Thursday, 1 January 2015

What makes a year? More than just the obvious...

2014 was one of those years when everything comes together, "all ducks in a row" as a friend of mine says. We had two great holidays, spent a sunny month in Serbia, moved into a new house, spent beautiful summer weekends with many different friends who visited us in Cheltenham, in the autumn I started a Masters degree, saw my play on stage and I'm a quarter of a way through writing a book. Our babies became little people, full of charm and personality. My husband enjoyed his work and turned forty in better health and shape than ever. I started to think of myself as a writer, and wrote more productively than ever before in my life. A good year, then.

Or, I could take it back to basics, and say this: we were all healthy and enjoyed the full use of our bodies, our limbs, our minds. The immediate world around us was peaceful, there were no bombs, no wars, no earthquakes, no floods. Every time we turned the taps on, clean water came gushing out. Every time we flicked a switch, there was light, heat. There was always fresh fruit on the table and our cupboards were full of food. An awesome year, then.

Or, I could strip it down even further, and say this: we were all lucky enough to be born, a product of endless years of evolution, each one of our ancestors able to attract a mate and living long enough to procreate, a small miracle in itself. In a universe of random events and uncertain fate, for us, for now, life won the battle. Atoms and molecules bumping into each other in empty vastness, somehow creating us, living breathing people capable of thinking, memories, love. An incredible year, then.

Every time I think of life, I think of how amazing it is to be alive. To be here, right now, with Ana and Sacha asleep upstairs in their quiet bedrooms, while I'm studying, writing, reading, working out what worlds I want to create in my stories and for my children.

I hope 2015 brings you health, happiness and peace.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Are girls and boys born, or made?

Today we took Ana to her first ever cinema trip. While this is probably deserving of a post in itself, it's not actually what I want to write about. The film that we took her to see was Tinkerbell and the legend of the Neverbeast, a very typical Disney, funny with a few laughs for the grown ups too, some nice music and lots of 'aaaah' factor. It is a bit of a misnomer, however, in that the main character is actually Fawn, not Tinkerbell, but I guess that Tinkerbell is better known and a bigger puller of box-office sales. Also, Fawn herself had some suspicious similarities (in facial expressions and overall tone) to Ana from Frozen, so Disney could be accused of trying to cash in twice on the same job, but hey - if the children like it, I'm happy.

But one thing I've been thinking about ever since the 12.15 performance today, is the representation of fairies and the role models our children are being offered by this very influential enterprise.

Speaking of Frozen, I was actually quite impressed with how they crafted the two main characters. Ana was a lovable and courageous protagonist, action-prone, funny and loyal to the end. Elsa was her multi-layered antagonist, too complex to be considered a "baddie" even while she's freezing the world to death; ultimately, the popularity of the song Let it Go was probably a testament to how much everyone was taken by the theme of a girl coming to terms with her enormous power, and this is a good thing.

But I found Fawn et al a little less clear-cut. The fairies were split into two teams: the cute, feminine fairies who have various jobs within the forest (teaching animals how to do various things you'd think animals are quite adept at, like walking, flying etc) and the warrior-like Scout fairies whose job is to safeguard Pixie Hollow and protect it from any threat. Personally I confess I found Scout fairies way more interesting (but that's maybe because I was never a very fairy sort of person). Carrying out a very responsible job, brandishing swords (or some fairy-equivalent) and being generally tough and scary (as much as that's possible for creatures only a few inches tall), they seem a much more gender-stereotype-challenging bunch than their more girlie counterparts. But the scriptwriters seem quite clear in who they want us to identify with and prefer, almost all the way through the film: yes, you've guessed it, the girlie ones. The Scout fairies are presented as the "baddies" (someone has to take that role in a film that doesn't actually have any negative characters, even the Neverbeast from the title turns out to be the adorably fluffy Gruff) who oppose the good-hearted Fawn because they don't have much faith in her caring, loving ways. At the very end, of course, even the Scout fairy leader Nyx comes to see the error of her ways and becomes more like Fawn, because we can't really have any long-term disharmony in a fairy(tale) world.

But this scenario did leave me wondering, why? If they had to cast some of the fairies into the role of the temporary bad guys, why did the script writers choose to select the tomboy-ish, assertive, capable, ass-kicking Scouts for this? And not our cute, girlie, feminine friends who seem fairly preoccupied with their looks (at least one of them doesn't want to do various things because it makes her 'skin break out')? My guess is, because, the 'right' role for our daughters is still considered to be the feminine one, that one that is sweet, and pretty, and girlie, and non-threatening to anyone? Bizarrely enough, the Scouts go back to their positions of relative power and responsibility, in line with their macho image because it would appear that even in Disney creations the more 'masculine' characters are, the more power they have. But this power is not shown as a desirable thing, not something that girly fairies seem to have any interest in. No - they are perfectly happy to go back to the business of being teachers, carers, nurses and whatever else they might be up to in the magical forest. Does this sound familiar at all?

As a parent, I see the artificial gender divisions drawing a line between girls and boys, all the time. There are girls' toys and boys' toys (a tea set vs a workbench); girls' books and boys' books (Angelina Ballerina vs Thomas the Tank Engine); girls' t-shirts and pyjamas are decorated with pictures of girls, angels, butterflies, cupcakes, fairies, flowers, and an overwhelming abundance of pink; boys' clothes feature Superman, Spiderman, trucks, rockets, football, and a completely different colour scheme featuring blues, greens and browns; the girls' bed linen is another example, you cannot move for pink hearts, kittens, and princesses. Boys on the other hand get to enjoy dinosaurs, animals, vehicles, action heroes. I could, of course, always buy Ana a dark blue and black bed linen, featuring some astronauts but, in all honesty, it just looks wrong. I guess all of us have been indoctrinated enough to have internalised these artificial expectations of what a girl's bedroom should look like (and even if I could convince myself, I could never convince Ana). It's not so much that I want to invert everything, it's more that I would like things to be neutral, instead of screaming GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS or BOYS BOYS BOYS at us from every angle.

Our children are being subjected to messages of who they are and what is appropriate for them almost from the moment they are born. A lot of those messages are limiting, damaging and most of all, untrue. It is every parent's task to try and break through these crazy, artificial barriers on our children's developing lives and personalities. If they grow up to be only what they have been prescribed, the entire humanity will be all the poorer for it. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Smiling at parents

On the street, I try to smile at other parents.

