Sometimes you deserve a treat …

Saturday 25 September 2021

I did set out to have a dry month but, as I finish another demanding week of September 2021, I am dreaming of a G &T, a Sicilian lemon flavoured shot of deliciousness … and I decided to indulge and feel not a second or remorse. No, I think I deserve it! And here is why:

1) I survive teaching GCSE Spanish (in addition to my usual mathematics)

A deluge of staff having to take their own children for PCR tests, causes the teacher absence rate to rises rapidly and allows the dreaded “rarely cover” to re-appear on timetables. And so it is that I find myself directed, for a double lesson of Year 10 Spanish last thing on a Friday afternoon.

Now I have never learned Spanish, however, back in 2018 when I helped my Eldest revise for her GCSE Spanish speaking test, she put me through such a relentless schedule of practice that by the end, not only was she ready to shine but I reckon that I could also have scraped a respectable grade 3! So, I get off to a confident start in the classroom,

Wow miss, you actually sound as if you are Spanish!”

one pupils observes, as a I navigate through an opening activity with aplomb. Alas, as we get deeper into our translation skills my limitations become only too apparent. When I try to help one puzzled pupil by suggesting that “Enrique’s favourite activity is taking photos of a sacred family?” a very lovely, and linguistically able girl, calls me over and whispers “Miss, it’s The Sagrada Familia, a very famous church in Barcelona.” She then gives me a little shrug, as if to say, ‘Should we tell the rest of the class?’

Of course we should! I call the group together to look at pictures of Gaudi’s basilica, I throw in the tale of my friend and I being mugged in Las Ramblas, when I actually visited Barcelona in the late 80s, as several hands shoot up, I hear several other holiday and passport disasters. Thereafter it is agreed that, if other self-help strategies fail as we work through our questions, (familiar vocab; cognates, dictionary, working partner) and we need to ‘ask an expert’ that the expert is clearly not me, but rather several nominated pupils dotted about the room.

2) I converse civilly with the local anti-vaxers

As covid vaccination is now rolled out nationally to the under 16’s, this protest group, with noise, banners and pamphlets, migrate to the locality of English high schools. Our Head handles it really well. After conferring with local school leaders and hearing the cautionary tale of Headteacher who sent out the Senior Leadership Team en masse, whereupon they became embroiled in the confusion and, in the local media coverage, were presented as being part of the protest, we are far more low key. We are sent individually to politely greet any anti-vaxers we encounter, recognising their right to opinion and protest but gently reminding them not to put leaflets into pupils’ bags without their consent, nor to attempt to stop pupils who just want to get into the school building without talking to them. So far, so good… but I think this addition to our work duties may well last beyond the end of this calendar month!

3) I complete my ’60 running miles in September’

Gosh; so much harder than my January, ‘run at least a mile a day‘ quest. To keep up to date, I aim for 2 miles per day but, I discover that this means finding close to 20 minutes of daily ‘me-time’ and in September 2021, this has been a tough ask. So I push myself to finish early, with some longer weekend jogs, and feel overjoyed as the Strava clock tells me I’ve made it. I am full of relief to be free of the relentless demands of finding the time and route for a suitable 2 miler … as is my very sore right ankle. On the upside; I do feel good and pretty proud, plus all my pre-covid work clothes now fit me again. Who knows; by next week, where a staff social has made its way onto the calendar, I think there may be a fighting a chance that I’ll be able to fasten up my little black party dress too!

4) We make 4 journeys to the vets

Poor Boris has really struggled in September 2021 and is still not cured. We have now: clocked up over 80 miles of driving to and from the exotic pet specialists; spent over 10 hours, stuck in rush hour traffic, waiting in car parks or consulting with vets; administered many eye drops and other medicine and endured many many days feeling anxious and worried as he continues to look troubled and out of sorts.

5) I have missed first 1 and now 2 uni-girls for 23 days and only told them so once … or maybe twice

Yes, probably the biggest challenge of the whole month has been adjusting to life with two of the squad living in other cities….and that is a mission I’m definitely a long way from fully accomplishing but at least I’ve mostly managed to sound bright and breezy on our calls.

So all in all…I think I deserve a little tipple and in fact it is amazing that I made it this far without a small reward. But let’s not stop with me. Look back at your September, I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of reasons to treat yourself too!!

Holidaying …without kids…

Saturday 28 August 2021

On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!

Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.

With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!

And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spade… but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea … I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.

Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,

I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”

Oooh – tough choices!

And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.

Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.

Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…

Exam Results 2021 …let’s make it about the pupils

Monday 9 August 2021

It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of  covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.

Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…

Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders  and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for … I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt…. I think they need to be reassured that they  will be okay.

For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told.  As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.

The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,

” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…” 

Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.

Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.

So please…  let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….

Talking about running…

Thursday 22 July 2021

Yuk, yuk and triple yuk! My garments are literally sodden with sweat as I return from a short run this morning; my first in nearly 2 weeks. Do I regret choosing one of the hottest days of the year to dig out my running shoes again? Not for a second; my head needed this!

In his book, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running‘, Murakami, observes,

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that…”

And whilst is would be clearly ludicrous for me to draw many life parallels with an award winning novelist and regular amateur marathon runner, even as a steady 10K jogger this chimes with me. Take this week for example…

Like most teachers, I crawl to the end of the academic year and the long Summer Holiday dawns with me too exhausted to think, feel or do anything, beyond basic auto-pilot mum duties. So for days I do nothing but shopping, washing, taxi-ing … and paying for lots of things. I lounge about. I loaf about. And as for exercise; I shun it completely. I am “too tired to run.” It is “too hot to run.” I need a “break” from my run.

By mid-week, do I feel rested and refreshed? Alas, I do not. I feel smothered in sluggishness and hemmed in by the humdrum. As the main adult in the house, there are more important things I need to be doing; creative tasks; decision making tasks; project planning tasks…but these just seem overwhelming. My head is a muddle and I hover on the edge of gloom and despondency.

So this morning, despite little sleep, a bunged up nose and the searing sun, I haul myself off for a bit of pavement pounding. And I feel instantly better. Settling back into the familiar running rhythms is reassuring. I am out of the house. My route is peaceful and spacious. The brain fog lifts and an order for the day begins to dance into place. By the time I am home, showered and sipping my first coffee, I am filled not only with energy but also enthusiasm for the day ahead.

To be tentatively heading ‘back on track‘, feels a wonderful relief, so I briefly ponder ways to maintain this level of motivation and focus? Should I commit to some exercise goal throughout the Summer? The magnificent Murakami aims to run 6 miles per day to maintain the ‘stamina and endurance’ needed to support his writing? Yikes, that is beyond me! More realistic would be re-vamping my January homage to Ron Hills, of ‘running at least a mile a day’. I sip on my coffee and decide to give myself a few days to decide. In the meantime, I elect to put distances aside and go day-by-day. Today is today and tomorrow, I will go for another morning run…

Relationships by numbers…

Sunday 6 June 2021

You hear some strange things on the radio in the middle of the night…

Somewhere between teacher assessed grades, mass testing and track n’ tracing, work stress has made the grim descent into insomnia. Although I invariably zonk out effectively enough in an exhausted heap; by around 2am I am awake again, tossing and turning fretfully in a fruitless quest to return to the illusive REM-cycle. When my mind is really racing, I switch the radio on, hoping for distraction, and this is where, a few nights ago…I discover the notion of numbers linked to social and workplace interaction. It is claimed that,

You can only maintain so many close friendships

The central name in the debate is evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, best known for 150, his namesake ‘Dunbar’s number’. Dunbar claims that this is the number of ‘stable relationships ‘ we are able, cognitively to maintain at once. It is his ‘wider circle of friends’ number, the amount you’d expect to see at your wedding, or imagine at your funeral, as opposed to your closest most trusted companions. On the radio, the guest expert applies this number to the workplace too, as the number where you could know each colleague not only by name but also know something of them as a person: their role, their family, their interests, their ambitions. Its suggested that although variation is inevitable, this is a suitable number for that sense of unity and community that hallmark effective organisations. When employee numbers rise too far above this, our expert continues, some businesses choose to open a second office or warehouse to break the workforce down into more sociable sized units.

Now this draws me in because 150 is pretty close to the number of colleagues I work with and all of this is certainly true for us. Additionally too, it catches my imagination because, as a mathematician, I have a long standing fascination with the seemingly mystical existence of numbers and number patterns in society, in music, in art and in our natural world. Oh yes, our wonderful cardinals refuse simply to be confined to the dusty pages of some academic tome!

