A New Year … with some blasts from the past!

15 January 2022

This is my first post of 2022, so “Happy New Year!” Uncharacteristically however, I find myself a little out of sync with the advent of this novel chapter of life. As the seasonally resolute launch into fresh starts, new regimes and forward thinking with enthusiasm, I spend much of my initial fortnight taking a trip down memory lane…

See the source image

Well, quite frankly, no-one could blame anyone for wanting to retreat from the jaw dropping January chaos of Boris’ unbelievable Britain! New channels and social media can scarcely keep apace with all the scandal and speculation: Downing Street parties, sozzled civil servants, surging omicron cases, disgraced royal princes and soaring energy prices. It feels like utter madness and misery, which why, were this the catalyst, I know that I’d be forgiven for looking wistfully back to a simpler time when I was young and wrapped up with friends, boyfriends and schoolwork. Back in a bygone century, with only 4 channels on the TV, not a mobile phone in sight and at an age when I was only half aware of anything that was happening out in the wider world.

But the reality is that I don’t find myself reliving some of my past because of any of this. No; it is all far more straightforward! I am contacted unexpectedly by some-one I went to college with; whom I have not seen or heard from for over 30 years. How exciting! We re-live classes, teachers, social exploits and gatherings (some of which I can only dimly recall.) And it is fun. So much so that I decide to really wallow in girlhood nostalgia and challenge Alexa to bring back the soundtrack of my youth.

Now, I spent most of my late teens, clad in black leggings and Ts, lying on my bedroom floor listening to The Smiths, convinced that Morrissey was the only person on the planet to truly understand me. A champion of teen angst he may well have been, but for an aging mother of three, Mozzer wailing through the house is a bit of a mood killer, so I wind the clock forward a few years and go for Alanis Morissette instead. And that is much more like it!

“And what it all comes down to. Is that everythin’s gonna be quite alright.”

I warble along lustily, dancing around the kitchen making tea; I feel fantastic. My chance re-acquaintance may have reminded me that I was once under 25, but the music … I swear that it actually takes me back to an age when I was carefree and finding my way in the world. Maybe it does? In at number 4, on Saga’s Top ten ways to feel instantly young again’, is voyaging down memory lane by looking at old photos or listening to music from that time. Similarly, Wes Baines in an article outlining how youth is defined by ‘action not age‘ suggests that,

“Looking back at your life doesn’t have to remind you of what you’ve lost—it can remind you of what you still have. It’s easier than you think to slip back into that youthful mindset when you surrounded yourself with music and photos and loves from that time of your life.”

I can certainly recommend it as an uplifting hour, if nothing else. Further, I venture a tentative ‘yes’, that a 1980s/1990s kitchen disco brightens my outlook a little and helps me start to look ahead to the new year, with some of the ambition, hope and optimism that I had all those years ago. We shall see… and in the meantime, Alanis certainly knows how to write a great song…

You live, you learn
You love, you learn
You cry, you learn ….

You Learn : Alanis Morissette

The Covid Christmas Chronicles 2!

Monday 27 December 2021

Shhh! I hardly dare say it aloud, but I think I have just recorded my first negative covid test for … what feels like an age!”

A week of isolation, that is all it has been but it has taken its toll and I am going a little bit stir crazy! Why yes, we still have our board games, but we have played them to death. Our favourite was Trivial Pursuits, gloriously updated from the original 1980s version, so that my Gen Z offspring are no longer left puzzling over the ‘Male star of Man about the House in 1974′, but have questions that they can actually answer. Nonetheless, we have now circumnavigated the board so many times that we are struggling to find a card that hasn’t been used: yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that! Want to know the second largest German city by both area and population? I’m your girl!

Mealtimes too provide little variation, as the national season of leftovers collides with our dwindling supply of groceries. A once very fine Christmas dinner attempts a plucky revival each evening but progressively loses a little bit of shine each time, as we run down the veggies and scrape around the freezer digging out oven chips and bits of quorn to make up the nutritional numbers!