At the woman who is pushing an extra large, heavy looking pram in the rain. Inside the pram a double-trouble set of twins seem to be sleeping peacefully, at last. The strain on the woman's face shows it's been a long day. I smile at her as I walk past, I try to put into my smile the empathy that says "I know what it's like; still, your children look gorgeous; you are very lucky." Sometimes we all need reminding.

At the man who is struggling with a toddler and a dog, neither of whom seem willing to just walk calmly by his side, each pulling in their own direction. The look in the man's eyes says he hasn't done this too many times before, a part-time dad who maybe spends too much time at the office, aware that he's missing beautiful moments in his child's life. I try to put into my smile an approval that says "You're doing good; it's not easy; I hope you get to spend more time together in years to come". No parent wants to miss their kid's childhood and I have sympathy and admiration for anyone who tries to juggle full time work and parenthood.

At the young girl who is struggling to calm down her crying baby in the supermarket, her downcast eyes and the hunch in her shoulders showing the embarrassment, the inexperience, the frustration. I try to put into my smile the encouragement that says "I know it seems so overwhelming at first, but it will get easier, I promise you." Young parents have many obstacles to overcome, and stigma from the society is just one of them. Us older parents, both in age and in parenting experience, need to offer them support and understanding and an unwavering faith that they can grow and develop into terrific parents who will bring up terrific children.

I try to smile at all of them, any parent who clearly hasn't had a proper night's sleep in ages and whose days are full of nappy changing or preschool puzzles or school home work, any parent who looks like they've not had enough adult company recently, any parent who looks like they could do with a bit more help, bit more time to themselves, anyone who looks like they're trying hard and sometimes failing and then getting up and dusting themselves off and carrying on, just carrying after day. With love.

So if you see me on the street, looking like I'm having a tough day, looking like Ana and Sacha have pushed me just a little too far and demanded just a little too much and I am running on empty, even though my heart is so, so full - smile at me. You never know, your smile might be the thing that saves my day.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Parenting by hugs

Earlier today, Ana walked into the kitchen in floods of tears. "Sacha said we're not best friends any more!"

"Sweetheart, Sacha hasn't started talking yet. Are you sure he said that?" I asked.

She didn't see the funny side. I gave her a big hug and soon she was better.

I hug my children a lot. It's not a conscious thing I do, some sort of parenting strategy - I think I read about that somewhere, "12 hugs a day to thrive" or some similar wisdom (how did they know it's not 11? Or 23?). It just comes out of me, towards them, in every sort of situation. When they're happy or upset, if we're saying hello or goodbye, if I have just told them to stop being so naughty or that I'm madly proud of them - somehow, before you even know it, our bodies press, chest to chest, arms around each other, we inhale in perfect rhythm, exhale in subtle harmony, and that's it - another hug has just happened, for us. The chemistry leaves us feeling a little lightheaded, a little happier than we were before, some sort of smile lingering on our faces for the rest of the day. It can't be helped.

These hugs, they're serious business. I don't know why they're not on posters, all around town, instead of all those other things trying to sell you happiness. A perfume, a car, a new pair of shoes, a holiday for the discerning, a book for the knowledgeable, a face cream for the vain, something small if you're poor or something crazy if you're so rich (and silly) you'd buy anything as long as it's new - all these things promise happiness, and yet not a single hug advertised anywhere for the good of the soul.

But it works. It does. Just ask my kids.

Try it! It might work for you too. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A night at the theatre

Recently I wrote about my short play 'The Bargain' having won a competition run by the Touring Consortium Theatre Company. As a result, it was performed script-in-hand at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and the event was filmed.

This can now be watched on the following link:

One day my children will be proud to see it (I hope...or, they might find it excruciatingly boring!)

For now, my thoughts are:

- keep writing
- set bigger goals
- learn and develop
- don't be scared to experiment
- and finally, again, keep writing!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Sundays, birthdays, days of our lives

Our little man is two. It was a fun day, filled with lots of children, laughter, noise and an incredible amount of emotion. You try to capture it on camera, but of course, you can't. In the years to come, the memory will fill the gaps in the photos - ah, this is where he didn't want his picture taken, this is where he was starting to get tired, Ana here seems quite cross that none of the presents are for her - and the photos will also start to fill the gaps in our failing memory.

Days like this always make me think about life; the big picture; the future and what we can take into it from today. I love to think about my children growing up because it is only through growth and change that they can actualise their potential, and truly live their life. I also cannot wait to see the people they grow into. At every age, already, they fascinate me with their unique and developing personalities. I guess this will multiply a hundred-fold in the years to come. Their lives will gain momentum as they move from childhood into independence, changing their relationship with me and Wayne in the process. But I am not scared of that.

The only thing that scares me, when I think of birthdays and celebrations and special days and yes even the most ordinary days of our lives, is that I may not be present enough to really feel them - that I may not be here, now, in the only moment that matters. It is so easy to get carried away with everything else that's competing for our attention, to forget about breathing, stopping, observing where we are.

I try to remind myself of this, as I stand there with my camera, trying to get that perfect angle, perfect shot. Life is not behind the lense. Life is happening right in front of me. In trying to capture memories for the future, I mustn't forget to enjoy the right now.

I remind myself to join the flow. Embrace all of it, without judgement. There is a vast space inside each moment, if you allow it. It only seems brief if you rush it. Mindful of its importance, we can move into the future richer for purpose and meaning that comes from simply being alive.

Happy birthday Sacha.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Thursday's thrill

Hot of the press, an exciting piece of news about my writing!

Recently I have been involved with a new playwrights' group within the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, led by the very brilliant Paul Milton. The Everyman Theatre has a varied and interesting repertoire, ranging from large production crowd-pleasers on the main stage right through to more avant garde work in their Studio space. In the last week of October, the theatre will be the host to Touring Consortium Theatre Company and their highly acclaimed new production 'Regeneration', adapted from a book by Pat Barker.

Touring Consortium Theatre Company decided to ran a competition for a 10-minute play loosely based on the themes from 'Regeneration' - to save you Googling what those might be, I will give you a rough idea: the main themes are around war, masculinity, personal change and rebirth (hence: Regeneration) and so forth. The aim of the competition was to select 3 winning plays for a script-in-hand performance at the Everyman Theatre, by the professional actors from Touring Consortium, after the main show on Friday 24th October.

You can see where I am going with this....yes, my play has been selected!

There isn't really much to elaborate on because, for once, my feelings are straight forward and uncomplicated - joy, pride, happiness. It was not necessarily a huge competition in terms of the number of original entries (as it involved local rather than national writers), but it is wonderful in that my text will be performed not just by professional actors but by some of the best loved and most respected actors in the country - one look at the cast credentials for 'Regeneration' reveals that they have worked in some of the greatest theatres in the UK, from the RSC to the National to the Royal Exchange and dozens of others.

