Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas: the celebration of the birth of Christ. Alleluia!

I am away from the blogosphere for a few days as I cater for a multitude of relations. Normal service will be resumed next year. (At least, as normal as it ever gets!)

My blog doesn't seem to have been very Christmassy this year but advent has been a glorious time for us as a family and we are looking forward to all that 2010 may bring. In an attempt to compensate a little for my apparent lack of festive cheer, I leave you with a slightly obscure but favourite Christmas carol that sums up much of the wonder of Jesus' arrival on earth, and coincides with the title and theme of my blog: wandering and wondering.

Until next time, I wish you all a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The best days...

... are when ...

- it snows, but you don't have to go out in it (except to make snowmen).

- your children say 'thank you' without prompting.

- someone in the family volunteers to do the washing-up.

- there is peace and quiet, but not because the children are glued to a screen.

- we celebrate together as a family.

I'm having a good day!

Today my son is 9 years old - where did time fly? He has loved his birthday, full of delight with his presents and has, for the large part, played happily with his sister. I have had all the grandparents to stay overnight and the extra hands do make light work!

The Christmas to-do list is still miles long, but today is a day to celebrate and relax. I still have to decorate the birthday cake but otherwise there is just an endless call for cups of tea. And the odd snowball fight.

Tomorrow is time enough to be festive. Tomorrow we'll begin Christmas. Today, we party!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Bouncing cheques

Should we get rid of cheques?

I listened with interest to the debate on the Today programme. Apparently a timetable has now been set for their withdrawal. A method of payment for over 300 years it is now deemed out-of-date, old-fashioned and possible to surpass with other methods.

To a large extent they are right. It is more cost-efficient to use credit or debit cards and (believe it or not) cash is still a valid method of payment. Transactions can be made on-line, and they are quick, often immediate, and with the use of passwords can be checked and authorised in seconds. Cheques are slow and costly, requiring more training for banking staff and careful perusal of signatures to validate.

But do we really have to dispose of cheques all together?

The arguments on the radio were that it would upset the elderly most: people who have always used cheques and are not used to cards, chip&pin and cash machines. Despite the wave of silver-surfers, many elderly are not online, or would find it difficult to catch up with the technology required to run their bank accounts in that fashion.

To take away something that they are comfortable with and (more importantly) safe with seems foolish. And by safe I mean that they do not have to remember a pin number - an inherently unsafe thing, likely to be written down in obvious places or muttered under their breath; they are less likely to lose or misplace a cheque book than a credit card that can get lost in amongst papers; and given they may replace it with cash instead, safer than withdrawing large sums of money to pay for items and thus being a target for robbery.

Of the six million cheques written each day at present, how many are by the elderly?

Personally - and I am only elderly in my children's eyes - I write lots of cheques. I have gone through three cheque books in the last eight months. Most of our banking is done by direct debit; when out shopping I tend to use cash or credit/debit cards; I have and use internet banking. So why do I use lots of cheques?

School. I write cheques for school milk, school trips, school dinners. The easiest way to pay the PTA for the prizes I win (how do I do this?) is by cheque. I pay the trombone teacher. I pay for after-school dance, circuit-training, tennis, drama, swimming.

I suspect all these could be paid in cash or by bank transfer. In my limited experience, paying by bank transfer for one-off or irregular payments is quite arduous. Bank details need to be accurately given and received, and even then transactions are often lost by the recipient on their statement and thus queried.

And how do you deal with emergency issues, such as the boiler breaking down. Am I supposed to keep £200 (or more...) to one side just in case I have to call someone to urgently repair the boiler/ broken pipe/ electric fault? The tradesmen will want payment immediately: am I supposed to pay it on-line?

Of course, the other alternative is that everyone has a credit card machine. But, as I am often warned at shops, there is a 2.5% cost for these, and it is the retailer who bears that burden. Thus, in my basic economics, if cheques were to disappear altogether we should expect an immediate 2.5% inflation of prices. Big companies can absorb this, but small ones will struggle.

To my mind, the only people who really benefit from the complete withdrawal of cheques are the banks with cost-savings and efficiencies. The cost is transferred to cards, and in turn to retailers and thus to us.

What do you think? Is it an inevitable advancement in technologies or a move purely motivated by profit? Do cheques still have a use today?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Going for a song

We are in the middle of a whirl of Christmas shows - as are most parents at the moment, no doubt. I am the proud mother of a Townsperson and a Robin (two separate productions, neither with significant parts were they to drop down with the dreaded lurgy in the next 24 hours).

