Wednesday, 14 December 2011


I first came across this poem at school and have always loved it: I think it should be more widely known!

How to paint a perfect Christmas
- by Miroslav Holub

Above, you paint the sky
delicate as maidenhair.
Below, pour a little darkness
heated to room temperature
or slightly more.

With a cat's claw in the dark
scratch out a little tree,
the finest tree in the world,
finer than any forester
could ever imagine.

And the tree itself
will light up
and the whole picture purr
with green joy,
with purple hope.

Right. But now you must
put under the tree
real big thing,
the thing you most want in the world;
the thing pop-singers
call happiness.

It's easy enough for a cat,
a cat will put a mouse there,
Colonel Blimp will line up
the largest jet-propelled halberd
which shoots and bangs and salutes,
a sparrow will gather
a few stalks for its nest,
mister junior clerk will submit
a stuffed file tied with red tape,
a butterfly will put there
a new rubber peacock's eye,
but what will you put there?

You think and think
till the day grows grey,
till the river almost runs out,
till even the bulbs begin to yawn,
you think

and finally

there in the darkness you blot out
a hazy white spot,
a bit like a florin,
a bit like a ship,
a bit like the Moon,
a bit like the beautiful face
of someone (who?) else,

a hazy white spot,
perhaps more like emptiness,
like the negation of something,
like non-pain,
like non-fear,
like non-worry,

a hazy white spot,
and you go to bed
and say to yourself,
yes, now I know how to do it,
yes, now I know
next time I shall paint
the most perfect Christmas
that ever was.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


It's still only 8.30pm and the children have ALL been in bed asleep for about and hour and a half... it feels very strange, especially as I didn't have anything in particular that I felt I had to do this evening having sung lots recently and put one load of washing in the dishwasher and one lot in the washing machine....

How did it happen?!

Edward was very tired, having only - as normal at weekends with the other two around - slept for a short time today.  So by tea time he wasn't sure whether he wanted to eat or go to sleep, and then didn't want to go to sleep because (as we found out a bit later) he had a dirty nappy.  As soon as he had a clean nappy, his pyjamas on and some milk he settled down and was soon slumbering peacefully. 

The others had been fairly horrendous all day, partly due to lack of exercise, so we told them at about the same time to put their pyjamas on and go to bed.  Alex settled down relatively quickly and without complaint, having had 'hot sausage' heated up for his cold feet followed by a cuddle and a kiss.  Isabella as usual took a bit longer but was finally convinced that bed was a good idea when I told her it was too late for a story and that I'd come back up only a little while later to give her another cuddle.  At the moment the call of the Bella Bird is that she doesn't like sleeping on her own, which is probably in part true but with Alex and Edward in nearby rooms she's not really that alone either.  Fortunately neither Alex nor Bella had cottoned on to the fact that it was in fact still quite early for them, and both were asleep before 7.30pm.  They probably needed it as they stayed up until 9pm on Friday night and goodness knows what time last night when I was out singing in a concert.

I had two Solway Singers concerts, including two solos and one duet.  I still don't think much of my own voice but I got lots of compliments, particularly on Friday night, and then having a chat with the choir master (my ex-singing teacher) and his wife last night I felt again that perhaps I could get more from my voice, something I keep thinking on and off.  I like my current singing teacher a lot but I have to say that if Tony started teaching again I think I might go back to him.  I'm not sure he'd help me get through exams in the same way that Lyn does though.

Today we met Gavin, Gail, Ewan and Jake at Kirkharle Courtyard.  It was great to see them - I like Gail more every time I meet her - but whilst I like Kirkharle Courtyard, I'm not sure how well it does.  There wasn't much in the way of christmas cheer or promotion, and whilst the cafe is nice and many of the things in the shops are beautiful, they're not really the things you might buy that often.  I did however get a couple of small things as part of my Mum's christmas present: things which I think she'll like but especially because she has been up there with me.  I guess it was the sort of place where if I was earning quite a bit of money I'd just splash out on generous but useless gifts for people: of William Morris' saying 'do not have anything in your house you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful' the items would definitely fall into the latter category.

David and I have also just spoken to Sophie, a friend from Bristol for me, but whom David has known since birth, on the phone.  That was lovely as we don't speak all that often whereas when we lived in Bristol we used to see her and her husband, Allan, quite often - I used to go running with them and I seem to remember that the last run I did when I was pregnant with Bella, at about 25 weeks, was up on Bristol Downs with Sophie.  Sophie is one of those people with whom I feel a link even if I don't see her for a while.  I also remember when I first met her, at a party we had in our flat in Bristol just before Christmas 2004.  I was pregnant with Alex and Sophie was laughing about seeing David about to be a father, having clear memories of him as a small boy!

So, the evening has passed and it's now 9.30pm.  Just time to sit down with my husband and watch half an hour of television and then go to bed at a sensible hour - ready for the week ahead, which will involve school nativity plays, carols, and christmas meals.  I love Advent: but I'm sure I enjoy it all the more because it's only once a year.  Will snow arrive soon?!

Monday, 5 December 2011



This year I am not sending cards.  It's partly lack of money, partly lack of time and partly the consciousness that the value in them is the keeping in touch, not the card itself - which often ends up in the bin unless you're a sad *** like me who keeps her favourite cards and has done for several years.

So, here it is.  You will have received an email from me with a link to this blog and I am going to attempt not to create one of those rather annoying Christmas greetings within which people either go on about how wonderful their children are, or else what an absolutely disasterous year they have had.  We have had neither.  My children are not angels (I was going to dress them in angel costumes and take photos of them and make my own cards, but they rebelled); they're not brilliant intellectually but bright enough (Isabella is bright but her character flaws make up for it); and often I don't even find them that cute (with the exception of Edward, apart from when I'm trying to change his nappy or get him dressed when he shows the same sort of temper as his sister).  But they are my children and never cease to amaze me in many ways so I'm afraid you will get told some anecdotes about them.  And yes, I love them to bits. 

We've had no major disasters: just an ordinary, mostly enjoyable year.  Of course really it started, for us, with Edward being born on New Year's Eve.  From the first David and I were completely smitten with him.  Now at nearly a year old his character is showing more and more and the happy baby is rapidly becoming a happy nearly-toddler.  He's done all the things he's meant to have done: grown, got some teeth, rolled over, sat up, crawled, climbed the stairs, started pushing things around, clapping, waving and made lots of noise: including singing sort of noises when you put music on.  He's a delight to have around and we're convinced he's going to become a complete pickle: he's got Alex's happy nature (or what was a happy nature when he was younger) and some of Bella's spark and charm, and definitely a mind of his own.

Despite the fact that I know how babies normally grow and develop and that I've seen it at close quarters with the two older children, it still amazes me how much he has changed in a year.  We're just waiting for him to walk and talk now!

Isabella is still gorgeous and bright and sparky - and difficult.  Or at least 'a character'.  I adore her but of the three of them she can probably make me the most angry.  She's doing well at school but has now decided she wants to learn the trombone.  Unfortunately I can just see her playing it.... I think probably she'll have to start with a cornet - I need to check with my friend Caroline, who is a French Horn player.  In the meantime however Bella has started gymnastics, which she enjoys, having worked out how to climb up inside our door frames, over the banisters, etc. etc.  She's been doing forward rolls for ages - long before Alex could.  However she loves dancing as well and frequently closes herself in the sitting room/piano room with a CD on (very often the piano backing track to my 'Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries') practicing for 'shows': so I think come January she may be off to dancing on a Monday evening in Brampton rather than gymnastics on a Tuesday in Carlisle.  The dancing will give me a longer break without her and mean that Edward can come home and move around instead of being stuck in a buggy or a car seat for several hours.

Alex is now in Year 3: a Junior rather than an 'Infant'.  He's a bit inclined to be sensitive, though I try not to say so too often and especially not in his hearing.  He's not very keen on homework and we have major battles trying to get him to concentrate unless he's being allowed to draw or to make lego models, but generally he seems to enjoy school and he has an enquiring mind and a thoughtful approach to things, and can sometimes seem quite responsible and mature for a 7-year-old: he got elected to the school council this year.  David takes him to athletics on a Tuesday and he then goes to Tag Rugby on a Sunday, and he chose of his own volition to go to Book Club on a Thursday.  Like his mother he's a bad loser but not a naturally good sportsperson, so the athletics and rugby are improving his running no end.  He's also started hill-walking and has been up some fairly high ones with Scotland Grandad.  It would be great if his team were not last at Sports Day next year.... I still have such a clear picture in my mind's eye from his first year at school, when everybody had left the playground at the end of Sports Day.  A small, disconsolate figure was still sitting all alone on the ground, upset that Blue Team had lost so badly and taking quite a disproportionate amount of blame for it himself.

