October 2019

I just can’t get enough…

Thursday 3 October 2019

October arrives this week. As I awake to icy mornings and the central heating clicking into gear, my thoughts turn to the challenge of turning up the temperature in other areas of my life too!

Very unexpectedly, quite out of the blue, I have recently met a rather nice man. It’s very, very early days, but he does make me smile … quite a lot. I’ll even confess that occasionally, as I come off the phone I have even found myself feeling a little dreamy, warm and fuzzy too. Now youngsters, block your revolted ears, but older readers, possibly having to contemplate a new relationship, take heart from my next relevation. Whilst marital break-up isn’t an experience I’d wish on anyone, one upside, of being flung back into world of dating in later life, has been the discovery that love, romance and that initial spark of connection, are every bit as exciting in middle age as they were in my younger years. The reflection in the mirror may well show the ravages of time but on the inside … we are all still in our mid-twenties!

But I digress, back to the rather nice man. We have managed a couple of outings, but I fear, I really do, for our fledgling relationship ever really taking flight … because it is so blinkin’ difficult to meet up as a single parent! With my ex due to visit, this Saturday was supposed to be a night of togetherness, but ex-hub has just called to tell me that he is ‘busy’. ‘Busy?’ I’d like to too busy to look after ‘our’, children until I have a gap in the diary, just once in a while! And my beloved teens don’t help the situation either. Is it just my offspring, or do all children assume that a mum’s only goal and motivation in life is to run them, fund them, and organise weekend life around them and their social lives?

“I just assumed you would be able to pick me up from my party mum!”

was my eldest’s response when I suggested that I might be out on Saturday night.

I put it off, but eventually do call, apologetically, to explain my dilemma and brace myself for the brush off. But the rather nice man, who is very laid back and incredibly considerate simply says ‘Wherever and whenever you can”, as we rearrange our plans. And I am sure that a mid afternoon movie will be great. It’s just that, at the risk of sounding like a complete floozy, I had hoped for a little more from my Saturday night!

Could I invite him here? I think not, far too soon. I have no intention of parading any men around the home and into the teens’ world, until I am sure of how I feel about them. But how do I ever get to that stage? It’s a veritable, vicious circle and I am not sure there’s a way out. I turn to alcohol. I turn to music. And on comes Depeche Mode “I just can’t get enough” ….it speaks to me on many levels!!

There’s no use crying over it…

Sunday 6 October 2019

I can’t actually pinpoint when I began to notice that Windsor, our trusty Toyota, was beginning to whiff a little. But it is two days ago that Small boy finally voices what we’ve all started thinking,

“Mum, why does our car smell like poo?”

A rummage around in the boot quickly unearths the culprit, one carton of milk … one empty carton of milk! Yes a full 4 pints of the white stuff, purchased almost 2 weeks ago, must have fallen from our ‘bag for life’ as we unloaded the shopping. It has settled happily into life in the car boot and gradually leaked all its contents over fabric, the folders, the picnic blankets, the emergency jumpers, yes everything single thing in the back of our car. And my goodness does it smell … it absolutely honks !!

And it still does. I have washed lots, binned even more, scrubbed and sprayed like a woman possessed, but nothing gets rid of the stench. I discover that there’s a whole industry of websites and YouTube videos devoted to the dilemma of ‘Milk in the Car’, and I am left befuddled about where to start. Additionally, a friend cheerfully informs me that it is the very longevity of those noxious, sour odours that makes ‘spilling milk all over the ex’s car’ a favourite revenge act for wronged spouses and scorned lovers!

So ignoring the Autumnal nip in the air, we drive around town with the windows permanently wide open. If some unfortunate friend needs a lift from us, I leap from the vehicle when they are still yards away to pre-warn and apologise for the ghastly horrors that await as they open the door! We are getting desperate and I decide that my only option is to throw money at the problem.

On Saturday , after dropping the teens at their morning rehearsal, I postpone my run in favour of a trip to the car valeter. But the professionals are not optimistic,

“It’s milk love, its a killer. There’s really nothing we can do!”

Despondently, I decide to leave the car anyway, downgrading to a £12 mini-valet, and turn my thoughts back to my Saturday run. Suddenly inspiration strikes. I smile. I brush my hair out of my eyes. I tighten my laces. I straighten my running top and I set a course … to my mum’s house.

