May 2019

One very scary prom-dress fitting!

Saturday 4 May 2019

It’s a very pleasant morning as Prom-dress daughter and I set out for an appointment with the seamstress recommended by our dress shop. Armed with our prom-dress and shoes, we innocently enter the shop to find the seamstress busy with another customer.

She gives us a dismissive glance and, with an authoritative Eastern European accent, very similar to Villanelle ( Killing Eve),motions towards the changing area and raps out the instructions ‘”In there! Dress on!

The other customer has left as Prom-dress daughter emerges from the changing area. She looks completely stunning and I wait for the seamstress to notice. “Isn’t it a great fit!” I enthuse into the arkward silence, “we think just a little adjustment to the length?” the seamstress ignores me completely and views us both with utter disdain. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife as she tells Prom-dress daughter to stand on a circular platform . And then she reaches for the scissors!

” You must stand completely still, otherwise I cut it too short” she tells a petrified Prom-dress daughter, “You get the dress you stand for!

We are both a little stunned as, with no hesitation, the seamstress starts to snip away and fabric falls to the floor. She is finished in minutes, informs us that she will adjust all the dress to ensure the line and shape is correct and then, as Prom-dress daughter takes the cue to get changed again, the seamstress is gone!

Another, clearly lesser, employee emerges to give us a ticket and a bill for £20. She seems unconcerned whether I pay now or upon collection. I read a foreboding notice about uncollected garments being ‘sold on‘ and timidly enquire when the dress might be ready. With a shrug, the woman suggests in 4 weeks time and I make a mental note NOT to be late.

It takes a breakfast at Morrisons cafe for Prom-dress daughter and I to recover fully. At least we have 4 weeks grace before we have to return to the scariest seamstress in the Northwest!

Live life. Love life!

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Becky, you’ve got exactly 5 minutes! Coffee, then game face on and get back out there!

It’s 8 am, I am at work and one of my Friday run-buddies has found me blubbing inconsolably in my office. She brings coffee, wipes, a make-up bag and a face that tells me that her mission is to put me swiftly back together! I find work incredibly difficult at the moment. Today’s public put-down, in our morning meeting, wasn’t even a bad one, but the cumulative effect of having all your mistakes amplified and any achievements ignored or belittled has taken its toll…. It doesn’t help either that my weekend has been pretty emotional. I am feeling broken. “It’s not just work is it?” observes my run-buddy, as if reading my mind. “It’s not” I sniff between sobs, “Rubbish weekend- I’m feeling sad and single, old and shabby”

For a moment my friend’s face softens into a kind smile but then she remembers that I need to greet ‘the public’ at 8:15 am and the puffy-eyed, streaked-cheeks look really isn’t going to cut it. “Well it’s a good job I’ve brought my make-up bag and not yours then!” she announces with renewed determination “We’ll soon have you zhuzhed up and ready to sparkle!” Now I know that it has been ages since I’ve felt or looked sparkling, but it does make me laugh, and that always makes me feel better. I take a resolute gulp of coffee, put out a hand for the wipes and start putting my face back together.

Later, as I am showing a visitor around, we observe another colleague delivering an amazing session on the ‘positive side of suffering’. There’s a song playing, to stimulate discussion, it’s ‘Live like you were dying” by Tim McGraw and it stops me …’on a dime!’ It’s a simple message, namely that challenges and suffering can help you get life into perspective. Life really is precious and not to be wasted wallowing and worrying about unimportant nonsense. Feeling humbled and inspired, I resolve to keep my game face on permanently … at work, at any rate, from now on!

Well thank the Lord for that!” laughs my friend, as I catch up later to apologise for unacceptable weepy-ness and to announce my new resolution “And be ready to run early on Friday, I’m getting my eyebrows done at 7!”

She sweeps off down the corridoor and I feel thankful in life that I don’t just have to rely on telling myself to ‘get a grip’, I have friends to tell me too!!

Somewhere….

Saturday 11 May 2019

I was once a big fan of the radio DJ Danny Baker, but this week, his tweet about the royal baby, at best seriously ill-judged, at worst shockingly offensive has seen him fall from grace publicly and definitely personally for me too. In a week where, sadly, the divisions between us can still feel stronger than the humanity that binds us, it is poignant that my musical journeys have also drawn upon themes of racial and social tension and the fear and mistrust of any groups who seem ‘different’.

After a morning of our usual Saturday activities we grab a quick lunch, pick up my mum and head into Manchester, destination the Royal Exchange for a matinee performance of West Side Story. It was my Dad’s all time favourite musical, it’s music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim , it’s an epic explosion of youthful energy, sassy dance routines and musical mastery. But at its core, it’s a heart-breaking love story, a 1950s New York setting of Rome and Juliet with rival gangs now divided by race. True to form, I am teary-eyed mess by the end – God the music, ‘I have a love..’ ‘Maria’ ‘Somewhere’ … it’s too much for this emotional girl. I manage to suppress any audible sobs but I see off an awful lot of tissues! Top top production – go and see it if you can!

