Friday, 15 December 2017
December is speeding by in the usual flurry of glitter and lists. I write them on the back of scrap paper and those slips the library puts in reserved books. There are always more things being added than crossed off.
I went to a funeral this week of a second cousin. I wasn't going to write about it, but I have all these thoughts that I just want to put somewhere. She died suddenly, having been in good health, and everyone was shocked. She was the most truly good person I have ever known. Everything she did was for other people. She lived a life of service and selflessness. I thought one day she would be old and it would be her turn to have people visit her and do things for her. It seems unfair that that is not to be.
She never married and never left home, and after her elderly mother died she spent every Christmas season in London working in a homeless shelter. She kept in touch with every friend and relative she had, visiting, writing letters, inviting people to her home. She had planned her funeral, down to the last detail. Every hymn, poem and prayer was carefully chosen. She specified that no-one was to give her any tributes, 'even supposing you could find anyone willing to do so'. That made me cry. The church was packed, absolutely packed, and every single person could have spent an hour paying tribute to what an amazing person she was.
She cared for the natural world and asked for a funeral with as little environmental impact as possible. Recycled paper for the orders of service, car sharing to the little church on a hill where she was to be buried. She loved being with friends and family and sharing a meal with them and wanted hospitality extended to all who came to the funeral. There was a lovely spread in the church and photographs from her life.
She was generous, kind, clever and possessed of a deep, unwavering faith. She truly embodied Christianity. I doubt she was ever once irritable or judgemental or anything less than charitable. She treated everyone she met with the same friendliness, courtesy and genuine interest.
I know that by writing a tribute I am going against her wishes. But when someone that unique leaves this world it is hard to let it pass unmentioned. I left the funeral wanting to be a better, kinder, more patient person. Her example was shining. An overused phrase, but in her case, apt.
I woke up early this morning with these thoughts running through my mind. And the feeling that she was gone too soon. I sat in the chilly early hours to write some of the things down, just to remember things I don't want to forget. There are many memories of visits to her when I was little. I shall write them somewhere else, just for me, there are too many to put here. I used to love walking her dog with her and her mum. I was allowed to hold the lead and it was just the best thing. The littlest boy would have loved that too.
Their home was peaceful, tranquil. I was allowed to borrow an Anne of Green Gables book when I visited, and it was such a treasured thing. Her mum, my great-aunt, would make the most delicious tea and there would always be cheesies which were also the best thing. I asked for the recipe many years later. And now I'm so glad I have it. Sometimes things are left too late.
On the day of the funeral it rained and rained, but the sun came out at the end of the service and shone through the windows for a moment. It was incredibly moving. Her final resting place is at the top of a little hill, looking out for miles over the beautiful countryside. We stood around the grave and the wind howled and the rain lashed down and it all felt right, as it should be. The wildness of it all. I shall visit and leave flowers sometimes. I won't forget to visit and I won't forget the force for good that she was. I am so grateful for her life and for her example of how to live and for having known her.
I hope that hasn't been to heavy. An interlude among the holly and the glitter. When I got home I put my umbrella up in the biggest boy's room to dry where the puppy couldn't get to it and destroy it. Late that evening when I was in the living room there was a bit of a thump. The biggest boy came down and opened the door and said 'Sorry, I accidentally stood on your umbrella.' He had it dangling from his hand, more comprehensively destroyed than even Bertie could have managed. Spokes dangling, canopy crumpled. It had to be seen to be believed. I told him, "Never mind."
Friday, 8 December 2017
Regular readers would be forgiven for thinking that I spend my entire life blithely skipping through beech woods in pursuit of the little brown dog. The little brown dog no doubt wishes it were so; woods are absolutely his favourite thing. The sticks for running around with! The rustly leaves for running through at top speed! The smells, oh the smells! Someone said to me the other day they'd like to have their dog's nose for a day and see (well, smell) exactly what it is that they can smell. A single spot can warrant a full two-minutes' sniffing. So much information to glean.
In the woods above Stroud we found a whole load of dogs exactly like the little brown dog only in different colours. Cream ones are pretty, but oh how they show the mud. Bertie can be top to tail mud and we can just ignore it.
Inside the house there has been a tiny bit of knitting, an even tinier bit of reading and the odd bit of baking.
I made Delia's banana and chocolate chip slices with some leftover bananas. They were a triumph. Well, the biggest boy loved them, which pretty much equates to the same thing inasmuch as it means they will all be eaten really quickly. I was happy to find a good recipe that uses up leftover bananas, quite often I'm not keen on banana things, but these were delicious. And probably the foundation of Norwich City's rise to greatness. (For those from faraway lands to whom the words Delia and Norwich City mean nothing: Delia is Delia Smith, one of the original tv chefs who pretty much taught the nation to cook and Norwich City is her football team.)
No more inside photos I'm afraid. There are no exquisite little magazine quality corners to photograph around here, it's mostly boots set out to dry and damp washing. I was going to post a picture of my dying desert rose plant and ask for suggestions, but as the rest of blogworld is all glitzy and pretty it just seemed too tragic to show. I've tried everything, but it's not happy. Any suggestions gratefully received. It might have started when I repotted it. Or when I took over ownership of it... Maybe it just misses the desert. The southwest UK is a long way from sub-Sarahan Africa. Anyway, I shan't give up until the fat lady sings.
I spent yesterday evening repairing a big rippy hole in the biggest boy's favourite coat. He made the mistake of carrying his skateboard up against it and the grip tape (sandpaper-type skateboard top) ate straight through it. The repair necessitated finding a ruler, of which there must be about fifteen in the house, I know because I KEEP BUYING THEM, but do you think I could find one? Where do they go???
Talking to the biggest boy while I mended, I discovered that some bloke I spent a day with last year on an eco thing we were doing is actually a sort of tv celebrity. I had no idea, thought he was just a normal person. But he was an actual real life celebrity! How did nobody tell me? I could have been all sorts of embarrassing if I'd known.
Off now to get to grips with the weekend. Because in December I find that's the best I can hope for. It will be a fast madness of end of term appointments and shindigs and football and of course dog walks. Maybe they are all that's keeping me sane.
Friday, 1 December 2017
And just like that it's December. The biggest boy and I had a first run-through of Ding Dong Merrily On High after tea. They'll probably have banished us to the garden by Sunday.
The dog is sweeping up fallen leaves with his long fur wherever he goes and then later gently shaking them off all over the carpet. He is scruffy and knotty and doesn't like being combed at all. Any suggestions on how I make him love it, or at least submit with good grace gratefully received.
The littlest boy is in trouble for poor presentation of his homework. Turquoise biro, masses of crossing out, backwards slanting writing and general chaos on the page. But he loves to write and write and write and will often knock up a quick story of an evening. So I am forgiving the turquoise biro shambles.
The biggest boy was looking up quotes from Much Ado About Nothing on the computer for his English homework. He put in Shakespeare and Google told him that Megan Markle is related to Shakespeare and Churchill. All the important stuff is out there.
The dog and the littlest boy are practically the same person, only one is a dog and one is a small boy. Both love sausages, both are fairly crazy and love running about madly, both get SO overexcited by lots of life's little things, both love dogs, both drive me bananas on a fairly regularly basis and both are obsessed with gloves. The littlest boy has asked for two pairs for Christmas, really grippy, which you may remember from a previous (many thanks for your suggestions about where such things might be found, I am on it) and running. Last year it was camouflage. And previously it has been goalie, cycling and skiing. We also have cricket and everyday warm. And extra cycling ones. They live in a basket in the hall, and the dog spends his days carrying them about and leaving them around the place. Honestly, never were boy and dog more suited.
Tuesday, 21 November 2017
Twinkly lights, cake, books, knitting, quilts, Moomin cookery and a warm puppy. Is that what hygge is? I'm never quite sure. The dog is snoozing on my boot. Sometimes his walk is so exciting he has to have a lie down as soon as he gets in. He found a fellow puppy to go mad with today. Sprinting through the fallen leaves at top speed, nothing better if you're a small dog.
Writing deadlines loom here, and I'm lightly panicky, which is how I operate best. In fact that's why I'm here writing this, instead of somewhere else writing something else - just pressurising myself into full anxiety mode, all the better for accomplishing stuff. Things were on track until a little light illness for a couple of the children, requiring Days Off School. We all know how productive it's possible to be with small people breathing down your neck.
Littlest boy (peering over my shoulder at the laptop screen): Why is it a blank page?
I also seem to spend hours walking the dog. Good for me etc. etc., but really very time consuming. If I slack off a bit he starts chewing the house. He is nicely worn out right now, but by tomorrow morning we will have to start all over again. Today I entertained myself by checking out the contents of people's recycling bins as I walked. Really, your whole life is laid bare out there is it not? All that red wine and two bottles of gin. In one week! Tesco Finest 7-nut granola, fancy. I'm not sure I could even name seven nuts. Unwashed ready-meal cartons. Slack, just slack. Oh, I'm terrible I know.
It's the Christmas lights switch-on this evening in our little town. Every single child is going it seems, and excitement levels are sky-high. Candy floss, a big wheel, street fair stalls, an unknown celebrity, shocking plastic light-up things and chips with cheese, it's all there. The littlest boy has already drafted his Christmas list and re-written it out nicely. It ends "From the goodest boy in the world. PS I would also like an orange in my stocking please." Requests include really grippy gloves and pistol. As in previous years, I persuaded him to leave off axe. He tried for a hatchet or a machete, honestly, I've no idea why. What is it he wants to chop??? Maybe that should be Who. The really grippy gloves have me stumped. He likes to free-run about the place, and I think that's what they're for, so that he can climb walls in the manner of Spiderman. But where on earth do you find really grippy children's gloves? Oh how I hope I won't fail him. The festive season is a lot of pressure, no?
Are we feeling it yet?
Sunday, 12 November 2017
It's chilly enough now that whenever I leave the sofa, a child or a dog slips in behind me and steals the warmth. Even more so if there's a hot water bottle. I have been ousted from the cosy spot I had and now I'm on a hard chair at the dining table. Fear not, I shall oust them back very shortly. The middle child and I got quite breathlessly excited about the idea of an electric blanket just now. John Lewis have one made from Alaskan Huskies. I don't think I shall buy it. More Stuff, you know how it is. I was reading an article today about how we should be happy with what we have and mend things. Mending is very big around here. Broken things are even bigger. I just discovered a broken lampshade in the middle boy's room from the last time he played dens with the littlest boy. Couldn't be too cross, I do like the simple happy games they play together.
Social media is making me anxious here. Not the being on it, more the idea of it and what it might be doing to children. I am being pressured and I am holding firm. Here are some of the things I have read this week, and without going looking for articles, they just fell into my view from one source and another:
Instagram was rated the worst platform for mental health and wellbeing in a survey of 1,479 young people. It has been associated with anxiety, depression, bullying and fear of missing out. Snapchat was fourth from the bottom, then Facebook. Twitter was second and Youtube was highest rated, and the only one felt to be positive overall.
In a study of 1,200 teens, half said they are addicted to their devices. 78% check them hourly. 72% feel they have to respond to texts and emails immediately. 52% felt they spend too long on their devices.
It is common to have more than one screen at any one time. Focus is a problem. Multi-tasking can't be done, it's a myth. The brain has to try and flit quickly from one thing to another. Empathy can be lacking, and some children are finding it harder to connect with each other offline.
A 2015 report found that 5-16 year olds spent an average of 6 and a half hours a day on various devices. For teenage boys it was an average of 8 hours.
Sean Park, co-founder of Facebook has said in an interview that it was designed to appeal to human weaknesses, compelling users to check for new messages, to seek likes, to respond to notifications. Brain hacking if you will.
A quote from him, "Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google ... produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long-term. Users fail to recognise the warning signs of addiction."
It scares me. It all scares me. I haven't come here to lecture or to rant, just to share what's been on my mind lately. I have my share of screentime. But I really want the children to have fun In Real Life.
Anyway, I hope that wasn't too heavy. Just what I'm mulling over right now. At the moment, books are being read here, trees are being climbed, life is being lived. I know things will change, but I'm hoping for a little more of the good stuff first. You know, childhood.
One final thing, John Lewis don't actually have an electric blanket made from Alaskan Huskies, I would hate to start something. It just looks like it is. I think.
Friday, 3 November 2017
Chilly autumn days are really here now aren't they? Everything is dripping in the mornings, including the dog by the time he's had his walk. I've spent happy hours wandering the lanes and by the streams around here with dog-owning friends and dog-owning new friends. A nice contrast to the busy time that is everything else. Somehow time slips away when I'm out walking him. Legitimate pootling.
I have a little website for my writing endeavours (daren't call it a business). It was horrible. I found a supposedly wonderful website builder thing and deleted the whole website so as to start again afresh. And then proceeded to spend two and a half days in absolute fury when I discovered that instead of being really simple it was actually ABSOLUTELY FLAMING IMPOSSIBLE. This afternoon I deleted the whole thing again. And then it all got worse and I couldn't find the right bit to start again and I got dangerously near the point of having to be certified. Then the biggest boy came home from school and offered to help. I told him he wouldn't understand it, it was a whole new, different thing and all sorts of tricksy. He had a go anyway. I wandered off to rock and hum to myself a bit. And lo and behold he has put together a couple of pages. Not exactly what I had in mind, but at least it is something and it has brought me back from the edge of madness. Do you think it's possible that the children might actually turn out to be useful? It hadn't occurred to me before, but I'm seeing all sorts of possibilities opening up now. The middle boy made something he was very proud of in Design Technology today, which has me wondering, could he knock me up some bookshelves? A coffee table? A new kitchen?
What I really need for the website are some delightful photos of me. An oxymoron, I know. I have asked the biggest boy to take pictures of me on a couple of occasions and they've been absolutely ghastly. I worked out what was wrong with them in the end, it was the daylight. Too much of it. So much in fact that my face was visible.
