Fitting it all in

So you may remember last year I came down with a mysterious skin condition which, it turned out, was caused by a virus leaping on me when I was run down and feeling crappy. It made my summer miserable and it’s a recurring condition so when I came down with another mini virus after Easter (just glands up and some tiredness) I realised my skin would go funny again.

This time round has been slightly less bad than last year. But it’s still pretty ugly. I’ve avoided the doctor this year and talked to a pharmacist instead who recommended some creams that seem to be possibly doing something. Possibly. Basically I’ll be in long skirts and crop trousers again this year – but perhaps these are best for someone of my great age anyway now.

I realised today that my health – physical and mental – has been much worse these last two years and that this has coincided with me working compressed hours. I don’t think it’s the hours that’s the problem, I think the main issue is that I don’t have time to walk to work any more. It took nearly an hour to get to the office each morning which was fine with me – it kept me reasonably fit, gave me a chance to have some thinking time, some music time and kept my weight down.

I like exercising. I like going for a run but a lot of the time I just can’t see where to fit it into a routine. For a while after work I did go for a run – about 5-6k – but the dark dark winter killed my resolve (the city’s ring road isn’t lovely at the best of times but in the cold and pitch black there’s no motivation there at all.) I know it makes me feel better but it just becomes something else I have to fit in somehow.

Walking kept me sane and fit during my pregnancy when nothing else would do. It also fitted nicely into my day so I didn’t have to think about it much. If I start walking to work again I forfeit my usual desk (we have hotdesking which is no good for an introvert like me who likes to bounce ideas off people and need them to know me well to do so) and have to make up the time in the evening or at lunchtime.

The other option is to work five days and give up a day with E instead. But I don’t want to do that. Perhaps I should just look at working even later, talk to new people and  stop complaining. Or do some emailing in the evening or a couple of hours on Friday somehow to make up for it. Or find someone who can invent time travel.

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Debris… I have debris!

I’m not OCD but there has to be a certain level of tidiness in the house or I start to lose it. As I write this, I can hear my new washing machine whirring the background (along with musicals  soundtrack playlist I’m playing as I have the house to myself) – we have a new washing machine because I had a minor meltdown last weekend. Since the new kitchen floor was done, the washing machine was not plumbed in properly because it was too old and rubbish so the new drawers containing things like bleach, cleaning fluids – y’know things you want out of the way – were in the front room and every time I washed something the mixing bowl would have to be placed beneath the waste pipe. This has been like this for just over a month. I banged my head on the cupboard and shouted that I wasn’t having this s*$% any more, slammed a door and then felt like an idiot.

So all of a sudden my kitchen is complete.

But once a week or so I prowl round the house like some kind of Canute, trying to arrest the rising tide of ‘stuff’ that accumulates in a tiny house that contains a toddler, and two people who work all day and don’t want to do loads of housework in the evenings. It’s not the big things that get me, it’s the small. The things picked up by little hands and discarded when she moves on. This is what I cleared up this week:

  • Four hair clips, a butterfly clip and two hair bands
  • A garlic clove
  • Four pens
  • Three beaded bracelets
  • Two pads of post it notes
  • Two boxes of tissues
  • A knitting magazine
  • Remains of a page of Gruffalo stickers
  • The last four page letter from the Child Tax Credit people
  • Three old lightbulbs ready to go to work for lightbulb recycling bins
  • The clasp from a broken necklace
  • A pin
  • A cardigan and a pair of socks, discarded as E’s inner temperature soars
  • A gluing spreader and a paintbrush
  • A bank statement for the website I co-run
  • A paper dog with an extendable belly, a paper flamingo/ giraffe to dangle, a string of paper dolls, and two paper diggers with stand up feet
  • A wind up caterpillar

Pretty standard stuff. And already the house looks like I haven’t bothered. Yet if I didn’t bother, after a month you’d have to send someone in to dig us out.

The mental health benefits to shifting this stuff are massive though. I can sit and write easily, I can relax, I can go to work in a hurry in the morning knowing I don’t need my handbag for my tram and work passes.

Now, to train the rest of the household to do this more often…

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On ya feet…

I’m pretty sure it’s just a phase. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

E doesn’t like walking. When we go out anywhere I invariably end up carrying her. This is a bugger on my back and my energy levels, as well as a general pain as she often wriggles.

We could take the pushchair with us but if it’s a park, with a playground or we take the scooter, or a ball, or the kite, then it seems silly to have the pushchair as well. I take the pushchair if we’re walking around near the house or on the way to nursery in the mornings, mainly as I have a lot of bags to carry and need to get to work. Our routine in the morning is that I will carry her a few steps and then she goes in the chair, she rarely walks at all.

