Spinning plates

Hello! I feel like it’s been ages since I sat down and actually blogged properly. Truth is, I’ve been super busy with work and stuff and it’s all kind of run away from me a bit. It happens.

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It’s always busy in the spring- it’s crunch time for getting Year 11 ready for their exams and I have to make sure that their coursework is all present and correct (this can sometimes feel like I’m herding gigantic kittens and managing a large load of printing at the same time). I also have to keep up with the rest of my work in a job that has recently made the top 5 most stressful jobs. Yay!

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Then, of course, I have a three year old at home- which is like herding many tiny kittens at the same time, with the added bonus of a really thick actual cat thrown into the mix to add to the fun. I’m not complaining though. I’ve learnt a lot about Lego Star Wars in the last few weeks and Bronte brought in a slow worm, which led to an interesting discussion with D about creatures that live in the garden.

I also recently started taking on a bit of freelance work: mainly proofreading and copywriting. It’s good to do some jobs that bring in a bit of extra work and money, and I’m choosing jobs that I can fit in around everything else. I’m not daft- I take work when it’s quiet elsewhere- but I enjoy it and I prefer it to signing up to do exam marking, which is way less flexible.

So, the upshot, I’ve been busy. But definitely in a good way. I’ve still managed to do bits and pieces that I liked (I’ve been working in the garden and I have three books on the go at any one time, as per), but I’ve appreciated them more than normal. I’ve also been sleeping BRILLIANTLY, which really is no surprise.

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The fact is, if I actually admit it, is that I like being busy. It shows me that I’m well and that my mental health is OK. It may be that it’s not always the right thing to do, but at the moment it serves me well. I like feeling useful and I like getting stuff done.

BUT! I am looking forward to the long weekend! I finished marking all of my Year 11 coursework (a Very Big Deal Indeed) and I have no work to do this weekend, bar prepping some display stuff. D is staying at his grandparents’ tomorrow and I am looking forward to just taking it easy. And I will very much enjoy and appreciate some downtime. After all, I think I deserve it.

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“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.

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“It’s a bit ‘Triffid’, isn’t it?”- an adventure in houseplants

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that I’ve gone a bit plant-mad lately (and not just garden-plant-mad, as it’s still quite early for a lot of planting to happen.) This is mainly because of two reasons: 1) a new plant shop has opened in the North Laine and 2) D is a bit less grabby now that he’s 3.5 and I can have nicer things (occasionally).

I’ve never been massively into houseplants before, although I did buy Benn a yucca when we first started going out. He had nothing ‘alive’ in his flat, which was a sterile bachelor pad. The original yucca, known as Geraldine, has long gone, but I repotted a cutting from it last summer which has started to magically grow a new stalk:

For @spiderplantshop- the small 'stalk' started out looking like an air root, but has sort of turned into a support for the plant! Very weird and have no idea what's happened! #houseplant:

I’ve never heard of plants doing that, but apparently it is a ‘thing’- and a pretty cool one at that!

I’ve also had a jade plant and an aloe vera for about a year. Apparently, jade plants are known as ‘money plants’ because of a Chinese proverb that says you should treat your plants like your money-carefully- as both will reward you in the long term. My jade plant was given to me by a friend and I love it. Although, like with my money, I can sometimes be a bit forgetful and nonchalant!

Repotting #gardening #greenfingers #urbangardening #succulents:

That massive aloe vera plant cost me £1.50 as a teeny tiny plant at last year’s Seedy Sunday. It has been so happy on the kitchen windowsill, despite me breaking leaves off on a semi-regular basis to treat quesadilla-related burns, that it’s happily throwing out new baby plants. It is such a useful plant (sunburn, skin burns, I even have used it on eczema for relief) that I wouldn’t be without it now. Which is good, as those babies are appearing at the same rate as baby rabbits at Easter…

A teacup full of chamomile to grow next to my bed. I think it's rather sweet and watching it grow cheers me up no end. #gardening #urbangardening #sweetdreams:

I decided, on a bit of a whim, to see if chamomile would grow in a teacup (you can see my thinking there, right?) Happily, it does! Once it’s a bit more established, this will be going by my bedside. I don’t actually like chamomile tea, but I like the idea of this in my bedroom. It’s also really tactile and I love stroking it. It would also make a nice gift idea, if you can find pretty teacups in charity shops, and chamomile seeds are cheap.