Out of the older two, he surprised us as being the more put out when Edward was born: with Bella's attention-loving nature we thought she'd be the one feeling more left out, but it was Alex.  However once he realised that he could make the Baby laugh and that the Baby actually rather likes him, he warmed to him and he is now an excellent older brother.  In fact they both adore Edward, which isn't hard as he's so cute.

David continues to do madly long runs: this year he did the Lakeland 50 for the third year in a row (and the third year it has been put on).  It was boiling hot weather and people were being sick and collapsing around him, so he was dead chuffed that he completed it and his time was reasonable.  Later in the year he did the Kielder Marathon - the one the guy cheated in.  For someone for whom a normal training run at the weekend is 20 miles, you'd think it would have been easy, but it's a really gruelling course.  I think he did it in about 5 hours which was really good - and that was without cheating by getting on a bus.  Next year his aim at the moment is the Hadrian's Wall run, which is 65 miles.  He uses the Hadrian's Wall path for a lot of his training - to Walton Crags or Twice Brewed, for example, the latter being about 20 miles, so at least he'll be familiar with some of the territory.  He's also talking about doing the Dalesman.

The responsibility for mortgage payments and the like has fallen on him more and more as I've gone from having a redundancy payment and income support, to Maternity Allowance, to zero.... he's actually made us budget really well which is something I'm not used to doing, and as a result we will actually have some money to buy the children christmas presents!  But it does mean we've had to carefully think about whether we go away anywhere or not and we don't randomly pop down to Off the Wall for coffee and cake just because we feel like it.  Having said that, it means that going out to eat has become far more of a treat and something that I think we all appreciate more.  He continues to be a great Dad to the children, even if they do drive him as potty as they drive me at times.  I had never seen him cross until we had children (or perhaps until we had Bella....).  And I have to say that despite the untidiness and the odd row about the state of the house (we rarely, if ever, row about anything else), I think I perhaps appreciate him more now than I used to: perhaps because of our role-reversal.  How can you resist someone who tells you, as you're about to go out to sing, that you look about 35, anyway?

And as for me?  Well, I'm trying to write and sing and so forth... I applied for a couple of surveying jobs which weren't my particular area of expertise and at least I got interviewed even though I didn't get them and I'm not sure how much I wanted them.  I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing: I just wish it made more money but I'm also optimistic that eventually it will.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly will have followed my progress and hopes and will know how much I (mostly) enjoy being at home with Edward, and watching him develop.  In fact when I started writing this I only remembered with a jolt that I also turned 50 this year!  The year I turned 40 I was very much focussed on myself: this year, whilst I wanted to have a huge party and celebrate my half century in some memorable fashion, the fact that we could only afford a small party didn't really matter (though I did get some fab presents and had a lovely day with a lot of babies round for tea and cake): and I think the fact that I'd sort of forgotten that I had a big birthday this year says it all.  What's been really important to me is my family, including my new baby (I cannot believe that I went back to work full time when the others were 6 months old: what did I miss?!) and my music and writing.  And there aren't many people who actually get the chance to follow their dream, so I'm going to make sure I make the most of it while I can.

Here's to 2012 being an even happier year.  Merry Christmas to All - and to All, a Good Night!

Friday, 2 December 2011


Firstly, I need to commend the Sands Garage in Brampton.  They never invent work which is needed to your car which isn't, they know what they're talking about - and they frequently charge less than they could.  We have become loyal customers and are going to recommend them to everyone else and also give them a christmas present.  They're the sort of local business one should support: how they keep going goodness only knows, but I hope they do.

On a completely different note, I recently finished re-reading Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong.  I had more-or-less completely forgotten what the book was about and it was with great pleasure that I reread it.  It was as powerful as I remember it being the first time round - perhaps even more so - and somehow the balance of 'now' and 'then' really works.  I think because 'now' is light relief compared to the 'then' of the trenches and the underground tunnels: you get to the stage where you almost don't want to read any more about the horror which is the frontline.

I think a few things stand out in my mind.  The first is the beautiful way the first time that Stephen and Isabelle make love is described: the strength of their emotions comes across and there is nothing sordid about it, despite the fact that it is an illicit liaison.  Then the scenes in the trenches and the underground tunnels in general: Faulks writes in such a way that you could almost think he had been there himself.  And then towards the end there is a single, short, paragraph which, now I have borne three children, I noted: it is so true:

"She was preoccupied by an intense curiosity about her child.  While she felt protective and maternal towards it, she also felt a respect that sometimes bordered on awe.  It was a separate being with its own character and its own destiny; it had chosen to lodge and be born in her, but it was hard not to feel that it had in some sense pre-existed her.  She could not quite believe that she and Robert had created an autonomous human life from nothing."

Not only did the description of that sense of awe whilst pregnant ring true, but I find that the sense grows stronger as the children get older and become more and more individual and independant.  I think the timing was particularly appropriate as it is something which especially seems so pertinent to Edward at the moment: he is no longer 'just' a baby who doesn't do very much: he is more and more showing preferences and character.  I think I'm also more and more aware of my own character and my own destiny as well: the longer I don't work for other people the more I become aware of myself.

Tomorrow I'm singing some solos at a fund-raising event at the Dacre Hall, and meeting Edward's Godmother in the morning (with Edward of course: I'm sure she's keener to see him than to see me!).  The build-up to christmas has already begun: we put the tree up yesterday.  What a fab. time of year!

Saturday, 26 November 2011


I've had a great couple of days.

At Baby and Toddler group on Thursday - the happy clappy one (at which we arrived very late - we missed all the religious bits and arrived just in time to feed our bodies rather than our souls on grapes (Edward) and coffee and a chocolate biscuit (me - though he did try to grab the biscuit)) I chatted to some new people including Jenny, the wife of a newish GP in our surgery, who not only has 3 children - with a 'sneaking desire' for a 4th - but wants to sing in a choir.  She was interested in Solway Singers so I've asked our choir master, who is also potentially interested in her.  She seems really nice and moved here most recently from Chew Magna, near Bristol, so we had that in common.

Friday morning Isabella's class were doing assembly and David needed the car to get to Penrith, so I decided I'd walk home from Hayton with Edward.  He was fine: apart from when the cover blew off the buggy.  I got wet.  But what was lovely, and which would only happen in a rural area like Cumbria, was that I got offered loads of lifts including one by some complete strangers!  I turned them all down as nobody had a baby seat for their car, but I did wonder by the time I got towards Brampton and my skirt was soaked through and my legs were wet and cold whether perhaps lack of car seat could have been justified!

Yesterday evening I had arranged a group to sing carols and read christmas poems at Off the Wall, the cafe I know I have mentioned at least once before, just after the Brampton Christmas lights got switched on.  We got loads of positive feedback and are provisionally booked in for next year: plus everyone who sang really enjoyed it, and we raised £45 for Parkinsons UK.  I've never seen Off the Wall so full, which was great: and apparently they were doing quite a roaring trade in take-away hot chocolate as well.

Then today I manned the Hallsford farm stall at Brampton Farmers Market.  It meant standing up in cold blowy weather from 8.30 until 1.30 but I really enjoyed myself.  Hallsford is owned by Andrew and Helen Tomkins - Andrew sings in the Solway Singers with me - and they pride themselves on producing good quality, locally-reared meat.  I got to chat to loads of people I didn't know, knew a little bit, or knew quite well, and sold about £50-worth more of meat than Andrew had anticipated I would.  It was noticeable however that with the recession people are buying sausages etc. rather than the more expensive joints, although one of the local GPs didn't take too much persuading to purchase a rather nice leg of lamb (I was really pleased to sell that as it was £15 or so).  I also sold the lamb shank to a couple with whom I was discussing recipe ideas.  Andrew is going to pay me for my time in meat, which is great.

