Saturday, 19 November 2011

Carnival Festivities

It’s carnival season in Somerset at the moment and I went to one last week with my family.  For the most part, it was a lovely evening out and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  I do remember some of the floats, but for me, the procession was marred by the number of adults smoking around us.  There was a family beside us, with both parents smoking, the father in particular was puffing away as if his life depended on it.  Quite ironic, really.
There has been so much written and spoken of in the media over recent years about the dangers of smoking, and the effects of passive smoking on children, that I am quite staggered there are still so many people willing to admit to this huge social taboo.  I would put it up there with drink-driving.
Smoking in the presence of children is tantamount to neglect in my view, and I cannot imagine any addiction that I could not give up for the sake of my daughter, yet there are still women who smoke and drink through pregnancy.
Perhaps more distressing than the cigarette smoke blowing around us was the state of the two children to the other side, a boy and a girl, but the girl in particular caught my eye.  Or rather, her hair did.  It was long, blonde, and distressingly dirty.  She was perhaps seven or eight years old. 
Teens get greasy hair, that’s a fact of life.  It needs washing most days for many years.  I speak from experience as the description of being able to “oil a bicycle” was something I had to be wary of.  That sort of state is not reached overnight, however, in pre-pubescent children, and that is what caused my concern.
My daughter’s hair gets dirty - she massages her lunch in generously and frequently applies other household stickiness throughout the day as she plays in the garden or rolls around on the floor with the dog – and so we wash it most days. It’s still sparse enough that the egg yolk dried in hard, yellow threads is very visible, so we at least have that on our side.  I have no idea how long it would take for her hair to become thick with her own naturally-produced grease because I won’t be finding out for many years yet.
I understand that sometimes hair-washing can be a battle, and hair-brushing even worse, but I would argue that as parents, we have a duty to our children to look after their welfare, and that includes keeping them clean.  I understand, too, that there has been a lot written of the chemicals in shampoos and that might put some people off some products, perhaps encouraging less frequent hair-washing. This poor little girl at the carnival had not had clean hair for some considerable time though to get it into that state, not just going without a brush for a few days.
To my husband’s relief, I didn’t say anything, but given the time I’ve spent thinking about her since, I wonder if perhaps I should have done, or whether that would have made things worse for her.  Poor little girl.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

‘T’ Is For Tay – Loch Tay

The “last holiday before baby” seems to be almost as much of a pre-birth ritual these days as choosing a colour scheme for the nursery and packing a hospital bag.  More likely to happen than, say, a baby shower even.

Loch Tay in Scotland was the last place my husband and I went on holiday before our daughter was born.  I had envisaged somewhere a little more exotic-sounding, and certainly warmer than Scotland in March, but in fact it turned out to be the perfect destination for what we needed -  to get a way for a few days and ‘re-group.’
Once we got there, I didn’t mind swapping my dreamed-of cocktail, albeit non-alcoholic, for a big mug of hot chocolate, and the loch-side log cabin had a better view of the water than any poolside accommodation we’d have got abroad.
I opted out of the kayaking, thankful to have my bump as an excuse to hide behind, rather than admit that the weather was not quite what I’d hoped for.  I wouldn’t have possibly fitted into the boat after all, let alone get out again in the event of capsizing!  That was my story and I was sticking to it. 
In all honesty, we’d left it a bit late to go abroad and even if an airline or ferry had willingly agreed to take me, I don’t think we’d have agreed.  We are both worriers in the extreme!  I’d been carrying my pregnancy notes with me for weeks prior to that holiday anyway. 
We weren’t expecting to get snowed in on that particular holiday, but in fact it was bliss!  We snuggled on the sofa with the heating up high, mesmerised by the giant flakes floating past the windows.  The fridge was stocked up and there was no mobile reception so there was nothing to interrupt us – the perfect chance to look forward to having the baby, but also to remember that we were a couple first, and being holed up in the snow for a few days was a wonderful opportunity to reminisce.
I took this photo of the sheep in the field beside our log cabin and I love it for being able to feel the weather from it, and because of the way the sheep are blindly following each other, just as people say they do.  I’m sharing it as part of The Gallery.  Have a look at some of the other photos there.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Book Review: Seven Days One Summer, by Kate Morris

Jen is a photographer, long-term girlfriend and mummy who feels slightly frustrated and underwhelmed by life when the story starts. She thinks back to pre-baby days when her career was on a high and life was more spontaneous. She associates those days with Sam, an ex-love, who calls her out of the blue on her birthday.

