June Journals #4 ~ Farm Calm

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King of the Dens

Yesterday we spent the day with friends of ours at a local farm (West Lodge Rural Centre). We haven’t been to that one for a while, as it’s a bit further out, and I’d forgotten how nice it was. To the extent that I bought an annual pass.

To me, spending the day there is like giving the kids the childhood I had, without the risk or judgement.

The kids spent the day riding the barrel train and the ponies, feeding the ducks and goats, making dens and friends, and cuddling the bunnies.

They even got to watch a sheep lose its winter coat. Not sure I’d be that impressed if it were me. It was freezing!

Despite the weather feeling more like March than June, it was a fab day out.

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Don’t eat the bag…

It’s weird watching the kids from a distance as they get scratched by tree branches or squabble over ride-on tractors. I try so hard not to be a helicopter parent, but I am one by nature.

At the same time I’m a bit lazy. The two work okay together now they’re older. I watch them constantly, but from a distance, preferably with a book and a cuppa, and I only intervene when I foresee blood or scarring.

And it’s great to see them make friends. My daughter had an impromptu gym class with a young girl she befriended, and they practised handstands and cartwheels on the grass for ages, while her big sister built dens with the boys.

Ah the boys.

That’s the only fly in the ointment of a fab day out.

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Soooooo Cute

My friend has two boys and, while my daughter is just as capable of doing everything they do – with bells on – she doesn’t love the rough play. So she does end up feeling left out.

How do you parent it? She’s been taught to be careful with her baby brother, and also knows her brother gets yelled at for being too rough. But when they’re with a family that’s all boys – where they’re used to bundling and wrestling – where do you draw the line?

I have no idea, and it ended in a few tears and dramatic exits. It wouldn’t be a normal day without them, I guess, but it took the gloss off.

Seven is such a touchy age.

And it didn’t help when we all fell in love with the cute baby bunnies in the cuddle corner. I had rabbits and guinea pigs when I was younger, and love them so much. But hutch pets don’t really fit with our lifestyle, so the answer to ‘pleeeeease can we?’ was still no!

Mean Mummy.

🙂

Half Term and Halloween

The closest I'll ever get to space

The closest I’ll ever get to space

I feel guilty that I’m not managing to blog regularly at the moment. With all the various things going on in my life, I don’t have many words. I have been pouring my creativity into other endeavours – knitting, playing the piano, photo editing and rearranging the furniture.

It’s also half term here in the UK and while ten days has been easier to manage than six weeks, I still find it drains me so that I just want to sleep. That’s been exacerbated by the clocks going back last weekend – our normally early rising kids have taken it to new extremes by getting up at 5 a.m. every day, and still not getting sleepy until 8 p.m. I wish I knew where they got their energy from. At least we have been blessed with some unseasonal gorgeous autumn weather.

So, in lieu of interesting words, here are some random family snaps to bore you instead! 🙂 Hopefully life will right itself sometime soon and normal service will resume.

First ever trick or treat adventure

First ever trick or treat adventure

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Fishing in October

Fishing in October

Knitted brooches

Knitted brooches

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Den building at West Lodge

Den building at West Lodge

Sand castles on halloween

Sand castles on halloween

Making potions in the garden

Making potions in the garden

Carving pumpkins

Carving pumpkins at Sacrewell Farm

Directing a space launch

Directing a space launch

Pony ride on cracker

Pony ride on cracker

A Taste of Summer and a Countdown Deal

Enjoying The Sun

Enjoying The Sun

The sun came out to play today. We had planned to go swimming but a last minute check of the website revealed that the pool was closed for a gala. I wasn’t disappointed, as it meant we got to go to the farm instead. With the strange orange globe in the sky warming our skin we watched the children ride ponies, feed goats and bet on racing pigs. Glorious.

It was still sunny, wind-less and dry when we got home, so the children were able to play on the trampoline and climbing frame (even if it did mean de-pooping the lawn, only for the kids to go back in to the playroom five minutes later).

Then I sat watching Olympics on the iPad while the kids did puzzles and the open patio doors let in a cool afternoon breeze. A tiny taste of summer.

I’m praying to the Universe that this weather holds for half term. Parenting is always easier outdoors and I appear to still be woefully all out of patience.

The fact that I spent the day still in a grump shows me, more than anything, that I need some help restoring my mental balance. And before summer arrives for real. Now there’s a target.

