Category Archives: Recent posts

“Did somebody say…”

Friday 27 September 2019

“Anyone fancy a Dominoes for tea?” is all I innocently ask at 7am this morning. The house goes wild with joy. Smiling faces appear at usually firmly shut bedroom doors. My eldest starts belting out “Did somebody say…”, the well known refrain to Just East’s ad campaign, at the top of her voice. And before I know it, we’ve all joined in. There are harmonies, there is a congo and there is a lot of volume. Gosh they are easily pleased … or is my cooking really that bad?

Actually .. .it probably is. And I do try. In truth, I feel huge societal pressure to try. It began with the weaning years, when the ‘alpha mothers’, waving their Annabel Karmel bibles, briskly steered me away from those lovely, neat rows of supermarket food jars and persuaded me to embrace the messy, lumpy and thankless world of mashed sweet potato and spinach and potato goo. Ever since then, I have felt a huge pressure, not only to cook for the family ‘from scratch’… but to enjoy it too! And do you know what, “I dont!”

Ooooh, I’ve said it out loud. Might say it again. “I don’t like cooking! It’s a dull, dreary, chore sent relentlessly to ruin the loveliest of days.

“What’s for tea mum?”,

“When’s dinner ready mum?”

Is there any breakfast mum?”

It just goes on and on! One of the worst suggestions I ever listened to was ‘batch cooking’. Now there’s a day, of the Autumn half term of 2015, I’ll never get back! Lasagnes exploding all over the oven, seething pots of curry bubbling madly on the stove, triumphant vegetable bakes, collapsing into mush, as I tried to portion them into tupperware containers. Simply hell on earth! My children never have forgiven me, (and never should), for a hideous creation known as ‘vegetable crumble’. As for my recent pea and mint risotto, well the only place for that bowl of gloop was as the food recycling bin!

Oh, fear not foodies and responsible parents of the land, I will, of course, continue to try. I accept that we cannot survive, nutritionally or financially, on take-away meals alone. But this Friday, which will drag on until 8 pm with various after school activities, I feel justified in casting my cook books aside and joining the teens in joyful song …

“Did somebody say….”

Balancing equations….and emotions

Sunday 15 September 2019

Gosh the start of this school year is a brain stretch for me and the teens! And amidst the cerebral stuff, I worry that I miss the beat at little with those trickier heart and soul matters…

As Prom-dress daughter settles into College life, I find that, whilst she may have sailed through GCSE mathematics, I am in sudden daily demand as she faces the mammoth transition to A-level. Now mathematics is very much my thing and, even when I am very tired and ready for a cheeky glass of red and a pleasant hour of Peaky Blinders, I find it quite easy to cast these treats aside for a dose of quadratics or a few fiendish surds!

For my eldest, the focus of half term one, is all about preparing to apply to Higher Education. With medical school as her aim, its already been quite a journey, but this weekend the UCAS form actually appears. We hunt down old certificates, we reminisce about eventful music exams, we check dates and we face the ‘personal statement’. It is quite a task and takes several drafts and many cups of tea, but we finally have a statement that we are happy for her college tutor to review. And again, I love words and writing, and enjoy supporting my daughter in thinking about the best ways to put her thoughts, ideas and motives into sentences.

At least Small Boy appears to be on top of his school work! And indeed he is. But fighting for attention against all this brain work busyness, I learn that he has missed his basketball trials and I feel sad, because this is just the sort of event where my lovely boy needs a bit of encouragement to push himself forward and give it a go. And although Prom-dress daughter may now be more adept at algebra, boosting her confidence in coping with other aspects of new college life has also fallen a little by the wayside. One thing is for sure at the moment, she is definitely not her usual bubbly self.

