Chore Exercises

I have done exercise before.

I have walked for hundreds of miles because I love the fresh air, the landscape and the solitude.  I love the curiosities that I come across and the moment when an unexpected animal dashes across my path.

I have trailed along behind climbers because I love a climber.  I also love the adventure, the challenge and (some but not too much) excitement.  I love touching rock and I suppose I love swinging around on the end of a rope, remembering that various butresses are bigger, stronger and more awesome than me.

But the 30-day ab challenge is different.  Nobody is pretending that there is any motivation for doing this other than having exercised.  Exercise for exercises sake:  for nothing but changing my body.


We thirty-day ab challengees are not alone.  Plenty of people who run on roads to improve their fitness have told me that they hate running.  And I find it unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK with a gym membership all love the inside of a gym.

Never-the-less, the girly magazines would have me believe that this sort of exercise is the norm; that it’s ‘good for me’ to keep fit.

I’ve heard that I should exercise to loose weight.  To avoid diabetes (ahem).  To have a good figure.  No pain, no gain.  Remember:  the tedious chore of uncomfortable exercise is important because it will make me look good and feel healthy in the end.

One might use similar language to persuade a young child to eat boiled cabbage.  Is it any surprise that each generation is doing less exercise than ever before?

And the worst thing is, that none of it is true!

Exercise doesn’t have to look like THIS:

It can look like THIS:



Or THIS! plus-sized-yoga-jessamyn-stanley-2.

You saw the This Girl Can promotion.

This Girl Can. Sport England

This Girl Can. Sport England

It’s full women loving what their bodies do for them!

Relishing the feel of endorphins running through their veins.

Because here’s the secret about exercise:  get it right and it feels good!

I used to have a pet rabbit called Misty.  Like many animals, you used to see Misty running up and down the garden for the sheer joy of it.  You never saw him counting his bunny-hops or doing X reps of 50, in order to promote his wasit-line or long-term health.

Sometimes it was different though; sometimes he’d run because he felt that he had to escape, either because I was coming to put him back in his hutch for the night, or once because he was chased by someone’s cat.

Which brings us nicely to physiology.

Say that Mistry is being chased.

His body goes into flight-or-fight mode, or stress mode.  The heart beats faster, the lungs breathe deeper.  Things that aren’t essential in that moment – salivary juice, gastric secretions, distracting sexual feelings (Misty had lots of those) get switched off.  Oh yes, and the sugar in the blood?  Well, with those cats hanging around, you never know when you’re going to need extra energy.  The stress-steroid, Cortisol, actually encourages it to be stored as fat for later.

Now comes the bit that I learned from a TED talk today (the speaker seems a bit nuts but she’s a biochemistry professor so I trust her).   It’s good:  watch it later at

The pace of modern life versus our cavewoman biochemistry: Dr Libby Weaver at TEDxQueenstown

Humans following an exercise program can force ourselves to train harder.  We can squeeze in a work-out that we don’t feel like doing between the office and home.  But in doing this, we risk persuading our already-stressed bodies that tiger-eating must be about to happen.  The body turns flight-or-fight mode on.  Blood cortisol increases.

Sexy feelings reduce.  Fat deposition increases.  And so on…..

I’d like to mention smugly that the fat thing’s OK by me because I’m not doing exercise to loose weight.  I rarely weigh myself nowadays – I no longer associate low numbers with awesomeness – and that’s very liberating.

But I AM doing the chore-abs by numbers because I want to feel stronger, firmer and more Ninja-like.

And it’s currently working.  I’m half-way through an feeling pretty good.  I can do handstands and monkey-bars like a kid again.  At the moment, I’m loving it because Becky and I are spurring each other on.  Because there’s rapport from the online team and it’s cool to see my body change.

But isn’t that like a crash diet just before you go on holiday?  The dieter would feel skinny, better-looking and more confident.  Yet research has shown that participants in diet projects are more likely to have gained weight 2 years later than people who never dieted in the first place.  Because despite initially fantastic results, maintaining a diet is hard for us:  we’re programmed to store food not waste it (that’s the cortisol kicking in), especially if it’s in short supply.

