Sunday, 29 August 2010


It's been a tiring but pleasant weekend: and it's not quite over yet!

On Friday evening we had a party - a 'soiree' - at which I sang for an hour.  I was quite pleased with how I sang: one song, Amarilli (Caccini,  1550-1618), I think I sang better than I've ever previously sung it (which has made me want to change what I'm singing in the concert on 11th September).  There were only about 18 people at the party but it was really lovely and Husband and I didn't finally get to sleep until about 2a.m.: incredibly late for me these days.  It was also our 6th wedding anniversary, though as usual we'd forgotten.

Brother-in-law and Wife-to-Be (I shall call her that even though he hasn't got around to setting a date yet: I wish he'd buck up!) came down and stayed on for the rest of the weekend, so it was great to see them: Husband is sailing with them next weekend so I'll probably see them briefly when I go to fetch him, and then they're coming down again the weekend after for my birthday dinner and will come to the concert.  Running Friend P. and her husband camped outside our house in their van, so we had loads of people the next morning for a big cooked breakfast, and friends from Berwick who stayed at the Howard Arms dropped in on their way home.  It made it feel as if the party had lingered on, which was great rather than the house suddenly being empty.

B-in-L, W-to-B, Husband and I then took the children to Carlisle Castle in the afternoon, though I was feeling quite tired by then and didn't go exploring the Keep.  I've been in it before and think it's fantastic: from what I remember it's structurally complete (the castle was still in military use up until the 1950s) rather than being a ruin, and I love the way you can go round one way and come out in a big hall and then go in a completely different direction and find yourself in the same big hall.  There are lovely views from the battlements towards the Lake District Fells to the south, Scotland to the north and across towards Brampton and then Northumberland to the east.

Two friends from Northampton arrived early evening with their two children (3 and 1) and B-in-L cooked us a lovely supper of salmon with new potatoes and vegetables.  By then I'm ashamed to say I was rather tired and grumpy and snappy with the children.  Fortunately I woke up in a better mood this morning.

It was the final swimming lesson of the 10-week block for the children today, and I was really impressed and proud that Son did 20m on his back without armbands and without stopping (when we took him on Thursday after work he frustrated and annoyed us both by just not trying) and Daughter did 20m on her back using armbands.  She also did 20m on her front with armbands but stopped every-so-often to hold on to the wall and shout up to us!  She swims really well and strongly on her back but won't let us take her armbands off and doesn't like getting her face wet.  My Mum suggested that we get Son to swim on his front above water by pushing a ball with his nose, which would be worth trying: currently he swims under water for about 4 strokes then has to come up to breathe, and stops.

Both children got a certificate and a medal and it's encouraged me to continue to take them: we were close to saying we'd never take them swimming again after Thursday!

Then while I made lunch (Coq au Vin), everybody else went round Talkin Tarn, which meant Son got to speed round on his bike.  Two hours peace and quiet for me, even though I was busy: it was lovely.  I didn't even have any music on!

Tomorrow as it's a Bank Holiday it would be nice if the 4 of us did something together as a family, but I also have a job to apply for, must check websites for job vacancies, and must do some singing practice.  And at some point while it's still dry I want to mow one of the lawns and do some gardening.  Meanwhile it's time for bed for the children and I think I shall follow not long after.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


It's a lovely late summer evening.  As I glanced out of my study window earlier I noticed a bright yellow tractor ploughing the field on the hill.  There are heavy clouds on the horizon but they're mostly white rather than grey with, at the western end, the setting sun reflected glowingly in them - and then a clear pale blue sky above.  Has our Indian Summer commenced?

I've read quite a few books recently: I find myself going to bed rather than attempting to find the occasional but rare, interesting programme on television.  I'm normally in bed at 10 p.m. and falling asleep over my book by 10.30: and in the mornings, because the children are waking up a bit later than normal, I often get half an hour to read with my cup of coffee (and I really resent it if they wake up and come through at 7a.m., especially if they start bickering, as is the norm.  This morning I even chucked them out again so I could have 5 or 10 minutes more reading time and finish my coffee).

Besides the fact that I love reading anyway and have managed to pick up some intriguing, interesting and addictive books recently, while I'm in bed reading is also the time I'm most likely to feel the Little Guy moving.  It's reassuring to be sitting there snugged up with a good book and funny little squirming sensations in my stomach.

I find that I am more and more frequently reading books which are either historically factual or which have a background of historical fact.  Recently two novels have made me want to find out more about their periods: one was Havoc, In Its Third Year (Ronan Bennett) and the other The English Spy (Donald Smith). 

The first depicts a family around the time that the country was switching to Puritanism.  It paints a picture of the country moving in that direction anyway prior to an actual civil war (neither King, Cromwell nor war ever gets mentioned: this novel very much paints a local picture), and shows how society can move in a direction of 'big brother is watching you', paranoia and sickeningly strict morals relatively easily.  For me there were parallels with what I have heard and read about Dictatorships generally, and an echo of a book I read a couple of months ago about Afghanistan.  We are so lucky to live in a peaceful country where freedom of speech is permitted.  In addition I was wondering if the story was set in Penrith: anyone who knows Cumbria well will have to read it to see if he or she agrees with me.

