Kate's Blog

Follow me if you will as I try to navigate through the ups and downs of my world.

I'm writing this blog to help me make sense of all that has happened - from my diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma while pregnant with my third child in May 2008
, through to my reflections on chaotic family life as I try to pick up the pieces of my life again.

The kids are so small, and I'm working hard to keep us all safe and to stay in remission.

Stay with me - it won't be all doom and gloom I promise!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Cooking and Cooking and Cooking Some More

And now to more prosaic matters. The cold cold weather and crazy snow has had the same old effect on me - I've been cooking like a dervish.

We've lit our woodburner every day for the past week - the warm, sauna-like heat a balm for the terrors which hit us when we venture out of the door. It's a military operation getting the kids to school or buying a pint of milk. I've given up entirely on the car for the time being.

And I'm cooking. I've made my jars of pear chutney, ready to give to people as Christmas presents. A certain skint state has forced presents of economy this year - but corny though it is I've had much more pleasure from my rows of beautifully sterilised, prettily lidded and labelled jars, than I have from lining up bought gifts in previous years. And there's still homemade lemon curd and honeycomb to be made for the same lucky recipients.

And I have been cooking my way through the latest Nigella Lawson book as I threatened to do. Today we're having meatloaf - not something I've really thought to cook before, being English through and through. But this looks delightful with slices of egg running through the middle, and bacon wrapped around the top. Not a vegetarian's idea of heaven, I'll agree, and certainly not the lightest of meals it's true. We don't eat that much meat ourselves - but there's something about the snow that makes me want to snuggle right down with food and warmth and forget about other more aesthetic pleasures.

I'll let you know how the meatloaf turns out.

Snow - thinking of Dickens!

Snow weighing heavily in the gutters on the roofs. Snow lying wonkily along silhouetted branches. Snow feet deep on paths, hedges and pavements. Snow breathing, snow falling and snow settling on a new, stark landscape where nothing seems the same.

Old people, bent like sticks, wrapped up fruitlessly against the cold, struggle along the streets clutching packages of precious rations in their hands. With luck their tins and jars will last till the 'snap' is over - make a nice ham sandwich and a cup of tea against the cold! Breath rising in the cold house, saving the heating, they huddle next to the one bar on the heater.

Kids - blurs of colour aganst the white - slip and slide, their shrieks hanging in the cold air, static and frozen in time.

Cars, driven by the most intrepid and devil-may-care, slide and skid around the bends in the road, their tyres spurting sludgy snow onto those venturing out on foot.

And we, watching the snow falling, falling, falling tune our radios to the local stations to hear the latest on whether the school is open - radiant hope and exhilaration only a moment away for the children.

And it's still November.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Beer and a Latte?

I spent the weekend pulling pints and making complicated coffees on the enormous coffee machine at my mum's picturesque pub on the beautiful Northumbrian coast. She and my sister run the pub - it has its own micro brewery which brews fantastic beer if you're into that sort of thing (I'm more a whisky girl myself), and serves amazing food in the evening, so much so that the bookings are taken weeks ahead.

This weekend and next they're short-staffed so I was drafted in. I was working in the evening too - remarkably stressful having to glide around taking orders, opening wine while trying to look as if I know what I'm doing when I don't! I wasn't invited into the kitchen. Thank heavens.

I was rather tired by the time I finished on Sunday afternoon. The weather was terrible all weekend and consequently the pub was constantly completely packed with walkers trying to wait out the deluge. Many hot chocolates were consumed (by them not me!)

I left the kids behind in Gateshead on Saturday morning with poor Roger who was exhausted at the start of the weekend and beyond exhausted by the end. When I walked back in last night at tea-time chaos reigned with Hattie shrieking, Ed upside down on the sofa and Martha giggling horrendously in that particular way she has.

I finished making the tea, and after the usual bathing and reading and all the other bed-time mayhem, sank onto the sofa for an hour before springing upwards once more to tackle the ironing. Roger who had arrived home on Friday from work with the usual pile of marking and other work, retreated upstairs to his study. And much, much later we muttered goodnight to each other before falling asleep. I think we've exchanged a couple of sentences -if that - this weekend. Crazy - but at least I got a lie-in on Sunday morning before I started work. That's more than Rog got.