P.S. Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes  and Dragon Wraiths are both (hopefully) 99c currently on Amazon.com. I’m trying out the KDP Countdown Promotion but it’s not going to plan as a) my new covers don’t seem to have loaded, b) I couldn’t do a countdown deal on the UK site because my book was too cheap (even though Amazon set the UK sale price) and c) I can’t see if the countdown deal has gone live – even though it’s meant to be there for the next 30 hours – so I daren’t promote it. However, if you’re in the US and want to grab my books for a bargain, click the links (and let me know if it works!)

Sleety, Stormy Christmas 2013 365 Challenge #358

Braving the rain on the barrel train

Braving the rain on the barrel train

I promised hubbie that I’d take the children to one of our regular Farm places today, so he could have some time to get things done and look at assembling their Christmas pressie (a trampoline: only it turns out some important bolts are missing. Eek).

Unfortunately a storm has hit the UK and the weather is just plain awful. We do try not to teach the children about good weather and bad weather (the proper line being ‘good clothing’ or ‘the wrong clothing’) so I duly dressed them in wellies and waterproofs and off we went.

But my god it was miserable. Freezing cold with sideways sleety rain and a wind that could easily blow Dorothy’s house out of Kansas. Thankfully there were lots of Christmas events on, most of which were under cover, so we survived. The nativity was my favourite: they selected children from the audience, dressed them in costumes, and fed them their lines, while the grown ups sang carols. It was charming.

Jumping in Car Park Puddles

Jumping in Car Park Puddles

Apparently they normally parade animals across the front too, but I guess it was too busy or wet today. We did get to see the 24-year-old highland cow, though, sheltering in the barn, nice and warm. Which was more than could be said for the ponies, out in the field drenched to the skin.

The children still wanted their pony rides, so we battled our way to their field and I stood getting drenched while they had their trips round. Mummy needs to buy some waterproof trousers!

We fitted in a quick trip to the play barn, a ride on the barrel train in the rain, and a visit to the coffee shop where the children refused to eat their ice cream because they didn’t have chocolate, only strawberry. Of course the highlight of the day was jumping in the puddles in the car park! I’m not sure they used up much energy, although Mummy was pretty exhausted, but at least they had plenty of fresh air!

It doesn’t feel very Christmassy with the awful stormy weather (not to mention what it’s doing to our Sky reception!) and I really feel for anyone having to cross the country to visit relatives. We are fortunate that ours are two miles down the road. Whatever you’re doing this holiday, whether you’re home or away, stay safe, and Happy Christmas Eve!

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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 drove down the tree-lined road, following the SatNav, unable to see anything past the tunnel of green. A spark of excitement built in her chest and she tried to ignore it, afraid of what it might mean.

Eventually the woodland thinned and the computerised voice announced her arrival. To begin with she couldn’t see the entrance, but further down the road she spied a discreet sign at the head of a lane. She turned in and bumped down the pitted track towards the building. More trees concealed the view until she came out into a clearing and gasped.

Ahead was a sprawling mansion, all windows and chimneys, surrounded by exotic trees and endless rolling parkland. It looked more like a National Trust property than a children’s activity centre.

As she parked the car, Claire wondered if she’d come to the wrong place. With her heart in her throat, and half expecting to be accosted for trespassing, she climbed out and went in search of Timothy.

The place was eerily silent. Claire had imagined it would be bustling with people. If not children, then staff or even workmen finishing the renovations. Convinced now that she had come to the wrong building, she was about to retreat back to her car when she heard a voice.

“Halloo!”

Searching round for the source, she heard the cry again and looked up. She could just make out someone waving at her from a first story window. Shielding her eyes against the sun, she realised it was a middle-aged man and assumed it must be the elusive Timothy.

“Don’t run away. I’ll be right down!”

The head disappeared and she waited, looking around her in bemusement. Everywhere she looked was green. Ivy climbed the white walls of the house and wrapped around the chimneys. Held back by low stone borders, flowers and bushes provided a riot of life and colour. Behind the house she could see an immaculate lawn stretching down to the sea, which shone brilliant blue against the sky. It was heaven.

Before Claire could begin to imagine living and working in such an idyllic spot, the owner appeared before her, holding out his hand. He was a tall man, lithe, with hair that might once have been chestnut but was now sprinkled with grey. The lines at the corners of his eyes spoke of a life full of laughter.

“Hello, you must be Claire. How marvellous to meet you. Did you find us okay?”

Claire shook the offered hand and returned the smile. “Yes, no problem. The Sat Nav brought me right here. What a gorgeous place.” She looked around, not believing what her eyes showed her.

