I’d prefer sticks and stones

My DH had stern words with me as I drove him to the station this morning. I’d made the school drop, thwarted coffee offers and sped back to chauffeur him to his train . Oh and I’d fed the goldfish and the kids, dressed the latter and assembled packed lunches.  He casually asked what my plans were for the day. I thought I might pop in to town.  There was that £10 voucher to spend in the Gap (no other purchase necessary) that expires in days. And an origami set  I needed to complete my niece’s Christmas gift.

 

Bark is worse than bite

He asked (with an edge) if this was the best use of my time. Of course it wasn’t – we both knew that. There followed a tirade – was I serious about sorting myself out, finding my thing, regaining my mojo. Heck, even nurturing my blog. Guilty on all counts.

Actions speak louder than words. Though I was happy to receive his later in this text:

had my coffee and bun, Sorry for being a bear with a sore head.  You’re lovely really x

I didn’t go to town and had a really productive morning.

He’s lovely too .

 

 

 

 

Christmas is definitely here – its time for The Gathering

Dublin here I cooooome! Every year for a weekend before Christmas myself, my three sisters and my mother leave our respective domestic situations behind us and, via trains (3), planes (that’s me) and automobiles (1) converge in an olde world hotel in Dun Laoighaire, a suburban seaside town about 12 kilometers south of Dublin city.  We’ve done this in a few other cities along the way (Barcelona and London) but once we tried Dun Laoighaire we didn’t want to budge. Our schedule over the weekend is not set in stone and we do vary it as events in our lives unfold. Now nephews attending Dublin universities pop in on us for brunch on Sunday.  Elderly aunts will give new meaning to decking the halls this visit as they will arrive with their own packs of playing cards for bridge and rummy games in the expansive marble foyers. A few years ago our hotel package included a treatment at the spa.  At that time, as mother to a toddler who wasn’t sleeping, I chose to have a dry floatation. The half hour in darkness, spent enveloped in warm water while remaining dry, is said to be worth a night’s sleep. And I knew I’d need my stamina for three days spent with four  women catching up on news, sharing fashion and parenting tips with mammoth shopping trips and lashings of wine thrown in.

I’m second from the left

This year will be extra special as we’ve invited my father to join us. He turns eighty next week and doesn’t want a fuss, especially following, so closely, the Golden wedding anniversary celebrations back in September. There’ll be a cake  and gift presentations but just amongst the six of us. My Dublin-based sister has made a dinner reservation for our party at an exclusive restaurant for the Saturday night.  And we will be dressed to the nines! We revert back to our teenage selves as we gather in one of the bedrooms to pull together our outfits, share perfumes and apply make-up. My mother ( who wouldn’t like me to reveal her age here – let’s leave it at “a contemporary of  my dad’s”) is just as involved. She’s maintained her love of clothes and no doubt will have chosen something glamorous from her wardrobe to pack in her suitcase.

We need to be mindful that there is a man amongst us so there’ll be less of the preening than usual. Though having spent so much of his years in a house full of women, he knows what to expect. Dad, I hope you’ve packed your ear plugs!

 

 

 

 

Passing on the baton

After our audience with Judith Kerr, on leaving the theatre we decided to wait until the rugby crowd had made their way to Twickenham stadium before attempting our journey home.  We’d an hour to fill. I love pouring over the weekend newspapers and knew I’d get my fix from any of the Richmond coffee shops.  But I knew I wouldn’t get peace unless Amber was occupied too so first we popped in to the newsagent and bought her the current edition of ‘First News‘, the UK national newspaper for children.  For Christmas I plan on getting her a subscription. Who knows how long it will be available in print format but I know she’ll love receiving a copy through our letterbox and addressed to her.

My own love of newspapers goes back along way.  When I’d return from school, I’d take the Irish Times, a broadsheet too big to manage sitting up, and spread it on the floor by the French doors before hurling myself on top, inking the elbows on my uniform shirt.  I’d start at page 1 and work my way methodically to the death announcements at the back.  In the beginning I didn’t delay on many of those pages but as I matured and took more interest in current affairs I’d discover yet another section or column that fed that interest.

I’m hoping to nurture the same curiosity for the world outside in my daughter.  She’s keen.  She did enjoy our read-in at the cafe, enhanced by hot chocolates and gingerbread.  Later at home, I seized upon another ploy to strengthen her attachment to First News.  I suggested she write about our morning with Judith Kerr and email her ‘report’ with picture to the newspaper.  She fashioned the news item herself.  I just fed her the last line, typed the text and attached a photo.  I’m hoping to carry an exclusive update in the next few weeks. Watch this space!