And guess what?  Maybe when core exercise ceases to be a novelty , it will become a daily chore – a stressor – that I have to fight to keep up.  Perhaps the stress steroid Cortisol will strike.

And it also may be possible that i am not narcissistic enough even to do one hundred daily sit-ups for the sake of my tummy.

So when it’s all over, and Becky and I have hi-fived each other and felt smug, won’t we just flop back to wobbly-belly syndrome?

Unless, of course, I find a way to turn chore exercise into joyful-like-Misty-in-the-garden exercise – exercise I am motivated to do for the joy of it.  The only woman I know who actually maintains a daily core work-out (and has done for the two years I have known her) does it because of the joy it brings to her climbing.


I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Ninja Training

“I thought you said you were going to become a ninja?”  asks hubby.

With alternating three-month blocks of locumming and childcare, my life is neatly split into chapters.  This means I’m always reiventing my goals:  I have more fresh starts than Miranda and Gary.

A childcare chapter is just beginning and the search has begun for something physical I can work on while supervising a Toddler and a Tiddler.  Hubby, as ever, is full of answers:

‘I thought you said you were going to become a Ninja.’

But what constitutes a ninja – exactly?  I didn’t really mean that I was going to join the medieval Japanese mercenary (although I’m sure I’d have blended right in).  Neither does modern-day martial art appeal: I’m a hippy at heart.

Yes, I hear what you say.  But Ninja’s such a cool word.  Perhaps I could just redefine it to mean someone who looks good in a cat-suit?

No, wait…..

Maybe just someone who feels fit?  Who ripples as they walk around?  (I, for the record, have occasionally been fit after mountain walks, but never in my life have I rippled).

And of course, when I was fit I didn’t ‘feel’ fit.  I suspect I’m someone who takes any fitness I have for granted and concentrates on the fact that I’m not fitter.

The problem I am leading to, of course, is that there’s no objective goal here.  How would I identify that I had reached ‘Ninjadom’ even if I ever got there?

But there’s no point worrying about the finer details.  It’s the start of June, hubby’s about to leave and nobody’s come up with a better idea.

Ninjadom it is.

On Facebook there’s a thing called the June Abs Challenge.  I click, because Ninjas probably need good abs.

I see a guy who might be South African or Australian or from somewhere else in the world entirely, who is so busy pumping iron that he doesn’t do any gardening.  You can see the dandilions pushing out between the flags on his backyard.  He has set up a Facebook event involving the mass performance of a 30-day abs workout.

Like the Personal-Trainer stereotype in my head, he is warm and likable but talks downwards.  He tells me unequivocally that I need to use a yoga-mat if I do my exercises outside, then neglects to use one himself.  ‘I don’t use one down to personal preference,’ he mutters at one point, to show that as an immortal soul his own rules don’t apply to him.

Then he apologises for his ‘form’ in the sit-ups, adding that he never does sit-ups himself.

What is this?!?!  And yet you want me to do hundreds of the bloody things?

Then again, he probably does one-armed leg-raises on the monkey-bars or something instead.  And he isn’t asking me for any money.

I decide that I can probably once again put up with being a pu- pu- punt- p- punt-arrrghh!


One sit-up completed.  Nobody saw me tugging on the weeds coming up from between the flagstones of my patio there, did they?

Oh good.  So how many more of these things do I have to do, then?  Gotta say; the ground’s really hard around here.  I could do with a yoga-mat or something.

Anyway; day three.  I’m sticking with it.  I have an extremely tidy lounge (I have to clear the kids’ train-track and Duplo away every time I want to exercsie in my own living room).

Yes, I hear what you say.  It is high summer and life should be full of opportunities to exercise outside.  But not so.  My garden is horrifically sloping, making sit-ups either very hard or very easy.  And when I tried to do my challenge at the play-park, the planks ruined the whole thing.

