When is a holiday, a holiday?

Louise looked forlornly at her bicycle whilst grabbing buckets and spades and a picnic blanket. Hanging on the wall, it was tantalisingly close and yet out of reach for a few weeks.  You see, Louise had no free time because it was the holidays!

She wondered why, two weeks into the holiday with one to go, she needed a holiday.  Surely that didn’t make sense! She reflected, trying to find a clue: not having to rush around in the early hours getting everyone ready for school, was definitely a bonus and the holiday had been filled with laughter from fun-packed days out and visiting family and friends.  But relaxing?  Let’s see… she had packed the diary with entertainment, driven around the UK visiting friends and family, packed, unpacked and re-packed everyone’s suitcases several times, run a seemingly never-ending launderette, cooked and cleaned and even squeezed a wee-bit of work in too.   💡 Playing detective, she digged deeper:

There were the relentless demands:

Mum, I’m hungry.  Mum, I’m thirsty.

The boundless energy:

Mum, I’m bored.

How many minutes till we get there?

Four minutes less than the last time you asked darling….

And on a special day; the occasional bickering:

He said…. she said…

He’s had more television time than me.

She had two more smarties than me.

Her work was piling up with little free time available.  Her blog became a distant memory.  And most agonizingly of all, her prized cycle rides became like the holy grail.  Hanging on the wall and gathering dust, her bicycle was crying out to be sat on and taken for a spin.   😥

She idly wondered if a siren goes off in children’s heads when their parents’ bum hits a seat.  How do they know you are having a moment to yourself? Testing the theory whilst craving a moments peace, she made a cup of tea, grabbed a book and sneaked off to a bathroom, where she shielded herself from the incessant noise and demands by closing and locking the door.  Two pages in, an elusive calm descended – absolute bliss! And then as if by magic, her absence was noted: the door handle turned and then shook in frustration:

 Why has she locked the door?  Mum, what are you doing in there?

 Having a few minutes peace.

Can we join you?

No.

Why not, don’t you love us?

Yes I do: very much,  I just need a couple of minutes to myself.

Shall we join you?

Yes, definitely a siren she concluded, as those cherished moments were snatched away from her as they laughingly-remembered they could unlock the bathroom door from the outside.   :/

And so, her escape into the countryside at the weekends, or the occasional evening, is her nectar, her dream, her  ideal and her rejuvenation.  Consider it re-charging the battery to reward the children with more attention and energy!

Relishing the freedom and racing around the country lanes; the recent spring sunshine and warm temperatures have added to the delight.  Even the challenging 24 mph – gusting at 37 -wind today, was enjoyed.  After all for just an hour and a half of the week it was just her, her bike, tranquility and sweeping views of fields.  No petting zoos, no garishly-lit and noisy rollerskating parks, no soft-play areas, no over-crowded parks, no long car journeys.   Just bliss and this view for miles around; with the reward of precious cuddles when you get home:

IMG_2720

Bliss!

Spectator’s view of the Tour de France: England vs France

Compressed by the huge crowd, with a child in each hand, I can see people’s chests, armpits, and the top of my children’s heads; but very little of stage 3 of the Tour De France I have come to watch.  My children are moaning –  understandably – that they are hot, but they can’t escape the heat of the crowd; they want to sit down, but there’s no space on the pavement and they can’t see a thing except for people’s groins! In stark contrast, two years before in the Midi-Pyrénées, we positioned ourselves wherever we liked on the sparsely-populated street.  Picnic in hand, residents offered us their chairs to sit in and we had an enviable view of the publicity caravan, the pick of the flying gizmos, as well as an up close and personal view of the peloton; with amazing photographs to boot!