“Yes, isn’t it? I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” He turned and led the way into the building. “You find us on a quiet day,” he called over his shoulder. “The other staff are at a first aid course, ready for when we open in September. My goodness, that’s next week.” He laughed as if he couldn’t quite believe it. “There are eight of us in total,” he continued, “but I expect that number to increase once we start getting bookings.”

Inside was equally magnificent. Dark wood panelling ran around the walls, leading to a wide staircase that invited you to explore upstairs. Deep pink carpets ran throughout, giving the place an air of an old hotel. Timothy led her through a large social room full of faded sofas and long benches, with patio doors that opened onto the garden, until they came to the kitchen.

“Tea?” he asked, heading to one of the cupboards.

“Yes, please.” Claire sat near the window and looked out at the view. After a few moments, Timothy walked over with a laden tray.

“Do help yourself to banana bread or biscuits. Gemma’s our chef; she’s been trying out new recipes. Part of our aim here will be to send the children home well fed as well as well entertained.” He stopped and seemed to realise he’d jumped into the middle of their conversation. “My apologies, I should ask, how much has Maggie informed you of what we hope to do here?”

“Only that you’re opening an activity centre for disadvantaged children.” Claire selected a piece of cake and nibbled at it.

“Yes, that’s it precisely. Somewhere inner city children can come and breathe the air, try their hand at some outdoor pursuits and, as I mentioned, get some healthy food into the bargain.”

“It sounds wonderful, although it’s a long way for the children to come?”

“Indeed it is, but I believe that’s an element of the experience. A trip overland by coach, seeing the sights of the country along the way – or the motorways at least –” he smiled ruefully, “–is part of the journey. A widening of their world, as it were.”

Claire felt slightly uncomfortable at his words. His motives were admirable, but she wondered if it was all a bit patronising. Inner city children were just children after all. It felt a bit like alms to the poor.

But what do I know? I have no experience of what it must be like growing up in a city and perhaps never seeing the countryside or the sea. Who wouldn’t want their child to be able to come here and experience this?

“And where do I come in?” She looked into Timothy’s eager expression and could understand why perhaps they needed some business help.

“Maggie tells me you used to work in marketing? We have a competent manager running the place –”

Claire quickly revised her misconception and continued to listen

“–but she’s the first to admit that sales and marketing are not her strengths. We want to start slow, build up our experience and our reputation, but we need someone to get in contact with schools, find us some children willing to be our guinea pigs.”

Some of Claire’s distaste for a sales role must have showed on her face, because Timothy’s expression dropped ludicrously.

“You’re not keen? Ah what a shame, but thank you for coming to see me at least. We don’t often get visitors.”

Claire found herself saying, “I just need to know more about it all. Maybe if I could meet the rest of the staff? I’m not a sales person, that’s all. There’s a big difference between marketing and sales.”

“Is there?” Timothy raised his eyebrows. “You see, I really do know nothing about it.”

“Maggie also mentioned I’d be employed as an instructor, rather than specifically for the marketing. I’m afraid I don’t have any skills in that area.”

“But you like children, yes? That is really all one needs to begin with. We can send you on the training courses for the rest.”

Words of denial were in her mouth, when Claire really thought about the question. Did she like spending time with children? She thought back over her trips with Sky, and Alex and Jack, and thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. And if it meant getting to live in such a beautiful location, with views over the sea and endless space, it was worth a try.

“I have a niece and two nephews,” she said by way of explanation. “They’ve been travelling with me on and off this summer. I wouldn’t say I was qualified, but I have enjoyed their company.”

“Splendid. Well, all that remains is for me to offer you a room for the night, and to say I hope you will join us for dinner so that you may meet the rest of the staff. We’re rather like a family here and it would be marvellous if you would consider becoming a member.”

He stood and indicated for Claire to follow him from the room. Her thoughts scurried around her head like mice as she tried to process the interview, if that was what it could be called. Her sensible brain told her to get out while she could, reminding her that she didn’t like her own family and wasn’t in search of a new one. But some instinct kept her following Timothy to the dorm rooms. Something told her this just could be her next big adventure.

***

September to Remember: 2013 365 Challenge #244

In the crow's nest

In the crow’s nest

My goodness, is it September already? I only realised because my KDP books sales reports have gone from ‘not very many’ to ‘ugly brown bar that will make you miserable until you sell a book’. Hopefully I’ll manage to get Baby Blues finished sometime soon to boost sales all round.

