Is it time for a 5 year plan?

21 February 2021

It’s a funny old half term and it all start with this Monday morning call.

Am I speaking to the one and only Becky ….”

Yes, one very confident, chirpy cold caller! And life insurance broking is his game. Whilst I choose not to invest in any of the deals, he does make me stop and think about the insurance I do have. I root out my policy to find that it covers me for a bizarre number of years, with a seemingly random sum of money. It is clearly no longer fit for purpose and needlessly pricey. As I start to research alternatives however, I hit a brick wall of indecision…because making a wise choice depends on where I see myself and the teens in the next 5 or 10 or 15 years . And I just do not know. A lot can change in 5 years…

Here I am 5 years ago. It’s my birthday 2016. I am coupled up, dressed up and out for the evening!

Fast forward 5 short years to my recent 2021 Birthday and here I am, single, sitting in my lounge and Locked Down with a take-out curry!

Who could have known quite how different life would be? And the next quinquennial, promises to be no less dramatic in terms of change. No more teens, no more mortage, no need to work as many hours, no need to live in this corner of the North-west. It is difficult to know how to even start thinking about it all.

It has been a year when I have grown accustomed to living; day to day, tier to tier, Bojo press conference to inevitable U-turn! But if I thought I could run away and hide behind the covid curtains for a bit longer, I was mistaken. Half term also brings necessary negotiations with tree surgeons and roofers. Thinking through some fairly substantial financial decisions keeps bringing me resolutely back to the same daunting, dithering ground. Because, ‘How much to pay?‘ and ‘How much to do?‘ are all balanced by looking ahead to how much longer I expect to be here.

There is certainly a lot of advice out there for those of us facing the prospect of ’empty nesting’. Indeed the Citizens Advice reports finding “a huge demand – nearly half its enquiries” – from the 50-plus age group, for whom the main issues were pensions, mortgages, wills and life insurance. I have to be honest though, at the heart of my unease is the fact that I’d never expected to be facing these choices and ‘resetting the life plan’ as a single person. Without a partner to bounce ideas off and help me to frame a way of thinking about it all, I’ll confess to feeling absolutely terrified. So I start smaller. Next week I have an appointment with a, Independent Financial Adviser to talk… about me. Not stereo-types, not ‘typical case studies’ for my age group, just me. And I feel calmer. It was clearly time to stop avoiding the issue, I am a long way from a plan at the moment, but getting some facts hearing some options, doing my homework…none of that can hurt, in fact is it very much what I am about…

If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

Chinese Proverb

Me and technology …

Saturday 16 January 2021

Is it only me, or are teenagers not the most tolerant as their mum tries to cling onto the rapid pace of technological change in the 21st century …

Okay, I’m not as quick or slick as anyone else in the house when it comes to texting, scrolling and scanning on the mobile phone. Admittedly, I can whirl around the electronic ether in bewildered circles trying to connect to a friend on Zoom. Yes, I do accept that my failure to ever load more than 2 songs onto the i-pod did, in fact, condemn us all to Robbie William’s ‘Candy and ‘Moves like Jagger‘ on endless repeat during one very long (and tense) car journey to Wales. But the palpable embarrassment, the eye rolling and the mocking laughter from my offspring really does not help. At my lowest, it make me feel old and flustered. And the irony is that I used to be pretty good. I was even whole school ICT trainer about 20 years ago! It was, if the truth be told, three maternity leaves, yes the arrival of the trio of doubters themselves, that threw me off course. By the time I made it back into the workplace, the world has moved on and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

Most days I can see the funny side. Nonetheless, I resolve not to tell the teens about my electronic exploits at work…

My first major foray into the wonderful world of Microsoft Teams comes in November with the Year 11 Mocks. A week out from the start of our exams, thirty pupils are sent home to isolate and I take the decision to concurrently run mocks remotely for those not in school. Knowing that I’m not the most confident with new technology, I compensate by being over-prepared and arriving very early to start each session. And all runs smoothly. Numbers wax and wax further as ever-more covid cases hit pupil attendance, but I rise to the challenge. So much so that by the start of week 2, I become a bit blase and that is where things go a little pear-shaped.

It is a ‘double-mock’ day. English Lit runs like a dream and I allow myself the luxury of going to lunch, nonchalantly popping back with only 2 minutes to spare for the start of the Science exam. I find the Teams chat already a flurry of activity,

Miss we can’t get in; 10 of us are stuck in the lobby”

Has the exam started yet Miss – I’ve been trying to get in for 5 minutes?