Hence, as this audio item moves onto explore other numbers, I find myself wide-awake. The theory examines various friendship thresholds. Five is the ballpark for close friends – shoulder to cry on friends, the ones who share your happiest (or saddest) news first friends. It is proposed that this is why we so often see quintets, or their near neighbours, winning appeal in popular culture; Enid Blyton’s Famous 5, Friends, Scooby Doo‘s sleuthing squad and numerous rock and pop groups.

There is a long conversation about fifteen. In the relationship ranks, 15 is ‘best friends’ – around the number you’d have at a regular birthday meal, on a hen party weekend or those you’d call upon to look after your children. The radio discussion suggests that this stronger bond makes a suitable number for sporting teams and even expands to include Jesus and his disciples in the category.

From 15 they jump to 50 and then the renowned 150…

I lie there thinking it through for my life: reliving the times when friends did drop everything to support me and who they were, picturing the faces at my 30th Birthday Party or the various work teams I have contributed to and which worked well and which … less so. There or there abouts … those numbers work for me, although for a statistically minded soul, there is not a lot of space between 5 and 15 for variation! And I strongly suspect it was the clarity of definition of roles, rather than the size, that made several work teams successful or not. I imagine this could be an easy theory to challenge… from various directions.

Nonetheless, possibly akin to counting sheep, as I attempt to recall and count those who came to my Wedding I find myself drifting pleasantly off into a wonderful spell of sleep. I decide, whatever it limitations, that this is the theory for me after all…

Running Alone…

Saturday 15 May 2021

Can I start by saying, “I miss my run buddies”. There is simply nothing to beat camaraderie, laughter and a good old chin-wag for making you keep to the challenge of weekly exercise. But as, for various reasons, I currently find myself running solo, I have to say that it does offer some benefits…

Firstly it is precious time by yourself and a brilliant space for your brain to think… or not. Active.com actually advocate unplugging yourself completely on a solo-run

Take a deep breath, take in the natural world, or just take an hour off from thinking about anything at all

Well that is their advice and it does sound luxurious, but I probably do the exact opposite. My run is very much a time when I do think through any worries or problems that are keeping me up at night and it always brings some fresh perspective. Be it, kids, money or, as has been the case in recent weeks, work… work is a stressful place at the moment… by the end of an hour of fresh air and exercise, I always have a new plan. And I love this, for whilst I am one of life’s thinkers, my world is a crowded and noisy place where my aging brain cells can find it difficult to function. So I am more in tune with Amanda Brooks, who, writing in Run to the Finish , on the ‘9 Powerful Benefits of Running Alone’, cites that

Many runners {myself included} do some of their best thinking while on the run

Secondly it is glorious just to be yourself in any shape or form. Now I would be lying if I claimed that I ever spent much time on my appearance but, like most of us, I do brush my hair, apply a dash of make-up and run the iron over my clothes for work or meeting friends and even commit to a swift mirror check before heading out for the weekly shop. But on my Saturday run.. there is none of that. As seen in my pictures of today’s 10k dash, it’s hair scraped away, slightly torn leggings, old pink running shoes and a raincoat knotted around waist. I might splash a bit of water over my face, but that is the extent of my pre-run beauty routine. And it it liberating and joyous not to care a jot what anyone, not even a run buddy, thinks for an hour or more.

And finally, you can just please yourself on the run itself. So, do I channel my inner Phoebe Buffay and,

“… run like I did when I was a kid because that’s the only way it’s fun”

Phoebe Buffay: The One Where Phoebe Runs 1999

If only! Maybe I will try it one of these mornings? But already I run as fast or slow as I want. On a sunny day, if I espy a nice bench, I will happily choose to sit and catch few rays if the mood takes me. In the recent run of amazing snowy Spring-time days, when the beauty of our local county-side was simply breathtaking, I often paused just to gaze and take it all in. If I am tired, I walk up the steepest hills. And if I see a friend … I just stop and chat for as long as a blinking well like. In many ways it is the most self-indulgent time of the week.

