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.

 

If you can cope with bringing up kids, anything else is easy in comparison

I’ve been working at my MSc Occupational Psychology for nearly 6 months now, and it is hard, but actually easier than I thought it was going to be. On my course I am the only student to have children, and I have received nice comments like “when I am struggling to fit it all in I think if Dilly can do it with 2 kids then I can do it” but in actual fact I really believe that being a mother of young children has helped me manage this course, for the following reasons:

I already have no life
Some of my student friends are struggling to fit studying in with all they things they usually do in their free time, and the endless weddings and hen nights that take up the weekends of those of a certain age. Maybe it’s not even age, I don’t think I’m the oldest, but I happen to be in a situation where most of my friends are already married. I think some of the students are finding it a shock that they have to sacrifice nights out and weekends away for sitting down and studying. Well, I have kids so I’ve already sacrificed those things. I have already been through the pain of feeling my freedom restricted. Iris isn’t really reliable enough for a babysitter, and even if she was we couldn’t afford it anyway. So for me, most of my evenings are a toss up between studying or watching the West Wing and crocheting on the sofa. Some things have had to go. You can see that my blog is a bit neglected, and I’m having crochet withdrawal, but I have experienced the feelings of sacrifice already and I know it isn’t forever.

Every second counts
What the hell did I do with my time before I had kids? Obviously I worked full time (but I’m not far off that now), but it’s not like I was writing War and Peace. I wasn’t even reading it. We had dinner parties with friends, did a bit of jogging, but again I still manage that now. All those child-free hours, I could have spent doing something useful but with the naivety of youth I just frittered them away. Now every hour is accounted for, and if I am lucky enough to have “free time” every minute is squeezed dry. Because of this when I sit down to do my work I’m very conscious of time. I know how many hours I need to spend on my studying, and how many hours I have available in the week, and there is little slack. If one of the kids is sick for a couple of days that writes off a few evenings of work that I can’t afford to lose so I know I have to keep on top of things.

Less pressure to be top
I did really well in my first two degrees, a First and a Distinction. Anything less in this one is going to feel like a step back. Academia is my thing. I nearly cried when I got 55 in my first assignment. But what with combining a nearly full time job, two kids and other activities with this degree, everyone is just going to be impressed if I pass. I’m nearly coming around to that view myself. Nearly.

It’s not the hardest thing I have ever done
I survived 10 months and more without a full night’s sleep. I have breastfed while suffering from an excruciating migraine, delatching the baby to go and vomit, then returning to resume a prone position while a tiny baby sucked the life force out of me. I have driven through the night to get a baby suffering from chicken pox to stay asleep. I have cared for a sick husband and toddler a week after giving birth. I have given birth. Twice. With no drugs. I have gone to work leaving my children in the care of virtual strangers for the first time. I have raised two charming and clever children. In terms of the hardest things I have done, a part time degree is not even up there.

Everyone thinks I am doing an amazing job
There is nothing quite as motivating as praise from other people, and lots of people have expressed their admiration at what I am doing. My mum and dad have both said how proud they are, as has my husband. And my step-mum went so far as to give me a significant chunk of money towards my course, because she felt I really deserved it. When really, as I have just explained, in some ways it is easier for me than everyone else, you know, what with having no life and all. Blown that myth now haven’t I?

And on top of all that it helps that I love psychology, really want a new job, and am fortunate enough to be fairly bright. My reason for writing this post is really to inspire other people out there to push their boundaries, especially other parents. I worried for ages about whether I could cope with doing this course. Yes I’m a bit grumpy sometimes, I feel like I have no time to decompress, but it will all be worth it in the end. And as with most things in life, it hasn’t been as hard as I feared. So if you are thinking of taking something on, and are wondering how you would cope when you have children, my answer is this – having kids: probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Whether you are thinking of doing a degree, starting a business, writing a book, it’ll be easy in comparison. And by virtue of the the skills you will have picked up just from having kids, you will be even better equipped for whatever you take on.

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.

Over the rainbow, over the weather

I dunno, I neglect my blog and crafting for a while then suddenly you get loads of posts in one week, you lucky lot. The joys of a four day weekend!

I must admit I haven’t been feeling it on the ol’ creative front recently. A combination of too much work and studying, and the relentless drudgery of house work and child care. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle really, I don’t make stuff for a while, I start to feel really unmotivated and emotionally a bit flat, then I just can’t get back into it, and spend days looking at my supplies and sighing because I can’t thing of anything to make. So last week I just decided to pick up a needle and thread and start sewing, well, embroidering actually.

