Thursday, 12 October 2017

Pointless busyness

It has been a week since I've written a post.

The house has no fresh food in it, and very little left in the freezer.

The gardening jobs are still lurking on a list.

The sheets on the beds need changing.

The carpet needs a serious vacuum clean.

Best friend's birthday present is still not wrapped, though her birthday was yesterday*

What on earth have I been doing?

Have I been bringing work home with me? I have not.

Have I been ill? I have not.

Have I been relaxing and reading my book? I have not.

I have been making a cuddly giant squid. A giant, cuddly, giant squid. With LittleBear. It has been an adventure.

LittleBear decided he would really like to have a go at making a cuddly giant squid, and, being the soft touch that I am, I agreed. We found a pattern on the internet; we choose fabric**; we modified the pattern because the arms and tentacles were not long enough; we drew the new pattern on huge rolls of paper; LittleBear cut out the pattern pieces; I cut out the fabric; together we sewed the pieces - LittleBear on the pedal of the sewing machine and me feeding the fabric through. If any of you have ever sewed with two slightly dissimilar fabrics, one of which is stretchier than the other, you will know how slowly and steadily you need to take the process. Try imagining doing this, when you have no control of the speed whatsoever. I am probably more proud of myself for remaining calm and even tempered in this endeavour than I am of constructing a cuddly squid at all.

We stuffed the squid, we made eyes for the squid, we attached the eyes. It has literally taken over all my waking hours at home for the past week. I was sewing eyes on with LittleBear between breakfast and school this morning.

The mantle and fins are cut out and ready to go

Eight arms, two tentacles, insides and outsides

Mantle with stuffed fins. All sewing and stuffing by LittleBear

A heap of unstuffed arms, three by LittleBear, five by me

Once the squid arms and tentacles were stuffed came the extremely painful, fiddly, time-consuming and vexing process of joining the appendages to each other, and to the head.*** It required more than thirty pins just to hold it together. Needless to say, I saved this bit for after LittleBear had gone to bed.

Trying to assemble squid appendages

But then, the end was in sight. With only another 750g of stuffing, we had a fabulously absurd squid. My fingertips are lacerated, I have bled from under the nails of multiple fingers, my back is still recovering from hunching over a seemingly endless supply of arms and tentacles. But how can I be anything but delighted when the end result is this?

It really is a giant squid

Squidy likes watching Numberblocks too

Squidy isn't afraid of anything and will chase all the worries away

* I only feel a little bit bad about not having wrapped Piglet's present, as I'm not seeing her till Saturday, so I feel I can get away with it.

** I am going to offer a heartfelt, and unsponsored, recommendation to use the website Plush Addict, who not only sell awesome cuddly toy fabric, but will also colour-match the thread for you, rather than making you rely on the colours shown on screen.

*** For those not familiar with squid anatomy, here's a handy diagram, with thanks to a blog by the Burlington Science Centre. We have not constructed either a siphon or a beak.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Effortless elegance

Those of you who are as old and haggard mature and experienced as I am, may remember a couple of chocolate adverts from our youths. Firstly there was Galaxy chocolate, with sultry women draping themselves around with silk and chocolate. Then there was Flake, "only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate", again involving naked women eating chocolate, generally in the bath. Sometimes there was a telephone. And a lizard. It's all a bit hazy now. Suffice to say, the message was that chocolate was sexy and involved gorgeous and come-hither-ish women.

And now there exists such a thing as a Galaxy Flake (more-or-less, trade names notwithstanding). And, having had a rather rubbish day, that involved, among other things
  • being told (by two members of the board of directors no less) that I needed to do someone else's job as well as my own, because he was, to use their words, shit at it.
  • getting home and finding that one of my radiators was widdling water into a tupperware box, handily placed there by the cleaner, who had presumably caused the widdling by smacking into the radiator with over-enthusiastic hoovering*.
  • having a small boy who, once again, "couldn't" get to sleep because he didn't have anything to think about, and even the lure of the new sticker reward chart failed to prevent whimpering and demands for parental attention.
I decided I deserved some chocolate. And having one of these Galaxy not-a-flake-but-similar bars about the house, I decided that was what I'd have. And I proceeded to drop flakes of chocolate down my own cleavage, where it proceeded to melt, covering the inside of my t-shirt and undergarments in melted chocolate splodges. They never showed that in the adverts did they? Though that might explain why the Flake-lady was eating chocolate in the bath...

* Fortunately I have an awesome plumber, who I phoned, and who turned up, fixed the leak and left, without charging me, within twenty minutes. This is the kind of blessing in my life that I should focus on from time to time.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Time to get the CBT books out again

Back in the mists of time, as I slowly medicated my way out of Post Natal Depression, I continued to weep on my GP's shoulder from time to time, and she continued to be sympathetic and understanding. Until she moved to another part of the country. I don't think it was anything to do with me. But, one of the things she did do was refer me onto a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

And along I went, feeling something of a fraud, because I was better by then. I was cured! I was normal! And then we started talking, and all my twisted ways of seeing myself, and seeing the world, came pouring out, incoherent and punctuated by tears. And I realised that though I was functional, and capable, and more-or-less getting on with life, I was not quite as healthy or stable as I could be. And over the weeks, we gradually unpicked some of my unhelpful and unhealthy thought processes. We gave name to them, shone the bright lights of understanding upon them, found detours around them, found new thoughts, new patterns and new habits.

And it's kind of worked. I'm mostly in a better mental state than I used to be. Mostly. Avid readers here will have noticed I have an entire category of labelling for my posts of "anxiety". I'm a work in progress. I like to tell myself we all are, it's just some people haven't realised there's no such thing as finished.

And this past week has been particularly challenging for maintaining my equilibrium. It started last weekend, with a tediously long drive in the rain and the dark and across rural Lincolnshire to avoid a closed motorway. It was nobody's fault that we had such a long drive, but it sowed the seeds of exhaustion in me, and possibly in the small boy who'd been tucked into "bed" in his car seat and was sleeping all the way.

And then we had a family evening out with the Bear Family in The North, taking LittleBear out for his first properly late evening meal. He managed surprisingly well for a small boy who is not accustomed to being out late, or to having much variation to his routine, but didn't stumble into bed until close to 10pm. And he was both amazed and horrified by the time. Perhaps that should have been a warning to me?

And then the normal week rolled round again, and I wrestled with Broken Things, and Idiot Customers, and Minion Who Lacks Gumption, and Bureaucracy From Hell. And I didn't go to bed early enough. Not once.

And three times in the last week, LittleBear has failed to get to sleep in what he considers an acceptable length of time. And he has started to become fixated on not falling asleep. He is getting worried and anxious and panic-stricken about being awake. He's not afraid of the dark. He's not scared, or lonely, or (as far as we can tell) in any other kind of discomfort or distress. But he is so worried about the idea of being awake late, that he's lying awake worrying about it. Last night only required two extra visits upstairs, and he was "only" awake until about 9pm. Which was an improvement on Thursday, when he sobbed hysterically for twenty minutes, and required some serious levels of parental intervention, cuddling and calming before sleep came.

And how have I handled this? Have I been calm and relaxed about it? Have I assumed that it's just a phase and that it will pass? Have I been appropriately soothing and yet cheerful with my son about the fact that it's really not a problem? What do you think?

The good news is that, thanks to my CBT, I can label the way I'm feeling as catastrophising. And I can know that it's an unhealthy and unproductive way to think. Go me!

Unfortunately, this hasn't entirely stopped me from my utter conviction that I will never be able to go out in the evening ever again. Or that LittleBear will never return to going to bed and us not hearing a peep out of him until morning. It hasn't stopped me from berating myself for not having a babysitter more often, while I had the chance, while LittleBear was good at going to bed. In my mind, this is the end of everything. The end of relaxing evenings. The end of having a well-rested child. The end of any hope BigBear and I had of going anywhere together. Which we didn't do anyway, and now I wish we had, because we'll never... (you get the idea).

But at least I know this isn't a sensible way to think. That's a start.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Omertà of Motherhood

There is a strange thing that happens with Motherhood. It may happen with Fatherhood too, but I don't have any direct experience of that.

