Know what you know...

posted on: Saturday, 3 December 2016

What a sporadic blogger I have become.

We went to Marrakesh a few weeks back for a husband-and-wife break; you know that thing you always think you should do, but barely get round to? The logistics of leaving the children for a few days becomes mind-numbing but with help we did it and grabbed four days together in Morocco. It was unlike anywhere I have been, a riot of colour and activity. We stayed in an oasis of a hotel right in the heart of the Medina and lounged around by the rooftop pool and I marvelled at the fact that there was sun and palm trees (!) and I had him with me. It was such a treat. Modern life has conspired against us and his absence has become the norm due to his job. We got time to simply be.


Meanwhile I returned home to a well-established midwinter and the prospect of Christmas. I go into denial I must admit, the sheer organisational planning that is required and of course the commercialism gets me every time. I write this every year. I then decide I have to just get on board the proverbial 'Polar Express' and go with it. I CAN hear the bells.

I've started running again; I always did love running this time of year. Early morning frost and crisp air, there is nothing like it. And there is no question that running - if joints allow - makes me fitter than anything else. I ache now though, seems that running at 42 is harder than it used to be at 32 when I first started.

It was a year ago now that we moved back into our house after the mammoth never-ending house build. That suggests that we are well past it but actually in some ways the build process lingers; there's still a bag of sand in our driveway and the decorators were only here last week finishing off. It seems to go on and I am still seeing things that need doing. We have lost steam though for sure. Living here is a pleasure and I count myself lucky all the time that we renovated this house and had the bravery to stick with it, complete with glass wall on a four hundred year old house. Trust your gut.

Last week there seemed to be an unrelenting need for me to find a velvet blazer; as if the absence of one in my life has been a long-held misdemeanour. After a Black Friday frenzy - when really I should have been buying gifts - I found one and it now languishes waiting for a Christmas outing. This is all because when I heard Alexandra Shulman interviewed about being editor of British Vogue she said if there is one thing you should have it's a velvet blazer. In fact I think she said invest in, if there's one thing to invest in - that is it. Tick tick.

The book is back to being the front and centre of my life - in fact my brain is reeling from the editing process. The elation of finishing the first draft has been replaced with the fright of taking that draft and making it better. It requires a particular kind of foolhardiness that I don't always possess so I am trying, not always successfully, to work. No one said it would be easy. If it was easy everyone else would do it. And so on.

Otherwise life is a string of repeated daily events, school run, house, dog, words, writing, thoughts, laundry, cooking, it goes down to the lowest denominator when the sky gets dark at 4.30pm each afternoon and we are thrown into night again. I find this time of year hard and wonder how it could ever have been light enough and warm enough to just head outside in the evenings.

It's our wedding anniversary this Sunday - which will be noted with rugby training for our son and cooking a family roast dinner (rock and roll). When we wed it was weather like this; crisp cold days and early darkness that allowed for a candlelit wedding. It makes me smile still to think of it.

Happy days.



Talk clever to me...

posted on: Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Throwback nearly twenty years and I was in my early twenties and I had joined the company that I spent most of my (first) career with. I'd dabbled in publishing for a few years prior and realised I would never make any money nor write my book at the same time, so you could say I sold out to the corporate dollar. I joined a massive multinational household name company.


So it's maybe month two in to my new job, I have got to grips with the commute and the coffee machine, I am overwhelmed by the enormity of everything and how much there is to learn and how much money the company are making; no doubt, there's a buzz. There's a feeling I am part of something. They heap on responsibility early because I am keen and fresh and smart. I wear suits and feel clever in a way that I never have before: look at me I have a proper job.

So I am sitting in the corporate auditorium awaiting what was called a 'cascade' which is basically where the bosses bosses boss comes to tell you what the strategy is going to be and how we are all going to pull towards it in an inextricable force. I sit there, it's 1998 and think: I have arrived. A parade of executives stand up in front of us and talk, with very few prompts about the amazing stuff the company is doing. Occasionally a woman stands up. Women in senior positions were rare but the few were impressive. I was hooked, they seemed so different to the college lecturers I had at University. They wore expensive clothes and had fine leather briefcases and they were as good - actually better - than the men. They were funny and sharp and as my time there extended I had the privilege of working with many.

