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You know when something makes you so happy that you want to tell everybody about it? I’m not entirely sure that, given my single figure page views, everyone reads this blog, but anyway, here goes…

Elderflowers, picked from wherever I spotted them, Hampshire, Kent, Clapham Common, a lovely activity in itself has resulted in bottles and bottles of cordial and champagne. The cordial tastes so wonderful compared to the shop bought stuff that it’s like comparing an oozing Christmas Vacherin to rubbery cheese strings. And I’ve cooked up a real alcoholic fizzy drink, which tastes absolutely delicious and has made me slightly tiddly on a couple of occasions.  There’s something deeply satisfying about creating something so exciting out of almost nothing. I feel like an alchemist.

This week I’ve finally finished my acorn brooch, which will no doubt eventually make it into its own post eventually.  Very rarely have I made something that’s turned out EXACTLY how I wanted it to.  The fastening is discreet but in keeping, and the soldering is just so.  The pin is beautifully sharp and springy. The gold plating worked and glistens like gold should, and in contrast with the outside which I’ve oxidised, looks really beautiful. Usually when I’ve finished something, I’m pleased that I’ve done it, but I wish that I’d done this that or the other better. This time I’m just happy. I know it’s not very British to show off, but I think it looks lovely.

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Yesterday we went for a long, rambly walk in Hampshire. An hour from London on the train and we crossed one road and saw four other people all day.  This alone is enough to make me feel joyful.  Meadows humming with bees and butterflies, hedgerows entwined with wild roses, streams for paddling and woods for just well being woods, which are possibly my favourite things.  But the best thing of all was walking barefoot. I’m not sure who started it or why, but early on in the day, one of the children took off their shoes and started walking barefoot. So we all had a go, and it was truly wonderful. The grass was cool and comfortable underfoot, the mud beautifully squishy and the stream freezing but lovely. I don’t know why I don’t do it every time we go for a walk. Putting shoes on at the end felt odd and stuffy.

Life is often wonderful, isn’t it?

I’ve never been a fan of Lent. I used to have to give up sweets and chocolate as a child, as part of a whole family exercise. Though now I think about it, my Dad seems to have been pretty good at slipping under the radar. I’ve not forgotten the embarrassment of having to tell a party host that I wasn’t allowed sweets, aged about nine, as everyone else was merrily tucking in, guilt free.  Actually, I seem to remember that I omitted to tell the party host and smuggled the party sweets into my bedroom.  I’m pretty sure it was a Swizzles lolly, two chalky pastel  layers, sweet and gently fizzy, eaten squashed under my bed with a torch, accompanied by the feeling of having let my mother down. As soon as I was old enough not to care, I stopped Lenten abstinence.

But some remnant of childhood guilt has clearly stayed with me, as I still like to mark Lent in some way.  Last week I saw tweet from someone saying that they were going to try something new every day in Lent and the idea sang to me.

I like doing new things, and I think I’m quite good at it.  But I’ve never consciously done something new every day or even really stopped to think about what I’ve learnt or done.  So that’s what I’m doing for Lent.  40 New Things.  So far I’ve had two sessions learning about working with acrylic, started a new book, seen the Lego Movie, done my first run of 2014, applied for a new passport, seen Grayson Perry talk at the Festival Hall and met some interesting new people.  It may start getting a little tenuous soon, but I’m thinking about trying new recipes and learning new words on days when I’m stuck.

What do you reckon? Want to join me?

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I’m not a big fan of inspirational quotes. They mostly make my teeth itch, not sure way. Maybe it’s a stiff upper lip thing, or maybe it’s just that they’re mostly trite nonsense.  But when I saw this in an advert for Not on the Hight Street, I said YES with every fibre of my being.

Partly it’s because I have a very soft spot for Ferris Bueller. I was introduced to him by an American childhood friend who aged 11, I was sure I was going to marry.  By the time I was 16, and we were watching this film, I was still harbouring an unrequited crush, and a combination of this and the achingly cool, only slightly older than me, Ferris made a kind of perfect storm of favourite filmness.  But you know what?  Ferris was right.

I have no idea what our purpose on this earth is, or whether there’s anything else afterwards, but I do know that I don’t want to lie on my death bed regretting that life passed me by.  The best way I know of slowing it down is to grasp every opportunity that comes. OK maybe not EVERY opportunity. I have absolutely no desire to jump out of an aeroplane, but I do want to fill my days with things that are interesting, lovely, exciting, make me think, add in some way to the greater good or are just plain fun.  The more you can cram in, the more time you seem to have.