This thing that happens is a strange pledge of silence that mothers appear to take. It's one of those pledges that nobody has told me about, or perhaps I fell asleep during that section of the ante-natal classes. The odd thing is, the pledge of silence is broken by other mothers occasionally, but only if you break it first. Like members of a secret society who must exchange obscure pass-codes to identify themselves, mothers will speak of Secret Things only if you know the Magic Words to say first.

But what are these Secret Things? And what are the Magic Words? And, more importantly, am I safe revealing these Secret Things and Magic Words to the uninitiated? It's a risk I'm willing to take...

The Secret Things are in fact anything bad whatsoever about motherhood. Not the casual stuff that there are amusing memes about on Facebook, like finding it vexing that your children won't put their shoes on. But the serious downsides. The moments where you really hate it and wonder if becoming a mother was genuinely one of your worst life decisions, but you daren't say so out loud, because it's not The Done Thing to admit that you fear you're genuinely shit at mothering. And the Magic Words? Admitting to the Secret Things. Admitting your weaknesses, and your fears, and the bad moments, and the negativity. And the moment you do so, someone will sidle up to you and say "me too" and you'll suddenly discover that you're not alone, and that other people are stuggling too, but nobody is daring to be the first person to say so.

It's a Catch-22. Nobody will speak of the Secret Things, unless someone else speaks of the Secret Things. 

It starts early on. Even when you're pregnant, you are told about birth, and you make plans, and you do know the technicalities of what might go wrong, or what interventions might be required. But it's only after you've come home with your baby, only after you've discovered what "slight tearing" actually feels like that you have honest conversations about birth trauma*. Up until then, you occasionally hear muttered phrases like, "she had a rough time" or, "it didn't quite go to plan, but mother and baby are fine now".

Then there's breastfeeding, the nirvana of perfect motherhood, the blissful bonding, the ideal start for a baby, etc etc. Except for me. And all the other people. It was excruciatingly painful until LittleBear had his tongue tie snipped (at ten weeks old), and then merely uncomfortable after that. But outside a close circle of friends, breastfeeding was either something you were doing or something you weren't. It was never discussed as painful, or messy or miserable. I hated it. I hated admitting that I hated it. I hated being "bad" at it.

There have been few moments in motherhood worse than hating breastfeeding. It was like an admission of being fundamentally, intrinsically wrong at mothering. And yet it didn't seem to be something I was allowed to say. Until I did, and I found I wasn't alone.

Then there's early motherhood. Everyone owns up to the sleep-deprivation, to the bewilderment, to the uncertainty about whether they're doing it right. But nobody spoke up and said, "I hate this. I want my life back. I'm terrified that this is the worst decision I've ever made. This is not a source of constant joy and wonder, this is a hellish delirium of monotony and fear". But then I did, and I found that while some people looked at me in confusion, and stepped away from the crazy lady, as they continued to bond with, and adore, their newborn baby, others fell on me, weeping with relief and said, "me too. Thank you for saying what I was thinking."

And so it goes on.

Over and over again I've found myself seeming to be alone in my fears and doubts. And then I've taken the plunge and spoken up, only to find other people breathing a deep sigh and saying, "me too".

I found it when LittleBear wouldn't eat "normal" food, and I found there was no such thing as "normal". I found there were children who wouldn't touch fruit, or would only eat brown food, or all manner of inconvenient and trying variations on strange eating habits. But it was only ever the mothers whose little darlings ate sushi who were publicly commenting on the fact. The negative feelings, the sense of guilt, the rage felt about the child who wouldn't eat perfectly innocuous food were all dark, guilty secrets that couldn't be spoken out loud.

I found it when I hated myself for sending my LittleBear to nursery, thinking I was failing him in some way, dreading the damage I was potentially doing by not being with him every moment of every day. And then I discovered that other people also looked forward to time at work as a small window of sanity in their lives, but that they also tortured themselves with guilt - not just the guilt at leaving their baby with other people, but guilt at feeling relieved to do so. And again, it was only ever the mothers whose children skipped into nursery with a beaming smile who made mention of their experiences of early years care.

And now, I'm finding it all over again. I was chatting to some other mothers outside school last week, with each of us exchanging the odd rueful shrug about the challenges of bath-time or tooth-brushing. I'd had a particularly trying day the previous day, with LittleBear having his daily tantrum about the iniquitous behaviour of his parents in wanting him to be clean and tucked up in bed. And I noticed a certain harried look about a fellow mother, so I bit the bullet...

... "LittleBear nearly pushed me over the edge yesterday," I admitted. "I ended up almost threatening to hit him. I got as far as, 'if you don't sit up and stop screaming and crying, I...' before backing away. I was absolutely livid. But in the end I just said, 'I won't read you a bedtime story' instead of threatening physical violence. And then I went and shut myself in the bathroom and ran the bath. It was better to leave him sobbing on the floor than to risk saying something I'd really regret."

And so the floodgates opened, as my fellow mothers began to unburden themselves about their own frustrations with recalcitrant small boys. Their own battles to rein in their temper. Their own techniques of simply walking away instead of allowing their anger to win. Their desperation in not knowing what to do. Their sense of being bad mothers.

At the start of the conversation, I could have nodded and laughed and recounted an amusing anecdote about LittleBear. But I didn't. I took a risk and admitted something I wasn't proud of. I hate myself for allowing my anger to overtake me to the extent I nearly threatened to hurt my precious son. I didn't threaten and I wouldn't ever hurt him, but even coming close to letting the words pass my lips shook me. But by admitting the darkness in my heart, not only did I discover I wasn't alone, but I allowed a friend to discover that she wasn't alone.

But because of the Omertà of Motherhood, so much of the darkness remains locked in our hearts, hidden from the world for fear it will be condemned. We wall away inside ourselves all the thoughts and actions that make us feel like bad mothers, and they stay there, festering, persuading us that we are bad mothers, when sometimes all it would take is knowing that we are not alone, that we are not unique, and broken, and wrong, to convince us that we are simply mothers. Not bad mothers. Just mothers. Mothers who are doing their best.

Please, break the omertà, be a pentita. Allow the darkness out, shatter the illusions of calm and perfection that depict a "good" mother, let your friends know that everything is not easy, and wonderful, and lovely. Admit that you struggle, and some days you fail, but you pick yourself up and you keep loving your children, and you keep doing your best even though sometimes it's not as good as you want it to be.

And if, by any chance, you never lose your temper; you never say things you regret; you never wish your children would just shut up and go away for a while; you never feel like a failure ... feel free to maintain your own omertà.

* This is one of the few codes of secrecy I understand. Nobody wants to be the one to terrify a new mother-to-be with worst case scenarios.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A case of mistaken identity

Towards the tail end of the 19th century, there lived two men. They shared the same forename and surname, and were approximately the same age as each other. That is where the similarities end.

One of these men was a poet, and went on to be relatively famous, writing one of the better-known poems of the First World War. The other was a rather obscure chemist who both wrote and translated a variety of chemistry text books.

The first of these men is of only passing interest to me, the second is my great-grandfather.

I have been, over the years, gradually tracking down and acquiring copies of the various books my great-grandfather wrote or translated, and the internet has been invaluable in allowing me to search for copies, contact libraries and find titles.

But... there's a problem with the internet. And it's a problem that many of you will already be very aware of. It can't be trusted. Obviously, we all know that some sources of information on the internet are more trustworthy than others, and we all make judgements all the time about how much a given site should be believed. Generally speaking, the more exclamation marks used, the less reliable the information. This hasn't been much of a problem in my research so far, as obscure 19th century chemists rarely rate a mention on BuzzFeed or Breitbart.

The problem now is that I have encountered several major, reputable, decent, academic institutions and library catalogues who have merged the poet and chemist who share a name into one person, and my great-grandfather's work is being attributed to one of the War Poets. This isn't exactly a problem of earth-shattering proportions, but it is something that I feel I should attempt to correct. Because once incorrect information is "out there", it tends to propagate, and the more places it reaches into, the harder it is to eliminate. And one day, earnest biographers and students will be marvelling over the polymath poet who found time to translate German text books on chemistry, completely unaware that there was another man of the same name being gently forgotten by history.

I did manage, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to convince Wikipedia to accept my assertion that the famous poet was not also an obscure chemist. But that's because, for all its faults, Wikipedia is intended to be modified and corrected by normal humans being in possession of new information. I'm not sure how confident I feel about convincing collaborative, international, library catalogues or university archivists that they're wrong...

