My lockdown plans

 

read-3644847_1920
Lockdown means more reading time! (Image by FotoReith from Pixabay)

What strange times we live in! When I last posted, about two weeks ago, life was going on as normal, I’d just returned from a short trip to France and I was making plans for the coming weeks, including booking train tickets for work trips to London. Sure, there was talk of the Coronavirus in China, a few cases in Italy, but it didn’t seem like it was going to affect me, it was happening somewhere else. How long ago that now seems!

I didn’t post last week mainly because I was in shock. My elder daughter was due to be taking her GCSEs this summer, indeed, I was also going to invigilate at a local school. When the announcement came that exams had been cancelled, I think it hit me then how serious this was going to be. Suddenly, I feared for elderly relatives and neighbours and spent the week calling them, offering (please!) to help. I was comforting my daughter who seemed to be going through all the stages of a bereavement and, having worked so hard for the last two years, suddenly had no clue what she was meant to be doing with her life now. Plus, I could hardly tear myself away from the rolling news and the numbers dying in Spain and Italy increasing by the hundreds. We had to make rapid plans to get my son home from university (I’d only been to see him the weekend before!) and he was finding his local shops were empty by the time he got there – dinner for him one night was a pack of hot cross buns! I found it difficult to focus on anything.

This week is different – the high anxiety of last week has been replaced by a strange calm. We are all now under one roof, school, activities, hobbies, gym, everything now, has been cancelled, even the occasional Flat White at my coffee shop of choice. Unlike some, I’m not too worried about how I’ll cope with the ‘isolation’ – on the contrary, as an introvert who spends most of her days alone, it may be challenging for me to have everyone else around all the time! I think I will actually enjoy the opportunity to take a guilt-free foot off the gas. I will be giving help and support where I can in my community, but I will also be observing closely the need to keep others outside my household at (double) arms-length.

Whilst I don’t want to start creating lists of jobs for myself, I am better when I’ve got some goals, so here’s what I plan to do with all the found time:

  1. Top of the list is reading, of course. I have been wondering how I was ever going to get to The Mirror and the Light, the third and final part of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy….!
  2.  Re-read Ulysses – I am not a big re-reader, but I read this when I was much younger so I want to read it again through more mature eyes. This was one of my aims for 2020.
  3. Appreciate my garden, especially if this wonderful spring weather continues.
  4. Breathe – I’ll miss my yoga classes most of all but can practise at home.
  5. Take a virtual museum tour – perhaps the Guggenheim in Bilbao, somewhere I’ve long wanted to visit.
  6. Write – I have been finding it very difficult to get back into the re-writing stage of my book since my mother died, but perhaps this is the impetus I need.
  7. Keep in touch with my relatives.
  8. Make some photobooks – we don’t really print photos any more do we? I’ve made a few family photobooks over the years, but there are a few years missing.
  9. Clear out our files – paperwork, paperwork! My husband and I are terrible hoarders and keep everything, but do we really still need all those invoices from 10+ years ago?!
  10. Pay attention – we can still go out, once a day, for the moment at least, so whilst we still can I will enjoy my neighbourhood, with all its wonderful trees, and enjoy the lack of vehicle and aircraft noise!

I would love to hear what your plans are for ‘lockdown’ – above all, follow all the advice and stay well and safe.

If you have enjoyed this post, I would love for you to follow my blog. Let’s also connect on social media.

 

Why I’m giving up negative thinking for Lent

girl-1721432_1920
Image by Jess Foami from Pixabay

Sitting down with the family for our traditional Shrove Tuesday pancake feast yesterday evening, we got into the usual conversation about what each of us was giving up for Lent. We are not at all a religious family; I would describe myself as agnostic, and my children have inherited their parents’ religious scepticism. But we are interested in the bigger picture, and do not demur from Christmas gifts and Easter eggs!

