Thursday, 23 October 2014

In The Beginning...

I cannot believe that it has been a year since I started writing #Pantomum as a journey into the unknown world of pantomime, and which evolved into snapshots of living with the boys, the family and life in general.  And as the year has passed, so the kids have grown, Little Man is not so little, Eldest Son tops us all at 15 years old and 6ft 2, and Middle Son is threatening to grow his hair just one cm longer so that he is taller than me.  In a year I now have the smallest feet in the family.  In a year our puppy has become a big lolloping hound, the cats have got used to him and even G, our disliker of canines, has been known to invite him over for a cuddle.

One knackered Backstage Mum (and sea monster)! 

In a year my blog has covered a number of things in a number of styles, whether it is poetry, prose, opinion pieces, the odd review on products or books, or simply just a bit of creative writing. It showed the ups and downs of life, and how people coped with good news and bad.  One of the most popular posts was a fairy story that I wrote for a friends little girl who found out early this year that she had cancer. The comments on A Story for Evie and its follow up post were lovely, and the donations to the Little Princess Trust even better.  I’m pleased to say that she is doing well on the bumpy road to recovery, and has been a very brave little girl with the support of her ever loving family and community.

And it has been a year of reflection. Tomorrow is my 16th wedding anniversary, after a whirlwind romance all those years ago of just three months.  We’ve learned to give, take and compromise.  Running our own businesses has not been easy in the present economic climate.  But we still managed to save for a fantastic driving holiday in Italy, which I attempted in some small way (despite some dodgy internet connections) to share with you in The Italian Job posts.
 
It’s been a year of acknowledgement.  I’ve spent most of this year beset with Achilles problems, mercifully coming to an end. None of us are getting younger, and the kids are getting older.  In a matter of months I will have 2 teenagers in the house.  The spectre of GCSE’s is looming.  Little Man is nearing the end of junior school.  And I’m now on the downward slope to 50…

And yet our life still is one big pantomime, sometimes I’m the Dame, often I feel like Dandini as I run around after the kids, I’m constantly expected to be the Genie and produce miracles at the nth hour and on occasion I really, really have to stop myself from being the Wicked (Step)Mother. 

And the person who inspired this blog in the first place, Little Man, skips blithely through life, leaving us scrabbling in his wake.  Tonight at 9 years old he takes on the role of Oliver in the musical at a local theatre, with all the aplomb (and accoutrements) of a seasoned performer.  And we would not have it any other way.

Thanks for sticking with us – are you ready for another year of mayhem, madness and merriment? 
Sorry, I can’t hear you?! 
I said… Are You Ready for Another Year of Mayhem, Madness and Merriment?!   
Pant-astic!  Catch you later…


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Learning to say No

I have a very good ‘friend’ who simply can’t say No to anything – be it going on a dinner date with people she can’t bear, being asked for the umpteenth time by a non- reciprocal friend to pick up her child from a team game or asked if she likes the sack-like garment her companion is wearing.
 
The fact of the matter is that she does it purely for altruistic motives – she doesn’t want to offend, in short, she wants to be liked.  This is, I suspect true of a little bit of all of us.  But, after years of this kind of behavior, she simply snapped and said No.  And she found it so empowering that she said No again and again, and now no one asks her for anything, and she doesn’t have the worry of offending anyone.

 But is this necessarily a good thing for her?  Has the woman who for most of her life relied on others to ask her things to make her say Yes and be needed, now cut off her nose as life whirls on without her, and she is left feeling on the one hand empowered, but on the other hand disenfranchised.

We all do things out of duty.  Let’s take an example. We are hurtling towards Christmas, the day where traditionally familial duty causes the most stressful period of the year.  It is no coincidence that the bulk of divorce applications hit its annual peak in January. We may love our families, but all in one place on one day?  And having to host disparate non life threatening culinary requirements – is Grandma this year a vegetarian who eats fish, or a vegetarian who will eat a little bit of meat?  Who is gluten free this year?  Who can’t eat chocolate, potatoes or will only eat chocolate potatoes?   Who can’t drink anything but the sparkling wine you have been saving in the fridge, but can’t afford to bring a bottle?  What presents do you buy?  How much do you spend?  How do you extricate yourself from the ‘but this is what we always used to do at Christmas’?  

