Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hygge and whatnot

Twinkly lights, cake, books, knitting, quilts, Moomin cookery and a warm puppy. Is that what hygge is? I'm never quite sure. The dog is snoozing on my boot. Sometimes his walk is so exciting he has to have a lie down as soon as he gets in. He found a fellow puppy to go mad with today. Sprinting through the fallen leaves at top speed, nothing better if you're a small dog.

Writing deadlines loom here, and I'm lightly panicky, which is how I operate best. In fact that's why I'm here writing this, instead of somewhere else writing something else - just pressurising myself into full anxiety mode, all the better for accomplishing stuff. Things were on track until a little light illness for a couple of the children, requiring Days Off School. We all know how productive it's possible to be with small people breathing down your neck.

Littlest boy (peering over my shoulder at the laptop screen): Why is it a blank page?


I also seem to spend hours walking the dog. Good for me etc. etc., but really very time consuming. If I slack off a bit he starts chewing the house. He is nicely worn out right now, but by tomorrow morning we will have to start all over again. Today I entertained myself by checking out the contents of people's recycling bins as I walked. Really, your whole life is laid bare out there is it not? All that red wine and two bottles of gin. In one week! Tesco Finest 7-nut granola, fancy. I'm not sure I could even name seven nuts. Unwashed ready-meal cartons. Slack, just slack. Oh, I'm terrible I know.

It's the Christmas lights switch-on this evening in our little town. Every single child is going it seems, and excitement levels are sky-high. Candy floss, a big wheel, street fair stalls, an unknown celebrity, shocking plastic light-up things and chips with cheese, it's all there. The littlest boy has already drafted his Christmas list and re-written it out nicely. It ends "From the goodest boy in the world. PS I would also like an orange in my stocking please." Requests include really grippy gloves and pistol. As in previous years, I persuaded him to leave off axe. He tried for a hatchet or a machete, honestly, I've no idea why. What is it he wants to chop??? Maybe that should be Who. The really grippy gloves have me stumped. He likes to free-run about the place, and I think that's what they're for, so that he can climb walls in the manner of Spiderman. But where on earth do you find really grippy children's gloves? Oh how I hope I won't fail him. The festive season is a lot of pressure, no?

Are we feeling it yet?

Sunday, 12 November 2017


It's chilly enough now that whenever I leave the sofa, a child or a dog slips in behind me and steals the warmth. Even more so if there's a hot water bottle. I have been ousted from the cosy spot I had and now I'm on a hard chair at the dining table. Fear not, I shall oust them back very shortly. The middle child and I got quite breathlessly excited about the idea of an electric blanket just now. John Lewis have one made from Alaskan Huskies. I don't think I shall buy it. More Stuff, you know how it is. I was reading an article today about how we should be happy with what we have and mend things. Mending is very big around here. Broken things are even bigger. I just discovered a broken lampshade in the middle boy's room from the last time he played dens with the littlest boy. Couldn't be too cross, I do like the simple happy games they play together.

Social media is making me anxious here. Not the being on it, more the idea of it and what it might be doing to children. I am being pressured and I am holding firm. Here are some of the things I have read this week, and without going looking for articles, they just fell into my view from one source and another:

Instagram was rated the worst platform for mental health and wellbeing in a survey of 1,479 young people. It has been associated with anxiety, depression, bullying and fear of missing out. Snapchat was fourth from the bottom, then Facebook. Twitter was second and Youtube was highest rated, and the only one felt to be positive overall.

In a study of 1,200 teens, half said they are addicted to their devices. 78% check them hourly. 72% feel they have to respond to texts and emails immediately. 52% felt they spend too long on their devices.

It is common to have more than one screen at any one time. Focus is a problem. Multi-tasking can't be done, it's a myth. The brain has to try and flit quickly from one thing to another. Empathy can be lacking, and some children are finding it harder to connect with each other offline.

A 2015 report found that 5-16 year olds spent an average of 6 and a half hours a day on various devices. For teenage boys it was an average of 8 hours.