All that remains is to invite you along - if you love theatre, and live locally, come and join us on Friday 24th October for a night of great drama and some ambitious new writing. See you in the audience!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

September is not autumn in this house

The days of summer are over.

Ana's room was very dark tonight, as we lay next to each other on her bed, both of us very silent. She was too tired for the usual bedtime stories she tells me - stories in which her invisible friends follow her on great adventures, stories she tells with animated hands and blue eyes wide open from the wonders she is describing for me. I understand a lot of it in light of what has happened during our day together. A lot of it doesn't make sense except in her not-yet-four-year-old imagination. But I love every sentence of it, the new words she has learnt and is proudly using, the new concepts, fresh understandings of life she has arrived at and can't wait to employ.

Last weekend the four of us climbed some trees, chased some ants and even found time for a coffee in our favourite bookshop. Oh, and the sunshine was good, too.

Today, although the weather was still very mild, I made peace with autumn. It is welcome now. We have soaked the sun into our hair and skin deeply enough for one year.

This week is a busy week of arrivals and departures, pre-school and post-graduate school, children being passed on from parent to parent perhaps a few times too many, fish fingers for dinner more often than I would ideally like.

Life is so full, so rich at the moment. We are all learning, growing. Ana is no longer a toddler and Sacha no longer a baby. Their tender stems are getting stronger every day. Outside, it is autumn, with leaves dropping onto pavements with a hush. In here, it is spring time, a glorious spring awakening of the tiny garden which is the four of us.

I can see the change in my children every day. And because I know that they will grow up, I also know that I will grow old. My autumn will also reach us one day. But for now, the glittering sky is still warm.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Book review : "The Continuum Concept - in Search of the Happiness Lost", by Jean Liedloff

"For some two million years, despite being the same species of animal as ourselves, man was a success. He had evolved from apehood to manhood as a hunter-gatherer with an efficient lifestyle which, had it continued, might have seen him through many a million-year anniversary. As it is, most ecologists agree, his chances of surviving even another century are diminished with each day's activities".

This is, essentially, how Jean Liedloff, an eminent psychiatrist, psychotherapist and writer, summarises the problem which gave rise to her book.

In her youth, Jean had spent a substantial amount of time living amongst the Stone Age Indians in South America, and gained fascinating insights into how their society, which we might call primitive, actually supports its members' well being and happiness much better and more effectively than our 'civilised' one(s).

The continuum referred to in the title is the evolutionary continuum - the ancient continuum of our species containing the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of generations of our ancestors. These experiences have resulted in certain implicit expectations, on a genetic and instinctive level, which each of us have from the moment we are conceived in the womb. The ways and manners in which modern life has interrupted this continuum and these expectations, leaving us deprived of essential developmental experiences, is the ultimate focus of this book.

Jean is particularly interested in what these expectations might be in a newborn baby or a very young infant. Observation of Stone Age tribes confirms that a continuum baby enjoys a very different existence from our civilised one - the continuum baby is constantly in contact with its mother's body as she carries him while going about her day's work; he is also next to her at night, in the same bed, still enjoying the safety and pleasure that come from being in her close proximity; the continuum baby is a passive observer of a busy, active life from an earliest age, but experiences no longings as they are instantly met by the mother, and the baby is never left alone, never left to cry, never put in a cot in a separate room, never denied their mother during the night time hours, never put on a feeding schedule, never over-protected and under-stimulated, and so forth.

The result of this fundamentally different start to life is a human creature who is deeply content within itself, and this manifests itself in adults who live in a state of what to a Western observer appears to be a bizarre and inexplicable joy.

Jean is a firm believer that this joy is our birth-right and that it is the horrific interruption of the continuum which is to blame for the modern humanity's problems of dissatisfaction, mass-depression and anxiety evident particularly in the highly developed societies, low self esteem and that permanent feeling of looking for something, outside of ourselves, which will make us happy one day when we manage to attain it (but that day never comes).

Jean puts forward an extremely convincing argument and we might even say that popular thought on child rearing, especially in the UK, is starting to shift this way. Midwives now strongly emphasise the importance of immediate skin to skin contact between a mother and her newborn, breastfeeding, many mothers are choosing to wear their babies in a sling and so forth. While we cannot simply reverse civilisation and start to live in total harmony with nature the way these tribes still do, there are many things each of us can do to bring us back closer to the continuum and closer to the 'lost happiness' of the book's title. This is the focus of the final section of the book.

I found this book enjoyable and painful to read in equal measures, as I considered the inevitable suffering of so many babies in our culture. I have also found it immensely inspirational in terms of what more I could do for my own children, going forward. While some of the ideas are probably a step too far for me, anything that involves safety for example - I still consider myself the ultimate guardian of my children's safety and I'm not convinced by the suggestion that they would have sufficient self-preservation instincts if left to their own devices - other ideas will definitely be implemented in our family (if we have any more children, I will use a sling full time, for example).

If you are interested in a new (but old!) approach to parenting that is more in harmony with what nature had in mind for us, this is a highly recommended read.

Monday, 22 September 2014

5 things to pack when going on a road trip with small children

This weekend we went to Liverpool.

Liverpool is not across the world, but if you are stuck on a motorway with two little people in the back of the car, and if they have exhausted their limited supply of patience, catching up on sleep, sibling sing-a-song and other things which help to pass the time, well - you may as well be travelling to south east Asia via the Moon.

Still, we love a good road trip. While I may not particularly enjoy the frankly huge effort of packing (for the whole family, invariably) I do enjoy it once we are all in the car, seat belts on, giddy with anticipation of a few days spent in a new place. Or perhaps an old place (we used to live in Liverpool) but a new hotel. Or perhaps both the place and the hotel are not new but then the friends, oh the friends are very very old not in age but in how much life we've shared together, and that makes the road trip, the packing, the toilet stops, the overpriced Costa from the services, and even the occasional meltdown (and that's just my husband when he realises he's missed our junction and now we're stuck in a traffic jam), absolutely worth while.

