Category Archives: Modern life

UCAS, Awards and a Handsome Man

T has reached the stage of sixth form where the school want them to apply for Uni. T doesn’t want to go to Uni. He’s thought it all through; it’s not a snap decision, it’s based on information/talking to people, not under any influence from K or I. He’s made his intentions clear to relevant staff: he wants to apply to join the Police Force on a 3 year degree apprenticeship when he turns 18 next year. He can’t start the process until he is officially 18, not even allowed to fill out a form, but he has a plan.

Unfortunately, school have other ideas. They insist that every student registers with UCAS, completes a Personal Statement and looks at which course they want to take and where to take it. He has complied with their requirements, written his PS and registered on the UCAS site. Short of applying for a course he has no intention of taking, at a Uni he has no intention of attending, there is little else he can do. He has felt a bit badgered by this whole process, feeling that perhaps his future plan is not seen as worthy somehow, that the only acceptable route is the Uni one. On Thursday last week they had a whole year assembly where he got the message that unless an application was submitted, free period study leave privileges (where students are allowed to leave school premises when they are not in lessons) would be withheld.

I find it staggering that in 30 years nothing much has changed and that students are still being made to feel that Uni is the only viable option, anything else is somehow second best. In an age where apprenticeships are being given a new lease of life, student debt is a hot topic, mental health issues are prevalent amongst students, it is ridiculous that schools are so inflexible and unsupportive of anyone that does not fit into their prescribed ideal. If T was wavering, unsure what to do, no clue as to a preferred future career then yes, I can see that making him follow this process may be useful, if only to make things clearer for him. But he is not wavering. He is certain. And he is certainly not the only one.

I emailed the school to ask what their reasoning is on this rule, explained how badgered he has felt, how he feels that what he wants to do is not deemed acceptable. The response was as expected: not intended to cause any distress, not intended to make him feel unsupported. The reason they ask all students to register is so that they are “in the system” in case they change their minds and wish to apply a few years in the future (apparently this happens from time to time). I was assured that T has fulfilled all the requirements and that nothing further would be asked of him. Nonetheless, I stressed the point that perhaps going forward they consider an alternative approach to students who wish to do something other than Uni, or at least to be more flexible and accept that it is not for everyone.

I am happy to admit that I was doing this for him, but also partly for myself. I had the exact same experience when I was his age; having made it clear that Uni wasn’t for me I felt like I was a second class citizen in the school’s eyes. I was no longer included in study discussions, was no longer encouraged in my studies, was not asked what I would be doing instead, was given no guidance on the alternative options available to me. Unlike T, I had no idea of what I really wanted to do (that idea had been stamped on during GCSE’s – being told that I was too bright to waste myself on an NNEB qualification, I ended up in 6th Form) other than get a job, but equally I knew what I didn’t want to do. I am not anti-Uni, I am totally in favour of further education and would encourage both of our kids to go if they want to. The important point in that sentence is the “if they want to”. It felt good to get this point across for him and for 18 year old me.

On a more positive note, T had his annual awards evening at Cadets last night. He has been a cadet for 3 years now and last year he won the Cadets Cadet of the Year award. Although pleased to receive the award he felt he was given it somewhat by default, as the person who was originally voted as winner had won the previous year and you’re not allowed to win 2 years running. T was voted second place so was given the award. So, it was deserved but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. This year we were told we didn’t have to bother going if we didn’t want to as he was certain he would not be getting an award, having won last year. I quite enjoy the evening, apart from the standing around feeling like a spare part, talking amongst ourselves, sipping warm wine part. Unfortunately, K was going to be late home and I didn’t really want to go alone. I’d resigned myself to not going when A said she would come with me. She quite enjoyed it last year and was happy to come again and keep me company. Love her. The evening played out the same as every year: the cadets do drill practice, get inspected by the visiting dignitaries (more on that later*) and then parade in for the awards. We watched the parade and then found seats towards the back. The awards were handed out and it was lovely seeing some of the new cadets getting recognised for effort, etc. The final award of the evening – Cadet of the Year – was announced. The leader explained that this award is decided by the group leaders and said that this year it was unanimous. He proceeded to talk about a cadet who had “been with the group for 3 years, showed excellent leadership, was a valued member of the team and would make a great asset to the Constabulary when they join in the future” followed by T’s name. A and I both looked at each other and did a little squeal. We were not expecting that! From T’s face when he went up to collect his award from the Chief Constable, he wasn’t either! I was very pleased that we had gone along.

*During the inspection, I saw T being spoken to by one of the dignitaries. He obviously said something to make T laugh before moving on. As they prepared to parade back in, the dignitaries walked past where A and I were standing. The man that had spoken to T was amongst them. He was really very handsome. I quietly remarked as such to A. I don’t say stuff like that often (hardly ever in fact) but her normal response would be something along the lines of “oh god, mum, shut up, you’re too old to say things like that, urgh you’re so embarassing“. But, it seems my girl may be growing up because what she actually said was “oh yeah, I had noticed”. I laughed and laughed. Not since the day when she was 3 years old and shoved a copy of a magazine under my nose saying “mummy look at the handsome man!” showing me a picture of Ryan Reynolds (she wasn’t wrong), have I heard her comment on the appearance of a male of the species. Boys are gross, boys are idiots, boys are pathetic. They are not handsome. Oh, how she makes me laugh.

