A fresh start

Note book

New Year is like a new notebook, a fresh start, with limitless possibilities. I no longer make new year’s resolutions; they rarely last and just serve to make you feel bad when you fail to meet the unrealistic expectations you have in the heady last few hours of the previous year. I have long been at peace with the fact that I am a starter, not a finisher – well, if not at peace, a resigned acceptance. While self improvement is no bad thing, there is no point trying to be something that you are not.

So, where have I been for the past two years? Well, I completed a Master’s Degree in Occupational Psychology (I can finish some things…), more on that in due course no doubt. Then after two years of relentless work, reading only text books and journals, I gave myself a year of doing not very much. Well, not very much includes working, looking after the kids, getting a new job, and reading lots of trashy novels. But there have been no big projects or commitments.

And so 1st January rolls around again and I find myself with an itch. No, not that sort of itch – a metaphorical one. I feel the need to write again, to exercise my brain, and articulate my thoughts. What better way to start the new year than with a new blog. I was going to set up a brand new one (my third attempt at such in the past 12 months), but I have always struggled with a lack of theme, or a niche. I just can’t commit to any one thing. I don’t have nearly enough knowledge about any one topic to sustain a blog on any of my varied interests. And then I remembered this old faithful; the whole premise of this blog originally was to write about various things, a Jack of all trades, master of none (well, Master of Science twice over, thank you very much!). So, here I am, back for a while. It’ll be like I never left.

 

Gone but not forgotten…

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…just for a while anyway. Oh, hey there. Can’t believe you are still stopping by, especially since I’ve been rather neglectful of my little blog.

It’s not laziness, you understand. Quite the opposite. You may know that I am in the middle of studying for a Masters degree in Occupational Psychology. What with that and my job and the kids, life has been pretty busy. So, I just wanted to put a sort of placeholder in to say I’m still here, well, not here, but around, and I haven’t forgotten. I just have a new outlet for my writing, one that includes a bit more talk of “procedures”, “dual encoding”, and “heads up visual display unit” than I care for. But, it’s a means to an end. And if anyone wants to employee a trainee Occupational Psychologist, I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be a thumpin’ good’n…

So my lovelies, until a less manic time, hasta la vista, baby. I’ll be back. And so should you.

I can’t resist a new notepad…

I loathe going into town on a Saturday, but today I needed to get a present for my niece, so we popped in via the library where DH works. I wanted to get some crafty things for my niece and decided to try Wilkos. I love the shop, and for crafting stuff for kids it’s far cheaper than places like Hobbycraft. In store I found were some lovely stationery ranges, and I just wanted to share what I found as I love a bit of stationery!

This pad (£1), folder (80p) and pen (£1.25) are for my nieceMoustache padThis craft paper is also for my niece. A big stack of lovely patterns for £3. You can use it for origami, although it is a bit thicker than origami paper. I also have some that I bought for myself a while back.

Origami paperEver on the quest for ways to get myself and the household organised, I fell upon this pad with glee. Doesn’t look much from the outside…

To do padBut look at the lovely list section, squared paper and diary inside! I love it, and all for a bargain £1.60!

Inside the to do padThis one is for my college work. There were lots of lovely pads and exercise books with funky designs, but I wanted a hardback one for doing my work. This one was £2.50 with a matching pen for £1.25.

A funky book for collegeAnd finally this word puzzle pad will keep Betty’s brain ticking over this holiday, and the mini one is for Iris. Who doesn’t love a new notebook?!

Puzzle bookThere were loads more lovely designs, with pen sets and stickers; I wanted to buy it all! If you’ve got children going back to school in September – or just want to get yourself in the Back To School mood (can’t come soon enough!) then take a trip and fill your basket! Hmm this all sounds like a bit of a sponsored post by Wilkos doesn’t it? It’s not I promise! I’m just a stationery evangelist!

A middle class a-fair

Bank holidays are usually bittersweet for me; a long weekend in which you are supposed to chill, but if you are like me the pressure to Do Something Worthy gnaws away at any time not spent in pursuit of merriment or at least spring cleaning.

We were supposed to be camping this week, but our regular inspection of the BBC 5 day forecast has forced us to concede defeat. I make no bones about being a fair weather camper. Roughing it in a field with portaloos and two young kids (4 if you count the family we were supposed to be going with) is just about bearable, verging on fun when you have glorious weather and copious amounts of alcohol. In 22 MPH winds, Baltic temperatures and rain it is about as appealing as attending the UKIP party conference.

