The Longest January On Record

It has been, hasn’t it? I’m not the January hater that so many are due to the fact my birthday falls earlier in the month, but Lordy this one has been long. We’ve been ill for pretty much the entire month and despite being an Autumn/Winter enthusiast I am now waiting impatiently for a bit more light, especially since that will mean more playing outside for my extremely active toddler. I’m writing this on January 130th.

Last year I posted about my take on New Year’s Resolutions and why they’ve never worked for me. In 2018 I’ve taken a similar tack to last year. Here’s how I’ve done January:

  1. Word Of The Year. For 2018 that’s “Contentment”. The last few years have been an absolute roller-coaster ride and this year I’m hoping for a little less drama and a lot more… well, contentment. A lot of that, of course, has to do with how I react to things rather than the events themselves.
  2. This year I used a lovely tool called Year Compass to review 2017 and plan for 2018, using my bullet journal to record my responses. It was lovely, and I thoroughly recommend it.
  3. I’ve got a focus for each month, which I’ve recorded in my bullet journal so I can look at it easily to remind myself of what I’m doing. I’m really looking forward to February’s Month Of Lipstick which was last year’s highlight.

If, like me, you’ve spent January with a head like cotton wool hiding from your responsibilities because you feel too rubbish to engage with anything, this is a good place to start. You can just as easily set intentions for your year at this end of the month, or really at any time. It’s just a gentler way to do it, and far more fun.

Happy New Year to you all.

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My London

I’m a Northerner born and bred, and yet last September I was able to say that I’d lived in London for as long as I lived up North. 18 years, to be exact. I used to hear the clichés from friends and family a lot. “I like London, but I couldn’t live there”, or “I’ve been to London. Never liked it. Everyone’s so rude, nobody talks to you.”

Well, having lived here for so long (I think now I can actually call myself a Londoner) I can tell you that the second thing is nonsense. Most people visiting London only actually go into the centre of town, shops and shows. You’re usually only going to meet other tourists there; so really, you’re not meeting that many Londoners. They’re all at work, you see. The other thing worth mentioning is that Londoners will absolutely talk to you. IF YOU ACTUALLY BOTHER TO TALK TO THEM. And despite popular belief they won’t edge away, or look at you like you’re mad etc etc. They’ll smile and pass the time of day just as they would anywhere else. Our next-door neighbours gave us presents when we got married and when Arthur was born. The lady a few doors down brought us a load of toys hers have grown out of. Since having Arthur I’m on nodding acquaintance with many more neighbours and have made friends in the flats opposite. It’s a community like any other.

If there is more of a reticence in a big city you can’t really blame us. We live a different way, with different worries and concerns. Over the past few years we’ve watched as our beloved cities have been targeted by extremists and our people killed on the same streets we walk every day. It’s difficult to keep being friendly to everyone you meet under that strain. After the London Bridge attack I really struggled to go back into the centre of town. Having a baby with me was probably the main reason. I have to wave my husband off to Soho every day for work, and if he can do it, so can I. This is my city, and it always will be; my Borough Market, my Strand, my Camden Town, my South Bank, my Angel. These are the streets where I became an adult, staggering out of pubs and clubs with my friends at university, catching the Number 12 night bus (highly recommended if you like watching a drunken bust-up), living at seven different addresses in Southwark, Islington, Hornsey and back to Southwark again. This is where I fell in love with my husband and married him, this is our son’s first home. I’ve conducted choirs and orchestras here, taken kids on endless trips, written and chatted in cafes all over the city. Private members bars, pubs, museums, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, parks, trains, tubes and buses.

I love this place. The view from Waterloo Bridge will always make me catch my breath in wonder, and my husband and I still argue about which side is best as we try to look at the view and the road at the same time while we drive across the river to visit our families. Ah, the river, Old Father Thames (or Mama Thames if you believe Ben Aaranovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series). It divides us into two halves, causing jocular debates about which is best, North or South. I’ve lived South more than North, but I’ve got a secret space in my heart for the trendier North, especially Camden where I had my first proper teaching job.

Despite all of this our house is on the market. It’s time to move on.

I always knew that if we finally did manage to have a child I’d want him to have a similar childhood to mine. It’s a personal thing; there are plenty of awesome kids I know being raised in this amazing city, and we could stay and do the same. It would be easier in many ways; moving is awful, and our home is lovely. It’s just that after my pregnancy when I went back to the North something shifted. There’s a longing for open sky, for walking boots and woods, and hills to explore in the fresh air. I never expected to feel that way. I thought I’d want to live here forever, but my pregnancy and becoming a mother has changed me. I can’t deny that. I’ve been rearranged somehow.

We visited friends outside of London last weekend. It was lovely, and although we didn’t do much exploring while we were there we did have time to exhale. Driving back into town through Wimbledon as the streets got narrower and the buildings taller, I felt the sky get smaller and suddenly I knew. I’m ready.

But you’ll always be my first love, London.

Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.

New Year’s Eve. It’s been tricky for me for a while. You see, I lost someone very close to me just over nine years ago, and a great many of the brilliant New Year parties (and the not so brilliant) had her in a starring role. Since then I’ve tried to play along but my heart’s just not been in it. People talk about Christmas being tough for the same reason, but for me this particular night is when I feel the need to honour my friend, when I think about her even more than usual. Over the years it has lost its sting, but I remember that first year, watching the fireworks at a bustling party and thinking “She can’t kiss me, text me or phone me this year. It’ll never be the same again.”

All this might sound gloomy, but honestly it really isn’t any more. Last year, the first with my son, we made the decision to stay in, watch a film, drink fizz and laugh at the Hootenanny. You can just about see the fireworks in London from my doorstep, but I was warm in bed instead. It was the first time I’d felt 100% positive about the night in a long time.

The Christmas holidays are bloody hard work when you’ve got two loving families living 200 miles apart and you want to fit everyone in. Not that hard compared to a lot of people, I know; but we seem to spend a lot of time in the car. We have a blast, and this year Christmas was fantastic, but we tend to be pretty tired when we finally make it home. I decided that if we were always going to have to be away for Christmas Day, perhaps we could reclaim New Year. Have it as a little celebration, just the three of us. I can’t think of a better way to ring in 2018.

Thanks to you all for taking the time to read the little bit of writing I’ve managed in this first full year of being a mum. It’s been wonderful, challenging and exciting, as all the best years are. Sure, the 31st December is just another day; but you can’t deny there’s a lot of magic in all that joyful hope and expectation. I’ll raise my glass to my little family, my beloved friend, and to all of you.

Happy New Year ❤