Monday, 15 November 2010

De Duh De Duh... De-Duh

I've started another writing course at the university here in Newcastle. It's full of confident people discussing the merits of the iambic meter. Hmmmm. And now I have to write a poem for Thursday. Why do I do these things?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

To Newcastle

Recently I went to hear Ian McEwan speak at the Newcastle University, just over the river from where we live in Gateshead. He was amazing - so clever, articulate and erudite. Well, what would you expect from Ian McEwan?

I left here at 6.30pm. Rog had just walked in the door while I attempted to make a pretty sharp exit. And I left - the kids to their bed-time routine and the house to its mess.

Later, after the event I walked on my own back to the car across the beautiful old campus, underneath the ivy-covered arches and I felt acutely transported back to another time in my life 20 years before.

You see, I did my undergraduate degree at this university, far away from what was my home then in the south of England and when I worked it out it really was 20 years ago - more - when I started.

Walking across the flagstones past the building in which I had studied, all those years ago, I passed a group of students - kids they looked to me - with arms linked, all chatting and laughing. I felt as if I was passing myself coming the other way. Would I recognise my 41 year-old self, filled with different pre-occupations, hurrying back in the other direction to my three children? Would I have expected my life to have been as it has?

Cutting through onto the road I'd parked my car, the hospital loomed dark against the night sky. And there too were so many memories. In that hospital was where I'd had my three babies, and also where I'd had all my cancer treatment. The actual ward three storeys up where I'd endured my chemotherapy and my bone marrow transplant had been due for demolition not long after my treatment finished. The building was shaped like a thin arm and for a long time the partial demolition cut open the end so one could see inside the three storeys at once like a tube with the end severed. Into that maw I could see the space where the beds had been, hanging open to the elements. Because there were people who were so very sick in that ward, fresh air was not allowed. Instead there was some kind of system which kept the air purified and hideously stuffy - it was one of the many discomforts about staying there. I would drive past and feel glad that there was air in there at last.

Now, however that part of the hospital has been entirely demolished, and the cancer centre rebuilt elsewhere in the city with flash new facilities and all mod-cons - that's where I have my appointments now. And back at the old hospital the space where I had all my treatment just doesn't exist anymore. It's thin air. And that makes me feel very very strange. It's almost like a dream - or a nightmare. It's almost like it didn't happen. But that ward, those rooms, that space where my worst nightmare did come true are etched in my mind and in my memory. I dream about them and they don't exist anymore. I cannot successfully convey how uneasy their absence makes me feel.

Driving home over the beautiful Tyne Bridge, the river lit up by lights on the Millenium Bridge and the Sage, I realised what a connection I have with the city of Newcastle. It's my home now - my adopted home. Twenty-two years ago I came here to study English at the university. I had a fabulous time and made friends and memories which last until today. Then I left for a few years - did my teacher training in the south and worked for a while down there. But the place lured me back and for the past 14 years I've lived in Northumberland and then the city. I've married here, had my children here, nearly died here and hopefully will grow old here.

I miss where I grew up and those country lanes along whch I walked and rode are part of my fabric but this city is a shape superimposed on top, blending and blurring until I almost can't tell which came first. My southern accent will forever mark me out as a newcomer, my children are already skilfuly mixing the Geordie and the South in their speech. And they truly belong to the city, born in the centre. This is their home.

(apologies for this re-posting!)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Birthdays Etc

Just totally exhausted. A weekend of birthday celebrations have taken their toll - including yesterday taking 6 very over-excited children to the cinema and for pizza.

And now I have to iron lots and lots of shirts and a plethora of school uniform. I'm watching the X-Factor results but they're not helping. Am kind of fed up with the X-factor although have just seen Kylie who I do quite like in her pop-disco kind of way.

Another week of packed lunches and school runs loom. But I'm off to London on my own next weekend to see a friend so that'll keep me going.