Within 15 minutes, I am enjoying a coffee in mum’s kitchen and she is a confident reassurance of home grown remedies for any stain or odour that you can mention. Sour milk does not daunt her. No, she laughs in the face of this feared opponent and fills me a bag of ingredients ‘guaranteed’ to send those stomach-churning stenches packing. Now I’ll not lie, running back to the car with a plastic bag jangling with bottles of white vinegar, brushes and pots of bicarbonate of soda is a bit of challenge. The streamlined Strava brigade, I meet along the way, refuse to make eye contact as I clank and clatter past. But I don’t care, it is utterly worth it, because I now have a plan. I know my next step…I have hope in my heart!

So tonight, as I sit mulling over … bathroom sealant (it’s my next DIY adventure!), Windsor is a frivolous froth of baking soda, vinegar and water. Will it work? I guess I’ll know in the morning…

Three cheers for the baking soda!

Monday 7 October 2019

It actually works! Windsor no longer smells of stank sour milk. My car smells of … a glorious nothing! And I gratefully put baking soda alongside Anadin Extra as products I would be honoured to advertise for free.

My mum, ‘The magnificent’ is in the house when I get home. Not only is she teaching piano to all three teens and not only has she cooked a delicious pie for tea, but her bicarb has also seen off the filfthsome, foul odour that has ruined my motorised voyages for several days.

I waltz her triumphantly around the kitchen, the teens cheer in joyous relief and that glorious smell of nothing in the car, it seems like the sweetest smell any of us have ever known…

England 6 Racists 0…

Monday 14 October

Stunned!

I arrive home pretty late this evening. As I turn the key in the lock, an excited Small Boy comes flying out of the lounge.

Mum, come quick, they’ve stopped the match!”

And they have. England in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria. England under intense public scrutiny after a defeat in their previous match with the Czech Republic. England leading this game 2-0. England have left the pitch, in unison and in protest againt the racist chants from the Bulgarian fans.

Small Boy and I watch open mouthed. The team come back on and then leave again 10 minutes later continuing to make a stand against the unacceptable level of abuse from the terraces. I have never seen anything like it. Such a move from the manager of England, a nation obsessed with football, seems truly ground breaking and very brave.

The half time commentators applaud the action. Small Boy is adamant that they should have stopped the match completely, and on my facebook feed, many of my footballing friends agree. Nonetheless, it is a bold and decisive step from our team, executed with dignity and unity. The match does resume and England do go on to win 6-0, But this is a night when they have won a far more important victory. This is a night when they have drawn a line, so that never again will footballers have to endure racist abuse, simply because they are ‘paid a fortune’ and expected to ‘turn the other cheek‘ and ‘beat the racists on the pitch‘. This is a night when, to quote Back Pages it’s ‘England 6, racists 0’. This is a night when I feel truly proud to the English.

Now we’ve seen what’s happened and what’s good about it is it has got a generation of players now, not just black players, a generation of players and people that won’t tolerate it any more,”

Ian Wright 2019

London Town

Sunday 20 October 2019

There is no better way to recharge the batteries than a change of location and after a terrific weekend in London, I feel like a new woman.

It’s the start of half term and the teens are away with their dad, leaving me free to hop on an Intercity train and head for the capital. It’s a change of place and a change of pace and it a few days to just be myself rather than an overstretched and sightly frazzled single-mum.

In under 2 hours, I am at Euston, meeting an old Uni friend and catching up over coffee. Armed with our Oyster cards, we head to Tate Britain for Mark Leckey’s O’ Magic Power of Bleakness exhibition. Leckey’s ambitious and theatrical show, takes us on a nostalgic trip through his younger years, and as contempories, his nostalgia matches ours and we lounge on the floor letting the clever images wash over us and feeling the year roll back, until we are teenagers again too. I really enjoy it and reminiscing about my childhood, with someone else who was also alive at the time is the perfect way to remind myself that, much as Iove being a mum, there is also a side of me that’s…just me!

And over a two day trip, London just seems to exude effortless style and endless opportunity. There’s great food, great cinema, great art, great strolling along the elegant streets and great striding through the muddy paths of the glorious Hampstead Heath. Above all there’s great company. It is a rare luxury having someone to talk to about everything from work and kids, to books and art. My Uni friends are a clever bunch and I do miss the College climate of learning and knowledge. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back and do some more study one day?

