Wednesday, 18 July 2018

School's out

Over the past days I've danced to Rita Ora, cheered on the English football team, watched a class of eleven-year olds sing their hearts out and cried too many tears. It has been an exhausting, emotional rollercoaster of a week. By Sunday afternoon, I was quite done in.

My son on his last day at Primary School
The last day at primary school
Two decadent nights at our glorious Henley Festival on the banks of the Thames, an English defeat and my son leaving primary school were evidently too much to cope with. While the festival was brilliant in its own way, the big event for me was the end of primary school (yes, it was all about me).

After eight happy years, my son bid goodbye to the teachers who have nurtured him since he was a little chap - chubby and bespectacled (think Milky Bar kid) in a uniform that didn't quite fit. His departure marks the end of an era. For as long as we've been living in Henley, one of my kids has been at the school. As well as being a pillar of local life, school has provided us with a community of lovely friends.

By the time my son left on Friday after the leavers' concert, he was fighting back the tears, but it was his mother who really disgraced herself. I dissolved into a snively mess at about 8:30 a.m. on the last morning, pretty much as we handed over our first leaving gift. The waterworks continued in spurts throughout the day.

Letting my guard down...

You would not know I was once labelled 'the girl who never cried' at my own (boarding) school. Clearly, I've come a long way since those emotionally defunct days. Every little thing set me off last Friday: a child impulsively hugging the headmaster, the French teacher comforting my tearful son, a slideshow of the kids during their time at the school... 

The view from the grandstand at Henley Festival
A giant duck makes the most of Henley Festival
Perhaps sleep deprivation was to partly to blame. A late night dancing to Rita Ora on a floating stage is enough to exhaust any middle-aged mum... but at least in my moments of emotional candour I was feeling the stuff going on in my life. My guard was down, the emotional buffer zone had been breached. It was raw and it was messy, but for once I touched the quick of experience. 

Now I've caught up on sleep, I feel faintly embarrassed but also strangely purged. Aside from a few nostalgic twinges, I am ready to move on. The summer hols are stretching out ahead of us and a new era of independence dawns. As Rita Ora sang on the Festival stage, "We'll find the start to something new..." Bring it on.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Midsummer madness

Spanish folding handheld fan
Fan-tastic for staying cool on the sit!
Hot, hot, hot... This is summer,  someone told me the other day, so let's stop calling it a heatwave! But blazing sunshine, sleepless nights and sunburn - can this really be England? I'm even running out of clothes to wear. My lightweight summer wardrobe is too 'capsule' to cover so many consecutive days of heat. The washing machine is on full pelt while my slacks and summer cardis haven't made it off the hanger.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

We're all in the same boat

There is something about navigating through water in a small vessel that has come to symbolise our struggle as human beings. The concept of a voyage, with people pitched against the elements, has enjoyed mythical status throughout time, from the Aeneid and Moby Dick to J.K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. On Sunday my family went canoeing with our cousins, adding - I felt - our small contribution to the boating canon.

Hennerton Backwater, near Wargrave on the River Thames
Paddling down Hennerton Backwater
Credit: William Lam
In a flotilla of three canoes - our inflatable and two hired Canadian canoes - we paddled down an idyllic stretch of the River Thames from Henley to Wargrave. We may have been unlikely literary heroes in our shorts and hoodies, but the way in which each crew tackled the challenge of reaching the George & Dragon pub in Wargrave spoke volumes about our attitudes to life.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Foreign fields

Travel diary
WWI sites in Belgium and France

Every evening in the Belgian town of Ypres, people of all nationalities gather at the Menin Gate to remember the young men who died in the Great War. At eight o'clock sharp, a group of buglers sound the last post to commemorate more than 54,000 missing Commonwealth soldiers. Their names are engraved on the honey-coloured walls, interminable lists of men who went missing in action. They died in the fields around Ypres, but their bodies have never been found or identified. 

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium (The Last Post)
Crowds gather at the Menin Gate
This ceremony has been performed every evening since 1928, apart from when Ypres was under German occupation during the second-world war. I attended with my family one Sunday in late May at the beginning of a half-term trip to visit the sites of World War I. The aim was to enrich the kids' understanding of the war, although I think we all came away with a deeper sense of what went on during this terrible period of history, viewed by some as a European civil war.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Different minds

My husband and I were playing a fun game the other day. He would point to random objects in the house and I had to say where they came from. For example, he picked up the juice squeezer and I responded, "Engagement present from Cathy and John." 

Testing times:
Who gave us the juicer?
This went on for a while, eliciting gasps of admiration from him every time I nailed the answer. He eventually caught me out on the toaster (I couldn't recall where we got it or what the old one looked like). "I can't believe you can remember all this stuff," he said. This is from a man who spends on average five minutes a day looking for his keys/phone/work pass. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Watch the step-change

My life is about to change. As of September, I will have two kids at secondary school. I will no longer be a mum of young children. Yikes! Where did those years go? Cue midlife crisis.

Garden statue with her arms raised in jubilation
Freedom at last?
But before I plummet into mourning, I am trying to convince myself that a new, exciting era is about to dawn... Yes! More freedom! I will no longer be wholly defined by my relationship with my children. As they become more autonomous, so will I.