Must head to the gym this week as well - have managed to enjoy quite a few birthday treats myself over the weekend!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Bonfire Night and Ed

Out of our loft bedroom window we have a panoramic view over the city. This evening, after dark, on my way to put Hattie to bed we paused to watch the fireworks exploding in jewelled colours near and far, wherever we looked. Hattie was frightened and transfixed in pretty much equal measure.

It is Ed's birthday today - and I've always told him that fireworks went off everywhere in celebration on November 5th 2003. Being born on Bonfire Night clearly has nothing to do with it! And tonight he was off with his dad and sister to watch the fireworks at the park near our house.

But Ed has never been scared of fireworks, even as a very young child - while Martha has always been terrified until this year. And tonight he told with me with entire seriousness that the reason for this was that he'd heard fireworks just after birth. True he was born at 7.30 in the evening which is firework time, but he was also minutes old and in a hospital. But who am I to argue?

Anyhow, I'm excited and pleased for him that he's reached 7. But he's not a baby anymore - he's far from being that newborn in a spotty babygrow. And I'm sad at the way time marches on.

Tomorrow we're taking Ed and some friends to the cinema and for a pizza. Sounds rather exhausting!

Now, it's an episode of Mad Men and then bed to continue 'The Slap'. What an exciting life I lead.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

To Bhutan

I got up at 3am this morning to take my mum to the airport. She's going to Bhutan - how amazing is that?

As she disappeared into the airport out of the rainy night dragging her bag behind her, I had to suppress a fairly large pang of envy. While she was heading adventure-wise, I was heading back to making three packed lunches and the school run.

Oh how things change - the boot is on the other foot now. I remember so clearly today, my mum dropping me at Victoria train station aged 19 with a rucksack I couldn't carry, terrified and starting an overland trip through Europe: final destination - Kathmandu. A few years later after university, I travelled in the States and then went to Canada for a fabulous solo trip. And in between those trips were many visits to Florence, Rome, Berlin and Paris to name but a few. I think my mum was always envious. My parents couldn't really do a huge amount of travel abroad due to my dad's haemophilia as well as more latterly his struggle with HIV. They travelled in their campervan around Scotland and Ireland and a little in France but that was really the limit.

Now, that my dad has so very sadly been dead for the past 12 years, my mother has her footloose freedom just as I've lost mine. And now it's me waving her off with wanderlust in my heart.

I'm sending her all my love on her travels. She's pretty brave really, setting off on her own at 62 to a relatively little-known place a long way from home.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Diary of a Harrassed Mother

Kate is hassled. She is the often failing mother of Ed (7), delightful in a loud, herd-of elephants, trumpeting sort of way, Martha (5) quite self-possessed and very stroppy already and Harriet (2) who is convinced she’s in charge, and often actually is.

6.20: Alarm goes off. Or rather annoying clock radio starts playing ‘Today’ just as the business news starts. Through my sleep fuddled brain I remember that this is Tuesday. If this is Tuesday then I need to get up especially quickly. Ed who has haemophilia has to have one of his IV injections this morning. Preferably while husband is still home so that he can hold his hand (and mine) through the agonising process.

I shower at the speed of light, throw on whichever clothes are on the top of the pile of clean ones which came up from the drier (ahem, a couple of days ago actually) but haven’t yet been put away, and rush downstairs ignoring Hattie’s shouts to be ‘getted from my bed’. Trying not to trip over Martha who is following me like a shadow grumbling quietly, I rush between the bedrooms laying out clothes for Hattie and school uniform, peering with bleary eyes to see if yesterday’s jumpers will do again for at least today. Ed’s usually won’t.

7.am: Ed’s treatment. I find the vein first time thank heavens, so not too much trauma to us all. Ed disappears straight away back upstairs to continue building his enormous lorry terminal which takes up his whole room and involves every bit of furniture, cushion, piece of bedding and wooden bricks he can lay his hands on. Weakly I raise my voice at his retreating back and implore him not to make a mess. This phrase falls on deaf ears.

