The lingering festive hangover

Christmas lights 2010
Christmas lights 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is January. In fact, it is very nearly February. Spring is just around the corner (sort of). Christmas is not for another eleven months, and still I find myself making reference to it in my posts. I write about the hangover of the festive period. The one that made our stomachs swollen and our pockets empty. I write about the snow that falls wrapping everything in a soft, white Christmas magic. Why is this? I’m not thinking of Christmas 2013 as I’m really not that organised. It’s my daughters’ birthday in two days time and I haven’t yet bought their birthday cards.

January is the month of planning for the future. We make resolutions and promises to ourselves for the coming year. We start thinking about spring and summer, and where to go to for this year’s summer break. Yet, despite all that, we haven’t yet fully forgotten Christmas. It seems that all that planning and organising leaves its mark on us and we can’t quite shake off the tinsel (see, I’m at it again!).

But, no more! I’ve done writing about Christmas and I’m not going to do it again until I start my 2013 Christmas shopping – in December. Today, I’ve tidied writing about Christmas away, placed it in a box, tied it with string, and placed in the loft with the tinsel, fairy-lights and baubles. The box has a label on it which clearly says, “Do not open until December 2013. Failure to comply may result in extreme writer’s block.”



Norovirus: Caliciviridae
Norovirus: Caliciviridae (Photo credit: Christine Myaskovsky (chrissymckeen))

Winter, January, coughs, colds, Norovirus. They all come around every year, as regular as clockwork. The dreaded Norovirus rears its head around Christmas time when we are run down from shopping, wrapping, entertaining, being entertained and throwing ourselves into the festive season. It, however, doesn’t leave when the tinsel and baubles have been packed away. It hangs around, like an unwanted and unwelcome guest long into the new year..

I’ve been lucky. The Norovirus has only visited our home once since having the children. Its first visit was for the girls’ first Christmas and it was horrendous. This appalling experience has left me with a legacy of anxiety and panic at every Christmas, birthday and holiday since. I worry that that the girls are going to be ill and will miss out on a special event. It’s the girls’ fifth birthday on Friday and I’m in a major panic. This is because the horrible Norovirus has decided that a visit to my house was long overdue.

It arrived last Monday. The girls were fine when we awoke and I took them to school as usual. It was my English class in the afternoon, and we spent a great hour together counting and making number ladders (I know this is numeracy , not literacy, but we have broadened the remit of our class). They headed back to their classroom and I spent another hour looking at sentence construction (boring but helpful). My class finished and I walked across the playground to collect them. It had been snowing and I had taken the sledge with me. This is a way to win instant brownie points with your kids. Being pulled home on the sledge elicits loud screams,yelps of joy and happy, beaming faces. We all feel good. It also makes the journey home from school easier. Pile kids, pack-lunched boxes and book-bags into the sledge and off we go!

However, I was met by their teacher and two very poorly looking children. They were as white as the snow itself. One of them had just been sick and the other felt sick. “Great! How the hell am I going to get them home?” I groaned to myself. We don’t live far from the school. It’s only two minutes but two minutes with two sick children is two minutes too long. I loaded up the sledge with boxes and bags, held onto their little, mittened hands and set off.

Thankfully, we managed to get home without incident but then a week of hell followed. Looking after sick children is truly exhausting. I became a slave to two small very demanding creatures, with their cries of “Mummy!” constantly ringing in my ears – day and night. And childhood illnesses are crafty. They trick you into thinking your kids are on the mend. They give your children a surge of energy which sees them running around the house. Four days into the illness I found the girls watching a commemorative Olympics DVD (a Christmas present from a relative, I didn’t buy it). We spent the morning reliving the sporting achievements of the summer, and making gold medals and designing kits. “Hooray,” I thought, “they are better.” But they weren’t. They had peaked too soon and had a mid-afternoon dip. This tom foolery continued for a couple of days.

