Monday 18 July 2021
“Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, To fetch her poor dog a bone. But when she got there the cupboard was bare, And so the poor dog had none.“
Well, I may not have a dog but, when you’re down to a jar of piccalilli, a few tired old carrots and half a cucumber, it’s time to admit that you just cannot put off the supermarket shop any longer!
Gosh it has been a busy few weeks!
Look, I am a fan of ‘busy‘ and this particular brand-of-frantic starts brilliantly because it offers, in large part, ‘freedom from routine’ for me; always a winner. Some great playing, in big concerts and smaller groups. Several great nights out. Even a stay-away for work.
As an added bonus it is all wrapped up in a bow of lovely weather! Our northern lands, bathed (until today’s Saharan blast) in pleasant sunshine, providing the perfect setting for social drinks, afternoon strolls and basking away the occasional hangover!
Bliss and, to quote Gingerbread, the national single parent charity, just the tonic for the well-being of any busy parent,
“Looking after the needs of your family can take all of your time and energy. Try to get some time to yourself every now and again to recharge your batteries. All busy parents need some adult time away from children, housework and chores“
Is it just me however, or possibly a parental pitfall, but does there always come a point when ‘busy‘ tips into ‘just too busy‘? The scales certainly threaten to overbalance for me this weekend. A crammed calendar of activities on top of a full time job plus offspring casting me as the font of knowledge on: flat hunting, catching holiday flights and late night party transportation does finally frazzle my mind to the point where I simply need to stop and sit in a darkened room for a few hours!
And, in the end, as usual it is the daily grind of running a household which finally breaks me…
Yes, those bare cupboards. Not, I must confess the household chores! Keep it quiet but I have forgotten what they are! With one, sometimes two, university offspring in holiday-time residence, I’ve been very spoiled. They bob in and out, but even so have manged most of the: cooking, cleaning and even ironing, throughout June and July. And, used to surviving on a students grant, those girls are resourceful; eking a meal out of the most paltry of ingredients. But they are not magicians and, as I open the fridge today, I have to concede that enough is enough, we need food!
I mean piccalilli … picc-a-friggin’- lill! Surely a new (nutritional) low point !
So, as I am the only car driver, shattered or not, it is time for me to haul my weary limbs off the sofa and down to those shops! Wonder how the tale ended for Old Mother Hubbard ….
Tuesday 26 July 2022
Gracious me gardeners, I need your help!
About 6 weeks ago, a pupil bought me this beautiful rose, accompanied by an utterly delightful card.
“It’s called Lovely Lady,” she beamed, “because you are a lovely lady!”
Well, look what has happened to the poor thing since I brought it home and planted it in the garden!
Help! What to do? I’ve watered. I’ve fed. I’ve sprayed. But the once-lovely lady continues to droop. Every morning and every night, I have to face that desperate, bowed stem and … I feel dreadful.
‘Is the rose simply a reflection of me?‘ I ponder in a mad moment, ‘devoid of all energy and drive and just dragging myself towards the end of term?’
Or.. am I just a hopeless gardener?
Probably the latter, which would not be so bad, but for the fact that, in a similar vein to my pupil, several writers find strong parallels between gardening and parenting.
Children’s author, Katherine Halligan, in her post Why Parenting Why is a Lot Like Gardening, describes her transition into life with a family as follows,
As I gave up all notion of control and surrendered to the (happy!) chaos, I discovered I had probably been wrong all along. Nature has its own agenda, just like children do. And children, like plants, tend to thrive in spite of everything I do wrong.
Much, as ‘Lovely Lady’ is clearly not in the thriving category at the moment, I do enjoy the rest of Katherine’s article. The notion of learning on the job and just ‘jumping in at the deep end’ make pretty reassuring reading for any parent (or gardener.)
“Mostly I simply muddle along, going on instinct, hoping that weather and circumstance will favour my wild guesses …”
And it is a version of the idea of working with, rather than trying to control the complexities of life, that highlights the parent’s role as a gardener for child psychologist Alison Gopnik in, The Gardener and the Carpenter. ‘Which kind of parent are you?’ she challenges us to consider, gardener or carpenter?
