If kids spell ‘love’ ‘t-i-m-e’

13 Oct

Two landmarks approach apace. My 21st birthday, at the start of next year (see dictionary definition of ‘denial’) and L1’s move from primary to secondary school. The former event is currently dead to me as the latter event – with open days and agonising about the ‘right thing to do’ – is occupying quite a bit of temporal and mental space right now. And also I’m not ready to turn ‘new 21′ as I still consider myself something around ‘old 21′, only with more grey hairs and assorted scars.

In the past, I would not have defined an event taking place in five or eleven months, as the above two are, as ‘approaching apace’. But yesterday I realised that in two weeks time we head back up North to reprise last October’s ‘long march’, a trip which as far as I can tell took place about six weeks ago, not fifty weeks ago. And my job requires a lot of future planning, consistently thinking a month, three months, even six months ahead, working on projects to influence outcomes during the next quarter, rarely tomorrow.

All this does not sit easily with my commitment to live in the moment and take in as much as I can of my kids while their own pace of change continues exponential. When you’re forward-planning for four days a week it can slip into normal life as well; reaching for the future becomes commonplace even though I know full well that the future, and where I am now, will collide soon enough.

Once again, this weekend, I received a timely reminder to concentrate on the now. And it came from an internet meme, on Facebook, saying that kids spell love ”t-i-m-e’.

Reading that made me realise that just now, with things so busy, I am spending too much time contemplating what happens next and not enough time acknowledging what is happening now. So we headed out to a country park for the afternoon, no plans, and simply enjoyed what we did right then, as it happened. More of the same, please, more of the same.

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Disqualified vegetable growers anonymous

15 Sep

When is a courgette not a courgette? When it’s a marrow, apparently, although where ‘courgette’ ends and ‘marrow’ begins seems to have a hung jury.

And yes, I know marrows are courgettes grown on a plant where people have been a bit too busy to harvest for a couple of weeks, but to me this is not the sole definition of a marrow. A marrow has those big thick green stripes. It’s flesh is watery. A marrow can only be served stuffed with mincemeat as an unpopular tea in my house when I was growing up (this is now unfair as I like a stuffed marrow – stop sniggering, you at the back), but the palate matures with age particularly where the marrow is concerned, and I quite like it now. I would certainly not have been ashamed to have grown a marrow in a courgette’s stead, and would have had no qualms about confessing its ‘marrow-ness’ up front. And that’s a fact.

Rather like it is a fact that our courgettes, grown lovingly over a long (too long? Jury’s still out) time, were disqualified from the Village Produce Show (highlight of our family calendar) for being deemed marrows. So as you can tell, I have thought of little else but vegetable differentiation since Saturday. Little else.

Apparently arbitrary veg reclassification occurs without chance of disciplinary hearings to put both sides of the story, and with no option to bring in an independent supporter. I know vegetable growing doesn’t tally with employment law, and I appreciate this may drag out the duration of judging somewhat, but most important decisions taken on the part of others allow for the right of appeal.

Still, being disqualified from the Village Produce Fayre is, I would argue, noteworthy, and I shall be putting it on my CV.

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Loopy for loom bands

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Earlier this week we had a fork crisis (this is not a euphemism, and to make it very clear for reasons not at all related to this blog, nor is ‘garage conversion’, I literally mean I want my garage changing into a habitable room not anything adjusted ‘down below’).

The cutlery tray was a fork-free zone.
This was perturbing since we have a decent canteen, particularly if you’re not fussy about fork size: there are eight available.

The usual suspects – dishwasher, cutlery tray, still unwashed on the breakfast table – were searched and found wanting in their fork-ness; I wandered into the living room to ask if anyone had any ideas, only to find that all four of my ‘adult’ forks were employed as a versatile and inventive loom substitute following the accidental destruction of all plastic looms at the Hop Farm Festival last weekend.

Forks bound together by loom bands were creating multi-stranded bracelets with startling ease and speed. Good news, I thought, since the kids had run a Loom Factory at the festival the previous weekend making two pounds for eight bands (bulk order discount but slightly inflated individual price due to use of scented bands -
now you know).

I like loom bands – and not just because of their potential to help fund the garage conversion (the actual garage conversion you realise).
I like the fact that they have otherwise occupied my small son in lieu of electronic equipment (although like his mother, OCD tendencies lead to some loom band fraughtness when he wishes just to finish ‘this last one’). I like the fact that they are creative and fun and that the kids are handing them over to each other as gifts.

It’s seriously fascinating to see how crazes start though, and why. Why small plastic bands? They are everywhere!