In the past I have given up things like biscuits, or sweets. Scratching around for ideas this year, I suggested I might give up cake, but then remembered that I’m going away for a weekend with a couple of girlfriends shortly so that seemed a bit daft! We talked mainly about food items that might be given up, so what else was there – coffee, alcohol? Well, I don’t really consume a lot of either, but my morning coffee and a glass or two of wine now and then are small but important pleasures, so giving up those seems like reckless self-denial. I questioned my elder daughter about what the point of Lent might be for someone like me (she will be sitting her RE GCSE in a few short weeks and so is very hot on these questions at the moment). She said that for religious people the act of self-denial becomes about that person’s relationship with their god, but for the agnostics amongst us, she could see little benefit beyond it being another opportunity to make some sort of resolution, but which does not last a whole year.

I am very content with my relationship with food, and consider my diet good, on the whole. I don’t have many bad habits (I gave up Newsnight already, which was a terrible wrench, but it was a major cause of too many late nights!) and I don’t smoke, but I’m really not perfect. So, I stopped thinking about my body and started thinking about my mental habits. One of my resolutions for 2020 is to address finally my chronic self-esteem problem. I have been working through a book I discovered in my local library (one from the excellent ‘books on prescription’ selection) called Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennell. I have ended up buying my own copy because I realise it is one I will want to hang onto for a long time, which seems unfair to other library users, and I find myself scribbling on copious post-it notes throughout.

Overcoming Low Self-Esteem imgThe book incorporates cognitive behavioural therapy techniques into exercises for addressing, for example tendencies to be self-critical. Low self-esteem can lead to debilitating inhibition, irrational fears, in both social and professional situations, and, I believe, can truly limit one’s life experience, achievement, enjoyment in life and personal relationships. I have found it really tough working through this book, particularly the chapters which focus on understanding the causes of poor self-esteem. Thinking about my relationship with my parents, in the aftermath of my mother’s death just a few months ago has not been easy.

 

What has become clear to me already (and with this book I feel I have started on a journey that will last many months) is my tendency to think negatively, mainly although not exclusively about myself, and this has been a source of pain and of conflict at various times in my life. So, I am going to try to give up negative thinking. Even being aware of when it is happening, will probably be a revelation.

I’ll let you know at Easter how I’ve got on, although I hope I won’t then want to go on a negative thinking binge!

Will you be giving up anything for Lent?

If you have enjoyed this post, I would love for you to follow my blog. Let’s also connect on social media.

Life’s big milestones

It is a little over a month since I lasted posted on here. On the day of my post, I was called by my brother to say that my mother had been admitted to hospital. She had been unwell and largely housebound for some time. When I went to visit her (her home is in Norfolk, 250 miles away), she was clearly gravely ill. I stayed for a couple of days, but when she seemed to rally a little I returned home as my eldest child needed delivering to university, his first term – a huge moment for all of us and one which my mother would not have wanted me to miss.

I promised Mum that I would return the following week and I kissed her goodbye, not knowing if I would see her again. That possibility hung thick in the air between us, though neither of us could bring ourselves to articulate it. It was the last time I would see my Mum alive again as she died the day before I planned to return.

So, the last month of my life has been a pretty momentous one.

It’s a weird time. First, there is the hectic bit – my father died 10 years ago and as the executor of my mother’s will that now means I get to do all the admin. It’s quite a thing. Repeating the words “I’m ringing to let you know that my mother died…yes, the account number is… yes thirteen, zero four, forty-three…nineteen, zero nine, nineteen” over and over has a kind of numbing effect. I felt like an automaton and then, at totally unexpected moments, the shock would hit all over again – my mother just died! I no longer have parents.

Second, there is the tailspin of intense self-cross-examination that it throws you into – Did I do enough? Could I have been there at the end? Why didn’t I spot how bad things were? Why didn’t I tell her I loved her? Why didn’t she tell me she loved me? All a completely pointless exercise of course.

Finally, grief seems to lead you to question life more generally – why is that? Just when you are vulnerable, you start posing big questions to yourself – what am I doing with my life? – at a time when you are spectacularly ill-equipped to answer sensibly. Plus, with my son no longer permanently at home, my own little nest is emptying slightly and that has left its mark too.

