Thursday, 23 June 2011


I got on the scales the other day and almost jumped off them again in delight when my weight no longer started with a '10' but with a '9'.  OK, it was 9st13 which is only just under 10 (and I haven't dared get on again since in case I see a 10 again) but it was going in the right direction.

I have also started going to the gym and this Friday should be going (3rd time lucky) to 'quick spin' followed by Pilates.  I haven't run or cycled for a while, nor even been out much - the weather's been disgusting - but I'm feeling good.

We are also becoming Media Family.  I went in to Radio Cumbria to record my demo CD the other day.  I'm not actually sure it was that good - I think I was reading it too much rather than speaking it - but we'll see.  I've also arranged to record a couple of other demo CDs, one to send to voiceover agencies and one to give to people who might want me to sing.  I was speaking to MJ who accompanies me sometimes yesterday and he thought I should be able to get some solos with Brampton Chamber Choir.  I thought they already had good soloists, but apparently another one would be OK especially as our voices are all different.  I'm still not convinced I'm quite so good at 'presenting' and performing as when I was pregnant: I rather suspect that I have lost an emotional edge.  Having said that I still find tears well into my eyes easily at things on the TV so perhaps I'm not that unemotional.

Older Son has also joined the media circus though.  He was interviewed for 'Kids Call' on Classic FM the other day, to his delight, and spoke beautifully calmly and clearly.  Several people (including biased grandparents) have said how confident he sounded.  I was just aware of how much they cut!  A CD arrived for him today and I'm just hoping they haven't sent the one we've already got and which he unconsciously advertised for them when he was on the Radio.  Of course Daughter now wants her go, so I've promised that we will email Classic FM close to her birthday.

My CV has been put forward for a surveying job in Carlisle.  My first reaction was that I didn't want to leave the Baby, but it's only a 9-month contract and they'll let me do 4 days per week, if it is me who gets the job.  It would be nice not to have to wonder where some money is going to come from, and I should still have time to continue with the writing, singing, etc. etc.  Tomorrow (or perhaps Monday) is going to be the day I write a submission for a book publishers..... meanwhile today I was thinking of applying to be a BBC Trustee (£32k pa for 8 days work per month) but there's an awful lot of writing needed and I can't helping thinking they'll want someone with rather more senior experience than me.  But then, if you don't try.... so perhaps that will be this evening's task.  Meanwhile the Baby is about to wake up and want his lunch and then it will be time to go to fetch the other two and take them to their swimming lessons....

Saturday, 18 June 2011


I always used to turn my nose up at mothers who didn't work, especially the type who drive around in huge four by fours and to all appearances appear to do little other than lunch.

I'm now beginning to reassess my views.  For a start, I enjoy being at home with the Baby, and I've always felt that about the 6 month age is when babies start to get really interesting (and which is the age at which my other two both were when I went back to work, full-time).  And whilst the older children are sometimes hideous after school (bickering, tired and tiring, naughty...) I feel far more part of the school because I'm able to be there to fetch them and to speak to other parents, and I know they appreciate not having to go to after school club.  It also means, money permitting, that I can take them to do after school activities: we currently go to the after school church service most Wednesdays, have gone to orienteering, and are about to start going to swimming lessons.  We can also fit in things like dental appointments a little more easily than we might have otherwise done.

Bristol Friend S. has always felt that it was a good thing to be there for one's children, but she has also always been busy doing other things as well. She didn't have brand new shiny company cars and a stunning modern kitchen, but actually - who needs them?  I now have a better understanding, I think, of why - I believe - she basically enjoys her life.  I saw her today as she was up in the Lake District to do the Windermere (Great North) swim: she looked so well and I'm sure not getting too stressed about life helps.

I do sometimes wonder if I'm becoming workshy, except I've been doing plenty of things: for my choir's committee (minutes; press releases); for the Lanercost Festival Committee (press releases; a radio interview; maintaining and using a database; distributing leaflets); Carlisle Leisure Limited board (reviewing the maternity policy; helping with a lease termination) and also trying to develop some freelance work.  In fact I'm still optimistic, as I know I've written in previous blog posts, that the freelance work of various types is going to take off: I think it's one of those things which takes time to build up.  In other words I don't think I've been sitting around not using my brain, but I know I'm more relaxed and doubtless a better mother with happier children because of not going to an office every day  I do get cross with them when I'm trying to do something on the computer which I consider to be work and they're not going to bed or something similar, but I guess that's the complaint of anyone who works at home: other people not considering that you are actually working (and I do tend to think that even unpaid tasks are still a form of work).  And of course I do the bulk of the housework....