Sean Park, co-founder of Facebook has said in an interview that it was designed to appeal to human weaknesses, compelling users to check for new messages, to seek likes, to respond to notifications. Brain hacking if you will.

A quote from him, "Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google ... produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long-term. Users fail to recognise the warning signs of addiction."

It scares me. It all scares me. I haven't come here to lecture or to rant, just to share what's been on my mind lately. I have my share of screentime. But I really want the children to have fun In Real Life.

Anyway, I hope that wasn't too heavy. Just what I'm mulling over right now. At the moment, books are being read here, trees are being climbed, life is being lived. I know things will change, but I'm hoping for a little more of the good stuff first. You know, childhood.

One final thing, John Lewis don't actually have an electric blanket made from Alaskan Huskies, I would hate to start something. It just looks like it is. I think.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The essence of me

Chilly autumn days are really here now aren't they? Everything is dripping in the mornings, including the dog by the time he's had his walk. I've spent happy hours wandering the lanes and by the streams around here with dog-owning friends and dog-owning new friends. A nice contrast to the busy time that is everything else. Somehow time slips away when I'm out walking him. Legitimate pootling.

I have a little website for my writing endeavours (daren't call it a business). It was horrible. I found a supposedly wonderful website builder thing and deleted the whole website so as to start again afresh. And then proceeded to spend two and a half days in absolute fury when I discovered that instead of being really simple it was actually ABSOLUTELY FLAMING IMPOSSIBLE. This afternoon I deleted the whole thing again. And then it all got worse and I couldn't find the right bit to start again and I got dangerously near the point of having to be certified. Then the biggest boy came home from school and offered to help. I told him he wouldn't understand it, it was a whole new, different thing and all sorts of tricksy. He had a go anyway. I wandered off to rock and hum to myself a bit. And lo and behold he has put together a couple of pages. Not exactly what I had in mind, but at least it is something and it has brought me back from the edge of madness. Do you think it's possible that the children might actually turn out to be useful? It hadn't occurred to me before, but I'm seeing all sorts of possibilities opening up now. The middle boy made something he was very proud of in Design Technology today, which has me wondering, could he knock me up some bookshelves? A coffee table? A new kitchen?

What I really need for the website are some delightful photos of me. An oxymoron, I know. I have asked the biggest boy to take pictures of me on a couple of occasions and they've been absolutely ghastly. I worked out what was wrong with them in the end, it was the daylight. Too much of it. So much in fact that my face was visible.

I also need to be photographed somewhere, I don't know, edgy. Or booky. Or at least not round the back of the garage which is where I usually go (plain pale wall, daylight, yada, yada, yada). Maybe in a cool café, looking clever while sipping a latte with something fancy on the top of it. Or in an antique book shop, frowning slightly while I study the pages of A Treatise of Human Nature. Or with my head thrown back in laughter as I chat to beautiful people at a conference of clever beautiful people. Obviously the real me will not do at all. Wellies, dog, boys, mud, frightening hair. This is not what people want to entrust their writing projects to at all. It must all be hidden, and a squeaky sanitised version scrubbed up for their delectation. So, that's why I don't have any suitable photos.

I do have rather an excellent one that the middle boy took of me. He has fish-eye on his camera and oh, we've had so much fun with it. We have laughed and laughed at the pictures he's taken. My personal favourite, which I think completely captures my essence, is below.

I have a sort of contented serenity about me don't you think? Eyes closed, clearly in the zone. Practically a poster child for mindfulness. If I don't get to have a decorative latte in an artisan café this weekend I shall almost certainly use it on my landing page. 

Wishing all a good weekend. CJ xx

PS I could have made it bigger, but you know, enough is probably enough.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Under the apple turnovers

Half term has flown by in a flurry of little trips, constant dog walks and attempts by me to write something I need to get done by the end of the month. It hasn't been hugely successful. The littlest boy helped me along today by reading jokes from his book of 1001 Really Stupid Jokes while I worked. I keep hiding it, but it keeps turning up again.

