Random Musings: Going up and Coming down

stethoscope

It is the end of the summer, the August Bank Holiday weekend. I am nearing the end of my fourth, big summer read and I am hibernating from the world. It has been a summer of highs and lows.

We managed only a few days away; once again there was no big family holiday this year. The children could not agree on where they wanted to go or commit to dates when they would be free. Even the weekend we booked was boycotted by elder son who preferred to stay home alone than come away with us. At least this precluded the need to organise a chicken sitter as he can be trusted to look after our feathered friends.

Yet these difficult to please children provided me with the major highlight of the season when they managed to achieve straight A’s in their exams. Elder son can now apply to the universities to which he aspires. After two years of focused effort daughter will be going up to medical school in October. I am so incredibly proud of their achievements.

I announced to the world that daughter had achieved her dream and was accused of crowing. Other friends quickly stepped in to reassure me that I had every right to feel proud. My view? It would be sad if, after dealing with all the crud that teenagers throw at their parents, we were not permitted to take enjoyment from their successes.

Life goes on. After the highs of family celebrations came the inevitable low. I have been through this often enough to know that it will pass but have still to deal with the noises in my head. I unfold each of my strategies: good food, regular exercise, fresh air, early nights. The lethargy of body and relentless questioning that anxiety brings drain my reserves.

Thank goodness for my books. I have read some wonderful works this summer. I discovered Urbane Publishers who sent me ‘Leaves’ and ‘Eden Burning’, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Another small, independent publisher, Influx Press, sent me two non fiction works which turned out to be fascinating reads; look out for ‘Imaginary Cities’ and ‘Total Shambles’. I had the big books set aside for summer to enjoy: ‘Purity’, ‘The Bone Clocks’, ‘Wolf Hall’ and the incredible ‘A Little Life’. And then there were a slew of less demanding but still thoroughly enjoyable works. I have written reviews for them all, do check them out.

We now have this long weekend at home before school resumes for my boys. Both are entering academic years which will culminate in yet more important exams. Daughter will be with us for another month before going up to Imperial College in London. There will be shopping to do, packing for her move and then the challenge of a drive into the city to settle her into her new home. Husband is already saying that he does not wish to deal with the inevitable difficulties of traffic and parking so I, the reluctant driver, will be taking on this challenge.

Life goes on. I received no new books in the post this week. My husband is pleased as he tuts at the size of my overflowing TBR mountain. He is not a reader. He does not understand. Although I feel no entitlement to ARCs the buzz of receiving them never diminishes. When a publicist offers me a book and it does not then arrive a little part of me shrivels. Do I not write good enough reviews? Is my readership not big or diverse enough? I comfort myself with the thought of the books which I already own that I can now read instead.

I had planned to attend an event last week to hear an author, whose book I enjoyed over the summer, talk about her work. Then my little car died. Husband diagnosed the problem, ordered the necessary part and left elder son to fit it. I was dubious but he did a careful, effective job and my car is once again on the road. I should have more faith.

I should have more faith in myself. That is my biggest challenge.

 

 

The day the King died

The Remember the Time Blog Hop is back!

This week we are writing about receiving big news.

Remember the Time Blog Hop

When I was a child family holidays meant getting up in the dark to catch a ferry across the Irish Sea. My father would then drive us to the south coast of England, across a land that had not yet been criss crossed with motorways and bypasses, but where traffic was light except in the biggest towns and cities.

My father would have prepared for the day long car journey by writing out a route plan on numerous, small sheets of paper. The large clip that held these sheets together would be hung on the dashboard to allow for easy reference. We knew that we were close to our destination when only one sheet remained.

We stopped only for fuel and necessary comfort breaks. My mother would hand my sister and I cups of soup, kept hot in a large thermos flask, bread, sandwiches and juice, as we sat in the back seat trying to occupy ourselves. The car had no seatbelts so we arranged our toys and books around us. My father would be cross if he had to brake suddenly and the contents of the car, including it’s occupants, flew forward.

We were creatures of habit and always holidayed during the last two weeks of August, choosing a caravan park in Cornwall, Devon or further east along the coast. I enjoyed staying in the caravan parks with their outdoor swimming pools and play parks. Sometimes there would be a tennis court, one even had a go cart track.

Both my brother and I have late August birthdays so I did not have parties as a child. Instead I would be taken out for a special ice cream treat, a banana split or a knickerbocker glory. I only remember my brother joining us on a few holidays. Being twelve years older he could claim his independence and escape the trips that revolved around two little girls.