So, last night, my husband and I had a 'night out at the theatre' - i.e. Aladdin by Key Stage 2 (why have we dropped Infants & Juniors?) It was excellent: truly, I have to say that. It went without a hitch and to manage to organise about 150 children to be on and off stage at the right times is an amazing feat. Someone had painted a beautiful backdrop, the costumes were fantastic and I could hear every word.

It was a musical and I have to admire all the children who took major parts and sang solos. It is terrifying to stand in front of parents anyway - to do that and sing is marvellous. And no-one bottled out. And some of the notes were very high. But .... (and you knew a but was coming!) some of it was remarkably out of tune.

Now, I cannot criticise the children at all: they were doing really well. But it did set me to wondering whether or not I could sing at that age. Even my tone-deaf husband questioned the singing, and what his abilities were at that age.

My school had a choir. We were trained in classic choir songs, singing descants for the carol service and in harmonious parts. The spring term brought 'The Opera': a musical for the choir to perform. There were some solo parts and some spoken parts but the majority was choral. We did Joseph one year, Treasure Island another, I recall watching The Mikado once. I think we could sing. I know that in my final year at school we won a county choir competition and that later my sister's year recorded an album and were on the local news. So I suspect our choir was good, that we could sing.

I glimpsed the end of X-factor when Jedward were knocked out. I was fascinated by Danii's question: Is this a singing competition? Can any of these wannabe stars sing? I hear wobbles and moments of being out of tune. Is that nerves, or part of our current obsession with pushing for fame and stardom without having the correct training in place? Singing is a physical activity that requires controlled breathing and depth of voice comes from the correct use of one's diaphragm. Without this, untold damage to vocal chords can occur, which sadly will only become apparent at an older age.

I am no expert and strongly believe that singing adds so much to life: expressions of emotion, release of stress and outpourings of joy. So I am delighted that my children's school has a choir and the confidence to present a musical, but I just hope that their training will develop strength and depth rather than just enjoyment. And tunefulness...

And - for tonight - I hope that one particularly excitable Robin will remember all her words and actions. (See - extraordinarily proud mother comes first!)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Did I do it?

Of course not.

My November challenge was to write a chapter a day of my third and final book about our time in Zambia. I have written about ten, totalling 23,183 words.

Here is the list of excuses.

1 I never got a chance to write at a weekend (takes out eight days)
2 When there is a chance for Husband to do childcare and me to write, it seems that Husband's PhD takes precedence. (The PhD research was the reason we moved to Zambia. Six years on and it is 'nearly finished', or so he says...)
3 Writing a sermon took out the last week. I can't concentrate on two things at once.
4 I have been back and forth with my daughter to various clinics.
5 It turns out birthday parties take a lot of preparation.
6 My grandmother fell and broke her leg (again) and so I worried about and visited her.

These are all excuses. There were days when I did have time, but couldn't face writing anything. And days when my mind went blank: was there really anything interesting to say. Then I'd remember my son's first attempts to ride a bicycle, or the worries over my daughter's lack of social interaction, or the glorious sunshine and fantastic friends ... and then something would click and writing could begin again.

But most of all, I'm proud of having written over twenty thousand words! I cannot guarantee the quality of any of them, and much of it is jumbled up. However, I am a quarter of the way there, and a month ago I was no further than the title. If I were able to carry on at that rate I'd be finished by Easter.


Just got Christmas in the way now...

Friday, 27 November 2009

The worst day of my life!

"This is the worst day of my life!"

No, this is not another depressing post (I seem to have written a lot of serious and rather melancholy stuff lately). This is how my son greets me with remarkable frequency. Who would have thought being eight was so difficult?

He was playing his trombone, and playing lots of staccato notes rather than the legato his teacher wanted him to play. Foolishly, I point this out. I had first said how well he was playing and he just needs to lengthen the notes a little.

"But I can't!" he wails. "This is the worst day of my life!"

Flings down trombone, collapses to floor and tries to hide.

Or last weekend, when visiting Grandpa and being told he had to be a little bit quiet and not walk around with his juice and find something to do whilst Mummy told Grandpa about her visit to Great-Granny in hospital (a whole other post there, methinks).

"Oh, this is the worst day of my life!" Cue collapse to floor in floods of crocodile tears.

[Admittedly the day was not great, but he had spent over an hour playing games with his Dad and eating chocolate in the hospital cafeteria.]

And yesterday? He has his first swimming lesson since we moved house, which he loved, but much of the evening is taken up with ferrying his sister around to other activities. Cue ...

"This is the best day of my life - ever!"


"Well, apart from my friends falling out at playtime."

At least he has some balance in his life then!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A life worth living?

Twenty-two years ago this week our dog, Fudge, was put down.

Something had been wrong for a couple of weeks and she was taken to the vet on Tuesday morning. I came home from school to find that she had cancer in her stomach and was put down.