One of the people I saw was Elise, who is married to the family which owns the pub at Talkin.  She and her husband only moved up a year or so ago so he could get involved in the family business, and we met at swimming back in the summer as her daughter and mine were in the same class.  As I was going along each week with Edward she asked what having a third was like as she had found out, unexpectedly, that she was pregnant with no. 3.  A week or so later she had another surprise as no.3 was actually nos. 3 and 4!  I hadn't seen her for a few months and so today she looked really big as she's due to go in for an elective caesarean at 37 weeks on 22nd December - the due date would otherwise be around the time that Edward was due last year.  It was good to see her as I liked her, and she now has my mobile number so we can meet up once she's a bit more settled!  It will be great to see some tiny babies again and funny to think that a year ago I was in a similar position - Edward is SUCH a character now!  He and I were playing a game which had him giggling hysterically this afternoon - I can't even remember exactly what it was but he has this appealing way of getting very giggly about things which nobody else would find particularly funny: the other two love it when he thinks something they are doing is hilarious.  Maybe it was in part just the fact that I had, and took, the opportunity to play with him: which is a rather sad reflection as maybe I don't spend as much time playing with him as I should, but then I feel that about the other two as well and they were both in nursery and I was back at work full-time by the time they were each 6 months old.

The downside of this week is that only one person turned up to aerobics so I've decided not to teach until after Christmas (if they want me to start again then): it's a waste of my time which could be spent on my music 'stuff'.... or at least on helping get the children to bed.... so I'll be £15 per week down but on the other hand maybe the music things will start paying more.  There's also a vague possibility that I'm going to get an article in Cumbria Life ( (fingers tightly crossed: they prefer not to use non-regular contributors) and I'm also - finally - being published in Cumbria magazine ( next month, so will get some money from them.  We manage on David's salary and most months I get a little something extra one way or another: money's tight, but do I really want to move to Canada when I feel so much part of the local community here?

Sunday, 20 November 2011


It's all happening on the teeth front.

One of Alex's front milk teeth finally fell out at Film Club on Friday: he came home with it in one of those plastic money bags people use when they have lots of coins to take to the bank.  Rather appropriate, really.  The Tooth Fairy was a bit confused on Friday evening as he slept downstairs in the TV room with David: however she managed to take the tooth and replace it with a £1 coin on Saturday.

The amazing thing about it is that it is SO small!  Maybe 3 or 4 mm in width; perhaps 7mm long including the root.  The two new front teeth are already coming through behind and you can see that his jaw, or gum, has somehow expanded so that the bigger new teeth will fit.

Bella and Edward on the other hand have both had bigger teeth from the start - especially noticeable for the top two at the front.  Whilst Alex's teeth always came through one by one, Bella's came through in pairs and Edward has had 4 very close together.  Edward has also had the most problem with his: with the other two one day the teeth weren't there and the next they were, or at least had clearly cut the skin, and I don't remember any of the symptoms which so many people report in relation to their babies.  Edward on the other hand has chosen to be different - as he quite often does - and has had a bad week with disgusting nappies, not wanting to eat anything (particularly not anything too hard) and sleeping badly.  It's noticeable that now tooth number 3 (or numbers 3 and 4 - I'm not sure) have cut the skin that he's back to enjoying his food.

Developments are coming apace as he also started waving (or flapping) and clapping (with one fist curled up) this week.

Meanwhile Isabella and I went this evening to the Carlisle Christmas lights switch on, thinking it would be hugely tacky and (on my part) with some reservations.  We enjoyed it tremendously, and as David had decided it wouldn't be his cup of tea we took Nicola and Ella with us who were excellent company as they enjoyed it as much as we did: there was a lot of laughter and singing along to songs.  The lights are lovely and not in the slightest bit tacky: lots of lovely white lights in trees and then a few blue ones.

I just wish they'd had a little bit of the traditional christmas stuff, like carols and so forth.  I was contemplating that a solo singer performing 'Silent Night' or some other well-known carol would have been a lovely contrast to the other acts and perhaps have created its own special atmosphere... maybe I should suggest it for next year?

Saturday, 12 November 2011


We tried out a new toddler group, Edward and I, on Thursday morning.  It wasn't brand new, but just new to us and had the advantage of being in the morning as ones in the afternoon never seem quite to work out.

I was a bit apprehensive as it was at the Bethseda Evangelical church and evangelism is not my cup of tea.  My fears, I thought, were realised when it started with a 'happy clappy' singing session: but I told myself that the children love singing anyway (Edward certainly enjoyed it - early brain-washing perhaps) and if you're going to a group which has been organised by and in a church, then it's fair enough to have a bit of bible bashing.  And in fact it was very short and as I have had all the children christened and am not a stranger to church services myself, I didn't really mind.  Is it perhaps that I'm embarrassed to admit to being at all religious?

It took me right back to when Alex was a toddler and I was pregnant with and then on maternity leave with Isabella, and we used to go to the Methodist church in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, for a baby and toddler group.  It did seem a bit strange that a church hall was being used for a group which appeared to have no association with the church whatsoever.  That seems so long ago now: it was, of course, about 6 years ago.  So much seems to have happened in that time, the two big things being moving to Cumbria and having Edward.  We've already been here 4 years - we were only 4 years in Bristol.  It feels like home here whereas we spent a long time trying to get away from Bristol: David would certainly have left sooner if we'd had the opportunity.  Even working at NWDA now seems distant, particularly with everyone else leaving and the office gradually emptying, and yet it's only a year I was last there, heavily pregnant, for the Christmas lunch.

To return to the baby and toddler group.  It was one of the nicest of such groups I've been to, not that I'm that experienced.  Snacks were provided for the children and a cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit for the Mums, and we had to do no clearing up whatsoever, which I thought was great - especially for the small sum of £1.50.  Both other groups I've been to have involved the Mums doing all the clearing up and tidying away, and at the one in Bristol you used to have to take it in turns to man the payment desk, do the coffees, or do the washing up.  This one has an army of grandmas and grandpas who organise and run it, even down to opening the gate for you to get in and out!  Singing a few religious songs and saying a prayer is indeed a small price to pay.

And tomorrow we're off to the Remembrance Day service at Hayton as I promised Edward the vicar and Alison his wife I'd help with Sunday school.

As a complete contrast - from the religious to the corporeal - today we went to Penrith to do our weekly shop at the new Sainsburys.  It was so much nicer than going to smelly old, non-tax paying Tescos, and better than Morrisons which always seems to me somehow a bit yellow, as if it was ageing.  Not surprisingly for a new store which hasn't yet built up to its full customer numbers, there appeared to be an excessive number of staff: a man to help us get the car park ticket; a woman to make sure we didn't go wandering off up the travelator instead of into the store (at least, I think that's what she was doing: later the children had a ride up the travelator and down again); and people raising money for a girls' football team packing bags.  There was a wide range of quality produce on sale (it will be interesting to see what we think of the fruit and vegetables in a few days' time) and I got very tempted by the children's and baby clothes, especially dungarees for Edward which would be such a good idea as his trousers fall down when he's crawling around but if he has bare knees they get a bit red and sore and also his legs get cold.  I did resist but I might go back when I have some money.  It's always difficult to resist nice things for the children, especially when you feel that they 'need' them.

We still went to Cranstons to get our meat however.  It's a while since I've been in the extended one (extended two years ago now) opposite my old office but it was good to see that it was very busy and - without meaning to sound too snobby - seemed to be full of middle class (and above?) people.  There was an air, I felt, of 'recession be damned'.  There were lots of samples to try as well so we all had a selection of mince pie, three types of sausage meat stuffing, Cumberland sausage and various pies.  Edward particularly seemed to like mince pie and the sausagemeat with apple. 

Isabella was her normal embarrassing self by chatting to the check out lady and telling her how much she liked all the samples.  She then spoilt it by telling her we'd just been to the new Sainsburys.... It's like being out with my mother, who has frequently over the years embarrassed my sister and myself by chatting to complete strangers - usually shop assistants - about things they are probably not the slightest bit interested in.  I remember one time being in a shop in Wedmore, pregnant with Alex, and my mother patting my stomach and saying something to the shop lady about my not being married (we were looking for wedding outfits) but that 'it seemed to be the way of things nowadays'.

I'm sure I'll be just as bad, if I'm not already - I'm quite capable of chatting away to people and telling them all sorts of things about myself and my children.  I shall get my own back on Isabella when she's older....

Monday, 7 November 2011


It was a bit of a manic weekend but had the advantage that the baby seems to be back to sleeping - and more importantly, waking - more or less normally.

My 'baby' daughter turned 6 on Thursday.  She's still as feisty and demanding and loud as when she was born; still as striking looking with her dark hair, dark eyes and pale skin (not surprisingly some people bought her Snow White dolls as she definitely has that sort of colouring - or Dora the Explorer, to bring things up to date).  She is also confident and extrovert and told almost everybody we saw over the weekend, whether or not she knew them, that it was her birthday.

