Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

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The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

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It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.

Le Failfish turns seventeen

My daughter has a nickname, Failfish. It came into being several years ago during one of the convoluted conversations that teenagers have with their friends, where they all end up thinking something is the funniest thing ever and afterwards cannot explain why. Or that is how it was sort of explained to me. I can’t say I that I really understand either how it came about or why it stuck, why she wanted it to stick. As they get older there is more and more going on in her life that I am not party to or do not understand. I think this is what happens as kids grow up.

It is not totally accurate to describe it as a nickname as I have not heard her friends call her by it, but she does sometimes use the name to refer to herself. I am puzzled because I cannot see how it can suit her. My daughter does not fail. She is one of the most driven people that I know.

Today is her birthday. In the wee small hours of the morning, seventeen years ago, my husband drove me to our local community hospital where we expected to welcome our first child into the world. On arrival the friendly midwife examined me, called an ambulance, and I was whisked off to a large city hospital some miles away. My husband was not allowed to travel with me. It was the most upsetting part of the birth process.

He caught up with us in the delivery suite and was present for our daughter’s birth, just before sunrise. The look on his face as he held his first child in his arms for the first time is one of my most precious memories. There couldn’t have been a more proud daddy. He has been a wonderful daddy to all three of our children.

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That tiny baby, who had to be monitored through her first thirty-six hours due to temperature and breathing difficulties, is now healthy, active and taller than me. Apparently we look alike but she has my husband’s willowy frame rather than my dumpy one. She also has his brains but my determination. It is quite a combination.

I like to think that we are reasonably close as mother and daughter. Being the eldest, she has always been the child to lead and her brothers have willingly followed. It has made my life a lot easier bringing them up that she could generally be reasoned with even if we did not always agree over the best course of action.

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Motherhood defined me for so many years, yet it is only one stage of the life I have lead. My daughter is starting to get this, to recognise that there is a person underneath the being who always has and always will care for her. I value her empathy and willingness to offer support and encouragement when our beloved boys find my foibles frustrating.

It is not just the well being of her mother that she looks out for though. As the eldest child she has always been the leader, the explorer. She has the ability to calm and bring under control the family storms that brew from time to time.

It is fascinating, as a parent, to watch a child develop and grow. My daughter has never been a follower, choosing her friends wisely but forging her own path. As her taste in clothes and music have developed, as she has chosen how she wishes to present herself to the world, it has been noticeable that she has not copied those around her. The look may not be unique to her but it is unusual amongst those she chooses to be with. She has never been a clone.

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And all of this delights me. The scientist who wishes to be a doctor also writes prolifically. Her penchant for rock and metal music, for Dr Martin boots and black eyeliner, does not preclude her from donning khaki’s and walking boots and heading into the hills with her tent and a few friends. She has never limited herself by the ideas that others may have of her.

I am immensely proud of all three of my children. Today though, on her birthday, I am thinking in particular of the child who turned me into a mother. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves, to be themselves (everyone else is already taken), to ask questions and to stand up for what is right. My daughter is also loyal, loving and caring.

As for that nickname? I must ask her why she put the male article before it. Perhaps it is just another way in which she refuses to be defined by convention. Perhaps she uses it in an ironic way, against the hipsters who once used it and moved on.

For all her independence my daughter is not a rebel. She understands the need to conform in certain situations, to be community minded and a giving member of society. What defines her though is her determination to be the best that she can possibly be in whatever interest she chooses to pursue. For all her teenage procrastination she gets things done. This mother could not ask for a better daughter.

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A year of blogging

Today is my blogging anniversary, a year to the day since I pressed publish on my first post. I am still very much a small time blogger. I have never been Freshly Pressed, never had a post published outside of WordPress. I have built up a following of just over 200 people and am grateful to each and every one of my readers for taking the time to peruse what I write. I am particularly grateful to those who like or comment on my posts, but just knowing that I am being read gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The positive and personal interaction that I have discovered in the blogging community has been a welcome surprise.

This will be the 266th post that I have published on neverimitate. I have also published 13 short stories on my fiction blog Dreams and Demons, which I created just over a month ago and has a mere 20 followers to date. I tend to pick up more readers for my short stories on ReadWave (zeudytigre) and Wattpad (zeudytigre), which makes me think that keeping my fiction separate to my personal blog was the right thing to do.

