Thursday, 28 October 2010


Husband and I have had two rows recently, both provoked by me (well, they usually are: I get mad about something and decide I just have to have it out with him).

Normally the rows are about mess.  Is there any woman in the land who feels that her husband does the fair share of the housework?  I can sort of accept it when I'm not working and he is - not that it doesn't still offend my intelligence (there's something just too mind-blowingly boring, degrading and unintellectual about keeping the house, clothes etc. clean: I basically do it because I like things to be clean and I hate clutter.  Mess clutters up my mind) - but leaving things lying around, for example, I see as downright selfishness and lack of consideration; as creating unnecessary work for me.

I'm determined the children will not grow up just to leave stuff lying around and sometimes I tidy up after them purely because I've got fed-up asking and it's quicker if I do it: inevitably nowadays when I do that a few things get thrown away.  Sometimes they can be really good: if Son puts his mind to it he can tidy his room quite quickly.  But how are they expected to learn when their father strews clothes willy-nilly around the house and leaves papers all over the place?  We have one tidy room in the house, the sitting room: largely because it hardly ever gets used.  There is one other tidy room and that's my study, but then hardly anyone else is ever allowed in: it's my sanctuary and I'm not sure how I'm going to feel when it eventually gets converted into the Baby's bedroom.  Grumpy, probably.  Husband already knows there is no way I am going to share his study, which is a complete pig-sty: I'm hoping for enough money to buy a laptop so I can work at the dining room table but even so I'm not sure I won't miss this little space which is mine, and where any mess is created by me and hence is short-lived.

The rooms I really want to work on and to make nice are the hall - and I have all the materials, just haven't got round to plastering, papering and painting - and the master bedroom (for which I do not have the materials, nor the money - I want a quadruple wardrobe designed to my own specification at some point, as well as to get rid of the rather yucky yellowy paint on the walls).  Of course there is stacks more I want to do: paint the sitting room; knock the dining room and kitchen into one and put in new flooring and a new kitchen; add a porch to the back door; do a loft conversion........ and tidy up the garden.  Husband and his father are putting in fence posts at the moment but meanwhile the 'lawn extension' (where the pond used to be and where there is a border I need to dig up and transplant) and the rear garden are a complete mess.  And Husband reckons the garden isn't looking too bad....  I guess it's an improvement in many ways, especially at the front, on what was there before (overgrown shrubs), but even so I can see lots more to do.  A cool £250,000 would do it and then I could design and project-manage rather than getting my own hands dirty (and it would take a lot less time as well).  One day... little by little....

I have burbled on about tidiness, cleanliness and men without getting to my real point.  Which is that, for me, there is a whole feminism angle to this.  I don't consider myself a strident feminist but on the other hand I have always been quite sensitive to times when I feel slighted or looked down upon because I'm a woman, and it makes me really angry.  Partly it's because I'm one of those people who, when she is sure of her own opinion, can't see why others can't see it's the most sensible option (and I have to say there have been many times when managers - men - senior to me have been given my opinion, ignored it, only to then take exactly the action I have proposed later on).  I did an interesting pyschometric test some years ago, related to NLP I think, which showed I was 'yellow' 'orange' and 'green' and which highlighted exactly that: that if I feel strongly about something I don't see why others can't see it's the best option.  The 'green' was an awareness of environment and of others however, so I'm not (I hope) completely self-centred.  I wish I could find another copy of the test as it was one of those very subtle tests which it's difficult to 'cheat' at (or difficult to pre-empt the answers to) and it also helps one to understand how others function: Husband I think is 'blue' which is quite traditional and clannish.

So on one level I know I'm intelligent and have good ideas: what frustrates me is when men (as it generally is) fail to see that, and more particularly when I feel as if I'm being treated as somehow inferior (particularly intellectually).  I have to say that one exception was my boss at British Waterways, who I always felt gave me the leeway to be expert in my own area, and who was never afraid of being challenged about something.  Perhaps the fact that he had a wife who worked full-time and who was something senior in HR made him that way: he was one of the best bosses I ever had.

It would be interesting to know whether other women feel the same way: it's difficult, and not encouraged in the UK, to be big-headed enough to say 'yes, I'm intelligent - I'm a damn sight more intelligent than a lot of the men out there - so treat me as an equal.  Why should I do housework, other than because from a personal satisfaction point of view I like a clean and uncluttered house?  And why should the fact that I can also bear children make me any less intelligent or any less capable of performing well within a job?'. 

I find it curious that I had a stay-at-home 'little wife' type mother and yet grew up, ultimately, to have such different expectations: I think it was the realisation that the full-time mother role just would not suit me intellectually nor personally which perhaps has motivated me, at the same time as the realisation that I did not want to be like her.  Having children has created a greater tension as I want to spend quality time with my children - and have the energy to do so - and I want a nice house for the family, but at the same time I want my own life as well: and I do not feel one should have children if they are just going to be farmed out to other carers.  After all, they can benefit from my experience and intelligence.  My brain being naturally active and curious is perhaps one reason why, since being unemployed, I have spent a lot of time reading quite factually-based books and thinking and writing: but even when I worked it was courses which got my brain sparked off into a heap of new ideas.  I would sit in a course jotting down ideas which had been stimulated by the talk, some only indirectly related to what I was meant to be studying.