The “carpenter” thinks that his or her child can be moulded. “The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child ….”
‘The “gardener,” on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore…”
Which one are you? Which one am I?
I decide that I am probably a mix of both and my kids agree. I quite like the idea of the gardener and the carpenter but find them more useful for describing behaviours than people. Hence in some situations, I approach things as a ‘moulder’ and in others, as a supportive of the ‘explorer’. Hey it is an analogy after all. At least I hope so, because if not, given my lack of skill in either domain, things don’t look too rosy for my offspring!
Interesting as the reading is, parenting is not my problem on this occasion… gardening is. And none of this solves the dilemma of wilting ‘Lovely Lady’. As far as I can see, my only options now are, pruning, supporting with bamboo and … a miracle?
Meanwhile, all suggestions welcome!
Wednesday 10 August 2022
“It is £30 for a check-up and we take payment in advance.”
I am momentarily frozen on the other end of the line. I am about to join a private dental practice and the immediate mention of cold, hard cash (well electronically transferred funds) brings home the reality that I am now paying for health care. Have I sold my soul to the devil?
This particular practice actually invited me in, after they met me as an emergency patient a few weeks ago. On this occasion, I had lost a filling and, co-incidentally, discovered to my dismay that I had also lost my place with the NHS dentist. After experimenting with home remedies, a work colleague suggested plugging the gap with chewing gum and I bunged in some gunk from the internet, I eventually resigned myself to taking an appointment with anyone who could help, waved my credit card at the smiling receptionist and left with a very secure (if expensive) new amalgam.
Thereafter, I resolved to find a new NHS practice and ‘re-join the dental system‘. And so when the private practitioners emailed me with an invite to ‘sign on’ to their books, I initially ignored it.
Alas, however, getting back into the national system proved trickier than I thought. Countless calls and google searches confirmed that nobody… but nobody is taking on new patients. And so for a while I just parked the issue and forgot about my teeth. Small boy, unlike me, had not been turfed out of the local practice. If he was okay, in true single parent fashion, I resolved to ‘just muddle on’.
‘Perhaps,’ I reason, ‘if there are no places and everyone seems happy to accept this, then dental care cannot be that important. Maybe the occasional emergency appointment is the way to go?‘
On Monday of this week, however the BBC report, ‘Full extent of NHS dentistry shortage revealed by far-reaching BBC research’, reveals, not only that 9 out of 10 NHS practices are not taking on new adult patients but also that this has lead to an alarming rise in ‘DIY dentistry‘. People pulling out their own teeth, restricting their diets to little more than soup and making improvised dentures. When I hear a man on the radio describing how he was forced to extract 2 teeth with pliers …. arghhhh…. I am forced to review my thoughts on dental care and I reluctantly re-read the email from the private practice.
I also review their costs because, let’s be clear, NHS dentistry is not ‘free‘ for adults, indeed free treatment ended in 1951, just three years after the NHS was formed, because it was deemed unaffordable, however the pricing is subsidised and pretty simple with only 3 charge bands.
|Band 1: £23.80||covers an examination, diagnosis, advice including x-rays, a scale and polish|
|Band 2: £62.50||covers all treatment in band 1 plus additional treatments such as fillings, root canal and extractions|
|Band 3: £282.80||covers all treatment in bands 1 and 2 , plus more complex procedures such as crowns, dentures and bridges|
I quickly discover that the private costs are a lot higher, in particular because there is no inclusion of previous costs in their pricing structure, so those bills just accumulate! Nonetheless, as I rattle around the kitchen this morning, I do come across a pair of pliers. It’s surely a sign. I need to spend some money on myself … just this once…
So I make the call and pay the examination fee.
At the end of much prodding and x-raying, I find that I do need a filling. As it is quite pricey, I elect to postpone treatment for a while, at least until my August pay check lands. It has been an expensive month for me with all 3 teens temporarily back at home. Doubtless though, at some point in the Autumn, I shall find the money and add yet more metal to my molars.
But I resent having to wait and I resent having to make health decision based not upon my wellbeing but upon my bank balance. The reasons for the current crisis I do not really fathom but I find incredibly sad. Is this, as the BBC report challenges, ‘The death of NHS Dentistry?’ It is certainly not the vision of national health care free that I hold dear.