Sam invites Jen to spend a week in his father’s villa in Tuscany, with her man, Marcus, and son, Alfie, and various other friends of Sam’s. Some are known to Jen, others she has not met. Jen and Marcus have fallen into a bit of a rut and Jen hopes this could be the very thing they need to revive their relationship.

Once in Italy, the sun shines, wine flows and suspicions are aroused. Each member of the group deals with their own issues, some better than others. Trying to put up with annoyances from others in the party, everyone does their best to enjoy their time at the villa. For Jen, there is something not quite right about Jill, the housekeeper, but she tries to put it to one side for the sake of the holiday.

I found the book compelling; I didn’t want to put it down until I discovered the climax that Morris was building towards from the start. Morris writes beautifully. Her attention to detail is the key to this book’s success. She creates a vivid picture, but includes the tiny observations that really bring it all to life; I could smell the lavender in the heat of the Italian summer, and I could hear the cicadas on the terrace.

I did find the ending a little frustrating, not for the twist, but because the book had been building towards it for so long and going into great detail that I felt it was rather abrupt and over too quickly. There was more I wanted to know about the background and how the story came about, and more details about how the characters responded thereafter.
Jen is a very recognisable character and I’m sure readers of the novel will see many aspects of their own lives cropping up in Jen’s story. She is easy to relate to, and Morris’s other characters are also very believable.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it reinforced the idea that there are friends you should go on holiday with, and friends you most definitely should not! Relationships do not always transport well. Sometimes, being away is exactly what is needed to pour a little clarity on things, as Jen and others discover. The story throws up many questions about how people gel together as a group and analyses the dynamics well. I found myself cringing on behalf of some characters at the behaviour of others!
The book was most definitely a great read and I recommend it to anyone wanting to hang on to the last vestiges of summer, or who has ever been niggled by people they have been away with.

This is Kate Morris’s third novel.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Writing Workshop - Time

Back-to-work Dread ought to be a recognised condition.  I’m sure there are many people up and down the country suffering from it right now.  They’re feeling the pull between the fun of the weekend, and not wanting to spoil the time they’ve had, and the ever closer trill of the Monday morning alarm.  Back to work.  The daily grind.
I’ve had a temporary reprieve: garden leave.  Tonight is the first time in a while that I’m quite looking forward to Monday.  I’m apprehensive, sure, about what the next few months has in store but I’m also genuinely excited.  My day is not going to be governed by my diary and its helpful little reminders that I have to dial in to a conference call in fifteen minutes, or that I haven’t left enough time to get to my next meeting.  I’m not even wearing my watch today!
It’s going to be like that blissful few days on holiday when you’re not bound by time at all.  The only thing that dictates what to do when is your stomach, which thinks it must be getting close to lunchtime now. Who says it’s too early for a beer?  And who cares anyway?!  Like the song says, it’s five o’clock somewhere.  Isn’t that what holidays are for?  Total relaxation and a complete break from quotidian routine.
I don’t think for a minute that I’ll last long without a bit of structure to my day.  I think we need a bit of schedule and routine.  It can be a definite blessing in disguise. Take housework as a prime example.  I could reel off a list of a hundred things I’d rather be doing , but in fact, by setting a time limit on how much I’m going to do, I do achieve a lot more.  I’ll spend half an hour cleaning, but then treat myself with half an hour reading; books, magazines, blogs.  That’s the problem; there just isn’t enough time for all the ‘fun’ things I want to do.
I’d wager that by Tuesday lunchtime I’ve set up my diary with prompts and reminders, my own to-do list and structured the whole week again.  The difference will be that this time, it’s on my time.  My rules.