So in a nutshell it is, space to think, time to be yourself and time to please yourself. Of course it doesn’t have to be running. It could be a walk. It could be sitting in a beautiful church. It could be a long car drive. But I do think it is a little bit of weekly luxury that we all deserve…

The great outdoors …

Sunday 18 April 2021

Week 2 of the Easter Holidays; the sun shines, at times the snow even falls, but the big news is that pubs and cafes re-open for outdoor hospitality. Our politicians and leaders caution us to be careful and ‘take this next step safely’, but it is hard not to feel just a teeny bit giddy…

In our household, we all get out to meet our friends! Lunches, brunches, take-out picnics, shopping trips and alcoholic tipples. Gosh it does feel great …. even though it is all in the fresh air. Because, I had previously dismissed the notion of ‘outdoor hospitality’ as a terrible concept when it was first muted in February. How happy I am to be proved wrong! Sitting outside – I’d venture that it actually adds to the experience.  But why?

Here in the bracing North of England, we are a perfect stomping ground for your ‘good muddy walk’, but are not traditionally associated with alfresco dining, so is it just the novelty? Very possibly. Re-thinking, re-invention and innovation are very much part of our 21st Century world and the phenomena of falling a little bit in love with the pandemic driven pavement culture has been seen in other urban areas too.  In December 2020, in his Guardian article “Outdoor dining has been a Covid bright spot. Let’s make it permanent”, Gene Marks reports on the decision to extend outdoor permits in New York and the drive to address some issues so that this can be replicated across other US cities too. Marks recognises that eating outdoors isn’t actually new, rather,  like ‘like work from home, e-commerce and virtual meetings‘ it is a trend that has been accelerated by lockdown restrictions. Additionally,  it offers cities a chance to re-invent themselves as we emerge into the ‘new normal’

“As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”

City Mayor New York City

In an era where we have been drilled to ‘follow the science’, the glad tidings are that scientist too support the benefits of the outdoor culture. Countless articles suggests that being outdoors boosts our mood, our creativity, our vision and our immune system.  It makes us feel better and also be better! The Huffington post, in its article ‘Here’s proof that going outside makes your healthier‘ finds that exercise feels easier and is proven to be more motivating when outside.   An ‘Ask the Scientists‘ summary by Sydney Sprouse, claims that it can even help us to live longer!

A 2015 study followed 108,630 American women to determine the relationship between nature and longevity. Women who lived near parks, lawns, trees, and forests had significantly lower mortality than women living far from nature. 

And it doesn’t have to be about venturing far or extreme physical challenges, bringing nature and the outdoors closer to us, via gardens plants and even views of the natural world from a window will also bring benefits. Essentially there seems to be no right or wrong way to get outside, so as it is currently our only way to start re-connecting with all the people we have missed for so long I say what better combination than fresh air and… delicious refreshments?

Yes, chinwagging over an alfresco latte, can be a touch chilly at times, but for me it’s a big thumbs up to digging out the layers and popping a pair of mittens into my handbag. Feel a bit continental! Feel the outdoor glow on those cheeks. Feel a frisson of excitement as you balance those sunglasses on your head once more. Outdoor hospitality – I am a definite convert…

The baby massage class…

Saturday 27 February 2021

This week, a couple of friends make wobbly returns from lock down maternity leaves. Gosh how incredibly tough the last year must have been for isolated new mums! My ‘mum friends’ and toddler groups were essentials in the ‘first-time parent’ survival kit, even if this did all begin with the baby massage class …

It is true to say that I didn’t find new mother hood the easiest of times! I was exhausted, frequently frazzled and struggled to stop my Eldest from crying for, what seemed to be, the entire day! In hindsight, it was probably a desperate appeal for help from my poor daughter. Maybe, if she made enough noise, somebody capable might appear to rescue her from the clutches of the hapless amateur who had brought her into being!

Anyway, feeling pretty useless and fearful of the judgemental public gaze, I began to avoid leaving the house at all, until my Dad arrived. Sensing my dwindling confidence, he booked himself aboard the direct train from Manchester Piccadilly on a quest to get me to re-join the world. And he wasn’t taking no for an answer! He dug out the programme of post-natal classes and told me I was going. The session that week… baby massage.

Managing to leave the house on time is a true logistical challenge for any new mum and on the morning of this fateful day, it was one that I was veering dangerously close to failing. Just about time to skim read the reassuring guidance for the class; ‘all you need is a towel and your favourite oil’.

Oil, oil, oil?‘ I muttered furiously, flinging open the kitchen cupboard to survey my options. The olive oil seemed my best bet. ‘A bit more sophisticated than sunflower’ I told myself, as I zipped the flagon into my baby bag and raced out of the door.

