Everlasting January

Every year. Every year it gets me. Every year I am frankly smug at the beginning of January. We’ve had a lovely Christmas, but now it’s time to get back to real life, new year, new goals, new excitement, new challenges. Ok, so it’s cold now, but come on people, spring is just around the corner. Fast forward three weeks (Or three years? Who knows?) and I’m just over it. Over the freezing cold, the (still) dark mornings, the (still) dark evenings. The fact that a child’s request to go to the playground fills me with horror, so we either have over-energised children bouncing off the walls inside, or I go and spend 30 minutes freezing the very marrow of my bones so they can run some of it off.

There’s been a lot going on this January as well, which makes it feel longer I think. Some of it has been pretty rubbish. My husband’s office was broken into not once, not twice, but three times in the space of a week, and the police didn’t seem even remotely bothered. Running a start-up can be stressful enough at the best of times, and having three lots of computers stolen, three lots of replacement doors and locks to organise and pay for, three lots of reports to make to police officers who don’t even have the time/inclination to see you in person, three lots of insurance reports to file doesn’t exactly decrease that stress. Luckily he has a fantastic team, and they all really pulled together and kept on with business as usual, but I found it quite frightening to see just how deep the cuts to policing have bitten.

I have been having a flare-up of my ankylosing spondylitis which hasn’t been much fun. Looking back, it is something which often seems to happen in January. I don’t know if it’s eating a lot more red meat and sugary food over Christmas, or the hard work that goes into creating a lovely family Christmas, or just the cold weather, which always seems a bit of a trigger for me. Either way I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself with a sore foot (plantar fasciitis, which is very common with AS) and really bone-aching fatigue. One week I basically spent all the time my youngest was at nursery lying on the sofa to try and conserve energy for when I collected her, and subsequently I have felt much better than that, but still having to be very careful to manage my energy levels as even quite a normal level of exertion can wipe me out.

We saw an optometrist about my eldest’s eyes, as she is having problems with her distance vision which is not corrected by appropriate lenses. One possibility is that she has Irlen’s Syndrome (sometimes called Visual Stress Disorder), which is a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information, rather than an issue with the eyes themselves. It isn’t the same as dyslexia, although around 50% of people with dyslexia are thought to be affected, and it can cause blurred vision, or the words to seem to move around the page. It seems likely that she is affected by that to some degree, but equally not all her symptoms are explained by this, so we are now awaiting an ophthalmologist appointment for further tests, which is all a bit worrying.

And then just a few days ago my poor Henry Cat was attacked by a vicious marauding cat in our garden, and has a nasty bite on his ear, which needed a hasty trip to the vets and now some antibiotics.

poorly henry

So all in all, nothing awful, but a bit of a feeling that things are rather relentless. However, in between all this, we have also been making the most of January with a positive whirl of social and cultural activity!

Our Christmas present to our 9 year old was tickets to see Matilda, the hit West End musical. my MIL had agreed to look after the 4 year old, and we went to see a matinee on Saturday, followed by a ‘grown-up’ dinner out. I had read really good reviews, and my little book-worm daughter adored the original Roald Dahl story, so I thought we were probably onto a good thing, but I was taken aback by how absolutely amazing it was. It was very well adapted, and the script, music, lyrics and choreography worked so beautifully together that it was an absolute sensory delight. I’d go again in a heartbeat.

matilda 1

My MIL had also decided to give ‘experience’ gifts this Christmas – tickets to a comedy show for my husband, and for a live cinema screening of the National Theatre’s Richard II for me. Coincidentally these were on consecutive nights just a couple of days after we saw Matilda! We saw James Acaster performing a brilliant one-man show in the West End, and then the next night had a complete contrast with some Shakespeare. Being somewhat (ok, totally) out of touch, I’d never heard of James Acaster, but he was absolutely hilarious. And as most of his show related to either Brexit or Bake-Off it was almost uncannily appropriate for us. Richard II was one of the plays I studied for A-level, and I don’t think you ever get to know any text quite like your A-level ones, so I have very strong opinions on Richard, and I wasn’t totally sure about this production. Simon Russell Beale was magnificent as Richard, and the language and themes are so powerful, poignant, thought-proving and relevant that it’s hard to go far wrong. However, I didn’t love the production which was based around the conceit of all the characters being continually shut up together in the same windowless room, in very simple modern costume. As many of the characters also doubled up it had the slightly disconcerting feeling of a GCSE Drama production in the school sports hall.

