we continued to be anxious about its threat. But the landscape has changed now. There is a vaccine. My daughter has been prioritised for it and I know she deserves this extra level of protection. Unfortunately, as a ‘child’, a few weeks shy of 18, she has to await a GP appointment and a vial of Pfizer and although, as advised I call weekly, our practice have not been able to provide this for 5 frustrating weeks. In that time, I’ve been jabbed. My eldest child, as a medical student, has been jabbed. My son has had covid, so probably has antibodies. In our home, the only member of the household still to receive additional protection is the only person who really needs it. So you’ll forgive me if I’m not in the debate about passports, outdoor beer gardens or elbowing my way to the front of the queue for FA cup tickets, because quite frankly I’m nowhere near future plans. Right here, right here, right now I simply ask that this ‘world beating’ vaccination programme does its primary job and protects the vulnerable… my vulnerable. Isn’t that more than enough for anyone?

DI …just whY?

beckyjo125

Friday 9 April 2021

Lockdown – it does strange things to a person who likes to be busy!

Week one of the Easter Holidays and I make it my quest to sort out the mess with my daughter’s covid-19 vaccine. I reach the first step of the complaints procedure for our GP practice, receive a very nice call from the practice manager and we have a Pfizer clinic date in the diary before tea-time on Tuesday. And that leaves the rest of the week free. Dangerously free. I am very tempted to start on a mountain of paper work for school, but sternly tell myself that I need a break. And thus, for reasons I can only attribute to Locked-down madness, I find myself tottering up the stairs towards my bedroom … armed with rollers, tins of paint and dust sheets. Why did nobody stop me?

The daring ‘feature’ wall is painted without incident and I move confidently onto the rest, sloshing generous amounts of ‘Magnolia’ into a fresh tray. In my defence, how was I to know that there was a hole in the thing? I do wonder why there seem to be growing puddles of paint on my expertly strewn dust sheets, but put it down to a little initial over-enthusiastic pouring and roller on with vigour, blissfully unaware of any issues. It is only as I move the tray from ground level to the top of my ladder, in readiness for those final tricky high bits, that the leaky tray is unmasked. Paint drips from the bottom of the tray onto my hair, my surprised face and my long suffering ‘painting shirt. In the blink of an eye, albeit not my gunked up lashes, I am a Magnolia mess!

Fortunately I do have a spare tray and use it to stem the flow. Less fortuitously, alas, in all the confusion, I have failed to register the fact that I am also standing in sticky, spilled paint. I’ll be frank, the paint-covers are now so sodden with the stuff, it would have been impossible to avoid. As I potter off to find a sink to clean myself up, I leave a trail of magnolia footprints in my wake. The rest of the afternoon is spent in the company of ‘Dr Beckman Carpet Cleaner‘ scrubbing the floor and stairs! I decide to abandon my decorating for the day in favour of a very large glass of red!

Next morning I am up early and back on the case, with waning enthusiasm but a stoic acceptance that there simply is no way back. It’s the wall behind my bed. There is limited space to pull the bed into and so, for the higher parts of the wall, I cast aside my step ladders and elect to balance on the bed itself. Within moments, my left leg is slipping through the gap between the bedding and the headboard. I grab onto the top of the board, and wrap my arms around it to stop the slide but then I am completely stuck, jammed in by the mattress, pillows and several slightly soggy dust sheets. It is not at all dignified. It is far from my finest hour, but I am unable to move and left with only one option,

Help!” I call into a silent house of sleeping teenagers

After 3 minutes which feel like a lifetime and several plaintive cries, a groggy Small Boy arrives, looks appalled, deals with the mattress and I am yanked unceremoniously back to freedom.

Tonight, I am recovering with at least one full bottle of wine. My leg is very sore. My back aches. The room is, thank the Lord, all but finished. Any final touches can, I vow, most definitely wait until 2022. I have paint in my hair, all over my feet (and my knees?). There have just got to be better ways than this to take a break from work… even in a national Lockdown!

Zoom coffee anyone?

