Archive for the ‘ memories ’ Category

Crisis? What Crisis?

I’m 43 years old. Blimey.When did that happen? In my head I’m still just a flibberty-gibbet, a teen angel, a babe in arms. But I’m not; I’m 43. Bloody hell. When I got caught smoking at school, aged 15, I had to take a letter home to my parents. I recall being terrified about my parents’ reaction, and dreaded the sound of them coming up the stairs on their return home from work to confront me – yet also recall, really vividly, that in the midst of my telling off all I was thinking was how OLD they looked, with their disappointed faces and angry folded arms. And how superior I was, with my youth and brilliance.

They would have been at least five years younger than I am now, so God knows how my kids see me when I’m laying down the law. Youngest inexplicably thinks I’m 29. He has no idea about age; he thinks his granny (70) is 43.

So, like it or not, I’m officially middle aged. The least I can do to mark such a momentous event is to take up hang-gliding, take a lover, or take a dive into insanity. I have no desire to do any of these.

I’m writing this in a French forest, at a picnic table outside our holiday home in a Yelloh! village an hour and a half’s train ride from Paris, in the complete darkness, drunk on wine and contentment, while my beautiful family sleeps and snores feet away. The thrum of busy insect life is occasionally punctuated by a scurrying beast or the incredibly loud thwack of acorn against roof. It is amazing here; a place of complete and utter tranquility. I am at peace.

It was not always thus. Three years ago, approaching my 40th birthday, I did go a tad insane. For people who have read my blog for a while, or who know me, this was proper off the rails – for a couple of weeks I was barely able to get the kids to school of a morning, let alone be much good for owt. (By the way, I’m not from Yorkshire, but it does seem to be my default setting when merry to get all “owt” and “twas” and “twat”.)

But – and it took a while admittedly, and needed the support of my ace family  – I got through it. I still have my moments of stress and anxiety, but mostly I am totally sane. (Hahaha-hahaha-hahaha *runs like loon around holiday park dressed in nothing but a figleaf and elf ears*)

The last three months have tested my sanity to the max. I have taken on a trying new role (part time, they said – part time, my arse) combined with looking after the kids, house and family stuff, and trying to drum up a bit of business of the PR variety. If I was going to lose it, I probably would have by now. Admittedly, I’ve come close once or twice. Only two weeks ago I was so caught up with juggling work demands, childcare, general household responsibility and a million other things that, in the midst of rowing with my 10 year old, I drove off after filling up with petrol at my local petrol station without paying. Thankfully a nice policeman and the garage manager trusted in my innate honesty and recognised my misdemeanour for the absolute mindblock that it was, and let me off.

Other than that blot, I have generally remained calm and collected in the face of considerable pressure. Now, finally, three years on, I feel a corner has been turned, a hurdle cleared, a lesson learned. It seems I can cope after all; I am not destined for the loony bin just yet.

I can, it seems, do a job that I am falling in love with, despite its excessive demands on my time and brain power, while also caring for and spending quality time with my kids and family. Friendships have definitely suffered along the way, but I’m desperately planning to make amends on that score over the next few months. Generally, though, I feel I have survived a tough few months and things can now only get better.

So, now what? What have you got planned now, middle age?

As increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances face up to illness and disability, to loss and pain, it’s obvious that becoming middle aged brings increasing vulnerability to the rigours of being a mere mortal. I used to feel I was immune, infallible, that somehow I was one of the chosen ones who would not succumb to such boring rituals as getting ill or bereavement. I don’t feel like that any more. It’s a shame, losing that carefree notion of a carefree life, but there it is.

Middle aged suggests midway. If that’s true, that means I will pop off this mortal coil at about 86. Now, that actually sounds like a fair deal, speaking from my 43 year old berth. I’m pretty damn sure that when I’m 85 it will be a less attractive proposition. However, I also know too many people who have breathed their last long before getting close to middle age. It is something to celebrate you know, getting this far intact!

Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips had it about right when he sang “Do you realise everyone you know, one day, will die…” I mean, it’s hardly a revelation is it, yet we all block it out, and avoid thinking about it – but we are all DOOMED.

Time really does go fast; and it is hard to make the good times last. All we can do is appreciate every drop of goodness, every day of happiness. We can watch the sun set every night, until the day we die, but only if we also remember that the sun going down is just an illusion, caused by the Earth spinning round.

My family is still sleeping. The forest is still alive with rustling and creaking and scuttling. I feel like I am the only person awake in the whole of France. A candle burns fiercely beside me, my glass of wine stays resolutely filled up, as if by some magic hand (mine, if truth be told) and the air is still. The stars are shining bright in an arc over my head. It’s a beautiful evening, still warm enough for me to be sat here on the laptop outdoors at the midnight hour. I could be in paradise. I’m not, it’s only France, but I’ve got everything I need right here, within feet of me. But most of all, right now, today, I may be middle aged but I’ve also got peace of mind and a happy heart. Who could wish for more?