How in short, do you stand up and say ‘No’and not feel disenfranchised or ostracized?  Not No to Christmas per se, but No to the infinite amounts of demands that undermine your sense of being.  There is no point saying Yes to everyone if you are miserable about saying so – it genuinely reflects back, at some point.  Do you wait until you simply snap and start saying No to everything, and then feel unhappy when no one asks your opinion?  Or is there a way to gently introduce the idea of saying No, so that you can say it with confidence and truth?

Perhaps start a little slowly.  ‘You know what?  That dress doesn’t bring out the best in your figure.  I really loved that blue dress you wore the other day.  It brought out the colour of your eyes’.  Or ‘I know you really love sitting in front of the telly for five hours over Christmas, but I thought this year we would play some board games – do you have any suggestions?’  Or ‘Why don’t we do a Secret Santa this year, it would be so much fun and save everyone some money?’

And when you are really confident , you can become the Machiavelli of No - and when that mother asks you yet again to pick up her child, smile sweetly and say ‘Of course I will.  But would you do the same for me next week as I have an appointment?  I am happy to provide the snacks as usual?’  It’s a Yes with a No, and a twist…

It may fail disastrously at first.  It will take a while to come into effect.


And remember -failing all else, you could always go Toddler. Shout No, stamp your foot and run away. 

I have found that this works with immediate effect.

(But you may need to sit on the Naughty Step with a glass of wine whilst other mothers eye you disapprovingly.)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Unsung Heroes

The Lollipop Lady


There are unsung heroes in life
The soldiers, the nurses, the teachers
The man who drives the school bus,
The dinner lady who puts that extra spoonful 
On the little boys plate
Because she knows that he had no breakfast again.
The old man who still walks his dog, who died 3 months ago,
The dog walker who asks for his help, even though she doesn’t need it.
They come in different shapes and sizes, different colours and sounds
One even wears a bright high –vis jacket
She’s the lollipop lady.

She’s not our lollipop lady – we pass her standing at the side of the road
As we drive in our shiny car to school
But she’s always there, and we look out for her
She becomes a start to the day.
In the snow she wears a shapeless long blue waterproof coat
And big blue wellies, her cheeks all flushed.
My kids love it when she stops the car, walking into the road with her sign
As children file like ducklings behind her
And mums with buggies straggle along in bunches chatting.
Sometimes she gets a wave from us, and she waves back
Sometimes one of the ducklings says Thank You, but not often.

And one day she was not there, and my kids were sad.
‘Where’s the Lollipop Lady?’ they asked, their morning stupor gone
And she didn’t come back for several weeks
Cars no longer slowed their pace
In recognition.
My kids stopped looking for her.
Until today.
We saw her at her post
Thinner, hugging the buggy women who greeted her
Noticing her at last
Standing proud, in her high – vis jacket.


©Ruth Morrison 2014

Sunday, 17 August 2014

In tribute to #Robin Williams, and to the many others


Depression


What makes a sigh turn into a smile?
What changes rain into dew for a while?
What chases the thunder with fluffy white clouds?
What stops the loneliness when lost in the crowds?

How does the rainbow shine with watery rays?
How can you focus through the fog and the haze?
How can you grasp at the straws falling down?
How does the paint roll with the tears of a clown?

When does the pain go in the heat of the sun?
When will the laugh come when all is undone?
When is the soul free of unfettered dread?
When can the fear not be left unsaid?

Where is the friend who says ‘You’re not alone’?
Where is the voice on the end of the phone?
Where is the hammer shattering the glass wall?
Where are the pieces that crackle and fall?

Who can hold on through the raging storm?
Who can restore whirling tempests to norm?
Who can silence the crumbling of mind?
Who can sit quietly, until it’s behind?