When I started blogging I put a link to each post on my personal Facebook page. I have since set up a separate page, Zeudytigre, that anyone interested in reading my posts can like and thereby get the links on their timeline. Although I also put links to posts on my Twitter feed (followthehens) I find self promotion tough. I want to be read but feel awkward putting myself out there.

Over the course of the year my blog has been viewed just short of 10,000 times. The most views I have ever had in a day is 222, normally this figure is a lot lower. My husband laughs at my stats. I point out that whilst it would obviously be pleasing if they were higher, they are not why I write.

My readers have come from 73 different countries and have found me via 63 different referrers, mainly search engines and links on other blogs. The most popular tags and categories have been Home and Family, no surprises there.

The biggest surprise has been how much I have enjoyed this exercise. I have written far more than I expected to and am deriving a great deal of pleasure from the creative process. Although I still tend to write whatever comes into my head on a given day, I have learned that some topics are covered much more succinctly by others. There are some very talented writers out there and I have enjoyed following their trajectory as their skills are recognised and their work published more widely.

From my own little corner of WordPress though, I will continue to write about whatever comes to mind, to join in the Blog Hops and Prompts, and to try to grow as a writer, even if I am still uncomfortable calling myself that.

My main message for today, on my first blogoversary, is thank you for reading.

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“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
—Ray Bradbury 

Surviving building work

My thoughts for this post were inspired by the ‘home odyssey’ experience being shared by one of my favourite bloggers, Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.

I have lived in this house for twenty-one years. It was bought off plan, a few months after I got married. My husband and I watched it grow and moved in just before our first Christmas together as a married couple. I like the fact that nobody else has ever lived here; that it is ours and ours alone.

We have done a lot to it over the years. We added a conservatory, changed the doors and windows, improved the insulation, created a third floor by building rooms under the sloping roof, replaced the bathrooms. The garden has always been a work in progress. We tamed it, terraced it, turned it into a children’s playground and now allow the hens to ravage much of it.

Eight years ago we took on our most ambitious project to date; we decided to replace the kitchen.

I know that this is not uncommon. I know that some people change their kitchen with a regularity that amazes me. However, I am not a follower of fashion. The kitchen is very much the heart of our home and I wanted to create a space that met our needs and would last. This meant segueing the installation of the new kitchen with some serious building work, choosing a quality kitchen that I could love forever.

The building work was the first issue to hold up our plans. Neighbour intervention resulted in a need to undertake the structural changes in two phases. This meant that, from start to finish, the majority of the ground floor of our house was unavailable for living in for a full six months.

Think about that. Six months with no proper kitchen or living areas. We had our bedrooms and bathroom, although the utilities were cut off for days at a time during certain phases of the work. It was a challenging time for us all.

Before work could begin I had to clear the kitchen and dining room as they were to be completely gutted. I also had to clear much of the garage as it was to be the builders store and workroom. Our lounge was packed with our displaced possessions so was unusable for anything else.

For a while, what had been the dining room held a small table, chairs, microwave, kettle, fridge and a two ring stove. This was my temporary kitchen. There was no sink so no running water or drain. Water was collected as needed from elsewhere in the house and disposed of outside.

Near the end of the building work we moved into the entrance hall. With no space here for the table or chairs we would perch on the stairs to eat from plates balanced on our laps. We coped because we had to. We had, after all, brought this on ourselves.

The whole house was filled with builders dust as the walls and ceilings came down. By day there were men of all trades coming and going, lorries delivering heavy loads of materials or taking away skips filled with rubble and offcuts. There was noise and dust and mud as the conservatory came down and two new rooms were built in it’s place; as walls were removed and RSJs carefully manoeuvred to hold the rest of the house up. Never have I hoped so much that contractors knew what they were doing.

As the builders left the plumbers, electricians and plasterers arrived. Then there was a lull as work dried and settled before the carpenters could start on my kitchen.

Throughout all of this I was keeping my little family fed and entertained. They had school, homework and extra curricula activities as always. They brought friends back on play dates who looked at our makeshift arrangements in wonder but made little comment. I suspect that they thought we simply lived in a very odd house.