As a salve to the wounds of disappointment we decided to camp out in the garden night before last. All the benefits of camping, sleeping under canvas (well, some kind of nylon material anyway), fresh air, without the hassle of packing up the car and using chemical toilets. But er, we still had to put up the tent, which fit with inches to spare…

20130528-105343.jpgIt was good fun, though by 10.30pm when the kids were still awake it was hard to resist the temptation to pack up and chuck the kids back in their rooms. But we stuck it out, you know, coz we’re hardcore.

The bank holiday Monday was spent at the achingly middle class Suffolk Street Fair. It’s events like this that make me oscillate between contempt and intense life envy. The Suffolks are a slightly Bohemian, vair middle class area of an already quite middle class town. The fair consists of stalls from lots of local businesses; a mixture of art and craft, poncey food, and car boot sale tat with “vintage” prices.

We met some of our friends at the fair, with possibly cuter kids than ours – certainly more well dressed than our dress-refusnik girls!

Kids at the street fair
Consulting map apparently. Actually a leaflet on organic locally produced sausages.

Every year DH and I wander round and wish we could casually pick up a locally designed art print or a £50 distressed wire magazine rack, while at the same time scoffing at the “saw you coming” street sellers. See that is the fundamental (and really the only difference between us and the rest of these hipsters, most of them are richer than us. Our part time public sector salaries and lack of period property are the only things that stop us from becoming Guardianista cliches, and means that we get to play the boy who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and that the shabby chic piece of driftwood hanging from a bit of twine is, well, just a piece of driftwood. Don’t get me wrong, we want to buy the driftwood, we just can’t afford it.

Man selling beer
£4 for a can of larger? Saw you coming…

There is always good food at the fair. It was difficult to chose between the five vegetable tagine, the falafel and fresh pita bread, or Thai noodle. The spicy noodles won out, as they do every year. I wish I knew what spices they used as they were delicious, even if they did cost £4.50.

The sun was shining, and the jazz band was playing. One of the joys of having young kids is never being without a dance partner. It was just Betty and I throwing some moves, but I didn’t care.

Betty and I dancing in the street
Dancing in the street
Punch and Judy
Beating with a stick – that’s the way to do it!


A Punch and Judy show kept the kids bizarrely enthralled, in the way only the iPad usually does. Well, what child can resist watching a scary wooden puppet, with the bulbous nose of the inebrient, whack a dog with a wooden stick and get whacked in return. The children cackled with laughter at 50 Shades of Candy Stripes while cringing lentil weaver parents shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, clutching their recently purchased organic olive oil and wondering how to explain away the gratuitous violence to their kids later. We didn’t stay to find out the fate of Judy.

We dragged the kids away from the bunting clad street, stopping at the fab charity book shop on the Bath Road. Betty chose six Enid Blyton books (she is undoubtedly her mother’s daughter) – ‘vintage’ as per the order of the day, although as DH found out later when he read them, vintage books tend to come with vintage attitudes to race, women, foreigners, poor people, and basically anyone who doesn’t own an island. I. however, found some light bedtime reading, which I can guarantee contains no black people called Sooty…

Statistics without maths book
It says without maths – that’s go to be good right?

All in all a pleasant day. And while we traipsed along the street fair fantasising about owning one of the Regency townhouses, with wooden shutters and shabby chic decor, it wasn’t unhappily that we returned to our rented little new build terrace, with laminate floors and magnolia walls, just with realism, and the feeling of familiarity. We can’t pull off vintage anyway.

 

My Future Listography: careers I’d like

Christmas before last I got a book called My Future Listography, basically a place to make lists about things you want to do in life. I thought it might help me figure out what I want to do. But if nothing else, it makes for good blog prompts.

I thought I’d start with careers I’d like, as that is one close to my heart. I am on a constant quest for the ideal career, but I think the reality is that, as the magazines oh so wisely are telling us, we shouldn’t expect one career (thank God, because if this is it I am doomed), but consider serial careers (one after the other) or portfolio careers (doing lots of things at once). As someone who is extremely indecisive this concept appeals to me. I’ve spent many years wanting to be this and that; a teacher, a criminologist, a Spanish interpreter, a journalist. However, these days I am more realistic about what I actually want to do. Sure I’d love to travel the world, but it can’t be much fun leaving young kids behind. And yes, I love the idea of being a journalist, but working freelance, having to tout yourself about writing about vacuous celebrities just to make ends meet, no guaranteed income <shudder> it’s not really for me. And while the idea of being Prime Minister seems attractive on the surface, but do I really want to go around knocking on doors in local elections, begging people for votes or money, preferably both. And then even if I did become PM I’d have to spend my time going to meeting on European Economic Policy, or the budget deficit. And I probably wouldn’t be able to do crochet on my lunch breaks. I’d have to spend my lunch breaks trying to keep the editor of the Sun on side to stop him printing articles about my political incompetence, or the fact that Iris drew on the walls of the cabinet meeting room.