Yet it was on his birthday that we heard the news, on the last caravan holiday that we took as a family.

The caravans in those days did not have electricity or running water. There was a gas canister for cooking and to power the few lights, a toilet block would be available nearby. My sister and I had been sent across the site to fetch water with a large, plastic container that required the two of us to carry when full. When we returned my mother was clearly upset, standing in the kitchen area, not washing the dishes in the sink before her. She had heard the news on the small, battery powered radio that was the only electronic entertainment that we had. She told us Elvis Presley had died.

There was much talk of his eating habits but not, at that stage, of drugs. We were not big Elvis fans but knew him from the movies and, of course, his music. My mother seemed melancholy, discussing wasted opportunity and how young he was. I did not consider him young, forty-two is not young to a twelve year old.

Perhaps I remember the moment so clearly because it marked the end of so many things. My mother did not enjoy this holiday due to the cold and wet weather, the crawling insects that invaded our caravan each night. Perhaps my sister and I were harder to entertain, do children ever remember being difficult pre teen?

Four days later though I became a teenager and the following year we had one last shot at a family holiday, a staycation with numerous day trips. After that my sister started going away with friends, I would be sent on Scripture Union organised Camps and my parents discovered package holidays abroad.

It seems now that Elvis’s death marked the end of my childhood, the end of the rose coloured memories that I cherish. When I hear his music I remember that holiday. For me, those memories are good.

Elvis-Presley-9446466-1-402

You can read the other posts in this Blog Hop by clicking on the link below.

New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

1463448_3749014219973_768482119_n

Getting away

I have a weekend away to look forward to. My husband has booked us into a guest house in rural Somerset for a couple of nights; chosen off the internet, it will hopefully be as good as it looks and as the reviews suggest. We only decided to do this last week so it was a pretty spur of the moment decision. I am rather excited at the prospect.

Before our children were born we used to arrange such short trips away quite regularly. We always chose somewhere remote as we like to go on long walks, and enjoy peace and quiet more than hustle and bustle. We do not shop as a leisure activity but as a means to an end so would eschew towns and cities. Much as I enjoy admiring the architecture of historic settlements I dislike the inevitable traffic and crowds. I used to enjoy visiting cathedrals until they started to charge for entry. I resent being asked to pay to visit God’s house.

This weekend I will be enjoying the beauty and splendour of the Quantock Hills. We shall take our walking boots, maps and flask with the aim of exploring the woods and heathland over the course of a long day out. If we are lucky then the weather will be fine and we will be able to enjoy the extensive views from the hilltops. I camped in this area with my children a few years ago and remember the walks we did then as particularly enjoyable; no cliffs, cattle or tunnels to worry me!

One of the pleasures of a trip such as this is the prospect of someone else doing the cooking and clearing away. Cooking for the family can be a thankless task and is one that I enjoy less and less as time goes by. Although my children are not as fussy as they once were it is still hard to please everyone. It is also hard to think of new things to make that have a hope of being welcomed at the family table. Our rolling, fortnightly menu is boringly repetitive as I find it hard to summon the enthusiasm to try out new dishes when I can guess the negative response. I know that I should not be so defeatist.

Thus I anticipate being presented with a menu from which to choose a delicious dish that I would not make at home with pleasure. Being able to sit and sip on a glass of wine while someone else prepares a meal for me to enjoy is a true treat. We will eat at local pubs within walking distance of our guest house so have no idea what to expect in terms of quality. It feels as though we are embarking on an exciting adventure.

It is at times like this that I realise how far we have come with our children. For so many years I could not go out as lack of sleep left me with no energy and I did not feel comfortable leaving my babies with a babysitter. As the babies grew into small people, keeping to their regular, daily routine made life so much more pleasant for everyone, so I rarely risked upsetting this by going out. I also wondered if they would ever learn to sleep beyond 6.30am, a time that felt so early after the still regularly disrupted night’s sleep that late nights out did not seem worthwhile. Even when the children were old enough to cope with occasional interruptions to their routine there was no pleasure in taking them out to eat. They would grow bored waiting to be served and become restless and noisy. I would worry about upsetting other diners so avoided these situations when I could. It is only in very recent years that we have been able to enjoy eating out as a family, although finding a restaurant that serves food suitable for all our tastes can still be tricky.