But, like a dog with a bone, if someone on the internet is wrong, I find it hard to let it lie. So, with a certain amount of trepidation, I shall set forth upon my quest to separate these two identities for future historians. I may be some time.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Offering a bit of balance

Sometimes I think BigBear might get what seem like poor ratings on this blog. He rarely features as much more than a bit-part player, frequently seems absent from my adventures, or perhaps may cause readers to think, "but if PhysicsBear is so stressed and unhappy, what's BigBear doing about it?"

And the truth is, BigBear is always here, always supporting, and always looking-after, but because he's a private person, and because it's not up to me to wash his dirty laundry in public, anything that strays into territory that might seem to be his private world is off-limits when I'm writing. Which means, though you may think I bare my whole soul here, there are often things I don't write about. And BigBear becomes a cipher.

So today I am, briefly, going to redress the balance and let you know that BigBear is lovely.

Last night, I stayed up too late making a cake. Part of the "too-lateness" of this cake arose from my own decision not to use the beaters until after I thought LittleBear would be asleep (his bedroom is directly above the kitchen). So I didn't start mixing the cake until 8:30. And it was a large cake, containing 7 eggs, and the recipe suggested cooking it at 140C, so it took a very, very, very long time to bake. And I felt as though Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry were hovering behind me, judging the lightness of my crumb or the sogginess of my bottom. When I first stuck a skewer in it, it was still essentially liquid in the middle, which ratcheted up my stress-levels somewhat. Gin was the only answer. For me, not the cake.

I bet you're wondering where BigBear fits in aren't you? He was watching football on television at the time, if you must know. His role in this story comes later.

As I've already mentioned, I'm suffering from an inability to drink alcohol at the moment, and even as I drank my G&T I feared that it was a Bad Idea. And I was right, because when my LittleBear came and jumped on my headache in the morning, I wanted the world to stop spinning so I could get off. Instead, this is what happened...

We had a lovely snuggly, family cuddle for a few minutes, and then BigBear and LittleBear got up and went downstairs. I had two paracetamol and a bottle of water and went back to sleep. I woke up at half-past eleven and went for a shower, and when I came out, there was a freshly brewed cup of coffee on my bedside table. I didn't get downstairs until nearly midday. I have a five year-old child and I stayed in bed until lunchtime, and BigBear has not once begrudged me that time, or teased me about having a gin-related headache, or asked for any special recognition or reward.

Because BigBear is lovely, no matter how infrequently I mention him here.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Acute vexation

Today has been One Of Those Days at work. In fact, this week is shaping up to be One Of Those Weeks.

I have been contacted again by Mr Turnip and the Purchasing Department. While this should be the name of a slightly twee indie rock band, sadly it's actually the stuff of nightmares. Literally. I had nightmares about it last night.

It's nearly a year since Mr Turnip insist that I bend to his will and I refused. And it turns out, rather as I expected, there is no-one else in the world who can or will build a bespoke scientific instrument to his specifications, so a year later and his Purchasing Department have put the instrument out to tender. Again.

So, here we go again....

Except, since we last put a bid in, the delightful bureaucrats at the other end have "improved" the tendering system, and we no longer have to submit paper copies, in triplicate, in sealed, colour-coded envelopes, with every page signed, counter-signed and stamped. Now, they have an e-Tender website. Imagine, if you can, the kind of website that will be designed by people who like having paper copies in triplicate, in sealed, colour-coded envelopes, with every page signed, counter-signed and stamped. Now stop imagining that, if you can, because it will only give you a headache.

For reasons that are too vexatious, and might lead to me committing a sackable offence if I were attempt to give voice to them, I am attempting to submit this bid. But I'm very busy - attempting to get 4 instruments tested, 2 instruments built and another one designed. All by last January. So, I asked Minion Who Lacks Gumption to explore the website, read the documentation, find the bid details and instructions and report back to me on what I need to do. I asked him to do this 10 days ago and have seen him studying the website most days when I've walked past his desk. Foolishly I thought that this meant he would have made sterling progress. Such naivete.

Yesterday, I sat down with him to enquire whether he had worked out what the tendering process actually is.

PhysicsBear: what do I have to do?

Minion Who Lacks Gumtion: Ummm

PB: Do I upload a pdf? Or do I have to copy and paste into a web form?

MWLG: Ummm. 

PB: ?

MWLG: I think you type things in. There's a spreadsheet.

PB: Really? It's just that last time we had nine pages of descriptions and photographs and diagrams, so it's hard to see how I can type that in.

MWLG: It said something about blue ink.

PB: How do I use blue ink on a website?

MWLG: I don't know.

PB: So?

MWLG: There's a briefcase.

PB: What's that?

MWLG: Ummm.

PB: Yes?

MWLG: I think you put things there?

PB: How?

MWLG: I don't know. Whenever I try and look I get an error message.

PB: What message?

MWLG: Ummm.

PB: Can you show me?

MWLG: Ummm.

After a bit more poking and prodding we sit and look at the website together. And, lo and behold, there is indeed an error message. MWLG has registered the company on the website, but the registration is incomplete, and without completing the registration, access to the bidding section is restricted. The website clearly states, in big, red letters, "You do not have a Digital Certificate. Please obtain a Digital Certificate before attempting to continue."

PB: What's the Digital Certificate?

MWLG: Ummm

PB: Well, there's a menu called "Digital Certificate" at the top there. We should look at that.

And yea, verily, there were documents entitled "Important Points for applying" and "Application Procedure" and even an actual application form. At this point, somewhat exasperated, I retreated to my own desk to read what were obviously quite important pieces of information that MWLG had failed to find, or read, or tell me about. And it was in the following twenty minutes that everything unravelled before my eyes.

I learnt a new word. It wasn't a swear word, though I may use it as such. Though perhaps it's too pretty for that. It is "apostille". Try it, it's rather nice: apostille, apostille, apostille. My lawyer friends may be nodding ruefully at this point. Those of you who don't know the meaning of "apostille" - I envy you. I wish I too was still in a state of blissful ignorance. I wish I too did not know anything about the Hague Convention. I wish I could just footle around with my protons and electrons and not have to fall into the chasm of bureaucracy that has opened beneath my feet.

Let me explain. I'll try to be brief.

To apostille a document is to certify that it is legal under the Hague Convention. Which sounds quite benign.

The requirements in this case are that I take a signed passport photograph, my passport, the company seal, a legal document demonstrating I am authorised to act on behalf of the company, the company's certificate of incorporation, the articles and memorandum of association, the first and second pages of a company bank statement, the last audit report, and the last annual financial return to a Public Notary. The Public Notary duly notarizes copies of these documents as being true and valid etc etc. Then I have to send these notarized documents to the Legalisation Office of the UK Government to be apostilled. Which appears to mean that they are notarized to prove that the government agrees that the notary who did the original notarizing is indeed authorized to notarize. With me so far?

Obviously, I have to pay for all these services. And they take time. I could get the apostilling done on a next day basis, if I went to London myself.

And then (and here's the kicker), I have to send the apostilled, notarized documents... to Mumbai. Where they will take a minimum of 7 days to process them. At the end of which process, they will issue me with a 2048-bit RSA key digital signature certificate. Though I may also have to provide biometric data. To Mumbai. No, I don't know how they expect me to do that.

And this utterly extraordinary level of security and complexity will essentially be to give me a password to a website so I can (possibly) upload a pdf offering our services to supply a mass spectrometer. And I thought internet banking was a bit of a faff.

We have 30 days in which to submit this bid. We would have had 40 days if MWLG had actually discovered the need for a digital signature in the ten days he had to look at the website.

I've decided not to bother.

I've written to our agent in India and said "No". He can deal with it, that's what he takes a cut for. He can actually be an agent for a change and apply on our behalf. And if that doesn't work, Mr Turnip will have to make his own mass spectrometer, because I give up.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Getting the phone call

Foreword: for those of a nervous disposition, my LittleBear is absolutely fine, please don't panic.

Yesterday was a rather trying day.