Nope, I’m definitely clearer about what I’d actually like to do, so here is my plan:

Occupational Psychologist
This is what I hope my next career will be. For those who don’t know, I am studying for a Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology. It’s part time, distance learning, so I won’t finish for 2 years (only just started in January). I’ve no idea what it will lead on to career wise. Occupational Psychology is psychology in the workplace, covering topics such as recruitment, well being, ergonomics and leadership. What I don’t want to do is be a psychologist who goes into a business to help the business make more money. This might be rather naive, but I want to make the workplace, where many of us spend the majority of our time, a better place for people to be, with increased productivity being an added bonus. I thought long and hard before doing the degree, but actually I quite circumspect about how it pans out. Maybe I won’t end up as an Occupational Psychologist, but doing the course has reaffirmed for me that psychology is where it’s at!

Professional Yarn Bomber

Oh yes, if I could get paid to yarn bomb every day I would be very happy. There are people who do make a living out of it, but they are generally bona fide artists, and probably do loads of other stuff to supplement their income. But hey, that’s what a portfolio career is all about. Plus, I very nearly am a professional yarn bomber I ran a yarn bombing workshop for which I got paid proper cash money. And I’m going to be in a book, and I was on the radio. With a burgeoning media career, a professional contract is sure to follow, right?

Radio Presenter

I don’t mean a vacuous DJ type of presenter. I have in mind more a Radio 4 presenter, being asked to present a programme on which I am an acclaimed expert, perhaps my yarn bombing career, Occupational Psychology, or as a self help guru (have I not mentioned that one yet?). I would interview various contemporaries in my field, in a softly spoken and engaging manner, much like Kirsty Young, except less Scottish and more Home Counties, and less soft and more nasal (I’m sure it’s an adenoid problem). I love the BBC, and wish that I had joined it as a fledgling meeja type in the 70s or something (but obviously without the Jimmy Savile sex scandals and endemic sexism) to become one of the doyennes of the institution like Kirsty, or Sandi Tosvik or Jennie Murray.

Writer

Well, I am writing now, so technically I am a Writer. But I’m not getting paid for this. I’m not even getting free stuff to review. If I could get paid just to write my thoughts and opinions like the insufferable Jeremy Clarkson that would be great. Though rather than The Sun my publication of choice would be something like Psychologies Magazine, or the Observer Magazine. I’d be able to research and write about whatever takes my fancy, and then someone would probably offer me a book deal. It would start out as a collection of selected columns, but then soon I’ll be branching out into motivational, self-help books (based on empirical research obviously). I’d also like to try my hand at fiction, in fact I have the bare bones of a draft from when I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago. However, it is true what they say, it is harder than it looks to write fiction, even fluffy chick lit. But one day I’ll get round to it, I’m sure.

Member of Mumsnet HQ

I’d get paid to Mumsnet. Nuff said.

So, I’ve still got a good 35 years of working life ahead of me, enough to get all that done. And in the meantime I am thankful that tomorrow is my day off my current paid work, so I get to do my other part time job, Stay At Home Mum. The pay is pretty poor, and the non-salary benefits are non-existent. There is no training policy, and no promotion prospects. But there’s no commute, and the customers give good cuddles.

Our Common Ground Exhibition

The motley crew of teen artists
The motley crew of teen artists

Last Tuesday I went to an art exhibition. I didn’t want to go actually, it was so cold, and I had been at work all day. But the facilitator of the exhibition was my friend Jacqui of Creative Solutions, a husband and wife team who run community based art projects. I felt like I should go along to support Jacqui, so I dragged myself out into freezing temperatures to Cheltenham’s Garden Gallery. And I am so glad I did. What I found was an inspiring exhibition of art by local teenagers.

The exhibition was called Our Common Ground, and bought together teenagers from two very diverse areas of the town. For a year they have been experimenting and collaborating on creative enterprises, exploring their own dreams and aspirations, and those of their communities. I tried to take some pictures, but they really don’t do the work justice.

Our Common Ground Exhition
This caption says “This project has somehow changed my life, but I don’t know how!”

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“This project has opened my eyes – we really do have common ground”

I had the privilege of speaking to some of the young artists. They had a great time though found it challenging. One of them said he felt like he wanted to quit at times as things weren’t turning out how he wanted. It seems like they learned a lot about themselves and about each other. The artists come from very different backgrounds but ultimately they discovered that they really do have a lot in common. A good life lesson for us all.