I still feel some part-time or freelance work which I can fit in around the children but which gives me a reasonable income, would be the perfect solution: I'm glad in fact that I don't have a husband who earns so much that I don't actually need to work.  I don't think nursery nor after school club is bad for children: in fact I think nursery is definitely a good influence and helps them socially.  But I definitely don't want to have to work full-time nor travel long distances, and having had a break from being someone else's employee I'm more inclined to work for myself than ever. 

A stockbroker I knew said, when I was pregnant with my first child, that she felt her children had been the greatest achievement of her life.  Certainly when I get up to the pearly gates I would far rather be able to say that I feel that I produced and brought up three decent people and that I did a variety of tasks and had some important hobbies, such as triathlon and singing, than for being a Chartered Surveyor to be the first thing that springs to mind.  I felt like that when I was single as well: being a Chartered Surveyor and working for X company was not the be-all and end-all of my life: my life outside work was what defined me as a person.  My aunt who died a couple of years ago was a role model for me for being single, having a fantastic and full social life with plenty of friends and interesting activities and holidays: not for being good at keeping accounts.

Not so long ago it looked as if I might get a brand new company car and a fur coat, and Husband and I were joking about how that would make me look good at school (there are a lot of yummy Mummys with posh cars); currently I turn up in a dirty old VW Passat with a broken window, jeans with holes in, clothes likely to have recent baby milk stains on, home-dyed hair.... and a big smile.  I am happy.

I'm also feeling better about my singing having had a particularly nice comment this week from someone who was described as a 'harsh critic', so that has boosted my confidence too.  Tomorrow I'm going in to Radio Cumbria to record the demo for my opera programme: that's incredibly exciting (though I'm a bit worried because I don't think I've got recordings of all the music I want to know, and I'm not sure whether or not I need them).

And after that we have Special Friend/Godmother M., Godfather C. and their son T. coming round for roast duck.  Yum!

Saturday, 11 June 2011


The word 'goddess' implies, when used in Nigella's 'domestic goddess' context, an attractive woman who can juggle family and home - and probably a job as well - in a well-organised rather enviable way: baking sublime cakes as her children traipse in through the door wet and covered in mud, whisking their wet clothes off into the washing machine before they have a chance to whinge and get cold, and calmly mopping the mud off the floor, whilst the entire time looking unruffled, well-dressed and perfectly made up.

If that is a domestic goddess than I am definitely not one.  However I do not consider myself an Earth Mother either (there is something rather hippyish and muddy about an Earth Mother to my mind and I don't dress like the former though mud and I are no strangers) and there are definitely days when I feel like a Drudge; when the hours from first waking to going to bed seem to be filled only with doing domestic tasks of one type or another, and usually for other people's benefit and to fit in with their timetables and demands.  But there are also those days when I feel that I have achieved something in the domestic arena and feel a little like a demi-goddess at least.

For example today I made ham soup from a ham bone which Husband had picked up from Cranstons and put in the freezer either for soup or for the ferrets (I hasten to add that it was good quality ham and the ferrets are spoilt); mango and strawberry ice cream as a house-warming present for Post-Natal Friend E. (the one I met at baby massage); and pear and blueberry puree for the Baby (yesterday I made him parsnip puree and also pear and mango puree).  Nothing was particularly difficult and I had thought of making oat cakes and flapjacks as well but those have not been achieved yet.  Today, after all this cooking, I was feeling distinctly chilled and domestic goddess-ish.

This is despite the fact that the house is only partially decorated and the carpet in the dining room in particular is a mess, and the garden is getting more overrun by weeds by the day.  Indoors my tomato plants don't look too happy but outdoors my roses are coming into bud and mostly look great, though one has some black blotches on its older leaves, which I don't think is too good a sign.

On the Baby front I've had mixed success as I gave him Strawberry, Banana and Blueberry puree yesterday and he was very unhappy all day and vomited most of it back up: I think the strawberries gave him tummy ache.  Would a Domestic Goddess have made a similar mistake or would she have known instinctively that Strawberry puree would not suit the Baby?

A Domestic Goddess would doubtless juggle French lessons, singing lessons, various lessons for children and all her volunteering responsibilities with ease but I have just given up my French lessons as I wasn't getting time to do any practice: but I did do some singing practice yesterday.  I also feel that I've done quite a bit for the Lanercost Festival, especially in terms of publicity but this is something else I am probably going to give up as I want to apply to be on the Board of Trustees for Tullie House Museum and I also need to get a job and if I'm working I think Lanercost will take up too much time.