The great outdoors …

beckyjo125

Sunday 18 April 2021

Week 2 of the Easter Holidays; the sun shines, at times the snow even falls, but the big news is that pubs and cafes re-open for outdoor hospitality. Our politicians and leaders caution us to be careful and ‘take this next step safely’, but it is hard not to feel just a teeny bit giddy…

In our household, we all get out to meet our friends! Lunches, brunches, take-out picnics, shopping trips and alcoholic tipples. Gosh it does feel great …. even though it is all in the fresh air. Because, I had previously dismissed the notion of ‘outdoor hospitality’ as a terrible concept when it was first muted in February. How happy I am to be proved wrong! Sitting outside – I’d venture that it actually adds to the experience.  But why?

Here in the bracing North of England, we are a perfect stomping ground for your ‘good muddy walk’, but are not traditionally associated with alfresco dining, so is it just the novelty? Very possibly. Re-thinking, re-invention and innovation are very much part of our 21st Century world and the phenomena of falling a little bit in love with the pandemic driven pavement culture has been seen in other urban areas too.  In December 2020, in his Guardian article “Outdoor dining has been a Covid bright spot. Let’s make it permanent”, Gene Marks reports on the decision to extend outdoor permits in New York and the drive to address some issues so that this can be replicated across other US cities too. Marks recognises that eating outdoors isn’t actually new, rather,  like ‘like work from home, e-commerce and virtual meetings‘ it is a trend that has been accelerated by lockdown restrictions. Additionally,  it offers cities a chance to re-invent themselves as we emerge into the ‘new normal’

“As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”

City Mayor New York City

In an era where we have been drilled to ‘follow the science’, the glad tidings are that scientist too support the benefits of the outdoor culture. Countless articles suggests that being outdoors boosts our mood, our creativity, our vision and our immune system.  It makes us feel better and also be better! The Huffington post, in its article ‘Here’s proof that going outside makes your healthier‘ finds that exercise feels easier and is proven to be more motivating when outside.   An ‘Ask the Scientists‘ summary by Sydney Sprouse, claims that it can even help us to live longer!

A 2015 study followed 108,630 American women to determine the relationship between nature and longevity. Women who lived near parks, lawns, trees, and forests had significantly lower mortality than women living far from nature. 

And it doesn’t have to be about venturing far or extreme physical challenges, bringing nature and the outdoors closer to us, via gardens plants and even views of the natural world from a window will also bring benefits. Essentially there seems to be no right or wrong way to get outside, so as it is currently our only way to start re-connecting with all the people we have missed for so long I say what better combination than fresh air and… delicious refreshments?

Yes, chinwagging over an alfresco latte, can be a touch chilly at times, but for me it’s a big thumbs up to digging out the layers and popping a pair of mittens into my handbag. Feel a bit continental! Feel the outdoor glow on those cheeks. Feel a frisson of excitement as you balance those sunglasses on your head once more. Outdoor hospitality – I am a definite convert…

Flowers…

beckyjo125

Sunday 25 April 2021

Flower,  they have become my weekly treat

It all began in Lockdown 1. As people, fearful to leave the covid-safety of their home and fortress, flocked to sign up for online grocery shopping, I, a confirmed devotee of the doorstep delivery was forced off the schedule for the first time in about 10 years.  Yes a decade of  whipping through the weekly food shop with a swift half hour of laptop clicks from the sofa … came to an abrupt end. It was simply impossible to get a slot unless I could foresee fluctuations in the food cupboard at least a fortnight in advance.  So it was farewell to the time-saving lifeline my brother had signed me up for the week I became a single parent, and … hello to the supermarket shelves once more.

Was it terrible? Can I be frank; it really wasn’t. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do! But, as I was often the only person to leave our house for an entire week, I found myself feeling duty bound to return to the homestead with treats to boost morale. We stocked up on alcohol, we groaned under the weight of endless snacks and I bought flowers. And long after, the unhealthy options have dwindled away the beautiful blooms have stayed, because…who doesn’t love flowers?

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s Water Lilies, O’Keeffe’s White Iris; artists have been drawn to the beauty and evocative qualities of flowers for centuries. In poetry Wordsworth immortalised the daffodil and the poppies of Flander’s Field, so fragile yet so resilient, are honoured as our symbol of remembrance in John McCrae’s poignant verse. Flowers are woven into popular culture too, from the ‘Flower Power’ of the 1960’s to  Portugal’s Carnation Revolution; today, in fact, marks the anniversary, in 1974, of the peaceful overthrow of the Estado Novo dictatorship, where carnations, placed into soldiers’ rifles became the enduring image of the movement.