This weekend, however, our fussier eaters are elsewhere; it was their planned trip away that prompted us to grab this opportunity for ourselves. When life is normally lived with a careful cautiousness, acting spontaneously in this way feels daring and decadent. My husband had better beware; who knows what sort of lifestyle changes encouraging such behaviour could lead to. Before he knows it I will be demanding an all inclusive, family holiday at a hotel on some sunny island abroad in lieu of a week on a British camp site with our tent. Actually, now I come to think of it, that sounds like a jolly fine idea.

285551_1472836876962_49728_n

Walking through my phobias

I have woken up to another bright, sunny day that would make my little corner of the world look beautifully spring like if it were not for the hard frost that has turned outside surfaces a glittery white. If the bitterly cold wind continues to blow then we will not be venturing far today.

Yesterday I went shopping; a most unusual activity for me. I favour browsing the internet and ordering with a click to dealing with slow moving, random strangers as I traipse around numerous shops in the hope of finding what I wish to buy. However, yesterday the male section of my family decided to visit a museum in a town containing a branch of the shop Blue Banana which my daughter would like to entirely empty of stock in her size if she could afford to. She doesn’t need me to accompany her but didn’t object when I suggested doing so. We had a very enjoyable morning together during which she bought lots and I bought nothing. Teenagers seem to need so much.

The boys joined us for a warming coffee (tea, hot chocolate) before heading home, and my husband picked up a new walk book. This surprised me somewhat. We used to go walking a lot together; before the children were born this is how we would have spent our holidays. In more recent times he has left it to me to suggest a ramble and decide on the route. As I see no need to drive in order to walk, these outings tend to be in our local area. We live in a beautiful part of the country and I regularly go on long walks from our front door so this is easily done.

My husband is not one to share his thoughts and plans with anyone until he is ready to take action so I am now left to wonder if we will be expected to head out into the unknown armed with the suggestions from his new purchase. I ponder this prospect with a certain amount of trepidation. Don’t get me wrong, I love going on long walks in the countryside and am happy to explore new areas. I also have a lot of experience of my husbands interest in engineering, his navigation skills and of my own inexplicable phobias.

I have a problem with heights. This is not severe enough to claim to suffer from vertigo but, whilst I may enjoy the expansive view from the top of a mountain, I am very uncomfortable with sheer drops. On a holiday to Yorkshire many years ago we followed a long and winding route through the dales that ended up within sight of the village we were staying in but from the top of a rocky escarpment. To navigate this we were required to scramble down on all fours, finding foot and hand holes as we went to prevent a too speedy drop. I was all for backtracking the entire walk to avoid this finale. The look of irritation on my beloved’s face made me do what was required, but it removed all enjoyment from what had been a very pleasant outing. It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

The one holiday abroad that we have taken together was to Madeira where we walked the Levadas. This amazing irrigation system winds through beautiful, mountainous terrain and makes a stunning route for adventurous walkers. The engineering is impressive as the mini canals cling to mountainsides; why did I not figure out beforehand that there would probably be a fair few sheer and terrifying drops on these routes? I just couldn’t make myself do some of them. My husband was probably disgusted with me, but even that couldn’t induce me walk a six inch wide ledge with no fence and a drop of several hundred feet to the side. I shouldn’t have laughed when he fell in the water because he was willing to come between me and a very fierce, possibly wild dog that threatened to attack us as we made our way back to our accommodation. Those walks were not our most successful.

The levada walks also had tunnels that I refused to go in. Have I mentioned my fear of cramped, dark places? I could never go caving but we have done some walks that required me to go underground with only a torch for light. I can usually force myself to go through with these, eyes closed and clinging to my husband’s hand for guidance, but again they ruin a nice walk. When I agreed to cross the scarily high and narrow Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales I was not warned that the chosen route (Chirk to Llangollen) also included tunnels. Canal walks are usually so pleasant but this one lives on in my memory for the fear it induced.

These marvels of nature and feats of engineering could, of course, be avoided if I researched a walk before agreeing to embark on it. What cannot be predicted is whether the simple fields we will regularly traverse will contain cattle. Yes readers, I am also afraid of cattle. If it were only the udderless ones that send my hypothalamus into overdrive I may understand this particular phobia, but even the gently cud chewing, milk producers will have me retracing my steps when given the choice. My husband does not give me that choice.