Prom-dress daughter is now also positive and, in consequence, when we do gather as a quartet to watch a new festive movie, we shiver in communal harmony with the lounge window wide open for ventilation and clinging to hot drinks for warmth!

Do I need to get out here? Well let’s just say that if you offered me a quarrelsome festive family walk right here and now, with everyone trudging gloomily along in the mud looking venomous and despondent … I’d bite your hand off!

And so it is that this afternoon’s negative test almost has me dancing with joy! I still need a second to secure my ticket to freedom, so I restrict my celebrations to breaking out of my pyjamas, for the first time in 8 days, and donning enough clothing to hit the garden and rake up some wet leave.

Woohoo – living the dream!

Of course I am very grateful that we are both OK … but please… finger, toes and everything crossed here for only one pink line on the lateral flow tomorrow….

The Covid Christmas Chronicles

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Day three of the long awaited Christmas holiday and things are not exactly going to plan…

Ho ho ho! Did I dare to think that Christmas 2021 was going to mark a return to more festive familiarity; with the extended family WhatsApp whirring into December discussions about a month ago? Alas, no sooner have I collected both Uni girls from the station; handed round the glasses of seasonal Baileys and unveiled our new Christmas board games than…

I am floored on Saturday by a revolting attack of vomiting and severe headaches. Generally, there are few low level ailments that stop me; as a single parent of the past decade I’ve learned that being ‘under the weather’, duvet days and most variations flu/common cold/fever etc, are simply not a viable option for the only adult in the house and, thanks to my amazing allies, Anadin Extra and Lemsip Max, I’ve trundled on. But this; well I can hardly raise my head from the pillow! At 7pm, I attempt to prop myself on the sofa for the long anticipated ‘Strictly‘ final but, before the first ‘9’ paddle (Oh Craig; why not a 10?) appears on the screen, I have crawled back into bed to toss, turn and … well throw-up for the rest of the night until…

Sunday and “Ding dong merrily on high!” the sickness finally stops. I summon the energy to take and keep down a painkiller and my headache dulls to blissfully acceptable levels. Festivities are surely back on track! My eldest and I head into town, indulge in yuletide gingerbread lattes, find a few late gifts and splurge my Tesco ClubCard triumphantly on copious amounts of food and drink for the Christmas Day dinner. My mum comes over and the five of us have a hilarious evening of board games and mince pies. I do choose to wear a face mask, explaining, “I really don’t want anyone catching this disgusting sickness bug”, but that measure aside, it is holiday business as usual! In suitably high spirits, we all agree meet-up plans for the week ahead and turn in for what I hope will be a better night’s sleep.

But it is not great, because an irritating cough has set in and I am wide awake even before the 6am work text, ‘Remember to take your lateral flow test‘ pings onto the screen. Within seconds, the test goes a bright-pink, determinedly double-lined, impossible-to-miss … positive.

“Bloomin’ covid !”

Monday; very much the ‘Bleak Mid-Winter’! I drive to some god-forsaken testing centre where a disinterested youth, briefly looks up from his phone screen to pass me a PCR kit and nod his head towards a make-shift booth. Like some irrelevant miscreant, I skulk home to await my fate.

Let me be clear… I am not even remotely close to being ill any more, at worst I cough occasionally and feel mildly spaced out. Nonetheless, ‘I have covid!’ Moreover, I am an important key worker, who has ploughed through 2 years of disruption and chaos without a single day off and ‘I have covid!’ Even if that tester was completely unimpressed, can I not be allowed centre of attention status in my own home? And so, I trounce around the house like some spoiled brat, demanding star treatment from a bewildered trio of teens who do their best but, quite honestly, could carry me around in a sedan chair and serve my meals on a silver platter and I’d still find something to criticise. By the time I stomp off to bed on Monday evening, no-one is speaking to me and… I am confident that none of you would blame them…

Tuesday, brings: the PCR confirmation and me to my senses; well ‘Hark the blessed Angels sing!

