Archive for January, 2011

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing…

My boy Felix

Today is the first real day of my PostADay Challenge. I intended to start with a bang, by conjuring up some magical words and images to dazzle and amuse you.

But as it happens the little dose of flu that’s been leaving me under the weather for a week or so has kicked in big style.

I’m just off to bed, hoping not to keep coughing myself awake all night – but before I go I thought I would share this picture of my son Felix with you. I have cheated a bit – I didn’t take it today, but yesterday in the bandstand at one of our local parks.

It seemed appropriate though to use a photo taken in a musical location, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Today Felix was lucky enough to sing at Birmingham Symphony Hall as part of a regional schools’ “Sing Up” event. It was magical and the setting was very inspiring.

I had intended to blog about the event and include a picture of Felix in his full, mouth open, eyes wide, singing glory. However, our seats were up in the gods, so it was impossible to isolate him, even using a fairly good zoom lens.

Anyway, that’s it for tonight folks. I’m very much hoping to be back to my usual self very soon; I’m VERY bored of feeling rotten. I have lots of things to DO, lots of places to BE and lots of fun stuff that I’m missing out on.

From a very frustrated J xxx


Starting Over – With Feeling.

So, it’s come to this. Against my better judgement, I have now officially signed up to the Post A Day challenge. I blame that Mark Nelson for inspiring me. What this means is that I will post a new blog every day. For 30 days.

In addition, I will include a photo taken that day. The photo may be unrelated to the post, but it will be a true record of a moment in my life that day. Notice I’m not pledging to blog every day for a year. That might prove impossible and lead to the breakdown of my marriage, but this way I get to see how I go, while having an achievable goal and not-too-distant end.

I’m not feeling too great at the moment. I’ve got a chest infection, undoubtedly received from my son who was poorly a few days back, which has left me feeling a bit breathless and pathetic. I have simultaneously got a bout of flu, so ache a lot, have a headcold, hacking cough and generally feel like crap.

This has set back my powerwalk training for the London Moonwalk considerably, and left me feeling bloated, unhealthy and sorry for myself. At the same time a couple of money making projects have hit the buffers, temporarily I hope, but who knows for sure…so I’m beginning to seriously consider abandoning working for and by myself and trying to get a full time job instead. This does not make me happy, although it might be what I need to do.

Anyway, given that I might be forced to stay indoors a bit more than I’d hoped for the next couple of days, I figured it was the ideal time to throw myself back into photography and writing.

This will count as Day One. See, that was easy. Oh, almost forgot to include a picture. As I am in bed typing this, the best I can do is a picture taken just now on my iPhone featuring my left hand and the book I’m currently reading. Perhaps you can tell what the book is?

Spring is sprung – and I’ve won the lottery!

“Season creep” is the term describing the gradual process by which one season slowly but noticeably slides earlier and earlier into the next. (It’s not to be confused with the term “slimy creep”, which is when a dodgy bloke slowly but noticeably tries to slide his hand up your leg.)

Spring is the season we in England most often think of as “creeping”. Apparently the rate of “creep” has now reached a couple of days each decade.

This is good, yes? Soon the first day of Spring could well coincide with Christmas Day. January will truly be a month of new beginnings and renewal, instead of the dull, overcast, flu-filled drudge it is now.

Today was, I am convinced, the first day of Spring 2011.

I was fortunate enough to have a day completely devoid of commitments (at least, nothing I couldn’t put off.) So when I walked/dragged the kids to school this morning, blue sky overhead, fluffy clouds a-skittering, I knew it was going to be impossible to resist the lure of the outdoors.

Appropriately suited and booted, I set off from home at about 11am, the Fleet Foxes singing me a lullaby or two through my earphones.

Within minutes I was off-road, heading over the marshland skirting the edge of Kidderminster town centre, pictured above, towards the Staffs & Worcs Canal, which I followed to Wolverley village, about two miles away.

Halfway along, when I stopped to take a few photos, I spotted two discarded lottery tickets on the towpath. Out of curiosity I stooped to pick them up. They are in my pocket now. I assume one of them will prove to be the winning ticket. It will make a great story. (Should you care my “winning” numbers are 11, 26, 31, 42, 43 and 47 or 04, 25, 40, 42, 45 and 47.)