As I wander happily around Tesco’s flowery displays however, I think I am mostly drawn in by my own fond memories of flowers? As gifts go, they are hard to beat! Its is many years since I turned eighteen and I do struggle to remember much about the day, but I can still picture my boyfriend appearing at the door with a bouquet of 18 red carnations. I know that I got married with white roses. The flowers on my desk the Monday morning after I dropped my eldest child off at university made me smile .. and made me cry. Because, of course, flowers are beautiful and it is undeniable that bringing the loveliness of the natural world into our home never fails to lift the mood or brighten the room.  But I think flowers are even more than that. They say , ‘you’re special‘  ;  they say ‘I’m thinking of you‘ ;  they say ‘you matter‘.

And, during the craziness of this pandemic,  that’s a message it’s been important to being home every week from my trip to the Tesco aisles. In fact, even as we thankfully start to return to normal,  I think I might hold onto our new floral tradition. A lovely lasting legacy of this strangest of covid-years…

April ends…

beckyjo125

30 April 2021

We survive 30 crazy days. I’m trying to fathom English Summer exam regulations as a teacher. Prom-dress daughter is stuck in the middle of it as a stressed and strained A level student. The goal posts change daily, the assessments seem never-ending. But we keep going and, out of the blue, we get our reward.

I am driving home from work on Thursday when an excited voice bursts through on the hands-free

Mum …I got into Edinburgh!”

Its her top choice and they have certainly kept us waiting! The UCAS form went in before Christmas, tomorrow it is May. But I push all this aside because they have finally given my little super star a (reduced) offer and she is over the moon.

We celebrate with wine and chips. We spend a joyful evening browsing Uni accommodation. And the change in my lovely girl’s spirits: her smile, her radiance, the light in her eyes…it is just beyond compare.

So farewell April 2021. You will ever have a place in our hearts…

May 2021

Teenagers and battles …

beckyjo125

Tuesday 5 May 2021

“Miss!! Turn the board down ! It is so bright… it’s like Jesus has come into the room!”

And so, with a lot of laughter, my working week begins! Teenagers – I live with them, I work with them. They can test my patience and sanity to the absolute limit but at their best, their feisty, funny, outspoken best they can brighten up the day like nobody else. And, it is true in the classroom, that a lesson that begins with a smile, usually goes better than one that starts with a rant. But sometimes a rant also has its place. And this is equally true in the home…

Source: anniegetyourgum

Our house has been a whirl of school and college exams of late. High stakes for Prom-dress daughter who grinds stoically through a testing ordeal of assessments designed to support her Teacher Assessed Grades for A’levels this Summer. For Small Boy too, after a crazy 12 months of school closures and online lessons, come Year 10 Mocks. He also works well to prepare for his tests in most subjects. I say most, because there is one notable exception. The night before his maths exam, over tea, I offer to help him with some revision,

Oh, I don’t need to revise for that one – all the topics on the list are really easy”

is his casual response. It is like a red rag to a bull, not just because maths happens to be my subject, but also because ‘trying your best’ is our household motto. So this feels like a betrayal and I am unable to stop my hackles starting to rise. Predictably preachy and rather more acidly than I might have hoped, I point out that in our household we ‘always prepare’, that he does need to ‘look at some questions‘ and that I do expect him to ‘aim a bit higher’. Something about my tone clearly lights the touch paper of teen indignation because within moments, I am under fire,

You are putting too much pressure on me!”

“Its my life mum, not yours!”

Angry, self-righteous cries fly across the kitchen table. I am quite weary and for a split second toy with the idea of just giving in. It would be a lot easier. I could shrug and sniff ” Oh have it your way” and put my feet up with a nice cuppa. But it feels like a dereliction of parental duty so I dig in. But in an increasingly toxic atmosphere, I compromise and allow Small Boy to organise his own revision. Eyeballing me with disdain, this turns out to be my son swiping his phone on, watching a 3 minute maths video, before sauntering out of the room announcing ‘Revision done mother!” over his shoulder. It feels very much like a ‘lose , lose‘ situation and I grit my teeth for a tense week.

Happily however, I manage to avoid further confrontation and the ensuing days are harmonious ones. I do forget to wash Small Boy’s PE kit and have to rush it through a hurried 30-minute wash on PE morning itself. But I just apologise and my son really couldn’t be any more reasonable about heading to school in a distinctly damp set of joggers. As a reward for much improved communication and reliability when meeting his friends, Small Boy and I also negotiate a slightly pushed back ‘home time’ for his next social outing. All is well, all is calm, all is pleasant. Perhaps a battle really is never worth it, I ponder. But there is another page to turn on this tale.