I reorganise ‘Christmas mum-plans‘ with my brothers, apologise to… everyone in the house and start thinking instead about how to make holidays fun from the confines of my four walls. No traditional family film outing, but endless outstandingly awful, cheesy Christmas movie-originals on Netflix. At some point we may crack and turn out attention to worthy, unwatched classics, Citizen Kane; Breakfast at Tiffanys, Casablanca… but for now it is, unashamedly, the Christmas Prince trilogy! No lunches out, but at the touch of a button, lunches delivered in. No rushing around to perfect table trimmings or stocking-filler gifts, but … loads of time together, three cheers and Fa la la la la for my board games and …. a very welcome change of pace.

I am super-lucky, I know, to have such a mild dose. Be it the variance of Omicron, or my recent booster or just a fortunate roll of the dice, I am very grateful that I am not poorly, as so many friends and work colleagues have been with this wretched virus. And I will be glad to get out! When one of my brothers sends news of the reduction in isolation time to 7 days, I almost break the land-speed record to dig my box of LFTs out from under the bed and cross everything for a negative test (no joy yet alas!) But until I get my ticket to freedom, I will concede that sitting out the frenzy of the pre-Christmas prep has certain advantages. I may have to live without bread sauce on the 25th and have frozen peas instead of parsnips… but quite frankly I am struggling to remember why that was ever important ….

The North Shropshire by-election

Friday 17 December

At 6am I hear the news that Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan, has won the safe blue seat of North Shropshire, overturning a Conservative majority of 23 thousand votes and unseating the Tories from a seat they have represented for 200 years. And suddenly a week that was feeling distinctly low on festive cheer looks a lot brighter…

A major political earthquake…”, gasp the media commentators, as I scrabble frantically for my phone in the dark bedroom and start scrolling through Twitter like a lunatic. What grabs my attention here, however, is not the interviews with eloquent analysts nor the well-versed soundbites from party leaders but a clip of local voters explaining their reasons for switching life-long allegiances away from their usual party of choice. And they outline, with crystal clarity, basic honest values in their answers. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, or maybe because of it, they uniformly reject and refuse to accept any excuses for: sleaze, lies, double standards and lack of care for their community.

And they make me cry….

Yes, I’ll admit that they make me feel pretty damned patriotic and proud to be British. For we may have endured months of neglect, disregard for all that we hold dear and the mismanagement of our precious public services. In recent weeks we may have felt despair, anger and fury at the battery of dismal, derisory stories from our arrogantly self-entitled Westminster government but that none of that can dismantle our values as a society.

No; today the great British people, as they showed throughout the darkest of Lockdown days and the toughest of times for our poorest families, remain a caring and principled people who do not want to live in the world of our current Prime Minister, a man described by former attorney general Dominic Grieve as a “vacuum of integrity”. And, possibly the greatest of all our British values, democracy, means that they have the power to do something about it. Did the people of North Shropshire speak for us all? They certainly spoke for me; to echo the words of their new MP Helen Morgan

Your amazing efforts have delivered a gift of hope to our country just in time for Christmas

And hope is a wonderful tonic. Hope means it is worth teaching your kids about right and wrong; fairness and justice. Hope means it is worth standing by your beliefs and trying to make your own corner of the world a better place! Hope means that community and family, care and kindness all do matter.

And so, as I hop into the car for work, I am feeling fantastic and full of seasonal cheer. In fact I raise a cheer to every little thing that is or has been good about the last 7 days!

Went to a Christmas concert featuring Small Boy and the local Youth Orchestra,

“Hooray!”

Met up with one of my besties for a Christmas Cream tea with wine and Baileys,

“Hooray!”

Today I break up for the Christmas holidays,

“Hooray!”

This evening, both girls are arriving home for Christmas.

“Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!”

Roll on Christmas and thank you good people of North Shropshire, important as Omicron booster jabs may be, you have been the boost that I’ve needed this week ….

