Resolving to Should


FB_IMG_1545328879091picture:  Becky, by Simeon Cotterell


There is a common inbalance of shoulds in my life.

I should swim under waterfalls more often;  I should drink very little alcohol because booze messes with my damaged brain;  I should exercise more consistently, comfort eat less;  I should behave differently…. almost every day.

Let me repeat a phrase of parenting expert Bea Marshall’s –  shoulding on yourself – because its such a cool little phrase.  Thanks to Bea, I picture copious piles of rabbit-droppings whenever I use the word should, especially if I’m using should as most people use the word – as in, I believe that I should, but I won’t.   

Otherwise, I’d be using a different word:  will.

As in I will go open water swimming more often;  I will drink less alcohol;  I will exercise more consistently and I will generally behave in what I believe is the appropriate way for me to behave.  What amazing positivity arises when we decide to will our shoulds.

Although, no prizes for spotting the problem: Will implies following through with it.  There’s only so much space for will in the world because you probably lack money, energy or time to follow through with all your shoulds. 

Take climate change.   I beleive that I should do something about my impact on the world….  yet every week I step into Morrison’s, I thinking look at that there horrific wastage, as I put things in my basket and blame the people running the shop.  There’s no point eating healthily or losing weight or bringing up nice children if we’re going to wreck the world or kill the species.  But on the other hand, following up on all my Shoulds;  climate change, exercise, manners, house cleanliness, would be exhausting, so I need to find a place to draw a line.

Hence my New Years Resolution:  to take my ‘shoulds’ for this year, on a rolling, moment by moment basis, and either decide to drop them altogether or consciously replace them with wills.  In short, I will regain my authenticity:  live as close as I can to the way I beleive that I should, but vitally revise my shoulds allowing for what I genuinely beleive to be reasonable.

In fact, I think that everyone should do that all the time.  It should be how we all live;  they call it authenticity.

My New Years Resolution is, authentically and mindfully, to the best of my ability, to follow the right ones of my shoulds.

You can’t ask, or give, any more than that.

Happy New Year.



Feeling Alive



Alex Honnald wanted to climb El Cap, USA.  Specifically, he wanted to climb it without a rope.  His partner, who had mostly come to terms with his habit of risking his neck and her happiness, supported him as they made a film of the journey (Free Solo, out now).

I’m a person who knows a little bit about supporting partners with climbing ambitions, but I can’t imagine how it was for Alex’s partner.  Even in my cinema seat, already knowing the outcome, I had my fingers and toes tightly crossed.   This story literally life-affirming.

As we close 2018, do you feel alive?  I’ve personally felt quite unfulfilled.  I’m no longer in a position where I make a positive difference to many people.  It seems surprisingly easy to make a negative one, too.  I can tell you with some authority, that when people are grumpy or critical of you, it may be nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.  Which doesn’t, of course, make it okay.  Nobody has to accept rudeness and for anyone who has listened to mine and edged me in a better direction this year:  thank you.  I don’t expect anyone to put up with a stressful friend / partner / mother and I’ve been trying to snap out of it.

So:  where to start?

A few months ago, while I was busy feeling grumpy, I stumbled across some people in a park who were enjoying themselves.

I know. And the way they were enjoying themselves didn’t make them put on weight or trash their joints. Whats more it wasn’t costing them much.

I know.  So I said out loud how ridiculous tbey were being, which was probably true and helped me to feel much better.

Because what they were doing was going swimming in a freezing cold lake.  Yeah, I know.  Weirdos.  In the pond near our local museum.  They all seemed remarkably cheerful, and I remembered about the Serpents in An Equal Music (if you haven’t read that gorgeous book, do so. Its by Vikram Seth.  Just as soon as you’ve finished watching Alex Honnald do Free Solo).

