Saturday 1 October2022
When your children spread their wings and head off to live and study in other towns and cities, one very nice outcome for you as a parent is the chance to travel to and explore these new places too…
My Eldest is on placement in Middlesborough this year. Whilst she will admit to missing the bright lights of Newcastle, one upside is that she is a good hour closer the me than usual, so it is very easy to pop over for a day visit. And that is exactly what I do this weekend.
“What shall we do first?” asks my girl, as I rap on the door of her student house around midday.
“Food please!” I reply, hungry after my drive to this corner of North Yorkshire.
A short 5-minute stroll takes us to a great cafe where it is the famous local delicacy ‘parmo’ for my daughter and a truly delicious three-bean chilli for me. So good is the food that I am tempted to try the pudding menu. But my eldest is full and I ruefully remember, my (pretty ambitious) quest to get back into a dress I last wore in the previous millennium(!) for my niece’s wedding so I too forgo a further course.
Instead, we wander into the town centre and waste a happy half hour shopping small luxuries that are beyond a student budget but well within ‘mum-treating’ range.
It is briefly back to the student house to drop our purchases before we hop into the car to explore a ‘pretty beach‘ my Eldest has passed on her weekly GP visits.
And so it is that I discover Saltburn; what a little gem! We park the car in front of an elegant terrace of Victorian grandeur and descend to the cove beneath. Marked out by the imposing Hunt Cliff, the beach may well have been a centre for smugglers in a bygone era, but today is the perfect spot for a bracing walk along the windswept sands. Despite it being the first day of October, hardy children are playing in the streams and paddling in the sea, you could probably surf on a slightly warmer day. We traverse the sands and rocks and then reward ourselves with a drink in a bar overlooking the sea.
Thereafter it is back up the very steep hill to the car and as we stop to catch our breath, we spot the far better way to make this ascent; the Saltburn Cliff Tramway. This small tram-car, was first opened in 1884 to replace a vertical hoist and is now the oldest water balanced funicular still in operation in Great Britain. It is a must for our next visit!
As the Autumn sun begins to fade, we return to the student house and, after a fine cup of tea, I it is time for me to head home. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday …
The big C…
Thursday 8 October 2022
Thursday 8 October; a day I’ll never forget! After a couple of weeks of wondering and waiting my mum gets confirmation that she has breast cancer and my world is rocked to its foundation …
At the moment they think it is stage 1 and treatable, but the initial diagnosis has thrown us into a world of further tests and scans, so at the moment I just have everything crossed for ‘no new information’, because I realise that I am simply not yet ready for anything more serious.
For my mum is quite a character; a huge personality brimming with life, mischief and incredible kindness. Ever present, energetic and exuding a sense of immortality…except of course … no-one is… none of us lasts forever and in the past week, as we waited in limbo for the results of biopsies and radiographs, the vision of a world that did not include her hit me like a train.
So when, at orchestra a few days ago, she risked sending me a mildly obscene gesture and cheeky smile as someone asked, for about the 20th time, ‘what bar we are going from?’… it brought a lump to my throat. Whirring round and round in my mins was the voice that said, what if that’s the last time we are at a rehearsal together and I see her face grinning across the room?
Ansd last Sunday night when she called incensed, to discuss the Strictly Come Dancing results show, I wobbled again.
What if …….?
On this occasion, I panicked so much that I cancelled my plans for this Saturday night and arranged instead to go around for a ‘Strictly viewing party’, because suddenly every moment with mum felt too precious to waste. And all the little things… those tiny details we often take for granted … well I realised how important and special they truly are.
So the initial cautious diagnosis, and treatment plan almost comes as a relief from the far grimmer scenarios I thought we might be facing.
I am aware, or course, that no surgery will be easy, as she is over 80. In fact mum’s first question to the consultant is,
“I didn’t know that anyone my age could get cancer!”
Alas; they. In fact, the National Library of Medicine reports that ‘one in ten’ breast cancer patients are over the age of 80. If there is a mixed message, it arises from the cessation of the screening programme at the age of 70 in the UK. This does not, as I’ll admit I thought, indicate a reduction in risk rather that the increase in other health risks results in the programme not longer being cost-beneficial for the NHS.
Let’s be thankful that mum’s cancer seems, at this point in time, to have been found quickly.
For now, I hope and put on a brave face; brave for mum and brave for my children. And only occasionally, usually as I am on my own in the car, do a let a small tear fall ….