The English Spy is set in Edinburgh around the time of the Treaty of Union (1707: Queen Anne was on the throne), and centres around Daniel Foe (Daniel Defoe), a pamphleteer and English Spy.  In fact I found his character less central than I had thought it would be from the 'blurb' and the other main characters in the novel equally intriguing.  I must look up the historical basis for it: what roles are the various Scottish Dukes and Lords (Glamis, Hamilton, Queensbury) really believed to have played?  What was also interesting was the build-up to the Jacobite rebellion, although this appears to have died away towards the end, unlike the build-up to 'change' in Havoc.

I then more recently finished The Tomb of Zeus (Barbara Cleverly).  This is a murder mystery but unlike some crime writers who can lead you completely up the garden path, this one unravels quite logically and without too many red herrings.  It was easy to read although the over-use of exclamation marks in the dialogue really annoyed me, and I found the characters vividly painted: if not all entirely credible.  The book is set on Crete, which is somewhere I've always wanted to go, partly because of its ancient history but also because I love Greece and it is one of the Greek islands on my list of those I particularly want to visit (I guess I love Greece because of its history in any case, but also its climate and the beautiful clear blue Mediterranean in all those lovely shallow coves).  I enjoyed the way that the murder mystery element of the story shadowed the archaeological 'mystery'.  It's set in a time (1928) when more freedoms were occurring for young women, in the UK more so than in Greece I think, and this too is reflected in the novel, with a relatively feisty heroine who is at times in conflict with some of the more archaic, or accepted, social mores.  I really enjoyed this novel despite the exclamation marks.

Back to troubled times now with Guernica: to be followed by a Scottish view of the Border Reivers.  Reviews to follow!

Sunday, 22 August 2010


The preparations for the bee garden are complete!

Look at that weed free area, the new compost and the new dry stone wall: I am so proud of myself!  It took me the best part of 3 or 4 hours today but it is, finally, ready for plants: I need to transfer all the flowers that were next to the pond as that area is going to be turfed over, and I've decided I'm going to plant some spring bulbs along the boundary with the pavement (and add some more compost in there).  The children have already sown some flower seeds and I've added put some solar-powered lights.

Just out of view at the bottom of the picture there is a sort of rockery I've created, as the ground then slopes down towards the apple tree.  There were a LOT of stinging nettles to dig up under there.  Not only was I trying not to get stung but I was also getting hit on the head by the apple tree. 

I've tried to get up as much of the ivy and creeper type stuff which was growing on the area shown above (which meant attacking part of next door's land as well), and dug up a bush which was growing near the retaining wall (left of photo).  I'm hoping that I shall be able to write a blog post before too long which shows this with flowers on, though as some of them may be a bit droopy if they're moved I think it's more likely to be next spring/summer before I can really update this.  I think I'm probably going to put some of the stones which are lying around the garden up here soon, partly to break up the surface but also so there is something to stand or sit on when weeding.

I should mention, though I forgot to take a photo, that the chocolate plant given to me when I left work is looking very healthy.  The flowers should be out in a couple of days so I shall try to remember to take a photo at that point: and to check that they actually smell of chocolate.  Pity that scratch and sniff for blogs hasn't yet been invented!

Husband completely finished the new ferret run this weekend and we have two very happy ferrets: especially as they enjoy chewing at over-ripe apples, which gets them quite frisky: I guess we should have known that might be the case, as they like drinking beer....  The only thing left to do is to create a new burrow for them so that they don't need the hutch any longer, and then they can stay in their lovely big run nearly all the time.  Husband has ambitions to make them a proper waterproof underground home, lined with sheep's wool to keep them warm in winter.

His next jobs are to clear the decking, which the ferrets had been using as a run, to bring it back into human use: not that it gets much sun and the back garden area is still a complete tip (roll on my earning lots of money again and I shall pay someone to clear it all and build raised beds which I can then just plant with herbs and vegetables and the like); to replace the fence along the back and side boundaries; and then I'm not sure whether he's intending that we sort out turning the pond into lawn ourselves or whether we're getting someone in to do that: I can see it being a rather bumpy lawn if we attempt it ourselves.

Plenty more still to do but I do feel that we're making progress, albeit slowly.

The other achievement this morning, albeit overshadowed by the fact that the children have really been rather annoying today, was that Son swam 20m unaided on his back and only grabbed hold of the side of the pool twice.  He now says he can swim (as opposed to saying he's 'drowning with style') and is very keen to go again during the week in order to practice and then get a medal at next Sunday's lesson.  I'm hoping that we're going to have a similar situation to the one we had with his cycling a couple of weeks ago: from saying 'I can't do it' to saying 'I can do it' and enjoying it so much that he wants to practice lots.  What we could really do with is a week's holiday in a villa with a pool.....  Daughter meantime has a really strong kick and can swim quite well with armbands, but still refuses to put her head in the water.

It's her final day at Stone Eden nursery ( tomorrow, which is sad: though if I'm working they will both be back for holiday club, and no.3 will be going there if I'm working enough that we can afford it.  We've been really pleased with the nursery.  Even after a bad day at work I used to feel cheered by going in there to fetch the children, so it's sad that Daughter's leaving but good that we shouldn't lose contact all together.