This September will be one to remember. This is the month when my son – my baby – turns three. My daughter – my other baby – starts school. My second book, Baby Blues, goes out in the world, hopefully in print and ebook format. My hubbie (hopefully) finds a job, and I get to wear jeans again at last as we move into autumn. I love autumn!

It’s been a helluva year and September always feels like that month when things begin to wind down. Crazy, as there are still four months left of the year, but it still does.

Building dens

Building dens

I’m hoping this September will also be the month of reading: I just won a bundle of books in a Ebook Escapes Author Tour rafflecopter giveaway! I never win anything, so I’m very excited. What a great way to start the month.

Actually I started the month lying in bed for an hour next to a comatose husband, while the kids took themselves downstairs to play. God bless them. Hubbie has been away playing cars for two days, so he is exhausted. I took the children out to one of the farms we visit yesterday, with some friends, and we tried very hard to wear the children out.

Four hours at the farm, riding ponies, making dens, digging in the sandpit, and we went back to their house for more playing, trampolining, den building, and craft, finishing with a loud, noisy, splashy bath which thankfully their daddy was in charge of.

My smart boy

My smart boy

My children were finally home and in bed at 8.30pm and I crawled up an hour later, thinking I could write my post in the morning while they slept in. Only they were up at 6.30am. How do kids do that?

And instead of writing my post I started filling out my Smashwords author questionnaire, before realising I was writing all about Dragon Wraiths when it’s locked into KDP Select until the end of the month! Oops.

So apologies for the random ramble of a post this morning: I’m trying to get my brain into gear to write the first Claire installment of September. Always the hardest of the month, as it’s hopefully the grab for people to download and read the ebook. By the way, if you know anyone who fancies a gentle read in nice, easy to manage, 20-25k chunks, do send them to Smashwords, Apple or Barnes & Noble to download the Claire installments. Or send them here, of course! 🙂

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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 stepped back, her face burning. Afraid to meet Josh’s gaze, she stared at the floor, until she heard him chuckle.

“Well, that was some welcome. I didn’t need to worry whether you’d be pleased to see me then?”

Claire’s cheeks burned hotter and she turned to collect her rucksack; feeling a strong urge to keep walking to the door.

Really cool, Claire, really clever. Flinging yourself at a married man like he’s your long lost lover. What were you thinking?

Retrieving her bag, Claire concentrated on long, slow, breaths, to calm her hammering heart and cool her red-hot skin. After everything that had happened in the months since she’d last seen him, it had been more than she could do to keep herself under control.

He’s still married. Just because he’s come to New Zealand to find me, he still has a wife and three kids.

She forced herself to smile brightly, and walked back to Josh. “It’s always nice to see a friendly face when you’re a long way from home.”

Josh raised an eyebrow and Claire prayed he wouldn’t push it. For a moment they were still and something seem to pass between them, although Claire couldn’t decide exactly what. He seemed vulnerable, as if he also needed a hug, a friend. She remembered his email had said precisely that.

Then a mask dropped over his features, and he was the old Josh. “So, how are you liking being on the right side of the world? Plucked up the courage to bungee jump yet?” He linked arms with her and guided her to a seat.

Grateful for his light words, Claire sought to do the same. “I love New Zealand. No I haven’t thrown myself off a bridge with an elastic band round my ankles, but I have been white water rafting and sand boarding. You’d have been proud.” She flushed, as memories of him coaxing her to jump off a waterfall came to mind. He felt like her teacher in the life of the verb and that led onto other dangerous thoughts.

If Josh noticed he didn’t say anything. “Yes, I’ve seen some of it on the blog. You’ve come a long way, I’m impressed. And how do you like the tour bus experience?”

“Ah, not so much. You know I missed the bus? At Cape Reinga? It’s not the same as having your own car. But at least I don’t have to think.”

Beneath the veneer of their words, Claire could feel the tension, the shared memories of travelling around England in her Skoda, of hiking and getting drunk together. He bore little resemblance to the scruffy man who had taken her to an observatory in the snow three months before.

Looking at him now, she wondered if she would have recognised him if she hadn’t known it was him in the lift. There was no hint of the unwashed hobo. His hair was short and neat, his skin tanned. His clothes had no patches or home repairs, no stains or holes. He looked every inch the doctor on vacation, in his polo shirt and jeans.