That is, the wobbly planks that the kids walk on:  one of them’s on a pivot they kept needing me to get up and hold their hands as they walked along it.  I would like to say that they also walked along my planks, but –

Yeah.  I’m sure you don’t need me to describe the pile of Tiddler and Toddler on top of a very flat Mummy on the floor.

Then there were the three young guys with six-packs who kept balance-walking around the top of the fence around the playpark.  Climbers, I suspect.  When they turned up, I prosponed the whole project until after kiddy bedtime.

Yes, yes.  I hear what you’re thinking: a ninja wouldn’t care about what other people thought about them.

But you know something?  Becoming a Ninja probably takes time.

The Yo-Yo and the Ninjas


When my blood sugar is too high i feel sluggish, tired and irritable.  When it’s too low I become light-headed, useless and prone to keeling over.

And then, there is yo-yo-ing

I woke up with blood like syrup this morning so I took extra insulin.  I was a little too enthusiastic about the insulin: two hours later I was light-headed and had to steal biscuits at play-group.  Of course I ate too many and ricochetted to syrupy highs again by lunch-time.

Up, down, up.  It’s hard to describe how this feels, so let me tell you: it’s worse than being a hormonal teenager ever was.  Today is the last of my precious Thursday afternoons with hubby and I look set to be spoiling it.  We have an argument in the street: he thinks I am low and should test, but I disagree and stamp and shout.  He turns out to be right.

‘For f***’s Sake,’ I complain as we arrive at the climbing wall, ‘That was bad.  I still need cake before we start.’

It happens they’ve got my favourite – coffee and walnut – but I have temporarily forgotten to be positive again.  I have felt sick all day.

I have forgotten to be positive, that is, until hubby sits us down at the window overlooking the climbing wall.

Suddenly I perk up.  ‘Excellent view,’ I say.

There are some boulderers bouldering down there.  Actually, bouldering is too strong a word.

Boulderers are to climbers what racing greyhounds are to canines:  extremely fit buggers who perform short bursts of athletic prowess but spend the rest of their time content to lie in the sun.

So boulderers do short, strong powerful bursts of climbing and then lol about, looking at the wall and considering.  At least, that is the sort of ‘bouldering’ that is going on below me right now.

And did you know that greyhounds have perfect anatomy with not an ounce of fat, so you can see the outline of every muscle?


Cliffhanger 2009, Women's Final.  Photo by Milnes, posted on UKC

Yes, you guessed it.  These boulderers are lazing around, the male ones sans t-shirts, looking like a band of Greek Gods.

As I said: excellent view.

One of the Gods starts talking about a route.  I know this the same way as you can identify a group of climbers across a crowded pub:  he lifts his hands and starts miming a sequence of holds.  There seems to be a sit start, a side-pull matched to a very horrid-looking crimp, and an unfeasable leap from there to the top.  Not that I am paying attention.

I am just finishing my cake when one of them finally moves.  It is a woman and she practially flows up the wall, with all the body-tension of a ballet dancer.  I am now turning somewhat green.

‘D’you think I’m too old,’ I ask hubby wistfully, ‘to ever be like that now?’

Hubby swirls his tea.

‘Maybe not.  Not if you trained at the wall four nights a week and did Ninja-yoga on your days off.’

‘Hmmmm’ I say.  ‘Not realistic.’  Hubby’s about to bugger off for three months and there aren’t four nights a week worth of child-care.

The children-impeding-exercise problem is probably universal.  Supervising Tiddler on the play-park one day – a nice, cold grit-stone day – I notice two little girls who appear to be unnatrually good at the monkey bars.  Then I clock their Dad, twitching violently on one of the benches until he can contain himself no longer.  He goes over, grabs the monkey bars himself and starts pull-ups.

