Monthly Archives: September 2017

Brain Training

Imagine living in a world where you are trapped within long ago forgotten memories. Imagine the dynamics of a room suddenly shifting, leaving you with a feeling of unknowing how you got there. That sick feeling in your stomach you get, when you feel you’ve forgotten something really important. Imagine forgetting how to make something as simple as a cup of tea. Scary thoughts? They’re my biggest fears. It is thought that as many as 50 million people worldwide are living with the life stealing dementia. This figure is predicted to double by 2030. Scientists believe that this exponential increase is down to life expectancy gradually increasing.

Our Nan is one of those unlucky people. It’s not something we dwell on and we certainly don’t allow it to affect our time with her, but it’s a tricky one. Mainly because we tend to have to find ways to stop the anxiety and anger which simmers away on the back burner. Talking to a friend of mine recently contextualised all this – made me feel reassured that as tough as it can be that we are not alone. And, it was this thought that made me think about the loneliness of living with dementia. What do we do?

You see, it can be so isolating; not only for them but for their loved ones too. When we first noticed the early signs it was tricky to understand. You, when seeing someone you love flailing, want to protect and control to a certain point. However, it’s not that easy. Your ill fated attempts can hamper and anger them. You become upset and make excuses for them and that can trigger resentment and tears. So what do you do? Ignore the signs? Pretend they’re not burning the dinner on the hob and bury your head in the sand when you spot the lost look on their face when you talk about a shared memory?

When Nan first started to show signs it was quite traumatic for all. She’d go into a spin and want to go all 100 miles home from the restaurant we’d be eating in – and right that minute!! Now, I say traumatic, but to be honest it wasn’t the fear of why she was reacting in this kind way, it was more the fact she was behaving in such a demanding and agitated manner. There would be no negotiating. Off she’d go and leave the remaining family members in floods of tears. After this occurring on many occasions I decided that, as I always do when faced with adversity, to arm myself with facts and try to understand how she felt.

After reading lots online and arranging a meeting with a brilliant advisor at Age UK, I finally came across a book called ‘Elizabeth is Missing which was the ironically ‘missing’ piece of the jigsaw; filling me with guilt and understanding in equal measures. You see, to be able to cope with such a scary journey I needed to understand. What it did for me was open up a capacity for compassionate feelings I never knew I had. What I’d selfishly done was look at the whole situation through the family’s eyes – needs even, rather that viewing it from her perspective. This left me feeling utterly ashamed that I had tried to make her do on numerous occasions. When, in actual fact, she was just scared. She just needed reassurance.

That was then and this is now. Four years later and happily she still knows who Him and I are. Not so good is the list of stuff she doesn’t know; most heartbreakingly, the children. So, how do we get over that fact when we visit her? Him’s inspired move is to get
Nan’s box of photos, letters and pictures out and get her to talk about what she sees. What this does is help prompt lots of happy memories and stop her dwelling on sad memories which seem to linger in her mind. Dementia kills off the short term memory so it’s the stuff of your longer life that seems to stay with you. Sadly, most of us have times in our lives we’d rather forget and the bastard dementia can’t help but bring it all back. What is hard is to pull her back from these stories but the box does help.

What also helps are the amount of pictures and gifts she has displayed all over her house. One such photo is of Him and Nan on our wedding day. She looks radiant in a beautiful pink hat – grinning next to her precious grandson, after she’d just finished dancing with the singer of the jazz band. That image, to me the person who didn’t want a great big fussy white wedding, is priceless. A wonderful happy memory that makes me glad we invited, what it felt like at the time the whole of Yorkshire (to please Nan. Long story short. Us: Nan we’re inviting so and so to the night do. Nan: they won’t come all that way for a chicken leg. Suffice to say chickenleggate took the numbers up significantly) to our big fat wedding. How glad am I we put her first? Immensely.

Sadly, part of this illness has confined her to her home. She is nervous to go out alone – we think she’s got lost in the past, and now the outside world scares her. This can make it difficult for her to visit. We’ve been limited for a while, to going over at weekends and holidays, whenever possible. However, we’ve recently had a bit of a breakthrough. We’ve realised that making new memories and going to places that hold no real meaning have given her a new lease of life. She loves coming to the new house and she loves Rosie Dog; having a mutual calming effect on each other.

