Archive for the ‘ holiday ’ Category

Sunny Day

only cloud in the sky

It was nice today, wasn’t it? This series of pictures was taken today in my back garden. It’s a rather unloved place; it lacks order or definition. But on a day like today it is a great place to hang out.

Eldest son and his dad spent the previous night in Hurcott Woods on a survival adventure with Wyre Forest’s rangers. The boy came back a man; full of tales of derring do, tree felling, sleeping on a bed of ferns under a hastily constructed shelter, burning sausages and fighting off bats and mice.

By the time they dragged their exhausted bodies homeward this morning, me and littlest were already engaged in our own battle against the encroaching weeds and ivy that have joined forces to strangle the life out of anything remotely recognisable as a flower in the back garden.

Three hours, two tip runs, busted nails and hedge-backwards hair later, and I was ready to down tools. It looked alright. I probably won’t do any gardening for another two months, but at least today we got to enjoy freshly mown lawn, tidy beds and neatly coiled hosepipe.

Watching the kids squealing in and out of the paddling pool and playing tig; and joining in with the lego-building and odd game of tennis; got me all nostalgic. This was what I used to do when I was a kid, when the sun shone and the summer holidays stretched endlessly ahead – it is what I hope my grandkids will do too. We had nowhere to be, noone to see – just a lovely simple day. The tunes we put on reflected the nostalgic mood – Cafe Bleu, Boat to Bolivia, Architecture and Morality, Rattlesnakes – interspersed with some Nick Drake and Scott Matthews. As I said, very chilled, very simple.

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Just relax, take it easy, you’re still young…

Son one

Son two – “that was AWESOME”

My boys. Still so young, but growing up fast. Too fast. One of the reasons I take so many photos of them, to their complete and utter dismay, is that they are so beautiful, and pure, and innocent. One day they probably won’t be (innocent that is). But until then I do my best every day to celebrate their childish ways.

Just before these pix were taken, on the beach at Woolacombe, eldest was in the doghouse. He’d challenged his dad’s authority – again – and been dealt an appropriate punishment (no swingboat ride, no icecream). The day’s not too far off when punishments of this sort just will not cut it. When the arguments are long, and loud, and involve tears and breaking things. We’ve already had some taster sessions. He is stubborn, and refuses to take the easy option. Just like his dad. There will be trouble ahead.

But until then we will revel in his cuteness. In those wobbly teeth, and band of freckles which burst out, like snowdrops, at the first sign of spring and sunshine.

His little brother has it easy. He can’t do much wrong right now. We try not to let him get away with anything, but he makes it hard with his ready laugh and cheeky wit.

These photos were taken after a particularly exhilarating bodyboarding session. Littlest boy had taken a full head dunking dive off the board. As he surfaced, I ran to him to ask if he was all right. “That,” he declared, “was AWESOME! Can I go again?” and off he shot, back into the waves.

Big brother was equally happy. Staying close to shore is not his thing anymore; he likes to paddle out to the furthest surfers, in deep water, waiting to catch the big one. Time after time he misses the wave – then he catches one just right and swoops into shore. Less effusive than his brother, this grin captures the ride’s awesomeness all the same.

What a great time of their lives. But I wouldn’t hold back time, even if I could. I can’t wait to see what kind of men they turn into.

Blue Skies

Night sky, sea, sand

I’ve waxed lyrical about Woolacombe in north Devon before. It’s become a family tradition to come here over Easter to celebrate my birthday and it’s one of my highlights of the year.

This photo was taken within a few hours of our arrival for this year’s annual sojourn. I love  its simplicity and calmness, the lines and the shadows.

This week away is one of those rare times when I get to carry my camera around with me much of the time. There is so much amazing scenery, so many places worthy of a photograph, that I could spend the entire week snapping.

I’ll try not to bore you though – just a photo a day if that’s all right with you.

Blue sky thinking

Blue sky thinking, originally uploaded by Jane2020.

