Über mothers, school and growing up...

posted on: Monday, 30 January 2012

Thank you so much for all of your kind wishes for Boo's entrance exam. It went 'OK' - that was the main comment I could glean from her. Hard to gauge what exactly that means; I am not sure whether at 10 years of age, you can measure your success in the form of a verbal reasoning test where you scored 65% or above! I am so pleased it's over and that we can, as a family, breath a collective sigh of relief.

I did come away from that school hall wondering - what's it all about? Why is it that we feel compelled to propel our children headlong into the best of all opportunities. At the exam, the mother's tongues were positively clacking with competitiveness as we waited for our off-spring to be released. Talk of private tutors and years worth of preparation to get in the 'right' school.

Admittedly we too have aimed high; this school is allegedly one of the country's best and they like that 'quirk' factor in their intake. Pupils who are academic, sure, but who also will go on to be captains of industry and in their spare time climb Kilimanjaro for charity. I got a sense of disquiet as we left, and it remains with me, when I wonder why we want to subject Boo to the rigours of a competitive school. We were advised to try for this school and whilst there is a flush of pride at the prospect of her success, there is also the concern that at the young age of 10, she could also taste academic 'failure'.

And those super-mothers that my friends and I encountered; I am not sure what to make of them. Two observations; there is always a degree to which we vicariously live through our children's success. And secondly, for those lucky ones who also experienced the benefits of the best schooling the country had to offer in their youth, there is that sense of entitlement. As I had a pretty average childhood, with average state schooling, I think I am always slightly in awe of those mothers who take all that privilege for granted. It's what they are used to. I do acknowledge that my life is privileged but somewhere, deep down, I justify that with the fact that my husband and I worked really hard for it and still do. It was never a given.

The other feature of my disquiet is the certain knowledge that whatever happens; whether it's this school or another, come September she will be moving into a whole different sphere. One where I inhabit a much smaller place. Parental input will come in the form of once-a-term teacher/parent meetings and each day, instead of me kissing her goodbye in her classroom, she will be out on her own. Dropped at school by bus. Such a strange reality to face. It is simultaneously wildly exciting; my child out in the world! But also terrifying; my child out in the world!!

As ever with parenthood, it's bittersweet. As each stage passes I look back on the previous one and consider how lovely it was back then. But despite any trepidation I have this frisson of pure excitement at what she is going to grow into. What she will become. I can't wait to see.

Things of beauty...

posted on: Friday, 27 January 2012

This weekend has been a long time coming; tomorrow Boo sits her exam for her senior school. Two hundred and seventy children vying for just eighty places! I figure we have done all we can, she can only do her best, and what will be will be (and other such philosophical observations).

Meanwhile I've been getting used to balancing my time between home and work again, taking things very slowly. So far so good. Some lovely readers have asked how my pain is - well, it's still there, less prevalent, but still there. I loop around in my mind whether there is less pain or whether I have become adept at dealing with the pain. Still no conclusion but it's not getting me down like it used to. I am taking steps every day to work through it and one day, I believe it will go. I do believe that.

Tonight calls for Friday night curry and traditional family times snuggled in front of the fire. I am relishing life right now; I feel like everything has happened this way for a reason and rather than question it, I am trying to just accept it; enjoy it, take it for what it is...

...'the godfather' by Louise Dungate...maker of luxe knitwear
via inspire me

...twice this week, at the farthest point from home when dog walking, I've been caught in the rain...

via the cambridge satchel company

...snuggle up...
Kirsten Scott Thomas
via crush cul de sac

Have a cosy time this weekend!

Life lessons...

posted on: Wednesday, 25 January 2012

All that time he was working away, he really would have rather been at home more.

I would do pretty much anything to preserve my children's happiness.

Getting a puppy was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Natalie Portman in Teen Vogue
I can feed our family of four, good square meals that don't cost much, with enough careful planning and clever shopping.

My hair is really going grey and I really don't like it.

The pangs I get when I miss my oldest and dearest friends are common to us all; life got busy and we got less time together. It's a sad fact.

I do care what others think of me.

It's OK that I  spend a lot of time thinking about my outfits.

