Category Archives: Life

Safe Journey – Top Tips for Winter Driving

As Christmas approaches many people are busy making plans to visit friends and relatives up and down the country. If you’ve got a family in tow, it’s often easier to pack your car up rather than travel by train or coach with them, but winter driving has its own hazards. Read on for some top tips for safe winter driving.

In the UK we are largely unused to driving in icy, snowy conditions, so when the winter weather is at its worst many drivers struggle. On family car journeys I am always chief navigator and in charge of the map reading and snacks. Preparation is key when you’re going on a long journey in winter. 

Winter Driving Packing Essentials

  • Drinks – hot and cold
  • Snacks
  • Blankets
  • A snow shovel
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • A spare battery pack for your phone.

I would also suggest taking a map with you as well as your sat nav. I’ve lost count of the number of times our sat nav has failed us and I’ve had to guide us to our destination with a good old fashioned map.

Winter Driving in snow and ice

In Scandinavia, people learning to drive spend time learning to drive safely in the extreme winter weather they have over there. In the UK this is not often the case, your instructor may touch upon how to deal with different driving conditions, but the only thing we’re really prepared for is rain.

  • When driving in icy conditions, avoid braking suddenly, this may cause you to skid and lose control.
  • Drive slower than normal to reduce your chances of skidding and having an accident.
  • Make sure you approach bends and corners with extra care, always look ahead and anticipate the conditions ahead.
  • If you lose control, don’t panic! Take your foot off the accelerator, and position you wheels in the direction you want to go in.

For more advice and information on driving safely in the winter, you can download this useful ebook from Chill Insurance, providers of some of the cheapest car insurance available in the UK.

Safe Journey - Top Tips for Winter Driving

What are your top tips for winter driving? 

= This is a collaborative post =

Grieving…. four months on

So *takes deep breath*, it’s been a while since we talked about how I’m getting on. It’s been a helluva year and not the good kind. Since my Dad died in June, apart from the initial outpouring of grief blog posts I wrote, I’ve tucked my feelings and thoughts away and tried to focus on just getting through my to do list instead of grieving.

I’ve tried to grieve privately and come to terms with everything in my own way. People we love die all the time, who am I to gnash and wail and to hog the grieving limelight? But people, kind people do ask and I say I’m doing ok. I’m not really, I’m doing as ok as I can do under the circumstances.

I’ve lost the first man I ever loved. I’ve lost one of my best friends and I don’t think I will ever get over it. The initial shock has gone, only to be replaced by the weird constant reminder that he’s not around. I saw some books yesterday he would love for Christmas. I didn’t buy them. I baked a cake I couldn’t share with him. I see things on TV I remind myself to tell him about, then remind myself that I can’t. I constantly think of going shopping with him. I loved going shopping with him, he hated shopping as much as I do and it was always a bit like supermarket sweep, something which amused us greatly. 

I cry a lot, every day. I cry privately and stick a smile on my face when I go out. If I can’t do that I throw on a pair of sunglasses and act like I’m too busy to hang around chatting. I went to the dentists the other week and lay in the chair, tears rolling silently down my cheeks because I was reminded of my Dad. The dentist probably thought I was being a wimp over my filling. Let him think that.

The small boy talks about him a lot. We don’t discourage it because I want him to hold the memory of him close. But kids are so blunt. “Grandad is dead isn’t he?” There’s no “passed on to the other side” euphemisms there. Sometimes I prefer the bluntness, he was never one for sugar-coating things when he was alive, so why dust his death with icing sugar?

So how am I doing? Not great, but as well as I can do under the circumstances. Thank you for asking x

Grieving

40 – My 40th Birthday

Today is my 40th birthday and I feel weird. Lots of my friends have turned 40 this year, most have been dragged kicking and screaming into their fourth decade. I feel like it’s just crept up on me. I’ve been too busy dealing with everything which has happened to us this year that my 40th birthday has been the very furthest thing from my mind.

I woke up this morning and I was 40. In all honesty I feel no different to how I did yesterday. It’s just a number. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than numbers.

Right now I feel like I am overflowing with emotions. I miss my dad more than I have words to say, my boy is starting school today and I’m all emotional about that, he’s having an operation soon, I’m emotional about that too. I’m touched that I have great friends who spent some of their weekend with me partying the last days of my 30’s away.

