For the love of dad

For the love of dad

My parents have found my blog.

They knew I wrote one, but it only came up in conversation recently when my mum said she had seen one of my Instagram photos. She is definitely not on Instagram, so I racked my brains to figure out how. Ding. Blog.

In said blog, I refer to my mum a couple of times, mainly to say that she’s always right. Because she pretty much is. Luckily I inherited that gene, right Olly?

But dad felt left out. He’s 100% not always right, bless him, so I couldn’t put otherwise. Instead, here are just a few reasons why my dad is, and has always been, a top bloke.

1. When I had detention in school, he would sign my forms for me and agree not to tell mum (sorry mum).

2. He watched almost every game of netball I played when I was younger – that’s a LOT of games – and cheered for me like a champion.

3. When I had a paper round aged 14, he would get up at the crack of dawn and drive me round all of the houses so I didn’t have to cycle. Mum did this for me sometimes, too. Are they legends or what?

4. He could never stay angry at me for long, even when I was really naughty. Like the time I poured yoghurt over my sister’s head, or carved a star into my bedroom wall with a compass (those really are tips of the iceberg).

5. When I decided it was a swell idea to run away from home, he came to find me in the dark. (Young = stupid.)

6. On holiday, he would sing a duet of Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is all Around’ with me at karaoke.

7. Once, after he had dropped me off at uni and was heading home, I called him to say there was a spider in my room and pleaded with him to come back and extract it. He did.

8. He calls me kiddo*.

9. He has a 12-string guitar in the loft that he can still play on demand and it’s awesome.

10. On the day I qualified as a Solicitor he told me he was the proudest dad in the world. I know I don’t practice law any more, but I hope he’s still proud.

*although he also once called me a turd.

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I’ve seen what’s at the end of a rainbow

Rainbows and tears

Nature is full of surprises. It was a dark day in so many ways. Sombre, melancholy, achingly sad. But at the moment of the final goodbye, the most incredible and beautiful thing came to life. A rainbow, vibrant and proud, right in front of my eyes. This wasn’t a rainbow you could see in the distance, visible but untouchable. This was a rainbow that started, and ended, in the very next field. No more than 50 metres from me. Wonderful and bright. Just like them.

Perhaps this isn’t so incredible. Perhaps many of you have seen the end of a rainbow too. But I hadn’t. And in that moment it was so fitting, so perfect, that it became unforgettable.

It was them, I was so sure it was them.

But, like everything, rainbows come and go. That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve seen what’s at the end of one.

There was no pot of gold. But there was hope.

There is always hope.

An honest look at 2014

2014 is over. It was a year of changes, choices, risks, mistakes, happiness, tragedy, love and revelations. I feel older and wiser thanks to 2014. Finally I feel I am where I should be. But 2014 has also been a bitch. It has given, but it has also taken away. So despite all of the steps forward I have taken over the past year, I will be happy to leave 2014 behind.

January

When the changes really started to happen. I quit my job as a Solicitor to pursue something more ‘satisfying’. The law firm I worked for had offered me a secondment in one of their clients, an enormous company which, had I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my working life, would have provided invaluable experience. But I was petrified. I didn’t want to do it. Doing it would expose me as the fraud I felt like. I couldn’t cut it as a lawyer and soon everyone would know. That’s how insecure I felt in my job. I left it about 10 days before I responded to the offer. Telling my boss I was turning down the secondment because I was resigning was absolutely terrifying. Ironically it was also the day I received a tribunal judgement for a case which I had argued, and won, for the same client that offered me a secondment. At least I was leaving with a 100% advocacy record.

After I had made my decision everyone kept telling me I was so brave. I wondered if I was just stupid. It turns out I was both. You know that little voice in your head? Listen to it. It’s usually right. And so is my mother, but then I always knew that.