I watch him sideways.  He has a lot of muscle over his shoulders compared with his chest.  There is little meat on the rest of him at all:  he’s the chicken drumstick that gets left on the barbecue.  And when he finally starts monkeying along the bars, he isn’t swinging:  he’s holding his body rigid.  Reaching out and grabbing the next one as causally as if he were reaching a banana.

I go over to my daughter, smile, and – so that the bloke can hear me (my hubby tells me that this is an objectionable and distinctly South-Yorkshire way of communicating with strangers) – I say:

‘Hey Toddler!  I’m playing a new game.  It’s called, ‘Spot the frustrated climber.’

‘Stop the fust-ated climber, Mummy?’ Toddler asks, innocently.

And the guy smiles sheepishly and I grin back, feeling a flicker of sympathy – empathy, even – although he is obviously a Ninja already.

It gets me thinking.

Another weekend, another playpark.  This one is full of cool, modern-style climbing-frames but amongst them I notice one of those rocket / rocking-horse things that were common in the eighties.  And a set of parallel bars, hand-distance apart, that puzzle me at first – until I remember that in my day, these had barrows positioned beneath them (as confirmed by this picture google found of that very same playpark in an earlier life).  Now, to stop kids breaking their necks, the barrel has been removed.


Perfect for attempting leg-raises.  Even if you’re the sort of person for whom attempting leg-raises is a bit like trying to undo wheel-nut with a kids’ plastic spanner.  I wander over to it, try to look nonchalant, and begin another phase of my early mid-life crisis.

Then I have to break off because I can feel my sugar going low.

You know that thing South-Yorkshire people do, when they address someone by ignoring them and speaking to someone else?  Well hubby is begining to embrace it.

He’s taking advantage of my mouth being full of jelly-babies.

‘Do you know,’ he says, conversationally to his Dad, ‘if she didn’t have to eat so many sweets because she’d corrected with too much insulin, she’d probably have a figure like a greyhound.’

A Positive Diabetic Story


I tried to be positive for a week.  It was not altogether very –

Wait.  I’ll rephrase that.

My positive week had great potential to be more positive.

I find that negative things sometimes fly out of my mouth the moment it is open, a bit like a cat desperate to escape its carry case.

Or more conventionally, you can think of it as a reflex arc: just as a hammer hits the patellar ligament and the knee jerks upwards, so information reches my brain and my tongue forms negative words.

Or else my fingers do. Yesterday I had a conversation on a closed Facebook group (therefore the context has been completely changed) that went a bit like this:

Someone: – Do you think we should bring elephants along?

Me: – Oh yes.  I hate it so much when elephants get excluded.

Someone else: – I think involving elephants would be a really positive thing.

My forehead hit the table in frustration.  DOH!  That’s what I should have said!  It sounded so much warmer!

But anyway:  relax and breathe deep because I have a positive story.

On Thursday I was sitting in the pub with the hubby and a Pale Rider –


Yes!  A beer!  See, it’s positive already.  My current locum job involves Thursdays off.  The kids are already in nursery on Thursday afternoons which means that hubby and I have a few hours alone together.  Yesterday we spent them at the climbing wall, followed by a couple of swift halves.

Anyway: the pub door opened and in came a couple.  She had on a running top and outdoor-style trousers.  And clipped to her trouser belt I spied an insulin pump.

And yes; that’s it.  That’s my positive story.

Elspeth Oct12-pr13 140

If the positiveness of this experience is yet to smash you in the face, let me expand.

It’s rare to meet another Type 1 diabetic.  That’s not scrictly true:  there are 400,000 Type 1s in the UK so one in one-hundred-and-sixty people has it.  But it’s rare to meet one knowingly.  No matter what the Daily Mail tell you, we’re not instantly recognisable because we’re fat or slow or on the floor having a hypo or blind or one-legged or carrying a sack marked DRUGS that we have just robbed from the NHS.  No: diabetics look normal, like me (Ho! Ho!).  So how would you ever pick one out?

