I wanted to write one of those ‘best bits of the year’ posts for 2013 but it’s all a mad blur, so as random factors pop into my brain I shall blog about them, randomly…
In the meantime my son has gone back to school today, after telling me last night on the way home from Beavers that he hates school and wants “to stay at home, watch TV and play swordfighting all day”. After various complaints this morning ranging from having to get up to why did I polish his shoes he went off quite happily.
So now I have to get back to doing what I do…what do I do…oh yes, writing and teaching…no longer studying…looking for gainful employment… gizzajob!
I am about to begin two new creative writing projects which will keep me busy for most of this year- more about them once they’re underway…
I am also now in a position to read the stacks of books that have been growing steadily whilst I have been at university. My aim is to read one a week if possible. Let’s call it a resolution. I am slowly working my way through the pile of books my lovely friend and bibliophile Annie lent me (2 years ago-sorry Annie! It has been a joy to read purely for pleasure and not have to deconstruct and analyse everything, although this is a hard habit to break once you’ve been doing it for a while.
I’m delighted that Gingerbread has published the blog post I wrote after running The Big Fun Run. I am hoping to run the British 10k for them next July but running has been happening in fits and starts since the end of October. Something to do with the increasingly cold weather and the fact that I seem to be busier then ever- how did I ever make time to study?
The dust is settling after the handing in of my dissertation and the excitement of receiving my results. I have been enjoying having more time to spend with my son and be a mum. The house is looking less like the scary scene out of the film Brazil with the paper flying everywhere, and resuming its status as a home which contains far too many books (I know, there is no such thing…) and neat piles of paper which are slowly being filed away in boxes marked ‘Recycle’ , ‘Research, ‘Review’ (aka- dunno wot to do with this).
I have hardly written a word, apart from a few lines here and there, updated my cv and started applying for jobs… it’s been good to take a break from it and give my creative writing muscle a much-needed break. But I have written down a brief plan for a new writing project which will keep me busy for, at least, the next year and possibly longer.
Because this is just the start- not the end. This is where I get to be a writer without the safety net of university, although I do hope to go back to higher education to teach because it was the highlight of my last year of academia.
A couple of months ago, in the midst of writing the MFA dissertation, I registered to run 5km around Crystal Palace Park, to raise money for Gingerbread. At the time it seemed like a good idea – running has become a necessary cog in my writing process, allowing me some head space and providing a regular dose of physical exercise to combat the hunched-in-front-of-screen posture I am otherwise prone to develop. If I’m going to run anyway I might as well do some good with it- and raising a bit of money for a very good cause by running around a park seems like a fine way to do it.
Last year I ran the 5km Treeathlon for Trees In Cities, trotting around the leafy environs of Battersea Park on a glorious September Sunday. A day where, after the run was complete, my good friend Liz, her daughter and my son, spent a few pleasant hours in the park, taking advantage of the activities put on by Trees In Cities. The kids also had a great time playing in the adventure playground, which has since been closed down by the Tories. This was one of the last staffed and subsidised community adventure playgrounds left since the those halcyon 70s days when places like it seemed to be a normal occurrence, not some kind of Small Persons Shangri-La…now it has gone.
I thought we could repeat our lovely day out in Crystal Palace Park, which is massive, and where I last spent time in 1990, to see The Cure play a gig. I wanted to show my son and my friend’s daughter the dinosaurs (there is talk of the park being ‘regenerated’ and the dinosaurs going) and to have a nice afternoon hanging out with my mate and the kids. However, on the day itself, it rained. When I say rained, I mean it poured relentlessly in a particularly wet and doggedly persistent manner. Friends and family had generously sponsored me to the tune of nearly £150 and I didn’t want to let them down, and I am fairly doggedly persistent myself when it comes down to achieving goals these days, so we got on with it.
The stairs at Crystal Palace railway station were having their own Niagra moment as we climbed up them, which did not bode well for what lay ahead…the park was grey, drenched and running with water. Liz and the kids camped out in the cafe while I found the start of the race, left my bags in the marquee, and tried to shelter from the driving rain along with the other runners, some seasoned, some in gaggles, dressed in superhero outfits, onesies, tutus and other bedraggled fancy dress. Everyone was smiling and during the three minute warm up there were hollers and whoops and ‘COME ON!’s to gee everyone into action.