The trouble is, of course, that this all comes down to a personal level with Husband and hence, sometimes, arguments.  He is younger than me: therefore has not reached the same level career-wise.  He appears less confident of his own abilities, job-wise, than I am of mine, despite the fact that he is a far more self-assured person than I am: in many ways when it comes to his career he is quite self-deprecating and I think constantly undersells himself.  He also had far less capital than me (and I know of other women who have put a large chunk of capital into a joint home) so in reality I could be said to have bought the largest share of our home: which is a horrible thing to say as 'what's mine is his' but is something which gets raised every-so-often.  Apparently I was quite horrible to him when I was working full-time while he was at home with the children for 6 months.  I can understand that and I fully accept that it was rotten of me: but on the other hand I also don't remember him doing much housework.  Housewives complain about men earning money and then turning round and saying 'but what have you done all day while I've been slaving away at the office?': as major income-earner or provider you do tend to feel a certain sense of superiority (rightly or wrongly): when you then have to come home and do cleaning as well it rapidly turns to resentment.

I see no reason why women shouldn't be on a truly equal footing with men and why both partners shouldn't be able to spend quality time with their children as well.  Roll on the day when plenty of senior level jobs are readily available on a part-time basis: when employers accept that part-time workers are equally as committed as full-time ones (in fact I think if you allow people time to go off and do the other things they want to do, such as courses or child-care or (say) writing poetry, then you have a more fulfilled and motivated workforce).  And at that point if both partners are working part-time perhaps they will both share equally in the household duties. 

And roll on the day - which I think will occur at about the same time - when men accept that women do not lose their brains just because they are pregnant or have children.

Monday, 25 October 2010


I was hoping all weekend that I was not going to go down with the cold that my son seemed to have: and I kept telling myself that even if I had a bit of a cold it wasn't making any difference to how I felt.  But I felt tired, especially yesterday, and also had a bit of a sore throat.... I was falling asleep over my book at 9.30p.m. last night.

I woke up this morning feeling worse and feeling very sorry for myself.  I feel sicker than normal, which I assume is just because I'm bunged up.  Whilst eating was the last thing I felt like doing it did seem to help.  I don't feel like doing anything very much, my stomach is aching again (coughing feels as if it's squashing the baby) and my voice is croaky: just as I was thinking I really should do some singing practice because I hadn't for a few days.

I'm generally feeling very sorry for myself and worried about the baby (who is squirming a little as I write but who hasn't been particularly active today).  These stinging pains I get in my upper stomach are probably just the baby pushing against me somewhere painful, or ligaments, or something, but I fear the worst: especially as I'm feeling a bit grotty anyway.  I'm half tempted to phone the midwives in the morning but I'm not sure.

Part of me thinks I should pull myself together and go for a good long walk in the fresh air: another part of me just wants to curl up in bed and go to sleep.  I don't think I can even be bothered to have a bath at the moment: our bath looks lovely but isn't in fact the most comfortable in the world (and also Husband has left dirty footprints in it from his post-run bath).  Having said that I do still have some of the Lush stuff which Husband bought me for my birthday...

Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe just now I'll put my pyjamas on and go to bed!

Thursday, 21 October 2010


I signed on for the last time at Carlisle Job Centre yesterday, having decided to register as self-employed for a few weeks at least.

I walked out feeling the similar sort of optimistic sensation as when leaving a job: it felt like a new start and for some reason I am more optimistic than ever that some of my writing is going to pay off shortly.  I have about £500 to last me until I apply for Maternity Allowance (if I get it: as far as I can tell I am entitled to it, having worked 26 weeks out of the 66 before the due date), which I'm going to apply for from the beginning of December.  Fingers crossed!

It helped that the man I saw was nice: and he said how hard it seems that one only gets contribution-based JSA for 6 months when one has paid a lot into the system.  Apparently he was in a similar situation, having paid contributions for 33 years.  He also said that I always did far more in terms of job-seeking than a lot of people and seemed to be making better progress than most as well: and warmly wished me luck.  So that helped me to leave on a positive note.  I am just so glad that I don't have to go back there again: there was someone standing behind me in the queue yesterday with that unwashed, homeless sort of smell, which makes my stomach churn.

The £500 I have left isn't real money: it's just money which we owe to Husband's brother and which he's said we don't need to pay back yet. As we're also owed about £1,000 from the Tax Credits people (who are useless: they have now received a letter of complaint from us: how can you ask people to pay back an overpayment which you have agreed, in writing, is your fault?) and I'm hoping that I'll get the money for 'selling my story' in January then we should be OK to pay him back and pay my National Insurance contributions for a few months, plus the winter utilities bills: oh, and we have 3 very expensive bottles of wine to sell. 

In relation to utilities, we're awaiting a call to install some more loft insulation, mostly funded by a grant from the City Council, so with any luck that will reduce our bills this year.  Apparently the geese are over from Siberia early which could mean a good cold winter for us: we're hoping for a month of snow like we had last year (so long as I can still get into hospital to give birth....)!  We've also appealed against our Council Tax assessment and should hear about that soon: it seems our Council Tax wasn't reassessed when a large part of what used to be this house's garden, plus the double garage, were sold off.