She’s three this month, we see other children running about, I thought she would too.

Her arms entwine tightly around my neck. If I put her down and explain that I can’t carry her any more she either cries like it’s the end of the world or offers to kiss my aching back better and then doesn’t go much further before asking to be picked up again.

S hates this. He thinks she’s not normal, so much so that he is taking her to see the doctor next week. His answer when we’re out is to walk off and leave her and assumes she will follow. This is not necessarily the case and since he’s also walked off and left her near roads or large stretches of open water, he tends to upset me too. I don’t know whether to envy his ability not to forsee and dread any disaster happening to her or not.

She is also still very introverted. Now, I’m an introvert too, as is S, but I also think she should at least manage not to be scared or unwilling to join in at a playground if there are other children there. Which, at weekends, there are, of course. She goes to nursery, I thought she’d be more used to others. It’s a rare day when she spends time entertaining herself – she can and sometimes does look at books alone, or play with her toys alone but mostly she asks me to join in. And I do, but occasionally I’d like to send a couple of emails, schedule some tweets, hang out the washing, have a wee, prepare dinner or do the ironing without having to be interrupted by someone clinging to my leg.

So all in all, our trip today to Sudbury Hall was not as much fun as it could have been if she’d been walking, running or willing to play. I’m sure it is a phase but seriously, is there anything I can do to help her run about more? And encourage her to be a little more independent? For her sake, as well as my back’s?

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Nick Cope at the Royal Centre

S and I once went to a film showing of one of the Harry Potter films. People had warned us against this, saying the kids in the audience would be awful. But the children were very well behaved, unlike one woman who answered her mobile in the middle of the performance and yelled “yeah, we’re in the middle of the Quidditch match” down it. I was reminded of this incident this weekend when E and I went to the Beanbag music club at the Royal Centre in town.

I’ve blogged before about the Beanbag music sessions at the Royal Centre but what the hell, I’m going to blog about them again. This weekend’s performer was Nick Cope, singer-songwriter and former performer with Oxford band The Candyskins . It was supposed to be a family day out for all three of us but S had to stay behind to look after the plumber who turned up late with a piece of equipment he hadn’t used for 2 years and wondered why it didn’t work. The waste pipe from the washing machine still leaks. Meh.

We were slightly sidetracked on the way in because E spotted the posters for Room on the Broom which is playing at the Theatre in July (ticket bought as a birthday present. Fingers crossed it goes well. Blog post to follow.)

Anyway, despite being initially shy and nervous, E soon warmed up to the performance and was dancing and waving as soon as it started. The songs were a nice mixture of non-gender specific fun topics including one about a pirate with crumbs in his beard, another about a dragon called Keith, and one E especially enjoyed about things that grow (you had to stand up and grow tall as you sang.)

I imagine it can’t be easy being a performer to small children – their short attention spans, general fidgeting and need for crisps at inappropriate moments must make it hard to concentrate. But again, this was nothing compared to the parents. The beanbags are in the centre with seat around three sides, all facing the stage. You can sit on the beanbags with your child if you want (I did) but otherwise the children go in the middle and the parents sit and watch. Or in this case chat. I couldn’t believe the noise some of them made. One woman was actually addressed by Nick Cope during one song and was oblivious each time. Some were on their phones, others were gossiping. So incredibly rude.

On behalf of parents who were paying attention and enjoyed the performance very much I would like to apologise to Nick Cope – we had a good time. He might be used to this kind of thing. I didn’t have any cash on me to buy any of the CDs on offer but have since bought two from his website for E’s birthday, although I may give them to her a little early so we can take them on holiday with us.

The performances last nearly an hour and once this had finished (with a song where all the children had to dress like Nick in glasses and play cardboard guitars) they were all allowed to go and make masks of Beany bear (who leads the sessions) and decorate them with stickers. E was well into the session by now and happily covered her mask with dinosaurs, stars and a jolly roger.

We phoned S when we came out and E told him all about how she’d been dancing. We even managed to remember some of the words to sing in the bath later on as well.

The next Beanbag music club is at the Royal Centre on 23 May

Nick Cope next performs in Nottingham on 27 September at Stapleford Community Centre

Details of Nick’s music and performances can be found at his website.

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A natural, zesty enterprise

I’m afraid the time has come – I’m going to talk about genitals. Or rather, I’m going to sound silly while talking about genitals.

I’ve been pondering this blog post for a while. E likes to know what her body parts are called and I must say, I’ve been trying to work out if I am more glad that she’s a girl because she might not get too in depth for a while or sorry that she’s a girl because at least the word ‘willy’ is easy to deal with.