Times are a-changing. And she has a good eye. And no, it is not wrong for us to comment on the aesthetic appearance of a male. We were not objectifying him, or drooling or making lewd comments. We were simply stating a fact; he was handsome. And apparently what he said to T to make him laugh was that, if he was there for the awards next year please could T stop growing as he was just too bloody tall and made him feel short. A man with a sense of humour – even better than a handsome face.


It’s good to talk

I think I must have one of those faces. One of those ones that encourages people to talk to me randomly in the street or in a supermarket. It happens A LOT. I also feel invisible some days where it seems that no one even looks me in the face let alone wants to talk to me.

Today was one of the former. It’s been quite nice.

I had a routine doctors appointment booked at 10am. Now that we are flying solo on the school run front, I had to take the kids into the town (I usually call it the village as that was how we referred to it when I was growing up there, but now that we don’t live there – we live in one of the actual villages – it can be confusing if I call it the village. See you’re confused now aren’t you?) at 8am and as it made no sense to go home for an hour and a half and then back out again, I went to a coffee shop and did some work.

At least, that was the plan. I ordered a drink, whilst scoping out the available tables to find the perfect one. I prefer to sit with my back to a wall, rather than have a table of people behind me. I don’t know why. Don’t question it. I prefer to face outwards to the room, so I can people watch and keep my head down if I see someone I’d prefer not to. I spotted a table one table down from a guy who was also in there working and next to an older man who was having a coffee and reading the paper. The only other option had croissant crumbs all over it. I opted for the first choice.

I settled in, laptop out, wi-fi connected, spreadsheet open, started tapping away. Bang! The man one up from me (the other worker) had dropped his bag very heavily onto a chair forgetting he had one of those steel water bottles in there. Made me jump, made the old boy next to me jump and that was when he started a conversation. He had hearing aids in a pouch on the table, joked about not putting them in if the other man was going to make noise like that. He meant it nicely. I think he had been looking for an excuse to talk. Bless him. Over the next 20 minutes or so I learned that he is getting divorced (he must have been 80 if he was a day) and that he is still living in the same house as his wife and she has fleeced him for £30K. He has a daughter and son in law who both worked in the Met and a gransdon who has just got back from a stock car race in Mongolia. His daughter goes on a lot of mini cruises and arranges weekends away for other female Met officers. She looks after him, taking him to dr’s appointments – he’s not well. I saw photos of her, her husband, the grandon. He himself used to be in the military, Special Ops. He probably has incredible stories to tell, memories of his time in service. He is clearly incredibly proud of his daughter. She has a medal for bravery, for disarming a gunman. He is right to be proud. I was happy that I could spare him the time to talk to him. After a while he apologise for disturbing me and said he’d better be off. Bless him.

Fast forward an hour or so, some work done, I headed off to the doctors. Of course, I was early by about 15 minutes. It was baby jab day so it was busy and you can’t beat a load of wailing babies to help pass the time. Or to create a cause for conversation. The very chic, elderly lady next to me asked if I had children, if I remembered how awful it was getting their jabs. Of course I did, I felt like the most evil person on earth, making them go through that. But all for their own good. Unlike the man from earlier, this lady asked me a bit about myself. If truth be told, I prefer other people to do the talking, I don’t have much to say, am happy to listen. But we chatted about kids, how it’s harder bringing them up these days with “the web” and all the dangers. I suspect she was a Daily Mail reader and probably a “leave” voter, but I didn’t hold that against her. I have one of them in my family after all (ha ha! naming no names!) She was lovely really and we chatted for ages having established that we were both seeing the same Dr and her appoinment was 20 minutes before mine. Clearly the doc was running late. She was eventually called in. Turns out there was another lady in between our appointments and when she came out she stood and talked to me until it was my turn to be called in. She told me she is on HRT still (after 30 years) and is having to switch to another type as her one is one of those affected by shortages. I told her which one I am on and we compared notes. I was almost disappointed to be called in, at which point she took my hand and said how lovely it had been to chat and wished me luck in the future.

I went into the doctors room feeling pretty chipper, had a good chat with the doctor who, I still maintain, is heaven sent. I really am very lucky to be able to see her. Blood pressure checked, repeat presciription sorted, off I went out into the world again. Well, back home where I felt far more positive and ready to face some more work.

It really is good to talk. And sometimes it’s even better when it’s for a short time to a stranger. I wonder if the old boy or the chic elderly lady both felt the same? I must try and use my approachable, talk-to-me face more often. It was certainly a lot nicer than being invisible.