But if you want to have a bit of mercy on yourself and make it as easy as possible on the younger members of your family, you may want to try the following:

1. Ipad - in fact, this one is so crucial I may put it as points number 1-5. Yes, I used to the be the parent who was against technology. I used to worry about screen time, I used to do quotas, limits, deadlines, whatever. Then, I learnt that having an Ipad with you can turn a painful situation into quite a pleasant and relaxed one. For example, a long leisurely lunch with friends in a fashionable eaterie - ever tried that with a 22 month old and a 3.5 year old? Well, we eat out often especially when we go away for the weekend or on holiday, and while it helps that this is a type of situation that children are simply very used to, it also helps that we don't let them get bored. When they've finished eating, and the ice cream is gone too, and the colouring-in has lost its appeal, and they've tried just sitting quietly for a bit and then finally they just want to either get down or go home, we put Peppa Pig on! And everyone is happy. The children are delighted to get an extra time with their favourite screen friend. The adults are happy to enjoy an extra glass of wine and a good catch up with a friend. We have also used the Ipad wedged in between the front seats and kept the children entertained in the car, when we've been stuck in terrible traffic and the journey became just too long for them to endure 'cold turkey'. A tip: if going abroad, make sure you load up your BBC Iplayer with episodes of their favourite programs while you're still in the UK, because it doesn't let you do it once abroad.

2. Pull ups - well, this one may be a matter of opinion but, although Ana has been potty trained for almost a year and a half, we do find that sometimes we are in situations when it's not so easy to get to the toilet and making the decision to put a Pull up on her just takes the pressure off. This is the child who has only ever had a couple of accidents, ever, so she doesn't particularly enjoy the regression in into anything nappy-like, BUT if you are stuck on M6 because there has been an accident, wearing a nappy as a total one-off can prevent a lot of discomfort in a small child whose bladder doesn't yet function with as much control nor has as much capacity as an adult's.

3 & 4. Aquadoodle travel set and a magnetic drawing board - all children love to draw and colour but it's not really convenient in the car because it's hard to hold the paper, the crayons drop out of their hands and roll under the seat in front etc. We invested in one Aquadoodle travel set for Ana and a magnetic drawing board for Sacha (because his comes with a pen that's attached by a string so if he drops it, it doesn't fall down) and they will happily scribble for ages.

5. Calpol - I know Calpol is not exactly hard to come by and most supermarkets sell it, not to mention pharmacies. However, if you have ever been in a hotel room in a strange city with a small child who suddenly starts to run a fever in the middle of the night, you will know that it's not so great having to look for the nearest 24 hour Asda or the duty pharmacy, especially if both adults have had a glass of wine and can't drive, so then you then have the issue of taxis etc (you would think that a taxi driver would automatically know the nearest place you can buy Calpol at 3am - well let me assure you that's not necessarily the case). Lots of potential complications (and I've been there so I've seen how something so simple can end up being quite stressful) so it's much easier to bring some with you. Children get ill so suddenly, often without any warning - being prepared makes it easier for everyone.

These are my essential items, I guess. These, and of course the big suitcase, the little suitcase, the pram, the portable changing bag, and the toys bag....but hey, a weekend is a long time, right?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Here, now

I seem to have gone from the life of stay-at-home-mother, with not much more to challenge me than a few play dates and some stubborn housework, into a tornado of activity (all studying or writing related), leaving me almost dizzy in the process.

Let's just say it's been a busy week (and it's still only Thursday; in other words, the day before our planned trip up North so my husband can be the best man at his best friend's wedding. But that's another story.)

On Tuesday night I had the induction evening at the university, for my Masters programme which is officially starting next Monday. On Wednesday afternoon, I attended an open reading event where both the tutors and the students shared their work, and which was a real eye opener as to the staggering amount of talent amongst them. Tonight I had the first meeting of the Everyman's Playwrights, at the local Everyman Theatre, and got very excited about the project proposed to us.
A lot of new faces, a lot of new ideas and several projects already commencing. A few awkward moments, as usually happens when you meet people for the first time, but no worry because who could be more awkward than us writers, we are not exactly famous for our social grace so one awkward moment soon fades out of memory, pushed out by many more that followed.

This all seems like a big, momentous change in my life, from one of non-writing to one of writing. But in truth, I have, like Ariadne, been following a thin thread of writing for the last ten years. In 2004, I bought the well known home study course Writers Bureau. I hardly remember anything from that course, which I tried to follow for about a year, but recently while sorting out some old office boxes I came across a notebook. In this notebook I had kept a record of what I had written and sent to which magazine, and whether it was accepted or not. It was quite a shock to come across this as I have neither kept any of the creative work in question, nor do I have any memory of it! I even, apparently, earned £20 for a 'Star' letter published by a magazine, and I don't remember that either.

A couple of years later, I started my first book, 'Jealous Moon Over Serbia'. While not a very good book, it is nonetheless a finished book of some 80,000 words or so. I spent a few years writing it and another year in trying to find an agent for it. I sent it to around fifteen agents I found in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2010, and at one point a large London agency called Sheil Land Associates requested to see the full manuscript (after reading my submitted synopsis and an extract).
Unfortunately this didn't result in me being taken on by them, but it solidified my intent to keep on writing until something happens.

That something happened when I submitted a very poor draft (I realise, in hindsight) of a play called 'The Wall' for the Verity Bargate prize in 2010 and, while it didn't get to the shortlist, it was noticed by a theatre director Dan Coleman who was on the judge panel. He helped me to develop it and for the next two years this play was the focus of my attention. I have sent it to a number of competitions since, it has been shortlisted in several so far, even reaching the top 5. And then all the events which followed on from there, which bring me to right here.

Here, now. I try to keep in mind this mindfulness mantra while I rush from one part of my day to the next, from the hours I devote to childcare, to the hours I trust the childcare to someone else so I can devote myself to my writing. I try to remember not to waste my time with the children by thinking about my course, or day dreaming about my play being on a big stage, or doing a book signing in Waterstones (or just fantasising about the reliably good cup of Costa Coffee upstairs). I remind myself not to waste the time spent with fellow writers by worrying about whether my children have eaten all their pasta for dinner. I tell myself to have faith, to let people and events develop. To let my children develop so they are not more needy of me than their age requires. To let events develop so I can find my flow in them, a natural sense of pace and rhythm without too much stress and strain in my day.

Here now, is the mantra that will need to keep me going for at least the next two years of my life (probably more). Here, now, is good. I am thankful.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Life writes stories

I have neglected my blog, recently.