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

Same event, different country!  My experiences of watching the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest and most prestigious stage race in the world,  in Britain and in France are vastly different! In 2012, we watched the Tour de France in the Midi-Pyrénées. Strategically-positioned towards the top of a hilly road so that we would get a longer view of the peloton, we were there early enough to soak in the sights: witnessing local French residents gradually appearing from their houses; coffee mugs, wine glasses and deckchairs in tow, this was clearly an annual and leisurely event!  With relatively few spectators lining the road, when the publicity caravan arrived, my children were inundated with gizmos flying through the air: mini packs of sweets, mini pens, mini baguettes, mini sausages; our picnic quickly lost its allure (for the children) to more exciting treats!  And such was the relaxed vibe that many gizmos falling near local residents’ feet, were brought over to our children with a welcoming smile.

Fast-forward two years and we were delighted that the Tour De France was coming to Britain.  We saw on television how the UK embraced the Tour’s Grand Départ in Yorkshire, with two million people turning up to watch the most-northerly stage in history!   Eagerly, we took the children along to Cambridge for stage 3 and fighting our way through the crowds, it immediately became apparent that we could not expect the same carefree French experience.    The crowd, in its thousands, was heaving, noisy and vibrant.  The unprecedented excitement was palpable in the air, but with constant jostling from the crowd, shouting reverberating through my ears and having my nose pressed into armpits (a drawback to being short!) whichever direction I turned, it was a completely different experience to France.  Impossible to not get caught up in the frantic excitement, yet with such a poor view of the actual event!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Whipping the crowd into even more of a frenzy, the publicity caravan made its debut; with its blaring music and many elaborately-crafted vehicles and dancing occupiers throwing gizmos into the crowd.   Watching  people – mostly adults – scrambling for the sparingly-issued (for a crowd of this size) freebies flying through the air, you would think the small packets contained French Champagne, or some exquisite French chocolate samples, rather than Bic biros or Haribo sweets!

Two weeks later, whilst holidaying in France, we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch stage 15 which was passing nearby.  Although not as quiet as our experience in the Midi-Pyrénées in 2012, this was still a more dignified, less frantic experience than in Cambridge.  Residents and holiday-makers watched the peloton, coffee in hand, from their café chairs or street-side, but pretty much everyone got a front row view if they wanted to!  The only erratic behaviour I witnessed in this laid-back environment was a man irresponsibly leaning into the peloton with his camera.   Seriously what was he thinking…!

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

Behind every smile

I feel my head bang against the stone floor; one time or repeatedly, I’m not sure.   In my dream-like state I am vaguely aware of my hands, and maybe my arms, shaking. And as a strange male voice creeps into my conscience – asking if I am okay – things gradually start clicking into place.  Disoriented I sit up and it slowly dawns upon me that I have just fainted and my front tooth possibly broke my fall, as it hurts like hell!

They say that behind every smile lies a story and this is mine; the most difficult and deferred post I have written.  For as long as I can remember I have had low blood pressure: feeling dizzy and having to lie down after a hot bath or sauna, eschewing the temptation of a bubbly hot tub and experiencing momentary blackness if I stand up suddenly. But it was okay, it was manageable.

Now that certainty has been thrown into disarray as I am no longer sure my low blood pressure has always caused my dizzy spells: in the past year and a half, I discovered I have ectopic heartbeats (an irregular heart rhythm).  News that was freshly and inconveniently delivered as my husband embarked on a four-month deployment overseas.  I threw myself into filling the lonely months ahead with an endlessly busy diary; anything to stop wandering thoughts about a dicky ticker!  I tried not to dwell [too much] on who would get the children ready for school, how I would get them to school, who would help with their homework and cook their dinners and who would look after me, if I experienced bad dizzy days whilst he was away.

Four months later my husband returned and I had thankfully only experienced one dizzy – yet perfectly manageable – day.  Interestingly, this was the day after he left, so in all likelihood it was caused by stress.  Many hospital appointments and tests later – 24 and 48-hour heartrate monitors, two echocardiograms, countless ECGs and one hour-long MRI  -and I am a patient at a specialist hospital and on the waiting list for catheter ablation.  Thankfully, it can be cured; through the wonders of modern technology I can have catheters inserted to zapp away the offending electrical impulse.  But should I; would you?