Christy Turlington

That time I first felt a wave of pain in my jaw, I so should have seen a Physiotherapist and not a dentist. Or a doctor. Or a consultant.

A strong marriage is one where you are not both competing to be the one working the hardest. It's not a contest.

via foxontherunbride
I have too heavy a reliance on earl grey tea.

There is only so much housework I can do; there is more to life than laundry.

I heart the 1980's in the way my parents hearted the 1960's.

Ohhhh Rob Lowe...80's heart throb
Relinquishing control of my influence over my child's future is exceptionally hard. (As in: I can't sit the exam for her)

In order to be truly physically fit, to the extent that you are your optimum weight and are thoroughly toned, requires daily training. Three times a week actually doesn't do it...unbelievable, but true.

In most matters, what goes around comes around.

Good writing still has the capacity to take my breath away; just like it did when I was 13 and started studying literature.

It really was a mistake to get rid of that fur-collared, wool coat I had at University. Same goes for that perfect pleated skirt that formed my burgeoning 'work wardrobe'. Not to mention that vintage red Mulberry clutch. Ditto those perfectly faded Levi 501s.

Tell me...what is your latest life lesson?

Friday thoughts...

posted on: Friday, 20 January 2012

I went to work this week. It was good; interesting, it felt familiar and new all at the same time. One benefit of having worked for the same company for 15 years is that it's a bit like home. I haven't worked since June, so going back was a big thing. I haven't really started doing much yet, other than dealing with a gazillion emails, but I was very welcomed by colleagues. It reminded me that there were reasons why I worked; to do with my own sense of self, and my own capability. A good colleague told me that she missed how my mind worked; what I brought to meetings and decisions. Always taking a different view to those in the room and then gently but persuasively arguing my corner. It was nice to hear...

And so to Friday, I find that times are different here in our household. My husband is at home each day which is just such a treat for family life. Its funny how life goes; every cloud has a silver lining.

Thank you to my wonderful guest posters...so interesting to see life through the eyes of others. And in a spooky but lovely turn of events, my favourite artist contacted me as she had seen my blog. I was quite chuffed and in wonder at the power of the web...

Worries that turned out to be unfounded.

Feeling my son's heartbeat as he cuddles me.

Wood burning stove and endless cups of tea.

Walks round the field in rain, drizzle and damp.

'Grandma's Chair' by Jessica Cooper

Quiet moments.

Final preparations for Boo's senior school exams; it's all part of growing up.

emma watson
A newly present husband; unexpected and unplanned days together.

Getting ready for skiing in Austria...shoop, shoop....

Trusted colleagues and work peers.

Winter meals: shepherds pie and sauteed leeks.

Circuit training and strong coffee with the school mums.

Pancakes and nutella at tea-time.

via cannelle et vanille
Ridiculously dark mornings...when will the Spring come?

Sporting woollens every day.

love this outfit via prettystuff
My voice completely absent...too much talking.

Restoring order in my house...it's never been so organised!

via plush palate

January Diaries: Tania from 'Backwards in High Heels' Guest Post

posted on: Wednesday, 18 January 2012

I was bashful to ask Tania to write for my blog, given that she is a real, live writer, but when I did eventually pluck up the courage, she responded in such a positive and lovely way that I wondered why I had been so shy. Tania writes the blog 'Backwards in High Heels' (and has published a book of the same name with her co-writer). I would not be over-exaggerating if I said that her blog is my must-read each and every day; that I find myself wondering about her if the weather in Scotland is forecast to be gloomy. I find myself thinking about what she has written, long after I have read it. I consider her wisdom to be genuinely important and relevant in my day. Aside from the fact that she writes in a way that sometimes makes me catch my breath; the turn of phrase, the literary reference, the effortless metaphor. Reading Tania's words is like dipping a toe in a special, friendly, erudite pool. And then there is the beloved dog...

photograph by Tania
Should I explain who I am? I write books. I live in the North East of Scotland in a small granite house, surrounded by hills and trees, with one glorious black lab-collie cross. There were two, but one of my old ladies died last May. (This still makes my heart ache.)

Here is my day.