February

When I was fuelled by optimism and enthusiasm. I was setting up a new legal division at a recruitment company in Cardiff, despite no recruitment experience. I thought the legal experience would see me through. It did, to a point. But I discovered after a while that ‘recruitment’ is just another word for ‘sales’. And I’m no salesperson. When you have psychological issues with the phone, you know recruitment / sales is not your calling. No pun intended. But I persevered. I had made a huge change and I needed to stick at it. It would get easier. I would get better. Right?

March

When the cracks started to show. There have been many instances in my life where I felt I haven’t really belonged. Like I was an outsider. I’m a friendly soul but I can be socially awkward, and I have been told on more than one occasion that I can come across as cold. It isn’t intentional, it’s just me. I’m very blunt and straight-forward, and some people don’t like that. Anyhow, the recruitment company I worked for was a world away from what I was used to. The people were nice, welcoming, fun. But I knew I didn’t fit in. They were all good at their jobs, so committed and resilient. They didn’t take things personally. I was nervous to make a cold call and if I didn’t get the right results I felt like shit. All I wanted to do was send emails. I was comfortable there, where I could consider my words and construct elegant sentences. I have always loved to write. But sending emails in a recruitment company was not the done thing. My boss told me my emails were written so well he could frame them, but that as a recruiter I needed to refrain from typing and pick up the dreaded phone. This was a slow-burning lightbulb moment, if such a thing exists. Maybe an energy saving lightbulb which takes ages to light up properly. Should I do something with words? Not legal technical words, but creative words?

My cousin also got married in March which was lovely. She looked beautiful. I’ve not been to many weddings so it’s still a bit of a novelty. She’s my age (26) which is a little strange. I’m not bothered about when I get married, I just really hope my grandmothers are alive to see it.

April

When the cracks turned to holes. I knew things were not right. They were really rather wrong. But what could I do? I had made my bed, I was supposed to lie in it. But I only tossed and turned. I was beyond miserable. I was scared of going to work because of what I would have to do and how much I knew I hated it. I wondered what had happened to the enthusiasm and the positive attitude. I was failing at something that others found easy. Granted, it was a process driven job and I bore easily. But I was still failing. I was astonished at the treatment I received. Rejection is one thing, but being spoken to with a lack of respect and being hung up on for simply doing my job is another.

May

When I resigned. After a wonderful birthday weekend in Barcelona courtesy of Olly, I realised recruitment was not for me. My boss realised that too. Although I had set some really good foundations for the division, it was not something I had passion for. I had no other job lined up. Going back to law was not an option. My parents told me categorically I couldn’t quit a job without having another one to go to. ‘You have a mortgage to pay’, they said. Well, I ignored them and handed in my resignation. My boss was not surprised. He told me to find something I loved. The question was, what? I had a week of garden leave. I needed to find out. It took me a couple of days to admit to my parents what I had done. And I didn’t even have the balls to call them. I sent an email. Classic me.

Quite by chance, my parents had booked a cottage in Exeter for a week. I joined them to try and figure things out. Fresh air, countryside, time with the dogs. Perfect. During this time, I arranged to go for a drink with a contact I had made a couple of years previous. He was the Director of an advertising company. When I was back from Exeter we met and I explained my circumstances, expecting nothing but hoping for something. Some advice. A work placement perhaps. A few days later the unbelievable happened. He offered me a permanent job.

June

When I discovered the world of advertising. Starting at the agency was a revelation. Not least because I could go to work in jeans. Jeans! Already it was more me. The people were, and still are, great. I seemed to fit in. I was actually enjoying going to work each day. Immediately I started a large copywriting project for the Welsh Government. That’s a pretty big deal. I felt like I had got really lucky. It was a right place right time situation. Or was it fate? Could I actually have found something I both loved and was good at contemporaneously?

