There’s statistics …

Slightly unnerving to read that on 5th March 2017 one person read 51 of my blogs.

Not sure what unsettles me most:

a) having written that many in the first place

b) that just one person (UK based) has the stomach for the whole bloomin’ lot!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Change of Plan

IMG_0453

There is something to be said for unexpected changes to plans. Today, a wet and miserable Sunday, two events were cancelled, which was a bit of a pain given that I got up at 6.30am to get school work out of the way! Especially galling after an amazing Hen Party celebrating Emily and Nick’s impending nuptuals (which my spell check informs me is no longer a word).

Anyway,  I found myself twiddling my thumbs whilst reflecting (gloating? moi?) on a recent competition prize – could I possibly be about to call myself a published writer? Given the aforementioned ‘up at t’crack of dawn to do work stuff’, I decided to make a list of all my publishing successes (and otherwise) to date. Whilst nothing will ever top the prize awarded the very first time my writing went nationwide, you never know – I might yet be able to add a neat little side earner to my old age.

Writing submissions

And just in case you were wondering (are you there, Laura and Paulette?), here is my ode to David …

What would I do to be your special friend?

My list of things would never end.

I’d climb a mountain,

Jump a gorge,

A picture paint,

A treasure forge,

Bugger, I’ve forgotten the rest.

Posted in career, Creative Writing, education, Grammar, School, travels, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Template for a London overnighter

way-out-of-waterloo

5 minutes out of Waterloo

Sometimes an ill wind leads to a fresh way of thinking. Ever since moving to Hag Hill Rise I’ve always thought the best way of getting into London involves a leisurely stroll to Taplow station, a train into Paddington and then an exploration of the underground which may or may not be a success, depending on my navigational skills. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with this concept: no parking to worry about; no traffic to tackle; a sense of autonomy. But then a tube strike strikes and you think to yourself: there has to be another way.

Serendipity also plays a hand – this scenario happened just when I was thinking about a trip into London with an overnight stay, something never done before (when you live so close, why pay for a room?). What follows is a different way of doing things and, do you know what, a belated New Year resolution to make it happen – this spring.

  • Get ‘him indoors’ (senior or junior) to drop off myself and pal at Eton bridge, taking the back route to avoid the traffic
  • Take a five minute stroll to Windsor and Eton Riverside, grabbing a coffee and bite to eat if needed
  • Catch train into Waterloo – train likely to be sat there ready and waiting; seat guaranteed as it’s the end of the line; dinky little table that you don’t get out of Taplow; slow but scenic route – yep, you stop at every station including ones you never heard of, but in just under an hour you also cruise past all the great London sights as you go right to the heart of the Southbank
  • NO NEED TO EVEN LOOK AT A TUBE MAP!
  • Stroll out of Waterloo (which is, incidentally, a surprisingly sophisticated station with a decent bookshop – Foyles – not to mention a range of other tasteful shops and eateries) and either head immediately over the Thames towards Covent Garden or …
  • Head for a cheaper hotel on the Lambeth side of the river, ideally still with a view of the Thames booking.com
  • Once checked in, the options are limitless …
  • Use the hotel facilities, if there are any, quaff a glass of bubbly and/or
  • Nab a couple of free tickets from Son Number Two and go on the London Eye (10 minutes from the station) or head over the river for the market in Covent Garden (15 minute walk) for some retail therapy
  • Take in a show: these are the current options on londontheatredirect.com
Kinky Boots 2.30pm or 7.30pm £63 Dress circle (more choice currently for evening performance)
Mama Mia 3pm or 7.45pm Rear of stalls, £63 either show, more seats for evening performance
Dream Girls Fully booked Both performances
  • If the weather is good, enjoy cocktails at the roof top Radio Bar (may need to book), just across the road from Mama Mia (which is, incidentally, just down the road from Kinky Boots)
  • Have a light supper of tapas at the cellar place two doors down from Kinky Boots (Tom, what was it called?)

    tapas-1

    Tapas lunch could easily become supper

  • Drink and be merry
  • Enjoy a restful night in your hotel and either have breakfast there, or head back over the bridge to the many eateries on the other side – full English with mug of tea spotted for £4.90 and the place looked really cool!
  • Follow this with some culture, perhaps? Tate Modern right on the doorstep; or walk down the Southbank to the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, etc – the best of London is stretched out before you
  • Eventually, head back to the hotel, reclaim your bag and stroll back to Waterloo

The perfect plan!