It’s a parental balancing acts that seems particularly tough when there’s only one of you, but I am veering towards thinking that my main mum role should always put emotional support ahead of academic help. Much as I may love the school work, other people are able to intervene here. A writer for The Conversation UK, echoes my thoughts

Back-to-school time brings mixed feelings, as do most important events in life. Our jobs as parents and educators should be to help with the social and emotional development of those in our care so that they can more easily do the reading, writing and arithmetic that they need as well, not the other way around.…”

So as we start school week two, it’s time for me to let those college tutors do their work and remember that my job is to be a mum first and foremost at home…

The job interview

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Today is my scary job interview. It’s in town. It’s in a new location. I find that without any of my trusty trio to guide me…I get a little lost!

I am awake by 5am, my bag is packed, my reflection is looking groomed and professional and I am on the road before seven. My interview is not until nine and the SatNav tells me it’s a 36 minute journey, but I am not taking any chances. To say that I really am “not great” at navigating in unfamiliar places, would be an understatement.

The traffic is horrendous but nonetheless, feeling rather smug, I am parked, within half a mile of my destination, by 8 am. And not just parked in any of your usual car parks. Oh no! In an unusual moment of travel-inspiration, I have discovered Just Park and for the bargain price of £3.40, I find myself manoeuvering, my loyal Toyota Winston, into a space on a quiet road, having avoided the stress of Manchester’s ominous one way systems and endless ‘Bus and Taxi only’ zones.

This is all going perfectly” I am foolish enough to think, as I step out of the car.

Now the rain often ‘falls hard on this humdrum town’, and today is no exception. As I pause to load Google Maps onto my phone, I am regretting the decision to wear my hair down. In the relentless drizzle, my interview-straightened locks are beginning to spring their way back to a cheerful frizz. I tell myself it just adds a bit of personality to my look, twirl my phone around a few times, trying to fathom what on earth those little blue arrows on the screen have to do with my route, choose a direction and set off. After 5 minutes, my screen informs me that my 12 minute walk is now a 17 minute walk and I deduce that I am probably not going the right way.

I decide to abandon the phone and fish a paper map out of my bag. I am squinting to read crumpled road names when a lorry rumbles by, through the puddles and, in a moment reminiscent of that famous Bridget Jones scene, drenches me from top to toe. I am now very soggy. I am now visibly bedraggled. But it’s still only 8.10 am. Plenty of time… hey, I can spruce myself up in the Ladies upon arrival!

Several wrong turns later, but with my watch showing a timely 8:37 am, I am joyfully outside the building with the perfect amount of time to spare. Through the revolving doors I go and into…a very quiet and deserted lobby. Rather oddly, there is no reception, but looking around I find a lift showing the floors for several different companies. Mine is found on floors 2 and 3. I start with 2. There’s a glass walled office here, with a few people tapping away on computers. It doesn’t look too promising, so I am back, riding that lift to floor 3. This takes me to a corridor, where a man in an anorak, who tells me he is from ‘IT‘, helpfully stops to find out … what, in the name of goodness, I am doing wandering, unsupervised around his place of work! He has never heard of the man I am supposed to report to and looks puzzled when I explain that I am here for an interview.

Did they definitely tell you to come to this building, not our main site ?’“he asks.

“You .. you have more than one building?” I hear myself whisper, a wave of panic beginning to take hold.

Listening with grim determination, I take in Anorak-man’s instructions on how to find the main site. I hurry to the exit and then I run , as fast as my heels can take me, to the correct location. Damp, red faced, frizzy haired, and gasping for breath, I fly into at Reception with four minutes to spare. There’s no time for sprucing-up, there’s no time to reread my notes there’s no time at all before I am called in.

How does it go? I’ll tell you in a week …

September

Friday 6 September 2019

September marks the return to school in our household and by Thursday, all the teens have made it back to school or college; A levels and GCSES, news courses and classmates, new PE kits and pencil cases, new timetables and teachers, new dreams and possibilities. If you’ve not already guessed it, I am usually quite a September fan and relish its sparkle of energy and optimism.