No, Mr Lotto, I don’t want publicity if I win. Oh. Oops.

Anyway, distracted though I was by thinking of where I’d travel to first with my lottery winnings, I carried on walking, reaching Wolverley Court bridge and lock a few minutes later. This is the approach towards the bridge.

It was a glorious day. I was lucky to be able to enjoy it, rather than be stuck in a centrally heated office.

I do count my blessings, I promise; I know I’m lucky to be able to enjoy days like this when it suits me. It also means me and mine will never be rich, not financially anyway. (Oh, except for the lottery millions heading my way.) But there is more to life…

Anyway, back to my theme – which is, or was, Spring. The realisation that Spring might, just, have sprung already, came quite a long way further on.

After passing the Lock pub (and resisting the urge to go in and order champagne all round in lieu of my upcoming lottery win) I headed across a field, bathed in sunshine.

Whatever seed had been sown there was beginning to come to life. Green shoots, standing in stiff rows, swayed gently, like overheated guards at the Changing of the Guard.

Now, I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to nature’s cycles, but I thought this was significant. I’m certain one of you can tell me what this crop is, if not bog-standard grass…and will also be able to tell me if it would be expected to come up yet? I am interested. Really. (No Latin names though…)

Here’s a picture of it, with sun streaming in to help it keep growing.

Anyway, an hour later I was back home, feeling like shite. Two hours after that I was taking my first antibiotic for a chest infection and dose of flu.

No wonder this walking malarkey was leaving me a bit breathless and knackered. Don’t worry though; now Spring is here I’ll be just fine.

I often get a bit of a cold or somesuch in January – I think it’s the payoff for being fit and healthy for the Christmas/New Year frenzy. Let me know if Spring has sprung in your neck of the woods. I’m expecting daffs by next week. Not that I’ll care – I’ll be in Australia, enjoying my winnings.

A Blog a Week Challenge

I blog randomly and infrequently, on a range of topics that come into my head. Mostly it is random rubbish, sometimes it has a point, sometimes I feel an urge to share…

Today I am officially launching my “A Blog a Week” challenge. A friend and fellow blogger has committed to writing a blog a day – I have neither the motivation or inspiration to follow suit, but wish him luck!

I do hope that by committing to blog once a week I will start to develop some kind of theme to my writing.

At the moment I don’t feel my blog has any kind of identity. This might be because I am at a crossroads personally and have yet to figure out exactly where I’m going. Hopefully writing once a week will help me get there!

I generally find it hard to write about myself and what I’ve been doing.

I love taking photos and try to include a photo with every blog, but I have neither the prowess nor the technical know-how to make this the theme of my blog.

I love being a parent, but am reluctant to share the minutae of my family life, partly for reasons of privacy and partly because I think it would either become exceedingly dull very quickly or simply become a nauseous list of my family’s achievements and funny moments.

I love working part-time, but don’t feel I can contribute significantly to your knowledge of running a small business, or working with kids, or writing media-friendly copy – there are people far better placed to do each of these things.

So for now it will carry on being a rambling collection of my thoughts and other things. I’d really appreciate your feedback – it’s great that so many people are now reading my blog, but it would be even nicer to hear what people think. I honestly don’t mind being told the bad as well as the good – it’s how I will get better at entertaining you or filling a few minutes of your day!

Thanks for listening!

My Goldfish, My Friend

This is my goldfish, Daisy. I wanted you to meet her because she is now nearly eight years old and I suspect she might not be long for this world.

We’re not big pet people in my house. Sure, we love animals – dogs are cute, kittens are fluffy, hamsters are nice enough if you like rats – but we don’t want the hassle of looking after them, of them disturbing our spontaneous lifestyle, and most of all we don’t want to spend the next 10 years clearing up their pooh.

Daisy was bought from a local petshop when my eldest boy was two-and-a-half. He wanted a gerbil but we decided he was way too young to be responsible for a pet. Daisy ended up being the compromise. I thought she’d be dead within a few months. Shows what I know.

She doesn’t take much looking after – a bit of fish food dropped into her bowl most days (if I remember) and a clean bowl once a week or so. The kids have long lost interest in her. Not surprising really – they can’t pick her up or stroke her or play with her or even study her, being as all she does is swim round and round and round.