For what of those who cannot pay at all? Worrying times …
Monday 22 August 2022
Well, I may not have stepped onto a plane this August but I have certainly covered a few miles! Well done to Windsor, my trusty Toyota, for doing most of the work and hip hip hooray for ‘Heart 80s‘; pumping out nostalgic tunes from the car dashboard and providing the perfect soundtrack for the holiday season…
Heart 80s … why so perfect? Because, as I look back on the last 4 weeks, I realise that I have spent an awful lot of it with those I first met in… the 1980s! Just the sort of symmetry to make my mathematical mind happy and to inspire me to write this week’s post as an ode to some of my oldest pals…
First stop; dear university friends (known since the mid 80s) in the North East. Here we ‘make it a night to remember‘ in the pub quiz followed by a day of drinking ‘red red wine,’ and also sampling the fizzy, white and rose varieties at an organic wine tasting. We ‘walk this way‘ and that way and many miles through the glorious local countryside, where the fields of corn, barley and wheat just take my breath away. And finally, be it a ‘green door‘, brown door or even a solid steel fortification, nothing and I mean nothing, is stopping one very competitive friend from breaking it down in a determined quest to wrestle us out of an Escape Room within the allocated hour!
After several happy days, I head home whereupon, accompanied by a fellow classmate from sixth form (slightly earlier mid-80s) we go ‘running up that hill‘ and also wrapping ourselves in 4 sets of blankets to watch an exuberant but unspeakably chilly outdoor production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at a local riding centre. Whilst I would recommend the incredible Illyria theatre company without hesitation, I could almost swear I heard the Bard himself chuckle ‘Oh Lord what fools these mortal be!‘ as the wind freezes hands to the point where picnickers dare not even release them from the safety of rugs and jumpers to hold a glass of prosecco !
Thereafter however, comes the heat. Aside from a brief flit to Middlesborough (furniture drop for my Eldest) and a trip to sunny Stratford for Promdress daughter’s birthday, the ‘long hot summer‘ just passes us by, in a sweltering week of deckchair basking and ‘cool pool’ froth in the garden not-so-hot tub.
And before long, my next visitor arrives, a teacher training bestie from the late 80s. Now ‘girls just want to have fun‘ and that is exactly what we do. Courtesy of this sunniest of Summers we are able to sit out until late to drink and chat and also spend a delicious day in the bars and cafes of Manchester.
But then….‘C’mon‘ calls Windsor ‘It’s time for me to hit the road again!’
Indeed it is! Nicknamed a ‘long distance lorry driver‘ by one witty amigo, on account of my holiday travels, I find time to whirl along the motorway to deposit Small Boy in Wales and then set the satnav for ‘a town called ...‘ London! Yes; I drive to London – eek! I am terrified. I am bamboozled. I am ‘ultra low emission zone’ charged and navigationally challenged. I have nightmares about taking a wrong turn and seeing the monopoly board come to life from my car window.
But with the trains on strike it is the only way for me to catch-up with great uni friends, some of whom I have not seen for over 5 years. So I go for it, get there in one piece and then enjoy ….
I am a ‘west end girl‘ with lunch and a mini-reunion at the elegant Wolseley in Piccadilly plus a stroll around a (very brown) Green Park. Then it’s the cultural delights of the Southbank; ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders‘ at Tate Modern before an afternoon at the Globe for my second dose of Shakespeare this Summer.
My final day veers a little more off the beaten track at Trinity Buoy Wharf. We go primarily to hear the ‘Long Player‘ a 1000 year piece of music composed by Jem Finer, once of the Pogues. Not only did my friend and I see the Pogues (together) at Glastonbury back in 1986, but I further relish in coincidences, realising that, by utter chance, it was also a location used in the Netflix film, Rogue Agent, which I watched with the teens just 4 days earlier… spooky! The site is even more than Long Player too, with arty workshops, a museum honouring Faraday, who conducted experiments in electric lighting for lighthouses there in the nineteenth century, the Floodtide music installation plus one of the quirkiest cafes I’ve stopped at for quite some time. A terrific find.