How can it fail?

tapas-3

Tapas selfie

Posted in Food blog, London, travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Feminism circa 2000

deb-boys

Feminism – does it still exist?

Now, she says rubbing her hands with glee, a topic that I (along with at least 50% of the population) am extremely well qualified to discuss. Actually, I am probably even more qualified than most, winding my lonely path through a masculine world … I live with three males, I work with three males, I regularly email (emale?) at least three males (a bohemian, a philanthropist and a teller of jokes in bad taste) and I am a member of the generation that grew up with feminism and ‘having it all’. This will necessarily get a bit personal.

I am definitely a feminist. I left school at 16 with every intention of being independent, particularly in the workplace. I’ve been in permanent employment ever since, have always had financial independence and owned a car. It has always been as natural as breathing that I stand on my own two feet. So let me go on to tell you what is good about feminism and what I’ve discovered in recent years to be the very significant downside … leading to the conclusion that we may have won the battle but we’ve yet to win the war …

During my early career era (my twenties to early thirties, my ‘yuppy’ days) I was working in the graphic design/advertising industry – one that has always been more progressive than most about women in the workplace. Certainly I had the responsibilities, the opportunities and the trappings of success (if you can call a Suzuki jeep a trapping … more like a death trap the way I took corners in it) and I loved it! Before meeting Tim when I was 24, I’d go clubbing and out on the town just as much as the guys and generally had a ball. Even once I’d settled for married life, there was no question of my giving up my independence as Tim has never had a problem in this respect.  So this is what is good about feminism – women can genuinely do whatever they want in life, the opportunities are there and the sky’s the limit. It’s just getting the guys to wholeheartedly accept this which is the problem.

I can give you no end of examples in everyday life where this still just does not happen. The chaps I work with are all young, on the face of it believe in equality of the sexes but … despite my glorified job title, I still make the coffee, answer the phone and wear my Claire Rayner (as opposed to my Debbie Rainer) hat when they have a little problem they want to discuss. A few months ago I went to a printers to pass a job on press and the man who greeted me actually said (and I kid you not!) “Oh, I was expecting a man”. Just two weeks ago some guy canvassing for the local elections phoned up and, when I answered, asked me to find out from my husband who he was planning to vote for! What about my vote?!!! (He got neither). And I know my big battle in the New Year will be holding onto my part time working hours, as my colleagues resent my leaving at 3pm (because once I’ve gone, THEY have to make the coffee and answer the phone …)

So why do I think we’ve lost the war? Children. We give birth, men do not. And, the biggest disservice to feminism was dealt by Germaine Greer and her sisters, the ‘having it all’ brigade. Certainly we’ve ended up having it all – the job, the kids, the juggling, the breakdown …

It would be wrong for me to generalise, but most women I’ve met with children and a career (and I know many) will say the same. You cannot have it all. In my experience, once you give birth everything becomes a compromise. The career is no longer the be all and end all – there’s this little living being who you’re desperate to see at the end of the day, and who you can’t help worrying about whilst you’re at work. No matter how good the childcare (and we’ve always been very fortunate in this respect), in your heart of heart you feel YOU should be there and the hormones play supporting havoc. So motherhood becomes a compromise.  Work becomes a compromise.  Your colleagues look out for the signs (or so it seems to a sensitive soul such as me) … the leaking breast pads, the surreptitious call to the childminder, the sick on the shoulder … As time goes by, the working mother perfects the art of disguise – the phone call is made on the mobile from the ladies loo; Tim is instructed to phone in if he’s rained off and state that he can pick up the kids, without me having to ask it out loud for all to hear; you diligently offer to deliver something to a client safe in the secret knowledge that it gives you a chance to take a sick child to the doctor en route; you visit a client who’s involved in computers for education and take along your 9 year old, introducing him as ‘primary school consultant’ (I did this last week!), etc, etc. Everything is a compromise because with motherhood feminism becomes just another word for GUILT.

