How I stopped writing and learned to love felt tips

Hello again. A month passes. I make plans to write, really I do.

Instead, I head back to doing some colouring, when the evening comes round and my time is (relatively) my own.

Because, at least for now, colouring is good. Colouring is peaceful. Colouring gives you something nice to look at the end.

And colouring is really the last thing I would have expected to find myself doing, even a year ago.


Somewhere near the start of this year, one night, I found myself out of sorts. I needed something to do with my hands.

Not cooking. Not typing. Not sewing. Just something that felt like…not work.

I found a few of my kids’ colour-in birthday cards that hadn’t been done. I half-inched a pot of felt tips out of a sleeping child’s room, and made a start.

It was…peaceful. I even sent a few of them, to other grownups who know me well enough that I can send them coloured-in birthday cards done by me.


I had a set of fine tipped felt pens, bought for a journalling thing that didn’t quite take off.
I had a couple of books of geometric colouring designs, bought for the kids’ craft stash.

At some point, I decided to combine the two. And the whole thing took off.

Much later, I started to see colouring books everywhere. In bookstores, bargain stores, in magazines sent by people who want you to buy their books.

There was all this mindfulness stuff mentioned in the blurb for the colouring books. And I’m pretty sure it’s there. If you want it to be.

But maybe for me, the six- or seven-year-old me that used to colour grids of squares and triangles and hexagons had made a reappearance.


I’m not great at drawing. I understand, yes, that I can be better, that practice is true for drawing as well as for writing, cooking, roller-skating, and many other key things in life.

But in the meantime, I can do colouring. In fact, I can imagine I’m in somewhere in North Africa, or maybe southern Spain, gradually putting together a mosaic floor.

That’s the kind of colouring I find myself doing the most. Sometimes there are flowers and leaves, and tendrils, and, you know, I put up with them too.

But what I like most is the geometric stuff. And what I like even more than just the colouring is the outlining, especially where you do a lot of it.

Then it starts to feel like you are not just involved in the shapes, but that you are somehow creating them. Straight line after straight line combine, and all of a sudden you have a twelve pointed star, that you would not have been able to manage otherwise.


What I also really like are those moments when you look up from what you are doing, or turn the paper a bit to do a fiddly bit.

And suddenly, you see a new element in the design that you hadn’t been able to see before. The squares that interlock between the triangles; the succession of new shapes marching off across the page.

There’s something that is both very small (line after line after line after LINE), and something that is very big: the way that space works; the way that shapes fit together.

That’s not the kind of thing I’ve been used to looking at so much. But I could get used to it.

I find that I do.

Seize the (ten) minutes

Mini’s unwell today (but getting better fast). So much better, I’ve only got ten minutes before we need to get some more food made, and aid the healing process.

There are all these wise people out there telling us to seize those little gaps of time – for writing, for whatever hobby or interest really.

Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there – it all adds up.

Some writing needs more thinking time than ten minutes. Some of that is the kind I’m hoping to produce more of.

But a blog post is meant to be short and sweet. (I confess I fail on the short aspect, some times.) So ten minutes really will do.

It works for things that are easy to pick up and put down. Like colouring, for example.

I’ve joined that growing movement of adults doing colouring for fun (never expected that, I have to say), and it is very calming.

You can colour and think – or colour and think of nothing – or just focus on getting the right colour to stay inside the right shape.

I’m still to work out more of what I genuinely can fit in for ten minutes of that kind, but with a laptop and home wifi, it isn’t really that hard to make writing one of those things.

It is a bit harder when your invalid is feeling well enough to start belting out songs at the top of their voice. Ones that are the child’s version of sung dialogue in opera. Not terribly conducive to concentrating.

But I remind myself that I used to work in an open-plan office, with lots of different conversations going on around me, and still managed to crank out emails and the like.

It can be done.

So yes, I do plan to seize the next free ten minutes, and more. Even if I all I write is for editing later.

Because it really can be done.

So: hard boiled egg or ham for lunch? Up to you. I’ll be back – maybe even sooner than I expect.

Finnegan, begin again


It’s been another long break from blogging. Yes, it’s September. Yes, the nights are closing in (though I’m trying not to notice that too much).