As the show ends, mum and the teens head off to enjoy a post-performance Italian. I set the Satnav for home, speedily rustle up some pasta of my own. Then I don my little black dress and head out to tootle oboe notes at a concert for a local choral society. It’s an uplifting evening, with several lovely friends in the audience. The second oboist forgets a crucial page turn in my main solo, but no-one but me seems to notice the 2 awkward bars of silence. I even get a bow!

But the music is West Side Story for the second time today, South Pacific, which addresses racial issues in the 1940s, Porgy and Bess, controversial as the first ‘opera’ to feature an all African-American cast and folk/spiritual music in the 1930s, ShowBoat, with themes of racial prejudice in 1920s….. we seem to have been singing and dancing around these issues for hundreds of years and to have learned nothing. Trump’s Wall, Brexit, immigration, Grenfell, The Rohingya, gangs and knife crime rises in the UK, …. more trivially Danny Baker. …

Will we ever learn to live together…somehow, someday, somewhere?

Education – the great leveller?

Wednesday 15 May 2019

In the week when Prom-dress daughter starts her GCSEs, and half the teenage world shudders with stress and probably more than half of their parent do too, I wonder about the fairness of it all.

Education, as the ‘great leveller’ has been my lifelong passion. I’ve loved the fact that a set of top exam grades from your local comprehensive is every bit as good as the same grades from Eton or Harrow. I’ve been intoxicated by the concept of GCSE results day as the one day of true equality on the calendar, when any 16 year old who’s worked hard and aimed high is assessed on the same scale as, and can get better grades than …. even the future King of England.

Education undoubtedly was my liberator, and took me to places and opportunities, that I’d never dreamed possible. I recall on my journey to University, back in the 1980s, being too frightened to open my mouth, as the train headed south of Birmingham, for fear of my Northern accent inviting ridicule. Three years later, I was ready to take on the world! And I was grateful: for the boost of confidence and self esteem; for the privilege of 3 years with like-minded friends; for 3 years of being allowed to be myself and still fit in… and I wanted to give back. I moved into a career in Education.

But how much of a leveller is our Education system in 2019? Here’s the data; and I am, not surprised. but deeply saddened that, in 21st Century England, a well developed country, the progress of disadvantaged pupils falls so far behind that of their non-disadvantaged peers. A Progress 8 score of -0.44 suggests that across this substantial cohort of vulnerable pupils, almost half their results were one grade lower than you should expect for a pupil of the same starting point. If that was your child, and 4 of their 9 grades were lower than other children who arrived at high school with the same results, what you you think? And the actual picture is even starker than that. Research is emphatic that by the time a disadvantaged pupil reaches high school, they are already significantly behind…the gap just continues to widen throughout their school life.

So GCSE results day, “the one day of true equality on the calendar?” We could not be further from the truth! The data dispels my naive utopia and just leaves, as a bad wine on a long awaited night out, a very sour after taste. ‘Disadvantage’ predominantly indicates parental poverty, with the vast majority of the cohort drawn from the population who qualify for free school meals. The data screams out, that despite the same schooling, your family background will still be the key determinant your educational success. It’s a devastatingly far cry from the ‘cultural capital’ and social mobility we aspired to in Butler’s 1944 Education Act.

Does the over- involvement of parental affluence in education exacerbate the gap? Affluence can mean money for private tuition, money to keep your child away from a time consuming part time job, money for technology and a wealth of online revision resources, lack of financial worries so more time for home support. I don’t know if this is the reason. It’s a highly complex issue and one thing is for sure, it’s ridiculous to expect any parent not to do all they can to support their child’s education. I will certainly continue to make Prom-dress daughter ‘porridge and berry’ breakfasts until these GCSEs are over, and to head out for emergency chocolate after any tricky and tearful exam.

No, it remains the job of educators to relentlessly drive this cohort with more ambition and higher expectations. Where needed, and it clearly is needed, I’d advocate positive discrimination of time and resources too. But it’s not just a challenge for schools. Think Grenfell, media attitudes to asylum seekers, the Jeremy Kyle show, the refusal of all but a few commentators to listen to the 51% of the population who did vote for Brexit, the 51% who do not recognise Britain as a fair and prosperous land at the moment. Does our nation really care about and respect the most disadvantaged in our society? I think we could strive to do so a lot better….

In need of a boost…of juice!

Friday 17 May 2019

I am appalled at how rubbish I am on this Friday’s run and it leads me to commit to a week free from alcohol, free from toast and rich in … juices! Now that could be a real challenge!