The run itself was two laps around a designated route in the park, up hill and down rivulet-filled dale, some of it surprisingly steep. I am not a fast runner at the best of times but I kept my pace and finished one minute slower than my time for the Treeathlon. Not a bad result in all that rain. Liz and the kids were there at the end, cheering me on and taking photos. Then it was time to get changed and run for the train…the picnic and dinosaurs can wait for a sunny day…
Without Liz I couldn’t have taken part in the run at all, and so I need to say a huge thank you to her, for looking after my son while I ran, and for being such a supportive friend. And that’s also why I chose to raise money for Gingerbread, which offers vital support, especially now, for single parents. Being a single parent is hard work and we are all doing our best to raise confident, happy, healthy and well-rounded children on our own.
My son hardly ever sees his father, and although my own father is the most fantastic and supportive father to me, and grandad to his grandson, it does mean we don’t have that invisible mesh that seems to exist between families with two parents. The support net is different, and requires other people’s love and goodwill to take a turn at keeping an end taut from time to time. Friends are important, and I am lucky to have some amazing friends.
This was the last goal I set myself and now it is complete. The studying is done, and I have spent the last couple of weeks feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to with myself, wondering how on earth I translate this five years of determined effort and academic study into paid employment. And how to balance this with being a mum and bringing up my son. One step at a time…one race at a time…
The first time I left the house on my own after my son was born was probably six weeks after the event, when I had mostly recovered from the caesarean. It was the first time I felt able to leave him for five minutes. I walked out of the house on a grey evening and took a few steps around the corner, where I climbed the steps of the footbridge that crosses the roaring A3 and stood watching the traffic zoom by beneath me. On a clear day it is possible to see miles into the distance, see the tallest buidlings in London. I’m not a big Killers fan, I suppose they fall into the guilty pleasures department…but this song was playing at the time, and I had such a sense of euphoria at being on my own for the first time, no baby in my arms or in my tummy, but also knowing that I’d got through what turned out to be a very difficult birth and the first few weeks of motherhood. It was the first time I turned my thoughts back to the outside world and thought, “What am I going to do now?” This tune popped up on my IPOD yesterday and took me back to that moment, over six years ago, and to many moments after.
“I’ve got this sentimental heart that beats…”
I’ve started digging the garden again, after a few of half-hearted attempts in the last couple of years. This time I am going to try and re-reclaim the veg patch and clear another patch so that my son can have a trampoline.
Back in August 2009 I decided to tame the really wild patch at the end of the garden and turn it into a veg patch. You can see my efforts at the blog I devoted to this, Roar Earth. By August 2010 I was harvesting tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, kohl rabi, beetroot, beans and other delights. And later on that autumn I had a haul of courgettes, giant marrows, pumpkins and even one perfectly formed butternut squash!
It was hard work and I accomplished most of it by myself, with a bit of help from my niece and one weekend when a couple of old friends came down and did one solid day’s work which would have taken me another couple of weeks on my own!
But later on in the winter 2010, after being constantly ill with various bugs and viruses which I couldn’t shift, I was diagnosed with post-viral fatigue, and told to have complete rest. As a single parent in my final year of a degree this was bad news. The worst thing about it was being told there was no guarantee I would get better and that in fact I might get worse, oh and no treatment either…
I was pretty depressed about this, friends rallied and I wrote about it a bit. Then just after christmas I slipped while out walking with my son and friends and broke my wrist. At the time it felt like the last straw. It meant I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do lots of things I was still trying to do despite my doctor’s prescription of rest- how do you have complete rest when you are a single parent with an at-the-time three-year-old?
My father stepped in to help and I rested, put all my university assignments off, and did huge amounts less than I had- and started to feel better. Good days and bad. Then more good days but ever since I have not been able to do as much as I used to- so digging the garden had to drop off my agenda.
Last year I started running using the Couch to 5k podcasts available free from the NHS –SAVE THE NHS– and discovered I could run and that it helped my lower my stress levels and improved my energy. In September I ran 5k for Trees for Cities, and was hoping to run 10k for them at the end of May but have been too busy completing the postgraduate degrees I am currently studying, too tired and too flipping cold until recently. My aim is to start again this week.
I really want my son to have a trampoline in the garden, which is the main reason I have gone back out there. But I am also desperate to grow some food again, especially as prices are skyrocketing and I have no money, and I would rather grow my own anyway, if I can. I still get very tired sometimes but I think I am ok and pretty healthy, so I feel very lucky. However my plan is to tackle the garden an hour or two at a time, a few days a week, and see how it goes. I may have some help later on which will be fantastic – but I also quite like pottering away out there…it’s great to be doing it again.
The last two weeks has involved mainly cutting down massive brambles, pulling up nettles where they are not wanted, and turning over some of the ground. I have cleared one small raised bed and that now has beetroot and chard sprouting in it.
Let’s see if I can get a trampoline in there for the summer…