It looks as if Husband's job situation may not be as dire as he had at first thought, but as we know that we'd be better off on benefits if he gets any drop in salary and that potentially he may be able to get a job in Aberdeen paying quite a bit more, we're not worrying at the moment.  Every-so-often one of his pet phrases goes through my head though: 'a complete lack of looking reality in the face' (or similar).  We both tend to swan through life without thinking things through very much.  I'm more of a worrier than he is by far, but it hasn't stopped me making some relatively rash decisions in my life.  But often these apparent risks have in fact paid off: if not immediately then after a while. 

The first time I was told I had 'an obstinate rashness' was by an English teacher at school.  In my mock 'A' level English exam I answered a question on Webster's The White Devil. I didn't like the questions on Sheridan's School for Scandal and The Rivals, nor was I very fond of them as plays, and despite the fact that she had told us quite firmly that we didn't know the Webster well enough to answer a question on it, I did so anyway.  The teacher's attempt at being annoyed with me for being disobedient was tempered by the fact that she said I'd done a rather good answer.  I think it was one of the occasions which has given me the confidence to try things I've been told not to, ever since.  My Dad told me not to throw in a well-paid and secure job to go to work as a holiday rep.: did I listen to him?  Well, I ended up in France in 1994 and Norway in 1995, and don't regret it for a moment.

I guess coming off the pill in January, albeit that on a conscious level I was convinced I wouldn't - or couldn't - get pregnant was a similarly rash decision, especially when one or two people had pointed out that I must be pretty fertile to have got pregnant so easily earlier in my 40s.  I think a part of my sub-consciousness just wanted to see what would happen, much as I dreaded having loads of miscarriages: it seemed a silly, risky thing to try for a third baby deliberately but if nature decided it was right then we'd go along with it.

We currently have no capital to speak of and a household income which is slightly less than that which the Chancellor is going to set as the level for households on benefits.  But we feel happy and optimistic.  Things will get better and money always comes from somewhere (it's just we spend it when it does: after all I have relatively recently had inheritance and redundancy and got through both, although I did think I'd have a new job by now!).  There are jobs out there, but most importantly our children, my Husband and I are healthy: and despite being a bit on the small side, the baby seems to be as well.  He's wriggling quite a bit and his heartbeat is strong.  I'm beginning to get very curious to meet him to see what he looks like and discover what he's like in character!

Next week I'm to be featured in Carlisle Living: I have to say I wasn't sure about having a photograph of me sideways on holding my fat stomach, but I guess that's the point of the story.  And I'm waiting to hear back from the journalist who has written my story up for Woman magazine.  Meanwhile I'd better chase up some editors myself.  And, thank goodness, no more silly job hunts via hooray!

Saturday, 16 October 2010


I am ashamed of myself.  I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I had read a book about Guernica, and how ignorant I was about the Spanish Civil War: I followed that up by reading Guerra by Jason Webster, an autobiographical account of living in Spain today and travelling round to find out more about that war and about its lingering - but largely silent - effects.  I can highly recommend it, and as soon as I get into Carlisle I now have a 'proper' history book to pick up from the library about the war.

Not long prior to that I read a book about Afghanistan: my fear is that whilst that novel ends on an optimistic note, things may not be much better now in certain parts of that country.

I was then lent a book about the Nigerian-Biafran war, which I have not quite finished reading.  This war occurred within my lifetime.  I knew Nigeria was a troubled country: I knew that my in-laws were living out there in the late 1960s and that they rescued their houseboy (I wonder now how long he was safe for, and where they took him: was he Igbo?) - but otherwise again I have grown up in ignorance.  I worked with a lovely Nigerian man, Tunde, at Brent Council: but never thought to ask him why his family made the decision to leave their homeland.

The book, Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is set in the 1960s and about a fairly small group of people: it largely centres around a pair of twin sisters and their immediate families (in the case of one of them, a white British man).  There are parallels with Guernica: the story focuses on a happy family affected by events on a far larger scale than they can control or even necessarily fully understand.  Racial tensions - and the omniprescent religious differences which seem to go hand in hand with them, wherever you look in the world - and economic forces again cause the war in the same way that in Guernica the Basques want independence and see themselves as separate from the rest of Spain (and in Guerra you are given the clear impression that Spain is in fact a collection of racially-distinguished kingdoms, and also the economic state of Spain at the time is more obvious, and why and how Franco obtained the power he did).

Obviously I had heard the term 'biafra' and knew it was connected with starvation, but little had I appreciated what was going on in that part of Africa in the late 1960s.  The book states that the British are sending arms to the Federal government: reading articles in the press (a BBC piece about Biafra/Nigeria 30 years on in 2000, and an archive article from The Times written 10 months into the conflict), it is clear that we did send the Federal government arms, the Foreign Secretary of the time stating that he agonised over the decision and made the one he did because he felt a unified Nigeria was needed; the Biafrans grew to hate the British and it makes me wonder if they still do.  How could we, as a nation, have been unaware of the bloodbath that occurred in Biafra?  Similarly we stayed out of the Spanish Civil War....