One of the doors to my childhood closed yesterday. We said goodbye to my Nan and I think she would be pleased with how it all went. My mum and Auntie H were determined to follow the plans that Nan had made. She was so organised and didn’t want anyone to have to worry about what to do, so she had it all worked out, even down to the photo she wanted on the Order of Service.

The service was held in “her church” where she had been baptised some 98 years earlier and where she attended from that day on. When she got much older and found it harder to physically get to church, the church came to her in the form of the vicar or a verger to give her communion in her flat. She became particularly close to the current vicar, Gregory, who has been there for about 6 years. He visited her regularly and says it will take him some time to get used to not seeing her. He had huge respect for my Nan and when he spoke about her you couldn’t doubt that he really knew her.

My brother, my two cousins and I paid tribute to Nan during the service and I know she would have been proud of us all standing together and supporting each other. My mum and Auntie H both did so well, keeping it all together and showing some of that Nan strength.

As expected there were lots of family members there, people I haven’t seen since my cousins wedding 7 years ago and some even longer ago than that. I’m not at my best I’m big groups of people, even family, and struggle to make small talk. But, somehow a hug and a few words about Nan made it all a bit easier. My mum has so many cousins and they have partners and some of their children were there, and even a grandchild (baby Harry, who Nan was delighted to meet a few weeks before she died). I gave up trying to explain to K and the kids who everyone was. “Just smile and say hello” was the best advice I could give! Some people are better talking to teenagers than others and both kids agreed on the way home that you can tell my second cousin D is in sales (easy to talk to and a good laugh but didn’t really listen) and that my cousin K is a great bloke (really interested in what they had to say). The classic teenager comment of the day came from T who “couldn’t believe someone got an Uber to the crematorium” until K pointed out that it was in fact my mum’s cousin’s car and that some people actually do buy Prius’s because they like them, not just Uber drivers.

The pub was far better than mum has feared, the food (although in parts unrecognisable) was eaten with no complaints (not that I heard and really, who would dare?!) and apart from any Auntie H’s phone going off during the vicar’s address in church (he was very quick to make light of it, saying “that’s not Elsie now is it?”) it all went very smoothly.

I was touched that K agreed at the last minute to be a pall bearer alongside my brother, with my two cousins taking the other end. Seeing them all bearing Nan into church with their arms around each other backs was very moving. T was asked by the undertaker if he wanted to join them when they repeated the process at the crematorium and he agreed, which was lovely.

Nan went into the crematorium to the sounds of J’attendrai by Tino Rossi, a song that my granddad learnt by heart and would sing to her, trying to convince her that he could speak French. I think it became a bit of a joke between them but the meaning behind the words when you translate them is very touching. We left to the sounds of Matt Monroe singing “I will wait for you” which was Nan’s favourite song. I guess it’s no coincidence that the titles are the same. She waited a long time to be reunited with her Harry. I have no doubt that she is with him now.

We may have said goodbye but we can’t possibly ever forget Nan. She really was one in a million (I know this is something people say so often, but she really was) and there’s a little piece of her in all of us and because of that she will always be with us.

Another Friday with a difference

I have been impressed with myself on two Fridays running now. First, we had the trip to Birmingham where I wandered by myself without getting lost and being happy in my own company. And secondly, but even more impressive, A and I spent the day and evening in London on our own, with me as chief navigator and entertainments manager.

We had a lovely day. With a bit of help from T (he’s a bit good with the Tube and knowing where to go) and Google Maps I had a plan all worked out. I don’t like looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t like having to stop and consult maps or Tube diagrams. I like to be “on it” and heading in the right direction at all times.

So, a plan was formed around the theatre tickets that I’d bagged to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, with just enough flexibility not to make it a fixed and rigid itinerary, with a few ideas of things we could do to while away any spare time we had. A was happy to go along with any ideas I had, although I was worried about the day being about things I liked the idea of doing rather than a day out for both of us. It seems she wasn’t just humouring me though, she really was happy to just go with the flow and enjoy the day.

We headed straight to Covent Garden where we had a booking at a small brasserie for afternoon tea at 3pm. We got to CG around 1pm so had a couple of hours to kill. There are lots of high-end make up shops around CG and I was sure A would be keen to visit them all so thought that 2 hours would go by in a flash (for her at least, I have no interest in this stuff other than at the level of “will it give me a completely different face to the one I have? No? Ok, let’s not bother then”, but I am happy to look at stuff that makes her happy). However, she was happy to wander, window shopping, not really bothered about going in any shops until she spotted a stationery shop which stocks beautiful journals and notepads that she has seen on Pinterest. I didn’t take any persuading to go in, I mean it’s a stationery shop! Who doesn’t love a notepad or a diary? No? Well then there’s something very wrong with you.

