Monday, 2 May 2016

A New Chapter

I’ve always loved stories.

I love telling them, I love writing them and I love reading them.

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading to me (sorry mum, I know you probably did more than your fair share but memory is a selective sod).

It was at primary school that I really discovered books and began to invent my own tales (which resulted in several ‘meetings’ after school where my embarrassed parents were summoned to discuss my ‘overactive imagination’-read lies). And no, for the record, Fergie and Andrew did not come to our house to watch fireworks. 

As my years sprinted on, I enjoyed getting into series - much like the Netflix generation now. From the Worst Witch and Judy Blume, to Sweet Valley High and Point Horror. It offered escapism and excitement.

 When I went travelling around the world years later (after 3 years of prescribed book lists for an English Lit degree), my choice went eclectic. I broke free. My love of novels was reignited and a constant companion on my journey (I even kept a book review log, sadly-pictured below).

Since entering the latest chapter in my life (motherhood), reading has become a luxury. Bleary-eyed mornings are spent with one eye on Facebook while breakfast is prepared with the dulcet snorts of Peppa Pig in the background.

I get the majority of my news in 140 characters from Twitter. After a day of playing hide and seek and playdough (both of which, I’m frankly too old for), I’m pretty whacked. I usually manage about 15 minutes of reading before sleep overpowers me.

But, when you get into a good book, there is nothing quite like it. You find the energy. I’ve had holidays where I can scare remember the accommodation or sights, but you remember the book you were reading.

A good book forces you to switch off mindless TV, it lures you to a quiet corner of the house and urges you to just 'be'. Housework waits, family and friends are shunned. Nothing comes between you and the book. 

Having recently experienced this again, I’m now reinvigorated, so that’s why I was so excited to hear about Ipswich’s inaugural book festival, Books East, launching later this month.

There are loads of events on, covering all genres, and some big names are signed up, including Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I’ll be blogging about a couple of talks so keep an eye out.

Til then, happy reading!

Books East runs from May 9th to May 15th. Visit the website for all the events

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Madness and Jellybabies

You’ve got to have an element of madness to be an ultramarathon runner.

My buddy Tom is one of them. In a few weeks’ time, he’ll be attempting to run from Land’s End to John O’Groats (that’s 816 miles) in 2 weeks.

Let’s break that down; he’ll be running 60 miles a day-more than a marathon A DAY- for 14 days.

Eat your heart out Eddie Izzard.

That’s not offbeat- that’s sheer lunacy.

The more I heard about this challenge, the more I drew parallels with parenting. Stay with me here.
Firstly it’s jumping into the unknown. 

Sure, a few people you know might have done it. They seem fairly well adjusted and functioning as a normal human being from the outside but you have no idea how you’ll fare. Whether this will be a challenge too far- the thing that breaks you. You wonder if you’ll fall at the first hurdle (in the case of accident-prone Tom, this is likely, given the fact he once dislocated his finger and needed stitches in his knee after tripping over a jellybaby. Yup).

Tom's nemesis

Once you begin the ‘race’, you know there’s no turning back. When asked what Tom’s biggest fear is about his epic run, it was “getting lost”, followed by “not completing it”. I think most parents could relate to this too.

We all feel lost at times. As for not finishing, it is hard to see beyond the next day a lot of the time, let alone the next year. Look at the whole scene ahead of you and it’s just too damn scary to contemplate.

I once found myself stressing about having to help my daughter with homework and make packed lunches every day. She was less than six months old at the time.

Like a new mum, Tom’s diet on route sounds similarly sugar-driven. Porridge to start, followed by a can of coke every 10 miles, supplemented with jellybabies (careful there) and fig rolls, before consuming two evening meals once it’s over for the day. All that’s missing is that crucial huge glass of wine (but then with 60 miles to run the next day, I don’t think that’d be such a good idea).

So why put ourselves through such an endurance test?

Tom’s answer for his challenge was “excitement.” Personally, I can think of much more exciting things to do for 10 hours a day but I know what he means really.