Whenever I read a novel about a war I tend to approach it from a position of some scepticism: the author is, to a certain extent, bound to be biased.  You expect that as in many ways that makes a better story than something well-reasoned and rational (and don't journalists do that every day, making mountains out of molehills very often: for example the possibility of doing away with free parking in Carlisle: hardly a life and death situation).  However what saddens me is that going away and looking at the historical accounts, all too often it is clear that the most awful atrocities and hideous, senseless, loss of life does occur.

I am not, thank goodness, a politician: decisions about whether or not to step into conflicts must be tremendously difficult to take.  But as a human being I am shocked again and again at how obscenely violent man can be to man.  We have such beauty in us as humans, and can be so supportive and loving of each other: and yet we have this cruel streak as well which creates things like massacres, wide-scale rape, and concentration camps: just because someone has different beliefs from us or comes from a different blood-line.  Yes, partly it's a natural, self-defence thing: survival of the fittest.  But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could learn to negotiate and to compromise rather than to fight?

Thursday, 14 October 2010


I felt low again when I woke up this morning.  I guess yet another very disturbed night's sleep hadn't helped; nor the fact that both children had wet their beds in the night and were in with me, and that therefore the washing pile seems to have doubled or tripled in size overnight.  I'm also concentrating hard on the baby moving - including when I wake at night - as having been measured as 'small for dates' I'm getting a bit paranoid, despite the fact that both the other two were also relatively small, but perfectly healthy, babies.  In fact I don't even think they were small at 7lb 9 and 7lb 8, but they'd be at the bottom end of the scale on the growth chart: and Daughter is still only 9th centile!

I think what I'm most worried about is money and it's been sparked off yet again by several bits of freelance work which I had hoped to get not yet having materialised, and by Husband's reverting to saying he should perhaps be looking for work in Aberdeen.  When I was interviewed for Carlisle Living earlier this week they asked me what got me down the most, and I answered 'lack of money'.  Sometimes it's a perceived lack of money, for example, when I was working, just before pay day: now it's the scarey fact that I may well have no income in 4 days' time, other than the Child Benefit (i.e. £123 every four weeks).

I felt so low I knew that sitting around on my own was a bad idea, and I sent texts to a couple of friends to see if anyone would come out for a coffee with me this morning.  I missed aqua aerobics but lovely, lovely Running Friend A. and I had a good gas at Off the Wall in Brampton (and because I hadn't had breakfast I had a ham and cheese toastie, which was lovely but means I still haven't tried their gorgeous-looking cakes).

Running Friend A. always gives the appearance of being cheerful - and I'm a little envious that she always has the most lovely photos of herself on Facebook - and yet I know that she has her lows as well.  She has every right to as at a very young age (mid-30s) she's going through the menopause, it appears.  I think every woman, however positive they are and however many children they already have, must feel a sadness about not being able to produce a new life any more: certainly if they are the maternal type who always wanted children (I am happy to say that A. has 3 gorgeous, lovely girls and if my children turn out as nice as hers are turning out I shall feel I've done OK).

So we sat and chatted about everything: her hospital appointments, running, training generally, children - and husbands working away.  Hers regularly works away from home a couple of nights a week and in fact she said that the house is tidier and the children are better behaved when he's away: and I know he's a great, hands-on Dad who has a good relationship with his daughters.  Certainly one of the Mums at school, whose husband works in Chester, has said more or less the same thing: and when my Husband has been away from time to time somehow life - and the house - have seemed more organised.  Certainly it would be one less person to tidy up after, and one less set of washing, but.......

I don't really want Husband to work away.  I would miss him dreadfully.  Lots of families do it and survive but I'm used to having him around.  I think I'm worried on a few fronts:  a) it would limit my work options if I was stuck at home full-time with a baby, though I could write while Baby slept;  b) I still wouldn't be earning my own income (unless some of my freelance ideas come off);  c) will it harm my relationship with my Husband or the children's relationship with their Dad?

I said to Husband last night that I think it's easier for the person who is away - he or she can go back to having a sort of single lifestyle during the week - but he said 'what, and that's preferable to being with the children?'.  Well, actually, sometimes it might be.....  I'm afraid I'm not a good full-time Mum and one of the great things since moving up to Cumbria has been that I've managed to work (and let's face it, even though I'm not officially working at the moment, I'm putting a lot of time into job-hunting, writing articles, trying to build up a freelance career....) and also pick up my singing again and get fitter.  In fact I'm sure I mentioned in this blog very early on, just before I found out that I was pregnant, how satisfied I was and how I felt I was getting my own life back!  When Son and Daughter were younger and I was working full-time, it was me who spent nights away from home - for work - not Husband.  As he rightly says, in some ways I'd be better suited to working away than he would.  Am I going to feel very resentful if he works away in Aberdeen and goes running and climbing and out socialising with friends he has up there and with his brother?

Meeting Husband and having children changed my life completely - in fact I would say I didn't fully realise how much until recently - but I wouldn't turn back the clock, and the children are only little for such a short space of time.  I don't want to work full-time and be away from them for days and nights on end, and the idea of a freelance lifestyle when I'm not being managed by some idiot I have no respect for really appeals.  The worst case scenario would be if Husband and I both worked full-time and the older children had to be in breakfast club and after school club, and the Baby in nursery, every day. 