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UPDATE: if you want to see the lovely video made by the group check out this link

The one where I get free stuff and admit I don’t really like sewing that much

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I was really excited to be contacted a few weeks ago by Dotcomgiftshop to tell me they had included my blog in an article on upcycled furniture. I was pleased to see I was in good company, along with some of my other favourite bloggers such as Mum Of All Trades and Meme Rose. They described my blog as “Honest, funny and real, this is a craft blog with a difference.” and with that I was sold!

They have asked me to be part of their blog network, and offered to send me things to review. This just gets better and better! In reality though, I’m not very good at that sort of thing, and dithered over asking to review something. Only when they sent me a prompting email basically saying “no really, pick something” did I finally bite the bullet.

For a long time now I have been planning to make a Happy Birthday banner. I’d really like to crochet one, but haven’t got round to it so far, and realistically never am. Ordinary bunting is actually really easy to make too, but again, it’s something I’ll never get round to doing, especially with the dawning realisation that <whispers> I like the idea of sewing more that I actually enjoy doing it. So, I picked out a Happy Birthday bunting banner, which arrived pretty speedily.

We didn’t have to wait long for a birthday to try it out. It was my birthday on Thursday, and with a gentle reminder, DH put the banner up for me ready for when I got up.

It looked fab (we’ve only just taken it down – I like to celebrate my birth-week!) and I am really pleased with it. It’ll be dragged out for every birthday for years to come. The only thing is it’s huge! Despite the dimensions being clearly stated on the website, I didn’t realise it would be so long! Still, I think it looks pretty cool, and far preferable to balloons as decorations .

With it’s immense length, at £12.95 it’s pretty reasonable. Yeah you could knock one up for cheaper with scraps of material, but really, are you going to?

Catholic women speak out and say “Not in my name”

So, Cardinal O’Brien has admitted that his behaviour over the years has “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. It is unclear what this euphemism really means, as Catholic views on sexual standards don’t seem allied with those of the mainstream i.e. sex is not ok if you are not married, gay, or a member of the clergy. Suffice to say it is not clear that O’Brien has broken any laws, just some stupid internal rules, so I won’t dwell on the nature of the offences.

This blog post is not simply the rantings of a disinterested atheist. I have my own beef with the Catholic Church. Those who know me might be surprised to know I am actually a Catholic, at least I think I am, I’m a bit hazy on the rules. My parents are lapsed Catholics and both sets of grandparents were fervent Catholics. I was baptised in the Catholic Church. Apparently despite being an atheist now the event of my baptism makes me a Catholic for life, and beyond presumably. Like I said I’m not clear on the rules of membership, so I am happy to be corrected, but it seems to me that being a Catholic is a bit like being signed into to a spam newsletter, you don’t remember signing up, and despite looking around the website you can’t find the instructions for how to leave. They make it deliberately difficult, requiring a written request to take you off their mailing list, which quite frankly you are never going to get around to. You can put them in your spam folder but somehow they keep getting through the filter.

I said my grandparents were Catholics, so you can imagine how it went down when my 19 year old unwed parents announced my impending arrival. My paternal grandparents refused to acknowledge my existence until I was about 10 or 11. That is not the only negative impact the church has had on my life and that of my family. The Catholic Church and its hypocritical dogmatics have wronged my family in other devastating ways, so my disenchantment goes beyond my feminist and moral principles.

But I can’t really claim to be an insider in the Church. When insiders start to question the value and morals of their own long supported organisation it is a sign that institution is really in danger. Joanna Moorhead is a journalist and long time member of the Catholic Church, about as much an insider as a woman can get in the Church. She has written and edited religious publications, and today she has publicly professed her dissatisfaction with the leaders of her faith. You can read the full article here but I wanted to pick out some of what I think are the most important points:

…our church has come to be seen entirely in terms of the men who run it. That, of course, is understandable: not only do they hold resolutely on to the reins of power, but they are also the ones who have perpetrated the crimes. One of the more unsettling moments of the pope’s UK visit in 2010, for me, was when he called on “the whole church” to atone for its crimes. But those were not my crimes, Pope Benedict: I am not one of the ordained men who has abused children or helped cover up their abhorrent behaviour, and I resent being treated as one.

In fact, all around me I increasingly hear these words from my fellow Catholics: not in my name. These crimes that have been committed, this power that has been abused, this trust that has been betrayed: not in our name, Your Holiness, has it happened. Guilt has dogged my church through the centuries, and it’s a guilt that has often been planted most deeply among the lay people: every week at mass for many years I have heard the priest in the pulpit reminding and cajoling and persuading us to go to confession, to repent, to bathe in our guilt and be freed from it. Well, not this time: this guilt is not mine; this is the guilt of the hierarchy, the guilt of the priests, the guilt of the ordained men who run my church and who have been determined for centuries that they would not share the running of the church with anyone who was not one of them.

