Archive for September, 2010

Back into the Newsroom – kiddie-style

As anyone knows who knows me well, or who regularly follows my blog, I spend a lot of time planning stuff – and a bit less time actually doing stuff. I have made an art out of procrastination.

I have even got my own Homer-style bum groove in the settee; evidence of my recent inertia.

For a few years now I’ve had excuses, in the shape of two beautiful little boys. Somebody once suggested I had them five years apart to string out the time I could stay at home guilt-free. They might have a point.

But now my littlest fella has started school. Time for Super Jane to fly into action!

From about May onwards I prepared for his September school start by doing yet more planning.

In fact, I planned a crazy, impossible workload.

By Christmas, according to my schedule, I will have relaunched my PR company Rock House Communications, made a success of two new business ideas, had a series of features published in national newspapers and magazines, become thin and super-athletic, and my house will be fit to grace the cover of Beautiful Homes.

Well, it’s been three weeks. I am, incredibly and to my complete surprise, not doing as badly as I thought I would.

That Christmas deadline is, of course, completely unachievable, and I don’t see me turning much of a profit on the work front for a few months yet, but things are beginning to fall into place.

I am actually DOING SOMETHING – and am all the happier for it.

As a wise man once said, the longest journeys begin with a single step. Well, I’ve taken a few small steps.

One of them has been to persuade a local head teacher to let me work with a group of kids at her primary school once a week to write and produce a school newspaper.

It’s a little something I’ve been meaning to do for a long while and now have the time to actually put into practice.

As an ex-hack, I’d almost forgotten just how incredibly brilliant it was to be at the heart of a newsroom. The buzz of knocking round story ideas, coming up with quirky angles, giggling over silly headlines, teeing up interviews and photo opportunities…

Okay, I might be getting just a teensy bit carried away. It’s a lower school classroom, after all, not Canary Wharf.

Our newsroom consists of four unreliable computers, Publisher (2003 edition), a point-and-shoot camera and a photocopier.

But I can’t help getting caught up in the excitement of it all. It takes me back to some of the best years of my working life.

I’ve already filled the kids’ heads with the more memorable bits of my own time as a daily reporter and news editor.

Like the time I spent covering the major news stories of the 90s and early noughties, including 9/11, Princess Di’s death and the House of Horrors.

Like the excitement of interviewing famous criminals, prime ministers and celebrities (if you count Mark E Smith, Noddy Holder and 5ive).

The buzz of seeing your name on the front page.

The joy of meeting inspiring and passionate people from all walks of life.

The free travel around the world.

I don’t think I’ll bother to tell them about the hours and hours of boredom in magistrates’ courts and council meetings; of wading through dull press releases and meeting some of the most boring people ever.

Nor about the long, long days, early starts, late nights and threats of violence (and that was just from my bosses.)

As a result they are enthusiastic, uber-keen, funny and really happy to give up their own time – including their playbreaks and lunchtimes – to pursue stories, carry out interviews and be right little nosey parkers.

At the first session we drew up our first news list, the children telling me what they knew about what was going on at school.

The school chickens have had new chicks. “Great,” I said. “Let’s get a picture taken,write a pun-filled caption – include the word egg-straordinary. Next!”

Giant white carrots have been pulled up at the school allotment. “Ditto… Next!”

One boy’s just returned to England after living in Spain and another girl has come back after living in Canada. “Lovely – let’s get a nice interview about the contrasting lifestyles and schooling, accompanied by a spread of pics from Spain, Canada and here. Next!”

There’s a fundraiser being held next week for a poorly pupil. “Let’s tell his story, find out what else we can do to help him. Next!”

The mayor’s coming to a coffee morning at school. “Ooh, let’s interview him about his own schooldays. And get a picture of him with the reporting team. Next!”

I think I might have got carried away, barking out orders. I think I also forgot they are only nine and ten, and that I might be expecting just a tad too much from them.

A few days after this meeting, one of the cub reporters approached me in the playground, proudly took out his reporters’ notebook and turned the page.

“Look at this,” he murmered, furtively looking around.

It was a list of boys and girls names. “What is it?”

“That,” he said, “has taken me all lunchtime to put together. It’s only a list of who is going out with who in Year 5! What do you think?”

“Er, what do you want to do with it?”

“Print it. In the first edition. I think we could run a regular column. We’ll call it Young Love and do a list of all the couples, with their pictures, and then everyone will know who is going out with who. I’ve already asked everyone and the ones with a tick by their name say they want to be included.”

I read through the list again. “Your name’s on here. It says you’re going out with J. But last week you told me J got on your nerves.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t want to be left out of the list so I asked her to be my girlfriend again.” Mmm. Kid logic.

I suggested it might not be, well, appropriate for a school newspaper. And most of the couples would be split up by the time we printed the first edition in a few weeks. And people not included might be sad. And I was pretty sure the head teacher wouldn’t want it included.

“But,” he retorted, “everyone’s really excited about being in the paper now. And you did say it was up to us, as editors, to decide what to include.”

He has a point. I think I did say that.

So, will they publish and be damned? It will certainly be interesting at our next get-together to see if I can use my years of experience to successfully persuade them to do the right thing.

Here’s to doing stuff, whatever it may be. Enjoy doing your stuff this week!