Eventually, the illness ran its course in one of my daughters. It was a welcome relief and respite. Having one sick child to look after may by tiring, but it is a damn sight easier to cope with than two. I took my recovered daughter back to school on Monday. I took her into the school as it was her first day back and she was twinless. I helped her off with her coat and boots, cleared out the mountain of school newsletters from her drawer, and took out her plimsolls. One of them was covered in a suspicious looking, white, dried goo. Was it yogurt? Could it be play clay? Perhaps it was glue? I thought it best to ask my daughter. I wondered if she would remember what it was. She had been absent from school for a week after all. She took one look at her plimsoll and answered in that matter of fact way that young children have, “it’s sick mummy.” A sick-splattered shoe had been left in her drawer for a week. Lovely.

Better late than never

English: Snowman on frozen Lake Saimaa, Puumal...
English: Snowman on frozen Lake Saimaa, Puumala, Finland Suomi: Lumiukko jäätyneellä Saimaalla Puumalassa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snow. The very word brings a smile to my face. It is truly magical to watch snowflakes falling from the heavens. To see them twirling and whirling as they make their way to earth fills me with wonder. To wake, draw back the curtains and see a blanket of snow covering my world is amazing. My surroundings take on a new appearance with bushes and skeletal trees growing new skins. The brilliance of snow reflects light in a unique way; particularly at night. Night-time in the snow is eerie. It is a place of fawns, witches and lions.

It is not only my face it brings a smile to as I can see the joy on many others’ faces too – young and old. Being the first to make footprints in the snow, making snowman and snow-angels, throwing snowballs, sledging, and catching snowflakes on your tongue all bring about laughter and happiness. Being out in the snow, even if it’s just walking in it, transports you back to your childhood. It is one of the few times in your life this happens – along with flying down a waterslide at the pool, and sneaking a go on the swings at the park. I also like the way that when the snow makes your clothes wet and soggy, it doesn’t matter. We don’t take offence at being sodden by the snow like we do the rain.

My only real gripe about snow is that it comes too late. In the UK, it is very rarely here when we really want it – at Christmas. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen snowfall on Christmas Day. Our Christmas images are full of white, soft, fluffy snow. Cards, books and films show the indubitable link between snow and the festive season. All of this has been confusing for one of my daughters. The last two Christmases she has thought that she would wake up to see snow on Christmas Day. I have been the one who has had to dry her tears and explain that this is unlikely to happen here in East Yorkshire.

However, the recent British cold snap has brought the snow she so desired. We’ve built the snowman from the cards, been sledging as in the storybooks, and made the snow-angels from the films. When we were wet and cold to the bone, we headed back indoors with our cheeks glowing, and our fingers and toes tingling. I threw some logs onto the wood burner, got hot milk and biscuits, wrapped us up in blankets, and put on The Snowman DVD. It seems that my little girl got her dream Christmas after all.

Return to the old ways

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

The purpose of this blog was to get me writing again. I thought writing a blog would kick start my latent creative juices and would lead me on to other ideas, stories; perhaps even, if I dare mention it, a novel. I knew nothing about blogging and had, shamefully, read very few blogs before I started. I chose to write a blog as it seemed to fit my needs. I not only wanted to write but I also wanted to make sure I finished pieces. I also thought having a blog would force me to write. It has done all of this for me.

I like the commitment of posting. I set myself a task of posting twice a week and, for the most part, have succeeded in achieving this. Blogging gives me the kick up the bum I need to write. Without it I would get distracted with the mundane tasks of daily life, and gradually lose interest and stop. I know this as it has happened so many times before.

I like the fact that I can write a piece in its entirety, post it, and move onto the next. My previous attempts at writing have all too often ended with a notebook full of ideas, plots and characters, and half finished stories. With blogging I can actually finish something, and this feels good.

