Plodding On: 2013 365 Challenge #349

Kids' Discos - not for the faint of heart

Kids’ Discos – not for the faint of heart

This festive season feels like an endurance trial, ticking off waypoints as we pass them. Today we struck off two that have been in the calendar for weeks and it felt great.

Even when there is nothing that needs to be done (aside from buying and wrapping gifts in this case), stuff on the calendar always takes up mental space. So, hair cuts for everyone (except Mummy, who has off-set the £30 saved by not getting her hair cut against excessive Christmas spending at least twice!) and then two birthday parties in the afternoon. Job done.

It was actually the perfect time to go to a party disco for five year olds (Hubbie got the shorter straw and went to the three-year-old’s village hall romp!) I got to catch up with mummy friends, watch my daughter dance, and sit quietly in the dark by myself (which is pretty much what I used to do at school discos when I was younger!) I adopted a young girl whose parents had dropped her off, who was standing alone, and was rewarded by seeing her join in a bit later on. And I only had a little stress about organising my own daughter’s do for after Christmas. (We’re doubling up with a school friend whose mummy is far more chilled than me, so could be an interesting experience for both of us. if she’s reading this, I’d like to apologise now for being a stressball worrywart!)

My glamorous dancing witch

My glamorous dancing witch

The afternoon was the hardest. Hubbie and I were both suffering from our 3am insomnia (if only the cricket was more worth listening to, I wouldn’t mind my newly discovered inability to sleep) and the children had to put up with a certain amount of grump.

I managed to make everyone dinner, do all the ironing and facilitate a play doh session, but crawled into bed at 8pm, unable to even stay awake for Strictly Come Dancing. I woke up at midnight, remembering I hadn’t written my post or even outlined my Claire installment. (And it seems I’m coming down with a cold which might explain a lot!) The knock-on of a spaced out Friday continues!

I have just read a very funny post on Elf on the Shelf for under achievers which made me chuckle, and also made me wonder why we opt for any extra stress at this manic time of year. My physio friend is happy though – she says the insomnia isn’t confined to hubbie and I, and she’s getting lots of extra work with people needing massages to relax. It’s an ill wind, and all that.

There’s certainly a strong, bitter, wind whistling round our house tonight. Brrr. I say, roll on Spring!


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: 


An arm snaked across the bed and pulled Claire into a warm embrace. She snuggled into Conor, finding the spot to lay her head on his chest that already felt like the most natural place in the world. They lay entwined in the dimly lit room, not speaking.

Slowly Claire opened her eyes, half expecting to see Conor’s apartment. The chill steel of the hostel furniture greeted her gaze and she was instantly awake. Events from the previous evening crashed into her like a runaway car.

As if sensing the tension in her body, Conor stroked her hair. “Are you okay?”

Claire gave a short laugh. “Depends. Was last night as awful as I remember?”

She felt Conor’s throaty laugh resonate through his body, and it sent sensations trickling across her skin. “I’ve had less hostile meals out. Restaurant was nice though; adequate food, amazing view, and–” he kissed her on the top of her head, “one rather gorgeous woman who agreed to come home with me. That counts as a result in my book.”

“I’m sorry about Kim, I don’t know what’s got into her.”

“You mean she doesn’t treat all of your…” he hesitated, searching for a word, “male friends to a sarcastic, caustic grilling? Don’t worry, I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

Claire’s thoughts skittered between memories of Kim’s vicious attempts at humour at dinner, and Conor’s hesitation over the word boyfriend. Why did such definitions get harder as you got older? You happily called a boy you never spoke to your boyfriend at school, but somewhere along the line it became loaded with significance.

After a few moments’ silence, Conor shifted so he could look at her face. “What’s wrong? Are you really upset? Kim’s just jealous, that’s all. Not of us, of her sister. Didn’t you say she ended up in hospital because she lost her baby? Having a glamorous sister turn up with a bump is going to hurt. She’ll be fine once she’s caught up.”

“She can’t.”


“If by catch up you mean get pregnant again, she can’t. Doctors told her she couldn’t have any more children.”