And it is there that my August 2022 travels end. Windsor and I point the compass north and we duo of Wild Rovers speed merrily up the motorway home.
Great times, great company, great 80s soundtrack, great Summer …
Thursday 25 August 2022
This Thursday, the gentle giant, affectionately know as Smallboy, collects his GCSE results … and they are cracking!
The entire squad bundles down to school for support, crammed into my Eldest’s 3-door car, (alas, Windsor is recovering from an encounter with a bollard in Bolton … a story for another day) because, that is what we do and because we get it. Get the pressure of high expectation from: school, friends, family. Everyone expecting you to have done well, to have ‘sailed through‘ to have ‘smashed it’. It is a lot to bear at the age of 16 and the car journey is pretty quiet.
Our phone clocks move to 09:00. The school doors open. Off he goes and, after 3 years of blessed GCSE respite, it is ‘welcome back’ to that tortuous wait in the car for me! Smallboy later tells me that,
I kind of knew it had gone well mum because as I went through the doors one of the teachers told me to ‘wait behind at the end for a photograph’
But there is none of this reassurance for those left outside. Stomach churning, I waive aside my daughters’ suggestions of ‘music‘ or ‘playing a game‘. I try some experimental ‘positive chanting’ but soon fall back upon the familiar and am completing my fourth decade of the rosary when we see him ambling across the carpark, giving us a shy thumbs up and hopping back into the front seat.
It is simply a super set of grades! He gives a modest shrug, his face breaks into a smile, I ruffle his curly locks and we head off for a Maccies breakfast to celebrate.
And so, as a parent, my encounter with GCSE examinations, revision and results days comes to an end. Three very different experiences, not so much with the results days but with the examination period itself. This final one, without doubt, the most laid back and … let me get down with the kids and say, ‘chilled’ ever. Few dramas and a very relaxed (which I found alarming on occasion) approach to revision. Typically, I’d arrive home and open with,
Have you started revision yet? You’ve got Chemistry tomorrow
To which my son would usually reply along the lines of,
Don’t stress mother, it’s only 7pm… plenty of time!
I did put my foot down about mid-week socialising but he still went out most weekends. I also supported the schools insistence on attendance and did not consent to my son’s pleas to ‘phone and ask for study leave’.
Did any of it make a jot of difference? I guess we shall never know. But, on supporting school policy, I was never going to budge. I am unspeakably grateful to our local high school for many things and this includes the knowledge, the love of learning and the encouragement to aim high that they have instilled in all three of my offspring. I cannot thank them enough for this because, as a single parent, life is a tough old trek and self-doubt always only a thought away. Their resolute input has, without question shielded my trio from my lone-mum fears of ‘daring to hope’ and contributed to them becoming just lovely young people, with amazing friends and bright futures. So rather than questioning any edicts over the years I have been happy to trust and that has certainly paid off.
So let’s finish this post where we started with the one and only Small boy. Enrolled at sixth-form and starting an exciting new chapter. Well done son, you enjoy this moment …
10 September 2022
Gosh; a momentous week!
A new prime minister and a new head of state for the country. On Monday it is all about Liz Truss and a political lurch to the right. On Tuesday I feel trepidation at her early proclamations. By Wednesday I am wide eyed with terror. But as Thursday draws to a close an even bigger story breaks, the queen passes away peacefully at the age of 96 and a historic 70 year reign as our monarch draws to a close.
It dominates the news reels. The cost of living crisis, the rail strikes, postal strikes, barrister strikes … even the football fixtures make way for a brief period of calm as the country looks back on the life of the woman who was part of our world and history for seven decades. A reassuring constancy, ever dignified, ever diplomatic and often at the centre of an eventful family life.
Yes, one reason I think that, royalists or not, we can all relate to this moment is that the nation knew her as daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother. Many of us have known first hand of family love, family ups and downs, the pain of family loss and … it resonates.
It certainly feels poignant for me, because Thursday 8 September, is also my late Dad’s birthday. At a time of change and new challenge locally as well as nationally, it is the perfect time to visit his grave and spend some time in the peace of the cemetery thinking out loud and hoping that, somewhere out there, he might be listening.