And then just under two weeks left of the so-called 'summer' holidays.... what's the betting the weather will turn gorgeous just as the schools go back?!

Friday, 20 August 2010


To help research my book Running Friend P. agreed to walk one of the routes with me.  It's a route I've done before - once - and I remembered the scenery being quite impressive, so although this summer has been mostly wet, I was optimistic that we'd have one of those glorious sunny evenings where everything is bathed in golden light and looks almost autumnal.

My optimism - despite rain in Carlisle on and off earlier in the day - was increased when, despite having to have the car windscreen wipers on en route to the rendezvous up behind Underscar Hotel near Keswick, the weather forecast stated that the north was due to get dry later: confirmed by Running Friend P. (RFP) who had heard the weather forecast in the morning, which had said it was due to clear up just about at the time we met.

Goodness knows why I chose today to believe the weather forecast when I've already commented to several people this summer that it has been wrong every day so far.  Blind optimism I guess.

I met RFP at the car park near Latrigg.  She was dressed in overtrousers, walking boots and a pretty weather-proof-looking jacket.  My waterproof (showerproof?) cycling jacket, semi-walking-boots and lycra leggings were already beginning to look a little inadequate, particularly as I wasn't sure the cycling jacket would actually fit around my expanded middriff, but fortunately RFP said I could borrow her jacket as she had another with her.

We set off across the moorland (I'm not sure if that's the technical expression for it, but there weren't many trees) along a track which went mostly down - never a good sign as it always means you have to go up again, although I already knew there was quite a long climb later.  At least today I was going to be walking it rather than running, or attempting to run, it.  There was lots of water.  Everywhere.  Not only was it still coming down from the sky, with quite low-lying clouds ensheathing the tops of the fells, but there was plenty of water on the ground as well, as was demonstrated early on in the walk when we crossed a stream.  A very attractive stream, but still in full flow today (although I imagine it can, and has previously, got a lot higher).

The walk/run goes past a remote white house and then turns along a track which follows a beck up a valley.  It's glorious, with the comforting maternal curves of green-covered hills on either side and the stream leading the eye far into the distance, higher and higher: on a day like today, up into the clouds.  However follow the stream too far, as we discovered, and the path runs out: the result being a tramp through more water.  Well, over hillside with impromptu streams running across it and marshy tough grass growing.  We met a better-made track (maybe an old road?) and thought perhaps for the purposes of a running trail that might prove better: certainly the Lakeland 100 choses that easier to find route.  Having said that I don't suppose, if you're mad enough to attempt to run 100 miles in one go, that you particularly want to go on any unnecessary detours or explorations.

There were three more bridges to cross: one a wide stone bridge, possibly increasing the likelihood of this being an old road, with a solitary tree growing at the side of the Gill or Beck; and then two more bridges, both narrow and wooden this time and fortunately relatively new: I would not have fancied walking across rotting wooden bridges with the streams running as fast as they were.

Before long we met the Cumbrian Way and headed back in a southerly direction to the cars.  In the distance there were signs of sun: RFP and I meanwhile were enthusing about the heather which was in bloom, and she suggested taking a photo of me with the heather.  As you can see, despite the wetness of everything, I look quite happy!
Finding our way was now easy and the conditions got drier as we got round to the western side of the hill and lower down, apart from a splash through a stream which didn't have a bridge.  In the distance we could see distinctly better weather and Derwentwater, and by the time we got back to the cars it was, as we had predicted, no longer raining and Bassenthwaite was almost sparkling in evening sunlight.

As I drove into Brampton an hour or so later the golden evening sun which I have commented on in earlier blogs was reddening the sandstone buildings and making everywhere look warm and inviting and clean.  Rain: what rain? Huh!

Thursday, 19 August 2010


I was very excited when I updated my blog last time to see that I had a comment on a recent post: it's so nice getting some feedback.  I really appreciate it when friends tell me they have kept up with me via my blog as well: I don't feel as if I'm writing in a vacuum where my words all fall into a virtual void.  Whilst it's relatively easy, given the time, to fill a blank computer screen with words, I don't really like doing it just for the sake of it: I guess I'm too much of a performer not to want an audience.

Another highlight this week - besides a £2 voucher for Gu or Fru puddings, which are scrummy if anybody has not yet tried them ( or - was that I have now been invited to go along to Radio Cumbria again to talk about music, including choosing 3 pieces I particularly like, for a late night music show.  I'm going there tomorrow morning and really excited about it: I know to anyone who works in the media it's trivial and day-to-day but for me it's really exciting, even if Radio Cumbria has very few listeners: I imagine they have even fewer late at night!

On the subject of music, I should really be making sure that the kids are in bed and I should then do some singing practice, but I wanted to write a couple of speculative job letters and also I had originally intended to write my blog every day this week.  Perhaps I shall be briefer by writing up several days in one go.

