Two thousand and seventeen...

posted on: Friday, 6 January 2017

I welcomed the new year in the French Alps, eating the obscure menu of a French banquet which included a steak which I am sure never saw the heat of the pan; the French like it rare. Do I like it rare? Less so, but we embraced the experience. New year in the mountains is a thought-provoking thing, I find myself pensive now that we are back.


Christmas was a storm of jolly activity. I received one of the best ever gifts from my brother; a pure white ceramic pineapple. I heart it. We ended up hosting both sides of the family and had, in amongst this, booked two trips to London so there was shuttling back and forth in the days that followed the festivities. I was so ready to go away. Skiing, though not my best ever thing is a curious convergence of stamina and beauty. I still believe that unless you are a very good skier it remains a pursuit that requires Herculean effort and yomp; getting up the mountain, all the kit, those stupid boots, ski lifts and mountain conditions, the snow (or no snow!) then that sublime shoop down, all over so quickly. I find that it has the same affect on me as yoga though, I concentrate so hard that I can think of little else and the result is that my mind clears for a few days. Coming home and it's filled up again and now my inner monologue wails plaintively: I have so much to do! Then followed by: what shall I do? The indecision of my life troubles me. I am sure that busy and indecisive are the worst bed fellows. And don't get me started on the cheese fest that went on in the Alps. I ate so much cheese in so many forms I could now leave it for another year.

So here we are again.


I face January with the knowledge that I need step it up in my work, this Masters degree is not going complete itself. There are plans buzzing around my mind about what I might do afterwards and whether I can get this book published. As the edit evolves there is a darkness to the novel that I hadn't anticipated. I hadn't planned on writing a dark book, but dark it is. I find this interesting. Whenever I write the blog there is a conscience on my shoulder saying make it light and breezy. No one wants to see the dark places of your mind. Yet whenever I have shared the shadows here I get the biggest response from readers. Isn't that so very human? We like the darkness, that is what pulls us in, but we want it presented in a fictional form so that we can re-enter the light when we need to. I have written the book about life and marriage and parenthood yes, but also about those nuances of human interaction, the inner thoughts we have - at least that I (my characters) have. It's not me of course, but it comes from me if you see what I mean.


People often say they have a book in them. I suspect we all do. But getting it out is not for the faint-hearted and that is why relatively few make the transition from mind to paper. I consider whether I could have managed it without the academics to back me up. For re-entering the academic world has reminded me of where I started; by learning. To learn is to open the mind. To study is to immerse. Both of these disciplines have helped me unlock the book in me. So I continue to toil away, even though the editing process is so much damn harder than the writing process of last year. To edit is to make it better, to make it perfect. Therein lies the problem; it never feels good enough. So I adopt what I used to do in my previous profession and to some extent with this blog. I press 'send' and hope for the best. I have to have faith it's good enough.

On a more binary level it's midwinter, I am swathed in wool and daily I long for my palm trees and the sun. Where is the sun?! School is still not back so my children are in the holiday stupor of sleeping in and asking for/eating shit food and we all go along until the next milestone of the term starting next week. My daughter is revising, it's exam year this year. To study is to immerse. Do you see the theme?!



I am trying to resist the sales, to turn my back on the emails that come each day promising further reductions. What I want to do is to buy all those bits I have had my eye on all season but couldn't afford but what I am instead do is talk myself out of it and wish I'd saved some money. Story of my shopping life. I am, it seems, the person who buys full-price at the start. Oh well...

Lovely to pop in here, speak soon...




And so this is Christmas...

posted on: Wednesday, 21 December 2016

I go through the mental processes;

Really ought to do my editing.
Really ought  to do the ironing.
Really ought to sort some social arrangements for January (the no-man's land of the social calendar)
Really ought to call my Dad/that old friend/that colleague I haven't seen.
Really ought to do a face pack/heel treatment/manicure.
Really ought to wrap those presents.
Really ought to get tablecloths ready for Christmas.
Really ought to spend time with my son and get him away from that bloody screen.
Really ought to read that book on writing fiction.
Really ought to write my critical essay.
Really ought to catch up on pod casts.
Really ought to get that picture framed.
Really ought to clear that cupboard.
Really ought to write the blog.
Really ought to book those theatre tickets.
Really ought to look into next summer, post-exams (when Boo has three months off!)

