My Happiness Project: October – Harvest

So in September it was all about Embracing the Seasons. That theme continues and I’m cheating a bit by carrying on with Autumn and thinking about Harvest… plenty and gratitude.

Now I am a bit late sharing my intentions for October. Therefore, I’ll admit, I didn’t get out to see the Harvest Moon, and I’ve failed so far on the daily gratitude. Considering last month I also failed on doing three things for myself each day, and I know I need to brush off my meditation app, I think that I am actually not doing so well on the self-care and self love. Therefore, I’m going to alter one of my original aims picking up on my review of September and introduce a Habit tracker.

October – Harvest

Celebrate the Harvest

– Harvest Festival

– Go and do something Harvesty with the children

– Put something in the food bank trolley

(Harvest Moon – 5th October – go and look at it)

I have plenty:

– No buying month

– Daily gratitude

– Use things up

– Three is enough!

Use my bullet journal:

– Harvest ideas and thoughts

– Habit tracker.

I’m hoping that the Habit tracker will do the trick! Next month the focus shifts from general Autumnal enjoyment to a more goal-oriented topic, so I kind of need to start warming myself up to the habit now.

Advertisements

My Happiness Project – September Review

So, September – how did I do?

I confess despite very best of intentions, September and half of October’s Happiness Project months have slid by. Trying to get hold of something so slippery as time was part of the challenge of my Happiness Project. That is still challenging. But I’ve found that the mental reminder of my overarching aim to “Embrace the Seasons” is (so far) working. I didn’t manage to achieve all my aims for September – far from it – and I can see why my Happiness Guru Gretchen Rubin uses a chart to keep tabs on herself for her habit changing resolutions. I’ve been going freestyle, and it shows.

I said in September I intended to:

Embrace the season:

– make a photo album to celebrate the summer

– back to school pictures

– plan some after school treats

Time is how you spend your love:

– three things for myself every day (bullet journal list)

– track my time

The days are long but the years are short (be a better parent):

– No snapping and no meanness

– No complaining

– Be prepared (snacks and water!)

Equinox:

– Read more

– Balance head vs. heart

I didn’t make my photo album yet- if I’m honest, the cost of doing a proper photobook put me off. However, photo albums are a big zone of guilt for me. I rarely print pictures and I’m really aware of the fact that all the pictures of the children are digital, and may not last in their current formats. So I’m going to add “photo album” to what I often think of as The Never Ending List, but I think I’m going to re-frame to a “Good Things to Do” list.

However, I did take back to school pictures, and I also took the littlest mini to the local pottery painting cafe and we made some souvenirs of both Autumn and forthcoming to Christmas. Squidging her little fingers in paint for fingerprints was lots of fun.

As usual, I went to the bottom of the list, behind work and my minis. So I did not do three things for myself everyday, or track my time – I kept on wanting to find a representative’ week and now I realise I should have just done it. But I was aware of my time, which is always good. I always think from my Personal Commandments that time is how I spend my love.

One of the things I always want to aim for is to be the best parent I can be. No snapping, complaining and being prepared – these are clearly aspirations that I carry with me all the time. At points with a nearly eight year old and recently three year old, it can be challenging not to lose one’s temper when refereeing over important issues such as toys, tv choices, seating positions on the sofa. I was, however, more often prepared with snacks for when we went out and about and even one day was prepared with bread for feeding ducks.

Reading more – YES! Thanks to crappy trains and other reasons I had not been reading as much, however, for me, reading is mindfulness and helps me feel balanced. So I have been working through some old fiction books, mainly. I’ve struggled with new stories despite picking up some enticing titles from the library and even the book swap shelves at my doctor’s surgery. In fact, I have abandoned books halfway through which really isn’t like me. But the joy of visiting the library with my girls is high, and I’ve got a blog post to come on an old favourite book.

