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Wrong time of year

By my normal writing calendar, June is the wrong time of the year for this.

September, October, shortening days, interest in being indoors more – that’s the time for writing.

Except that’s not how it’s been of late. Mainly because of the lack of words.

Not speaking words, you understand. Speaking words we do a lot. Things like ‘eating, drinking and kind talking’, which are some kind of ingredients for how to get through mealtime without anyone coming to blows.

(That’s the theory, anyway. Junior and Mini are less sure about the reality, or maybe about how to get there.)

So, lots of speaking words. Writing words, not so many. Some in emails, fluffing about making notes (love a nice Evernote note), but not these kind of words.

I’m not really sure about the writing words at the moment either. They seem to be like fish that spend their time in deep, fairly murky waters.

Most of the time, you don’t know they’re there. You forget they’re there, to be honest.

Other people are hauling those deep-water words out for supper, and you, you shrug and say you’re fine with your sandwich.

(You’re a bit cross that you forgot about them. Or that you don’t catch sight of the river so much. Or that you seem to be without means for getting them out of the water.)

Anyway. The words are there, really, but you don’t have a lot to do with them.

Once in a while, you catch a glimpse of sunlight on the water, and…well, there might be ripples. Maybe one of those big-shot word-fish has come to the surface, looking for flies, or wanting a change of scenery.

Slightly more of the time, you don’t see the words. You kind of feel that they’re there.

There’s a kind of movement, and you sense that there might be some words. Some big catch, even.

Those words, the plump ones, they seem to be swimming a bit nearer. You can feel the current in the water shift as they approach.

What happens next is uncertain. They might retreat into the reeds. I’m not sure where they go. Maybe they are waiting for me to follow.

Maybe I need a Merlin-type figure nearby to turn me into a fish, like in The Sword in the Stone, then I can catch up. (That might get tricky to maintain. School pick up time and all that.)

Maybe the trick is just to lower myself into the water, to feel the current as those juicy words swim past. To sense which direction they’re going.

Maybe I can risk wading. I mean, I’ve not done any swimming for months as far as words go, but wading must be worth a try.

What happens next is uncertain. But I’d love to catch me some words. And if I’m lucky, maybe these fish are part of a bigger migration, coming upstream.

June is the wrong time of year for migrating fish, isn’t it? Still. Maybe I can sharpen a stick, and stand in the shallows, and watch.

Just in case.

 

Weekly snapshot: 14 Jan

I’d like to find the right words to describe the sky today. Cold, bright, slightly ruffled clouds.

The kind of winter day that lifts you up; the kind that also has you doing the morning footwear calculation for the kids. Shoes or boots?

Boots (wellies) won out, which was just as well: there were some puddles with ice on. Would have been a shame not to examine them close up i.e. wade through the puddles.

There’s snow on the hills today. Closer to the coast, you don’t really see the chill of the day, though you can feel it on your neck; in your hands.

(Replacing leather gloves in the sales? Turns out that was a very good plan.)

===

A while back, I learned about the notion of kaizen: little tiny changes, day by day, that add up to significant change.

Evidently kaizen means ‘good change’, and is a big thing in management circles in Japan.

I may have done New Year’s Resolutions in the past, but these days, it’s too easy for them to become an addition to the ‘to do’ list.

And with two kids in school, bringing home new bits of paper, sporting new holes in school uniform etc, there’s no lack of things to put on the ‘to do’ list.

So back to kaizen. I don’t feel the need to go into a full continuous improvement mindset any more; I’m not doing corporate stuff any more.

But a tiny bit of change, here and there, bit by bit – yes, it does add up. And you can then pat yourself on the back a bit, and see how it’s gradually coming together.

That’s the idea, anyway.

===

Maybe it’s kaizen. Maybe it’s rediscovering my mojo in a couple of areas. Earlier in the week, I ended up doing some baking.

Not world-changing, true. Thing is, I used to do quite a lot of baking. I liked it. It was something I felt reasonably good at.

Then we moved Junior onto a gluten- and dairy-free diet, and the baking mojo packed up and left.

It shouldn’t have to, I know. But baking was something about ease; about the feel of putting ingredients together without too much thinking.

Wheat-flour cooking was (not surprisingly) where I learned to bake, as a child, watching my mum make yet another batch of rockbuns.

(Yet another only really refers to the speed at which said rockbuns were consumed. We were all for as many batches of rockbuns as we could get. Still are, really.)

As an adult, continuing to bake, you draw on some of that ease, that breeziness of feeling ‘I know how this works’.

Baking free-from shouldn’t have to be that different – it’s just it’s not based on the same ease there used to be.

Anyway. Big breakthrough. I tried an apple cake, one I used to make a fair amount, having had some baking apples passed on to us.

I decided to make it as the recipe stated, just with gluten-free flour and baking powder, and dairy-free marg.