You see on the one hand I have been assured that my heart is perfectly healthy and that I can (unless having a dizzy day) carry on as normal.  I am very active: I spin, I cycle, I hoop and sometimes I even jump rope!  And in one a half years I have only had two bad episodes; both flu-related.  But on the other hand my recent faint was a bit of a turning point, my volte-face: when an operation suddenly didn’t seem so implausible.  After four days of worsening-dizziness, I reached a stage where I couldn’t walk more than a few paces.  It was debilitating and terrifying.

Hopefully the faint was a one-off, I suspect caused by the flu jab, as the only other time I have had bad dizzy spells was a year before, in the days leading up to the flu.  But a nagging doubt wonders if the dizzy episodes are worsening. I know that I don’t want my first thought every morning to be wondering whether it is a dizzy day or not.  I don’t want to worry about re-discovering the unforgiving stone floor every time I come up from bending down to retrieve my children’s dirty laundry, or unloading the dishwasher.  But, like most, the procedure is not without risks.  And so behind my smile is a furrowed brow as I weigh up the pros and cons of an-almost impossible decision.

I would love to hear from you.  Maybe you have had catheter ablation and felt it was the best thing you ever did.  Or maybe you decided to not risk tinkering with your heart and plough on without?

The cyclist’s The Birds!

Try to picture Tippi Hedren, in this image from Hitchcock’s, The Birds, on her bicycle and you’ll get a flavour of the momentary terror I felt on todays bike ride!220px-The_Birds_original_poster

Turning a corner on my bike, I encountered what seemed like hundreds of swooping and soaring birds ahead of me.  Flocking around a huge dome of freshly-dug potatoes, the birds were highly-vocal and erratic in their flying and I silently praised the protection of my helmet.

Gathering my thoughts quickly,  I wondered whether to ring my bell to attempt to clear my path, or try to pass unnoticed. Cowardly, or sensibly, I am undecided; I opted for the latter and although many scattered in different directions at my sudden appearance, I managed to miss any bird collisions and resumed normal breathing after a few metres!

The rest of the bike ride shook off the cobwebs from a week’s work, with the promise of spring in the air: a rather pleasant 12˚c, the sun breaking through the clouds and a not-too-bad 15 mph wind!

Approach with caution!

Approach with caution!

Me and my mini cooper

four-door-mini-cooper-convertible-of-mini-cooper-s-convertible-photo-styleI love my mini cooper!  Ever since I passed my driving test, nearly twenty years ago, I have yearned for a mini cooper.  I would walk past mini’s idly wondering which colour I would, hopefully, one day choose: classy cream with black highlights, elegant black with girly pink accents, or classic racing green? And my long-held dream was fulfilled nearly two years ago, when at last I sat behind the wheel of a convertible mini – a perfect fit I should add – and drove it home.

So you can imagine how this recent statement – foolishly uttered from my husband – went down:

Now that I am working in the same town we live, we only need one car, so you can sell your mini…..

I stared at him agog!  Incredulous! Astounded! Why would my lovely compact mini have to go?  Surely the cumbersome family car would be more-easily forgotten!  For crikes sake my mini is in my son’s I spy Cool Cars book!

A few days later, he went back to work and I put the house on the market.  A family home somewhere far from his work should do the trick…!

Never come between a girl and her mini cooper!

 

Gone with the wind: cycling insanity!

I questioned my cycling sanity today as I found myself having to adopt the tuck position time and time again to brace against forceful 21 mph gusts of wind.   Before I had even met Petra, my cycling partner, I could hear and see the lamp-posts clanging and wobbling in the gales; silently threatening to come crashing down!unnamed

So why would any sane person leave the comfort of their warm home to venture out on their bike in nine degrees celsius, when they can clearly see the trees and bushes swaying vigorously from their window? Because it was a beautiful sunny day with  a – rare for this time of year – blue sky!  It had to be done!  Leaving the Sunday traffic of the town behind us, we fought against the double potency of the drag of large vehicles combining with gutsy wind, through the first village.  But then, turning a corner, the blasts of wind came across and behind us and it was all worthwhile: blue skies as far as the eye could see with sunshine promising spring around the corner, to re-awaken this somewhat barren winter landscape!