The kitchen took six weeks to build after which we tackled the painting before having a new floor put down. By this time the children were off school for the summer. We had been through the freezing days in spring when the house had no heating, had grown used to collecting a basin of hot water from upstairs to carefully carry down for dish washing before disposing of the used water outside. When food was boiled in a saucepan the water was drained off in the garden before serving. I continued to cook fresh food for my family throughout.

We had six months of camping in our own home with minimal space and facilities. I know people who have done this for years, who have built their house on a bare plot or renovated old buildings whilst living in a caravan or just a few rooms. When necessary, it can be done. This does not make it any easier to bear.

When finally the paint was dry and the appliances had been connected I was able to move into my fabulous new kitchen. The downstairs of our home had been transformed, opened up providing light and space that flowed through our extended living areas and out into the newly landscaped garden. Eight years on and I still stand and look at it all with pleasure.

When the new furnishings were in place and my kitchen and family room functional my husband commenced his project, his reward for granting me the kitchen of my dreams. The lounge was to become a quality entertainment room. Although I was wary of his plans at first, as he had been mine, this room has also been appreciated by us all over the years.

The little room in which we camped out to cook and eat has recently been remodelled as my library and writing room. In creating this space it feels as though the last piece of the puzzle has been put in place. The house functions to meet each of our family needs, whether we choose to come together or desire privacy to pursue our individual interests.

Homes need constant maintenance and I will not stop organising the necessary minor upgrades and repairs. I cannot, however, envisage us taking on another major project. When I hear of others who are starting out on their home making quest I think back on those six months and feel sympathy for the disruption that they will face, the lack of understanding that most will offer. I also sincerely hope that, once all is done and dusted, they are as happy with their home as I am.

I sometimes suspect that my hermit inclinations are as much because I have everything that I could possibly want right here. With my little family around me I am content. It is a wonderful feeling.

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Learning

Yesterday I completed a six week long psychology course that I signed up to through Futurelearn, a subsidiary of the Open University, that offers a variety of free, on line courses. On completion I was offered the opportunity to sit an external exam which could lead to a qualification. Although not exorbitant, the cost of this was enough to put me off the idea. I have no need for any extra qualifications.

Over the years I have earned the right to include a long string of letters after my name. I use none of them. If I were applying for a job I guess I would list the various accreditations on my CV, but they are no longer relevant to the life I lead now.

I signed up for this psychology course purely out of interest. It is the first time in my life that I have studied with a respected organisation, in this case the University of Warwick, purely for pleasure. The exams I studied for in my younger years were carefully selected to offer me the best chance of getting a well paid job. I get the impression that this approach and aspiration has fallen out of favour.

When my children’s school asks them to consider careers they are encouraged to think about what they enjoy. Whilst I think that it is important to take into account personal interest and ability, I also believe that the usefulness of the qualification should have some significance in the decision making process. It costs a great deal of money to go through higher education these days. A university education has become much more of an investment than it was in my day.

Had I chosen courses that interested me then I would have studied philosophy with, perhaps, a few modules of psychology and sociology thrown into the mix. I have always been fascinated by these subjects. Because of my interest I do a lot of related reading in my own time. I took modules in philosophy at university and excelled at the subject. I had to work stupidly hard at my main degree subject, computer science. The study of philosophy never felt like work.

I didn’t, however, consider that I could land a well paid job with such a degree, and that well paid job mattered to me. I wanted to be able to afford my own home, a car and to travel. For that I needed money. As a student I hated not having enough money. It instilled in me a determination to do whatever it took to earn enough to pay for the life I wished to lead.

I was also lucky of course. When I was going through the system a university education was still funded by government. By the time I graduated there were jobs available and house prices, although climbing, were nothing like as stupidly high as they are now. No matter how hard they work, my children will not have as easy a time as I had getting themselves established.

Perhaps this is why they are now encouraged to pursue their interests more than a potentially high earning career. Perhaps the days of debt free, home ownership have gone except for the uber wealthy minority.

