July 2019

Go Girls!

Saturday 6 July 2019

Small Boy and I have had the house to ourselves this week, but this weekend, both girls are back and we listen with great pride and awe to all that they have accomplished.

Last night, my eldest got back from her final Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. She has walked for miles and miles, she is low on sleep, she has more Compeed than flesh visible on her feet, her bones and muscles ache and cramp, one toe is horribly swollen and …..she is starving. She is craving comfort food and we feed her pizza and garlic bread which she devours ravenously. Then it’s iboprufen, hot water bottles and bed. She is visibly tearful with the pain, and that only makes me feel prouder because I can see what a tough ordeal it must have been. But tough or not, my girl has done it – she is bloomin’ amazing!

Prom-dress daughter bursts through the door this afternoon. She has returned from a week of work experience in an Architecture firm ‘down south’. She is buzzing, with tales of 3D software packages, architectural research, trips to ‘the site’, hard hats and full high vis …and above all the fact that, shy as she is, she has done this. Yes she has pressed that button, announced her arrival, introduced herself in the Open Plan Office, accepted offers to go out for lunch and even presented her final ‘house design’ to her supervisors. What an amazing experience and what a brilliant boost to Prom-dress daughter’s confidence. I am super proud of her!

Small Boy has planned a basket ball tournament to celebrate their return, and I can tell that the girls are glad to be home because they actually agree! Basketball is so much more fun with four than two! My muscles ache now, but it’s mostly with laughter and only the occasional bruise – this is family play after all, not always fair, but ever-fiercely aggressive. Small Boy’s team, inevitably, triumph but there are no losers here today. Today all my brilliant kids are winners and it’s lovely to be a family of four again.

I am done …

Saturday 13 July 2019

I arrive home from my final concert of the season, pour myself a brandy, sink onto the sofa and realise that I am… done!

In the last month, my amazing eldest has: traversed the UK to attend Uni Open Days, coped with Y12 mocks, trekked the Lake District peaks with pack on her pack, camped with fellow DOE expeditioners, surviving on cuppa-soup and pasta, volunteered at a local care home and performed in several concerts. Nonetheless, this week, as others break up for Summer, she completes a week of work experience in a local hospital … and I have chauffered her there daily.

On top of this extra driving, I have survived another week at work. I have found the evening-energy to rehearse and practise. There’s been no time to run. I am low on sleep and nutrition and, I am ashamed to admit, getting through most days with anadin and alcohol.

Tonight was the concert. Usually this would bring my mood soaring right back up, but all the logistics and demands of recent weeks have taken their toll, and I am now just finished. I think it goes quite well, although it’s a very fast and jazzy piece and in places I am just hanging on for dear life. But there is no buzz and I feel a little flat. I admit that the engine has stalled on my ‘Smashing Single Parenthood’ machine this week and I am squarely in survival gear right now!

I have, in all the chaos, missed important hospital appointments for myself and Prom-dress Daughter. I feel frustrated and frazzled by endless driving and traffic lights and traffic jams and hear myself screaming unspeakable abuse at unsuspecting drivers. I feel dragged down by routines and cooking and washing and ironing and just all the dreary decisions and jobs that come about when you are the only adult in the household. I feel trapped and low and on the verge of tears.

I need to cheer up and, as if sent from heaven, I switch on the TV to Simon Pegg lighting up my screen! (I’ll confess, he is a bit of a hero of mine, Run Fat Boy RunHot FuzzShaun of the Dead comedy classics that I’ve watched many times) I’ve never heard of tonight’s film, ‘Man-Up‘. It is a totally ridiculous romcom but, as ever with ‘The Pegster’, the scenes just make me laugh out loud … and laughter always works for me. My gloom lifts like a glorious magical mist and I head to bed knowing that tomorrow is another day and a new opportunity to do things a bit better. I also wonder if Simon Pegg is single …

Cracking the code…

Tuesday 16 July 2019

After a long day at work, there’s no rest for me. My eldest has a driving theory test and I have agreed to be her chauffeur. Upon reaching our location, we are greeted by a sign announcing that ‘Candidates may NOT park at the Centre’. And so it it that I drop her off and then park myself on a dodgy side street, where I try to get on with some work.

Up ahead, a group of youths are knocking on car windows and asking for money. The driver, two cars in front of me hands over some cash and they disappear. The street is quiet after that, nonetheless I decide to keep my window shut and it starts to get very stuffy. Feeling drowsy and struggling to concentrate on my task, I turn to the internet for diversion, and am woken up by Dr Emily Grossman’s article in the Guardian,

Putting Alan Turing on the £50 note is a triumph for British science – and for equality

Hip hip hooray! Back in the Autumn, when the Bank of England launched the public vote on this issue, Turing was my man! There’s the incredible contribution his mathematical brain made to the development of computing, which is mind blowing. And, of course, his legendary code-breaking at Bletchley Park,

You needed exceptional talent, you needed genius at Bletchley and Turing’s was that genius.” ( Asa Briggs )

But with Turing, the human story is equally powerful. Under the Official Secrets Act, much of his work was to remain hidden for a long time, denying him deserved recognition. At the age of 39, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ due to a relationship with another man, a judgement that led to the removal of his security clearance. Despite his outstanding contribution to war time intelligence, he was barred from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the GCHQ. Far more shockingly, Turing also underwent ‘chemical castration’ treatment, to avoid imprisonment, and died 2 years later, an inquest ruled by suicide.