The actual day itself started with presents at breakfast, wearing a new woolly jacket to school, and then Nanny and Grandad Bill turning up at school just as we were about to fetch Alex from Book Club.  I had prepared - with a lot of help from the Co-op - a surprise birthday tea of crisps, sausages on sticks, pineapple and cheese on sticks, sandwiches, chocolate cake with candles.... etc.

The following day she was granted a day off school and my parents and I took her and the Baby over to Newcastle to go to John Lewis for new shoes and lunch - the baby very much enjoyed the Max's Wicked Chicken - and then to the Great North Museum, which is where Alex got taken for his birthday.  It's a fabulous museum and actually I'd really like to spend the day there on my own, without any children in tow.

Friday evening there were fireworks in Brampton at the primary school - including a hot dog stand and a pig roast stand - yum!  Edward didn't think much of the fireworks as he was trying to get to sleep, so I came home with him to make Mulled Cider and Isabella stayed at the fireworks with Nanny and Grandad.  Alex had chosen to go to Film Club at school which was showing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which he can only have watched at home several hundred times.... Emma and co. came round to share the mulled cider and whilst Craig helped my Mum do one of Isabella's jigsaw puzzles, Emma and I chatted!

On Saturday we held a small party for the birthday girl here at home: 11 children in total.  Never again.  Never will I have a party for children any older than about 4 years at my house.  They get bigger and noisier and more boisterous - and no less messy.  They're all lovely individually but once they get together in a crowd they start stirring each other up and invariably there are a few tears.  Alex took the two boys who had been invited off to play at knights and dragons, but despite being the oldest he also got very silly, which the others thought was hilarious but which David and I just found annoying.  Sadly, I remember getting told off for exactly the same thing at my sister's birthday parties.... Alex did do a very funny impression of a chicken laying an egg with its bottom on fire as his forfeit for pass the parcel: I do think he's good at acting and should carry on with drama lessons once we have enough money (currently he's sticking to athletics and rugby, which have the advantages of burning up some energy).

On Saturday evening David and I escaped to the fireworks at Bitts Park in Carlisle, as I'd been given guest passes.  Well worth it not to be squashed up in a crowd of 3000 people, and the fireworks and bonfire - with an olympic theme - were suberb.

Sunday was slightly quieter as my parents left in the morning as we were going for a walk round Talkin Tarn with Mandy and Thomas, while Chris ran with David.  We all agreed we had never seen the Tarn look so stunning: not only was there the golden autumn foliage under a cold blue sky, but the mist of the evening before came back and hung over the Tarn, making the rowers and sailing boats on the water look ghostly and surreal.

It continued cold and I had to defrost the car before Isabella and I headed back to Carlisle that evening, to the Sands, for my birthday treat to her: a performance of the ballet of The Snow Queen.  She insisted on wearing a rather bare Cinderella dress, a tiara and her 'clip clop' shoes (dressing up shoes which leave her toes and ankles bare): I was wearing a cotton jumper, a thick, lined, woollen zip up jacket and long woolly socks, plus gloves, hat and coat in the car....  The Snow Queen was not great ballet but it was perfect as a birthday treat for a 6-year old girl, having a story, beautiful costumes and some funny moments as well.  Bella was particularly taken by the old flower lady who wiggled her bottom, as well as enjoying the crow and the reindeer.

She just managed to stay awake on the way home.  Going in to school today she was trying to remember all the things she had done for her birthday.  And I have not even mentioned the lovely dress her father bought her!

Sunday, 30 October 2011


The clocks went back last night.  Nobody told Edward, so he woke up at 7a.m. old time (reasonably); 6a.m. new time.  This had some advantages in that the morning seemed really long and I got a whole load of stuff done before breakfast.  Early afternoon seemed however to vanish rather quickly with a run with Nicola seeming to take up far longer than it actually had (this is no reflection on Nicola at all, and at least we didn't go out for the hour and half off-road traipse around Gelt Woods which I normally do with Eddie on a Sunday).  I came home and did some gardening and then started making tea, thinking I had loads of time, only to find it was suddenly 5.30 and the children were all getting fractious and naughty because they were hungry and I'd forgotten that it was an hour later than they might normally eat at.

The advantages of this were that the older two both ate well however with Alex for once eating all his carrots and most of his broccoli; and they both loved the lamb shanks I had decided to try out on them.  Edward started off making his 'mum mum mum' noise (which means, 'I'm hungry, I like this, hurry up and give me more') but then quickly got tearful as he'd only had an hour's sleep today and was tired out.  As I write he is sitting on his father giggling having woken up after a couple of hours' sleep, having been brought downstairs and given more milk.

I know there are Strict Mothers in the audience who do everything correctly and who will tell me this is the Wrong Thing To Do.  I know it is.  He doesn't normally get - or even ask for - milk if he wakes in the night, but he was crying and crying and not going back to sleep and having not had much to eat today I thought he might well be hungry.  He and his father are now making those funny noises when you pat your hand over your open mouth, so he's now even more awake than he was.  I'm going to bed soon though so he can come up with me and lie next to me and I'm sure will soon be asleep (yes, I know that's another 'no, no' but it worked with the other two and quite frankly having thought before having children that having them next to you on the bed was a cardinal sin, reality kicked in once Alex started waking in the night as a baby, and I do believe that they are unlikely still to be coming into my bed as teenagers.  Plus I like being able to hear them breathe).  I apologise not.

Having eaten our lovely dinner (I really must recommend my choir colleague Andrew's lamb - - pudding consisting of an apple and lemon pie made from my sister's home-grown cooking apples - I left the older children to watch a couple of Aardman Animations short films and went up to have a bath.  Glancing in Isabella's room, having left the dining table not totally cleared, I felt 'why should I bother'.  I was sorely tempted to leave it all for several days, though I did put the dishwasher on first.  I got in the bath feeling that this had been a long week and that I've achieved nothing: none of the work I wanted to do or thought I might do has got done and what's more due to having what felt like a minor and innocuous cold, I have done no training or singing - but going for a run this afternoon made me realise that was the right decision as I felt so tired.  I think it's just trying to look after 3 children, and whilst having parents here last week, over the weekend and for a few days this week, was some help, there still seemed to be rather a lot to do.

I lay in the bath and read To the Poles without a Beard, which I got out of the library yesterday.  An hour later I had just got out and was sitting on the edge of the bath in a towel, still reading, when Isabella knocked on the door to tell me that she and Alex were going to bed.  Amazed at this (it's normally quite a battle), but concluding that they must both be tired due to a late night and lots of excitement at a Hallowe'en party yesterday, and the extra hour today, I accepted this at face value and gave them a big kiss and cuddle whilst tucking them up.

When I came downstairs I found one reason for this apparently good behaviour.  They had opened a new block of butter and put it in the butter dish and then helped themselves to the remainder of the cracker (biscuits) in the TV room (food is not allowed in there), presumably whilst watching all three episodes on the Aardman Animations DVD.  What was David doing?  He was on the computer next door of course... where is a man usually when you need him?  Answer: on his computer.  Would a man think to get the children to bed?  Answer: no, not unless you told him that that was part of his job description for the evening.

I wasn't cross with them.  With an Absentee Mother (in the bath) and a not-too-present Father (in the room next door but probably oblivious to all except fighting) I'm not surprised they helped themselves to the remaining crackers.  I'm quite impressed that they thought of putting the butter in the butterdish in fact, although they didn't think to cover up the evidence - they left the empty biscuit box and the butter dish and a dirty knife on the sofa in the TV room.  And I think they were probably tired as well in any case.

It's been a long day at the end of a long week: and there is only excitement to look forward to from now on as it's Isabella's 6th birthday this week and my parents are coming up again, fireworks night at the weekend, and then the build-up to Christmas: followed of course by Edward's 1st birthday.  It's going to be incredibly quiet when everyone is back at school and work tomorrow: but only for a few days.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I've just finished The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon.  I loved reading it: another good recommendation by my Mother in Law's reading group.  I was trying to work out exactly what I liked about it and I think it was a combination of three things:

1.  the First World War interest, including the post-war 'reality' and what felt like a real understanding of how things might have been, emotionally, post-war: I remember reading Testament of Youth and that what struck me was the emotional disjoint between those who were in some way involved in the war (especially if they were at or near the front line) and those who were unaffected;

2.  the struggle of a female lawyer against 'the establishment/tradition'.  Unfortunately whilst huge strides have been made I feel there is still a certain amount of demeaning of female professionals nowadays: I have always felt that in surveying, at least (an Old Boy's Network in many areas if ever there was one - and even young male surveyors have expressed that view);

3.  the characters.  Evelyn's relationships with other people are interesting, and the way her feelings are revealed and likewise her interpretation of those she relates to, I found not only intriguing but also understandable and credible.