Of course, economics fluctuate wildly over time. When I was studying, unemployment was high and jobs scarce so I knew that I would have to work hard at a sought after subject if I was to get to where I wanted to be. By the time I qualified though, the Thatcher boom years were in full flow and I undoubtedly benefited from that. Whether or not your politics considers her rule a triumph or a disaster for the country, those of us who were starting out when she was in power had the opportunity to reap rewards at the time.

I encourage my children to think about how they will use their qualifications when making choices. If they are going to incur a huge debt then they need to consider how they will pay it back, and whether it is worth getting into debt in the first place.

I have friends whose intelligent children have opted not to go to university because they do not wish to live under the shadow of a massive student loan. With the government currently selling off these debts, it is unclear how interest rates will be affected and how much will eventually be needed to pay them off. I can understand why a university education no longer looks so attractive.

I find this quite depressing. Whilst I do not consider further education to be a right, it seems sad that some of the most academically able choose not to attend purely because of the huge cost. With so many graduates unable to find jobs the incentive to get a degree in anything other than a sought after subject diminishes.

There are no easy answers. We cannot be held accountable for the times into which we are born, all that any of us can do is to work hard to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. I wish that I could offer my children more, but ultimately they will have to find their own way and cope as best they can.

Whatever they choose to study, I hope that they retain a love of learning. It is possible to pursue what interests them as well as that which can be practically useful. Learning for learning’s sake can be a very satisfying pastime.

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Time management

Yesterday my children returned to school and my husband returned to work after the half term break. Despite not doing a great deal of note I enjoyed this holiday. I am in a good place at the moment as regards personal space. I seem to have found a balance that suits me between supporting my family and doing things for myself. I am managing not to allow how I think others expect me to behave to push me in directions that make me feel uncomfortable.

As well as my reading and writing I visited the gym a few times, spent time in the garden with my hens and completed a few of the housework type jobs that demanded my attention loudly enough. I even managed a bit of sewing and baking over the course of the week. I am so not a domestic goddess but there were no disasters. I can reflect on the results of my efforts with some satisfaction.

The holiday ended with the start of NaNoWriMo. It is now Day 5 of this challenge and I am enjoying taking part far more than I expected to. Of course, I enjoy writing or I would not have chosen to sign up. So far though the task has been a real mood lifter. As I watch my word count climb I can feel my spirits rise with it. My family are allowing me the space and time requested and my story is flowing.

Yesterday I also started a distance learning psychology course with the University of Warwick. I spent a very enjoyable few hours completing some interesting and, at times, counter intuitive background reading before taking part in an experiment; my visual reaction times are embarrassingly slow! I then had to complete a short test which seemed to be aimed at ensuring I had understood the concepts discussed; so far so good.

I found the coursework fascinating; there was so much new information to take in and consider. The results of some of the studies discussed made me question a lot of aspects of the way I and many of my friends think. It would appear that we are not nearly as knowledgeable and reasoned as we may like to believe.

By the time I had worked my way through all my usual, mundane chores; cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking; my day was gone. These personal challenges that I have taken on may be enjoyable and rewarding in themselves, but the issue in completing them seems likely to be finding the time to give them the attention they demand if the standards that I wish to achieve are to be maintained.

I struggle with lengthy goals. I don’t mean things that take years but rather things that take more than a few weeks. When I can see an end to a task I want to reach it as quickly as possible. I find it hard to pace myself and enjoy the journey.

When I was at school I would try to complete homework at the first opportunity after it was set. I found that I couldn’t relax knowing that there was work to be done; I couldn’t enjoy down time with the knowledge that I had tasks that still needed to be completed, even if not immediately.

In my final year at university I took part in a programme that allowed older students to mark first year student’s work. We were given model answers and a dozen or so papers each and would spend a few hours going through each submission, adding helpful comments and awarding marks. Most students completed this task over a week or so. I would try to sit down on the night I picked up the papers and complete the marking in one sitting. I would then return the papers to faculty the next day. I wanted to do the job and do it to a high standard, but I also wanted it done and out of the way. I would worry that something unforeseen may occur that would prevent me meeting the deadline and I would end up letting my tutors down.