We have a lovely and very fulfilling life here: I just want some income of my own.  If Husband works away in Aberdeen how long will it take before he manages to get a job back in Cumbria, albeit that I think the slight change of direction if he moves to Aberdeen for work might give him some useful and broader experience than he currently has?

I think one thing we're resolved on is that we don't want to move away from Cumbria completely, although we have thought about it from time to time: I'm sure there are schools just as good as Hayton, but both children are happy there and we're happy with the school.  As they say, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.  It was maybe an 'omen' this morning that when I went into Reception the teacher said that whilst she doesn't like testing her class, she's going to do a Year One reading test on Daughter to see exactly what her reading age is, as she's storming through books like nobody's business (I'd be interested to know whether they can do something similar with numeracy as well).  I don't think every school would bother to try to pay such individual attention to one child in a class of 29: but I'm also really impressed by the level of 'pastoral' care the children get as well.  As the Ofsted report said, it's a school which produces confident well-rounded children, and that surely is one of the biggest success factors a parent can ask for.

I must stop rambling and being emotional.  I know things will get better: in the last recession I chose to chuck in a well-paid job and go off to be a holiday rep. for several months.  When I returned to the UK I was earning considerably less for about a year and a half, and then was in a job I hated and which wasn't much better paid for a  year.  But after that I got a job which paid considerably more, I bought my flat, and from there everything went upwards.  I'm sure something similar will happen this time: and let's face it life can't be plain sailing all the time.  If my children, my Husband and I and this baby are healthy and can afford to eat and to keep a roof over our heads, we don't really have much else to worry about, frustrating though it may be to have to think about what money we're spending.  And if Husband spends a couple of years working in Aberdeen to make things a little easier for us, then I'm sure we'll survive.  He'll need to spend a lot of time with Baby when he's at home at weekends though: I don't think it's good Fathers being away from their babies.

To end on a positive note: I reread some articles I wrote a few years ago this morning.  I can write: I enjoyed reading them (and a magazine editor also said I wrote well).  I just need to perservere, not give up too soon, and find an angle that every other would-be writer isn't covering.  What's the motto from Les Visiteurs? That's it - toil, toil, never recoil (except I can't remember what it is in French, or Latin).

I'm off to have some soup and then into school for 'Family SEAL'........

Saturday, 9 October 2010


I shouldn't read this book on the loo - I always run out of enough fingers to mark all the pages I want to! 

My thoughts today were directed towards the children.  I have resolved to spend more time holding baby no.3 and not worrying about housework etc.: I also often recall advice I was given when I was pregnant with Son, which was 'they're little for a very short time: spend time with them'.  I try to do so, but I am aware that it's very easy to think that you really should first just get on with the washing up, clothes washing, hanging washing up, sorting it out, cleaning the bathrooms, making the beds, hoovering.... especially for someone like me who hates clutter and untidiness.  But what, really, is the priority?

I am conscious that every-so-often I need to think 'forget it: have some time with the children'.  So here are some thoughts along those lines from people who express it far better than me, and also some stanzas about bringing children up, which tally with how I aspire to bring my children up.

from Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Noble

.........If a child lives with encouragement
he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise
he learns to appreciate.........

.......If a child lives with approval
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance
and friendship he learns to
find love in the world.

Don't know who wrote this next thought:
I hope that my child,
looking back on today
Remembers a mother
who had time to play
Children grow up
while you're not looking,
There'll be years ahead
for cleaning and cooking
So quiet now, cobwebs;
dust go to sleep
I'm rocking my baby,
and babies don't keep.

Cats in the Cradle by Guns 'n' Roses
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it
And as he grew he'd say
I'm gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I'm gonna be like you.

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball,
Dad.  Come on, let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today.  I got a lot to do."
He said, "That's okay."
And then he walked away but his smile
never dimmed and he said,
"I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

I've long since retired, my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you, if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new job's a hassle and
the kids have the flu,
But it's been sure nice talkin' to you, Dad,
it's been sure nice talkin' to you".
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And sometimes it's not only our children we need to put tasks to one side for, but also our partners.....

Friday, 8 October 2010


Today dawned dark.  That sounds like a contradiction in terms as dawn is necessarily when light starts appearing: but I'm sure you'll understand what I mean.  There are days when it just isn't as light as it was the day before at the same time and of course it's usually because the weather isn't that great.

Driving back from dropping the children at school I could see a band of what looked like rain clouds, just over Scotland to the north: sitting in Jacobites (where I treated myself to a cappuccino and a bacon sandwich: then, because I was engrossed in my current book, a second cappuccino which was a big mistake as I felt very sick when I got home) the greyness didn't lift but neither did the rain arrive.  It's windy though, so I'm sure some sort of change is on the way.

It's such a stark contrast to yesterday, when all the radio presenters were talking about an Indian summer and about the glorious weather we had lasting until the weekend.  There's a lovely-sounding walk in aid of Macmillan Cancer care on Saturday at Grasmere/Rydal Water so I hope it's glorious sunny weather again for them.  Getting back to the car after our walk it was 19.5C!

