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…
Yesterday I was lucky enough to take part in Trees For Cities’s Treeathlon, which took place in the leafy environs of Battersea Park. It was a gorgeous early autumn, sunny September day, as predicted. Perfect weather to enjoy a 5k run round the park.
I was on the 7.47am train with my excited son, and in Battersea Park station by 8.12am! I never realised it was possible to get there so fast- which pleases me because Battersea Park is ace and Sam is desperate to go back. We met my friend Liz and her daughter there, who were coming along with us to support me and keep Sam company while I ran the race.
The event was well thought-out and impressively organised, with a large corner of the park set aside to accomodate Treeathloners and their friends and families. After registering and collecting my official Treeathlon Marcus Lupfer-designed tshirt (see above) I changed into it using the spacious changing tent provided. I was then able to leave all my ‘gubbins’ behind at the left-luggage tent for a very reasonable £2 donation to Trees For Cities. In the midst of all the ‘operational’ facilities was The Blue Bus stage, playing cheerful festival-vibe music in between sets from London band Scarletts Roses and my favourite, The Sunshine Swing Band.
A small but perfectly chosen array of food and drink stalls complemented this, with freshly baked pizzas, vegan curry, candy floss on a stick, cocktails and jerk chicken wraps on offer.
At 9.45 the warm up began with Sinitta and flamboyant-is-an-understatement Francis Alejandro Cardoso from Dance Flavourz , who have performed on Britain’s Got Talent (not that I would know) and who led the expectant runners in a warm up. This began to my delight with Sinitta’s ‘So Macho’ and went on to some serious Samba music and movement.
The runners were called to the Start line in Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner sections. I had already decided to stay right at the back, so I missed Alex James from Blur who was apparently starting the race. After doing well with my training over the last eleven weeks I’ve been poorly over the last two and only managed two runs in the last fortnight. But after the support and generosity of friends and family who have sponsored me to the tune of £216 (thank you!) I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Instead I doubled up on my asthma medication and aimed to take it slow and steady like an Ent and see how I got on. If an Ent can walk than so could I if I had to…
I was helped along by the soundtrack in my ears which included Scritti Politti, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Chicks on Speed and Arcade Fire (‘Month of May’ and ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) driving me on for the last 1500 metres) which I’d selected the night before. But really I didn’t need much to spur me on, the atmosphere was fantastic, the enthusiasm palpable and the park is beautiful. We had two laps to run, past lakes with canada geese scudding onto their watery runways; fountains, rose gardens, tennis courts and playgrounds. Past people playing football, lifting free weights, walking dogs, cycling and in-line skating. All while shaded by a glorious canopy of trees.
Liz and the kids were there to cheer me on as I completed the first lap and were there again to meet me at the finish. In the end I managed a personal best of 39 minutes and 52 seconds to run 5km. Not bad going considering I have only run 5km three times! After running I went to choose my sapling and picked a rowan tree. Now I just have to work out where to plant it.
Trees for Cities did a great job of catering for familes, offering all kinds of child-friendly activities. While I was running Sam and Scarlett had their faces painted in exchange for a donation to keep those trees being planted. This was top quality work (see below), and plenty of grown ups were also taking advantage of the face-artistry on site! After the race the kids and I also had a go at hulahooping, and there was sack racing, space hoppers, ‘cutting and sticking’ and drawing on offer too.
As we sat enjoying the band and eating lunch Sam turned to me and said: “I’m really glad you did this today. Was it very hard to do?” Awwww….there were some older children running too, so I told him maybe in a few years he could do it with me if he wanted to.
I absolutely loved the whole experience- all four of us had a great time. I would definitely do it again. This is the start of running for me- I am aiming to keep going and see if I can push my distance up to 10 km over the next few months, once I am better and have handed in my dissertation.
Last Monday I plugged myself into Week Two of the NHS Couch Potato to 5k podcast. I had managed two out of three of the recommended runs while listening to the Week One podcast the week before. I also swam twice in that week so felt confident about stepping up the pace.
Going from running for one minute to one and a half at a time, with walks for two minutes in between was more difficult than I thought it would be. In the last three years, since passing my driving test, I have probably done less regular exercise than ever before in my life. Before motherhood I was cycling to and from work and also still going clubbing regularly, dancing for hours every week. When my son was a baby I would walk everywhere, for hours every day, pushing his buggy in the vain hope that he would eventually sleep, which occasionally he did. Now I am becoming a Mum’s Taxi driver, approaching 42 and feeling out of shape. It’s very motivating to have a challenge with a positive focus like the Treeathlon for Trees In Cities to get fit for.
Going running seems to be good for my writing- on my second run of the week I had a Eureka! moment about one of the major themes of the dissertation I am writing, and feel much happier about it as a result.
I completed all three runs in Week Two and went for a swim where I upped my number of lengths from 20 to 24. I can’t wait to start seeing and feeling the difference.
Slow and steady…
Week Three begins tomorrow!
This week I handed in the final assignment for this year whilst battling a stomach bug, a household scratching with nits and organising J*b*l** outfits for school parades. What a relief – apart from the nailbiting until I get the marks back. By then I will be focusing on the 15000 word dissertation and 3000 word methodological essay I will be writing over this Summer.
I’m exhausted as usual and could do with some time out where I can go somewhere very quiet and sleep and not do much for a day or two but I doubt that will happen. I am very blessed to be able to do what I am doing and to be doing it next year, although I am anxious about whether I can fit it all in. I have been studying full time for four years now and it’s been a life-changing and fantastic (for the most part) experience.
Juggling everything with my son is a constant challenge, and now more than ever since he started school. Logically it should be easier, dropping him off at 8.45am five days a week and collecting him at 3.15 should give me more time. But it hasn’t worked like that. When he was at pre-school 3 days a week he was there from 9 til 5 and I’ve come to realise how precious those two extra hours are when you are trying to write. Quite often I will just be getting into my stride when I have to stop everything. Then there is the endless paperwork, letters, collections, homework, costume making, parents’ evenings, meetings, events etc.
Actually his school is fairly light on all that stuff, it’s a small school with a not-terribly-active PSA, so it could be more extensive than it is. I wish there was more going on for him there. It’s a nice little school and he is doing well. He’s made some great friends, as have I. I have wrestled with the idea of getting more involved in helping out at the school. I go and read once a week which I adore but I wish I could do more. And I might… I keep holding back because of the university workload.
I’ve also been tutoring my son’s friend’s teenage sister, who needs some extra support with her English GCSE. This has also been a fruitful experience – I’ve enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It has been an education in how kids are taught now…and how to teach.
Probably the best thing about uni this year is that I’ve met some lovely, talented people on my course, writers who are as serious about this madness as I am. I am now in the fortunate position of having a writing support group of amazing poets and prose writers! Hip Hip Hooray for that!
Once again everything has been thrown in the air and I have been running about with my head up looking to see where it all lands again, without bashing into too many trees or lamposts or people in the meantime…