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!