Stength in numbers

I had felt sure that this blog post would be very different. It was to be titled “So long, and thanks for all the fish” a reference to West Coast salmon and Abroath smokies. Perhaps it should still be titled such, referring instead to every red herring, every big fish story and every wet-fish-slap-around-the-face that Westminster has dealt to the rest of the UK over recent years.

I stayed up all night on Thursday, a night fraught with nerves and more than one tearful moment, to watch the results of the referendum come in. I spent Friday in a state of happiness, shared with family and friends, utterly relieved by the outcome.

I tell you this not to gloat or rub in the defeat. I tell you so that you understand how important Scotland is to the United Kingdom. I can’t speak for the rest of the UK, but here in the English Midlands there were Saltires flying all last week. The BBC showed interviews with folk in the street distraught at the thought of a line drawn across the North. The interviews since have demonstrated the importance of the decision, and the referendum, to people across the rest of the UK.

As for the changes promised by Westminster, I cannot but think that they will be forced to follow through by the sheer strength of our numbers. If Scotland had voted for independence, the English, at least, would have felt bitter. The knee-jerk reaction, even amongst Scotland-lovers like myself, was to say “Well, if you think you’re getting the Sterling you can think again!” We would certainly have reacted as we felt – as a jilted nation. The ill-feeling would have bred resentment and hatred where it had not existed. But because of the no vote, we once again feel solidarity. We are all in the same boat – we all hate Westminster, we all want a degree of devolution. Thanks to the Scots we actually have a chance to change the way our country runs.

A Yes voter on one of last week’s Newsnight programmes said that Britain wants to rule, whereas Scotland wants to lead. I think we have always been leaders in Great Britain. Many of the first world’s democracies are based on our model, and here we have a chance to create a brand-spanking new one! Once again we can show the world how a great nation can move forward without the need for division – something which, in light of issues in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in a divided Syria and in the face of Islamic State, is much needed. We can demonstrate how a civilised country can effect change without inflicting violence on its own people. We can show, once again, that democracy can win – indeed, with an 84% turnout, has already won out amongst the Scottish people.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a LOT of work, and it’s going to cause some heartache. There’s no instant fix – to be calling for changes three days later is simply ludicrous! But I hope I am right in my belief that we can move forward together as a great nation once again.

So thank you Scotland. Thank you for staying with us. Thank you for returning our good will. And thank you for giving us all this great opportunity. Let’s make the next great leap forward – together.

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On head and heart

This is a controversial topic, one that may flutter a few feathers, and one that most of my counterparts north of the border will say I have no right to weigh in on. But when has that ever stopped me? Exactly.

Just to be clear, this is not a political post. I have never been politically active and am not about to start blogging politics now. But I have always posted about the things that are bothering me at any given time, I’ve always found writing cathartic, and that hasn’t changed. Besides which, we’ve been over the facts and figures in exhausting detail. The numbers, statistics, and question of currency are of little weight to those voting with heart over head – yes voters will vote yes whether the numbers add up or no.

So, later this month Scotland decides. And we England-dwelling folk have heard surprisingly little about it! I mean, the last month we’ve seen a little more coverage, but before that, we were forced to follow the topic via on demand and the occasional late night/early morning First Minister’s Question Time on BBC Parliament.

You’ll notice that I refer to myself as “England-dwelling”, not English. That’s because I am British. I am English and Scottish and Irish. I have an extensive extended family in Scotland. So does my husband. I even lived in Stirling for a while. It was terrifying – from the day not long after I arrived when a rather scary-looking salon owner told me that I was by far the best candidate for her Saturday tea-girl job, but her customers wouldn’t want an English girl making their tea, to the afternoon when a local teen asked me the time, clocked my English accent and chased me home with a gang of schoolmates, pelting me with stones, (mostly) empty coke bottles, and anything else to hand. I quickly learned not to speak in certain public places, and got myself a weekend job in a far friendlier Edinburgh. Most people can’t get away with refusing someone a job based on their nationality, but it happened to me three times in Scotland, all told. I suppose on that evidence, I should be accustomed to being treated as the unwelcome relative by the North.