Getting life in perspective …
Sunday 23 October 2022
My mum has her first surgery and comes home to recover. It is not the end of the story. Hey this is the big C, is it ever going to be the end of the story? But for now; just right now, before Tuesday’s hospital visit and next Monday’s operation results, the cloud that has defined the last few weeks lifts and I feel… happy!
Yes, not just ‘okay‘, the luke-warm version of wellbeing I often settle for, but actually properly happy. My mind is only lightness, my mood upbeat, and all the little things in life seem joyful.
I do nothing special with the weekend. On Saturday, I run with my run buddy. Small boy and I hang out in the garden hot tub, putting the world to rights. I cook curry for my mum and drink some (appalling) fizz a work colleague gave me mid-week. On Sunday, we take the tram into town to shop Dinner Jackets for a family wedding, mooch around the music stores and browse the book shops. The Squares are decorated with dainty Halloween lanterns. We dine on Pad Thai noodles, steak sandwiches and terrible pies and … it feels fantastic!
I guess it’s relief, a welcome respite from the stress and worry of the previous weeks. Or possibly one of those profound pauses in life when you (momentarily alas) cast aside the trivia that often takes up so much our time and focus instead on the things, and most importantly, the people who really matter. ‘Getting life in perspective’, I think it’s called. Well for however long it lasts…I am going to enjoy it…
Sunday 6 November 2022
A week of fantastic news for our family. My mum’s post-surgery histology report is positive. Her cancer has not spread, which is a terrific relief and means radiotherapy, not chemotherapy. And one of my niece’s has her first baby, a beautiful little boy. I set out to find a gift and am happily strolling around the aisles of new-born fashion; cosy baby-grows, adorable fleecy pram-suits, little dungarees… when my phone pings. It’s my eldest child…
” Congratulation Great-Aunt Becky!”
Great-Aunt Becky.. well wrap me up in woollen shawl and lace me into a pair of stout shoes … I sound positively ancient!
Yes into my head pops the image of ‘great-aunt Lucy‘, Paddington Bear’s aged guardian from ‘Darkest Peru!’
To my dismay, when I reacquaint myself with the writings of dear Michael Bond, it transpires that lovely Lucy, with her fading fur, felt hat and wicker basket, is only a regular aunt, an entire generation younger than my new familial role. Indeed, mention of great-aunts of any kind, in our literary annals is notably sparse and, I now discover that aunts themselves … well to put it mildly have a bit of an image problem.
Aunt ‘Em, from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the once pretty young wife now ‘grayed‘ by her tough life on the Kansas farm. The villainous Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge from James and the Giant Peach, and the cruel Mrs Reed, aunt
Gracious… maybe literature was the wrong direction to look to for inspiration. After all, idyllic family units rarely rear children suited to the kind of adventures that heroes such as, Paddington, Dorothy, James and Jane must face to make the plot a winner.
And a label such as ‘Great-Aunt’ does not have to define us! Why, I recall, my chest modestly puffed out with pride, sporting a new green top, I was recently described as ‘stylish’ and ‘the cool mum‘ by my daughter’s flatmates. On the other hand, I tell my niece, I am quite happy for our wonderful new arrival just to refer to me as ‘Becky’!
Going a bit greener: 1 year on…
14 November 2022
Twelve months ago, UN COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow were described as the
“last best hope for the world to get its act together”
and avert climate breakdown. As world leaders gather in Sharm El Sheikh, for the latest global check on planet saving progress, evidence suggests they have yet to fully do so.
Restricting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees was the headline pledge in 2021, a level calculated to:
- keep 10 million homes safe from rising seas
- reduce water scarcity significantly
- protect countless people from life threatening heat and humidity
- preserve more of our ecosystem
Surely a priority to unite the nations? But, alas, no … or maybe not yet. The IPCC currently forecast that temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees could be seen as early as 2050. That is within the next 2 decades. That is now pretty much within all our lifetimes and signals decline, not progress.
‘Why not?’ we may ask in disbelief,
but turning the mirror inwards I also need to face the question,
‘What have I done to help to protect this wonderful world?’
Look, I’m not deluded, it is clearly to the world-wide stage that we must look for the solutions that will steer us away from climate catastrophe. But, closer to home, I also vowed, in November 2021, to try and mend my ways and care better for my carbon footprint. So what of me?
Looking back at last year’s post, I believe that my quest was to make ‘one new environmental move per month‘.
