Obscure jewels

The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track.  Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.

1. Brampton to Longtown (7)An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country.  It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.


Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick.  It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals.  Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.

Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding.  There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings.  The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.

The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop).  This was another ‘find’.  The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe.   This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond.  It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community.  It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.

And friends I Threlkeld Mining Museum April 2017 (1)worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!



Half term with the kids

Half term has been and gone in a flash.  Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday.  Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home.  I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.

On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle.  I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times.  I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles.  I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place?  I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.

Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning.  We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday.  She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake.  As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.

On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs.  It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat.  So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.

I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful.  The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green.  The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it.  Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.

Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell.  Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend.  We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.

It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got.  Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness.  As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.

Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.

Cooking and Cadets

Alex has joined the Army Cadets.  He’s taking it very seriously – yesterday he insisted on having a very short hair cut when it wasn’t that long ago he was objecting to having it cut short at all – and he has been polishing his boots (fingers crossed the new-found discipline being instilled in him will expand into all areas of his life and will last – though he doesn’t yet seem to have applied it to his homework).

Today was Remembrance Sunday and the Army Cadets, along with Air Cadets, Air Force Personnel and some others, paraded through Brampton to the church.  Alex was with them, trying to keep his face straight when Edward wanted to run up to him and give him a high five, and was then running alongside the marching parade (earlier he – Edward – had been shouting.  He was a match for the sergeant major!).  It was a pity about the weather when it’s been so gorgeous recently, but perhaps appropriate for Remembrance Sunday – rather as Good Friday should really always be a rainy day.

It’s sad in the photos seeing Capernaum.  It started to close on Sundays about a year or more ago, but now it’s closed permanently every day.  I hadn’t been in ages for a variety of reasons, including lack of money, but the children still ask if they can go in there even though they know it’s closed.  It means however that I have rediscovered my enjoyment of cooking myself – when David left and I had some inheritance I started living a bit of a single, ‘party’, life again for a while, and having a good restaurant at the end of the road was a bonus.  I have always enjoyed cooking though and having helped in the restaurant and then also more recently been to Italy, I’m trying out new things or trying to improve on things I’ve made before.

Today was therefore a bit of a cooking-fest: I was in the right mood to get creative in the kitchen and the weather was the sort to make you want to stay indoors rather than beckoning you out into the hills.  Bella made a victoria sponge, adding almond extract and orange zest, while I had a third attempt at Panna Cotta.  It always seems so heavy when I make it, whereas the one we had in Carluccio’s last weekend was so light… I thought I’d try single cream and sheet gelatine, but although it was better it still wasn’t light enough for my taste.  Bella suggested trying less gelatine and I think she may be right.

I then made Ricciarelli, but this time made them larger than last time and with orange zest rather than lemon zest.  I think I prefer them with lemon zest – they’re slightly sharper – and I very much want to try making them with almond flour rather than ground almonds (the health food shop has some on order for me).  I wasn’t totally sure that they were cooked through to the middle as they were so much bigger than the first batch I made, so I left them in the oven once I’d switched it off, to dry out a bit more.  Later I opened the door and left some bread dough to rise while Edward and I went out to watch Alex in his parade.

I then cooked roast pork for dinner (it’s the second time I’ve bought it from Sainsburys and both times I have been very disappointed with the crackling), with all sorts of side dishes: the kids did their usual thing of eating some bits and being very fussy about others, although it was nice to see Alex produce a clean plate.  But then he hadn’t eaten since breakfast time.  He also appreciated a panna cotta, some cake and a Ricciarelli biscuit.

And soon I shall be off to Lanzarote where I shall no doubt enjoy some Spanish food!