I

Partying… at the Whip and Kitten!

Wednesday 8 December 2021

‘A Christmas gathering?

Why, I hardly dare utter the phrase! But in a week when stories of illegal 2020 lockdown parties in Downing Street rock central government to its very core, our work team also head out, though in our case is actually is, for our first festive celebration together in 2 long years. Our work meal popped onto the calendar last weekend; I’m blogging now because it took me this long to recovery from a rather drink fuelled evening… that ended up in The Whip and Kitten

So how does it feel to be out on a work event after all this time? Well firstly, fellow single parents, getting out of the house is still as much of a challenge as ever. I somehow manage to wash my hair, dust down my frock and root out a bit of lippy, whilst face-timing one daughter about some University issue, picking Small boy up from Youth Orchestra and hearing about my mum’s entire week as she arrives to take my son off for the night. ‘Is it really worth the effort?‘, I wonder, looking longingly at the comfy couch and thinking how much easier it would be just to collapse and turn on the TV.

Nonetheless, by 7:30 pm I am ready and, in my eyes every bit as magical as a horse and carriage, one of my colleagues draws up to give me a lift in their Ford Galaxy. And from this point forward, the trappings, the grind and the relentless routine of parenthood are very much cast aside. Beaming at her fellow passengers, another workmate fishes some pink cans out of a large bag,

“Gin and Tonic anyone?

It heralds the start of a lovely, and yes very merry, evening. Food and chat, drinks and even belly dancing for one of the group! And talk is of life and love and Christmas; all of which makes a fantastic change. The grimness of work throughout a global pandemic, has robbed us, in so many ways, of the chance to relax with workmates, to unwind and converse about things outside of the job, with its stresses and sometimes heartbreaking strains. I couldn’t be more thankful that I resisted the temptation of my couch and made the effort to come out, because socialising is fun, and, as the old adage tells us, ‘laughter is the best medicine’ for those times when we are feeling jaded, sad and blue.

Does that explain how we end up at The Whip and Kitten? It is certainly an eye-catching, with a-hint-of-sauciness name! Can I confess that I cannot recall how it happens, what the hour is, nor who is still left as we are shown to a table in the dimly lit establishment.

“Is it a burlesque place?” someone whispers in my ear.

Having since checked out their website, I think that yes, occasionally, they do invite various dance acts to perform in the venue, but also musicians and comedians. In essence, and certainly on our evening, it is a bar, I can assure you that the cocktails are delicious and hope I shall return soon.

I suppose that, however, will depend on new variants and Boris … I fear they may prove a more lethal concoction than my final Manhattan…

What’s wrong with being woke?

Friday 26 November 2021

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Don’t call young people ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes

Samantha Price November 2021

It is a headline grabbing moment from headteacher Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, at a conference in Manchester this week. Reading various reports of her speech, I don’t think that she objects to the word ‘woke‘ itself, rather that the ‘older generation‘ now use it as an insult to ‘sneer‘ and ‘dismiss’ the views of young people on issues they care deeply about such as: climate change, Black Lives Matter and gender identity.

Well climate change terrifies me; racism sickens me; gender identity, I’ll confess that still baffles me, mostly because I know far less about it. So, whilst as a parent and teacher, it is a cardinal sin for me to even contemplate ‘getting down with the kids’ it makes me ask myself,

Am I a little bit woke too?’

But firstly, what exactly does it mean?

Although its origins can be traced back hundreds of years, woke first appears in the OED in 2017, where it is defined as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’. While the Urban Dictionary entry reads, ‘being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)’. Simply summarised, woke means consciously awake.

And what, I would ask, is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we all be on board? Clearly not; for in certain circles of society there is now a vehement ‘anti-woke‘ movement. John McWhorter writing How ‘Woke’ became an insult in the New York Times, suggests that this reflects a certain inevitability in language and evolution within the very communities who first adopt it; a ‘euphemism treadmill’ if you like,

A well-used word or expression is subject to ridicule or has grimy associations. A new term is born to replace it and help push thought ahead. But after that term spends some time getting knocked around in the real world, the associations the old term had settle back down, like gnats, on the new one. Yet another term is needed. Repeat.