We also went as a family to see an exhibition at the British Library called Cats on the Page; which was a quirky and sweet look at the role of the cats in literature, both for adults and children. I love cats, and of course I love books, and some of my children’s favourite books – Slinky Malinki, Tabby McTat, Mog,Gobbolino, Atticus Claw, TS Eliot’s Cat poems – have featured feline protagonists that it was equally enjoyable for all of us.

cats on the page

Less cultural, but we also had an impromptu snowball fight in the street one bedtime, when the snow started falling thick and fast at about 6.30pm and miraculously settled. I decided trying to put them to bed under those circumstances was like holding the tide back, and most of my neighbours clearly thought the same as the front doors all opened and streams of excited children poured out. I’m so glad I was spontaneous as it was pretty much melted by the next morning. Which is pretty much my ideal snow – come quickly, look pretty, allow some rosy-cheeked, wholesome making of childhood memories, go again before getting grey/slushy/icy/necessitating days off school!

snow fight

We’ve also had friends we haven’t seen for ages over for dinner, and I had a lovely catch-up brunch on the South Bank with two friends from university last week, so there has definitely been more good than bad.

I’ve also treated myself to a great selection of new books with some Christmas money I got, so I’m doing well with my 2019 reading challenge so far, and will be reporting back on January’s choices at the end of the week.

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Fourteenth Day of Advent: Henry Cat

I had wanted a pet ever since our dog died when I was about nine, but first parents and then husband weren’t keen. The mouse infestation proved the incentive husband needed to change his mind, and just over two years ago we adopted kittens, Henry and Percy. kittens1

From the start they were very different characters. Percy was an escape artist – as a tiny kitten, before he had had his vaccinations and was allowed outside, he managed to climb out of the bathroom window which I had left open a fraction, and scramble down the drain pipe. As soon as he was allowed out he would spend most of the day away from home, hunting and exploring. Then maybe two or three days at a time. Then he would only come home if it was raining. And for the last few months he hasn’t been home at all. I assume he is getting fed elsewhere, or has just adopted a totally feral lifestyle. We’ve done all the usual things to try and trace him, and he is microchipped, but to no avail. I just don’t think he was suited to a domestic cat lifestyle.

henry 1His brother Henry, by contrast, seems to think he is a dog. Certainly no-one has ever told him that cats are supposed to be independent. He is the most home-loving cat you can imagine. He isn’t supposed to go in the bedrooms as husband is slightly allergic to cats, and so I don’t want fur all over the beds. One evening when I was out, husband had gone into the bedroom and started ironing shirts. Henry miaowed outside the door for a while, cross at being left alone, but then subsided. A few minutes later he felt claws on his shoulder and a satisfied purring in his ear. Henry had gone downstairs, out of the catflap at the back, climbed over the wall and then up the drain pipe and in at the open bedroom window because he really didn’t like being left on his own.

If we go out at a time he wasn’t expecting we always come home to find him sitting in the hall waiting for us. henry 2

He is incredibly gentle and loving with Sophia, for which I am extremely grateful, and submits to all sorts of affectionately meant abuse. In fact he seems to welcome it, because he is well able to climb out of her way but rarely chooses too.

He tolerates his veterinary-approved, eye-wateringly expensive dry cat food, but his true love is Whiskas Chunks in Jelly. Opening a pouch of that brings him at a sprint from any corner of the house. He turns his little nose up at fresh chicken, salmon or sardines. He’s not even that partial t milk or cream. But Whiskas is his opium. He really should be on a TV advert for it.

He is satisfyingly cuddly, sometimes overly affectionate if I am trying to type or eat, and he is equally determined that all my attention should be firmly on him. If I have Anna on my knee for a story he will try and insinuate himself between us. He does henry 3relaxed and somnolent like you wouldn’t believe, and just watching him sleep can relax me.

The kittens came to live with us just after Anna started school, and the timing was incredibly fortuitous. At that point I’d had several miscarriages, and then had some tests which seemed to show it was unlikely I would ever be able to carry a healthy baby to term. My deep longing for a second baby seemed doomed to remain unfulfilled, and the house suddenly very empty with Anna out of it for six hours each day. The kittens, especially Henry, brought some life and warmth and cuddles when I most needed them, and they needed me which washenry4 hugely helpful.