I like it that writing my blog has reignited my creative fire; that I have ideas and thoughts for plots again. I have been working on a poem, the first one I have written since my school days. It needs an awful lot of work, but it’s getting there. I also have an idea for a short story. I only need to get it from my mind to paper through my fingers. There is just something stopping it – my computer.

This may seem an odd thing to write, but it is perfectly true. In examining why I have trouble finishing anything I have discovered it is all the fault of my PC. To be more exact, how writing on a PC distracts me. It is not the internet, or games, or reliving past happy family memories that diverts me from my task. It is Microsoft Word.

The problem started at university where they insisted that every essay was handed in to an exacting standard. All work had to be written on Word, using Times New Roman font, with one and a half spaces, and Oxford referencing. I’m sure there were other nitpicking demands but time has erased these from my memory. It seems academics hold such things in high esteem. I guess when you have over one hundred essays to mark it makes it easier if they are all written in the same format. Personally, I think it would be more interesting if they allowed students free reign over such things. Let them have a bit of freedom of expression for goodness sake. There again, I always have been a bit of a maverick.

The problem with writing my essays using Word was that I could spend hours writing my opening paragraph. There was something about that gleaming white page, and the perfectly formed letters that caused me to go back and reread and rewrite everything I’d written before I’d even written one paragraph. I knew I shouldn’t. I screamed at myself to stop, to just get it written and come back and change it later. But, I couldn’t. It was a compulsion over which I had no control.

This compulsion has followed me from university. It isn’t really a problem with I’m writing posts for my blog. They are short pieces and my constant self-editing doesn’t prevent me from finishing. However, my compulsion has stopped me from finishing short stories in the past, and now I’m wary about starting one. I need to find a different way of working.

So, I’ve decided to return to the old traditional methods of writing. No banging away at a keyboard for me; I’m going back to pencil and paper. I really think this will work for me as my writing is so atrocious I won’t want to go back and reread it! I can just write away until the story is complete. I also don’t have the problems that come with writing on a PC. Firstly, I don’t have to wait an eternity for the thing to switch on and load up Word. I can just pick up my notebook and write. Secondly, my kids won’t be pestering me to play Cbeebies internet games whilst I’m trying to work. No PC, no I Can Cook games! Finally, I can just pop my notebook in my bag and write on the bus or in a coffee shop if I so desire. I probably won’t, but I quite like the idea that I can if I want to . As for the pencil thing. I just like writing with pencils. They beat pens any day.

Twin thing 2

English: Silvia Legrand and her twin sister Mirtha Legrand in the early 1940s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel the need to apologise for yesterday’s post. I was clearly having a bad day. I may have given you the impression that my children are out of control delinquents who kick, punch and throttle each other at every given opportunity. They are not. Sometimes, however, it feels like they are.

I can’t begin to comprehend the whole twin thing. I’m a singleton. Not in the Bridget Jones sense of the word, but as in the medical term for a single baby birth. You know, the normal, sensible way of doing it. I don’t have a sister and my nearest brother is eight years younger than me. Apparently this makes me a de facto only child as your formative years are to the age of seven. There’s no wonder I don’t understand my kids’ relationship.

It must be hard to make sense of things when you are a twin. From day one you have another screaming individual competing to be fed, changed, picked up, and cuddled at the same time as you. You have some people trying to lump you together as one when you are clearly two unique individuals. You are reaching the same development milestones at roughly the same time. This becomes tricky when you reach school. We all know that two (or more) siblings are not going to progress at exactly the same rate as each other. If you are in different school years this difference in progression is not easily apparent. It is, however, when you are in the same class at school. When your sister has picked up reading very quickly and can read a new reading book word perfect at the first read, it must really knock your confidence. It has and it would knock mine too.

I’m no twin expert, but what I have observed over the last four years is that it really is a relationship based on love and hate. I ranted yesterday about the hate side of it, so today I’m going to offer you an insight into the polar opposite: the love side.