Him: How does Dracula keep fit?

Me: No idea.

Him: He plays batminton.

Me: (After a tired pause) Brilliant.

Him: What were the only creatures not to go into the ark in pairs?

Me: Don't know but can you read them in your head, I'm trying to work.

Him: Maggots. They went in in an apple.

Mum, what's a skeleton's favourite instrument?

Me: Shssh now, let me concentrate.

Him: Okay, just do this one.

Me: I don't know, what is a skeleton's favourite instrument?

Him: A trombone. What kind of snake is useful on a window?



Him: A viper! Did you hear about the skeleton who was attacked by a dog? It left him without a leg to stand on.

I gave up. You can't fight that level of ridiculousness.

We squeezed in a quick puppy groom yesterday. The pup needed his chin and eyebrows trimmed. He emerged looking like a cloud. Half an hour running round the park with a spaniel soon sorted that out. I don't really mind though, there's something very satisfying about seeing a dog running round madly with a new chum. He found a (mostly) empty can of strong lager on his walk this morning and galloped about with that a bit. That wasn't as good, I could see the lager flying out onto his newly fluffed coat.

Has anyone ever seen a school shirt looking like this before?

I have a feeling it may be a new world record. The littlest boy tried very hard to sneak it in without anyone noticing. Harder than he expected I think. He claims to have fallen over.

I am thinking about knitting a cowl in moss stitch. Madness? I fear it may be. In fact I think I started one before and unpicked it in fury after two rows.

There was a goldcrest in my fridge earlier. The biggest boy found it on a bike ride yesterday and brought it home in an enormous carrier bag. He wanted to do a post-mortem drawing of it. I popped it into an empty ice-cream tub under the apple turnovers.

It's an amazing little bird, so tiny. A picture, if you can bear it, showing its little yellow crest.

I am off to do a little more beavering away at the writing job now. Wishing all a good weekend. We will be puppy training and playing football as usual. And in between I will be constantly vacuuming up chewed up sticks and washing mud out of things. Honestly, it's never ending no? I dream of a weekend alone somewhere, wandering, writing, reading, soaking up the peace and quiet. If I close my eyes I can picture it all. Of course I would spent the time worrying about what was happening in my absence. Chaos and mutiny. I can picture that as well and pretty vividly.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dog, tired


The little brown dog is tired tonight. A full weekend with boys and outdoor adventuring has taken it out of him. We took him out to a dog-friendly pub to eat with us yesterday. Well, we were eating, he was supposed to be sitting nicely under the table. He didn't do badly; I had visions of him leaping onto tables sending plates flying, but he managed not to cause any catastrophe. That's my main objective most days to be honest. No catastrophes. Maybe I should aim higher.


Well, that's as far as I got with this post on Sunday. Yesterday I thought of things to write. Today they have evaporated into the ether. I must write things down when they occur to me. If you blog, do you plan things, or just turn up and write? I'm more of a turn up and write person, but it would help if I could remember things.

I had a conversation with the littlest boy after school yesterday.

Him: Our teacher was off today.

Me: Is he ill?

Him: Tummy bug.

Me: Poor him, that's no fun. Make sure there's lot of hygiene mind, if there are bugs going round. Lots of hand washing.

Him: There are no bugs going round. He ate too many sweets at the school disco, that's what I think.

Poor man. By age 9 the children are starting to get a little chopsy I think.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Odds and sods

A random collection of photos today, from inside the Above the River casa. The dog is getting damp on these dewy mornings. He comes in and curls himself into a ball, the better to dry himself.