She felt herself under a similar scrutiny and wondered what Josh saw. Could he tell that her clothes hadn’t been washed in a fortnight? Did she look like someone whose world had collapsed in the intervening weeks since their last meeting?

At least I had a shower this morning. Thank god he didn’t see me when I got off the ferry yesterday.

“You look … well. A tan suits you.” Josh said eventually, his words breaking the silence. “You’re thinner, though. Are you eating properly?”

His low voice burrowed into her tummy, leaving a warm glow. Claire became aware of every inch of her skin, every sound around her. The receptionist greeting travellers with a cheery hello. The barista in the bar whistling over the sound of the coffee machine. Chinking cutlery as someone laid the tables for lunch. She could smell Josh’s aftershave, although he no longer carried the scent of wood smoke. She wondered if Fiona disapproved of him smoking.

As if remembering her name brought Josh’s wife into the room, Claire jerked, feeling as if she’d been doused in cold water. With a shake of her head she tried to recall his question.

“Yes, I’m fine. Being stuck on a tour bus is a great way to diet. And I was on the ferry that got turned back from Picton yesterday.”

Josh’s expression changed to a more professional concern. “Holy crap, are you okay? No bumps or bruises? I heard that was pretty bad. Ten hours on a boat, poor chook. Have you had breakfast?”

She nodded, unable to speak. It had been so long since someone had worried about her – since she’d felt herself to be anything other than a nuisance – that the tears threatened to spill down her cheeks again.

Josh seemed to sense her distress. He sat up straight and smiled, although his eyes remained troubled.

“Let’s get out of here. Do you want me to drop your rucksack in my room? Then we can go exploring. Did you see much of Wellington? Have you been up to Mount Victoria? It’s worth the walk.”

Grateful for his understanding, Claire nodded. “That sounds good. I didn’t see much, the weather was awful.”

“That’s a plan then.” Josh leapt to his feet and picked up her bag. “Let’s go exploring.”

Knowing she would regret it, but helpless to resist, Claire followed meekly in his wake.

***

Laissez Faire (Lazy) Parenting: 2013 365 Challenge #208

Feeding the Goats

Feeding the Goats

Today was a victory for laissez faire (or what in our house is basically lazy) parenting.

I’ve worried for a long time that we don’t take our children to enough (any) classes. Other four-year-old girls and nearly-three-year-old boys go to dance class, swimming, football, yoga bugs, tumble tots (like gymnastics for preschoolers) or any number of other activities. We go to the farm and feed the goats.

I did a few classes – swimming, music, tumble tots – with my daughter, before my son was born (so basically until she was 19 months old!). Once he came along that stopped: he was not a child who liked being in his pram and I couldn’t help a 2-year-old around apparatus with a baby strapped to my chest (some mothers did and I salute them!).

I did (and still do occasionally) take them to a drop-in session at the local gymnastics club and teach my daughter to walk along the beam and hang from the bars – all those years of gymnastics as a child should count for something – although I can’t actually do more than fall off any more.

But, Mummy, I don't like peas!

But, Mummy, I don’t like peas!

And, for a while, we paid £20 every Sunday for each child to have a half-hour swim class in a gorgeous 35C pool at an amazing place called Calm-a-Baby. We loved going, the staff felt like family, and our kids loved it. Well, to begin with anyway. Certainly they loved the idea of it.

But, by the time we’d added coffee and a bacon sarnie (because the classes were at 9am and 11am on a Sunday and the pool had an amazing coffee shop with leather sofas, the Sunday papers and a soft play area) we were spending £150 a month for them to cry for thirty minutes because they didn’t want to put their heads under the water.

So we stopped swimming and didn’t bother with anything else. In the winter we take the kids to the local swimming pool (£8 plus the cost of a Costa afterwards when it’s warm enough to walk the short distance between the two). In the summer we use my mum’s 7m pool in her back garden. No expensive lessons, no rushing to get to classes or dealing with unhappy kids because they hate going under water.

Still, I did despair. Looking at my daughter’s baby group (thankfully, as a premature baby, my son never met his baby group and so I have no basis for comparison), we are way behind. My daughter can’t ride a bike without stabilisers, she can’t count to 100 or write every letter in the alphabet, or read. She still doesn’t eat vegetables and her idea of ballet is to pirouette in her spiderman outfit.

Whereas my son won't eat anything but peas and carrots!

Whereas my son won’t eat anything but peas and carrots!

But this week, this week it’s all been vindicated. Because this week my daughter taught herself to swim.

