April ends…

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…

Flowers…

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…

The great outdoors …

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…

DI …just whY?

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?

Lockdown week 5: Shoes…

Sunday 26 April 2020

It is Lockdown Week 5. To give my day a goal, I decide to clear out my wardrobe and, in a dusty ‘memory box‘, I find our first shoes…

There is just something about shoes and the teens immediately adore these dinky specimens! Small Boy runs sound the house twirling one on the end of his finger, shrieking in disbelief that his mammoth size 11s were ever this small. I have to recount, several times, any details I can dredge up of each one taking their first steps. The ‘Whens?‘, the ‘Hows?‘, the ‘Who else was theres?“. I’ll confess, apart from a rough recollection of their ages, I am fairly hazy on most it it and thankful that I do, at least, have the footwear. What I definitely do remember, however, is that toddlers wobbling unsteadily to their feet was always one of my favourite child-rearing landmarks. I think that is why I held on to each first, precious pair of tiny loafers and sandals.

To you new parents out there, heed my warning ! Speaking? Seriously over-rated as a developmental stage . Do not seek to hasten it unduly! The day a small child first learns to say ‘No!‘ or ‘Why?‘ , rather than simply beaming with delight every time you appear, is the day your parenting challenges truly begin! But moving…walking, crawling, rolling, bottom- shuffling, however your child first begins to strike out, just marks the start of wonderful possibilities and independence . Exploration. Discovery. The desire to travel. Walking is a first step towards adventure. And our shoes will be trusty companions on most of our escapades.

Shoes are there on our first day at school, our first interview and our wedding day. I still have the walking boots I bought for an Inter-railing trip in the 1980s. I am pretty certain that I have long since discarded the flip-flops which took me around SE Asia. The glass slipper helped Cinderella to find her prince. Ballet Shoes saw Noel Streatfield’s adopted Fossil sisters strive to find their true paths in life. Hercule Poirot’s patent leathers accompanied Christie’s detective across the globe. And Dorothy’s ruby reds (silver for the purists!) took her all the way to Oz and then back home.

And, because I need to get back to my wardrobe, what better place to end than with Dorothy. The story of the heroine, of my mum’s favourite movie, is woven into the rainbows currently adorning our lockdown windows and walls. On Thursdays we not only ‘Clap the Carers’, but musicians also play ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, her iconic song. The rainbow is a familiar symbol of hope; as far back as biblical times it signalled Noah’s calm after the storm. In recent years it has also come to represent the beauty of diversity and equality for all. But additionally Dorothy is the girl who realised that ‘There’s no place like home‘ and that is a powerful message for the public at the moment. Important as it is however, Dorothy for me is the girl who may have come back to Kansas in the end, but had one hell of an adventure on the way. With her glittering slippers, she embodies the wisdom that life is not just about the happy ending, it is very much about dancing down a yellow-brick road and making the most of everyone you meet and every chance you get along way. Dorothy reminds me that when this lockdown ends, we will be invited to step back into the journey of life once more. And I, for one, cannot wait for the day it is safe to buckle up my shoes and get walking again…

Lockdown week 4: Struggling…

Saturday 18 April 2020

Has is really been only 4 weeks? I am struggling …

During the first 2 weeks of Lockdown I was working. It was busy. It was challenging. It was creative; rethinking how to operate with most pupils and staff working from home. It felt strange and scary but very fulfilling. At home, the girls dyed their hair and ordered yoga mats. Small boy grew (and grew) his curly locks, jacked the basket ball stand ever higher and actually did quite a lot of school work. My brother rallied the entire family with Bingo, The Grand National and Quiz night on Zoom. And I felt optimistic about us sailing through these strange new times.

Then came the Easter Holidays … on Lockdown. The sun shone, the alarm was switched off, all structure fell away and it should have been idyllic. But, unable to go out, unable to meet friends, unable to do anything ‘non-essential’ everyday quickly became much like the one before and I began to find the going incredibly tough. The Government experts advocated exercise, so I ran most days. On social media, friends were cooking, cleaning and revamping so I tried those too. I baked. I spent hours spring cleaning cupboards and organising ‘useful string’, matches and batteries into recycled plastic tubs. I queued on DIY sites to order paint and rollers. I even washed the cutains! And it all used up a few hours but it didn’t lift my mood. Jobs I’d normally squeeze in between doing things that make me happy , had suddenly become the focus of the day … and I was lost.

And I still am. I know how important it is to stay at home. I am horribly aware, that those battling this cruel illness would swap their situation for mine in a breath. I do give thanks each day that my children are, up to this moment, safe and well. Nonetheless my dial is resolutely stuck on ‘sad and low’ at the moment. I love my teens, but I also miss adult company. It is really not a great time to be a single parent.