Writing a book was the farthest thing from my mind! I wrote emails and technical documents instead. In fact most of the people there were super-bright and it became my norm to sit next to contemporaries in meetings and feel the intellect spilling from them. People were paid to think about stuff and to work things out and interpret everything over and over. For a time it was great. Then life got complicated (husband, kids, home) and the company soured (cuts, failing results, clever people leaving to go somewhere where they are appreciated).

So fast forward fifteen years and I found myself struggling. As this blog is a testament to, it's possible to literally chart over time my struggles from dynamic working mother to slightly beaten, not-very-well working mother. And so I stopped and took some time out. Then I left completely. Then I dabbled and tried to work out what the hell I should do with my life - I like to refer to this time as 'The Wilderness Years'. Then I started a Masters in Creative Writing and here I am, a year in, a draft of my first novel done, edits pending.

Funny how it goes.

When I first stopped working the thing I missed the most was being around clever people. That's not to say there aren't some seriously clever people dotted around on the school run or on line but I noticed I didn't so often get dazzled by an erudite argument or a searing point. Clever, it seemed, did not find its place in my everyday. Or if it did it lurked and was hidden by its prevalent counterpart. Banality. Lots of banal conversation, more than I knew what to do with.

I started listening to Women's Hour - it's a British institution and without its pod casts I would be lost. There is nothing like it. Every episode is steeped in clever and most of all I like it when a clever woman talks about what she knows and I can sit back and listen and marvel. I have found it's much the same returning to further education. Academia is full of clever people and where I am studying now is no exception. I figure the best possible outcome would be to finish my Masters and therefore  my book, get it published, then be interviewed on Women's Hour...wouldn't that be nice?!!


The advisory...

posted on: Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Everyone is full of advice. I am, we all are. At college we were discussing protocols for working in our tutor group and the question was asked: are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak? I thought about this; I fear I am a culprit. I am listening, for sure, but I hear myself interrupting people to speak. I wonder if this is a housewife thing? The dog doesn't talk so I am in silence a fair amount of the time. I want to say something.

Isn't that what blogging is about? Having something to say?


I formulate a whole raft of theories about raising teenagers. Now that I have one I secretly consider myself expert. I narrowed it down. My most pertinent piece of advice is this: eat dinners with them. That's it. I would say that has been the single most crucial thing I have done as a parent since I have had a teen in the house.

I used to cook two meals; one for them and one for us later on. I then gradually realised that this sort of segregated eating pattern was odd - not to mention the tedium of cooking two meals, two times loading the dishwasher etc. I read that in a survey of happy and successful women the common denominator they reported was having experienced home-cooked family meals each night when growing up. At the time I read that I was working and had been known to give my kids porridge for dinner with chunks of apple as sprinkles. I thought to myself, it's time to do better. I have written about this before but honestly I, like many others, didn't really know how to cook. I could make a meal, sure, but I was not a culinary expert. Having children made me into one. Now people ask for my recipes. Now I hear my daughter's friends referring to meals I have made.  Now I cook for dinner parties like a real grown up. This makes me smile. Look how far I have come.

I cook meals for everyone every night. We have all sorts and sometimes it's a really eclectic mix of ingredients - a staple in our house is [add name of any vegetable] topped with finely chopped red onions and drizzled with sea salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar glaze. Can I just say balsamic vinegar glaze has rocked my world?

At these nightly meals we talk - and if conversation is not forthcoming then I ask what was the best thing in their day. They know we sit for at least half an hour and talk, food is served on the table, they help themselves and there are always two or three choices of side dishes. I don't plate it up for them. This means they linger and we talk and in that time span we get family time. I also get a captive audience in which to talk about the hard stuff. The things that I think are important. Increasingly I come to the conclusion that raising healthy kids (and by this I don't mean vegetable consumption I mean what's in their heads) is all about giving them a secure base on which to make decisions. This secure base can only come from reiteration and having boundaries and on making sure that they know they have room to breath but also that the buck stops somewhere. It's in these daily instalments that I can drip-feed all of the wisdom and sense that we might have accrued and they can make their own (better) choices from it. So there is it. Cook and eat and talk.