Yesterday was our Big Trip Out: the children and I went with Special Friend M. and her son to Glasgow Science Centre (  The reviews on the internet had given it a fairly bad press, although it did at least sound more suitable for our children's age group (4 and 6) than for older children.  We thought it was fab.  The children loved it, particularly my Son, who gave his complete concentration to the Science Show in the afternoon, and who didn't want to leave: I've promised him I'll take him back there on his own sometime as I think he and I would both get even more out of it if we could go round together and talk about the various exhibits.  A whole range of scientific knowledge was explored: I was particularly fascinated by the model of the human body which demonstrated how approximately 20% of our bodies can be made from protheses if necessary: goodness me, was the model in a bad way (artificial hip joints; knees; legs; plates in arms; false breasts; earing implant; skin graft; false eye........ etc.!).  The only downside to a successful day was trying to find our way back to the M8, which didn't appear to be signposted.

Today the children and I then went to Tullie House Museum in Carlisle for a 'Norman' afternoon and came home with coloured-in pictures, a Norman coin and cardboard swords: Daughter's being particularly attractive and glittery.  They were intrigued by the chain mail and helmets and insisted on trying them on, despite the fact that the armour is so heavy.  I raised the issue in 'Little Cumbria' (or at least, I will tomorrow on air) as to whether the children are going to have overdosed on history by the time they're teenagers: I really hope not.  Son at the moment is showing such a lovely, lively curiosity and interest in all sorts of things: I just wish I could answer his questions better. I've suggested he should start writing them down so we can look up answers on the internet, as I'm all too conscious that my answers are not always very accurate nor even satisfactory, and some of the things he asks about are things I'd like to know more about myself.  There was a question about satellites in space this morning on the way in to Carlisle, and I felt rather ignorant and dissatisfied that I couldn't give him a more detailed answer.

Meanwhile I continue to grow and my ligaments continue suddenly to ache at unexpected times: we were in Early Learning Centre this afternoon and I twisted or bent down to get something and got a twinge.  Nothing serious but it's making me aware of my body changing to accommodate the baby.  I feel so heavy and unfit: I'm sometimes breathless walking up our stairs at home, which is pathetic!  However I'm off to do a decent walk with a friend early tomorrow evening (I hope it doesn't absolutely tip down with rain: the forecast for this week was appalling but in fact it's not been bad, with just the odd heavy downpour now and again) and am wondering whether to offer to join an ex-cancer sufferer for the first few miles of a 100-mile bike ride he's doing: my worry being that my stomach won't fit over the cross-bar and also that I'll be far too slow for him!

I continue to be surprised that I'm pregnant, and also feel a mixture of guilt, stupidity and embarrasment: guilt that I have been so incredibly lucky when I know so many women younger than me who have not been; stupidity that I could assume that I would not get pregnant.  In relation to stupidity however, my surprise is of course part of the same equation: I am still genuinely surprised that I am as fertile as I have proved to be, and I always thought I'd been incredibly lucky to have my first two children.  I suppose I felt in some way that they were a lucky fluke, two miracles, that would not, or could not, happen again.  The embarrasment is because of my age: however much people tell me I don't look my age, the vast majority of women still have their children in their 20s and 30s.  Somehow it didn't matter when I was 42 and 44: now I'm more aware of it as being a bit unusual.  Oh well - it must be even wierder for women in their 50s!

A friend said she liked hearing about the Little Guy and his development but she hoped that I was looking after myself as well.  Yes, I am: as much as I can do with two energetic children to chase after and attempt to control to an extent (or at least, to keep out of danger).  Sometimes I've put my feet up and read: I'm eating a huge amount (probably too much) and I am doing far too little exercise.  In fact I'm looking forward to the school term starting so I can maybe go for some walks, to aqua aerobics and swimming more often.  On the other hand I'm on my feet a lot rather than sitting in a car and at a desk, so overall I'm probably more active than in my other pregnancies.

Fingers crossed it all continues well: I am generally enjoying life (though to earn some more money and not to have to sign on would be good) and I've become rather attached to the Little Guy.  I don't deserve a third healthy child, but my prayers are that he will be: and meanwhile I shall do what I can to try to ensure that he is.

Monday, 16 August 2010


I've had my parents-in-law here for just over a week: in other words the children were amused by someone other than me for almost the entire time and I was able to do some of the things I wanted to do.

This week has started well, however.  I had my 20-week scan at the hospital this morning and Husband and Children came too.  I was a bit worried that there would be something wrong with the baby or that the children would behave horrendously, but in fact everything was fine - baby and children.  The children and I then had a relatively peaceful time at home before going to Off-the-Wall for lunch.  Afterwards they went to holiday club at the Methodist Church for 2 hours (free) and at which they saw some of their friends, while I met Running Friend A. for coffee at Off-the-Wall.  I hadn't seen her for ages and she's had the experience of bringing up 3 children, so it was great to have a catch-up. What's more, the sun was out!

By the time we had also been to the library and the children had completed 'Spacehop' it was time to go to fetch Husband from work.  Not a bad day at all except for Daughter thinking that for some reason it would be a good idea/fun to empty all my turquoisey-blue Crabtree and Evelyn shampoo, conditioner and shower/bath gel into the bathroom basin.  Her £10 from Grandad is now hers no longer: it's going towards replacement Crabtree and Evelyn stuff.  After all, it colour-co-ordinated so beautifully with the bathroom....  

It's not that it's particularly important or that she made that much mess, but just that it's so wasteful.  The children both have so much 'stuff', in common I think with most western children nowadays, that they don't appreciate things and so when items get broken or wasted they're completely oblivious to any sense of value or loss, and trying to engender a sense of care for and of the value of things is proving uphill work.