Towards the end of the week, his teachers start to hand back test results and Small Boy is thrilled by his scores… with one notable exception. On Thursday, I arrive home to a cup of tea and a sheepish looking boy clutching a mathematics book,

“Er mum…I have to resit my maths test tomorrow…can you give me a bit of help ?”

Oh perhaps that really was the Lord in my White board at school, because this feels like divine redemption! It takes under 20 minutes, a couple of revision cards and a review of the salient features of the probability tree, before he is pretty much ready for anything ! I have to confess that I am unable to resit a bit of a raised eyebrow but my son holds up both hands muttering, “I know mum“, so I magnanimously leave it there and hope it is a lesson learned.

So can we ever completely avoid clashing with our offspring? Probably not. Look, I could have handled this week’s conflict far better, but I defy any parent to beatifically beam their way through the daily battery of teenage-rearing challenges. Not just because we’re human. Not just because our kids can be the most exasperating creatures on the planet. But because sometimes, it matters. The trusty old adage to ‘choose your battles’ is essential advice for any parent, but battle you sometimes must. Yes, occasionally to be a good parent (or a good teacher) you have to roll up your sleeves and face the flak, because its worth it and…they may even thank you in the end!

Running Alone…

beckyjo125

Saturday 15 May 2021

Can I start by saying, “I miss my run buddies”. There is simply nothing to beat camaraderie, laughter and a good old chin-wag for making you keep to the challenge of weekly exercise. But as, for various reasons, I currently find myself running solo, I have to say that it does offer some benefits…

Firstly it is precious time by yourself and a brilliant space for your brain to think… or not. Active.com actually advocate unplugging yourself completely on a solo-run

Take a deep breath, take in the natural world, or just take an hour off from thinking about anything at all

Well that is their advice and it does sound luxurious, but I probably do the exact opposite. My run is very much a time when I do think through any worries or problems that are keeping me up at night and it always brings some fresh perspective. Be it, kids, money or, as has been the case in recent weeks, work… work is a stressful place at the moment… by the end of an hour of fresh air and exercise, I always have a new plan. And I love this, for whilst I am one of life’s thinkers, my world is a crowded and noisy place where my aging brain cells can find it difficult to function. So I am more in tune with Amanda Brooks, who, writing in Run to the Finish , on the ‘9 Powerful Benefits of Running Alone’, cites that

Many runners {myself included} do some of their best thinking while on the run

Secondly it is glorious just to be yourself in any shape or form. Now I would be lying if I claimed that I ever spent much time on my appearance but, like most of us, I do brush my hair, apply a dash of make-up and run the iron over my clothes for work or meeting friends and even commit to a swift mirror check before heading out for the weekly shop. But on my Saturday run.. there is none of that. As seen in my pictures of today’s 10k dash, it’s hair scraped away, slightly torn leggings, old pink running shoes and a raincoat knotted around waist. I might splash a bit of water over my face, but that is the extent of my pre-run beauty routine. And it it liberating and joyous not to care a jot what anyone, not even a run buddy, thinks for an hour or more.

And finally, you can just please yourself on the run itself. So, do I channel my inner Phoebe Buffay and,

“… run like I did when I was a kid because that’s the only way it’s fun”

Phoebe Buffay: The One Where Phoebe Runs 1999

If only! Maybe I will try it one of these mornings? But already I run as fast or slow as I want. On a sunny day, if I espy a nice bench, I will happily choose to sit and catch few rays if the mood takes me. In the recent run of amazing snowy Spring-time days, when the beauty of our local county-side was simply breathtaking, I often paused just to gaze and take it all in. If I am tired, I walk up the steepest hills. And if I see a friend … I just stop and chat for as long as a blinking well like. In many ways it is the most self-indulgent time of the week.

So in a nutshell it is, space to think, time to be yourself and time to please yourself. Of course it doesn’t have to be running. It could be a walk. It could be sitting in a beautiful church. It could be a long car drive. But I do think it is a little bit of weekly luxury that we all deserve…

Smile?

beckyjo125

Sunday 23 May 2021

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
…”

Composer: Charlie Chaplin with lyrics by Turner and Parsons

I am sure that at one time or another, we’ve all tried to fake a brave smile in the face of adversity. But is that notion of cheerily ploughing on come what may, the quintessential ‘British stiff upper lip’, always good for you?

