And tomorrow…….Diggerland

The boys have been uber helpful and good today, all because tomorrow we rise early in the morning to cross the (thin end of the) country and get to explore Diggerland. Wooohoooo. Wooohooo.

Earlier they were musing at other possible tourist destinations. “Spiderland?”. Erm, no. “Motorbike land?”. Sorry. “Trainland?” (He must have been thinking of York.) Just goes to show the level of genius for whoever dreamt up the concept of “Diggerland” in that it a) makes sense and b) sounds good.

Our eldest son is a competent reader and riding this wave of helpfulness, we got them to wolf down their pancakes and told them that come 8pm, rain or shine, (or in pyjamas or not, more to the point), we would be sat infront of Holby, all parental rights abrogated. I managed to oversee toothbrushing before the witching hour, and assisted the younger one a wee bit in getting his pjs on and then removed ourselves from the shared bunk beds as eldest son had organised Thomas the Tank Engine stories on the stereo and had started reading ‘Supertato’ (our current favourite library book) to the wee one.

Hurray for tomorrow.

How the other half lives (down south).

We had a mad weekend driving to Kent and back to see friends and family and it was fun, lovely to catch-up with folk, and insightful. These long trips to catch-up with kith and kin are nearly always worth it as we come home having seen how our friends and family live and rekindle the friendships that languish so easily.

We’re just so damn busy these days that it’s hard to keep in touch, and so we resort to social media where we portray the best versions of our lives on terms that mainly suit us. But the connections just aren’t that meaningful or authentic. I’ve started writing letters again to some of my friends and will try to do more of this.

With the half-term holidays coming up I’d had a hankering for finding an art gallery to visit. I miss not living in Edinburgh with galleries on your doorstep and told my friend that if we’d been spending more time with her in Kent, we’d have tried to visit Margate. My friend works in London but hurries home to put her kids to bed and simply doesn’t have the time to go and gaze at art any more. I realised that despite our very different circumstances, we share similar privations, (First World Problems, I know), and so my frustration with living in West Cumbria is assuaged a little, and I’m just a little more determined to go out there and make the most of what we do have here.

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My 6 top tips for sneaking-in more time for reading for those who ‘just don’t have the time’.

NB: This is written from a stay-at-home parent’s perspective and doesn’t include more obvious (and perhaps dubious) ways of upping your reading time, such as going to the bathroom whilst at work in order to read, reading in your lunch-hour and reading whilst you commute. 

Six days ago I began an online exercise where everyday, for one hundred days, I photograph something that makes me happy and document it online: #100happydays. Reading has cropped up in my pictures at least twice, and for those who know me, this will come as no surprise. Yes I love books and reading, and what with it still being January and the season for goal-setting, one of my reading goals this year is to finish those series. You know, actually complete the Harry Potter books, and Millennium, and start and complete the Hunger Games trilogy. You get the idea. Much of my free time is spent thinking about reading, rather than doing, and so I’ve been contemplating how to turn this around. 

So here are my top tips: 

1. Turn off the tv. This does seem to be an antisocial measure and one to cause unrest in the family home. The rest of my family ADORE the telly and I really can’t remember the last evening which didn’t automatically involve switching on the goggle box. So either I slope off to somewhere else (my bedroom) to read, or switch it off and incur the wrath of the boys, either way I am a baddie. I can only suggest either talking to your nearest and dearest and trying to explain and persuade what you want to achieve or else buy a set of Dr Dre’s and tune yourself into some music whilst you read. 

2. Log off from the social media. Yes, it is much easier and in a duped, immediate-gratification kinda-way it is more fun to spend hours on twitter and Facebook but it doesn’t get books read. Keep logged-in to Goodreads, though, in order to update your progress and get suggestions for future reads. 

3. Carefully choose your reading material

a) Go for books with short chapters. If you get interrupted or fall asleep, then you can pick-up from where you left-off relatively easily. Also, you feel as though you are making progress rather than getting bogged-down with text and often race through, thinking ‘just one chapter more’. I recently read ‘The Radleys’ by Matt Haig which had wonderful, short chapters. Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ books also have wee chapters and some others include: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby and most books by Carl Hiaasen and Chuck Palahniuk. 

b) If you’re not enjoying your book then don’t be afraid to ditch it. If you join or reacquaint yourself with a local library and use this as a source of books then you won’t feel so bad about jettisoning a book that hasn’t cost you anything. 