About 10 years ago, petitions began for his pardon. In 2014, the Queen granted a full pardon and by 2016 the “Alan Turing law” paved the way to retroactively pardon other men too.

We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of “gross indecency” … Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save….A pardon can go some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well-known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.

So one of the founding fathers of computing, an unsung hero of our war effort and a significant icon for equality. If, like me, you are a mathematician, its is a wonderful privilege to have lived this life seeing the world through the eyes of many of the greatest minds humankind has ever known. And this man is undoubtedly up there at the top, for his immense and lasting contribution to our modern society. I am overjoyed that he has won a place on our £50 note and, as I look closely, the image also features a short piece of binary code. Cocooned as I may be, within the confines of my clammy car, trying to decode this keeps me busy until my eldest emerges triumphant from her theory test…

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…

Spa Day!

Thursday 25 July 2019

I do follow other single-mum bloggers; and they are often passionate about the need for we lone-parents to treat and take care of ourselves. I have always been sceptical, genuinely so challenged by keeping kids, wider family, work and my bank manager happy that I cannot face the thought of making time to think about my own well-being as well. But after a glorious day at the spa…I think they may have a point!

It’s the hottest day of the year, when records are set to break in distant corners of the South of England, as Spa Day dawns. Two of my teens are on a Youth Orchestra tour of Belgium and the third has gone to spend a day with his nana, so I am already childfree. There is however an added bonus. I have a lift and so, in what feels like the ultimate luxury, I am car-free too. As a result, my mood is already joyful as, unable to believe our weather-luck, four of us rendez-vous in the foyer, change into our swimwear and make a beeline for the outdoor pool(s) area.

It is utter bliss. We are a trusty quartet who have survived several years of work together, have run together, drunk together and failed hilariously in the work quiz together. So I know that the company will be great and it is. We share laughter, lunch and lots of lovely chilled white wine. But another stand out feature of today is the luxury. As I lower myself into the warm embrace of a bubbling jacuzzi, I feel the pain lift from my poor aching limbs, which carry the scars of overworking and overdriving in recent months. I feel pampered. I feel cared for. I feel at peace. Those bubbles seem to tell me that I do matter and I am worth it! And I realise that this is often the missing ingredient in my busy life. And it feels fantastic!

Now, wondrous as my day is, I cannot see myself finding the time or money to make a spa day a regular feature on the calendar. However, I do think making a bit of time for myself and my wellbeing probably is essential. So I re-read a great post on this topics from The Perfect Juggler, 7 types of Self Care that don’t cost a penny…. Actually, I find that I already do several of the suggestions, but here is my challenge. When life gets frantic, make sure that the first thing to fall by the wayside is not me and my time and my happiness. Now that sounds like a plan!

Single-parenthood necessity – what does it invent?

Sunday 28 July 2019

Now I am obviously biased, but I do think my three teens are growing up to be pretty incredible young people. This week, as I am out with a friend, enjoying fine beers and cocktails, and talking life, they suggest that this is not despite their single parent upbringing… but because of it! Can there really be advantages to this challenging life we lead? It’s certainly not the usual media message but as I mull it over it does start to make a sense, and I decide to do some research.

I have yet to unearth a recent, comprehensive study in this area, however there is an abundance of current writing that is now prepared to acknowledge advantages, alongside disadvantages of lone-parenting for children. Before I look at these, I can only stress that I am not going to pretend it isn’t an unbelievable tough path. Jenni Lee’s heartbreaking poem Secret’s of a single mum, contains verses I’ve certainly experienced and would love to share with my Ex and his family, if only I thought they would listen or care. However the poem also encapsulates the key to using your circumstances to your childrens’ advantage. Here’s the moment,

“When I feel like a failure, that I am just letting you down, that I wish I could do more for you, you snuggle up to me on the sofa, you make a cup of tea, you look at me and smile, you come up to me and tell me you love me. Those little things mean the world to me.…”

In short, children will help, if you communicate and ask for their support, and this in turn helps them to grow and develop as people. And it’s possibly in the single parent unit that we need to ask for their help a little more often than elsewhere.

So where are the potential benefits? Top of most lists comes that it teaches independence and responsibility. “Because single parents are already so busy, children should be encouraged to be like the member of a team …” argues one report. That is a definite strength our our family unit. As we all grow up, we play to each other’s strengths and work most successfully when we work as a team. This celebrates and develops strengths, confidence and self-esteem. And it has developed me as a team player too . Most importantly, I have learned and continue to learn, to listen ‘with my ears’!