To my horror, I find that I can’t get in either! Not only that, but I cannot even see the lobby! Battling rising panic, I tap out a reassuring reply.

Hi everyone. There’s problem at our end, Give me 5 minutes to work it out!

I hit the edit key and scour my invite like a crazed hawk trying to work out what has gone wrong. Then another message pops up

Where is everyone? Five of us are in an exam but Miss isn’t here? It does say ‘English’ though, not ‘Science’?”

I gaze in shock at the screen. Where on earth are … any of them? Could I go down in history as the first teacher ever to have pupils floating around lost in the electronic ether? By now I have over sixty pupils doing mocks at home, and, in increasing numbers, they all seem to join the chat with queries and questions. In the growing chaos, one poor trusting soul even types,

Don’t worry. Miss knows and is sorting it all out.”

Well she had more faith in me than I do at this moment!

And then suddenly, from somewhere, inspiration strikes. My strained eyes notice that I have sent the meeting invite out as a face-to face meeting. I click a button to switch it to ‘Teams Meeting’ and … boom, problem solved! Pupils’ face flood onto the screen. I instruct the famous five sitting in the English exam to leave their exam and re-join us in Science and we are ready to start. I smile, in glorious relief, at the gathered ranks and decide to dodge the blame,

The school wifi !” I fib , with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, “Thank you all for being so brilliant and hanging on . Anyway. Science. Have we all got our equipment ready …?”

Thereafter, I go back to arriving 20 minutes early for every exam.

One upside of my mock exam adventures is that when we do shift all lessons online, in response to, pupil cases, staff shortages and then Lockdown, I am feeling pretty confident, even proud of my middle-aged voyage on this steepest of learning curves. Until that is a message from a Year 10 pupil pops up at the Leadership Team meeting

Miss – why is tomorrow’s lesson at 5:30pm?”

Yikes! ” I confess “It should be at 2. I’ll change it now

OK Miss. Thanks -no probs

Well, on the bright side, at least my pupils are a lot kinder than my own children…

Into isolation…

Saturday 5 December 2020

I guess, with all three of us at educational establishments, it was always just a matter of time, but at the start of this week one of the teens tests positive for covid-19 and we, plus our bubble, are sent into isolation for 14 days!

First things first, everyone is okay. ‘Covid-teen’ is very unwell for 36 hours, with a sky-high temperature, nasty cough, severe headache and dizzy enough to need help with any movement. Thereafter, happily, my child is quickly back to normal and enjoying meals-on-trays in front of the TV, to keep apart from the rest of us.

We all get our first experience of the covid-19 test too. Well I’ve definitely known more fun family outings! And I can assert that there is nothing quite like sticking a swab down your throat and up your nostrils in a cold, drafty portacabin, to re-focus the corona-weary mind on home hygiene. I spend the rest of the week flinging open windows, laundering at 60 degrees, pumping hand sanitiser at everyone and dousing anything in sight with anti-bacterial spray. So far so good. We still stand at only 1 positive result. Whether that is my enhanced cleaning or simply the reality of living with teens, who like to spend as many hours as allowed in their rooms, I’ll never know!

What is without question however is that isolation is a complete pain. We have to cancel and rebook; hospital appointments, a grade 8 violin exam and picking up my eldest from Uni. I creep out, under cover of dark, like a masked covid-criminal, to collect prescriptions, crickets for the gecko and ‘click and collect’ groceries. Thursday comes and goes without my mum’s weekly visit and her famous cheese and onion pie, and in its place my miserable, soggy, left-over vegetable bake is a poor substitute. School and college work shifts completely on line for both teens. I also move my job onto Microsoft Teams, but the resentment from colleagues, who have battled in on cold, grey days, as I ping into the morning meeting from my kitchen is palpable.

One rare nicety  is that  I am actually at home to look after an unwell child, as opposed to abandoning them to chance with paracetemol, the heating thermostat and my work phone number, and feel like a half-decent mum. That apart however … all rather grim

On the upside, we do make it to Saturday. Not only does the weekend  mark the motivational half-way point,  but this morning, a crate of 12 wine bottle, originally earmarked for Christmas also arrives. Now  I think most people would forgive me for opening my presents early … just this once!

Half term’s here!

Friday 23 October 2020

Oh my goodness! The final bell of the day rings and a mood of unadulterated joy erupts throughout the building ‘Half Term’s here!’

I have spent the day wearing both my mask and visor, desperate to make it to the end of the day; the end of the week and the end of the half term without catching covid. I am on a quest to go nowhere near anyone who might cause a notification to pop up on the dreaded NHS test and trace app! I am practically sitting in the corridor for my performance management meeting. I skip and dance my way through 3 lessons, firmly fixed to the ‘teacher zone’ cordoned off at the front of the classroom. Just the last thing you want, after the toughest of two months in school, is the news that you have to spend half term isolating your kitchen!