I was late to work after having had the plumber here to bleed my bank account dry fix the central heating and hot water system. I had been at work for less than an hour, and was busy in the lab with a catastrophically broken instrument (a bit had literally just fallen off) when a call came over the tannoy, "PhysicsBear, there's a call for you on line 5, it's the school". My colleagues evaporated into the walls as I reached for the nearest phone, kindly leaving me in peace to take The Call.

"LittleBear is fine, and he's being well looked after, but there's been an accident and he's hurt his eye. The first-aider thinks he needs further medical attention. Can you come and get him?"

I asked her to clarify what "further medical attention" might be - a trip to the GP? A trip to A&E? This proved to be more information than she was privy to.

"Hold on a moment," ..... bump, rustle, clip, clop, clip, clop..... clip, clop, clip, clop, rustle, bump ..... "The first-aider thinks he needs to go to A&E".

I explained I was at work and it would take me 25 minutes to reach the school...

"Would you like us to call your mobile if there are any further updates?"

I don't have a hands-free kit for my car, and didn't fancy getting into trouble with the Long Arm of the Law by answering my phone so I told her there wouldn't be much point and sprinted for the car, literally yelling over my shoulder in the general direction of my boss that it was LittleBear's eye and I had to go.

Obviously, if I'd been level-headed and clear-thinking, I would have tried to extract more information as to the nature of this eye injury before setting off. And it might have saved me from 25 very unpleasant minutes in the car...

What sort of injury? How bad? Bad enough to need A&E but not bad enough to need an ambulance? An injury that might create an "update" within 25 minutes? Something in his eye? Glue? Bleach? A sharp implement? A bite or sting that's made it swell closed? What sort of injuries to an eye can be fixed? What if he loses the sight in his eye? Please no... not my baby boy's eye... please not his sight... please... please... please...

Suddenly I knew exactly what people mean when they talk about your bowels liquifying in fear.

I pulled onto the grass verge outside the school and ran down the path, only to have the door opened before me by LittleBear's new teacher, waiting for me.

"He has a nasty cut above his eyebrow that will need stitches or similar"

Oh thank God, it's only a flesh wound. Patching up a bad cut I can bear. It's not his eye. I have never been so happy to know that my son has a cut.

And as we rounded the corner towards the first-aid station I could hear my beautiful boy's gurgling laugh. He was playing on an iPad with two members of staff, a blood-stained dressing taped to his head, and someone else's clothes on. When he saw me, it obviously all hit home again as he went all trembly and clambered into my arms. He was terribly shaky and upset, and so scared of what might happen at the hospital. And he didn't quite believe me when I explained what would happen or told him that the doctors were specially trained to not hurt people.

It doesn't, here, matter quite what happened, or how, or why, or any of those details. In the aftermath, the first-aiders and LittleBear's teachers had done a sterling job of staunching the flow of blood and getting him clean and calm while he waited for me. They were right though, he definitely needed the trip to A&E.

It became abundantly clear that it was the blood that had distressed him most of all, not the pain, which is why the staff had thought to take his own clothes off and put him in clean, dry clothes. This was brought home to me as I cursed the designers of lifts who think it's a good idea to fit them with mirrors. One look at the blood-soaked dressing on his head had my LittleBear teary-eyed and quivering again.

The staff at our lovely, big teaching hospital were as brilliant with my boy as they have always been, and we were whisked straight out of A&E and into Paediatric A&E where there are toys and books instead of drunks and dripping blood. We had a surprisingly calm and enjoyable time playing (and getting hungry) for an hour and a half before my baby was patched up. "I don't feel hungry yet Mummy, not until after the operation."

I really, really tried to persuade him it wouldn't be that bad, but there was no convincing him.

And finally it was our turn, and I had to hold my baby as he sobbed and trembled while a delightful, kind, gentle doctor peeled the dressing off, cleaned the cut and pulled the edges together before taping and gluing it closed. And one glimpse of the open wound was all I needed to turn my stomach. My admiration for the first-aider at school went up several notches.

But then there was chocolate cake and chocolate ice-cream and cuddles. And it doesn't look that bad now.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Gross injustice

Today I had a terrible, terrible hangover. The kind that had me whimpering in the shower and wishing the water wasn't hitting my head quite so hard. The kind that had me clinging to the edge of the toilet bowl to reacquaint myself with my rashly-ingested breakfast. The kind that still, fourteen hours after waking up, hasn't quite worn off.

You might be thinking that I went on a real drinking binge last night. Or that I had my drinks spiked. Or that BigBear and I were out partying until the wee small hours.

You'd think wrong.

I did quite a lot of gardening and then had two small glasses of white wine after dinner. I was probably a bit dehydrated after gardening in the blazing sunshine, though I did drink a couple of pints of water as well, which seemed positively sensible, for me.

The real trouble is, this isn't the first time... Before going to Lyme Regis with LittleBear, I went to the pub with my friends, drank two pints of beer and spent the entire following day feeling awful... While in the Lake District with Tigger, we would imbibe the odd glass of wine most evenings. And most mornings I woke with a headache and feeling ropey... For several months now, if I have a drink, any drink, any type, any size, I feel awful the next day. I seem to have lost all ability to metabolise alcohol without feeling utterly, utterly awful the following day.

This is not right.

This is not fair.

This may be the start of me giving up alcohol altogether. And that is a gross injustice.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Cycling in a long skirt

There are, to the best of my knowledge, three main ways to bicycle in a long flowing skirt.

Method 1

Undertake a complex piece of sartorial origami, using your backside as a final anchor point, allowing your legs to remain gracefully covered and yet still effortlessly mobile. This works perfectly for the first 300 yards, until such time as your backside moves out of the saddle by as much as a quarter of a millimetre, at which point the entire ensemble spills forth from between your legs like satin incontinence. At which point you are back to where you started, but flailing around in the middle of the road, hoping nobody has noticed. If you were a cat you'd start nonchalantly licking yourself clean.

Method 2

Do nothing. Your skirt gets caught in the chain or the wheel, and either you part company with your bicycle, your skirt parts company with you, or, in the worst case scenario, both events occur simultaneously.

Method 3

Grab part of your skirt in one hand, and pinion it to the handlebars. This has the downside of potentially flashing your knickers at the rest of the world, but it keeps you, your skirt and your bicycle all working together as smoothly as the Spanish football team.

This morning, I cycled into the village to acquire some fresh bread for lunch. Being a lady of elegance and refinement, never troubled by wardrobe malfunctions or afflicted with a failure to plan, I was wearing a long, floaty skirt. I think you can guess which of these methods I adopted. I can only apologise to the residents of the village for any surprising views they were afforded and feel relieved that I was wearing my favourite knickers.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Road Trip: end of the road

And finally, we're home.

Actually we got home last night, but I was (for a change) too exhausted to contemplate writing anything. Besides, it was quite nice to sit with BigBear and catch up on life and the Vuelta a España.

Between Lyme Regis and home we stopped for two nights at GrannyBear's house, which I think GrannyBear more or less survived, and more or less enjoyed. I think two days with LittleBear brought her almost to the same level of exhaustion as me though, so it's probably a good thing it wasn't any longer than that.

One of my favourite parts of staying with GrannyBear, aside from having a bed to myself, and aside from two nights of gloriously uninterrupted sleep, and aside from having a chance to do the crossword with GrannyBear*, was the fact that LittleBear, upon seeing us doing a crossword, wanted to set one for GrannyBear. So, LittleBear choose some words, and I made a grid for them, and then LittleBear invented some clues...

First among his requirements was that the clues shouldn't be too easy for GrannyBear. Unfortunately, LittleBear has a rather over-inflated idea of GrannyBear's knowledge of dinosaurs, or of the inner workings of LittleBear's mind. Let me give you some examples:

Sometimes it's wobbly (5 letters)
Go on, admit it, you think it's jelly don't you? GrannyBear did too, but it's not. It's tooth. It's true that a major feature of the road trip has been a wobbly tooth, but it wasn't perhaps at the forefront of GrannyBear's mind to quite the same extent as LittleBear's mind.

Something which tries to creep up on people
Naturally enough, GrannyBear tried to think of as many sneaky predators as possible, knowing LittleBear's preferences. She did not, perhaps unsurprisingly, think of LittleBear himself, as he has rather more of a tendency to bounce up to people rather than creep as such. He lays claim to "sometimes" creeping up on people, so the solution to this particular clue was his own name.