Then suddenly, I started noticing outdoor swimmers everywhere.  There were some of them in Scotland last New Year.  My diabetic nurse asked me if I did it (apparently I come over as ‘the type’).  My friend Becky, it turned out, is the type.  Here she is, having a wonderful time, swimming in a river in December.  I KNOW!!!!!!



photo by Simeon Cotterell 


Anyway, you probably know what happens next.  Becky takes me to a meeting of her outdoor swimming friends.  One guy is on his lunch-break and arrives in a spotless shirt and tie.  He looks quite incongruous by the lake-side, which is muddy and bird-shitty with a few bits of litter.

Anyway, they change and slip into the water.  One of them releases a mildly impressive torrent of swearing, but overall there is minimum fuss.

It’s now or never.  I dip in a toe. It is freezing. I dip in my feet. I lower myself into the water.

Shit!  The cold water itself is a sharp abrasive:  cutting.  Burning.  And did I mention cold?!

But it passes surprisingly fast. Suddenly I become conscious of the contorted face that I am pulling.  I relax my muscles one by one, like we do in yoga.  And then I start to swim.  My head is at the same level as the ducks;  I have a new perspective.  It feels good.

I’ve been swimming three or four times since then.  Once, it was both raining and dark.  You’d think that would be torture, but it wasn’t.  I felt much better with my body in the water, than standing in the cold rain at the edge.  And the city lights on the water looked fantastic.  Normally, I’d barely have noticed them.

Of course, you eventually have to get out, and that’s when the shivering really starts. Big, violent shivering, best done within a bath-towel.  Then there’s the awkward business of how to tackle bra and knickers whilst wet and clammy and cold, close to several people, on a very public lakeside.  By now shirt-and-tie guy is already leaving, slipping back to work looking as crisp, clean and impeccable as when he arrived.

And theres not much more to say about it, actually:  life goes on.  The rest of your day continues as soon as you’ve warmed up.  But somewhere inside, there’s a little feeling of true epicness:  you dont need to be the next Alex Honnald to feel alive.

English Literature in Autumn


nature red forest leaves

Photo by Pixabay on


Back in 1995, in English literature class, I was tasked with an essay about how Keates and Roethke chose to portray the season of Autumn in their two famous poems.

When I say famous, I assume these poems are famous. They are famous to me, at least, because I dissected them in English literature class in year nine.  Should you want to know more, or have too much time on your hands, here’s what to google:

Poem 1: A coming of the Cold, Theodore Roethke

Poem 2: To Autumn, John Keates

When I got badness of the brain, and forgot what year it was, and how old my children were and where I met my husband, I could reel off chunks of these poems without blinking. Even though I don’t like either very much.  I could hear my old teacher, Mr. Lewis, explaining that Keates loved Autumn, seeing cosy metaphors and shapes and colours, and that Roethke hated it and saw destruction, death and decay.

But while I was out for an Autumn walk last week, I disagreed with all that. Maybe it wasnt that Keates was an optimist and Roethke a pessimist after all. What if the men had simply written their poems a month or two apart? Keates in September time, when the kids had just gone back to school and the leaves crunched underfoot and there were blackberries and conkers and that, and Roethke after Halloween, when it had rained some more and the leaves were rotting down?

What exam syllabus suggests the students compare two men’s descriptions of different times of year? Thats a few weeks of my youth that I am never getting back.

Anyway, the reason I got onto this, is that the transition has happened outside. Keats’ Autumn with the doves and fruit and late sunshine and stuff has gone; disappeared, in one very wet weekend. Our Autumn has turned to Roethke’s Autumn, with the cold and mud and the imagery of death. Now that I come to think about it, it does this every year.

And it’s also happened a bit in my life, because all the fruit and nuts and sun and things were all so very nice, that at first I hadn’t noticed that the generations had turned – that my kids were definitely the youngsters now, which meant I was getting on for middle age.

Until, that is, my life took a turn (as everyone’s does from time to time) and suddenly the leaves went mushy and the air went cold, and Roethke’ s Autumn came along. An Autumn in which the leaves are decaying; where structural integrity got lost.  An Autumn that’s really Autumn, now…..