I tell him of the national stories and also update on news closer to home; Prom-dress daughter and her new Edinburgh flat, my eldest finding her feet on hospital placement, Small-boy starting sixth-form, Forest back in the top flight of football and … of course my lovely mum, still bringing light, laughter and happiness into the world.
It is very therapeutic talking to someone who just ‘listens’. Feels good to re-ground myself as daughter, mother and friend. A firm foundation on which to prepare and look ahead to the new changes and opportunities that Autumn and Winter may bring.
All too soon it is time to head home, but as I turn to walk away, I remind him to ‘look out for the queen‘….
17 September 2022
Horoscopes; I don’t know many who really believe them but I know lots of people, myself included, who read them! If you’re like me, they make a quick, fun, scroll item with a morning cuppa on the rare occasions when you have the time to wonder what the day might bring.
And so it is that this morning I am greeted by this exciting news…
“You could feel like a millionaire today, Pisces. Money matters seem to surpass your expectations. You might want to spend time fixing up your home or perhaps shopping for yourself..
Well, even general cost of living challenges aside, after the recent run of luck I’ve had, this is so far from the truth that I nearly splutter my tea across the table! So come with me astrologers, as I recount the ‘money matters’ of this particular Piscean…
First my car; poor old Windsor! Transporting me to the rehearsal for a local music festival, my trusty Toyota find himself reversed painfully into a post. Main light smashed, bumper crunched and several hundred pounds needed to restore his rear end to its former glory.
Hot on the heels of his trip to the body work garage, Windsor is soon in the woes again. The engine management light glows yellow. A very nice RAC person comes around to the house and diagnoses a possible fault with the GDPR … or is that the EGR valve. I google the likely cost, gulp in panic and when the light thereafter goes off, hold my breath, cross everything and have been tentatively driving about, hoping for the best, ever since.
Thirdly we turn to Small boy. He starts college in an uncharacteristic wave of enthusiasm. After one week, he is shopping files and highlighters, leaving me to ponder what has happened to my laid back boy. In week two… he is actually seen using them, colour coding extensive notes on complex chemical compounds, and planning time for revision. Seriously, where has my son gone?
“I’m starting as I mean to go on” a serious Small boy explains, “and I’m going to need a new laptop!“
Well this is very true. The battered old grey beasts I bought for both of my younger children in Lockdown have long since given up the ghost. But the thought of funding this purchase from a bank balance already hit by car repairs, fills me with despair so I text his dad.
But before ex-hub can even respond, comes the fourth financial challenge of the season and it is Small boy again. This time a rather nervous and apologetic voicemail from the home landline informs me that the great goon has left his iphone 11 on the bus!
I am still embroiled in this one. Mum the detective is on the trail of the bus driver to whom, someone at college reports, the phone was handed, a couple of stops after Small boy got off. Mum the realist has contacted the phone company to put bars on the device and my insurance company to find out how much they (and I) will doubtless be forking out to replace the phone. If they accept our claim at all that is as, not once, but twice in the last 6 months they have already paid out for screen repairs to … the very same iphone 11!
Hence, am I feeling ‘like a millionaire today‘ with matters financial ‘exceeding my expectations’? Errr, that would be a ‘no’!
On the other hand, tonight is a Lotto rollover so perhaps I should squander my one remaining fiver on a ticket? More probably I should stop reading those horoscopes and buy myself a cheap bottle of plonk to ease the financial pain. But hang on a tick … did they not mention something about ‘shopping for yourself’! Maybe there’s some truth hidden in the mystic words after all…
Friday 23 September 2022
Shouldn’t that be me?
Now let me be clear, I am in no way suggesting that no-one else can ever challenge my offsprings’ behaviour. Take school for example; without questions I would back staff to intervene to promote values of manners, kindness and respect. Nor do I expect socially unacceptable behaviour, such pushing to the front of a bus queue to be ignored. In this event, I would applaud the driver for sending any of my charges straight back to the end of the line. No, I am concerned with one scenario only, that being when I am actually there … even in my own home! Surely, oh surely; that is my domain?