We mooched around for an hour or so then bought some water and sat on a kerb watching people go by. A was mainly snapchatting with her besties but not in a stroppy “teen dragged out with her mum so I’m going to sit on my phone all day” way – just sharing what we were doing, taking selfies of us both to show them where we were and generally being quite nice and chatty. Of course, there’s always plenty going in in CG so we were able to easily while away the time until 3pm.

Afternoon tea was very nice. I’d booked somewhere low-key as neither of us wanted the pressure of having to wear something overly smart, although we had made more of an effort than our usual jeans and t-shirts because we felt the occasion of a girls day out with afternoon tea and the theatre justified a slightly less casual look. I was a bit disappointed that our table was further into the depths of the cafe as I’d hoped we would have been sat overlooking the Piazza – I liked the idea of watching the world go by – but the food was fab and we were defeated by the time we reached the scones. I forced half of one down but regretted it for quite some hours after! It was a great plan to have this as our meal for the day as it meant we didn’t have to worry about timing dinner just right to ensure we weren’t late for the show later.

After tea we went off to Leicester Square, where we stopped by St Martins-in-the-Fields church. This is the church where my Nan met my Grandad on a blind date during the war. I will always find it amazing that Nan had the courage to meet a man she had never met, but trusting her friend who had got talking to him on a long train journey and who had made the arrangements, somehow knowing that they would like each other. They met on the steps and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s such a romantic story and so far removed from the practical, no-nonsense, straight-talking Nan that I knew and loved. The fact that they only had such a short life together after he came back from service in the RAF makes it all the more poignant. Although we’ve seen the church before on day trips to London as a family, one time sitting to eat our sandwiches on the steps before I realised it was That Church, I have never been inside. So A and I ventured in. Unfortunately, there was some sort of band practice going on so we were not able to properly look around, but I was surprised at how beautiful it was inside, with a gorgeous ceiling and very unusual window at the back of the church. I should probably look up it’s history, but for me it’s always been the place where they met and any other details are irrelevant really. We each lit a candle and just stood for a moment. A is very good at reading situations and I think she knew I just needed a moment to stop and get myself together.

As we had a couple of hours until the show, we decided to go into the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve never been and A was open to the suggestion so that was our next stop. However, when we got there A realised it was where she had been on a school trip in June – I thought she’d been to the National Gallery – so wasn’t keen to repeat the experience. In her words it’s “just full of old pictures of old people who I’ve never heard of”. But she needed the loo so agreed to suffer for the sake of her bladder. We were only in there a short time. As much as I was interested in the Tudor section (I’ve always been fascinated by that period of time) and the contemporary section where there were some great iconic pictures of people I HAD heard of, I was in agreement with A on the other areas. I couldn’t be less of an art aficionado and it was all a bit wasted on me.

We wandered past Nelson’s Column and the lions and then found ourselves in Horseguards Parade, which A remembered from previous trips and from there headed into St James’ Park where we found a nice shady spot where we whiled away another hour or so until it was time to head off to Shaftesbury Avenue to the Apollo. A is good to talk to. She asks quite random questions, talks about her friends, shows real maturity about certain topics and is generally good company, so the time was well spent. I liked that she was happy to just sit and be with me, rather than having to be doing something.

We found our way (thanks to my amazing new navigation skills) to the theatre in perfect time and headed up to our seats, one of which, to my absolute joy, was on the aisle. When I booked the tickets on the Kids Theatre Week website I was not able to choose my seats, just accept the “best available” so had no idea where we were sitting other than that we were in the upper circle. We had a good view and I was able to stretch my legs from time to time, were very close to the toilets and the exit. Very good indeed.

The show was excellent and we both absolutely loved it. The storyline is simple – Jamie is 16 and openly gay. He has a secret desire to be a professional Drag Queen and wants to wear a dress to prom. He comes up against many barriers to fulfilling his dreams but learns a lot about himself along the way. The underlying messages of the story and the pure joy of Jamie is brilliant. The music was great, there was some beautiful dancing and the characters were so engaging. We loved it.

I managed to get us back to St Pancras and home by midnight. Just before we both turned into pumpkins (almost the case after all that afternoon tea). Another successful day out.

A very different sort of Friday

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, or know me at all, you will know that most Fridays (during term time) I spend the day or part of the day with Mrs F. We don’t always do anything especially exciting, but we normally always do something, even if it’s just popping to a garden centre or Wilkinson’s. Or sometime we do something special like our trip to Cambridge, or a long walk somewhere with a pub lunch.

During the school holidays I have tried to arrange to do something with A on Fridays – my day off. T does his own thing most of the time now and wouldn’t really want to do the things that A wants to do anyway. One example is Primark. A loves Primark – she is not into designer clothes, she likes a bargain. (We always recycle unwanted clothes and she gets plenty of wear out of whatever she buys, so feel slightly less guilty about shopping there than we otherwise would). A new mulit-level, all singing, all dancing Primark has recently opened in Birmingham city centre and A and her friend S were both pretty keen to go, so I arranged a trip on the train.