I wake to raging sunshine. I check my mental state. My father died eight months ago, and the echoes of that still fall about me. I feel it, viscerally, but I also examine it. This is the writer at work; it’s like a disease, I can’t help it. How interesting, I think, as I prod myself for unexpected symptoms and curious ramifications. How surprising, I think. And often, how maddening. I always want to write it, and, as my own Dear Readers know to their cost, I often do.

Today, it turns out, I am in Come Along mode. As in: come along, at least you are not living in The Congo. I think about the women of The Congo a lot; it is one of my enduring concerns.

Come along, come along, I say to myself. The dog, whose blog name is The Pigeon (for some reason I give everyone pseudonyms, even the dog) decides that she will encourage the Come Along spirit by being particularly sweet. She is the most glorious canine I have ever met, but occasionally she ratchets up the adorableness to new heights, just because she can. This morning, she has decided to give me her Grace Kelly gaze, which is so potent that I actually have to stop cleaning my teeth and get down on the floor of the bathroom to play with her. (Should I really be telling you this?)

The Pigeon
We have a little rumble, which makes me laugh. I think I should take life lessons from her. She is thirteen years old, her muzzle is quite grey, but her eyes are bright as stars, and she wakes to greet each new day as if it were the most thrilling thing in the world.

photograph by Tania
We go out, looking at the glittering frost dancing in the winter sun. I bless, as always, the old, dead, forgotten men who originally planted the oaks and beeches and limes under which I now walk.

photograph by Tania
I break out the strong coffee and get to my desk. I am working on the second draft of a book, which involves cutting, rewriting, filling in gaps. I have decided, for no known reason, that what the book really needs is a snappy section on the women of James Bond. I was re-reading some of the old Ian Fleming novels before Christmas and was reminded how different they are from the films; much sharper and harder and more interesting. The attitude towards women is paradoxical: rather modern and subtle on one hand, then suddenly unreconstructed and chauvinist. I am now reading a biography of Fleming himself, and am finding that exact attitude in his own life. He could be an absolute brute; he could also be understanding and sympathetic and nuanced.

Research is always hard because it feels as if one is not really working. I want to be tap tap tapping on the keyboard, watching the word count go up. Instead, I am making a few notes, but mostly reading and thinking. (It’s such an odd job, really; most of it is just thinking.)

'The Burn 
Then, there are boring domestic tasks. I am in day three of defrosting the freezer. My freezer is, as are so many things in my life, slightly bust. It’s not bust enough to replace, but just bust enough to drive me demented. It freezes itself into a berg of iciness, and all the shelves jam up, and I put it off and put it off until I literally cannot get to my bottle of Stoly, at which point the emergency alarm goes off. And then it takes three days, and there are towels all over the floor to mop up the water, and a horrid freezer soup gathers in the trough at the bottom and I have to scoop it out with a soup ladle.

As I do this, I think of how some people imagine a writer’s life to be filled with mystery and glamour. When I started, that was what I thought. I imagined that I would be going to parties with Martin Amis, and yacking it up with Salman Rushdie. (I did once meet Salman Rushdie, and he was quite polite, but he had a slightly baffled look on his face, as if to say: who is this woman?)

To reward myself, I make a huge pastrami sandwich, with rocket and tomato and mayonnaise, and eat it whilst listening to a riveting programme on Radio Four about the black arts movement in the seventies. Radio Four is my love and delight. It is how I know I am officially middle-aged. Each time I go into the kitchen, I automatically switch it on. Sometimes I am in a hurry, so I hear five minute snatches of programmes, and all the different subjects have blurred together in my mind by the end of the day.

Today, there was: Jenni Murray saying, in amazement, ‘Would you really want an implant made of mattress material in your breasts?’ There was the lovely Edward Stourton giggling hopelessly as he acts as referee in a spirited discussion about the future of the apostrophe. There was a government official from Kurdistan threatening a newspaper editor: ‘Do you know what I am going to do to him, that bastard? I’m a peshmerga.’

I have to go and look up peshmerga, because I do not know what it means. It turns out peshmerga is a name for armed Kurdish fighters who formed in the early 20th century, just after the break up of the Ottoman Empire. It literally means: those who face death. So that is my fact of the day. I do not like a day which does not have a fact in it.

photograph by Tania
Then: more reading and thinking and taking of notes. I write my own blog. I smile over the comments the kind readers have left.

