New year, new leaves…

So, here I am. Not, exactly on the side of the Severn anymore (though, in recent weeks the Severn’s been about eight miles wide so we’ve got close) but still wanting to put “stuff” “out there”. Here’s a piece I wrote for the local benefice mag back in dear old Hill, prior to our journey North, and a couple I’ve written for the one here in Herefordshire. All part of a new leaf to write more (or, more accurately, anything).

 

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WHAT MAKES A HOME? 

Several summers ago my friend and (then) housemate Kat Ingle and I ran a summer school at Rockhampton Village Hall with the working title “What Makes a Home?”. The young members of Impatient Vagrant, the community theatre company Kat still runs, explored some of those often fine but very strong threads that tie us to a particular place. As we leave Hill for Herefordshire this summer, I find myself asking the same question, what does make a home?

I have lived longer in Hill than anywhere else and I think it will always feel like home in some sense. When you’ve moved around as much as I have (I think our new house will be my fourteenth) time spent in one place is precious. When I moved to Hill in April 2003 it might well have seemed like a rather bizarre move. I was young(ish), with a good job, why wasn’t I living it up in London – or any other city for that matter? What was I doing moving to a tiny village with no shop and – quel dommage – no pub? Several fairly local friends didn’t even know that Hill existed, what would I find to do in such a speck on the map?

Well, lots. My own sisters, two of whom were city dwellers, had to admit that I seemed to have a pretty good social life for someone living in the back of beyond. I grew things, I wrote things, I walked – sometimes alone and sometimes with borrowed dogs – and I sat in Hill’s beautiful church, St Michael’s. I’ll be doing some more of that this month (after I’ve attempted to arrange flowers and run the hoover round of course). The plain-ness and the peace of that old, old place made an impression on me the very first time I experienced it and it still draws me, whatever the season, to want to sit in its stillness. It’s a good place for thinking and for praying; the ancient walls seem to soak up my worries and give me a reassuring sense of how small most of them are in the context of the prayers and praises that have been said and sung within them. The kindness of the congregation at Hill and the wise words I’ve heard from its splendid pulpit, particularly those of Richard Chidlaw, have grounded me through the eventful decade I’ve spent here and I shall miss them.

Home is, of course, where the heart is. Our new home will, we hope, be a place of love, laughter and welcome. But I’ll be leaving a tiny little bit of my heart in St Michael’s and looking forward to sitting in its stillness again before too long.

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DIARY OF A THOROUGHLY MODERN MOTHER – FEBRUARY

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to do more writing. There were others – mostly to do with the increasing of exercise and the decreasing of the consumption of Sauv Blanc – but these, I suspect, are doomed to failure. This one might stand a chance. The title comes with a hefty dose of irony. Any Thoroughly Modern Mother (to be known, henceforth, as a TMM) will tell you that for “thoroughly” and “modern” read guilt-ridden / exhausted / fractious / bewildered etc etc. Becoming a mother’s been the only thing I’ve ever really known I wanted to do. My “career” has happened largely while I was waiting for the right chap to come along. He did, in 2009, and we made swift work of marrying but I still didn’t embrace motherhood until I was thirty eight. Plenty of time to think about the kind of mother I wanted to be; calm, patient, contented, organised, a natural breastfeeder etc etc. The reality was a little different.

Our son is gorgeous. I would write that, wouldn’t I, but, honestly, he is. He was a wonderfully contented baby and is now turning into a most entertaining toddler. He smiles all the time – especially at ladies. He is, in truth, the most incorrigible flirt. With the great blessing of such a happy boy, how could I find so much of those early months so, so hard?

One factor is expectation management. In my “old” life I would sail through incredibly busy and challenging days. Surely then I could cope with a baby? Well, sometimes, no. Suddenly the benchmark for a successful day had utterly changed; where once it might have been my the calibre of my Year 13 students’ performance capturing the satire of Lysistrata through their modern interpretation, now it was whether or not I’d managed to get both of us dressed by lunch time. Where once I’d had fairly regular pedicures, now brushing my teeth and washing my hair suddenly became luxuries I could only intermittently indulge in. TMM? Lank-haired, sleep-deprived basket-case more like.

I went back to work last month. I’d done some bits of supply in the run-up to Christmas but now I have a proper teaching job with responsibilities – albeit not to the same degree as in the past. How will I juggle the challenges of this new post with the demands of being a TMM? I resolve to write again soon with an update. Wish me luck!

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DIARY OF A THOROUGHLY MODERN MOTHER – MARCH

Being pregnant is weird. It’s wonderful too, of course, but, at times, really weird. I described it  once like being in a wheelchair pushed by someone who’s had seven double shot espressos; you’re not in control and the person who’s supposed to be in control isn’t either. Another friend said she felt there was an alien inside her, the other girl with us, who doesn’t have children, looked aghast but I could see the similarity. Obviously, one feels a good deal more warmth towards one’s unborn than I’m guessing John Hurt did about the murderous stowaway he was “hosting” in the film Alien but carrying another person around with you for nine months does take some getting used to.

Some elements of pregnancy I loved. I had no morning sickness and my skin actually glowed. My hair looked amazing and I had a fantastic surge of energy late in my 2nd trimester which coincided, handily, with performances of the production I’d written and directed at my previous school. Some were more of a challenge; I went off booze for the 1st trimester and then craved it massively after that – along with fizzy cola bottle sweets. The joy with which I greeted the news, from a midwife, that the best way to get my milk to flow was to have a glass of bubbly was almost unbound!

Needless to say, there’s quite a bit written about being pregnant and about how the prospective TMM  should approach it.. Hynobirthing was a great discovery. Several friends suggested I try it and I found it really useful. Put simply, it’s relaxation and visualisation techniques geared specifically for the experience of childbirth. The ideal is that it will equip you to have as natural a birth as possible. I had opted for a low tech birth at the wonderful Stroud Maternity Hospital but things didn’t quite work out that way – that tale is for another month though.

Why have I been musing on all this? Because I’ve started listening again to one of my “Birthing” CDs, a very chilled-out instrumental album which I listened to while in labour and which we often played when our son was tiny. It’s brought back some powerful and special memories and it turns out it’s great music to mark Year 9 books to!

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About jemma74

I am espoused to Kevin Donnelly - he of Tin Drummer fame - and, together with our two splendid cats, Grace and Mabel, we share this little slice of heaven down on the Severn... oh, and I also do poetry. Also reading, cooking, drinking and drama teaching not always at once or in that order.
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