I didn’t like that analogy very much at all.  I’m only in my 30s.  Keates Autumn turns to Roethke’s Autumn turns to Winter? No, no, no.  Not if I’m going to use it as a metaphor for a life.   I’d be dooming myself to a downward progression.

So Mr. Lewis must have had it right.

It was all about the poets’ mindsets.  Had to be.  Because you can do something about your mindset, whatever phase of Autumn you happen to be in. You can tell a nice poem or a nasty poem, see it Keats way or Roethke’s:  it’s entirely up to you and it’s not a one way thing.

What’s happening on the ground isn’t even important.  It’s the way you tell it to yourself and live it thats the key.  Of course you can turn the clock back on your image of yourself, in your narrative.  Of course there are miserable days followed by good days.  Of course the weather picks up in late in the the year and you can go back to spring……

Or – anyway.  Come to think of it, the idea of comparing life-stages to seasons is pretty confusing and not very practical.  Be exactly who you want to be;  don’t use age or seasons to label yourself;  forget long-dead poets and I’ll talk about feminism or something safe next week.

The Triceratops Rant

Suppose you were a triceratops at the end of the Cretaceous period.  Dinosaurs were going to die out:  and soon.


What would you have done?  Donated all your unhatched eggs to some other animal to eat for breakfast?  Would you have had a massive party?  Done the dinosaur stomp while eating lots of lovely-but-poisonous-to-dinosaurs food?

Or perhaps you wouldn’t have understood the concept:  your brain was no bigger than a small rat.  You might not have been able to count your own horns, let alone foresee your babies getting swept away by tidal waves, or choking to death on a dust-cloud.

Or what-ever-it-was.  What was triceratops’ doom?  Did a shower of meteors block out the sun, thereby causing a glitch in the food supply?  Did a virus get them?  Or something else?  Sixty-five million years ago now, innit?  And yet it’s still relevant today.

Because the sixty-five million-dollar question is this:  if you knew there was a massive wave of climate change starting now, what would you do?

Would you switch the news off?  Try not to listen?  Carry on doing what you’re doing?  Or have a good old pissed-up dinosaur rompus because clearly your responsibilities don’t matter any more?

Luckily we’re in a different position to dinosaurs;  we’re pretty clever – if I do say so myself.  People have a third option available to us.  We could use our brains to try to keep our world going.  Now there’s a plan!

What if we got together and stopped chucking fossil fuels into the environment?  Stopped chucking bad things into the sea?  Put pressure on the supermarkets not wrap every damned thing in plastic?  Why is it we’re not doing these things?

Caring for the environment puts us personally at a short-term disadvantage.  If we look after our environment, our world market position goes down.  If we didn’t drive so much, our immediate quality of life would deteriorate.  If we insisted that computers weren’t designed to need replacing in just a few years, the computer firms who keep us connected would lose cash.  So they try not to let it happen.

But because I’m so much cleverer than dinosaurs, I’m aware that it’s not all about the short-term.  Sometimes, a disadvantage to an IT company now is an advantage for all of us later.  Hold that thought…….

What if I stop talking about climate change, because it’s on a massive scale.  To make a big difference to climate change, whole governments have to take note.  And as we know, our government is too busy worrying about Brexit.

But on a smaller scale there are our own personal planets:  the bodies in which we live.  We know we can’t survive without those either, don’t we?  But how many of us look after them properly?   Do this:

Cartoon illustration of a triceratops running.


Instead (or at least, as well as) this?



My point is, that is you have billion people, and many of those with a choice don’t work hard to protect their own bodies for the longer term………….

How are we going to motivate everyone to look after the world?

There’s going to be international legislation and co-operation needed, to help us survive.   But that’ll take years.  So for now:

Do your bit.

Read this:

and then find a way to help, and do THAT, please.

Lets put some pressure on the government.  It’s far more important than where decisions are made about this or that bit of land.