Smiling through the gusting 21 mph wind!

Smiling through the gusting 21 mph wind!

Winter landscape

Winter landscape

 

Hysterics with a hula hoop!

Hooping for blogNo pain, no gain, right? That’s what I told myself when I discovered my waist was black and blue after my first day of weighted hula-hooping!  I can’t recall what inspired this latest hobby; maybe it was a rejection of the approach of so-called middle-age: a desire to reclaim my carefree school days, or maybe it was just another way to get fit that doesn’t involve going to the gym!

Jerking my waist in circular motions, I was pleasantly taken aback that I could keep the hoop circling my waist for a few rotations.  And the more I tried, the longer it stayed up, so the satisfaction that ensued meant I overdid the first day or two; just a wee bit!  Not that I realised at the time; it was the discovery of bruises on my waist the next day that gave my stupidity away!

Soon I became in synch with my hula-hoop and as the jerking gradually turned into a fluid rhythm, the bruises became a faded-memory.  But after a few weeks, waist-hooping was not enough and I found myself poring over you tube tutorials on how to give your whole body a workout.  And there I found my quest: lifting the hula hoop smoothly from waist-to-chest.  The tutorials made it look simple; so fluid and so fabulous and yet, however I contorted my body; trying to move the hoop up, it defiantly stayed at my waist.  Frustrated, I read countless articles and avidly-watched tutorials in my determination to achieve this manoeuvre and yet week-after-week and month-after-month, the hula-hoop refused to budge.  Throw in the odd twinge of back pain from jerking my waist into contorted positions and this manoeuvre remained a tempting, and yet, untouchable enigma.

So between frustrated attempts at the seemingly-impossible, I attempted neck-hooping.  Oh my!  As the weighted hoop kept rotating and slamming into my windpipe, I wondered, through the pain, if I was doing something wrong, or whether these online hoopers, who make it look so easy, have de-sensitised rubber necks from months and years of neck-hooping. Not one to give up, I persevered and was soon rewarded with pain-free, neck-hooping; it was just a case of finding the rhythm!

And then I had my eureka moment!  Unbelievably, maybe four months later, having thought it would never happen, I finally lifted the hoop from waist-to-chest and back again and I no longer looked like a strutting chicken in the process!

Fast-forward to the present day and I can smoothly waist-hoop, put my hands through the hoop to neck-hoop and then lower it back down again, as well as lifting the hoop from waist-to-chest.  All without touching the hoop or letting it fall.  Was it worth the months of frustration and regular back twinges?  Hmm…if you want an easy way to get fit, from the comfort of your own home and that is really fun in the process, I’d say so!

Watch your space! (Some) Drivers dangerously overtaking cyclists

As the lorry thundered past me on a rural road, the resulting drag pushed my cycle to one side and nearly resulted in a fall.  Whether the fall would have been onto the pavement, or the oncoming traffic is speculation as thankfully I quickly brought the bike under control.  Although, as a newbie-cleat-wearer, the momentary terror caused by the wobble was intensified!  Sadly, this example is not a one-off, as most times I venture out on my cycle, either a car, a lorry, or a tractor, will inevitably fail to slow down, or give me much space as they overtake.   Having said that, I must herald the lovely lorry drivers I have also encountered; on a few occasions I have been taken aback when a lorry slows right down and patiently waits until they can pass safely!  I read a great article recently which included pictures of cyclists being overtaken by vehicles and certainly provided food for thought.