So, a book I would definitely recommend: particularly perhaps to female professionals.

The colour theme continues in that I had my 'gold' party (i.e. my 50th birthday party) last weekend: and I apologise here and now to all who weren't invited.  Unfortunately due to financial restraints the original guestlist of 200+ - which, even so, was probably going to be too many for the Dacre Hall at Lanercost - had to shrink to 30+ for our own house.  Many people who would normally get invited to our parties, weren't, because we invited people from further afield: on the other hand I was really pleased that people made the effort to travel hundreds of miles to get to my rather low-key but very enjoyable birthday party.  I am now officially 50.

My Mum bought me a gold top but sadly I haven't yet seen a photo of myself in it that I like; I rather think my Mummy Tummy is still quite apparent - but on the other hand, I've had three children and three caesareans and, you know what (in case it's not already obvious)?  I'm quite proud of myself.  I still need to lose some weight but I fitted into a pair of black work trousers which I can't have worn for 18 months or more, so at least I don't need to rush out and buy new work trousers.

I also got some more fab presents.  Jane sent the flowers above as she couldn't, sadly, make the party in the end: she was moving her teenage daughter into accommodation in London as she's just started University, which is very exciting and far more important anyway, but it was a pity not to see her.  I got some more Ren ( in the post yesterday from my Sister in Law as well.  A quick advertisement for Ren: they are British; they are natural; they are extremely good value for money; and they smell great.  One of their eyecreams is one of the few that works on the dry skin around David's eyes, especially in the winter when he's been running (i.e. combination of sweat and cold air). 

Mandy brought a small box of Green & Black's small bars of chocolates (bliss: she had already given me a rose bush); Caroline some fab treble clef earrings and some Clarins Eau Dynamisante (one of the few perfumes I actually like and wear); Alison a gold necklace which I shall make an effort to wear, though I rarely wear necklaces, as again I really like it; my sister various things including a bottle of one of my favourite 'treat' wines, which you can now only buy in France, Muscat de Rivesaltes; Gavin Greig a Waterstones voucher which was great as I have finally been able to buy myself a music dictionary; and Kath and Eddie an M&S voucher which was also extremely well-timed as I had got hair dye on a white crewneck cotton top so I've now been able to buy another.  All in all it was an extremely enjoyable party and I hope my guests, who had made so much effort to come along, enjoyed it as much as I did.

My parents, having talked about buying a car, gave me a cheque.  I had a list of things to spend it on but in fact got a bit distracted and amongst other items bought some things for the garden.  This means I have now been able to give the transplanted rhododedron bushes some compost, which I hope will help them settle into their new home: I have also bought a couple of boxes of chicken manure (two for the price of one) which I hope will help fertilise the soil a bit.  At the moment they're making the utility room smell but the scented stick things my sister bought me are also temporarily in there to try to offset the chicken poo smell.  I must feed the roses, which have been looking particularly unhappy this year: leaves with black spots on, very few flowers, and not much growth.  Unlike the weeds, as I know I have lamented many times in this blog.  Here is a photo of the rhododedrons and I hope to be able to update it later with a photo of them looking bigger and more flowery:

Otherwise the garden is pretty full of weeds, though I now have a plan to dig up a load of stuff under the apple tree and extend the lawn: it might possibly get rid of the nettles, at least for a while.  I bought a whole load of topsoil as I'm hoping it will fill in the holes where the rhododedrons were and also provide a bit of a boost to tired soil: if not, it's chicken manure all round until my compost heap has composted enough to use (a friend has also promised me some horse manure but apparently you have to let it compost down before you can use it).  I was also tempted by some spring bulbs and some cyclamen: last year's cyclamen have not reappeared, which is sad.

It could however all be completely unnecessary as David had the idea yesterday that perhaps we should move to Canada, at least for a couple of years.  Personally I think if we moved abroad we'd probably never come back: I'm certainly willing to give it a go if we can get jobs.  I get no points in terms of getting a visa for being 50, however: at least David at 37 will get a few more.  Apparently Canada has a healthy demand for professionals, though I'm not totally sure what general practice surveyors are called over there: and the skiing would be fab (so long as we lived near the skiing areas).  We shall see.  Will the blog be changing from Unemployed in Cumbria to An Emigre in Canada?....

Sunday, 16 October 2011


This weekend has been lovely.  The weather yesterday was beautiful but more to the point we got rid of Bella.

Don't get me wrong: I love that little girl to bits and I think she's amazing.  She's clever, she's beautiful, she's good at things like climbing up walls, she has the most amazing character: and I wouldn't change one iota of her.  But when she's not around things are a lot quieter and more peaceful and I don't find my time taken up trying to deal with a baby and play referee at the same time: I also have more time for Alex.

Friday evening my in-laws turned up to stay a night, en route from Manchester to Ambleside (OK, not quite en route but they'd booked a cottage which wasn't available until Saturday and it made a lot more sense than going home to Aberdeen, and we're not so far away from Ambleside that it made sense to stay in an hotel).  Bella said that she didn't have to go to school next week and she wished she could go with them: I just thought perhaps as Alex was off to two parties this weekend, her treat could be going down to Ambleside with Scotland Nanny and Grandad for the weekend (I stopped short of missing school).  The proposal met with favour all round so off she went.  Husband then started complaining - when we were just about to fetch her today - about the cost of fuel but it was too late by then.

An aside: my parents talked about getting me a car for my birthday.  A 6-year old Citreon C8.  What they didn't tell me was that it was an automatic - that killed the deal - but also it's fuel consumption is roughly double the VW Passat we've currently got, so why would we, when fuel prices are never going to come down again.  It was an incredibly generous thought but completely the wrong car.
Meanwhile on Saturday afternoon Alex went off to a party, David took Edward out in the backpack for a walk, and I tried to clean the carpets.  The latter was not possible as for some reason the carpet shampoo machine isn't picking up the shampoo, so all that was happening was that I was making my carpets rather wet (the house is mouldy in several places already: it's probably going to be worse now).  Then yesterday evening while David went off to shoot some rabbits, Alex and I walked across Brampton in glorious autumn evening sunshine to drop some things off to one of his friend's mothers.  As we walked we were talking about how peaceful it was without Bella.  "Perhaps", he said, "she could go away for about a week once a month".  I think he had a point, although he did also leave a note for her under her pillow saying that he missed her.

He then had another party today while I took Edward swimming.  This was only the 3rd or 4th time the Baby had been swimming and he was tired and not quite sure about it to start with: it was also a bit of a rush as we didn't want to be late back for Alex.  There really does seem to be a case of the more children you have, the less time you have available to invest in them and to stimulate them.  What is lovely with the older two now, though, is how you can have quite thought-provoking conversations with them.  Alex and I had one the other day about how Jack (in the Beanstalk) wasn't necessarily the Good Guy - in fact he was a thief.  Everyone always assumes the Giant was a Baddie, but there's no evidence that he was: he could have been living peacefully up in his cloud, leaving well alone, when along comes Jack and steals his golden-egg-laying chicken and his singing harp and so forth, and then cuts the beanstalk so the Giant falls down to earth with a thump with no justification whatsoever.  It's all a bit unfair to the Giant really.

We had a similar conversation this evening about lions eating people.  The conversation ran something along the lines that if a lion was hungry and a person ran across his path - perhaps a person who had shot the lion's normal food - then the lion isn't actually being evil eating the person, he's just following his instincts which tell him that because he's hungry he needs to eat.

I'm not quite sure how we moved from there to missing people but not always needing people around, but it was encouraging how both children said they were really sorry and didn't want to be horrible or anything but sometimes it was nice just to be alone, and that sometimes they just didn't want to talk to anyone.  David and I said that it was absolutely fine and that although we loved each other and the children, having some time in the house alone was sometimes really nice.  It rather supports the teacher's comments that Alex is a bright and thoughtful boy who just needs to be able to demonstrate that on paper: I saw his form teacher earlier this week who said that, and then also saw the headmistress about something else who said because he's bright I shouldn't worry as he would get there.

Bella's teacher's first comment was 'she's quite a character'.  It seems that although she's doing extremely well academically, she's also really good at PE: I'm sure she'd benefit from doing gymnastics, and enjoy it.  That's one of my main frustrations about not earning much money: I can't pay for extra-curricular stuff for them like music lessons, drama, gymnastics, dancing, scouts/brownies.....

