Sleep Deprived Stress-Bunny: 2013 365 Challenge #281

Working hard

Working hard

My 350th post today! I like it when the milestone figures come around, it makes it easier to prise the eyes open and write some words!

Like yesterday’s post, today’s is likely to be on the short side. On top of the cold I’m fighting off, I had physio on my knee this morning. Physio always leaves me limp as a dishrag, and that’s without it being rush rush to get there on time.

It was a bit of a squeeze to get to the appointment (it was actually hubbie’s but he’d double-booked himself), as I had to stop at a service station for quarter of an hour en-route from the school run so I could tidy up and publish the few words I wrote during breakfast!

I might have no core muscles. I might tick all the physio’s danger categories of Sleep-Deprived, Sensitive to Temperature, Stress Bunny, Sedentary Lifestyle and Perfectionist (he said, try as he might, he couldn’t think of an alternative word beginning with S for that last one! Maybe ‘Super Perfectionist’?). I might be knotted and tied up and a bit wonky, but I can at least stick to my daily blog deadline! 🙂

All I have to do now is think of something to write about. The little energy left to me today has been spent tidying and planning for my sister’s long awaited arrival. After over two and a half years, I’m finally going to be able to give her a hug tomorrow, as she and her family come to stay (not with us, thankfully! I think two children in the house might be enough for me). Luckily my parents’ house is close by, so we’ll hopefully see them loads. I just have to figure out how much to take my daughter out of school so she finds a balance between not missing out there or here. Tricky.

Anyway, no dazzling words for my 350th post since I started the blog last year. I’ll have to hope for some inspiration before tomorrow! For now I’m going to try and stop yawning long enough to catch up with Claire, and then I’m going to bed to secure a few hours’ sleep before little man has his first nightmare or his nappy leaks (despite being on our fourth different brand of nappy)!.

This is the sleep deprived stress bunny saying night night.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“You want me to do what?” Kim’s tired voice rose in agitation.

“Come to Cornwall with me. Just for a week or two, until Psych Liaison are off your case. It’ll be fun. The forecast is great, and Cornwall is meant to be beautiful.”

“Well it isn’t. I had a gig in Newquay once and it was horrible.” Kim folded her arms, reminding Claire strongly of Sky.

“That’s just one town. Milton Keynes is a boring town of concrete and roundabouts; you wouldn’t judge the whole of the Midlands on it, would you?”

Jeff caught Claire’s eye and signalled that he wanted a quiet word. Claire gave an imperceptible nod.

“Just think about it, okay? Now, would you like a cup of tea?”

Kim nodded, then sank her head back against the sofa. Although she’d seemed brighter once they’d reached her apartment, she’d soon slumped into despondency; drifting into a dark place beyond Claire’s reach.

In the kitchen, Jeff filled the kettle before turning to face Claire. “Don’t give up. She’s just being stubborn. Perhaps don’t mention the bit about the tent– Kim hates camping.”

Claire shivered, remembering Jeff’s attempts to get the friends to see sense before she went to New Zealand. Determined to carry the high ground, Claire lifted her chin and took Kim’s tea back into the lounge.

Kim lay with her eyes closed, but they flew open when Claire put the mug down with a clink. Claire happened to be watching her friend’s face, and saw the muscles tighten into the obstinate mask from earlier. She didn’t know whether to be irritated or amused by the wilfulness of her friend’s reaction.

Determined not to rise to the bait, Claire perched on the sofa and said in a bright voice, “So, am I to have a travelling companion? We never managed the girly holiday when we were younger – maybe this is our opportunity?”

Kim remained silent and Claire searched her brain for a way through the wall. “You can help me keep up with the blog, if you like? As I’ll be working for Conor this time, I might struggle to write something every day. Fancy trying your hand as a blogger?”

A flicker of interest passed across the pale face and for a moment Kim looked less unhappy. Then it was gone.

“Isn’t there a theatre in the cliffs, down at the bottom of Cornwall? I’m sure we could try and get tickets to a play – all paid-for research of course. Give us something to work towards?”