It’s been rainy – and sunny – then raining again today. A typical English winter’s day. It was therefore a promising day for catching up on The Killing (I’m three episodes behind), sorting out the office, playing games with the kids, and booking our annual Easter hols to our regular haunt; Woolacombe in north Devon.
Maybe when you were a child you and your family regularly visited the same seaside location, possibly in north Wales – Barmouth, anyone?
Well, this will be the place that my kids think of when asked about their own family holiday memories.
This year we nearly decided to give it a miss. We are trying to keep our finances in check, in readiness for my other half’s likely redundancy sometime in the next 12 months, and seem to have had a flurry of outgoings that were not predicted or planned, mostly house and motor related.
But as usual our hearts have ruled our heads, so we’ve gone ahead and booked the same little beachside apartment that we’ve visited for the last three years.
This level of routine and repetition is not like us at all. We make a point of never returning to the same holiday location when we go abroad, on the basis that there is so much of the world to explore, so why go back? But somehow Woolacombe has acquired a special place in our hearts.
We have never had a bad holiday experience here; the kids love it; the weather is invariably kind; it’s only 3 hours away; the pubs and cafes are ace; and most of all the beach is stunning, sandy and very long. The surrounding areas are equally beautiful.
We’ve also celebrated some landmark events here, including birthdays and my hen weekend, and know every street and nook and cranny (we think).
This photo was taken from the top of Potter’s Hill, which overlooks the town and beach. When I visit in April I will be just a few weeks away from taking part in The Moonwalk, a night walk marathon in London in aid of breast cancer, so I’ll undoubtedly be marching up and down here frequently in the final throes of training.
I will keep my fingers crossed for weather as glorious as it was on this day a year ago.

I’ve a feeling I’m going to regret this…

 

Much has been made of the heroism and courage of the Chilean miners, finally rescued after 69 days underground. We humans have a remarkable capacity to cope with horrific situations.

I’ve been wondering how I’d have coped, shut underground in the dark for days on end, not knowing if help would ever reach me. I think I would have died from sheer terror on day one. As for being in that tiny rescue tube for 20 minutes at the end– oh my! I’m not even sure I would have fitted without having my boobs squashed.

In reality, I think I would have somehow found the strength to manage and to make it through. What other choice is there?

I wrote the blog that follows here a couple of months ago, but have not had the courage to publish it. I feared you’d think less of me, think I was whiney, and egotistical, and rubbish, and weak. Probably because that’s what I thought of myself. Still do, sometimes.

Some of you may still judge me harshly once you’ve read this – but I know I am not alone. We women are liable to end up in some right states, particularly as middle age hormones kick in!

So be nice to us, you less needy females! And you boys, be understanding. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, especially one this brilliant.

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The fear still comes occasionally. Mostly, though, it stays at bay. Mostly I realise how far I’ve come, and I can’t imagine ever being there again. Sometimes it pulls me up short and reminds me it is still there, lurking.

I thought I’d grown up pretty fearless. I was a bit of a daredevil, loved to try new things, was a tomboy, climbed trees, played footy, rode rollercoasters, raced round on my bike. My childhood was easy-going and trauma free.

But there must have been a scared part of me, for I also remember vividly lying in bed in the dead of night, waiting anxiously for my parents to return home from a night out dancing. I must have been about 10. They were late.

I watched the bedroom clock tick slowly round, each tick tock increasing my anxiety. Then somehow I knew. They weren’t going to make it home. Something unspoken but terrible had  befallen them. I quite literally cried myself to sleep that night, having already worked my way through the funeral and decided who I was going to live with.

Of course, they were there when I woke up. But my fertile imagination had made this scary scenario an absolute reality. I doubt I would have felt any worse if it had been real.

This capacity for terrifying myself with mere thinking came and went but stayed with me into adulthood. I think I had so little to be scared of in the real world that I would create terror all of my own.

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Two years ago, life was looking sweet. I was juggling being a mostly stay at home mum, with a two year old and a six year old; starting up my own small PR company; trying to create a perfect home and mould myself into a perfect housewife and mother – in other words, trying to have it all. I was struggling to do any of it particularly well, and felt disorganised, hassled and stressed.

One afternoon, while working at a hospital trust, I suddenly came over all queer. I felt suddenly breathless, and hot, and a bit dizzy. My skin was clammy, I felt sick and thought I might fall over. After a glass of water and a sit down, I decided I was coming down with some horrid bug and really should get home. I managed to get through a 10 minute presentation, before stumbling to my car.