It's now looking as if the baby is going to be called Edward; certainly that got the most votes on Facebook.  Plenty of time yet to change our minds!  I feel as though it might be all right now for me to buy some baby clothes and to think a bit more seriously about which travel system to get and where the money is going to come from for it (the In-Laws offered but it's so expensive I wouldn't want them to pay for it all, but it seems rude to ask my mother outright if they're going to buy anything for the baby, and to contribute: though they bought cotbeds for the other two).

I'm also finding that my ligaments ache far more this pregnancy and that I'm getting out of breath at times, which I don't remember with the others: maybe this is one of the side effects of being older, especially as I haven't been doing yoga and pilates regularly.  Maybe it's just that because I'm not working I'm more conscious of what's going on, though having said that the two idiots should be enough to take my mind off it.  Daughter only has two more days at nursery before she starts school: I think the final day will be quite sad as it's been such a fantastic nursery and they were both so happy there, as well as being encouraged to learn and to develop.

For now I'm just going to go to watch something light on television before I go to bed.  Last night it was a DVD of Smack the Pony, which I hadn't watched for ages and really enjoyed.  I wonder if there is anything worth watching this evening.....

Thursday, 12 August 2010


We have a small collection of books in our bathroom, amongst which is The Swallow, The Owl and The Sandpiper - a collection of poems and thoughts or, as the editors state on the front 'Words of Courage, Wisdom and Spirit'.  I opened it today and happened upon this, which I think is a lovely way of saying 'when one door closes, another opens': or carpe diem, or 'think positively'....

There may come a time in your life when you realise
that if you stand still, you will remain at this point forever.
You find that if you fall and stay down, life will pass you by.
The past has gone, and is now only a brief reflection.
The future is yet to be realised.  Today is here.
Take one step at a time, with courage, faith and determination.
In time your steps will become firm and solid again.
(Victoria Forbes).

It seemed totally appropriate having just finished reading French Leave by Fidelma Cook: not great literature but I warmed to her more and more, empathsised with the initial loneliness of taking a step into the unknown and her self-criticism, and recognised the differences she highlighted between rural and urban living.   A good holiday read and thought-provoking as well.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


I normally have a fairly low opinion of Staples and hate going in the Job Centre, but today my views were, refreshingly, challenged.

I was in Staples to get some new printer cartridges: not only did the helpful assistant advise me that a pack of 4 (as opposed to buying a pack of 3 plus one black separately) was better value as the cartridges held more ink and fitted my printer just as well, but the cashier then knocked almost £20 off a purchase which would otherwise have costed almost £60 (I bought two packs which automatically gives you a 20% discount and then she wangled some other discounts for me as well!).  We also had a nice chat and I went away more than happy with the service I had received in addition to the saving I had made.

In the Job Centre I was seen by a woman called Sharon (I don't normally write people's names in my Blog but she deserves a mention), who again I had a chat with.  She won me over from the first moment she looked at my job-seeking record anyway by saying that I was doing a fantastic job and by being impressed that I was doing a bit of  informal 'teaching English as a foreign language'.  I'm a sucker for compliments....

Likewise I also had a very exciting and pleasant time in Radio Cumbria on Monday morning.  I went in to record the short pieces I'd written for 'Little Cumbria' and not only did that, meeting a guy I had a chat with about music at the same time, but also had another interview about being an 'ancient pregnant mother'.  I came away on a high despite then getting soaked to the skin walking to the Sands to renew my Ultimate Card!  I then heard from a former work colleague who knows people at Radio Cumbria that apparently they're pleased with me as they think I'm good.  I was walking on air!

I've been into Carlisle every day so far this week which has proved tempting to my purse, though so far I have resisted: more or less (food has been my downfall).  I keep looking at baby clothes: there are some adorable ones in Next, Mothercare and Debenhams and I haven't even looked in M&S nor yet visited John Lewis in Newcastle.  I've also seen some clothes I'm very tempted by for me: 'normal' clothes which might last throughout pregnancy such as a baggy knitted long tunic dress and a lovely purple short coat.  But I need to earn some money and I'm near my self-appointed limit for spending money for August, with a couple more weeks to go and places to take the children.

I've also seen the travel system I think I'd like for the baby: it's a carry cot/small pram, buggy and car seat all in one and you can either put the car seat straight onto the chassis or put the pram/buggy there.  It would save buying a Moses basket for him to sleep in initially but it was still pretty expensive.  I must do some shopping around, though my other options are probably John Lewis and Mamas and Papas, which I don't suppose will be any cheaper than Mothercare.  As we are probably going to be able to get a lot of other stuff secondhand I would rather like a new travel system: the poor little thing might be unplanned but he's not unwanted and neither of the other two had only cast-offs.

The more the Little Guy develops the more I want him to be OK.  He was up near my waistline (huh!  what waistline?) yesterday and I felt him move quite a bit: previously he'd been down near the top of my left hip somewhere and movements were less obvious.  We've also decided not to go with the name Frederick as whilst Freddie is OK, Fred Briggs definitely is not.  So this morning we were debating... James (not enough syllables but we both like it); Matthew (possibly); Rhodri (no, 'Rod' is a no go); George (I don't like it); Hector (I don't like it)... and so on.  I like Benedict,shortened to Ben, as it means 'Blessed'; but Husband doesn't and pointed out quite rightly that Ben Briggs doesn't really work either.  So the hunt continues!