These days I have a similar attitude to relaxation. I prefer to prepare meals that need to sit in the oven or bubble in a pot before serving rather than something that requires last minute attention. I worry that, if a meal is needed at a certain time and something goes wrong, then I will have failed; a child may be late to an appointment and it will be my fault. Once the prep has been done and all that is needed is for cooking time to elapse then I can relax. My job is done, I have completed all that can be expected of me.

I am noticing this attitude in the way that I am tackling NaNoWriMo. I catch myself thinking that, even though I am slowly getting ahead of my required, daily word count, that 50,000 word mark still seems so far away. I struggle with pacing myself, wanting to race to the end.

Sometimes it takes a concious effort not to do this with the books I read. I want to know what happens so rush to finish where I could derive more enjoyment from putting the story down and granting myself thinking time.

When jobs cannot be completed (there is no end to housework) I can procrastinate with the best of them, my ironing pile is testament to that. When a challenge takes too long to yield results (such as losing weight) then I struggle to find the motivation to continue beyond the initial determination. It is those goals that are within sight and attainable with just a bit more effort that I rush to complete.

Time management is an interesting concept. Am I a good time manager because I accomplish tasks quickly? I would consider my time better spent if I could pace myself. Efficiency and effectiveness are all very well but when we do something for pleasure, rushing it seems foolish. Yes I get a buzz out of the final accomplishment, but if it’s purpose is enjoyment why rush?

Perhaps one of my problems is that if I put something down for too long then there is a risk that it will be abandoned. There are books that I have not finished, a cross stitch project that I was deriving satisfaction from but has not been picked up in over a year. If I am to conclude a task then I need to internally schedule time for it and then stick with that. I like organisation and routine; the unexpected, including random surprises, stress me.

Perhaps the most important thing in good time management is learning what suits us as individuals and then working to fit that way of living into our days. I know that I need to have control over what I do and how I do it. I rail against being told what is best for me. When I am granted the freedom to follow a path of my choosing then I can work on improving how I accomplish tasks in a way that enhances my quality of life.

The author George R.R. Martin has stated that there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. For someone who likes her life to be so strictly under my control, planned out and organised, I am a little surprised to discover that my writing style is more like the gardener. I have no idea where my NaNoWriMo story is going to end up. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so eager to progress, that I may find out.

I created the graphic myself.

Writing challenge

I have signed up to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo). This is a writing challenge that requires participants to produce a unique, short novel (50,000 words) between the 1st and 30th of November. The point of the exercise is to write a complete, lengthy story. The result is not expected to be publishable.

I have no plans to attempt to write a book for publication. Although I have plenty of ideas in my head, I do not consider that I have the skill or the discipline to put together a polished manuscript. I am under no illusions about the difficulties that writers have getting their work accepted by a publisher. I am well aware that there are a very large number of people out there who think that they have a book inside them. Many talented writers do and will still not achieve their dream.

What I wish to achieve is an improvement. I play the piano (badly) and would like to refine my limited skills. No matter how much I practice though, I am never going to make the grade as a concert pianist. This does not mean that I should give up playing; I enjoy making music, even if I am only doing so for myself. I see my desire to improve as a worthwhile aspiration, even if it will lead nowhere tangible.

Likewise with my writing. I would like to be a better writer and the only way this is likely to happen is if I practice. I can read widely, compare and contrast the styles of various authors and commentators, but if I do not sit down and create my own, unique text then I will never hone what limited skills I may possess.

Writing is my hobby and gives me pleasure. WordPress is my club, where I can share with others who pursue the same interest as well as enabling me to put my thoughts and ideas out to a wider audience via social media. Feedback from readers gives me an insight into how my writing comes across to others; the pieces that I am most satisfied with are often not the ones that are best received.

I also create works of fiction but these are on going and incomplete. By taking part in NaNoWriMo I will be encouraged to finish a story, even if it is not as polished as I would wish. I have a habit of returning to works again and again, changing a word or a phrase here, tidying up the plot there, rather than getting down a complete first draft before entering the editing phase. I want to see if I am capable of taking a tale through to a decent conclusion.

A lot of people look on NaNoWriMo as an exercise in creating bad writing. By demanding a set word count in a given time frame, with no quality checks along the way, the resulting ‘novel’ is unlikely to be the next best seller. For me, however, this is not the point; I will use it to see what I am capable of producing. I do not expect anyone else to read the results of this exercise, just as I do not expect anyone else to listen to me play the piano (I really am an untidy musician).