Overcoming GUILT takes a lot of energy, believe you me. You put in extra hours at work and don’t ask for more money. You feel you have to devote every spare second to the kids, dreaming up happy memories (tiny tin lanterns to see in the New Millennium and things like that). You need to be ON TOP of everything at all times and must never, EVER be ill. Obviously life must be very different if you’re married to someone who can make fish terraine, but most men still won’t do the ironing, think Christmas is something that just happens, forget which day is clarinet lesson and won’t take the cat to be put down …

Posted in 2000, feminism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sex and Skips

 

Another tale of dysfunctional family life, circa the millennium …

deb-boys

I remember when Joe asked a relatively basic question about the birds and the bees which launched me off into a full overblown discussion which was only missing the anatomical drawings. After half an hour, I realised this was definitely getting out of hand when I found myself telling a nine year old what to do if he and a girlfriend got carried away when, fortunately, my mum must’ve spiritually sensed my desperation and chose that moment to phone.

“Saved by the bell,” I told her with much gratitude, before having one of our half hour chit chats.  As I hung up, a little voice spoke from a lower step of the stairs where he had been sat out of my sight for the full 30 minutes, “Can we carry on with that talk, Mummy?” Using the late hour as an excuse, I suggested I would buy him a book to explain the rest, about which he was extremely enthusiastic, pressing me for a ‘delivery date’. Anyway, the days ticked by and, book bought, I was relieved to find Joe had forgotten all about it and was back engrossed in his usual pursuits of Beano, cricket and Pokemon. Which was just as well, because the book (with home made brown paper cover) was on my bedside table for several days. Most educational.

As I was saying, we’re British, so time to talk about something else. How about that other great British institution, The Picnic? (And if I hear you screaming ‘actually I preferred the first topic’, tough). One of the books that I’m going to write one day is going to be entitled ‘Family Days Out For Less Than a Fiver’ (although by the time I get round to publishing, the figure will probably have to be revised to fifty quid). I know them all. And the picnic is an essential part, of course. Little tupperware boxes with separate compartments: hula hoops, ham sarnie, grapes and a choccie biccie; cartons of juice; oh, saluborious feast. And the places we grace with our presence … Coombe Hill, Wooburn Green Park, Black Park, the Thames at Eton Wick, Burnham Beeches, Hughenden Park, Ray Mill Island … all freebies! Chuck in a couple of ice lollies and maybe a parking fee and you even get some change left over from your dog eared note. But the favourite picnic of all just has to be The Train Trip to Marlow. This one has it all … picturesque little train journey from Bourne End to Marlow along the riverbank, watch the sailing boats and maybe a rugby match on the shore just outside Marlow, stroll down pretty streets, pop into the Antique Shop and see if you can spot those quaint toys Mummy used to play with (they had my, and I’m sure it was mine, little scottie dog on wheels … oh sweet doggie, my little friend), into Marlow Park, risk life and limb in the playground before heading for The Picnic. We have an absolute favourite spot for this one.

My dog

Under Marlow Bridge, spread the little tartan rug (ever so soft and warm) onto the bank facing The Compleat Angler. Or, as we call it, The Posh Nosh Restaurant. And not only do we feast on our banquet, but we also feast our eyes on a wonderful view. The weir, the river, the beautiful people stepping out of their Rolls and strolling round the Angler’s graceful gardens. I love the irony of it … they’ve spent a fortune and what do they get to feast their eyes on – Mummy Rainer and Sprogs tucking into a ham sarnie! Anyway, recent outings have been enhanced by a little something extra …

Now, I will only admit this to my very closest confidents … I just love a bargain. Charity shops, car boot sales, newly new sales – you name it, I’m there, furtively lurking with my trusty shopping bag, hellbent on picking up a Versace or Van Gogh for less than 50p. But I have to say, even my closest confidents don’t know my latest weakness, which I can only whisper to my very, very closest confidents … on our little Marlow trip I’ve discovered the greatest hunting ground of all …

Skips.