I love the way that when they are unsure, apprehensive or a little frightened by something that they unconsciously huddle together and hold hands. That when they are hurt or feeling sad or upset, a hug and kiss from your sister is just as important as one from your mum. How, when one of them has pushed their luck too far and is on the Time Out Step, the other will ‘sneak’ their favourite teddy to them. That, sometimes, when I have put one of them on the Time Out Step for hurting the other; the injured party will rail at me that I’m not being nice to her best friend. Then, just to rub salt in the wound, she will put her small arms tenderly around her sister’s shoulders and give me a look that would kill at ten paces. How they can act as if they haven’t seen each other for five years, when it’s only been five minutes. I particularly love the way that when we are walking along they will just stop and give each other a great big hug for no reason other than they want to.

So you see, despite yesterday’s lament, it’s not all bad being a mum to twins. In fact, if I’m really honest, I’m a little bit jealous of what they have.

Twin thing

Twins (Photo credit: { brandie })

I wonder is it ever right,

to ignore your kids when they fight?

This, you will be pleased to hear, is not the poem I have been working on. That would be a very sad state of affairs indeed. No, this was the refrain that entered my head when my girls had been home from school for about, oh five minutes.

My kids are really good at fooling people. Everyone thinks they are little angels, paragons of virtues and that butter would certainly not melt. A family friend calls them “The Smilers.” This came about after we went camping with a group of friends in the Lake District in the summer.  The Lakes in the wettest summer the UK has had for one hundred years was not the best idea any of us had had. But did the girls mind? Not one bit. There were no complaints, whines or sighing. They played happily together, and were charming and adorable. They were two rays of sunshine in the gloomy wet Cumbrian countryside, and everyone fell for it.

This act is not reserved for family and friends alone. I had my grocery shopping delivered on Friday (I never go to the supermarket if I can help it). To me, grocery shopping is uninteresting and unexciting. To my kids, it’s almost as good as Christmas. They run around like lunatics screaming as they delve into the packets and boxes and bottles. Their excitement knows no bounds as they search for their favourite items. If there is anything new or different I sometimes worry that their little heads will explode. This has been happening every week for the last two years, and the pleasure they derive from this seemingly mundane task shows no sign of abating.

This week, however, the girls were at school when the delivery came. The delivery driver asked me where they were. “We always say if we have seen the little blonde girls when we get back to the store” he said smiling. “Sucker” I thought.

Added to all this cute behaviour, is the fact that they are twins. People really seem to have a fascination with multiple births as I found out after I had the girls. I was unable to go anywhere without being stopped at least twice by total strangers who wanted to have a look at my children. Little old ladies were the worst. At first I thought that this was because they were new born babies and this happened to everyone. Then, one day, I was taking a walk with a friend who had a daughter about the same age as my girls. After being stopped for the third time, she asked “Does this happen often?” “Yes,” I replied. “Doesn’t it to you?” “No,” she said giving me an odd look.

People also have all sorts of theories and preconceptions about twins: from being telepathic to making ‘informed’ judgements about which is the elder of the two. I don’t buy into any of this. The only thing I have read about twins which I have found to be true, at least in the case of my girls, is sibling rivalry. The book I read (I don’t remember the title) stated that if they had a disagreement it would readily spill over into violence. It said that even if your twins would never hit another child or even another sibling they would kick the be-je-sus out of each other. Ok it didn’t say this exactly but you get the picture.

As every parent knows, your kids always start fighting when you have left the room. With mine it usually starts after I have said “I just need to do the washing-up/make your tea/make a phone call etc.” These words are like a red rag to a pair of angry young bulls and I don’t know why I say them. I would be better off just sneaking off and doing whatever thing it is I need to. But say them I do inadvertently sparking off World War Three. I can almost guarantee I will be out of the room for less than a minute before the squabbling starts. This quickly escalates to shouting, through to screaming, and climaxes in physical violence. I then bellow like a demented fishwife at them from what ever room I am in, in the vain hope that they will stop. Of course they don’t, so I have to stop what I’m doing and try and calm the situation. I then return to whatever the hell it is I’m trying to do, and the whole thing starts up again. And again. And again.  And again.