PS: My camera is at the insurers being repaired and I’m missing it a lot. I love taking photographs, finding it a nice way to be alone, to chill out and to really appreciate the world around me. I particularly love taking pictures of my beautiful kids. You can see my attempts on my flickr pages at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fab2010/

However, they pale into insignificance next to the amazing pictures being churned out currently by an old pal Mark. If you want to see some lovely landscapes, check out his flickr pages at http://www.flickr.com/photos/zardoz67 or see his blog all about his adventures as an amateur photographer here http://www.zardoz67.wordpress.com

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Starting Over

Time for a fresh start, end of an era, a new dawn – these and every other time-related cliché spring to mind as I prepare for the start of a new school year.

This one’s a special one. It’s my littlest fella’s first day at school, finally joining his big brother at big school.

It marks the end of my pre-school days, FOR EVER, after a 10 year stretch. But rather than feeling a sense of great loss, I’m anticipating the next few months with a real sense of excitement.

Or maybe I’m just kidding myself?

Once I get into the school playground tomorrow morning and realise what a big step is ahead for us both I may well dissolve into a puddle of tears.

Hang on. Bugger. Now I’ve gone and got myself started.

Excuse my pause. I was just recalling the lazy afternoons me and O have enjoyed together the past couple of years. Those lovely hours snuggling up to watch DVDs; playing football in the garden; making mudpies; painting strange robots with laser eyes; mastering a scooter; learning to swim. Just the thought is enough to make my throat constrict and my tummy tighten. Oh dear, I’m going to miss him so much. Bugger again.

I’ve pulled myself back together again now. Yes, it has been brilliant, these past few years, and I’m thankfully blessed with two beautiful boys who, for the most part, have made being a mum incredible easy. I’m so immensely proud of both of them and proud of myself and their dad for the effort we’ve put in to help them along the way.

But looking after pre-schoolers is bloody hard work. It can be time consuming, frustrating, boring, hugely emotional, mentally challenging, draining and physically demanding, often all at once.

Given a choice (and I mostly have been) I would choose staying at home with my bairns over working for The Man any day. But only as long as I can also get mental stimulation and do something that makes me feel purposeful and needed in my own right. In other words, I really do want it all. Preferably without having to try too hard. And ideally in exchange for a large bag of money.

I think this need for “something else” beyond being a mum and a wife is what’s made me take up (and often abandon) a wide range of work, study and play activities over the past 10 years.

I’m not a good stay at home mum. I loathe regular and routine housework, resorting instead to mad-eyed whirlwind tidy ups whenever I know anyone is coming by or on a Saturday morning; I loathe thinking about and planning meals, preferring to opt for an easy “chuck it all in a pot or the oven” style of dinner; I don’t like gardening; and my baking skills are legendary (not in a good way.)

So along the way I’ve also dabbled in loads of other stuff. I’ve studied for a second degree in psychology (still only part complete); learnt Italian (abandoned, and I remember nowt); took up tennis; tried to learn the art of photography; and trained as a teaching assistant at my local school. I’ve even managed to bring in an income most months, courtesy of freelance writing and PR work.

All these things, though, have felt like extras, tagged on to my “main” life as a mum.

Of course, my role as a mum is not ending all of a sudden. In fact, when I speak to the mums of pre-teens and teenagers I get a feeling it is only just beginning.

But I suddenly have the luxury of time to turn into reality the ideas that I’ve been cooking up.

Cynics (that’ll be me. And me. And me again) might suggest my track record is such that I might well run out of steam pretty quickly and my plans will come to nothing. We shall see. I will report back at Christmas!

First I’ve got to get O to school on time and make sure I remember to let go of his hand when the time comes.

Reflections on Summer

Reflecting on the summer

Summer’s over. How was it for you?

Me and the kids had lots of lazy lie-ins; played in the garden a lot and visited local parks, cinemas and bowling alleys; and with hubby we had a lovely holiday in France and camping trips with dear friends.

I filled the diary with fun stuff to do, and at times I prayed for the summer to last forever.
We also had family screaming matches and rows over the most stupid things; been bored to tears and sick of the sight of each other; and prayed for the summer to end.
In other words, your typical family summer holiday. Nothing special. Or so I thought.

As the summer wore on I began to find out what those same few weeks have meant for other families.

For some lovely people I know, this summer has been a scary, tumultuous, life-changing and even life-threatening few weeks, dominated by illness, hospital visits and horrible news.

For more close friends, the summer break has been mentally challenging for one reason and another.

For others it’s been a time of desperate worry over finance and job prospects.

When the sun is shining and life is going smoothly, it is easy to assume that other people are having the same kind of day as you; to take the daily “good bits” for granted; even to moan about how boring the ordinary is. We all do it. Well, I certainly do.

Then you get some shocking news – and the ordinary suddenly becomes very special indeed. Shame most of us are so rubbish at recognising it at the time.

So, I’m celebrating the everyday and the ordinary. Here’s to last night’s ordinary curry night out with my mum and dad, husband and kids to mark our anniversary and Richard’s birthday.

Here’s to the simple game of cricket in the garden this morning before the rain came.

Cheers to the normality of baking cookies together this afternoon.

Hoorah for having a cuddle on the settee any time.

Yay to watching a movie together with the blinds shut, pretending we’re at the cinema.

Allelujah to listening to a good radio show, or having a good old natter on the phone with my best chums.

Hope your summer has been as ordinary as mine. If so, or if not, try to remember: “Everything passes, both good and bad.”

I’m hoping for a boring, uneventful, ordinary autumn. I promise to do my best to enjoy every dull minute of it.

In the meantime, lots of love, wishes and positive vibes to friends who are battling with the not-so-ordinary.