TOTAL success. It is maybe a little softer than the original, but in all other aspects, it feels like the original. So much so that I had to put some of it in the freezer to stop us eating it all on the spot.

Anyway. A small change. One that felt like: I can do this again. Even dusted off some cookbooks. Let’s see if I can add a further reworked cake to the list.

===

A new year, a few new TV series. The Young Montalbano series returns. We shout ‘Dottore!’ and make the appropriate supplicating hand gestures.

Today there’s sun, yes, but it’s been a pretty wet grey start to the year. Opportunities to look at sun and sea in Sicily, even if just on the telly? Si, por favore.

===

Junior and Mini have decided to collaborate and build a hotel together in Minecraft. I am not quite sure of the genesis of this project, but they both seem very keen on it.

In the spirit of encouraging talking to each other, rather than shouting at each other (not all the time, but…), we’ve upped their gametime slot, so they can talk and build.

So far, there is cake in every room, a certain number of ladders to climb, and a few more surprises.

Overheard today:

J: What shall we use this time? Shall we try quartz? Look, this is polished quartz.

M: OK. Is that sheep fluff?

It is fair to say that Mini’s interest in Minecraft is so far mostly around the animals (and occasionally blowing them up), so appreciation of building materials is newer.

Rest assured I shall appraise you of the inner workings of the hotel, once complete.

===

On a different kaizen-type note, I’m doing some sewing. It’s kind of addictive, in a positive, peaceful-repetition sort of way.

This is a very housekeeping sort of sewing. I’ve been able to take up hems on school trousers before, sew on nametapes, and other bits and pieces.

Now I’ve worked out how to add some material onto the bottom of kids’ pyjama bottoms to make them longer (and hopefully, reduce the need to buy new ones).

Flushed with success, I’ve also sussed a couple of things about waistbands. For one, I unpicked the waistband on another pair of pyjama bottoms, made the elastic shorter, and sewed it back up again.

I’m guessing this should work on regular kids’ leggings too.

A couple of other pairs of leggings, passed on, had lost all their elastic and wouldn’t stay up. These ones had a proper trousers-style waistband that I didn’t think I could safely take apart.

So I made a new bit of waistband out of a strip of material, sewed it over the existing waistband, then added new elastic. That seemed to work, so I did the same on the other pair.

So far so good. Mini is enjoying picking the contrasting material from my stash;
I am enjoying figuring out how to make something work. Everyone’s happy.

===

We are in a brave new world of using timers.

Junior has suddenly discovered the ability to get dressed much faster (and without me shouting through the door). With the option of trying to ‘beat the clock’, suddenly getting dressed is much more interesting.

This is transforming my mornings on school days, and Junior is also finding that, with a bit of time left over, there’s a chance to do something fun before heading out the door.

Meanwhile, the world of stop-motion films continues. Dan sets up a plain background, and he, Junior and Mini try making some little films for themselves.

So far, my role appears to be to make approving noises. And to provide snacks once it’s all done.

I can do that.

===

We have had a happy few days of seeing friends this month.

Some of these friendships go back well over a decade. It’s wonderful to find that we still have things to say to each other. Conversations form; we remember bits of each others’ shorthand.

Encouraged, I get the diary out today, and set up one or two more meetups.

Kaizen for introverts: leave the house and meet people. Good people.

Even one at a time will do just fine.

 

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.

Little, and not all that often

October has seen me decide to reboot the blog before.

This time round, it’s probably looking like the reverse.

That’s OK. Blogs come and go, but they can also restart; have a hiatus while the writer is doing something else important, and many more variants.

I’m not doing daily writing discipline, this time round. Nor am I trying out a particular type of writing, or any of the other mini seasons I’ve done in the last year or two.

But I am here. Using words, thinking about them.

Not necessarily padding around writing posts in my head just now. To be truthful, more interested in Battenburg and box sets right now. (And it is the season of nights drawing in too.)

But I still want to bait the line with words every now and then; let them float out for a bit.

Sometimes they get a nibble from others, sometimes not. That’s become less important too, although it is nice to know when others like the bait.

===

I write because I continue to read what others write. I appreciate finding just the right set of ideas to carry me through. I write to give something back.

I write to clear my head. I write to capture a particular set of moments that would otherwise disappear entirely. I write to work through emotions, at times, to find a more constructive response to circumstances.

I write because it’s fun to tap away at the keys; to feel the rhythm of the letters combining, the pattern of sentences flowing. There is a music to words that I become more aware of, year by year.

I write to connect with others. All those other individuals, sitting at home, thinking their thoughts. (I’m betting a reasonable proportion of those are parents, duty bound to stay home, but still wanting to ‘chat’ somehow.)

Sure, the Internet is full of thoughts, and we don’t want to read them all. That’s fine. But we are allowed to think them, and to add our tuppence worth.

===

I write because it’s me. It doesn’t make me less me to be writing less regularly just now. But I write again to remind myself that this is one of the places where I feel most at home.