Remember my little peperomia from @spiderplantshop? I repotted it into a candle holder, where it seems very happy! #houseplant #greenfingers:

This is my peperomia plant, which is actually tiny. I liked it because it’s green and pink (you’ll spot a theme) and was just, well, CUTE. I’m having a hard time finding pots I like, so this one is plonked in a tealight holder from Tesco. I just have to be super careful when I water it, but so far, it seems happy as it has grown like the clappers since I brought it home.

New houseplant #1- jewel orchid. Apparently much easier to care for than a normal orchid, I like that it looks a bit jungle-y #houseplant #home #orchid #flower #urbangardening:

In theory, I should HATE this jewel orchid- but it’s quite the opposite. Bonus points in its favour that it will apparently take quite a lot of neglect before it dies, so that’s nice. I think I like it because it’s quite elegant, in an alien way. D calls it the ‘dinosaur plant’ and I kind of get where he’s coming from. I do need to find a good pot for it, though.

Houseplant #2- a fittonia. I had to put a heavy filter on it to show how vividly pink the veins are! @spiderplantshop is bad for my bank balance but good for the general air quality in my home, ha! #houseplant #home #plant #urbangardening:

The fittonia is tiny and whenever I photograph it, I have to use a filter, as the colours just don’t come through properly; the pink is almost neon in tone is an amazing contrast to the dark green. There are loads of variants of fittonia- light green leaves with pink veins, pink leaves with green veins and so on. Apparently they can be a bit temperamental, so I need to keep an eye on it. But for now it makes me super happy to look at it!

I’m now on the look out for interesting pots- and a Christmas cactus. Benn is only mildly despairing.

 

Prepping for spring!

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I have spent most of the last few months mourning a winter that has never quite arrived in Sussex; I’m convinced that people were wearing hats, scarves and big coats out of force of habit rather than necessity. Now that there’s some sunshine, I’m feeling a bit more hopeful and happy that our extended autumn (it feels like folly to label it ‘winter’) is on its way out. The days are starting to feel slightly longer and I’m feeling cheerful- it’s time to plan my garden!

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my annual trip to Seedy Sunday, held in the Corn Exchange in Brighton. As you can see, I came home with a huge amount of seeds, as well as some interesting varieties of seed potatoes and a membership to the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Despite saying that I wouldn’t focus entirely on veggies this year, I did end up buying a ton of vegetable seeds; I always buy from Pennard Plants, as they have special show offers, I’ve used them before and, yep, I love the packets! This year, D had asked me to grow a pumpkin for Hallowe’en and a beanstalk (although I’ve had to explain that you’re going to get beans, rather than a giant, on your beanstalk), hence the fairytale-type packets. As well as vegetable seeds (I’m trying again with a couple of failures from last year, most notably squashes and tomatillos), I came home with lots of flowers- all of which, inexplicably begin with S. I’m obviously creating a Sesame Street garden without realising it.

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As well as my usual sweet peas, I’ve been really lusting after snapdragons. They’re so pretty and cheerful- I’m thinking of putting them in an area by the backdoor- and I fell in love with them last summer. They remind me a bit of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. I’d also like some phlox and am debating planting crocuses and snowdrops later in the year so that they can be enjoyed next spring.

I’m also thinking about layout- last year, the potatoes were by the back door and more tender plants, such as tomatoes and courgettes were further up the garden, which meant that the snails and slugs (grr) could get to them before I noticed in some instances. However, I do have some unusual potato varieties this year- purple and blue!- so I don’t want them to be too far away! I also need to replace the raspberries, which I put in a quite frankly RIDICULOUS place last year and that need to come forward in the garden. Ah well, you live and learn.

Lastly, I’ve realised that I can’t do everything I want to do, which simply boils down to money. I have to decide if I want new terracotta pots or border plants and I can’t do everything. But I’ve accepted that it will most likely take me years to get the garden the way I want it and I am OK with that. I’ll just enjoy the process until then.