Three days later we were told that my mother had weeks, perhaps only days, to live. She died the following morning.

I often wonder about this peculiar week. Fudge was 11 years old, not a bad age for a dog, and clearly she would have been in ridiculous pain and discomfort if we had not had her put down. It would be mean and unfair to let her live in that condition.

So, is it more fair to keep a human alive? We all think so. After all, we are all human (well, most of us!) But is it right to keep someone alive who is in pain and discomfort, who genuinely has a short life-expectancy anyway?

Of course, there are many examples of people who have far outlived their prognosis (Jane Tomlinson would be a fine example) and I am delighted for them and their families. There are probably stories of dogs who have done a similar thing, fighting back from what would seem an impossible situation.

Every so often my husband, in his work as a paediatrician, tells me of children he is caring for that he is sure will die. They have such awful, horrific diseases that he can see no way that they will survive to have a 'normal' life or to contribute to society in any way. Of course, the hippocratic oath demands that the best is done for these children but sometimes - just sometimes - I wonder if 'the best' is actually to let them die in peace and dignity, rather than after weeks, months or even years of invasive treatments.

I was touched last week by the compassion shown by the parents of baby RB. This child had a dreadful condition meaning that he could not live except with artificial breathing. The parents had been to court, but ended up settling amicably on switching the life-support machine off. Last Friday that was done.

What an awful choice for a parent, whilst presumably right for the child.

Could I have done it? Wouldn't I have fought for my child's life, for as long as possible? Wouldn't I demand the best healthcare (to hell with the cost!) because it is my child, my love, my future?

There is no easy answer. But the juxtaposition of the cancerous deaths of my mother and our beloved family dog does make me question the virtues of prolonging life at any cost.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Life has no purpose

The other day, in a fit of melancholy, as I walked back from dropping the kids at school I thought to myself that my life has no purpose. The day was stretching endlessly before me, and what could I plan to achieve? The washing? Is this what sums my life up now?

Thinking a little more, I realised that my anxiety was not about having no purpose, but having too many purposes. So many purposes that I wasn't really sure which to tackle next. (It just happened that the washing was becoming more and more urgent!)

Many of the things I do have been shared on this blog, so in a way of an update and partly to try to sort out what I ought to be doing next, here is what is currently going on.

The writing
I am trying to write a chapter a day during the month of November of The Professor, The Bishop and Me, the third and final book telling the story of our time in Zambia. I am failing on my initial lofty goal, but I have written around 17,500 words, which is not to be sniffed at. There have been days when this has been nearly impossible to write and days when I have wept whilst typing about stories that are so personal and upsetting to me. It is only the 16th today, so I still have half the month to go - maybe half the book will be finished then?

The house
I haven't updated about this for ages. We have received planning permission for our proposed changes and are now in the process of submitting building regs. We will then have to put the job out to tender (yikes!) so I am spending far too much time on-line working out exactly which tiles and baths and lights and kitchen units I actually want. Everything requires a decision and, given decisions are not my strong point, the next few weeks could be excruciating. And we haven't even begun building yet...

The family
Husband's job still takes up too much time (personal opinion!) and the PhD has still to be completed (personal frustration!) which does seem to leave me on my own more than either of us would like.
Having had parent's evening at school last week I am proud to say that my son is absolutely flying through school, the teacher being very pleased with everything but his handwriting (he's a boy, and can't be bothered with it!)
And I am delighted with my daughter's progress too! She is talking more in class, sitting still on the carpet with more consistency and generally improving all round. Her reading and spellings are fine, her numeracy is still way behind but her teachers were very positive about her and her progress. If she learns to concentrate better then maybe she'll pick everything up more quickly: that is the current theory we are working on. But she is talking - woo hoo!

I have to write a sermon by the end of the month. (I've read the bible passages and they seem all doom and gloom, which doesn't feel appropriate just before Christmas!)

So, if you add in that I am trying to fund-raise in order to take some money or equipment out to Zambia when we go on holiday next year, to a project that works with women and orphans; and planning for Christmas, with family coming and going throughout the fortnight's 'holiday'; and the usual taxi service to run for the children, household jobs to do and an elderly grandmother that I really ought to visit more often ... well, I am not allowed to be idle.

There probably is some purpose to my life after all!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Pandemonium and Pottery Party Preparation

I hate birthday parties.

Now is the time of year I have to endure organising them. It causes me untold stress, and I really wish they didn't, as the children love them. My son's birthday is just before Christmas which makes it doubly difficult as I have to avoid Christmas parties and the many school events that occur in the run up to the holidays.

Nevertheless, yesterday was Daughter's 7th birthday party. She had been looking forward to it all week: a party at a pottery place.