Conor fell silent and they lay wrapped in their own thoughts, with the thrum of their hearts beating loudly in their ears. Eventually they heard the unmistakeable sounds of life in the room next door, where Kim and Helena had spent the night.

Claire sighed. “Time to get up and think of a way to survive the day.”

“I say we go to the beach. The girls can gripe together, and you can show me how you surf.”

“You’re on!”


“Wow, loving the outfit.”

Conor’s lascivious grin made Claire blush. She looked down at the short wetsuit and shrugged. “It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.”

Conor came over and ran his hands down it, making her shiver. “I know.” His eyes gleamed in appreciation.

“Down, boy!” Claire glanced over towards Kim. She thought of all the times Kim and Jeff had made her feel jealous, with their overt displays of affection. Even so, she felt self-conscious receiving Conor’s flattery in front of her and her sister.

The hostilities seemed to have abated since breakfast. Kim looked drawn and tired, and Claire had to remind herself how hard this all was on her friend. It occurred to her that they should have invited Jeff, and she wondered why he wasn’t looking after his wife more. The awful idea that he had found someone else to comfort him germinated in her brain. It was difficult to imagine, but then he had lost a child and his wife, to a certain extent. Not that that made it right.

She gave her head a shake, trying to dislodge the uncomfortable thoughts. Turning her attention to Helena, she said, “There are toilets up there, and I’ve hired you both deckchairs.”

Helena smiled and Claire wondered what she made of it all. She had remained mostly silent and aloof since her arrival and Claire found it difficult to read her flawless, expressionless, face.

With a quick glance at Conor, whose face seemed to say, let’s skedaddle, Claire waved farewell to Kim and Helena and strode up the beach to where the surf came rolling in towards the sand.

With two quick strides, Conor caught up and walked alongside her. “They’ll be fine. Even Kim isn’t going to murder her sister in front of hundreds of witnesses.”

Claire gave him a grateful smile, but said nothing. She was still thinking about Jeff. “Do you think Kim’s husband might be having an affair?” she said suddenly. “Don’t you think it’s strange that he hasn’t been down to visit her, the whole time she’s been at her mum’s? He keeps saying he’s busy, but…”

Conor looked as if he’d rather not pass comment. Claire was about to change the subject when he said quietly, “Who knows? It’s a difficult situation. From what you’ve said, Kim has changed a lot since the miscarriage. Do you know him well enough to give him a call?”

They had reached the surf school, where they had agreed to hire boards and have Claire teach Conor the rudiments. She had told him a proper lesson might be advisable, but he’d just grinned.

“I guess.” Claire shrugged. It felt like it wasn’t her business, but she hated to see Kim so altered. Poor Conor, this wasn’t exactly the romantic weekend he might have hoped for. Determined to put in some effort, she reached over and gave him a lingering kiss.

Just as he was getting overly amorous, she pulled away. “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg.” She pecked him on the cheek and ran towards the surf school to get her board.


Strictly Friends: 2013 365 Challenge #321

Our Strictly Friends

Our Strictly Friends

It’s been a laissez faire parenting Saturday today. The littlest Martin didn’t even make it out of his pyjamas. We had plans to go to the zoo, but the children were playing together beautifully. All it needed was for Mummy and Daddy to turn a blind eye to the trashing of the playroom, the teddies on the trampoline and the craft scattered all over the floor, and happiness was complete.

My brain was still fuzzy today, after a week of raging against my status as housewife, so I stumbled through making sure everyone was fed and the dog got a walk.

We had some stuff finishing on ebay, so the day was also about waiting for people to come and collect pieces of furniture (and me feeling gutted at the bargains they got!). A day of waiting is always restless and I was glad to get to bedtime.

Fab Paso Doble this evening (including Bon Jovi!)

Fab Paso Doble this evening (including Bon Jovi!)

And now the takeaway pizza is on its way (okay, I ran out of housewifeliness around 7.30pm) and Strictly is on the TV. It’s like a night in with friends.

Hubbie and I are big Strictly Come Dancing fans. Although I usually fall asleep during the Saturday show (hence why I’m writing this – to keep me awake, as they’re in Blackpool tonight) I still look forward to it all week. We also watch It Takes Two every evening during the week, when they catch up on the backstage gossip and training progress, and chat to famous Strictly fans.