Lay women, the biggest group within the church, are the most silent of all silent majorities…They are also, I believe, its wisdom, its common sense and its conscience. If the Catholic church had done as most institutions have done over the last 30 or so years, and invited women to become its leaders alongside men, it would have discovered – as institution after institution has discovered, the world over – that it could not run itself properly without them.

There is not much left for me to say, Joanna has made her eloquent plea to the Church. I don’t expect them to listen to me but I can only hope they start listening to their members and make radical changes than mean that people’s lives are no longer devastated by the acts of men who abuse the power they hold.

Don’t say it with a card, say it with a magazine!

God, I love magazines. I know I shouldn’t but I really do. Even in the knowledge that most of them are simply vehicles for adverts, many with recycled content, I love them. I love the little nuggets of information, the aspirational photos, the smooth and shiny pages. I’ve loved them for as long as I remember, starting with my cousin’s Beano magazine, continuing with Quiz Kids and Fast Forward sent to me by my grandmother. If there is one thing better than a magazine, it’s a magazine that comes through the post.

My periodical love was nurtured by a two year stint in a newsagents, where not only could I read all the magazines for free, I got to keep all the free gifts off the unsold magazines before they were returned to the supplier. My choice then was Just Seventeen, Mizz, Smash Hits, oh and a dalliance with Chelsea Magazine, but that was really just to impress a boy.

I don’t really buy magazines any more, at least not in the volumes that I used to. I don’t go in for the glossy so called ‘women’s magazines’ that suckered me in during my teenage years and early twenties, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, nor the celebrity rags, Grazia, OK etc. The former prey on women’s insecurities to sell overpriced cosmetics, and the latter merely prey on vaguely famous people and their need for validation. And I have never gone in for the real magazines touting stories of rape, incest and murder, where voyeuristic vultures pick over the remnants of people’s shattered lives.

My bent nowadays tends more towards craft magazines, dream homes and design, and self improvement. The only magazine I now regularly buy, when I can justify it, is Psychologies Magazine. It’s full of pop psychology, and self improvement articles articles that just about hit that self development spot. Marginally more academic is Psychology Today, though it is American and therefore harder to get hold of. I have recently subscribed to Simply Crochet Magazine which I infinitely prefer to its sister magazine Mollie Makes, but I only for 3 issues on a 3 for £5 introductory offer. I just can’t justify £5 a go for a single magazine, especially when for a little more I could get a full on book.

However, since we are speaking about money for magazines, I thought I would mention a interesting blog article I saw on Twitter from News Stand. They note that it is hard to find a decent card for under £2.99 when it is someone’s birthday, or anniversary or <fill in your card industry invented occasion here>. With magazines costing only a little more than that why not try giving one instead of a card and give a couple of hours’ entertainment instead of a fleeting moment of pleasure. Sure, News Stand, an online magazine retailer, has a vested interest in presenting this view. But they have a point. I am fairly ambivalent about cards myself. I don’t send Christmas cards, and equally don’t get upset if people don’t send me one. DH and I don’t exchange Valentine’s or anniversary cards; it just seems quite a waste of money that could be better spent on chocolate. Or magazines. Cards get read once or twice, displayed for a few days, cluttering up the place. The odd really beautiful one might get a permanent position on a shelf or in a frame. A few with very special messages might get put away to be read again once or twice before getting lost in a move, but most have a fairly perfunctory message. In fact most of my in laws can barely spare more than a ‘To’ and a ‘From’ in their cards.

Wouldn’t a far more pleasurable and longer lasting product of the same money be a magazine? It doesn’t have to be offensive, anti-feminist, clap trap like Glamour or Company. What about The Week, for the busy person to keep up with current affairs? Or the Writers’ Forum for the wordsmith in your life? Always full of excellent recipes Good Food Magazine might be the perfect card substitute for the resident cook. And eclectic lifestyle magazine Oh Comely will inspires those with curious dispositions.

So next time you are in a paper shop looking for a last minute birthday cards, give the faux arty shots and lame jokes a miss and check out the news stand instead. You never know what you might find to delight that special friend or family member…

Modern Asphalt magazine
Happy birthday bro’
Sheep mag
More interesting than card with a sheep on it
Juggle Magazine
Even something for my hard to buy for dad

And it’s my birthday coming up soon, just sayin’…

The Simple Things Magazine
I’m a woman of simple tastes