Here is what I organised:
- the venue
- the invitations
- the items the girls were going to paint
- the food to eat
- the plates etc. to eat the food from
- the party bags
- the cake - both making and decorating

I know, my list is very similar to every other mother's list. And I wish it didn't get me so anxious, but I would like everything to be perfect and I want all the children to be well-behaved and I don't want to run out of food or bags or cake or whatever. The Cake dominated Saturday's preparation, firstly as I realised I didn't have enough eggs to cook it. Then concern when, after 37 minutes in the oven it was still soggy in the middle. Then making butter icing that was nearly solid and virtually unspreadable. Then decorating with enough pink things to make it attractive for a dozen girls, including writing her name on it with the icing pens my son had kindly bought (with my money but without my permission) when I have never written with icing before. Then ensuring no-one ate it for 24 hours...

Here is what my daughter did:
- turned up and enjoyed herself

Yeah, I know! How inconsiderate! All the hard work from Mum and not so much as a thank you! Friends arrive, she grabs their presents and then sits down to the hard work of painting her model teddy bear. She leaps at the chance to go on the miniature railway (whilst I set out all the food) and then eats. She blows out the candles. She says goodbye to all her friends. She laughs and smiles the whole way through.

She gets home, opens all the presents and then snuggles up with Mum on the sofa.

Ah, yes: that bit was precious. An exhausted daughter, worn out by the excitement and the joy, just enjoying being quiet with me for a little while.

And that, really, is what makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Heaven Can Wait

Today is a World First for this blog: an interview!

Cally Taylor is a proper writer: has written lots of stuff, really works hard on it and (most crucially) is actually published. Her first novel, Heaven Can Wait, is out in all good bookstores right now! I have written a review of the book on my other blog (I thoroughly enjoyed it!)

I held his face in my hands and kissed him back. I felt that life just couldn't get any more perfect. I was right, it wouldn't...

I am delighted to welcome her to my blog as part of her World Blog Book Tour. Here she answers questions about her book, the writing and editing process, and where in the world she'd rather be. Enjoy! (Then buy the book...)

Firstly, tell me about your book 'Heaven Can Wait', the story of a girl who dies before she can marry her true love. What inspired you to write it? I have to assume it is not based on true-life experience...

Er no...though I probably would have got a lot more press though if:

a) An ex-boyfriend had died and come back to haunt me

b) I was actually dead and managing to write a novel (a lot, lot more press!)

The truth is I was inspired to write “Heaven Can Wait” after a friend died and I ended up thinking about death a lot (I know, cheery subject for a romantic-comedy writer). That, and a question from my then boyfriend – if he died how long would I wait before I moved on? (he was a cheery sort) - sparked an idea for a novel. I started to wonder what would happen if the dead person refused to move on. What if they refused to go to heaven and insisted on being sent back to earth instead?

Have you always been a writer? What is the most interesting job you have done?

Despite having a novel out I’m not a full time writer yet – I’ve still got the day job, designing e-learning Masters degrees for a London university.

I’ve had lots of different jobs – a strawberry/raspberry sorter (M&S and Sainsburys get the best, the other supermarkets gets the rest), a kitchen hand, a waitress, a barmaid, a post sorter for the Royal Mail (even if you write ‘Fragile’ it still gets chucked into a sack!), a graphic designer and a web developer – but the most interesting job was when I worked for a local radio station. I had to put together the traffic reports for the DJs to read out and answer the phone during competition phone-ins. I also had to greet the guests in reception and bring them through. I remember being very nervous about going to meet an ‘aura reader’ once. I was in a foul mood and was sure she’d see a big black cloud around me as I forced a smile and welcomed her to the studio!

What do you most enjoy about writing? ... and least?

I most enjoy that feeling when the scene you’re writing grabs you by the hair and pulls you into the story. You lose track of time, yourself and what’s going on around you and you live and breathe what you’re writing. When you finally stop writing the rush is incredible.

I least enjoy getting stuck and not knowing what happens next. I also dislike the feeling that something is wrong with the story and/or character – especially when I can’t work out why, or how to fix it. I don’t like that I’m a perfectionist and constantly doubt my ability and what I’m writing.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write and publish a book?

Write what excites you. Don’t write about vampires because they’re ‘the next big thing’. Don’t try and write a Mills and Boon because you think it’ll be ‘easy’. Don’t write chicklit because you think it’s popular and bound to sell. Don’t write to make money. Write the story that you can’t get out of your head, that makes your heart beat faster, that has you jumping out of bed at night to scribble down a new idea for a scene. Write the story that you can put your heart into. Write the story that makes you laugh and cry. Don’t try and write like another writer, or how you think a novel should be written to be marketable, write like you.