Mum’s funeral took place last week and most of the immediate admin has been done. So, there is a small element of closure. The end of the beginning part of the grieving process. In the coming weeks and months I will no doubt be seeking answers to some of those bigger questions. I hope to get back into my blogging habit soon as it is something I enjoy enormously. With all the ‘organising’ that has been necessary I have not had the usual time to use my writing as an outlet for my feelings, which is so important.

So, readers, I hope you will bear with me on this journey. Thanks for reading.

>>>STOP PRESS<<< Teenager goes on reading binge!

read-515531_640

Yes, it’s true – one of my children is currently reading at a rate of about one book per day! They are currently on Easter holidays so that helps, but this started a couple of weeks ago. I thought it would pass, a mere flash in the pan, but so far so good, more and more books are piling up. Instead of walking around with eyes firmly fixed on the phone, she is walking around with her nose in a book. I am even having to suggest she stop reading and turn off the light at a very late hour!

So, how has this magic occurred? Perhaps you would like to know. Don’t get me wrong, she has always been a good reader, but in recent years, as with most young people once they hit the teens, it has tailed off in favour of the mobile phone, social media and TV streaming services, plus of course homework and friends. Sound familiar? Even when she has wanted to read, the motivation to put down the phone and pick up a book has not always been there, and hours are suddenly lost.

I asked her what has brought about this change (I wish I could claim the credit for it!) First of all, we had a grown-up conversation (ie not a parent-child, I’m-telling-you-what-to-do-type conversation) about getting enough sleep and she realised (quietly) that perhaps being on the phone late into the evening was not a good idea. She was also seeing that friends and peers were posting on social media well into the early hours. These are the kids looking exhausted at school, under-performing and experiencing behaviour problems, so she made the connection herself.

Once the phone was off, she had to find something else to do. This coincided with her watching the film of The Book Thief , which she had read and loved a few years ago. Realising how much had been omitted from the film, she went back and re-read the book. This set her off re-reading other books she had enjoyed. Once she’d got through a good few, she decided to get some new titles, and watch some film adaptations as well. And thus, a virtuous circle of reading, re-reading and associated film watching ensued.

I hope it lasts. She seems to be finding genuine pleasure in reading and it seems the more she reads, the more it motivates her to continue. Keen adult readers will no doubt recognise this feeling. It has, I think, also made her realise the pointlessness of much social media activity. She is aware of the potential harms, both the large and the small, and has decided, off her own bat, not to put herself in a scenario that might impact on her in a negative way.

Naturally, I feel very proud, but I assure you I am not smug; much of parenting teenagers involves realising you have less effect than you’d like and just hoping things turn out okay – it’s not for the faint-hearted!  I would like to think that we adopt certain habits at home that are helpful – modelling both reading behavior and limiting our own phone use – but, frankly, who knows?

So, that’s my little bit of domestic wisdom. If there are young people in your life, I hope they too will see the light.

What are your top tips for getting teens reading?

If you have enjoyed this post, I would love for you to follow my blog. Let’s also connect on social media.

All your literary Christmas viewing right here!

Apologies to overseas readers of this blog, this is very much a UK-focused post.  It’s the shortest day today, the winter solstice, but the hours of darkness remain long for some weeks yet, so I will be spending plenty of time indoors. On winter evenings I love reading, but I also love a bit of telly (just a bit!) – it’s a creative industry and there is some fantastic work out there. I am always on the lookout for literary adaptations. I love to see what Directors do with books and stories, how they draw out the salient events, whether they see the characters in the same way as I do, how they visualise each scene. I also love re-watching some of the classic television adaptations of the past. Apart from the wonderful and vital activity of reading with children, it is generally a solitary hobby so TV and radio can enable you to share the joy with others and can turn it into a family or group experience.