 

 

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.

Black and white and red all over

 

 

 

Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/blister_sisters

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue

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.

Spotify your way to happiness

So, it’s another evening in for you and yours? There’s nothing on the TV worth watching; the kids are in bed (or you don’t have any); you like music but sometimes think you end up listening to the same old tunes over and over again; you haven’t had a proper natter with your other half or your mates for a while; and you’re skint.

Well, may I make a suggestion? It’ll probably sound a bit naff, but I promise you, if you’ve got some good music-related memories or you are game for a laugh, you will enjoy it.

“It” on this occasion is the Spotify “Chain Game” (said in deep booming voice, with accompanying homemade theme tune) Honestly, it’s good fun. Really. Do you trust me? You do? Then give it a whirl. What have you got to lose?

Before you know it you too could be discovering and marvelling at the likes of Richard Cheese (real name) and Catfish Keith; digging out a “before they were famous” track by Bros, or reliving school disco days with The Cult. I’m not selling it well am I? Bear with, bear with…

First, you will need the following: a laptop or iPad or other device on which you can call up Spotify (free version of course); a comfortable setting, probably your lounge; some speakers (inbuilt ones will do); at least two people for the chatting part, though I guess you could play solo; access to nice wine/beer/cocktails/drink of choice.

Next you need to pick a theme. It could, for example, be cities, or countries, or names of people you know or who are in your family, or vegetables, or animals. Most ideas seem to work well, but try more obscure ones if you like (detectives of the 1970s and 1980s is a tester…)

All you need to do now is start the “Chain Game” (don’t forget the booming voice and doodley doodley theme tune).

Now, the first player types in a word on the theme – for this example, I’ll pick vegetables, so I type in ‘aubergine’.

A list of song titles and artists containing the word ‘aubergine’ duly appear. It’s not a very long list, but still more than I’d expected. Another player picks a number (I’m playing with hubby and he picks five.) I scroll down that number and together we listen to whatever comes up – in this example it’s “Aubergine Walls” by Nick Lawson. It’s a chillout, ambient electronic thing (describing it as a tune would be a bit strong). It’s all right but I won’t be rushing out to buy Nick’s EP. We cut it short after 2 minutes.

Next hubby inputs “carrot”. Now that’s more like it – I can spy tunes from Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement and Captain Beefheart. But I go for track 20 – which turns out to be a racket by Bentley Rhythm Ace called A Lot of Stick (But Not Much Carrot). Turns out they are from Birmingham and feature the bassist out of Pop Will Eat Itself. They are truly dreadful, but it triggers a long rambling conversation about bands from Birmingham (Duran Duran, Steel Pulse, and err, that’s it…), nights out we have known in Birmingham (bizarrely involving strippers), and whether the Selfridges Bull Ring is an architectural gem or a load of silver hubcaps stuck on a round wall (it’s an architectural gem).

Which segues nicely into my next choice. “potato”. Now I had no idea there was a band called Potato. Their biggest hit is Jamaika Ska. They are located via the number six. They make a pleasant enough old school reggae noise, with lots of trumpets and skanking beats. We recall the holiday we once had to the Dominican Republic, when hubby got a dodgy tum. He ended up in bed for three days with raging diarrhoea. I, on the other hand, learned to windsurf after a fashion and enjoyed lots of cheap local rum.

Do you get the idea?

We did Chain Game recently, inputting our own first names. This led us to the discovery of the comically monikered lounge singer Richard Cheese. You have not lived until you have heard versions of the likes of Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, Smack My Bitch Up by Prodigy and Nirvana’s Rape Me performed by a man called Richard. Cheese. (You’ve realised the rudeness potential by now I’m sure.)

So if you sometimes run out of things to say to the other half of an evening that don’t involve the kids, work, DIY or what’s on the telly, I’d urge you to give “Chain Game” a try. It won’t be long before you’re grabbing the laptop off each other to click on a song you’ve spied on the list, or shouting out how much you used to LOVE this song and you haven’t heard it for ages, or how this always reminds you of being in a caravan with your mum and dad in north Wales. Obviously getting slowly drunk together aids the process considerably.

You’ll almost certainly end up abandoning the game after a while, but hopefully that will be because you are chatting so much you end up just letting the music play on without your input. Or you realise it’s after midnight and the wine has all gone and you’ve got work in the morning.

Give it a go. I might be onto something.

The Summer of 1996, Swansea, Wales

My flu-enforced house confinement this week has given me lots of time to contemplate the past, present and future (and sort through some old boxes of junk).

Tonight, one of my discoveries was a mix tape I made in May 1996 or thereabouts – a time when I was living and working in sunny Swansea.