The idea around balancing was to celebrate the Autumn Equinox. Hmm… I’ll admit that September didn’t find me effortlessly gliding my way through life. In fact, at one point, I hit a nadir. Head vs Heart were aligned but in agreement and I found I was struggling with my emotions. However, in the spirit of my personal commandments I decided to “Be mistress of myself” and somehow I found I was able to bring myself up again. However, I know that a spot of meditation wouldn’t go amiss. Need to dust off the headspace app again.

Next stop, October… halfway there already.

My Personal Commandments

One of the starting points of my Happiness Project actually began earlier this year, as I started to formulate my own set of “Personal Commandments”. The idea is that you use the commandments as a set of guiding principles for the resolutions one makes as part of the Happiness Project.

My commandments vary from single words to quotations. Some of these are quotations from literature, some of them are things that I picked up from other people. One of them is now the name of my Happiness Project because I think it’s so important. Another is my blog name with a little addition. They are:

Time is how you spend your love.
Embrace the seasons.
Be mistress of myself.
Live more, write more, read more.
Wear it out.
Wait.
Respond.
Plan for serendipity.
Choose passion not stress.
Variety and moderation.
Set boundaries.

I’m not saying that I’m succeeding yet, in living my life by this set of rules. But coming up with the list was fun, particularly when I realised that a lot of these were things I already believed – I wasn’t making them up for the project, they’re actually part of what I already think. One of the pleasures, came from once I had composed the list of commandments, I really enjoyed writing them in a page in my bullet journal, with decoration. I am no great Pinterest example, but my bullet journal is one of my favourite relaxing things to do. Then I took a picture of them and printed it out and pinned it to my desk at work. Not because work is especially where I need to pay attention to these commandments, but because I feel like I spend more waking time at my work desk that anywhere else.

Embrace the Seasons: A Happiness Project

In my last post, I explained that I had been inspired by Gretchen Rubin, who writes about “happiness, habits and human nature” to begin my own happiness project. I’ve decided to call it “Embrace the Seasons”.

The idea of turning happiness into a project makes it sound like hard work, and even a bit ridiculous. Please, dear readers, don’t think that I’m unhappy, I’m a pretty happy person despite loving a good whinge. I know that I am also fortunate, and privileged, and all those other things that come with the accident of my birth in a certain financial strata of society in a certain time period. My children are healthy, I have a home, I have family, friends, a career.

In so many ways, my life works for me. But some days I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round and I can’t get off. It’s a feeling I think so many people have, especially in the child-rearing, career-growing years. It’s not much fun when you’re stuck on the merry-go-round and beyond it, life seems to be a blur, passing by without me noticing that I am missing out. The pause of the summer break helped me to realise that I want to stop and see beyond the routines and term times and school holidays, jumping from weekend to weekend, commuting, emailing, life lived by my Outlook calendar, and see what really matters. Holidays have a way of focusing the mind like that. But we can’t be on holiday all the time. So for me, while my Happiness Project does have some elements that are more about self-development and self-awareness, in many ways, I’m setting myself goals to help me to pay more attention to my life.

Also, I am a terrible faddist, and there’s nothing I love more than starting a new project. Finishing one… well that’s a rarer occurrence. So to those ends, I am looking for some accountability. Therefore, please please do feel free to comment, ask questions and keep me on track. A year is a long time.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my intentions for September, and the focus area for each month of the year. In some cases the titles are a bit metaphorical, and in others they’re very literal.

My Happiness Project – Embrace the Seasons

 

September – Embrace the Seasons

Embrace the season:

– make a photo album to celebrate the summer

– back to school pictures

– plan some after school treats

Time is how you spend your love:

– three things for myself every day (bullet journal list)

– track my time

The days are long but the years are short (be a better parent):

– No snapping and no meanness

– No complaining

– Be prepared (snacks and water!)