I do have my kids however. The girls, in particular, have been far more upbeat than me. My eldest found a ‘Make me a Cocktail’ app and we mixed delightful drinks for our sunny garden which was fun. Prom-dress daughter insisted that we preserve ‘Take-Away Friday’ and this week we even found a chippy to deliver, which was heavenly. So I resolve follow their example, get a grip, get inventive and rethink how I handle the next 3 weeks . I need a way to make the days count, as opposed to just counting the days. I need even more of their inspiration …

Captain Tom

Thursday 16 April 2020

It is the story of the day. It could well be the story of the year. Ninety nine year old, war veteran Captain Tom Moore, walking with the aid of a zimmer frame, completed 100 laps of his garden to raise over £15m for the NHS. Originally, he set out to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together by completing laps of his garden before his 100th birthday. But his story captured hearts and inspired people across the globe and, after more than 700,000 people made donations, his fund raising went stratospheric.

I’ll confess that I start most Covid-19 days feeling pretty emotional, as the radio relays yet more heartbreaking tales from those hit by this cruel virus. I pick up as the day wears on, particularly if I’m working, but it is tears for me most mornings. So this rousing tale is a real tonic. One DJ calls for Tom to ‘be knighted‘. Another suggests ‘Sports Personality of the Year‘! His former regiment, are in the garden, lining his final lap with a guard of honour. Tom is lauded as ‘inspirational’ and ‘A symbol of true British spirit’ . The NHS voice their gratitude.

Tom’s daughter however turns her thanks to those that have supported her father.

No words can express our gratitude to the British public for getting behind Tom, for making this into a heartfelt story

Hannah Ingram-Moore, goes onto to explain her how the ‘adventure‘ has ‘reinvigorated‘ her father ,

I believe that life is all about purpose, we all need purpose, and, whilst he’s had a life full of purpose, he did fall and break his hip and became much less independent than he had been for the preceding 98 years, and what you have done, the British public, and everyone who’s supported him, is giving him his next purpose.”

Tom has made me smile. Tom has brought some much needed joy into my day. But his daughter has really woken me up. Perhaps rather than giving in to gloom and sadness, perhaps rather than descending into lock-down despondency, I should be chanelling my efforts into supporting this national fight. What contribution could I make? Because Hannah Ingram-Moore is quite right, trying to make a difference wouldn’t only help the community, it would help me too, “We all need a purpose…”

20 years …

1 April 2020

Today could’ve been my 20th Wedding Anniversary!

My Wedding Day 1 April 2000

But obviously it isn’t! Instead I find myself very much single, very much a mum and very much stuck indoors in the middle of a national corona virus lockdown! Covid -19 does, however, leave me with far more time than usual on my hands. In consequence I elect to battle upstairs with the rusty ladders, sway unsteadily into the loft and root around for my old wedding pictures. Eventually, I unearth them, buried in an old black briefcase and I sit down with a coffee to dwell upon life. Let’s face it, life never quite turns out as you planned!

Look at me all smiles, white frock and flowers. Blissfully unaware of the tidal wave that was to come crashing through my life just a decade after saying “I do!” Marital breakdown is a terrifying time. I felt as if someone had just swept into my life, torn it into pieces and cast them from a tall building, to see if they could find a place to land. The pain, the heartbreak, they were body blows. The dawning shock that I was now a ‘single mum‘ was difficult to comprehend. I remember the horror of having to tell people and trying not to cry. I hated being cast as a victim, and feared everyone’s pity. I remember the challenge of rethinking how to live every part of my life, how to maintain stability for the kids and how to pay for it all.

But I made it through. I rebuilt my entire world. I learned that if, like me, you don’t like being a victim then don’t be one! Take back control! The teens are successful and seem, at least for the moment, to be very happy. I have kept a roof over our heads. I have held down a full time job. I have managed, with a few personal sacrifices, to provide the kids with many of the opportunities I enjoyed as a child. I run, I read, I write, I play music, all of which is a joy. I still shudder when faced with a DIY tasks or an over-ambitious cooking quest. I still shed the odd tear over the sheer grind of daily life when you are the only adult in the house. But, having battled through the complexities of the family law courts, give me any official, legal or financial dilemma and I rise to the challenge better than most.

Do I miss the companionship and closeness? Do I miss having a ‘partner in crime’? Do I miss having a husband? In one sense, yes I do. I miss the husband the girl in the picture above was dreaming of. The daughter of a cinema manager and musician, weaned on films and tales of romance, I fear that she actually thought that life was destined to be ‘like the movies.’ Somewhere deep inside, I suspect she believed that ‘true love would conquer all,’ and that with marriage came the guarantee that everything would end ‘happily ever after.’

But no marriage breaks up because it’s happy. Towards the end of our alliance, life was very miserable for both me and Ex-hub, And I am sure that neither of us misses that at all. Life is strewn with cliches, possibly because they are wise old words, and this one always strikes a chord with me

It is better to be alone that in an unhappy relationship’

So whilst I did not make it to my 20th anniversary, the last 2 decades have certainly not been wasted. I emerge with great strength, determination, multi-tasking talents beyond compare and three incredible children. And I’m ready to make the most of … tomorrow! Forget anniversaries and landmarks, I have learned that it’s best to take life one day at a time …

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 …