Others, point to an anti-left wing agenda, who articulate a weariness with the judgemental and preachy tone of woke advocates. The Metro reporting,

“‘Woke’ has dethroned ‘politically correct’ and ‘snowflake’ as the insult du jour for many internet … wishing to mock the hypersensitivity of the left”

And indeed, there are long list of famous names outspoken on the need to crusade against ‘political correctness’, waving the flag for the ‘Anti-Woke’, even portraying the entire movement as ‘anti-British.’ Notable faces including: Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage and, self appointed anti-woke warrior, Laurence Fox.

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And here is it that I pause to decide which side of the balance I land on; Woke or ant-Woke? I could search on for ‘the truth’ but, in today’s society that would be be a very long quest. Statistics, politics, new stories, values… in the right hands they can all be spun to suit any purpose. In consequence, whenever I think about voting, for example, I look at the people behind the policy and ask myself ‘Who do I trust the most?’ . If I apply that decision making strategy to this scenario then, it appears to boil down to whether I see myself in Team Greta and Team Malala, or … choose to line up behind Messieurs Farage and Fox.

Well … that took me under 30 seconds to answer and it will be woke for me! But I respect that for many of you it may take longer and it may be a different verdict.

Additionally, it is not only the faces of this generation of youth activists that sways me. No, I think it is also Samantha Price, who concludes her speech by reminding us that, whatever our grown up beliefs, it is the youth of society who will be the future and that to deter them is to “risk the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality“. So I resolve to avoid the clamour to join the grumpy oldsters when I hear views that sound new and challenging and hark back predictably to comfortable yesteryear. No, I shall aim to chime with Ms Price who states, “I am weary of hearing the older generation say, ‘you can’t say anything any more’…. The fact is that times have changed, and we simply need to keep up with them.”

It is, of course, true that no decision comes without its costs; the lovely Laurence Fox once decreed that he would not date woke -women. So I guess he’s off the dating list for me?

I think I can probably live with that….

Reading week…

Sunday 14 November 2021

The university term reaches a ‘reading week’ for my Eldest and she finds time to pop home for a few days. What an unexpected treat …

Reading week, whose purpose universities inform us is “time to catch up on reading, do more in-depth reading, or prepare for coursework ” but often, according to, Eleanor Doughty writing in The Independent is “nothing but a poorly disguised trip home for a visit to Mum’s tumble drier…” was off the agenda in Autumn 2020. Fears over the rapid spread covid-19 cases a year ago lead to higher education institutions urging students to stay on campus throughout the term. Whereupon, as all ‘teaching and learning’ was online and ‘in your student room’ anyway, there was little to distinguish it from the normal working week.

Whatever its purpose, I am delighted to see the brief pause in lectures and seminars return and to have a couple of days with my lovely girl. We launch the weekend with the return of ‘Friday takeaway’, movie and wine. The following morning, after prepping her brother for his Chemistry mock exam next week, lunching with a friend and going shopping with her nana, my daughter announces that:

“We should do something on Saturday night!”

And so that is exactly what we do. My son already has plans with ‘the boys’ and so ‘we girls’ do cocktails, do food and do lots of chat. I drink far too much and find myself, I think for the first time I can recall, very publicly, ever-so slightly squiffy … on a night out with one of my children!!

I may have a banging headache on Sunday morning and I may resolve that I am never ordering a Negroni again…but it was very much worth it. As I wave my Eldest off on the train back to University land, I hope that she has had a bit if a break from the stresses and strains of term time because a weekend not spent cleaning, ironing, shopping and worrying about work has without doubt been a fantastic break for her mum! Do you know what… I might even forget the lesson plans this afternoon, open up my kindle and treat myself to a bit of reading too!