I am a little sad that Percy has chosen not to live with us, but trying to make a fireside cat out of him always felt slightly like trying to keep a robin in a cage. But Henry is the most loved and loving of domestic cats, and I am so happy we have him.

The delights of being cosy

It’s now quarter to two in the afternoon, and hasn’t yet got properly light today. There’s been a constant drizzly rain and, according to my friends on the BBC Weather page, the temperature isn’t going to get above 5 degrees. This is a day when I am very glad to be able to stay indoors the entire time, with the exception of a couple of brief school-run forays.
fireplace

In a way I’m quite pleased that the weather has taken a turn for the worse. I’m about to give birth, so I don’t want any dramatically bad weather thank you very much; snow drifts, freezing fog and black ice can all stay well away, but the unnaturally warm weather we’ve had recently seems, well, unnatural. It feels like we’ve been cheated out of autumn really. There haven’t been any crisp frosty mornings, or excuses to scurry home quickly and curl up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate (although I might have done this anyway). I haven’t even been upset that my enormous baby bump stops me fitting into my favourite jumpers, because I haven’t needed them.

The weather today, though, isn’t the kind that invites you to wrap up warm and go for a long invigorating walk. On the contrary, it positively begs you to get home, shut the door and ignore the world outside. I had a fairly long and boring list of jobs for today, luckily all home based, and I’ve been working my way through them whilst also indulging myself with some cosy, feel-good moments as well. So far these have included:

1) A long, long cuddle with one of the cats. Henry Catten is a confirmed lover of hearth and home. On a warm, summer’s day he might venture as far as a sunny spot on the patio, but he wouldn’t dream of leaving the house on a day like today. And, of course, if he’s home and I’m home, then he won’t be able to think of a single reason why I shouldn’t devote myself to him entirely.IMG_0002

2) Turning on the central heating at 11am. Normally if I’m at home all day I’m running around doing jobs, and so manage without heating until well into the afternoon. Today, though, I was feeling particularly self-indulgent, and so on it went. Luckily for both our gas bill and my environmental conscience, it was hardly on at all through October and November, so we’ve surely got some credits built up now.

3) A nap on the sofa. Well, I am very pregnant…

4) Beans on toast for lunch. Total comfort food.

To round things off, I’m contemplating turning on all the fairy lights and cranking up the Greatest Christmas Hits album while I try and get ahead of the game with some present wrapping, hot chocolate for two when Anna gets home from school, and possibly, just possibly, syrup sponge and custard for pudding this evening. Just to balance out the healthy stir-fry I have planned for a main course.on the third day of christmas cover

I hope you’re all able to indulge in a little cosiness as well. In a shameless plug, I will point out that my new novella, On the Third Day of Christmas is published today, and would arguably provide the perfect accompaniment to a cold, wet evening snuggled by the fire. You know it makes sense.

Yellow Shoes and Happiness

Today is one of the coldest, wettest, rainiest, windiest days in May I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. My garden path this morning looked exactly as it does in autumn – almost impassable with slippery wet leaves. The difference is that today they were green not brown.

Anna had an eagerly anticipated school trip – a visit to the local fire station, with a picnic lunch in the park en route. She set off cheerfully enough with her exactingly specified packed lunch (can you buy cheese and onion hula hoops, please Mummy, and can I have tomatoes sliced in my cheese sandwich but also separate cherry tomatoes as well?), but I seriously hope that the teachers had a wet weather contingency plan or there will be thirty very soggy Reception children to collect later. I am disproportionately annoyed with the weather for spoiling their treat, and am very much hoping that the chance to explore a fire station makes up for a ruined picnic.

The cattens are coming in soaked and shivering from the garden and leaving little muddy paw prints over everything, and the wetter they are, seemingly the more voracious their desire to leap onto my lap and be cuddled.

