Thursday, 20 July 2017

running up that hill

The view from our hill, as painted by a good friend.
It was dark when we arrived. The remains of Christmas were hanging on by tinselled threads but we were still sprightly having just belted up the deserted M1; Chris Rea's Christmas classic booming out from our little, red Citroen Saxo.  Yes, we were driving home for Christmas. Well, his home (we weren't yet married) and it was now Boxing Day but driving to my boyfriend's parents house for Boxing Day wasn't a huge chart success. 

You know when you look back at a surprise event and spot all the little unusual markers with hindsight? Well, as we shuffled our tired selves and overnight bags into the GeordieLad's childhood hallway, the usual warm welcome from his parents was even warmer and lovelier as his Grandma was there. At the time, I ha thought it was odd as it was ever so late and she didn't often stay out in the evening. But it was lovely to see her so I thought nothing of it.

I'd barely taken a sip on my welcome back cuppa when GeordieLad shoves a warm coat at me and practically pushes me out of the door. He wants to go for a walk. This in itself was alarming as we'd just driven nigh on 200 miles and there was a roaring fire in the living room with lashes of tea and family chatter. A walk? In the dark? On a country hillside? Christmas madness, I tell thee.

GeordieLad appeared to be in some sort of rush and strode purposefully to the end of his parent's road and dragged me up a hill. Those alarm bells were ringing louder, because he'd been so quiet in the car and now he was isolating me away from his family. Maybe it had been a mistake to demand that we spent a Christmas alone together and miss out on his Geordie Christmas. Maybe he'd had enough and this was The Talk. Maybe he was planning to start a new year as a singleton again. Or he was going to kill me but I figured his mum would ask where I was when he got back, so I remained positive.

I trudged slowly up the hill to stand beside him. We were both breathless and our panting created a soundscape for the starlight view across the peaceful Northumberland village. For once, he didn't let me speak. I listened to a potted history of what home meant to him, of what he wanted in life and what he considered to be special and important. I heard his dreams.

And then there was a ring.

And a question.

To which I replied 'No Way!'. 

Soon followed by a yes. But not before I made him ask me again down on one knee. So with his dad's flat cap probably resting in a cowpat, he knelt down and asked me to marry him, again.

It's strange because I'd never been one for romantic gestures or someone who particularly wanted to get married. As a lover of 80's bratpack films I had presumed that if anyone was going to propose to me then they had to go all out; in front of a crowd, in song.

But when it came to it. A starry night on a northern village hill was just fine.  

Our first announcement came as no surprise when we returned to beaming smiles from my future-in-laws and of course, his lovely Grandma.

This post was inspired by The Photographer's Gallery:familyphotographynow.net : courtship

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

the fear



Fear. Dry gasps in the dead of night. Butterflies rioting in your stomach on the way to that meeting. Tiptoeing around weighty discussions to avoid the inevitable. Wishing a fateful day could be deleted from your calendar. Not doing something. Not doing anything. Closing one door before closing all the doors.

We all think of fear as the emotion that makes us hide behind a cushion when we watch the idiot in the scary film climb the creaky stairs in the creaky house without turning the lights on. But what happens when fear can trickles into the everyday? 

Before I step on to a plane I have imagined our fireball descent into a Lost-type landscape; in slow motion so I get time to kiss my family, tell them how much I love them and hold all of their hands. This leads to hubby experiencing fear-by-pinching as I wobble onto an aircraft gripping his hand so tight, I leave nail marks in his hand. I have had the science of it all explained, I have been told that air travel is safer than public transport but let me ask you when was the last time you saw a bus falling out of the sky? Exactly. Hunk of metal with people and bags and whatnot in the sky. Nope doesn't compute. 

Fear.