I met up with Friend L.-who-I-used-to-work-with (henceforth to be called Friend L. or Friend L. and dogs) and one of her dogs, Ruby, for a walk.  We met at Spout Force Walk car park and headed up into Whinlatter.  The sun shone down, the sky was a wonderful bright autumnal blue and before long we were carrying our coats and still warm in tee-shirts and tops, looking cool in sunglasses (what is it about sunglasses that makes a person look cool?  Is it the enigmatic way they hide your eyes?  However I did see a guy in sunglasses in the middle of Carlisle on quite a dull day last week and he didn't look cool or enigmatic but just rather silly, as if he was trying too hard).

We walked for about 3 and a half hours: we had intended to go up to Lord's Seat and back, a circular route: unfortunately I hadn't anticipated how slow I would be going up hills, and whilst none of the hills is particularly big this was definitely an undulating walk.  It will be a fantastic run once I'm back to running, as it's mostly on forest trails and tracks and the scenery changes from valleys with little hillside streams and minature waterfalls to open areas where the Forestry Commission has been logging, to narrower tracks running through heather.  At one point spiders had been busy knitting the most intricate multi-layered cobwebs on to the heather bushes (I wish I'd taken a photo now): not just any old flat, almost 2-dimensional cobweb, but three-dimensional ones with depth as well as breadth.

We didn't quite get as far as seeing Bassenthwaite (my favourite of all the lakes, I think: at least the one in which I most want to swim) but we could see over to Skiddaw, with tiny delicate clouds hovering around its top.  Unfortunately by this point we were running out of time to get back, have lunch and then for me to fetch the children from school, so we took a few photos and then retraced our steps to the cars.  I had had a meeting with a guy about teaching aerobics the day before: who am I trying to kid?!  Especially as my aerobics routine is pretty energetic.  Funny how you miss different things with different pregnancies: when I was pregnant with Son No.1 I wanted to be able to wear jeans again: with Daughter I wanted a gin and tonic: this time I'm really keen to get back into running, aerobics and so forth.  I miss being able to run on the trails and up the hills and hate feeling slow and, at times, a bit breathless: it seems so abnormal.  Husband said it would make me appreciate how asthmatics feel: and it's made me sympathise with London & Northumberland-Friend C's Husband who is now on oxygen and even so still walks really slowly.  It's so good to be able to run whenever you want to, and to jump around for joy and so hideous when your body seems to be rebelling against you.  My slowness and occasional breathlessness is minor and transient: it must be terrible to have it growing worse and worse and to know that it's never going to go away.

Friend L. took a photo of me which I really like, and so will include here, but as it's from the front rather than a side view you can't tell quite how pregnant I am.  The scenery had opened out by this point, getting on for the top: and spot the bright pink Oakleys which Husband bought for me for my birthday last year.  I'm carrying a notebook as I was going to make notes of the route and write it up, but I was enjoying walking and chatting too much to do so.

Friend L, Ruby-the-dog and I then went to the Whinlatter Visitor Centre for lunch.  What's good is that you can pay by the hour in their car park whereas at Grizedale you pay for a half day or a whole day: a real pain if you don't have either the right money or enough change.  We agreed, as we sat out on the balcony in the sun skiing-holiday-style, that Siskins cafe at Whinlatter is reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of food you get.  There isn't a huge menu as it's nearly all sandwiches and soup (and cake) but what you get is good.  I still felt full when I went out yesterday evening, though it's not difficult to feel full at the moment with a baby taking up a large proportion of my stomach as well.

Driving home the A66 was closed and it wasn't totally clear why: just as I got on to it two Chinook military helicopters flew overhead quite low, which was a little alarming: I'm not sure whether it was anything to do with the road closure or not, which Friend L. later told me was due to an accident between a car and a motorbike.  I hope everyone was OK.  It meant I was 10 minutes late picking the children up from school, but fortunately that didn't seem to have bothered them.

Talking of school I have to brag a bit.  Son had his reading age assessed at the beginning of term and has shot up from 6.3 to 9.3.  I think the teachers were surprised: I knew he was reading really well but to hear it 'in black and white' like that, as it were, was stunning, and I feel very, very proud of him.  Apparently his numeracy is good too, which is a relief as at home sometimes it's quite a battle to get him to do his times tables and so forth.  He seems however to have grown up a bit this term and whilst he complained that it was all work and no play this year initially, I think it's actually doing him good.  It can be quite funny how he tries to reason with Daughter at times and to be rational when she's at her most emotional and irrational.

Having seen Son's form teachers I then had a chat with Daughter's, whose first comment was 'she's a little darling'.  Is she talking about the same child?!  Yes, of course she is: Daughter is adorable and charming and fortunately saves her paddies and bad temper for home.

