Monthly Archives: March 2014

Arthur’s castle

I have been well and truly spoilt this Mother’s Day. A lie in, a bath, delicious food, gorgeous flowers and some very sweet presents. We may have had words last year after Leigh underestimated how important this day would be to me as a new mum, but he’s well and truly outdone himself this time round. And in the midst of it all, we even had an adventure: we’ve driven past Berry Pomeroy castle countless times, but today we finally went to visit.

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Arthur was totally in his element. The picture above shows him taking a break after chasing shadows and older boys around the ruins, pausing every so often to stroke the moss or post gravel through drains. We’d started our explorations in the woodland surrounding the castle itself: there was a particular tree that we passed as we meandered down the muddy path which Arthur was just mesmerised by

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By the time we got back up to the castle, my mum and dad were waiting for us. It’s times like this that I’m very glad my parents are close by: I may have transitioned into the ‘mum’ role myself now but it still feels pretty important to hang out with my own mum on Mother’s Day. Arthur seemed to approve of our choice of companions too: once he’d spotted his Grampa and the woman who still has no name, Leigh and I hardly got a look in.

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It was so much fun for us to explore somewhere new, and to watch Arthur enjoying a brand new environment with people who he has so clearly come to love and trust. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for ruins, and shadows, and dungeons, and contrasts – and today’s adventure offered those up in spades.

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I’m very glad we finally ventured into our local castle: our trip has inspired us to plan visits to many more. There’s nothing quite like the history that is infused in the walls of a building, and though it may be many years before Arthur understands the significance of the stones he marvels over I think there’s an awful lot he can soak up from them in the mean time.

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Love

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It’s been a few weeks now since the anniversary of our first date, but I still can’t help but marvel at how much my life has changed since Leigh came back into it – something which was completely unexpected.

At the end of 2009 I was pulling myself back together after yet another failed relationship. I made some really bad decisions in my 20s – stayed with men for far too long who sapped my strength and identity, was terrified of being alone.

For a while I don’t think I was much fun to be around. I struggled with depression which whilst it was triggered by being treated really badly by two of those men in particular had its roots far deeper in a lingering feeling I had of just not quite being true to myself – and not even really knowing who that self was. All the while I was throwing myself into my career, getting real satisfaction from my work as a teacher with brilliant colleagues and fantastic family and friends. I had no real reason to be unhappy – and it was that I finally realised fully whilst walking in the snow in East London in the early hours of New Year’s Day. I needed to relish what I had, make the most of the opportunities I was being given, stop taking things – and people – for granted. My happiness was not going to come in the form of a man – or at least not until I had made peace with myself.

And then just as I was relishing the prospect of being happy on my own for the first time in my adult life, along came Leigh. We’d known each other for years – been part of a group of friends who all went clubbing together in our late teens and actually had our first kiss in a tent at Womad back in the nineties. We lost touch soon after that despite the fact we ended up at the same university, but when I joined Facebook he was the first person I looked up. There’d always been something about him that I was drawn to, but something always held me back from making proper contact with him.

We’ve talked about it since and he felt exactly the same way. We both seemed to think that we were out of each others’ league – watched each other from afar, with a strange sense of regret for a road not taken. Then one night in January 2010 Leigh made a comment on his Facebook page and, needing someone with whom to share my insomnia, I replied. I immediately switched my phone off once I had – it was such a tiny, insignificant thing, but for some reason it felt like I’d taken a massive step in reaching out to him and I was terrified in case he didn’t respond. But when I logged back onto Facebook in the morning it turned out he had, and that little comment sparked a flurry of online banter, our mutual friends amused at the public flirting we’d begun to engage in out of the blue.

A couple of weeks later I was throwing a party with my friend Sue. She thought I was bonkers, but I invited Leigh to come. He replied to my message straight away, saying that he would love to come but he was flying off to South Africa the next day for six weeks on a paramedic training course. This piqued my interest even more – I couldn’t quite picture the hedonistic public schoolboy I remembered as a paramedic.

Whilst he didn’t make the party, our communication had shifted from a public to a private forum, and over the six weeks he was away we exchanged increasingly long and intimate messages, catching up on all we’d missed over the more than a decade since we’d seen each other and falling a little bit more in love with each other every day. I was convinced it was the start of something, but Sue was understandably wary – she’d been there to pick up the pieces when things had gone wrong in the past, and she couldn’t quite condone me getting so caught up in a man I hadn’t even really met yet.

There was a particular week in February when we’d both gone to stay with another friend, Tsering, in Barcelona. They both teased me mercilessly about my pen pal, saying that I really shouldn’t get over excited as he would no doubt turn out to have a tail or at the very least extra toes. I, however, was undeterred. I knew it was crazy, but something about it all just felt so right. Leigh got back to London at the end of February, and our first date in the real world was on the first of March.