It’s not my forte but I do enjoy it and you don’t have to spend a lot of time to create something quite pretty. I wanted something cheering in this dreary weather and was inspired by a kids temporary tattoo that a friend’s daughter gave me a few weeks ago which was a little sparkly rainbow. A colleague at work spotted it and was surprised as she thought it was real and didn’t realise I had one! It did make me think that maybe I’d quite like to get an actual tattoo. But unless they are going to let me have gas and air in order to have it done it is highly unlikely to ever happen. I’ll stick with needles that don’t actually pierce your flesh (unless you aren’t paying attention).

So here is a happy little rainbow to brighten up a grim day. Expect more where this comes from.

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Cute Animal Brooches

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These brooches were supposed to be Valentine’s Day gifts, but they finally made their way to their recipients about 2 weeks ago! One is for my mum and one is for her friend who loves foxes. I just free-formed them, but they were small and easy.

I wasn’t as enamoured with the cat as I was the fox, it looked a bit sinister rather than cute, so I tried again and came up with this little grey one.

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Feeling inspired I have now splashed out on a whole bunch of cottons to make more cute little brooches. It’s hard to find nice, brightly coloured, non-mercerised cotton but this Rico Aran from Cucumber Patch was available in a wide range of colours and came super quickly.

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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?

The Birds

I’m not usually one for making a fuss at Easter. The holiday usually passes me by. I’m grateful for the 2 days off, and for the chocolate eggs which I tend to buy cheaply after Easter when the supermarkets just want rid of them.

But having kids tends to make you see things in a new light, and Betty has cottoned onto all the supermarket crap and has embraced Easter as a holiday to be celebrated.

I must admit Easter brings a plethora of crafting opportunities, which this year I have actually taken advantage of. About time really, given this started out as a craft blog!

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First up is this Easter chick, scratching about on my bird table. I had visions of making these in all kinds of pretty pastel colours, but, well, it didn’t happen. This one’s pretty cute anyway, and if you want to make one the pattern is a simple free one from Lion Brand

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Next up are these chicken bean bags which I saw on Red Ted Art . They are so quick and easy to make, even by hand. One is destined for my mother in law (random, I know, but DH insisted she’d like one) and the other two are Easter gifts for Betty and Iris. Given that Iris is in a delightful throwing stage, hopefully this will be a pain free alternative to a plastic cup or the iPad.

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If you want more grown up craft, this lovely wreath was made for a pound by Mum of All Trades!

Happy Easter everyone!

The contrariness of motherhood

On the nights when I put Iris to bed, which is most nights, as she prefers me and Betty prefers DH, after finishing her bottle of milk she turns to me and says “Can I have a cuddle?”. Pinned securely into a sleeping bag (a necessity as she is both a stripper and a climber) she turns to face me. Sometimes she doesn’t want to go to sleep or really have a cuddle, she just wants a chat, about the things we have done, the things we are going to do and the important things in her life, like Betty, Grandma and doggies. On the nights like tonight, when she is exhausted, she curls up on my lap, her head on my upper arm, knees tucked into her chest, and her tiny arms wrapped around my waist. These nights actually bode the worst, as infant logic dictates that the more tired they are the more unsettled their sleep will be.

Sometimes this tableau occurs at 7pm, sometimes 8, sometimes 3am. Even at 3am, tired, and anxious about getting up for work soon, I soon succumb to the star nightlight speckled darkness, and bury my face into the nape of her neck. I inhale the smell of sweat and jam sandwiches. I relish the weight of the heavy head in my arms. I feel the rise and fall of the little chest filling with air, and exhaling with faint snores. When I am feeling frustrated at this being our third visit of the night, or desperate to go downstairs and have some grown up time, I tell myself it won’t be long before she no longer wants cuddles, or is too big to curl up on my lap.

As I nuzzle the warm body on my lap I think about its future. I wonder what sort of woman she will become, I worry I am not doing a good enough job for her to reach her potential, I worry about the dangers of the world, and pray she will outlive me in it. I want to cry a little for the future me, who has no 2 year old to snuggle, and for the future Iris, and the time when a mother’s cuddle is no longer enough to make her feel secure.

Eventually, the draw of freedom and personal space force me to relinquish my charge and put her in her cot. Tonight she was out like the proverbial light, but most nights she drowsily clutches Luke, her bear, and turns over with a sleepy “Night night mummy”.

No longer weighed down with a warm infant, I step lightly out of the room and head downstairs where long-awaited freedom awaits. Earlier today, frustrated and exhausted, I wanted my house free of my children, or wished for them to be old enough to be more self-sufficient. Each night I sink on to the sofa with relief that I have survived another day. But for the few minutes after I have released the sleeping toddler from my arms I feel bereft.