The problem is one of time, and a text conversation with a friend earlier highlighted this.  She said that as your children get older you actually have less time, not more.  I have mixed feelings about this: life felt as if it was going to be easier with the older children at school, but of course I never really got to find out although being pregnant with them at school permitted more time than now the Baby is here.  The Baby, being at the rolling-over-but-not-getting-any-further stage is now more demanding than when he was newborn in that he is getting frustrated and bored and needs picking up and cuddling and moving somewhere else until he gets bored of his new position and then needs moving again.  He is also still eating almost every couple of hours, although the quantity is reducing so he may be going to get taller and a bit slimmer at last: particularly if he manages to start crawling within the next couple of months.  And of course once he's crawling I am not going to be able to take my eyes off him, so the chances of doing much other than when he's asleep will reduce still further.  I don't regret this as I love watching him develop, but it means my opportunities for proof-reading things, answering emails, doing singing practice, writing articles, and applying for jobs will be more limited.

Husband asked rhetorically this morning where the baby who was Oldest Son had gone.   It seems, in some ways, such a short time since he was born, and certainly having another baby makes me reminisce about Oldest Son and Daughter as babies: but on the other hand I love watching them as they are.  Again, this text conversation with my friend made me think of what I'm proud of them for.  It's so easy to be aware of, and driven up the wall by, their failings - which are often characteristics you wouldn't dream of changing - but sometimes I think we need to step back and consider what we are proud of our children for.

I am proud of Oldest Son because he has a lovely nature.  He is kind, considerate and good at sharing, and can come out with some quite perceptive and sensitive comments about other people.  He is also good at drawing and far braver on his bike off-road than I ever was.

I am proud of Daughter's exuberant, brilliant personality.  She is a brainbox but in a very down to earth way: learning things and studying or doing 'homework' is not hard work to her but just something she enjoys doing, and combined with that she has amazing confidence.  I am also proud of her nearly swimming without armbands and of the way she keeps going when we go out on the tag-along, and chats away.

I am proud of the Baby because he is so happy and because he so often charms other people.  His smile lights up his whole face and happiness spreads to everyone else as well: even more so his giggle.  He appears to be quite a pickle and to have a good sense of humour.  I am also proud of the fact that he seems to be strong and is now enjoying trying to stand up (when held): in fact quite often now he objects if you try to keep him sitting on your knees.

They were all worth having though I have to admit the times when I feel like a Drudge (rather than a Domestic Goddess), I wish I had a job and could escape for a bit: and then afford to pay someone to undertake some of the domestic drudgery.

Do Domestic Goddesses really look glamorous?  Nigella seems to imply that they do but I've always preferred the rather more down-to-earth goddesses, as in the Greek and Roman myths, who fought each other for their men or who were fallible enough to fall for mortal men.  I'm not sure that all of them would have worn full make-up every day: they were far too busy rushing around and stirring things up.  And I'm sure that also by the time they had had 3 children they would have had a bit of a tummy on them.

My tummy still has not shifted - not surprisingly - but Post Natal Friend E. did comment this week that your body has a memory, and by Baby no.3 finds it easy to remember being pregnant.  So this morning I woke up determined that I shall think about my 40-year-old triathlete's body instead, and make my body remember that, in the hope that I shall get it back into a shape approaching the one it had on my 40th birthday without too much work.  Doing some exercise would help though...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I did a new piece at my singing lesson this evening.  I was particularly pleased because I sight-sang it quite well (my teacher was impressed but so was I!), but also it was a piece I immediately liked and will now consider for my Grade 8 exam.

I was driving home debating in my mind what doing a new piece of music is like.  Initially I thought it was like starting a new exercise book at school (do children still use exercise books nowadays or is it all loose-leaf printouts from the internet and virtual essays?).  I remember the excitement of the smooth unspoilt cover and the pristine white pages, all waiting to be written on.  There was a sense of anticipation: what pearls of wisdom, imaginative stories or brilliant pieces of work were going to fill these pages?