I have just to brag and say that their reading ages as of September were 10 years 9 months and 8 years 5 months.  I'm very proud of them both.

Edward is rapidly becoming a boy rather than a baby and it's in a way scarey but also exciting to think that it really won't be long before he'll be joining in these sorts of family conversations as well.  It's going to be interesting to see what he's like academically, as I've felt ever since he was an embryo that he was going to do his own thing and not copy the other two.  He's demonstrated that already several times and whilst he's a really happy baby, he's no pushover and knows his own mind: he's also pretty keen to do things for himself, particularly when it comes to food!

I know we need more money but I really don't feel terribly motivated at the moment to put in all the extra hours and time away from the children that a 4 or 5-day a week job would entail.  I keep wondering how - and why - on earth I went back to work full-time when Alex and Bella were each 6 months old: particularly Alex as David was also working full-time so Alex was in nursery full-time.  I feel quite bad about it now, but I guess I was in a senior level job I enjoyed and working for an organisation I enjoyed and I just didn't really contemplate anything different. 

How things change!  Sometimes you just need something to shake up your sense of what's 'normal' and to challenge how you live your life.  I guess it's taken me some time to get there and I'm still not totally sure what path I'm on, but it's fun finding out.  And after all, there really is no right or wrong answer.

Friday, 7 October 2011


My Mother in Law is great at passing me books which she's read with her Book Group: from my point of view it's excellent as I get interesting books to read and I don't have to go to the library and think 'what on earth shall I get out?'.

Many of them have been the type of book which I've found difficult to put down: many (as anyone who has followed this blog regularly will know) have made me question things and go off and look up more detail on the internet: for example about the Spanish Civil War and the Nigerian Civil War (I guess you'd call it a civil war though I'm not sure that's how the participants felt about it).

Mrs. Tim I'm not quite so sure about.  I'm still reading it - often for far longer than I intend late at night - but I'm not sure what I'm really getting from it.  For a start having known some army officers' wives and (ex)girl-friends, I find that rather sexist and very old-fashioned life style annoying.  I guess because I knew wives and girl-friends, and because this is written from that viewpoint, I didn't see the role of female officers in the forces but only the women who basically seem to follow their husbands around with little chance of developing a career of their own.  No, that's not true: it used to be and I think to an extent still is, but despite the fact that things have probably changed, as far as I can ascertain there still seems to be a certain arrogance and sense of superiority to those who are in the military - like many consultant Doctors also, although in their case it's perhaps a little more justified as they are always academically intelligent.  And I have to say I have known and know far more medical Consultants I like than Army officers.

So, I suppose what irritates me is that this book is very dated.  I wonder if it's in the same way that The Remains of the Day annoyed me: a world which has gone and in which women were, basically, second-rate citizens.  It's something which has irritated me throughout my career (being in a rather male chauvenistic profession) and will probably continue to irritate me while it's so difficult to get a relatively senior job on a part-time basis.  Or maybe my entire life.

However the book also made me consider two other things.  Firstly, if it was around today it would be a blog.  Secondly, what is it that makes us so interested in the minutiae of other people's lives?  The cult of celebrity in particular: why on earth are we interested in what some celebrity ate for breakfast (I remember seeing a TV programme on which a cafe had a collection of celebrity leftovers for sale, and the vendors/cafe owners were telling the presenter how much similar items had sold for at auction) or what colour his or her pants are?  Is it when we don't have enough in our own lives, or is it purely that human beings are nosey and curious and that includes about each other?  But then, why is it that the lives of celebrities are so fascinating whereas that of the woman who lives next door isn't - unless she's having affairs with the postman, the milkman and the gas man all at  the same time (there's obviously a similarity in gossiping over the fence and in reading about celebrities' intimate details).  With celebrities is it because we want them to seem as ordinary as we are, and the fact that they drink builder's tea every morning with 2 sugars provides the desired evidence that they are?

I think the conclusion I am slowly coming to is that the reason Mrs Tim 'doesn't do it for me' is because actually I'm not terribly interested in her.  I'm not curious about what being an Army officer's wife is like and there's little (so far) of the 'bigger picture' about what was going on the world at the time.  Her life seems to be much like many other people's: two children, one at public school; shopping; visiting other women, so of whom she likes and some she doesn't; managing a house.

Just move it forward 80 years and change the Army office to a local authority accountant and you could be reading my blog!

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Oh my goodness!  Well over a week - even maybe a fortnight - since I last blogged.

I intended to on Monday evening as I had an experience which made me question Fate again.  I had a phone call from the bride of a wedding I sang at.  She was phoning to say 'thank you' for my singing, and that she had had lots of comments on how special the service was, especially my singing.  It made me feel great and I thought it was really lovely that she had phoned (I'm just awaiting the cheque in the post now).

I then put the phone down to find I had missed a call from Cumbria County Council.  I phoned back: they didn't want me for the job I had applied for.  I felt low: I think primarily just due to being rejected rather than because I cared about that particular job, although I did feel I could have done it.  I did also rather feel that I was too woolly in the interview though and also - my usual problem - too open and informal; and that my presentation wasn't very good.  Doing it only a couple of times at home with a couple of glasses of wine first is probably not wise.

Today I also got rejected for the Board of Tullie House Museum, which in a way was a relief as I was beginning to think that I have enough on what with trying to generate work, write, and the other various committees I am on - and of course the children and the work I am already doing, and choir.  However they rejected me in a really nice way which didn't make me feel rejected at all as they want me for the Board of the Trading Company - i.e. all the commercial stuff.  I have to admit - much as my Husband is rude about 'agents' - that I LIKE selling things.  I always have done: ever since a school fair where there were two boxes of apples left and I stood out on the high road shouting like a market vendor in order to sell them (I was successful), or when I used to help my Mum on the Embroiderers' Guild cake stall .  I loved selling properties at auction for BW: little parcels of land which appeared to have little value but which went for high prices as paddocks, or purely from wishful thinking on the part of the purchaser.

I have to admit I do sometimes wonder where I'm going wrong in Cumbria, when I just seemed to walk into jobs down south: and had bosses who always seemed to be pleased with me.  Has it all changed purely because I have children now, or is it that I have become more bolshie as I have got older?
So last week was a busy week.  I had plenty of things to prepare and rehearse for: my first aerobics class, the presentation for my interview and singing in the church.  Whilst they all mattered, I think the one which possibly mattered the most was the singing: I have so much emotional baggage tied up in singing, as anyone who has followed my blog all along will know.  To receive such positive feedback gave me a warm glowy feeling: it really counted for something.

Another low however was Husband saying he'd get a job in Aberdeen for £35k p.a.   If he did we'd be no better off than now - probably slightly worse off - and I would be unable to teach singing, teach aerobics or go to choir during the week.  I am really enjoying choir at the moment, not only because of the repetoire but also because it is some time for me: just for me.  Even when I'm at the gym I'm conscious that Edward (the Baby) is in the creche and that I have to get back for him by a certain time, or that I will be called if there is a problem: I don't really get away from him.  That sounds awful as I adore him, and the other two, but on Tuesday  nights I go to choir and sing and concentrate on the music and I need not worry about the children at all as I know that David will put them to bed and David will deal with any problems.  I also don't have to influence anyone else: I'm not trying to teach anyone, I need only think about myself and how my singing is going and how I fit into the choir.  The only demand on me is to sing well, and (mostly) I can cope with that one and I enjoy it.

The week began with my feeling quite low: Husband doesn't normally get worried about money himself, and he clearly was.  But as the days have progressed I don't feel as if either of us feels so bad.  I know I need to start earning more money but I'm sure it will happen.  I had a chat with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Liz (also 50 this year) last night and she was sure the singing teaching (for example) will pick up: likewise a new friend, Vicar Edward's wife Alison, also felt that it would suddenly all snowball.  I think they're right.

Meanwhile I wait to hear from a leisure centre in Carlisle as to whether I might get another aerobics class to teach: and I'm going to try to sell a few things on eBay.

It's not possible to live in Cumbria and stay unhappy for too long.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Things are quite exciting at the moment.  I forgot to mention in my last post that at choir the day before my birthday everyone sang 'happy birthday' to me.   Now, this sounds like nothing particularly out of the ordinary except that our conductor/choir master had told us we were about to sing 'Adam Lay Ybounden' out of our orange carol books, the accompanist had played a chord (which I had thought sounded a bit strange) and I had taken a breath and got ready to sing... when they burst into 'happy birthday' instead.  It completely took me by surprise but I think will go down in my mental annals as one of the best times I have been sung that song, the other one being the time it was sung to me being underground in a cave in France.