I call my mother, for one quick question. Twenty minutes later we have discussed: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the drunkenness of Brendan Behan, and my grandmother’s third husband, who was not entirely heterosexual. For some reason, we get onto President Kennedy’s priapism. ‘I always wondered,’ my mother says delicately, ‘how he managed all those ladies, with his bad back.’ She pauses. ‘I mean,’ she says, ‘it can’t be very good for your back, all that.’

I take The Pigeon for her afternoon walk. The early dazzle has gone, the sun has set, the gloaming is gentling the hills. Everything is still and blue.

The Hill

When I come in, I take a final wander round the internets. It is fashionable now to deride the Internet as arid and anti-social. It’s just sad people, sitting alone in their rooms, staring at flickering screens. I love it. It means that I may live in this distant part of Scotland and still be in touch with the world.

I check the latest news from Syria, find an excellent blog post on whether men can be feminists (I say yes), read an interview with the Prime Minister about getting more women into Parliament.

I am slightly obsessed with the mysterious assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. No one knows who is doing it – the CIA, Mossad, some rogue black ops? It has been oddly under reported, but now the story is starting to explode. The blogosphere has got its teeth into the matter, and is shaking it like a terrier with a bone. I read all about it . Then I watch a sweet stop-go animation about books. This is the life of the internet; there is nothing arid about it.

The dark comes, and a luminous hunter’s moon rises over the horizon. I have, as always, not done quite enough. It’s strange, writing my day for you like this. It is a small day, a small life. I used to have dreams of living a huge life. Now, I like the smallness. I feel profoundly lucky that I may sit in a warm room in a beautiful country, and think thoughts.

The Pigeon side view!

January Diaries: Sophie from 'The Littlest Things' Guest Post

posted on: Monday, 16 January 2012

My friend Sophie; she's a gorgeous girl. I am very fond of her and follow, through her blog 'The Littlest Things', her daily pursuits. Sophie stayed true to her heart and joined her beau George, here in Britain. Meanwhile she often travels back to her native Sydney to see family and friends. Sophie takes the most amazing photos of everyday things that make her happy, so it's easy to see the world through young Sophie's eyes. Oh, and should I also mention that she has that kind of stop-in-your-tracks, to-die-for personal style? To me, Sophie is like a favourite niece who I want to help shepherd through life. However she doesn't need much shepherding as she is so very switched-on and savvy. She is one of the most grounded people I have come across in the blogging community and I am thrilled she has written me this guest post (burning the midnight oil, whilst jet-lagged, having just flown in from Australia). Over to Sophie...

...gorgeous girl...
I am so happy to be here on Lou's beautiful blog. We started blogging around the exact same time and instantly became friends. I see her as one of my closest friends, even though we haven't met. Someone who has so much wisdom and is so easy to talk to (via email). I feel so lucky that we stumbled upon each others blogs two years ago.

I write 'The Littlest Things'. I'm an Australian from Sydney but living in Cardiff, Wales. I want to share the adjusting of different lifestyles and cultures...honestly. I have never really written anything down on my experiences of both countries. So I thought sharing it with fellow 'Lou, Boos and Shoes' readers would be the best place to start.

...beach loving...
OK...so let's start at the beginning. My parents lived and grew up in Sydney their whole lives. They lived in the same area of the city and eventually went to the same high school (the same high school that my brother and I ended up going to). They brought us up in pretty much the exact same area and around a lot of friends they went to school with who happened to have kids around the same time they did. This meant a childhood filled with big barbecues around family friends' pools, going to family friends' holiday houses, playing out on the big wide streets until dusk.

A childhood spent falling asleep with sand in our beds, running around in bare feet and living outside. It was around the time of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when I realised just how incredibly lucky I was to live in such an amazing city. I was 11 and became extremely patriotic.

This upbringing lead me to believe that I would never live anywhere else but home. Sure I would travel, but it didn't even cross my mind that I would leave home. That was until November 1st 2007; the day I finished high school and met George; an English guy who is now my boyfriend - the reason.