Time with the kids

views-from-mama-cakes-new-location-6I’ve had some fab. times with the kids recently, and the beauty of where we live has been emphasised to me once again.  When I think that back in the early spring I thought I might lose them all together… it’s not that we don’t have a lot of shouting and turmoil (Bella still tells me she hates me from time to time), but I’m now confident that I am who I am and that being me doesn’t make me a bad mother.  I’m their mother, and whatever I give them will be exactly that – something I give them, which nobody else can.  I may be volatile, emotional, frequently broke, money-wise (and therefore stressed) and – as they once said in a card to me – ‘the shouty fairy’, but I’m their Mum and I’m Me.  My way of dealing with life is not the same as their Dad’s, nor as some other people’s parents, but it doesn’t matter – it’s my way.  Some people will be similar to me – some won’t – and there’s not a right way nor a wrong way.

Over half term we went out and about: I know I’ve said it before here but the weather really has been fantastic recently.  We walked to Lanercost via the Ridge and Quarry Beck woods – my ex father in law picked up the boys from Lanercost but Bella and I walked back again; we went to Edinburgh and met up with my parents and went in the place that’s similar to the Puzzling Place; we went to Acorn Bank = spot the photo which is similar to one from when Edward was only two! – which was fantastic (and followed it with Rheged, where we had an argument but resolved it with ice creams).

More recently I’ve had a long weekend in London with Bella: thanks I have to admit to my generous parents, who paid for us to stay with them at the Regents Park Marriott, which was fab. (it has a Carluccio’s as a dining room and such, such fantastic and friendly service).  It was great to cover old stamping grounds and exciting for both my daughter and me.

I haven’t had much time for writing recently so I’m just including a whole load of photos.  It perhaps says something for my mental and emotional state that I haven’t written much – writing for me is a release in times of emotional turbulence (not always very appropriately, but it’s what helps me – I perhaps just need to remember not to be too public) – and generally (other than HMRC, grrrrr….) things have been pretty good recently.

Which reminds me that I must get on with some professional writing…

Micro- and macro-adventures

It was a weekend of memories.

I had volunteered to drive a friend from choir (Elaine) to her school reunion at St. Asaph in North Wales.  I hadn’t really looked at the map properly to check precisely where I was going, but I knew it was near enough Snowdon to walk up Britain’s third mountain, and when I asked my friend Penny if she’d like to come too she had said yes.

While Elaine and her school friends were busy walking down memory lane and visiting their former school, Penny and I headed towards Llanberis.  Last time I was there was not long after David and I had first started going out, when he had my car and, while I was in Switzerland, drove his brother to Llanberis to compete in a half-Ironman triathlon.  He had then driven to Heathrow to pick me up when I flew back in, and we had driven back to North Wales.  It was the first time I met his brother and I remember his (Jonathan’s) comment that the (half-marathon/thirteen mile) run at the end of the race was hard because it was so hilly: this was after swimming in the lake and a hilly bike ride.  We had driven back to Watford through the stunning scenery of the National Park, even though the A55/M56/M6 might have been quicker.

Penny and I decided to drive to Llanberis and walk up Snowdon from there, although she had previously done the Three Peaks challenge which starts at the Llanberis Pass and goes up the Pyg Trail (so called possibly because it was used to carry tar/pitch; or because of pigs; or because of the hotel whose initials are PYG).  The walk from Llanberis is the most gradual of the ascents of Snowdon and for a large part follows the line of the mountain railway ( which the mountain railway in the original Thomas the Tank Engine books is based on).  It’s about 9 miles there and back and estimated to take 3 hours up and 3 hours back, though we thought we ought to be able to do it more quickly.  After all we are both trail runners, even if I’m not a very fit one at the moment.

A coincidence was that as we drove into Llanberis we saw signs saying ’24 hour triathlon’; passed cyclists who were clearly competing in some event; and then saw people swimming in the lake: and I realised that it must have been almost exactly this weekend but all those years ago (14) that I was there with David.  On questioning some of the race officials however it was clear that this was no ‘ordinary’ half Ironman but a Brutal Event.  About 200 entrants were doing either a half-Ironman, a full Ironman or – heavens above – a DOUBLE IRONMAN!!!  (i.e. nearly 5 miles swimming, 220 miles on the bike and then 52 miles or so running): and whatever the distance the run involved going up from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon and back again, as well as laps of the lake.  The race had started at 8 a.m. – when we arrived around 11 a.m. there were still swimmers in the lake, and the double entrants are still probably running as I write this on Sunday evening.

