Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

One Flu over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Flu. It’s a bugger, isn’t it? Three days in, and I still feel too ill to eat; too ill to do much beyond lie in my bed, listening to life passing my window.

I’m getting better though. My nose is more runny, my cough is less terrible, my breathing is improved and the aches in my bones are less intense. I’ll soon be up and about again.

But this is all my feeble little brain and hands can be arsed to type tonight. I’m keeping up my blog a day challenge, but not much more (although I notice I only became properly ill after starting it…maybe someone’s trying to tell me something?)

Hopefully I’ll be back in the land of the living very soon. Til then, good night! (And if you know any good jokes to keep my spirits up, fire away!)

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?

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!

Football crazy, football mad

When I was a kid I daydreamed about turning out at Wembley in a cup final for my beloved Shrewsbury Town FC. In my dream I was the star player, a terrier-like midfield maestro in the mould of Steve Gerrard and, with the inevitability of daydreams, I would score a hat-trick, the last goal coming in the dying minutes.

I had it all worked out. I would make it into the team by being so incredibly good that the fact I was female would be overlooked, rule books would be torn up, and I’d be an icon for women players all over the world.

I was only nine at the time, so of course anything and everything was possible. After all, I was a regular in my school football team and was as good as any of the boys – so why not?

We didn’t have girls’ teams back then, when tackling from behind, elbows in the ribs, players turning up sozzled for a big match, and proper punch ups on and off the pitch were de rigeur. You either mixed in with the boys, or packed it in.

My fledgling career reached its zenith in the 1977/8 season, when my school team reached the final of the Shropshire schools cup. This was a BIG DEAL. We had a special assembly at school, a pep talk from the head, and a special pre-match meal. This had never happened before, so come the day we were all hyped and nearly sick with anticipation.

Best of all we were going to be watched by none other than Graham Turner. Graham Turner! Yes, I know, hardly a household name now, or indeed then. Before you bother to google his name,  he was Shrewsbury Town’s player manager during the greatest period of the club’s history, when we reached the giddy heights of Division 2 (when that meant second best division) and went toe-to-toe with high flying Ipswich Town and Manchester City in the FA Cup.

Anyway, us kids were convinced Turner would take one look at us and sign us up on the spot. Me and my best mate Tina Birch, the only other girl in our team, had no reason to think that couldn’t include us.

I was gutted when I was told I wasn’t in the starting 11. Truly gutted. It was probably my first real disappointment in life. I was going to be the sub though – in those days teams had one, not six. To my barely disguised delight, one of my teammates twisted his ankle in the first few minutes, so I got my chance.

I’d love to now regale you with my man-of-the-match performance, but strangely, the match itself is a blank. I have no memory of it at all. I do remember, though, that we lost. I vaguely recall trooping up to get my loser medal off Turner, and shaking his hand. He didn’t ask me along for training. Pah. His loss.

This was our team picture that year, taken by the local paper the Shrewsbury Chronicle in the school hall. That’s me, arms folded, middle row, second right, looking very much like the boy I longed to be.

The following term we moved house 12 miles away, but I continued to go to the same school, mainly because I had so many friends and loved all the sport I was playing, and had a kindly teacher living nearby who gave me a lift every morning.

That first week back, my football dreams came crashing down. I remember trooping off the school field after a lunchtime 50 v 50 kickabout, when I was called over by the sports teacher. He told me I wasn’t allowed to play for the football team any more and would have to try out for the netball team instead, ok? And then turned and walked off.

I was distraught, convinced it was because I was just not good enough. This point was reinforced when I told my friends I was out of the team, and one horrid kid (Colin Day, wherever you are, I remember it still) said I was indeed rubbish, and a stupid girl to boot, and the team would have won the cup if I hadn’t been in the team and ruined everything.

It was a couple of years before I learned the truth, when I reminded my mum of my distress at the time. She laughed and told me it had nothing to do with ability – my demotion was just because I was “developing”. Apparently it was becoming obvious that I was a girl not a boy, a fact of life that caused the school quite a bit of discomfort. In those non-PC times, they did the only thing they could think of – and booted me off the team.

A lot has changed since then, both in the way girls and women are encouraged to play football, and the way the game is played, watched and run.

Back in the 1970s football was a truly working class activity, and going to the game was part of the Saturday ritual for most men and their kids. There was hardly any football on the telly, so if you wanted to see players in action you had to go. There were downsides of course – the racist chants, hooliganism, heavy pre-match drinking and smashed up windows around the grounds were a horrid part of the game.