Let’s try to do something that matters, folks.

Lets not join the Triceratops.


Yes, that is right, SHOCKER.  In capital letters, because I am SHOCKED.


This woman has taken her baby into the House of Commons, because she wanted to hear the debate, and –


What was the story again…..?

– Oh!  That’s it.   The woman took the baby in, the baby slept in its sling, the woman did what she had to do and went home.

She wanted to hear the debate, you see.  It was about proxy voting (allowing someone else to vote on your behalf because of being on maternity or paternity leave), so you could say that it might have held relevance for her.

Although of course, that’s not the SHOCK.  What’s shocking – if not surprising – is the narrowness of the negativity coming up on Facebook.  Here goes:

this is not very normal.

Yes!  Multiple people actually bothered to type a reply to the news story pointing this out.  With no other comment.  As though, in a group of 650 people (the MPs) where only 208 are female and the average age is 50, anyone expects it to be normal to take your sleeping baby into parliament.   It’s not statistically normal to have diabetes, or to look like Boris Johnson – so what?


– the baby might have cried or disturbed the speaker

….thereby ruining the debate.  Because of course these highly capable, professional public speakers couldn’t possibly have coped with waiting a moment for the pair to leave the room in this event.


Are doctors now going to start bringing their babies into the operating theatreor firefighters taking babies into burning buildings?

Wait a minute, I’ve got to think about this one.  Er – er – er…….   *screwing forehead up, thinking* …..  er well, they might.  They might think ‘I know, I’ll take my baby into that extremely dangerous / sensitive situation and it’ll be fine, because that politician was allowed to bring her baby to work, so I should be.’

Or – not.   Let’s hope that most firefighters and surgeons are probably up to assessing their own work environments for baby-wearing appropriateness, eh?  Meanwhile I can’t see that this has anything to do with Jo Swinson.


I can’t take my baby to work so why should she?

Because you don’t happen to work in a job that is relatively do-able with a baby strapped to your body?   Or because you DO work in a job where this would also be fine, but for some reason it isn’t allowed – in which case why aren’t you challenging it?


She can’t have been doing her job properly.

Listening to the speakers in parliamentary debate is optional for MPs – meaning, that she would not have been breaching any contract or expectation by neglecting to show up at all.  I’ll bet that there were plenty empty seats in parliament today – but where are the posts criticising the non baby-wearing MPs who didn’t bother to attend?  Where are the hundreds of Facebook posts accusing them of not doing their jobs properly?  Swinson turned up, so even if she had had to pay extra attention to her baby for a few seconds during one of the speeches – she would have seen more of the debate than the missing ones did.


She couldn’t have been looking after the baby properly

Right!  Because you’re not a proper Mum unless you’re staring lovingly at your baby, doing nothing else.   Because that’s what baby Mums at home do all day, right?  They don’t send text messages or watch TV or go for coffee or exercise or cook dinner or check Facebook or go to mother-and-baby-chat-about-our-children groups or go shopping or try to catch up on CPD, because they’re ‘too busy looking after their babies.’  And here is a reckless woman with the audacity to walk into a parliamentary debate and listen to it for a couple of hours!  What a terrible mother!  – or not.


I had babybrain when my baby was that age so I couldn’t have worked.

Well good for you.  I agree that it’s a risk that Jo Swinson might be too addled with baby-brain at this time to understand the issue of Mums of babies potentially needing to vote by proxy while on maternity leave, but….  I think I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.


Other women might feel pressure to go back to work early because she did!

What, with that backlash?  I don’t think so!

I hope not, anyway.  I hope that women have more sense.  I hope that women with babies everywhere are reading the news on social media and all of them realising the truth.

The truth is, that whatever they do, in this enlightened, social-media age, the full throttle of somebody else’s judgement will be upon them, and that it’s better to ignore it and do things the way that best suits them and their families.

So there!