More proof that people are lovely: one of the neighbours has just popped across with a bag of delicious damsons.  I now wonder whether I could make Damson Ice Cream or Damson Fool; having bought an Ice Cream Maker a few weeks ago I'm on an ice-cream making spree still.

I've also contacted some friends with whom I haven't been in touch for months, if not years: the great thing about email and Facebook is that you can keep in touch with people from time to time and they don't have to feel that you're stalking them (or vice versa), but you can still keep up to date with what they're doing. 

Many of my friends, those contacted yesterday included, now have elder children who are 18 or coming up to 18: stopping and thinking about it like that makes me feel strange that I have two children who have only just started school and a baby on the way.  The feeling is momentary though: life turned out the way it's turned out, and nature for some reason gave me a fertile body which means I've been able to have children at a time when a lot of women might not consider it or might wish wistfully for more, or be regretting those they never had.  Whilst I may not be back on the career path nor have as much independence as I'm used to, at least I have had those things in the past.  The children will only be children once and for a short time at that, and before I know it mine too will be 18 and ready to leave home and I'll be going on skiing holidays and doing triathlon again: and maybe even living abroad if Husband will come with me!

Sunday, 8 August 2010


I had my hair cut yesterday.  Not a particularly mind-blowing or exciting experience to blog about, it would appear.  But I felt I was being really brave: I had about 4 months' worth of grey roots showing (a good 2 inches or more) and I was going for a short cut and NO COLOUR!

The reason for not having the colour was in fact threefold: firstly, I wanted to go to Corbridge because Abbie who works at Reflections had done a lovely short razor-cut style for me about 18 months ago, but the hair dye they use there makes my scalp tingle/burn a bit and I get some scabby bits; secondly, I wanted to save the money; and lastly, I was just curious to see how grey I actually am.  Another reason for going to Corbridge, besides the fact that it's a lovely place anyway, was that it would give me an opportunity to see Good Surveying Friend C., whom I've known since we worked at Westminster City Council together in the early 1990s, but whom I hadn't seen for a while despite the fact that we now live so much nearer to each other than we have for years.  I noticed while there that Out of the Blue, which sells lovely children's clothes, had a sale on: I managed to resist going in.

Abbie did indeed do a fab. job on the haircut and the grey isn't as terrifying nor as all-pervasive as I had feared (in fact at the back I'm still quite dark, but I don't see the back).  She also had the excellent idea that I could have highlights rather than a full head of colour (I normally have a full head and then 2 or 3 different coloured highlights as well), which was something I hadn't considered but which I think might be quite effective.  For now though I'm happy with the cut and colour as it is.  As the curls have all been cut off it's really quite different from when I stepped over the threshold into the hairdressers yesterday lunchtime.

I then had lunch with GSF C at Piccolo, a lovely and authentic Italian restaurant in Corbridge.  I could highly recommend it, although the one downside was that nearly all their scrumptious-looking puddings contained raw eggs which of course you're advised to avoid when pregnant: so having had an enormous bowl of Sicilian-style spaghetti cabonara (i.e. no cream: I'm not keen on overly creamy sauces) I 'only' had some lovely Movenpick strawberry ice cream.  I had planned Toad in the Hole for tea at home but really didn't feel particularly hungry, and in fact having had some tea anyway went to bed last night still feeling rather uncomfortably full.

I hadn't felt the Little Guy move that much yesterday but when I lay down in bed he did a few small squiggles: and then stopped so I prodded him.  It made me laugh out loud when I got a sharp kick back in return to my prods!

Elder Son (as he should perhaps now be known) was keen for me to take him cycling.  He's just suddenly got the hang of cycling without stabilisers and is now suddenly keen to cycle at every opportunity, which is great.  Unfortunately his swimming lesson this morning wasn't so good as he was very upset as he only got 3 ticks out of a list of about 8 or 9 items they are meant to achieve to go on to Stage 4.  He's doing really well though and he can basically swim: like the cycling, he needs to practice more but hasn't got to the stage yet of feeling that surge of confidence that he has on the bike.  He also needs to learn to be able to breath while swimming along rather than swimming under water and then having to stop to breath!  It will come.

The Outlaws are here at the moment which is great: i.e. little childcare to do for the next few days.  I have a singing practice tomorrow afternoon for the concert in which I'm doing a duet and one or possibly two solos,; a further singing practice for my own 'recital programme' (Le Due Donne) on Thursday, and shall also take the opportunity to go swimming.  I might go to Hermitage as well, historic home of one of the Border Reivers families.

Meanwhile this afternoon I'm off to look round the Maternity Unit at Carlisle Hospital with Pregnant Friend C., so I'd better go to have some lunch.  Chicken Noodle Soup out of a packet: I like it but it's not quite the home-cooking with fresh ingredients I experienced yesterday!

Friday, 6 August 2010


I came across press coverage of research carried out at Utah University which linked late motherhood (last child in 40s/50s, naturally conceived) to longevity: likewise the brothers of such mothers appear to live longer.  The conclusion being drawn is that this is most likely to be genetic factors rather than purely lifestyle.