Having been out in the fresh air much of the day yesterday, I then went out to Tullie House in the evening for a talk entitled 'A Walk through the Axis of Evil'.  The middle eastern meal prior to the talk was not, I'm afraid to say, worth the £8.50 we each had to pay for it: but the talk was worth every penny of the £8 that cost.  John Pilkington showed us photos of historic buildings, innovative ways of irrigation, and stunning scenery from mountains to a desert which was, as he said, 'just how a desert should be'.  He did a lot to dispel the myths of the middle east being a hotbed of violence and fighting and anti-western feeling: although having said that he steered clear of the southern regions of Iraq such as Basra and Baghdad, understandably.  The talk and questions must have lasted about two hours but it passed all too quickly and was fascinating.  He mentioned that he wants to go back before long and to go to Afghanistan as well, and having recently read a book about Afghanistan, I shall look forward to Tullie House's booking him up to talk about that (but will avoid any food!).

I rolled home far later than I had anticipated and then spent some quality time chatting with Husband.  As a result I'm a little tired today, but yesterday was a lovely day and the slight amount of tiredness I feel is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


My mother has always said I am generous: but it takes no effort to be generous when you can easily afford it, does it?   Real generosity is giving something when you have little in the way of material possessions or money but you still manage to give someone something he or she needs, or really appreciates.

Good Friend C., with whom I had lunch in Newcastle, said I'd always liked quite a champagne lifestyle, and she's right.  I love shopping for things and I love possesions and the items that money can buy: since having the children I have really missed holidays abroad, and going skiing this year was a real treat.  But as I said earlier today in this blog, when you have less to spend then somehow the list of things you think you'd like shrinks.  When I was single and living in my flat in Watford, with an extremely small mortgage, I felt rich.  I did ultimately become happy as well, and I liked spending my money on myself as well as on my friends: but I don't think I've been any less happy the last six months or so and I somehow doubt that I'll be less happy over the forthcoming months when my income is likely to be less still. In fact compared with the job I was in until April, I'm a lot happier.

I'm sure I'll still get worried about lack of money from time to time, but so long as the mortgage and bills are covered and we can eat and pay for things the children need like shoes and school uniform, we'll be fine.

What has particularly brought these thoughts to the fore today is that at choir tonight my lovely, lovely Dutch friend gave me a secondhand baby buggy and car seat.  She could have sold them and got some ,much-needed money for herself: instead, generous and supportive human being that she is, she gave them to me.  The same applies to R-down-the-road: I have had stacks of lovely baby clothes and a baby bath and a bouncy seat from her, and again she wanted nothing in return.  I have in fact just given her a car seat and a bottle of wine, and I hope I can find something that my Dutch friend wants or needs (I wish I could find some work for her).  I shall endeavour to keep everything nice so that when I've finished with all these baby items I can give them back to them so that they can still sell them, if they want to, or so that I can hand them on to someone else.  I've given loads of baby and children clothes away over the years but I never needed the money: these two women have given when they could have used the money themselves.  That's real generosity.

I don't want to sound too slushy and over the top, but I think this is what fundamentally matters in life: friendship and sharing.  I feel that at the moment I have only my brain, my voice and my time to offer people: but if that can help them then I shall give it.  I would love to be well-off again some day and be able to give the children loads of experiences like skiing and going to Greece and France and so forth, and I'm sure we shall be in that situation again at some point: but meantime they are surrounded by lovely loving people and actually they lack very little, if anything.  It was interesting that when Husband gave them the choice, they said they'd prefer to have him living here and earning less - i.e. fewer toys - rather than living in Aberdeen during the week with more money and toys.

It's all obvious, really, isn't it: but sometimes I forget what matters, and get too bothered about possessions.  There are plenty of people worse off than us: at least we have a small mortgage.  As my Dutch friend said, if she had to choose between poverty and freedom she knew which she'd choose: and she's quite right.  Not that we're poor.

One of life's lessons which I jolly well should know by now was reiterated to me again today, loudly and clearly.  We've had the spendthrift party time for now: let's enjoy the less consumer-driven time just as much, and start to appreciate what is really important in life.  I'm sure there are people out there to whom I haven't been generous in the past, despite previously having the time and money, and I apologise.


Raining this morning - sunny this afternoon!

After last week's low, this week I'm back in optimistic mode.  I emailed a running magazine with some article ideas and they think they may be a go-er: so fingers crossed.  I am also trying to sell my story (the one about being old and pregnant) and it's looking promising: not a lot of dosh, but enough to be a bit of a bonus. I'm also awaiting feedback on two part-time job applications, which would at least give me some base income.  One is in Waterstones, who I've long fancied working for: I'd love to be able to write some of those book reviews they put on their shelves and be surrounded by books all day (though I wonder how much work I'd get done.  I can just see the scenario: a quiet time in the shop so I have my nose in a book: a customer comes up and I don't even hear him or her....).

Meanwhile people have been incredibly kind and we have been given lots of stuff for the baby, as I think I've previously mentioned.  The only thing left to get is a car seat and buggy/travel system.  I think we could have a car seat which didn't fit into the buggy, but I do ideally want a buggy which is also a carry cot, and which the baby can sleep in, especially when he's tiny.  Like an idiot I completely forgot to go to the NCT sale in Penrith on Saturday, despite having been reminded about it that morning.  But then I forgot the date of my own wedding anniversary not so long ago, thinking it was 26th rather than 27th August.  I'm not sure whether it's pregnancy or old age.  I had the bright idea, I thought, though of asking my parents for a contribution instead of David and me having christmas presents this year.  After all there's not really a lot we want: I'd like the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Music and a music stand but I can do without other things on my wish list.  In fact I haven't really thought much about a wish list recently: I guess if you know you don't have money to spend then there's no point thinking of things you'd like to spend it on.