Another suggested advantage, cited in several reports, is the good ‘role -modelling’ of issues like: problem solving, money management, and resilience. I know that I have been forced to learn so many new skills since taking on sole responsibility for the management of the household, and my children have seen me do it, often sharing the challenge. In consequence possibly they are more resourceful, less likely to think ‘I can’t do…’ and more likely to think instead ‘How will I learn to do …’ than others? One terrifying Ballet Class ordeal aside (and that’s another story!), they certainly don’t seem to be quitters and we have battled through some very tricky times together.

Different reports debate different gains and losses, but I don’t feel the need to read anymore because I think my research has already taught me an important lesson. Your family circumstances will undeniably shape you. The key, to making the most of this, is to see your particular situation as an opportunity, not as I have often done , a mountain to climb in trying to catch up with ‘more fortunate’ others. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then perhaps in the single parent household, embracing the tough challenges it presents can invent some very remarkable children. It feels like a very new outlook on life and it feels very exciting…

August 2019

Single Parent Holidaying

11 August 2019

After a wonderful 2 weeks in Spain, I really should reconnect with reality. But, my TV is broken and only shows BBC1 and BBC2, (tonight’s schedule of Country File, followed by The Antiques Roadshow threatens to be a real low point), my curtain rail has fallen down, the garden is a wet wilderness of overgrown greenery, there’s no food in the house and no-one has any clean clothes left. It proves just too tempting to leave it all for another 24 hours and instead look back fondly over the last fortnight…

The truth be told, I had been quite anxious about this holiday. For the first time ever, I was taking the kids abroad on my own, which felt pretty daunting to me. Not to them thankfully. Capabilities boosted by several school trips and a lifetime with a mother incapable of planning ahead, they breezed through packing and API and boarding passes and passports with a few lists and that supreme confidence teenagers ooze with anything ‘online’. At the airport, as I fumbled about with too much paperwork and some outdated 1980s bumbag, they waved phones at check in gates, and expertly fitted medication and ‘essential toiletries’ into plastic bags like seasoned pros.

And so it was that , within a few hours, with what seemed liked unbelievable ease, I found myself at our Spanish appartment, dipping my toes in the pool and looking forward to making my way through a Kindle loaded up with holiday reading.

And I did have time to relax and read loads and loads of great books. I caught up on, and even got ahead of, my Book Club list and several more books to boot. We also did trips. Now this isn’t a new idea, and I would list as a top tip for anyone holidaying with teens; wherever we go, I always let each child choose one trip that we all agree to go on. This time it was water parks, animal parks and an, at times terrifying, boat trip into the choppy Atlantic to see whales and dolphins. We explored various local beaches and enjoyed lots of different restaurants and bars.

But none of this is my real highlight. The best features of the time away was the quality time we spent together as a family. The kids nearly taught me to swim underwater, we took air hockey and crazy golf to a whole new level and we laughed until we cried over Uno and other of games cards. Great memories and great times.

Now I am ready for tomorrow, when I shall get the TV fixed and tackle the garden…

‘To do’ lists, ‘Ta Da’ lists …

Monday 19 August 2019

At the start of last week, accepting that a house with no TV, no curtains and only a wild,weedy wilderness where the garden used to be, is no place to live, I made myself a ‘to do’ list. It worked beautifully.

The garden was easy enough. I am no green-fingered goddess but I can spray weedkiller and steer a lawn mower as well as anyone! Upon a friend’s recommendation, a very cheery local TV man appeared on Tuesday and by Tuesday evening, ITV, Netflix and BBC i-player were back in our lives – hooray! Another friend, guided me through the marvellous new world of polyfiller and sandpaper and we can now once again, shut the neighbours out after dark.

In addition, Prom-dress daughter and I caught up on some hospital appointments and we sorted out learner driver car insurance for my eldest, with a great company called Marmelade. This is a job I’d ruled out, for several months, on cost grounds but, it turns out, it was just a case of finding the right company. (My eldest now drives us everywhere! ) We played basket ball and fitted in a family walk and a pub lunch. I also met up with with friends new and old, and, all in all, enjoyed a very productive and sociable week. Having a ‘To-Do’ list certainly seems a pretty good way to have a ‘Ta -Da’ kind of week!

This week brings GCSE results day and I have a job interview to need to prep for. Deep breaths…we’ve got this!

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 …

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…

Thanks Dad …

Thursday 29 August 2019

Today is a day when the past and future come together in wonderful harmony.

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 has 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 been 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 focused and suddenly 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!” 

September 2019

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, back to A levels and GCSES, new 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 manages 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…

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 hoarsely, 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 …

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…

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 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…

“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….”

The End of September

Leave a reply

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 maths-geek 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…