From not wanting to get her face wet only a few weeks ago, she now can swim a width (only about 3m, but still a width!) unaided – no float jacket, arm bands or rubber ring. Nothing. Just sheer determination and a love of praise.

And all because splashing around in a pool with Mummy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa twice or three times a week (particularly through the heatwave) is fun. We clap and cheer, and the more we clap and cheer the harder she tries and the better she gets.

Not wanting to be left out, my son swam for the first time today. Being not-quite-three, he swam with his head bobbing beneath the surface (apparently they haven’t got big enough lungs to be buoyant at his age) but still, he was swimming.

Underwater photoshoot at Calm-a-Baby

Underwater photoshoot at Calm-a-Baby

Much of the groundwork was done way-back-when at Calm-a-baby – as much for our confidence in the water as theirs – and for that I am grateful. But just as much came from lazy parenting. Sitting back and letting them learn at their own pace.

My sister moved to America a few years ago, partly to put her children in a school called Sudbury Valley which is all about letting children teach themselves. I don’t know enough about it to write here (though I should, as my sister has explained it often enough!) and I admit, pre-kids, I thought the whole idea was hokum.

But now? Now I get it. Now I see why it was worth a move state-side. With the right resources and the right space, with room to grow and some adult guidance, kids can do amazing things. I must get my sister to write a guest post. After the discussion on education, that’s bound to throw one in the mix!

For now, I will trust that my children will learn to read, write, ride a bike, play the piano, do a cartwheel, all in their own time and at their own pace. We just need to be there, cheering them on.

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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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Cold sand pushed through Claire’s toes, waking her senses in a way Starbucks never had. Cool morning air played with her hair and brushed her skin, and the scent of the sea fizzed in her brain. Shoulders slumped with the weight of carrying her heavy head, Claire placed one foot in front of the other and tried not to think. It was impossible. Like the proverbial pink elephant, the more she attempted to still the crashing waves of thought in her mind, the higher they rose.

To her left the bay lay flat as a mill pond, as if trying to show by example what still waters might look like. The surface reflected the translucent blue of the sky and all was calm.

Turning away from the mockery, Claire made her way to the steps by the public slip, and paused to pull her shoes back on. It’s no good, it has to be coffee.

She wondered if anywhere would be open this early in the morning on a weekday in May. Walking through the silent streets, Claire’s head pushed heavier against her shoulders, until she felt she might have to prop it up with her hands. It reminded her of a tiny baby, whose giant head – too large for the scrawny body – bobbed and swayed like a ball on a piece of elastic.

The thought led her by increments to an image of Kim telling her about her baby and on, by more awful pictures, to the moment when Michael opened his stupid mouth and broke apart a twenty-year friendship.

Claire’s feet led her onwards, following an unheard call. A faint scent of bacon wafted on the sea breeze and she realised her feet were more reliable than her brain. They led her to a small café, barely a room with three tables and a breakfast bar at the window. Every table was full of men, elbows out, tucking into a steaming plate of pork and grease. The smell twisted Claire’s stomach and reminded her of the lack of dinner.

Conscious of eyes watching, Claire walked head high to the counter and stopped.

“What’ll it be, love?”

A man in a blue and white striped apron met her gaze. His face seemed friendly although he didn’t smile. She hesitated, then blurted out, “Full English, all the trimmings, and the strongest coffee you have.”

Her words raised the corners of his mouth, and he nodded. “Heavy night?” There was understanding in his voice.

“Something like that,” Claire mumbled, reaching into her bag for her purse. It wasn’t there. Her heart thudded and she searched again, then remembered that she had tucked it into her rucksack for safe-keeping before wandering along the beach. Being mugged had left her cautious.

“Crap. Sorry, scrap that, I’ve left my purse at the hostel.”

“You’re staying at the YHA?”

Claire nodded.

“No worries, you can pay me later. The manager’s a friend of mine. Besides, you look like you’ll be more trouble if I don’t feed you. You’re greener than seaweed.”

The man’s words made Claire realise how wobbly she felt. A combination of insomnia and lack of food had left as weak as a tangle of bladderwrack. If she was the same colour, that was no surprise.

“Thank you.” Claire tried to smile but the nerves in her face wouldn’t obey. Settling for a nod, she made her way back to the window and climbed onto a stool.

Staring out the window, it felt like looking through a tunnel. Her eyes were open but her vision felt reduced to a tiny point surrounded by sleep. Fog descended in her skull.