I have had an enormously emotive reaction to the entire campaign, and it was only this weekend, whilst examining my own heart, that I realised why. I feel rejected by Scotland. I feel abandoned by my own history. I feel personally victimised because my ancestors dared to interbreed. Or move for work. Or both. When I see anti-English and anti-British sentiment on the television, on the internet, on facebook it doesn’t annoy me. It doesn’t anger me or rile me. It hurts me. My eyes sting with tears. My chest aches. It is a racist attack aimed what, at the English but not at me? Rubbish. If it’s aimed at the English and you consider me English – no matter what I consider myself – it is directed at me. And that stings far more than those stones or bottles of coke in Stirling ever could.

But what makes someone Scottish? This is where I really struggle. Is it just being born in Scotland? Because if this is the case, many of those voting are, in fact, English. Is it having Scottish ancestry? In that case where’s my vote? Is it genetic – red hair, fair skin, perhaps? Well, not really, as these were common traits in Saxons, like myself.  Blue eyes, cleft chins and a Viking jaw? Not really native, those marauding Vikings (Dapper and our sons). Perhaps you need the sharp features and dark hair of the Picts? Now watered down enough to be too easily mistaken for the dark-haired Normans and Irish, I’m afraid.

Of course, arguably the Scottish ARE Irish, and Irish are Scottish…  or at the very least, they’re all Gaelic. As are many of the northern French, as it turns out. (Not the Normans though, who were apparently… Vikings! On a linguistic side note, I’m no longer surprised by how much Gaelic survives in Modern French in grammatical structure – at first it astonished me!)

On which topic, Dapper speaks Gaelic. On Skye he ordered food and drink in Gaelic, and conversed with the locals. We go to Scottish Country Dancing with the local Scottish community every week, and whilst almost every last one was born in Scotland, only a handful can chat along with him – all Island born. Are the Islands Scottish? Shetland is certainly something of a grey area – until the 15th century it belonged to Norway and the Danes.

What about surnames. Can your name make you Scottish? My husband changed his name before we met, replacing the anglicised version of his grandfather’s generation with its rarer and much more traditional predecessor. Its exact meaning is difficult to pin down, just as the meaning of “Skye” could be Norse or Gaelic in origin, but roughly translates as “man of mists”, “cloud walker” or, most likely, “Man of Skye”.  His largely Viking genetics support a link between his surname and the Norse settlers on Skye at least. On his Grandmother’s side, the surname Spires turns out to be a Midlands derivation of Spiers, a Borders surname rooted in Spers, first recorded at the assizes at Scone during the 13th century reign of Alexander II of Scotland. The Borders folk were neither Scottish nor English, or more accurately, both – depending on which side was coming for tea! Famously, Border Reivers would wear a flag pinned to their lapel, English on one side, Scottish on the other, and simply turn it depending on which side approached. Many lords and ladies would deliberately divide their loyalties in order that one should always be in favour. My father’s ancestors are Northumbrian, and no doubt also considered themselves as “Borders Folk” above all.   

The most compelling argument for independence seems to have been for a break away from the monstrous Westminster.  I’m afraid that this is not a Scottish sentiment. We ALL hate Westminster. Everyone north of the Watford Gap feels maligned by London. How often is money lifted from central and northern budgets to supplement transport improvements in London? Too, often to count. This is an issue regularly raised by local MPs, and London’s eventual response (after years of complaint) is to introduce high speed rail links to help more folk to work in… LONDON. Trust me when I say that we all detest Westminster with equal measure. Scotland does NOT have the monopoly on this matter!   

My gut feeling now is that it doesn’t much matter to us, south of the border, whether Scotland votes for or against independence. The anti-English feeling is such that we, as a family, have little chance of fulfilling our life-long ambition of moving into the North. I’m already receiving alarming stories from friends and family north of the border about verbal and physical abuse aimed against them in the street, not to mention problems in business dealings. If things were bad for me in Stirling over 10 years ago, they are multiplied tenfold now. I cannot see us feeling safe bringing our sons into their ancestral homeland in the near future, independent or no.