4. Reward yourself with reading. So you’re enjoying your book and it has short chapters. Instead of a walnut whip at the end of the day, or a glass of wine after tidying the kitchen, give yourself the joy of a chapter of your book. Better for your waistline too.

5. Join a bookclub. Having a deadline is a great way to ignore distractions and sharpen your focus on the page. 

6. Change your format.

a) E-readers have their place and  I used to dig-out my Kindle from the inside pocket of my coat whilst waiting in queues for stuff, but back then I didn’t have a proper cover for it. The screen has since died and I have now made a bulky cover to try and prolong the new screen’s life. What I could do, and what I encouraged my brother to do, was to download an app that allows him to read his book on his phone. No excuses for leaving your book/ e-reader at home now. Unless you’ve left your phone at home, of course.

b) Discover audio. My circumstances have changed recently and I am finding myself doing shedloads of driving. So I’ve borrowed a playaway device from the library and I’m ploughing my way through ‘Bring up the Bodies’. I get the audiobook for three weeks; it costs me £1.50 plus the cost of a AAA battery and earphones and I can also plug it into my ancient car’s tape adaptor. Playaway is a clever format in that I don’t need to spend time downloading or messing about with computers, discs or cassette tapes. It remembers where I stopped and is easily portable. Today I went for a long walk on my own and was immersed in Tudor England for the hour or so.  Perfect. 

 

 

 

 

 

B is for biomass

We’ve been in our rented place for nearly a month now and our thoughts are increasingly focussed on the bungalow we are in the process of buying. On the whole, it doesn’t need a lot of work doing to it. It’s not exactly what we envisaged buying when we put our wee house on the market, but it’s going to be our home, so we’re making the most of it. And dreaming of a warm, eco-friendly home at that. Yes, colour us smug.

The place currently has electric storage heaters and a wood-burning stove. It runs on economy 7, which is a cheaper electricity tariff BUT I would most likely be spending a lot of time during the day in the house, and I want a more controllable  way of heating the place. Also, as this isn’t exactly our ‘forever home’, we want to make it attractive to potential buyers. Hold that thought.

So. The way forward is *obviously* gas central heating. There is a gas line in the street, so it would just be a matter of connecting it to the property and getting a central heating system installed. And then a friend suggested we consider a biomass boiler. No, I thought, pooh-poohing the idea after we had had a depressingly brief chat about biomass heating systems with some company last summer at the Forestry Festival. They had said it wasn’t worth doing if there was gas already in the property. And then we did some more research and rang some engineers, estate agents and builder friends, and once again, after pretty much talking ourselves out of the decision, it looks as though we will go for a biomass system afterall. Which is exciting, especially after the recent news about fracking which hubby and I are emphatically against on both moral and environmental grounds. With this decision, we won’t feel so hypocritical when we criticise the dash for shale gas as we won’t be using it!

Of course there is the matter of how potential buyers would view this asset of the house (as we see it). Of the three estate agents I contacted, only one saw it as a positive and the  other two were suspicious. That said, the positive agent is the most forward-thinking and is the guy who we put our house on the market with back in August. He is a new-breed and doing very well. I think we’ll go ahead with it regardless.

Would you buy a house with a biomass boiler?

The ’72hr’ book stash

The  '72hr' book stash

My strategy for packing-up the house is taking a long time to formulate. Lots of thinking time. I’ve been thinking about boxing-up books today. Most easily packed (and weeded) are the shelves of books I’ve actually read. Then I got thinking about which books I might want to read whilst we are in rented accommodation. Of course I have a Kindle which will keep me in reading matter for a good few weeks but as this period of hiatus will most likely coincide with Christmas, I thought about other books I will want to have to hand. And most obviously (and sentimentally for me) it will be my small, battered, American copy of ‘The Night Before Christmas’. I will consult the others about their Favoured Christmas books to keep separate.

I also decided I would also like to have to hand my go-to book in times of stress: ‘Arch of Triumph’ by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s simply stunning in its nihilistic, calvados-ridden darkness. It’s so familiar to me being one of the few books I have ever read more than once, and is now a quirkily comforting read. Of course there will be times when I don’t have time or energy to read more than a page or two and for that reason I will also set to one side the anthology of poems published by Bloodaxe books called ‘Staying Alive’.