But that’s for some distant day, in the future. It’s ‘back up North’ that I’m heading now on the 16:17 from Euston. Mark Leckey’s familiar yet forgotten images of the the 70s, 80s and 90s remind me of how easy it is to overlook the happy memories stored in the ordinariness of the everyday, when you have the right people in your life. And even as we leave the bright lights of London behind and head for the less inspiring facades of my corner of the North West, rejuvenated by my short break, I am looking forward to being home again.

Magical Manchester

Tuesday 22 October 2019

The teens return from a holiday with their dad tomorrow. That gives me 24 hours of blissful freedom and I spend them exploring my home town. It’s a day that comes as close to perfect as you could ever hope a day to be. Sometimes you don’t need to travel far for new adventure and experience, sometimes your just need to open your eyes and see what’s right under your nose.

My friend and I hop off our tram and straight into the Northern Quarter’s characteristic chaos of cafes. The Manchester skies are unusually clear and blue and we perch on high stools at an outdoor grilled cheese bar for a quick lunch stop. It’s simple, speedy and mouth-wateringly delicious and happily replenished we take a leisurely stroll through the lovely Victorian streets to a concert hall for a lunchtime recital.

I am not sure that I’ve ever been to a lunchtime concert before and it blows me away. We step out of the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy an hour of peace and some beautiful piano playing. Mozart and Chopin fill the hall and fill my soul. I am transported far from all the worries and niggles that fill my mind on a daily basis … it is just amazing!

Manchester is famed for its lively bar and cafe scene, indeed it was recently dubbed “the most hungover city in the world”. So without too much difficulty, we find ourselves a bar to discuss the concert and over several glasses of Merlot, review the playing, catch up on news and generally while the afternoon away until it’s time to catch the tram home again.

I feel relaxed, happy and, at least for today, free of all responsibility. My mind is stirred, my heart is too. This is city life at its best. A 2019 Time Out survey ranked Manchester 15th out of the ‘48 Best Cities in the World to Visit’. Well I challenge those Time Outers to find me a city on this planet or beyond that can give me a better day than the one I’ve just had…

Sealant is tricky!

Friday 25 October 2019

I sashay tipsily through the front door to find that, whilst I have been at a fantastic wine event sampling ‘A Taste of Italy’, Prom-dress daughter has spent her evening assembling all the new furniture for her brother’s room. He has a chest of drawers. He has a bedside table. He has a trendy clothing rail. It looks terrific! I stand open-mouthed, in awe of her DIY prowess. I am bowled over with surprise and gratitude and overwhelmed with relief that this is one home improvement job I won’t be involved in. The household is only just recovering from my recent misadventure… with the bathroom sealant! Let me take you back …to Monday…

Monday 21 October 2019

As the teens are away, I earmark the start of half-term week for the task of repairing the sealant in the bathroom. I ordered the cartridge weeks ago and already, with only a few cuts and minor injuries, I have cleared the old sealant out. There’s a short delay; I find I have no sealant gun. But the oasis that is ‘Screw Fix‘ is but minutes from my home, and within the hour I am proudly unwrapping my first ever sealant gun. The instructions seem clear and I confidently snip open the correct sections of the cartridge, hook up with YouTube to uncover the secrets of loading the cartridge into the gun and I am ready. I feel euphoric! I feel invincible! I actually pose in front of the mirror, like one of Charlie’s Angels, brandishing my gun.

“You are good!“, I tell my reflection with a cheeky wink, ” Let’s go and seal that sink!”

You’d think at my age, I would have learnt that pride invariably comes before a fall!! I have indeed successfully snipped open the cartridge seal and the applicator nozzle, but I what I have failed to do, is to secure these two parts back together. As I start to to pump, the sealant seeps gloriously out of both the top and bottom of the applicator and plummets heavily into the sink. I try to remove it, but discover that silicone is sticky. It sticks to everything. My hands, my clothes, my hair, the sink, the floor, the door. In desperation, I manage to re-fasten the device and stem the flow, but I coat my hands, arms, body and bathroom even more completely in the gruesome glue. And I don’t stop here. For some unfathomable reason, I choose to plough on, ineptly firing sealant, sealant and yet more sealant at the gap in my sink. It is one almighty mess. With a face drained of colour and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I survey the carnage… it has taken me less than 10 minutes, to completely ruin the bathroom.