Well, ‘yes’ says Nabin Paudyal in Life Hack’s ‘10 reasons you should smile more often.‘ He argues that smiling not only reflects happiness but that it can also trick your brain into actually feeling happier. And countless other writers agree. Why to many, the seemingly simple smile is unrivalled in it powers. From making you more attractive and a better leader to claims that it can even prolong your life. Let’s get grinning right now everyone?

But ‘no’ counters Live Science’s Agate Blaszczak-Boxe in the article Why Smiling Too Much May Be Bad for You, where it it proposed that smiling too much when you are ‘faking it’ can actually make you feel worse. The conclusion here is that , “Whether a wide grin will hurt your emotional well-being depends on the motivation behind it,...”

So I really don’t know but I do think, as I look back as some old family photos that the false smile, for me and my teens, is pretty easy to spot. Here goes!

Holiday in Ireland – a year before the family break-up
First Communion for my Eldest – 2 months after family break-up
Our new life in the N West 3 years after family break-up
My confident squad on Holiday in 2019

It’s all about the second photo for me. First Communion for my Eldest, a few weeks after ex Hub left the family home. Gosh we look a tense and nervous quartet. Unsure, uncertain and uncomfortable. I recall that the children’s dad did not come and so we presented ourselves to the world, for the first time, in the most family-orientated of settings, as a lone parent unit. Which sounds as if it would have been very daunting. But I have to be honest… only ‘sounds as if’…. because, on a very startling note, I remember absolutely nothing else about any emotions on the day. Were we feeling sad and sacred? Were we worrying about the unknown future that lay ahead? I’d be lying if I claimed I knew!

So if this is you, currently finding the strength to face a conventional world as a slightly different version of the norm, take heart! Try not to worry. It probably is going to be alright, by which I mean, as alright as anyone else. For life is an ever-changing , up and down experience for us all. I actually love the fact that we have a picture from one of the tough times along the way because it makes me feel proud of the progress we have made since as a family. As you see, just 3 short years later, in a picture taken to mark the move into our new house in the NorthWest, we look far more relaxed and together. And by 2019, on a wonderful holiday in the Sun, happier and stronger together.

So I plan to smile…or not smile as the mood takes me. But I will keep taking the pictures and will not shy away from the ones that show the trickier times in life, when the grins are a little more strained and those beams heart-breakingly brave. Because they will remind me that, if we stick together and face the challenges with those we love, more often than not, there will be better times around the corner…

Victoria Station…

beckyjo125

Saturday 29 May 2021

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport…”

Love Actually: Richard Curtis 2003

Well it’s not Heathrow for me today, it’s Manchester Victoria; my Eldest child is coming home for a week and I am planning, with great excitement, to pick her up

Victoria Station, a grand old 19 Century building and my favourite railway terminus in the city. Not all love it, as I do. In fact, in 2009, it was named the ‘Worst Station in the UK and has since been significantly renovated. But that cannot have been a vote about the architecture; the Victorian facade, the lovely domes, the charming tiles on the interior and,  for me, the very best feature –  those evocative destination signs posted on the station front, which seem to capture the excitement of travel and exploration in bygone centuries. Surely it was just an outcry about facilities and repair?

I like to think that it was. And, as I have stood watching the teens playing Christmas Carols with our local band over many years, I have certainly been grateful for the new roof. I am also a fan of the delightful Java Bar Expresso, deliciously tucked into a corner of the concourse and the perfect spot for bit of reading, dreaming or just people watching.  And that is the vision I have, as I hop out of bed to face the day. Arrive early, a fancy Italian coffee, me, my kindle and a hour of tranquility. Utter bliss after a really tough and stressful term at work.

Alas… it does not quite turn out that way. Around midday, as I, still rather sweaty from an early run, am catching up on some chores my phone pings. My daughter’s arrival time is a full hour and a half earlier than any of us were expecting! So it is ‘adios’ to hopeful Brief Encounter images of me in any coffee bar, enigmatically perusing my novel, and instead, a mad dash to shower, tame my hair and dive into the car. Prom-dress daughter further shatters the concept of sumptuous solitude by leaping into the seat beside me… but thank the Lord that she does. Mid-Manchester is an anarchy of traffic roadworks and…closed car parks. As the clock ticks down, I find myself, in growing panic careering round the city centre streets unable to find any spot to stop in and, in desperation, flaunting occasional ‘bus and taxi only’ zones!  But teens, at least my teens, don’t do hysteria. My middle child just taps into some ‘map-app’ on her phone and takes charge, calmly and commandingly steering me to the front of the station where her sister, plus friend are ready to jump in and head homeward.