You can see more posts about Time at Sleep Is For The Weak here.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

An Illicit Love

I brush past you.  The slightest touch against my skin thrills me and makes my whole body tingle.  I can’t help but gaze at you, so stylish and bold.  I shouldn’t stare, but I could swear I just saw you wink at me.  I know that if you could, you would call my name.  This relationship must not be allowed to continue.  I will end it before it even has a chance, because it is just not fair.  The temptation is so fierce though, testing my willpower to the limit.  I must be strong, I must resist.  That is my mantra as I just feel your presence in my home.
I could burst with excitement!  The Baby Boden catalogue has arrived!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

An Eventful Trip

What a day. I feel I've aged about twenty years! I took a flight yestoday with my toddler, her first, and while she was reasonably quiet, she wouldn't sit on my lap for any length of time, as the budget airline dictated. As soon as the seat belt sign went out, we walked the length of the plane. And back again. And up, and back, and up and back. Thanks to our fellow passengers for their patience.

I was stressed beforehand because it was the first time she'd flown, and because I was in sole charge, so it was a weight off my mind that it went ok. We sailed through Arrivals. All hail the Trunki!

I was so glad to see my husband on "the other side" and off-load some of the luggage - it never ceases to amaze me how much kit small children need! We were making good progress through the hoardes of leather-look sunseekers returning from their annual break, towards our car.

Then the Trunki hit a bump in the tamac and flipped itself and its passenger straight over. Her forehead broke her fall because she was clutching the ladybird's horns so tightly. The scream was horrible but at least she cried straightaway. It was the blood coming from her nose that flipped us out. We headed straight to the hospital.

It was quite a surreal experience. not helped by the massive, purple egg that popped up on my baby's head. In our haste to get to A&E, we'd left the change bag in the car. Of course, this was exactly the time we needed it. Nice timing.

Thankfully, nothing serious at all. Apparently it's quite normal for baby noses to bleed with the smallest knocks. The advice was to cut her nails in case she picks her nose! And she listened to every word the doctor said.

No lasting damage, other than parents' nerves. I'm sure there are more wrinkles on my forehead this morning than yesterday, but I'd take a whole lot more to know that my baby is ok.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Photographic Memories

I have some time off in the next couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to having some fun with my little family.  We’re planning day trips and activities locally so we don’t waste the time discussing what to do, ending up doing little of any consequence.  Nothing memorable.
I want us to have some great memories to look back on, for all of us, and though my husband doesn’t know yet, we’re going to have at least one day every two months where we do a “never forget” activity all together.  I made that decision today.
A lot of my memories are captured on film and it’s such a pleasure looking back through them all.  My parents have album after album lined up on their bookshelves and nothing beats getting them out on a lazy afternoon and flicking through them with my family.
I worry that that sort of entertainment will be lost to the new generation though, with the advent of digital cameras and online ‘albums’ on social networking sites.  Sure, we might all take lots more photos, and we might share them with many more people on the likes of Facebook or Snapfish, but they’re instant and then gone.  Ok, so technically all the pictures are still there, but the tendency to go back through them doesn’t exist.  Sometimes that is no bad thing when people just snap, snap, snap, knowing they’re not wasting any film, but then don’t bother filtering the 307 shots that look like an advanced spot-the-difference challenge.
The anticipation of your prints landing on the doorstep and recalling your holiday after the event disappeared when we started being able to review the picture seconds after it was taken and then move on. 
I’m making a pledge to go through all the photos I take every year and put the best into an “Album of the Year” so that we get the best of both worlds.  We’ll have the albums I love to look back on, and I’ll be able to cherry-pick the best of the I’ll-take-another-one-just-in-case shots to ensure the collection is as good as it can be.  And what fun I’ll have reminiscing as I scroll through them to create my retrospective albums!
I think I’m going to need another bookcase.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Time To Count My Blessings

I am counting my blessings today, and I’m re-counting them, just to remind myself how fortunate I am. My best friend is having a truly awful year and she rang today with more bad news.

It doesn’t seem fair that she should be facing any of it, let alone all of it, one thing after another.  No-one can ever prepare for this sort thing, but I feel so powerless to help her and that does bother me.  There were tears on both ends of the phone today and while that’s true to form for me, for her, someone who is so strong in a crisis, it was more unusual.  I know that grief is a normal, healthy response to loss, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

I can never find the right words.  They stumble out of my mouth, clumsy and inappropriate.  I don’t want to say something insensitive and make things worse.  I wish I could give her a big cuddle.

She said to me today that she is sick of being strong. How she deals with things is truly amazing.  She is a beautiful person, inside and out, a wonderful mother, loyal friend, supportive wife.  I feel for you, readers, that you don’t have her in your lives but being very selfish, I’m glad I don’t have to share her – I don’t see her often enough as it is!

