Saturday 21 April 2018

The best summer ever. But not for you...

Sponsored post 

Have you heard about the National Citizen Service (NCS)? If you have a 16 or 17 year old, you need to know about it. It's a government backed programme which brings together young people from different backgrounds for a unique, shared experience.

I know this, not because this is a sponsored post for which I was sent a brief (which it is, and which I was) but because Eldest joined NCS last year for three weeks during summer. There she is, in the picture at the top - she's the one with the massive scarf (my scarf! my scarf! the little thief).

It was her best summer, simply, ever. Three weeks - two of them residential - where she took part in outward bounds activities, learned to cook, to budget, did voluntary work....

Would you take a child with cerebral palsy wild camping? Let her abseil in an off-road wheelchair? I wouldn't - but NCS did. Returning from her wild camp, which took place in a hail storm, she felt like she could do anything.  It was the most amazing experience imaginable.

NCS is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. The two to four week programme, which takes place in school holidays, includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’, a community-based social action project and an end of programme celebration event.

The activities - designed to develop strength of character and shove children out of their comfort zone - definitely worked.  They built - from challenging physical activities, to personal development, to voluntary work in the community - and then allowed children who were really inspired to get involved further. 

After applying to be on the regional youth board, Eldest went off for yet another residential, and yesterday - nearly a year after she signed up - she went to a full day's meeting to decide on her cohort's next project.

They've already set up a campaign about mental health, they launched a Facebook group, and they made a video, which you can see on Facebook here. That's Eldest, at the end! Those are her words! How proud am I?

How much, you say. How much is this going to cost me? Would you believe me if I told you it was FIFTY QUID? And they feed them! And even send them a T-shirt through the post!

That's right. They feed them, they clothe them, they inspire them, they take their grumpy, teenage selves away from you for three plus weeks, for fifty quid. Find me a better deal. And if fifty quid is a stretch, there are bursaries available.

(They've asked me to mention support for children with additional needs. I can personally attest to the fact that they support kids with special needs. Abseiling. In a wheelchair. I ask you.)

You might have holidays booked. Don't worry. You can choose from a range of dates.  You won't find a better chance for your teenager to learn, to have fun, to build confidence, and to get involved in the world outside their smartphone. There will be children from different backgrounds, working together on NCS's goal of creating a more engaged society. This year more than 100,000 teens will join up, developing skills for their lives.

Be like Eldest. Sign up now. There are still places available for Year 11s to take part this summer. To sign up now, go to the NCS website.  There are social media links below.

Facebook: @NCS
Twitter: @NCS
Instagram: @NCSyes

Go! Go! Go!

Tuesday 8 August 2017

And this is where you get with metaphors

Last year, as part of a nightschool course, I found myself in the midst of an exercise where the participants had to say positive things about each other. I thought it an excruciating idea.

When it came to me, there was the usual - she's so funny, she's so warm, she's so whatever. (You already know I was not born for positivity). But one lady said something that has stayed with me ever since. My presence on the course, she said, my continued ability to fully take part whilst caring for a terminally ill mother and two children, made me 'the definition of having your sh*t together".

It wasn't a phrase - or a sentiment - I had ever connected with me. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's telling myself I'm not really doing very well at things. That I'm barely coping. The fact that someone thought I was not only coping, but doing it quite well, really surprised me.

Just weeks ago my husband - my partner of 25 years - left, after suddenly announcing he had been having a very long-term affair. Without warning, the children and I had our entire existence turned upside down. The pain and betrayal were heart-stopping.

So let's talk now about this picture of a chicken.

Chicken image from The Balance of Things, storytelling by Michael Harvey

Once upon a time, I was working with the Crick Crack Club to promote a show by the storyteller Michael Harvey, the poster image for which was just this single, determined-looking chicken, staring straight at the camera. I loved everything about that show - the stories, the teller, the telling, and, of course, the chicken.

In my head, it became a symbol, and I remember talking to my husband about it. I was saying that all the metaphors about lovebirds, and those doves that people release in cheesy movie weddings, weren't the real deal. Real marriage was like that chicken - steely, unswerving, sometimes not entirely pretty - but the one bird you'd like to have in your corner in a fight. Marriage had your back. It gave you strength.

So why, when I was planning what image to take for a textile art workshop I had booked months ago, was I still thinking about that chicken? My marriage had not had my back. It turned out that I had not actually been in what I would consider a marriage for years. Why was the chicken still so important?