I moved to Swansea in early 1995. I’d applied for and been offered (on the basis of a chat over a pint in a pub) the job of district news editor with the South Wales Evening Post. It was to be my first news desk role so, even though I didn’t know a soul and the job would take me miles from friends, family and my boyfriend at the time, Richard, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived on a cold and blustery Sunday, the wind blowing across the Mumbles seafront as I took a solo stroll along the beach. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

I’d left the comfort of my simple life as a journalist at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, living with my boyfriend and having Sunday lunch at my mum and dads, to move to this distant corner of Wales, to live in a sad bedsit over a craft shop.

As soon as I met my new workmates the next day I knew it was going to work out just fine. They were friendly, kind and funny people who very generously allowed this English interloper to fit into their gang, who made me feel instantly at home.

I worked long hours and partied pretty hard, but also enjoyed long walks in the parks and on the beach with my new pals. I made some particularly special friends – Kathy & Rich, Cathy, Peter & Jayne, Janine and Kaye and many more – who shared this lovely time with me.

Within weeks I had been introduced to Wendy, a Scottish probation officer, who invited me to lodge in the Sketty home she shared with her black Labrador Mac and boyfriend Robin.

Though there were only a few years between us, Wendy quickly took on the role of substitute mum. I was naughty teenage daughter; I hardly ever washed up, rarely cooked, played loud music, drove a rusting, unreliable red Ford Escort and often came in late and drunk. I think it was a role she was used to – her partner, now husband, Robin, a fellow journalist, was like my naughty older brother, always in trouble. Mac the dog was definitely the least troublesome member of her household! Wendy could always be relied upon for a shoulder to cry on, someone to have a laugh with – and she always, always, had a pot of tea brewing.

It was a lovely period of my life. The only downside was the amount of time I spent apart from Richard, who by this time had moved up to Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands, to take up his own dream job – reporting for a weekly paper by day, climbing mountains every evening and weekend.

We only got together for one weekend in six, because of the immense distances involved. We had each taken on our new jobs with the other’s blessing – I wanted to push on in my career, and Richard wanted to seize the opportunity to live in the Highlands, however briefly. We were both prepared to risk being apart, in the belief our relationship would survive, and thankfully it worked. We enjoyed our independence, but ultimately we realised we wanted to be together more than anything.

While I missed Richard I truly fell in love with Swansea. It is an amazing, warm city and I would happily move back there tomorrow, if the circumstances were right.

Working at the Post was interesting and challenging. The editor who appointed me, Hugh Berlyn, was a difficult blighter – one day funny and brilliant, another day moody. It was a newsroom blessed with plenty of characters. I had the odd difference with people, and I’m sure I made the lives of some of the district reporters hell, but mostly we had a good giggle. It was easily the best place I have ever worked.

During this era my interest in music was reignited (probably because of all the time I had to myself tootling about in my Escort or in my room.) I went to lots of gigs and befriended a couple of the staff at Newport’s Diverse Records, which I called in to every time I popped along the M4 to visit my folks in Shrewsbury.

We quickly came to an arrangement – they would post me a batch of 45s every month, and I would keep what I liked and return the rest. They introduced me to lots of amazing bands – Super Furry Animals, Snuff, The Grifters, Lambchop – and lots of rubbish ones too, but the arrival of that package always gave me a great buzz.

So here I am tonight, sat in the kitchen, listening to that mix tape, remembering my old Swansea buddies. In front of me is the commemorative front page my old pals made me on my departure. It makes me smile every time I look at it, recalling as it does some dodgy nights out, my love of clumpy shoes, my inability to answer phones, my crush on MP Peter Hain (don’t ask), and my penchant for flavoured alcopops.

I left Swansea in November 1996 to move with Richard to Nottingham. I’d got a new job as deputy news editor at the Nottingham Evening Post, while Richard became a TV press officer for Carlton TV.

I made it back to Swansea a few times after moving away, but I’ve not been down for several years. I keep pledging to visit. But it won’t be the same, will it? Going back never is. There’s a bit of me that just doesn’t want to risk it. I want to remember Swansea, the Post and the people there just the way it was, summer 1996. Good times. Very good times indeed.

That Mix Tape in Full (labelled March-May 1996):

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

Whipping Boy: When We Were Young

Bluetones: Cut Some Rug

Menswear: Being Brave

Auteurs: Light Aircraft on Fire

Bis: Kandy Pop

Gorky’s: If Fingers Were Xylophones

Wannadies: You & Me Song

Rocket From the Crypt: Young Livers

Laxton’s Superb: Coming Round

Gene: For the Dead

Snuff: Nick Northern

Ben Folds Five: Sports & Wine

Urusei Yatsura: Kewpies like Watermelons

Peter Perrett: Woke Up Sticky

Lambchop: The man who loved beer

Sparklehorse: Hammering the cramps

60ft Dolls: Talk To Me

Nilon bombers: Superstar

Shed Seven: Bully Boy

Eggman: Not Bad Enough

Ian McNabb: Don’t put your spell on me

The Grifters: Parting Shot

Sleeper: Sale of the Century