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.