I really believe that when what you’re writing moves you it will move your reader too (whether that’s an agent/editor or book buyer). If you hate every second of what you’re writing you’re writing the wrong novel for you. Yes it’s hard to put your bum on the chair and I procrastinate as much as everyone else, but once I get going I enjoy it and wonder why I don’t sit down and write more often! If what you’re writing feels like constant torture – and it never gives you a buzz - write something else.

At the moment you are editing your second novel. How do you approach the process of editing? Do you have any tips (... for those of us who find it soooo difficult and often demoralising...)?

Oooh god, you’re asking me this while I’m knee deep in rewriting/editing hell, and have been for months!

I’ve had two very different experiences with editing. With “Heaven Can Wait” the story was very clear in my head all the way through and the structure didn’t need any work when I finished the first draft so I ‘just’ had to edit it. I went through and cut a lot (trimming it from 100,000 to 80,000 words) to make it pacier. I cut a lot of introspection

, I tried to make the funny scenes funnier, I noticed there were lots of ‘waking up in the morning’ chapter beginnings and cut or changed them. I cut journeys and transitional scenes and I cut bits of dialogue that were just waffle and didn’t move the scene forward. I cut, cut, cut.

The best bit of advice I can give for editing is, if your novel is in good shape structurally/makes sense/has plot and character arcs, to read it through and mark anything you find boring with BORING in big letters. Keep reading. Keep marking the boring bits. Then go through and cut or rewrite those boring bits. Read it again – out loud this time – and you’ll spot more mistakes and/or stumbling sentences. Fix them.

With novel 2 (the one I’m working on now) the story was a lot messier at the end of the first draft and, unlike “Heaven Can Wait”, the structure needed a lot of work. As a result I’ve had to rewrite it. I did that by reading the draft through, making notes about what had to change/why/where and then working through it methodically, from the first chapter to the last, rewriting. It’s a bit like building a wall in your back garden when you haven’t got a car. You walk down to B&Q, buy a few bricks, carry them home, and lay them in your garden. Then you go back to B&Q the next day, buy a few more, carry them home and continue to build. When you’ve finished you’re absolutely knackered, go out to admire your handiwork and discover you’ve built it wonky! The only thing you can do is to knock it (or some of it) down and rebuild - but at least you’ve got the bricks and you don’t have to walk all the bloody way to B&Q again!

There are probably a lot of holes in that metaphor. I’ve never actually built a wall before...

Anyway... if you’ve finished your first draft and there are problems with it and you’re not sure how to fix them the best advice I can give is to go back to your ‘How to’ books on plotting and characters and try and work out what it is your novel is lacking. Go with your gut instinct. If something doesn’t ‘feel’ right about your novel it probably isn’t. Try and narrow down what isn’t working then ask yourself WHY it isn’t working. If you can identify that you should be able to fix it.

The Withenays have wandered an awful lot, moving house seven times in the last six years. I know you are selling your flat at present. Where would you most like to move to, given no other constraints on your life?

Don’t talk to me about moving! My dad was in the army and I think I was born with itchy feet. When I first moved to Brighton I moved house six times in three years! I’ve been a bit more settled in this flat and have lived here the longest I’ve lived anywhere, ever (mortgages are like concrete blocks for itchy feet!). If I had no constraints on my life...hmmm...I don’t know. I’d have to visit a few places first, to check them out. I’ve heard that Perth, Australia is gorgeous and I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco so maybe somewhere like that. Ideally I’d like to be able to live in the UK during the spring/summer and live somewhere sunny in the winter. I can’t STAND short, dark days.

Which is better: the journey or the destination?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say ‘the destination’. It’s the feeling of accomplishment, relief and pride when I’ve finished a draft of a novel and typed ‘the end’ that does it for me. I might feel like I’m limping over the writing finishing line (like Katie Price completing a marathon), but I know I’ve worked bloody hard to get there and I’m proud of myself. Writing is an exhausting process and I can’t believe I used to think (before I actually tried writing a novel) that it was easy! I’ve got a LOT of respect for anyone who writes and finishes a novel, whether published or unpublished, because I know how bloody hard it is and how much dedication, perseverance and sheer-bloody-mindedness it demands.

If you could pick one person who would request a signed copy of 'Heaven Can Wait' from you, who would it be?

Richard Curtis. I’d be secretly hoping he’d requested it because he wanted to turn it into a film (well I can dream...)

Thank you so much Cally for visiting my little blog as part of your World Tour. I wish you every success with the forthcoming film of your book (positive thinking!) and look forward to my seats at the premiere in Leicester Square!