We catch-up, we share funny stories, we talk through any worries and we head out for an evening meal.  Even if everything didn’t quite go to plan, this feels like a pretty good start to half term. Manchester Victoria – alas, it was not a day to stop and sit and drink in your charm and style but it is a day to thank you for bringing my girl home!

June 2021

Relationships by numbers…

beckyjo125

Sunday 6 June 2021

You hear some strange things on the radio in the middle of the night…

Somewhere between teacher assessed grades, mass testing and track n’ tracing, work stress has made the grim descent into insomnia. Although I invariably zonk out effectively enough in an exhausted heap; by around 2am I am awake again, tossing and turning fretfully in a fruitless quest to return to the illusive REM-cycle. When my mind is really racing, I switch the radio on, hoping for distraction, and this is where, a few nights ago…I discover the notion of numbers linked to social and workplace interaction. It is claimed that,

You can only maintain so many close friendships

The central name in the debate is evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, best known for 150, his namesake ‘Dunbar’s number’. Dunbar claims that this is the number of ‘stable relationships ‘ we are able, cognitively to maintain at once. It is his ‘wider circle of friends’ number, the amount you’d expect to see at your wedding, or imagine at your funeral, as opposed to your closest most trusted companions. On the radio, the guest expert applies this number to the workplace too, as the number where you could know each colleague not only by name but also know something of them as a person: their role, their family, their interests, their ambitions. Its suggested that although variation is inevitable, this is a suitable number for that sense of unity and community that hallmark effective organisations. When employee numbers rise too far above this, our expert continues, some businesses choose to open a second office or warehouse to break the workforce down into more sociable sized units.

Now this draws me in because 150 is pretty close to the number of colleagues I work with and all of this is certainly true for us. Additionally too, it catches my imagination because, as a mathematician, I have a long standing fascination with the seemingly mystical existence of numbers and number patterns in society, in music, in art and in our natural world. Oh yes, our wonderful cardinals refuse simply to be confined to the dusty pages of some academic tome!

Hence, as this audio item moves onto explore other numbers, I find myself wide-awake. The theory examines various friendship thresholds. Five is the ballpark for close friends – shoulder to cry on friends, the ones who share your happiest (or saddest) news first friends. It is proposed that this is why we so often see quintets, or their near neighbours, winning appeal in popular culture; Enid Blyton’s Famous 5, FriendsScooby Doo‘s sleuthing squad and numerous rock and pop groups.

There is a long conversation about fifteen. In the relationship ranks, 15 is ‘best friends’ – around the number you’d have at a regular birthday meal, on a hen party weekend or those you’d call upon to look after your children. The radio discussion suggests that this stronger bond makes a suitable number for sporting teams and even expands to include Jesus and his disciples in the category.

From 15 they jump to 50 and then the renowned 150…

I lie there thinking it through for my life: reliving the times when friends did drop everything to support me and who they were, picturing the faces at my 30th Birthday Party or the various work teams I have contributed to and which worked well and which … less so. There or there abouts … those numbers work for me, although for a statistically minded soul, there is not a lot of space between 5 and 15 for variation! And I strongly suspect it was the clarity of definition of roles, rather than the size, that made several work teams successful or not. I imagine this could be an easy theory to challenge… from various directions.

Nonetheless, possibly akin to counting sheep, as I attempt to recall and count those who came to my Wedding I find myself drifting pleasantly off into a wonderful spell of sleep. I decide, whatever it limitations, that this is the theory for me after all…

Mum moment…

beckyjo125

Friday June 2021

It’s Friday night and everyone is okay! Quick… pour me a drink!

As mums and dads across the land will tell you, the life of a parent can feel like a life of worry at times. So, when the occasional oasis emerges from those desolate plains of teen- anxiety, stress and tension, it is more than enough reason to celebrate.

This week, I have a child who has passed First Year Medicine, a second who has completed all her A’Level assessments and a third who has a grade 6 piano distinction, a box of KFC and …. a wall chart for Euro 2020, which is currently keeping him more than happy!