This all ties in with recent advice and research that suggests we keep not only ourselves fit and healthy but our brains too. The usual stuff of: alcohol consumption, diet, exercise, smoking etc. sits alongside advice to read, do puzzles – give your brain a daily workout. It seems that to fight it you have to keep challenging your thought patterns and allow your brain the experience of learning new stuff. I’d say the old adage ‘you’re never too old to learn’, couldn’t be more true. The brain and body needs to keep active to stop it all shutting down. On that note going to spend time with my beauties, walk my doggie, cook a lovely Sunday lunch, read my book and try to forget the amount of wine I drank last night (oops).

Empty Nests

This weekend heralds for many households containing 18 year olds, the beginnings of freedom and (hopefully) some academia. Cue thousands of freshers going wild after living in the house of mum and dad for their whole lives. Down with oppressive rule! Up cheap booze! Throw in a lecture or two and there’s the first year done – oh with some ridiculous flirting added too. This new found independence makes and can break many. Off they go into the wide world of house sharing and labelling milk; but within days parents experience tearful phone calls, pleas of help of a hasty bank transfer and bags of washing on each visit.

All this is of little comfort when the once full nest is starting to empty. We spend our entire parenthood guiding them for their turning 18. We secretly tick off the days that we can break free from the shackles of such responsibility. Freedom for both parties it would seem, with the knowledge that stresses of school runs, clubs, hobbies, work, teenage antics etc. become a thing of the past. Their jam packed and crazy childhoods are something to wistfully look back upon and reminisce through rose coloured glasses. Choosing instead to remember the glorious weather on that day the Big One’s team won the hockey tournament. How you’d sat with other parents on the grass, enjoying the warmth of a midsummer June day and luxuriating in the knowledge that a family fun filled summer was now here. Forgetting that only three months before you stood in the wind and hail cursing the school and your child for being picked. Wishing for the day they were too old to be picked for the hockey team and you could be at home with a cup of tea in the warm. That’s right, pleasing yourself.

Oh how we long to finally please ourselves. Long to get up when we like, to be free of feeds, nappies, 5.30am breakfast calls and unbroken sleep. Those early days; the ones where you become overwhelmed by the huge responsibility for the next 18 years, are there to shape your life as a parent.

At this point I need to stress that I love being a mummy. If I take you back to being first handed the first norm my words were ‘I’ve no idea who to thank for a gift so precious’ (yes, very fluffy but true). However, this piece of writing is a reassurance piece so read on and you will see…

So, we try to cherish every moment and savour the good bits. Trying not to wish time away whilst wishing time away – speeding it up for the good stuff. However, very soon the day comes when they want to leave you and nothing prepares you for that. Gut wrenching and agonising cries, hearts breaking…

Now, I’m not going to go over the emotions felt as I want this to have a cheerful slant. I want instead to focus on what can be done to stop the tears. I’m not going to discuss how I’m fed up of cooking huge dinners only as little as three of us sometimes eat. I’m not going to go on about how quiet the house is and I’m not going to tell you how empty I’ve felt since the Big One went…Instead I’m going to equip you with some stuff I’ve learnt along the way.

Firstly, although recent family conversations have turned to me ‘having another baby’ as ‘mum has cute babies and we can help look after it’, I am adamant that having my eldest at 19, that I’m not prepared to go back and do it all again. Now, as lovely as new babies are (truly love them) I think three children are enough. Therefore, we bought the Rosie Dog. Best decision of our lives ever! She is so loving and never answers back. Dogs really do make the best and most loyal companions. To day she has enriched our lives is an understatement; she filled a hole I never knew existed. I’m not saying everyone should run out and get a dog but a pet is a good way for you to channel all that parental energy.

Next thing is that you are going to have a bit more money in your household budget. No more banquets and rolling buffets to cater for; this means you can please yourself. Can’t be bothered to cook? Have beans on toast – no one to complain. Or, go out for dinner as a) you don’t have to be in early as there’s no threat of ‘school night’, and b) the bill will be a great deal cheaper. Also, whilst your apron is gathering a layer of dust, you start gaining time. And this is the best bit!

You may be now thinking ‘but I don’t want empty hours after having a busy life’. Well, you’re wrong! Give it six weeks and you will have settled quite nicely into the new routine. Evening will be a revelation as you will be able to relax, unwind without waiting for a call to be picked up or for them to come in before you can go to bed. Your washing machine gains a new lease of life. You can do all that stuff you’ve been putting off for years. You can (and this is the best bit) go to the loo without someone wanting to either come with you or hold s conversation through the door. You’ll be able to take your coat and shoes off without fear of having to run out to get them again (I’ve one friend who used to sit the night out in her coat as ‘there’s no point in taking it off’). Your house will be tidier. It will be in good order. You will be able to watch whatever you want and listen to whatever music you like without being made to feel like a out of touch weirdo who apparently ‘knows nothing’. You can go out as much as you like and stay out in a Saturday night without worrying about having to get them somewhere early Sunday morning. You can book a holiday on a whim – freedom!