Why is it so hard to hear and be heard?
Why is it hard to condense to one word?
Why is it considered a temporary low?
Why can it kill to try overthrow?

Will you be the one who extends the hand?
Will you lead the one out of his hellish land?
Will you answer the call because you’re a friend?
Will you listen to their point of view in the end?

Hear them? Be near them? Understand them? Protect?
Hug them? Don’t bug them? Hand extended? Respect?
Hold them? Don’t scold them? Befriend and forgive?
Light up a dark corner, a small reason to live?

Can you make a sigh turn into a smile?
Can you change rain into dew for a while?
Can you chase the thunder with fluffy white clouds?
You can stop the loneliness when lost in the crowds.

©Ruth Morrison 2014


#Word of the Week - Positive

It is always difficult returning from a holiday.  For a start, there’s the house.  It always seems that little bit ‘distant’ – a shock to the system in which one is desperately pleased to be back on terra firma, but where the sense of responsibility and routine smacks you between the eyes like a low hanging sign.

And then of course there are the piles. Of washing. Of bills. Of junk mail. Of filing that you hid away in the excitement of going on holiday. Of decisions that you have been putting off, but with the excuse that you are going on holiday.

And the biggest thing to contend with is the feeling of anticlimax.  The ‘is that it now?’ The thought that the benefits of being on holiday dwindle faster than the tide washes the sand beneath your feet.  That your happy bonded family will be dispersed by the electronic pull of friends far more knowledgeable than silly old mum and dad and their crap in-car music, or the many activities in which your children bond with others, charging towards the same goal with a common purpose, and as a parent you become secondary to these responsibilities of youth.  And the feeling of dread hangs over you like a sword of Damacles as you load the washing machine for the fifth time that day, or go food shopping for a ‘normal shop’ – splashing out on a French stick to hold on to that holiday feeling for just that little bit longer…

Those who are on Facebook may have noticed a recent trend in which people are nominated to join in for a week of Positivity – over 7 days you post a daily list of three things that are or have had a positive effect on you.  This sounds easier than it actually is.  I was nominated by two people when I was on holiday in Italy – and decided to set myself the challenge of doing it when I got back, in the hope that it would offset the post holiday blues.
It was an eye opener.  It involved a different mindset. A willingness to unfetter my exterior shell of capability and culpability and see the world differently.  In a normal situation I veer wildly from a glass half empty to a glass half full.  I had to look past the washing precipice of pessimism into the lake of optimism. I had to fish something out of that lake, three times a day for 7 days.

And I did it.  Sometimes it was a bit of an old boot – a negative on the noisiness of the bin men turned into a positive  - more times it was a revelation – you can have fun in the rain, people can surprise you, there are new discoveries and places just round the corner if you keep your eyes open.

And I’m not sure if it was conscious, or subconscious, but my little family changed too. The boys have all offered, and cooked, meals this week (within their capabilities).  We have kept up with the holiday routine of clearing the table and washing up rotas.  We’ve had some really fun conversations or short trips out. The holiday bonding has carried on temporarily because none of us want it to break. I say temporarily, not to be pessimistic, but realistic  - Life will inevitably get in the way, but for the moment we are all enjoying the positive effects.


Positive. My Word of the Week, for a week.

Til next time.


Have you done the Positivity challenge?  How did you get on?

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Italian Job: The End

*Many of you have been following our month long trip in a Passat estate around Italy with the three boys.  We've had our thrills and spills and ups and downs.  This is the final post about our journey through a simply magnificent country.

The boys were amazing on the car journey home.  I suppose that after 4 weeks away, we had all settled into a ‘driving’ routine, whether it was reading for a bit, limited electronic entertainment or just a general laugh about what we had seen or done. Time flew by fairly quickly, we stopped for fuel and a leg stretch, and a peer into the sunlight after the darkness of the copious tunnels that we had been in.  But it seemed to be getting darker the closer we got to Calais, and it was only mid afternoon.  A quick scan of the news channels on the radio and we realised that the tail end of ‘Big Bertha’ the weather front that had played havoc in the Bahamas was heading our way.