Equinox:

– Read more

– Balance head vs. heart

October – Harvest

November – Productivity

December – Light

January – Pilgrimage and Adventure

February – Ice Queen

March – Lent

April – Spring

May – Queen Bee

June – Curate My Life

July – Full Bloom

August – Holiday

 

Why September is the perfect time to start a Happiness Project

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Emily Bronte

September! For anyone who works in education, or has kids, or even just never lost the rhythm of their school days, you know the truth – September is the real new year. I’m not original in pointing this out, Marian Keyes did in her newsletter this month, my inspirational happiness guru Gretchen Rubin already did on one of her recent podcasts, Happier, and The Pool published an article about La Rentree last week. For me, when I think of the calendar it doesn’t start in January; I am strictly an academic year person. There’s something joyous and promising about children back at school, crisper, misty mornings, the promise of new boots, the anticipation of cosy nights and the excitement leading up to Christmas.

All of which is absolutely true: I love September. But over the past few years, I’ve found myself disliking late Autumn and Winter. Long-time blog readers will know that Spring is my truly favourite season, also a time of promise and rebirth. Early Autumn is beautiful, the weather is also sort of moderate and temperate, and the clocks haven’t yet changed. It’s the slide into Christmas and darkness that gets me gloomy. The pressure and overindulgence of the festive season, the grim skintness of January, when no one wants to do anything or go anywhere, and everyone’s detoxing and dieting. And darkness. Did I mention darkness? I didn’t used to feel this way. The lead poem, by Emily Bronte, I first read when I was in Year 9, in an old poetry anthology which contained the poem we were meant to be studying in that lesson. I went back at lunchtime and I memorised it by heart. It’s a bit teenage emo-y, because of course emo subscribes to the Sally Sparrow philosophy that ‘sad is happy for deep people.’

Well, no more. Because I have changed my mind on that one. One of my newfound “Secrets of Adulthood” is that sad is not happy for deep people. Happiness is happy for deep people. And rather than be dragged down by Autumn and I’m going to do my best to make this Autumn and Winter (and then Spring and Summer) a happy time. So I’m embarking on a grand-scale Happiness Project.

And what, I hear you cry, is a Happiness Project? Great question, readers! Well, the concept came from Gretchen Rubin, of course, author of The Happiness Project and a range of other great books. On her website she explains:

A “happiness project” is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.

I did start my Happiness Project on September 1st, the first day of Autumn. That was a week ago. So far, I’m enjoying it. The overall theme of my Happiness Project is “Embrace the Seasons”, and that is September’s theme too, like the title song of a really great album! I’m reminding myself daily to embrace the seasons, because there’s a deep truth in the idea that just as there are meteorological seasons, which we can’t do anything about, we have seasons in our lives too. Not only do I want to embrace the season I am in right now, but I want to embrace the seasons of the girls’ lives too. It’s so easy to wish their little lives away when you bounce from weekend to weekend, school holiday to school holiday. There’s so much to enjoy in their lives, I don’t want to forget that.

I’ll share with you my plan for my Happiness Project and my September resolutions in due course, but clearly one of the things in my life which brings me joy, satisfaction and engagement is writing, and particularly writing on this platform, my blog. So one of my resolutions that is going in my Happiness Project is that I am going to commit to posting on the blog more frequently and regularly. I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy reading about my progress with my Happiness Project. It doesn’t mean I won’t post about other things, and I’m hoping that it will be a conduit into some of meatier topics the famous no-longer anonymous survey respondent suggested (travel, ethics, politics). I can’t promise, though, that there won’t be a return of the What I’m Wearing posts, but maybe in a new format. After all, sometimes a bit of superficial frivolity really does bring inner happiness.

 

The Mystery of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

We are on an all inclusive summer holiday in Hampshire, aka a staycation at the grandparents’. There are enough bedrooms for everyone to have their room, including estranged separate beds. There’s space on the driveway for the seven million cars* parked outside. There’s a separate tv lounge for the girls to sit in, with a complementary line of parcel tape granny has stuck on the carpet to indicate how far away the children must stay from the television (in case of toppling). We have the run of the cupboards, and much to his chagrin I used up all my dad’s nice Leerdammer slices making a picnic to take the zoo. After five hours at said zoo with the girls and my dear friend who joined us for the day, I then drank the lion’s share of the bottle of prosecco my dad opened to celebrate Persie’s third birthday. Prosecco goes very well with Minion birthday cake.