It’s back to school for me too and here I find, maybe it’s my age, that along with the promise of new opportunity, a few of last year’s loveliest ghosts still haunt my thoughts. There’s a definite buzz at work and staff, tanned and refreshed by the long August break, seem different people to those exhausted colleagues who crawled home on their knees at the end of the Summer term. I exchange cheery greetings, news and smiles on the way to my office. As I open the door however, I am surprised to find that the wall of ‘Thank you’ cards from last year’s leavers makes me wobble. I can now match their beautiful words and carefully chosen sentences to the very highest examination grades. And, of course, I am thrilled by their success and I cannot wait to see where they go in life, but I do feel a wave of sadness that I won’t be working with them anymore. In addition, some of my favourite work friends have also moved on and, as I look around our morning meeting and take in the unfamiliar faces at the table, that feels a little odd too.

But the busyness of the first day, my staff presentation, running mini-workshops, meetings and yet more meetings, all manage to push the nostalgia away … at least for the time being. Or maybe it doesn’t and maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe I learn from the memories to get re-inspired and fired me up for the year ahead. To quote from one of my ‘Thank you’ cards,

“It’s not really about the grades for me. The lessons I have learned from you in your classroom are far more important than that ….”

You know what, my amazing class and fantastic workmates, that goes “right back at you” !

And before I know it, it’s home …to an unusual barrage of news from the teens. Give that a few days and they’ll be back to their customary grunts of “It’s just school!”, whenever I am reckless enough to enquire about their day!

Well September, month of 30 days, you will bring us to the season of ‘Mists and mellow fruitfulness’. What else will you be serving up though? Now that is an interesting question…

Thanks Dad …

Thursday 29 August 2019

Today is a day when my family past and my family present reunite, joined by fond memories of one man, my wise and generous father.

It’s a nervous morning, the date of the UKCAT for my eldest, and a very early start. By 07:30 am, we have forced down a bit of breakfast, driven through Manchester’s rush hour and parked near the city-centre testing venue. As we approach the building however I am stopped in my tracks. It is the very same building that my Dad worked in, many years ago, in his days as an advertising executive. I feel a wave of optimism sweep over me. This is surely a sign!

“Pops is bound to be looking down on you today.” I hear myself telling my daughter ” It must be a good omen!”

She does attempt a brave smile, but is still looking rather green as she is registered in the exam room and I am directed to the waiting area.

Over a very welcome latte, I try to settle down to some work but my mind drifts into memories of my father. Dad didn’t set out to be any kind of advertising executive. He was a musician and also worked as a cinema manager, in the more glamorous era of regional premieres and red carpets, in the 1960s. He and mum used to tell of fun nights, early in their marriage, spent watching new releases, feet up on the seats with bottles of beer, after the cinema had closed. And then … me and my brothers came along. And it turns out that jobs with late nights and concerts and gigs, just didn’t fit with family life. So he gave it all up, took exams, retrained …and joined a catalogue firm. And I realise, with a truly humbling shock, that it must have been awful, completely soul destroying. But I never heard him complain once. Dad did it all for us.

Now I do complain … a lot. I complain about my job. I complain about not being free to play in every concert that I hear about. I complain about money. I complain about…..too blinkin’ much! Great parents have been quietly putting their families ahead of their personal hopes and dreams for time immemorial. And one of them did that all for me. The very least I can do, in honour of that memory, is to either just get on with things or take action to improve things, but whatever I decide, ditch the moaning! Feeling suddenly focused and very sure of what I do want to do, I fire up my laptop and give my full attention to polishing my presentation for that scary extra-job interview next week.

I am interrupted by my eldest, who emerges, delighted with her UKCAT results, and we head home feeling fantastic. Back at the house, Prom-dress daughter is in full flow, redesigning Small Boy’s room to better suit his new bed. Her total excavation of every drawer, box and corner of his dusty den has unearthed three Nintendo DS consoles, and the teens pounce upon these and retreat into their own nostalgia trip down memory lane. Now the notion that a DS is already a part of history does make me feel completely ancient, but today I don’t mind at all. Hey I am the old person in this house. I am the parent and proud to be so. There’s only one way for me to celebrate. I may not have a new film release but I do have Netflix. I grab a beer, get my feet up on the seats and toast the skies, “Thanks Dad!”