Where to begin? Not sure so much where, but actually beginning, that is the trick. One I’ve been avoiding for a while.

Time has marched on, and suddenly there’s some extra space for me in the day. Yes, it’s already getting filled up (though hopefully not too much).

No, I haven’t finished all the painting yet – or all the things on my List to Do. But I got most of the fence done. That helps. Little by little.


I met a friend this last week. We got in some chatting time. 40 is around the corner for her, and she is thinking about what she wants life to be like in the new decade.

40 has been and gone for me. I had my intentions too, and they were generally around writing. I did a big burst of it last year, and there hasn’t been much this year at all.

I found myself thinking about I’d wanted to do. What I still want to do, even if I tell myself I don’t really know what to write about at the moment.

(I don’t. But it’s OK. I’m working on that too.)

I could write a much longer post about why I haven’t written – and actually, it wouldn’t be that much fun to read. Or even to get out onto the screen, for me. So I’ll leave it between us that there have been reasons why.

So it’s back to writing warm up. Finger flex, arm stretch. We’ll focus on breathing, maybe, and what that looks like in writing.

(Paragraph breaks, mostly.)

I cast around for a title for this post, and found myself thinking of a children’s song:

“There was an old man called Michael Finnegan

He grew whiskers on his chin-egan

The wind came up and blew them in-again

Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again”


I think I will leave the beard growing to others.

But perhaps the wind will blow my words about a bit, inside and out, and help me find new life for them.

And new life for me, too, in setting them out to air.

I can’t hear myself write

Once upon a time, there were three posts a week.

And for a time before that, there was one a day.

In the early days of the blog, heady with capturing the experiences of the year, there were several posts a day. (I was trying to offer an alternative to the Christmas roundrobin, putting stories on the blog instead.)

Just now…well, quite a while seems to go by without writing.

Some of that is spent waiting to identify what I want to write about. And waiting for a writing push, to be honest.

In previous years, September would come round, the writing seed would start to push its way back to the surface.

Shortening days – lengthening time spent writing.

Just now, my words are being used for more functional purposes.

Enquiring about what to cook – and then checking and checking again while Mini tries to identify whether to stay on target with a choice or not.

Directing foot traffic at off-for-school time. Helping gloves and their owners become reunited.

Identifying myself across a crowded playground. Trying to cut a middle way through ‘I did – no you didn’t’s.

Oftentimes, my words are in stiff competition with the other words in the ether.

Ones that may include cars and dolls. Minecraft and nativity songs. Stories from Newsround and the latest love-hate relationships at nursery.

That’s OK. That’s where it’s at. The quieter words, the ones I look for when there is stillness – they haven’t left. (I try to remind myself of that.)

I kind of hope that the quieter words are holing up somewhere. Getting organised. Planning, digging tunnels. Politicising, even.

Some day, I hope I will open the door, and out will come the marching band of quiet words, ready for a parade.

I don’t think they are hiding (though I do sometimes at the noise levels). I don’t think they are too put off at the crash of Duplo trucks or the whoosh of yet another paper aeroplane.

I like to think of them, sometimes, nestled against each other in the dark, like bottles in a cellar. Allowing dust to cover them (that one’s easy to achieve).

Maybe it only needs a torch, or even a lightswitch.

They’ll be there. Waiting.

If I’m lucky – maturing.

Moments: November 2014

November is a funny month. Not in a funny ha-ha way – not enough ice lollies for that.

It’s not as busy as October, which includes a school holiday. Nor yet as hectic as December, for obvious reasons.

There is activity around the corner, but you can hide from it in November, for the most part, if you want to.

There are still plenty of moments, though. Here are a few.


We’ve reached that point in the year when the leaves outside my window really shine.
There’s lots of rain, yes, but in the bright sky moments, the trees opposite are still in leaf.

It’s a brassy orange, really. Not a hair colour. Not as deep as many of the other leaves that are now just so much soggy underlay on the pavement.

Today, I set my timer, and sit with my cup of tea and look out at the leaves. The blue of the sky contrasts with the orange on the trees.