Not that we can do much in a region cast, as expected, into Tier 3. Nonetheless for an exhausted team of teachers, the elation of making it to the finish line cannot be subdued today.  So how do I feel …. I put it in song. A song that I sing aloud to the wonderful pupils filing out through the year 11 exit …this song (stolen from Friends) … with the lyric changed to ‘Half term’s here!’

Real Neat Blog Award, congratulations, nominees!

Image result for real neat blog award

About the Award

In 2014, the Real Neat Blog Award was created to recognise the many bloggers whose blogs deserve more attention.

The kind petrel41 sent me this award and, in accordance with the rules, I am now delighted to be nominating you.

So, the ‘rules’? Designed to promote interest in our BLOGS but entirely voluntary, even if your name is not Dominic Cummings, (I’ll confess, I struggled to see how to follow them for a while and went for a new page!)

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer the 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of people linking to their blogs and let them know you nominated them by commenting on their blogs.
  • Come up with 7 questions for the people you nominated.

My Nominees

  1. Pointless Overthinking
  2. Rose Girl’s World
  3. Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice
  4. Wee Ginger Dug
  5. Pilates Leeds
  6. Ramblings of a Rookie Life
  7. The Perfect Juggler
  8. Silent Pen
  9. H.J Tanner
  10. Solo Mum in Aus

My Questions

1. What is your most visited blog post of 2020?

2. If you could have a ticket to see any live act, who would you pick?

3. How have you coped with Lockdown?

4. What is your favourite quote?

5. Nature or nurture?

6. What advice would you give your teenage self ?

7. Can you name politician you admire? If yes, who?

The End of September

Monday 30 September 2019

As the sun sets on another September, it’s a good time to reflect upon the last 30 days.

Now I use the term ‘sun’ metaphorically, because the skies have actually pelted us with rain for most of the last 30 days and there are flood warnings in place across much of the UK, as the ninth month of the year comes to an end. I also read that 2019 has been the wettest across the USA as well. Is it a result of global warming and the alarming acceleration in the impact of humankind on the plant? Greta Thunberg would certainly say so, and September has seen this remarkable young woman deliver her passionate address to the UN Climate Action Summit, supported by further waves of, predominantly youth Climate Strikes, across the globe.

Closer to home, my young people have also has a productive month. My eldest has finally completed her personal statement, applied to Uni, started partying with avengeance, as the entire year group begins to turn 18, … and booked her driving test. Prom-dress daughter has made an impressive start to College life, joined the Production, re-joined the gym, signed up for various trips and blows my simple-mathematical mind, as she ponders her philosophy and history at the dinner table. Small Boy has ambled on quietly, possibly a little lost, as the girls have taken up a lot of my attention, but he seems okay.

As for me, well I did secure one new work opportunity but wasn’t successful with the other. So, whilst 1 out of 2 isn’t bad, I search on for a substantial change in my working life. Maybe my fortunes will change in October 2019? It’s a month when Mondays all fall on multiples of 7, which is always a bonus for me. I resolve to apply for at least one new job per month, pour myself a glass of wine and bid a fond farewell to a pretty good September, for the young people of the world as well as three I live with…

Fantastique Day!

Saturday 21 September 2019

As Saturdays go, that was a pretty perfect one!

The morning sees the resumption of Saturday activities for the teens freshened up with a change of location. And this, in turn means exploring a new run route for me. I swap my well-trodden tracks, through a scenery of urban streets and sassy bars, for parkland and lush greenery. It is glorious in the warm September sunshine, the oxygen coursing through my veins and fuelling my heart with energy and optimism.

The afternoon takes me to a rehearsal for a performance of the dream-like Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. Mine is a small part, the ‘off-stage’ oboe player in Movement 3. I find myself positioned in a dark dusty side room for my solo, with only a partial sight of the conductor and totally hidden from audience view. One of my GC (Group Chat) friends makes me laugh out loud with the comment that this sounds like a metaphor for her life, and I think that it many ways it probably is for mine too. Perhaps all parents feel that, much as they strive to play a beautiful part in the symphony of life, their contribution can feel a little invisible at times. But I don’t feel unappreciated this afternoon. The solo may be written to sound distant but it is so haunting that I absolutely love it and many member of the orchestra are kind enough to compliment my playing very generously too.