Every year I buy the bumper two-week Christmas edition of the Radio Times and go through it in some detail highlighting shows I want to watch. That sounds a bit sad doesn’t it! I do not enslave myself to the schedules, I just want to make sure I know what’s happening when so I don’t miss something wonderful. I may also choose not to watch as we know many programmes and films come around year after year. Here is my pick of all the literary links I can find in this year’s schedules. I have stuck largely to the free channels.

Family viewing

So much to see!

Plenty of Roald Dahl about: the wonderful film The BFG is on BBC1 on Boxing Day, or on the same day there’s The Witches on ITV. Then there’s the Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (so different to Johnny Depp) on 30th December on Channel 5.

xmas 18 25For little ones there’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt  on Christmas Eve on Channel 4 (might have to watch that even though mine are now teenagers!). Or the wonderful Paddington movie on 30th December on Channel 4.

Both the classic and new versions of The Jungle Book are on BBC1 this year – the 1967 film on New Year’s Day, and the 2016 version on Christmas Day. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without Mary Poppins on Christmas Eve on BBC1.

Other things you might want to catch are The Snowman (Raymond Briggs) on Channel 4 on Christmas Day, The Railway Children (E Nesbit) on BBC1 on New Year’s Day, Jim Carrey’s The Grinch (Dr Seuss) on ITV on Christmas Eve, the brilliant Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire (Anne Fine) on channel 4 on Boxing Day, Watership Down (Richard Adams) on BBC1 on 22 December (tissues at the ready), and Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome) on 2 January on BBC2.

If radio is your thing or if you are travelling, try another Mary Poppins (this time with the wonderful Juliet Stevenson) on Radio 4 Extra on 30 December, or Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on Radio 4 on Boxing Day.

The Classics

There are always a few adaptations of the classics around at this time of year. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week and in its honour you can watch the classic 1951 film Scrooge with Alistair Sim on Channel 5 on Christmas Eve or the 1984 film on Channel 4.

xmas 18 26Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd (one of my favourite Hardy novels) is on BBC2 on 23 December, Jane Austen’s Emma (with Gwyneth Paltrow) is on BBC2 on 28 December, Pride and Prejudice (starring Keira Knightley) is on More4 on Christmas Day, and the brilliant 2011 version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (the one with Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester) is on BBC1 on 2 January

The big new six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables starts on BBC1 on 30 December, and there’s a film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (starring Ben Whishaw), which I wasn’t aware of, on BBC2 on 28 December. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is on ITV1 on 30 December.

Chaucer and Shakespeare

Yes, Geoffrey Chaucer! If like me you’re a fan of Radio 4’s The Archers you’ll be delighted to learn that this year’s Christmas performance of The Canterbury Tales can be heard in full from David and Ruth Archer’s barn in Ambridge on Radio 4 on 29 December.

And for some Shakespeare you can watch Twelfth Night on BBC2, sadly on 23 December and not on 6 January (surely a scheduling oversight!), and Romeo and Juliet on BBC2 on Christmas Eve.

Crime and Thriller

As expected, there is no shortage of Ian Fleming on ITV1 if you’re a James bond fan: Casino Royale on 22 December, Quantum of Solace on Boxing Day, Skyfall on 27 December, and Spectre on New Year’s Eve.

And if Agatha Christie is your thing, there is a bounty of TV for you: the much publicised new series of The ABC Murders (starring John Malkovich as Poirot, and Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame) starts on BBC1 on Boxing Day. For a real Christie binge, settle down to BBC2 for New Year’s Eve afternoon and watch Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile (1978), followed directly by Evil Under the Sun (1982). Or to compare and contrast versions of Murder on the Orient Express watch Albert Finney on ITV3 on New Year’s Day, Kenneth Branagh on 22 December on Sky Thriller or David Suchet on ITV3 on 23 December.

Modern

2016-08-06 07.07.14Finally, for something a little more up to date, you could try The Revenant (Michael Punke) on BBC2 on New Year’s Day – brilliant book, brilliant film, brilliant Leonardo di Caprio. The wonderful Dame Maggie Smith in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, with Alex Jennings as the author, on BBC2 on Christmas Eve. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi is on E4 on Boxing DayThe film was not as well-received as the book, but watch it to make up your own mind. Finally, the adaptation of the first book of Elena Ferrante’s fantastic Neapolitan Novels My Brilliant Friend is now available as a box set on Now TV and Sky TV. Hope I can watch that one.