Something with long claws (10 letters)
I particularly enjoyed this clue, mostly because of LittleBear's utter glee as he thought of it. I shall put you out of your misery and let you know that it's Suchomimus, a spinosaurid whose name means "crocodile mimic", due to its very crocodile-like skull. I suggested that we should perhaps mention its crocodilian features, to give GrannyBear a chance, but Littlebear demurred, "No Mummy, that would be too easy. This will be funny because Granny will think it's Baryonyx, and it's not!" In vain did I attempt to convince him that GrannyBear would most certainly not think of Baryonyx straight away, if at all, so poor GrannyBear was confronted with an almost insoluble clue.

I think GrannyBear can feel justifiably proud of herself for getting 7 out of the 10 clues (with a few extra hints) given the level of challenge she was set.

And then... we were back on the road again. And as we set off for the Motorway From Hell, the satnav reported even more foul traffic than usual, and suggested we go the other way. Let me show you...

The Motorway From Hell
We wanted to get from A to B. Generally, clockwise is shorter and quicker. We went anticlockwise. This was a decision of dubious worth, as it took us 3 hours and 118 miles to undertake what is normally a 2 hour and 90 mile journey. I'm clinging to the view that I don't know how bad clockwise was, and it might actually have been worse than our actual journey. Please don't tell me otherwise.

But, finally we're home, after 491 miles on the road.

It's been fun, but exhausting. Being a solo-parent for a week away from home was both rewarding in being utterly all-encompassing, and allowing me to be completely absorbed into my LittleBear's world, and also exhausting in being relentless in responsibility and concentration. So tomorrow I go back to work for a couple of days and let BigBear and LittleBear bond. And I am looking forward to it, just a teensy bit.

* Which I still haven't finished yet, dammit.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Road Trip: Day Something Or Other

Those of you who have been eagerly following my day-by-day account of my adventure to the Jurassic Coast with LittleBear will have been devastated to notice that I didn't write anything yesterday. This was for two reasons.

Firstly, I was absolutely exhausted. Properly, properly exhausted. I had thought that LittleBear's night-time rotations had run through all possible permutations, but I had not fully appreciated that there are times that, labrador-like, he seems to chase rabbits in his sleep. His little legs flail up and down as he runs wildly after little bunnies (or perhaps Lambeosaurs) and he grunts and wurtles to himself. This would be mildly distracting if he were simply lying beside me. And it was. It was more than mildly distracting when he was lying with his feet on my stomach.

Secondly, I was relishing the opportunity to put LittleBear to bed and then retreat to a different room, sit on an actual piece of furniture and speak to another human being. GrannyBear and I sat on a sofa and did a crossword together*.  This was a distinct improvement on the previous three evenings, where I had tucked LittleBear up, switched the light off and then sat on the floor in a dark corner, lit only by the ethereal glow of my laptop screen. Blogging in the dark is challenging. I can generally find all the letters by touch alone, and can stare at the screen as I type. If I want to do anything radical, like use punctuation, then I need to angle the screen downwards so it lights up the keys, at which point I can no longer see the screen. You can imagine it was a somewhat laborious process, because I'm quite fond of punctuation. And I was sat on the floor. Normally I don't mind sitting on the floor. I do it quite a lot. But after spending rather more time than I'd like, carrying rather more rocks in my back-pack than I'd like, up rather more hills than I'd like, my back was rather more painful than I'd like. Sitting on the floor was like twisting the knife in the red-hot agony of backache.

So, I didn't feel like writing last night.

But now LittleBear is happily watching a recording of Match of the Day**, and I can sit on Actual Furniture and type where I can see and all sorts of other luxuries.

Yesterday was a long, but enjoyable, stage in our road trip, back on the road again.

To avoid Further Incidents, I moved LittleBear's car seat into the front of the car, and I forbade the consumption of soft fruit at breakfast. The two-pronged attack was entirely successful, and we managed 95 miles, mostly on small, windy roads, without any complaints. Once again, I have no idea where we went, simply putting myself in the hands of the satnav. I can tell you we went past a village called West Camel, which was definitely our favourite for the day. Better even than Middle Wallop. And we also passed Stonehenge, which I attempted to explain to LittleBear. I'm not sure I managed to convey the full historical and cultural importance of Stonehenge... "but why would you travel thousands of miles just to come and see that Mummy?"

Nonetheless, we made good time, and before we knew it we'd arrived with the Bear cousins Somewhere In Hampshire. And I was able to relax into the warm embrace of family, enhanced enormously by the presence of BoyCousin, to whom LittleBear attaches himself whenever he sees him. I barely saw him for several hours as his (very tolerant) older cousin played lego with him, and played football with him and smiled and nodded as LittleBear became tired and deranged and talked nonsense. BoyCousin is nearly ten years older than LittleBear and yet is infinitely patient and kind with him. One day, I hope, he will realise just how huge a difference it makes to me to be able to talk to my aunt and (grown-up) cousins without constantly supervising LittleBear. It's almost like being a normal human being again. If I'm lucky, LittleBear will grow up to be as delightful a boy as BoyCousin.

And then, finally, the last leg of the day, a mere 45 miles back to GrannyBear's house. A bed to myself. Bliss...

* Actually, we attempted a crossword, and became slightly vexed when we discovered that the Grauniad had managed to publish a mis-print in their prize crossword. I suppose we should be proud of ourselves for being good enough to have solved enough to identify a mistake, but still...

** A 1-1 draw for Burnley against Spurs at Wembley, which, in the words of BigBear, "feels like a win to me".

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Road Trip: Day 4

This is one for those of you who like the "spot the next shape in the sequence" puzzles. Here you go:

What is it?
I lied. It's not a puzzle at all, it's a depiction of the various positions LittleBear is able to occupy in a double bed in one night. I shall make it easier for you by depicting my approximate location throughout these manoeuvres.

Some are less fun than others
I have also discovered how LittleBear shifts position in his bed at home. He braces his feet against the wall and pushes off to lever his body round. There is no wall beside this bed. There is, however, my stomach.

We were both, once again, a trifle weary come morning. But we still managed to have a Splendid Time. We visited two museums, bought some presents, did a spot more fossil-hunting, and made a new friend on the beach, with whom major excavations were undertaken, I say "made a new friend", making it sound like LittleBear is the kind to spontaneously make friends with new people. In fact, LittleBear and Charlie were digging neighbouring holes in the sand, when Charlie announced that they would be able to dig a much bigger and better hole if they worked as a team. Then he informed LittleBear that they should be friends, as friends worked as teams. LittleBear acquiesced to both these suggestions and calmly continued to dig a hole, now in the company of Charlie. They seemed quite content and it absolved me of having to join the digging party. At least until Charlie had to go home for lunch.

But the thing I am most proud of my LittleBear for has been his restraint and self-control in choosing a present for himself. At the start of this trip, I told him I would buy him ONE treat. In the first shop he saw, he fell with glee upon the first piece of plastic tat he saw. I suggested a strategy - I suggested that over the course of this stay, he remember all the things he saw that he liked and only choose between them on the last day, and then he would be sure that he got the thing he most wanted. And he agreed. Not only that, but he accepted my stricture that  £35 was too much for a plastic dinosaur. (Seriously -  thirty-five pounds. There were awesome, real fossils that cost less than that). So, today, after three fossil shops, two museum shops, a bookshop and a toyshop, LittleBear chose a rather adorable cuddly pterosaur. And he shows no signs of regretting any of the things he didn't get. And I am just immensely proud and pleased to have such a lovely little boy, who is not throwing tantrums about wanting more and more and more stuff, and who is so endearingly delighted with a new cuddly toy. And it wasn't £35.

LittleBear enjoying lunch with his pterosaur

Friday, 25 August 2017

Road Trip: Day 3

I was slightly tempted to describe this as "Night 2" as the night-time events assumed a disproportionate significance in my mind, not to mention contributing significantly to the fatigue levels experienced during the day. Let me introduce you to the bed I was confronted with when I decided to attempt to achieve blissful somnolence:

Where do I go?
I did, mostly, manage to wrangle LittleBear's legs back into roughly his half of the bed, but they showed a marked reluctance to stay there, introducing themselves to my stomach, back and legs for much of the night, and to my face at least twice. There was also a notable occasion  on which I heard LittleBear reach over for his water bottle and take a drink. When I didn't hear him put it back, I rolled over to tell him to do so, only to find him fast asleep, snoring and cuddling his water bottle. It appears he was able to undertake the whole process without waking up. Which I wish I could say for me.