And indeed it was not long before we were caught in the middle of an amazing thunderstorm.  Cars had pulled over haphazardly on the toll road, hazard lights twinkling in amongst the lightning bolts.  Winds buffeted the car, and the roof box thumped up and down.  Rain lashed at the windscreen as G endeavoured to keep steering in a straight line.  Little Man buried his face in my lap and emitted a low moan.  Only Middle Son, a storm chaser in the making, looked genuinely thrilled with the situation. And then it was gone as quickly as it arrived.

Driving through the storm
We all looked at one another shakily.  It seemed a good time as any to pull over and get something to eat.  We asked Garmin the sat nav for any restaurants nearby.  The famous Golden Arches logo popped up on the screen.  ‘McDonalds!’ shrieked the boys in joy, thoughts of home not far from their minds.  And so it was that the last meal of our trip was in a rather funky French McDonalds, with sections divided into Salle Rock, Salle Pop and Salle Classique, as well as a childrens gym (it had spinning bikes)/play area for those who had had that one nugget too many…


McDonalds, French style


Having  arrived at the Eurotunnel quicker than anticipated, we queued for an earlier crossing.  Hundreds of English visitors were returning home.  A woman in a Range Rover was shouting animatedly at her husband and jabbing at him with her finger in accusation.  They’d obviously had good holiday…

G opened his window to be searched for explosives by a man waving an electronic Geiger counter type thing over the steering wheel.

‘But what,’ asked Little Man in a loud voice, ‘If Mummy had a bomb?  He hasn’t checked if Mummy has a bomb.’

‘I don’t have a bomb’, I said indignantly, turning around to face him in my seat.

‘But we could have one in the roof box, or in the back of the car – he hasn’t checked, Mum, we could have bombs everywhere and he hasn’t checked.’

The man was standing by the car chatting into his walkie talkie.  G had gone a rather strange colour.  ‘Can everyone stop talking about bombs please?’ he hissed, as the man waved him on.

‘I was just saying,’ said Little Man huffily as he turned back to see what Middle Son was playing on the iPad, ‘Ooh, are you dead yet?’

And so it was we arrived home, just before midnight, the cats looking at us as if we were utter strangers as we entered the house.

It’s good to be back.  It’s strange to be back.  It’s weird to think of what we’ve accomplished – the places we have seen, the people we have met, the experiences we have had.  And we all agreed, we would do it again in a flash.
He has been warned that this will be the only time I leave the last word to G, but I asked him to sum up his thoughts.  For now, Ciao xx

The Last Word…

I forgot to mention that on the very first night of our travels (Dijon) I witnessed a shooting star.  It's the second I have seen in my life, both occasions being pure flukes when I just happened to be staring skyward. Both times I gained a sense of oneness with the cosmos as if 'it' and I were having a moment.

These past few weeks I have seen so much, travelled so far (easily 3300+ miles - as far as Dubai is from London), that I've had a problem trying to sum it up and so crystalise the memories for myself.  When I think of every place, object, meal or experience a cumbersome montage forms in my mind so I have gotten to thinking about themes and what would be the lasting legacies?  I quickly realised that it wasn't the what, where, when or how that really mattered more than the why and who because these two were the conception and the conduit respectively for the memories.

That's not to ignore a series of personal bucket list ticks; The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Circus Maximus, the Sistine Chapel, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a gondola ride, Vesuvius or Capri to name a few. Nor does it negate the thousands of driving experiences in the mountains, along the Amalfi coast, through great cities, through the countless tunnels or over the countless bridges (I had wondered where the EU money went other than Spain) These were special but all are repeatable.

 For me the 'why' has always been the same and beautifully expressed by JFK (no I'm not comparing him to me or the moon landings to my holiday).

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” JFK

Although I tend not to flog dead horses, I do like to run things close on occasion.  I like to aim for a goal a little further out than is comfortable; it ensures I remain in a heightened state ready to make the most of things.  I realise this may be an anathema as a vacation but I find it an irresistible state of mind.