 

Hope there is something there that tickles your fancy. This is me signing off for Christmas, so have a good one and I will be back blogging in 2019.

Thank you to all followers of this blog, particularly anyone who has liked or commented on my posts this year. 

Au revoir Brittany! Back to blogging!

Although it’s been a wonderful summer, it feels, as always, good to get back to my desk, to my computer and to my blog. I’ve had nearly 3 weeks ‘off’ – I use that term more because it is a general expression, not because I see it as any kind of chore. In truth, I have missed my blog! The reason I have posted so rarely is because I was a) doing so much reading, b) got totally sidetracked by a nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle at our holiday home (!), and c) was just having a great time with the family. When I wasn’t reading we were cooking, eating, talking, staring at the stars, a sight we are not so used to in our light-polluted Greater Manchester suburb, getting out and about, all the things you do on holiday, really. It’s been a fantastic break for all of us and we have all come back newly energised to face into the new academic year (it’s another big one for our family), ready to meet new challenges and set new goals.

974db1fd-e67b-4366-9e06-9cac492fef1b-1125-00000161832e76ce_fileI managed to read all three of the books I took on holiday with me, and enjoyed all of them immensely. They were Harvesting by Lisa Harding, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, the August choice for my Facebook Reading Challenge, and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I’ll be posting reviews of them over the next few weeks.

So before I launch into the ‘new year’ (I’ve posted here before that I find September a more effective time to start things than January), I would like to close off the summer with some pictures of beautiful Brittany. We stayed in Cancale, well-known for its oysters, something I eat maybe once every couple of years – twice in a fortnight is enough!

I loved Mont-St Michel, over the border in Normandy. It was absolutely thronged, but we arrived early afternoon and by 5pm the crowds had thinned significantly.

We visited beautiful Dinan, ‘town of history and art’, a couple of times and I loved it. One tip if you go there – don’t expect to be able to get lunch after 2pm!

Another favourite was Ile-de-Brehat, a wonderful island, just off the coast near Paimpoul. It’s tiny, rugged, and there are no cars. You can hike from one end to the other, or as we chose to do, cycle all the way round.

Finally, from my holiday photo album, recognise this?

2018-08-28 16.39.09

I was delighted to be able to visit St Malo, setting of Anthony Doerr’s wonderful novel All the Light You Cannot Seea truly beautiful town.

Have you ever visited Brittany or been to any of these wonderful places?

If you have enjoyed this post, please follow my blog. I mostly post book reviews, with a few other things scattered in between!

Summer holidays

We arrived in France yesterday for our family summer holiday. We had a week in Ireland last week visiting family, travelling between Dublin and West Cork. It was wonderfully full-on so there was precious little reading time. However, now that it’s just the five of us I’m looking forward to a slower pace. My children are all well into the teen zone now so my husband and I find ourselves twiddling our thumbs in the mornings, waiting for them to get up. Perfect reading time!

We are staying in Cancale, a smallish coastal town in Northern Brittany, arriving here on the overnight ferry from Cork to Roscoff, which was very pleasant indeed – good, reasonably-priced food, decent cabins and plenty to do.

I’ve been unusually restrained with my holiday library this year, just the three books: Harvesting by Lisa Harding, a harrowing account of child prostitution, child trafficking, abuse and neglect, Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie, the August choice for my Facebook Reading Challenge, and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, one of my book club’s summer reading titles.

I’ve almost finished Harvesting in the first couple of days! It’s not for the faint-hearted, but is gripping. I’m told it has been thoroughly researched and is not an outlandish account. If this is the case, I have truly led a sheltered life. It’s tough stuff.

If I manage all three books there is always the Kindle back-up! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

What are your holiday reading choices?