It may not be a laugh a minute on his journey, excitement around every corner, delight in every pothole, but when he gets to the end of each day and nurses his wounds, he can look back knowing how far he has come.  He may even silently congratulate himself before taping up his feet and getting some shut-eye in preparation for what lies ahead. And I guess that’s what we’re all doing really.

I’ve been on this particular road for two and half years now and even looking back through these blog posts, I can see how far I’ve come. I’m not sure I’m at John O’Groats yet- or even where that is, but for now, I’m focusing on enjoying the journey, building up the miles, and best of all, I get to spend it with this little chum.


*Oh and by the way, Tom is doing his run in aid of two great charities, East Anglia's Children’s Hospices, and Great Ormond Street Hospital. If you want to find out more and donate, see his website here. Thanks!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

How running keeps this mum sane

In a month's time, I'll be taking part in my first half marathon- 2 years to the day since my due date (though the little bugger didn't arrive til 10 days later!).

It's true what they say about motherhood, there are obstacles at every step of the way - highs and lows, ecstasy and despair. Much like a half marathon, I imagine.
In fact, ever since I got into running a year ago, it has become my baby (my other one). When said child is playing up, over-tired, or testing my patience, I can just grab my faithful trainers and sprint off like a retired greyhound (with a responsible adult left in charge, obvs).

I've run through heatwaves and snowstorms, picked up a medal or two, become strangely competitive at ParkRun and use the acronym 'PB' (personal best for those not 'in the know') without cringing.

Family and friends say they hardly recognise me - but I do. This is the girl who loves her own space and cherishes 'me' time. I quickly learnt that as a mum, that's a pretty alien concept, so short of popping off to the spa every weekend, running comes a close second.
I never used to understand it when people talked about thinking things through while they run.
Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell used to run for miles, planning whole political strategies apparently. I don't quite manage that most nights, but a good old jog around the 4-mile block does clear the old cobwebs, sorts through my frustrations from the day and gets my creative juices flowing. I'll often return from a run feeling brighter and lighter. Only thing is, it is fairly addictive (damn you endorphins).

Still, I've not been bitten by the bug so hard that I'd turn down an offer of a night down the pub. That wins every time.

So with my 13-mile (gulp) adventure in Ipswich looming ever closer, I've been studying the route and have been drawing my own parallels with the slog/beauty that is parenthood.
Running up Constitution Hill (twice? really?) equates to the sheer exhaustion and relentless of the lack of sleep in the first year.

The unexpected slight incline up Tuddenham Road- I'm reminded here of the 4/5 month sleep regression. Just when things were beginning to get better.

The flat part through town is around about 15 months when she was pretty chilled out about stuff, able to walk, explore and enjoy life on her own.

Up the bridleway, past the park is the 20-month stage I reckon. Bit of a struggle, with tantrums and stubbornness but enhanced understanding and more words means there's lots of good stuff there too.
Throughout my journey though (the mum one that is), I've been cheered along and metaphorically hydrated by family and friends. And when I finally limp across that finishing line on race day, my biggest fan will be watching me (and hopefully giving me a smile) and it will all be worth it (though a beer or two would be appreciated as well!)

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Me And My Shadow

I've come to realise that my baby and I are pretty similar, which is just as well really, as I don't think I could be around someone else for as long if they weren't on my wavelength.

I'm actually not a massive fan of children per se, so imagine my delight when my one turned out to be pretty cool.

Bias does not come into it. Objectively speaking, she is the best kid in any room and let's face it-it'd be pretty awkward if I didn't like my own child.

We share a lot of interests (people watching, being outside) and we love a lot of the same stuff (presents, baths, attention, cow's milk, cake).

We both get bored easily and love to go out a lot. She's also a chatterbox around people she knows-all gabble though (again, the same), and when I once tried to engage her in some football, she ignored the ball and carried on talking (which reminded of my sixth form days of 'playing' footie when my teacher yelled "Cassidy, stop chatting and get the ball").

It's nice to think I'm probably her best friend right now- though it's not reciprocated in the truest sense of the word-I tend to like more conversation back.