Dear Professor Smith

I was fascinated recently to come across your research into the above.

I had my first child when I was 42; my second (having had a miscarriage in between) at 44 (there is 18 and a half months between those two children): I am now, unexpectedly, at 48, pregnant again - I had come off the pill as I assumed that I must be heading for the menopause.

I have a grandmother of 98 who is still more-or-less hale and hearty - she is registered blind and this year has developed some problems with her legs, but continues to live independently and to be mentally fit and as active as she can be.

My other grandmother died of dementia aged 93, having led a very sedentary lifestyle; and my maternal grandfather died at age 93 of Alzheimers but having had a relatively healthy lifestyle (daily dog-walking; lots of gardening; not over-weight).

So longevity genes seem to run in my family, for a start.

However I am intrigued by the potential link to fertility, and have found very little research on it as generally, it appears to me, people research infertility and how to address it, for obvious reasons. But what particularly intrigued me is that it just so happened that I'd read some books on medieval English history around the time I discovered I was pregnant, which made me look into the ages of English and British Queens when they had their last child who survived to adulthood. The 'answers' were interesting (I think!) but have made me want to delve into the subject further, for example what their medical and family/genetic histories were. So, at the risk of getting boring by listing them:

- Eleanor of Acquitaine (1122-1204) lived to age 80 and had her last (8th?) child, who became King John, at age 45

- Isabella of Angouleme had her final child, another Isabella, in 1234 at the age of either 45 or 46 (by her second husband)

- Eleanor of Castile had her 16th child, who was to become Edward II, at age 43

- Philippa of Hainault (1314 - 1369: died of dropsy) had her final son when she was 41 (she had 14 children of whom 'only' 3 died in infancy)

There is then a bit of a gap until Elizabeth Woodville (c.1437-1492) who had a girl in 1480 at age 43, again from a second marriage.

There is then a long gap until Queen Victoria, and of course because Prince Albert died it is difficult to predict how long she might have gone on having children. But what also interests me, as I am currently reading a biography of Mozart, is that Mozart was one of only 2 children born to his parents who survived infancy and he in turn only had one or two children who did so. Around a similar time in Britain, Queen Mary (as of William and Mary) had no children and her sister, later Queen, Anne had 17 pregnancies - the last at I think age 33 - of whom nearly all were stillbirths, miscarriages, or infant deaths other than one who survived to age 11 but had some cephalic disorder.

It has always been the general assumption that in medieval times people were less healthy and had worse medical knowledge and treatment than either in 'Georgian' times or nowadays: and yet the very brief facts above seem, to me, to indicate that actually people were more fertile in medieval times - and in fact living longer as Henry III, Edward I and Edward III I think all lived into their 60s - and Edward II was murdered, or who knows how long he might have lived? It would appear that in 'Georgian' times (excuse the British description), people were generally not so fertile and infant mortality was higher than back in the 1100s and 1200s.

To relate this to nowadays, with all the coverage and opinion bandied around about fertility dropping off generally and it being difficult to get pregnant after 35 and almost impossible after 45 (ha!), I wonder if we're really that much fitter and healthier than we were in medieval times? Obviously it's difficult to draw real conclusions when I've only looked at royalty/aristocracy in history.

Sorry to be so long-winded: but I'd be really interested to know whether your research has covered any of these issues in more detail. In addition (and there was a reference to this in some of the press coverage I saw), is it likely that if a woman conceive naturally in her late 40s, that she will go through the menopause later?

I look forward to hearing from you

Best wishes.

I will keep the blog posted if I get a reply.  But it looks as if I might be sticking around to annoy people for some time yet...!

Sunday, 1 August 2010


A few months ago whilst having dinner with friends that I found out that some people's urine develops a strange and distinctive smell when they have eaten asparagus: apparently a genetic feature.  As this is not something I've ever noticed, I didn't think I had this genetic trait.

One of the potential risks of amniocentesis, though I think it's incredibly unlikely, is leaking amniotic fluid.  So when, a couple of times after mine had been carried out, I had rather strange smelling urine, I wondered a little bit if it was amniotic fluid leaking: though I had no other symptoms and could feel the baby moving and so forth, so I wasn't unduly concerned but did tend to think that it must be something I'd eaten.

Today, having felt very little movement, I got a bit concerned again: so looked up 'amniotic fluid leakage' on the internet.  It still didn't appear that I had those symptoms.

I lay on my bed for a while to see if the baby would move: he did, but I think he must be lying further back or something as the movements are not so distinct as they have been (and it is of course still early on in terms of feeling movements).  Whilst lying there I remembered the asparagus wee-smell 'effect': and realised that I have eaten quite a lot of asparagus twice recently, and that the days would very likely coincide with the days when the smell has been strange.  I double-checked with Husband: yes, asparagus makes your urine smell distinctive and different. 

So I've come to the conclusion that being pregnant has changed the effect of asparagus on me, genetics or not: most likely, I think, that my sense of smell has been heightened by pregnancy.  And by the way, I still like green olives.  The wierdness of pregnancy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Food Idiosyncrasies: Beetroot and Asparagus
S. C. Mitchell
In McKusick's tome on Mendelian inheritance, a personal communication to the editor from W. K. Maas explains that a nonexcretor may become an excretor during pregnancy, the unborn child presumed to be an excretor (and also, I assume, the father) (McKusick, 1983).