A month, maybe six weeks ago, loom bands nowhere to be seen. But now, everywhere, even, brilliantly, in the village shop which has saved a lot of searching. Where did they come from? And why? Which kid was the innovator and which the early adopter? Why? How? And when? If brands could capture this wave-crest capability they’d hugely benefit from the flood as that wave crashed down. Incredible.

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Sleep status

19 May

Not very often, noL2’s been poorly for the last nine days, which has been horrible and heart-wrenching, as he has had a very high temperature on and off that has spiked at ad hoc moments and has floored him when it does. As a result, sleep has been at a premium; starting the night after I didn’t sleep as I was striding through London for walkthewalk.org. So it’s fair to say that sleep has been as sleep has done since then.

This has led me to consider my relationship with sleep. Sleep now is a treat; not the six hours standard interrupted by the alarm’s rallying cry, not that sleep; the kind that you wake up from feeling you’ve drained a glass of perfectly fizzy ice-cold Sprite at a moment when all you craved was sharp tangy lemon fizz. The perfect refreshment.

I don’t expect it anymore, and there have been times when even a day off sick, feeling drained and disastrous, has been underpinned by a quiet and guilty thrill of pleasure that a map is medically in order. And last week’s tactical pre-Moonwalk sleep? One of the unexpected highlights of the decision to do the walk in the first place – a Saturday afternoon nap, justified.

I don’t think I know anyone who would say they get as much sleep as they want; sometimes I’m not sure I get as much sleep as I need, either; but there are things I want to do which take priority. I feel more refreshed from a walk with the dog at 6am than an extra hour’s kip; so that’s the choice I make.

When the Ls were teeny I thought that would be the most sleep-deprived, but parenting turns out to be a course of not sleeping for multiple different reasons. When they’re teens and don’t get up til midday I guess I’ll be awake the other end, waiting for them to come back at 2am. Looks like six hours will be the maximum for a whole to come!

How I met your father

8 May

And they all lived happily ever after...A fellow blogger I was speaking to via Twitter is running a series of guest blogs on how people met their partners. It’s been said that how M and I met bears repeating, so I have written this for her and also posted it here. Enjoy. Every word (except where clearly indicated) is true…

In May 2001 I was running late for a dear friend’s leaving drinks in Central London. I’d also been to a step class, something I was only driven to when I perceived standards to be in the direst straits, so the me that arrived at the Covent Garden venue was not a ‘me’ likely to attract anything other than, potentially, flies. So when the lovely hostess whisked me over to meet ‘the boys’ I may not have been overly enthusiastic, concerned that it wasn’t a case of not my best side, but more not my best at all.

‘The boys’, it transpired, were very nice people indeed, and I ended up speaking to one of them pretty much all night. I didn’t realise it was all night, but the first time I looked at my watch post my initial flustered entrance into the ‘do’ was when the bar staff startled me by calling ‘time’. After all, I’d only been there about 30 minutes. Hadn’t I?

Naturally (naturally for those days, anyway; nowadays I have neither the time, inclination nor tolerance) many drinks had been consumed over that ‘thirty-minute’ period which was actually about three hours. The man I’d been chatting to gave me his card, said ‘Email me, please e-mail me’, and that was it, I was in a cab (something else that’s not an option nowadays!) and heading home, reflecting on the speed of the evening and the interesting nature of the man I’d met.

For me, to be honest (and he knows this), that was that, for then anyway. I was off on a girly holiday to Iceland; I had a cracking job that I was absolutely immersed in; and (in my head, anyway) I was way waaaaaay too young to settle down. And the odd thing was that even after that one evening I had a sneaking and quite unwelcome suspicion that meeting him again might just mean that I would end up settling down (yeah, it did, alright, I know), and I wasn’t ready for that. So I filed his card and decided to drop him a note in a couple of weeks to see if we would meet again and if silence changed anything – how keen, actually, had he been?

Turns out, he was pretty keen, but acting on that didn’t quite play out how either of us might have expected.

He went home that night also reflecting on the excellence of the evening. He, however, decided that action was a more desirable route than delay (I blame his more advanced age ha ha!), grabbed the business card belonging to ‘the girl he met’ – that’s me – and dropped ‘her’ – that’s me – a text.

The observant amongst you will notice the first flaw in this already.

Imagine his delight when she – or should I say, I, responded immediately. Great to meet you too, I said. And, in response to a subsequent suggestion, I agreed, yes, let’s meet up next week.

So – a date! With me! Off he trotted to Selfridges, invested in some ‘new impressing clothes’ and waited with baited breath till the next week came round and he headed to the appointed bar at the appointed hour to meet me and further our acquaintance.