It’s our first fine Friday for many weeks. We tough, Lancashire lasses have doggedly run through rain, sleet, snow and gales over the grim and grey winter months. Some colleagues have marvelled at our unstoppable madness, and many have chortled at the sight of us returning windswept and wild from our endeavours. So the upturn in the weather has us giddy with excitement. Many routes are proposed. Reservoirs and valleys are spoken of, as are fields and trails but eventually we settle on a beautiful route through the woods. It should be a glorious treat … but it’s also a three-hill-killer and I am quickly slain. I do get through it, mainly because the one rule of Run Club is that ‘we never stop’, but it is a huge struggle. I am at the back, I am red faced, I am dry mouthed, I am hot, I am bothered and I am slowing down with every step! How can this be, I ponder? How can I go running twice a week and now start to go backwards? It makes no sense and I start to puzzle about what is different.

I am under the weather this week, in fact I do have to confess to a ‘Granny Nap’ today, when I was shocked to jolt back into consciousness from confused doze on my desk at work. Could that be it? It was also an off road route. Is that too much for my trusty trainers? And continuing the doubt in my running shoes, I add, to sound like a bona-fide athlete, that I do carry a permanent and painful niggle in my right ankle. So like the proverbial bad workman, do I blame my tools? Umm …one thing that certainly cannot be helping is that break-time toast at work and wine-fuelled evenings, out and in, have developed into definite guilty pleasures of late! A doctor friend recently told me that he aims for 2 alcohol-free evenings a week … and I’d be struggling to meet that threshold at the moment. Here, at least, is somewhere for me to start, healthier diet.

I have a plan! After a few moment clattering around my kitchen cupboards, I unearth…the juicer! I place it proudly on the worktop, dust it down and then gingerly plug it in and risk the on- switch. It whirrs back encouragingly and I decide there’s no time like the present. I rummage around in the fridge for a few wizened fruits and vegetables and off we go! With in moment I am triumphantly sipping on a glass of green sludge which tastes…pretty good actually. It’s surely giving my weary body the boost of nutrition and energy it needs! I put aside, for now, the chore of of having to clean the thing, and raise my sludge glass , ‘To a week free from wine and toast but rich in nutritious juices! To a fitter and faster me!‘ …

Juicing Diet: Day 1

Monday 20 May 2019

Day One of my healthy juicing diet does not go according to plan!

Juice Diet: Day 1

I am up before 6 am, but that is because Small Boy has been sick! As I am, bleary-eyed, dealing with this, Prom-dress daughter, who needs to set off “Now Mum!” because “I have a GCSE Warm-Up session this morning”, discovers that her school skirt is still damp. I finish with the disinfectant, steer Small Boy back to bed and hastily try to iron the skirt dry, whilst my on-edge daughter hops nervously around the living room in her tights spooning down porridge and some chopped up apple (because I have run out of berries!)

A few minutes later, slightly less damp, and cheered by many ‘Good Luck‘ hugs, Prom-dress daughter races off to catch the bus and I head towards the juicer armed with a chopping board and knife. But this is a day when not even one piece of veg is destined to feel the chop, because the phone now rings. It’s my Ex. He is very excited about a plan for Small Boy to head ‘Down South’ for a World Cup Cricket Match. But the travel is complicated …too complicated …for everyone … except my Ex. I try very hard to find a way to squeeze it onto the busy calendar but eventually, having entertained many of my Ex’s variations on a theme of me spending hours I don’t have driving the highways of our land, I have to say no! Small Boy will be disappointed but, as I hear him racing across the landing to chuck up once more, I decide that the news can wait!

Small Boy announces that he now feels ‘much better‘, but he is the colour of my magnolia walls and I decide that a day off school is due. I call his school, I call my mum, who agrees to pop in, I sort out dinner money and bus fare for my eldest and, grabbing the remains of Prom-dress daughter’s apple I now head to work.

I make it home again by 6:30 pm, Small Boy looks much better and even manages some tea. After eating, it’s GCSE Maths Revision for me and my middle child! We call it a day by 9:30pm and I am now alarmed at how much I am craving some alcohol. The only offering in the cupboard is the dreg-ends of some Cherry Brandy but even that looks tempting! Somehow I resist and sit back with a cuppa to evaluate Day 1. On the plus side, I did avoid break-time toast and alcohol. But the boost of juice-fuelled goodness? Errr …does eating half an apple count!