Also our sense of humour differs. She prefers more slapstick stuff (hats falling off heads, hiding in really obvious places etc) whereas mine is more dark. But we are both hard to please. You have to earn our laughter.

I like going to bed at a reasonable time and sleeping past 7am, I enjoy quiet time to myself, and I could quite happily sit and watch hours of Breaking Bad. She-not so much.

But despite these differences, I know that I must treasure this time because right now, I'm her world and she is mine.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A treat for you and baby

All new mums need a bit of TLC and while you may crave time to yourself, it isn’t always possible in those early days. 

Pre-motherhood I loved to indulge in spa treatments- that quiet period of bliss where you can empty your mind and be properly pampered. Once you have a baby, this luxury is elevated to something close to heaven and while it is great if you can get that half an hour away, it is not practical for everyone.

As I browsed online for things to do with the new kid on the block, regretfully discarding special offers for hotel breaks away or day trips to the spa, I stumbled upon a rather unique treatment at SK Clinic in Bury St Edmunds. A massage for both mum and baby. Surely, I thought, this is the best of both worlds?

While you get to lie back and be pampered, your baby also gets their own massage, the known benefits of which include helping with colic, digestion and circulation.

On entering the swish clinic, just next to Angel Hill, a team of friendly staff members greeted me warmly, appropriately cooed over baby and I was immediately put at ease.

As my daughter was at the upper age limit for the treatment (9 months), I was a bit concerned that she wouldn’t sit still for long enough or would be too clingy to me.

However the girls reassured me that if she wasn’t happy during the massage, they could take her out of the room while I could have my treatment in peace.

After derobing, I lay on one bed in the calming candlelit room, while my daughter was on the adjacent one. 

Having just woken up, baby was slightly grizzly and was a little unsettled at first so while my therapist started on me, two other girls (who seemed very comfortable/confident with children) took my daughter out and played with her, managing to pacify her very quickly.

Some 10 minutes later, I heard the door quietly open, followed by whispering and my daughter’s familiar chatter. They placed her on the bed next to me and began giving her legs a gentle massage, which she responded to well - not surprising given the very serene atmosphere of the whole place.

When she was very young I did a few baby massage classes with her, but as she has got older and more active, this practice has fallen by the wayside so it was great to re-introduce and know it still has the same effect.

I enjoyed my massage immensely. The therapist applied exactly the right amount of pressure and the smell of sensual oils filled the room. From my shoulders, down to my back, it was deeply relaxing and I almost forgot where I was – let alone that my daughter was a foot away, also being treated.

The upper age limit is there for a reason as the older the baby is, the less likely he or she is going to want to sit/lie there. However this treatment would definitely suit younger babies.

As assistant spa manager Laura Darragh explained: "Babies thoroughly enjoy a gentle massage, the laying on of hands is very relaxing for them, even therapeutic. The reason is of the five senses, touch is the one that is most developed at birth. Massage can help to ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, can boost muscle development and soothe them to sleep.

"There are also advantages for mum, just by touching your baby through massage, helps for you to bond with them. If the baby is relaxed then it's highly likely mum will be too."
This 30-minute treatment (costing just £50) is the perfect antidote for new mums who need that break but can't/don't want to be apart from the little 'un. It is only a shame I discovered it so late, because had I known, I would have booked it from the maternity suite!


Friday, 8 August 2014

The Great Boob Debate

I’ve done it in a wood, a cinema, a park, a church (it's alright- the pope said it was allowed), numerous cafes, cars, a doctor's surgery, and a swimming pool reception area. Reactions have been varied but largely minimal compared to what I expected.

I’m talking about breastfeeding of course. And now, after 10 months, the end is in sight.

No more do I have to be concerned with flashing some flesh in someone's face. The bottle has been accepted (during the day anyway), I can drink again without (much) guilt, a bonfire is being prepared for the well-worn nursing bras and all is well in the world.

In the beginning I thought I'd give it a whirl and if it wasn't for me, I wouldn't feel bad about giving up. It hasn't been a stress-free ride, with some bumps along the road that I hadn't anticipated. In those first few days I was close to quitting but I'm proud to have stuck it out and reached my self-imposed goal of 6 months (the old competitive nature kicked in).