But everything seemed so much simpler. Managers and players were loyal to one club. Agents were hardly heard of. If you wanted to watch a match, you queued up for a ticket. The FA Cup was THE match of the season, when everyone (even my mum) would tune in from 9am to join in all the pre-match banter. We’d go shopping specially the day before to pick our match snacks and drinks.

My footballing idols were Liverpool players – Keegan & Dalglish. The club were champions of everything, except for when they got the occasional jolt from those upstarts at Nottingham Forest. My dad had a perm, telling his hairdresser Vic Breeze to make it “just like Kevin Keegan’s”. He gave Vic one hell of a row when he ended up looking more like Shirley Temple.

Dad and me would go to the Gay Meadow to see Shrewsbury Town most Saturdays – we even joined the away supporters’ club for a year and I used to sometimes be the only girl on a coachload of male, drink-fuelled supporters. They all looked after me, and would constantly tell each other off with drunken shushing if the swearing or talk about girls went over the top in my hearing.

I recall those childhood days with absolute joy. There’s nothing like being part of something, is there? I was part of a gang, the blue and yellow barmy army, the Gay Meadow Men (ahem). The terrace chant I remember most fondly was the “11 men went to mow, went to mow a meadow…” and shouting out “Spot!” at the right time. Sounds daft and stupid now, but being a kid, without inhibition, was just great.

Hard to imagine now, but in those days Shrewsbury Town were in the same division as the likes of Chelsea, Newcastle United and Sunderland, so we got to visit some real footballing meccas.

A few years ago, I made a brief attempt to relive those heady football-loving and playing days of my youth. I joined up with a local women’s team to get fit, played twice and then managed to tear the ligaments in my ankle during a training session. Too little, too late.

I still follow football, but it has long lost its capacity to make or break my day or weekend. I keep a watchful eye on the fortunes of Liverpool, and occasionally make it back to Shrewsbury to watch the Town in their fancy new Prostar stadium. But I’m not part of the gang any more – I’ve not earned that right.

So, talk about things coming full circle. Graham Turner is now back at the helm at Shrewsbury Town, after being summoned last season to halt a scary tumble towards the non-league. Town are now riding high in Division Two again, only this time it’s what I still know as Division 4.

And in a few hours time my old hero Kenny Dalglish will lead Liverpool out to play Manchester United in the FA Cup. It’s the first game for months that I am looking forward to watching from start to finish (mainly because it’s on terrestrial tv so I can actually see it). I’m even off to Sainsbury’s in a minute to get the snacks and pop in for the kids, just like in the old days. I’m no longer football-crazy, football-mad, but there are still moments in sport that I want to feel part of the gang again.

Hold The Front Page…

My kids have done me proud, just as I expected.

I’m not talking about my own flesh and blood here, but a group of budding writers that I’ve been working with at a local primary school.

Thanks mostly to their own desire and skill, albeit with a little helping hand from yours truly, this handful of 9- and 10-year olds have written, designed and created their own school newspaper.

This is not just any old school newspaper either. It’s an all-singing, full colour, glossy job, complete with headlines, cutouts, hampers and panels, photos and even an exclusive celebrity interview. They refused to do anything by halves, despite having just seven weeks to do it.

We only met once a week, for less than an hour a time, so it was all a bit more frenetic than I’d planned for, but their energy levels barely dipped. Every week they would turn up, at the end of a full school day, bursting to tell me who they had interviewed, what new ideas they had got, and desperate to show me their notebooks full of scribbled notes. It gave me a real buzz and reminded me how exciting the job of a news reporter can be.

To their delight, I made them each a reporter’s ID badge on a lanyard, and a named notebook and pencil, and persuaded the school to let them use a digital camera. It all added to their impression of themselves as “proper” reporters, and they behaved accordingly. One of them even suggested doing a “young love” expose. I managed to talk him out of it, but only on the promise he could do a pre-Valentine’s Day special about romance among primary kids. I await the finished article with bated breath and a terrible sense of dread.

The kids decided on their own news list, wrote to or approached their interviewees, wrote out their own questions, arranged photocalls and did all the writing themselves. They did most of the layouts, and generally wowed me with their IT skills and creative abilities.

It was an amazing experience and reminded me, not for the first time, how much I sometimes forget just what kids are capable of and how deeply they think.

As this was a bit of an experiment for all involved, I had volunteered to mentor the kids for free, and only charged a nominal rate for extra time I spent on it. I’d got no idea how the kids would respond to me or how much time it would take, and the school had no idea whether their instincts about me would prove correct.

