Excuse the Politics

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Well, this is nice, isn’t it? The world all over the place politically, everyone either angry or disengaged; yelling at each other about Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn or whatever. And now Theresa May is saying she wants to bring back fox hunting- like grammar schools, it’s a puff piece to distract from the barrage of warnings about Brexit. Hurrah for Macron etc.

But I do want to say something about voting. It is so important. Especially now.

I teach. I am definitely feeling the effects of this government in my job. Belts are being tightened, people aren’t being replaced, resources are running low. You might think that, because you don’t have kids, it doesn’t affect you- but it does. Because those kids might be the doctors who treat you when you’re older, or the scientists who find a breakthrough that you might rely on, or the journalist who uncovers corruption- every one of those kids has potential to be something amazing and they are potentially being robbed of this by this government’s policies. The ministers peddle the same lines about more money than ever- but there is a lot of money going into free schools and local authorities are not allowed to open new schools any more to meet demand. Grammar schools are a smoke and mirrors exercise. Academies are being run as businesses. Education should not be for profit.

They’re also scared by Brexit (disclosure: I am married to a Leave voter)- a lot of their parents work in and around a large national airport. They’re worried that their parents might be sent home, that they might be separated from families. I’ve had some hard, hard conversations with kids in the last year about things that are way too grown up for them.

The NHS is in trouble. You only have to look at the utter shambles going on across the pond to see how precious the health service is here. Yes, it could be better and it needs more investment- but I am unsure how, when the government is going to be tying itself in knots over the EU, it will be able to keep its eye on the NHS too. Hospital staff are using food banks and leaving to get jobs in supermarkets to make ends meet. This is not right in the world’s seventh economy, especially when there are people who have got rich from the post-referendum chaos.

If you don’t need the NHS now, great! But don’t forget, you’ll probably need it down the road: a filling, your kid’s broken toe, your nan’s dementia care. If there’s no money, there’s no healthcare. Health should not be a for-profit business.

I have been so blessed by the NHS- my mum is a type 1 diabetic. She wouldn’t have made it past childhood without the NHS. I have experienced excellent audiology care, dental care, mental health care. My son was treated in a matter of months last year and now has perfect hearing. I couldn’t have afforded that.

I’m not telling you how to vote, but I want you to vote and consider who you vote for- and to consider how precious it is that you live in a democracy.

You might not want to vote for Corbyn’s Labour and that’s your choice- but consider the alternative if you vote Tory. No party is going to be perfect; if only! Think about what your vote means for you and for those around you- and it does mean something. Please don’t think that your vote is worthless. Don’t just think that nothing is going to change- you can vote and maybe you can bring change about.

REGISTER TO VOTE. You don’t have a voice if you don’t register

Live in a safe party seat? Find out who came second last time and read their manifesto. If you’re still not keen, check out vote swapping. If you’re passionate about a party or a candidate, offer your time to help them.

Think past the idea that this election is about the leaders. It’s not just about that (although Theresa May wants you to think that this is a her vs Jeremy Corbyn contest. It’s not. Well, not entirely)- it’s about the MP in your area, about the cuts to your council services, about who will stand up for you. Don’t be blinded by the headlines about personalities.

Educate yourself. Vote. Please.

Easter fun!

Ahh, the Easter break cannot come quickly enough. I am exhausted. However, spring is cheering me up, as are changes that are afoot (no, I’m not pregnant. I did nearly buy some guinea pigs today, before my senses reconvened. They were SO. CUTE. though.) Although we’re off up north for a few days, I’ve started to get into a spring-like, Easter-y frame of mind…

Easter bunting from @klinakloen! So cute!:  My friend Carolina sent us this super cute bunting which is now up in our front room. Even D is very taken with it- and he finds Easter a bit baffling. I think the sheep is my favourite (naturally!) with his cheery little jumper.

How much fun is this Easter bundle from @bluebirdteaco?! 🐰🐇🐥🐤🐣 Thanks, guys! #tea #easter:  I’ve also been spoilt in the tea-drinking department- Bluebird Tea sent me a bundle  of their Easter treats- aren’t the little egg box (containing four reusable plastic eggs with different flavours of tea) and carrot (full of Hot Cross Bun flavoured tea) CUTE?! The parcel arrived on a day where I’d almost walked out of a class, I was so stressed- it cheered me no end. I especially love Easter Egg Nests as a morning tea. Available in both vegan and non-vegan blends, it’s a sweet, slightly nutty tea that doesn’t overdose on the chocolate, but quells my sweet tooth and steers me away from sugary cereal. I’ve been drinking rooibos in the evening, so Carrot Cake is perfect. It’s so warming- it’s like a spring update for those who love a spiced tea, but don’t want to heaviness of the winter blends. I wish it was a permanent addition to the range.