However my experience of breastfeeding has opened my eyes (as well as my top) to many varying attitudes. Little did I realise what a divisive and controversial issue it can be here in the western world, where covering up is key. Take Gwen Stefani for example. She posts this picture (below) on Twitter of her feeding her baby while on holiday and everyone goes mental. Has it really got to the stage that we are shocked that celebrities (those uber humans) nurse their babies just like the rest of us? I mean, don't they all have wet nurses for that?

As a society we have a funny old relationship with breastfeeding. On the one hand, medical professionals and NCT warriors are forcing the benefits of 'bfing' down our throats but in the other corner there are regular stories in the press about mums facing adverse reactions for getting them out in public. Take the recent Sports Direct debacle. So incensed were the breastfeeding mafia that one of theirs wasn't allowed to nurse in the store, that nationwide feeding sessions were organised in protest at branches across the country. Bravo I say. Though why anyone would want to go into Sports Direct, let alone feed your child in there is beyond me.

It seems there is not a week that goes by without some story in the media regarding breastfeeding. Outrage over bf selfies (which incidentally don't bother me. I've seen more nipples this year than The Sun's picture editor), or mothers being rebuked for nursing in public. Many people seem to be very uncomfortable with women using their breasticles for the purpose in which they were intended, which is why this tongue-in-cheek song from Australian band Sparrow Folk tickled me. It has since gone viral across the world.

As with everything, there are extremes at both ends of the booby spectrum. There are those that find it 'offensive' that women should use their mammaries as a food source (after all, they are there to make low cut tops look good). And then there's the militant pro-bfs, known as the 'breastapo' who celebrate boob-versaries, insist on feeding their newborn til teenhood and hold cake sales where you can buy specially iced buns (yup, really. See below).

The fact is a lot of unnecessary judgement goes on in both camps. Yes we all know how beneficial breastfeeding is for your child but those that can't or choose not to, should not be made to feel guilty for this. New mums have enough stuff to feel guilty about, trust me.

Both ways of feeding are littered with complications. For bfs, they face societal pressures to cover up and hide away, you never know how much the baby has had or if they are getting enough, mastitis becomes your biggest fear, engorgement and leaking are new uncomfortable issues to tackle and biting can become a problem later on.

While those that bottle feed face the difficulties of sterilising, contending with a screaming baby while the milk is warmed, counting ounces, and bottle storage.
Either way feeding a newborn is a nightmare and the truth is, no-one really knows what they are doing.

So to those that don't breastfeed, don't sweat it. It's not a detail that needs to be put on your CV and no-one questions whether the great world leaders and inventors were breastfed or not.

And those who do opt for the boob, great- hang on in there. Children are small for such a short period and what seem like massive problems now, get replaced as time moves on. Before you know it, they'll be 15, necking shots and chundering all over the new white carpet, while you'll be yearning for the time when the biggest dilemma was how to switch off 'Deal Or No Deal' with an infant glued to your tit and the remote control out of reach.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Things I Never Expected About Motherhood

When you’re pregnant, people who are already parents take great delight in passing on their knowledge.

Either it’ll be really practical, helpful advice (ie buy sleeping bags for baby so they can’t kick off the covers) or they’ll give you that slightly apprehensive smile, which says “good luck, you don’t know what’s about to hit you’.

I like to think I was fairly realistic about the whole thing and knew it would be tough but there’s a few things that I never expected in my wildest dreams...

      1)  I have cheered at burps and rejoiced at soiled nappies.

I knew the baby’s wind and poo would inevitably take up a large chunk of my life in the first few months but could I have predicted it would provide such glee?

Burps usually disgust me so much that I even have to fast forward the scene in ‘Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory’ when Charlie and his grandfather steal bubble liquid, float to the ceiling and the only way to get down is belch. Gross.

However when your baby emits these piercing, painful cries after a feed, and you rub their back and rock them for what seems to be a lifetime (but is actually just 10 minutes), and they finally let out a loud (yet very cute) baby burp, you literally cheer, holler, do the hokey cokey etc (until the whole process starts half an hour later).