I scrape the silcone from my hands with a towel, head to the kitchen for an emergency cuppa and put in a mildly hysterical call to one of my friends. By the time the rescue squad appears, I have managed to clean the floor and some of the bathroom units. My jumper, however, is in the bin and the sink itself is a horror story of silicone mingled with my blood. I am lead away and placed onto kettle duties.

It takes a good 2 hours for my heroic pal to restore and re-seal the bathroom to it’s former glory. I am still a sticky, sorry specimen of gratitude as I pour us a celebratory glass of fizz. My friend tells me kindly that ‘Sealant is tricky!‘ and I vow to never go near it again…unless perhaps Prom-dress daughter is at home!

November 2019

November blues

Monday 4 November 2019

November gets off to a sad start. For various reasons, I decide to call time on the relationship with the rather nice man I met several weeks ago. Everything tells me it’s a sensible decision. Everything tells me it’s the right decision. But it is very much a decision of the head; and that can’t stop my little heart from plummeting into the depths of missing and loss for a few days.

I miss his smile. I miss his lovely voice. I miss our long chats about nothing and nonsense. I miss feeling special. For now I just feel pretty down … and I know that I have probably made the rather nice man feel pretty down too. Breaking up, as a teenager or a middle-aged mum, it’s just never good!

I know I’ll shake it, but for this week I’m allowed to be sad. Let’s face it, if you don’t care enough to cry…what is the point?

Fridaaaaay!

Friday 8 November 2019

What a week! I raise a very well earned glass of Vouvray to making it to Friday in one piece.

I love to be busy but when, at the end of the week you cannot be sure what any of your kids have done for food, you know one of them went to a Lecture in Manchester but not how they got there or back, you know that two of them have been doing important assessment weeks but have no idea how any of it went …it’s clear that you have not spent enough time at home.

It’s been tough decisions about my personal life. It’s been concerts. It’s been rehearsals. It’s been late nights at work. It’s literally been something every night and the wheels have slightly come off as a result. On two mornings this week, Small Boy has run out of uniform. Today he ran out of dinner money. I’ve lost my work shoes. I’ve helped no-one with revision. When I called to see how Spaghetti Bolognese was going on Tuesday, it sounded like World War 3. There’s even a cry for attention from the car as Windsor’s dashboard announces that ‘Oil Maintenance is needed soon!’ It’s just not good enough. Time to say ‘no’ to anything non-essential next week.

But it’s Friday night. The best moment of the week. We do takeaway. We do The Apprentice (on i-player.) We order some more uniform for Small Boy. I book my car in for a service. I listen to news about lectures, trips and school exams. I cross a few things off next week’s calendar. And I feel calmer. My head is clearer. My heart is lighter. My mood is high. I love Friday…

The wonder of a Wall

Saturday 9 November 2019

Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What an iconic event it was; the lasting symbol of a wave of revolutions that swept the Eastern Bloc in Europe at the end of the 1980s, whilst in China, by contrast, the popular demonstrations demanding greater political freedom were crushed by the authorities in Tiannamen Square. And all of this happened in my lifetime. Thirty years, gosh these were such moments of living history, that I still can remember where I was. I heard about the events in China in a Youth Hostel in Singapore, backpacking across SE Asia. (Here are some of the (many) pics!) By the time the Berlin Wall fell, I was back at University, watching the incredible images on the TV, feeling stunned, scared and inspired by the power of people to change the world.

And I’ve been privileged to walk this earth at the same time as other hugely significant people too. I also remember where I was the day Barack Obama was elected and the day the first TV pictures appeared of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Unthinkable drive and determination, resilience and resolve to fight on and make this world a better and fairer place. It is awe-inspiring.

When I was a teenager, trekking and travelling and exploring new places, life felt fantastic; exciting and full of promise. Faced the challenges of growing up, shouldering responsibility and the daily grind of working life, I have sometimes felt a little lost however. So it’s good to pause and be more outward looking. Because today, the remarkable people in this world and the momentous events I’ve witnessed, make this seem like a wonderful and precious place to be. I cannot wait to see what the next few decades bring … and to play a part in it…

What’s worth fighting for…

Wednesday 20 November 2019

As part of my working week, I am sent on a course that involves a ‘cultural tour’ of Manchester. What a memorable day! It showcases the industry, the creativity and the inspirational spirit of equality that has shaped my home town. It also challenges my thoughts about the sort of future I want to fight for. Not so much for the teens, their futures seem full of excitement and of endless opportunities … but for me.