Fortune, oh how it smiled on me as I rattled up the hill! My daughter actually fell asleep in the buggy! I arrived at the local community centre in a rare moment of calm and was able to nod and smile at other participants. A tranquillity that was, alas, to be sadly short-lived! The class began and with reluctant dread I woke my sleeping child and transferred her to the towel. She was already beginning to squirm.

Time for the oil ladies,” beamed the session leader

The other mums, reached for their bags and brought out dainty phials of … jasmine or lavender oil and my heart actually stopped for a moment.

As the woman next to me rubbed a few drops of beautifully scented lotion in to her hands and then began to expertly massage her child’s tiny feet, I hoped no-one was looking as I fumbled a litre of cooking fat out of my bag, trying to half hide it under my coat. The cursed olive oil gushed from the bottle like a torrent, coating my hands and arms right up to my elbows. In growing panic, I slathered it onto my Eldest and she was quickly gleaming from top to toe, like a basted turkey ready for a roast in the oven! Understandably, she was not impressed. As other infants, cooed and gurgled with contentment, I saw her mouth open and heard her screams beginning to fill the room. I tried to intervene and pick her up but, by now, she was a slippery as an eel and I fumbled about powerless to prevent her building up to a full crescendo. It was a living nightmare.

My mind went utterly blank, my throat too dry to speak… until I remembered the towel. I just about held it together long enough to wipe us both free of grease, return my daughter to the buggy, stuff all my belongings underneath and head for the exit. It was then I felt the tears begin to well.

Out in the cool corridor however, my Eldest immediately drifted off to sleep again. And in the sudden peace, I had the chance to gather my thoughts. Pretty silly to go home when I had got this far… and I’d have to face my Dad! Gulping back a sorry sob, I realised that it was time to be brave. I took lots of deep breaths, dried my eyes, gave my cheeks time to calm from a mortified puce back to an acceptable pink and slipped back in. We swerved the rest of massage and just sat quietly at the back of the hall. But we stayed for coffee and cake at the end. And that was the start; the start of mum friends! A supportive circle of also-new parents, for trips to toddler groups, play dates and eventually nights out .

Did any of them even notice my massage mayhem? I am not sure that they did, because, poised or fraught as any of us may have looked to each-other, I realise that we were all just pre-occupied with our own version of new-mother hell on most of those early days! The challenge of navigating parenthood for the first time, united us and the companionship would be a life-support mechanism to see us through both joyful and tough times with laughter, empathy and … plenty of alcohol!

As for baby massage, well there I had learned my lesson. When, in later years, the class popped up on the schedule for Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy, I made sure we had other plans…

Milestones

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Twenty six days into my 2021 resolutions, I have 26 runs and 82 km on my Strava . Gracious me, that’s over 50 miles!

Throughout January, inspired by Ron Hill and his 52 years and 39 days record of running every day, three and a half weeks of tootling around the block every day, and a little bit further at weekends has brought me to this landmark. Incredible! Who knew that a 10 minute jog on a daily basis could add up so quickly!

I am ready to stop though. Yes, come the 1 Feb, I will be giving my running shoes a well earned rest. I have really enjoyed the daily dash. I go a little bit further each week. I go a little bit faster too. I feel energetic, oxygen fuelled, clear skinned and bright eyed. More importantly I feel calm, refreshed … and self-indulged. And this is why I love a New Year Resolution. Whilst psychologists may decry resolutions as needless self -pressure to impose upon an already demanding world, and even the health and well-being experts queued up to espouse this view as we finally consigned 2020 to the history books, I think the complete opposite. I find that our new year tradition is one of the only times in the calendar when I do focus on myself. It may only be 10 short minutes each day, but it is , nonetheless, time when I just think about me. Not my teens. Not my job. Not my mortage. Not the sometimes bleak future….just me… and my crazy January goals! And as 2021 dawned, after a year when the demands, stress and, above all worry, about everyone and everything had threatened to crush me , I needed this more than ever.

But I realise tonight, as I burst back into the house, trainers muddy, leggings soggy and face glowing with the cold, that I am better. And that means, that 5 days from now, it is time to stop. Because I am ready to get back, back to the grind and the gruelling but above all the glorious roller coaster of life a mum, an educator and someone who thinks life is about probably about something more important than kilometres and run schedules! Of course I’ll still do my weekly 10k, I might even do occasional circuits of ‘the block’ but its adios to charting my progress, checking Strava every evening and thinking that a day without a run is a failed one!