Well, it's not even so much that I have neglected it. To say that would suggest that I have somehow forgotten about it, that other things have taken up its space in my mind and those daily hours I have at my disposal for writing. And that's not what happened. I thought about my blog almost daily. But what happened was that I hit some sort of a wall, a large brick wall against which all ideas, all words and sentences and beginnings and ends, simply crashed into pieces. I ran out of ideas for my blog. Even worse, I ran out of confidence for my blog. Whatever idea did manage to appear in my mind, was immediately squashed by the thought of 'who would want to read about that'. Over the weeks (or months), this negative thought mutated into a fatalistic attitude of 'who would want to read anything about my life anyway, or about anything I might think or have to say about life in general'. Well, that may well be the case (although the stats of the blog say that it does have a certain readership - it is not big but it is not non existent either) but I started this blog for myself, and for myself I should continue. I started to write it in order to have a regular writing outlet, in order to process my thoughts about things and events, in order to leave a legacy for my children. None of those reasons have changed in the slightest.

Still, life IS all about change, and in this instance, what changed was me. My courage, my honesty, my ability to take risk. When you blog anonymously online, you can take certain liberties with the truth, you can create an identity designed to be liked, or disliked, to provoke or to entertain. But when you blog under your real and full name, you can't take any such liberties with the truth, but you have to make sure the truth is worth telling. If you have nothing but your real life and your real thoughts to offer, then they better be interesting, entertaining, or at least provoking. They better mean something to you, if not others. And this is where I ran out of steam. Day after day, my life seemed so ordinary to me. We spent a lazy summer. So did many other families. We had friends visit. So do many other people. We went on holiday. It wasn't somewhere unique like Mars. I had lovely moments with my children and also some tough moments with my children. Not exactly a novelty for anyone who has kids. I didn't feel that anything was happening to me, around me or inside me, that was really worth while sharing. That would offer a new perspective, a funny story, an interesting angle.

So here is where I come to that big word: commitment. Commitment is where we decide we will do something and then do it, stick with it, even when it's not going particularly good. Not sticking to it makes us look bad, if nothing else. Now, I may not mind looking bad in front of myself, but I definitely mind looking bad in front of my children. And the little readership that this blog does have. So here it is: I commit to writing this blog regularly from now on, I commit to finding those funny stories or those interesting angles even in the most mundane of days and weeks. Because, at the end of the day, that's what we all have in common. Not many amongst us have just had a holiday on the Moon, a trip under the rainbow, a rendezvous with aliens, an acceptance speech for Nobel prize, a meeting with a celebrity or a brush with death. But all of us - all of you - have stories to tell, stories that other people can learn from, be inspired from, receive comfort from.

With that in mind, I will keep writing. And I hope that you may keep reading.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Studying with a young family

Yesterday I met my new course leader.

This autumn I will be starting a Masters degree in Creative Writing at the university in our town, and yesterday was my first in-person meeting to discuss how things work. Here is what the campus looks like:

I was scared!

But the course leader was lovely and she reassured me that I could do this.

I was still scared!

She told me that most of the students on this MA have a full time job, or a young family, or both. The MA has been designed with this in mind, and it is totally do-able as part of an already busy life, about to get busier.

Did this reassure me?

A little, but I was still scared.

I have discussed with her which modules I will take in which year, and once I organised these into my diary I realised that I would be attending lectures every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. This is before any studying, revision, or writing that needs to be done. A little shock went through my body as I realised that our lovely days of delicious laziness, of no commitments outside of park and playdates, are coming to an end. I always knew that would happen as part of Ana starting school next year. I knew things would change, our week would change, we would step into a new and unchartered territory. But I didn't realise - or somehow I forgot - that it would actually be my own school, not Ana's, that brings that change into our family much sooner!

A lot of emotions are competing for space in my head at the moment. Excitement about studying - after all, I enjoyed being a student more than almost anything else I had done in life, apart from having children and of course the glorious days (hm, decades) of clubbing. Fear about the commitment - can I really do this while looking after two small children and a home, and maintaining my existing commitments with the two writing groups/theatres I belong to? And finally sadness - my babies are not in school yet so I could still enjoy them 24/7, theoretically, but it's me that's making this choice, this shift which will mean less time with them even before their own lives take a new turn.

But I will make sure that time becomes even more precious to us. They will sacrifice a little bit of me that they have at the moment, but they will also gain by having a mother who is happy, who is excited, who is fulfilled with her own life as a whole and not just the motherhood dimension of it. Hopefully that justifies my choice (a bit).

I will chart my progress on here, bit by bit. The highs, the lows, the guilt (especially the guilt, it seems!)

To anyone reading this, I'd like to ask this question: how do you cope with such challenges in your own life, when you have to find a balance between your children and something else you would like to do just for yourself? Do you feel guilty? How do you organise yourself so that you have enough time for everything?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Book review, "The Girl with all the Gifts" by M. R. Carey (warning, contains some spoilers)

Melanie is ten and she lives in a prison. Every day she has lessons with various teachers, Miss Justineau being her favourite. During the class and when she is taken to and from her cell, Melanie is strapped into a chair and every part of her is rendered immobile.  Otherwise, Melanie might eat the people around her.

This is the set up of the book I have just finished reading, "The Girl with all the Gifts" by J.C. Carey.

It is a novel about a world on the brink of extinction because of an epidemic of a zombie-inducing disease. So far so familiar as a post-apocalyptic horror, you might think. There have been lots of books and movies with a similar premise, from "I am Legend" to "The Passage", "World War Z" and so forth. But this book is not really horror and it is a cut above a simple zombie-chase thrill. It contains some great characters, a convincing plot, very satisfying writing and it ponders some philosophical questions similar books often fail to address: how, exactly, do you define humanity? It may seem simple enough, but, if you capture for research some of the zombies who are in fact completely normal looking children and who can also learn to talk and behave like ordinary human beings, where do you draw the line between them being just test subjects and actual real, human offspring? If they show intelligence, compassion, love and self-restraint, can you still consider them to be nothing more than just zombie animals? How do you, ultimately, define being human? Species change and evolve to survive, and that idea is at the heart of this book.

The book first sets out the circumstances of Melanie's life, and that of the other children in the prison's care. We meet the main characters - Miss Justineau, the favourite teacher. Sargeant Sparks, the tough old soldier in charge of the prison. Caroline Caldwell, the ruthless doctor on a mission to save humanity. We learn what the children's daily life is like, and what threat they pose to the grown ups around them. The trigger for action is an outside attack on the prison, which ends up with the main characters escaping and starting a difficult journey towards "Beacon", the only city remaining as a home to non-infected people. In the course of the road trip, of course, various hazards whittle down our main characters to just Melanie and Miss Justineau, with a shocking end which justifies the book's title ("The Girl with all the Gifts" referring to the meaning of the Greek name Pandora).