At last Kim turned to face her friend, and the tension dropped from her face.

“Alright, enough already, I’ll come. It’s not like I have so many other options.”

It wasn’t exactly a grateful acceptance speech, but Claire didn’t mind.

“Fabulous. I do just have one favour to ask, if you are coming.”

A wary look crept across Kim’s face.

“What’s that?”

Claire smiled.

“Can we take your car?”

***

The Squawking Tree: 2013 365 Challenge #146

The gorgeous Scottish hills from my friend's house

The gorgeous Scottish hills from my friend’s house

I’ve been having some crazy dreams while on holiday. I think it’s the rock-hard bed. I’m sleeping on a pile of duvets like Princess and the Pea and I’m clearly of royal blood because, even through the towering pile of softness, the bed is hard enough to keep me awake.

Last night I dreamed that a friend and I took our manuscripts to a publishers together and mine was put forward when hers wasn’t. It ought to have been a happy dream but instead it reminded me of many uncomfortable moments in my own life. With each academic milestone, when I should have been elated at my own achievements, the moment was clouded by a friend’s disappointment. GCSEs, A Levels, degree: In each instance, I got top marks and a friend didn’t. So instead of bouncing with joy for my A Grades, my First, I was embarrassed and tried to conceal my results, while consoling various friends’ unexpected Es, Fs, 2:2s.

This has all come to light again, I think, because we went to visit a friend of my father’s who lives close to our holiday location in Scotland. I haven’t seen him since we scattered my Father’s ashes seven years ago. He hasn’t changed. Visiting him and his house was like having a chance to see what my Dad would have been like had he lived. Talking to him was a bit like talking to Dad, and double edged for the same reasons.

Even though Dad’s friend was impressed at my writing achievements (after hubbie listed them, while I sat red-faced and silent) he said something later that showed his true feelings. We were talking about my Masters degree. He seemed disappointed that I didn’t crown my first class honours degree with a distinction for my masters. (I was close to getting top marks, but losing my Dad and getting married the year my dissertation was due didn’t help my grades).

My Dad and his friend as boys

My Dad and his friend as boys

He then went on to question why I wasn’t some hot-shot Board Director with all the qualifications I have, instead of “wasting my time scribbling” (his words). I thought hubbie was going to explode. I shrugged off the comment, having heard it before, and having learned to be comfortable with that particular decision – I’m not made to be a director: I’m rubbish at office politics.

It got me thinking, though, about how miserable I make myself by constantly comparing myself to other people’s expectations. Talking about it with hubbie, I came to the conclusion that I am a product of my parents – both of them were one of three kids and each bore the burden of being compared unfavourably to elder siblings. Both then found themselves caring for ungrateful parents later in life, while the favoured siblings vanished and did nothing. Nothing like martyrdom to leave you bitter.

So I learned martyrdom and feelings of inferiority (I’m very good at both!). I feel like my parents, and their parents, are all squawking crows sitting above me in a giant tree, shrieking their nonsense at me. All the clamouring voices in my head are theirs. When I feel the disapproval of my friends, or worry I don’t live up to their expectations, it is the fear and worry of my noisy family tree filling my head. Beneath it all I believe in my choices and am happy with them.

It’s a useful analogy. I don’t want my kids to have to roost in that tree, though it’s probably too late, particularly for my eldest child. They are a product of me. But if I can fly off and roost somewhere quiet, maybe just maybe they won’t have that noise clamouring in their heads all their lives.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire looked up at the glorious building, set in parkland, and smiled. She was glad to leave the trees and the rain and the smell of horses behind. All she wanted was a hot bath or shower and something alcoholic to send her into the land of nod.

She walked through check-in like a zombie, nodding in the right places and scrawling her name on the paperwork. She regretted the lack of a private room but, if the outside of the hostel was anything to go by, the dorms would be lovely.

Claire opened the door to her room, then stepped out to double-check the number. There must be some mistake. She checked the paper in her hand. It was definitely the right room.