It might be easiest to spot the injectors.  Injectors tend to have an injection when they eat.  But a lot of injectors scuttle off to the toilet at this point, so as not to offend any of their company.  (Well it’s not because the public toilet is the most hygenic place to receive a subcutaneous injection, is it?) Or else they have perfected such slieght of hand that their dining companions barely notice.  There are probably a few like I used to be who just stab themselves publicly and have done with it, but that invites comment on their manners (and often on their meal choice) so I expect that they are very few.

Pumps in comparison are extremely descrete.  You can hide them under your clothing and operate them from your key-fob.  And a lot of the pumping population use them subtly like this, because wearing an insulin pump can be like wearing a label:

I have very, very bad diabetes.

I need a bionic pancreas.

Or simply, I am a freak.

I once tried to explain to a care assistant I was working with that I didn’t have a pump because my diabetes was ‘worse’ than average (surely, your body either makes insulin or it doesn’t), but because I wanted to control it better.  She wasn’t having any.

‘My friend hasn’t got one and her diabetes is really, really bad,’ she said, ‘so I can only think what yours must be like.’


But anyway, I have forgotten to be postive for a while so let’s go back to Thursday. There were two women in the pub on Thursday, completely independent of one another, who:

a)  had impeccable taste in beer

b) had indulged in some healthy exercise

c) had insulin pumps on the outside of their clothes.

These women were not worried about people knowing about their pump, or that they were diabetic.

The presence of a pump was probably lost on most of the people who saw them, but the point is that had anyone happened to look twice, they would have seen that diabetic people can have a lovely time, can exercise and can drink beer.  And that having an illness is a very tiny and coincidental part of who they are and not something that they feel they need to cover up.

And if that’s not positive, I have no idea what is.

Extreme Positivity

Or:  How is Positivity like Ironing?


My friend Becky says I was hard on myself last week when I discussed my own parenting.  To put it into perspective, Tiddler and Toddler are generally happy-enough little buggers so we’re probably doing OK.

When I criticise the slack, wobbly aspects of my body there is often someone who says that I ought to be kinder to myself about that, too.

But I know that I would undoubtedly feel, look and perform better if I ate a lower-fat, lower-carb diet and if I did my core exercises.  And my kids would undoubtedly be happier and more confident if I was more positive.

Still.  It’s been a long day, I’m tired and stressed and at the supermarket. It turns out that cream-cakes are on special.  Naturally, I am thinking, ‘Ah Well. I’ll eat sensibly tomorrow.’

And that same supermarket trip, Toddler is whining.  It’s as though she hasn’t noticed the cream-cakes in the trolly.  She’s hungry, she wants to buy jelly and Tiddler is poking her.  But remember:  I’m stressed and busy and also cross with myself about the cream-cakes.  So I tell her to be quiet.

And now I am stressed, busy, cross with myself about the cream-cakes and about snapping at my child.  I swear to do better tomorrow, when I’m less stressed.  Honestly, I will…..

And before I know it, tomorrow has arrived.  And have positive parenting, exercise and healthy eating got any easier while I was asleep?

…. How can i say this positively? ….

Perhaps they will do tomorrow.

I answered an advert for a free 30-minute try-out with Bea Marshall, a parenting coach (  I think this woman is super.  Apparently, she doesn’t ever say ‘no’ to her kids – and we’re talking in a ‘guide-the-children-positively-to-make-confident-effective-decisions-for-themselves’ sort of a way, rather than a ‘letting-them-walk-all-over-you’ sort of a one.

It’s not a policy I can see myself adopting, but I do find her inspirational.  Not so much her lack of negativity with her children or even her articulate speaking on the subject (U-tube), but the fact that she didn’t say anything negative to me.  We had maybe five interactions.  During this time I inarticulately criticised her blog, took a coaching session, admitted that it was extremely helpful, wavered a lot, found what I perceived to be a problem with the booking form on her website, questioned her prices and then announced that I was not prepared to pay them.