I’m pretty confident we all came out of it well. I got the chance to trial a few ideas – some worked, some didn’t. I learned, for example, that letting kids loose on design will result in the introduction of LOTS of colours, many of which will clash horribly.

I also learned that all the “fun” of a “fun end of term quiz” is lost if you let the kids mark their own answers at the end; no matter how good they are, at least one of them will  not be able to resist cheating if chocolate is at stake.

I found out a lot about how to get the most out of different personalities; when to cajole and when to stay quiet. The kids told me they really enjoyed it, and have shown it by signing up to produce the next edition. The head was pleased with the finished product, and I got some lovely compliments from teachers, governors and parents.

It could also turn out to be very worthwhile in the long run. I’ve already been approached by two schools wanting my help to do something similar for them. As someone who thrives on confidence (if I was a footballer I’d be more erratic Emile Heskey than cocky Ashley Cole) this means an awful lot to me. I just hope I don’t let the kids down.

By the way, if you want to read the first edition of The Franche Flyer, you can see it here: http://www.francheprimary.org.uk/assets/final-franche-flyer-ed.pdf

Enjoy reading!

NEW YEAR, NO RESOLUTION

It’s that time of year again, when thoughts turn to times past and times yet to come; when I resolve to improve, to do better. This year I’m not going to bother.
Sometimes I find it is merely an opportunity to focus on the negatives; to beat myself up about changes I have failed to implement already. This year I’ve realised this is a Bad Thing. So no more resolving to change. This year I think I’ll stay just the way I am.
But you lot – you all need to get off your bums and make some serious changes. It’s not me – it’s you. No, really, I mean it, you need to get your house in order.
Here’s some starters for you: you need to resolve to see more of me (assuming I know you). (And like you. And you like me). You need to resolve to join me in a series of fabulous adventures. These will include seeing amazing live music, drinking alcohol, mastering a couple of new hobbies (I’m thinking dancing, sewing and tai-chi); getting better at a couple of longer standing hobbies (especially photography); taking on daft physical challenges like the London Moonwalk; organising a fund raising party night…and generally having lots of laughs. You need to resolve to visit my home and not judge me harshly for my clutter, lack of hostessing excellence and poor quality cooking skills. To my husband and kids, you need to resolve to carry on being fantastic and fab (but with extra cuddles and fewer moody sulks). You need to be supportive and understanding in my quest to get fitter and no fatter. And if I know you but don’t like you, let’s just resolve to spend less time in each other’s company, ok?
To potential clients and workmates, you have to resolve to recognise my expertise and talent, pay me handsomely for my skills, and laugh at my jokes.
Simples. If you can all just get your act together, I’m confident the coming year will be a wonderful one for us all.
Wishing you all an amazing 2011.

The School Walk

I’ve been doing “school mornings” for five years now. Had I been doing the same task for five years at work I would have it down pat by now. Why, then, are schooldays still so fraught, so likely to spill over into disputes, shouting matches and fights? It seems so easy to come up with a winning formula.

The trick, obviously, is to get as much done as possible the night before, thus reducing the risk of it all going wrong during that tired, difficult hour before school.

I once had a night-time checklist. I typed it out and everything. It was brilliant. (By the way, if you’re super organised and always do all this stuff anyway, and never have a fraught morning, and get yourself and four kids off to school and work with ease, then please stop reading now. And know that I hate you.) My list went something like this:

Check and hang up school uniforms, including pants and socks

Check for PE kit, swimming kit, forms to return, letters to read, money to hand over

Make sure the doings for breakfast and packed lunches are ready to go

Rinse water bottles and leave by sink to refill

Woolly hats and gloves and coats on radiator to warm for next morning

Put car and house keys ready in case we have to resort to car dash

Put own outfit ready to throw on

I had everything covered. Fifteen minutes effort, tops. Sadly, I’d lost the checklist by day three of the new school term, and it all slowly unravelled from then onwards.

The reality of life in our household most mornings is that somebody has always lost something vital or suddenly remembers to tell me that I was meant to make Angel Gabriel’s costume (due in today); somebody else wants to lie in and then shouts at everyone else when they realise how late it is; somebody else feels sick/has headache/hurts knee in karate demonstration or jumping off settee onto beanbag; and somebody always loses the car key/house key/urgent form (me).