But I think she’s special. I have even grown to love her. No, really. I know she’s just a goldfish, with a very short memory and no brains and all that, but I honestly believe we have developed a genuine rapport.

Every morning, when I walk into the kitchen, she rushes from the far side of the bowl towards me, pressing her face right against the glass. I peer in at her, and she definitely, definitely, has a flicker of recognition. I even think (and I know this sounds crazy, but really…) she is trying to communicate with me. This is far-fetched, I know, but maybe, just maybe, she is even a reincarnation gone awry – a human soul trapped in the body of a dumb goldfish.

Maybe, just maybe, she is trying to tell me something – about God, or the universe, or whether Sky was right to sack Andy Gray, or whether George Osborne really is a first class plonker with no idea about what he’s doing. If she is, how will I ever be able to work out what she’s saying? Is there a fish translation course I could go on?

She stares at me a lot as I go about my business in the kitchen. It is a bit unnerving – although admittedly less so since I realised she has no choice but to stare, not having eyelids.

I talk to Daisy a lot as I go about my chores in the kitchen – cooking or cleaning or preparing food or listening to the radio. This obviously says a lot about me, particularly that I am a bit mad in the head, but she is a good listener. You’d think so too if you met her.

In fish terms, I think she is also very pretty. She is a proper golden colour and has a long flowing tail. I am proud that she is my fish. My friend Daisy.

At this point in writing today’s blog I decided to look up goldfish on Google, just to check their expected lifespan. Excitingly, the world record is 43 years, so she could be with us for some time yet. On the downside, it would seem I have been: a. starving her by only feeding her a small amount of food once a day; b. making her life a misery by keeping her in a bowl, not in an aquarium; and c. making her life a misery (part 2) by keeping her alone. All the proper fishkeeping guides tell you very clearly that everything I am doing I should be doing the opposite of.

What do I do now? Buy a big aquarium? Buy her a playmate? Feed her more? I’m tempted to say she’s been doing just fine under our existing eating/living arrangements, but maybe her apparent desire to communicate with me has been fuelled by starvation and loneliness. Perhaps I am not a good person. Perhaps I am a bad person and should be reported to the RSPCA. Or the NSPCC (she is like a third child to me). I will have to give this matter some thought. To carry on, or to change course? Oh, what a dilemma.

PS: I had a goldfish once before. He was called Darren. He was won for me at a funfair, when fish in plastic bags were the traditional prize, by a boy called Darren who had a crush on me. (He was 14, I was 18). I took him with me to university (the fish, not the boy). The first time I went home, leaving him in the care of my so-called friends, he died (I think he had been fed to death). By the time I returned, he had been flushed away to the big fishbowl in the sky. I reckon my so-called friends wanted rid of him. Perhaps if one of you is reading you could tell me what really happened, November 18th, 1986?

Flaming Lips and Dark Beaches

Last Easter we visited our favourite British seaside location, Woolacombe in north Devon. One night, after a particularly wonderful day, we headed down to the beach to take a stroll.

Other than the distant lights from the village, there was nothing to pollute the darkness. Not even the stars penetrated the black night sky. Our breathing and whispers were the only sound accompanying the gentle swish, swoosh of the far-off tide.

A bit creepy really – all that darkness, all that space.

The kids must have picked up on the vibe. They were terrified. They clung to me and their dad, begging to get back to civilisation.

Teasing them, we ran off towards the sea, turning to run back to them only when their cries of anguish reached fever-pitch. Ha ha, what a jape.

Sensibly, hubby thought it best to silence their screams before the police were called, so hoisted littlest boy on his shoulders and gripped the hand of big brother before setting off towards the bright lights of the Red Barn pub.

Because I like to frighten myself sometimes, I lingered awhile.

The sand between my toes was icy cold, making the whole of my feet tingle; the wind blowing across the beach was like gentle puffs of fairy breath. Before I knew it I got to contemplating the earth, the universe, everything. My life, where I was going, where I had been…what colour burps were…how long I would live. Then I hastened after my family, keen to swap my deep thoughts for the buzz of their noise.