I certainly thought so, a kind of unwritten rule of inter-parental respect, and, hence, on 12 August when I hear the topic raised by journalist Nina Warhurst on radio 5, I am quickly cheering her on.
“In my opinion” she posits, “if a parent is present then it is no-one else’s job to tell a kid off“
“Spot on Nina” I contribute on Twitter. The nation, however, is more divided. Endless contributors call, text and tweet-in to assert their right to, (surely the only word for this is) ‘interfere‘ if they spot a minor out-and-about with their family who dares to drop a P and Q or, heaven forbid, leaves an elbow resting on a table! The self-appointed etiquette police are passionate, casting themselves as the gallant guardians of British values and the very fabric of our society.
So I am aware that not everyone is with me on this issue however, here is why this single mum would, politely, like you to ‘butt out‘ if you’re in my home or see me with my family and think you can improve our behaviour or manners.
My family unit is close knit one. I’m likely to be biased but I really do find my children remarkable, resourceful … and very kind. And I love this. I am also not afraid to admit that in our world these values are often prized far more highly than etiquette. When for example I arrive home exhausted to find that one of the trio has made tea and tidied the house as a treat, my heart overflows. And do you know what, if someone then eats with their elbows on the table I am absolutely going to ignore it . Because I want to recognise and value the kindness and not mar the moment with relatively trivial nonsense. On the memorable day, back in 2017, when I forgot to leave work to collect Smallboy from the year 7 pantomime and he set off home alone, in the December dark and rain, his young sisters had to set out to find him. We were all so overjoyed to finally see his tiny, bedraggled figure heading up the hill, that we did celebrate by eating in the lounge with our feet on the coffee table and … even phones out! My kids are a well behaved and acceptably well-mannered lot but every now and again the moment is not about manners.
Additionally, I would just never dream of commenting on other children’s manners either whether their parents are present or not. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to parties and sleepovers. I have not been afraid to set a standards on ‘going to sleep’ and have been known to burst into the room, at 3am, demanding that sleepover rebels (usually led my one of my own brood) ‘cut the noise and get off to sleep‘. And of course, I have stepped in when there is a threat to safety; on the occasion, for example, I awoke to the horror of an 8-year old Smallboy and his sleep-over friends, jumping from successively higher steps on the staircase into the hall, I stopped it on the spot! But table manners and standards of politeness … no, not ever!
‘Why not?‘ I hear you cry. For me, the better question would be ‘Why? Most of the time, I wouldn’t have even noticed, I always saw a child and friend, not a checklist of dos and don’ts. Even if I did, I have no idea why a young person might not be saying ‘thank you‘ as I serve the party tea. They could be too terrified to speak to ‘someone else’s mum’. They might be taking their cues for behaviour from the party host and, if your children are like mine, when little they tended to show off quite a lot, whenever friends came to stay! But above all, it is simply not my place and it is not the time. Nobody has sent their children to my house for a lesson in etiquette; they have come to have fun!
And the notion, of not letting manners dominate and take the joy out of a situation is one I occasionally puzzle over when my trio visit their ‘down south’ family. For my in-laws are true devotees of the etiquette handbook – even elbows on the table at Maccies is frowned upon! Upon their return from a trip to Centre Parks with ex hub, I still recall a furious Prom dress daughter recounting the tale of her brother being made to sit down, write out and recite 10 table manners every morning before he was allowed to join in any holiday activities … which I found incredibly sad. Because he hadn’t packed his little suitcase and gone on the trip for lecture in 18th century decorum, he’d just wanted to spend some time with his dad. But hey, ex-hub’s domain and his values!
But they are not mine! I know that for many ‘manners maketh man‘ but it is ‘morals that maketh this mum’ and that’s a flag I am sticking with! So whilst I respect that not all agree, I am unshakeable in my belief that in my home or if I am present, I do know best because I know my children best. If someone is in my house, steeping in to ‘help out’ and correct my offspring’s manners or behaviour, however well intentioned, they need to hear that it does not feel supportive it feels presumptuous and judgemental.
When I do need help, because we always do on occasion, I will ask for it. Until then, ‘No thank you!’…