I wonder if this is what it feels like to die? This diminishing of senses; this muffling of sight and sound and thought? For a brief moment Claire thought it might be quite nice to die. No more decisions, no more wrong choices, no more guilt.

“Here you go, love, get your chops round that. You’ll feel right as rain in no time.”

The man in the stripy apron plonked a plate and a thick white mug of steaming coffee in front of her. Her stomach heaved at the smell, and she thought she might be sick.

Taking a piece of white toast, dripping with butter, Claire nibbled on the edges and waited to see what happened.

Like a tiny crack breaking open the dam, Claire realised she was starving. Grasping knife and fork, she attacked the breakfast with gusto and didn’t stop until the plate was clean, even eating the fried bread and black pudding, items that would normally be pushed carefully to one side. Washing it down with coffee, Claire wrapped both hands around the warm mug and sighed.

A cloud covered the sun and, in the sudden darkness, Claire saw her reflection in the shop window. A jolt of shock ran through her chest and into her over-full tummy.

When did I get so thin? With exploring fingers, she traced the lines of her cheekbones, jutting out beneath deep-set eyes. She hadn’t looked in a mirror for days, not properly. Only the tiny mirror in her make-up case, on the morning of the interview, to apply mascara.

All those years of stupid diets to keep up with the waifs at work, and all I needed to do was lose my best friend, quit my job and forget how to sleep. Simple, really.

Sipping at the coffee, she realised the breakfast was the first proper meal she’d had since Kim’s wedding. Even at Ruth’s she’d been more concerned with ensuring that Ruth and Sky ate than worrying about her own consumption.

What am I going to do?

Conor’s words the night before slipped through the fog. They rattled her. His passion left her with an urge to run. His comment, that he would counter offer rather than let her leave, sounded slightly psychotic.

He doesn’t even know me. She couldn’t imagine Carl thinking that way. He had counter-offered, but only because he didn’t want to lose clients, not because he didn’t want to lose her. It felt like it had when she realised Michael was keeping tabs on her though her Tweets and blog posts.

Mind you, that paid off. Goodness only knows how long I would have been stuck in that lane if he hadn’t called the police.

Michael. Kim. Conor. Carl. Their faces, their voices, their demands and concerns, crowded round Claire like circus clowns, freaky and frightening. She felt like she might burst. She wanted to tell them all to get lost; to run and keep running.

Scribbling her name and number on a napkin, Claire left it with the man behind the counter, with assurances that she would pay later in the day. Then she hurried from the café, her need for space and silence overwhelming.

***

Watching and Failing: 2013 365 Challenge #167

Cosy Bunnies

Cosy Bunnies

Had a strange instance of parenting fail today. I’m blaming the lack of sleep. Today was not a great day to take both kids to the Farm by myself. Normally I like going to one of the Farms, they’re relaxing places with plenty to keep the kids amused. As it took two hours to even get out the house, due to my tiredness and their inability to do something as simple as brush their teeth, my nerves were already stretched before we left home.

I paid for them to paint a plaster of paris plaque in the craft barn. Both chose fairies and all was good until I tipped out the black water and got some fresh, as it was muddying the watercolours.

Littlest Martin threw a paddy because he wanted black water, and proceeded to prove his point by painting his fairy black.

Painting fairies

Painting fairies

For some reason it made me mad, to the point I had to leave the room. But not until I’d got grumpy with him and accused him of being ungrateful. All because he liked black.

And because I wanted to paint a fairy and make it beautiful. Ironically his black fairy is very effective, much more so than his sister’s multi-coloured one, or anything I might have painted.

I do try to let them do their own thing, although covering stuff in black paint does irritate me for some inexplicable reason. (Maybe I get frustrated with the art stuff because that’s my thing, particularly colour.)

On a good day it wouldn’t lead to anything from me but a gentle, ‘How about blue?’. But, when I’m tired, it seems I’m more of a two-year-old than he is. Thank goodness kids are forgiving!

Painting the world black

Painting the world black

Later I was able to sit and watch the children across the playground, out of earshot. It was lovely.

There’s an irony in choosing to sit and watch the children unobserved, when generally they spend all day saying, ‘Watch me, watch me!’ because I’m reading a book or checking my email. Maybe it’s the gift freely given, or that it’s nice to watch without having to be an active participant. ‘Watch me!’ really means, ‘Praise me and applaud my marvellous efforts,’ or ‘Watch me so you’re no longer watching my sibling,’ or ‘Tell me I’m better than them, tell me you love me more.’