As a result we are, more often than not, cross with each other by the time we get out of the front door. My eldest is particularly cross if we leave the house a minute after 8.20am, as that means the  gaggle of mates who he walks the last 100 yards to school with will have left without him; the youngest is cross because we are walking at all; and I’m cross because I look like shit, having failed to find time to drag a brush through my hair, never mind put on any lippy.

On these days I harbour a dream. All parents harbour the same fantasy, I’m sure.

It’s the one where everyone tumbles out of bed gracefully at the allotted time, showers without fuss and dons perfectly ironed uniforms/outfits before assembling around the breakfast table (laid the night before). There we all exchange stories of the day ahead, discuss last night’s TV/family board game, while tucking into a hearty fresh breakfast. There is cereal (only healthy, non sugary brands), toast in the rack, juice (freshly squeezed), bacon grilling, eggs poaching, tea in the pot. We depart for school on time, without hassle, walking hand in hand. In some versions I think we are even skipping and singing Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music. I am also two stone lighter in this adaptation, but that’s another story.

This fantasy has actually happened in our family once or twice. Possibly. Though that might have been another dream.

Until I put in the effort to make this a reality, I’ll settle for just getting them to school with food in their bellies and in clean(ish) uniform. This morning was, actually, a nice, stress-free one. So much so that, on the way out of the house, I even took the time to snatch up my camera, with a vague plan to take some pics on the walk back. The images above and below are some of the results.

If you follow my blog occasionally, you’ll know I encourage myself to celebrate the mundane and simple wonders of life. It’s a bit of a theme in fact. More of a “memo to self” than to you, but here it is again: we all recognise the standout special moments – the fabulous holiday, the brilliant achievements of our loved ones or ourselves, the magical days when everything just falls into place – but these come along rarely and are generally accompanied by a loud fanfare and spotlights, so we can hardly miss them. What makes for a happy life, in my humble opinion, is appreciating those everyday moments, and realising amid the routine and the trials and tribulations of life just how blessed we are. Without these regular pick-me-ups I reckon life could soon become a despairing grind.

The walk to and from school, five days a week, is a case in point. I usually spend the best part of the 1km route trying to de-stress after the hassles of the morning, shouting at the kids to keep away from the kerb, and planning the rest of my day in my head. I’ve even been known to text or email while walking along in a bid to get a jump on the day.

We walk along a busy road for the most part, but the last section takes us down a narrow hedge-lined alley, with the school and fields on one side and a play park, football pitches and patch of marshland on the other.

This morning, the mere act of picking up my camera meant that I spent most of the walk there looking out for photo opportunities to snap on the way back. I noticed the deep blue of the wintery sky. The way the moon looked incredibly close, hanging like a globe in the empty sky. The way the light flitted through the stark trees. The long shadows cast across the playground. The frost on the ground, like a Christmas carpet. I talked to the kids about what we saw, and they spotted interesting stuff too.

I would probably have been oblivous to all of this normally; too busy plotting ahead to appreciate the here and now. Sure, I’d have noticed what a crisp, bright morning it was – but then my brain would have switched off and zoomed in on my to-do list.

I know what I’m saying is hardly rocket science – Buddhists have been practising the art of “mindfulness” and living in the moment for centuries – but I realised some time ago that I was spending large chunks of the day thinking about the next thing on my to-do list while doing something else. It’s a road that leads only to stress, stress and more stress. My life improved dramatically once I started to accept there was ALWAYS something else to do and I would NEVER be finished, if I lived to be 500. I learned, slowly, that it was definitely better to go with the flow and focus on one thing at a time.

The photos I took this morning are not of the most dazzling places in the country, nor are they the best composed, nor are they taken during the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset, when proper photographers are out and about plotting the perfect shot. They are quick snapshots and sometimes I get lucky.

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Among the things I noticed this morning was the way a weeping willow’s leaves shone gold against the blue sky; the contrast of the last remaining red berries on a tree against the azure; a bird perched on a tree branch, soaking up the warmth of the sun; the way the sunlight fizzed across a patch of ice. I noticed how my younger son made a trail through the frost on his scooter, then tried to painstakingly retrace his track, without success. I saw my older son play wrestle with one of his pals before they all broke into a laugh about something one of them had said (probably about a girl; they are at that age).

They and these things would have been there anyway, being beautiful, whether I had noticed them or not. I’m glad I noticed them though; glad I spent a few minutes watching my sons finding their way, glad to watch that proud bird getting some rays. That’s the thing about ‘ordinary’ special things – nobody points a big arrow at them and yells: ‘look at me!’. They are just there waiting.