Having a baby is physically demanding. Having two four year olds falling out over something that even they can’t remember is emotionally draining. That’s why when it happened this evening, and my banshee-like screams had had no effect, I thought to myself, “Sod it. They are not going to kill each other or actually break any bones. At a push they might draw blood, but only at a push. And they need to learn how to sort out their disagreements themselves.” So I carried on putting the laundry away, which is when this little ditty entered my head. I then heard the actual slaps they were giving each other, and hurried downstairs to sort out their latest skirmish.

First act

The Green Room - Old Snow Hill - Always Fresh ...
The Green Room – Old Snow Hill – Always Fresh – street art (Photo credit: ell brown)

I went to my women’s writing group for the first time a couple of days ago. I was really looking forward to going, but I’d be lying if I said I was relaxed and unruffled. I felt a little apprehensive and definitely felt the flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I approached the theatre. I always tell myself that this is perfectly natural. That what isn’t natural is feeling calm and blasé when you are about to meet a group of perfect strangers for the first time. The usual list of worries: will I fit in, will they like me, will I like them, am I good enough to be here filled my mind as I entered the building.

The lady who runs the group was very welcoming and told me that we were working in the Green Room. “Bloody hell, the Green Room”, I thought “I’ve never been in one of those before! And, if this turns out to be a total disaster, at least I can say ‘I once was in a Green Room you know.’” It was nothing like I imagined. For a start, it wasn’t green. It was also huge. It was more like a staff canteen (in fact the staff do use it as their canteen) then the cool, hip hang out for actors and theatre types I was expecting.

The group itself is quite small. Only half a dozen of us were there, and as I took my seat at one of the many tables (it is so like a staff canteen) I wondered what my fellow writers would be like. I hoped that I would like them and warm to them. I prayed that there wouldn’t be any pretentious types. Please don’t let there be any arrogant, overbearing sorts. I was in luck. They were all very friendly, pleasant and made me feel right at home. They introduced themselves, and talked about how they came to be in the group and the kind of writing they did. This was a real eye-opener.

One of them was a poet. She had written a poem for a previous group project, and discovered a love and talent that she didn’t know she possessed. She is now performing her poetry and thinking of giving up the day job. Another is just about to have the first script-in-hand reading of her first full length play. Two others have taken the theatre’s script-writing course and have gone from writing nothing to monologues, short and full length plays in a short space of time. The other lady was a newbie, like me, and I’m not sure if she felt as awe-inspired and intermediated as I did. How could I ever match up to this?

The lady who runs the group, herself a playwright, then talked about lots of different opportunities that were available from being in the group. From going to see a preview of the theatre’s next play (for free no less!), to courses and other avenues and contacts that she could put you in touch with. She also mentioned trying to get some studio time later in the year so that our work could be run through with actors. I mean real bona fide actors.

As I sat there with my chin practically scrapping the floor, I realised that this was serious stuff. That being part of this group meant that writing would no longer be the thing I played at. That this was the best opportunity I had ever had of giving it my best shot. And this petrified me and excited me at the same time.

I left on a high with my head reeling from all I had heard. On the stairs I passed a very beautiful young lady who said “Hello” to me and gave me a big smile. I recognised her from somewhere and as my brain frantically tried to work out where from I noticed her face peering at me from a poster. She was an actress from on of the Soaps and is the lead in the theatre’s current production of The Wizard of Oz. Her friendly demeanour shattered all my stereotypical preconceptions about attractive actors, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, I’m going to like it here.”