It was the parasol that started it. Next to Bourne End station are the auction rooms, complete with skip at the rear for all the junk. I just happened to be strolling to the car after one of our pleasant train trips when I spotted (out of the corner of my eye, honest, I wasn’t scavenging) the handle of a parasol poking out of the top of the skip. A dear little Victorian one at that. I just had to have it. So I did. (Bet you thought you were unshockable.) To this day it hangs in our hall, a little memento from a bygone age . Anyway, the next time we go on our little Marlow outing we pop into the antique shop as per usual. Little scottie dog has been sold. Aaaah. With the tears still on my cheek, I spot a Victorian parasol for sale, just like my find. Except this one has a little price tag on it too – one hundred and twenty pounds, no less. That’s it, kids. Forget the playground. Stuff the picnic. We’re catching the next train back and taking another peek into that skip. Only this time it’s one of those trendy plastic thingies on wheels with a lid that pulls over. Peering into the murky depths I spy some old lace and handscripted documents. Just have to have them, daarling. Except I can’t bloomin’ well reach. “No problem”, says Joe, “Just give me a leg up and I’ll get them for you, Mum”. (My kids have been brought up on my idiosynchrosies). In just a trice, he’s in there, foraging around at the bottom. Damn. Someone’s coming. “Lay low, Joe, ” I whisper, as I slam shut the lid and start loitering innocently with Thomas, pretending to be train spotters. Not an easy task when all you can hear is a frantic tap, tap, tap, tap, coming from the skip to your left, and an increasingly anxious voice demanding “Get me out, Mum. Are you there, Mum? Get me out, Mum. GET ME OUT!!!” As soon as the coast was clear, I pulled him out, wild eyed and ranting (him, not me). (Incidentally, if you’re ever tempted to repeat this little exercise, remember it’s a darn sight harder getting a kid out of a skip than getting him in).

Our spoils this time? Some pretty lace, a hand embroidered bag, and lots of very damp letters and photos which sit in my airing cupboard drying out to this very day.

Talking of drying out, just where did I put that bottle?

Posted in Parenting, Uncategorized, When the nest was full | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Snowdonia, 1997

Once your children have left home, it is all too easy to remember their childhood as a time when all was perfect, days tinged with a rosy glow. Then you find an old diary entry…

picture-016

We had a good holiday in North Wales in August, although it took Tim several days to unwind – not so good when you are only away for a week! As always, we had our usual share of mishaps, although both accommodation and weather were excellent. We set off on the 5 hour drive with our Autoroute directional plan which some kind soul (or was it sod?) had printed off their PC – this was our first big mistake. We took the plan as gospel, and hadn’t bothered to find out what it meant by ‘check exit’ on two occasions. This meant we found ourselves heading the wrong way down the motorway near Birmingham, with Tim getting very irate whenever I corrected us. He became increasingly irate as we travelled on, going faster and faster, and closer and closer to the car in front, with me an absolute nervous wreck in the passenger seat. At one point (when 18 month old Thomas had just taken 3 stressful hours to fall asleep) I realised I had sent us the wrong way. It took me ten minutes to pluck up the courage to tell my beloved, with the inevitable result – an explosion of expletives, waking Thomas with a jolt! When we finally got there, I downed a bottle of wine by myself within an hour …

Our cottage was of typical farmhouse style Welsh stone, with a very steep garden which meant you could literally climb out of the bedroom window onto the lawn, if you so wished! This did mean it wasn’t very toddler friendly, but once Thomas was in bed at 6.30 pm, it was lovely to clamour up our garden and have a barbecue whilst enjoying the views. Another big bonus was that we had our very own quarter acre field where Joe could play cricket to his heart’s content, in the shadow of the mountains and with an ever anxious audience of sheep. They were also useful as fielders – certainly more adept than mum!