Well, soap now reigns supreme, as both shower gel and shampoo have been banished for good from my bathroom to reduce the plastic trash in our blue recycling bin. In fact, following last year’s ‘Going a bit greener’ post, I was given so many shampoo bars that I’m still making my way through them – those little lathering blocks last for months! With Christmas on the horizon, if you are looking for some greener gifts, I can certainly recommend the eco-suds. There are so many gorgeous products to choose from, it is difficult to go wrong and every beauty reviewer from Cosmo to the Good Housekeeping Institute will offer you a ‘top ten’ but for endless and affordable quality, do check out my favourites at Gruum!
Our water usage is also down significantly (bringing the additional bonus of a £120 bill reduction) A loud maternal voice achieved this one, educating teenagers in the art of not setting the washing machine off with one ‘jumper I just must have for tomorrow’ circling round in the drum, insisting that the dishwasher runs on a full load and generally shouting (a lot) at my offspring’ for their insane habit of running the shower for 5 minutes before getting in!
And finally our cleaning products have gone greener as Ocean Saver hit the supermarket shelves and now stock my kitchen cupboard. Every bit as effective as other products but run on plant-based refills, making a further reduction in the dreaded plastic packaging.
But… a little bit like the world leaders, one year on, 3 or 4 changes has fallen sadly short of my bold monthly pledge. So I’m giving myself a much needed wake-up call and, on my drive to work this week, the radio bring me a timely inspiration – Zero-waste mum! Otherwise known as, the fabulous Jen Gale whose household of mum, dad, two kids and a dog, have filled the general waste bin only once in the last 9 months! She sound super enthusiastic in her interview and makes it all sound very achievable. Nonetheless, I might start a little smaller. The grey bin is emptied once every 3 weeks in our corner of the Northwest. I, with mostly only 1 kid now and zero canines, am going to aim to have it emptied once every 6 weeks.
“And that…” I tell Small boy “… is my New Year Resolution for 2023!”
“Why not start now?” he replies
I guess he is right; no excuses! After the general waste bin is next emptied, we start the 6 week clock. Glancing into the murky depths of the current bags of grey-bin garbage, I think plastics will be the challenge. The helpful words of recycling guru Jen Gale remind me that soft plastics are now recycled at the supermarket, but this still leaves lots of food trays, margarine tubs and yogurt pots. Maybe we’ll just have to get less of them.
So here goes, will keep you posted and try to keep more successfully on the environmental trail before COP 28 is on the news reels. Maybe what both I and the world leaders need are 4 or 6 monthly reviews of progress to keep us on eco-track….
We all get wider…
Friday 18 November 2022
This week, I concede that none of us can stop the march of time….
Its all begins back in August, with the arrival of my niece’s wedding invitation,
“Dress code: black tie”
My offspring all hit the shops, finding finery and sharp suits that will also be worn for uni balls and (for Small boy) musician gigs. But for their old single mum…gosh it’s a good few years since I needed anything quite so formal! In fact I have to go as far back as my former (slightly more) glamorous life as a married woman, when ex-hub’s job occasionally afforded the occasion for a posh-frock.
“Hang on a tick” I cry, “I think the odd outfit may still be (gathering dust) in the wardrobe!”
And indeed two of them are, both, to shamelessly name drop, worn originally for royal occasions! One is brown and one … ahh one is a sumptuous green velvet number with a scalloped neckline and fitted floor length elegance!With great excitement I try it on and fall instantly in love with the gorgeous thing again. There is just one little snag….the zip refuses to proceed past my waist!
But ‘it’s only August’ think I! The wedding is months away and I resolve to trim back into a dress I previously wore in the previous millennium (and before children were even thought of.) I resolve to rediscover the body I had 25 years ago.
So, I run, I stretch and I scrunch. I spurn delicious buttered break-time toast, toil through the working day fuelled only by miserable sachets of cup-a-soup and track each morsel on a calorie checker app! Alas, none of it makes even an ounce of difference. So when I am out for a drink with an engineering friend, recounting my lack of progress, and he offers to ‘construct me’ back into the garment, I decide, after laughing fully out loud, that enough is quite enough. It is simply never going to happen! The figure I was in my late 20s just has to be consigned to the history books.
Is it of some comfort to read that the struggle to shift a few pounds for other women ‘of my age’ is a fairly common one? Why yes it is! Much is written on the subject and Everyday Health’s article ‘5 reasons its harder to lose weight with age‘ it typical in outlining: age-related muscle loss, hormonal changes, slowing metabolism, general busyness and lifestyle changes as key factors. I am also cheered by some findings too that a ‘bigger butt’ is also caused by widening pelvic bones. In summary, with a mixture of rueful regret and a fair dose of relief, I reason that accepting a changing shape is just all part of growing old gracefully.