If Scotland votes yes, so be it. I’m sure they’ll do just fine. I suspect a lot of Scots are expecting the inevitable financial difficulties associated with independence, but willing to last them out in order to give future generations their own chance at “freedom”. But let’s not forget who we are together. We have been united far too long for a line drawn in the sand to separate us. Ancestrally we are one. Let us not let the whims of politics sour the many great friendships and family bonds that have flowered amidst the rubble and ruins of an earlier troubled history. Strip the thorns from the roses and the spines from the thistles, and two hardy but beautiful flowers remain.

My post-baby body truths:a glass half-full post

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Everyone’s experience of pregnancy is different. I am convinced that there are no universal truths when it comes to how a woman feels during, or after, pregnancy. Sure, many of us undergo the same symptoms on a similar journey, but the way that these affect our self-esteem can vary enormously. My experience can only be described as freeing.

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As soon as I fell pregnant I felt my body was doing something it was designed for. That’s not to say that I had an easy time of it – in fact, I actively disliked being pregnant – as I’m sure regular readers recall – and I haven’t forgotten that. But I was comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I felt, for the first time ever, that my body was an acceptable shape – it’s ok for a woman to be fat if she’s pregnant. Which is frankly a horrible thing to say and a damning indictment of our society’s views on beauty. Nothing new there, then!

Post-birth, many of the niggles of pregnancy fell away quite literally overnight. I could sleep on my back without losing my breath, I could actually take a deep breath and fill my lungs, and I no longer suffered horrendous acid reflux the moment I was horizontal. But I was surprised by my body shape, the fact that my tummy stayed inflated and pregnant-looking until… well, even this week! I still have a vivid purple-red scar from the c-section, and some spectacular new stretch marks below the belly button (which in my case, and much to my disappointment, never popped out – I’m still an innie!). And the rest of my body, which I felt hadn’t really ballooned whilst pregnant, looks much heavier than it used to. Almost as if my pregnancy belly fat redistributed itself once it no longer had two little babies to cushion.

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Of course, much of this can be attributed to my ridiculous diet in the final weeks before birth. I was given steroid injections to boost the boys’ growth, and told to eat 4000 calories a day to help them fatten up. 4000 calories a day is actually a trickier number to reach than you might think, when you’re also trying to provide nutritional food to your unborn charges, and feeling somewhat nauseated to boot!

And now, well, my personal experience is that breastfeeding leaves me ravenous! Every time the boys finish a feed I’m left feeling physically weak and starving, not to mention desperately dehydrated. I’m getting through gallons of water and buckets of squash, as well as milkshakes, smoothies and yoghurts enough to feed a small army… so it’s really unsurprising that my body is holding onto those extra pounds just now. But it is difficult enough for the body to produce enough milk to feed two, and I know that the more I eat, the fuller and heavier my breasts feel – reason enough for me.

As for my wardrobe… well, it’s limited to say the least. I’m not yet slim enough to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, most of which emphasised my relatively slim waist – no longer in evidence! And the near-constant breast-feeding means anything I do wear must have easy access. Not even specialist nursing tops always offer discrete access to both breasts at once – in fact I have had to accept that feeding the boys in public is not going to be an option, unless I feed them one at a time rather than simultaneously. For the most part I’m living in beach tops and dresses with either buttons or elasticated smocking, that I can just pull down when the boys start rooting. I bought two such beach tops to wear over leggings and under cardigans (see last Friday’s post): at £6 each from Matalan, they were hardly going to break the bank, but are somewhat more respectable than my nighty when people come to visit!

And yet, despite all that I have said here, I remain more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been before. I no longer worry about being seen in public with my hair scraped back and no make-up. I am oblivious to my tummy when out with the boys, far more concerned with their outfit choices – are they warm enough? Or too hot? Is their head covered? Is the sun in their eyes…?