On Friday morning my little nuclear family set off down the Carlisle and Settle line to Leeds.  The children were really excited as they've only been on short train rides before, with the exception of Son having been to Edinburgh once with me last year, and also we were off to meet up with my parents.

The countryside of the Yorkshire Dales was beautiful, particularly around the Ribblehead viaduct, and Husband and I were both commenting on the fact that neither of us has ever been there.  It seemed more remote than the Lake District, although perhaps no more so than parts of Northumberland, another county which we would like to get to know better.  Husband in particular, on seeing the Dales way path, was becoming even more inspired and motivated to do the 'Dalesman', a 55- or 110- mile run.  He later bought three maps covering the relevant area and we were discussing having a few days when he could do a recce: possibly at October half-term although I did point out that at 7 months pregnant I will probably not feel like camping.

On arriving in Leeds we went to check in to the hotel, and then walked along the river to the Royal Armouries.  The British Waterways signs, and the 'to let' board outside their offices, made me feel a bit sad: like so many other public sector organisations they face severe funding cuts, if not being disbanded altogether: after all canals are hardly vital to the survival of the UK, more a 'nice to have'.  Husband and I both worked there for a few years, and met there, and as employers go I would say it was one of the best places I have worked: not perfect (where is?), but there was a sense of being part of a team and I have some very fond memories, and generally felt I was well-managed.   It saddens me that the organisation may not exist at all before long.

The Royal Armouries was a bit stressful as whilst Son started off being quite interested in finding things in his booklet about 'Max' (Henry VIII's Horned Helmet), Daughter was only interested in running around and generally causing a disturbance: and meanwhile Husband got bad-tempered as he wanted to have a good look round.  The horse show kept the children's attention for 20 minutes and then we were back inside with them both running around in different directions and me feeling pregnant and heavy and wanting to sit down rather than chase after them.

When we got back to the hotel I took them swimming, and was impressed that Son is genuinely now swimming several strokes at a time: but with his head under water, so whenever he has to breathe he stops to come up for air!  Still, it's huge progress.  Daughter is still keen on swimming up and down on her back, kicking strongly and not looking where she's going.... While we were in the pool the APs (Aged Parents) arrived and were impressed, as grandparents should be, by the children's swimming prowess.

We ate that evening in the hotel, which was fine but expensive for what it was.

Yesterday we all went to York for the day, again on the train, and headed to Jorvik.  I knew it had been revamped but hadn't realised it had re-opened as recently as this year.  The 'ride' around the reconstructed viking streets is relatively brief, but excellently done and the children thought it was brilliant.  Again, the exhibition afterwards held their attention less: I was fascinated by some archeological finds of 80 skeletons which the experts are thinking may possibly be gladiators.

Husband and I then managed to offload the children onto their grandparents, who were keen to take them to the National Railway Museum, while we had a stress-free wander around the shops.  Neither of us had been to York for a while and had forgotten how lovely it is: we came to the conclusion that if we can save up enough money we should treat ourselves to a weekend there to do our christmas shopping.  If it wasn't for the fact that I'd had a large hotel breakfast and knew we were going out to dinner that evening, I would have been tempted by the mouth-watering smells of the hog roast shops (thinking about it makes me want to have roast pork for next Sunday lunch).

Being aware of how rapidly I'm getting through my redundancy payment, the fact that we have a baby on the way, and that I don't yet have a new job, I treated myself only to a new pair of slippers.  It may seem odd to go all the way to York and buy a pair of slippers, but I happened to see them on my way to the loo in Fenwicks and they were exactly what I've been looking for but unable to find.

Back in Leeds we wandered around the City Centre a little looking for somewhere good to eat, preferably Italian, and found Casa Mia, which was excellent.  We could with one in Carlisle... and a Pret a Manger (of which there were 3 or 4 in central Leeds).  I'm currently keen on Caffe Nero's Mint Frappes as well, which are rather like liquid Mint Choc Chip ice cream (or Mint Chop Chip as Daughter calls it).

Sunday morning was a morning for more swimming: and we ended up having the pool to ourselves, which was rather more restful than trying to stop the children crashing into other people, and I also managed to swim a few lengths myself.  We caught the 1.15 train back to Carlisle and were home before 5pm.

Tomorrow I have a second interview with Smiths Gore: I'd love to work for them, I think, but I'm not sure the money will be that great.  I'm also waiting to hear about 3 or 4 other jobs.

Meanwhile I haven't felt the baby move that much today and had the usual paranoid pregnant mother worry about whether I'd squashed the baby at one point yesterday evening when I rolled from my back to my side and had a sharp pain.  Unlikely I think: I hope!  I shall do some singing practice and then read in bed and see if he gets more active this evening, which is when I normally feel him more.  But first I have to get the other two into bed, which has been proving a battleground recently.  Son is currently sulking and telling me I'm fat: but at least they are both in pyjamas, so some positive progress has been made.  Better go now and stop him killing his sister who has dared to trespass into his room.