Small Boy’s new bed…

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Have I earned my glass of red tonight! Not only have I survived a full day at work and cooked a passable Spaghetti Bolognese … I have also completed my latest DIY project; Small Boy’s new bed.

Yes, Small Boy’s refusal to stop growing has finally taken its toll on the cabin bed he has slept in for the last 7 years. The mattress went to the tip a month ago and the frame is due to be collected by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at the end of the week. To his utter joy, over the Summer holiday, I have allowed Small Boy to sleep on the sofa- bed downstairs with full and unfettered access to the TV … and the xbox! But, with the return to school fast approaching, I have resolved that enough, of this parental slackness, is quite enough. The new bed has been delivered…my only task now is to build the thing!

Now when I say my task, ‘our’ would be a more honest pronoun. In choosing my building day, I have wisely waited until the return of Prom-dress daughter from a trip, ‘Down South’, to her dad’s house. Did I mention that my girl is a dab-hand with a flat pack? Well tonight she excel’s herself. It is a slightly stumbling start, as we find that we need an allen key I don’t have to dismantle the old frame. However after a quick flit to Screw Fix, I am soon jangling a 10-set of those hexagonal rods, like a triumphant gaoler. Prom dress daughter is impressed by the new tools, which in her deft, little hands soon reduce the old cabin bed to a neat stack of flat sections, ready for the BHF van. Then, like a seasoned pro, she turns her attention to the newly delivered bed, unfolds the plans, casts a quick eye over them, before slotting, sliding and assembling the various sections into Small Boy’s new and infinitely more grown-up bed.

She does need my muscle a little bit, to tighten the odd screw and bang occasional sections into perfect alignment, but I am clearly the brawn and not the brains of this operation. Well ‘play to your strengths’ has always been my motto and we do make a great team. Small Boy still looks a little too long, as he now tries out his new berth but Prom dress daughter cheerily tells him to ‘curl up’ a little , as opposed to ‘sprawling out flat’ and everyone is happy. I celebrate with wine, it’s popcorn for the teens and together it’s been a fine day’s work…

Another results day…

Thursday 22 August 2019

Today is Prom-dress daughter’s results day and, if last year, results day for my eldest marked my D-Day as a single parent, then this year’s seems a great time to reflect upon how far we have come, as a family unit, in 2019.

The drive to school is still tense, and that’s not just because my eldest is at the learner-driver wheel. The GCSE exam month is a tough and relentless grind for most pupils, and for Prom-dress daughter it was no exception. The highest stakes and the highest emotion, came with subjects she really cared about, and here papers often seemed to be ‘a disaster’ or ‘just awful’. (We certainly got through a lot of emergency chocolate in May and June!) In consequence, she is on edge about some key results, and her young face is etched with worry. To my surprise however, I feel far less stressed than I did 12 months ago, for a number of reasons.

After last year, I resolved never again to assume that everyone else’s children would do better than mine. More importantly this year, I find that I haven’t given anyone else’s children a second thought – it’s just about my lovely girl and her future plans for me today. And Prom-dress daughter has a number of qualities that calm my nerves as we jolt towards the school carpark. Firstly, she has a quick and clever mind and doesn’t tend to write or burble nonsense under pressure. I feel pretty certain that in many subjects, things cannot have gone as badly as she fears. Secondly, as with my eldest, her teachers have consistently predicted good results, and this year I have the confidence to trust this. And finally, life, particularly the demands of our single parent household and coping with serious asthma, has made her tough. I know that she will not go to pieces if some grades are a little lower than she wanted. There will be a way forward. Of course there will, GCSE results don’t define us ….

However, as she disappears into school… I do suddenly really want to know what those results are and the familiar old jitters start to return. I am struggling to concentrate on anything when we get the ‘thumbs up’ emoji. And that is enough…if she’ happy then I’m happy. More than happy in fact. As she bursts from the school, her face radiant with delight, and a smile that seems to last forever, I am truly thrilled for her. Today, me and my trio of teens, feel like an unbeatable team. It’s time to celebrate …