Going a bit greener …

Tuesday 9 November 2021

COP 26, the UN’s conference for tackling climate change, puts a time frame on the impact of ignoring global warming that really hits home and I find myself feeling …. genuinely terrified.

Cop 26 (Glasgow 2021)

The end of the century

The end of the century to unleash the catastrophic effects of allowing the world to warm by over 2 degrees: ecological destruction, rising sea levels and immeasurable loss of human life, plant and animal species caused by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires and heat waves. The changes we are already starting to see foreshadowing a far bleaker and more devastating future.

The end of the century? That’s less than 80 years away. Clearly I will not be around to see it, but my children could be… and their children definitely will. Suddenly it all seems very real.

Now, of course, we need action on a worldwide scale but I cannot see a way to influence that. What I can do, however, far more than I do at the moment is to take small personal steps to be ‘a bit greener’.

Where to start?‘ I ponder

Well back in 2019, a friend of mine, in an inspirational new year resolution, went entirely plastic free for the 31 days of January. I, alas, am a very long way from this. In fact, as I trundle it out on bin day, I cannot hide from the reality that my blue plastic bin is a truly revolting sight. Right there and then, I decide to mend my ways. One new environmental move per month for me and, for November, I choose to remove some plastic items from the house. My grimy garbage points clearly in one direction – the shower gel needs to go!

Yes, it will be ‘adios’ to the overpackaged, perfumed nonsense of liquid body wash. I am going to buy soap instead. It is an easy swap to make and probably why it is already a popular one, the Friends of the Earth in their excellent article ‘Beauty and the beast: plastic-free bathroom ‘ finding that,

By far the most suggested tip … was to steer clear of liquid shower gels and hand wash. Instead switch to solids, replacing these products with bars of soap.

In terms of carbon-footprint, there is little contest between liquid and solid soaps. Per wash, the footprint for shower gels and hand washes is 25% larger than their solid counterparts. Liquid soaps also need 5 times more energy to produce, can use 20 times more packaging and do not last as long as the trusty solid bar.

Unfortunately, I don’t do all my research before hitting the supermarket aisles and, triumphantly, adding two bars of Dove soap to my weekly shop. It turns out that, due to its ingredients (animal products plus the dreaded palm oil), over zealous plastic wrappings and various other crimes that the Ethical Consumer, in their guide to ‘Ethical Soap‘ actually grade my initial choice of product as zero out of 20. Yikes!

Well, on the positive side, at least some plastic bottles have gone from the bathroom. Small Boy is on board and, at work, one pupil tells me that I can also buy solid bars of shampoo. Now there’s food for through for December. In the meantime, I’m off to scour the list of more ethical soap choices. Perhaps I’ll put Lucy Bee soap bars on my Birthday list … by then we might have used up the dreaded Dove…

Autumn Half Term 2021

It may be work on Monday, but that is still two days away which make it the perfect time to look back on a great half term, visiting ‘the students’ ….

Monday sees us powering up the A1 to return my Eldest to Uni, after she descended upon Manchester for a gig at the weekend. Small boy and I stay over, tucked into a B &B in the heart of student land and allow my daughter to ‘show us the sites’. We stroll around the Dene, with its waterfall and mill, we wander the University campus, seeking out the ‘Old Library’ where, nearly 2 years ago we came for ‘the interview’ and … over curry and wine, we meet the boyfriend (which, I think goes very well!)

Tuesday, after a post-lecture lunch with our lovely girl, we hit the road once more; destination Edinburgh and Prom-dress Daughter…

Gosh it is wet and wild in the Scottish capital and parking… just a night mare! I have a £60 PCN on my windscreen within 15 minutes of arrival. But all of that just evaporates away as a familiar smiling face bounces into our city centre hotel room and whisks us out for food … and cocktails. The next day, my two younger teens spend happy hours together perusing local bookshops. All three of us ‘nearly’ see the Art Gallery… come to think of it, I ‘nearly saw’ it about 15 years ago too, on an Edinburgh weekend with a best friend. On that occasion we got side tracked by the bar; this time it is the more wholesome excuse of covid- secure tickets selling out!