I write because there are natural and healthy limits to box sets and Battenburg, even when I’m tired and my mind and body tell me otherwise. Writing soothes a need for peace and quiet, for perspective – for escape, too – in a different way.

I write because I am an introvert, and sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversation for real, with people around.

(Or, equally, because I can get all the words out, in order, without interruptions, because Junior and Mini are in bed by the time the laptop comes out.)

I write because I become more and more convinced how much we need story; how much we rely on it. We can watch TV series, we can follow the sagas of stars in gossip mags (if we really want to), but all of it points back to story.

===

Story is you and me walking along together, when I write the words and you read them, at whatever time that is. Story is you and me trying to make sense of life – mine, yours, the other lives entwined with our own.

Story is putting one foot up on a stone, and resting on our stick, and saying, ‘hey, I’ve been thinking about this, and…’ It’s making our sign to help others avoid a wrong direction as they follow on their road.

Story is recognising that we are all putting one foot in front of another, day after day, looking to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.

Story is making light of our darknesses (when we’d rather have a streetlamp handy to chase them away). Story is pointing right back at the ones who tell it even better; who help us ponder in a different way.

Story is our tiny details and the big vistas when life drops away in front of us, and we can’t imagine even being allowed to be where we are right now. But we are.

===

Little and often is where I’d like to be. Little, and not that often, is where I actually am.

But I keep coming back to nibble on some words. To weave some more in my own story; to add some details where I’ve enjoyed another’s story.

And little by little, I hope to keep coming back.

Specialist subjects

Do you ever remember thinking about the things you would share with your kids, when they came along?

All those things you love. All those things that you know something about. All those things that you think might even be helpful to them when they grow up.

Well. Some of that happens. Occasionally they even listen to you about something you’re keen to tell them about.

Just like any of us, kids develop specialist subjects, and they expect you to be expert in them.

Whether you are or not.

Mini is all about cars. Car identification: tick. Identifying old cars never previously seen: tick. Ability to continue to identify cars, at speed, even when tired or grumpy: tick.

I have been apprenticed to the school of digger appreciation in the past, so I have learned a little in this respect. Part of me rails against it; part of me is genuinely fascinated by the interest in something that would never have taken my fancy at that age.

So we talk about cars. Turns out I do know something about them now. Driving helps. As does looking at badges of Suzuki vs Seat close up, so we can tell the difference between them. (You’ll be off to check for yourself now.)

We start to introduce some car part terminology: hub caps, exhaust pipes, soft tops. Mini is entranced. I am quite proud of myself. This level of car knowledge I can deal with.

Mini will tell you as soon as a car has different hub caps to its overall make. It never occurred to me to look at hub caps, unless they happened to be particularly shiny and caught my eye, but now we look at hub caps.

We play variants on hand sandwich. Somethings we use hands, sometimes we just talk it through when walking along. There is still bread on the bottom, but then we get windscreens, horns, seatbelts.

Just the kind of things you want in a sandwich.

Mini wants to know ‘how cars go to the toilet’. So we talk about exhaust pipes getting rid of what cars don’t need. And, for good measure (and because we’ve noticed them too), we talk about radiator grilles, and what the car does if it gets too hot.

There is even a particular red Ford GT that we look out for, on our way to the sports centre.

—-

When kids love diggers, you learn to love them too. You spot them when the kids aren’t even there. You might even turn and remark to the person next to you when you’ve seen a particularly cool bit of equipment.

Until you realise that they are just another adult at the bus stop next to you. Then you go quiet.

Actually, I’ve managed not to do that part, just about. And by now, I have forgotten more of my digger knowledge.

Plus Junior has moved on to other things, and I need some working memory to talk about spies, and the MI5 and MI6 buildings, and how much of the spy equipment in books is likely to be possible.

Fortunately, there are also specialist subjects where you overlap. I am discovering that Mini knows a lot of the songs and rhymes that I do. And is keen to learn more.

I can remember telling Junior about the phrase ‘once upon a time’. There was this frisson: I am getting to tell my child about this really wonderful thing. The magic phrase that starts so many stories.

Now Mini is prepared to hear other magic. Like Morningtown Ride, or Golden Slumbers. And, equally, songs like Yellow Submarine, or She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

Every now and then, we’ll find another song we have in common. And hopefully sing it together.

(Sometimes I am told off for this. Including for singing along with a song on CD in the car. It’s obviously fine for Mini to sing along with it, though.)

—-

I’ve written before about those points of connection with a parent: where you share the thing they love.

There is a special status to those things. Even in memory, they have some kind of internal glow about them when you recall them.

I am very grateful that there are those points of connection for me with both Junior and Mini. And that Dan has his too.

And part of me can share a smaller glow when recalling things that are my children’s specialist subjects too.

Even when it’s diggers. Or hub caps.