In the rock garden. "Mummy, do fish swim for many moons?":  I’m hoping to recharge my batteries and catch up with friends- as well as this little dude, who is keeping me on my toes. We find out in two weeks’ time which school he’ll be going to! Madness, right? I swear he was only a baby five minutes ago- but today he was asking me if fish ‘swam for many moons’, as if he was some kind of little old man from the 13th century. Life goes by so quickly that it’s important to slow down enough to actually spot the fish in the pond as you hop over the stepping stones.

Making Time

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My work/life balance is out of whack at the moment. The spring term is always intense, but a series of unusual things have meant that work is even more stressful than usual (and I’ll probably have to spend at least one of my mid-week days off working and hoping that D doesn’t notice too much…) I’m also kind of not eating as I should be and everything’s just… ugh. At least there’s my birthday in the middle of the madness.

The thing that frustrates me the most is that how everything goes by the wayside. I’m a worrier by nature and the way I deal with worry is by being REALLY PROACTIVE. And so, when I worry about work, I do MORE WORK. Which is great. For work. Not so much for me and my stress levels.

I’m setting myself a resolution- and, my reader, you are witness to it. I am going  to make sure that I make time for D (I am promising myself that I will take him to his favourite place for lunch soon and I will do every. single. Mister. Maker. Art. Set. If that’s what he wants.) I will make time for Benn- we’ve been going to comedy gigs lately and we have a couple lined up in the next few weeks.

Most importantly, though, I need to make sure I do stuff I’m interested in, too. I’m quite good at not doing stuff and then beating myself up about it. The problem will be.. I just have to find the time.

Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days

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Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.

 

The day I learnt how to flip a sheep…

Well, the title got your attention, didn’t it?

One of the  things I do quite regularly is take myself off on long walks. I’m lucky that I live near the countryside and so it’s always pleasant to go off on a wander. A few months ago, I saw that the council was looking for volunteer shepherds- ‘lookerers’- who could help out by checking the sheep they put in certain areas of the city, checking the fences and so on. I figured that, as I go up there regularly anyway, I could probably help out a bit. After all, I’m a knitter. I like sheep. I applied. And on Sunday, I attended a course.

First of all, I had to follow a trail of little wooden sheep to get to the council rangers’ office. I felt like I was in a slightly surreal version of Hansel and Gretel.

I'm following a procession of little wooden sheep and for some reason this tickles me:

Once I got there, we went over the day- we were to spend the morning out in a local area called Sheepcote Valley, where the council is currently grazing sheep: a mixture of Cheviot, mules and, my absolute favourite, Herdwick sheep- which literally do not have time for any of your nonsense, thank you very much. They’re quite sassy and don’t really have the herd mentality of the other types of sheep.

Sam, the farmer, invited us to have a go at flipping sheep. He makes it look easy. It is not easy. First of all, even in a pen, it’s bloody hard to catch a sheep. They jump and then huddle together in a huge, fleecy puddle of ovine nervousness. Then, you’ve got to get their head just so on one side. If you manage that, they then relax. You can then tip them onto their bottoms, legs in the air, looking like some little Buddha statue; a picture of content. As long as their feet aren’t on the floor, they’re cool. Could I manage to achieve sheep nirvana?

No. I have no upper body strength. I have decided that, if on my rounds, I find a sheep that needs looking at, I will call somebody. I have also come to the conclusion that, if there was a life or death situation involving me and a sheep, we’d probably wing it instinctively.

Also: this sheep below watched the whole thing as my fellow lookerers-to-be made earnest prats of ourselves. I quite liked her. I thought she looked a bit like a rabbit- she had an amused face and seemed to be quite glad that she was on the other side of the fence.

SHEEP!:

I also saw a skylark and a buzzard whilst out on the Downs. I had no idea what they were until the ranger, Lindsay, told me. I am such a city girl. I mean, I had nail polish on, for God’s sake.

In the afternoon, we learnt about why Brighton and Hove use grazing animals to look after the chalk grassland surrounding the city (it’s an incredibly rare habitat for lots of flora and fauna.) We also learnt the basics of sheep anatomy and how the lookerer system works. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in in  the spring. I’ve even signed up to work out at the new site at 19 Acres that will have New Forest ponies. I am scared of horses. I am going to have to have pony training. This will be fine. Fine.

On a more personally interesting note, I learnt that fleece from a sheared sheep sells (often) for less than £1.50. This seems confusing- after all, yarn is expensive and, even after you consider processing, marketing and so on- it still doesn’t seem to tally. It seemed daft that, at a time when farmers are struggling, that it doesn’t seem to pay to keep sheep for their wool any more. I left determined to learn more about the wool process and how it can help local farmers- could I buy yarn from certain farms? It’s on my to-do list and I’d like to knit a jumper in yarn from a single source (a bit like fancy coffee or chocolate, I suppose.) I also left thinking about how I could use my garden more sympathetically to that unusual soil makeup and support the butterflies and insects that are being eradicated from Sussex.