These three books will form the basis of my 72hr book stash, modelled on the newly discovered (by me at any rate) 72hr emergency kits.

Bang goes the theory that I could be a social worker.

Bang goes the theory I could be a social worker.

This morning I spent the precious two and a bit hours when my son is at preschool, sat at St Bees, finishing this book and greeting. I’d found the first half of the book so-so but the last few days I have been sneaking in as much reading time as possible. Much to the detriment of the state of my house and me and my family’s diet. I’m making amends now. Also the Kindle is out of juice, so for the sake of myself, my poor husband, (yes I did fetch it out of my coat pocket during the interval at the opera on Sunday night), and my lovely, slightly malnourished children, I am not going to recharge it until I have got a handle on my household. It will be tidy and meals, (proper meals with vegetables and everything), will be planned and bought for. Then I will plan my next read.

So what made me sink to such lows? The main answer would be the Weedon family. Not that I was modelling their lifestyle in the same way that some social commentators think that watching video nasties turns one into a serial killer, no. I think it was the glimpses into their chaotic and sad lives that hooked me in and made me worry for them and ultimately kept me reading the first few chapters of the book.

We’ve been house hunting too whilst I’ve been reading this and unsurprisingly the class issues of various villages and areas kept playing through my head a la Pagford vs The Fields as we would stumble upon a house that wasn’t ideally suited to us but was in a desirable middle-class village with, say, a group that organises coach trips to Carlisle’s classical music concerts. Someone else snapped it up. Sigh. Of relief?

So the moral of the story in ‘The Casual Vacancy’? Perhaps, I would argue, it is that politics is dangerous. But that’s not fair on Rowling. Really, the danger lies with egos and lack of concern for one another. So do fight for what you believe is right, but smile and look wide and when you think you’ve looked wide, look wider still. (B-P).

Opera

This Sunday, in between all the diversionary tactics of avoiding packing the house for an imminent house move,  I took my husband to see Robin Norton-Hale’s modern version of La Boheme: his first ever opera. We sat there and strained to make out the words and laughed at some of the jokes we could distinguish, and watched politely and when the lights came up for the interval I turned to him and said (in a Little-Britain-esque voice) ” Ah don’ like it.”

Nevertheless we ate our cheap, ersatz cornettos (60p each – this is the Carnegie in Workington, not the ENO) during the interval and soaked-in the culture and tragedy of the second half. I did not shed a unitary tear. On the walk back to the car I mentioned this fact to hubby and compared my emotional reaction to La Boheme with a performance we had happened to catch earlier that day, again in Workington, before the Rugby match, (I’ll explain later). This earlier performance was street-theatre (or opera), and comprised four individuals: two of whom I recognised as locals, the others drafted-in, I guess; wearing outsized puppet torsos and microphones. They paraded into the hub of Workington, which has a rather special sound system, and then began a twenty minute performance of love-expressed, love-lost and love-regained, using well-known arias and ditties from various pieces of opera. As the first performer sang to the backing music I started crying and didn’t stop until that piece had finished. I found it interesting that this, shorter, perhaps ‘inferior’ performance (no Olivier awards were won for *that*), had moved me in a way that the nationally renowned, imported variety had failed to do.

I’ve since looked up the history of La Boheme on and when reading the story I *was* moved and realised that it was the transition to a modern setting that had scuppered its ability to resonate with me. Had this opera been set in nineteenth century Paris and referenced the lack of matches (rather than lack of change for the meter) and Mimi being a seamstress (rather than an etsy-esque badge-maker) and Mimi needing funds in a non-NHS society (rather than her dying in 21st century Workington from consumption), I think my heartstrings would have been pulled more effectively. It was cleverly adapted, but the cleverness is only apparent when you know what aspects of the libretto the performance is referencing.

Had I done more research it could be argued that I might have had a more fulfilling experience. Thing is, this is West Cumbria. It was a form of art and culture that is rarely accessible round here. I had to go to try it out, and sadly “Ah didn’t like it.”

NB – Both bits of opera were put on in Workington as part of the Rugby World Cup’s cultural programme. Workington hosted two Scotland games, and it was a great boost for the area. It was my first experience of live Rugby league and I reckon it won’t be my last.