We are lucky to have people who love us. My not-wicked stepmother, who known as Granny Bee to the girls, always makes a big effort for our visits, putting children’s bedcovers on their beds, getting out the garden toys, stocking up on turkey dinsoaurs. This time around, she also lovingly arranged some magazines and a book on my bedside table.

The book was “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I saw it and laughed, assuming that either she’d left it there as 1) a joke or 2) because she thought I needed it. I was reading-wise already occupied re-reading “Happier at Home” by my guru, Gretchen Rubin. But I thought I’d ask my stepmum about it.

Me: Thanks for leaving Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by my bed. Was it a joke?
Stepmum: No, it was your mum’s, so I thought you might like to have it.
Me: That book wasn’t my mum’s.
Stepmum: It was!
Me: Erm I am pretty sure that edition wasn’t published until after mum died. It’s definitely not hers.
Stepmum: I’m sure it was…

My brain remembers rubbish like when famous bookcovers changed. So, book nerds, we’re talking about the cartoon cover edition of the famous relationship self-help book. Published in 2002. Three years after mum died.

The next day…

Me: So I checked that book, and that version was published after mum died so it definitely wasn’t her’s.
Stepmum: Is it yours?
Me: Nope. It must be yours.
Stepmum: It’s not mine. I didn’t buy it and I’ve never read it. [The book has a cracked spine. It’s been read].
Me: Well maybe someone gave it to you?
Stepmum: Erm…
Me: Maybe dad bought it when he was doing his counselling course?
Stepmum: I don’t think so.
Me to Dad: Is this your book?
Dad: Non committal response.

So this book, which I suspect has been in the house for about fifteen years, is unwanted and unloved! Nor will anyone admit it’s theirs! I’ve decided to adopt it. Frankly, I do think I need all the help I can get when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex. And can’t help but wonder if that was my not-wicked stepmother’s game plan all along. Even if she didn’t say so.

*Tiny hyperbole but there are currently five cars parked outside. Only two of them belong to us.

What happens on tour, stays on tour

I’ve been meaning to write about my friend for a long time. I wanted to write about her because she’s a great friend, definitely part of my squad. But we said a temporary goodbye as she waddled off into a sunset with a tummy swollen with baby, preparing to add a beautiful girl to her very beautiful family. And I knew I wanted to write something in tribute to our working life together in honour of its temporary hiatus.

Do you have a work friend who keeps you on the straight and narrow? Who gets the work started, and also points out to you what you really actually need to do? My work friend has never failed to have already drafted a straw man, in an appropriate template, or to have set up that meeting, or to have been sympathetic about a tedious and frustrating meeting. She’s positive, full of humour, and brings me up, acknowledging that I struggle to reach her level of positivity and lack of cynicism. Meaning that I like to whinge. But we think a lot of the same things, and feel the same way about a lot of stuff too. It’s nice to be in concordance with someone, but to know that if you’re not, it’s an appropriate challenge, not someone being contrary for the sake of it.

Of course, one spends more hours with one’s colleagues than with one’s spouse/family. So my friend knows everything about all the work and life crap that I have been through over the past couple of years. She knows the real story, she watched it happen. She also knows exactly how many sandwiches I ate that day when I was really really hungover.**

But this is all just preamble. I knew what I wanted to write about, straightaway. It’s part of a much bigger, more complex story. But essentially, I wanted to write about the magic that happens when two or more people take a long car journey together. Conversations get to the nitty gritty quickly. Secrets are divulged. Tears are shed (by me, mostly).