July

When my whole world fell apart. The month started so well. Olly and I spent a beautiful week exploring the island of Sardinia and my new job was still the best decision I had ever made. And then the worst possible thing imaginable happened. MH17. It took the lives of my witty, wonderful Uncle Andrew, beautiful, intelligent Aunt Estella, and two little cousins, Jasper (14) and Friso (12) who had their whole lives ahead of them and were excited to live them. It’s impossible to put into words how this unexpected tragedy of global magnitude affected me and my family. And it will continue to do so forever. The loss was so enormous. And so unnecessary. I’ve been through every emotion. Disbelief, despair, anger, sorrow.

When we were sure that they had all boarded the plane, and so were never coming back, I went home for a week. It was splashed all over the news and I became PR handler for the family. We were hounded by the media. A journalist from The Times had tracked down our house and was knocking on our door for a story before it had even been announced on the news that Andrew was one of the 10 Britons who died. When we refused and shut the door in her face she sat in her car which was parked round the corner, wrote a letter explaining that it would be better to give the true story rather than have something printed which was inaccurate, and posted it though the door. Again we ignored it. My mum and sister then went out in the car and she tailed them. It was a disgrace. She was one of many. Eventually we decided it would be best to release a statement and a photo of the family and leave it at that. Seeing it all play out on the television was heartbreaking. I bought all of the newspapers the following day, their faces splashed across them. I wondered why I did it to myself.

One positive which came from the month was that I started this blog. It gave me something to focus on.

August

When I tried to live normally again. Olly was my rock. It was a low place to be and I felt guilty for smiling or laughing. We attended the remembrance service of my family which was overwhelming. And to make things worse my beloved dog Hollie passed away. She was our first dog and was 12 years young. I busied myself with work and blogging. The blog was supposed to be all about good things. Things that made me smile. Positively. Happiness. I wanted to prove that you could find some light in darkness. I baked a little, tried something crafty, went wake boarding. The idea was to make more of life and to ensure that life was a content one.

For the bank holiday we went away to Pembrey with my sister and her boyfriend and played endless games of Articulate.

September

I genuinely can’t remember anything noteworthy about September.

October

When I tried new things. At the start of the month Olly’s parents took us to Malta for a week. Sunshine and sea. It was so good to escape. We did three scuba dives which were incredible. When home, in my pursuit of contentment I decided to push myself out of the comfort zone. To discover my inner crafter I started a pottery class at Cardiff School of Art and Design. A very therapeutic activity. I now have the finished results and I must say I impressed myself. All family members got pots for Christmas. I also joined the local circus, as you do. My aerial skills improved but still leave a lot to be desired. I found my discipline though (I think) in the flying trapeze which I will be continuing in 2015.

November

When I felt like I found my stride. Work was becoming more comfortable in the sense of having a clue what I was talking about. I even bagged my first client. A pretty impressive one. I sort of shrugged it off though but work seemed chuffed, told me I was being too modest, and bought me gourmet pastries which included egg custard tarts. Winning.

December

When I had some quality family time. Work was really busy. I had a lot of responsibility and quite a lot of authority too. I officially passed my probation which was super news. I know this is where I should be for now and I am so relieved to have realised that. Having said that, when Christmas break came – almost two weeks off! – I was bouncing up and down. Spending quality time with the people closest to me in spirit but not always in distance was a joy. Early morning frosty walks with mum and dad (and Benji the dog obviously), lots of tasty food, more games of Articulate, catching up with my old-school girlfriends, necking vino. Olly and I spent New Year round a camp fire at the top of my gran’s garden with a load of her neighbours drinking mulled cider and eating sausages. Amazing.

2015

Now it is 2015 and I am back to work tomorrow. I’m not dreading it, but I am dreading the alarm. I haven’t really set resolutions, but I want to make it a good year. Put it this way: I don’t want to be in exactly the same place as I am now this time next year. I want to push more boundaries, keep trying new things, see new places, be better at my job, continue sustaining a great relationship, keep old friends and make new ones. And lots of other things.

I can never forget 2014 – 17 July will forever be part of me – but I’m ready for 2015 to bring it on.