As well as that, I also want to be present in the moment, not always rushing onto the next thing and wishing my life away.  If you’re having a cup of coffee, make it a really good cup. Appreciate the small things and each day can be crammed with a series of tiny pleasures. This morning I heard a woodpecker while I walked the dog in the blinding winter sun on a frosty common.  Today is already a good day.

Enjoy life. And listen to Ferris.

There’s a lot I don’t like about Christmas.

But before you dismiss me as a modern day Scrooge and click onto the next post, please hear me out.  I’m as festive as the next person come December. I love giving presents to my loved ones, watching my children act out the birth of Christ in dressing gowns and tea towels and singing the songs of my childhood in a candlelit church.  I love Christmas, but there’s a lot about it I don’t like.

I don’t like people talking about it in October when the leaves are still on the trees.  I don’t like how it seems to be mostly about spending money. I don’t like that there’s a huge pressure to do it exactly right. Whatever right is. And most of all I hate chocolate advent calendars.

I’m not particularly religious and I’m not a dentist, but to me they epitomise everything that is awful about Christmas.  They are almost always decorated with branded images that bear zero relation to anything festive, it’s just a case of mega companies cashing in.  I’ve seen Simpsons, Hello Kitty and The Stig calendars, without so much as a sprig of holly. They imply that children should get some kind of daily reward just because Jesus was born; they shouldn’t, Christmas isn’t about rewards and this is yet another thing giving children a nasty sense of entitlement.  And the chocolate is hideous, it’s not chocolate it’s brown fat with flavourings and piles of cheap sugar.  It’s completely wrong that we feed it to children and nothing will convince me otherwise.

There are so many things that are magical about Christmas, but chocolate advent calendars aren’t one of them.  And now I’m off to buy a pretty glittery card one with pictures of bells and toy drums inside the doors…

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Gets your attention doesn’t it?  I’m a sucker for pretty much any birth story, whether written in black and white or in full gory detail on TV, so it was a given that I’d read the article which followed this headline.

The reason the mother in the story didn’t know she was having twins wasn’t that she’d had an incompetent sonographer or midwife.  She didn’t know she was having twins because she hadn’t had a scan or seen a midwife.  At all.

I think I should make it clear at this point where I stand on medical intervention.  I’m overwhelmingly grateful that modern science and the wonderful NHS mean that we can vaccinate our children, treat nasty diseases with antibiotics and rock up at any A&E department after a serious accident and be treated by highly qualified, dedicated clinicians for free.  However, I also avoid visiting the GP for minor illnesses and think a nice long walk in a beautiful place or a hot bath and sleep can cure most ailments.  I’ve never had an epidural and my third child was born in my sitting room without gas and air.  Or a midwife for that matter, but that’s another story.  So I think I pretty much sit in the middle, medical intervention wise.

So as I read about this woman’s pregnancy my jaw grew slacker and slacker.  Now I can kind of understand why you wouldn’t want a scan during pregnancy, I don’t agree but I understand.  If you think the scan might damage your unborn child then you’d say no.  Of course you would.  I had internal wrangles about what I’d do if it was suggested I had an amniocentesis.  Thankfully my wrangles remained theoretical.

And I’m all for avoiding doctors in pregnancy where possible.  Having children is not an illness, so unless there’s a good reason I wouldn’t involve a doctor.  But not seeing a midwife?  I really don’t understand that.  At all.  For as long as women have been giving birth, other women have been helping them through the process.  Midwives are mentioned in the Old Testament.  Our NHS midwives are basically performing the same function as their sisters in ancient Egypt and Rome, but with antibacterial hand gel and the machine that makes the whoosy heartbeat noise.  These women know an awful lot about babies and birthing and they rather wonderfully make it their job to support us when we embark on it.

A midwife would have known that the woman in the newspaper article was having twins just by feeling her tummy and listing to the babies’ heartbeats.  She’d have been able to prepare her for the birth.  Instead what happened was this: she went into labour, she discovered by examining herself internally that her baby (as she thought) was breech, so she called an ambulance and was rushed into hospital where she had a highly medicalised birth.  Of twins.  She is lucky that all three of them are still alive.