Sometimes I read my book while the programme is on, happy to just have it on in the background. It’s like sitting quietly and listening to the family chatter (with the knowledge that the TV can be muted, unlike the children!) We have our favourites, hubbie and I, and we become armchair judges, despite both having two left feet.

Brilliant American Smooth

Brilliant American Smooth

The thing we love the most is watching the characters and couples grow on their dancing journey. The people we think we’ll love we come to hate, and the ones who don’t have the Strictly bug in the beginning start to blossom. And of course the judges and professional dancers are part of the family, as is Zoe Ball on It Takes Two, and the other presenters.

it probably says a lot about hubbie and I and our lack of a social life that a bunch of strangers on the TV feel like close friends.

It doesn’t matter. It’s the same as the books I read time and again because the characters have become part of my extended network of people that make me smile and feel happy. If friends are the family we choose for ourselves, then fictional (or TV) characters are the friends who can’t hurt us or let us down. It was all summed up nicely in a tweet I read this evening about one of mine and hubbie’s favourite television programmes, by decaffeiNATed nubbin: “SG1 has given me more than a tv show with amazing role models. It’s given me a family.”

Well said.


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:


Claire clicked on the last slide and turned to face Conor, trying to gauge his reaction. He’d remained silent during her impromptu presentation, his attention on the screen rather than her. Her early confidence evaporated and she could feel the hot flush rising up her neck as it did when she felt out of her depth.

“Very good,” he said at last. “I like the angle. The Board won’t take it well, you understand. I can see you’ve tried to be diplomatic, but the pictures tell their own story. I guess just having a great place to visit isn’t enough anymore; it’s all in the window dressing.” He took a long gulp of his water and turned his head to stare out the window.

“People live their lives online these days. If there isn’t a website, or an app, or a gallery of pictures, it doesn’t really exist.” Claire closed the laptop with a gentle click and slid it back into her bag. The empty space on the table stretched between them.

Conor sighed. “You’re right, for sure. We don’t really do social media, as you call it. I’m not sure we have the budget for it. The same goes for glossy photographs and the like.”

“That’s where I come in,” Claire said brightly, glad to have something positive to offer. “I have contacts, and I’ve learned a significant amount myself, through doing the blog. As you say, it’s all window dressing, so it isn’t hard to change. It will take time. I can start straight away, if you like, rather than waiting to the end of the three months. I’m sure there are some quick wins. You could run a photography competition, for a start: people love showing off.”

There was gratitude in Conor’s eyes when he turned to face her, and it struck Claire anew how personally he took it. She couldn’t imagine loving a place that much.

Conor opened his mouth as if to add something more, then shut it abruptly as the waiter arrived with their food.


Scraping the last drop of sauce off her plate with a chunk of bread, Claire gave a contented sigh and smiled at Conor. “You were right, it was delicious. I think if I was based near here I’d be fat or broke within a fortnight.”

He laughed. Placing his own knife and fork neatly on the plate, he leant back in the chair and looked out the window. “There are definitely worst places to be. It reminds me of Dorset, although there are definite differences.”

He let the sun rest on his face, briefly closing his eyes against the light. When he opened them again, the change in their expression caused Claire to catch her breath. He sat forward, pushing his plate aside so he could rest his arms on the table.

“Claire, I–” he began, but his words were interrupted as Claire’s phone vibrated across the scrubbed pine surface.

With her heart in her mouth, Claire glared down at the black rectangle and silently cursed the terrible timing of the call. The flashing screen informed her it was Robert, and she stared unblinking at it, trying to work out what to do.

“Answer it,” Conor said with a shrug, sitting back in his chair again. When Claire looked up, she got the impression he was glad for the intervention.

“Yes?” Her voice cut like a whip as she connected the call.

“Claire, it’s Robert. I’m at the hostel. Bloody hell it’s in the middle of nowhere. I’m not staying the night; I need you to get here so I can catch my flight home. I can’t just leave the boys.”