I am conflicted and anxious about a million different things. But in the weeks since my dad’s death and through the summer holidays, I have been reminded of the two most important people in my life, Matthew and Ben. This weekend has shown me all the people who care about me, friends old and new, from near and far. I am very lucky.

I guess (and I know I’m rambling) that I’m struggling to give a meh about anything. I feel numb inside, I’m overwhelmed by life and the only way I can keep putting one foot in front of the other is to focus on Ben. I feel like in some situations I’m faking emotions and joyous reactions to pretend to the world that everything is fine and normal. I am faking it until I make it. I wonder how many people do that just to get through?

I’m fine and I will be fine. I’m just going through two things almost everyone in the world faces at some point or another, turning 40 and losing a parent. I would turn 40 a thousand times just to have an hour with my dad. 

Today I’m going to try and be in the here and now. I’m going to focus on Ben and Matthew and the special people in my life who love me and care for me. I’m going to smile for the camera, take a walk in the park, blow out the candles on my birthday cake and raise a glass to my dad, and to my Grandma who would have been 103 today.

I don’t fear 40, it’s just a number. I fear life and what it will challenge me with next.

40th Birthday

I’ll take my headphones off to talk to you!

Today an article about how to approach women who have their headphones in has been the talk of social media. I’ve read some tweets about this and a couple of opposing articles and blog posts, so I thought I’d throw my two penneth in.

I don’t drive, so I walk everywhere or use public transport. I also like to listen to music. These days my iPod is how I listen to about 90% of the music in my life. I wear headphones a lot. 

I am also from the north, a wonderland of strangers who exchange pleasantries at the bus stop, humans who will talk to the person next to them on the tram, or make chit chat in the queue for the toilets or in a supermarket.

In short I am a northern woman and I get talked to a lot by complete and utter strangers. Often I will have my headphones in, see that someone wishes to say something to me and so I take my headphones out so I can converse with other human beings. Most of the time I do not mind this one tiny little bit, even when I’m listening to my most favourite song ever.

“Ah!” I hear you cry, “But what about men who want to speak to you?”

I’ve found that most men are fairly decent. Very few of them have clubbed me over the head, dragged me back to their man cave and started calling me wife without my permission. 

I’ve found that most men if they have felt the need to interrupt my listening to 90’s Indie music are entirely apologetic about that. Most men, if they had fallen head over heels in love with me (I have had to stop wearing Impulse) are capable of taking gentle rejection in their stride. 

I admit that sometimes (because I’m a raging introvert, despite my northern bus stop chatting tendencies) I use my headphones to block the world out and to isolate myself from social interaction. Fair doos. I think a lot of people do that.

headphones

But, and this is a big but. Often someone, maybe an old lady will talk to me, I’ll pop my headphones out, whatever mood I’m in I will do this, and I will chat to them for as long as they want or as long as I am able. I might be the only person they have spoken to all day. It’s a nice thing to feel that you may have brightened up a day for a stranger just by taking a few minutes interest in their lives.

Who says this rule should only apply to the over 70’s. If someone wants to chat to me I will chat to them if I can. Loneliness and isolation are a horrible curse, it probably affects the elderly a bit more, but there are plenty of people of all ages who are lonely.

It doesn’t take any time, effort or money to be kind, to exchange a few words with a stranger. Even a smile of understanding can go a long way to making someone’s day. Yes, don’t foist yourself upon someone who clearly doesn’t want to talk to you about the weather, but what’s 5 minutes of your time worth anyway?

Breaking Barriers – Can life begin when you retire?

The population of the UK is ageing and it is predicted that people aged 65 and up will make up 15.6% of the global population by 2050. Not only that but people are staying active for longer, with retired people doing university courses, having busy social lives and taking on voluntary work. For many, retirement is an opportunity to do something more personally fulfilling and enjoyable than the daily grind of work.

Where I live in South Manchester there are a large number of groups and activities designed for older people. The University of the Third Age have a large number of courses, workshops and groups for all interests, as well as a thriving social scene. 

Breaking Barriers

We also have Didsbury Good Neighbours, a charity whose aim is to support senior members of the community through a volunteer befriending service and a programme of weekly activities.

Across the UK the Women’s Institute are renowned for offering an array of special interest courses for their members, as well as a lively programme of events. It’s not just cakes and jam making!