Beautiful Snowdonia was half an hour’s drive away, and we made the fateful promise to Joe that we would go up the highest peak on a train. It took us an hour and a half to get there (with me misnavigating in the process – what a surprise) only to have disaster strike. Getting out of the car, Tim realised he had lost the one hundred pounds he had put in the pocket of his shorts. Result? One mega rage. He leapt back into the car, leaving me and two bemused children standing in the car park, screeched off towards the gates, hurled a bottle of water out of the window because its rattling was annoying him, and headed back towards the cottage where he had concluded the money had fallen. I stood there, stunned.

Pushing the buggy to the station for Snowdon, it was clear that people were already queuing 100 deep for a seat on the train, reserving in advance. Reasoning Tim would be gone for at least an hour, we joined the back of the line and queued with the rest for half an hour before spotting a sign stating how much the tickets cost … £15 per adult, £12 per child. Bearing in mind there was a distinct possibility that Tim had lost most of our spending money, was it a wise expenditure … also allowing for his mood had the worst happened? I started muttering to anyone foolish enough to listen ‘shall I buy the tickets or not? What do you think?’ Then my mother appeared on my shoulder (as mothers always do when there’s a crisis), saying ‘you can’t possibly disappoint Joe, you must go’, so I bandied my credit card in cavalier style.

Having signed my life away, we then headed back to the original car park (which, needless to say, was now full up) to await the return of the dreaded Tim. Due to his somewhat hasty departure, no meeting time or place had been agreed, so the boys and I had no choice other than to wait at the side of the road for another 45 minutes for his return – me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach about the missing money and the extravagance of the train tickets. One hour before our train was due to depart, Tim finally returned – with the money, thank goodness! After grabbing a bite to eat (fortunately the long drive had cooled his temper), we caught the train for a pretty stressful two hour round trip to the summit. It was Thomas’s turn to have the tantrums this time (one day I’m gonna write a series of books called ‘Tim and Tom’s Tantrums’). That aside, the views were stunning, and Joe enjoyed the trip – especially as we witnessed at close hand a mountain rescue involving helicopter, cranked up stretcher, etc. The rest of the day passed quite pleasantly in a partnership mix that often set the style of the holiday – Tim and Joe taking a trip into the bowels of the mountains to see a hydro electricity plant, whilst Thomas and I enjoyed a leisurely cup of tea and a pleasant stroll round the shops and village.

We had other day trips (much more relaxing, I might add – Tim did mellow in the end!) into Snowdonia, paddling in the beautiful lakes and rivers, whilst picnicking on the shores. We also went to Anglesey twice, where Joe enjoyed a cricket school and quite stunned Tim with his potential, and we all enjoyed what is claimed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the UK, with the mountains of North Wales forming shifting shadows on the horizon. The one damp day was spent at a slate mine, which was quite fascinating – it is difficult to imagine just how hard life must have been for people spending 12 hours down a mine, 6 days a week, for an uncertain wage at the end of it. Suddenly the design industry doesn’t seem so bad!

Posted in Autobiography, empty_nest, Snowdonia, travels, Uncategorized, Wales, When the nest was full | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

He’s on the move …

 

editedlie

Joe, our intrepid traveller, has decided to up root from Melbourne and go walkabout. Some of the earlier flights have already been booked, so this is a semi-draft itinerary – in the true nature of exploration, some destinations might change depending on where his free spirit takes him …

 

Tasmania             11th to 20th January

Uluru                    29th January to 1st February inc

Fiji                         8th February

Vanuatu               16th February

Brisbane              Some date later in Feb, can’t read my scribbles!

Sydney                 4th and 5th March, Mardi Gras

Asia                       20th March – Thailand, Maylasia, Vietnam – through April

If anyone fancies joining me for a reunion with the boy during the first two weeks of April, let me know!

Japan                    For a week. Why not?

Italy                      18th May (some family event …)

Europe                 Travels with his bro?

London                YAY! July (though free spirit is bound to get in the way somewhere…)

Joe is considering applying to the British Council to teach English as a foreign language overseas for one academic year from September – China being considered – application deadline is February and if successful, briefing/visa application takes place in London in July.

All in all, looks like 2017 will be a year to remember. The joys of youth!

Posted in new beginnings, travels | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment