And in the beginning there was...

posted on: Thursday, 9 February 2017

Yesterday I went to a blogging workshop; my first ever. I have written a blog for over seven years and there I was, sitting around a table of contemporaries, talking about this strange thing I do when the thoughts in my head overspill. Blogs are such interesting things. For those of us who did it way back when (as I find those who read blogs tend to write blogs) there's a nostalgia; pre-Instagram, pre-Pinterest, when a blogpost could illicit seventy comments and there were blog awards and guest bloggers and a rarefied few who had 'made it' but an underbelly of many who hadn't. There was much forward-thinking. Blogging is a release for people who have something they want to say. And as terrifying at that is, launching your thoughts out in to the ether, it's been a rewarding and fascinating 'journey'. The word 'journey' was used a lot yesterday.

My friend Amanda took the session, along with the founder of the beautiful boutique 'Hero', Laura. It's Laura's brainchild and I have to say she's entrepreneurial in an admirable way. In the same day I chatted over text my other blog friend Simone and then in the evening messaged my other American friend Robin to talk dresses and politics. Then woke this morning to a message from my Australian friend Sophie (who incidentally also mentored my daughter in photography, long distance) suggesting a place where I could do some book research about houseboats! None of these women would be in my life had I not written a blog, so I think that is amazing and humbling. The world can be a small place. It's a modern phenomenon.

Yesterday I found myself describing how my blog had historically been something I have kept hidden from people in my 'real' life; it seemed to me that there was something about it that I wanted kept back, so I never publicised it. I never monetised it. I just wrote it. And then that portfolio of work became what I used to get onto my Masters degree; I had years and years worth of 'diary' entries to submit. Albeit a slightly quirky hybrid of my inner thoughts, theories, fascinations along with occasional doses of shopping guilt, home renovations, parental challenges, teenagers and most of the preoccupations that face a British 42 year old woman. I suppose the point is you never know where things might lead you.

One element I thought was interesting, when we analysed it, was that the quality we liked most in a blog was honesty; the absence of an agenda. A certain self-deprecation. This is my life, read about it if you like, if not move on to the next, no commitment necessary. The same applies surely to all methods by which we absorb information.  The media, friends, relatives, books, TV - we want an authenticity to it that feels hard to find. People don't say what they really think. The beauty of writing an anonymous blog is you can say what you think, so I generally do, tempered with some pretty pictures. And don't even get me started on what a 'flat-lay' is!

Of course there are exceptions and of course there is a degree of scorn, there are those who judge and belittle it as an activity. I remember my friend Mary telling me that someone had (rather offensively) described her blog as a 'little hobby' or such like. Infuriating! It is a little hobby but it can also be so much more. Judge at your peril but what I see is a group of diverse women making their way, thinking about stuff, getting things done, influencing habits, proliferating good.

Long may it last.

image via the elgin avenue


posted on: Thursday, 2 February 2017

There's a delinquency in me; I can't blog as often as many. I ponder this as I drive my kids to school every morning and think: I will write a blog today. And then the day takes hold and I do all sorts of other writing - college, admin, endless Whatsapp to my buddies, writing in my head when I walk the dog and then I find that none of these are blog-related. Sigh.

These are testing times, winter is getting me down and there's so much on. I lament the decisions we've made about sending our children to challenging schools that challenge them (and me) and wonder if I should opt out and move everyone to the Outer Hebrides to live on samphire. I love the word samphire. If I ever see it on a menu I order it. Likewise with creamed spinach (Popeye-style).

The world seems to have gone mad and I have to steel myself to read the news. There's nowhere to take comfort, even the protesting that is going on, the amazing solidarity that has emerged between like-minded groups, even that has a desperation to it that I find hard to absorb. It feels like a time of huge uncertainty, unprecedented almost. Then I think how silly that sounds, think of the people who lived through World Wars. I am sure it's not unprecedented at all, I suspect I was just not part of the group who previously didn't like the status quo.

I was ill for a few weeks in January and it's taken a long time to get back into things. I went for a run today for the first time since before Christmas and that felt good, although it won't tomorrow. My muscles are already in revolt. Residual fitness is low.

I've discovered yoghurt that is made from coconut. This I like.

I bought a new hat.

I have an unhealthy interest in the clothes and hair of Anine Bing. (See above)

I long for palm trees. It's drab here.

But...the future beckons and from a work perspective it looks good. I'm getting my head around what I have to do to finish my degree this summer and the book is coming along, editing, editing, morphing it into something that will be publishable. It's slow-going and I am conscious that if I talk about it too much here then readers might be thinking: come on, you've been talking about this book for years. If you're interested in my writing process then there is an instagram account that you might like. Come have a look...

I got overzealous on the JCrew website and now I am shamefacedly waiting for the delivery man with a box.

Days turn to night and we snuggle up, waiting until Spring comes. Hurry up please.

Two thousand and seventeen...

posted on: Friday, 6 January 2017

I welcomed the new year in the French Alps, eating the obscure menu of a French banquet which included a steak which I am sure never saw the heat of the pan; the French like it rare. Do I like it rare? Less so, but we embraced the experience. New year in the mountains is a thought-provoking thing, I find myself pensive now that we are back.

Christmas was a storm of jolly activity. I received one of the best ever gifts from my brother; a pure white ceramic pineapple. I heart it. We ended up hosting both sides of the family and had, in amongst this, booked two trips to London so there was shuttling back and forth in the days that followed the festivities. I was so ready to go away. Skiing, though not my best ever thing is a curious convergence of stamina and beauty. I still believe that unless you are a very good skier it remains a pursuit that requires Herculean effort and yomp; getting up the mountain, all the kit, those stupid boots, ski lifts and mountain conditions, the snow (or no snow!) then that sublime shoop down, all over so quickly. I find that it has the same affect on me as yoga though, I concentrate so hard that I can think of little else and the result is that my mind clears for a few days. Coming home and it's filled up again and now my inner monologue wails plaintively: I have so much to do! Then followed by: what shall I do? The indecision of my life troubles me. I am sure that busy and indecisive are the worst bed fellows. And don't get me started on the cheese fest that went on in the Alps. I ate so much cheese in so many forms I could now leave it for another year.

So here we are again.

I face January with the knowledge that I need step it up in my work, this Masters degree is not going complete itself. There are plans buzzing around my mind about what I might do afterwards and whether I can get this book published. As the edit evolves there is a darkness to the novel that I hadn't anticipated. I hadn't planned on writing a dark book, but dark it is. I find this interesting. Whenever I write the blog there is a conscience on my shoulder saying make it light and breezy. No one wants to see the dark places of your mind. Yet whenever I have shared the shadows here I get the biggest response from readers. Isn't that so very human? We like the darkness, that is what pulls us in, but we want it presented in a fictional form so that we can re-enter the light when we need to. I have written the book about life and marriage and parenthood yes, but also about those nuances of human interaction, the inner thoughts we have - at least that I (my characters) have. It's not me of course, but it comes from me if you see what I mean.

People often say they have a book in them. I suspect we all do. But getting it out is not for the faint-hearted and that is why relatively few make the transition from mind to paper. I consider whether I could have managed it without the academics to back me up. For re-entering the academic world has reminded me of where I started; by learning. To learn is to open the mind. To study is to immerse. Both of these disciplines have helped me unlock the book in me. So I continue to toil away, even though the editing process is so much damn harder than the writing process of last year. To edit is to make it better, to make it perfect. Therein lies the problem; it never feels good enough. So I adopt what I used to do in my previous profession and to some extent with this blog. I press 'send' and hope for the best. I have to have faith it's good enough.

On a more binary level it's midwinter, I am swathed in wool and daily I long for my palm trees and the sun. Where is the sun?! School is still not back so my children are in the holiday stupor of sleeping in and asking for/eating shit food and we all go along until the next milestone of the term starting next week. My daughter is revising, it's exam year this year. To study is to immerse. Do you see the theme?!

I am trying to resist the sales, to turn my back on the emails that come each day promising further reductions. What I want to do is to buy all those bits I have had my eye on all season but couldn't afford but what I am instead do is talk myself out of it and wish I'd saved some money. Story of my shopping life. I am, it seems, the person who buys full-price at the start. Oh well...

Lovely to pop in here, speak soon...

And so this is Christmas...

posted on: Wednesday, 21 December 2016

I go through the mental processes;

Really ought to do my editing.
Really ought  to do the ironing.
Really ought to sort some social arrangements for January (the no-man's land of the social calendar)
Really ought to call my Dad/that old friend/that colleague I haven't seen.
Really ought to do a face pack/heel treatment/manicure.
Really ought to wrap those presents.
Really ought to get tablecloths ready for Christmas.
Really ought to spend time with my son and get him away from that bloody screen.
Really ought to read that book on writing fiction.
Really ought to write my critical essay.
Really ought to catch up on pod casts.
Really ought to get that picture framed.
Really ought to clear that cupboard.
Really ought to write the blog.
Really ought to book those theatre tickets.
Really ought to look into next summer, post-exams (when Boo has three months off!)

And on and on it goes. And on.

A never-ending loop of stuff that needs doing. Or doesn't; depending on how you look at it. This time of year seems to lend itself to feeling ever so slightly overwhelmed. Today is the winter solstice and I can't tell you how much I need the darkness to break. There is something about it getting dark at 4pm that makes the day seem so short, to-do lists pale into insignificance as I face the evenings. Christmas, no matter how hard I try, takes on momentous proportion, simply the logistics alone. But the traditions and the love take over the closer we get and I realise that this rigmarole is all part of it. That is what makes the new year seem sweeter, the chance to clear the decks and start fresh.

This year has been a year of finding out. Lots of the facets of life that I was unsure about have started to reveal themselves. This is what it is really like to be back in academia after 20 years. This is what it is really like to have a teenager who you drop at parties on Saturday nights and collect at midnight wondering where your social life went. This is what it is like for my husband's job to take on such heights that we have to literally schedule time to discuss basic stuff like kids and holidays and home. I oscillate between feeling empowered and feeling that I am the opposite of empowered but instead beholden - beholden to the changes that life brings and to the distinct feeling of harried middle age that can descend when you are in your forties.

As you know I think a lot about age, ageing, not wrinkles exactly - although I can report they do feature - but the metamorphosis of life from being young and with all of your choices ahead of you and being older and realising most of those choices have been made. Not all, but many. It's a curious thing. Mostly life-affirming but also terrifying and like a metronome going too fast.

The result? In avoidance, I spend far too much on Pinterest coveting a life/wardrobe/organised larder. I spend far too much time deciding just how much of myself I give over to the good of my family. I spend far too much time planning trips away and holidays as without those - well, I suspect we might be sunk. But most of all I spend as much time as I can inserting a feeling of gratefulness for what I have the opportunity to be and do. Lucky girl.

Oftentimes I revert to this strange little blog, which hits its seventh birthday in a matter of weeks. Like some sort of homing pigeon I come back to it, to check in and imagine I-am-not-sure-who is reading and following along. I still can't envisage a time I would give it up, although it is likely to change its clothes next year and shed the old name and style. But the essence will be the same. Honest and quirky and somewhat haphazard.

Thank you for joining me. Happy Christmas.