So , at least for the next 2 hours, no-one needs help; no-one needs money, no-one needs … me at all! It’s bliss and I intend to make the most of it. So a longer post for my beloved blog must wait until tomorrow! I have got serious amounts of bubbly wine to consume…

She’s got a ticket to ride…

beckyjo125

Saturday  June 2021

With A’level assessments over, Prom-dress daughter heads off  to the North East to spend a few days with her sister.  Her only worry? The train… its is her first solo journey…

My middle child struggles with the unknown, she always has, and a 2 hour train trip, with one change, on her own for the first time, has pushed her completely out of her comfort zone. We drive to the station in strained silence and sitting outside a nearby coffee shop in the Saturday sunshine, her panic even spills into a few tears. Once again, we go through the  route, where to find platform info, how to open the carriage door and where to put luggage. I give her a reassuring hug and  she tries to calm down.

Wondering if I have underestimated her anxiety on this occasion, I offer to persuade the attendant to let me through the first barrier so that I can see her get onto the first train. How I love her reply!

“Do you know what Mum, I think I just need to go for it and do this on my own!”

And she does. I have my phone ready and I probably get over 25 texts in the next 10 minutes, checking and asking about absolutely every detail. But, as my lovely girl finds, that she has actually successfully boarded the correct train without any help, I know that her confidence has rocketed because I scarcely hear from her again. One brief text letting me know that the change at York has gone well and then… nothing at all. It is my eldest who lets me know that she has arrived safely and it makes me smile… it takes me back to Day 1 at High School…

Day 1 at High School was the bus journey.  We’d done a dummy run and for extra support on that first morning, we’d arranged that I would shadow her on the bus too. I’d get on, sit as far away as possible, avoid eye contact and generally act as if we’d never met. But, if anything went wrong, I would be there.

It worked a treat, but the clearest memory I have is of the moment we all disembarked. By this time there was a throng of unformed pupils all treading the route to the school gates and I can still picture my daughter turning round and giving me a tiny wave… it was a wave goodbye, a wave to say ‘Okay on my own now Mum’ , a wave for me to let her find her own way. And I often say that by the time she came back home that day, she was already a different child. More confident, more independent and more free.

And I think I know that when she comes home next week, she’ll have changed again and be a different young woman to the one I dropped off this morning. More sure of herself, more ready for autonomy and more excited about opening the door to embrace the opportunities that life offers as you start to make your own way in it.

These are important milestones and good steps to take. These are times to feel quite proud, as a mum, to sit back and let them be ‘okay on my own now ‘ …

The NHS deserved better, we all deserved better…

beckyjo125

Saturday 26 June 2021

A day after the story of his affair with a government aides hits the media, Matt Hancock, The Health Secretary, finally resigns. For me, although allegedly not for his boss, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, this is beyond doubt the only correct decision to have made. Why? Because so many deserved so much better than Hancock.

Firstly there is the NHS, our NHS, the epitome of a national treasure, even before covid-19 overtook our lives. They surely deserve a more fitting figure-head.

In 2017, The King’s Fund in a publication, ‘What do the public think about the NHS?’ marking the 70th birthday of Bevan’s formation of a national health service, found unwavering support the system. At this time, 4 in 5 of us had, consistently held the view that ‘the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it’. And throughout the pandemic, respect, gratitude and sheer love for the heroic efforts of our exhausted doctors, nurses and carers has known few limits.

So when the call came to ‘save lives and protect the NHS‘ is could not have been a more important one. People did make heartbreaking decisions and NHS staff did live and work through horrific times to support them. So Hancock’s breach of the very covid regulations he exhorted us to follow, is an immense and shocking betrayal. Of equal gravitas, moving forward, is the reality that he would have had absolutely zero credibility in promoting further health care messages and any necessary restrictions and this, at it worst, could endanger lives and threaten our beloved health service. It was just not good enough for our NHS; it was completely untenable for him to continue.

Secondly there are the volunteers who have supported the vaccine roll out. On Saturday morning, I munch my bran flakes watching the BBC news report from a Vaccine Drop-(£in Centre in York, made possible by an enthusiastic set of volunteers. Ten of thousands have responded to the call to ‘Get the Jabs Done’, given their time freely and braved the elements to push forward a Vaccination Programme, in whose glory Hancock was only too eager to bask and boast. And an amazing programme is has been.