I had a conversation with a good friend, recently, about the possibility of parallel lives - was there another me writing a library's worth of fiction, hob-nobbing with my favourite authors-now-friends? Despite taking the step to start writing, every time I hit send or publish there is a tidal wave of fear about putting myself out there. What if I offend, what if it's ignored. what if it's rubbish? Am I the writing equivalent of the X-factor rejects who snarl that they'll be a star one day when everyone is wondering why their best mate or mum didn't tell the glaring truth about their singing prowess? Sometimes I don't even start a new idea because the negative voices have set up their own gospel choir next to my computer.

Fear.

You know when you return to your desk after a meeting with your managerial superior and you shake your head in disbelief and think I could do that job with my eyes shut. But then, the right job in the right place at the time with the wind in the right direction just doesn't arrive, does it? Putting one foot in front of the other or indeed clicking to apply for that job never seemed so hard. Maybe someone will discover the hidden truth that you can't actually do the job, any job...just go home, already. It's that negative choir again.

Fear.

The words spill out with quips and jokes spliced in, to decorate my conversation. Do I laugh too loud, too much? I've been sat in a cabin for nigh on two years with my cats for company until the family come home. Can I remember how to talk to people? Am I still 'with it'? The fact that I've just said 'with it' proves how much I'm so without it. Is this dress professional enough, flattering enough? Why am I sweating? I know, it's 35 degrees outside but maybe I should have worn a trouser suit. There's too much oil in the front of hair but not enough at the back. Should I worn it out full Afro today or should I have tied it back? Is my face right?

Fear.

I want to be less afraid.


May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Nelson Mandela


Thursday, 13 July 2017

brand new day

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_thingass'>thingass / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Rejection. Whatever the cause, it sits by your bedside waiting for eyes to open, full of a new day's sparkle. And then...blam...oh yeah, here I am ready to remind you that you is a failure, baby.

There I am putting my best foot forward and nope. nope. nope. Doors closing and apologies spilled over into my week like a melancholy waterfall.

So, of course, I went straight into 'sorry for me' mode. Gah, how rubbish can one person be. Here goes... I'd been killing it on the writing submission front by hitting two or three stories a week and of course there was the interview.  But how very quickly my hopeful heart sank when my stories and poems didn't make the grade and the job simply passed me by. Everything I offered was getting to the final hurdle only to be sprawled across the finish line watching the backs of winners.

My inspiration died and dried up all my writing. And it finally seemed like my teaching life was done for good this time.

Then off the back of one of those 'feedback' calls where you get to hear all of your faults, even though you'd realised them the minute you were driving home from the interview, things started to look a little more blue sky-ish.

Fast-forward and not only am I writing again, the sun's out and I am an employed teacher again. Go me, right?

Sometimes those doors need to close in order for you to find an alternative entrance. Challenges lie ahead but my head's up for the first time in a while, so bring it, bring it, bring it. 

It's going to be strange going back to the working grind after so long at home. I've had the privilege of structuring my own days, exploring my own dreams and spending more time with the girls and whilst that's not going to disappear completely, I am going to be a bit weirded out having those Sunday night blues again. Or then again, maybe I won't.

One thing I won't miss is the stink attitude from some people who cut me the side-eye when asking 'are you working yet?' as though I'm a fully paid up member of  The Farage Fan Club.  Unlike the lovely, lovely people who have asked about the progress of my writing - thank you to those people, I am still putting pen to paper and the dream lives on.

I am doing the running man in my garden right now. On my own. In front of my cats. They don't care.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

hey soul sister

Original photo by www.budsandbranchesphotography.com/


So last week the FPG prompt was sisters, of which biologically I have the one. But this week's prompt of friends who are family means I get to tell of my other sister - gained through marriage.

Once upon a time my husband's only brother introduces us to a beautiful lady with a sunshine smile and a laugh that hugs everyone in the room. We all nodded, knowingly...this was obviously THE ONE. On her first official 'meeting of the family', we were concerned that BigL, who was a pre-schooler at the time, would position herself as a human barrier between her favourite person in the whole world and this lovely intruder.  Within a few minutes, she was founder of the AuntieS fan club; which has increased its membership over the years that she's been part of our lives.