Eldest Son's eye - oh for goodness' sake, I'm going to call them by their names - Alex's bruise from Tag Rugby is now the most lovely yellow colour and has spread to include his eye.  What an injury!  At least it hasn't put him off Tag Rugby, and he is keen to start going on Sundays, particularly as his best friend from school goes and his best friend from outside school is thinking of going.

The Baby, or the Chubster - i.e. Edward - went up a step - literally - today.  This is really good as I was wondering when he was going to begin to pull himself up to standing.  He's very interested in our stairs and if you help him up them thinks it's very exciting and funny: but today in Hayton Church at the after-school service he got himself up on to the step where communion is served (and then of course wanted to come back down head first).  He thought the whole after school service was very exciting and funny, but then recently he's found a lot of things exciting and funny.  It must be great just to think Life is exciting and funny.  There's so much for him to discover and I love watching his development, just as I did with the others at that age (and still do: their observations on life can be hilarious.  They come out with things which sound so mature, and wise, and profound: and which are often completely down to earth).  I'm intending to open an extra page for priceless quotations and priceless moments, if I can work out how to.

Hayton Church is significant not only as the place of Edward's first going-up-a-step but also because in just under two weeks' time it is going to be the location of my first paid solo singing engagement!!!  I'm singing at a wedding, thanks to Edward the vicar.  I'm going to sing Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck (I had considered Handel's Rejoice Greatly, but not only is the singing part more complicated but also the accompanist, and with hardly any time to go simple is better and more effective).  I'm very excited but also at the same time rather nervous as I very badly want to sing well and not wreck the bride and groom's special day, but to add to it.

I've got my aerobics certificate now so am starting to teach aerobics next Thursday - the Sands in Carlisle also needs instructors, so who knows.... meanwhile I need to get on with some writing.  I have a feeling that if I perservere with all these things then my level of activity and therefore income may snowball.  When I went on my TV presenting course they said that the people who give up are the ones who get nowhere.... maybe it really is 'goodbye surveying'.  Meanwhile I am rewriting my 'opera' programme for Radio 3, and if they don't want it perhaps I should try ClassicFM.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Well, that's it.  I've completed my first half century and am one day into the next (I fully intend to live to 100 at least).

My Grandmother is 100 in January: when she was my age I was born.  I have a baby son, and had 5 babies - plus their mothers, other 'school mums' and a couple of retired ladies who are grandmothers - round for tea and cake yesterday afternoon to help celebrate.  I don't feel as if I should be a grandmother: I feel right being a mother.  I feel 35, not 50.  After all, 50 sounds so middle-aged: people tried to call me middle-aged at 40 and I resented it but now I can hardly deny it and I am 'middle' in so many ways: halfway.  But I still don't consider myself the slightest bit 'old' or even particularly mature.

The cross mood of my last post did of course pass.  I think the singing lesson I taught on Monday helped as I feel I'm helping my pupil achieve something, and a conversation with her mother (a primary school teacher) afterwards gave me an idea for a book: I just now need to be able to sit down to write it.  A conversation with ex-London-friend-E made me try putting the baby to bed for a nap on Monday afternoon, which worked.  However it didn't work yesterday (which was a 'different' afternoon anyway) or today: he has not had an afternoon nap but about 45 minutes in the morning, and has then been really tired by early evening and in bed early.  Which isn't necessarily a good thing as he can be known then to wake up early: this morning it was 6 a.m. after I'd gone to bed a bit late after quite a few glasses of fizz.

In fact I went to bed on quite a high yesterday as I'd had such a lovely and exciting day: the fizz had just served to heighten my emotions.  So how did the day on which I celebrated such a significant age pass?

I was awoken by the baby being his usual chatty and cheerful self at 6.45.  It struck me that I needed no other presents as I have him, though of course if nobody had given me any presents at all I'd have been gutted.  I had 3 parcels to open: some Burts Bees bath stuff, a pale mauve flower necklace and some Ren skincare (a moisturiser which I'd listed as being something I wanted and some facial serum which I hadn't, but had seen on the website and wanted).  What a good start!  The children and Husband gave me a beautiful card with lots of glittery cakes on it and Husband has given me an IOU for a fur or sheepskin coat when he has enough money.  He also said he'd take the afternoon off....

Things went a bit pear-shaped when we had the usual nagging and shouting at the children to get ready to get out and get to school, and when we got to school everyone was in a bad temper still and another mother took them in.  Not a good start.  But I got home to receive a phone call from a friend to whom I haven't spoken for ages.  It was fantastic to have a chat with her.  Her second daughter was born the day before my daughter but is severely handicapped, and it makes me feel incredibly lucky and humble every time I think about her: and not only that but I now have the Baby as well (who is the most gorgeously good-natured and friendly chap: but no pushover.  As doubtless I have commented before.  In fact he got quite cross when I took one of my birthday cards off him so I could open it before he mangled it).

Then some flowers arrived from my Mum, and also a parcel from her for the children with a copy of the Waitrose magazine for me.  I phoned her and had a chat with both her and my Dad, and then thought I'd get on with a few other things: going to the Co-op I decided on the lazy option of buying a pudding rather than making one (it was probably cheaper but in fact we never ate it as I hadn't realised it needed defrosting for 4 hours).  Returning home I found a Ren parcel waiting for me including some more moisturiser and a Rose Otto body polish which I have been dying to get for ages: plus various free samples.  Very exciting!  I phoned my Mum again to say 'thank you' and just as I put the phone down my mother-in-law called, so I had another birthday telephone call.

Ex-London-friend-E. then turned up with her baby, a beautiful bunch of flowers and some chocolates and a card and while she fed the babies I made packet chicken noodle soup for us, whipped cream and stuck cream and cherries on my chocolate fairy cakes.  And then the party began.... only to be interrupted by a call from school as Eldest had badly bumped his head running into someone else playing Tag Rugby and they were hoping I could fetch him.  Fortunately one of the other Mums later brought Daughter home who is in the same class as her third child, and the tea party continued until about 4pm.

Once everyone had left I then found Husband had left various emails for me on my phone saying he wasn't coming home early as his running top smelt of wee too much for him to run in it.  I then had to try to make dinner and the baby's dinner while the children ran around madly, full of chocolate cake and chocolates (a lethal combination if you want any semblance of calmness and sanity).  Fortunately Special Friend M. (also known as GodMother M) turned up and helped out, and just as the Baby was getting really upset - while SFM or GMM helped Eldest with his homework - Husband appeared, having caught the bus home.

The grown-ups sat down to eat at about 7.30pm, Running Friend P and her husband turning up just after we'd started serving up (perfect timing: I hate going out to dinner and having to wait hours for the food when I'm starving, so assuming they were starving after hard days at work presumably they didn't mind sitting down to eat straight away): Coq au Vin cooked in my way (i.e. with stacks of red wine and not much else, though I forgot the brandy which in some ways is the best bit as I always set it on fire.  It tasted OK though) followed by a carrot cake which one of the Mums had brought in the afternoon: all washed down with some Australian fizz and then a bottle of Heidseck Monopole.

SFM/GMM had to leave to get Son home as he (aged 7, the same as my eldest) had school today and while Husband took the children upstairs to bed - and fell asleep next to Daughter - I carried on chatting to Running Friend P and her husband.  I can't remember exactly everything that we talked about - I know education and music and wood burning stoves came into it at different points of the evening - but it was very interesting and enjoyable.

Little did I know that the excitement would continue today with a Jo Malone eye cream I'd wanted arriving from Brother-in-Law J and his girlfriend (also J) and then - lovely surprise - a big bouquet of lilies, all still in bud.  And I still have my party to look forward to..........

Thursday, 8 September 2011


I am cross today.  Here is the list of bad thoughts:
- went to bed with a headache; woke up with a headache; headache got worse when children got home from school
- why does everybody else make a mess and expect me to clean it up?
- Husband does a ridiculous number of hours for his poxy little job which pays hardly anything (he's worth more but has lacked the confidence or drive or something to go for it: I was earning stacks more than he is by the time I was his age) and still expects me to do all the housework and look after the children
- it's not worth trying to write as the Baby doesn't sleep enough during the day to let me get anything down on paper
- it's not worth trying to teach as I don't have any time to plan, prepare or practice
- all I do is drudgery from morning till night without a word of thanks, with naughty children and no money
- it's not worth trying to do any singing practice as  a) I don't have time   b) I'm too cross to sing.