It whetted my appetite to do triathlon again, but not that sort of distance.  I would however like to try some of the Lakeland triathlons: partly as the scenery is so stunning and also because the run routes are normally off-road.

Walking up and down Snowdon was humbling in many ways.  It was incredibly busy (far busier than any Lake District fell I’ve ever been up) and many people were achieving something.  Obviously the triathletes were achieving something incredible, and I particularly respect those who were looking pretty worn out but who were still pushing themselves up the mountain, doubtless determined to get to the finish line.  But then there were also the heavier, less fit, people who were walking up because they wanted to, or because they wanted to raise some money for a charity they cared about.  There were teams of people urging each other on, delighted when they got to the summit, with matching charity t-shirts; there were individuals with labels on their bags because they were raising money for a heart-felt cause; there were fathers carrying small children in carriers on their backs; there were young children walking, holding a parent’s hand.  It was like Piccadilly Circus at the summit but everybody up there had achieved something, big or small (and the cafe sells the most enormous pasties I have ever seen – eating one of them was an achievement which neither of us even attempted).

We drove back through the National Park and Betws-y-Coed, a village which I remembered going to with David, Alex and Bella almost ten years ago, when Bella was just 3 months old and Alex was nearly 2, when we had been on holiday in North Wales.

It would have been lovely,  on getting back to our hotel, to have had a swim, but sadly the pool was closed for repairs.  So after showers and cups of tea Penny and I headed out into St Asaph city centre to The Bridge restaurant.  It is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.  The service was friendly and efficient (the barman remembered us from the day before) and the food was superb.  I had a Salmon and Crab roulade and Penny had a Seafood Fricassee.  It made me sad all over again that Capernaum bistro has closed at home, as finding a restaurant with a decent fish menu isn’t always easy (and I definitely can’t go to North Wales every time I want to go out for a meal).

Having walked up and down Snowdon (it took us 2 hours up and 2 hours back – I would really have liked my trail shoes on for the descent so that I could have run some of it, and next time I do a mountain with a reasonable path to the top I might take my trail shoes in a back pack and change at the top) on Saturday, Sunday involved rather less ascent but we did go up and down the various towers of Conwy Castle and admired its fantastic location and views to surrounding countryside and down the estuary.  According to Penny’s FitBit we had done 27 floors, though obviously it depends how you define a floor.

It’s a brilliant castle and was another blast from the past as David and I had visited it with the children while on our North Wales holiday.  I couldn’t remember much about it, and I wondered whether I had been on the ground floor with a sleeping Bella in a buggy while David and Alex went around the walls: later on David confirmed that it had been so.  Much as I love my children and they enjoy looking round castles, it was good to have time to look around Conwy properly (and have time to read the signs without chasing after some child who is about to brain its sibling or fall over the edge of a wall).

Elaine and her friends had had a really enjoyable weekend and a bittersweet trip down memory lane, and I had loved being away.  Despite some gloriously sunny weather I was a little sad as I returned home.  I popped into David’s to see the children and give them the presents I had bought in Wales and have some hugs; the older two both then came round to my house for various things they need for the coming week; and I sorted everything out for my next travels.  My itchy-footedness only seems to have been stimulated by a weekend away, and I no longer feel as settled in Brampton as I used to: perhaps because there are things about it which make me sad now.  However… I am off to Italy tomorrow!


Heroes in boats!

It was late on an August Friday evening that three excited children and I sat at Newcastle airport waiting to fly off on holiday.  We weren’t going abroad but to Exeter – it just seemed so much less hassle to jump on an aeroplane and arrive in Devon an hour later instead of being stuck on the M6/M5 with three children who were likely to get bored and start fighting.

I have to admit I’m not the world’s best flyer.  Like so many people, I think, there’s something completely illogical about being in a metal tube in the sky, even though I’m the daughter of an aerodynamicist so know the basic principles of how these things work. However I love the vantage point of seeing the world lying beneath you like a map: on the way down we flew over Leeds, Liverpool and North Wales in the dark, the lights of the Wirral divided from those of Liverpool by a dark band of river.  On the way back it was light so the distinctive shapes of England and Wales were even more clear.