To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement, but as soon as we saw each other everything fell into place. The chemistry was just as strong in person as it had been through the thousands of words we’d exchanged online, and we had a brilliant night. We ended up going to a gig my brother Ben’s band just happened to be putting on round the corner, so he met my three brothers on that first date too – they gave him the seal of approval, and Leigh made a joke about the band playing at our wedding. Which, as it happened, they did.

He proposed a couple of months later, and we celebrated our engagement with a trip to Barcelona where Tsering got to vet him too – Sue had already given us her blessing (with a strongly worded warning to Leigh about what she’d do to him if he messed me around). I think they were both as relieved as I was that he had turned out to be amazing despite the unconventional way our relationship had started. There was no doubt that both Leigh and I were ready to settle down.

We got married the following summer in 2011, a year which was full of change for us both: Leigh won a place at medical school in Devon having decided to retrain to be a doctor, we found a house in Brixham in need of total renovation and moved in a couple of weeks before the wedding, then a couple of weeks after that I started my new job leading an English department in a school in Plymouth. Eighteen months later we finally finished the work on the house days before our son was born, and I have now taken a break from teaching to look after him and pursue the career as a writer I always dreamed of.

It makes me a bit dizzy to think about how different things are now than they were four years ago – how much we’ve achieved in such a short space of time. I finally feel like I can be happy in my skin, and much as I was ready for change that frosty January I don’t think I could have got here without Leigh, and love.

With thanks to Sara at Mum turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: “That was unexpected…”

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The Reading Residence

Why Gove getting down with the kids really gets my goat

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Yesterday, despite the constant onslaught teachers are under at the moment and the disruption caused by Wednesday’s strike, teachers from 1000 schools nationwide found the time and energy to support over 30,000 students to take part in BBC School Report‘s News Day.

I love School Report. As an English and Media teacher, I was involved in it from its very early stages. It is a brilliant project to engage Key Stage Three pupils in the practical, hands-on application of the skills they’re learning, and from humble beginnings with a small group as an extra-curricular activity we built it into the year eight curriculum so that all students could benefit from what it had to offer. Through it, we were able to promote media literacy, creativity and current affairs. It encourages independent and collaborative learning, and provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to step back and act as facilitators rather than leading from the front. And this is where Gove’s involvement in yesterday’s News Day really winds me up.

These are all areas which, if Gove had his way, would be squeezed out of the diet we offer our young people in favour of more academic, traditional approaches to learning. And yet there he was, performing a ‘Wham’ rap and posing for a selfie to the bemusement and amusement of his audience of teenagers.

In 2008, I took a group of students to the Houses of Parliament to interview David Cameron, then leader of the opposition. Whatever my opinions of his politics, there was no doubt that he conducted himself appropriately: he was respectful and friendly as they took him to task over tuition fees, and politely declined to answer when the questions strayed into the personal. Unlike Gove, who ended up grinning like a goon as he tried to convince the kids that he was ok.

Quite aside from the fact that his mere involvement was astoundingly hypocritical given that his reforms stand to destroy everything which BBC School Report tries to promote, I can’t quite get over quite how insulting and disrespectful his behaviour was to hardworking teachers the day after tens of thousands of them were striking in protest against his decimation of the education system.

Because ultimately what this boils down to is propaganda – he was portraying himself as a man who just wants to have a laugh with young people and support their creative projects in schools when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. And the BBC – our supposedly impartial public service broadcaster – was doing everything it could to corroborate his story. The context of BBC School Report makes this even more galling: the learning materials accompanying the project emphasise the impartiality of the BBC, and there would have been a far larger audience than usual of impressionable young people to soak up the persona he was presenting.

There’s a darker side to this too: much as Gove was happy to expose the poor woman with whom he shared his first kiss to ridicule he clearly has no concern for the potential implications of sharing a selfie with a teenage girl. It seems that anyone in his path who might possibly help him advance his agenda is fair game.

I would like to think that teachers will be able to use Gove’s actions, and the subsequent coverage of them by the BBC, to illustrate the insidious way that propaganda works in our modern media machine, but I fear that with everything else going on they may not find the time.

But Gove, quite frankly, should be embarrassed. And the BBC should be hanging their heads in shame for such blatant manipulation of our young people at a time when their future has never looked so bleak.

Word of the Week: Mess

Today the word that sums up the week that was is:

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As it happens, this doesn’t actually refer to mess that was made, but rather mess that wasn’t. In fact mess that I think I’ve been a little afraid of making, a fear I might have inadvertently passed on to Arthur. It is the glorious, creative, colourful mess that comes from painting: something I’ve avoided doing with Arthur for far too long.