Claire inhaled through her nose, controlling her temper with effort. “Robert, I thought you weren’t going to arrive for another hour. And what harm would it be to stay one night, get the boys settled in? I barely know them.” She glared out the window, watching a couple wandering arm in arm down the beach.

“I, er, well, I have to be back in Geneva. Sorry.”

The hesitation in his voice set Claire’s teeth on edge. “You’ve got a date, haven’t you? Admit it. You bastard.” Claire realised her voice was rising, and she turned her shoulder away from the staring customers.

“Is that why Francesca left?” she hissed. “Were you cheating on her? No, don’t tell me. We can talk when I get there. I’ll leave now.” She disconnected the call and turned to face Conor, her lip caught between her teeth. She tried to think of sufficient words of apology but none came.

“It’s okay, you have to go. Don’t sweat it.” His face had closed down again, and Claire felt tears of frustration building behind her eyes.

She gathered her things together, unsure whether the trembling in her knees was a result of anger at her brother or something else. As she hoisted her bag on her shoulder, Conor stood up and came round the table. He stood for a moment, arms hanging loosely at his sides. Emotions flickered across his face as if he was running through different things he might say.

“Don’t let your nephews run you ragged,” he said at last. “Remember you’re in charge.” He raised his mouth in a half smile, and his green eyes regained some of their sparkle.

She gave a nod and turned to go.

“And Claire?” he added, the words stopping her heart. She turned back, an eyebrow raised in question, trying to remain cool despite the staccato beat in her chest. The sun lit blonde highlights in his hair, and he had buried his hands in his pockets.

“I am sorry. About last weekend. I misread the signals and I was drunk, not that it’s any excuse.” He smiled a cheeky boy smile and extended his hand for Claire to shake.


She nodded and took his hand. His grip was firm and his skin felt warm and smooth. Tears pooled in the back of her throat. With a wave goodbye she ran from the room.


Sofa Saturday: 2013 365 Challenge #272

Sofa Saturday

Sofa Saturday

We let the kids have a sofa Saturday today.

Weekends haven’t figured much in our lives, certainly not for the last year, with hubbie looking for work and the kids only in childcare a couple of times a week. But now my firstborn is at school, Saturday comes back into its own.

I had to write my post (I’ve been struggling with story line recently, and it’s easier to come up with ideas in the morning), so I filled the lounge with cushions and let the kids watch TV while I searched my brain for inspiration.

I’ve noticed that my daughter is taking more time to be by herself since starting school. Not surprising really, as her joint class has over fifty children. For someone who has spent most of her life with just her brother to play with, the volume of kids is completely overwhelming. She starts full time next week and I’m actually thankful the teachers are on strike on Tuesday, just to let her have a day’s breather in what will be a long and tiring week.

We finally coaxed her out of her pyjamas after lunch, and dragged the family to the farm, dog and all. It was a bit of a waste, as she could barely keep her eyes open and little man – who has marched into the tiresome threes with passion – was in full back-chat, pushing the limits mode. We came home and collapsed exhausted. With all the emotional upheaval and sleepless nights of this week, I think we all need to take it easy.

So, an early night for the little ones, a glass of wine and some homemade lasagne for hubbie and I, a decent dose of Strictly Come Dancing, and it’s about the perfect Saturday. Now to go and make some more misery for Claire. Poor lass.


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: 


Claire stared into the darkness, aware that her alarm would drag her from sleep in only a few hours. The need to rest pulled at her but her eyes wouldn’t close. The phone on the pillow next to her face remained stubbornly still. She willed it to shine with good news. Or any news. The wait stretched her nerves until she felt she might snap.

Around her, gentle breathing indicated the other sleepers in the room. Claire envied them their peace. The last person had stumbled in an hour before, bumping and bashing the bunks before crawling under the covers and starting to snore. For the first time, Claire found the sound soothing. Normal.

Her heart thudded out time in her chest and she tried to imagine what might be happening around the other side of the world, where the sun was probably high in the sky.

Why hasn’t he sent me a message? Surely he knows something by now.

The thought that he’d arrived too late, and was too distraught to contact her, ran over and over like a stuck record. Claire fought the repetition with words of her own.