It’s easy to think of retirement and growing older as a time when people just sit and watch TV or do some gardening. But with better healthcare and improvements in standards of living, retirement is the perfect time to take up a new hobby or pursue an interest you’ve longed to do, but not had the time to devote to it whilst you were working.

Breaking Barriers

When my Grandma retired in the 1970’s there wasn’t much to do. Undeterred she set up a weekly keep fit class which still runs today. She started a craft group for her friends which eventually grew into something bigger and she went swimming several times a week. Retirement also gave her the opportunity to travel the world and eventually spend lots of time with her grandchildren. She is the model I aim to follow.

Bathing Solutions have recently launched an online campaign looking at breaking barriers for older people. To encourage people to get inspired or to learn new skills or take up a new hobby or interest.

Learning a new skill, or improving on an existing interest is something many people dream about, retirement can give you the time to be able to do that. Wherever you live there are bound to be local clubs, groups and societies which you can join, as well as local collages and groups which offer special interest courses.

You can find out more about the Breaking Barriers campaign including information on Skill Share, Community Courses and find some inspiration on the campaign page on their website.

= This is a collaborative post =

Taking care of me – why I need some self care

Since my dad died a month ago I’ve been trying to process everything and find a way forward. It’s all become a bit too much for me this last week or so. I know I need to have a word with myself and get myself to a tolerable place before the school holidays start. Rolling around in a mixture of grief and self pity whilst looking after a lively five year old do not make happy bedfellows. Self care is the order of the day.

I have a week to sort my head out as much as I can, so here’s my self care plan:

Stop constantly refreshing Twitter. Take a social media break as best I can. Social Media, Twitter especially is a real life saver, but sometimes I need to step away and stop obsessing.

Go out with friends. I have excellent friends and they shower me with love, support and sarcasm. They will put me in a different headspace and help me process things and move on a bit.

Cuddle my boys. There’s nothing quite as healing as holding someone you love and who loves you right back really hard for as long as possible. Hugs help a lot, so I’ll be going in for them as often as I can get them from as many people who offer them. I may leave the hugee with a slightly damp shoulder. Sorry.

Sense and Sensibility. I have many favourite films and right now I have a very deep yearning to close the curtains and watch Sense and Sensibility and cry my little heart out. For some reason quotes from that film keep popping into my head and I think I just need to spend a couple of hours watching Alan Rickman quietly break his heart and mend it again over Kate Winslet.

Writing. I often (much like I am now) write my feelings out of my head and onto my iPad. Sometimes they end up on my blog, sometimes they get deleted. Either way it gets those thoughts and feelings out of me and it does help me feel better to articulate my emotions, which can only be a good thing.

Sleep. I hardly sleep anyway so it will do me no harm at all to aim for some decent restorative kip, even if it means taking pills to achieve that. I usually get around 3 hours a night and I’d like to try for 5. Anything above that would be something of a miracle. No, I don’t know how I function either.

Work. I continue to dabble around the edges of work. I’m freelance so that’s a luxury I have, I can’t really afford that luxury but for the sake of my sanity this is how it is. I’m pickier than ever because I’ve only got so much inner battery life in me each day. Work is useful, it occupies me and gives me some structure to my day, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself when I’m already feeling pretty overwhelmed by life.

Food. Well this is the best diet ever. I’m either not eating at all or eating tiny portions of stuff. Not great stuff, not overly nutritious stuff, but I’m trying to eat something every day.

Plan nice things. I’ve got a couple of nice things in the diary coming up. Again I don’t want to overwhelm myself but it’s good to have things to look forward to. Like my best friend coming to stay and us making a dent in the case of red wine I’ve got sat gathering dust.

Plan nothing. I also recognise that importantly I need time by myself to recharge, regroup and gather strength for whatever lies ahead.

Times of emotional crisis of this magnitude are thankfully rare. It’s times like this when true friends and the people who really do care step up and offer support, either by sending the odd message of support, taking me out for a pint or offering a shoulder they don’t mind getting cried on.

I’ve been lucky that some excellent people have been there for me and helped carry me from one day to the next, but I’ve found the odd person who you think will be there for me through whatever and they’ve ditched me. That’s human nature, it’s a particularly crappy side of human nature, but it happens. 