You can find out more about Cally on her website or follow her blog, or become a twitter buddy

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

My writing challenge (day 4 update)

Just a quick update for those of you caught in my procrastination last week. I have written over 9,000 words of The Professor, The Bishop and Me so far, some of them quite reasonable, over the past four days. If I'm lucky this evening I may take it over the 10,000 mark, but that assumes I ditch all my parenting skills (such as they are!)

And for the writing and reading fans out there, come back on Friday when I will be interviewing Cally Taylor about her recently published book Heaven Can Wait. Really, I want to be her when I grow up.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Job prospects

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked my daughter at lunch today.

"A mummy," she says.

"You can't be a mummy," her brother complains. "That's not a job." [Wry smile from me, here.]

"Would you like to be a teacher?" I ask.


"Maybe a nurse, or a doctor like Daddy?"

"No, that's a boy's job. I don't want a boy job. I'm a girl."

"Doctors can be girls too," my son shouts back at her. Patience and tolerance are low in his list of skills at present - equality and justice are clearly higher! I do wonder where they get these sexist ideas for jobs: it certainly isn't from home.

"What about being a vet?" her brother continues. "Boys and girls can be vets."

"No, that's a boy job. I don't want to be a vet."

Volume levels are rising, and the distinction between boy and girl jobs is not one I wish to promote nor pursue. "So, is there anything else you want to be?" I ask gently.

"No. I want to be a mummy."

So that's that.

Does that mean I have to be a granny?

Friday, 30 October 2009


One of my many skills is procrastination.

I have now written an outline for Book 3: The Professor, The Bishop and Me. It looks great - a little weak in parts ("a long time on my own" does not automatically inspire a chapter's worth of writing), but I have some great stories to tell and it gives me some shape and pace. It is a good starting point: thirty short chapters covering eighteen months of my life.

Inspired by NaNoWriMo, which challenges you to write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November, I therefore think I could begin this, one chapter a day for the next month. In fact, if I really did that, I'd have it finished. So all I need to do is write, pad out the structure, entertain with my wit and wise words.

I have printed out a blank calendar for November.

I have highlighted a space each day for my word total.

I have written "Words Written" in red marker pen. Followed by a colon.

I have put a red ring around each day of the month, because with all the other highlighting and red ink they had got rather lost.

I have found the blu tak and stuck it to the wall.

I have cleared the pile of papers to file (or at least reduced it to only a couple of centimetres in height.)

I have condensed my assortment of to-do lists into one (very, long one).

I have arranged my stapler, calculator and pencil pots in neat, ordered lines.

Procrastinate? Me? A good job it isn't yet November...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Catching up on memes

The lovely clareybabbling set me this meme, courtesy of Tara at Sticky Fingers (the "Blame Tara Meme"), way back in July. I hope neither of them will be offended that it has taken me so long to get round to it, but here goes.

1 Who is the hottest movie star?
George Clooney? Brad Pitt? Sadly, see so few films nowadays that I'm tempted to say Mannie from Ice Age...
2 Apart from your house and car, what's the most expensive item you have ever bought?
The wedding ring for my husband. Or maybe the sofabed. Or perhaps this Apple Mac.
3 What's your most treasured memory?
My wedding. It was a fantastic service, a fantastic party and my grandmother made me the most wonderful dress.
4 What was the best gift you ever received as a child?
The romantic in me says 'the love of my parents'; the mercenary in me says 'a car'; the child in me says 'the doll's house'.
5 What's the biggest mistake you've made?
Yikes! You think I'm going to tell you? Leaving the playdough in the fridge, then finding our maid in Zambia had made us a pie for tea from it...
6 Four words to describe yourself ...
Lazy, selfish, ordered, creative
7 What was your highlight or lowlight of 2008?
2008? We're nearing the end of 2009! Completing the first draft of Singing in a foreign land must be the highlight: it remains such an exciting achievement.
8 Favourite film?
Ice Age 3?!
9 Tell me one thing I don't know about you.
Aged 8, I sent a letter to Ordnance Survey to get them to correct their map to recognise the historical battle that took place in our village. They wrote back saying they would correct further editions. (And I believe they did!)
10 If you were a comic book/strip or cartoon character, who would you be?
Wallace, from Wallace & Grommit: slightly dimwitted (I blame two pregnancies), creative and fanatical about Wensleydale Cheese.

Again, I beg forgiveness, but most people have already done this meme so I am not naming specific people to pass it on to. Having said that, if you would like to take up the challenge, please do so and let me know!


I snaffled this from Working Mother on the Verge. I look just like this, of course...

Friday, 23 October 2009

If time could stand still...

There is a kids programme on at the moment where a boy is able to stop time, alter things and then start time up again. I think, if I were a superhero, that would be the power I'd like to have.