My sister met us at Exeter airport and we drove down to the English Riviera – to Paignton.  It’s part of the world which my crowd-hating parents steered us clear of when we were younger even though we only lived an hour or two’s drive away.  We were staying in a house which had been recently completely refurbished to provide accommodation for 10, and was on a site with the owners’ house, three other cottages and a swimming pool (Blagdon House Country Cottages).  Needless to say whatever the weather the children insisted on going swimming at least once a day, and several times I had a battle to get them out when my fingers had turned green with cold (‘Yoda fingers’ according to Edward) and it was time to get on and do something else.  I’m so proud that my oldest two are such confident swimmers though, and that Edward is getting there – I was still nervous into adulthood.

As you’d expect from an English summer, the weather was mixed but on the whole most days were dry and several were warm and sunny.  There was only one day, when we went to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway, when Bella and I did not take jumpers or waterproof jackets and both suffered (not in silence, in her case!).  It struck me how much National Trust properties have improved since I was a child.  You no longer have to traipse round looking at paintings, china and furniture in museum mode, but the experience has become more interactive and also the outdoors seems to have more on offer as well, with playgrounds and games.  This was especially the case at Killerton, which we went to on our last day.

Although we didn’t play on the beach at all we went on steam trains and boats and explored castles and houses.  Dinner in Brixham near the Golden Hind was popular, where we watched a dog on a first floor windowsill (now called De Locus Dog by Edward and Alex), as was crabbing from the quayside in Dartmouth.

And the heroes?  While we were crabbing Bella managed to drop the bucket in the water, which was several feet below us, and Edward burst into noisy tears.  On hearing Edward, a lovely man in a pinkish coloured T-shirt with pointy ears (the man that is, not the T-shirt – I think he may have been an elf) manoeuvred his boat to fish it out for us, throwing it up to a cheering crowd on the quayside and to an impressed five-year old boy whose tears had been stopped by this hero.  Then on the ferry back to Kingswear, as we went past the Royal Navy ship anchored in the river and I was encouraging Edward to wave, two Royal Navy officers looked through their binoculars at us and waved back – and one then raised his cap and saluted (I think my Mum was a little envious as she said something about liking the Royal Navy uniform best of the forces uniforms and how smart it is… which is similar to my boss assuming that I like going on inspections of Fire Stations because of the firemen in uniform.  Actually I’m not a great ‘uniform’ fan – it’s a bit too formal and smart for me – but it was rather an ego boost being saluted).  Having a five-year old, like having a dog I guess, can be quite an ice-breaker…

We finished the holiday with a lovely few hours and an al fresco meal at my Uncle’s and his wife’s.  They have a fantastic garden, including a stream and an adjacent field with cows, for the children to run around in and there are all sorts of things to discover including wooden statues carved – impressively – with a chainsaw.  My uncle also has an infra-red camera so was later able to send some images of a fox and a hedgehog eating our leftovers that night.

It wasn’t exactly a highly relaxing week as the children fought and wound each other and everyone else up (especially my parents) – but it did make me think that the French custom of taking the whole of August off is rather a good one, and if I can afford it next year, that is what I would really like to do – and spend time going around and about doing exciting things and exploring places with my children.

I even have a bit of a tan.  And when Edward found he had left Darth Vadar and Chewbacca at the holiday cottage, the obliging owners posted them back the following day.  There’s service!

Schizophrenic life; schizophrenic weather

It struck me, as I had a week without the children while they were away on holiday with their father, how my life seems to fall into two extremes.  I am either child-free and single, spending a lot of time on my own doing my own thing; or I have three children around creating a lot of noise and havoc.  I don’t prefer either over the other – but they are very different and sometimes adjusting from one to the other isn’t straightforward.  I’ll have got used to having the house to myself, the quietness, peace and tidiness – and in the three of them storm, dropping things, losing things, demanding things, fighting: and giving mammoth cuddles and (in Edward’s case) sloppy kisses.