 

How women on TV shape my career goals

Now that D is three- and will be starting school in September 2017, eek!-I’ve started to think more about where my career is and where I would like it to go. At the moment, I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, but there are things I would like to achieve (if I had a Five Year Plan, this is where it would come in.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I LOVE TV. I like to say it’s because I teach Media Studies, but it’s really just that I’m a telly addict and have been forever. I love Netflix and I love a good binge-watch. What’s surprising is that I’ve found career inspiration in some of my favourite shows and that by watching these four women, I’ve started to think differently about my own job and the way that I work.

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Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

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Leslie Knope is a ball of contradictions- sometimes she’s brimming with self-confidence, other times, she’s on the floor with self-doubt. And although Amy Poehler (one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century, IMHO) plays Leslie for laughs, there is something in her character that most women can relate to; she’s a visible embodiment of someone with imposter syndrome. Leslie’s key strength, though, is her love and support for her colleagues. Yes, she looks after herself, but she cares deeply for those around her- and not in a self-sacrificing way.

Dana Scully- The X Files

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Scully (and Gillian Anderson) has been a heroine of mine since I was twelve. Although I’m not very good at emotional detachment, I’ve always admired Scully’s dedication to her job, her dry humour and her dogged pursuit of what she thinks is right. At work, next to my desk, I have a poster with a picture of Scully, reminding me that if I have a bad day I should think about what she would do. It stands me in good stead.(I also like Stella Gibson, Anderson’s character in The Fall, but don’t really feel the same connection to her. Did I mention I just really love Gillian Anderson?)

Viv Deering- No Offence

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If you haven’t seen No Offence yet, I urge you to seek it out (the series is on All 4). I loved Viv as soon as I saw her- northern and bold as brass, obsessed with clothes and very, very sweary. She’s sort of like the old stereotype of the northern, working class matriarch but updated and promoted to DI. She presents a tough-as-old-boots persona and won’t take nonsense from anybody, but isn’t vile to work for. Her sense of humour, ruthless determination to do her job well and her ability to stick up for those working for her make her an excellent, if occasionally slightly scary, boss. I want to be more self assured and trust my judgement a bit more- Viv’s the woman to look up to. (Also, when the young PC answers the above question with a hesitant “..Seven?” Viv replies “Oh, good. I do love a man who isn’t bothered about career progression.”)

Alicia Florrick- The Good Wife

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The Good Wife is my current obsession. I love it because it’s full of interesting female characters in addition to Alicia (Kalinda, Diane and my personal soulmate in the world of work, Elsbeth Tascioni), but my focus in terms of career is Alicia. She mucks it up sometimes, she often feels like she’s struggling to parent her kids and she has to deal with an on/off husband who is a bit of a git. Yet, she manages something that resembles a work/life balance (she also drinks a lot of red wine) and looks amazing at all times. I am currently debating whether I am going to grow my hair into an ‘Alicia’. But it’s the way that she negotiates her career that impresses me. It doesn’t always go right, but she brushes herself off and starts again- and this attitude is one worth holding on to at times of disappointment.

I guess all these women have a lot in common and represent idealised versions of women in the workplace. However, I reckon if I can channel just a little of what they have in my own job, I can see improvements. We’ll see.

Tell me- who do you admire in a career sense?

 

Ten years in Brighton

Ten years ago today, I packed a few bags and a couple of small boxes of belongings into my aunt’s teeny tiny hire car and drove from Lancashire (I’d been at my cousin’s wedding the night before) to Brighton, unsure of what would happen to me once there. I’d had a really rough couple of months- the details are not interesting- and had managed to get a compassionate transfer to the Brighton office of the arm of the Civil Service I’d been working for in the six months since I’d left uni. I started applying to study for my PGCE at the Brighton universities. I was certain this was what I wanted.

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Brighton had seemed, to a lot of people, an odd choice. Surely I should have gone to my other favoured city, Manchester? It was near to my home city of Leeds and it was just, well, northern. But I’d been to uni in the North West and, although I’d enjoyed my visits to Manchester and generally loved everything about it, I didn’t know anyone there. I also didn’t know it as well as Brighton, where my aunt had lived for a few years and where I’d been on holiday a few times. I also knew I wanted to live near the sea.