Right now, that would enable me to:
  • cook food for 12 for the weekend (in-laws are visiting)
  • tidy the house (in-laws are visiting...)
  • finish a mountain of ironing
  • put away the Asda delivery that came yesterday
  • file all the paperwork on floor of study
  • organise my daughter's birthday party
  • wrap all the birthday presents (in-laws are visiting ... there are 4 birthdays this month)
  • bake birthday cake(s)
  • plan activities for half-term
  • design outfit for daughter's drama class tomorrow ("a big turnip")
  • sit down for an hour with a good book and a cup of tea...

I think I'll start at the bottom of the list and work up... !

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A dangerous occupation

This morning my son said, when he caught his finger against the bell of the trombone as his arm slid down, that the trombone was a dangerous instrument to play. (I too think the trombone is a dangerous instrument, but that is connected to my eardrums not my fingers.)

I have also come to the conclusion that writing is a dangerous occupation. I admit, I haven't yet got any physical injuries to complain about. It is the mental trauma that concerns me.

There is guilt: guilt that I'm not writing when I could or should. And guilt that I am writing when I ought to be dealing with children/husband/washing/gardening etc. Either way round, too much time is spent feeling that I am doing the wrong thing.

There are the emotions, as I get carried away with my writing. As I mainly write about our time in Zambia, I get morose as I miss the place, or my friends; and as I write about wonderful memories I wish I could go back in time to re-live them. I get upset when I write about things that touch my heart: the death of a child, the injustice of food distribution, the inequalities of healthcare. It is not unknown for me to be typing with tears streaming down my face. (A dangerous occupation: water and electricity don't mix!)

There is the self-imposed stress of deadlines. I have no real deadlines, other than my own desire to get my story written before I forget it. Even so, I can feel bad when I haven't achieved something that I had aimed for.

There is the misery of editing. Perhaps this is too strong a phrase, but it is miserable to re-read my writing and think that it is rubbish. And to know I've got to re-write it all. Again. Or when I read a sentence (maybe aloud) and recognise that if I can't follow what I've written then how can I expect anyone else to?

Then there is also the joy: writing something that I know is good, that perfectly encapsulates the moment, vision and emotion. The joy of hearing someone else say they want to hear more, that they are thoroughly enjoying my writing. There is joy as I achieve a goal, a chapter end or a resolution as to how to express a complicated issue.

Writing is a dangerous occupation: a roller-coaster ride. I'm adhering to all the safety procedures that I can, firmly buckled in as I creep up to another summit. I anticipate the adrenalin rush as I hurtle back down, then the struggle at the bottom to get the carriages back in gear, back up to the top. I hold on tight, praying that (one day) the end will come.

My fear is, I may then just circle round and join the queue for another turn.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Autumnal mornings

'tis the season of mists ...

(to husband)
"Don't you have an appointment at the doctor's this morning? What time is it?"
"I haven't seen anything lying around."
"Is it in the pile in the hallway?"
"Bedroom floor?"
"They might have sent a message to your mobile."
"Perhaps best calling to find out ..."
"Oh, at 8.30? Better get going then."

... and mellow ...

(Shout up stairs)
"Come on, boy! You've got to go in 5 minutes!"
(Two minutes later, thankfully downstairs)
"I know you say you hate choir, but you are still going."
"Eat up! There isn't time for chatting!"
"Why haven't you got your shoes on?"
"Have you got everything? Music? Book? Spellings? Pack lunch? Games kit?"

(To daughter)
"Get your coat on. No, don't worry about the doll."
"No, you can't take your bracelet."
"Yes, it is pretty but the headmaster will be very cross with you."
"You can play when you get home. Right now, you have to go to school."
"What do you mean, you can't find your jumper?"


Time for a cup of tea...

With apologies to John Keats, To Autumn, 1820:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Dear Mum

Today is your 70th birthday so I thought I would write you a letter.

It isn't much of one. I know you won't read it, but I wanted to express just how much I love you even after all these years. Perhaps particularly after the last twenty-two.

On your gravestone it is written "I thank God in every remembrance of you" (Philippians 1.3) And that is true. It is true for Dad, who chose it, and for me in my daily life. You were the best mum I could have ever asked for and I just hope and pray that some of that is being passed on to my children.

Your grandchildren. Can you believe that? They are gorgeous, by the way. I know - you never even met my husband, so it must be hard for you to have imagined grandchildren. I try so hard to bring them up in a way you would be proud. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes all I want to do is scream. Mostly I want to give you a ring and find out what I'm supposed to do.

I have to assume I was nothing like my son. I always went to bed on time? I never complained about the food on my plate? I loved music practice, my piano teacher? I always tidied my room?