So, how galling for them to hear that, as they shivered in the rain at a local sports centre, Hancock’s favourite university pal, was snugly housed in the Department of Health on a £1000 a day job as an ‘aide’. No-one seems able to articulate why she was there, nor what the salary covered. Was our former Health Secretary just looking to improve his kissing technique? If so, Louise Rennison’s hilarious ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is now on Amazon from £0.99, and would have left a few more pounds in the coffers! But seriously, if this aide has had some impact on the pandemic or national health-care, can we know what it is? Surely our wonderful army of unpaid volunteers deserve this at the very least.

Thirdly there is the public at large. Don’t we just deserve better people to lead us? Is it too much to ask that we can respect and look up to those that we vote into the positions of highest power and privilege, as opposed to watching toe-curling videos of them smooching around their offices, like teenagers behind the bike-sheds? We hear that the government agenda is about ‘re-building better’. Please can this start with some professional development on leadership and standards for the Cabinet? Those who make decisions always need ethical frameworks to work within. For our MPs, I understand that this is the ‘Ministerial Code’ and that technically Matt Hancock did not break this. But, for goodness sake Matt, to quote your own guidance, it is not just about technicalities at times like this,

“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part…”

Matt Hancock January 2021

Finally, there is his family. Now I am not here to pass any judgement on the state of anyone’s marriage but, the fact remains that his wife and children have had to see all the images, comments and memes as well. Whatever they decide to do,they will need time to communicate, listen, repair and heal. And surely from Day One, of this mess Hancock should have gone to spend time with his children rather than spending another minute trying to hang onto his, and I quote his boss here, ‘totally f***ing useless‘ attempts to run our Health Service. They just deserve so much better…

When ‘Thank you’ just isn’t enough…

beckyjo125

Tuesday 29 June 2021

With Teacher Assessed Grades safely dispatched, it is the perfect moment to deliver messages of thanks to the incredible teachers who have guided Prom-dress daughter through her A Levels over the past two impossibly challenging years…

I settle down at the kitchen table with a pack of ‘Thank you’ cards and, pen poised…  I start, I stop, I chew the lid, I make a coffee. Just where to start? Just how to find the words?

Why, you may ask, have I not waited until Results Day? Well that bit is easy; because grades and achievements are not really the point of me writing to them today. The lessons my daughter has learned during her two years at college surpass any set of results or gold lettered certificates. They have taught her that she is far more capable and confident than she ever realised, and that is invaluable.

Prom-dress daughter struggled to speak at Nursery. My little girl just waved as her name was called out on the register, and received an award when,  7 months in she found the courage to respond with the words ‘here‘. She was described as ‘timid‘ on her transition to High School report and, I lost count of the number of times at Parent Evenings that I left knowing only that her teachers wanted her to ‘contribute more’ or that she was ‘very quiet‘ in lessons. Now, following a traumatic occasion when I locked verbal horns with an unfortunate English Teacher, I was forbidden, by all my offspring, from saying anything at all at Parental consultations, so I may have wanted to suggest  ‘Look if you want her to contribute, why don’t you just ask her a question?’ but I instead I just bit my tongue. And perhaps I am glad I did, because it was all to change when she went to college.

Our local college is huge and I was mildly terrified that my quiet girl would be lost in the crowds. But the opposite happened. Teachers took a real interest. They assessed in detail. They gave careful feedback. They knew my daughter inside out. At Parent Evenings I learned about her academic strengths, how clever she was and how ready she was for Higher Education; and not once did anyone focus on her shyness. When challenges, such as presentations, came, they didn’t just tell her to ‘be more confident‘, they showed her how to be, by preparing and practising in advance. And she flourished. Highlight of the two years for me? Was is the top mark for her History coursework or an A* in a Maths assessment? No! It was the day she came home to tell me that she had taken part in ‘role play’ in a Philosophy lesson; simply astonishing.

Quite how they managed this amidst the chaos and disruption of covid-19, I’ll never know. I think they are just gifted. I think they radiate vocation and care. I think they are fantastic!

I take a deep breath. I take the plunge. I start to write. 

” What to say, when ‘Thank you’ just isn’t enough…”

I fill both pages of the card. I hope my words do them justice. I hope they like fizzy wine. I hope they know that their work changes lives. I hope they know that there is no more important role in life…