So tonight, I have a final Friday night strut around the kitchen in my lovely green dress (clipped in with washing line pegs) before packing it away to donate to the local hospice. I also review the brown number, bought a good 10 years after the green and a hopeful dress size larger. It may not be quite as glamorous or ‘show stopping’, it may be the colour of my old school uniform, but it is still very nice, allows me to move, has a nice swirly skirt, ticks a re-use recycle box (I’ll possibly announce it as ‘vintage’ to sound a little more fashionable) and … it fastens! So bravo for the brown and wedding here we come…
It never rains but it ….
Sunday 27 November 2022
Yes, Wednesday begins with water actually pouring from my kitchen ceiling as I potter down to make my 6am cuppa! I sprint, like Usain Bolt himself, back up the stairs to turn off whatever tap is causing the deluge to find that… the tap is broken and there is no stopping the endless torrent of scalding water from swirling across my bathroom floor.
“Arghhh … help?“
Last time this sort of thing happened, I had a man in my life who just seemed to know what to do and … ooh I remember now…turned the water off! Something about a ‘stopcock?’ I vaguely recall. The only question is…where the devil do I find one of those?
On the off-chance that the male of the species are just programmed to know how to deal with DIY disasters, magnetically drawn to mechanical solutions by virtue of genetic birthright, I wake up Small Boy. It’s an early hour for a teenager and apart from running around like a headless chicken brandishing saucepans and throwing towels into the deepening pools of water, he isn’t much use.
I briefly contemplate the horrific indignity of calling up an ex-bloke to ask for guidance, but, sternly reminding myself to have a ‘crumb of self-respect’, pull myself together and instead start scouring every door and cupboard for inspiration. Near the front door, after 2 minutes which feel like 2 hours, I find a dial that I turn and turn until…
the water stops.
Gosh, I feel triumphant. Look at me averting disaster like a pro! Searching for a stopcock anyone?W ell allow me to show you how! Who’d have thought?
Who indeed? For only 4 days earlier, I’d met my old lab partner from college for a catch-up and trip to a local art exhibition. On this occasion I’d managed to book us tickets for January instead of November! Not my finest hour but, the gallery managed to rebook us and my dear friend loved the chaos, for it allowed her to fondly recall my ‘hopelessness‘ in the world of Physics practicals. “I think I just did all the work, while you sat there being pretty and being chatted up by ****” she recalled with a merry laugh.
I have no memory at all of ever being pretty, plus ‘Hopeless’ is that a little harsh? Admittedly, there was the unfortunate incident with the radio-active source (I was banned for a fortnight after that particular mishap) and, looking back, we did have to throw out the charred remains of my first every attempt to wire up a simple circuit to light bulb. So possibly, she has a point but … I am pretty sure I got there in the end. I fact… I aced Physics A Level.
Could I be on track to ‘ace plumbing’ too? I decide, on balance, stop at the stopcock and hand over to the professionals. With a fair degree of relief, I call the plumber and head to work…
It’s beginning to sound a lot like ….
Saturday 3 December 2022
December is here; my favourite month of the year. Sparking lights, everywhere busy and buzzing and friends in the mood to socialise. And in 2022, the yuletide month gets off to a cracking start with a night out at Manchester’s Band on the Wall….
Yes, one of my oldest friends and I cast aside our usual ‘festive cream tea’ in favour of a live music gig.
Its fun even before we get there. We stop off for a quick pizza before the concert and, in discussing drinks opt for a Peroni instead of wine to ‘pace ourselves‘. However, when asked whether that’s a ‘large or small beer‘ we go large without much thought and … a stonking beast of a beverage arrives for each of us; at 620 ml, a veritable wine bottle-sized flagon of ale! My friend is unconcerned and with a surprisingly impressive knowledge of metric and Imperial measures, confidently announces that that it is really only akin to ‘drinking a pint‘ and so we ‘clink and drink’ and hit the metro into town in a very merry mood.
Our destination is Manchester’s Band on the Wall, a live music venue with a proud history of music and engagement with the politics and protests that have characterised the market district of our great industrial city over the past 2 centuries,
“Band on the Wall has been a place where people have met, exchanged stories and ideas, debated politics, espoused philosophy and drank and danced until the early hours…”
For us, this evening, it is the Noise Night featuring cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Harry Baker, and hands stamped with ink, we join the expectant crowds inside the building. Whereupon we order another couple of pints in trademark plastic glasses and find ourselves a spot close to the front of the stage. And what a performance it turns out to be.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason is the famous name in the duo, a cellist who has performed in The Royal Albert Hall, the Carnegie Hall and other international venues with the world’s leading orchestras, but tonight, in this special and more intimate location, he plays within a metre of where we are standing. Incredible! From Mahler to ‘Cry me a River‘ and a brilliant Bach improvisation to folk songs, both Kanneh-Mason and Baker hold the audience in the palms of their hands. They are an assured partnership; easy and relaxed, unique and utterly distinctive. It is electrifying. We love it!
