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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