The words from the nightschool course came back to me, and they made me realise. For a long time now, as my husband concentrated on a new career, I have felt increasingly alone. I have run my household, I have gone to work, I have gone to college, I have nourished and nurtured my children. I have nursed my much-loved mother and kept vigil at her death earlier this year.

Marriage was never the chicken. I was the chicken. I was the effing chicken all along.

With thanks to Mandy Pattullo for a wonderful workshop, and for understanding that I had to abandon the pretext of the course - 'Stitched Memories' - because memories sometimes have to wait.

Thanks also to the Crick Crack Club, for the gloriousness of the chicken. All the shows they promote are exceptional - go look at what they have coming up.

Michael Harvey is currently touring a new show called Dreaming the Night Field. Details of tour dates are available at Adverse Camber.

Monday 3 April 2017

The Struck Match

I've been clearing my mother's house; those of you who follow me on Instagram might have seen my hashtag #thestruckmatch and marvelled at my ability to be entirely self-referential.

Grieving is an odd animal. When it began - which really, was before my mother died - I was convinced that I would lovingly document everything I gave to the charity shop/ shoved in the bin/ nicked and took to my house in a beautiful new blog.

Turns out I didn't. Turns out I got all practical and goal-orientated, which is not like me at all. So I share this post, the first and only post on what was to be my house clearing blog (and with hindsight what a mesmorising read that wouldn't have been).

I was an only child. An only child of a mother who liked to keep things, who liked the history of objects, who didn't like waste, who was brought up in the original Make Do and Mend era, when you had to, when it wasn't pretty. She threw few things away.

Sometime back in the early 2000s I went out for dinner with my friend D in London. She was in a similar position, except that she had just lost her grandmother, and her mother was making no attempt to get rid of anything from that previous generation. We were both, we realised, going to inherit years and years of accumulated clutter, and have to deal with it alone, with no siblings to say, yes, get rid, for heaven's sake. Just us. With the houses full of junk, and the grief, and the guilt.

We made a pact. (We had been drinking). When the time came, we would call on each other to release us from our plight, and we would give the poor, bereaved, be-cluttered person permission to put a match to the whole lot.

I texted her the other day and told her to ready the matches.

There's an irony here, though, for as I made a start on looking in cupboards and drawers, I found that my mother had been hoarding scented candles. She didn't like them. But if people gave them, as a present, she wouldn't give them away. What if you needed them? So she stowed them in the cupboard under the telephone, or in a drawer full of thread and old spectacles (again! old spectacles! why?).

A house smells different when it's empty. It smells still, and unfamiliar, and discomforting. Or maybe that's just me, noting how it doesn't really smell like it did when my mother was truly living - not surviving - but living in it. I thought I would light the scented candles during the times I was here - I like them, even if my mother didn't.

So I started the process by looking for matches. "Where are the matches, mother?" I asked the empty house, and I found them, damp and unused (because she had nothing to light) in a drawer.

And I struck one.

Saturday 26 November 2016

So now I am actually trying to sell you something

A few years ago, the lovely Driftwood and I met up with our families at a National Trust place and did a whole load of activities that were designed for slightly less sarcastic people with slightly younger children.

One of the activities was making flying kites out of bits of plastic and string. This obviously led us to spend the afternoon wandering around the landscaped gardens dreaming up a business that sold kites made out of Liberty fabric that didn't fly at all. Because what kind of self-respecting craft business would actually make an item that had a practical use?

However. I was at a point in my career - go on, let's at least call it that - where I wasn't sure what direction I could go in. I thought I could take a bit of control for myself. Perhaps a little craft business, where I tinkered around making lovely things with lovely fabric, would be just the thing?

And so it was that I bought some books in order to learn to make kites that actually flew. 

I learned about dihedral joints and eddy kites, and buying string that was measured in lbs, and the Beaufort wind force scale. I spent hours in the garden with a hacksaw, balancing poles. Making kites, it turned out, is more about physics than fabric. I had loads of fun, lots of trial and error and scribbled notes, and eventually came up with two kite designs, a small 'pocket' kite and a larger, fold-away model, and I made a few little kite brooches and did a couple of craft fairs and set up an Etsy shop and told no-one about it.

Megan recently used this quote by James Baldwin on her gorgeous blog, the scent of water
...this collision between one's image of oneself and what one actually is, is always painful, and there are two things you can do about it; you can confront the collision head-on and try and become what you really are, or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish

Which is a bit dramatic - I'm not on the verge of perishing by selling a few kites - but true. Over time, the job I took three years ago because I needed a job and the hours were right has gradually turned into a home, into the only job I could possibly be doing. It's lovely. But it doesn't solve the problem of this suitcase full of kites.