On Saturday the littlest boy and I took him up onto the common to get the wind in our tails. Bertie found the most putrid puddle of what looked like cow slurry, although suspiciously there were no cows anywhere around. Oh how he loved it. He paddled, he galloped through, and best of all he drank some. Honestly, it was dog heaven. The littlest boy and I danced round the outside trying to head him away from it. It just made him run backwards and forwards through it more. The nearby golfers stopped playing for a while to laugh at us. I was yelling things like, 'YOU FOUL BEAST'  as I went, adding greatly to their entertainment. The littlest boy declined to have him sat anywhere near him on the way home. He was plunged into a bath with very little ceremony and soaped up with some natural, lightly scented froth of a dog wash. To be honest I could still detect cow for a while afterwards, but it was a great improvement.

Have a look at this chap.

Three legs, but still going strong. After I took this he flew up and off into the sunny blue sky, it was like something out of a movie. All we needed was a crescendo of violins.

I've been enjoying local dog walking, as well as the whole slurry on the common thing. I've been inducted into a whole new community of people and dogs that I only ever viewed from outside before. Almost everyone stops for a chat when we're throwing a ball and having a gallop round. We know all the dogs by name and I chat to neighbours I'd only ever nodded at before. I meet friends at odd times of the day and spend a happy half hour catching up while the dogs wear each other out. It's been a pleasant surprise. It makes up for not seeing people on the school run; now I have the dog I am reduced to standing outside of the school looking sadly in through the railings.

I am trying a little bullet journalling at the moment. Anyone done this? It's all part of the quest to be more productive and use my time wisely. And you know how I like jotting things down in a notebook. If there wasn't a notebook involved I probably wouldn't be that interested to be honest. But give me a pen and paper and I'm happy. Can't be without one in fact. I have a small one in my bag at all times, just in case. In fact I have quite a lot of things in my bag just in case. I emptied it the other day and found, amongst other things, four lipsalves (lipsalve addiction), three pens, two allen keys (scooting children), a stick, fifty biodegradable poop bags and a chunk of dried sausage. Prepared for every eventuality. Except maybe dog paddling in slurry. I'm not sure I'll ever be prepared for that.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

About time

see the boy and the dog?

dog at 40 miles an hour

rain on the way
We walked the dog to the top of a mountain. The one that isn't really a mountain, but more of a lump. The littlest boy and the puppy ran to the top of course. Then the puppy ran back down. He hit warp speed about half way, it was terrifying.

The littlest boy found things to swing on, in the manner of Tarzan. He tried to get me to have a go too. I usually do, but it usually breaks so I tried to learn from my mistakes.

The puppy went for a wild mud walk with a puppy friend this afternoon. I stuck him in the bath afterwards. Oh the mud. It is October indeed. After a day of racing here, there and everywhere it is a pleasure to sit down and see at least one clean(ish) thing. I will work on the children later...

Around here the week got more productive after the shambles that was Monday. But it's still a bit of a struggle to find enough time for the whole writing thing. I've been dreaming of getting away. A few nights alone somewhere. Imagine all the free hours! Home is the usual unending treadmill of stuff to be done, you know how it is. Or even a writing evening would be good. There is one in the nearest city, just two-and-three-quarter hours of writing with other people, then chat afterwards. Fellow writers! Peace to write! Of course none of it will happen, but I dream that maybe one day...

In the meantime I am keeping on doing what I can, where I am, with what I have. Which is a little writing, on the dining table, in between loads of laundry, puppy walks, mealtimes etc. etc. I know it's the same for most people. In fact many writers have other jobs and squeeze it in around the edges. I always find it inspirational and motivational to hear about it. It keeps me going.

It's much the same for artists I think. And those in theatre. I was reading an article about how little stage actors and directors are paid the other day. Nowhere near enough to live on, it's a real labour of love. I can't find the article offhand, but it was a real eye-opener.

I did a series of interviews with local artists a while back for a local publication. Without exception they either had another job or someone help with a second income. And yet they were still fitting it in, passionate about making art and developing and learning. Motivational as I say. The most successful, in fact an extremely successful artist, who works full-time as an artist, told me about the year of no television when she produced eight works for a national exhibition that she won an award in.

So I shall keep going, slow and hopefully steady. And try and take the frustrations of things around here that suck time away in my stride.