For our first road trip to the midlands satellite office, I arrived at St Ives Park and Ride in our hire car at stupidly early o’clock. I had my happiness playlist playing, and no make up on. We got lost – which is my modus operandi – and thus extended our journey by a good half an hour. Having done some initial work chat, we got into talking about the really important stuff. And that was when I asked her opinion about the butt plug. It’s part of a longer more complicated story, and in that sense, what gets talked about on tour, stays on tour. But this is a brilliant example of how my friend provides “appropriate challenge”.

Me: Would you think a butt plug with a tail would be an appropriate Secret Santa present?
Her: Yeah, I think that would be hilarious!
Me: From an older man to a younger woman? [voice rising] I think that’s inappropriate.
Her: I think you’re being uptight. If I were friends with that person and it was a good joke, I’d totally do it!
Me: Even amongst all their colleagues? In a professional environment? Don’t you think it could be interpreted as sexually aggressive? If that happened in my team, I’d take the person aside and Have A Word.
Her: No! It’s got a tail. It’s clearly a joke!
Me: Well I stand by my opinion. I didn’t even know butt plugs could have tails!
Her: I know what I’m going to get you for your birthday.*
Me: I googled. They’re really bloody expensive you know.

For our second road trip, we were joined by our colleague. We are like the three angels to our boss’s Charlie… or something like that. To mark our first road trip as a threesome, I added their own handpicked songs to my happiness playlist to represent them (Groove Is in the Heart by Dee-Lite and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend, in case you were wondering). On the outbound journey, we talked about work, but in a masterful stroke, my friend spread out her pregnant self in the back of the car on the way home. This meant that our colleague had to sit in the front seat, next to me. Maybe it was just timing, maybe it was the stars aligning, perhaps it was that skilful back seat manoeuvre, but that was the day our colleague really opened up and started to tell us about herself. Part of becoming friends is being aware of other people’s shit. And that stays on tour too.

*On my birthday, she gave me a cool lipstick set. They were from a premium brand I suspect they still were less expensive than a butt plug with a tail. She said to me “I didn’t want to spend that amount of money on something for a joke!”
**Four. Breakfast was a Tesco sandwich with a Coke Zero.

Harry Potter is Twenty 

Or rather Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is Twenty, because Harry himself is my age (ish). Oh the shock I had when, at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is revealed that Harry was born in 1980. Of course! No wonder he felt like a kindred spirit, he’s a fellow born-in-the-eighties member of Generation Y! It does explain why the books never troubled with explaining the internet. Can you imagine what Mr Weasley would make of wifi?

Regular readers will know that JK Rowling is one of my muses. I don’t like snobbery about writers, I especially dislike snobbery about popular writing. JK gets it a bit, for the quality of her writing, her popularity, her prolific output and her liberal views. But I don’t doubt that Harry Potter will endure.

I came to Potter late, Book Three, in fact! I remember devouring the first three Harry Potter books on a train to Durham, on my way to a Classics Summer school. I always loved school stories – Blyton, Chalet School, The Worst Witch, and Harry Potter was to me as comforting as a blanket, nostalgic as crumpets, and sweetly inventive as a sherbet lemon. I’d never read The Lord of the Rings, but I had been obsessed with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. And had I mentioned I studied Latin? I was already a nerd, I was bound to like Potter!

That summer, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, and that was when the phenomenon kicked off and got really really massive. I worked in our local Asda over the holidays, and the front table was piled high with thick hardback books. Everywhere you went, people were reading that brightly coloured brick, and Potter suddenly became part of the national lexicon. In the winter, the first film came out. I went to see it three times, in a north London Cineworld, when the matinee tickets cost about three pounds each. Potter, along with His Dark Materials, is one of the reasons I chose to study Children’s Literature – both series were, to my mind, part of a resurgence of a genre with the power to change and influence like no other. Scientists have conducted studies on the effect of reading Potter on readers. Less likely to support Trump apparently…