I came down here with a vague idea that I’d stay for six months. I’m still here. I have friends, family (my aunt is still here!) and a whole support network that I’ve made from scratch. I met Benn on my first day in the office and in two weeks we’ll be celebrating being together for ten years. I no longer recognise Leeds when I walk around and feel like a fish out of water whenever I visit; I used to be able to navigate its streets at 3am on a Saturday night with no problem, no matter how much I’d had to drink. I could only do that now in my adopted city.

I’ve lived a third of my life by the sea (although, ironically, I rarely get to go and actually look at it!) and my life has changed completely and utterly. I’m still sometimes as sad as I was when I arrived, but I know that I have so much to help me get through it. If you’d have told me, when I moved here, that I’d be married with a kid, a job I’ve been in nearly nine years and a group of excellent friends, I wouldn’t have believed you.

And although the city sometimes drives me mad and I threaten that I’m going to move back up north, I still love it.

Here’s to the next ten years, Brighton.

 

The terror of toddler night terrors

As it’s a week from Halloween, it seems appropriate that I take to the blog to discuss one of the scariest, most challenging things we’ve been dealing with since becoming parents. Are you ready?

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D has recently been experiencing night terrors. And there is virtually nothing we can do except hope that he grows out of them- a phrase that brings dread to all parents of toddlers.

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They really are vile; D, halfway between sleep and wakefulness is clearly terrified. I can see him fighting something off and his body tenses. I can totally understand why people in the middle ages thought those experiencing night terrors were possessed. D arches his back and sort of lifts his legs too. He screams and shouts. He will try and fight us if we are in his way at all. It’s pretty scary.

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Websites are not much cop, either. “It’s really rare- only 1-6% of children get them!” they trill. Which is fine, unless you’ve got a kid in that 1-6% band, which we do. “Don’t try and wake them!” Which is sensible, but is totally alien; after all, as a parent, your first instinct is to comfort, right? But we learnt quickly that it makes it worse. D is clearly fighting something and if we try and intervene, it makes him more scared. So all we can do is sit with him and… wait.

This is hard, and Benn generally has to do it. I find it too distressing and I’ve cried more than once. Also, if D senses me in the room, it upsets him, sometimes to the point of trying to go for me. Benn seems to be the best, most calming presence and so we’re sticking with the plan that he will be the one to go in. I just lie there and will for it to be over (in about 25-30 minutes.) The other night, he had three bouts. I suspect it might have been because I’d been at work all day and he hadn’t seen me. Apparently night terrors can be linked to seperation anxiety (which he has a bit of, since starting nursery) and a break in routine (me not being home when he gets back.)

The worst thing is that there’s nothing we can do- there’s no point taking him to the doctor, as they can’t do anything. Thankfully, D doesn’t remember anything in the morning, except maybe a fleeting sense of a bad dream and a sore throat. I’d say that Benn and I are more exhausted the next day than he is.

So what are we doing? We’re making sure that bedtime is calm- we talk about all the people D likes and loves, we read stories, we keep the house quiet. I’ve been to explain to the next door neighbours that we’re not murdering him and we’re sorry if they can hear it (they’ve been wonderfully British about it and claimed not to hear a thing, which I know is a complete lie, but sweet of them all the same. I’ll definitely drop a Christmas card round this year.)

And now, we just wait for him to grow out of it. There’s nothing else we can do.

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Why I am all about hygge

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the concept of hygge lately- there was obviously a press release recently sent out, as both the BBC and The Pool have had features on their websites. ‘Hygge’ is apparently the Danish word for coziness and I am all. over. it.

If you follow me on any social media (particularly Instagram), you’ll know that my life generally revolves around books, tea, the odd bit of baking and knitting-particularly handknitted socks. So I’m not sure whether I was made for hygge, or it was made for me.

Take this blurry snap of me in the jumper below, for example:

My favourite scruffy jumper is out of its summer hibernation #helloautumn:

I cannot explain to you the EXCITEMENT I felt when the first chill of autumn appeared I could legitimately get this out of my ‘winter clothes’ drawer (we had a spare drawer. Don’t judge.) It isn’t great quality and I keep promising myself that I’m going to knit myself a nicer version out of some good quality wool, but there’s something about this one that makes me happy. In fact, I love it so much, I’m currently wearing it as I type.