I will try to be as normal as possible and I will always be here, day or night, to listen and not talk.  I don’t know how she feels, but it wouldn’t be a comfort to hear, “I know what you’re going through,” even if I did.  This isn’t about me.

What I do know is that my support, whatever she needs, is unconditional.  No time limit, as long as it takes.  I know I would get the same in return.  I wish we lived closer.

So, to my dear friend – I love you and you continue to be a true inspiration to me.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Whatever Happened To Sisterhood?

Becoming a mummy was without doubt the single most life-changing moment in my thirty-something years.  I am sure it is for any woman embarking on motherhood.  I, like many, felt reasonably well prepared for the pain of childbirth and the subsequent sleepless nights and dirty nappies.

What nobody warned me about was the constant attempts by some other mothers to belittle my attempts and out-do my achievements.  I had envisaged making new friends who would share the new-mum ups and downs with me, who’d know exactly what I was going through when my colicky baby had been up five times in the night, and who I would be able to offer sympathy to in return when their little one was ill.

We’d all share in this wonderful part of Sisterhood, united by our beautiful, happy babies, gurgling away as we pushed them around in their buggies, each of us sporting our pre-pregnancy clothes that fitted perfectly and had no stains in sight.

To a large extent, the rose-hued ideology was the case – I have a small but close-knit circle of new-mummy friends – but I did often question what happened to Sisterhood?  Sister-Hoodwinked, more like!

Some mothers, it seems, derive pleasure from constant put-downs.  Their snidy comments cut into very hormonal women at their most vulnerable, when there is no need whatsoever.  Their babies are the ones doing cartwheels by their six-week check-up and conversing with each member of the family in a different language.

To me, it smacks of insecurity.  The upheaval in their own lives means they need to reassure themselves that they’re coping.  Nobody would say being proud of your child is wrong, but why is it so difficult just to be pleased for the other mum and resist the urge to jump in with how yours has done something better?

There is pressure to be the ‘perfect parent,’ but no-one is born knowing what to do so starting out is the perfect opportunity to share tips, admit mistakes and learn from each other.  Instead, the white lies trip off so many tongues so frequently that they become too obvious and that’s what irritates.  Couple that with sleep deprivation and your own screaming baby, and many women are knocked needlessly.

We need the support of other parents to help us through the tough times, so beware you White Liars and Put-Down Queens – you risk alienating yourself and ending up alone when you need help yourself.

I would like to see mums being more honest about the reality of modern motherhood. It’s not easy.  There is so much pressure heaped on us anyway so bitching among the ranks serves no constructive purpose.  It’s never easy to admit to needing a bit of help but we should try.  Remember, the “perfect parent” is a fictional being.  There is no such thing.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Good Old Days?

I saw a picture of my sixteen-year-old self last week that I’d never seen before.  I was quite taken aback;  I hardly recognised myself half a lifetime ago.  It seems so recent, yet so much has happened since then. 
Hearing songs on the radio now that are considered ‘oldies’ is a scary thought.  Brit Pop was alive and well back then, and that’s the closest I’ve ever been to trendy.  My nieces and nephews would not even be able to imagine sitting beside a radio on a Sunday afternoon listening to the Top 40 and pressing ‘record’ to capture Blur and Oasis on tape. I don’t know if they’ve ever seen a tape!  I loved Take That, even then, so it doesn’t seem that long ago.  Point out that this was some years before the Spice Girls released Wannabe, and now I feel really old!
I looked at the photograph and spent the evening moping, hankering after the flat stomach and the pre-baby breasts, the sun-kissed shoulders and the smirk on my face that hinted at the confidence I had and the lack of a care in the world.  Oh, to be back there!  I didn’t have a driving licence back then – that took rather longer than expected – but I felt free.  
My daughter cried out from her cot and brought me back to 2011.  I did the dummy-run and looking at her little face tucked up in bed and realised I’ve never had it so good. 
So, I have more laughter lines than jokes I can recall, and my baby-belly makes a world-class muffin-top, but I have life-experience and a great family and friends, and for that I am truly grateful.  I am about to embark on a career change, and that is shaping up to be a very liberating experience; take away the financial commitments the responsibilities of motherhood, and I feel as free as I ever did at sixteen.