And on and on it goes. And on.


A never-ending loop of stuff that needs doing. Or doesn't; depending on how you look at it. This time of year seems to lend itself to feeling ever so slightly overwhelmed. Today is the winter solstice and I can't tell you how much I need the darkness to break. There is something about it getting dark at 4pm that makes the day seem so short, to-do lists pale into insignificance as I face the evenings. Christmas, no matter how hard I try, takes on momentous proportion, simply the logistics alone. But the traditions and the love take over the closer we get and I realise that this rigmarole is all part of it. That is what makes the new year seem sweeter, the chance to clear the decks and start fresh.


This year has been a year of finding out. Lots of the facets of life that I was unsure about have started to reveal themselves. This is what it is really like to be back in academia after 20 years. This is what it is really like to have a teenager who you drop at parties on Saturday nights and collect at midnight wondering where your social life went. This is what it is like for my husband's job to take on such heights that we have to literally schedule time to discuss basic stuff like kids and holidays and home. I oscillate between feeling empowered and feeling that I am the opposite of empowered but instead beholden - beholden to the changes that life brings and to the distinct feeling of harried middle age that can descend when you are in your forties.


As you know I think a lot about age, ageing, not wrinkles exactly - although I can report they do feature - but the metamorphosis of life from being young and with all of your choices ahead of you and being older and realising most of those choices have been made. Not all, but many. It's a curious thing. Mostly life-affirming but also terrifying and like a metronome going too fast.

The result? In avoidance, I spend far too much on Pinterest coveting a life/wardrobe/organised larder. I spend far too much time deciding just how much of myself I give over to the good of my family. I spend far too much time planning trips away and holidays as without those - well, I suspect we might be sunk. But most of all I spend as much time as I can inserting a feeling of gratefulness for what I have the opportunity to be and do. Lucky girl.

Oftentimes I revert to this strange little blog, which hits its seventh birthday in a matter of weeks. Like some sort of homing pigeon I come back to it, to check in and imagine I-am-not-sure-who is reading and following along. I still can't envisage a time I would give it up, although it is likely to change its clothes next year and shed the old name and style. But the essence will be the same. Honest and quirky and somewhat haphazard.

Thank you for joining me. Happy Christmas.




You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...

posted on: Sunday, 18 December 2016

This time last year we were in Florida, by night gawking at the mansions in Naples, all lit up with Christmas lights, by day at the beach. My daughter turned to me in the car during our morning commute this week and said 'I am not over Florida yet' which pretty much summed it up. We are not over Florida yet. Something elemental in me: about being young and being there at Christmas-time. In the maelstrom of my parent's divorce, Florida represented goodness and we would go there with my intrepid mum for extended holidays at this time of year. This would result in me coming back to England, aged nine, with a tan and a gold lamé swimsuit and wondering why my British, pale counterparts stared at me during my swimming races. I used to be a good swimmer, before I started to dislike getting my hair wet. Don't get my hair wet.


And so finally the school term has broken up, hurrah, and it's time to chill out. Well maybe not chill out exactly as I have a houseful over Christmas but you know...mentally release from the school rigmarole. I have been trying to get ahead with my work; the MA is really starting to bite this year. It's a lofty academic pursuit after all and whilst it has made me write the book, there is also some heavyweight studying to go with it. I knew it would be tough but the technicality of it, the sheer mental dexterity required is harder than I anticipated. Especially when interspersed with those pesky school runs. I see now that I am 'telescoping' (literary term for when the narrative draws to a close at the end of a book) and everything is heading towards next summer when I graduate. What next? Characteristically of me this is my latest preoccupation.

I think I need to get a job.

The prospect of returning to full time housewifery, with the sign 'writer and MA graduate' blinking over my head may not be enough. I am taking steps already to remedy this and am looking at what would be required for me to teach writing to undergrads. I like academia. I might want to stay. I could do a PhD??!! Dr. Lou.