Beside all of these irrational fears the simple wrong turns or missed paths that often extend our walks through seemingly unnavigable undergrowth (which has, at times, been taller than me) can almost pale into insignificance. Almost. Soggy boots and scratched limbs from wading through seas of mud or fighting through overgrown reeds or bracken on steep hillsides where no path exists; clambering over barbed wire fences or high walls to reach the path we should be on; walking through farmyards guarded by barking dogs that may or may not be chained, to reach a road that will return us to our route; I have trudged along in my husbands wake, grumbling and begging to just go back the way we came on more occasions than I can remember.

Given these experiences, I am not sure whether to be more amazed that he has put up with me for so long or that I still enjoy going on walks with him. We have had some fabulous holidays together though. We have walked the rivers and mountains of the Lake District in Cumbria, the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons in Wales; we have explored the moors and coastlines of Exmoor and Yorkshire, the coastlines of Devon and Cornwall and the forests in Hampshire; we have discovered as many inspiring walks in our home county of Wiltshire as anyone could wish for. We have done this together and, more recently, with our children who thankfully seem to have inherited our enthusiasm for outdoor adventures.

I have yet to look through my husbands new walk book. I guess I could take the initiative and suggest a few of them myself; ones that do not appear to contain scary drops, tunnels or too much low lying farmland en route. The problem with this approach is that it removes the pleasure of being taken out for the day. Just as yesterday’s shopping trip may not have been something that I would choose to do, but was enjoyable as a treat offered up to me, so a walk suggested and chosen by my husband is like a gift. A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as expected and I will continue to try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; picture taken by Akke M...

Coping with inactivity

The continuing cold weather is impacting our normally active household. Low temperatures and biting winds make the warmth of the house with all it’s modern, electronic entertainments so much more appealing than venturing outside. We are like hibernating bears in our cave, peeking out from time to time to see if the winter snow has gone, then curling up by the fire to await the arrival of spring. I am in two minds as to whether this period of rest is beneficial or time wasted.

Modern life can be so hectic as we try to meet the demands and fulfil the desires of those around us whilst pursuing our own interests and ambitions. It is important to allow ourselves periods of rest and inactivity but I find that too much sloth makes me sluggish and can bring me down. I need to keep myself active to avoid the mood drops.

It can be hard to avoid trying to make the others in my household conform to what works for me. My children have all the pressures of school work, assessments and exams to deal with alongside the angst of the teenage years. I am torn between giving them the space to use their free time as they choose and trying to encourage a little socialisation and contribution to the family. Increasingly they are forming a unit amongst themselves that does not include their parents. I guess this is a natural progression but makes me feel so old!

Having my husband home for the long, holiday weekend forced me to make a little bit more of an effort than I do when it is just me and the kids. The house got properly tidied, we had family round for a meal and I joined my husband at the gym for a workout. I was trying to fit in with what I thought he would want to see happening; it is hard to know if I picked up on this correctly or not. He has returned to work with a nasty cold so cannot be expected to exude cheer.

I am trying to avoid living my life as I think others want me to. Now that my children are older this is no longer necessary and it gives them the wrong message. Young children need a constant carer who can teach by example so playing the part well is necessary. Teenagers, on the other hand, need to learn that adults do not exist purely for their convenience. I am more than happy to offer them whatever support they need but I do not intend to let them walk all over me. I do still feel the need to encourage them to live mindfully. They probably see my suggestions as nagging; it can be tricky to get the balance right between remaining interested and involved without stifling them.

I like to be around when my children are off school even if I am not required. In the busy routine of our term time lives it can be hard to relax with them so the holidays offer us a chance to randomly chat and do small things together. It also gives me an excuse to put my feet up more often than I normally would as they pursue their own interests. Whilst I may get to the end of a day and feel that I have achieved little I do believe that this should not always be required. So much of our time is spent preparing for the future, be it earning money that we can then choose to spend to improve our lives, working for exams that will open doors to a better life or working out to keep our bodies in better working order. Alongside these important tasks we should not be forgetting to simply enjoy living. However we choose to fill our down time, if we are enjoying what we do then the time is not wasted.

Perhaps it simply feels wrong to be spending such a long holiday doing so little because in previous years the Easter break has offered weather warm enough to enjoy spending extended periods of time outside. This year it has not been possible to even wrap up against the biting cold and enjoy a walk; the weather is just too unpleasant.

For now we will continue to hibernate and try to simply enjoy each others company. The children may be frustrated by the need to stay indoors but a little time to relax should enable us to recharge our batteries and reconnect with each other. The return to routine will come too soon; the warmer weather cannot arrive soon enough.

English: Black Bear mother and cubs in den,, h...