Sitting in the bar with me, his date, he pondered the fact that he must have been much drunker than he had thought when we first met, or at the very least, more blinded by my brilliance (that latter statement is of my own invention) than he had realised. For I looked and sounded nothing like he recalled; there were other friends of mine around the table all on a nice pally night out – not really his idea of a date in the conventional sense; and most puzzlingly, I spoke fondly and regularly of ‘my husband’. This ‘sort of thing’ being neither what he is into nor, of course, what I appeared to be into either – it turned out my motivation for meeting up was to ask advice about the music industry, his chosen specialised subject – he finished his drink, after a nice chat said a cheery goodbye, and, with resignation, headed off home armed with what he believed would remain a pretty entertaining ‘disastrous date’ story. At least, he reasoned, something good had come out of the mistaken identity date.

Of course, it had been clear to him within about the first fifteen minutes that alcohol was blameless here to an extent in terms of recognising ‘me’ – or not: he had gone on a date (considered a date by only one party) with the wrong girl. He had suddenly recalled that I – the real me – had not given him my card (an activity I cringe at professionally, I confess, let alone personally) – and here alcohol IS to blame for the blip in his initial memory – the only card passing had been from him to me, and the contact ball was most firmly in the real me’s court.

What happened next? Well, the real me went to Iceland, had my holiday, talked about whether or not to contact him, dealt with a couple of massive work projects, talked about whether or not to contact him; then looked at the business card waiting on my chest of drawers and thought, you know what, I liked him, I’ll drop him a line. This was about six weeks later.

The rest is history. Our instincts had been right: it was the real thing. Engaged within five months and married a year after our engagement, we’ve been married now for nearly twelve years. And it remains a cracking tale whenever any new acquaintances ask us how we met, so I’m pretty pleased to have it.

Book review: Paula Daly’s ‘Just what kind of mother are you?’

16 Apr

pauladalybookjacket250Reading’s my ultimate relaxation but I find that I like distinctly different styles of book depending on what else is going on around me. When I’m working, and focused, I like my reading to challenge me, to give me something to get my teeth into and to throw up knotty problems or moral conundrums to debate. But when I’m on holiday, or having any other break from work, I like my reading to flow around me like a stream flows round a rock, easily and without obstruction.

So I was very excited to have the chance from the very good people at Mumsnet to review Paula Daly’s ‘What Kind of Mother Are You Anyway?’. What a superb plot premise. Just reading the synopsis sent a chill down my spine, and the way a normal, could-be-any-of-us, too-much-going-on-struggling-through working parent’s day moved inexorably towards disaster was carefully planned and very well written. As a concept, the storyline pulled at what is surely one of every mother’s deepest fear: that one day all those plates you’re juggling will come crashing down, and the problem is, when you’re a parent, there aren’t any plates you can afford to drop… Being responsible for the loss of someone else’s child, the mix of relief, horror, guilt for the relief, guilt for the action… These emotions are well expressed in the opening pages and Daly draws a fine line between sympathy for and frustration with Lisa, allowing us to feel both and revel in their contrasting and contradictory natures. This is very clever, and the character of Lisa was, for me, the most well-drawn in the novel by a country mile. She felt like a real person, we were right inside her head and it was – at times uncomfortably – easy to identify with her.
By contrast, I felt the characterisation of some of the other players in the drama was sketchy and relatively unformed. It never became clear to me if this was because we were seeing them through Lisa’s eyes – and this could indeed be so, since the policewoman, DC Joanne Aspinall, the only other character whose perspective we truly see events from, although in the third not the first person, is another nicely-constructed individual who we feel we get to know to an extent throughout the course of the novel.

The storyline alone was more than sufficient to keep me reading – this book is a proper page-turner, particularly as the main plot runs in parallel with an additional storyline, cleverly interwoven and leading the reader on their own investigation into Lucinda’s disappearance – about horrific abuse of other young teenage girls, and a shadowy, clearly psychotic criminal – you really want to know what happens next and how the plots together will unfold. I’m not open to spoiler alerts here so won’t write more about the way the storylines do work together; suffice to say this is one of the best elements of the book, with Daly tightly controlling the reader’s emotions and rate of discovery.
With a storyline as compelling as this, perhaps it might have proved frustrating if there had been plot breaks for description – but it’s hard to tell, since scene-setting, mood-engendering description within the book was pretty sparse. And with the novel set in the Lake District, I can’t help feeling that despite the pace the novel sets itself, this relative lack of a sense of place is something of a shame. The contrast between the picture-postcard Lake scenery and the horror of a missing child within that vast expanse of wilderness could have added to the tension and created a greater atmosphere of fear and foreboding, which instead to be maintained relied on main character Lisa’s regular emotion-focused updates, referring either to her state of mind or to that of Kate, the missing girl’s mother; or evident within DC Aspinall’s increasingly negative musings on the potential outcome of the case as time passed and Lucinda remained absent.