These thoughts whirl around and my long-suffering husband listens to me percolate; half are shared with to him in a rush at the weekends when we are together and half are dispatched via our endless WhatsApp chats during the week. I love WhatsApp.

I've been Christmas shopping like some sort of woman possessed, again incredulous that the commercial exercise has overwhelmed everything else about this season. I try to keep control. I order online and feel like I am on some sort of strange game show; a virtual equivalent to super-market sweep. Buy, buy, buy. Wrap, wrap, wrap! What a curious first world phenomenon.

Meanwhile my eleven year old son is now chin-height on me and I can glimpse the time when he will be taller than I. And I am tall. Seeing him grow - in fact both of them - is one of the gifts of parenthood. I see now there is this sweet spot at around 12/13 where they become what they are going to be. You see it more clearly. It's just around the corner. And my daughter, whose presence of mind is a marvel to me, has gone out today wearing silver lamé trousers and her Stan Smiths. The lamé runs strong in us.

Our new house build is a year old now and I get to feel pleased every time I come down in the morning, look out of the glass wall and see the sunrise over the fields. Having a glass wall is a circumstance I would recommend. At night it can feel odd - a wall of blackness - but in the day it's like having the outside in. But without the weather.

So all in all I hope this finds you well. All good here, thanks.


Know what you know...

posted on: Saturday, 3 December 2016

What a sporadic blogger I have become.

We went to Marrakesh a few weeks back for a husband-and-wife break; you know that thing you always think you should do, but barely get round to? The logistics of leaving the children for a few days becomes mind-numbing but with help we did it and grabbed four days together in Morocco. It was unlike anywhere I have been, a riot of colour and activity. We stayed in an oasis of a hotel right in the heart of the Medina and lounged around by the rooftop pool and I marvelled at the fact that there was sun and palm trees (!) and I had him with me. It was such a treat. Modern life has conspired against us and his absence has become the norm due to his job. We got time to simply be.


Meanwhile I returned home to a well-established midwinter and the prospect of Christmas. I go into denial I must admit, the sheer organisational planning that is required and of course the commercialism gets me every time. I write this every year. I then decide I have to just get on board the proverbial 'Polar Express' and go with it. I CAN hear the bells.

I've started running again; I always did love running this time of year. Early morning frost and crisp air, there is nothing like it. And there is no question that running - if joints allow - makes me fitter than anything else. I ache now though, seems that running at 42 is harder than it used to be at 32 when I first started.

It was a year ago now that we moved back into our house after the mammoth never-ending house build. That suggests that we are well past it but actually in some ways the build process lingers; there's still a bag of sand in our driveway and the decorators were only here last week finishing off. It seems to go on and I am still seeing things that need doing. We have lost steam though for sure. Living here is a pleasure and I count myself lucky all the time that we renovated this house and had the bravery to stick with it, complete with glass wall on a four hundred year old house. Trust your gut.

Last week there seemed to be an unrelenting need for me to find a velvet blazer; as if the absence of one in my life has been a long-held misdemeanour. After a Black Friday frenzy - when really I should have been buying gifts - I found one and it now languishes waiting for a Christmas outing. This is all because when I heard Alexandra Shulman interviewed about being editor of British Vogue she said if there is one thing you should have it's a velvet blazer. In fact I think she said invest in, if there's one thing to invest in - that is it. Tick tick.

The book is back to being the front and centre of my life - in fact my brain is reeling from the editing process. The elation of finishing the first draft has been replaced with the fright of taking that draft and making it better. It requires a particular kind of foolhardiness that I don't always possess so I am trying, not always successfully, to work. No one said it would be easy. If it was easy everyone else would do it. And so on.

Otherwise life is a string of repeated daily events, school run, house, dog, words, writing, thoughts, laundry, cooking, it goes down to the lowest denominator when the sky gets dark at 4.30pm each afternoon and we are thrown into night again. I find this time of year hard and wonder how it could ever have been light enough and warm enough to just head outside in the evenings.

It's our wedding anniversary this Sunday - which will be noted with rugby training for our son and cooking a family roast dinner (rock and roll). When we wed it was weather like this; crisp cold days and early darkness that allowed for a candlelit wedding. It makes me smile still to think of it.

Happy days.



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