“A polar bear with red eyes…”

Polar Bear (Sow), Arctic National Wildlife Ref...
Polar Bear (Sow), Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I try not to over indulge over Christmas and New Year, but I still manage to eat and drink more than I usually would. Added to the mix is inactivity. Festive TV specials and dramas, playing with the girls’ new toys (with the girls of course), visiting relatives always leaves me feeling sluggish, inert and brain dead. That’s why, when the girls returned to school this week, I decided to go out for a long, brisk walk to blow the cobwebs from my poor bruised, leaden body.

I’m lucky enough not to have to go too far to reach a bit of a quiet spot, a haven. The weather was surprisingly mild for January and I didn’t have to get decked out in my scarf and hat. As I walked past the skeletal trees and gothic piles, I thought how good it was to breathe the fresh air into my lungs and feel my heart pumping. I liked the feeling so much that I picked up the pace; walking faster and faster until I developed a stitch. In a perverse way even this felt good. The pain reminded me that I needed to take care of my body as much as my spirit.

And my spirit was working overtime. Thoughts and ideas were darting in and out of my head like swifts in the summer. I tried to quieten them down, banish them even, because I just wanted to enjoy being outside. I didn’t want to focus on anything at all. I once read a book by Roald Dahl (I can’t remember which one) that said “Don’t think of a red-eyed polar bear.” Of course, all you can think of then is a red-eyed polar bear. And the more I tried to clear my mind of every little idea, random thought and niggle the more I found myself thinking of them. In the end I just succumb to it all in the hope that eventually they would leave me alone. They did and I was free to enjoy the rest of my walk in peace.

When I reached home I felt content and happy, and that got me thinking to how we always see January as the ‘blues month’. The month where we’re skint, run down, and fed up after the excesses of Christmas and by the winter weather. But actually it’s not like that at all. It’s the month where we take a long, hard look at our lives and mentally set ourselves the goals and challenges to change. And even if we never achieve these aspirations, in January we feel that we can. That it will be different this time, and we will see those projects through to fruition. It feels pretty damn good when we do this, and for a fleeting moment we feel contentment. So I propose we rethink our attitude towards dear old January. It should no longer be known as the ‘January Blues’ but as ‘January Optimisim.’

Fate or chance?

Soho Theatre, Soho, W1
Soho Theatre, Soho, W1 (Photo credit: Ewan-M)

I don’t believe in fate or destiny or luck. Just in choices, chance and coincidences. It’s funny how when you set your mind on doing something how coincidences seem to come along. I wrote in my last post how I wanted to make 2013 my writing year. Then, a couple of days ago, I received the programme of upcoming shows, plays and events from one of my local theatres. Amongst the dramas, musicians and comics was a piece on the various community groups the theatre runs. And here was coincidence number one. One of the groups it runs is a women’s playwriting group.

The last time I harboured an ambition to be a playwright I was ten years old. I spent an immense amount of time writing plays but, neither my school nor local church was prepared to take a chance on me. Down, but not out, I decided to stage my own production. I wrote, cast, directed, marketed and promoted my play. I remember feeling very excited and envisaged the whole neighbourhood coming along to watch. I would humbly receive their applause and adoration. I would be recognised at last. Alas, only a handful of people (who knew my parents) came along and, disillusioned that no-one had recognised my brilliance, I turned my back on play writing.

After such a disastrous experience, it may seem a little odd to want to join a play writing group. But, I feel I really need the support, help and camaraderie of like minded individuals. Who knows, it might just rekindle my love of play writing again. At the very least it promises tea and cake at each meeting.

I also wrote in my last post how I have this insane desire to write poetry, and I’ve been working on a poem for a couple of weeks now. I’m no poet and all I learnt at school about stanzas, rhyming couplets, and pentameters is long forgotten. What I’ve written is raw and needs lots more work, and I really need some help with it. I was just thinking about looking for a poetry group when along came coincidence number two. Although the women’s writing group primarily focuses on play writing, it also looks at other genres; including poetry! In fact, there are poets in the group. I’m now starting to feel like 2013 could really be my writing year. Perhaps I need to rethink my notions on fate.