I think back to reading Potter for the first time. (I’m jealous of people who’ve never read it, who have that pleasure ahead of them – I feel the same way about all my favourite books). I remember, through the lens of Potter, what it was like to be nineteen. To have watched my friends go off to university for their first years away and taste of freedom, while my life was also changing but not in the ways I had expected. To have experienced my first romance, my first heartbreak, my first failures. Reading Harry Potter that summer was one of the ways I coped with my grief and deep sadness, with loss, with frustration, with powerlessness. The scene when Harry stands before the mirror of Erised, and see his parents, well, I still cry now when I read that. The deep inner sadness that comes from losing a parent… when I read about JK Rowling losing her mother to MS before she wrote the Potter books, so much of it makes sense. I am sure that is why she is one of my people. It’s a long and varied list and subject to change at times, because I’m fickle, but she’s up there on the laminated, permanent part.

By the time the final Potter book came out, I was more grown up, living in my second-to-last houseshare, in my second ever real job. I woke up early and drove to a local 24 hour Tesco to buy my book from a pile on a table in the entrance of the supermarket, and I read until my eyes were red and sore and I was hoarse and snotty with tears. I love that book so much. Not because good triumphs over evil – although that’s great – or because I realised that Harry would have been in the year above me at school. It’s not Snape’s death, either, although when we went to Harry Potter Studios we looked for Alan Rickman’s wand in Ollivander’s, to pay our respects.

The part that resonates is when Harry brings out the resurrection stone from the Snitch. He is about to meet Voldemort and he is prepared to die. The spirits of his parents, Sirius, Remus and Tonks appear. Rowling doesn’t call them ghosts, not like the ghosts who inhabit the castle. These are something different – and as the scene takes place, it’s clear that the spirits were always there with him, he just didn’t know it. And they won’t leave him, even when he drops the stone to the floor. Just thinking about that scene gets me. We can’t bring back the people we love, but they never leave us. It’s a paradox; beautiful, sad and true.

***For those of you who so kindly got in touch to ask why I’ve been so quiet – just busy, is the honest answer. But I’ve made a list of all the things I want to tell you about, so I hope that there will be more regular posts again in the coming weeks.***

The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

Huge thanks to all of you who told me what you think about this blog, and what you’d like to read more of. If anyone else would care to contribute anonymously by filling out my survey the link is HERE
.
I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

Listen To The Teacher

I work in education, but I’m not a teacher. I’ve got no teaching qualifications and I’ve never worked in a school, unless you count the three weeks when I photocopied 350 reports three times over on A3 at the school my dad was headteacher of in 2001. I don’t. But the work I do impacts thousands, millions of children’s lives and life chances, it infiltrates nearly every secondary school classroom in this country. When it comes to my line of work, I’m pretty knowledgable. I was going to say I am an expert, but I’m very aware, working where I work, that there are others far more expert than I, but it is my profession and I work hard to understand the complexities and ramifications of what we do for children and their teachers everywhere.

Amidst all that, the thing I always strive to remember is, I am not a teacher. I’ve been surrounded by teachers my whole life, my parents, all three of them, friends’ parents, my own teachers, teachers who became my friends, the ex-teachers who I work with, now my children’s teachers. But I wouldn’t profess to know much more about teaching than your average well-educated broadsheet-reading liberal/socialist. You see, the problem is that everyone who was once at school themselves, seems to think they know something about teaching. I’m not saying they’re not stakeholders, I’m not saying their experience hasn’t given them insight, but are they experts? No. Which is why it makes me so angry the way that government, of any colour, messes and meddles with education despite in the main, the people doing the messing and meddling having no idea about everyday teaching and learning and how schools actually work in the 21st century.

When a fellow non-teacher came back from observing a maths lesson at a local school and said “it was a masterclass on differentiating to seven levels, I mean, I was gobsmacked” I knew what he meant and I knew what that highly skilled teacher had achieved and I was also highly impressed. But I know I could no more stand up before a class of 30 and teach them something meaningful than I could do a length of the butterfly stroke. I haven’t had the training and I’m not sure I’ve actually got the ability. Teachers are highly skilled professionals, who undergo intensive training, have to maintain their professional development year after year. But we don’t value our teachers.