One of my pet hates is drivers not giving cyclists enough space, or failing to slow down, when overtaking: whether I am the cyclist, or a driver observing another driver’s lack of consideration.  Few motorists seem to have read, or pay attention to, the rules on overtaking in the highway code which stipulate that drivers should:

give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-213) and (214-215)

And few seem to consider what it is like for a cyclist as they streak past, inches from a cyclist’s side.  On a couple of occasions I have been bruised by passing wing mirrors and I often wonder why some drivers don’t think about the safety of cyclists when overtaking. Surely it is common sense and consideration to leave plenty of space? Or are some drivers so confident in their own driving ability that they think the space is adequate?   Think of the pleasant cycling experience we would have if part of the driving test included riding a horse and a bicycle to experience how terrifying it can be when drivers fail to show cyclists consideration!

Apparently helmet-wearing, gender and position on the road are all factors associated with how much space a driver tends to give when overtaking a cyclist.  Controversially, research from Bath University showed that cyclists not wearing a helmet were given 8.5cm more clearance by cars and when donning female wigs, the researchers were given even more clearance, (14cm) than apparent males in helmets.   However, the cyclists’ position on the road changed everything; cancelling the difference in space at times.  Dr Walker, the traffic psychologist from the University,  told the BBC that he thought the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing helmets is because they see them as “Lycra-clad street warriors” and believe they are more predictable than those without.

Quick to highlight the importance of helmet-wearing, the BBC also quoted a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents who insisted:

We wouldn’t recommend that people stop wearing helmets because of this research. Helmets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of head and brain injuries in a crash.

A friend, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his bike a few years ago (no car involved) when turning a corner and after being told at the hospital how lucky he was not to have suffered worse injuries,  he vowed he would always wear a helmet from then on.

I always wear a helmet so can not comment on drivers passing space with, or without, helmet; but I have found that if I hug the curb, drivers tend to think it is okay to speed past with very little space, whereas when I venture closer to the middle of the road, cars tend to slow down before overtaking.  Is this a case of you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t though: hugging the curb you are presumably less likely to be hit by a car, but closer to the centre you are less likely to experience the drag-wobble as vehicles would have to slow down? This is not a position for the faint-hearted though!

Perhaps the way forward is to scrap the lycra and don spike-encrusted cages…maybe after a few scratches, drivers might approach cyclists with more caution…not sure about going uphill dressed like that though!  Maybe instead we could settle for lots more cycle lanes and ones that are more than a few inches across!

 

 

The frozen joys of winter cycling

Pure water!

Pure water!

Red mottled skin around the thighs; ice-cold to touch, icy ears as the biting-wind whistles past, painfully numb fingers and a red patch where my cycling tights end and my over-boots fail to meet: welcome to the joys of winter cycling in the UK!

At the end of last summer, I wrote a post about the cyclist’s tan: the fetching white thighs, white upper arms and white hands, contrasting with tanned skin that has been exposed on many bike rides; making for an interesting look in a swimsuit!  So I found it mildly amusing, after peeling my lycra off, to re-discover that even in the winter, cyclists encounter different patches of skin colour.  Although – unlike the cyclist’s tan – the red and white winter combination fortunately only lasts for a few minutes post-cycle! Wearing a new helmet for the first time, I was also rewarded with a V-sign imprinted to my forehead: V for victorious I mused as I clocked it in the mirror, although V for valiant effort, is probably more appropriate!

Today was a milestone for me as I normally prefer to hang up the helmet in the winter months; preferring the warmth of a spin class instead, but acutely aware of losing confidence with cleats, I knew that I needed to get back on the saddle and brave the elements! Frozen-fingers and ears, barking guard dogs and muddy roads aside, breezing past the long, open fields with only cows, horses and tractors for company, today’s winter cycle ride will hopefully spur on a few more!