However the exercise books all too quickly would grow dog-earred around the corners, the cover would get torn and scuffed and doodled on, and the inner pages would become rough and bumpy from the indentations of all that writing.  A piece of music doesn't become like that: or rather, the manuscript may as you work on it in more detail and put your own personal comments, reminders and notation on it (slow up here.... crescendo there.... keep that note light.... watch that vowel sound.... that's a sharp not a natural....), but the music itself, if any good, remains divine and familiarity, rather than breeding contempt, often breeds more awareness of the detail and awe for the skill of the composer.  The performer or listener may become more comfortable with the piece and may temporarily grow tired of it if heard or performed too much: but after that follows the pleasure of going back to the piece many weeks, months or even years later, to rediscover it and realise that although you still know it well, there are more jewels to discover.

I have no idea whether the piece I first sang today will be one of those that lasts the test of time for me.  I rather suspect it will as it comes from an anthology of songs and arias of which I never grow tired, Twenty-Four Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: a fundamental song book for nearly all singers I should think, with a well-chosen selection of pieces.  My very first singing piece came from there and I still know it and enjoy singing it today, finding something different to consider every time I sing it, even if it is only to myself.

That is, of course, also the delight of live performing.  Human beings rarely achieve perfection, especially ones with only the small talent I have (as opposed to those who are incredibly gifted and talented, though even those sometimes make mistakes), and when performing live you can always wish you had done something differently or better.  But isn't that great: it means there is always something you can strive for, and so long as you feel your performance was good then at least you don't need to beat yourself up about it either.

I'm currently working on my song selection for a demo CD I'm going to make.  My teacher asked who I was aiming it at: the answer is I don't know, but if even one or two people engage me and pay me to sing I will be overjoyed, and all my years of feeling a failure when I was at University should be finally put to rest.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


My memory of summers as a child is of my mother sunbathing religiously and my sister and I playing in the paddling pool.  There was one summer when I read 4 books in one day and got told off for not going outside more but generally summers seemed to last forever and to be sunny day after day.

In my 20s and 30s, living in London, I loved the hot summer weather despite the sweltering tube lines and pollution if you were cycling or walking around.  Life happened down by the river after work where people stood outside wine bars in the warm weather until it grew dark; the South Bank was a magical place of music and entertainment, close enough to Waterloo or Charing Cross station to stagger to get a train home once it grew cooler.  Frequently I got sunburnt: lazing around at friends' houses or out cycling, careless about suntan lotion and keen to go brown.  I only ever burnt once a year (even that seems too much now) and would then just turn brown.

Working in France in 1994 I would be out cycling or walking on the hottest of days, loving the heat.  I remember getting out of the car at the supermarket in Perpignan to be hit by a blast of hot air like walking into an oven: I think it was about 40 degrees that day and the temperature was regularly in the mid-30s.  Down by the coast there was a sea breeze to cool things; up in the mountains the mountain breezes; but they didn't stop the colleague I was working with and me developing tans which made us look like locals.

And then I got pregnant with Oldest Son in 2003 and the UK had one of the hottest summers on record.  Husband and I were in Sherborne when I was about 4 months pregnant the day that the temperature hit 40 degrees C at Heathrow: I was glad I wasn't more heavily pregnant.  I felt uncomfortably warm and heavy.  Sadly, in a way, I've never enjoyed hot weather so much since and so when my Mother in Law wondered if, as a Southerner, I'd find Cumbria a bit cold, I thought it unlikely.  In the May half term last year (2010) we spent a hot day in Keswick: even at 2 months pregnant I found it uncomfortable and just wanted to sit down in the shade somewhere (I wonder if I wrote about that in this blog?).  So the past two days of this year's May half term, when the temperature has risen to about 27 degrees, I have understood the baby's discomfort.  Both nights he couldn't settle to sleep until about 9p.m., which is most unlike him: today, when the temperature has dropped significantly, he was asleep at just gone 7.30p.m.  I'm happy to see the sun but I have to admit that the slightly lower temperature is more to my taste nowadays.  I find it difficult to believe that I went running when on holiday in Greece one year: although I never went very far. 

Maybe my favourite weather, at least in terms of activity, is in fact when there is a thick layer of fresh snow on the ground, blue skies and the sun is out: you can wrap up warmly to suit whatever you're doing, and going running means putting on plenty of layers in the hope that you may be able to take some off rather than feeling too hot before you even start.

However, I like all weathers in Cumbria.  Living in the country I am far more conscious of the changes in the seasons, even within the seasons, than I ever was when I lived in the city.  Life seems to spring from all corners and in a crazy way I'm not surprised I got pregnant when I didn't expect to.  I just wish there was some way of making the weeds less fertile!