Then they vanish, it seems almost as quickly as they have come, and I walk back into a house which suddenly seems too large and quiet for one person.  At least because David and I share childcare 50/50 it’s never that long before my mini whirlwinds rush back into my life – and because we live near each other the time at each house is rarely regimented, and we’ll both borrow a child or two at times so the other can do something with the others (I took Bella and a friend of hers skating one weekend; it took me back about 12 years to when I first knew David, and recalled memories such as the time David and I were driving up to Hemel Hempstead for my lesson but never got there as it had started snowing that afternoon.  The snow was so heavy it was causing problems on the A41 and M25 and roads around north London.   The next day there were news stories of people who had slept all night in their cars).

The weather has been as schizophrenic as my life.  Working at home I get really cold, and when the children were away I even had the fire on a couple of evenings.  Then the sun will come out for a few days and the temperature soars and everybody strips off their jumpers and lets their arms go brown in the sun.   Fortunately a couple of days I had with the children were exactly the latter, and we took advantage of the weather to go to Lowther Castle one day and Mirehouse on the other.

Both places are great for the children to have a good run-around, and both have play areas as well as the general grounds.  Lowther was somewhere I had been thinking of going for ages but what especially prompted me was the fact that I had read about it not having the largest wooden play structure around.  It’s something like the ruined house, with a ‘tower’ type building on three floors and other parts to run around on two floors, plus a zip wire and an under-5s area.  In the wood nearby is a wiggly footpath created out of fallen logs, with a ‘wobbly bridge’, boardwalk, upended logs of various heights to jump from one to another – etc.  There are also lots of tree swings as you walk through the parkland to get to the play area, as well as ponds and gardens to discover as well as the ruins themselves.

15th Aug Lowther Castle (19)

We took a picnic and spent several hours there, and it’s clearly popular – I was talking to another mother and we agreed that actually the wider appeal of the gardens with the play areas is probably financially more sustainable and successful than just restoring the 15th Aug Lowther Castle (15)gardens, which had been the plan several years ago.  There are bits of garden: I didn’t get a chance to look around the exhibition or the shop, but did get time t
o read the boards in the memorial garden which is a touching tribute to men from the Lowther estate who fought in the Great War.  There is also an area of formal garden and a lovely colourful area of wild garden which greets you as you first enter the park.

A couple of days later and we headed down to Mirehouse, on the edge of Bassenthwaite Lake.  I really like the Old Sawmill tearoom next to the car park (you have to park in the car park for Dodd Woods) but I wasn’t feeling particularly affluent, so we took a picnic again (I must get myself one of those backpack picnic hampers though – my cool bag is not comfortable to carry for any great distance or time).  It was also a relief that the price of admission was far less than it had been for Lowther.  At Mirehouse there are several play areas, including a small wooden fort, a steeplechase course, an assault course ending in a zip wire ride over a stream, and an area for younger children.  You can also walk down to the Lake – we didn’t make it more than halfway before we sat down for lunch – and look around the Bee Garden, which is lovely and peaceful unless disturbed by Briggs children.

Lowther costs almost 3 times more than Mirehouse and whilst the café is lovely, that is also on the expensive side.  It’s definitely worth going but only if you are prepared for it to be a relatively expensive day out (from memory it was £30 or so to get in and despite having a picnic we spent about the same on tea and cake in the café – but parking is free).  Mirehouse and the Old Sawmill tearoom are cheaper and just as good, but you do have to pay for parking – with any luck the Forestry Commission will introduce those numberplate recognition machines soon so that you don’t  have to remember to take cash.  It’s a long walk from the far end of the car park to the tearooms and back in order to pay for a parking ticket, and also of course you then have to estimate how long you’re going to be.

I’d recommend both, particularly on a fine day.  Remember the backpack for a picnic, and it might be worth taking a change of clothes and a towel to Mirehouse.