But it's OK, I didn't have to withstand this for long. We woke up at 6 as the light streamed through the very pretty, but wholly inadequate, blinds.

Fortified by significant quantities of coffee, plus scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, I felt better equipped to cope with a non-travelling day on our road trip. Well, not car-based travelling. We did spend 7 hours out and about around Lyme Regis, the bulk of it fossil-hunting, and covered 3.5 miles on foot when measured in a straight line (i.e. not including the dashing back and forth, clambering up and down and darting hither and yon that all outings with LittleBear involve).

It was a beautiful day, which was a pity...

A beautiful day

... because beautiful days mean quiet seas and no rain, which consequently means no fresh mudslides, no dramatic erosion, no turned over boulders, and little chance of interesting finds. We came perilously close to deep distress as the second hour of hunting ticked past with no new finds by LittleBear, and even chocolate and Haribo failed to completely raise morale. But all was not lost, as LittleBear adjusted to the idea that it was OK to find things that we couldn't take home with us, and then all was well again, because he was really good at spotting those.

Too big for Mummy to carry

(For my non-geologist friends, and I do have some, the hammer is there for scale, because otherwise that rock could be 2cm across or 2m across and no-one would be any the wiser).

And then we reached Black Ven, and LittleBear turned out to be a dab hand at finding belemnites. And then he found a beautiful little ammonite. And, of course, I have the added advantage that the three men running the fossil-hunting trip are all friends of my friend J, and my friend J had told them we were coming, so they were especially kind and friendly to LittleBear, and gave him a lovely belemnite with its tip intact, and a nice chunk of fossilised wood with calcite sparkling in it. To be honest, they were lovely people anyway, and very good with all the little people on the trip, but LittleBear was definitely the Littlest, and definitely appreciated the sense of being known by the men in charge.

And then we staggered home. Well, I staggered, weighed down not only with my rucksack of essential provisions to cope with All Emergencies That Could Befall a Bear, but also an alarming number of rocks. LittleBear ran, obviously. And wept when I couldn't (or wouldn't) run to keep up. And then he wept when I told him to blow his nose. And then he wept when I told him that if he was rude to me I'd send him to bed without any dinner. And then he wept when I told him not to throw my clothes into the shower. And then he wept because he couldn't remember why, but he wanted a cuddle. We were both a bit tired. But we had cuddles and ate chocolate chip cookies, and I said sorry for shouting, and he said sorry for being unhelpful, and we agreed we'd had a lovely day but were awfully tired.

But we washed our fossils and ourselves:

Clean fossils. And some rocks that we liked

And then, just to prove he really is one of my family, LittleBear sat in the bar with me playing cards before dinner, and I felt a glow of maternal pride.

My boy

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Road Trip: Day 2

Another 130 miles completed today. And it only took four hours. The insanity of coming to a major tourist hot-spot on the August Bank Holiday weekend is beginning to sink in.

Initially, I felt quite positive about the journey... it started well, with no lane closures on the Motorway Of Eternal Roadworks. We bombed down as far as Southampton. We paused, briefly, to purchase coffee for the driver, but no food as LittleBear insisted he wasn't hungry. Perhaps warning bells should have rung?

On we went, the roads reducing from motorway, to dual-carriageway, to single-carriageway, the speed dropping inexorably, the queues growing depressingly. When we still had fifty miles and an estimated hour and a half left to travel, LittleBear informed me he felt sick. As this is a semi-regular announcement in the car, I was perhaps not as sympathetic as I should have been. To be honest, "I'm turning round and going home if you whinge again" was perhaps not a justified response, not least because I had no intention of attemping another 150 miles in the opposite direction at that point.

A few deep breathes later and I cheerfully suggested eye-spy to take his mind off it. I was turned down.

A few more deep breathes later, as we joined a particularly tedious stretch of road, nose-to-tail in both directions and with no laybys, there was an ominous burping, gurgling noise from the back seat, as LittleBear's breakfast overflowed all over his front*.

It was several noxious-smelling miles before we found a garage to stop at. And LittleBear sat calmly in the effluent, commenting only with delightful understatement, "this is NOT a good start to the holiday. But I do feel a lot better now."

The lady in the petrol station who served me as I purchased bin bags, baby wipes and dettol wipes enquired only, "Sicky child? Has to be with that collection." But I got my moppet cleaned up, in clean clothes and his seat (mostly) clean, and covered in a plastic bin liner, and on we went. Lunch did not seem like a sensible option at this point.

As we proceeded to fight our way through ever more traffic, my ray of sunshine cheerfully pointed out that he hadn't been sick on his socks or his nanoos, so it wasn't all bad. And after a while we began to drive past fantastic place names - not just Tolpuddle, but the less-well-known Affpuddle, and Puddletown. Not to mention Piddletrenthithe and Piddlehinton. And then we began to get glimpses of the sea, and drove past a sign saying "Eype, 1/2 mile" which is where I used to holiday as a child, and where I used to find fossils. We may make a detour on our way home, for old times' sake. It is a road trip after all.

Finally we made it, and are now ensconced in a 17th century inn in Lyme Regis. We arrived in time for a trip to the shore, and LittleBear is over the moon to have found his first ammonites already (that he could take home with him) as well as some fossils that were embedded in rocks rather too large to remove. And we dibbled in the sea, and made a sandcastle, and ate chocolate chip cookies at 4:30 instead of having lunch. And had sausage and mash for dinner.

And miracle-of-miracles, LittleBear was asleep in our bed by 8:30.

That's right. Our bed. It was supposed to be a twin room, but it's a double. Which was so much fun last time we did this.

The only thing I'm looking forward to less than sharing a bed with my son is getting back in the car again in two days time. I had to go and get the bag of cuddly penguins before bed, and the sensory assault from his rather unpleasant car seat after it had sat in a hot car for several hours was quite extraordinary. I can only begin to imagine how that aroma will mature over the next few days...

One of these days I'll learn my lesson and not let my boy over-eat soft fruit before putting him in a car. We've managed the same feat three times now.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Road Trip: Day 1

As the school summer holidays draw to a close, LittleBear and I have embarked on something of a road trip. For some time, well, OK, since we went to the Isle of Wight two years ago, I've been promising LittleBear we'd go to the Jurassic Coast and go fossil hunting. So, I've booked a long weekend away with him, and arranged a fossil-hunting tour, and we're on the way! (And, with reference to the above post, we're staying in a hotel, so I don't have to do any cooking or cleaning! Hooray!)

But it turns out the Jurassic Coast is quite a long way from East Anglia, so we're taking it in stages. And we're doing it without BigBear, who doesn't have enough leave left from work. So it's a solo-parenting road-trip. First stop: GrannyBear's house.

There is little to note about the trip so far, consisting of 5 hours at work (with a hangover), a frenzied hour of packing (with a hangover), collecting LittleBear from holiday club (with a hangover), and driving for 2.5 hours on The Road From Hell (with a hangover)*. It wasn't my favourite day of the holiday. And I'm close to falling out with my SatNav already.

Here are my issues with my SatNav:

1. It doesn't have a "don't behave like a git" setting, and is therefore quite capable of suggesting I leave the motorway at a junction, whizz round the roundabout and rejoin straightaway, just to leap-frog a few hundred yards of stationary traffic. I am not that kind of an arse, and I don't want my SatNav turning me into one. So far I have kept enough of a beady eye upon it that I have not fallen for this particular scam.

2. It doesn't seem to have a "please don't take me down almost non-existent roads" settings. This is akin to the "don't behave like a git" setting that's missing. I don't like taking the kind of short-cut that involves zooming down single-track roads or dodging through sleepy residential areas with children playing in the streets. I know it's my job as a driver not to make stupid decisions about routes, and not to blindly follow my SatNav wherever it may take me, but it's not necessarily obvious that a road is going to degenerate into the kind that has grass down the middle, and aeroplanes skimming the hedges in front of me as I make a split-second decision about whether to turn onto it. Which is what happens along Tilehouse Lane as it passes Denham Aerodrome, as I now know.