7.15: porridge on to cook (now a daily must since I watched a programme about salt in breakfast cereals - damn TV). I did remember to switch on loaded dishwasher last night though unlike the night before. This represents an achievement.
Harriet appears downstairs with her dad who has got her dressed. This is his job every morning – hooray. She declares that it’s not rainy enough for a ‘fudd’. She means flood – and has been absolutely obsessed with them since the week before when I had to drive through a flash flood on the way back from picking up the kids from school. Granted actually it was scary – I had a nasty moment when I thought I couldn’t go backwards or forwards. Shades of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’. We had to go through it. It’s a big topic for Hattie.

7.20: Packed lunches next: husband’s first and then the kids. Why didn’t I make them last night? What’s wrong with me? Moment’s pain, long-term gain. Remember that. I hate packed lunches. Have to dodge cross teacher husband running around flinging things into his bag and muttering about how late he is again.

7.25: Porridge is served. No – I haven’t finished the lunches yet; I’m multi-tasking. I quickly chop up strawberries and chuck on blueberries – see, how spoilt they are. They would of course infinitely prefer coco-pops and after clearing up the sticky mess which Hattie leaves all over herself and the table, so would I. They’re allowed corn-flakes and things at weekends. Mainly so I don’t have to make the bloody porridge.

7.30: husband leaves for work and children eat their porridge. I finish the lunches dodging Ed’s accusing and critical attempts to see what horrors I’m putting in there. ‘Why can’t we have crisps every day like everyone else?’ is a constant and very tedious refrain.

7.30: I long for peace and quiet, a strong coffee and an almond croissant. Maybe a long and comfortable train commute (first-class? why not) and then a lovely day writing successful and witty pieces in a fun, lively environment. Glass of wine after work? Why not. Etc

7.35: I shoo/usher/yell at kids as they make their way upstairs to get dressed. The notion of brushing teeth before putting on uniforms is somehow so terribly hard to grasp. This is important to a mummy but extremely unimportant to an Ed who often appears back downstairs with toothpaste all over yesterday’s carefully preserved school sweatshirt. Martha shouts several times about what Ed isn’t doing to get ready, while running giggling like a dervish between bedrooms. Butter woudn’t melt with Martha.

7.45: Kids still not downstairs. Plenty of strange and very loud hootings, rumblings and thumpings from Ed’s bedroom. My blood pressure is starting to rise. Sometime ago I came to the startling conclusion that I like quiet in the mornings. Unfortunately I’d already had the kids by then. Meanwhile Hattie is still slowly smearing porridge around the kitchen, eating the fruit but nothing else.

8.00: Kids have been practically dragged downstairs as I can’t bear the noise upstairs. I’m filling school-bags with reply slips for photographs, parents’ evening and payment for music lessons. Both Ed and Martha have been singled out as being musical (cue much maternal pride and bemusement) and have been offered lessons at school on a scheme to nurture early talent. Great of course despite having to lug a cello and violin as well as bags, packed lunches and Hattie up the steep hill to school. Oh and having to pay £20 a week.
Hattie is hosed down and gets down from the table. She immediately tries to take whatever Ed is holding and shrieks when he won’t let her, “Give it, you little boy boy”, which is her most desperate insult. Sometimes mummy is a little boy boy too.

8.15: Martha has her hair brushed and wriggles and complains while I try to put it into a neat pony-tail like other girls have. I am torn between being pleased and annoyed that she is not interested in looking pretty and neat. I wet the brush to tackle Ed’s unruly mop and straighten his collar and check he has his trousers on the right way round. Hattie’s shoes are discovered upstairs in yesterday’s swimming bag (??) and coats are forced on.

8.30: In the car. I put on make-up quickly by rear-view mirror, having realised that I look completely wild. Cello, violin, bags, packed lunches, my hand-bag, shopping bags for exciting trip to Sainsburys, and spare clothes for baby are strewn in the back. And off we go.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Christy Moore

I've just been to see Christy Moore singing at the fabulous Sage Concert Hall in Gateshead. What a beautiful voice that man has. His music is deeply moving. I enjoyed every second - I literally felt transported.

I'm going to force Hattie to listen to him all day tomorrow on my ipod. She needs some lessons in soul.