I've gotta be honest when she first came on the scene I was a bit...rolls eyes and makes that sound like a cat choking up a hairball. There she was all young and bikini slim, with all that no-kid freedom and disposable income. She had come into the fold all laugh, laugh, laugh and perky sun smiley, elbowing my grey cloud grumpiness into touch. For all of that, read JEALOUSY!

But you know when you just click with someone? Whether it's over politics, fashion, food, attitude towards the outside world, shared experiences; there is a moment you know. And I knew she was gonna be more than just my brother-in-law's wife when we could communicate without even speaking.  When you can share a joke with me or communicate injustice with your eyebrows...we've soooo connected.

We always say to our respective brother-husbands that we are solely responsible for our family being so close because if we didn't get on as well as we do, life would not have been the same. We often laugh about a parallel-us giving each other cut-eye across Christmas dinner, outdoing each other's outfits at family weddings or over bragging about our kid's achievements. 

Instead she has become the woman who will tell me if I need to go change out of that outfit, or if I'm being too self-centred, or if I'm right...occasionally. She is the person who will listen to my tears and outrage and text my 'wait...what?' moments to during box set binges. She gets it when I want to hold another 'themed' event and dresses up accordingly, she is always ready with 'I know, right' and she loves embarrassing my daughters in public as much as I do. Result.

This post was inspired by The Photographer's Gallery:familyphotographynow.net: friends who are family


Monday, 10 July 2017

young hearts run free


Those are my legs! 1980s neon swagger.
It's Sports Day season again. Across school fields everywhere, children are wearing their team colours with pride as they hop, skip and jump into sacks carrying eggs; teachers with clipboarded results forget about the marking piling up on their desk to fret about whether they can get through the staff relay without falling in the home straight; and primary school parents pretend to not care about the parents race and just happened to have their neon swooshed trainers in their handbag.

I was a sport lover in my younger days. And although it's more of the armchair variety these days, I still love sport and am a huge believer in the good it can do.

Sport got me through school corridor racism. I was good at it. The whispers and mean stares subsided when they saw me on the track and on the field. I got picked first for teams, I represented my school, my county and my country in athletics. And when I regale my daughters about my sporting prowess whilst rummaging around in the loft for my dusty medal collection, I regret giving up my talent every time.

Sport enabled me to appreciate the benefits of hard work, way before I realised that revision was a necessary evil; it showed me how to cope with the highs and lows that go hand in hand with sport and life; it widened my peer group so when things were difficult at school I had my team mates at training with a shared experience of frosty cross country mornings and nerves on the starting line; and it took me around the country and gave me a working knowledge of what was where (do you know I once got asked in class where in Wales was Scotland??).

But it's so very easy to look back and get all misty eyed about my teenage wins. I have to be honest and remember the evenings where I didn't want to go training and the day I feigned injury, missed out on an athletic event only for my coach Dad to return and find me dancing to the opening credits of the Pink Panther in the living room. 

Now I can look back and sympathise with the sorrow, frustration and probably the anger that he must have felt when I told him I was giving it all up, aged 17. With a promising athletic career ahead of me, I imagine he probably wanted to drop kick me out of a window. all those nights training with me through the four seasons and the years of trekking me up and down the motorways of Britain. And what for? No eldest daughter on an Olympic podium. No dedicated sportsperson of the year trophy to my coaching Dad.

Except...the love of sport remains strong. The sporadic forays onto treadmills get harder as the knees get creakier. I'll splash about whilst the offspring do a million graceful laps around the pool. I'll encourage my eldest around the Race For Life 5K only to witness her sprint finish leaving me for dust.  And if it wasn't for channelling my Mum's love of the exercise DVD, I would be a professional couch potato.