The trend for extravagant teachers’ gifts

Gifts for teachersPressing his bag of homemade biscuits into Miss Smith’s hands, little Billy’s eager face looked expectantly into her eyes and as she expressed her heartfelt thanks at such a thoughtful gift, he felt a warm flush of pride.  Next in line, little Polly handed over her exquisitely-wrapped present and smiled in joy as Miss Smith un-wrapped a beautiful large box of high-end toiletries…

Parental gifts to teachers have become increasingly expensive in recent years, with tales of exorbitant gifts on the rise: Tiffany bracelets, a Mulberry handbag, £200 of opera house vouchers and gift vouchers worth £1000 were reported in the Independent, 17 July, 2014.  Many of us will have witnessed mothers tottering in the school gate, weighed down with their luxury, high-end gift bags; leaving others to feel they need to shuffle through the door with their box of biscuits, or bunch of flowers from the market, or their garden.  Apparently the phenomena is becoming so commonplace in some schools, that they have had to introduce rules to cap the value of presents that teachers can accept.

Going back to our imagined Miss Smith, I wonder how she feels unwrapping her high-end gift set?  Is she delighted, or embarrassed, at the indulgent gift?  Grubby fingers and runny-nose-worries aside,  do the homemade biscuits mean more to her – due to the thought and time that has gone into them – or now that expensive gifts are on the rise, are homemade ones quickly discarded?

And what drives the parents to spend so extravagantly?  Is it a case of keeping up with the Joneses, is it a demonstrative show of wealth, are they trying to curry favour with the teacher (and if so, does it ever work?), or is it simply a kind thank you for an exceptional and demanding job? Should the expensive-gift-givers stop to wonder how it makes the other parents, or teachers, or children feel; or would they even care?

One friend, who has four children, pointed out that with multiple children there comes multiple teachers and teaching assistants to buy for: in her case a minimum of eight presents!

It adds up to a small fortune…to say thank you to someone who has simply done the job they are paid to do.

This made me wonder; is it any different to the corporate sector?  Where some people might receive a bottle of wine, or champagne, to say thank you for a job well-done: some expensive, some not.  There is one major difference though: the audience!   Teachers might be opening gifts of varying value in front of small, eager and expectant faces.  Maybe the schools who cap a value on gifts have the right idea and maybe parents should consider the impact on other children that their extravagance might have.  After all, this endemic could reach ridiculous proportions if parents increasingly feel the need to compete through gifts!

How do the children feel:  are they embarrased handing over their homemade gift; if it is later trumped by someone’s surplus spending, or do they even notice?  Maybe they are proud that they have put time and effort into their gift, as opposed to just handing over their parents spending power?  Little children are less likely to realise, or even consider, a gift’s value:  it was only recently that my youngest asked for a packet of jellybeans for Christmas.  But as they get older, there’s potentially more chance for embarrassment, or snide comments!

An ex-teacher revealed:

The best present I ever received, which still brings tears to my eyes, was a half-eaten biscuit wrapped up in a sheet of loo roll!  The little boy came from a  family who had very little and he was desperate to give me something, like his friends; so he only ate half his break-time biscuit and gave me the rest.  We shared his present because it was such a kind thought.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned:

That teachers gift giving was becoming over-commercialised and competitive and said that teachers’ most treasured gifts were cards or pictures made by pupils. (The Independent, 17 July, 2014)

Thinking outside the box can be a way round the increasing expenditure on gifts.  A friend’s four children collectively wanted to buy 15 gifts; to cover teachers and teaching assistants whom they wanted to thank; so she bought consumable gifts from a shop, took them out of their cardboard boxes and re-wrapped them with a beautiful ribbon and added the childrens’ cards!  She was delighted to hear that one of the teachers professed:

 Ooh, I’ve only ever seen these in cardboard boxes before, this looks very posh!

So what do you think?  Do you feel pressure, as a parent, in deciding what to buy for a teacher?  Do you feel you need to spend more to keep up with this trend?  As a pupil, do you feel embarrassed, or proud, handing over a homemade gift, as opposed to an expensive shop-bought gift?  And if you are a teacher, do you wish each school would set a cap on how much should be spent on gifts, or do you think that might exacerbate the spending further?