(Yes, I know that you can’t put a price on improving interactions with your children, but everyone has a budget).

What did she say to that?  Of course, she thanked me for my feedback, said that she ‘honoured’ my decision and added:-

I also deeply admire and appreciate your honesty ….. that honesty and ability to ‘own’ your choice is powerful. Thank you.

So.  Bea says everything that the buisness communication books would reccommend.  And she says it with genuine warmth.  It is the very skill that I’d like to get better at.

But when I thought about it, I started to worry.  Is such studied warm communication healthy?  How would I ever know if someone like Bea liked me or not?  And if I was so disarmingly nice to everyone myself, how would I be myself?  How would I distinguish my friends?  By insulting them (even) more?

And then I realised:  I am having these thoughts under the assumption that Bea is a negative person hiding beneath a mask of postivie speaking.  Maybe this doesn’t have to be.

Maybe Bea is actually genuinely always positive; maybe it’s not a mask.  I’m not saying that she got my e-mail and her very first thought was:  ‘Wow!  Look at Liz; see how she’s owning that decision!’

But I certainly believe that she would walk around the supermarket thinking not ‘how tired and hungry I am’ but something like: ‘I can’t wait to get home and enjoy all this food.’

And not ‘What a horrid noise my Toddler is making’ but ‘How good it is that my children are communicating their needs to me!’

Perhaps she’d discover which of her children’s needs were most pressing and find time to deal with one or two.  I’ll bet you she would have found a way to make the cream-cakes on a offer a good thing, without eating too many.

Do you know, I think extreme positivity might be a little bit like the anceint craze of extreme ironing.  It seems faintly ridiculous from the outside but when you start doing it, perhaps it makes you happier; leads to great things; makes you stand out.

In fact, I’m going to try.

I have a good relationship with my children and my post was just me being strong enough to identify where this needs to be improved.  I would also like to bring my diet into balance and obtain a stronger core…..

But most of all, this week I am going to try to be positive for a week.

I’m sure that I have the potential to be excellent.


My Unpositive Parenting


Bank holiday was one of those dark, dark parenting days.

The ones I pretend don’t exist, when they drag their feet and scream and whine.  And I drag my feet and scream and whine, and control them with threats and bribes.  On those days, or in those mornings (I was never a morning person) I have a little theory about parenting.

The theory is that it takes a certain person to be the parent I’m trying to be.  A positive, glowy sort of person.

You know those poeple who say ‘hello’ to you in such a warm tone of voice that you automatically ‘know’ that they like and accept you?

Like them.

Who say to children ‘tell me about it’ and are fascinated by the answer, not secretly wishing that the kid would go away and read a bloody book by themselves for ten minutes?

Like them.

Someone is down on their knees doing some kind of task, when a child lands heavily on their back.  Instead of their natural reaction being ‘I’m busy!  Git Orf!’ they turn around and laugh.  And they go ahead and complete that task with a child on their back, while doing their best impression of a donkey.

*Sigh* exactly like them.

And you know the infant walking down the street as though considering overtaking a glacier?  And you know that some parents don’t whine at them to ‘hurry up‘ or bribe them to go faster, but shout:  ‘Look!  There’s a dinosaur!  Let’s catch it!’

(and of course, they’ve succeeded in raising the kind of kid who goes ‘Yeah!  Let’s!  I love catching dinosaurs!’ and not the sort who says, ‘Don’t be silly Mummy.  That’s not a dinosaur.’)

Yeah.  Well.  Like them.

And in my dark, dark parenting moments, the truth is that I am not one of those people.  I am a jaundiced, snappy parent.

On Bank Holiday Monday, I woke up at 7.00am feeling irritable.  Tiddler was shouting.  I let him shout for a couple of minutes because hubby was not in bed next to me, so I assumed he was already up and about and completely ignoring Tiddler out of pure laziness.