Note:  This is not a sponsored post.  If you are thinking about getting your child a subscription for First News, another hook is a 2013 scrapbook that comes with it.  Now that’s right up my daughters street. She’ll be able to pick and choose her favourite news stories to make her own record of 2013.  There’s that, and the diary she’ll also find in her stocking… precursors

 

An audience with Judith Kerr

Richmond town centre on a rugby match day is best avoided. The pavements are awash with supporters who spill out of the pubs and restaurants long before kick-off. On Saturday my daughter and I were amongst them as we jostled our way to the Orange Tree Theatre for an audience with Judith Kerr, writer and illustrator.  A childhood spent in Ireland, I wasn’t reared on her stories and only became familiar with her work through visits to the library with my children.  What English child hasn’t read or been read The tiger who came to tea?  She’s just penned The Great Granny Gang about a bunch of really resourceful courageous grannies.

Amber with Judith Kerr

Judith is already in situ when we enter the auditorium looking like she’s just stepped off a Disney set. There’s her beautiful glossy white hair, spectacles (of course) and a striking outfit -a  black shirt and 3/4 sleeved top with white blouse underneath so the long cuffs and air-plane collar peek out. Even her pendant brooch is as Disney would have wanted it. She tells us she started to write books at age 45 and that was half a lifetime ago. Before reading from The Great Granny Gang she speaks to us about her early years in Germany when her father the drama critic, journalist and screenwriter, Alfred Kerr, topped Hitler’s death wish list. Because of his open criticism of the Nazi, he and his family fled to Switzerland in 1933 settling later  in England.

She’s written a series of three novels about this time in her life. When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit is the first of the trilogy and tells  the story of Anna and her Jewish family fleeing from Germany before the outbreak of the second world war.

Judith was happy to take questions from the floor and both adults and children had lots to ask her. I fed Amber one and so she quizzed Judith on advice she has for children wanting to write. “Just do it” she said. And remember to write about what you know.  Later, when we lined up to have a picture with Judith, I asked her if she kept a diary. I’d hoped she’d say yes. It might have sent Amber running to the tower of stacked notepads and diaries I’ve bought for her in this last year alone.  But she said  “No I didn’t need to – I can still remember all that happened” and she said it as someone who sees it as her duty to never forget.

 

 

And to think I nearly didn’t go…

Since losing my job last year, money’s tight.  With small change left in my redundancy packet, it was with a heavy heart I decided I couldn’t sanction the cost of attending Mumsnet Blogfest. Only when the tickets sold out did I realise that going would have been the platform I needed to launch my embryonic blog.

A Google search for ‘free ticket to Mumsnet’ yielded gold as Give as you Live was running a competition, offering a ticket in return for tweeting from the event and a blog account afterwards. Give as you Live is a way to shop online with thousands of stores, raising funds for charity while incurring no extra cost. (My next post will be on the concept and how you can get involved). Within days I heard I’d been chosen. I was thrilled.

Thrilled but anxious too. I had only a week to crack tweeting.  Compressing my thoughts  to 140 characters seemed like an impossible ask. Why confine yourself to just one word, when you can say it verbosely with seven?  I don’t do brevity. Or hashtags.  But I knew someone who did and does so I went to the go-to man for tweeting (DH). For my twitter handle I settled on @wishstorm.

A plethora of posts and tweets cover the conference content from the day.  Head over to Mumsnet Blogfest blogroll for those.  Suffice it is to say that all the pre-planning paid off as Mumsnet pulled together the dream team of key-note speakers, contributors, experts and sponsors.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was an inspired choice for the opening keynote speech.  She spoke of her involvement with Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice program which empowers poor people to engage in governance yet she was still able to connect with us through our shared roles as mothers and wives as she talked us through her Saturday mornings of messy breakfasts, homework coercion and football practice.

Leaving Caitlin Moran as closing keynote speaker meant we left on a high, adeptly entertained, flattered (Caitlin handed out cards with ‘ I like your face’ on them) and inspired. She gave sound advice. When approaching a commission/blogpost, keep your subject matter in the back of your head for days beforehand so when it comes to writing it, the hard work’s been done as you reel those thoughts back in. And her snooker metaphor for original thinking – walk around the table until you can get a shot at the ball that no ones gone for.

Caitlin Moran minutes after delivering her keynote speech

In between, I sat in on some fantastic panel discussions on Finding your voice; How blogging can change the world; and How much should you reveal online.  Panelists included The Bloggess via google+, Zoe Williams, Zoe Strimpel, Natasha Walter, Stella Creasy MP, Zoe Margolis, Tim Dowling, Eliza Gray and Liz Jones.

