Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Birthday lifecycle

Something struck me the other day. I could be halfway through my life (assuming there are no unforeseen accidents). Not so long ago, I celebrated my 45th birthday and judging by my grandmother's longevity, I could have nearly half a century left. I've reached a tipping point. All of a sudden, the next 45 years feel rather precious. 

A bit of a milestone!
Usually, I wake up on my birthday and think, oh bugger, another year older! How did that happen? This time, I lay in bed feeling a little overcome. It's like I've reached the top of the hill and now I'm about to free-cycle down the other side. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Removal quotes and books

Two themes are dominating my notebook this week - literary festivals and our imminent move to a new house. In amongst pages of removal quotes and a transcription of my conversation with BT about changing over our broadband, are my notes on the Henley Literary Festival and the Cuckfield Bookfest.

Emma Clark Lam and broadcaster Cathy Newman
Cathy and I celebrate with a glass of fizz
As ever, our local lit fest in Henley offered up a smorgasbord of knowledge and current affairs. A highlight for me was attending a session by my fabulous friend, Cathy Newman, who was promoting her new book, Bloody Brilliant Women

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Moving on

Green front door, brass knocker and wisteria
Closing the door on the past
It's finally happening. After three years of viewing properties and hoarding house particulars, we are on the move. Let's not get carried away, it's only five minutes down the road, but this is a BIG deal for us! Most people would be super-excited (and we are) but we're also feeling a little bit funny inside... It's us after all. Our family is not known for its gung-ho, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants approach to life. There's just too much fretting to fit in.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The power of chocolate buttons

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Little One stamps the pavement outside our house with her new Startrite shoe. "Don't wanna go to school," she wails. "Got no friends."

"School sucks," agrees her older brother, "but you have to go, otherwise the police will come and arrest Mum." 

Sign saying: All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt

I glance across at him to see if he genuinely believes what he's just said. It appears he does. Wow! Those white lies I used to tell him have still got some mileage. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Making memories in California

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz
Credit: William Lam
When I was a career gal, I worked in New York for about 18 months during the late nineties as a financial journalist. As well as embracing the American work ethic, I spent my generous British holiday allowance travelling around new England, upstate New York, Puerto Rico and the sultry New Orleans. The one place I never managed to visit was the West Coast, despite picking up a guide to California from my local Barnes & Noble. Over the years, Highway 1 has taken on mythical status - it was the vacation that got away...

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).

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.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The history teacher

Hermaphrodite Mum 
Three kids and a single mum

It's a sight to make every mother's heart sink: your child, curled up with her headphones on, watching YouTube on a mobile phone. It gets worse. Your child has already spent most of the afternoon hooked up to Netflix and has evidently forgotten about her school exams next week. 

Quiet One: lost in blah-blah land
©  Dreamstime.com
I direct my most penetrating gaze at Quiet One, but she's lost in some virtual place, halfway between denial and blah-blah land.

Finally, I raise my voice. "Shouldn't you be doing some revision?" I shout. 

The earphones are pushed back a smidgeon and she looks up at me with an indignant frown. Then she humphs and slides off the chair. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

The little things

My 10-year old son and I are playing a game at the moment: the 30-day Happiness Challenge*. I bought it after he finished his entrance exams for secondary school. A bit of light relief. So each day he plucks a 'happiness challenge' from a little box covered in smiley faces. Two weeks in, he's been smiling at strangers, looking back on old photos and walking barefoot in some rather soggy grass.

List of 'happiness' challenges
My main objective is to keep him on a positive track after the stress of all the exams. Like many of us, he can get lost in the more negative aspects of his day. Apparently, this is a common human trait. "Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt to the negative," says social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood in a TEDx talk. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Dream on...

Dream, believe, achieve is emblazoned on my teenager's sweatshirt when she surfaces late morning. Not that there is any rule about squeezing achievements into the early part of the day - the placement of dirty cereal bowls in the dishwasher is generally good enough for me. "That's a nice thought for the new year," I tell her in my cheery voice (she can be a little temperamental before her first slice of toast so I have to tread gently). If only it was that easy, I think quietly to myself.

Sweatshirt with the words, Dream, Believe, Achieve
Maxims for the new year
Life is about striving in one way or another, no more so than at the start of a new year. The slate has been wiped clean, the days are growing longer and we are buoyed up by the belief that a few new numbers on the calendar will make all the difference. If Theresa May can feel chipper about making progress with her Brexit deal (assuming she believes her own rhetoric), then my own small-scale goals should be relatively achievable.