Never mind,…’ I cry recalling my previous visit, ‘…even if we can’t do the Gallery itself, the gift shop is great!’

And, to offspring who love to hear those retail tills ringing, the gift shop does indeed prove a hit; and maybe it is this very moment that catalyses a spell of clothes shopping too! Small boy perfects his ‘oversized clothes’ look with a pair of very (very) large jeans and Prom-dress Daughter, who has managed to shrink most of her clothes in the student launderette, gratefully seizes an opportunity to boost her wardrobe.

All too soon it is Thursday and Small boy and I must bid farewell to yet another family member and turn the car towards England once more. I detour via the Lake District, where my son is meeting up with his Dad for a few days, and by now, as heavy rain, foretold in ‘amber warning’ forecasts, viciously sweep across the North of the UK it proves quite a trip for us all. My Ex -hub is delayed by vehicle fires in one direction and we have to navigate several road floods in the other. Eventually, several hours behind schedule, Small boy is handed over … at a truck stop and I head home!

And the fun is not over for me either, for I am not the only parent with offspring in Higher Education. One of my very best friends now has a child at a Northern University, which gives us the perfect opportunity to meet up too – hooray! She comes to stay with me for a couple of days.We drink plenty of wine, she catches -up with her lovely family and as the younger generation leave for their own parties and social events, we head into Media City for a bit of culture at the Van Gogh alive exhibition and… wow!! I can, and will, post pictures but to appreciate this incredible show, you need to go in person. I can best describe it as a ‘concert of art‘; as we are enveloped in a vibrant,visual exploration of Van Gogh’s art and life with a gorgeous, rich musical soundtrack to stir the emotions and give the experience a magical and immersive quality. We watch wide eyed and open mouthed and just love it!

But as Saturday dawns, my friend too must drive homeward. Small boy returns and we collect Boris the Gecko from his boarding quarters at the local pet shop. I decide that I like half terms … a lot! Work will start again on Monday but for now.. I am already dreaming of my next school holiday …

We holiday not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Books I love because of my children…

Saturday 23 October 2021

Dame Jacqueline Wilson is on the radio this morning, talking about a concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra to celebrate her books and, if I lived in London, I would have set out to the Barbican right there and then to get a ticket! Because, I love her writing. Lively characters who just dance off the page and plots that hook you from opening chapter and are ‘can’t put this down‘ engaging. But here is the thing; I didn’t read these books as a child. No, I chanced upon her through my own children. At bedtimes, we’d read them together and she made such times magical and a truly (unexpected but) delightful parental treat. So, as I sit in my lounge with a large cup of coffee, I decide to indulge and look back at my other favourite finds from the, ‘reading to your children’ years…

Now, to be clear, my favourite quartet are not necessarily the books my children read the most. Small Boy’s obsession with ‘Captain Underpants‘ and the ‘Hunger Games‘ era, when I barely saw my eldest without a book for weeks, are not titles I read a single word of. Why? Because by this stage my offspring had moved into the realms of independent literary appreciation and I simply left them and their imaginations to it. The delicious time for me to discover new children’s authors and to venture once again into the fantastic world of children’s fiction was a far narrower window. It came in the short span of years when I read to my trio of toddlers and it was here, amongst the cherished jewels I still hold dear from my own childhood, that I uncovered new titles, great new writers and, just as I had done as a child, set off on amazing new adventures.

And so it was that I was introduced to Dame Jacqueline Wilson. I picture my two girls racing up to their attic room, fluffy and clean from bathtime, to dive under the covers ready for the next chapter of ‘Double Act‘ or the ‘The Illustrated Mum‘ and I’d be as excited as them, because she is such a terrific writer that, never mind the kids, I simply couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Dare I confess to occasionally reading on, even after both of them had drifted off to sleep? For me her gift was to draw you in, hook, line and sinker, to the world of her young characters and make you care for them completely. My absolute favourite, ‘Best Friends‘, stayed in my head and heart for days and I do recall my two little daughters staring at me wide-eyed as I stumbled to the end, my voice choking on that final chapter.