I sometimes love being alone, in perfect isolation. Sometimes, like when I go for a long run or walk, or head off to take photos, being alone is inspiring and uplifting. But I’m not naturally good left to my own devices for long – I end up eating takeaways and jumping at shadows and getting greasy hair and getting melancholic.

That’s when I turn to my two loves for salvation  – people and music.

Sometimes, of course other people are not available – not in a real sense. I guess that’s why I’ve embraced social networking so wholeheartedly since I took to spending chunks of my week alone. It’s also why I dote on my iphone and my ipod – if ever I don’t like being alone, I’ve got company in my pocket.

Then there’s always my music. The first thing I tend to do when I am alone in the house and not revelling in the peace, is turn on some tunes.

Music has been a constant, loud and lively presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My dearest childhood memories involve music – from my mum blasting out Billie Jo Spears’ Blanket on the Ground, or The Carpenters, or Elvis, while spring cleaning on a Saturday morning; to listening to rock ‘n’ roll classics while she and dad practised for their world record jiving bid in 1976; to my sister loudly playing early Police, Jam  and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the bedroom we shared til I was 11.

My kids complain that I’m “always” listening to music. I tell them I am doing them a favour, educating them in pop and rock history and preparing them to be cool kids when they are teenagers. Then they insist on putting on JLS just to annoy me.

Top of my list of bands I feel a missionary zeal to teach them to love and appreciate is the Flaming Lips. Anyone who knows me well will know I have a particularly soft spot for the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne.

He turned 50 this week, and still looks amazing. I have dragged my husband to the north of Scotland to hear him perform. He doesn’t mind my infatuation though – Wayne is the sort of guy that men want to be like and women want to be with.

He is cool with a capital C, slightly mad but self aware, and has devoted his life to pushing back boundaries, both artistically and sonically.

Last year he made  a poster in his own blood to mark an appearance at a festival. When asked why he replied he thought it was better to use his own blood than extract a chicken’s. Oooookay…

This is also the man whose live festival shows start with him emerging from an alien mother ship and rolling over the audience in a giant zorbing ball, before then dazzling the audience with fantastic light and sound effects, confetti cannons, dancing teletubbies and giant yetis.

His band released an album in 1997 which has to be listened to on four separate CD players, through four separate speakers, to be properly appreciated.

Each Halloween, Wayne dresses up to scare trick-or-treaters who come to his home in America. He feels that it is good to scare children, because when they grow older, there are things “that are horribly scary…you can’t just run away from them or turn on a light and it runs away.”

He a man who believes in the power of communication, in every form, to heal, to make life better. As he eloquently puts it: “Without art, without communicating, we wouldn’t live beyond 30 because we’d be so sad and depressed.”

The incredible The Soft Bulletin, their breakthrough album of 1999, is a place I like to escape to if I’m ever feeling a need for people, but either real or virtual friends won’t do. It is a thing of beauty and brilliance; easily one of the best albums of all time.

It was written when Wayne’s father was dying, and some of the songs resonate with sadness. Waitin’ For A Superman, a track that blew me away when I first heard it, is a good entry point for people who don’t know much about the band. The opening verse is based on a conversation Wayne had with his brother, on realising his dad was not going to get well. He asked his brother: “Is it going to get heavy?” to which his brother replied: “I thought it was already as heavy as it can be.” The meaning behind the rest of the lyric is self-evident – there are some things in life that even a superman can’t lift, or make better.

The Flaming Lips are a bit like social networking. You either get it and embrace it, or you don’t. No point in dabbling – either go for it wholeheartedly or leave it. If you don’t get it, then I respect your choice – but just know that you’re missing out, all right?

Climbing Clee: “If you don’t go, you won’t know” and other tall tales

“If you don’t go, you won’t know.” It’s an oft repeated mantra among mountaineers and explorers – and has long been a favourite saying of the Man in our house.

It’s what tumbles out of his lips, unbidden, every time he sees me casting a wary eye over the weather forecast on the eve of a proposed outdoor adventure. “They’re wrong 50% of the time,” he says. “I prefer to just do what they did in the olden days – stick your head out of the door and see for yourself. And then go anyway.”

So I did. This morning. And, like my ancestors before me no doubt, I decreed that as my head was getting wet it was, in fact, raining. Thus, a walk up the Titterstone Clee (renowned locally for being bleak, windy, remote and completely lacking in shelter), with two kids in tow, was probably not such a good idea.

