Archive for the ‘ Worcestershire ’ 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.

Red Sky

Red sky over Kidderminster

I have set up a highly efficient office in a room in my house. It’s got all mod cons – computer, laptop dock, printer, scanner, speakers, filing cabinet, cupboards, bookshelves, phoneline. There’s a nice picture on the wall, a big map of Shropshire and a giant whiteboard where I can plan work and cross things out when I’ve done them. I like this bit best.

Yet after three weeks of working as close to full time as is possible with two kids to pick up every day at 3pm, I’ve already decamped with laptop to the dining room table at the back of the house. Sometimes I end up on the settee, hunched over the keyboard. The lovely oak desk with its posture-friendly office chair is abandoned.

I’ve ended up with a crick in my neck and sore shoulders but, despite realising the stupidity and wastefulness, I can’t help it. I live in a house, you see, with two distinct climates. The front of the house, where the office is, gets the morning sun and is flooded with light until about 11am, when the sun moves round and it falls into shadow. By midday the back garden is bathed in sunshine. Thus, the back kitchen and dining room are lit up, warm and welcoming, while the study turns dull and cool.

I was in the back room the other night; I’d returned to my laptop to finish something off while Richard put the boys to bed. Then I became aware of this bright red glow. When I looked out of the patio doors I was convinced something must be on fire nearby, so intense was the red sky. To one side was bright blue sky; to the other ominous dark clouds; and betwixt was this sweep of fluffy, swirling scarlet mass. I grabbed my camera and took a few snaps. It was weird, and eerie, and amazing, and lovely, all at once.

Pretty Dresses and Sunshine Days

Now that was a proper sunny day wasn’t it? Doesn’t a bit of sunshine lift the mood? Wow – just lovely. Time to dust off the bbq and dig out the sunhats and cream. (That’s jinxed it – it will probably be raining by the time you read this.)

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for. Like the Spring days we are experiencing now.

Last time I blogged I was a bit despairing and thought I had made a terrible mistake turning down a job back at the newspaper where I first started out as a journalist.

Now I’m about to start a different and, I believe, much better job. It was definitely worth the wait.

From May 3rd I take over as editor of Shropshire Life magazine, a niche county publication aimed particularly at posh, well off and aspirational people in my beautiful home county.

I am so looking forward to getting started, though I fear the good folk of Shropshire might be a bit alarmed by my populist approach and lack of airs and graces. Ah well, what’s the worst that can happen? (*erm, spiralling decline in readership, withdrawal of advertising, the sack?*)

Anyway, as part of my pre-start preparations, I visited Albrighton Hall in Shropshire on Thursday evening to attend a forum of readers of Shropshire Life. I must confess I was dreading it. I’m not exactly a chav, but I do sometimes find posh people a bit intimidating. I was expecting lots of blue rinses and monocles, double barrelled names and name-dropping.

Instead I got to spend a funny, insightful evening with a bunch of people who, for the most part, I’d happily have as friends. They were all bright and interesting, not at all snobby, and included a teacher, a struggling farmer, a shop owner,  a small business manager, and a youth centre boss. I came away with a spring in my step and a hatful of new ideas.

In the meantime I’m trying to make the very most of my last few weeks of relative “freedom”. The job should only entail about 5 hours work a day, but that will limit how much additional freelance work I can take on, at least for a while; but more alarmingly it also curtails the “me time” that I had got used to enjoying while the kids were both at school this past few months.

When I say “me time” I do of course include in that things like the ironing, cleaning the loo, washing the floors, hoovering, dusting, shopping, gardening, running errands and cooking.

But it also includes lovely time meeting with friends over coffee or a beer, going out for long walks in the countryside, visiting my folks, wandering aimlessly around shops sans kids, enjoying bizarre and usually short-term craft projects, writing, taking photos and generally having a nice old time.

Sadly the first part of my “me time” will have to continue – the chores and so on will not do themselves – but I fear the latter part will get squeezed out.

So I’m planning one hell of a busy and pleasant few weeks until S-Day. One of the lovely things I did last week was spend a day with my friend Becky, who I met when we both took a beginner photography course at Kidderminster College. She’d asked me to go along with her to help take some publicity pictures for a family friend, Charis, who has set up her own designer dressmaking business.