Sea Therapy

“The most important step out of the karmic law is forgiveness” – Eckhart Tolle

I found this the other day – I had saved it somewhere and had fully intended to write a blogpost about how appearances can be deceptive and how the way in which someone comes across may not always reflect how he or she really feels or feels about him/herself (this has especially come across to me when people have described me in ways which have surprised me – for example (sorry Eloise, I hope this won’t embarrass you) I always looked up to Eloise at Railtrack who appeared far more confident than I was.  Apparently she remembers me as someone who was really kind towards her – I thought I came across as rather reserved and not very sure of myself…).

Anyway, I have started writing this blogpost with absolutely no idea about how I am going to tie karmic law and forgiveness in with writing about recent events in my life but I’m sure it will become clear.  If it doesn’t at least it’s a good quotation with which to start the post.

I’m generally feeling quite upbeat.  I imagine that two glasses of kir-boosted prosecco have helped, but on the whole I’m finding it easier to enjoy life and have mostly these days returned to my usual optimistic self.  I was discussing with a neighbour today how money always turns up when you really need it: this is despite the fact that I have agreed with my soon-to-be-ex-husband that I will pay him 15% of the value of the house when I sell it, which will go on the market at the latest when my eldest turns 18.  This is in only 5 and a half years’ time – time that will zip past, and my youngest will still only be in his final year of primary school at that point – but I feel happy with the conclusion of the negotiations with my ex and I think he does too, which means we are now getting on OK again.  I hate not getting on with people who are an important part of my life: but boundaries have to be drawn sometimes and none of us can – or should – always just give in to what other people want.  I’m not sure that there’s any karma involved with my ex but a certain amount of forgiveness on both sides has been necessary I think.

What is lovely is that as far as my in-laws (now out-laws, I guess) are concerned I am still part of the family.  I was very keen to meet my new not-a-niece and so yesterday I took Younger Son up to Sandyhills, on the Solway Coast south of Dumfries (so only about an hour and a half’s drive from here) to meet up with his grandparents, uncle, aunts and cousins.  It was real family time: we arrived in time for Younger Son to meet his newest cousin on his own and give her plenty of cuddles (he loves babies – she’s six months old) and then we headed down to the beach with Scotland Nanny to have ice cream, build sandcastles, paddle and dig holes.  The older cousins all came down to join us when they got back from mountain biking, including Older Son whom I hadn’t seen other than briefly for about a week, and then later I took all five boys swimming.  It’s great that my three children all get on so well with their cousins.

Sandyhills itself is lovely.  There’s little there: it’s not your average seaside resort with piers and fun fairs and stacks of shops.  There’s one very small shop, which smelt pleasantly of new paint, a relatively small but sandy beach, a caravan/campsite and some holiday chalets which have their own swimming pool and restaurant.  The ‘only’ occupations are cycling, walking/running, playing on the beach… the TV didn’t work and the children are going to have a week of very little screen time.


It was Sea Therapy at its best, and followed a visit to small-but-perfectly-formed Aydon Castle (near Corbridge) on Saturday where we had been greeted by friendly medieval people including a lady wearing an amazing dress sewn out of glorious bright blue cloth of gold: it really shone in the sunlight.

I drove back home – with a diversion of several miles as there had been an accident on the narrow road to Dumfries – listening to U2 and feeling fairly relaxed about life.  And karma?  I don’t know.  I feel I’ve had a bad enough time recently that any karma must have been repaid.  I feel ready for my life to pick up momentum and get exciting again!

Three weeks of (not) blogging…

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote a post.  When I started to write this post two children were upstairs shouting and the other was downstairs watching some rubbish on television… by the time I got round to finishing it, the following day, I had the house to myself and all was quiet.