I trotted off back to my still-warm bed and plotted a grand day in – listening to the radio, catching up on some reading, playing a family boardgame, building the Taj Mahal out of lego, maybe even doing a bit of work…bliss.

Two hours later, I had lost all feeling down the left side of my face. Not a stroke – that might have come as a blessed relief – but the result of being lashed in the cheek by galeforce, icy winds. My hood kept getting blown back, my wet hair was whipping into my eyes and my jeans were soaked through.

Littlest boy was just behind me, plaintively crying out: “I just want to go home,” while his stoic elder brother was yomping on ahead, leading us through the storm towards the summit.

Titterstone Clee, for those of you from further afield, is a famed landmark in my part of the world. It’s the third highest hill in Shropshire, standing a paltry 533m high, but is also perhaps its most unattractive. It is scarred by old mining works and is also home to a radar station, including the uber spaceage “golf ball” satellite, which helps control air traffic. Some 2,000 people used to work in the mines hereabouts – now its home to a handful of radar station staff and thousands of sheep.

It’s a peculiar place to be in a rainstorm. It is close to civilisation – a road runs to the radar station on the summit – yet it seems particularly desolate and bleak. Today it was foggy, dark and downright spooky.

On a clear day it provides fantastic views across England and Wales. From the top it is possible to see all the way to the mountains of Snowdonia, the Peak District, Cotswolds, Malvern Hills, Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. Today we could not even make out the road, mere feet away.

We’d brought a beautiful new kite with us, hoping to take advantage of the wind to send it soaring into the sky. It was too windy to even take it out of the bag.

We’d also brought a flask of hot chocolate and a picnic, in the vain hope the rain would miraculously clear and we could breathe in the refreshing air while feasting on Philadelphia sandwiches and bananas. It was too cold to stop, even to catch our breath.

I’d brought my camera with me, with grand plans to take some multiple exposures of the radar installations while also photographing the kite flying antics. These quick snaps were the best I could do without drowning all the equipment.

We didn’t even make it to the true summit. This picture of the radar installations, just metres below the summit post, shows how close we got.

All in all we were out of the car for a paltry 45 minutes. It felt like hours. The littlest was crying, the eldest was soggy, my mission to capture our day on camera was thwarted.

But hubby – he was pleased. Apparently, we could now be delighted because we had “put a deposit in the bank of weather” and so were now “in credit”. (I’m not making this up. This is what my husband told me, seemingly forgetting I am 42, not four…)

On the bright side, once we got back to the car and turned the heating on full, we had a lovely half hour watching the rain continue to lash down and gazing as an impenetrable fog cast a ghostly pall over the entire hill.

While tucking into the picnic and slurping down the hot choc, we all sang along with the only CD in the car, a home-made reggae Christmas album (sample lyric: “On the first day of Christmas JahJah gave to me, a garden full of sensei”). The kids know it off by heart. I live in dread of the day the Reception class teacher quizzes me about my littlest boy’s knowledge of ganja and weed.

This hiatus also gave me a chance to share memories of my first boyfriend, Morris, who had the middle name Clee as he was conceived in Clee Hill village. This was long before the Beckhams made this slightly queasy concept fashionable.

My three month relationship with Morris, aged 11, consisted of him walking me to my bus after school every day and giving me a peck on the cheek in the same alleyway en route. That was it. We didn’t speak the rest of the time. I dumped him very publicly in front of his friends, telling him: “I think we are getting too serious. I just want to be friends. Do you still want to walk me to my bus?”

Once the reminiscing had finished, accompanied by “yuk” and gagging sounds from the boys, we then decided we would make it to the summit after all by driving up to it. To do so involved passing through a gate marked “no public access beyond this point”.

Now, our eldest is a stickler for rules. Breaking them, no matter how trivial, brings him out in hives, and we hadn’t gone 20 ft through the gate before he began to beg us to turn back. I trundled on regardless, but I too chickened out when we reached a second sign warning we were now entering a restricted area patrolled by security guards. So we didn’t even make it to the summit by cheating.

But it wasn’t a wasted morning. If we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have known, would we?