Picture:  stolen from BBC News website

A Spider Story

I just read a scary article.  It popped up on my Facebook feed, so I know it must be true.

And when I say scary, I mean scary.  As if climate change wasn’t bad enough……

Let me give you a clue:


*shudder*.  I know.   I can only think that the person who willingly put their hands so close to the spider for that picture must have been offered a small fortune.  Either that, or they were about to scoop a turd up from a bathroom floor with their bare hands and it got photoshopped.  I suppose it could just have been that.

By the way, I don’t like spiders.  Last time a beauty that size arrived on the wall of our living-room, I persuaded hubby to put the thing out.  It all went well at first – he persuaded it to step onto an envelope – but unfortunately then it nearly stepped off again, and was left hanging there by its two front legs, about to drop onto the carpet any at moment…..

’Quick!’  That was me.  In a slightly higher-pitched voice than I’d intended.

Hubby quickly scanned the room for a safe place to land the thing.

‘In there!  In there!’  I said.

‘There’ was a big cylindrical glass champagne cooler, which may have once been used to cool champagne but mostly sits on our window-ledge, serving occasionally as an overspill fruit-bowl but also holding Pom-poms and lost bits from kids games, and loose change and pencils and beermats.

Hubby got over there just in time.  The spider dropped from the paper into the cooler.


My heart was able to slow down a bit and the acid the in my mouth, momentarily, returned from whence it came.

But then I realised.  It was a filthy-hot day.  The sun was beating down on the window and on the champagne cooler beneath it and…..

….and hubby was late dropping the kids off at school.  Off he went.

I looked at the cooler.  There was a giant spider cooking to death in there.

Shit.  I am supposed to be a vet.

So I took the cooler outside, and looked at it for about ten minutes.  I couldn’t see the spider.  Maybe I could knock the cooler into its side, but there was a lot of debris in there.  The critter might get buried, if I did that, or crushed.

So there was only one thing to do.  I got a pair of chopsticks from the kitchen and started pulling bits out of the cooler, one by one.

Sounds simple?  It wasn’t.  I stared into the cooler for about five minutes before removing every piece, looking for the spider.  I tried to pick things out that definitely didn’t have a spider on them:  a Pom-Pom; an apple.  Every time I retrieved something, I turned it over quickly in case it was on the bottom and I hadn’t already seen.  I pulled out scissors.  Felt-tip pens.  My heart-turned over every time.

And then I saw it.  It was scared of me, too.  The more things I pulled out, the more it retreated into a little gap between a fuzzy Pom-Pom and a homeless jig-saw peice.  How could something so massive it into that tiny gap?

Wince.  I pulled out more things.  Until I’d removed enough that I could knock the cooler over while being confident that the spider wouldn’t get crushed.  That’s when I tipped the whole thing over on the lawn.  And then watched, spine absolutely tingling, as the thing emerged and slowly unfolded its massive legs.

It didn’t actually go anywhere, though.

It can’t have hated the cooler as much as I’d imagined.  I positively had to chase the stupid thing out of there with one of the chop-sticks.

But once it had gone, I felt much better.  There was a funny tingling in my skin as every hair-muscle on my arms relaxed.  Even so, I had a cup of tea before I put the debris back into the cooler.

And anyway, the scary newspaper article?  Here is goes.  Apparently with the hot summer we’ve been having, spiders are likely to grow bigger and earlier than they have done previously.

And if that’s not enough to get you to take preventing global warming seriously, I really don’t know what will.


  1.  The neuropsychologist

People with crap memory get tests to monitor their progress.

On Friday 8th June Mrs. Culshaw of 3, Pelican Place took Jim, her twenty-one year old pet zebra for a walk.   When she got home she put him into his stable and went shopping for carrots, and then returned to the stable to give him one as a treat.  She unlocked the stable door, which was bolted, and looked in to find him gone.

This is read three times and then it’s my turn:

Some time in June Mrs Culshaw of Pelican Place takes a zebra for a walk.  It’s called Jim.  She puts him away and goes somewhere and when she comes back he’s gone.