Mrs F and I have been up on the train twice now and it was very easy both times – straight through to New Street from Hemel Hempstead – two hours each way. Easy. So, I thought nothing of booking for me and the 2 girls to go. By opting for a non-transferrable ticket and off peak times I was able to get tickets for under £25 for all of us, return. Bargain. We arrived at Hemel in plenty of time yesterday morning and got seats easily on the train and a straightforward two hours later we were in New Street. I spent the two hours reading my kindle and people watching, with the girls two rows back from me who spent the two hours happily chatting away as only teenage girls can. A’s friend S is one of the only girls she has stayed friends with since primary school, and they don’t see each other very often, so it was lovely to hear them catching up and getting along so well. A tends to describe herself as “awkward” but when she is with her friends there is no sign of it all. She is fun and chatty and lively and lovely.

I love arriving in New Street. Straight up the escalators into Grand Central where the roof always makes me smile. I love the noise and the shops and the brightness of it all. There was no time to stop though as the girls were on a mission. They wanted to go straight to Primark, where they planned to spend the 4 hours that they had, even insisting that they would have lunch there – they were very keen to try the Disney Cafe where they had read you can get Mickey Mouse pancakes. Okaaay. So we were off and straight through to the Bull Ring and out to Primark where I left them with Strict Instructions not to leave the shop and go anywhere else without telling me.

I headed off to M&S where there was a chicken and bacon Caesar salad with my name on it. I’m a creature of habit and when I’m flying solo (without my partner in crime) I always gravitate to the familiar, and you can’t go wrong with an M&S cafe. I’m happy enough to sit alone and read my book and not worry about what’s going on around me. And there’s always a loo nearby. Lunch eaten, I had a plan to go and visit the Library.

A few years ago, K and the kids and I had our first trip as a family to Birmingham into the city centre to check out the Bull Ring and do a bit of sight-seeing. When we got back to K’s parents for dinner, his mum asked if we’d been up to the top of the library to see the garden. No, because we didn’t know about it. Because she didn’t think to mention if BEFORE we left. So, it’s been on my list of things to do since.

The trip with the girls presented the perfect opportunity, as I knew I’d have quite some time to kill. I didn’t want to go into the shops. I don’t really enjoy shopping with no purpose and couldn’t spend all day in M&S cafe! So, with hood up (the weather wasn’t great yesterday) and armed with the little knowledge I have of the area, I headed off in the direction of Victoria Square (which I love for some reason) and from where I knew I could reach Centenary Square and the Library. I was impressed with my navigation skills (not something I am renowned for) and easily found myself in Victoria Square. There’s a lot of building work going on whilst Birmingham Council install a tram network so I found myself being diverted around the old Town Hall and along a boarded up walkway into Centenary Square, which was fine as there were plenty of signs reassuring me that I was going the right way. I didn’t want to have to stop and consult the maps that are strategically placed around and about as I was aware of being on my own. Anyway, I arrived at the Library without any issues, apart from being a bit hot and bothered under my pac-a-mac and slightly damp hair from being under my hood. Oh and my feet were a bit wet as for some bizarre reason I’d opted to wear flat sandals! What a wally.

My first impression when I walked into the Library was of being a bit overwhelmed. I knew it was going to be big – it spans 9 floors – but had no idea where I was heading, having not even Googled it before we went. Not afraid of looking like a tourist in there, I consulted the directory and headed off up the escalator in search of the Secret Garden on Level 7. I wouldn’t normally use an escalator these days, preferring to get some extra steps in, but there was only the choice of escalator or lift, so escalator it was. I could have walked up but actually the escalator was perfect as it meant I could look up and enjoy the amazing view. The escalators go up straight (obviously) but the floors above and around them are circular, with bookcases appearing to spiral up and up. They don’t but the illusion is spectacular. The bookcase tops are all beautifully lit with hundreds and hundreds of fairy lights and it all looks just lovely. If I was a student at UoB I would spend every spare minute in the Library. But, I would ride up and down the escalators all day and probably not get much studying done. There are armchairs dotted around, study rooms (all fully booked that day), little corners with a handful of desks in, larger rooms with more desks and plate windows giving views across the whole city.

I had to take the lift from level four up to seven to the Secret Garden. Bearing in mind it was a nasty day weather-wise I could have been forgiven for just looking at it through the window but despite the fact it was blowing a hoolie out there, I still went out and had a walk around. It must be lovely when it’s dry and, when all the building work has finally finished, the views might be quite nice. I’m not really a fan of looking out at sky-scapers and cranes, so the view didn’t really do much for me. It might have been better to have K with me as he may have been able to point out landmarks. I could make out John Lewis and the Bull Ring, a small glimpse of the canal at Brindley Place and the BT Tower but that was all. The garden was nicely done with walkways cut into raised beds which had been filled with wildflowers and lavenders (A’s worst nightmare as it would be bee-heaven) and lots of nice seating for a dry day. I walked all around (there were 2 other nutters out there as well who I left taking pictures of the “view” – maybe they were more familiar with what they were looking at than me) and then went back inside and up to the Shakespeare Memorial Room on level 9. The room has been restored from the original Birmingham Library where it was originally created back in 1882. Demolition of the old library meant it was taken apart bit by bit in 1974 and put into storage before being rebuilt in 1984 as part of the School of Music until 2013 where it now sits at the top of the new library in the rotunda. It was quite busy up there, but I was able to get in and have a look around. It’s pretty impressive, especially considering the number of times it has been relocated!

