Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Feel the fear

Horse show jumping

I told someone I was having a show jumping lesson today.

"Why?" she asked.

And I really struggled to answer. I don't have my own horse, I will probably never compete or do more than three jumps in a row and it's pretty dangerous jumping horses over coloured fences. So I had a little think about why I want to be a really good rider.

I believe it's what people call a mid-life crisis, a feeling of life slipping away before your eyes and heading towards the big 4-0. It is making me assess what I would like to do. Not what the kids need, or what he needs or what anyone else requires me to do. Something just for me.

But it's not just about trying to squash loads of great things into my life while I can, it's also about facing my fears. I am a little bit scared of jumping - there I said it. I really hate being scared of jumping because in the olden days, when I was 16 or so, jumping was the only reason to be on a horse.

I utterly hate the feeling of being scared when I didn't used to be. Motorway driving finds me holding my breath as I overtake lorries, taking off in aeroplanes makes me irrationally nervous and Africa had me terrified. Of course I still do all the things that make me feel frightened and I feel proud when I have conquered the fear. It's exactly the same with jumping horses. Feel the fear and do it anyway. So I did.

Because when I dismounted after an amazing lesson I buzzed all the way through the rest of my day, I am still buzzing now. I can't wait to do it again. Sort of!

Monday, 25 February 2013


We have found a little retreat for rainy day activities, a pottery painting place on the edge of a pretty fishing lake. I've been meaning to try it for ages and ages and finally got round to a visit on A's birthday, where 8 little girls happily painted pots and plates for a couple of hours. Easiest party ever.

On a return visit, on a particularly freezing and miserable halt term day, the kids wanted to try decopatch. Well, what a weird activity. You first choose an animal at great cost and then tear up little bits of paper (at great cost) and stick them on. The effect I have to admit was quite good and we came away three hours later with a patchwork elephant and a patchwork donkey. Three hours I tell you, three hours to stick bits of tissue on a cardboard animal.

P informed me 10 minutes into the craft that she didn't like glue, that it was sticky so I spent the next 2 hours and 50 minutes sticking and gluing for her. And came home £23 lighter for it. Blimey.

That night, while enjoying a particularly nice red and a good comedy, great sobs and heaves and frightened tears entered the lounge. A was very upset, another nightmare?

"I had a dream that I started the decopatch and ran...out of....paper!" A cried, big salty tears falling down her cheeks.

"Oh my goodness darling, that must have been the scariest dream ever!" I consoled her forcing my tongue out of my cheek. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Pony mad

I was pony-crazy from about the age of eight. Mum suggested a riding lesson for my birthday and the love affair was instant, and expensive. There were pony posters all over my bedroom wall pushing Simon Le Bon out of the way, making room for the show jumpers and eventers. Our garden wall became the horse I dreamed of and I would sit up straight, heels down and boot the wall into action to which it never obliged. I then took to riding my bicycle and holding the brake wires as if they were reins, thumbs on top and wearing my velvet covered riding hat - 

"..and this is Sarah Williams riding Lightening over the last fence to win the OLYMPIC GOOOOOLD!" - the crowd applauded as I praised my steed and waved at the audience who gasped and cheered at my unbeatable equestrianism.

I was eleven by this point. I cadged rides from people, I persuaded Mum to take us to gymkhanas just to watch and I raced to the window as soon as I heard the clip-clop of someone lucky enough to own their own pony, drooling and dreaming that that would one day be me. I loved everything about ponies, their stables and mucking out, their saddles and bridles which I longingly wanted to clean as well as do-up and undo their shiny buckles. I loved stroking them, feeding them, sniffing them, grooming them and riding them. I wanted a pony so badly it physically hurt, I simply couldn't understand why I couldn't have one. 

Of course now it is obvious. They are obscenely costly. 

I did get a pony, this is Brandy and we loved him. I am welling up now just looking at his honest face and remembering the amount of joy he gave us all. He lived in the next-door-neighbours field and would regularly escape into their prized vegetable garden, he would roll around in the mud and cover his body in poo-stains but only on his white patches, he was a slow coach and a speedy gonzales, he could jump 4 foot gates - but only when he wanted to. He even walked into our kitchen once in pursuit of ice cream. He was part of us and part of me.