3. There is no way, upon reaching my destination, of asking the SatNav, "where the hell have I just been?" Names flicked by on signposts, road numbers jumbled together as I turned from one to another, until I finally reached safe, recognised, known turf, at which point I was beyond tired, wallowing in bewilderment and simply wanted to know what insane route I'd just taken in an effort to avoid 10 miles of the The Road From Hell. And yet the SatNav just blinked blandly at me and told me I'd arrived at my destination. Where I've been remains a mystery.

Tomorrow, as I undertake the second leg of the journey, I hope to stick to roads that at least have a line down the middle of them.

* I feel duty-bound to point out that I have reached a rather distressing time of life where a single drink results in a hangover. I find this deeply, deeply unfair, and yet it hasn't exactly stopped me drinking entirely. Yet. One glass of wine will generally make me feel rather unwell for at least an hour the following morning. My lasted-almost-all-day hangover was the result of drinking two, not particularly strong, pints of beer the previous evening. Deeply, deeply unfair.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Post-holiday blues

Last weekend we arrived home from holiday. It had been a lovely (if damp) holiday, lasting two weeks for me and LittleBear. I went feeling angry, tired and stressed. I'd been fantasising about resigning from work, feeling desperate and over-whelmed. And a fabulous two weeks away from work changed that completely. I stopped thinking about work. I climbed rocks, I paddled in rivers, I dammed streams, I ate cake, I drank wine. I had a lovely, lovely time with friends, with family and with LittleBear.

And then we came home.

Within the first 18 hours I had done 6 loads of laundry.

The first morning I made the mistake of weighing myself and discovering the impact of a month of eating cake and drinking wine (because I started before the holiday, just to get in training).

The second night as I sat on the sofa, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. The bookcases loomed. Though our house is considerably bigger than a small, slate, former miners' cottage it felt confining, restricting and claustrophobic.

The email about (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house lurked malevolently in my inbox. At some point it requires answering. And I've already deferred answering twice.

The last week of the summer holidays yelled at me, reminding me that I had organised nothing for LittleBear to do, and that we needed him to be looked after for 5 days*. BigBear has only 4 days leave left for the rest of the year. I have more than that, but I'd be taking the piss if I took any more time off right now after 2 weeks, followed by another week coming up in a few days time.

I wrote a list of Things To Do, and every Thing on my list felt like a millstone round my neck. I even ended up putting "have a conversation with BigBear" on my list. About the (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house**.

I went round to a friends' house and felt envy at the elegance, and style, and calm of her home. It was light, and airy, and beautifully furnished, and clean, and tidy. Even with a young child. I came home and trod on Lego and glared at the heavy, dark, gloomy furniture that I own more by accident than design. Back in the mists of time I was left with no furniture and very little money. Ebay came to the rescue. And since there's nothing technically wrong with the furniture, and it fulfills all the requirements we have, it stays.

The cleaner came this week, and though, in truth, I am enormously grateful that I have a cleaner, not only because it means I don't have to clean, but it means I do have to tidy up at least once a fortnight. But the process of attempting to tidy up left me with a simmering resentment at all the stuff that doesn't have a home. The boxes of CDs and DVDs squatting beneath the sideboard that no longer have a shelf because we own too many books.*** The stashes of paper and card and half-completed artwork slid down beside the desk. The in-trays that are more "I don't know where else to put this" trays. The plastic boxes full of random, but apparently precious, bits of plastic tat.

So, here I am, home from holiday and restored to a state of not wanting to quit my job and live in a yurt. But I wish I was still in the Lake District, paddling in streams and scrambling up rock faces, instead of facing the tedious realities of daily life.

Mini Positive Posts seem like a distant dream at the moment, but for the good of my mental health, I might have to return them.

* We have a plan. It will probably all be fine.

** We've had a conversation. We've still not decided anything.

*** Technically there's no such thing. We merely own too few shelves.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Getting wet in the Lake District

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the weather and general topography of this country will be more than aware that going to the Lake District is an almost sure-fire way of getting rained on. You don't go to the Lakes for the sun. You go with head-to-toe waterproofs, even in mid-summer. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I ended up wet through. It might come as more of a surprise that this drenching occurred when I was inside our cottage. And that it necessitated removing my trousers and paddling across the bathroom floor.

Let me introduce you to some basics of plumbing. Generally speaking, a bath is fitted with an overflow pipe. This connects to the main drain from the bath, and ensures that, should a tap be carelessly left on, the water will pour out of the overflow and not all over the floor. I bet you think you know what happened don't you? But no! The bath was not over-filled, it did not overflow. Or not exactly. It all started innocently enough. A child was bathed. The bath was emptied. All was well. Some time later a second child was bathed. All was still well. And then the plug was pulled out, and suddenly, and unstoppably, water streamed across the floor.

A properly plumbed-in bath has the overflow connected to the drain, thus ensuring all water exiting the bath by standard methods also exits the bathroom, thusly:

Perfect plumbing, imperfectly drawn

An incorrectly plumbed-in bath, where the overflow pipe is not connected to the drain, will function under certain circumstances. If one is parsimonious with ones water consumption, one will observe no adverse effects:

Getting away with poor plumbing

If, on the other hand, one is partial to a somewhat deeper bath, the irritating habit of water finding its own level may give rise to flooding issues, to whit:

The purpose of correct plumbing is revealed

We experienced both of the latter two situations. One was more tedious than the other and required the removal of clothes and the sacrifice of Towels of Desperation to staunch the flow of a rather large proportion of a bathful of water onto the floor. On the plus side, it's a downstairs bathroom, so there was no risk of bringing a ceiling down with the flood. It's always important to look on the bright side, especially when you're on holiday and paddling round a bathroom in your underwear.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ginger pop and jolly good fun

I'm writing this post from a location firmly entrenched in the entirely fictional world of delightful childhoods of the well-to-do in post-war rural England. It is a world without telephones, without television, without radio, without central heating, and almost entirely without the internet (we'll gloss over borrowing the neighbour's WiFi connection through a couple of feet of slate wall that only lets some of the bytes through). It is a world in which Jolly Times are had in the Great Outdoors by ruddy-cheeked children who like climbing trees and having Splendid Adventures.

It is a world in which for one brief moment I felt a glow of triumph as I managed to do something properly old-fashioned and outdoorsy and three small children actually enjoyed it.

I set a trail of arrows for said small children (my own LittleBear plus GirlTigger and BoyTigger who are 10 and 7 respectively) to follow. It led them up hill and down dale, over walls, through bogs and under trees to a small treasure cache. I suspect I had marginally more fun making and laying the arrows than the children had in finding them, as at least two arrows were trampled on without being noticed, and there were repeated bleats of, "he found the last one", or "it's not fair", not to mention some minor caviling about rain and cold and an insufficient supply of chocolate, and the occasional request to return to the cottage for more iPad-time. I don't really think they'd have enjoyed the 1950s much...

However, since the children did, relatively rapidly, work out their own method of walking in a line, taking it in turns to lead and be Chief Arrow Finder, and since the treasure was chocolate, and since both mothers had had the wit and foresight to secrete extra snacks about their person, a Good Time was Had By All. Especially by me.

A fine selection of arrows

The Tigger family has now departed for parts further south once more, and I await the arrival of BigBear and GrannyBear later tonight. LittleBear has gone to sleep planning a treasure hunt to create for GrannyBear to follow, which may or may not be just what GrannyBear wants, but I think is probably a measure of the degree to which LittleBear thought it was a Splendid Thing To Do.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

MPP: Holiday!

So, here I am, sitting on holiday, glass of wine by my side, small boy asleep in bed, exhausted by running around in the rain. And I thought, "Aha! I shall write a blog about the soul-restoring properties of lovely holidays with lovely friends in a lovely place doing lovely outdoorsy things."

And then I realised I was still so tired from work, and life, and work, and wrangling small boy, and driving from one end of the country to the other, and work, and wrangling small boy, and, and, and, and... that I'm more or less incoherent.