We start at the Whitworth Art Gallery, deep in University land. There is gallery upon gallery of stunning displays: photography; textiles (in honour of the proud industry of “Cottonopolis“); a Cezanne exhibition… but the gallery that really blows me away is “The Reno“. This celebration of the famous Moss Side club, not only charts some significant shifts in societal attitudes during the 1970s, but also sums up the journey we all make from youth into adulthood and responsibility.

“What was your club called?.… Where it mattered if it rained cos your hair wouldn’t hold up. And what was his name? Before your wage. And the person you became. That bears no relation to the person you were then. When you believed in magic. Ours was called The Reno “

Well mine was called The Hacienda or The Cellar at Uni. And I was a very different person back then. But gosh … do we really stop believing in magic… do we really give up on happy endings…. is our teenage self really lost forever?

My mind is still whirring with this one as we stride off to visit other Mancunian treasures. The Manchester Art Gallery, the National Football Museum and finally The People’s History Museum. We see great objects, some beautiful, some innovative, some highly emotive. We watch film archives and listen to iconic commentaries. We relive the struggles of women, of working men and of ethnic minorities for acceptance and equality. It’s a treat for our eyes, our ears …. and our hearts.

At the People’s History Museum, exhibitions are united around the theme of ‘Ideas worth fighting for’ and the contribution that ordinary people have made to building a fairer world where all are valued . It’s inspiring and very much epitomises Manchester and these streets that have seen PeterlooEmmeline Pankhurst and the founding of the Co-op Group. For a Mancunian, there can be no better way to close our cultural tour.

And so ends a lovely day. But in a few weeks it will also be the end of a decade. As we welcome the start of a new one; and one in which my role as the primary carer for 3 children will end, I ask myself ‘What will I be fighting for?’ And I just don’t know. But I am sure that I want to make the most of the time I have left and try to make a story…. a story about ideas worth fighting for or just a story about making mischief? I really cannot decide. But I do want a story worth telling. In the words of ‘The Reno’,

“We are all pages in the book of our time on earth.”

Baroque n roll !

Sunday 25th November

I arrive home from a film music concert…where I’ve had to dress as a pirate! As ever, at the end of a concert, I need a drink. And as I sink down onto the sofa, almost-festive Bailey’s in hand, I realise how tired I am.

I have done concert after concert this month, which has meant rehearsal after rehearsal, which has meant late night drink after late night drink. And it has taken its toll. A ‘baroque n’ roll’ lifestyle when you are the only adult in the house isn’t always the wisest choice.

I think the problem for a single parent is this. When you take on a hobby, which is essential to your well-being I might add, there is no-one else at home to take up the slack. So on top of all my rehearsals and concerts, I am still doing all the cleaning, cooking and ironing for four. I am doing the bins. Doing the tax return. Raking the leaves. Helping with homework. Helping to prep for GCSEs, UKCATS, driving tests (and next week Uni interviews.) Sorting out asthma checks and trips to the orthodontist (I am so often at the local hospital, I actually have a loyalty card for the WRVS cafe!!) Oh and did I mention I also hold down a pretty demanding full time job.

I’ve always said that I fear boredom more than fatigue but I’ve reached the point where I am really struggling to get up in the morning and I am very snappy and irritable …with everyone…most of the time. Something’s gotta give and I resign myself to the fact that, for December, this is my music. In my inbox is an invitation to play for a Christmas concert in 2 weeks time. It even has a fee. I push away angry and resentful thoughts about the life my ex-husband leads these days. I blink back a few self-indulgent tears and start to type a polite decline…

Its beginning to look a lot like….

Saturday 30 November

Love, love, love the season of goodwill. Sparkly lights. Christmas coffees. Everybody keen for a meet-up, a catch-up and a get together. Today, even though it is technically still November, heralds my first festive outing, and I just can’t wait!

My tram delivers me to Victoria with forty minutes to spare. Feeling ready to get straight into the party spirit, I opt for the warmth of a station bar and order a glass of Malbec. I fish out my Kindle and for about 5 minutes, attempt to look the very picture of sophistication, reading my novel and sipping my wine. But it’s Mansfield Park. I’ve been struggling with it for weeks and this afternoon the torturous timidity of Fanny Price just doesn’t hold my attention. Instead my mind turns to recent events.