It’s a little odd, really. Those that know me would certainly not put me in the category of people who are mess averse. I’ve never been one for minimalism, and have embraced all sorts of mess with Arthur so far: the avocado and porridge face packs that come with baby led weaning, the bathroom floor tsunamis in the name of watery fun, the muddy knees (and hands, and noses) of outdoor exploration. But for some reason, despite loving art in all it’s forms and being brought up by a supremely creative mother who facilitated endless projects, I have thus far shied away from adding paint to the list of things Arthur has been allowed to make a mess with.

And this week, I decided it was time that changed. I bit the bullet, got out the various supplies I’ve collected so far, and waited for Arthur to make a mess. Except he didn’t seem all that impressed. It didn’t help that the first thing he did was put the paint-laden brush in his mouth – those embittering agents really don’t taste all that great. I felt a bit guilty for setting him up in his high chair at the spot at the table where he normally eats… Confusing much?

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He seemed vaguely interested in the brushes and stamps I’d been recommended by a friend, but admittedly more in the different sounds they made when he banged them on the table than in what would happen if he put them in contact with the gloopy stuff.

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And he was considerably less impressed when I gave him a helping hand to coat his fingers in said gloopy stuff, appearing to get positively afraid of what it might do as our little art session went on.

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I tried my best to model the messiness, sacrificing any attempt at artistic merit for the sake of lots of smooshing and smearing and slapping. But he really wasn’t having any of it, and in the end I had to admit defeat.

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I’m a little mortified that my reticence to get out the paints for anything other than tightly controlled mummy-led crafts over the past fifteen months might have given Arthur a paint phobia. And for that reason alone I will most definitely be persevering. I’m thinking next time we should scrap the high chair, and just free things up with paper on the floor. I admit I’m cringing a little as I write that with thoughts of baby paint handprints over everything the minute my back is turned, but if that’s the sacrifice I have to make then so be it.

If all goes to plan, there should be plenty of messy, paint-splattered posts in the weeks and months to come. Wish us luck! It’ll be fun, right?

 

The Reading Residence

The end is in sight

At the beginning of January, I set myself a challenge. It was one I’d been building up to for a couple of months – researching, outlining characters, padding out the plot – and just like last time there were lots of people ready to warn me that I might be setting the bar too high.

My plan was to write my second novel before Easter. I’d set out to write my first around the same time last year: I got started a little later, as January was spent just coming to terms with being a mum, but I’d actually been writing Lili Badger in my head for ages. And being aimed at the young adult market, my initial word count goal was only sixty thousand.

This time round I was mother to an almost-toddler rather than a newborn and I was aiming for ninety thousand words in my first draft. I wasn’t sure quite how long Arthur was going to keep up his very convenient twice daily feeding and napping in the sling routine. Oh, and on top of all that I’d also decided to start a blog.

Still, once I’d ironed out a few issues with motivation, characters and research, I actually really enjoyed throwing myself into the world of a new novel. As the story progressed, scenes I’d loosely mapped out almost seemed to write themselves, and I was getting a real buzz from watching the progress bar moving in the right direction in the brilliant Scrivener app. There were days when I didn’t write as much as I hoped, and even some when I didn’t manage to get in front of the computer at all, but the deadline was still far enough away that it didn’t make a discernible difference to my overall word count – I really didn’t need to worry about it too much.

And then suddenly we were in March. Arthur was ill – again – and the sleepless nights and constant breastfeeding were really beginning to take their toll. On top of that we had a trip to London planned to promote my first novel which ended up taking out almost a whole week of writing time. It was with trepidation that I looked at Scrivener’s project targets on the Monday after we got back from London: and, as I feared, my daily word count goal had gone way over the fifteen hundred words that I knew I could manage.

But actually it’s been ok. Well, better than ok to be honest. Things in the story have reached a climax, so sitting down to write has got even more exciting. Several times over the last couple of weeks I’ve had to drag myself away after crossing the two thousand words mark because Arthur’s patience has worn thin. He’s generally been pretty fantastic though – still napping well, and enjoying playing independently at my feet (and maybe trashing my study just a little) – so that not only have I been able to get back on track with the novel but I’ve even kept the blog up too.

The first draft isn’t finished yet – still 16,682 words to write, as those of you on Twitter might have noticed from my daily Scrivener updates – and of course the first draft is only the beginning of the journey towards the completed novel. But to have less than 20,000 words left, with 12 writing days to go until my self-imposed deadline, feels pretty damned amazing.

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Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

The secrets of my mummy bag

Gone are the days when I could leave the house with a quick check of phone, wallet, keys and never a backward glance. Of course I now need to make sure I have the baby with me, but with him comes a whole host of paraphernalia. Find out what Arthur and I never venture out and about without over on Make, Do and Push today!

Thanks to the lovely Hannah for featuring us on her beautiful blog.

Make, Do and Push!