With all this wet weather misery, I could feel my spirits sinking, and decided that retail therapy was the only answer. I pottered down to the local shopping centre, dry enough under my voluminous raincoat hood, but decidedly unglamourous and with severely restricted side vision. Then I got my first little victory of the day. Boots were selling Cadbury’s Mini Eggs! This is a bit of a lifesaver for me, because in a weak, hormonally induced fit of chocolate craving a couple of weeks ago I ate Anna’s Mini Eggs. I thought, amongst the plethora of Easter goodies, she might not notice the absence of one little tube. How naïve of me. I promised to replace them, but then was confounded by the total absence of Easter confectionary from all the shops. I’m sure that previously crème eggs and mini eggs have had almost year-round availability, but suddenly, less than a week after Easter they’d all vanished. Every time Anna asked about them I had to prevaricate, and I was getting increasingly panic-stricken, wondering how many Smarties I would have to buy to make up for it. But then, suddenly Boots was my saviour. I bought a replacement tube for Anna, and a spare one (already consumed) for myself. Now all I have to do is resist eating those…

As well as mini eggs, I also treated myself to some Sanctuary body lotion – I’m assuming that at some point over the next few months the weather might be such that I’m willing to shed some of my myriad layers and expose bare flesh. Just in case that doesn’t happen, though, I also bought two pairs of black leggings, so with those and my trusty cardies, maybe a scarf or two, and perhaps my wellies, I can and will start wearing summer dresses even if the weather doesn’t improve.

yellow sandalMy final purchase, though, really was a triumph of hope and optimism. I bought some yellow sandals! The thing is, yellow is one of my absolute favourite colours, but I have pale skin and fair hair, and it really does me no favours at all. My husband isn’t too keen on incorporating a lot of yellow into our interior décor, although I’ve snuck a bit into Anna’s room, so I’ve always felt deprived of yellow in my life. Having a daughter who has inherited her father’s warm olive skin and dark eyes, therefore looking gorgeous in sunshine shades, has helped a little bit, but I still lacked any yellow of my very own.

I spotted these sandals in Clarks a few weeks ago, and have been mulling the purchase over. The pros were that they looked comfortable, and not too high, but did have a definite heel. My days of 3 or 4 inch stillettos definitely ended with the thin blue line on the pregnancy test nearly 6 years ago. Summer shoes now are generally Birkenstocks, ballet pumps or Converse, but last summer I did slightly crave a shoe which could look a little dressed up on the odd occasion I go out for dinner, but which I can still manage to walk in. I was a little concerned, though, that yellow shoes, however desirable wouldn’t actually go with anything.

However, after several weeks of thinking it over, I noticed today that they were £10 off, and available in my size, so I just went for it. And am pleased to report, after a morning of extensive research, that they go with lots of stuff. And, did I mention? They’re YELLOW!

So I defiantly spit in the face of rain and wind. I have yellow sandals, and mini eggs and I’m happy!

Only connect

“Only connect” is the epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End. It’s also one of the very few quotes I can ever remember, so it is particularly pleasing when I can find a genuine reason for working it in, thereby contributing to my image as someone well-read and erudite. Ahem.

How we connect with others has been very much on my mind today. One of the only disadvantages of being a writer is that it can get lonely. My house suddenly feels very empty when husband has left for work, daughter is at school and the cats have gone off to do whatever cats do when they have a free morning. Today, however, I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of human interaction – some through social media, and some through far more traditional methods.

When I went for my usual walk after school drop-off I bumped into a friend taking her daughter to pre-school and we had a chat. When I got home a local handyman arrived to give me a quote for fitting a cat flap (the kitty cattens are now venturing out, but I’m constantly tensed for the sound of a plaintive miaow at the back door, and it’s driving me mad). I’d got his number from a leaflet pushed through our front door – old-school methodology here.

Then when trawling through the Facebook page for local parents, I spotted a child’s bike for sale for £10. It’s a bit shabby, but we’ve been having a huge debate as to whether it was worth buying Anna as bike yet, or if we should wait until she’s older. This means we can experiment at a reasonable cost. I messaged the seller, another local mum, and am popping round later to collect it.

I exchanged emails with a friend about arranging a meet-up when I’m in Liverpool in February.

And I’m now sitting in my local cafe, surrounded by noise and bustle and babies, exchanged greetings with several other people I know. When I’ve finished this blog post I’m going to phone a clown (as you do), to see if she’s available for a certain 5th birthday party which is fast approaching.

 

So maybe the life of a writer isn’t so isolated after all. Problem is though, the eagle-eyed amongst my readers will have spotted that there hasn’t actually been much writing going on today amidst all the connection…maybe the dilemma continues.