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I’m also excited about the prospect that my pre-pregnancy figure might never return. It seems to me that I find myself in something of a win-win situation. If I get my figure back, I will fit into the wardrobe I have spent 15 years cultivating and frankly love to wear. But if not, well, I get to start over, to discover what shapes and styles suit my new body, to shop for a whole new look. I might finally be able to wear some of the looks I used to covet, but found myself unable to pull off! I might still be able to wear my old clothes, but with a new emphasis, perhaps away from the waist and on the bust, for example. The possibilities are endless!

Which really sums up how things feel for me at present – ripe with opportunity. I have no idea how the next few months, years, decades might pan out. But having the boys has turned my life upside down and inside out. These last 3 months have been difficult and painful and challenging, and wonderful and exciting and awesome. In my wardrobe, as in my life, I can’t wait to see what the future will bring!

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Tunic: Joe Browns; vest: Primark; blue cardi: New Look; red cardi: South @ Very (Clearance via ebay); leggings: Matalan; wellies: Wilkinsons

New beginnings

I’m not going to lie, I had a fantastic day today. I got up with Dapper and made his sandwiches while he got ready for work. I waved him off at quarter to eight and switched on my laptop. I put a load of washing in whilst the laptop got itself going, then worked til noon, hung out the washing and grabbed a bowl of leftover pasta before setting back to work for the afternoon, with a pot of tea at my elbow. I worked until Dapper came home, then turned off my laptop and made another pot of tea. And all the while I wanted to pinch myself, asking, is this really my life now? Do I really live here? Can I really work from home?

I’m not saying it’s all amazing. I’m sure I’ll begin to feel the isolation kick in as the days get shorter and darker. No doubt there will be days when I get frustrated at the fact that any technical issues have to be fixed either by myself or by telephone, and not left in the hands of a helpful IT type while I make my colleagues a round of tea. And, of course, I have the joy of facing every home-worker’s nemesis, the cold factor – I am under no illusions that my blanket won’t prove its worth this winter!

Home-working will also mean some changes to the blog. There will still be outfit shots, but I can’t promise nearly as many. I imagine there will be days of the week when I want to dress up, and of course there will still be Wednesdays in the office, but the outfit shots may prove a little more sporadic. Once we’re fully settled, you can expect plenty more historical hotspot weekend trips, and I can promise plenty of food-related blogging as I fulfill two of my aims for this winter: to finally put the slow cooker to good use and to work my way through all the recipes in the amazing recipe book my friends had printed for my 30th birthday. And, naturally, the wishlist shopping and crafting posts will continue unabated, possibly with even more gusto as I am left more time to browse the web and to craft!

I do hope these minor changes won’t deter too many of you from stopping by. I do appreciate every one of my lovely readers, and will try to keep changes to a minimum… But I simply can’t imagine today’s delightful outfit comprising jeggings, an oversized cable-knit sweater-dress and hiking socks to be of interest to any of you!

Farewell Hitchman Court

The next time I write for you I will be a fully-fledged resident of Dapper’s wee hoose. I’m so excited at the prospect of this, it’s verging on the silly side…

There are a few things I’ll miss about living alone, all of which will no doubt be replaced by far superior alternatives… Watching the crap TV I pretend not to watch – guilty pleasures such as Waterloo Road and Don’t Tell the Bride, for example – will no doubt be replaced with the joy that is watching TV with another person. The days of shouting at the telly (or talking to myself…) are over! Also, tucking a couple of hot water bottles into the bed before curling up in there myself, with a book and a mug of milky drink may well be a treat I can carry over, but there is something extra-luxurious about enjoying the whole double bed to oneself – even if one does have a tendency to only sleep on one side of it… Despite this, the luxury simply can’t outweigh the winter warmth of cuddling up to another person, putting your cold feet on their ankles, stealing their body heat for your own!