There seems to be a certain amount of snobbery amongst some writers. Those who are capable of earning a living from the regular, quality output that they produce may look on the plethora of amateurs who populate the blogosphere with a degree of contempt, but I find this attitude disappointing. If writing gives pleasure then I would encourage this pursuit as much as I would encourage those who partake in any other creative hobby. I admire the established writers who are willing to help and encourage the amateurs, even if their output leaves much to be desired.

November is already a busy month for me and by taking on the NaNoWrMo challenge I am setting myself up to be more time pressured than I am used to. It will be interesting to see how I cope. I will not be putting the story that I write out on this blog; I have no wish to share what is likely to be an unimpressive piece of writing.

You will, however, be able to track my progress via the little widget I have installed on my sidebar; the aim is to reach a word count of 50,000 by the end of November. It is easy to start a new project fired with enthusiasm. I wonder will I have the resolve to continue when life demands my time and my ideas wane. It wouldn’t be a challenge if I expected it to be easy; roll on November that we may begin.

NaNoWriMo

Autumn

Autumn is here. Today is a typical, October’s day here in England; it is dark, dreary, wet and windy. Having opened the windows a crack to air the house this morning, I now have a whistling draft disturbing my peace as the gusts of wind push their way around the house. I love this time of year when the weather is dry and I can go for long, sunny walks with crackling leaves underfoot and glorious colours to admire in the trees that surround our village. On a day like today though, I am tempted to stay snug, warm and dry indoors.

The BBC failed to forecast this weather on line last night. Younger son had arranged with a friend to cycle to school if the weather was dry and I was informed that it would be. The ground was wet but it was not yet raining when they set off in the dark this morning. I was unaware of the unpleasant conditions to come; I wonder if this will put them off repeating the exercise. I would like my children to cycle to school more often, but not in weather like this.

Younger son has developed a minor cold that he has been sharing with the rest of us. Sitting around in damp clothes is not going to improve his ailment. Perhaps it is as well that the teachers have arranged to go on strike tomorrow, giving the children an extra day’s holiday. A day of rest may help him to recover.

I have been struggling to keep the main living area of our house warm this last week. Temperatures have dropped significantly so we switched on the heating only to discover that part of the system is no longer working. A plumber should be calling with us today; I hope that he can quickly rectify the problem and return us to comfort throughout the house.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking which helped to warm things up. I have been doing my reading and writing wrapped up in a duvet to protect against the cold. My elder son is impatient at such necessities; when things stop working he cannot understand why I do not act immediately to get them fixed. I can give him no logical answer.

Yesterday I was required to stay in to sign for a parcel. I was impressed with the communication I received from the courier, reminding me the night before and on the day that I needed to be here. In the event, the parcel was delivered but left on our doorstep. There was no knock to inform me that it was there; I could have gone out after all. Yesterday would have been a fabulous day for a walk; today is not.

Despite the weather, despite the cold, I have maintained a more positive attitude to my life recently. I am still jittery; walking in sunlight but always on the edge of a dark void. Long, bony fingers reach out to try to pluck me down into the abyss; I glimpse them out of the corner of my eye but will not acknowledge their presence. If I keep moving forwards, pay them no attention, they will not get me.

There is talk of Christmas amongst some of my on line acquaintances; I am trying to avoid this spectre. Christmas was a bad time for me last year and I need to build up my strength to cope with whatever it may bring this time around. I lose control at Christmas. I am not good at dealing with expectations and demands; going with this type of flow erodes my well-being.

For now though we are approaching Halloween; a festivity that offers family fun with no need to interact with the world. My daughter has many plans for the holiday, some of which clash with my husband’s wishes but none of which seem insurmountable. I am looking forward to the break from routine.

I am discovering new ways to live in my world that challenge and excite me; new paths to walk that are mine. I like this feeling, that I am finding my own way without coercion. The newly discovered independence of thought and action wraps around me like a warm blanket. I wonder where I will find the armour that I need to protect it.

the tired old wizard & his dragon

My weekend

I believe that I may be unusual amongst my friends in liking Mondays. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the weekends. There is just something about a new week beginning that makes me feel positive.