The book has a gripping plot which made me count hours until Ana & Sacha were asleep so I could get back to it (I confess with a blush!), and I read it in record time. It is also written really well, edge-of-the-seat stuff but without cliches and stereotypes which, for me, ruin so many otherwise good thrillers. If I had to compare it to Justin Cronin's "The Passage", for example, I would say that this book relies on strong action and atmospheric prose while his contained a painful number of poorly written paragraphs.

I enjoyed it hugely, if you can say that about a book which makes you think about the end of the world a great deal. When I finished it, it took me a while to process and accept the ending, shocking as it is, and while I was sorry to say goodbye to the characters, it was also a relief to go back to my normal, non-zombie-containing life.

Read and enjoy.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A day out at Prinknash Abbey Bird & Deer Park

So we decided to have another day out, on a Tuesday :-)

Thanks to Wayne's flexible working hours, we are able to enjoy the summer weather when it's merciful and make up the work effort at another time (when it's raining).

My mum is here at the moment and it was her birthday over the weekend, so as a little treat for her and the rest of us, we headed to Prinknash Abbey Bird & Deer Park to see what all the hype is about (see

The first thing we noticed when we arrived is that the car park was not particularly close to the entrance to the park and our massive pram (we had packed a big picnic) was almost out of control on the very steep, winding road which led us to the way in (but Sacha was safe in my arms). The usual entrance itself is in the middle of some building work so there was a temporary way in which had some big steps and was not the most convenient for a pram (but it was okay). A very helpful and friendly lady sold us two adult tickets, one child and one senior, for £25.40 (Sacha sneaked in for free) which seemed a very reasonable amount, compared to over £50 we had paid at the Bristol Zoo last week. The lady did also refer to our pram as 'the tank' which made us all laugh!

And so we headed in. We were immediately greeted by all manner of birds - well, it is a bird park - including chickens, geese, ducks, peacocks, doves, and some others which were inside cages (budgies, cockatoos, and various 'babies' e.g. chicks and ducklings). We had bought three bags of bird food and Ana was giving it out liberally to all the animals which approached her. At times there were so many birds around her feet, some of them of considerable size (like the geese) that she was getting a little bit panicked. Even though the birds are fed by so many visitors they can't possibly be hungry (I think!), they do still go into a real feeding frenzy and it's worth remembering that if you are planning to have a very young toddler feed them (Ana was fine on the whole, but Sacha would have been overwhelmed).

We did also see some of the bigger animals, such as the deer, the miniature donkeys and the goats. In a sectioned off area we also saw a reindeer with such enormous antlers that it actually looked inconvenient to have a such a massive contraption on one's head (but I'm not a reindeer and I guess he might feel differently about it!)

It is possible that there was more to see but to be perfectly honest, after about an hour, we decided to leave and take our picnic elsewhere.

Here is why.

The website describes it as quite a magical place, of "glorious natural wildlife", "picturesque surroundings" and "tranquil picnics", all of this illustrated by some very appealing pictures indeed. However, what we noticed in real life, unfortunately, was an overall lack of effort. Almost all of the wires in the park (and there are lots and lots of different types of wires everywhere, separating different species) had sharp bits sticking out and a fair bit of rust. This is a clear hazard for children. The ponds didn't seem looked after, they were muddy, overgrown with pond life, the goat food dispenser swallowed our money and dispensed no goat food, the overall look of the place was just - a bit unkempt. Add to this the absolutely copious amount of bird waste at every step and you end up with a park that, actually, isn't that amazing (in my humble opinion) and definitely not one where you'd like to enjoy your food. While there were some picnic tables and you wouldn't necessarily have to sit on the ground, still the overall impression is one of not the most hygienic place for an al fresco feast. At every step you are reminded to wash your hands after handling animals (and rightly so) and there are many basins provided for this purpose, but after seeing this reminder again and again your appetite goes a bit. And as for 'tranquil picnics' described on the website, just be aware that many of the birds, and especially the peacocks, make tremendous noise! It is not what I would call a tranquil place in the slightest. The nature is pretty but living on the doorstep of the Cotswolds we are spoilt for beautiful nature anyway.

On the whole, we left a bit disappointed. While it was interesting to feed and pat three young fallow deer, the general impression we were left with is that a lot more could be done with this place and, while not expensive, it is also not developed to its full potential. 

We eventually had our picnic in Imperial Gardens back in Cheltenham which seemed like a more straight forward place for that, especially once Sacha started doing his Elton John impression...

Monday, 7 July 2014

07/07/2007 - memories of a very special day

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary and I feel that a post about our wedding is in order. If for no other reason, then at least as an excuse for me to look at some of my favourite photos again...

When Wayne proposed to me one warm September evening in Liverpool, my head was awash with excitement but also full of questions about the future event. When would we get married? Would it be a big wedding or a small, intimate one? How hard will it be to organise? What sort of cake do I want? And many many other ones. But one thing there was never any question about in my mind, was where the wedding would be. I knew that I wanted to get married in my hometown, in my home country of Serbia. Why? Well...

Serbian weddings are a slightly different affair to the British ones. For starters, nobody wears a hat. There isn't a day time event, a break and then an evening event, but rather one very long celebration from morning till midnight (or later) where everyone parties together until they drop dead (hopefully not literally!) There are no speeches (although, to accommodate both traditions, we did have some). There are no bridesmaids (but we do have the best man and a maid of honour). There is food - courses and courses of it. There is music - lots of it (and loud). There are guests - many of them (in Serbian villages it is not uncommon to see weddings with 1000 people, lasting two or three days). Most of all, there is one great big party, with a live brass band getting everyone up on their feet, and lots of dancing and lots of whooping and cheering and wolf-whistling and generally everyone having a LOT of fun.

So that is, basically, what we did :-)

We ended up having around 140 guests, which is a fairly small wedding by Serbian standards, but we felt that it was just right for us - everyone who we are close with was there. Over 40 guests flew in from the UK and comprised of a mixture of Londoners, Scousers, Australians, Irish, Welsh, American and no doubt I have forgotten some other nationalities. Everyone arrived on Friday, had a great big pig roast and a bonding session on Friday night, and then the main event was on Saturday. The venue was a hotel in the middle of my hometown, where all the foreign guests stayed too. In the morning, once everyone was ready, the groom and all the foreign guests were driven over to my parent's flat, where I was. They stayed outside of the building while my husband-to-be had to negotiate a payment for me (a very old custom, now done for entertainment purposes. Although I don't think that Wayne was quite prepared for what a hard bargain my family would drive!) After some food, music from a live brass band and dancing, we all made our way back to the hotel. This is us arriving:

 The room awaiting us looked like this:

I was ushered into a suite upstairs until all the guests got settled, and then finally it was time to descend into the surreal world of 'Getting Married'.