But spare a thought for those who’ve flown. Whilst you’re relishing your new found freedom they are too, but in different ways…eating pasta with cheese/tuna every night cos they’ve spent all the budget on student night. Only money for one drink on Saturday night? What, no Sky Plus? And they’re wondering where the maid service and buffet are in halls?!?! And no, don’t feel guilty and show no mercy for them living in such austere times; they’ll be home before you know it ruining your new found equilibrium and sanity. And if you are sitting there saying ‘well I can’t wait’, I’ll give it 48 hours of their return and you’ll be back to wishing the time away and striking lines on your wall for your bid for freedom!

Good luck to you all: SF,, PKF, LC et al. to name just a few xxx

For Better or for Worse.

Infidelity, what causes it? Many perpetrators will tell you it’s not personal, they don’t actually want to hurt their partners. There is, apparently, a deep seated issue, a trigger, one that ignites a much deeper motivation than pure attraction. With divorce rates high and single parent families outnumbering the traditional unit, it’s worth questioning the root cause. What is it we envisage when we enter and commit to a relationship? Do we model our ideals on messed up Disney fantasies (or in my case Johnny and Baby)? All happy unions ending in a white fairytale wedding and happy ever after. Speaking of which…

Rooney has messed up again. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this was inevitable? Seriously, the guy has unhappiness written all over him. And, maybe you have no sympathy for the overpaid ballboy but, I think it’s worth considering his misery.

Scouted when they were a teenage couple who probably shared a bottle of White Lightning and a quick snog in the local park, Wayne and Coleen were plucked from obscurity and transformed into a fairy tale to rival Shrek. Both became famous – him for his skills on the pitch and her for dressing well. Propelling them from working class Liverpool to between the pages of ‘Hello’ quicker than you can say ‘Football transfer’. Whilst Him and I battled through being young parents to three, we looked on in wonder at this lucky pair. My goodness, I thought, how canny of Coleen to pick the right boy when playing truth or dare! How could she have known, well either of them really, where their joined lives would take them? Within months of being 18 he was playing for England and then Man Utd. With success came pressure for children, marriage, responsibility, hair transplants…and this is where it gets messy. Instead of them being another working class statistic: becoming joined from an early age through teenage pregnancy and circumstance; working together to build a life through grit and determination; living on the breadline and juggling shifts and childcare; they got ‘lucky’. They had fame and fortune. However, be careful what you wish for…instead of happiness, it could be argued they became trapped by the glossy confines of our mighty media. Their whole relationship bought and scrutinised – two kids making mistakes and growing together, all in the spotlight. Outwardly wonderful and sparkling lives for us to envy. Every girl wanted to bag a footballer when they saw her ‘living the dream’. One minute Coleen was strutting down the town with her mates, in jeans and a bomber jacket and the next she’s gracing London Fashion Week with Victoria Beckham, Talk about rags to riches! What worries me though is, when did they get chance to grow up? Were they forced together by the lure of celebrity and bright lights? What is it they actually wanted? Was it each other?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way comparing their plight to that of people trapped through consequence. They had it all – the perfect start in life. How I wish my girls could start their adult journey with love and security. Also, if it all went wrong, either of them could get out anytime they tried (by now both could have good careers and live well separately). Instead, they decided (for better or for worse) to work through the highs and lows and have it all documented by the gutter press – can you imagine? My god, I wouldn’t fancy having my picture taken and being speculated about, after having an argument with Him! (Now I live in a small town and gossip is bad enough…)

What I do believe is that like any relationship, it is undoubtedly deeply flawed, complex and contains long lasting love and companionship. They’ve grown together, worked through infidelity and living in the glare of the media. Two families melded through circumstance have done what we all do when we marry and grown to love and support each other. We know this through the charity work they have both done for her brother. We also know both families are well looked after. They have supported and no doubt made sure, that financially, their nearest and dearest are well looked after and provided for. Massive responsibility on their shoulders from a young age. This said, you might think ‘so what!’ We all have times that we have to battle through life. We also all have times when we lean on each other when that black cloud hovers ever so slightly in the peripherals (we don’t expect sympathy though) Finally, admit it, we all make mistakes – we are only human. But where’s the cameras and reporters publicly announcing it? Now unless you want to wash your dirty linen (as my mum would say) in public and splash it all over Facebook, you’re probably safe from the media. They aren’t so lucky. Also, all our anxieties tend to be set to the added worry of money – how will we survive? We think when wanting to jack it all in, or faced with long term illness etc. We worry about providing for our children, putting food on the table, paying the mortgage…Statistics show that of people stay together because they can’t afford to separate. This fact not only reflects a sign of the financial times but also makes me reflect on the sanctity of marriage. It asks the question ‘how much importance do people place on their marriage vows?’ (Now, at this point I don’t want to get all sanctimonious but this was something I took, and still do, very seriously…). So, how when they are worth an estimated £124 million, do they have the right to feel stressed, depressed and require the need to escape? Is the reason they’re still together because they believe in their vows? Or has the fame and luxury trapped them in the same way a baby at sixteen could have?