Now it's me ferrying children to pitches and pools at the weekend. Now it's me commenting on the natural athletic posture all three of them have. Now it's me celebrating hanging the medals and certificates that make it home. Every time my Dad hears me blah on about my kids' sporting achievements, it must seem like groundhog day, apart from the fact that he could never boast about winning the parent's race. That three separate Mum's race wins by the way. Yep still got it.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

fix up, look sharp


Application letter was successful. Tick.

Date of interview in bold letters on the calendar. Tick

Researched latest government buzz words and memorised all the gazillion things I've done in 20 years of teaching. Tick.

Crammed on all the wierd and wonderful possible questions from a student panel. Tick.

Primped and preened my presentation to a shine that could be seen from space. Tick.

Enough petrol in the car, sorted childcare, driven the route in rush hour to avoid any chance of panic. Tick.

Outfit and hair sorted. No. No. No.

Panic ensued.

I mean, come on. Having been out of the work place for over a year, that's what was bothering me before the big interview day. What I was going to look like?  I am, dear reader, hanging my head in shame. But I suppose it all stemmed from the fact that I've been slouching for four seasons in my garden cabin; just me and my cats. Whilst sticking to my 'don't leave the house without foundation or mascara', there have been a few days when it seemed I was reliving my uni days. If it doesn't need ironing, I'm wearing it.

And then comes the day where I've got to look professional again, look like I'm Shonda Rimes bad-ass. I was fully convinced that my fuller figure couldn't be contained within my work clothes from a year ago and I didn't have time to trek across London to my hair saviour. What was a #Post40 mama to do?

The solution? Found the dress that I felt the most 'me' in and plaited my hair into a style that would stay put, come wind, rain, hurricane - you know, the one where your head becomes a bobby-pin cushion.  Then spent my time getting my prep on rather than shopping my feet off.

As for the day? After an in-tray task to beat all in-tray tasks, a lesson that seemed to end in two minutes, a student panel where I admitted I wanted to be Gemma Cairn, an interview with two Heads where I smiled a lot (and answered questions obviously), a presentation in front of the other candidates and another interview with three Heads; I was exhausted. 

My drive home was full of me talking to myself about what I should have said or done differently - why is it the great stuff comes to you AFTER the interview??

It was a day that threw me in the deep end and I surprised myself by swimming with my head above water.

Well done me.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

two sisters

The day I became a big sister

I was playing with friends,outside and I was called in to have a photo with her. I probably tutted under my breath (it was the 70s and I'm from a West Indian family - I tutted at my peril) and dutifully ran indoors. For seven years I had been an only child. Eldest grandchild from eldest parents. A sacred place at the top of the lowest branch on the family tree.

And then she came along. Snuffling and crying with the tiniest nostrils I had ever seen. My baby sister. 

The whole dynamic of the house actually changed before she arrived as my Mum had to go into hospital well before she was born, meaning she missed by 7th birthday party. Notice I have no recollection as to why she went into hospital. I was only child and it was my birthday. I may have tutted a little bit louder that day. Anyway my fave aunt saved the day but I suspect there was always a little bit of blame placed at the tiny feet of my new sibling.

As a big sister, I imagined all kinds of spoils would be bestowed upon me. A crown, possibly a tartan cape or maybe just more time watching The Fonz, now that another tiny person had taken the attention from me.

Instead, I learnt about the 'go and get'. Go and get more nappies for the baby. Go and get some clothes for your sister. Go and get...I forget what else but whatever it was, it involved stairs. So a silent promise was made in the year of our Lord 1977. I would spend my adult life living in a bungalow. No stairs whatsoever. And, I chirped sagaciously, when I had children I would never ask them to go upstairs to bring things back down.

Hmm-mmm the beauty of childhood, right?

I didn't live in a bungalow. I do send my children upstairs to get things. And I love the fact that my sister is someone so very different from me except when it comes to humour - we have laughed to aching tummies about the daftest things - and Eurovision; now our most honoured family tradition.