I made my way back down to the ground level where a cappuccino and a piece of flapjack were calling to me. By this time I’d started to almost get used to being on my own. I’m never very comfortable walking around places or sitting in cafes on my own and I expected to feel a bit exposed especially being somewhere I’ve only been a few times, but I was surprisingly confident walking around (even the walk through the city centre was fine) and I didn’t really give it too much thought. I’d planned to sit in the cafe until the girls were ready to leave Primark. Our train home was due at 4pm so I expected to be sat there for about an hour. I’d just taken my last sip of coffee (the flapjack was long gone) when A called to say they were done and please could they go and have a look around the shops in the Bull Ring? I was about 15 minutes walk away so they agreed to wait in the entrance to Primark until I got there. It may seem a bit overly protective not to want them going alone, but A has only been into the centre twice (with us) and is a bit like me when it comes to a sense of direction and S hasn’t been at all. We met up and headed back into the Bull Ring. I didn’t want to go into makeup shops or Victoria’s Secret (funnily enough) and definitely didn’t want to cramp their style so I loitered around feeling a bit stalkerish until I spotted a seat where I could wait for them. They weren’t long and armed with Bubble Tea (don’t ask) wanted to go back into Grand Central as S wanted to get her mum some sushi! I was more than happy to go back and wait for them there, close to where we needed to get the train and I could look at the roof.

By this time I was ready for another cuppa (I know, it’s all about the food and drink) so got green tea and sat people and roof watching. One thing I noticed about being on my own was people seem more inclined to talk to you. When I was in the lift going up to the Secret Garden a group of three people got in and started chatting to me about weather (clearly British), another woman spoke to me in the Shakespeare Room and when I bought my green tea at the cafe in Grand Central the guy behind the till was very chatty and friendly. Unless, it’s a Birmingham thing. I’ve never really given much thought to the Brummies other than to wince a bit at the accents, but maybe they are a friendly bunch? K was friendly enough when we met but he was on holiday and had been drinking!

We got to the right platform at the right time to get on the right train to get home. It was very busy (yes, Jane, it’s Friday and 4pm, what did you expect?) and I was pretty sure we weren’t going to get seats. The train was delayed by about ten minutes. And then a member of staff announced it was actually coming in on the platform next to ours, not the one it was due on. Mass bundle across to the next platform. Now even more convinced we weren’t going to get seats. We barely made it on the train. Squished in like sardines with a woman and buggy and small child trying to get on because she couldn’t get into First Class where she had paid £500+ for seats in. It was a nightmare. We moved to the other end of the carriage where there was a small space to stand and waited. And waited. And waited. We eventually moved off. After about an hour the train had started to get a bit less packed and A managed to get a seat. S had made herself a little nest of coats on the floor in the small space that we had and was quite happy. She and I then eventually got seats at Northampton, an hour after we had set off. Only to be told that the train would be terminating at Bletchley. Miles away from Hemel. We had to get off the train and wait for the next one which we were assured would take us to Hemel. We’d been on ten minutes to be told it would be going to Leighton Buzzard and then straight through to Euston! No stop at Hemel. We had to get off again at Leighton Buzzard and get on another one to take us the 4 stops to Hemel. To be told that there were trespassers on the line and wouldn’t be moving until they had been cleared. We eventually got into Hemel at 7pm, an hour and two trains longer longer than we should have been. I always think it’s such a shame when a lovely day ends with a painful journey home but the girls were reasonably upbeat.

One thing I noticed about being on trains these days is how inconsiderate technology has made people. Not just the loud, should-be-private conversations on mobiles; not even the tinny sound of music from headphones. Some people don’t even bother with headphones at all. One guy across the way from me was watching a film on a tablet out loud, and it was clearly pretty very violent from the sounds of machine guns and yelling and dying. A seat became free next to him at one point and the guy standing in the aisle next to it offered it to me. I declined. I didn’t really want to be able to SEE the action , hearing it was bad enough. Whether it’s because most other people are plugged in to headphones themselves or asleep it doesn’t bother them but I could NOT go on public transport every day if this is typical of how it is. Give me a car any day, with my own space, my own choice of music, and a guaranteed seat.

So a different Friday to what I am used to. But I am proud of myself for going it alone with the girls, for finding my way around, for not being phased by anything and for surviving the journey from hell.

Next week: London.