But could I flip I sheep? Could I billy-o.

 

The importance of self-care

famous-watercolor-painting-beautiful-woman-was-sleeping The world is a scary place at the moment. I can’t remember a time that everything felt quite this out of control, except briefly after 9/11- but I was 17 then and not really aware of much else apart from my A-level coursework and whether I’d have money to go out on a Friday night with my mates. At the moment, everything feels more real, more raw; like a layer of skin has been scrubbed off.

There’s not a lot I can do, except not go on social media so much (ha, easier said than done!) I’ve been a news junkie since I was at uni, regularly checking news sites and keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world- but there’s just SO MUCH information out there now that it’s impossible to get a handle on everything and that’s even before you start thinking about fake news. The whole thing is a mess, a dangerous and frightening mess. It’s no wonder that there are reports of people having crises of mental health issues.

I can’t tell you what to do to make yourself feel better, but I can tell you how I’m making myself feel better. I’m trying to slow down, I’m struggling with insomnia (although that pre-dates everything, but I’m sure that it’s not helped.) Baths and candles help; I’m researching homemade recipes for stuff to help my skin; I buy probably quite impractical-for-my-garden seeds and spend lots of time thinking about the things I can grow in the garden. I’m watching trashy TV- Real Housewives are good, anything ‘reality’ will do. I’m creating stuff: presents for others, glittery socks for my feet. I’m trying to find the good in small things.

I read. I take myself off on long, solitary walks. I’m saying yes to more things- I’m going on a bloody shepherding course on Sunday, for goodness’ sake. I’m taking small steps to take control of my own life; I can’t control much of the world (but I can contact MPs and do other things to make a difference), but I can make changes to what I do and how I feel. In Candide, Voltaire says that “we must take care of our own garden”, by which he means that we must mind our own business (he also says that we must be productive.) And whilst I don’t agree with this entirely, I do sort of get that we must keep going as much as we can when the world is all over the place. It’s because of this that self-care is important. Do whatever makes you feel better: read, cook, buy flowers, watch Amelie for the millionth time, anything. Because if you feel like you’re rested and ready, you’ll be able to think about what you can do to make the world better. But you need to take care of yourself.

Looking forward, looking back

20161230_150620 This year… well. It’s been a tricky one and, I’ll admit, that sometimes it’s been hard to rationalise what’s been happening in the world. It’s been a confusing, sad year and there have been times when it’s seemed scary and unknowable. I’m not sure if 2017 will be any better in that respect, but I have to believe that there will be hope. Otherwise, what’s the point?

From a personal perspective, 2016 was OK; I navigated the world the best I could. One of my highlights was talking to Lauren Laverne on her radio show about my experiences with postnatal depression. After that conversation, one of my friends opened up to me about her experiences. It felt good to help someone and for me to acknowledge what I’d gone through (which I hadn’t done hugely openly before) and to know that I was helping someone else. I want to keep having these conversations, to keep helping others where I can. Mental health issues will continue to be important and as anxiety about the world increases, we need to support each other as best we can. We need to help each other. I want to be kind in 2017; goodness knows, it feels like we’re going to need it. I also need to help D understand about kindness to others. It’s never too early!

2017 will also mean changes: D will start school in September (which I cannot quite believe), but this poses questions for me. I always knew I wasn’t going to have another child, so this period means that I can start to look at my career- I’ve been working three days a week for the last three years. Do I increase my hours? Stay the same, but pick up more freelance work? Study? I don’t know yet. It’s quite thrilling but also terrifying. I’ve never really been good with change; my life has been pretty risk-averse! But I want to start exploring avenues and options that I’ve never been confident enough to try. I want to embody the fearlessness of Carrie Fisher (whose novels I would like to read in 2017- as well as finally getting round to seeing Star Wars!)

stay-afraid-but-do-it-any-way-what-s-important-10041241My new years resolutions are simple: sort out my passport (it’s due to expire this year- and it’s still in my maiden name, despite the fact that I’ve been married for nearly six years!); bake something sweet and vegan so that my boss can eat some of the cake I take into work; write to three people I admire (after Victoria Wood died, I sorely regretted never having written to her. I might start with Alan Bennett. After all, it worked with Angela Lansbury!); and to grow red sweet peas, even though I’ve heard they don’t smell much. But it’d be wrong to not grow my favourite flower in my favourite colour, even if I only do it once.

Other than this, it’ll just be business as usual- trying to keep my anxiety about the world in check, being kind to others where I can and trying to sleep well (insomnia is an unwelcome friend at the moment.) I just want to try my best in 2017.

I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful 2017.