Posts Tagged ‘ summer ’

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.

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

A New Beginning – and Golf Balls

I tend to write my blog while I’m either a, overtired; or b. slightly inebriated. Tonight I’m both. I’m guessing this can affect the quality of my ramblings, so I apologise. This too will be a disjointed affair.

I have spent the evening contemplating my future. This is a very useful exercise while feeling upbeat and optimistic. At times like this I remember that my potential is immeasureable; that I am capable, bright, witty and confident; and, with effort and derring-do on my part, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I vow to always seize the moment; to act, not procrastinate; to live, not exist.

This activity is less useful when in a melancholy mien, when the unknown, the unfamiliar and the challenging become things to avoid, run from and make excuses about. If I’m honest, I think that’s what I’ve been doing recently – looking for the easy option, rather than opting for something that will truly test my ability, my stamina and my guts.

It might all go pear-shaped, might all end in tears, but this time I’m going to ignore the naysaying section of my brain and focus on the bright and breezy zone which tells me to go for it; nothing ventured, nothing gained; and my favourite lazy cliché – feel the fear, and do it anyway.

So, with thanks to input from trusted friends and some very helpful mentoring from someone who has been there and got the t-shirt, I have taken the first steps today towards launching a new internet-based venture. Not much to tell at this stage but I have bought some domain names, sketched out some logos, straplines and content ideas, and have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. Now I’ve just got to knuckle down and make it happen.

At the same time I’m also speaking to “people” – they are suitably shady – with a view to turning something else I’ve been doing in a voluntary capacity into something more substantial. It’s all looking good and could be a really positive beginning, so right now I’m feeling scared, apprehensive, doubtful – but mostly excited, excited, excited!

I’d forgotten what it was like to do something for myself, all by myself, and I can’t wait to really get started. Financially, both of these ventures could flop – but I believe in both of them, so here goes!

My other half Richard is being his usual supportive self and is not remotely concerned that pursuing these ideas might mean I won’t be financially contributing to the household for a while, despite our tight budget. His first question to me is always: “Will it make you happy?” If I say yes, I think so, he will go out of his way to help me make it happen, whatever it is. If I waver before answering, he tends to suggest I think about it again. To Richard, life is pretty much black and white; it either makes you happy, or it doesn’t – and if it doesn’t, what are you doing it for?

We all have to endure some things that don’t fill us with joy, of course – much of life is mundane and routine after all – but his point is that if it isn’t taking you to a happier place, or doesn’t allow you time to enjoy the good things in your life, then you really are wasting your precious time. Management gurus refer to the “golf balls and sand in a jar” effect. For those of you who’ve never had to endure management bulls**t seminars, it goes like this: the golf balls are the good things in life that you love doing (spending time with your kids, playing football, going to the seaside, dancing to loud music, whatever…) and sand signifies the “rest” of life (household chores, being at work (unless this is one of your golf balls), washing the car, doing the shopping, etc). If you put the sand in first and try to squeeze the golf balls in on top, you won’t get many in the jar. The trick instead is to cram as many golf balls in as possible, and let the sand trickle in between. I’m sure you’ve got the message, but just in case: fit the necessary evils around the good times, not the other way round.

Thinking about Richard’s simple outlook on life takes me back to the first time we met. Rock House was the journalism training centre in the heart of leafy Wolverhampton where we were both trainee journalists, aged 21 and 22.

We were among 12 wannabes who had been selected from more than 1,000 applicants for a prestigious year-long internship, in the dimly distant days when the newspaper industry had money to burn. Our number included a lovely ex-Wolves footballer Robert (if he ever made a mistake his first news editor thought it hilarious to storm out of his office and issue him with a red card); a vegetarian who only ate Pot Noodles laced with vodka; a religious zealot; a mad teenager who threw tantrums; and two old people (they were over 30).

For that first social gathering, one of our number, Sarah, sat cross legged on a pub table, espousing the merits of Marxism and how she saw it as her job to spread equality through journalism. Richard, an ex public schoolboy who lived in a country house with a swimming pool, suggested all nations would actually be better off under dictatorships and that all girls should be sterilised at birth, with a reversal only if they passed a state parenting test. The battle lines were drawn. I then spent an uncomfortable few weeks trying to deny any interest in “the fascist”, as he was dubbed.

Two months later he threw a fancy dress party at the house in salubrious Richey Street in Wolverhampton that he shared with his best mate, also Richard. They lived in the coldest house I have ever had the misfortune to visit. On entry I was always handed a jumper and told the heating could not be switched on “because we are on a budget”. I think the house was kept cold deliberately to encourage women visitors to get into bed. Funnily enough there was always enough cash for beer.

Anyway, I turned up at the fancy dress party as a pirate, complete with false beard, eye patch and false leg. By this point, our relationship had defrosted – I quickly realised he was a lovable wind-up merchant rather than the awful Toryboy he liked to imposter.

At some point in the evening we ended up in the same room, slightly drunk, my beard by now askew, my eyepatch lost. Romantic as ever, Richard chatted me up by post-it note. I still have them. He even asked to kiss me by post-it. Then someone wee’d into a sinkful of washing up and Bugs Bunny had a fight with Cleopatra and the moment passed.

Somehow, that innocent moment led us to where we are now – 20 years together, married, two beautiful kids. He still makes me laugh every single day. And he still occasionally writes me a post-it note, just for old time’s sake.

And finally…

As usual, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with photography, even though it was originally set up to follow my attempts to become a better amateur snapper. As probably every photographer and camera club in Wyre Forest and beyond knows already, judging by yesterday’s turnout, a field of poppies has burst into life along the Bewdley bypass, just beyond the West Midlands Safari Park. When I turned up there last night it was peopled by lots of folk with very fancy cameras, long lenses and tripods. My little lenses seemed pretty paltry by comparison, and I was bereft of a tripod and a zoom lens, thanks to foolishly breaking the former and dropping the latter (breaking it also). But I had an hour to kill so did the best I could. Hope you like one or two of them. More on my flickr account if you’re interested.

And finally, finally…come on Ingerland! Roll on Sunday. England into the last eight of the World Cup? That will definitely be a golf ball moment.

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Poppies in field, Bewdley, Worcestershire