She’s not dead. She’s not dead.

At last the phone flashed bright light into the darkness. The hammering in Claire’s chest increased in tempo, booming into the silence. Her hands shook as she reached for the phone and it took a while for her eyes to focus.

We’re in the hospital. She’d taken all her meds, but the docs have sorted it. Hoping she’ll be fine. Thank you, you saved her life. Come see her when you land, I think she needs you. J

Claire slumped back against the pillows and let the adrenalin flow from her limbs into the lumpy mattress. Relief, guilt, exhaustion, swirled around like smoke. With shallow breaths, Claire allowed the news to sink in.

She’s going to be okay. She has to be.


The alarm tore through Claire’s troubled dreams. Vivid images of chasing across an endless field after a fleeting shadow danced infront of her eyes, even as she blinked to ground herself in the present. There was no time to think. The coach was leaving early and she had to be on it.

It should have been an amazing day; the perfect finish to her journey around New Zealand. The coach took them through a pass in the mountains and down into Twizel. Around them the alps stretched magnificent to a clear blue sky, the snow-capped peaks dazzling with their brightness.

Claire felt encased in lead. The beauty couldn’t touch her. Her body still trembled with spent emotion and she had to resist the urge to text Jeff every five minutes for an update. It was night time back home: if he was asleep he deserved the rest.

They arrived at Lake Tekapo and Claire looked across at Mt Cook in the distance. The iconic image of New Zealand was as remote as if she were viewing it from home. The tranquility clashed with Claire’s urgency to be moving. The coach was too slow, the passengers too relaxed – spending just another five minutes soaking in the view, just another five minutes finishing their lunch, taking one last photograph.

Come on, come on! I’ve got a plane to catch.

Wishing she’d found the extra money to take an Intercity coach, Claire made sure she was always first on the bus, hoping her punctuality would ensure their timely departure.


They drove into Christchurch after the sun had set. Claire couldn’t bring herself to check the time. She already knew she was cutting it dangerously close, getting to the airport in time for check in.

Staring at Christchurch out the window, part of Claire’s brain regretted not having time to explore the garden city. From what she could see, it was very like Cambridge, with the canals and the punts, all tied up waiting for the morning.

With any luck I’ll be in the real Cambridge the day after tomorrow. That’s what’s important.

Claire wrapped her hand around the strap of her rucksack, already on the seat next to her ready for her to dash from the coach as soon as it stopped. The coach seemed to be barely moving, stuck in the city traffic.

The knots tightened in Claire’s stomach as she tried not to contemplate what horrors awaited her if she missed her flight.


Ode to Autumn: 2013 365 Challenge #250



Ah autumn how I love thee. The season of jeans and jumpers, pyjamas and slippers, hot chocolate and stew with dumplings. Dewy cobwebs and the smell of wood smoke. Misty fields and blackberries in the hedgerows.

It turns out that the 28C heat of yesterday was summer’s swansong: it was 16C today. I had to put a jumper on and close the doors. I was also reminded how much longer the day feels when the children spend most of it indoors. We rushed around for three hours this morning, desperately cleaning before my daughter’s teacher came for the home visit. I swear the house was dirtier within minutes of her leaving than it’s been in weeks.

Time to buy spare wellies and waterproofs so relentless rainy days don’t leave me scuppered (at least until the heating goes back on and boots can be dried over night). Children are easier to manage outdoors.

Meeting Spencer the school bear

Meeting Spencer the school bear

After spring, autumn is my favourite season. The days are just long enough, without the sun nudging in unwanted at 5am. The weather is warm enough for a t-shirt but not so hot I have to shave my legs and find some shorts. In autumn it becomes cool enough to think (I’m like a troll from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: my brain stops working in the heat) and I don’t hear the children telling people, “Mummy gets grumpy when it’s hot”.

The good stuff starts on TV in the autumn, (Strictly Come Dancing, bring it on!) and the kids’ demands for toys can be fobbed off to Father Christmas. Curling up with a good book becomes an acceptable way to pass the time, without feeling guilty for not making the most of the sun.