We turned up on a beautiful day – a bit overcast but warm. We found a nice spot at the edge of the large pond Charis’s home overlooks. Modelling the clothes were Charis’s younger sister and a friend. They were incredible and very patient as we amateurishly took the best photos we could.

Thankfully she is delighted with the finished results. They will find their way onto her website and into publicity material to launch her new venture.

I too was pleased with the results. The models were brilliant, especially considering they had never done any modelling before; the setting and light were good; and the dresses were just beautiful.

As someone who struggles to take up a hem, I can appreciate the intricate skills she shows. If you have a wedding looming, or want a one-off dress for a party or special event, you should give her a call. Her website is at http://www.charismaticcloth.co.uk The photos will be uploaded in the next few weeks (you can see my full set on my facebook page if you know me).

Each dress can take weeks to make from concept to finish. As I said at the beginning of this blog, the best things in life really are worth waiting for.

Living like lovers, swanlike

Side by side for life

I’ve always liked swans. They are majestic, elegant, long necked and incredibly graceful. These are things I am not but hanker for.

I also love the purity of their appearance – all that white, virtually untainted by colour

But most of all I love the idea that they are monogamous creatures; they pick a mate, and stick together for life.

Only now I’ve found out it’s not always true. They sometimes “divorce”. They have affairs. They do the dirty on each other.

I put them on a pedestal, but they have let me down. They are no better than humans after all.

Anyway, before my illusion was shattered, I snapped this pair swimming about together in Springfield Park. It was an overcast day, one of those days when the sky is white with cloud and colour is drained out of everything; not ideal photographic conditions. I liked that this pair were almost in symmetry, either side of this line of shadow in the water. I liked how they look almost identical as they glide away.

I imagined them sailing off to spend the night snuggled up side by side on the bank. In fact they were probably off to a sex party with the neighbours. Dirty beasts.

While on the subject of monogamy, comedian Andrea Walker once made this observation: “My husband thought monogamy was a type of wood. I said: “Honey, no – monogamy’s when you just sleep with your wife.” He’s like, “No,— that’s monotony.”

Off to the nest

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.

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…”

My son, this morning, on his bike.

According to most recent figures, more than 20 children are killed every year in England & Wales while out cycling. While this represents untold tragedy and heartache for every family, this statistic has bizarrely cheered me up a bit. I reckon it means the chances of my little man joining them is pretty remote, right? Right?

This week my elder son, aged 10, has started cycling to school. We only live just over half a mile from school, so up to now we have made the journey on foot.

But since Monday my son and his classmates have been undergoing cycle proficiency training each morning; this clearly can’t be done without the aid of a bike, so it makes sense for him to cycle.

The first morning I made him wheel his bike the first 200 yards to the main road, where I tentatively saw him across to the central reservation and then on to the other side, before watching in horror as he wobbled on his way, pedalling furiously to get up some speed. High sided lorries whizzed by just feet away, making his wobble all the more pronounced.

He’s actually quite a competent cyclist. We regularly head off for family bike rides along the canal or along cycle trails, and he likes riding round and round the garden, leaving a muddy trail in  his wake.

But he rarely rides on the roads, so is somewhat lacking in street skills and seems blissfully unaware of possible hazards.

It’s hardly his fault.

When we were kids we would tear around the neighbourhood on our bikes in packs of up to 20, whizzing on and off pavements, riding no-handed or doing wheelies to our hearts’ content. Footwear of choice was trainers (winter) or flipflops (summer). Helmets were unheard of. Lights and reflectors were for show, not for safety.

No such fun for my son and his mates.

I’m really trying to give him more freedom; I truly believe that it’s only possible for anyone to know how to deal with risk and life’s ups and downs by experiencing them and learning how to negotiate them.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? I do understand why my fellow parents are so reluctant. Everywhere you look there are warnings, dire ones at that, about the risks facing kids today. It’s enough to make you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight.

Anyway, I’m braving it. I know he’s going to grow up sometime – I guess learning how to negotiate a quarter mile of A-road on two wheels is just going to be the start of his journey to manhood.

The picture above was taken on the field next to his school, as he messed around with his friends before the bell went this morning. I caught up with him after walking the same route with my younger son. It was a lovely frosty morning and it was good to see him having fun. But mostly it was good to know he’d made it in one piece. I could breath again. At least, until tomorrow…

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