The baby's been quite wriggly recently: sometimes quite firmly so.  I'm waiting for a particularly firmly wriggly day to let the children feel him kicking.  Meanwhile it's off to the midwife tomorrow to get a blood test done for my platelets, and then the hospital on Monday - I wonder if I'll get another scan?!  Somehow I doubt it.

Son came home from school enthusing about Drama yesterday: he'd had a taster session at school and loved it.  Husband had been suggesting tae kwon do and judo and karate, I'd suggested otters, choir and tennis: none were popular ideas but he's chosen drama of his own accord, so I hope we can stretch to some classes for him.  Despite the fact that he's less obviously extrovert and noisy than Daughter, we've always thought there was an element of the stand-up comedian in him, so who knows!  If nothing else it's good for self-confidence: I've always been glad that I did lots of public speaking and was in plays and so forth, right from primary school onwards.

Glorious autumnal weather now and I can see leaves just turning a flaming orange outside my study window.  As I'm going for a walk with Friend-L-I-used-to-work-with on Thursday, I hope it will be as beautiful then.  Cumbria looks its best in the spring, autumn and winter, I think: the colours and shadows are far more interesting than in the summer.  In spring everything is bursting into new life and optimistic: now, in autumn, everything is turning golden and red ready to huddle up under a good old blanket of white snow when winter arrives, and for me there's a sense of wanting to cuddle together around a cosy fire as the nights draw in and the temperature begins to drop.  A month or so and there may be snow on the highest hilltops: the children and I are hoping for a month of snow, like we had earlier this year: though not so that it stops me getting to hospital to give birth, I hope!

Friday, 1 October 2010


Went out for a drink with Brampton Friend N. last night, at the Howard Arms.  It was great to see her and have a chat: it struck me when I got home that just before I went to University and while I was there, I had always hoped I'd have the sort of partly intellectual chat we had last night, only to find University a bit lacking in that respect.  At least I'm making up for it now at times (I remember a conversation about history with two science graduates: they were as lost with history as I would be with science).  It's a pity the book group hasn't taken off as I like the idea of being able to discuss books once in a while: but I can always review them here and if anyone is so inspired they can comment or debate.

Long-time Friend C.S. and I have been emailing quite a bit recently as well, which is great: both of us are at a crossroads career-wise.  She's thinking of training to be a music therapist: personally I think she should go ahead and do so, as she'll always wonder about it otherwise.  She said you have to be an excellent musician, but I'm sure she's good enough: especially judging by the standard of the music therapy charity up here, which is good but not what I'd consider to be 'excellent' musically.  Surely it's more about getting people to experience music, either by participating or by listening?  It shouldn't be a highbrow 'you're not good enough' type of thing.

I rushed home last night as I was about an hour later back than I had told Husband I would be.  By the time I got home the upper part of my stomach/pregnancy lump was really tight and painful.  Yet another worry!  I was pretty despondent earlier in the week - but didn't have time to have a good old negative moan here - as my platelets have dropped to about 99 and so I've got extra midwife and Doctors appointments next week and early the week after: it wouldn't surprise me if the platelets had gone up again in the next blood test results, but I'm grateful they're taking good care of me.  I did wake in the night worried that I was going to die of blood loss in childbirth however.  It was partly sparked by Husband's saying 'well, don't go and die and leave me with 3 children to bring up'.  I'm sure things would have to go seriously wrong for me to die, and they'd have to fail to give me a blood transfusion or something.

I was also feeling fairly despondent about money: I think once I've finished on Contribution-Based Job Seeker's Allowance I'll have no income, as 'the system' will consider Husband's income enough to cover all our outgoings (ha!).  I think I will probably have just about used up my redundancy payment too... if I could only get a couple of weeks of paid work, I'd be able to then go off on maternity leave - if it was a permanent job, or if I was self-employed - and claim maternity allowance.  There's still time to sort something out. Otherwise we're just going to have to be incredibly careful until I get a new job. 

Am I being selfish trying to follow the 'creative and media' route?  I think probably not as I'm trying to get surveying work as well - I'm chasing down both prey - I think one of the big problems with surveying jobs at the moment is  a) the fact that I only want part-time   b) being pregnant.  I don't think either Husband or I want me to work full-time once the baby arrives as we've always felt full-time childcare was unfair on the children: but we'll just have to see what comes up.  I mustn't stop being optimistic.

Meanwhile I haven't felt the baby move much today, but then Daughter's been home from school so maybe I just haven't noticed.  Another niggling worry though.  With any luck he'll start wriggling like mad just as I'm trying to go to sleep!

The children are still not in bed so I shall go down and see if they're still awake and watching Tinkerbell with Husband, or if they've fallen asleep in front of the TV.  I hope the latter, and if so I shall go to bed myself. 

I WILL be a success!  Everything will come out fine in the end (and we're not as badly off as many people anyway: though the fact that if we were both on benefits we'd be better off is rather sickening).