What December means to me

Hello December

It’s that time again. The chill I feel in my bones, the mist I make when I breathe, and the frost which sleeps on my car, all tells me that we have turned the twelfth corner of 2014. We have entered the final chapter of the year, and who knows what will be written on its pages. November arrived in a flurry of fallen leaves and promptly left again. Which leaves us only with December, and all its glory. I’m not one of those people who has my Christmas tree up by now, listens only to Christmas albums on repeat, and has the presents already wrapped and under said tree. Far from it. Having said that, I am incredibly partial to some festive cheer and I feel content knowing that Christmas is on its way. Why? For me, it’s all about family.

When I properly moved to Cardiff 4 years ago I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my family very often. It’s a sacrifice I made to pursue a career good enough to be able to live very comfortably. However, that career was short-lived. I was miserable. What is the point in living very comfortably when, most of the time, you just don’t feel happy? I digress. Having lived away from my family for so long, it’s times like December when I feel a bubbling excitement. Not just because I will soon be eating Christmas ham while sipping bucks fizz, devouring a big fat turkey, and stuffing myself with as many pigs in blankets as I can possibly stomach, but because I will be going home. They say it’s where the heart is.

This year, I will be spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Olly’s parents’ and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to feel when the time comes. It will be the first time I wake up on Christmas morning without my mum, dad and sister. I might even cry a little. The voice inside is saying ‘You’re 26 woman! Grow up!’ That may be true. But for me, the charm of Christmas is about being a child again. I want to hold on to everything I loved about that time of year when I was young. Sleeping in the same room as my sister on Christmas Eve and opening our stockings together in the early hours. A Christmas morning walk. Trying to de-stress my mum. Sorting the presents under the tree into piles for the family. Dressing the dogs in their bows and bells and laughing as they help us unwrap. Listening to the same tape (yes, tape) of Christmas tunes over and over while we eat lunch as a big family. Playing board games long into the evening. Curling into the sofa to read. Laughing. Laughing lots.

I don’t want things to change. I know they have to, but I don’t want them to. I don’t have either grandpas around any more, my uncle, aunt and cousins are gone, and one of our beloved border collies passed away earlier this year. I’m in a relationship and it’s only fair that we split Christmases between our equivalent families. My sister is also now in a relationship which means she will be doing the same. What I have to come to terms with, is that it isn’t Christmas itself which makes anything special. It is simply being surrounded by the people I love. It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is. Things will inevitably be different. The important thing is that I try and embrace those differences.

This year, December will be about remembering the ones I have lost, smiling at the memories, loving the ones I still have, making new memories, chatting to my parents late into the night, reading, writing, walking, eating, laughing. And wondering what 2015 might have in store.

What does December mean to you?

The Clock of Life

Large clock

Last week I attended the remembrance service of my Uncle Andrew, Aunt Estella, and two cousins Jasper (14) and Friso (12), who lost their lives together on flight MH17.  To say that a tragedy like this puts life into perspective would be an understatement.  In the first page of the Order of Service, we used the following extract from the poem ‘The Clock of Life’ by Robert H Smith:

The clock of life is wound but once.
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

Today only is our own.
So live, love, and toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow,
For the clock may then be still.

Let these words resonate.  If I have learned anything from this awful situation, it is that life can be taken at any time, even from the most wonderful people, and it is so important to live for today and not tomorrow.  Do what makes you happy.  Make the most of every day you have.  Celebrate being alive.  Because you only get to do it once.

Three strikes

Weekends are always the highlight of my week (aren’t they for everyone?) and this weekend Olly and I went to visit my Gran again.  We both love going to stay, and in light of recent events, it’s all the more important we do it as much as we can.  She is full of incredible stories, has a brilliant booming laugh (a consequence of deafness) and gives the best hugs.  We get on famously, but if I was ever naughty as a child (a regular occurrence) my golly would I know about it.  Being told off is never particularly pleasant, but when you’re being told off for having done something that you weren’t actually the culprit for, it’s even worse.  In a way, it’s a bit like Matilda shouting ‘fire’.  Because being naughty came quite naturally to me, I usually was the one to blame, but when it wasn’t my fault, no-one believed me.  This happened with my Gran once and I was absolutely furious.