Over the coming days, weeks and months I’ll be focusing on what is best for me and my little family. I’m running on empty, but I hope some self care will help me gather the strength to continue and return to a version of my old self again. 

self care

Grieving: Mending my broken heart

My broken heart just really needs a big cuddle right now and I need to learn how to do that for myself.

It’s been three weeks now since my dad died. I’d been doing pretty well until last week, keeping strong and ploughing on. I’ve been outwardly cheery and strong to the point where you’d think nothing of any consequence had happened in my life. 

The first couple of weeks after someone dies you’re busy. You’ve got stuff to do, people to talk to, arrangements to make. Then it all stops and the world carries on without you.

Last week the world quietly took itself off pause and carried on and I crumbled. I crumbled and touched the edge of the abyss and I scared myself. Last week there was time and space for me to open the door a little bit on my grief. I shone a light inside and saw that my heart was broken. I have an utterly broken heart.

I don’t know how to mend my broken heart. Everyone says that time is a healer. I’ve been quoted three months to get over the shock, one year to get through the first tranche of painful anniversary memories and three years to get over it properly. I’m taking it one day at a time and for the record I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

I am excellent at compartmentalising things. I put little lumps of feelings, painful experiences, whatever, in boxes in my mind and when I’m feeling strong enough I take one down off the shelf and look inside. Sometimes I have a rummage about and wonder what the fuss was about, sometimes I slam the lid shut for it never to be opened again. 

I think this is a box that will become very well worn over time. I’ll take it down, open it a bit, deal with whatever pain and sorrow I can and then close it and put it back where it come from. I also know the box next to it on the shelf contains a whole load of really wonderful, special memories of my dad too. I’ll try and open that box and share its contents as much as I can too.

I love my dad. He was one of the biggest and brightest stars in my universe. I will always love him and I will always miss him and I’m going to try very hard not to fall into the abyss again. He told one of his friends that I was one of the strongest people he knew and I’m going to try and make that true.

broken heart

Nothing will ever be the same again

Grief makes everyone act and react in different ways. On 25th June 2016 my dad died suddenly and I was tossed into that weird limbo stage, part grieving, part organising everything, part comforting his also grieving friends and relatives. It’s been nothing short of a privilege to know my dad, he was a one off in the truest sense and we have been overwhelmed with love and support since he died.

Nothing will ever be the same again.

Everyone copes with loss differently. I can see this in my immediate family and in his close friends. There are said to be five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For me I feel like I rattled through them quite quickly, but even now as I write this just over two weeks since I last saw him, I am very aware of the gaping hole he has left in my life. I will miss him forever. I know this to be a fact.

In times of adversity, and there have been many of those such times for me in recent years, I have turned to my dad, my husband and to a small but loyal band of close friends to help me through.

My dad is no longer able to support me, but I knew him pretty much inside out and well enough to second guess his immediate response and what advice and guidance he would give. I know in this situation we’d be indulging in some gallows humour and bantering our way through the trickiest bits in order to not look the full horror of his loss in the face. I thank the friends who have made me laugh, really laugh at this time. I know he’d probably want to shake them by the hand.

My boy Ben has been fantastic. At just 5 years old he doesn’t really understand what’s happened and why I’m so upset, though I try not to be too glum in front of him. He has granted me extra cuddles, he’s made me smile a great deal and almost managed to tidy his room. If you ever need a distraction from grief I’ve found a 5 year old boy is pretty effective.

My dad and my husband had a special relationship. They’ve known each other since we started going out in 1995. He started working for my dad in 1998, becoming a partner in the business in 2000 and when my dad retired in 2013 he handed the business over to him. They worked together for a long time, didn’t always see eye to eye, but made it work. I think they had a tremendous respect for each other.

My husband has lost someone incredibly special to him. We all have.

My friends have been excellent. Too many to name, all messaging me offering quiet support, making themselves available for trips to the pub, or for lunch and just letting me talk and cry and laugh. I am incredibly lucky to have such good people around me. I know these words to be an understatement.

I think I’ve managed to choose the best friends I could hope for. Every message of support, every card through the door, every whisky raised to my dad has been very much appreciated.

The funeral may have been and gone, and life must for almost everyone return to normal. For me nothing will ever be the same again. It will take time for me to learn to live my new normal, find a way to be without my dad there to pick me up when I fall down.