I haven’t felt terribly inspired to write, do much singing practice, do marketing and promotion for either of those things, nor indeed be motivated to do much other than the day-to-day things I have to do, recently.  I’m not depressed – I have moments of sadness and of tears and also moments of joy and I have three musical/singing projects to start work on – but I do sometimes just feel tired, and sometimes rather devoid of any emotion, or at least any emotion which takes any energy, whatsoever.  I work; I look after my children; and I try to sort things out in terms of pensions, house, divorce… oh, and I must sort out my broadband and phone (landline and mobile) provider…

So what have been the highlights recently?  Well, the children all got good school reports, which was great, and we had a lovely weekend down in York at the Royal York Hotel with my parents – thanks to my parents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where the service has been so consistently brilliant.  The hotel staff gave the impression that nothing was too much trouble and that loud, bouncy children were no problem whatsoever (in fact when I discussed it with one of the waiting staff in the restaurant he said that a drunk stag-party reveller is worse as at least my children are polite).  Bella rated the food as the best ever (and only days before she had been saying that Capernaum bistro in Brampton was the best ever – my cooking gets 7/10 compared with Capernaum’s 10/10, whereas the Royal York exceeded even that!).  Maybe it’s Yorkshire (or York) people generally as the staff at Pizza Express were also lovely.  Everybody seemed happy, and to be enjoying their work: perhaps the hot sunny weather had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed spending the time with my three children and we all enthused about the hotel.

The weather has been incredibly changeable – hot and stuffy for a couple of days followed by chilly and rainy.  Perhaps the most striking – and exciting – days were when we had thunder.  Edward and I had been feeding the neighbours’ fish while they were on holiday and for several days the weather had been almost perfect: dry, sunny and warm without being too stuffy.  Then it got heavier and thunder was forecast.  I woke up one morning to an amazing sky: dark, dark grey clouds but the morning sun making the houses shine red-gold.  I took a photograph, but it really doesn’t do justice to the incredible light and the contrast between the lowering sky and the brightness of the brickwork.  Just moments later the entire sky had darkened, the sun had disappeared, the rain was pouring down and it was thundering… exciting stuff!  (I love a good thunderstorm, particularly when we really need one when the air feels oppressive).

On another day when the outdoors was calling loudly to me, instead of being inside working I had cabin fever, and by the late afternoon/early evening I decided I had to go up Talkin Fell.  Previously I have described how the sky was blue above me but that I could see a band of rainclouds in the distance: it was similar this time but the other thing that struck me, which often strikes me, on starting the walk, is how noisy it is.  Not the urban noise of traffic and people and resonance from hard surfaces, but birdsong, dogs barking, cows mooing and the odd aeroplane high up but quietly clear.  I suppose there’s not that continual hum of background noise you get in a city so the individual noises are that much more distinct.

Once you’re at the top of Talkin Fell it’s quieter, and I know I’ve described before that ‘top of the world’ feeling.  This particular day I experimented with different settings on my camera, taking photos of the lovely white cottony flower thing (I have no idea what it’s called), which Phil Robbins used in the foreground when taking those fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell.  My camera has loads of different settings and I have used only a few of them, but I want to get more experimental – I’m hoping I’ll get some good photos when I’m on holiday in Italy in September.  I particularly like the dark, almost black-and-white one, for this particular plant, though it looks better taking up an entire computer screen than reduced to fit in a blogpost.

Before I go to Italy we have the school summer holidays lying ahead of us.  We’re well into week one (week three for Alex) and with any luck we’ll get some decent weather and be able to enjoy being outdoors – or perhaps, as we did today, enjoy being outdoors even without decent weather: splashing in puddles remains fun even when you’re 12, and Bella’s white leggings had to go in the bin as I could not get the grass stains out (even with multiple doses of Vanish) from where all three children had repeatedly slid down a grassy/muddy bank at Carlisle Castle

My divorce has turned painful and costly; but even though I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me in solicitor’s fees and whether I can really afford to go on holiday, I’ve blown my savings anyway on fulfilling a long-held ambition of going to Italy to learn Italian and then my birthday money from my Mum has been spent in advance on a holiday to Lanzarote later on.  I’m hoping getting away in the autumn will prevent any autumnal blues or depression… and money always turns up from somewhere when you really need it…  I can’t wait – it’s been 6 and a half years since I’ve had a holiday without the children and more than eighteen months since I went abroad skiing with them.  Last time I went to Club la Santa on Lanzarote I was pregnant with Alex.  I’m really looking forward to once again doing aerobics outdoors overlooking the Atlantic, and swimming in an outdoor 50m pool in November!