….and again after she’s distracted me with something else:

A lady has a zebra called Jim and he goes missing.  Carrots.  Gone.  Or was it a pelican?

The tests continue.  Recreating line-drawings and repeating back ten-digit numbers.  Thinking of nouns beginning with the letter S.  And what happened to Jim in the first test?

I blink.  Who was Jim again?

In the end I score no better than I scored a few months previously.

Thwack.  That’s the sound of hard news hitting, not a zebra kicking down a stable door.  I don’t want to be like this forever.


2.  The Parenting Psychologist

I arrive alone.  Hubby doesn’t want to come (turns out later he’s assumed ‘psychologist’ means ‘private’).  I don’t actually know what we’re here to discuss, but it turns out to be parenting.

Which throws me:  I’m not prepared.  I’m finding the kids harder, sure, and we argue.  But off the top of my forgetful head I can’t pluck out an example.  The guy asks what time they go to bed.  I don’t even know that.

I remember that meal-times are difficult.  The kids are never hungry at dinner-time;  they’re only ever hungry ten minutes after washing-up.  Or sometimes when we’re about to go out.

I can see the psychologists weariness.  He says that kids need routines.  They have to have a bed time.  And they shouldn’t have pudding until they’ve finished their main.

’So you’re suggesting I use pudding to reward them for eating food they don’t want to eat?’

‘Well, yes.’

I probably look incredulous.

‘I thought that was really wrong, from a psychological perspective?’  I can’t remember why.  ‘Eating disorders, and stuff?’

’Well, I did it with my kids.’

Anyway, he says, I need boundaries.  Kids respond to the sort of boundaries and routines that I don’t have.  He mutters the term lassizfaire under his breath.  It doesn’t describe my parenting, but perhaps he thinks I won’t understand what he means.

I stomp home and seek out the prejudice-confirming world of Facebook.  Various replies remind me why using food as a reward made me cringe.  If my kids’ bodies are not prompting them to seek fuel, why bribe them to eat using sugar?  Surely withholding tasty foods makes them more desirable, and also labels them ‘bad?’

I email what I’ve remembered and click send.  I’m not sure that my rant will completely change his opinion, but I certainly feel better.

A few kind Facebook friends take the trouble to explain that routines work really well for them.  Some of these are parents I respect.  It occurs to me now that a stable script to follow might not be a bad thing, particularly given how forgetful I am.  Perhaps my kids are not the only ones who need routines.

I send a second email.  In balance I’m happy to meet him again – to listen.  Then I spoil the effect.  Talking of boundaries, I refuse to use sweet bribes to make my children eat food they don’t want.

I press send.


3.  My friends

Thank goodness.  Bank holiday.  My friends arrive.  No psychology appointments for days.

Somebody compliments me on my children.  Perhaps they feel they have to.  But if my kids behaviour was worse than my declining garden, surely they’d compliment the garden instead?

And then, my friend Chris, who was there when all this started, asks what we did today.

And I tell him.

‘You know,’ says Chris, ‘a few months ago, you wouldn’t have been able to remember.’


And suddenly I remember what else the neuropsychologist said about her test.  It’s not that I haven’t improved.  It’s that I haven’t improved that they can measure.

But maybe positive, tiny, unquantifiable improvements are happening under the radar.  Perhaps a big, measurable thing will happen all at once, like when people with paralysed legs suddenly stand.  People who haven’t seen me for a while are already noticing differences.  Perhaps, because memory is so intangible, things are actually better than she thinks….

Next appointment, she will probably shake her head about that;  point out that neurological improvements slow down as time goes on.  That the more time passes without quantifiable improvement, the lower the expectation of a miracle.

Right now, that doesn’t matter.  Chris can see an improvement!  Not to mention that my kids are enjoying the unstructured late-evening BBQ food, and one of them is gorging on lettuce.