The hour drive home was the worst car journey of my life. I twice pulled over on the hard shoulder to get myself together, and contemplated waiting there for the police. I was convinced I was about to collapse, have a stroke, or maybe a heart attack. My phone battery was dead, so I couldn’t reach my husband or anybody else. But even though I felt physically dreadful, I knew that what I was experiencing was psychological.

I somehow got home safely and ran into the house, letting out huge sobs of anguish as soon as I’d shut the door. The experience left me completely shell-shocked.

For the next three weeks I couldn’t work out if I was coming or going. All I could think about was what was going on in my head. I spent desperate hours analysing my every thought and was convinced I was having some sort of breakdown that would end with me being sectioned. I couldn’t make a simple decision without agonising over it, I was barely sleeping, and my weight plummeted – it was a pretty dreadful time. Coincidentally, it was around the time of my 40th birthday.

My GP suggested taking medication to calm my body down. I refused. Then I tried it. It was brill. Then I threw it away.

Anyway, thanks to having a very level-headed and supportive hubby, and a fantastic mum and dad, I made it through those horrid days, but I still bore the scars. Or should that be the scares?

I accepted I had been overdoing it.  I realised that all the demands I was making of myself (combined with going to bed late and eating badly) had created a classic recipe for disaster. Then, when my pre-menstrual hormones kicked in, it was like a bomb going off.

Anyway, soon I was definitely feeling better and began planning for a three week holiday in France in earnest.

The adult “coper” within me longed to get away somewhere calm and relaxing, but the so recently terror-stricken, frightened little girl part of me really just wanted to curl up in a ball at home.

The run-up to the holiday departure, in a borrowed campervan, was frenetic, so by the time we reached Portsmouth for our night sailing to St Malo in Brittany we were all exhausted.

As we boarded, a wave of terror suddenly washed over me. I had a horrible feeling that we were all making a terrible mistake, that we should not be on this boat, that we should just all get home as quickly as possible.

I tried desperately to quell the fear, to calm the rising terror, but the panic was filling up my mouth, my head, my entire body. Everything was telling me to make a run for it. I rationalised my fears – then very calmly announced to my hubby that I would just get off and get a train back home while they went on and had a lovely holiday.

Hubby said he thought this sounded like a good plan – while suggesting I look out of the window. We were already out of the port. There was no turning back.

It is hard to explain to someone who has never had a panic attack what it is like. You know that feeling you get when you’re anxious, nervous, filled with trepidation about doing something incredibly important, or about stepping into the unknown? Well, a panic attack seems to involve taking that feeling, ramping it up tenfold and taking away all the good, exciting bits, leaving you in a state of abject terror. Your body starts acting accordingly – heart racing, eyes dancing about wildly, tummy turning somersaults, head dizzy, mind throbbing with disparate thoughts.

Struggling to breathe, I let out a pathetic little noise. Like a deflating balloon. Like a whimpering, injured cat on a roadside.

I’ll skip the next few hours. Suffice to say I padded around the ship like a loon, smiling manically and exchanging small talk with fellow passengers, trying desperately to keep my brain occupied and keep the panic at bay, before finally succumbing to sleep.

The first night of the holiday was hell. Lying tense, wide awake, exhausted and terrified in a tent in the pitch black while your family snooze gently beside you, is not a place I’d like to return to. I eventually dropped off at about 4.30am.

Over the next couple of days I settled into the holiday and, as I chilled out, the sense of panic and impending doom receded. Incredibly, it turned into the best family vacation we have probably ever had.

Two years on I can look back to those horrible days and weeks and months with a wry smile. I definitely made things worse for myself. I refused to accept the help offered to me because I was determined I could beat this all by myself. Big mistake. It was my ego that had landed me in that mess, and my ego was keeping me there.

I eventually got “proper” help. A cognitive behaviour therapist man with lots of initials after his name helped me understand the nature of panic attacks, and hormonal imbalances, and chemical stuff, and taught me how to address and beat fear.

One of his early suggestions was that I stand at the edge of a cliff five nights on the trot for half an hour at a time to understand the nature of true fear (I’m scared of heights). The first night I did it I clung onto a tree root five feet from the edge and did not move, convinced I might accidentally throw myself off. By the fifth night I was sat, feet dangling over the edge, humming happily and peering over at a bird’s nest 100 ft below. I did it. I understood.