Then I remembered I’d given hubby a long overdue day off and that he would, by now, probably be dangling from a rock somewhere on a rope.  (I exaggerate.  But he’d probably made it as far as the motorway).  So I swore and got out of bed.  Going round the corner, I met Toddler coming the other way.

‘Mummy.  Tiddler’s Crying.’

And I know that some glowy-positive parent would have put her arm around her, wished her a good morning and the two of them would have cheered up Tiddler together.  Let’s just say that’s not the response she got.

The day continued in this vein.

7.05:  Daddy hasn’t got any cereal in.

7.07:  Or many nappies. Yikes.

7.09:   Yes, Toddler, I know there’s porridge in the cupboard, but I don’t like making porridge….

7.11:    Luckily it’s instant porridge with instructions on the side.

8.00:    Daddy’s accidently driven away with the buggy in his car.

8.05:    I can’t get this bloody Toddler-sling on…..

8.45:    I know you think it’s funny, Tiddler, but I STILL can’t get this bloody sling on.

8.50:    (Hurls sling to floor)  BLOODY SLING!

8.55:     Hang on, the old buggy’s still in the garage

9.00:     Oh shit but the garage door is still off its hinges…..

9.01:     Toddler, stop smiling and make sure Tiddler is safe for a minute while I break into  the garage.

9.03:     Hate spiders.  Wound it be ethical to send Toddler crawling through this gap under the garage door instead, do you reckon….?  And pass the buggy out?  S’pose not…..

9.08:     Look!  A buggy!  In you get, Tiddler

9.13:     For F**ks sake I’m covered in oil now.  Stupid door.  I’m not going out looking like this!  Back into the house, everybody…..

….and then i had to laugh, because while I was shouting and stomping like a two-year-old, blaming poor Daddy for everything that happened to go wrong, the kids had been having a lovely morning.  They were now sitting on the doorstep waving to passing cars while Mummy waved her arms about.  But they were soaking up Mummy’s display of stress-management like little sponges, no doubt.  Ready for future use.

(Unsurprisingly, Toddler is ‘going though a phase’.  She complains about every little bump and hurt.  She says ‘no’ to me a lot.

‘Sorry Mummy,’ she said to me the other day, ‘but I’m too busy trying to concentrate on this.’

I wonder where she’s heard that before?

Oh bugger.  Mummy fail).

But do you know?  Mummy’s Bank holiday got better.  Because once we got the ricketty ancient buggy into Sheffield City centre, I decided to be positive.  That is, to say ‘yes’ when they wanted to play in the fountains.  And chase pigeons. And choose some street food.  And on the way back home, I forgot to get frustrated again.  The kids and I kept the whole tram amused with our rendition of ‘Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes’ and – to cap it all – Toddler said, ‘where are we, Mummy?’

-and I said, ‘Look!  There’s a sign.  Can you read it yourself?’ –

and Tiddler said, ‘W-e-st St-r-ee-t.  West Street, Mummy.’

and the whole tram looked extremely impressed.

At least, in my head they did.

And on sunny, bright parenting afternoons like that, I have a little theory about parenting.

That being positive is a choice, like being confident:  not something we are all naturally good at but something we can all practise.

After all, nobody is naturally always pleased to be interrupted by a Toddler when they are doing something.  Nobody has a natural predisposition to pretend to be a donkey every time a child lands on their back when they are trying to weed the garden.

No.  An innate predisposition to responding perfecty and positively to your kids is probably a fantasy.  But it is still a choice available for us to make.

Just – anyone else find it cripplingly difficult?

Desert Island Discs


Go on (those of you who listen to Radio 4), admit it.

You have already planned your Desert Island Discs

( ).

Despite not being famous.

Or massively successful.

Oh, ok.

So it’s just me then, is it?

Never mind: I wasn’t going to share them with anyway.  I’m saving it all for Kirstie Lang.