With September drawing to a close I realised last week that I had been procrastinating about many of the tasks that I had decided needed to be done. Over the weekend I took myself in hand and set in motion a number of things that need to happen before these can be completed. I am now likely to be kept busier than usual for a few weeks to come.

It was a fairly typical weekend in many ways. I picked up the children after school on Friday and took my younger son swimming. For a lot of the time we had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely. None of us had particular plans for the evening so we watched a daft but light hearted and funny film (Johnny English Reborn). I like it when we all sit down as a family to watch a film, not least because we can then discuss it together afterwards. On this occasion, however, my daughter could not be persuaded to join us. As she is currently swamped with school work and trying to sort out work experience placements I think she just needed some time to herself.

I didn’t sleep well so, rather than disturb my husband with my tossing and turning, got up stupidly early on Saturday morning. As is usual, my day was spent cleaning, tidying and sorting the laundry. The boys had a hockey match and my daughter went to the gym in the afternoon so I made the most of a quiet house to enjoy a couple of hours writing. This put me in an excellent mood for the evening. We had a late dinner and I then went to bed. I find that I now need at least a couple of early nights each week or I start to feel very run down.

On Sunday morning I took my daughter shopping as we are planning on redoing her bedroom. She is still sleeping on the bed we got her when she was eighteen months old. The mattress is no longer supportive and a couple of slats on the base are broken. We cobbled together a fix for these but a replacement is overdue. I had been putting this off as I had expected her to move out in a couple of years when she hopes to go up to university. However, she is going to try to get on a course that will take six years of study so will be returning home regularly for some time to come. I think we can justify spending some money to get her room as she would like it.

Most of Sunday afternoon seemed to vanish as I searched the internet for the bits and pieces we couldn’t find in the shops we visited earlier. Most of the things are now ordered so it was a successful enough day. I did manage to fit in a bit of gardening before I had to prepare food for the evening meal. I did not manage to tackle my pile of ironing so that is a job for today.

Sunday evening we had pancakes for tea which was a lot of fun; my kids love pancakes. I make up bowls of fillings and they sit round the island in our kitchen chatting and eating as my husband cooks and tosses the batter. My daughter is trying to persuade her brothers to join her in taking part in NaNoWriMo this year; I may even give it a go myself.

When all had eaten their fill I sat down with a glass of wine and some music to catch up with the on line news. The children had dispersed to their rooms and my husband was engrossed in his book; he is reading his way through George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Our weekends are now so different to the way they used to be when the children were younger. There seemed to be years when we spent day after day driving the children to: football or hockey matches; taekwondo or judo training; swimming or music lessons; drama; dance; and, of course, the ubiquitous birthday parties. These days life is calmer and we have more time to ourselves. We also spend more time together as a family rather than rushing off in different directions to take part in the next activity.

Even so, when Monday morning comes I am happy to be able to spend some quiet time on my own. Perhaps this is why we need to have our children when we are younger and still have the energy for all the running around that is required. Either that or I have just grown used to being able to take life at an easier pace. I guess we adapt as we need to.

This week my daughter and I need to empty her bedroom in readiness for it’s remodelling. With the work still ongoing in our book room downstairs it feels like a lot of change. There are items of furniture, books and pictures being stored all over the house as we wait for jobs to be finished or items to be delivered. Having set everything in motion I now need to keep on top of the necessary preparation.

For myself though, I want to sit peacefully and write. I can only indulge myself so often; there are too many other demands on my time. I am enjoying a feeling of satisfaction that I have made progress with the tasks I had been procrastinating about, but the busyness that this has generated does not suit me. I like my thinking time and my quiet creativity. Having found this good place to be it can take a force of will to leave it.

If I can make a good start to the week then the rest will generally fall into place. The days seem so short though; I guess I must be enjoying myself.

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The Hot Rod

My first car was a Mini. Not a BMW Mini such as half the world seems to want to drive these days (personally I would prefer a new styled VW Beetle, even though I do know it is simply a Golf with a different body). No, my first car was what is now known as a Classic Mini. I loved that car; it gave me my freedom.