Everyone says my daughter is just a 'mini-me'. Hmmm. I think that is based on blonde hair and blue eyes. Surely I wasn't so stroppy and stubborn? So dippy? So confused by numbers? I had taken to calling her Jemima Puddleduck (I remember that was what you called me) then the other day I actually read Beatrix Potter's story - it wasn't all that flattering!

How did you cope with my sister and I arguing all the time? How did you restrain us from watching TV all day? How on earth did you explain the facts of life to us? (My son asked the other day. It was torture. What do you tell an eight-year-old boy?)

Your mum, Great-Granny (as we now all call her) is still going strong. The other week, when we visited, she had your wedding photos out. My daughter didn't recognise Dad in them at all, even though he was sitting in the same room. They both giggled about that.

My life has taken more twists and turns than I could possibly have imagined when we last spoke. I'm guessing teenagers have some rather narrow, self-centred views on life. What can I tell you? I have a degree in Maths and Psychology (I know, you wanted me to do languages, but it seems to have worked out okay). I've married a doctor (he's fantastic, by the way). I lived in Africa for four years (the French would have been useful here, but on the other hand the Maths got me the job). I'm writing a book. I'm living on the Wrong Side of the Pennines.

I remember saying after you'd died how I would miss you as a friend more than as a mother. Whilst at school, I'd really have liked it if you could have prepared dinner for us every night. Whilst at university, I'd really have liked it if I could have brought my washing home to you. When living in Zambia, I'd really have liked it if you could have sent little food parcels.

But it is your friendship I miss most. Undoubtedly.

So, mum, Happy Birthday. I'll always miss you, but I know you are in a better place. One day we'll meet up again.

Until then, I send my love,


Thursday, 8 October 2009

What have I let myself in for?

Yesterday morning I took daughter off school for an appointment with the nurse.

We then went shopping. You could call it retail therapy (a treat for being good for the nurse) or you could call it last-minute-panic to get ready for Saturday, it depends on whether you are Mother or Daughter, I suspect.

You see, in a rash moment of parental concern I enrolled our daughter in a drama class that meets every Saturday morning. Concerned as we are about her speech, I thought this would be a great activity for her: it will force her to speak, in public; it will improve her confidence with her peers, adults and strangers; and it will be active and physically challenging as well. Ticks nearly all the boxes for helping her develop without her realising it!

Week 1 was great and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Week 2 we had to miss. Week 3? We received a list of what costumes she needs over the term.

Oh yes - costumes! Why didn't I think it through about the consequences of drama? Stuff the improved speech and self-confidence: now I am a mother with a weekly outfit to prepare, where (of course) I cannot possibly be outdone by any of the others. Pressure!!

Moreover, I have been reading others blogs about this - following Troy with his son's Roald Dahl day at school and Diary of a Mithered Mum, with her eldest's Story Book character at school. I should read and learn. But no, I am now caught up in a term full of costumes.

This Saturday she is a spider.
Next week Princess Jasmine or character from Arabian Nights.
Later, she has to be a giant turnip - yes, a giant turnip!
Another week she can be Cinderella (that, I know, is easy: there is already a costume in the box!)
By Christmas she needs to be an elf or a reindeer or something.

So our retail therapy session was to buy cheap, monochrome outfits that can be adapted with ease. (Brown top + trousers: add on some antlers and I have my reindeer, for example.) We were specifically told not to go out and buy outfits but that puts additional pressure on finding the mother-with-sewing-machine-and-imagination. Besides, most of my daughter's trousers are now pedal-pushers so I justified it on the grounds she needs new clothes anyway. I threw in a couple of pink tops and the little girl was happy.

So, now she has some basics - just how do I adapt them?

The photo is not of my children, nor of any children I know, and I'm sorry I've lost the link to the website that was using it to promote their costumes.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Reading - mine and my daughter's

It is Monday again and it is not as bad as last week.

This afternoon I am reading part of my book Singing in a foreign land (eek!) at the launch of the local writers' group's book. Their book was organised and printed long before we moved here but they asked me to read a little of my story of life in Africa. Until last night I felt flattered by this: today, I'm petrified. Suddenly nothing seems worth reading!

Maybe this is worse than last week.

Thank you to everyone for your support on my last post. I'm quite overwhelmed. I look forward to telling you in a month or six that all is totally fine and the teacher can't shut my daughter up. Somehow I think we have to break a cycle of don't-know-answer therefore don't-speak therefore don't-learn therefore don't-know-answer ... I am sure it will come, with time and patience.

In the meantime, I thought I'd amuse you with the books my daughter chose from the library. I try to encourage some variety and something that might challenge her a little. So she chose this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and best of all - a book I couldn't imagine ever existed, but she picked out from a hundred paces:

My Big Pink Book of Everything!

What a girl!

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