Empathy. Ask yourself this: what did you dream of as a child? I wanted to be rich, successful and famous (plus mansion in Hollywood Hills and a fur stoal al la Rita Hayworth). Mostly though I wanted to be happy and live a worry free life. Even at the age of ten, i knew I wanted to live stress free in a grand house, somewhere fabulous and with someone wonderful to hold my hand. The happy ever after (I blame all those black and white flicks the nana made me watch). The main factor, I shrewdly realised at that young age, was money; to have copious funds to support this lifestyle would undoubtedly gain me life long happiness. And that’s the thing kids think (and some adults) – money solves everything. Wrong! It can solve some problems and opens doors but it doesn’t make us better people and certainly doesn’t enrich our relationships. Many of us believe that if money was no issue that life would be a breeze. Be honest, you do don’t you? Imagine not worrying about bills, putting food on the table and how you are going to pay for Christmas. Pure bliss yeah? Lottery win anyone – no me neither! You see what motivates us to get out of bed is just that; the bare bones of the shit o clock alarm there is only one thing that pulls us out of bed: money. Not in mercenary sense where we are only motivated by the pound sign but by the knowledge that if you don’t move that foot out of the bed your children will lose the roof from over their heads and there will be no food in their mouths. Now I don’t want to sound dramatic (I know I do) but that’s it. Given the chance I would always work, however, not for the amount of hours a week I do currently. Ideally, I’d like a balance between work and being a mum – maybe have a life for once which enabled me some freedom. I’d like to have time to follow my dreams. But what I’ve realised is, is that this utopian state does not exist, instead we take our joy from what we can grab at. We snatch at quick gains and embrace and cherish the sweet and glorious moments we are presented with (right now Sunday morning cuppa in bed). We capture memories and hold them close…and it is easy to think a couple like the Rooneys don’t need to do this. Surely, in a life full of opulence their lives are full of untainted memories which have no tinge of worry behind them. For example: I bet when Kai’s birthday is coming up, they aren’t hastily counting the entire cost and budgeting in advance for party, gift, family meal, new outfit etc. But this is my point: has their life spoilt them? Do they turn to each other with their worries? What keeps them united? Has the fairytale become jaded? Is it flawed? How could two teenagers live happily ever after, when, as we all know as paid up adults, it doesn’t exist. Life evolves and we work at it. How can they possibly realise how lucky they are when they haven’t worked through the same worries we have to get to this point? Was it (in the words of the Specials) too much too young?

Therefore, whilst a pregnant Coleen, avec kids, relaxes in Spain, Wayne is back at work in England. Rattling round the mansion after a morning’s training – no longer the youngest kid on the block. No doubt starting to feel old and inadequate alongside the sharp skilled youths. Ego diving and he’s back to being 14 on the council estate. He’s fighting for his place in the team and wanting to be noticed. He’s probably wondering what to do next. He’s got years stretched out in front of him and the prospect of not playing anymore must be petrifying; does he speak to his wife, tell her his fears? Or, does he bury his head in the sand and seek solace wherever he can? Drink, women, gambling…anything to reach those natural highs he felt in his hey day (it’s that old stereotypical problem). Yes, he’s got form: Eileen. But that’s the thing, it’s a repeating pattern. When he’s scared, desperate and depressed he makes stupid choices. I personally think he needs to speak to his wife.

Sadly, the fairy tale does not exist: even for Fiona and Shrek. It’s unobtainable and life will never be – even if you chuck money it, easy. However, what does exist is love, respect and companionship. They all make us far wealthier than Rooney, Bale and Ronaldinho put together. Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we miss the point and have to remind ourselves how blinking blessed we are. I just hope that Wayne and Coleen find what’s important and get their happily ever after. I also hope you all do too xxx

Disclaimer: All details of Wayne’s career aren’t 100% accurate but I’m sure none of you care either.

What did we learn this summer?