Choosing my discs was hard though;  I’ve never had strong opinions about music, even though I grew up playing three instruments.  Mostly I just listened to whatever the people around me told me was good – and I don’t mean my peers.  So, I listened to Gilbert and Sullivan, the popular classics, brass band repetoire, songs from the shows and 70s folk-rock.  Friends and family looking to improve matters over the years bought me CDs, and a few of those – Billy Joel, Seth Lakeman, Bob Dylan, Bellowhead, The Cranberries – I still sing along to.

Well, I say sing along:  I can’t sing.  But I can remember all the lyrics.  I’ll be mouthing along to them in the BBC studio.

But you know the really sad thing?  Living with a few tracks on a desert island is supposed to be some sort of challenge.  Where as actually, there would be more music on said Desert Island than there is now in my normal life.  I barely listen to music now. It was brought home to me that my only surviving CD player is in the car when my daughter asked me to play her some music and I had to go to U-tube.  I really need to hurry up and get some MP3s together to subject my kids to.

Anyway.  When I was a teenager I had a crush on a singer.  That is, ‘crush’ in the way that patronising grown-ups used to use the word ‘crush.’  Nothing major.

That is, the all-consuming, daydreaming, fantasising, hero-worship sort of obsession that teenaged girls (and possibly boys) get on singers, that’s all.

So far so normal.  Except, my singer was a real bloke.  Someone I went down the pub with.  I’d never heard him sing.

Anyway.  Enough of that.  Move on a decade to the Facebook era, when I spot his profile picture online.  ‘Singer / songwriter,’ it says – and the inevitable happens.  That is, I’m on U-tube within minutes..

And it’s a bit of a shock, because – you know – he can actually sing.  I’d never suspected this.  I listen to something he’s recorded and there’s the familiar voice and it’s – Wow.  So when we get talking, I tell him I’m impressed.

The singer / songwriter calls me up on it.  He wants to know which songs.  Which lyrics.  So I go to his page and scroll back.

And then I realise.  The stuff that stopped me breathing – those songs were the covers.  The original stuff was cool, but not what stood out.  I felt a bit disappointed – in me, not him, because clearly I didn’t get it, did I.

The singer points out with all the patience of someone explaining to a 5-year-old, ‘Yeah. They’re better songs.  Those are the songs I wish I’d written.’


I go away and chew on this for a few days and come to the (slow) conclusion that the fact that I was automatically comparing his stuff to the massive international hits – the stuff you hear played all the time – is probably more signficiant than the fact that it’s the covers that first made me say ‘Wow.’  I conclude that he’s probably doing OK.

Now.  I suspect that my singer has been songwriting – successfully, too – for a few decades longer than I’ve been trying to write a story.  And he already knows he can sing.

But of course, I’m just discovering writing and when I first read chunks back I sometimes think:  ‘Listen to that!  Maybe I can write!’

But now that I have finished my first story, my general impression is this:  ‘I put five months work into this?  But it’s so ‘Meh!’

But wait! – the main other thing I read, apart from my own work and veterinary textbooks, are novels that are already extremely successful.  So what do I expect?

In fact, there will be a lot of that before I write something that is expected to end up in the same concert as an International Hit.  There will be a lot of ‘meh’ feedback.  A lot of ‘that bit didn’t work for me,’ I lot of ‘I got bored,’ before I ever write – which, with 2 children and the job, I probably won’t – something that’s going to take over any bookshelves.

Anyway, there is a happy outcome to all this gloomy thought.  About a week after my chat with the singer, something occured to me:  I could still hear his songs in my head.  Not just the hits, but his songs as well.  I could still write down a few of the words.  Maybe it’s in honour of my teenage self, but I went back and I listened again.

Two lessons learned here.  First, in asking for feedback on the novel I’ve just finished, I have to understand that people will always compare me to whatever decent, published thing they’ve read lately.  At least they’ll be able to tell me when I finally get it right.

And the other?  Yeah, you guessed.  Just when you think you’ve got it sorted, it will always turn out that you haven’t.  Because now I have to go back and rethink things.  I’ve found a cool new entry for my Desert Island Discs.