So I shall simply put it out here that I'm very happy and very lucky to have the chance to climb cliffs, leap across stepping stones, eat chocolate biscuits while sheltering under a tree from a passing rain squall, run, jump, chase and giggle with the best and most beautiful boy in the whole world.

I might write more when I can make more sense.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Meeting an axe murderer

That got your attention didn't it?

I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't in fact meet an axe murderer. I met a lovely woman who bore no ill-will toward me, and showed no violent tendencies whatsoever. The notable thing about this particular lovely woman is that I've known her for (I think) 12 years, and yet had never actually met her. Such are the wonders of the internet.

Back in the mists of time, I had a different husband, and he turned out not to be The Right One. In fact, he was categorically The Wrong One, and in retrospect did me an enormous favour by declaring that he was leaving. At the time, this was not quite so clear, and in my distress I found solace within an online forum, amongst a group of women in similar situations. We wrote screeds of heartbroken descriptions; we ranted and railed; we plotted elaborate (and unexecuted) acts of revenge; we offered advice: emotional, physical and legal. Time passed. Pain passed. Life continued. Our forum did not. It collapsed, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, a place to continue our friendships, to share our continuing life-stories, our triumphs and our tragedies. The reasons for our original coming together disappeared into the past. That was no longer what mattered most. We were just a group of women with a shared history.

Eventually, that forum sank into the depths too, as the costs of maintaining a website became too high in a world where we could have private facebook groups, and group emails.

But, through all of this, we remained friends. We shared the mundane details of our lives. We knew about each others children, grandchildren, graduations, jobs, illnesses, pets, partners and hobbies.

Here’s the thing though. Most of the women who were part of this group were in North America. There were a handful in the UK, and over the years I’ve met them, and made friends in person. But most of the others? They are only a virtual presence in my life.

And then, out of the blue, S, from Calgary, told us she would be in London for a week, and was there any chance of any of the UK people meeting her? So I did. And on my way to London to meet her, I realised that what I was doing was perhaps a trifle odd. Do "normal" people jaunt up to their nearest large city to meet virtual friends? And I had a slight sense of trepidation, not that she might be an actual axe murderer in truth, but that meeting someone in the flesh, and talking face-to-face might be slightly harder than knowing one another online. I've already mentioned here how much easier I find it to express my feelings in writing than in person. I had a sudden fear that I would clam up, not know what to talk about, discover we had nothing in common, or generally have some horrifically awkward evening. I wasn't concerned about whether S would be lovely - this is the person who sent me an emergency back-up penguin when LittleBear became utterly devoted to a cuddly penguin BigBear had acquired on his North American travels, and I feared for what would happen if we lost The Precious Penguin. S also sent a lovely National Geographic book about penguins at the same time, which proved to be a launch-pad for LittleBear's devotion to penguins (he currently takes five penguins and one dinosaur to bed with him). As I said, I had no doubts about S's loveliness. It was my own social eptitude that had me worried.

Naturally, I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong is the best thing in the world. I had a lovely evening, chatting about Canada, and Egypt, and families, and life in general. And because S is lovely, and has followed the goings on in LittleBear's life, she brought with her three beautiful books for him. We have already danced and giggled with the Dinosaurs of Drumheller.

Real friends aren't only the ones you meet in person first. Sometimes they're simply the ones who are in the right place at the right time, even when that place is the internet.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPP: Always look on the bright side of life

Despite feeling thoroughly dejected (still) about work, there are some bright shining lights in my life.

My former colleague, and perhaps the man best positioned to know exactly how I feel at work, sent me a message sympathising and asking the Bear family round for a barbecue.

LocalFriend emailed me and empathised.

Tigger sent me a text message telling me how awesome she thinks I am.

Piglet phoned and suggested I pop round for a cup of tea this evening.

I must try not to let work dictate how I feel about all aspects of my life. I have a wide array of lovely people in my life, who reach out to me when I'm in need, who love and appreciate me, who pick me up when I'm down, and laugh with me when I'm not.

There is so much to be grateful for, and happy about.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Up and Down and All Around

Somewhere in here there's probably a Mini Positive Post. Somewhere in here there's certainly a Major Negative Post. There's also scope for a Rant. I've spent several days explaining, in my head, what exactly has irked and upset me so massively that I left work early on Friday and came home and wept for an hour. And it just all gets too complicated, and too technical, and requires too much of a long and rambling explanation of the curious personality-types I work with, and too much knowledge of 18 years of back-history of working where I work.

So, instead of trying to explain why I feel the way I do, I'm just going to say how I feel. No explanations, no justifications, no he-said-she-said, no rights or wrongs. Just feelings.

I feel disregarded, unappreciated and ignored. I feel as though my job title (R&D Manager) is simply a sop to keep me quiet, and has no real meaning or relevance. I feel as though my contribution, during working hours and in my own free time, is under-valued, even taken for granted. I feel as though the amount I'm paid for what I do doesn't compensate for the level of emotional and psychological commitment I make, or the stress I feel. I feel physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do two full time jobs in one set of part-time hours. I feel like giving up on a project on which I've simply hit a brick wall, with no support, understanding or ideas from my colleagues. I feel patronised. I feel marginalised. I feel as though I'm being treated with contempt.

But I also feel, perhaps because of all of the above, as though I'm not good enough. I feel as though I don't, and can't, and never will, measure up. I feel as though I dare not speak up, to defend myself, or my ideas, because I'm probably wrong; I'm probably too stupid to have understood some subtlety or other that my colleagues have already identified. I feel as though I have to keep trying, keep banging my head against the same brick wall, because if I don't and someone else takes over, they might solve the problems that are stumping me, and might reveal my inadequacy and stupidity.

I feel isolated.

I feel trapped, because I don't feel competent enough, or clever enough, or brave enough to look for another job. I feel trapped because I have the world's best working hours for a mother of a young child, and a flexible environment for fulfilling those hours, and I'd never find anything quite as easy to fit around school. I feel trapped because though on paper I can make myself look and sound good, I feel inadequate. I feel like a fraud. I feel as though I'm only masquerading as a physicist and am getting away with it for now, but it wouldn't pass muster in the "real" world.

I feel as though I should speak up, should say, "enough", should explain that I cannot function this way any longer. But I fear for the repurcussions. I fear being told that I'm not good enough. I fear being told that I'm not worthwhile, that I'm not needed, that my opinions are not valuable. It's hard not to feel that way when the last time we attempted to recruit someone, one of the major criteria was that, "they need to be better than you, PhysicsBear".

I spent Friday afternoon weeping.

I spent Friday night lying awake imagining resigning.

I spent Saturday evening weeping.

I don't want to go to work in the morning.

I don't want to carry on as though none of my feelings exist, but I don't want to attempt to articulate any of them when I'm simply liable to start crying if I do so.

I bet you're beginning to wonder where the positive part of this post happens aren't you?

I'll replay those last few events in a less selective manner...

I left work early and spent Friday afternoon weeping.

While at home, I received the following text messages from my colleagues, referring to two separate incidents:

"<boss> asked where you were. I said nothing. I have thought about telling him. But the risk there is that he apologises and then your venom will be undermined and you would be obliged to forgive him"
 "Hi PhysicsBear. I'm guessing you feel pretty sore after this morning's episode with <boss> . Try not to let it get to you. Thank you for coming to help me and I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire. The rest of us really do respect your skill and experience (if that helps at all)"

I spent Friday evening drinking wine and eating cheese with some of my friends, and we set the world to rights. We giggled, we bitched and we shared embarrassing stories.

I spent Saturday afternoon making paper snakes for SnakeWorld with LittleBear, and solving a Rubik's cube every time he messed it up.*

I spent Saturday evening weeping on my mother's shoulder, while she reassured me I was splendid.

I spent Sunday morning playing with LittleBear, and he made me a "certificate" that reads, "Thank you for being a great parent". (And I shall omit the fact that I'm 99% certain he did so to make up for yelling "I hate you!" at me in a fit of pique when I said we had to stop playing football...)

I spent Sunday lunchtime drinking and talking and laughing with old friends. Some of whom I first met when I was 4.

I am blessed with a lovely family, good friends both old and new, and the best LittleBear in the world. I'm going to go to bed and try thinking about those things, and not about going to work.

* I followed instructions on the t'interweb, I'm not a Rubik's maestro. See, I told you I was a fraud...