I also need to be photographed somewhere, I don't know, edgy. Or booky. Or at least not round the back of the garage which is where I usually go (plain pale wall, daylight, yada, yada, yada). Maybe in a cool café, looking clever while sipping a latte with something fancy on the top of it. Or in an antique book shop, frowning slightly while I study the pages of A Treatise of Human Nature. Or with my head thrown back in laughter as I chat to beautiful people at a conference of clever beautiful people. Obviously the real me will not do at all. Wellies, dog, boys, mud, frightening hair. This is not what people want to entrust their writing projects to at all. It must all be hidden, and a squeaky sanitised version scrubbed up for their delectation. So, that's why I don't have any suitable photos.
I do have rather an excellent one that the middle boy took of me. He has fish-eye on his camera and oh, we've had so much fun with it. We have laughed and laughed at the pictures he's taken. My personal favourite, which I think completely captures my essence, is below.
I have a sort of contented serenity about me don't you think? Eyes closed, clearly in the zone. Practically a poster child for mindfulness. If I don't get to have a decorative latte in an artisan café this weekend I shall almost certainly use it on my landing page.
Wishing all a good weekend. CJ xx
PS I could have made it bigger, but you know, enough is probably enough.
Friday, 27 October 2017
Half term has flown by in a flurry of little trips, constant dog walks and attempts by me to write something I need to get done by the end of the month. It hasn't been hugely successful. The littlest boy helped me along today by reading jokes from his book of 1001 Really Stupid Jokes while I worked. I keep hiding it, but it keeps turning up again.
Him: How does Dracula keep fit?
Me: No idea.
Him: He plays batminton.
Me: (After a tired pause) Brilliant.
Him: What were the only creatures not to go into the ark in pairs?
Me: Don't know but can you read them in your head, I'm trying to work.
Him: Maggots. They went in in an apple.
Mum, what's a skeleton's favourite instrument?
Me: Shssh now, let me concentrate.
Him: Okay, just do this one.
Me: I don't know, what is a skeleton's favourite instrument?
Him: A trombone. What kind of snake is useful on a window?
Me: CAN YOU PLEASE BE QUIET, I CAN'T HEAR MYSELF THINK.
Him: A viper! Did you hear about the skeleton who was attacked by a dog? It left him without a leg to stand on.
I gave up. You can't fight that level of ridiculousness.
We squeezed in a quick puppy groom yesterday. The pup needed his chin and eyebrows trimmed. He emerged looking like a cloud. Half an hour running round the park with a spaniel soon sorted that out. I don't really mind though, there's something very satisfying about seeing a dog running round madly with a new chum. He found a (mostly) empty can of strong lager on his walk this morning and galloped about with that a bit. That wasn't as good, I could see the lager flying out onto his newly fluffed coat.
Has anyone ever seen a school shirt looking like this before?
I have a feeling it may be a new world record. The littlest boy tried very hard to sneak it in without anyone noticing. Harder than he expected I think. He claims to have fallen over.
I am thinking about knitting a cowl in moss stitch. Madness? I fear it may be. In fact I think I started one before and unpicked it in fury after two rows.
There was a goldcrest in my fridge earlier. The biggest boy found it on a bike ride yesterday and brought it home in an enormous carrier bag. He wanted to do a post-mortem drawing of it. I popped it into an empty ice-cream tub under the apple turnovers.
It's an amazing little bird, so tiny. A picture, if you can bear it, showing its little yellow crest.
I am off to do a little more beavering away at the writing job now. Wishing all a good weekend. We will be puppy training and playing football as usual. And in between I will be constantly vacuuming up chewed up sticks and washing mud out of things. Honestly, it's never ending no? I dream of a weekend alone somewhere, wandering, writing, reading, soaking up the peace and quiet. If I close my eyes I can picture it all. Of course I would spent the time worrying about what was happening in my absence. Chaos and mutiny. I can picture that as well and pretty vividly.
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
The little brown dog is tired tonight. A full weekend with boys and outdoor adventuring has taken it out of him. We took him out to a dog-friendly pub to eat with us yesterday. Well, we were eating, he was supposed to be sitting nicely under the table. He didn't do badly; I had visions of him leaping onto tables sending plates flying, but he managed not to cause any catastrophe. That's my main objective most days to be honest. No catastrophes. Maybe I should aim higher.
Well, that's as far as I got with this post on Sunday. Yesterday I thought of things to write. Today they have evaporated into the ether. I must write things down when they occur to me. If you blog, do you plan things, or just turn up and write? I'm more of a turn up and write person, but it would help if I could remember things.
I had a conversation with the littlest boy after school yesterday.
Him: Our teacher was off today.
Me: Is he ill?
Him: Tummy bug.
Me: Poor him, that's no fun. Make sure there's lot of hygiene mind, if there are bugs going round. Lots of hand washing.
Him: There are no bugs going round. He ate too many sweets at the school disco, that's what I think.
Poor man. By age 9 the children are starting to get a little chopsy I think.