Away from the narrative then and my lofty inspirations are those things that are unique of their moment and imbedded into the 'who' and as such are destined to be woven into family lore to become the defining legacy. 

For instance, on the journey back R-indoors discovered a hole in the space-time-continuum when she seemed to observe that Folkstone and Calais where on vastly different Longitudes, it being light when we left Calais on the train and dark when we arrived in Folkestone...neglecting to factor in that we were actually still in the tunnel as she gazed out of the window....Priceless.

She has a bit of form on such matters having once thrown a fit on a previous expedition when map reading because she couldn't locate Barcelona on the Spanish coast...or even the coast itself apparently...before I very carefully pointed out that she was haranguing a map of France...  That said and despite a hardwired inability to discern left from right she's a great navigator and programmer of sat navs following the immortal instruction 'punch it Chewy'.  I laugh every time at my tired Hans Solo gag and every time she responds with that Princess Leah 'not if you were the last guy in the Universe' look.  And so our love grows :)

But.  If this holiday follows previous patterns then the real legacy should be the simple, powerful yet increasingly rare experience of the family being so close together for so long.  80+ meals together, thousands of miles together, walks, talks, games, A couple of old movies together (from my 'you will watch these my son / right of passage' collection [Spartacus & The Vikings]).  Formation carpet bombing Mummy in the pool, annoying Daddy whilst he sunbathes and yes, a few lively arguments together. 

I'll spare us both an examination of just why in today's world so much effort and money has to be invested to do what was once a way of life.....and instead wrap this ramble up with a promise to myself that so long as I can I'll do my best to ensure that me and my family keep one eye scanning beyond Life's horizon so as not to miss the next shooting star.

G



Til the next time!




Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Italian Job: Leaning in Pisa, discovering Dolce Acqua and the Lyon's share of chocolates

The kids turned round to each other.  ‘This can’t be it  Mum – check the map again.’  The big glass building loomed over us, incongruous in its translucent beauty against the dingy surrounding areas, and Garmin the sat nav confirmed that this was indeed the address of our hotel.  We wandered into the big white reception with its Matrix like glass counters and big plasma screens, and the boys looked at me hopefully – ‘Even if it isn’t our hotel, can we stay here?’
I’m not sure what we were expecting really, when we booked all of our hotels before our trip.  I do know that budget came foremost, parking next, and location third.   When a teenager veers from being a child in one place to an adult in another, and when despite his being the right age for a kid, but tall enough to count as an adult (when it comes to beds and food) it becomes a bit of a minefield.  Most of our bookings had hastily scribbled addendums or requests from me – could we possibly have a late check in, could they clarify what a cot bed was (in most cases a foldaway) and in all honesty we breathed a sigh of relief every time a couiffered receptionist confirmed that they were expecting us.

The modern environment of the Hotel San Ranieri, Pisa
We were indeed staying at the hotel and the boys whooped with joy as they charged around using key cards to switch all the lights on and off, ran amongst the sculptures in the trendy garden bar, as G supped another local blond beer.  The next morning we set off for Pisa, fortified by a good sleep and  a large breakfast. 

Even the sign into the city leaned...
The tower was all that we expected and more.  For a start it was actually incredibly beautifully ornate.  Secondly, it really really leaned.  A lot more than we had expected, and where the architects had attempted to right the lean, there was a distinct banana-ing in the structure. Along with several hundreds of tourists we took pictures of the boys ‘pushing the tower’, decided against queuing for an hour to climb the 249 steps up the tower, and sat on the grass people watching.  ‘Can you see what she’s doing?’ I asked in incredulity as I watched a girl twerking ‘against the tower’ as her boyfriend took the shots.  ‘Yes’ G replied, shading his hand against the sun, ‘I’m quite enjoying the view’.

Pisa was a laid back place with a lot of students and a university with an excellent reputation. The restaurants had reasonably priced menus and there was a very warm vibe everywhere we walked, from the bridges to the piazzas to the tower to the steady clip clopping of the tourist horse drawn carriages lazily ambling down the side streets.