It’s been quite a week! Mum has been in, and thankfully, out of hospital. My work run-buddy has suffered a nasty car accident but, in her inimitable cheery fashion, seems to be coping with the bruises and severe whiplash. And my eldest has made it through a first University interview. That was quite an ordeal. Much has changed since I journeyed off, 30 years ago, to impress admissions tutors with my abilities to solve mathematical problems. For the 2019 interview, we prepped for days on medical ethics, NHS hot topics and our insights into life a doctor. My eldest then had to survive the MMI (Multi-Mini Interview) with 7 stations of challenging questions and the occasional role play. By the time she eventually made it home, following a 3 hour inter-city train journey and 2 hours of Mancunian tram delays, she did just burst into tears. Hopefully the interviews will get better with practice!

Phew, no wonder I’m ready to let my hair down. I savour the final moments of my Malbec and then step out. Not sure if it’s because of Black Friday or Pay Day but the city is packed and pulsating. I make my way through the throngs to find my friends and together we dive into the merriment and madness ….

December 2019

December

1 December 2019

First windows on Advent calendars opened. Tree up. Lights on. Love Actually watched. Card bought…if not sent!

Of all the months of the year, December is definitely my favourite. Christmas season…bring it on!

Poor Old Christmas Cards!

Sunday 8 December 2019

Henry Cole, founding director of the V & A, may have sent the first Christmas card as long ago as 1843. But tonight, as I sit down to pen my annual festive greetings, the reaction of my teens make me feel like the historic exhibit in the house!

Is my address book on the desk?” I shout up the stairs, as I prepare to settle down with three shiny packs of new cards, stamps and nice pen. Small Boy, who is in the study dashing off a bit of last minute homework, pops his head over the bannister.

What’s an address book?” he puzzles back.

Hilarious!’ I mutter, stomping up the stairs to ‘look for it myself’. But, as I dwell upon his words, it strikes me that I have never bought one for any of my children. Which means that they have never asked for one. Which means that the innocent address book, at least in hard copy, could well be becoming obsolete. And that is where I start feeling pretty outdated.

When it eventually turns up, I view my address book affectionately … as an endangered species in fact. I carry it carefully down to the lounge and open the page at ‘A’. True the corners are a little dog-eared but I smile at addresses crossed out and updated many, many times for some of my oldest friends. It’s a flashback to other times and places. It’s a visual reminder of past chapters of life and memories happy and sad. It’s …. I don’t actually have much time to feel wistful because my eldest now appears. She gives me a kindly smile

Aww, are you actually going to sit there going through your little book and writing cards? You are so cute!”

I now feel like an utter curiosity. Is it really so unusual to see someone spending an evening penning Christmas cards to their friends … and addressing them? Am I really such a quaint relic of a bygone age?

A glance at social media would suggest that I might be. Every year, the number of folk announcing to the world that they are ‘donating to charity‘ instead of sending festive cards grows longer. Many do this in a way that raises valuable awareness of, and funds for, great organisations. But I suspect that some are too-busy people and a part of me wishes that, for variety, a few would boldly say ‘Look I just can’t be bothered to write any cards this year. I think it’s all a bit pointless. Hope you understand!’ No-one would mind.

Poor old cards are not the only wasteful and unnecessary extravagance of the yuletide season? They do at least re-cycle, unlike the plastic tat in in our Christmas crackers. Poor old cards are not single handedly keeping funds from the charity coffers? You could, for example, cry ‘I am buying 3 fewer bottles of Prosecco and cutting out the tubs of Quality Streets this year, to give more money to good causes’ But we don’t often hear that one!

But card writing does eat into the evening hours. Ironically, it is said that Henry Cole designed the card as a way to save time in the hectic festive period. Would he, I ponder, have been keener than me to move with the times and speed things up in the 21st century with a witty e-card? I can only wonder! Do I think that we ought to give up a bit of time for card writing? Do I worry that if we abandon this tradition, we just replace it with … nothing of value and yet more consumerism and shopping? To be honest I really don’t. Call me an old romantic, but I chime with the opening scene of ‘Love Actually and believe that,

Love actually is all around‘.

I know that most people are busy at this time of year with social activities, making things magical for their kids and spending time with loved ones. So given this, why do I, even when my teens think I am a complete dinosaur, resolve to carry on penning and posting my seasonal cards. Simply this, I quite enjoy it. For me it is just one of our nicer Christmas traditions. A great way to quickly touch base with old friends and keep them in my thoughts. Each year I settle down with a nice drink, a cheesy movie, my pile of cards and of course my faithful address book. It’s familar, its comforting and … it’s time for me to get back to it! I am still on ‘A’ and that last posting date won’t wait ….