My GP helped in the only way she knew how, in the useless 10 minutes allocated to me – by suggesting medication, but also by helping me understand the impact of hormonal changes, particularly for us biddies approaching the menopause.

But mostly I got help from my amazing parents, who never failed to come running when I needed them, and from my gorgeous husband, who never made me feel like a nutcase.

It’s not been an easy road to travel, but I’m kind of glad I have been there. It’s made me a much more understanding person. I used to judge people instantly – now I wonder what is going on in their heads when they are a bit abrupt, or behave oddly.

I still have my shitty moments and days, and don’t kid myself that it will always be plain sailing – but I’m no longer afraid of fear itself.

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Until I started this blog it was completely against my character to share my vulnerabilities in quite such a frank and open way.

I would always try to put up a wall of coping, of doing great, of being somehow better than everyone else. I probably still do this sometimes. It saddens me now to think that when I was going through my worst moments, I did not feel inclined to confide properly in a single one of my friends. It also saddens me that none of them seemed to notice! I must have been a fine actress – dying on the inside, laughing on the outside.

Maybe I didn’t think anyone would understand. Maybe I thought nobody I could turn to would actually want or be able to help. I felt pretty pathetic and was ashamed at being unable to cope, when on the outside my life must have looked so easy.But I think having a period of “losing it” has made me determined to do my bit to break down some of the stigma surrounding mental health – and I honestly think the more people admit to having had their own share of troubles, the better for everyone.

I’ve found it incredible that whenever I do share my experiences with anyone the floodgates open – and pretty much everyone I’ve confided in has ended up discussing their own personal crisis, or told me about their own battles with anxiety or depression or some other mental manifestation. The ones who seem the happiest and most strong are usually the first to breathe a sigh of relief and let it all come tumbling out.

Here’s to honesty. And to friends. And to staying strong.

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.

Here Comes The Summer (Or Was That It?)

Sunflower in a field, Dienne, near Poitiers, France

So, that was summer then. Farewell, dear thing. You were rubbish. Again.

We went to France for our hols this year, visiting the Loire and Brittany. The weather was a mixed bag – some cloud, some rain, some perfect blue skies, but mostly the temperatures were on the right side of 70 and it was dry, which is all I need for a great camping holiday.

We returned last Sunday, pulling in to Portsmouth quay to lashing rain, misty grey dampness and news bulletins awash with flood warnings. The sun has since deigned to poke its way through the clouds occasionally to give a last blast of heat, but otherwise it’s been overcast and a bit chilly.

Fortunately, I’ve been stuck indoors for the best part of the last two days, working my way through mountains of washing while also transferring the contents of my kitchen out of storage boxes and into freshly fitted new cupboards.

Today I finally felt I’d earned a break, so took the kids bowling before beginning the long trawl through the too many photographs I had taken on our gallic sojourn.

I had briefly fallen out of love with photography as a pastime earlier this year, but really enjoyed snapping away during this holiday. I still find the task of sitting at a computer and post-processing them all a really boring chore. As a result I have limited my “photoshopping” to some amateurish fiddling about with a few sliders to increase or decrease the contrast, colours and brightness, plus a bit of cropping.

That said, a few of the pictures I took this trip are, I think, in their current unadulterated form, among the best I’ve ever taken. They are mostly of my beautiful boys but also of some of the places we came across, including “the most visited tourist attraction in France outside Paris”. But more of these another time.

In the first batch I went through today I stumbled across a set of sunflower pictures.

They were taken in Dienne, a small village 20km south of Poitiers, on a gloriously sunny morning. The temperatures here regularly hit the high 80s, and sunflower fields abound.

In this particular field, most of the flowers were already beginning to wilt and drop their pretty yellow heads. But from the roadside it was easy to see that one or two of the flowers were at their most majestic. I climbed across a ditch, camera in hand, to get up close to this particular specimen.

I love the way its head is straight and proud. One could almost believe it knew it was king of the hill, top of the heap. A bee buzzed in to join me in my admiration.

I’ve reproduced two of the images here, but also had a play around with those sliders in Photoshop to produce a couple of alternative super-saturated images, which appeal to the pop-art fan in me.

I hope they serve as a reminder that summer was here, if only briefly – and, fingers crossed, it might yet make a comeback before August is over and done with.