Equally, despite all the nappies you change in those first few weeks, when there isn’t a messy one for a few days, you start to worry about things getting plugged up. When it eventually arrives (and boy, does it come), through the foulness of it all, comes such sweetness and delight, and you’re as happy as a pig in whatsit. How wrong.

2) I never thought I’d straddle a foam noodle (bear with me here), while bouncing across a swimming pool, singing ‘horsey horsey’ (with my little one on board). Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty funny.

3) Who knew a shower, longer than 5 minutes in which you use conditioner, feels like a day at the spa. And those brief postpartum baths the midwives recommend are a like a little slice of heaven. Time. Alone.

4) I now get excited about sleeping 4 hours in a row.

I was always an 8-hours-a night kinda gal but I knew motherhood would end that and wasn’t quite sure how I’d adapt. Somehow, you do adjust (though it’s tough) and suddenly there’s a new benchmark and getting 4 consecutive hours in the land of nod can feel like winning the lottery.

Though if you did actually win the lottery, the first purchase would be a night in a 5* hotel room with goose down pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door to ensure you get at least 10 hours uninterrupted sleep (I haven’t thought about it much).

5) This weaning malarkey is hard and you never really think that far ahead while pregnant.

You have to cook a lot and there are all sorts of rules (no salt, no sugar, no honey). I’ve had to cook all manner of dishes that shamefully never make my daily diet. I‘ve even made her cauliflower cheese which is something I didn’t envisage doing but the old MG (mother’s guilt) comes into play constantly and you have to shelve your own fussiness and distaste to give your child the best start in life.

Saying that, I’m yet to give her tuna. As Meatloaf says; “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”.

6) I now love trips out in the car. Sad I know. It never used to bother me either way but I like the fact I can switch off, not have to worry about feeding/entertaining her and can turn up the music or get immersed in Desert Island Discs- as she often zonks out as soon as you start the engine. Whether it’s being chauffeured or in the driving seat myself, I’ve discovered a new joy.

7) Social media has become pivotal.

I was a Facebook voyeur and occasional Tweeter before giving birth but suddenly this digital world of faux friends becomes your lifeline.

At 2am, you want to know there is life out there, that other people are awake too, that there is more stuff going on in the world other than a hungry, crying, unsettled baby. At 11am, when you can’t stomach any more of the Schofield/Willoughby chemistry, and you want to find out what is happening beyond your four walls, Facebook is your bud.

Catching up with the news in 140 characters rather than having to read a paper means Twitter is your saviour.

And asking advice/comparing issues with online mums becomes vital.

It has its downsides, sure. You can feel pretty disgusted when you find  yourself nosing through a friend of a friend’s dull holiday snaps at some inane hour because there is nothing else to do while your child is feeding.

Overall though, for me, social media was one of my rocks that saw me through the tough times and I will always be grateful to it. Frankly I don’t know how my mum’s generation coped.

8) You learn to appreciate the little things. It might be a cliché but now I savour snatched moments of pleasure even more.

The first tea of the day, the scent of a rose, reading a newspaper article uninterrupted, enjoying a guilt-free glass of wine. Even a trip to the dentist can feel like a treat and I’m not even kidding (great magazines in the reception).

9) I knew singing nursery rhymes is a prerequisite for the job but before 7am? And before that vital first cuppa? Humpty Dumpty probably fell off the wall through lack of sleep and caffeine. That’s all I’m saying.

10) Who knew life would become such a guessing game? 'Are they fed?' Yes. 'Tired?' No. 'Why are they still crying then?', you exclaim helplessly. It could be teething/boredom/growth spurt/some other pain you don’t know about/too hot/too cold. It’s a frustrating case of trial and error, and then repeating the whole cycle again until something works.

From living a fairly routined, controlled, planned existence, suddenly you are plunged into constant uncertainty and it takes some getting used to. From going to bed not sure when you’re next going to be up, heading out to cafes, not sure if your child will create a scene/be in the best mood ever, the anxiety could cripple you if you let it so it’s about learning to go with the flow. So have some cake and chill out, yeah?