It’s weeks since I read this article, and I still can’t get my head around it.  I can’t understand why, or even how, you’d learn to do an internal examination on yourself.  To me that implies that you know you need some form of intervention during the birth process.  Also an experienced midwife doesn’t always need to do internal examinations, she can just tell by looking at you.

The article doesn’t explain her motivations other than a distrust of doctors, and maybe there are good reasons, but I can’t help thinking that her actions could have led to a tragedy.

Am I the only one who thinks this is bizarre?

I realise the irony; blogging about switching off.  I should probably be writing in a notebook with a pen, but hey, blogging is the best way I know of talking about something interesting to other people who might be interested.

So, I recently read a book called The Winter of our Disconnect. It’s about an American/Aussie mum and three teenagers who switch off their screens for six months.  There were loopholes allowed, like cinema visits and internet cafes, but at home, they had no screens at all, and only corded phones.

I was an early adopter of the internet, had it at home in 1994.  But I was an adopter, an adult when I became acquainted.  Children growing up today see the internet as essential as television, they were born in the land of the internet.  It’s as natural to them as breathing.  And it worries me a bit, it’s all happened so fast, how do we know it’ll be OK?

It reminds me a bit of TV in South East Asia.  When we stayed in a village in Borneo, they’d only had electricity, and therefore TV, for four years.  They asked if our kids would like to watch TV and we said yes please, because our kids are always happy to watch TV.  They put on an inappropriately violent war film, which I switched off at the soonest opportunity, even though their four year old and one year old were watching quite happily.

A while later, I had a conversation with an American living in Luang Prabang, Laos.  She said that the speed of progress was a massive issue.  Parents who had grown up without electricity, not only had no idea how to manage their children’s media usage, they simply didn’t know that you should keep an eye on these things.  All kinds of problems are potentially being stored up for the near future.

Maybe I’m digressing.  But the point is, it feels like too much too fast.  iPhones, iPads, kids with laptops, texting, iMessaging, BBMing.  Constant contact without real connection.  I’m the first person to admit to loving the internet, but switching off sounds more and more appealing, however wedded to my phone I am.

So what did they discover, these Aussies who switched off?  None of it was rocket science, but all of it had me nodding in recognition.  First up – multitasking is rubbish.  We all like to think that we can work productively whilst listening to the radio, checking twitter every minute, liking pictures on FB and texting a friend.  We can’t.  We are far more productive if we concentrate on one thing at a time.  During the six month period, the author’s kids, who are bright kids and were doing fine, did much better at school, their concentration levels improved and so did their grades.

Secondly, the children, particularly the youngest who was 14 at the time, slept much better.  With screens removed from bedrooms, their quality and quantity of sleep dramatically improved.  The author reckons that her youngest daughter had been sleep deprived for years and she finally caught up.

Thirdly, they had time.  Time to rekindle old friendships, time to become proficient musicians, time to read.  The author’s sixteen year old son, whose leisure time had previously been entirely given over to online gaming,  became a bookworm, who was delighted to receive a library of books for his birthday.

That’s it really, like I said, not rocket science.  I’m no luddite, but I can’t help thinking that the all pervasiveness of modern technology isn’t always a good thing.  My gut instincts tell me that less is more.

I like being 40, it’s concentrated the mind.  I am no longer young.  Rather than wailing and gnashing my teeth about this fact, it’s made me realise that I’d better hurry up and do some of the things I’ve meant to do for ever.

I’ve never had a hankering for leaping off buildings or experimenting with drugs.  Instead my year has been filled with quietly pleasing activities like learning to sail a dinghy, inspired by a childhood love of Swallows and Amazons, and starting a new jewellery business, something I’d never have imagined doing a few years ago.

In the last year, I have discovered that I love opera, become a dog owner, learnt to knit, rediscovered an appreciation for Shakespeare having finally set foot inside the Globe after years of walking past, taken up running, been bowling, had a drawing lesson, seen and wept at Warhorse and revelled in the Olympics.  Who knew I’d love watching live sport so much?

I think underpinning all of this is the fact that I am different.  I’ve made it through the baby years and out the other side.  I now get to sleep through the night and have free hours when they’re at school.  But it’s more than that.  I’m not so nervous of life, unwilling to push myself forward, worried about what other people think.  Life seems less like a struggle and more like something to be enjoyed.  We don’t have long on this earth, we might as well make the most of it.