Christmas carols, Christmas chaos….

Monday 16 December 2019

The last few days have been a hectic mix of the familiar; traditional Christmas carols concerts, parties and drinks, with the unfamiliar and definitely less festive challenge of University interviews for my eldest.

Friday takes us to Yorkshire. The University grilling takes almost 3 hours. The drive home, along a flood hit M62 even longer. The alpha-mothers in the parent room, whose knowledge of UKCAT scores and entry criteria for every Medical school in the land is encyclopedic, have left me feeling like a total failure as a mum. I am agitated by the motorway queues and lane-closure confusion. And my lovely girl is clearly deflated by her interview. Nonetheless upon our return, she summons up the energy to don her party dress and step out for the evening, and I rally enough reserves to drive Prom-dress daughter to another social gathering and feed Small Boy, before heading gratefully to bed.

My eldest gets to sleep somewhat later than this. She is home not long after midnight. And I am sure of the time because she stumbles into my room upon her return, a little the worse for wear, switches on the light and slurrily gushes ,

” I really, really love you mum!”

I reciprocate the sentiments, persuade her that now not the best time to go and visit her brother, and steer her off to bed.

To her credit, by 10am on Saturday morning, both she and Small-boy are at Victoria Station in Manchester to play 2 hours of Christmas carols and songs with their local band. Quite a few of my family gather to listen, over cheery cups of Costa coffee and a catch -up on the latest news. It’s a lovely event that stirs the heart and replenishes the seasonal community cheer. I stay in town for a number of afternoon/evening drinks with friends and, as Sunday dawns and my eldest and I now pack our bags for a trip to University interview number 3, I have only a mildly banging head to contend with. We hit the motorway again and are checking into our hotel by 5pm.

Our Monday interview starts at an astonishingly early 8am but again it is 3 hours before my eldest emerges. This one is ‘the worst yet’ and feeling pretty sad and despondent we slink back to the car and set the satnav for home. I feel that sickening terror that every parents knows of wondering how we will cope with the disappointment if all the hard work, and I’d make that 3 years of hard work, ends with rejection and the end of my daughter’s dreams. But today it takes me less time than usual to shift this paralyzing dread. Because… she is such an amazing, driven and talented girl. And that means lots of alternatives, lots of choices and lots of ways to have a bright and happy future. Hey, at least when she’s tipsy, my girl ‘really,really loves her mum‘, I’ll make sure of it !

Even if I hadn’t cheered myself up, back home the usual chaos is enough to distract anyone. Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy both have a Christmas concert to play in … at 6:30pm. In a last minute change of plan however, Small Boy has also been selected to make his debut on the school basketball team, in another venue…ending at 5:30pm. Fortunately it’s Monday. My mum arrives for piano lessons. We shelve these and she agrees instead to feed the girls and drop Prom-dress daughter at the concert hall. Without stopping for food, I head out to the basketball tournament to cheer on my tall, gangly bean of a boy. It just so happens that the venue for this sporting spectacle is about 3 minutes from my mum’s house…and I have a key. At the final claxon tolls, at 5:45 pm, I whisk him, off to mum’s. She is not there, because … you’ve got it … she is at my house! Small Boy changes with the speed of Clark Kent himself, I thrust 2 packets of crisps and a bottle of Lucozade at him and we speed off to the concert.

We arrive with moment to spare. Small Boy’s grinning face races off to take his place in the orchestra. Prom-dress daughter, already in situ, gives us a smirk and a wave. I sink gratefully into my seat and the carols begin. ‘Silent Night‘ … how lovely … and if only….

Its the most wonderful night of the year …

Sunday 22 December 2019

The best moment of any school holiday is the first Sunday night. In place of the usual grim evening of ironing, of planning lessons, of finishing reports, of last minute homework, of sorting out dinner money, bus passes and gym kits … in place of all of this is just an excited glow of freedom. Pressure and deadlines melt away and two weeks of seemingly endless time and opportunity spread out in front of me.