But we had to get on – our journey was drawing to a close and we were on the home straight.  Next stop was Dolce Acqua.  ‘Where?’ asked every Southern Italian we had encountered en route.  ‘Where?’ asked our receptionist in Pisa, and indeed, no hotel in that area suiting our criteria had come up in our internet searches, so we had had to make do with the seaside resort of Diano Marino, with plans to visit Dolce Acqua the next day.

The hotel in Diano Marino could have been a hotel in Blackpool.  It had a swimming pool, coachloads of British tourists, and was saved only by the breakfast the next morning. Diano Marino itself was like any seaside resort in Europe – bright lights, cafes, burnt holiday makers, a souvenir knife and bong shop, and all the beaches seemed to be privately controlled.  We were pleased to get away and follow the signs to Dolce Acqua, up in the mountains.

The sole reason that we went to Dolce Acqua was that two of the three boys had studied it for ‘Topic’ at school in Year 4 for a brief period. We have no idea why, perhaps at one point one of the teachers had gone there on holiday, but at 20km square and with a population of 2000, it was quite hard to find. But we did, and there were 7 car parks servicing the town, all full, the number plates belying a multitude of nationalities.  We abandoned the car on a side street and wandered into the town where the clouds darkened ominously. It was there that I saw the bridge – the Ponte Vecchio that Claude Monet had captured to canvas all those years ago, and at the same time a light bulb went off in Little Man’s head and he waved at it excitedly.
 
Monet and the Ponte Vecchio
Somewhere on that bridge is my family...
The hidden secrets of Dolce Acqua
Thinking that this was it, the sum total of Dolce Acqua, we wandered over the bridge from the new town to the old bit, in an attempt to get to the ruined castle at the top of the hill.  In doing so we entered what can only be described as an alternate world.  One in which Diagon Alley out of Harry Potter would sit very comfortably – where houses piled higgledy piggledy on top of one another and alleyways opened up to reveal artisans working in darkened rooms and teeny weeny cafes exuded aromas of garlic and frying onions. And there were loads of guest houses behind tiny doors.  None of which had come up on my searches because of the parking criteria.  We had a wonderful day there.

Lyon stood impassively before us, our last hotel of the tour looking down on us loftily – offering us a sumptuous apartment with a kitchenette, English channels on the tv, which was good because it was also the only place in which we were charged for using the wifi.  It was a little wearily that we dragged ourselves out for the evening, but we were delighted that we had done so, because it was a city with a lot to offer – a big opera house, piazzas, and eateries influenced by the huge immigrant population.  We found a tiny restaurant in which I had turbot with coriander, Middle Son had fish (our translation only stretched to that) with a crab butter, and the other three had beef. We ordered a Pot – which is literally a carafe of the local wine of choice, and G had another local ale which was in a small bottle but with a big punch.

The silk merchants of Lyon
Yup... chocolate heaven
Lyon is famous for silk and chocolate.  I’m not that fussed on silk, but we all enjoy a bit of chocolate and had read up about a chocolate shop that had its own ‘laboratory’ and the next morning we wandered into town on a mission.  A couple of wrong turnings later and we had arrived at Sebastien Bouillet and were stunned at the selection on offer.  Unfortunately the laboratory tours closed over August, but the chocolatiers were happy to help us choose something to sample from the cakes and chocolates on display.  They were not cheap, but melted in the mouth, and were the perfect accompaniment to our coffee and pastries for breakfast.

Sated, we looked at one another.  This was going to be a big journey home – our longest drive of the trip, some 634 kilometres to Calais, and then a 2 hour journey from Folkestone to home. We had a night time Eurotunnel crossing booked, and needed to set off.

As we swerved the wrong way down a one way street in an attempt to leave Lyon, none of us flinched at the blaring horns of the frustrated French drivers. I just threw my arms up in a Gallic shrug, as G screeched the gears into reverse.

‘Ros Bif coming through!’ the kids yelled as we careered towards Calais.