With that nip in the air and Clarkes shoe boxes piled in the porch, we realise that time of year has crept up again. So with back to school upon us and the bile riding in my throat, I feel it’s time to reflect and reminisce with a summer review. In the spirit in all things educational: with the casting off of flip flops, shorts and bikini (only bikini in Greece may I add – no one needs to see that in my home town); with the alarm being turned back on (…runs to throw up at the thought…), proper grown up clothes and actual shoes being aired ready, and the donning of the teacher’s metaphorical hat, I want to understand what has been learnt this summer?

Bolt is not infallible. Winners get booed and Mo does get flustered.
The World Championships helped fill an Olympic sized hole in my summer. It also got me running every day again and subsequently gaining another hamstring injury. I learnt that, try as I might, I’m no Olympian.

Jack the Shetland pony can help people with dementia.
This is the wonderful story of how animals have been, yet again, proved to help people. I could now rhapsodise about Rosie Dog and her ability to soothe and heal. I could also go on about how our Nan is calmed by her…however, what I will say is,they need to find a cure for this horrible disease – it can’t come soon enough.

It’s 25 years since Eldorado – did anyone watch it? Nope, didn’t think so!!
This was the video which seemed to haunt the BBC News page for days. No idea why? No one watched the show and I bet even less watched to clip. It must have been a slow news week.

The media couldn’t leave Diana alone.
20 years on ft that awful day and they’re still digging. We all shed so many tears and mourned her. Surely it would have been far more fitting for the media to look back at all the good things she did? Why not let her family remember her fondly? Oh that’s right, because the likes of Paul Burrel are skint so they want to capitalise, yet again, on the poor woman’s memory!

On a more personal note I learnt that drinking one jug of iced coffee a day can send you slightly crackers and jittery…
Whilst Little E tried her hardest to learn to use the word ‘irony’ correctly, Him learnt that the A1 to Newcastle is a Very Long Road at 2 in the morning, and the middle one learnt what a streaker was at the World championships; we all learnt (my family and I) what it is to experience a 6.8 earthquake (we thought it was the wine). Seriously though, this sobering experience reminded me what a scary and wondrous world we live in.

Earthquakes, Hurricane Harvey, South Asia monsoon bringing unprecedented flooding and devastation; all natures way of keeping us on our toes. The big stuff which we can’t control. Scary isn’t it? That we live in such a brilliant, beautiful and diverse world and yet try as we might to predict and control we are no match for the elements. What we are good at though is being strong, brave and helpful. I can’t be alone noticing the apparent lack of racial segregation and hatred coming from the images and reports in Texas over the past week. Yet two weeks earlier, In Charlottesville, huge questions were being raised on Americas stance on race hate: had they digressed so far that it was now acceptable to treat fellow man in such a way – all because of the colour of their skin? America’s battle with white supremacy seemed to dissipate when the shit hit the fan. To see all men coming together regardless of who or what they are, showed the true strength of man. Reminding us all of the meaning of equality. Texas, known for being Trump’s stronghold, put two fingers up to all those that judge and came together as one. And Trump et al, unlike the Bush administration who ignored Katrina’s devastating impact on New Orleans, threw all they had at the situation. Although, I did raise my eyebrows at the First Lady turning up in ridiculously high heels – was is a faux pas to wear inappropriate foot wear when every man, his dog and even news crews were rescuing stranded citizens?

Anyway, what Trump did do during such times was focus on his country. Something which, to his credit (can’t stand him but…) he did with strength and determination. He let his mouth shut whilst N. Korea were waving their weapons around for attention again. (What was it I said about man? I’m not sure Kim Jong Un got the memo). Trump showed that deep down he was a businessman at heart and that when your business is in trouble, you send in the troops.

But, this is the thing, in learning how powerful Mother Nature is we also learnt how dangerous man is. Terror stacks were both attempted and foiled this summer. Having to explain, yet again, to my children what had happened in a place which held such happy memories for them – Barcelona. Then being awoken (again) with a BBC Breaking news (Him hadn’t muted the iPad again) informing us that N. Korea had carried out another nuclear test. And that got me thinking because although we constantly evolve, learn, understand and move forward, Kim Jong Un seems to have missed the lessons we learnt at the end of WWII. Now, as old as I may look I was not around them BUT and this is the big one – we all know that none of what happened should never happen again. The quotation goes ‘the more we learn about the past, the better we can plan for our future’.

So what did I really learn? Nothing new really but a sense that to lead a good life, one we are proud of, we need to be mindful of each other. New term, new season, new start…let’s do this!