Through this lack of description, at times the novel reads like a TV script, a clear play to TV drama where the scene-setting is done effectively by what’s filmed and what the viewer sees. No description necessary, as it’ll be added in when the drama’s brought to life. The characterisation of DC Aspinall adds to this sensation. While I enjoyed reading about her and was interested in her and sympathetic towards her, the character was created through small clues, and as a result only partially built, which for me led to an underlying sense that this holding-back was intentional because she would be further developed in subsequent novels within a ‘DC Aspinall’ series. This isn’t a bad thing, but it meant that she remained something of an enigma throughout, with no resolution to one of the ongoing sub-plots, the difficult decision she is in the process of making regarding her breast reduction and the intense discomfort and embarrassment that the current size of her breasts causes her. I was sympathetic towards her; with a sense of admiration that she did such a difficult and active job with this level of physical difficulty, and couldn’t help feeling that in Daly’s mind, there’s more to come regarding this – it’s only the beginning. I hope I’m right on this…
At the end of the day, however, this was a book which had me gripped from the start and kept me gripped right through to the abrupt, startling and very well thought-through ending – an ending that left me with a real sense that Daly has an ongoing plan for these characters, more for them to deliver.
To go back to my image of reading at the start of this review, ‘Just What Kind of Mother Are You?’ is a straightforward holiday read, an unchallenging page turner with a story that flows uninterrupted around the reader and works very well taken as just that – a cracking good read. I would definitely recommend it, especially for summer holiday chill-out reading.

No choice but long hours of childcare

16 Apr

Sun up to sun downAnother day, another study designed, it seems, to pile more guilt and ‘grass is greener’ urges onto working parents.

This Australian study says that children in pre-school daycare for long periods of time may fall behind educationally. The definition of ‘long periods of time’ is 21 hours a week, or more.

Like many working parents, M and I had absolutely no choice. On average, L1 was in pre-school nursery from 7.20am to 6.50pm four days a week, and sometimes five. I know how long that is in total because when we were planning what to do when I went back to work after mat leave I worked it out and sat down and cried.

Easy, perhaps, to blame this time in nursery on our decision to move just outside London zone 6 while working in Central London. This difficult call was made so we could be closer to my family, because we were lucky enough that our unavoidable absence during the working week could be mitigated to an extent by their proximity; and so we could live in a small community and hopefully make close connections which enabled our children – or child, since at the time it was only L1 – to have an extended network within that community to feel part of even though we weren’t around as much as we would have liked. But no, this distance is not to blame: when we lived in Zone 3, on the efficient and frequent (not being ironic here) Victoria line, we only ‘gained’ 45 minutes a day additional time with L1, most of which was eaten up by the drive between nursery and home, which was significantly longer than the one we had when we moved to Kent.

What was to blame was the absolute requirement, no, necessity, for us both to work full-time, and to work full-time in Central London because of the industries and career paths in which we had become entrenched. Retrain? Without a cushion of savings (and where, really, would they come from?) and without either education or personal skills for other career paths, this was neither straightforward nor practical. I know this since I investigated retraining as virtually anything that I thought I might have a chance at which could provide an improved amount of time with my girl, but found that no way would I be capable, would I be happy, or would anyone have me doing it – any combination of the list. And at the end of the day, since I had to earn, I needed to work in a field where I was most likely to be employed. So standard working hours it was.

I return, therefore, to one of my favoured themes. If this study is right – and I wouldn’t know, the Ls are who they are having had the amount of (excellent, high quality) childcare they’ve had, I can’t tell from my own statistically insignificant sample if they’re more or less able and achieving at school than they would have been had they been at home more – because they weren’t – then the only way to deal with it is going to be a sea change in attitudes towards and the feasibility of flexible working. And support will be needed for employers as well as employees in order for this to become a reality. Having sat in duality as an employer and an employee I know full well that businesses will need help to thrive in a new way of working just as much as employees will.

And the question, will it ever happen? I don’t think I want to tackle that, as I’m deeply cynical about whether those ‘in charge’ care enough about this issue to ensure it does. But my final thought is this. At the same time that this news was released I saw a Tweet saying that Finland tops global education tables and children start school way later than ours and go for shorter days. Having just returned from Helsinki I would argue that this isn’t just because of the education itself but is due to a variety of ‘quality of life’ factors. It isn’t education, daycare, or any of that which we need to address in a vacuum, its surely the importance those in charge of our country place on how we nurture the next generation that has to change.

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