Why am I telling you this? Because even though I have kept ponies at arms length for my children, waiting until they pleaded and begged me to go riding, I want them to experience the utter love and freedom of cantering through woodland on your best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world. So, tentatively we have bought the kit, gently introduced a couple of ponies, persuaded him that this will keep them off the street corners and fingers crossed - they may just start to understand what I mean; and experience the thrill and joy that are horses.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Half term

Thank crunchie for the holidays. I thought I was going to explode last week and lo and behold, half term pops up when you most need it. So far it's been a corker and utterly exhausting so today feels like a luxury, waking up lazily in a warm house as the world slowly defrosts beyond the windows. The children are making models out of cat food boxes, stamping ink precariously close to where it shouldn't be and I am drinking strong coffee grateful that the orange cat has returned - she looked like she had broken a leg and then disappeared to lick her wounds. Turns out she was OK and is asleep by the radiator - a sensible place to be on this chilly morn.

Sussex seems to be waking up from its deep winter sleep and has graced us with such beautiful sunshine that the children have taken to not wearing their coats (erroneously). The daffs are poking their heads out of the soil and some are even flashing a touch of yellow. Spring is on its way people. Spring is on its way.

The excitement and joy of their cousins being here over the weekend has calmed as we all slept like proverbial logs last night, catching up on the zeds and appreciating the quiet. The weekend was spent in a whirl of yellow food and games, of screaming and shouting, of mess and chaos and laughter, lots of laughter. Hastings was looking particularly fine as it yawned its way into action, ready for the onslaught of tourists. The fairground rides creaked and groaned as if arthritic and the children squealed and demanded more and more the more we gave them. The final meltdown was extraordinary, in the arcades and with the slot machines where the children learnt about gambling - coming away with nothing made them not very happy at all.

Perhaps we should have stayed on the beach and poked the dead fish and jumped down the pebbles instead.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Elephant saver

We have such power as parents. We influence daily, we persuade, cajole and they watch and mimic. Our children want to be like us when they are 4 and 7, they want to please us and they copy our interests and hobbies.

"When I grow up I want to be an elephant saver!" A said on my return from Africa, having told her all about the elephant orphans and the fantastic work of the Sheldrake Wildlife Trust.

My heart swelled. I could imagine A living in Kenya, caring for baby elephants and becoming an advocate for the trusts work. I could imagine being worried as a parent when I hadn't heard from her in a while. I imagined she would tell me of horrors, sadness as well as success and joy in her work. And I would be so proud, as secretly I would like to save the elephants as well. And live in Africa.

"What would you like to be when you grow up P?" I turned to P, expecting a similar answer.

"I would like to be a baker and bake cakes for your antenatal classes, because you are not a very good cake baker and then you wouldn't have to buy them!" she replied in earnest.

"Very true, I am a terrible cake maker, cakes for my antenatal classes would be very useful, thank you P," I agreed, grinning at her hilarious aspirations.

"And I want to be a farmer and look after the animals, and have a very good dog. And I will be a dog walker," she carried on.

"And a pop star. I want to be famous!" P exclaimed.

"Really darling? I think you should stick with the very good dog walking and baking cakes for my classes." I said influencing her whole-heartedly - refusing to entertain the thought of a Britney Spears in the family.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Happy birth-day

Dear A,

The morning I woke when you were born, was exactly as it is today, seven years ago. The sun was bright and glorious streaming into the window of our hospital room. A hospital bed with a view like no other, over the Thames and across to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. You used to say you were born in Big Ben when you were two. Opposite Big Ben, we would tell you - but 'opposite' was just too big a word for your small mouth. So you were born in Big Ben for a very long time.

I woke up from a few hours of heavy sleep that day, sat up and there you were, I had forgotten I'd had a baby in the night - "What do we do now?" I asked your Daddy.

We hadn't a clue, like all first time parents. So he did the logistics, took some bags home, brought the car back and I fumbled with breastfeeding and gazed a lot at you - my brand new daughters face. He had bought me a Grazia magazine and a coffee, but nothing made sense that day  - "I've just had a baby, OY WORLD, LOOK! I had a baby!" I wanted to shout.

You know this story because I tell you every year, you love hearing about how you swam out in a birth pool, and that your face was all squished and your nose all bent and that you didn't cry but stared intently at my face.

My Mum would tell me her story every year as well.