Spookily on my other wisdom about raising teens, I received an email from a very nice woman I met on corporate trip I attended with my husband. Turned out she had stumbled across an article I had written for Selfish Mother and contacted me to say: 'Is that you?' I said 'Yes! Oh and I'm writing a book if you like what I write!' All very cool.

Meanwhile, at the hairdresser today I was advised to go more blonde.

And at yoga I was advised that I was using my extremities to do too much of the work in my postures and I must use my core.

I'm sure that if my dog could speak he would advise me that rolling in fox shit is indeed a good idea and that is why he so regularly does it.

By the way, there is actually some great advice here from my friend Amanda on blogging and business.

And more than anything I advise myself to stop looking at clothes on line and to do something more useful like finish my college work. So that's what I should do...



I.O.U...

posted on: Friday, 21 October 2016

I inadvertently took a month off blogging. Various reasons for this but it was prompted by my return to college last month. Turns out the fact that I finished my first draft shifts me along. I have become someone who might have a book to publish. Suddenly the draft feels like a commodity, something that could actually BE something rather than just a password-protected file on my laptop. I came out of my three day sequential reeling with the enormity of this and the excitement of being back in the academic sphere. I love the academics; turns out I am geek. I just want to read books and talk about books and write books. But then there is this other side of becoming a writer (does one become a writer is one always a writer??) and that is the public brand.


Let's say I get published (wooahhh!!); I will have to come clean about who I am. I will have to say 'I wrote this' and take all those reviews on Amazon from Book Club readers who loved it or...deep breath...felt they couldn't relate to the characters or that the plot was implausible. Equally in more heady moments I imagine being interviewed on 'Women's Hour' and discussing the themes of my book and my depiction of women and girls, for example. Awesome with a capital A.

Like anything, it's taking the rough with the smooth and I am well aware I might just be getting ahead of myself here; all I've done is written a little old draft. Publishers might run a mile. Or they might not.

And then there is the blog. This old blog has propped me up like a mental crutch year after year. This funny place of friends I've never met and words I just have to write and pictures of beautiful things that frankly don't truly represent real life! The escapism of it! I have always been fiercely protective of this place and of my identity within it. It's public but not public if you know what I mean.

There is this interesting little trickle of people I met on line who have now shifted across from the blog medium to more intimate mediums and I am friends with them on Facebook or Instagram. Our lives spill over from anonymous to well-known but if I passed them in the street we might not even know it. A modern phenomena. I look back on the blog posts I have written over the years and see they range from the sublime to the ridiculous; I have shared a whole lot of random stuff and have dallied in many a niche; fashion, interiors, motherhood, careers, beauty, writing, you name it...

So with all this in mind I suppose I got stage fright and just stayed away for a while trying to work it all out. Then eventually what happened was that I started to miss the mental download and worried that I owed you a word or two, that there might be someone out in the ether, anon or known, who was wondering: where the hell has Lou gone?!

So I am here.

It's October, I am succumbing to the sartorial demands of the British winter; jeans, boots, jumpers, scarves. All individuality sapped by the need to stay warm. I wore a silk scarf yesterday tied jauntily round my neck and my son said in all seriousness: 'why are you wearing a handkerchief round your neck?' I replied that I had seen it on Pinterest. This was lost on him. I long to break out of the jeans/jumper Muggles uniform. I've written about it many time before but it bites the most right now.


This time last year we were living elsewhere and our house was uninhabitable. Now it's all done and a friend came last week and commented that it seemed 'lived in' now. I think this was mostly to do with how my desk in our kitchen is covered in propped up pictures of Floridian sunsets and palm trees, sand dollars and sea glass. I notice that I like to surround myself with such items and images, it helps me weather the weather. I was born to be in the sun.

I cut my hair shorter; dare I say too short? Perilously close to housewife hair. But I am persevering. Pinterest has a lot to answer for.

Life gathers pace, sport fixtures dominate. My husband and I are stealing a few days away next month to go to Marrakesh. I am supremely excited about this having never been. We also snagged Glastonbury tickets for next year so I can report that my midlife crisis is alive and well. Christmas starts to loom on the horizon and I have to face up to the commercial extravaganza that it is, with glimpses of family goodness thrown in.

So back to this blog. I think I am going to have to reinvent it, rename it, remake it and somehow get comfortable with it again. But for now I just wanted to say 'hi'...

How you doing?


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