We talk about her bottom or her bum, and she is very fond of pointing to her nipples. So far so good. But what should we call her genitals?

I must confess, I don’t really have a preferred name for mine. There are a whole range of names – from the profane through the clinical to the twee, and I don’t like any of them. I even had a female doctor once call them “down there” with a wave of her hand so this is clearly not just my problem.

Earlier this year there was a brief hoo-haa (another favoured term for some, I believe) over a Swedish children’s television programme which depicted cartoon versions of smiling dancing genitals, called Willy and Twinkle. I rather liked it – the song was celebrating differences and was hilariously bad but rather sweet. (You can watch it here.) But again, Twinkle? Not keen.

Slang is out – women’s parts are either porno (pussy), too rude (c*%^) or icky (lady garden). All of them either degrade or objectify women or they shy away and feel prudish. Any seasoned feminist will tell you this is a result of regarding women as second class citizens and we either need to reclaim these words from the porn and profane way they’re used (easier said than done) or, perhaps better, come up with something else.

And so I turn to clinical names, which I confess I hate. Vagina anyone? The only time it sounds good is when Maude Lebowski talks about it. Vulva? Again all I have is a modern cultural reference – Friends this time.

But then I read this article about the effects of teaching children properly about their bodies and how it can help protect them against abuse. And I also think that beyond abuse, if I want E to have a healthy attitude to her body and self image then the very least I can do is be able to talk to her about it and not feel silly. So vagina it is. At least this way I get to pretend to be Maude for a while. And who wouldn’t want that?



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Is your child dog friendly?


Dogs – bloody brilliant

We don’t have a dog. I’d like one but we’re not home enough, it’s small enough in here as it is and there are days when I’m just not going to want to take it for a walk. Plus I think I’m hair intolerant these days. (Though we could get a Labradoodle which don’t moult…) So we don’t have one. But both sets of grandparents have dogs, and both S and I grew up with them.

I’d like E to be comfortable with dogs and not be scared of them. I’ve seen some friends who aren’t certain what to do around dogs or who are scared for no real reason except that they think they should be. Dogs are the loveliest creatures around – full of unconditional love, funny, and intelligent (mostly) enough to do things like help people with disabilities or sniff out bombs and drugs. But it’s rare to see anything more widely about dogs that isn’t negative. Stories of maulings are strong tabloid fodder and the top most complaint to councils is about dog crap all over pavements.

Neither of these things are the fault of the dogs themselves. Don’t get me started on dog owners. (I spent half a day shadowing the council’s dog protection unit at work yesterday and was upset yet not surprised at the dreadful attitudes displayed by some people to their hounds. I got all Tory about suitable punishments for these people. “Hangings too good for them” and all that. But honestly.)

Nevertheless, despite all our family dogs being docile and friendly types, E needs to know how to treat them to make sure that she never sees their natural dog side. And hopefully she’ll grow up knowing how fabulous it is to have a dog friend and companion. So I need to show her how to treat them with respect and common sense.

So I’m glad that Dogs Trust has started a new campaign ‘Be Safe Around Dogs.’ They are offering Dog Smart workshops for parents and children in schools, libraries and community centres. Or you can download a ‘Be Dog Smart’ guide from the internet to get a whole range of tips about teaching children to be safe around dog friends. It offers advice on how to prepare a dog for a new baby in the house, how to read the signals your dog may give out and what to do if your child is scared of dogs.

The Be Dog Smart guide is free to download and should be required reading for all parents, with or without dogs. You can find it here:



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I had a moment on Easter Sunday which you will only appreciate if you too have a full time job, a small child and no one locally who can just pop in to help.

S was doing something, possibly having a shower, and E was with her grandpa who read all her library books. Which left me to go into the garden and plant out Easter eggs for our hunt. It was a chilly morning, but there were blue skies and I was accompanied by a range of lovely birdsong. The garden is a large one, with only a few formal bits and I had a lot of eggs to distribute – E’s grandpa having already gone out to plant their eggs. I wandered round, placing eggs (and stickers and hair clips) in trees and under bushes.

The moment lasted maybe only 15 minutes and I made an unlikely Easter bunny. But for those 15 minutes I had a lovely sense of warmth, peace and happiness – all just for me. You don’t get this kind of thing often when you have someone around who follows you to the toilet. Even if you say “I’m just popping upstairs, I’ll be back in a minute,” she stands at the bottom of the stairs and yells “MUMMY!” or she starts to climb the stairs to be with you.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being with her. But those 15 minutes were such a treat.

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