I always see adversity as an opportunity for change, a chance to alt-control-delete my life. Something big may come, or something small. But whatever happens I know that my dad instilled in me humour, logic, love and the steely determination to get through and succeed in whatever direction I choose to strike out in.

I’ll miss the old bugger. But I’ll keep trying to make him proud of me if it’s the last thing I do.

Nothing will ever be the same again

EU Referendum – We have to make the best of it

I’ve seriously hated the EU Referendum campaign. It’s been incredibly divisive and damaging as a whole and it’s inspired tensions and vitriol on both sides. I voted to remain, I believe that being part of a bigger thing is the best thing for the country and for my family and our future. I am incredibly saddened to be part of the minority of 48.1% who voted to remain part of the EU.

I do not profess to be an expert. I am not an economist, nor a lawyer. My background is in journalism. As I sit and write this the value of the pound has dropped alarmingly and the stock market is experiencing a significant slump. The Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned and it looks like Boris Johnson is likely to take his place. Everything inside of me is screaming End. Of. Days. but we have to make the best of it.

Since the EU Referendum result was announced there’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing on social media, some gloating, some nastiness, but to what end? These are the cards we’ve been dealt so we need to play them. Complaining about them and finger pointing isn’t going to do anything practical to make things less tempestuous.  

For me I’ll be knuckling down doing practical things. A recession seems likely, so I’ll once again start recession-proofing our family finances, looking for small household economies and cutting back even further on expenditure. I’ve always said that despite my disability I’m too proud to apply for the benefits I’m entitled to, but I just can’t afford not to any more. I’m trying not to think about the future for my son. It’s hard to speculate without becoming maudlin about it all. 

We have to make the best of it. Whatever happens this is going to be a turbulent few years and as a nation we’re all going to have to work harder and smarter than ever and we’re going to have to try and do it together. 

However you voted, at least you voted. That’s democracy. Now let’s go and do this thing.

EU Referendum

Broody but broken – Why I can’t have a baby

I have a son, he was planned. He is an only child, that bit wasn’t planned.

I’d always thought I didn’t want children, I think I thought that because I’d always felt that I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant and if by some miracle I did, I’d probably be a rubbish parent anyway, that it wasn’t worth considering. I was wrong on both counts.

I got pregnant quite quickly; I was 34 when I had my baby and the pregnancy was the polar opposite of plain sailing. Despite the fairly terrible time I’d had, I knew as soon as I held him in my arms that I wanted more babies.

Life doesn’t give you do-overs, but looking back, I should have started trying for another baby as soon as I was physically ready, maybe a year after he was born. I waited, I regret waiting, and now I always will.

Fate intervened and put me flat on my back for the best part of a year. I couldn’t look after myself let alone my child. Two back surgeries, enough codeine to sink a battleship and a slow slide into depression scuppered pretty much everything in my life. I had to give up my job and change the way I lived almost entirely.

I look back at my old career and at times I do feel a tiny twinge of regret at its loss. In many ways I’m much happier now doing what I do. The thing I regret most is not being able to have any more babies.

My ovaries are screaming at me all the time. My body wants to be pregnant as much, if not more than my brain does. The getting pregnant bit probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem, it’s the being pregnant, the birth bit and then the looking after the baby bit afterwards. I’m 39 and some mornings I need help getting dressed.

My son is an only child, my accident has robbed him of a fully functioning mother and the chance of having siblings. I feel incredibly guilty about that and I worry that he’s lonely at home without someone more of his own age to play with.

So many of my friends are pregnant or they have new babies and I am delighted for them. I think most of them are sensitive enough to know that I’m struggling with this a little bit, and they’re kind enough to let me have extra cuddles with their little ones.

It’s a strange feeling knowing that everything that you need to get pregnant is fully functioning and raring to go, but that the rest of the body around that it is broken and incapable. I try really hard not to let my physicality get me down, but this, this is the one thing that bothers me the most, and the only thing I ever cry tears of self pity about.

I want a baby so much, I’d love to have that lovely round belly again, feeling little kicks inside me and sharing the excitement of the growing baby with my son. It’s a feeling I know I’ll never experience again and I could kick myself for leaving it so long to start a family. But what’s done is done. I’m just grateful that I got it right first time and made (to my mind anyway) the most beautiful boy in the world.

I can't have a baby