I won’t miss the commute, but I will miss the Spring and Autumn sunrises over the Warwickshire and Oxfordshire countryside. There’s something about the big skies of the motorway that simply can’t be matched from a bungalow window… Unless perhaps by the prospect of an extra two hours in bed…

I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to live alone. It taught me a great deal about myself, and gave me the chance to rebel against my own character and discover who I had become at a difficult time and with minimum impact on anyone else. It also made me braver, taught me to be happy in my own company and confident in my own abilities. I know now what I can accomplish for myself and where I need to ask for help. I know the extent of my own capabilities.

These past three years have passed in a flash, but even I can see how far I have come!

All change…

I wrote not long ago about potential life changes and the disruption they were causing to my sleep. Following a prolongued procedure at work (oh, the joys of red tape!) I can finally disclose that things have been resolved with the best possible outcome, one which will no doubt ensure an excellent, deep night’s slumber tonight!

Moving in with Dapper means moving even further from work than I am already. I was dreading the longer commute, particularly as we head into the winter months, and with my workload and health being as they have of late. I had spoken to my line manager in August about the possibility of working from home more frequently, but held little hope for this option.

I had looked at other jobs, but was feeling somewhat unenthused at the prospect. Largely because I actually really enjoy what I do. I have lately fallen in step with the company in a most satisfying way, feeling the projects and strategies I began to work on 20 months ago finally falling into place. And I like working for Macmillan. I’m proud to work for them!

From November I’ll be living in Dapper’s wee hoose, and working from home a little more frequently. In fact, I’ll be working from home a rather wonderful four days each week! Can you imagine the difference that this will make to my energy levels, to my health, and to my work-life balance? I feel I have been running at half-speed, letting important elements of my life slip, for pushing two years now – I will finally have the time, energy, and well-being to pick things up again! And do an even better job of doing my job too!

It was touch and go for a while there, as I was trying to find the courage to take the long-tempting, enormous leap of faith into freelance, which I thought to be my only option if I wished to continue doing the job I enjoy so much. But somehow, things have come right.

It has been a long time coming, but this truly has felt like a year of things falling into place for me. Here’s to a happier, healthier future! 🙂

What a difference a change makes…

I’m on fire this week. I have been run off my feet, work wise, and started the week slightly panicked as to how I would get it all done… but as per usual when I have unreasonable deadlines to meet, my internal overdrive has kicked in, and allowed me not only to meet deadlines, but to improve upon them. My workload has been such that I have been able to spot flaws in our existing processes and write whole new ones, setting up systems complete with new brief forms and procedure documents. Because, y’know, there’s nothing like making more work for yourself when you’re already drowning in content procurement…

There have been moments towards the end of the day, when I have lost my momentum a little – yesterday, for example, I reached that point of saturation whereby the sheer volume of thoughts was such that I’d think of something that needed doing, reach for a pen to make a note, and realise the thought had gone again before pen could touch paper. It’s the opposite of the exhaustion I have grown so used to experiencing, with drooping eyes and a nodding head refusing to co-operate during office hours. This is tiredness born of mental activity, not of lack of sleep, which is far more rewarding.

That 30 minutes extra in bed each morning – two glorious hours over the course of my four-day-early-start week – has made the most enormous change to my wellbeing. This week I am able to stop for a few moments without feeling my body trying to shut down. My eyes are no longer waiting for any opportunity to close, and my brain is no longer constantly nagging me to give it a break. Which sounds like a ridiculous improvement for so little investment, but goes to show just how much we need sleep. Our batteries need to recharge, no matter how strongly we feel we can push them that little bit further. Like a mobile phone – you can only turn it off and on again so many times before the last of the juice has dried up!

Above all, I feel awake. Things are clearer, brighter, than they’ve been in a long while. The last time I felt this way was following my holiday at Easter: a 10 day break that affected just over a week’s respite before the exhaustion took hold once again. That so little a change can prove so effective demonstrates just how far I have been failing to meet my body’s needs. This, in combination with exciting and conclusive conversations held over the weekend, has given me a long-overdue kick to get my life back into gear. And that kick has finally coincided with events that enable me to really let fly!