Just me and A.

Watch this space.

A bit of a boogie and a piece of string

On Sunday, the four of us went up to Birmingham for the day. This is not unusual as K’s parents live there, but we weren’t visiting them on this occasion. I had managed to get hold of tickets for A and me to attend a recording of The Greatest Dancer at the ICC and decided that it would be a good day out. K agreed to drive us and T came along to keep him company(*) whilst we were at the show.

We had to be there by 10.30am at the latest to get our wristbands (which would guarantee us a seat) so we set off at 8am. We had pre-booked parking close to the ICC and as the weather got steadily worse the closer we go to Brum I was very glad that we had. We got to the ICC around 9.40am and joined the queue to get our wristbands, and tickets. The queue looked awful but was actually pretty quick, taking us about 20 minutes to get through. We were then told we could go off until around 11.30am when they would start sending us through to our seats. We had a lovely (and, surprisingly, very cheap) breakfast in Cafe Rouge around the corner and then grabbed some snacks before heading back. T and K went off to The Bull Ring to window shop and we went off to get our seats. Unfortunately, although the initial queue was bearable the next stage started to be less so. We waited in a holding area (like cattle waiting to be…) for around an hour. Luckily, I’m not suffering with my hip hardly at all now so was able to stand without getting a dead leg, which is always a bonus. A lasted about 15 minutes before finding a spot on the floor!

We were finally shown through to our seats, one of which, to my pleasure, was next to the aisle – hurrah – but sadly were not “voting” seats. For those of you unfamiliar with the programme, the general idea is that dance acts perform in front of giant two-way-mirrored doors (i.e. they can’t see the audience or judges, but we can see them) and if enough of the audience votes for them the doors open and they then perform the rest of their routine in front of the audience and judges and are then through to the next stage. If the doors don’t open they are not successful and basically just go home. A bit brutal. So, we were a bit disappointed not to have the power to vote, but were happy to have a good view and were going to enjoy it. And I had an aisle seat. Did I mention that?

However, after a short time the staff said that they would endeavour to move those of us in non-voting seats, into voting seats depending on size of party and if seats were still available. After much to-ing and fro-ing we found ourselves in voting seats, still with a good view, AND I still had an aisle seat! I can’t tell you how important this is to me. I don’t like being hemmed in (I don’t like sitting on a sofa with people either side of me (yes, even family members) and really don’t like being halfway along a row in the cinema/theatre/planes. It started with a need to be able to stretch my legs out but has in recent years become more of a phobia. So, I was very happy to say the least.

The “warm up guy” was someone we have seen before at other recordings that we’ve been to and he is always very entertaining. I was throughly enjoying myself until he said that we had to learn a dance routine, as they were filiming the grand opening (although we were the third session) and they would be involving the audience. Now, if I don’t like sitting halfway down a row, I REALLY don’t like dancing. I have two left feet, un-coordinated arms and no sense of rhythm. Not a good combination when it comes to shaking your thang. (I promise never to use that expression every again, very sorry). I hoped beyind hope that he was joking. Then they brought some dancers out and the choreographer! He wasn’t joking. We actually had to learn a routine. I was on the end of the row, I was conspicuous. I had to do it.

It was torture, but a sort of wierdly fun torture. Luckily, as we were standing in front of our seats we didn’t have much room for manouevre so it mainly involved arms and a couple of dips. I could just about handle it. I think. We ran through it a few times and then they wanted to record it with the judges coming out onto the stage and, on our cue, we were to do our bit. We did it, I have no idea how bad I was, but I think I was pretty awful. Now, during the run through the “warm up guy” had pinpointed a poor bloke on the front row (Martin) who he pronounced to be “dreadful”. (Poor Martin came in for some serious stick for the rest of the afternoon. I was relieved to be at the back. That could so easily have been me.) After the proper go at it, “warm up guy” wandered over for a pow-wow with the floor manager and came back shaking his head. We were going to have to do it again. And, yes, you guessed it, Poor Martin got the blame. “The rest of you were all brilliant, but Martin, Martin, Martin, what were you thinking?”. So, they got set up again, the judges all went off and the dancers got re-limbered up. And we did it again. And then again. Thankfully, by the third go I had just about got my arms going in the right direction. Not that I will be seen on the TV but by then it was a matter of pride – I had to get it right!

The rest of the afternoon flew by with ten acts for us to vote for. As a collective we voted six out of the ten through the doors. I voted for eight of them, but what do I know? Not enough people agreed with me about the other two! There were two acts that really stood out for both A and I, but the final act really did it for me and I found myself a bit misty eyed. There’s something about certain types of dancing that I find very emotive. This act was a group of boys/men (aged from 15-28) doing contemporary dancing (my favourite) and the theme was “acceptance”. They were all in black except one of the group who was in a red top. At the beginning he appeared to be being bullied by some of the group and as the dance progressed we saw him becoming accepted by them and then at the end he took off his red top and was all in black like the others. I’ve described it appallingly, too simplified. It was very beautiful and heart wrenching. I loved it. I really hope they make it far through the competition and will be routing for them!