My breakout sessions were: Social Media – a whirlwind tour with Paul Armstrong of Mindshare; and SEO techniques for beginners with the patient and very clear David Towers of MEC Global.

There were moments through the day when I felt like a timid child in a school playground and wished mumsnet had thought to provide a friendship bench. Anxious to maximise on my time there, I forced myself to make approaches and broke down walls quicker than a wrecking ball. As a secret blogger of a clandestine site (Mahogany Soup isn’t somewhere you’ll find yourself on a casual web wander) I’d never discussed my blog with anyone. And here it came with your salutation – Hi, so what do you blog about?

An early friend was Becky from How I lost weight.  I was impressed by her aptitude for SEO matters and I know we’ll stay in touch and encourage each other as we define for ourselves how blogging can best meet our needs. We chatted over the cupcakes from Beverly Hills Bakery

Becky with a Beverley Hills cupcake

 

In the line for lunch I stood behind Linda Geddes and baby son.  She writes a blog for the New Scientist and her book Bumpology  – The myth busting guide for parents to be – comes out in January.  What a great angle Linda has cornered with her ability to bring simple science to the masses, er the misses.

Bumpology: Linda and son

I spoke about nature v nurture with the Love2declutter sisters and they purport a clutter free life is available to all.  I wasn’t to despair.  Messiness is a bad habit and habits can be broken. Our conversation was interjected by a duo with camera and mike. I ended up doing  an interview for Mumsnet thinking to myself I can’t get more ‘out’ than this.

As the day came to a close and eager to make the most of the networking opportunity I went along to the drinks reception. Bloggers had gathered in to clusters and I lamented the absence of that friendship bench once more.  I sought Dutch courage amongst the nibbles.  With cocktail stick in hand I harpooned the smorgasbord of cheeses the British Cheese Board had assembled. Somewhere between the vintage cheddar and the Blue Stilton  I met the  lovely Rachel from  Pink Blue and You.  We spoke about how her hobby has taken off and her photo montages were in high demand. You don’t have to complicate things – often what’s needed is what’s under your nose.  Work with what you have/are.

My last encounter was with Ginger knits Clare. I marvelled at her patterned hand knit socks.  I’m guessing she’s as dexterous at unravelling SEO jargon as she is with her yarn.

Of course I didn’t want the day to end but the goody bag (so good they earned a separate post)  eased the wrench.

I hadn’t expected to enjoy tweeting live but I did and my DH texted me earlier in the day to tell me I was tweet-tastic.#agoodman.

Since Blogfest I find myself thinking in tweet sound bites with lengthier thought bubbles morphing themselves in to blog posts.

The legacy from Blogfest is belief in myself, confidence in my thoughts and words and a sense of purpose.

Bum note:  Altitude 360 is a great venue.  But the toilets! The thrones were so skinny as to accommodate only one buttock at a time. I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn’t peeing in a urinal.

A clear day

The Breastcare nurse at the hospital suggested I call her direct line to hear the results of my mammogram. That was because last year the receptionist at my local doctors surgery insisted I could only receive them from my GP and I immediately feared the worse.

My sister would have had the worst confirmed 8 years ago when she called up for her results weeks after her husband found a lump in her breast. Thankfully she’s had a good outcome and, being cancer-clear for over 5 years, her chances of developing cancer again are the same as for anyone else. Because she was under forty, I’m encouraged to have a mammogram every year until I turn 50.

So today, three weeks after the screening, I made the call. And the line was busy. I could see from my phone log that the nurse had made a couple of attempts to return my call  and I irrationally questioned her urgency. As the morning progressed I could feel my anxiety rising. Relief when she did get hold of me dissipated as she ran through a script.  Just tell me, I wanted to shout. But I answered her questions to confirm my identity. Then relief returned as she said I was clear.

The mammogram itself is actually OK. Discomfort is relative after going through childbirth.  Your breast is clamped (think wooden plank on carpenters bench) and squished in to place for the pictures and that isn’t especially pleasant but it’s the aftermath that causes the most trauma. Is the radiographer looking perplexed or is she still digesting her lunch? Over her shoulder I studied her screen as she brought up last years slides and I might as well have been looking at the ultrasounds confirming my children’s conceptions. It’s a language I don’t speak. Breast, uterus, embryo look the same to me. Then there’s the wait.  First the recommended time lapse while results are collated and then those minutes on the phone to the Breast nurse when your life and hopes are in her hands. In those words. ‘Everything looks fine’. I get a surge of renewed vigour and determination to enrich my life. I need to harness that.