...and he's the reason...
It wasn't until around September last year that it began to feel like I really lived here. Even though I lived in London for the whole of 2009 and flew back and forth for all of 2010, September changed my perspective on everything. George and I moved into our apartment in Cardiff and I got a job in the city. It began to become day to day life routine without me even noticing. This was when the comparing of the two countries and cultures started. It now felt like I was able to. Although, I don't like the fact that I compare them since I know both have good points and both bad but sometimes it's impossible not to.

...the girl can cook...peppermint brownies...
With my experience, it feels like Sydney is the easier city to live in. Everything feels brighter (even in the winter), maybe even happier and a lot more relaxed and easy going. When I'm home, I still fall asleep with sand in my bed, run around in bare feet and spend majority of the time outside. The food is fresher, feels a lot easier to lead a healthy lifestyle. There's not the exact same cafe or restaurant on every second corner. It feels like there is so much more emphasis on eating things which are good for you. Getting outside.

sand footprints...photograph by Sophie
From my experience, living in the UK, specifically Cardiff, feels like the harder city to live in. It feels like there isn't as much zest for life, it feels a lot darker and way less relaxed. It might be the fact that I feel like people who live here don't really seem to know why they do. Whenever I tell people where I come from, their first reaction is "oh, why the hell are you here then?". It feels like there is no where near as much emphasis put on leading a healthy lifestyle. The unhealthy options seem to outweigh the healthy ones ridiculously, from what I can see anyway. I do hate comparing them, but it just feels like, from my experience, that Sydney has got life right.

girl about town...photograph of Sophie by George!
Obviously, I am bias. You can see that from the whole introduction. To me, everything in Sydney is so familiar. I bump into friends and family wherever I go. I have unforgettable memories from countless places all around the city. Therefore, my analysis may be faulted. However, the funny thing which has seemed to gradually happen is that whenever I return home, I feel like an outsider. For the first couple of days anyway. It sometimes kind-of feels like I have become less Australian. It reminds me of a quote in a book I read called "Almost French". It was "...his life is a constant dilemma: in Australia he feels Greek; but in Greece he feels Australian. It's a bitter sweet thing knowing two cultures".

closeness...photograph by Sophie

One thing I know for sure is that I would never pass this experience up for anything. As much as I miss Sydney, and my family, and even though I don't think I will ever get used to that fact that I go home for "holidays, I know this is the best thing for me to do. I know I will look back and think of these days extremely fondly; of George and I starting out our life together. Of living on the other side of the world. Trying to find our feet, independently.  I love the challenge and everything I am gaining from it, even if it can make me homesick, like crazy sometimes.

But, it does make me incredibly happy knowing, that we will end up in Sydney for good, come a few years time. It is my home, after all.

...love this...impossibly blue photograph by Sophie
Congratulations Lou, on reaching two years of this beautiful blog. I'm so happy you started it, and I'm sure many people feel the same. Looking forward to so many more years of blogging together xx

Les choses de la beauté...

posted on: Friday, 13 January 2012

Well, here we are again; another week where time seems to have been on fast-forward. I have been having those sentimental thoughts again - you know how partial I am to them. You see I am returning to work next week...whaaaaat? I know, I KNOW, but hey, it's time. More of that next week, but in the meantime I am wallowing in the 'this is my last free Friday' feeling. I have a quiet weekend planned; settling in to a book and eating well. Conserving energy and getting fresh air.

Thank you to my wonderful guest bloggers this week...I have really enjoyed these diaries of others. More to come, but in the meantime thank you so much for your kind and supportive comments.

Things of beauty this week is en français, well just because, juste parce que pourquoi pas? So chic...so why not? You know how French women have that style, that elegance; how do they do it? Oh to be more like them! Enjoy...

bee-stung lips...clemence poesy

...vintage carrie in Paris...

life is in little pleasures...
...french plaits...which I still can't do...such an important life skill when you have a daughter!

via dust jacket attic

...lunchtime, Paris style...photograph by the Sartorialist

french cafe life via tom el bez photography

photograph by Jamie Beck

...marion cottilard in vanity fair

Wishing you a chic, relaxed weekend!