On another note, I have been carrying on with my attempts at healthy eathing. I lapsed a bit while we were away and found myself eating bread and other things that I have been avoiding. It didn’t make me feel good and my tummy definitely suffered for it, let alone my weight. Since we’ve been home I’ve been avoiding bread and have been keeping K company on his Fast 800 diet. He needs to lose about 2 stone to be classed as healthy – he was teetering at the obese line before we went away, which I think acted as a bit of a wake-up call. He was like the condemned man having his last meal on the day we came home, tucking into a cooked breakfast, knowing it would be his last for a while! He’s read the relevant chapters of the book and is very determined. We’ve been planning meals together so that he can still have tasty food, just less of it, for a few weeks. He wants to lose a stone and then revert to the 5:2 plan that we both know works well. He can go back to doing a week of Fast 800 if he starts to struggle.

It’s all going OK so far, with no complaining and he’s been eating what we’ve decided on without asking for extras. This has helped me too, meaning that I am now the lowest weight I have been for about 5 years. I want to lose another 7 pounds to be comfortably in the healthy range for my height and this will make me almost back to my pre-children weight, which although I was never completely happy with at the time, would be a dream now! As we all know BMI is not an exact science as it doesn’t take into account waist measurement (which is a big issue, especially for women my age and up). I am pleased to report that, as of this morning, my piece of string from now meets easily around my middle, with a little bit to spare. I am very, very pleased with myself.

*he didn’t need much encouragement – he’s always happy to have a look around Selfridges at all the clothes that he can’t afford.

A little less bright

My world is a little less bright today. My lovely Nan has died. My lovely Nan who taught me many things, showed me so much love and above all showed what it means to be strong. Her faith was incredible. Her belief that she would one day be reunited with my grandad and her parents and siblings, in another world where they were waiting for her, was unfailing.

Her generosity with her time and love was immeasurable. If someone needed help, support, a shoulder to lean on, no matter who they were, she would offer it.

Her strength of character helped her through so many trials in her life: being a young bride and mother during the war, with her husband away in the RAF; after all that time with my grandad away to be widowed in her early 40’s, leaving her a single parent to my mum and auntie, whilst looking after her own mother; health issues and even breast cancer in her 80’s; living alone until her 98th year and all the while caring for others, including volunteering for The Samaritans and being hugely involved with her church. (And it was her church, from a young girl until she died it was her church.)

I never doubted her love just as I never doubted her belief. I may have found some of it a bit spooky – when she talked of seeing dead relatives, of talking to them and asking them for help with whatever was troubling her (or someone else in the family) as a child I found it a bit disconcerting. But as I got older I could see how much strength and comfort she got from her belief that it was hard to knock it. Her faith-healing helped dozens and dozens of people and the number of birthday and Christmas cards she received each year with personal messages from people she’d helped were testament to how much she touched peoples lives.

I always felt a sense of peace around my Nan. She was always very busy and when we went to visit there would invariably be someone else there: her friend Jean, who I could never understand because she had such a strong Scottish accent; her friend Betty; Robert who I always found a bit creepy; my mums cousin Rob who lived with Nan for a while; or someone would pop by while we were there. It seemed like I never had her to myself but I also remember knowing that I mattered. And she always listened, even if it didn’t always seem like it at the time, remembering little details later on that no-one else did.

Her Sunday roasts were phenomenal. How she seated and fed, sometimes in excess of, ten people round her dining table in her little flat, let alone cooked a dinner big enough for us all in her tiny kitchen, I will never know. More than 4 people and I get in a flap, with all the “mod-cons” that we have today.

She was so very, very proud of her family. She instilled in all of us a sense of working hard for what you wanted, never being in debt to anyone, but always believing you could achieve what you wanted to. Her favourite saying was “you never win by giving in”. I’d like to say I stand by that but I’m afraid there have been many times when I’ve given in when things got too tough. I like to think I’m a realist who knows when to give up but I’m not sure that’s strictly true. But I try my hardest at everything and that’s down to her. Even in her last few months in the care home, where she was looked after so lovingly, she was still showing her strength and Mrs W said today that they learned so much from her even in the short time she spent with them and they are all incredibly sad.

But more than that, she showed us such love and we all know how important it is to have that love in our own families. Her children, niece and nephews, grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews, and great-grandchildren – she loved us all so much and was proud of every single one of us.

To say that I’m sad is an understatement. I don’t think I ever really thought the day would come when she had to leave us. But I will stand by her belief and hope that she is with her beloved Harry and that she is at peace. In her own words, they’ll be having a right knees up now that she’s back with them. There are so many people that she loved and lost in her life that she will be as busy in the after as she ever was in the present. My life will be that little bit dimmer without her, but I don’t believe she’ll ever truly leave us.

God bless.