See also handknitted socks:

Hand knitted socks!:

Every article I have read about the idea of hygge has been illustrated by the feet of smug people which are smugly adorned in handknitted Scandiweigan socks. These were knitted for me by my friend Jan and I love them. I do knit socks, but no one knits a comfier sock than Jan does. Ergo, these are my favourites and very ‘hygge’, despite me not having an open fire to display them next to.

Obviously, I am well suited to this idea of hunkering down for a long, cold winter. The holly tree out back is already festooned with scarlet berries, which I am told is a sure sign of a long, cold winter. I don’t mind. I grew up in the wilds of the North (er, Leeds) and I have a hardy constitution. I dress my child like a sherpa at the merest whiff of cold weather, so I imagine he’ll be fine too (he is desperate for snow, as there hasn’t been any since he was teeny tiny, so he can’t remember it.)

So if embracing hygge is an actual thing, rather than a clever marketing ploy- and if it’s the latter, congratulations! I’ve generated some content! Please feel free to offer me an all expenses paid trip to Denmark- I am quite happy to participate. As long as I can stay indoors, have the heating on, drink tea and read a good book.

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What I’ve been up to lately

To be honest, not tons has been going on- getting back into the swing of work and getting D settled into going to nursery (I think Benn is on the verge of some kind of breakdown some mornings.)

Last Wednesday I found myself on the Guardian website; I’d volunteered to give a response to Jeremy Corbyn’s first PMQs. The next day I was the only one of the panellists who had their face in the paper:

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All I can say is that my mum’s collections of clippings of me in newspapers and stuff is getting extremely eclectic.

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Also in the last week, my blackberry jelly recipe was published on Bluebird Tea Co.’s blog– if you’re not keen on the idea of adding the tea (although it’s lovely), you can replace that with water. It’s up to you; it’s a recipe well worth trying, even if I do say so myself! While you’re there, maybe try some of the new autumn blends. I was sent them to try and, along with the always popular Spiced Pumpkin Pie, I’d definitely recommend the Nuts About You rooibos, which I’m planning to try as a latte in the very near future.

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I’ve also been reading a very good biography of six notable women who forged remarkable lives in the 1920s called Flappers (if ever you feel your life is in stasis, read about someone like Josephine Baker or Tallulah Bankhead and feel quite inadequate…!) One of the women featured is Zelda Fitzgerald, pictured above with Scott. A review will follow on The Bookish Badger soon.

Anyway, I don’t mind being busy- at least I’m kept out of trouble!

Gardening is good for you (well, it is for me.)

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I’ve never been what you would consider ‘outdoorsy’. I don’t like horses, or camping, or sunburn. I don’t like sitting in sunshine (sunburn, again.) So why have I embraced spending endless hours outside in the garden?

Simply, it’s good for my mind.

I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, or the extra vitamin D, but I’m finding every opportunity to get out there are get my hands dirty. At the moment, I’m interested in growing vegetables. The picture above is of a pea plant. I’ve always had a soft spot for sweet peas- they were the first thing I ever grew successfully- and so I’m growing actual real peas this year. The variety I chose produces beautiful pink, white and purple flowers and dark purple pea pods- the peas themselves are incredibly sweet and it’s really hard to leave them on the plant:

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The garden has become a hive of activity- D has a sandpit out there and Toby Rabbit is being put to work keeping the small amount of grass down.

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The best bit, though, is eating the stuff I’ve produced (although the birds have got to the strawberries. Next year, I’m doing like Monty Don and getting a teeny polytunnel- if only to stop Bronte sitting on them.) I’ve even started a compost heap, which I’m embarrassingly excited about.

My favourite so far? My potatoes (which have been all over my Instagram like a RASH.) These Cheyenne potatoes were cooked up for a barbecue and tasted delicious.

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I think that’s why I like it so much. I have a reason to enjoy outside and I can have something focus to think about- I’m already planning next year. Also, D is very into the irritating fake northern charms of Mr Bloom, so he’s super eager to help out (which is not actually terribly helpful. I may or may not be directing my son to water a small patch of weeds, rather than proper veggies. Next year I may have to give him his own little growbag.)

I honestly think, with running and gardening, I’ve made a positive change that’s helping me keep my depression under control and making me healthy all round. That’s never a bad thing, is it?