I remember a school art teacher telling us all about blue and orange working together, and me disbelieving him at the time. (I was eight, and not terribly artistic.)

I’m in agreement now. Add an occasional soar past from the pigeon formation team, and I’m really very happy.


We have our first go at packing up the trampoline for the winter. It feels like a big job.

We are all out in the garden together. The kids go up and down on bikes for the most part, and Dan and I try to work out what attaches to what on the trampoline, what might go inside which bag.

We neglect a set of potatoes in grow bags for over a year, but here they are, producing a little crop. I smile at the automatic gasp with each new discovery, whatever the size, as Junior and Mini go to it, a bag apiece.

It’s a scramble, really, dealing with short attention spans, and other garden jobs.
I try to farm out raking the leaves to Junior.

That lasts all of twenty seconds, but when I offer the large garden fork to make holes in the black bin bag (think: future leaf mould), there is much more excitement.

Mini is particularly serious on clearing the potato bag, going and going with a tiny trowel. Part way through, there is a request to sit down, and I manage to find a small kneeler in the shed.

Potato hunting continues, and I can fill one bag of leaves; prune the peony; help with some poles for the trampoline.

The sky is dry, not quite bright. We are in one of those brief respites.

Later, there’s popcorn, and a board game. I think that I should offer these kind of rewards to myself for extra labours, not just to help the kids through the task.


The evenings after teatime shift. We’re done with trampolining, scootering. It’s dark.

Instead, there is fighting over who gets to blow out the candle at the end of the meal – an extra token from me, to help us through these days when the curtains are drawn before we even sit down to eat.

Sometimes, we make it round the table all at the same time. The kids may be on supper, Dan still on tea, but we’re there, eating together, attempting to follow conversations round and round.


The days shorten. The effort to get up in the mornings is clear. Both kids are sleeping beyond the point I have to get up.

I try some gentler ways to help them wake, but in their own time.

Partly opening the curtains. Leaving a door open, so the sound of me wrestling the dishwasher can offer a little encouragement to stir. Putting on a low light in a nearby room.

There are hats now, and gloves, and scarves to add to the morning routine.

There are experiments with mittens on strings, and more emails to the bus company to see if a missing item has turned up. (It hasn’t.)


Welly socks are out in force. We have a welly routine now, and it is mostly going well.
As is jumping in puddles at any opportunity: coming home, going back for school pick up, on the way to sports class.

The bench in the school playground is often too wet to sit on. There’s more interest in coming straight home, not staying on and playing.

There still need to be snacks, though.


There are questions; new observations. Numbers on gear sticks. Emergency buttons on the inside of bus doors.

I sit through another round of Minecraft explanations. Nodding and smiling is surprisingly low energy, and I can quite often cook at the same time.

We enter a season of babies: ones arrived, ones on the way. Friends, acquaintances, all are material for fuelling the toy buggy at home, back and forth, back and forth.

Sometimes, the stories overlap: buses and babies. ‘Under-five please..thankyou.’


There are new books. Stories from British history: my new favourite read-aloud.

I get to dip back to the topics at other times; find atlases to identify Brittany, Cornwall, parts of Wales. I hunt out stories about King Arthur from the library; make promises about Irish folk tales.

There are old books made new. Mini and I go on the wondrous journey of discovering Timothy Pope, his telescope, and suspected sharks.

I even manage to pull out a book for myself now and then.


Music makes a return to the evenings. We need the boost; the argument smoothing.

Junior listens to Blues Brothers tracks, and recognises that there is comedy and music combined. Mini hears soundtracks from musicals, and immediately starts twirling.

We do a big weekend drive; the kind that feel like car trips from my childhood. We watch the colours of the cats eyes on the road on our way back in the dark; we pass the miles by singing along.

Evening by evening, Mini’s song repertoire grows a little more. By day, these are mostly overwhelmed by the new set of songs issuing from nursery. Nativity season is coming.


There are friends to see, and maybe cinema trips for the mums (whisper it).
There are Christmas plans, and the beginnings of lists.

Only the beginnings for now. Maybe there are still some more leaf piles to jump in.
They may be soggy, but there are wellies, and big boots, and thick socks to protect us.

Separately or together, we jump right in.