Luckily I have grown out of my naughty streak (mostly), but that doesn’t mean I don’t do things wrong completely unintentionally.  And recently, I appear to have reached three strikes with Gran.

Strike #1

When we stayed with her a couple of weeks ago, we cooked a big roast chicken dinner on the Sunday.  I did most of the cooking and Olly did all the clearing up afterwards.  There we were feeling like two little proud peas in our domestic pod, glad that Gran had had a good meal without having to worry about anything.  To my HORROR, I discovered when my mother went to visit last weekend that we had completely forgotten about the chicken carcass which was left in the oven after carving!  How we had quite managed this I have no idea, but they got rather a potent surprise.  To use Gran’s words, ‘it ponged’.  I bet it did.

Strike #2

I don’t think this really deserves a strike, but Gran seems to think otherwise.  She’s deaf, so if we watch TV together we have the subtitles on.  This is fine, but I find that rather than ignoring them and listening to the words, I just read from the screen.  So when she went up to bed last night, I switched the subtitles off.  And forgot to turn them back on again.  So when Gran came down to watch the news in the early hours of this morning she was not best pleased!

Strike #3

This is actually quite bad.  Neither Olly and I are tea or coffee drinkers (I know, what on earth is wrong with us?) but I like to think that after three years of working in a tea room when I was in school that I can make a decent cup of either.  So earlier, when Gran asked for a cup of coffee, I happily obliged.  My first mistake was that I almost used the wrong coffee – the type that can only be done in a cafetiere – but she soon steered me on the right track.  So, instant coffee, water, milk, and a spoonful of sugar from the little bowl on the kitchen worktop.  Not so hard.  I gave it to Gran and she said it looked perfect.  She then explained how Rosemary had been round during the week and had accidentally put salt in her coffee instead of sugar…  Alarm bells started ringing.  Was I sure I used sugar?  Before I could stop her she took a sip, and promptly spat it out.  I had not used sugar.  I too, had put salt in the poor dear’s coffee.

It seems I have some making up to do!  It’s a wonder she didn’t put me on the naughty step.

There’s no place like Gran’s

If I had to pick my favourite place in the entire world, it would probably be my Gran’s house.  Stone and wood floors, rickety spiral staircases and an attic full of junk, you could get lost in the old charm of it.  I have endless memories of running around the garden full of archways, steps and little paths, having an absolute ball.  Throw in a bit of trespassing to next door (they had a tree-house ok?) and it really was the perfect playground.  We used to play Kick the Can as a big family and I was in my element.  One day, I legged it up the two sets of stairs to the attic, climbed out the window, made my way across the lower section of roof and perched myself behind a chimney.  Best hiding place ever.  I could see everything!  What a winner.  I was all set to jump down and run for glory when my mother spotted me.  It’s fair to say I was in pretty big trouble (she’s safety conscious) and I didn’t get to kick the damned can.

Back to present day.  My Gran is selling up.  She’s lived there for an amazing 60 years and now she’s on her own it is just too big to manage.  The good news is, she has moved into the cottage next door!  It’s been in the family for generations and I’m so pleased she gets to stay in the little village which has been her home for so long.  The community spirit there always amazes me.  I don’t think my Gran goes a day without someone popping in to check she’s ok, or to drop off dinner or some cake.  This is such a comfort to me, because she’s going through an unbelievably tough time right now.

I can’t say that I have ever seen the same type of behaviour anywhere else.  Most of the people in my block of flats barely say two words if I pass them in the communal areas.  How sad is that?  Where has the neighbourly friendliness gone?  Is this village v city?  Old v young?  Or just a change in the times?