Christmas is a busy time of course and I still have much present purchasing and wrapping to do. I still have to brave the food shop for my contributions to this year’s big family Christmas dinner.(Thankfully, for all, I am put on desserts and instructed to ‘buy them’. Surely even I cannot go wrong with this one?) And my teens are a popular trio at the moment, which means lots of ferrying around to meals, movies, skate-dates and parties But compared to my usual day job …

So will I be doing any school work at all in the next 2 weeks? Of course I shall. But it certainly wont be in the next 10 days and it will only be finite and manageable tasks. I intend to start back in January, replenished and refreshed. And the experts agree with me. In her 2015 article, “It’s official, teachers must relax over Christmas to avoid burnout” , Sarah Marsh examines the evidence from a City University, London study of 90 teachers which concludes that time off allows teachers to “restore their emotional energy” . Those who fail to switch off and continue to worry about work were found to have made far less good a recovery from the demands of the term than others. Relaxation should be our quest and amidst all the tips from the teaching and health care professional come many of my familiar lifelines: reading, exercise, family time, trash TV ….and laughter.

A glance at the time tells me I have an hour to kill before I collect Prom-dress daughter from her a friend’s house. I think feet up, a mince pie and a bit of Daniel Craig sounds just perfect ….

And so the year ends…

Sunday 29 December 2019

As I pull into Norton Canes, the service station on the M6 Toll Road, it seems as good a place as any to reflect back on 2019 and put together my final post of the year.

It is homeward bound after a lovely Christmas break in Oxford and Cambridge. My old university stomping ground as it happens, but on this occasion, just exciting to be visiting friends and family, as opposed to wandering around the dreaming spires. The closest we come to anything you could deem an ‘Oxbridge activity’ is breaking out of a Cold War themed Escape Room (with 5 minutes to spare.) We are the ‘Squad of Seven’ – move over Cambridge Five!

The Toll Road on the return journey, now that is my guilty pleasure! I loathe queuing. I am really not a patient waiter. In my time I’ve driven huge (and probably time-costly) detours to avoid the grim misery of gridlocked traffic. So paltry charge of £5.60 for the utter luxury of 27 miles of well-lit motorway, wide lanes and a joyous lack of other road users seems a very small price to pay! Eventually, of course, it will be a return to the endless cone-lined crawl of the 50 mph zone on the M6, but a coffee break delays that for another half an hour, so here goes…let’s review 2019. I take a deep breath, I fire up my blog on the laptop, click on ‘January’ and step back in time.

It is not just the end of the year in a couple of days, but also the end of a decade. As I re-read my blog however, re-visiting each month in turn, I realise that one year is more enough for me to look back upon. I try to decide if, as the midnight bells chime on Tuesday, 2019 will it count as a good year or one to regret? But there’s no answer to that…because it’s neither. What it is, is just one full calendar year… 365 unforgettable days of ups and downs. And I like that. There have been moments of great happiness; fun times, cloud-9 times, laugh-until-you-cry times. Equally, I’ve shed a fair few tears and I re-live days of disappointment, even sadness. I’ve met new people and I’ve had to say ‘farewell’ to others. I’ve relished new challenges and I’ve battled with the drudgery of daily routines. I think it’s called life! It strikes me that we don’t actually need significant temporal landmarks such as years and decades to make sense of our lives. In actual fact every day matters. And that is true of any year. The difference for me in 2019 is that so many more days have been captured and will be remembered. Because I have written their stories down and that’s one thing that is not going to stop.

Exactly one year ago, the blog was my New Year’s Resolution. Little did I know how much I was going to love it … just love writing again. It’s not enough to tell you that it’s fun to have a record of the year to re-read and share. It has been a complete joy. I start with a blank screen. I set off. I rarely know where I’m going or what I want to say. The words just dance on the page, then blend and reform into thoughts, sentences and stories. It feels exciting, it feels creative and it has been, without question, astonishingly therapeutic. I recommend it to anyone. Whether it’s building basket ball stands (Slam dunk – my most popular post of the year) or conversations with your friends that transform your outlook on life (Single parenthood necessity) any day or event can make a memorable tale.

Carrying on with my blog, that’s a definite ‘Yes’ for me. I would also add writing to my previous tips of running and reading, for any stretched and stressed parent. All three pastimes are free and flexible. They fit around you and your schedule and are fantastic for health and well being. Hey, reading, running and writing – the veritable 3R’s of sanity, for people of all shapes and sizes.

Glancing up from my reveries, I notice that it’s getting quite dark. I drain the last of my coffee and reluctantly, resign myself to the fact that my therapy time is up for today. If I ever want to get home again, I need to face the M6 ….