Juicing Diet: Day 2

Tuesday 21 May 2019


Day 2 gets off to a fine start and I actually leave for work, on time, with a green juice in my bag. At break, as others abuse their bodies with coffee and toast, I smugly sip upon my nutritious sludge feeling virtuous and … invigorated! (Whether this is the vitamin boost, of carrots, spinach and apple, to my system, or simply the euphoria of actually having got a juice ‘to bottle’ only time will tell.) Then comes the text…

Mum, it went really badly 😢😢

It’s disaster and despair from the maths GCSE paper for my lovely Prom-dress daughter. I try many encouraging replies but there is clearly no consoling her, and there is clearly only one remedy for this situation … ice cream! I arrive home early-evening, via Tesco, laden with tubs of Ben and Jerrys, a bar of dark chocolate and a bag of salted peanuts. It’s surely breaking every diet regime known to mankind but I really don’t care. The treats, some family time and a good old sing- along to a favourite ‘Adele‘ album brings the smile back to Prom-dress daughter’s sad and disappointed face. At least for a few hours. After tea it’s Physics revision …. not our favourite thing…

So Day 2 in review. Still no alcohol or toast and I even managed a juice! I doubt that a double bowl of ice-cream and a fistful of salted peanuts will have done much to improve my running speed … but let’s face it some things are more important. Being a ‘fitter and faster me’ would be awesome, but trying my best to be a half decent mum is surely what I’m really here for….

Juicing Diet: Day 4

Thursday 23 May 2019

I find myself really getting into the routine of a daily juice, and today I recklessly push the boat out with a daring dash of lime …for extra zingy goodness!

Break-time toast is definitely a thing of the past! It’s evenings without a glass of wine I’m finding tricky. Prom-dress daughter has no exams tomorrow, my eldest has a ‘Reading Day’, and Small Boy is teaching himself a bit of Billy Joel (Piano Man – aww he knows it’s my favourite) … so a mood of relaxed, happy holiday tranquility envelopes my homestead and a chilled glass of white would be just perfect. I resolve to be strong, which with only Cherry Brandy in the house, is not the most difficult challenge of the day! Also, tomorrow is a work night out, never an occasion for sobriety, and I decide to save myself for that. With my halo firmly in place, I opt for an evening cuppa and set off to investigate some new juicing recipes.

This set of tempters, from Juice Meister, Jason Vale look amazing https://juicemaster.com/recipes/juice-recipes/….

Who’s Bruce Hornsby Mum?

Sunday 26 May 2019

One of the things that is brilliant about families has to be the mix of generations. The ‘elders’ are often naturally assigned the role of ‘teacher’, and I do owe a lifetime of debt to the inspiration, spirit and sheer joyous times my parents and grandparents gave me. But, additionally, I learn tons from my kids about life, love, tolerance … and this week music! I suppose it is that very mix of the young, listening to but also challenging and changing the old, that is the way the world moves on… the family as the microcosm of society?

Tips for different generations working together…

This morning I am driving two of the teens to Wales, to spend some time with my mum. Small Boy and I rise early, to wrestle his bike into the car, alongside conventional cases, basketballs … and a set of weights! By 8:30 am, we are all done and just waiting for my eldest to complete her packing. I opt for a second cuppa. Small Boy heads for the piano and soon the lyrical runs and melodies of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ fill the house. Wow – that is sounding amazing after only a few days. My talented son then moves onto Elton John (‘My Song’) and Bruce Hornsby and the Range (‘Just the way it is’). Spluttering into my tea, I realise, with a glow of pride, that this is a catalogue of many of my favourite songs. I have inspired my child to appreciate great songs of the 20th Century. I am passing on my wisdom and emotional depths to the next generation. I hurry to the piano room to share this thought, but am quickly knocked off my perch,

Who is Bruce Hornsby Mum? I am playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac

Ha ha ha … that’s me told!

Tupac (stage name 2pac) produced a rap version , featuring the Hornsby classic, in the 1990s. Small Boy plugs me into his phone to listen …. and I love it. The rap adds an angry relevance and urgency to Hornsby’s original track about poverty and racial division in the US. Here’s a mash up if you want a listen … the language on Small Boy’s version was a little too fruity for my blog… and I prefer the rap over piano, as opposed to key board!

And this is my second musical mash-up of the weekend. Had a great night listening to the Black Sheikhs in a Northern Quarter pub, as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. I can really struggle with jazz , so was surprised at how much I enjoyed this gig. The quest of the Black Sheikhs is to jazz/swing-up a full range of pop tunes..anything from Bowie to Bieber; Adele to AHA. Some worked better than others; Bieber unexpectedly good, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ a bit of a low point for me, but the whole set, and the whole bar, was jumping with energy and humour from start to very late finish. Top night!

My eldest now appears with a plethora of bags for her short stay in Wales, so I only have time to say, let’s make the most of the range of ages in our households. Let’s rejoice in mixing old with young, mashing-up and mixing up…it can only make ideas grow and strengthen and build communication and respect across the generational divide. Rap on the car radio anyone …!