I just need to find new ways to wear out my kids and find time to walk the dog before six o’clock, when the fields become treacherous underfoot in the gloom. And, in the interests of fairness to the other seasons, there are some things I don’t like about autumn: mostly they are muddy paws, daddy long legs and extra laundry. But I can live with it, after weeks of sun cream battles, lost hats, dehydration and muggy sleepless nights.

I’ve had an amazing, sticky hot, summer, and the kids have loved it. But all hail autumn; you are most welcome.


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: 


The kayak felt like it was floating in the air rather than resting on the water. Beneath her, the transparent sea concealed nothing of the sandy depths. Claire felt as if she could reach down a hand and touch the bottom, even though the tour guide had told her the water was several feet deep.

Around them, seals swam and bobbed, some coming over to stare at the newcomers or show off their tricks. Claire turned her head left and right, trying to take it all in and feel connected. Her head told her it was breath-taking, beautiful, something to be treasured in her memory forever. Her heart and her body were too concerned with the silent figure in front of her to have time for anything else.

Josh had barely spoken since they’d left the beach. A double kayak wasn’t the place for intimate conversation. Claire realised that it was the perfect way to avoid a confrontation: more so than if he’d been in another craft, where she could have seen his face.

She found herself trying to read his shoulders. Were they tense? Disapproving? Disappointed? Resigned? He seemed to have got the message that she didn’t want a fling, and now the thought that she had wounded him twisted her stomach.

It also seemed that, now she had made her decision, she wanted nothing more than to bury her fingers in his hair and pull him in for a kiss. Claire sighed and reached down for her camera.

I’d better take some pictures so I can at least look back and remember how gorgeous it all was.

She hated the feeling of disconnectedness: of watching the world from inside a bubble. Of knowing she should be moved but feeling nothing.

If this is what obsessing over a bloke does to me, I think I prefer being alone. In fact, I didn’t feel lonely before, when it was just me, with the occasional text from Conor.

Now, even though the man she had loved for months was sitting mere feet in front of her, she felt close to tears.

Life sucks. Why can’t I just have no morals? Then I could have him, and not care about Fiona or the sprogs.

She tried to imagine what that might be like, as Josh dipped his paddle in to steer the kayak after the rest of the group.

When all’s said and done, I’ve only known him for a few weeks. And, now, I’m not sure I knew him at all. The Josh in England wasn’t clingy and needy, sulky and pushy. Or maybe he was and I just didn’t notice.

Claire tried to remember what travelling with him had been like, but her memories were a blur. There had been laughter but, now she thought about it, most of it seemed to be directed at her: at her fear of heights, at her getting drunk and singing in a bar.

And then, of course, when she’d seen him with Fiona and the kids, she’d fallen for the family man, the husband, the life partner. He was none of those things now: he was a potential cheat and a coward.

She shivered at the relentless thoughts. Desperate to get out of the kayak and away from the cause of her disquiet, Claire dug her paddle hard into the water. The kayak rocked sharply and, before she knew what was happening, Claire felt herself submerged in icy water.

There was no time to remember what she’d been told to do. Her only thought was to free her tangled legs and find a way to breathe.

Through the clear water, she saw Josh free himself and turn to see if she was out. He hesitated, as if unsure whether to free her or go for help. He disappeared from view and Claire gasped, losing the last of her air. Panic rose inside her as water filled her mouth and she struggled against the boat, desperate to be free.

A wrenching movement made her swallow water and she felt as if she was drowning. Then she realised she was upright, as her sight cleared and the wind froze her wet skin.

Coughing up water, Claire collapsed forwards over the craft. A hand patted her back hard, and she wanted to ask it to stop, but her lungs didn’t contain any air.

At last she could breathe. Tears streamed down her face and the sobbing made her ribs hurt.

“Christ, Claire, what were you doing?”

Josh’s voice cut harshly through her pain.

“If you wanted me to go, you could have just asked. You didn’t need to drown me.”

Claire looked up, ready to defend herself, and saw the concern in his eyes. He was standing waist deep in the water, his lips blue from the cold. She managed a weak smile, and Josh’s face twisted. He reached for her and pulled her close.

“Don’t do that again. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

And then he, too, began to cry.