Our ceremony was not long and, although we look serious in some of the pictures, it was punctuated by laughter (and I imagine a few tears). 

From this...

to this...

to this...

and finally this!

We were married! The celebration, and our new life, could begin!

As you can see, I was not a shy bride :-)  My idea of a good wedding is one where I dance, then talk to all my guests, then dance some more, then dance with my guests, then maybe have a sip of champagne (I couldn't eat a single bite of food all day), then dance again. I didn't climb on any tables which Serbian brides often do, so I can actually say that I was quite reserved and demure!

In the evening, the time came for our cake. On the main wall we projected a slide-show of photographs from our life together. The guests really enjoyed this because it contained many photos no one had ever seen before, from our various travels and good times spent with friends all over the world.

We carried on into the night, and ended the evening with fireworks.

It was the single best day of my life (that title would change hands later, with the arrival of first Ana, then Sacha – but those stories are probably best left for another time!) Every day I feel lucky and grateful to have met my soulmate, so on our anniversary I hope I can be forgiven for saying that so publicly, too…

Thank you for looking at these photos with me. They mean the world to me and it feels very special to share them. Are you married? What was your wedding day like? 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living' by Dale Carnegie

All my adult life I have been a worrier.

I worried about things which I might have some control over, like how I would perform in exams and what grades I would get. I worried about things which I was unlikely to have control over, like whether my boyfriend would cheat on me and whether I'd be alone for the rest of my life. I worried about things which absolutely no one has any control over, like will it rain on my daughter's birthday, will there be a global pandemic of bird flu and will a meteor hit Earth any time soon.

It's hard to explain it, really (but most of us get caught in the net of worry at some time or another - it is such a common human predicament). Worry defies all rational explanations, because it is not rational. Worry does not prevent bad things from happening (although that is its symbolic purpose - you worry in advance, as if you could somehow affect the outcome) - on the contrary, it makes us think about the bad possibilities so much that it brings them into the present life, as it they had already happened. Worrying is a habit, an addiction, a way of living. It can be mild and irritating, or obsessive and torturous. Over the years I have experienced both of these extremes and pretty much everything in between.

So when I came across Dale Carnegie's book 'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living', I thought I'd give it a go.

Of course, it is not a new book so when I say 'I came across it' I mean that it somehow popped up on my Amazon, being offered to me as something that might interest me (clearly Amazon knows me too well). Dale starts off by explaining the background to this book and how it came into existence (it was actually written for an adult night school class he was teaching). He often refers to his own life and anecdotes from it which makes everything he says very believable, very authentic. In each chapter he presents you with a new strategy on how to banish worry from your life forever, fortified with stories of real people who have grappled with it and won. Every chapter ends with a one-sentence summary of this strategy, for example 'Co-operate with the Inevitable' or 'Put a stop-loss order on your worry'. He covers every angle, from analysing how likely it is that your perceived disaster will ever happen (often not at all) to how to make peace with bad things which did happen, and everything in between.

My favourite by far is the advice to live in 'day-tight compartments'. What this means is letting go of the past, which is no longer here (not even yesterday, although it is so close!), forgetting about the future which isn't here yet, and simply focusing with all our power and skill on today. It means doing everything the best we can right now, today, just until bed time - without worrying about the future. It is essentially a very Buddhist approach of 'Be here, now'.

Lead, kindly light...
Keep though my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I have to say I think that his approach is amazing. While I don't normally believe in quick fixes for complex problems that arise from our pshyche, I have actually caught myself thinking that I will never again waste my time and energy by worrying, that least productive and useful of all human preoccupations, because I now simply understand how worry works, and I can exclude it from my life and my thoughts. There is nothing to be gained by it and a lot to be lost, missed or downright ruined.

If, like me, you are a person of anxious nature and you think you might benefit from something to stop your mind churning over those 'worst case scenarios' all the time, then I can't recommend this book highly enough.

What books have you read which have helped you with a personal challenge? 

Saturday, 21 June 2014


There are days when I feel an urgent need to write. I don’t feel that I can wait until the usual 9pm, when the children are asleep and everything else that one household needs has been done, washed, eaten, tidied away or thrown out (not necessarily in that order). I feel an emotion rising up that needs urgent expression or I might implode, right here in the kitchen, while trying to heat up a jar of baby food (oops – I meant to say while pureeing the organic baby food I have personally prepared from scratch!)

I am a mother, and a writer. I am very lucky in that I don’t have to be a mother, a writer and an office manager / recruitment consultant / doctor / teacher / cleaner. There are many women out there who have to juggle everything I have to juggle, with a full time job on top (I’m referring to the full time job of the paid variety – not the unpaid service us full time mothers are usually providing in the home). So I have nothing to resent and nothing to complain about. And yet, those days - they make me feel on edge, like I will miss out on something irreplaceable if I don’t find a way to let my children entertain themselves for just half an hour while mummy writes. It’s got to be half an hour sandwiched between putting the laundry in, putting out snacks or meals, helping Ana to colour in her Peppa Pig book or changing Sacha’s nappy. It can be frustrating, it can be hard, sometimes I have to just pencil a certain sentence on a random piece of paper in the hope that this sentence will later on jog my memory and re-ignite this sense of overwhelming inspiration.

This is something that I am sure isn’t unique to me, but happens to all writers (not even necessarily just women) who have children or other day time occupations. So what do these other writers do? What is the solution to this? Us mothers are used to putting off even urgent needs of our own, like sleep, or somehow combining it with the needs of our children (my need to go to the toilet combined with my children’s need to be by my side at almost all times have often led to the three of us being in the toilet together, sometimes with them actually on my lap). But writing is different. Writing takes time. I am a fast typist but even I can’t dish out a play in between putting Ana on the potty and stopping Sacha from chewing the TV cables.

I often find that by the time the evening comes, I have lost my wind. Or worse still, once the children have mercifully gone to bed at last, my brain requires – no, demands ­­– a transition period, a time to switch from mothering to creativity, and this usually takes the shape of some fairly mindless, frivolous entertainment –Mumsnet, Facebook, a chapter of a book I’m reading, an hour’s programme on the TV. It may be 9.30 or even 10pm by the time my brain has managed to leave the day behind and is now ready to immerse itself in work of a different kind – the words, the images and emotions which both result from and give birth to writing. But by that time, there is not a great deal of time left for it. I’d like to stay up and write all night, but who will look after Ana & Sacha in the morning, if I’m too zombified to do it? And so sometimes I don’t even start – I stay in the transition stage, in the easy entertainment phase, often going to bed with a mind that is just then properly waking up, full of frustration and regrets that another 24 hours have to pass before I have that space and that time again.