You see, teachers are an easy target. It’s so easy to dismiss the late nights marking, the weekend days sacrificed to planning, the preparation. I work in a comfortable office with free hot drinks on tap and I can go to the loo whenever I want. Not teachers. They work in buildings that are sometimes not fit for purpose, without resources they need. They’re not able to get to the loo, because they can’t leave their class because their TA hours got cut due to budget cuts. They then scarf their lunch to run a club during the break. After school they’re driving the mini buses to the netball matches, football tournaments. All the kindnesses, the comfort given against bullies, the book chosen especially for a voracious reader, the encouragement given to the sportsperson in their area of talent or skill, the nights lying awake worrying about the young people in their classes.

So is it any wonder when they do all this, against the backdrop of funding cuts, a national curriculum that regressed to the 1950s, which doesn’t value the creative arts, against Academisation, performance related pay, against a testing regime which is unreasonable, against qualification reform in all areas, that teachers are telling us as my friend told me “We’re on our knees”? Teachers are leaving the profession some in the early stages of their careers, others after long service. I read about a couple, who are quitting education all together, because of the “bland and joyless” curriculum they are forced to teach. My friends alerted me to this impassioned post on Facebook by a teacher, Rebecca Bee, which went viral, as so many of these posts do. There is something very wrong here.

Why is nothing done about it, when a large group of highly qualified professional people are telling us, over and over, that this can’t go on, that their job is getting harder and harder to do? Whether that group of people is doctors, nurses, teachers, carers… Because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Because it doesn’t fit those lovely emollient soundbites they want us to swallow. Because it doesn’t fit their ideological journey to a country that sounds fair and sounds reasonable, but where inequality and opportunity no longer exist. Rather than admitting that schools need more money, that teachers need more support, that children deserve better, the government is fannying about the edges with free schools and “bring back the grammars”. Bring back an education worth having for every child. Stop measuring educational success on an arbitrary set of assessments. Start thinking about what skills children need to become independent adults in a world of zero hours contracts, social media, automation, payday loans, revenge porn.

Why is it that those of us who read those Facebook posts and newspaper articles and talk to our friends and our children’s teachers, why is it that we don’t we do something? Why are we not marching in the streets, alongside our teachers, in solidarity? Why aren’t we adding Facebook buttons about how much we love our education system, in the same we declare our love for the NHS? On the one hand, for people like me, it’s because we feel powerless. Because it’s inconvenient, and uncomfortable. Because it might have greater ramifications. Because it might mean that all that soothing political pepto bismol we’ve been swallowing is wrong. Because it makes us feel guilty for our lack of care, motivation, when we have our own things to worry about or our own cosy existence to preserve. Maybe next time teachers strike, we should be there with them, not whinging about it on social media.

But for others, the reason they don’t declare their admiration for our teachers, for our schools, is that their own schooling experience let them down. They worry about their own kids at school, because they remember what it was like. Maybe they still resent schools and teachers a little bit. Because they hated school, they hated exams, they felt stupid or frustrated, or they were desperate to get into the world of work, or their skills and talents weren’t recognised. Their education wasn’t a staircase to a successful adult life. It was a fenced in prison and they couldn’t wait to jump the wall. For some it won’t have mattered that they didn’t succeed in conventional ways. For others, they’ll feel their life chances were forever stymied by the fact they hated double maths on a Friday morning. To those people, I want to say, we can make it better. We can work together to make sure no child feels the way you did.

I’m willing to accept compromises for the meanwhile, because I know that no matter which flavour of politics is in government is, education and schools will never be perfect in its current format. A change more fundamental, more dynamic is needed, and I believe we’ll get there, one day, hopefully before the human race has to abandon earth for one of Saturn’s moons. And hey, maybe June 8th won’t effect that change, but miracles do happen, and it could be a start.