On the news today there is a far grimmer milestone . Covid deaths in the UK top one hundred thousand for the first time. It certainly puts life into perspective. I need to start focusing on the small contribution I can make to this current situation. Because if miles are covered one step at a time, who knows what we can achieve with many individual efforts to see this through and play our part. Rejuvenated by my month of running , I now have the energy and strength to try again…

“To get through the hardest journey, we only need to take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping…”

Chinese proverb

From hot tub to …

Saturday 19 December 2020

… to hollering, to humdrum, to … hissy fit? I am still not sure which of my alliterative choices to plump for! What it is, sadly, safe to say however is that ‘hot tub heaven’ did not quite go according to plan!

The tub is delivered and installed without a hitch on Thursday evening. By Friday morning, it is brimming with hot bubbles and up to temperature. I pop 2 bottles of prosecco in the fridge and head to work, for the final time this tumultuous term, in high spirits. Upon arriving home, alas, we peel back the covering to find the tub has lost around 50% of the water. It takes a good hour to refill and another 3 for the company ‘engineer’ to come out and give us the ‘all clear‘ to hop in. This they do, assessing that ‘the plug‘ has most probably, ‘become dislodged.’ Nonetheless by 7pm it’s cozzies, flip-flops and hot tub here we go!

And it is simply glorious. The tub and awning take up half the back garden, spectacularly transforming the outside of the house into our own personal spa. As all four of us sink into the warm froth, the sounds of laughter and happiness fill the air. We are no longer in a grey, drizzly corner of a Northern Tier 3 town; we are on holiday, in a luxurious alpine retreat, pampered, relaxed and without a care in the world.

We should just buy one mum!” enthuses my Eldest as the fizz flows in our glasses.

“I am staying in for ever!” grins Prom-dress daughter

I have drifted off into a more immediate dream of my own. This weekend! This weekend, there will be no; housework, no supermarket trips, no cooking, no thinking about work and mass testing and …. stop! None of that! Nothing but ‘the tub.’ Run then relax in the tub. Read a new book in the tub. Watch the teens having fun in the tub. Wine and beer in the tub. Utter bliss! After a year dominated by stress, worry and sadness I realise that it is just what I need! A wonderful evening ends and we head to bed.

I actually set my Saturday alarm for the first time in weeks and at 7:30am, pull on my run gear with thrice my usual enthusiasm. As I open the kitchen door however, I hear beeping and it is coming from …’the tub’. Outside, I find that, once again, the water level has dropped; this time dramatically to a level that might just about cover your toes. The machine flashing in panic, I despondently re-tap the engineer’s number on my phone. I am directed about, for a mad half-hour, trying out various ‘ home remedies’ before they announce that I am booked in for an afternoon visit. At this point I take stock of the situation and suggest that instead, as I face yet another 12 hours unable to make use of the 4 day-hire and there is no guarantee that the problem is fixable, we call it a day. And so it is that the hot tub is taken away.

The company could not be nicer. They insist on a full refund and also offer a free booking in January. Nonetheless, as the van pulls away from my drive, I sit down and burst into tears. Yes, I am ashamed to confess, I blub like a baby. With the back garden back ‘to normal’, the mirage of ‘weekend-away’ evaporates and my usual Saturday of drudge and dreariness descends like a heavy cloud. It’s covid life: grimy bathrooms, dusting and cleaning, battling around Tesco, no meeting friends, no playing music, no nights out and just never-ending worry – worry about everyone and everything. It has taken its toll on many. It has taken its toll on me. The teens fuss around with cups of tea and kind words and, lovely as they are, to escape the guilt of feeling like a ridiculous child instead of the parent I am supposed to be, I wave them away, dry my eyes and head out for a run.

Now, as ever, that does stop the tears, if not the sadness in my heart, and as I turn the key in the door, I have ‘gotten a grip‘ and am ready to carry on. Which is just as well as my 80 year old mum has called. One of her ceilings has fallen in. By calamitous co-incidence, she is also Prom-dress daughter’s accompanist for today’s re-scheduled Grade 8 violin recording. This could take a bit of sorting out. I could almost be thankful not to have the distraction of a heavenly hot tub in the garden… almost …