I know I shall feel better tomorrow after I've been to the gym; I would also feel better if I did some singing practice.  But as for the writing and teaching, I am rapidly beginning to feel that I just don't have time to do them properly (and I'm not prepared to do things sub-standard and rushed), and that I may as well just get a 'proper' job.  As the only way I can get one which pays enough is to work full-time, then perhaps that's what I should do.  I don't want to leave the Baby, though.....

Reading a friend's research paper on the effects of migration on professional women has made me feel crosser, as it highlights that professional women's careers go down the thingy and that they end up doing more housework, feeling deskilled etc., when they migrate: that's exactly how I feel at the moment.  I've never felt isolated up here: the opposite in fact, I've made lots of new friends and acquaintances and getting involved in the musical life of the area has been a huge boost from that point of view.  But my career has slid further and further into the murky depths since having children, and that's been exacerbated by moving to Cumbria.

But you all know about the positive side of living in Cumbria as well from my other posts...


Suddenly we're at the end of the school summer holidays, not the beginning or the middle.  Suddenly there are two days before they go back to school, rather than two weeks or two months (not that there ever were two months, but it felt as if it was nearly that long).

Older Son will now be a 'Junior' rather than an Infant, which means I can fetch both him and his sister at 3.30 rather than 3.15: the extra 15 minutes feels as if it will make all the difference!  It won't be immediately after lunch but getting on for tea-time.... ridiculous, I know, to think that just 15 minutes will make that much difference but it means that I shall be thinking about fetching them from school around about 3pm rather than 2.30, and psychologically it is quite a difference.

To update on my previous post (or rather the penultimate one), the aerobics class went really well: at least, the Fitness Manager was pleased.  The problem is that I now can't find my certificate to prove that I'm qualified, so I'm going to have to chase around the London Central YMCA and ask them to dig out a copy: and I only know that I did the exam sometime in March of either 1991, 1992 or 1993..... (probably the latter I think; maybe 1992).  I hope they can as having prepared the class and taught it, I enjoyed it and feel I could quite get into it: I'd like to do a 'Step' class and teach that as well (and a teacher at the Sands was saying that there's a dearth of Pilates teachers at the moment too).

The singing pupil is great........

The post ends here and I have no idea what else I wrote.  The internet has been doing some funny things at our house recently.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


How could I forget the most important thing which happened last week?  The Baby started commando crawling!

He's also happier sitting up now, and practices jumping when he's in his high chair - we've had to start strapping him in so that he doesn't catapult out.  He makes the whole table wobble, and drinks get split.  Unfortunately he's got too fat for his door bouncer.

I wonder how many 'firsts' I missed being at work full-time when the other two were his age.....


I am now seriously short on cash.  I had my last maternity allowance payment today: £36.  I think that means I have about £20 to last me until the next child benefit payment in 3 weeks' time!

EXCEPT.... well, what can I say except that it's completely pointless trying to guess what Fate intends for you.  Having thought that perhaps I should go for a well-paid job and give up the freelance type idea, I got a phone call regarding a possible singing pupil, and the same day an email confirming a commission for an article.

The possible pupil had a trial lesson today and I think it went OK.  I hadn't ever actually received the first email commissioning an article from me, but it was confirmed that it was needed and I got £10 more agreed than I had originally suggested.  £30 for 400 words and some photos: I haven't heard yet whether the article is acceptable but fingers crossed.  I should also get paid in the next month or two for two other articles as well, which I wrote about a year ago (! magazines are SO slow!) and for which I'm getting £50 and £70 - so actually I'm not really all that poor after all.  And once the children are back at school I shall start churning out articles (I hope).  I do think that one of the things I am definitely OK at is writing: I may not like my singing voice and I may have failed with my Opera programme, but I can write.  I think.

I'm also teaching a trial aerobics class tomorrow: not sure how much that will pay if I get accepted, but again it would be a small regular amount each week - and no childcare fees.

Enough about money though!  Today I had an interview at Tullie House (the museum in Carlisle) to become a Board Member/Trustee.  It's not a remunerated post but I think would be really interesting, and fun: a view which was confirmed by my interview as I really enjoyed chatting to them.  They're seeing 17 people so goodness knows whether I'll be accepted but che sera, sera, and it was a good experience - a bit like being back at work, talking about adult things and things which I feel a bit out of touch with such as what's happening in terms of development in Carlisle city centre.

The last couple of weeks have also been great for seeing friends whom I haven't seen for a while.  Friend C from Corbridge came over last week: we always seem to end up laughing about several things; and Friend L who I've known since University came past with her two sons and husband and eldest son's girlfriend.  It was great to see them and also the first time they'd seen the baby, who they loved.  Her eldest son is going off to University soon - he'd just heard that he'd got the grades for Edinburgh to read Ancient History, which sounds fab.

My writing is not good today but I don't care for once (I'm usually quite a pedant)!

Then at the weekend GodMotherL and I went for a walk - with the children.  All 3 of them.  Oldest Son was a star and not a word of a whinge passed his lips despite the fact that he had gone paddling in a stream in Bassenthwaite before we even started off, and had soaking socks (which he removed) and wet wellies - inside and out.  Daughter wasn't quite so easy and ended up sitting on the front of the buggy: and the Baby wanted milk halfway round and then had to be carried every-so-often to stop him crying.  The walk was also not a good route for a buggy, despite being in a book of ATP routes.  There was a particularly steep and NARROW downhill section; the other bit we didn't like was where we were meant to go through a field of cows, and then through more fields - we walked straight down the road instead as I think everyone's patience with the walk route itself and generally was wearing a bit thin by then. 

What I really must do is buy a good scale map of the north lakes: we have Brampton & Hadrian's Wall along to Haltwhistle or so; and we have the South Lakes or S-E lakes; we also have the Lakeland 100 maps (which are quite detailed) and the Coast to coast - but nothing which had Bassenthwaite on.  However on a positive note the rain held off until we were sitting by the stream having our picnic when we got back to the cars.

All is very quiet in the house, like the night before Christmas.  Time for me to go to bed.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


I've been wondering how on earth to get more flowers on plants in my garden recently: how even to get things planted as seeds to come up at all.  I have come to the conclusion that the soil is not fertile enough, having been hidden under shrubs for years and years and doubtless never fed.

My Father in Law and God Mother M had various suggestions, peat-based compost being a complete no-no.  Bone meal or something was one suggestion; my parents stated that they had stacks of compost, but quite how they'll get it up to Cumbria I'm not sure.  Then it struck me that we had something far more useful close to hand (though it will need covering with top soil - which isn't a problem as I want to raise some of the levels anyway); something free and in regular supply.  Ferret poo.  And, as our ferrets have a very high quality diet (remains of roast beef; yorkshire pudding; custard) doubtless their poo will be high quality too.  So... next time Husband cleans their hutch out (and leaves the straw and droppings in a bucket for several days), they are going on the garden.

I'm optimistic that our garden will eventually be as fertile as the patch of grass where the pond used to be.

I'm also optimistic that if I get a job it won't then cost a huge amount to get someone in to set up my raised vegetable beds, do some weeding, and move the paving stones from the back to the side, thus finalising, for now, the layout of the garden.  What I also want someone to suggest is how I get the 6' high stinging nettles out of the ferret run.....

Talking of runs, I went for a run in Gelt Woods today, for the first time in getting on for two years.  It had even changed a bit: Hayton High Estate and Edmond Castle Estate have fenced off lots of their land, but it had the advantage of making the footpaths wider and also there weren't any stiles to climb over.  Then, when we got to the quarry, we found the footpath had also been widened and moved there.  My running companion and I decided that the changes were probably for the best.

It took us 3 or 4 minutes longer than usual to get to the railway viaduct at Middle Gelt Bridge, but at least that provides a base on which to improve, and generally I was running quite well and felt fitter than I had anticipated feeling.  We arranged to go again next weekend, and to make it a regular weekly outing if we can.  It would be great if I was going to the gym Tuesdays and Fridays and running on a Sunday: getting a job could limit that but on the other hand I do also need to earn some money.

Husband is busy doing the ironing and I've done the washing, washing up, baby's bottles etc.: so while he's occupied with that I'm going to bed to start re-reading Axel Munthe's The Story of San Michele, which I haven't read since I was in my late teens/early twenties.  I wonder if I'll enjoy it as much now?