"Ooooh it was hot day when you were born, you were born at 4 o'clock and they had to keep the windows shut to keep the wasps out, " she would recall. She would then fill in the appropriate details of how she hated the gas and that Dad had a hangover and went home, and that it was really embarrassing being stitched up afterwards by the Doctors and that I was taken away from her for hours and she was so worried about me.

Because birth matters, we remember it forever. And when you are blowing out your candles we mothers are remembering your entrance into the world - and how awesome that was.

Have a lovely day, darling A.

All my love forever,
Mummy xx

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Seven years ago I was huge, full of baby and anticipation. Just waiting for labour to begin and life to change. Days were spent folding babygro's, doing yoga, reading adventure travel books and books about horses; as I'd been told that when you have a child:

a) you'll never read a book again
b) you'll never backpack and travel again
c) and you'll certainly not feel like riding a horse again, for a very long time

I would walk to the cafĂ©'s in Brixton to sip coffee and wait, eager to know what my baby looked like. Time was suspended, or so it seemed, waiting for baby. I idled away the days imagining how I would feel, concentrating on the things I would miss, the freedom I would lose and the lack of self identity they said I would have. I thought about the friendships that would change, the relationships that alter and the job I could no longer do. I didn't think about the positives of having a baby because I didn't know what they were. I had heard about the love that you feel and the bond that you have, I'd heard that having children is the 'best thing that happens in your life' and I'd heard that all that love is painful sometimes. So I would sit there, amongst the hipsters and trendy's, and imagine. Stroking my bump with a glazed look in my eyes - as if I was the first person who had ever been through this monumental change.

And then she came, she swam out into the world and looked at me with large blue eyes and a wonky face; my baby was here and I had become a Mum. We looked at each other in surprise, I didn't recognise A and it took a while to get to know her. That bond that they were talking about hit me quite off-guard as I was strapping her into her car seat one day, on the way to a mother and baby group in some musty church hall. I then knew what they meant by love.

My big little girl is seven on Friday, she's a proper medium-sized child now - no longer a toddler needing help or a baby dependant on me for every need. She has her very own personality and is practising gymnastics as I write, in a lurid leotard and clashing leggings.

You were worth the wait, darling A.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Life saver

The cats barely set a paw outdoors these days, preferring to curl up in various balls in odd places around the house. They get up with me, demand some breakfast and then sleep on the bathroom floor until the luxurious under-floor heating switches off - at about 9am. Lupin then lies on my bed and Cleo fancies her spot by the plant just outside the bathroom, so that if and when the sun comes out she is in prime position for warmth.

I digress. Today, Lupin braved the outside world. I didnt see her go out but I heard her come in.

"MUM, MUM....MUUUUMMMMYYYYYY!" she meowed and shouted at me from the bottom of the stairs.

It could only mean one thing. A rodent. She brings them in to play, kill and then disembowel on the first step, rather like an amphitheatre and I the cheering audience. I catapulted down the stairs and chased her out of the house, for there is only one thing worse than a dead mouse and that is a live mouse you can't catch. The poor little beast was squeaking from the ferocious feline mouth in such distress. I scooped up a furious Lupin and forced open her jaws. The terrified mouse dropped to the ground and lay there, playing dead. I think it thought it was dead in fact - but realising it was no longer in the cats jaws, it looked up, looked around, its heart beating violently and scampered through the undergrowth hardly believing its luck.

Lupin sauntered back into the lounge and lay herself in front of the fire, licking a paw and cleaning behind her ear.

"I'll just go out and get it for pudding, Mum!" she meowed to me.

So I locked the cat flap and hoped that the little mouse ran a very long away from here.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The grimmest time of year

February the first. I feel I should be celebrating as we are rid of January - but February, boy that needs a large, deep, nourishing breath to face up to these next twenty eight days.

And having inhaled nice and deeply, my shoulders have dropped and I am ready to be positive about our harshest, shortest month. So here goes, the things I like about February:

  1. All my family's birthdays fall in February. My mum's, dad's, sister's, daughter number one and a niece. 
  2. Snowdrops. And wood anemones.
  3. It's grim but over quickly.
  4. The nights are really getting longer - we can bike ride after school, or hike over the fields in wellies.
  5. Log fires.
  6. Stews, casseroles, pies and roasts. Although I start to yearn for steamed fish and salad about now.
  7. Seed buying and vegetable plotting - high allotment hopes this year.
  8. Half term.
  9. Fortieth birthday planning.

I can't think of a tenth reason to like February.