She stared at the chaos, trying to make sense of it. The floor was barely visible beneath a litter of clothes, plastic bags, stray shoes and other paraphernalia. A bra hung from the nearest bunk bed. The top bunk seemed to be occupied, although Claire wasn’t sure if it was a body or a crumpled duvet.

This can’t be right. There isn’t room for a mouse to move in here, never mind an extra person.

Eventually, like a Where’s Wally puzzle, Claire spotted an unoccupied bunk near the window. She was surprised it was free – usually the beds under the window were taken first – until she realised the curtains were so thin the morning light would illuminate the bed like a spotlight. Something about the state of the room suggested to Claire that these girls were not early risers.

A memory from early in her trip intruded on Claire’s thoughts. Those bloody Swedish girls. That’s all I need. I wonder if it’s too late to get a different room. She backed out and headed down to reception.

“Sorry love, the last bed was taken just after you arrived. Is there a problem?”

Claire thought about the stench of clashing body sprays, the comatose body huddled under a duvet at 5pm, the general clutter and chaos. I guess that’s hostelling, I’ll just have to write a post about it.

“No, there’s no problem. I’m a light sleeper and the free bed is by the window, that’s all.”

“I can lend you an eye mask if you like?”

Claire was touched by the offer, but shook her head. “No need, I have one, thank you, and ear plugs.” Like airplane freebies, without the glamorous destination to look forward to. She sighed, then a thought sparked in her mind.

Actually, hostels should do that. How much nicer would some people find their hostelling experience if they discovered the wonders of ear plugs? You could have a little packet on each bed with the sheets; maybe get the eye masks sponsored by local businesses so they don’t cost anything. If I ever have my own hostel, that’s what I’ll do.

***

Seven Years On: 2013 365 Challenge #85

I'm the one in red!

I’m the one in red!

Seven years ago I received a phone call. I was at my soon to be father-in-law’s house and I remember sitting on the stairs listening to a man, a nurse presumably, stumble through telling a relative of an unexpected death. I don’t think he’d had to do it before.

Poor man.

His voice shook as he told me my father had been taken ill suddenly, and they had been trying to reach me for two days.

How ill? Very serious. I’m afraid he died.

Actually I can’t remember the words of the conversation, it’s muffled as if I listened from under water. But I remember the feeling of shock. The not knowing what to do. The questions. Then came the self-recrimination, the guilt. The analysing. The loss. The emptiness.

In the same year I was to finish my part-time MA, get married and move house — when I attended five or six weddings of close friends — that year started with a funeral. My own Hugh Grant movie.

Dad

Climbing the hills near Corfe Castle

What I do remember is that Spring came the week after the phonecall. I remember it feeling late that year and that one of the last things Dad said was how hard a winter it had been. He didn’t live to see the bluebells that were scattered through the cemetery. He never saw my wedding photos or met any of his grandchildren. (He wouldn’t have been at the wedding, but that’s a whole other story.)

My relationship with my father was polarised between love and hate, resentment and misunderstanding. In the last year before his death I came to know and appreciate him in a way I had never managed as a child. I learned how alike we are.

Since having children I have come to understand him even more as I channel his parenting spirit in my worst moments. I have come to forgive him for the awful incidents that marred my childhood. He was a stay-at-home Dad, fixing cars in his garage while my poor mum worked all hours. It was Dad that swore and rushed me to hospital when I cut my head open playing tag in the house. It was Dad who hollered at us when we were caught climbing on the school roof or digging in the long-jump sandpit. I found out later it was also Dad that shadowed us into town when we thought we were all grown up going by ourselves.

My parents divorced when I was nine or ten. Life became more complicated and calmer all in one stroke. I regret the time I didn’t spend with Dad – then as a child and later as an adult when I no longer felt sick at the thought of visiting him. I regret that hubbie and I intended to visit him the weekend he died and changed our plans by text message. I regret that he never saw Spring arrive, seven years ago.