This passive watching, as my two sit side by side in a sand pit happily digging, not flicking sand or annoying each other, this is a joy not a chore. I have felt in my life that my family are never watching. Maybe they’re doing this lazy, passive watching-at-a-distance. It’s a nice thought.

And then you make eye contact, and it’s broken. 🙂

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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 hurried forward and slid onto a wooden chair at the back of the gathered audience.

I hope Maggie wasn’t having me on, telling me to come here. I wonder if she knew it was St Georges Day?

Claire looked around at the people hemmed in on either side. A flutter of panic rippled in her stomach. After a morning spent with small children, what she needed was quiet repose and coffee. Her internet search on Blists Hill after lunch had revealed the St George’s Day activities and it had been too good an opportunity to miss.

She’d arrived at the hostel to be informed by the manager that she had five minutes to get across to the location before the performance began.

Inhaling deeply to control her ragged breathing, Claire felt as if every eye was on her, judging her for her frizzy hair and the sweat trickling down her neck and chest into her bra.

The set in front of her didn’t looking inspiring. A wooden board with the English flag painted on it and a tatty basket in front isn’t exactly West End theatre. Claire tried to remember that Shakespeare’s plays hadn’t been big on set design either.

A hush fell over the gathered crowd and a person came onto the stage. Claire sat enthralled as she watched the rendition of St George and the Dragon, enacted brilliantly with a handful of actors and a dragon costume. She was no longer aware of the uncomfortable chair or the drying sweat on her forehead.

As the play finished, Claire looked around at the clapping crowd. Even the children seemed to have enjoyed the performance. Part of Claire felt pleased to know that modern children weren’t above being entertained by something that wasn’t 3D animated with surround sound and a bucket of popcorn. She wondered if Sky would have enjoyed it.

Thinking about Sky brought to mind the long-overdue call to Sky and Ruth. With a quick look at her phone she realised Sky would still be on her way home from school. Instead she changed some money into pounds, shillings and pence, and wandered through the Victorian streets, buying bottles of curiosity cola and other knick-knacks to send home to Sky.

The cola bottle reminded her about her assignment. I wonder if I could weave it into a blog post. Hmmm maybe Coca Cola wouldn’t be too impressed if I wrote about a rival brand. It seemed strange thinking about work in this old-fashioned location. Her shiny glass office and life of travelling to client meetings seemed a world away now.

*

“Hello, Sky, it’s Auntie Claire. How are you?”

“Auntie Claire, hello! We learned about fossils at school today. Did you know they’re hundreds and millions of years old?”

Claire sat back into the bench and let her niece’s words flow over her. The jumble of images made her smile, as she pictured the blonde head bent in concentration over rocky fossils and pictures of dinosaurs. There was something very real about listening to Sky talk about her day at school. Seeing the world through fresh eyes; feeling the youthful excitement at every discovery. A tired world felt and experienced anew

In turn, she told Sky about the Victorian town, with people in costume and old fairground games, and the rendition of George and the Dragon.

“How is your Mum?” she asked, when the conversation came to a natural pause.

“Sleeping. Nana says I mustn’t disturb her.”

“Is Nana there?”

Sky didn’t answer, but Claire heard running feet and a call down the corridor. She waited, hoping her mum was in a good mood.

“Yes?”

“Hi Mum, it’s Claire.”

“Oh. Where are you?”

“In Shropshire. Kim’s getting married next weekend, so I’m staying west to attend the wedding.”

There was a pause, and Claire imagined her mum processing the information. She waited for the inevitable comparison to her own spinster-state. It didn’t come.

“Well, about time. I never understood that long engagement thing. In my day if you wanted to get married you did, and had as grand an affair as you could afford.”

Claire looked round at the Victorian town, thinking her mum sounded like she came from that era rather than thirty years ago, when she and her father had a pretty lavish affair, if the photos were anything to go by.

They talked some more about the wedding and Claire was grateful to her mum for not asking who she would go to the wedding with. At last there was only one question left to ask.

“How’s Ruth?”

“Fighting. I wasn’t happy when she told me you’d let Sky meet up with that good-for-nothing ex of hers. But it’s given her something to fight for. It’s good to see. The medication will only take her half the way.”

Claire felt the knot in her stomach release at her mum’s words. As long as her sister was fighting, that was the best to be hoped for.

“Give her my love,” she said, before saying farewell. The clock said 5pm but, to Claire, it felt like bedtime.

***