So however difficult things may feel from time to time, I have plenty to look forward to: and can’t help thinking that somehow everything has a way of sorting itself out for the best.  Such a change from how I felt even only two or three months ago!  Look out for news of my two new music projects on my ‘projects’ page before too long (and fingers crossed I also get more writing commissions soon).

Meanwhile from time to time… dolce far niente!






It’s been a good weekend.  It started on Friday when I had to take Isabella to hospital.  You’d think that wouldn’t necessarily be a Good Thing: but it gave us several hours of mother and daughter bonding.  As she was the last child to be seen in Day Surgery and we didn’t get home until about 7p.m., and the boys were round at David’s having a Boys’ Night, we treated ourselves to a TV supper of scrambled eggs on toast in front of the film Maleficent.

If I’m completely honest I always agree to a film or television programme any of my children suggest with a touch of hesitancy.  For example, they love Sponge Bob Squarepants and I don’t: and there are programmes they will happily watch for hours and hours and which I can’t wait to switch off.  But Maleficent – for those who haven’t seen it – is a different spin on the Sleeping Beauty story and I thought it worked well.  In fact I really enjoyed it.  I’ve always liked the idea of acting one of those strong, rather feisty women who cause trouble… (I have an as yet unfulfilled dream to star in just a single film… any film producers out there, please take note!).

In fact Bella liked it so much she started watching it again the following day, but by then the boys were back, Alex had a friend round and after doing some stuff in the garden and having lunch I decided to take them all out.

I’ve written a few features about Kirklinton Hall in the past and had kept meaning to take the children there and to walk down to the river, waterfall etc.  Unfortunately it’s closed on a Saturday and it started hailing anyway, so we headed to Whitesykes garden centre at Longtown for hot chocolate (with the obligatory cream and marshmallows) and ice cream – or just a cappuncino in my case – and to play on their fantastic climbing frame as the sun had come out again.  The children all ran around playing a version of Tig which involved the person who was ‘it’ being a pirate: when all of a sudden it started hailing again, this time heavily and rather more persistently than earlier.  After hiding under the climbing frame or in the various summer houses and garden sheds, we decided to head home.

Such have been the vagaries of the temperature recently that there was snow on the hilltops when we awoke this morning and then the temperature climbed throughout the day to at least 13 degrees – having been as low as 2 or 3 yesterday.  Alex was saved from having to come with Bella, Edward and me by a friend coming round and inviting him out, so while they headed off to do whatever 12-year old boys like doing best, the other two and I went down to Penrith.  Both were saying they didn’t want to see a ruined castle: but once we got there neither wanted to leave.  Unfortunately we noticed the ‘no climbing’ sign a bit too late… We went in the playground in the park as well and the only way I could persuade the two of them that it was time to leave was to promise Edward faithfully that I’d take him back there again sometime.

Having had lunch with my friend Penny and done some shopping in Booths, it was time to go home.  Bella busied herself picking daffodils and making chocolate cake while I cooked dinner: I think today’s Yorkshire Puddings were possibly the best I have ever made (and I do love having an oven where you can see through the door!).  We finished with some homemade Apple and Blackcurrant ice-cream as well as some locally-made Mint Choc Chip and Vanilla.  Why is it that home-made ice cream takes so much longer to soften enough to scoop than commercially-made ice cream?

It’s been a particularly pleasant and happy weekend.  Inevitably there have been a few squabbles and tears, but very limited: in fact the three of them were all playing amicably together this evening, building a helicopter in the hall out of the dining chairs… my garden is getting marginally tidier and is bursting with spring flowers (every time I look something new is blossoming: I particularly like the delicate white flowers on the damson tree) and my house is full of flowers as well, some from my garden and some given to me.   Spring is here, and whilst the weather may be fickle, snow on the hills glistening under blue sunny spring skies lifts the heart.