So. Come and buy. The link is in the sidebar. I've listed the kites one last time before I shut up shop. The kites fly, and they're pretty, and I adored making them and I learned a lot - about taking control, and about going where the wind takes you.

Thursday 17 November 2016

Getting hyggy with it

(I know. You don't say higgy. Leave it.)

A new routine has taken shape at home. Most evenings, my mother comes over to eat; after dinner we wrap her in a quilt and try to work out what to watch on TV which she won't dislike. She dozes.

Eldest could be homeworking (not) or messaging friends and watching YouTube videos. Mr Coffee could be working on his laptop, or playing Minecraft with Littlest, who would be playing Minecraft without him if he was working. I may be knitting a row or two of my ill-fated sock (unravelled 4 times already).

I've started to light candles, because these evenings deserve a reverence. They're normal. Normal is good, normal could end at any time.

The other night I went to a friend's house for a bonfire party and we all stood around watching the fireworks whilst drinking cheap whisky out of jamjars. At one point I thought - and I held onto it, in that moment - "I am so happy just now. I am SO HAPPY."

I like this quote from this article about hygge:
It feels incredible to share these drama-free moments with those you care about. If you realize that it is only for a dinner or a lunch or a limited period of time, it makes it much easier to really try and enjoy that moment."
"A limited period of time". That's the fella. That's where we are right now.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Winter is coming

“Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths.”
George R R Martin, A Song of Fire And Ice

We were a bit late to the Game of Thones party, Mr Coffee and I. It was only a few weeks ago we finally got around to watching Season 2. (DO NOT TELL ME WHO IS DEAD ALREADY.) And by the time we did, it was so long ago since we'd watched Season 1 that I'd forgotten who everyone was, so I got hold of the first book, and came across the quote above.

Anyone who has watched more than a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones will know that all that 'winter is coming' stuff is not just about it getting a bit colder. It's about a family's life changing, and the realisation that complaints about kids throwing up in tents and not having enough time to do the garden are just summer squabbles. Winter is coming, and we must keep each other warm.

I made a quilt. It only took me two years.

It's a rainbow quilt, hand pieced and machine quilted, made up of bits of Liberty that I collected during my summer squabbles. I wasn't choosy. If it was even slightly related to the colour next to it, it went in. And even if it didn't.

It has an extra warm batting from the local fabric shop, which is suitable for the coming colder months. Because in Winter we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths.

My children's strengths lie mainly in recrimination and anger. This enforced familial protection is not one they buy into very easily. I just had a screaming row with Eldest whilst I was actually writing my blog post, which culminated in me holding her close, really hard, whilst she struggled with her anger, her frustration, and both our desires to punch each other in the face.

There's a lot in store for us, this Winter. It's GCSE year. And my mother - The Grandmother, my children's beloved refuge, who lives just down the street - has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

And it strikes me as bizarre, right now, the things I used to complain about. The state of the living room floor. How difficult it was to get to swimming lessons on time.

I honestly don't know how many people still read blogs now, and it's so long since I wrote on mine, I don't know who is still around. If you do, and you are, please no comments that will make me cry. If you like, you can tell me the most bizarre and unimportant thing that you complained about this week. Because Winter is coming, and it will be good to have something to look back on and laugh at our whinging summer selves.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Five things that are not on a Friday

It really doesn't matter whether you understand the title. I do. And it's my blog, and I can do what I damn well please.

Oh, OKAY.  It's from Tess's post, which made me laugh out loud this morning and remind me all about the tiny things and made me want to do my own. It's not Friday anymore. But it's my blog, and I can do etc etc etc.

  1. I bought Alys Fowler's The Thrifty Garden from the charity shop for 50p, which was super-thrifty.
  2. I harvested, parcooked and froze Red Russian Kale that I planted from seed in the garden last year, and if that doesn't make me super-flipping-human I don't know what does. The results are a golf-ball sized blob of frozen kale. I am like Barbara Good over here. (Including the drinking).

    1. I started listening to The Archers. Eldest watches Emmerdale. Nothing is right about any of this.
    2. I made four dresses. I can't photograph them. I've tried, really hard, but the pictures never seem right and I refuse to accept that this is because they represent what I actually look like. Nope. Not at all.
    3. All kind of crap is happening right now. All kinds of potentially life-changing horrible crap. So I came back to the perky space, to the space where I can use kale and dresses and Barbara Good and not have to apologise for that.
    Five things. It was a stretch.