Beneath the dirt (I don’t recall ever washing it) and rust (it had a lot of rust) it was a sort of mustard yellow colour. I inherited it from my sister when she upgraded to a Ford Fiesta (I eventually inherited that from her too). I covered my car in stickers that advised those behind me to ‘Back off, I’ve got a sensitive bottom’ or ‘Who says you can’t have everything? Here I am’. The rear and side windows displayed such information on their many stickers as ‘Sex Appeal, please give generously’ and the much derided ‘My other car is a Porsche’.

I was given all of these stickers by friends and attached whatever was offered (which was probably why I was given a few; as a challenge to see if I would dare display them in our conservative neighbourhood). The pièce de résistance, however, was the blue sun strip that ran across the top of the windscreen and proudly declared the car to be ‘Hot Rod’. And it was.

Thanks to some clever tuning work by a friend (and a friend of this friend, who enjoyed rallying) the engine, when it went, went like the clappers. Back in the day the VW Golf was the car to have and my little Mini could outgun one from a standing start (I did this at lights just to annoy the drivers who thought they were so cool). My car had a top speed of 80mph, as measured by a police speed radar on the Outer Ring Road at Knock in Belfast. How I managed to sweet talk my way out of that one I don’t know. A nineteen year old’s seemingly innocent smile and feminine charms can work wonders when needed.

Did I mention the rust? If my front seat passenger lifted the soggy carpet there was a fine view of the road. This was sorted by my friend who rivet gunned a sheet of metal over the offending area. The carpet dried out eventually and the car smelt much better after that.

This was not the only leak the car could boast though. The radiator leaked and the brake pipes leaked (I learnt to pump the brake pedal when I needed to stop). The electrics were also dodgy, particularly when it rained. I wrapped tinfoil over the front grill and sticky tape around the distributor. If the engine cut out in heavy traffic a spray of WD40 would normally get it going again.

In the boot of the car I carried brake fluid, a gallon of water and a tow rope – all a girl could need in the event of breakdown. When the exhaust system fell off I went back to collect it and drove noisily round to my friend’s house to have it reattached. To get the car through it’s MOT I borrowed a set of tyres that had more tread than mine and sent it to a garage with a sympathetic mechanic. I never really knew how much an MOT was supposed to cost.

Driving a car such as this meant that I was never intimidated on the busy, city roads. When a smug, besuited, middle aged driver in a sleek, shiny jaguar tried to push into my lane I just kept going. If he wished to risk a scratch on his bodywork trying to get me to move out of his way then let him; bodywork scratches were the least of my worries. It was a bit embarrassing when, having forced him to give way, the Hot Rod then conked out in the busy stop, start traffic. Luckily I had that gallon of water to top up the radiator and get going again. I gave the drivers behind my best smile but I’m not sure it was appreciated.

I would have continued to drive this amazing machine for longer if a taxi driver hadn’t slammed into the side of my beloved car trying to do an unexpected u turn. He took me to court to try to pin the blame on me but lost. During this time I drove around with a polythene sheet where the passenger side windows had been (visibility was a bit of an issue but I coped) and the door attached to the car with string. Eventually my friend got me a replacement door, nearly the same colour as the rest of the car. With the help of a tractor and chain he pulled the car into shape and managed to get the door to fit pretty well. I had to remember which key opened which door but felt well sorted with this arrangement.

Unfortunately the accident drew the attention of my insurance company who declared my little car a write off. The assessor pointed out the dodgy brakes and treadless tyres but it was the potential damage to the chassis that made him refuse to reinsure. I was devastated.

Recovery was, however, speedy. Not only did I get money from the insurance company (lucky that I was on the winning side of that court case), but another friend found a farmer who was willing to take my broken car and do it up for his daughter. He even paid me for it.

After a few drinks to celebrate I put the accumulated cash aside for my second car. This ended up being another mustard coloured Mini with dodgy brakes, purchased from a couple of guys who did up and sold on such cars. I heard a few years later that the police were prosecuting them for selling unroadworthy vehicles to unsuspecting customers. For the money I had paid, I expected nothing less.

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Thanks to The Waiting for the inspiration for this post. Sorry I missed the relevant Blog Hop.