The additional bonus, of only appearing in one movement, is that my rehearsal time is very short and frees up the afternoon for catching up with the teens, doing the laundry, sorting out the weekly shop and doing my share of ferrying to volunteering … and to parties. I experience an usual sensation of being almost on top of things.

And tonight I am relishing a chilled glass of white after an awesome concert. My little moment goes well, but above all I am blown away by the Symphony itself, which I hear in full for the first time this evening. It’s testament to a great orchestra , where players commit fully to a truly emotional performance, but it’s also the music itself . Bernstein describes it as “a first musical expedition into psychedelia and it certainly sends me home on a real high.

Feeling ‘fantastique’, long may it last…

Tao of Glass and end of term

Sunday 21 July 2019

On Thursday, I try to cast aside my end of term exhaustion and head out for the evening to see ‘Tao of Glass’ , a world premiere piece of theatre, produced by the Manchester International Festival. This one will divide opinion, but I find it a mesmerising performance; visually stunning, very emotive and gently humorous.

However the final 10-15 minutes feature our protagonist lying on a revolving stage, next to a Steinway recorder playing an original piece of Philip Glass music, recorded by Philip Glass himself. It is beautiful and very relaxing …a little too relaxing as it transpires. I nod off and have to be nudged back into wakefulness by my companion. Next morning, it is still only in this semi-awake state, I stumble through a half-Friday to reach the end of term.

And so the sun sets on another school year and a hectic few weeks at home. As I collapse into bed, I am feeling shattered, dizzy and very unwell. I don’t emerge again until today and I have little idea where the previous 40 hours have gone.

Teens welcome me back to the world, and fill me in on the missing day and a half. They’ve certainly made the most of it! The girls have lots of shopping bags, all three have been to the cinema and Prom-dress daughter informs me that she’s cancelled her violin lesson! Oh well, reassuring to know that I’ve reared three independent souls, who can survive the odd day without a fully-functioning parent in the house. Thank the lord for my mum, who will doubtless have ensured that no-one starved, and bring on the Summer holidays…

Becoming ‘Mum the Brave’

Mother’s Day March 2019

Happy Mother’s Day!’

In pings a cheery text from Small Boy at 7:37am British Summer Time! It is earlier than I was hoping to wake up, after a late night concert, but it does make me smile. Small Boy is in France, so probably doesn’t know that our clocks have ‘Sprung Forward’. In any case it is now a family tradition that Christmas, my Birthday and usually Mother’s Day too, start at some ungodly hour with my boy crashing enthusiastically into the bedroom with a tray of breakfast!

The girls, by contrast, are far keener on their weekend lie-ins and so it’s very quiet house that greets me, as I creep downstairs for my first cup of tea. I decide that it’s the perfect time, on this National Day of Maternal-ness, to contemplate life as a mum!

The biggest change is that parenthood, life or maybe just becoming older and grumpier has lead to me being far more… forthright at best, and … confrontational at worst. ‘Quiet‘ was always the adjective used to describe me at school and I am pretty sure I was a fairly diffident young adult too. Years ago, I recall how in a, now legendary, family incident my mum took on a grumpy ice-cream seller in Harlech, who was picking on one of the kids. It was she who defended our family honour and earned herself the title of ‘Nana the Brave‘. The name stuck for years and if ever the kids faced a tricky situation I’d advise,

‘”Try and sort it out yourself, but if that doesn’t work …. we’ll send in Nana the Brave!’

This morning, I’m struggling to remember when we last called upon my mum to sort out any such issues. She’s still there, as fearless and feisty as ever, but I think that somewhere along the line … I became Mum the Brave!‘ It is me who was likened to a ‘Tigress defending her young‘ by a teacher when I disputed her comments at Parents Evening. (Let’s gloss over the fact that I have since been banned, by all 3 kids, from speaking any more than is absolutely necessary on such occasions!) It is me who takes on any retailer, any institution or any person who thinks they can mess with us. Hey, I’ve even taken on rodents this month!

So more outspoken for sure but is this is a single mum trait? You certainly do have to tough up and find your voice to survive, and to ‘smash it’ …well that’s a whole new level of determination. Read the incredible Dame Susan Black’s story for true inspiration. Whereas my ‘Mum the Brave’ exploits usually revolve around riding to the rescue of my family, she uses her strength to flourish in her own career too and to motivate other women to do the same…and that’s something I’ve been less good at. And I know it’s my next big challenge….

But today is Mothering Sunday, Small Boy calls to tell me that he’s having a star named after me and I decide that conquering the world of work can wait for 24 hours. Today of all days it feels pretty great just to be a mum!