It is in moments like those that I make most of my resolutions – that I will start to write early in the morning, or that I will close my Facebook account (but then I’d just log into my husband’s, I’m sure!), that I will disconnect the WiFi, that I will hack into Mumsnet and wipe their website clean, that I will burn the TV, that I will use all my books as scrap paper for Ana and Sacha.

There is no easy solution. I have to remember to be disciplined in those hours which are my own, and to be mindful of the present moment, to never waste it, as once it’s gone it is gone forever. Being there for my children and being there for myself as a writer is a never-ending quest for balance, for fairness (children come first, but I cannot completely neglect my own needs either), for magic (to somehow do it all). Like all quests, it will take a life-time to complete and we will only learn if the story had a happy ending once we come to the end of it. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014


Last Sunday, we went into nature.

Not a park, not a tourist farm, not some domesticated meadow on the edge of town, but Proper Nature.

Our first challenge was actually finding somewhere to go. We didn’t want to drive too far, this being our first time and a bit of an experiment, so we stayed fairly local. But - on Kidnappers’ Lane, we couldn’t find a public path. On Daisy Bank, there was no room to park the car from all the other enthusiastic nature goers (a reasonably warm and dry Sun morning in June). Finally, somewhere behind Leckhampton Hill, we found a little spot that seemed just right. Excited, purposeful, we got out of the car and stepped into the great unknown.

As soon as we got amongst the shrubs, I realised that my choice of attire, which consisted of a dress, cropped leggings and low heel wedges, was perhaps not the best. Stinging nettles and brambles were all around us, looking at me with glee. I had a clear choice: either the mud, which covered the middle of any path, or the stingers, which grew around the edges, just waiting for my bare ankles to approach. I chose the mud.

My children, on the other hand, didn’t like the mud. ‘You clean them too much!’ said my husband. ‘They’re afraid of the mud!’

As if to prove the point, both Ana and Sacha showed us their muddy little trainers, in concern and vague disgust.

‘Come on guys, it’s ok! You can get muddy. Today is a special day’, I said, half heartedly (meanwhile thinking about how I would ever manage to get their shoes clean again).

‘A special day? Is it my birthday?’ asked Ana. She is still going through the phase of being obsessed by birthdays.

‘Well, no, it’s not your birthday but it’s a day when you can get muddy. In fact, today it’s good to get muddy’.

‘Well, I don’t like mud’, said Ana, again.

‘We’ve come here today so you can have a lovely play in nature’, I added.

‘In what?’ asked Ana.

Sacha was rooted to one spot, looking around with suspicion.

They both seemed to be waiting for my husband and me to do something. To show them what to do. To entertain them. To demonstrate how on earth they are going to play here, with no toys?

The website didn’t mention anything about this.

I had recently come across It is dedicated to promoting the importance of free play in child development, and especially play in nature. Now, I am not a big nature person – I see myself as more of a city girl, I’m attracted by the streets and the noise and the urban delights that wait behind every corner of a new metropolis. If I had my way, I’d probably be dragging my children up and down London or New York every day. Thankfully, we don’t live in either London or New York and so my urges usually have to be satisfied with Waterstones’ Costa Coffee, where the children and I strike a little bargain: honey on toast and some drawing time for them, a large latte and a minute of peace for me. It usually works ok for all parties.

But, I am not so ignorant nor so selfish to not recognise that my children’s needs are different from my own. So when I came across this website, and read carefully through its very scientific, anthropological, and at the same time almost spiritual principles of why children should play in nature and how you should connect a child’s heart to the earth’s heart, I felt we had to give it a go. Good bye, The National Gallery. Good bye, Empire State Building. Good bye, busy streets and bright lights and exciting shop windows. The woods were calling us to come and play.

And so we went.

But my children wouldn’t play. So where did we go so wrong?

The site had been full of pictures of wholesome babies and toddlers, crawling happily through the undergrowth, an embodiment of meditation in motion. Earth children, pioneers of nature, natural born explorers, fearless and connected with this primal environment.

In real life: my children, pioneers of Persil and Ariel, natural born Cbeebies watchers, not particularly fond of creepy crawlies and totally disconnected from this environment they know so little about.

But worry not.

Children are so young, so new, that anything which we as parents have managed to mess up already, is quickly and easily fixed when we let things take their normal course again. When Wayne and I simply stayed quiet for long enough, when they realised that it’s ok to get dirty and that they wouldn’t get any instructions from us, they started to relax. Their eyes started to wonder. Their faces started to show curiosity. They started to move, tentatively, in the direction of things that grabbed their interest – a stick here, a flower there.

Before long, the magic was happening right in front of our eyes. Our children forgot about our presence. They became completely entranced in their own world. Ana was lost in imaginative play, holding multiple conversations about mud with her imaginary friends, and Sacha was doing what he loves most, running and jumping and then running and jumping some more. Eventually he found a hole that was big enough for both of his little feet to fit inside, and spent the next half an hour climbing in and out of this whole, with more enthusiasm than if he had been Alice about to enter Wonderland. They played with sticks and stones and leaves and flowers and anything else they came across. They were entirely absorbed in the abundance of their playground.

It was wonderful. And although this was just one brief Sunday morning, it really transformed the way I think about outdoors, from something that vaguely bores me to something that is essential for the development and happiness of my children.

Next time, I must just remember to bring some chairs, books and a flask of tea for Wayne and I, and we can all happily stay in the Great Outdoors all day. We might even – and I’m pushing the boat out here – might even consider going camping one day. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A POEM FOR ANA (from 2011)

Love Begins

 This is where love begins.
I will not move until it hurts
I do not care if muscle burns,
All of me take now and keep.
A child’s mouth is on my breast
Her eyes are closed in sweet rest
I will not disturb her sleep.

Tremble, arms, under her weight!
This precious weight of silk and gold
Precious weight, life yet untold
My child, my child - my heart unfolds!
On my breast she is a-dream.
My breath on her breath depends.
I will not move ‘till her dream ends.

I will not move, I will not rise
Nor look away from treasured face.
Her future not here yet, and now
This is the only time and place
I have to love her.
So hold my breath, and set my pace
I won’t disturb her embrace.

The night is silent - the air is dark
And midnight hour is now long past.
When angel eyes open at last
And in a smile her lips part
I will remember my life’s task
To fill this universe with my heart.