At the end of the set, we swig another beer and then retire to nearby Mackie Mayor, a trendy eatery and bar area housed in the beautifully renovated meat market, for some mulled wine… it is nearly Christmas after all!
Does this mark a farewell to a festive cream team for us? Absolutely not; we shall squeeze that in too! But many, many years after we first started seeing bands and live music in the smaller, less commercial corners of our amazing city we both agree that this has been a terrific Christmas catch-up and that even out of the yule-tide season, with our offspring all independent and grown-up (most of the time), it is high time that we started looking out for interesting gigs and music once more…
Saturday 17 December 2022
Erst it may well be a popular trendy restaurant in the Ancoats area of Manchester, but it is also the German word for ‘first’ and, on the first day of my Christmas holiday, it is a wonderful place to be taken for lunch. It’s also another beginning for me…I am out on a ‘first date’…eek!
So, to the restaurant!
The food is ‘small plates designed for sharing’ and it is delicious. Each individual dish is a treat but put them together and, oh my goodness, it is a taste sensation. We need a bit of help and the waitress is fantastic, advising of number of plates and recommending the ‘spectacular’ walnut flat bread, which is divine. To wash it all down, we choose a bottle of vin naturel and 1 o’ clock quickly becomes 2 o’clock and then 3. Fabulous company and fabulous ambience. The stresses and strains of a busy term and the worries of family life just melt away and I open the door to holiday, relaxation and the chance to have some fun.
Indeed; such as good time is had that we decide to move onto a bar …which gets a little messier with some very strong cocktails. ‘Galway girl‘, a potent mix of Limoncello and prosecco probably, is my downfall. But hey -ho… holidays are here! Even a hard working single parent is allowed to let her hair down every now and again?
I certainly come back to earth with a bump at the tram stop home where, with unbelievable timing, I run into Small Boy with not one, not two but about ten of his friends, all heading out for the night. He tells me later that I was unmistakably merry but seems to find it all quite funny.
Next morning, I find that in my cocktail-confused state, I have tapped in and out with so many different cards on the metro that my journey has proved quite a pricey one! I contact TfGM pleading ‘ an honest is utterly stupid mistake‘ and wait to see if they show mercy and refund some of my payments!
Even this aside, I certainly feel ready for the holidays with work most definitely off the agenda for a couple of weeks. As for my date; well it’s early days and I rarely share romantically on my blog … but could this be the ‘erst of many’?
Christmas Eve eve …
23 December 2022
Amidst the pre-Christmas bustle, a few hours out in the tranquility of the nearby RHS gardens is a lovely change of pace…
This oasis of woodland, lakes and gardens is actually on my doorstep so, ‘how have I not been before?‘ Perhaps it is not only pre-Christmas weeks that get clogged up with busyness and stress?
Take this Autumn term for example; such a demanding one for me! High levels of absenteeism at work have resulted in everyone else’s workload becoming … quite frankly overwhelming. I have also had worries about my mum and, like everyone else, about spiralling bills and static wages. The only reason that none of it has kept me awake at night is, I reason,because I am permanently shattered and could fall asleep ‘on a dime.’
So few hours away from: gift wrap, shopping lists, decorations and tannoys blaring out ‘All I want for Christmas …’ for a peaceful stroll through the winter gardens is ideal. Our countryside and green places play a pivotal role in the preservation of our wildlife and ecosystem but there is also evidence that they also promote a sense of wellbeing for humans too. Plants have a long history of association with medicines and healing. Furthermore, in our modern world, we also increasingly acknowledge that gardens and green spaces are also associated with better social and mental health. To quote British physician Sir Muir Gray,
“…everyone needs a ‘Natural Health Service’ as well as a National Health Service.”
Well the visit certainly puts a smile on my face. Great company; easy chat and lots of laughter. Plus natural beauty and nature’s might and elegance to soothe the spirits and clear the troubled mind. I can also give a shout out for the scones in the cafe, which I polish off enthusiastically with my usual crazed- calorie trio of cream, jam…and butter! Revived and refreshed, I am ready again for last-minute gifts, the great Christmas Dinner spreadsheet and, yes, even Mariah…
All in all, I have had a lovely first week of holidays. Roll on yuletide festivities and week 2…