Now, every year when I see the daffs and bluebells, I make sure to be thankful and love the little things in life the way he did. On the anniversary of his death I take time to appreciate life. Today I felt the sun on my face and took time to read my book. I walked slowly through my day and looked for peace. Thanks Dad.

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The royal-blue carpet gave Claire a headache, but the wood-burner offered too much welcome warmth to be ignored. She shifted her position on the sofa, minimising the amount of iridescent flooring visible above the pages of her book. Outside the window, snowflakes swirled and danced like winter sprites.

Not fancying the drive to Cambridge on Thursday if this keeps up. She wondered if there was a train. Maybe she could hire a car and come back for the Skoda after Easter. Sky would probably rather be in a comfortable car, instead of my mucky-brown rust bucket. Closing her eyes, Claire tried to remember what car her parents had owned when she was six and whether she’d cared. She realised she couldn’t picture any memories from her early childhood. Maybe I’m still concussed. It wasn’t that long ago; twenty years. And a bit, her brain added. What car would my parents have driven? They didn’t have Chelsea Tractors back then.

Claire shrugged off the thought and returned to her book. She could feel the story building tension, through her shallow breaths and the pain as she chewed the inside of her cheeks. The novel wasn’t her normal chick lit fare and she was surprised at how involved she had become in Katniss and Peeta’s lives.

The sound of chattering children skipped through the door and Claire sighed. Generally youngsters added life and colour to the hostels but it was impossible to read with their penetrating babble — designed to permeate a parent’s brain at twenty paces. It didn’t sound like a school party; the voices were too shrill and too few. She peeked over the paperback and saw two children lurking in the doorway. They were younger than Sky but not babies or toddlers. Claire had no idea how you guessed what age a child was. Somewhere between 2 and 6 at any rate. She smiled at them and dropped her eyes back to the page.

The words jumped and danced as she felt the tiny eyes staring at her. Raising her head she smiled again and felt compelled to fill the silence.

“Hello? Are you staying here?”

Two small faces nodded and four little feet crept closer.

“What are your names?”

The eldest, Claire guessed a boy, held his sister’s hand and pushed out his chest. His high-pitched voice twanged with an accent Claire couldn’t quite identify. “I’m Lucas and this is my sister Sophie. We have another baby sister, Lily. She’s having her nap so Mummy told us to go and play.”

Claire raised her eyebrows but didn’t comment. They seem young to be wandering round this building by themselves. Then she thought about the snow outside. What if they go out? They’ll freeze to death. Both children were the colour of breakfast tea, as if they spent most of their lives outdoors. I don’t know where they got a tan like that; it certainly wasn’t in this country.

Bubbles of information popped in Claire’s mind like fizzing champagne. The tanned skin, the unusual accent, the faces. She inhaled deeply and the smell of wood smoke from the burner released a rush of images in her mind.

Just a coincidence, that’s all. They’ll have flown home already. Who would stay for a British Winter and miss an Australian summer? Claire reached down for her bottle of water and tried to ignore the children without seeming rude. They stood in the doorway, all eyes, as if she was the hired entertainment. She felt them looking but didn’t want to make eye contact.

A shuffling noise alerted her to imminent conversation and she was exuding her best I’m invisible vibe when she heard a shout from the corridor. Both children immediately turned and therefore didn’t see the colour rush to Claire’s face as if someone had stoked the fire to a blaze.

Footsteps echoed around the wood panelling and Claire prayed the kids would run out to greet their father. They didn’t. Instead they called him in to meet their new friend.

Claire sat, shielded by her paperback, and watched the door.

“There you are, you toe-rags. When Mummy said play she meant outside the room, not on the other side of the hostel badgering guests.” He leant down and scooped the children up, balancing them on either side of him like panniers.

Claire thought he would turn without noticing her and was still trying to fathom how she felt about that when Lucas piped up, “we weren’t badgering you lady, were we?” and shone a toothy smile in her direction.

Josh followed his son’s gaze and his eyes met hers. He paused for what felt like a hundred years. Then he smiled and Claire had to swallow the lump in her throat.

“Hello Claire.”

***