But I’ve already hinted at four, so here are my other three:

Judith Kerr; oh my goodness I still feel a tingle of excitement at the sound or sight of ‘The Tiger who came to Tea‘. A family member gifted the children an edition complete with a tiny china tea set that we would fill with water to act out the famous ‘tea scene’ as my trio of toddlers would ask me to read it again and again and again. Every word was a joy but my most-loved scene was always this one; the mother’s calm response to what should have been the strangest request she was ever going to receive, ‘Do you think I could have tea with you?’ asks the tiger, ‘Of course, come in’ says mum! More learned critics than I have hypothesised in depth about this little book, reflecting Kerr’s own childhood experiences in Nazi Germany, but this is my favourite point because it is at this moment that you cast aside adulthood and become a child again. Because in a child’s ‘imaginative play ‘ this is exactly what would happen to keep the game going. Why there is a large carnivorous predator at the door… come on in, we’ll find you a cup and plate and make conversation!

The Tiger who came to Tea: Judith Kerr

And onto Lauren Childs and her inspirational creation Clarice Bean. One of my friends passed on these books, as her own daughter grew out of them, whereupon we all fell in love with Clarice (and Betty Moody and Mrs Wilberton). So much so, in fact, that this one made it onto audio book version for the car and turned long dreary car journeys into a delightful escape into the imagination. So funny, so sharp and such brilliant writing that the tying together of all the crazy capers and plot lines would keep us guessing until the final page. Having listened to it so many times, I can probably recite huge chunks verbatim and the best ‘Clarice quotes’ live on in our household even now, and why wouldn’t they …

I say ‘Mom, how come you don’t change into an evening gown for dinner?’ She says ‘I do, it’s called a bath robe.

Lauren Child, Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

And to finish, JK Rowling, Harry Potter and well …what an incredible read. Her words filled my head with pictures and my heart with emotion. Perhaps more so than any other writer she took me back to that feeling I had as a child of ‘living in a book’. Yes, below the age of 10, with my head perennially stuck in an Enid Blyton, I’d often appear to be present in the room but the truth was that I was nearly always not really there! No, I’d be away on Kirrin Island with the Famous Five, or in the dormitories of Malory Towers with Darryl and Sally. And Harry Potter did this for me again. She was also my first find of the ‘reading to your children years’… in fact it is a faintly ridiculous tale.

As I was pregnant with my eldest, I foolishly told my husband that the midwife had proclaimed it ‘never too early’ to start reading to your babies. Read to them in the womb! Read to them when they are a day old! They won’t know what you are reading so read anything; it could be the perfect time to read ‘War and Peace’. Well my husband decided that it was the perfect time for me to read ‘Lord of the Rings‘. Quite why I agreed, I’ll never know but, as we brought my Eldest home I did indeed, every evening cradle her in my arms and subject her to Tolkien. Yes I ploughed my way through all three of those lengthy tomes, engaging with the story of Frodo and Sam, but finding all the complicated names, tribes and battles for power tortuous on occasion. However, by the time Prom-dress daughter appeared, the cursed ring was safely consumed in the fires of Mordor and I was free; free to meet Harry, Ron and Hermoine! Well what a difference. From the second the Hogwarts Express drew into the platform, I was addicted, gripped and invested. I devoured those books whether I had any children to listen to me or not! The books sparkled, fired the imagination, flooded my head with lavish images and, at time, pulled my heart from my chest. Reading to my toddlers became a cherished half hour of the day when I, as much as them, escaped from the stresses, strains and toil that parenting small children can bring.

Gosh, great memories! My teens are all grown-up now and for me, the world of children’s books is a closed chapter once again but not forever I hope… roll on the grandchildren years….