F&$k you, Fraud Police

It’s Monday, and I’m having my quiet time. I have hit the ground running this morning, having dusted, hoovered and paid the Beaver Scout subs into the bank all before 9.30am; and I am now at my desk with a coffee listening to the birdsong through the open window. It is a stunning early Spring morning, my plum tree is budding and the dunnock is still singing his wee heart out.

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This blog idea comes courtesy of my lovely friend Tori. I have a lot of lovely friends, and we spend a fair bit of our time nattering on social media, solving the world’s problems and generally being awesome women. I think it’s fair to say – and I don’t think they will mind me saying this – that we all have issues and problems in our lives that sometimes seem to overwhelm us, and one of the things we have all noticed recently is our proclivity towards feeling as though we are frauds and, whilst I wouldn’t consider any of us to be real candidates for Imposter Syndrome in the eyes of a psychiatrist (which I most definitely am not); there does seem to be an alarming propensity to put ourselves down as though we are about to come undone and unmasked as talent-less pretenders.

Our number includes some of the most artistic and creative people I have been lucky enough to know; artists across all media, writers, creators with the most amazing imaginations – and yes, in boringly predictable style, I was immediately going to type some off-the-cuff comment like ‘I have no idea why they like me / praise me / think my work is good’. See?

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Case in point:

Village friend – ” Jac, your little crocheted birds are delightful, these will look tremendous in the craft-bomb, thank you so much for doing them, you’re so talented, I’d love to be able to crochet”

Me – “I can’t knit, though, and I rubbish at everything else I have ever tried ever”.

Internal Me – “Oh my god, can’t she see that this is just a fluke and I’m hopeless at everything, oh god, what will they think when they find out I’m a rubbish crafter who just happened to make these birds look OK”.

Despite how many times I look around at things I have crocheted, the blankets, the scarves, the bunting, the baby-blankets I see my friends actually using, the bag, the ludicrous poncho; however much I touch them and use them and wash them and they don’t fall apart; there is part of me that has convinced myself that I can’t actually crochet at all, and that these things have just appeared as some kind of happy accident with yarn.

Another friend feels the same way about her job; despite being more qualified and experienced than required of the job, she is convinced that she has no business being there. I feel similarly about my role as a Beaver Scout leader – praise or words of appreciation from a parent leave me genuinely gobsmacked.

Why do we do it? I wonder if part of it is a misguided sense of modesty that was instilled into many of us as children. How many times were we told that it was not OK to brag, that ‘nobody likes a show-off’ and our strengths and talents downplayed as not to appear boastful or to cause another person to feel inferior? Has this worked on us for so long that now we don’t just naturally downplay our strengths but actively seek to destroy any notion that we might just actually be quite good at something? To appreciate that you might have a particular skill-set, be it coding, painting skirting boards, pruning fruit trees or making quilts still feels somewhat boastful and awkward.

I suspect that our increasingly filtered and beautified world of social media also plays a part; where every selfie can be manipulated almost beyond recognition; every piece of handiwork lit with a sumptuous filter; and every house can look like something from a magazine (except mine, unless the magazine happens to be ‘Falling Apart Rented Ex Local Authority Tin Roofed Nightmare Monthly’); we live in a world where the lines between real and contrived are becoming increasingly blurred.

This week, then, I have promised myself to say f%c& you to the fraud police. I’d like to make this into a wider campaign, so do please feel free to join in.

I can crochet rather well. I can cook rather well. I’m pretty handy in a vegetable garden. I’m a pretty good Beaver Scout leader and I make the children laugh and they come back every week, I haven’t scared any off yet.

I still can’t knit, but that’s OK.

Have a picture of daffodils. Without a filter. Just because.

 

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SmallGoodThings

Monday morning silence.

I have just got home having walked the children to school in horizontal rain; I have made myself a very strong black coffee and retreated to bed, with my trusty laptop on my knees. I usually sit at my desk (yes, the £10.00 drop-leaf, no expense spared for my working comfort) but it’s covered in wool and various bits of crafting gubbinses like my silk-painting frame and paints. It also puts me into ‘work-mode’ when the view outside is less than inspiring as I’ll spend longer procrastinating and checking the work database and emails for tomorrow if there aren’t any birds and squirrels entertaining me.

It’s so quiet. No traffic or construction noise from the fancy new-builds across the way. No beep-blink-beep-boom of electronic games; no gentle drone of Radio 4 for company. It is quite….delicious.

When you are coping with an anxiety disorder, I think there can be a tendency to seek comfort in background noise – perhaps the moving wallpaper of the TV on in the corner whether it is being watched or not or, as in my case, the radio. Is it company? Is it some kind of reassurance that people are close by in a time where we are less likely to reach out to neighbours or friends with their busy lives?

I listen, as I mentioned, to Radio 4. I love Radio 4. For me, it has the perfect balance of news, current affairs, special interest programmes, comedy and drama. For all the BBC’s problems, for all its issues with media bias (and, let’s face it, what media outlet isn’t going to be biased in some way?); Radio 4 seems to remain a flagship of quality programming.

(It also has The Shipping Forecast, which I have always found mysterious and bewitching; hoping one day to experience a cyclonic off Fastnet.)

This morning, however, is quiet morning.

I can hear the wind whip through the bare branches of the beloved sessile oak that makes up most of my view. I can hear the soft click-chipchip-click of my useless one finger typing. I can hear a bird, a wren, it sounds like, singing ; its surprisingly big voice soon lost on the wind.

I’ve left my phone downstairs too. I’m taking a break from chatter and the buzz of social media, at least for a few hours, alongside the radio. Resting my brain from the constant barrage of information, misinformation, paranoia, fear and – thankfully with the lovely folk I follow on Twitter and my friends on Facebook – a decent sized portion of good, decent British gallows humour in the face of testing times; and no small degree of beauty.

My blog this morning was going to be a furious and self-righteous libtard, snowflake rant about the alt-right and the communal hypnosis that seems to be affecting the Western World at the moment; culminating in a mildly amusing tirade about last night’s events that led to Twitter – that bastion of free speech – putting me on the Naughty Step for twelve hours for pointing out to stupid people that they were stupid. (OK, I might have used a bad word or two); but even just thinking about it is making my shoulders stiffen and my jaw clench, and defeats the object of not listening to the radio.

Instead, I am going to talk about #SmallGoodThings.

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It fell into my Twitter timeline thanks to the lovely Emma of Silverpebble and is, in short, a collection of those lovely little things that make our hearts sing, rather than despair. It might be an inspiring view, something beautiful you’ve read, a delicious slice of cake or an amazing run. Emma herself is something of an inspiration to me, and I often find myself stalking her looking for her exquisite drawings of local flora, or her gorgeous Instagram pictures that just make me want to grab my wellies and go mooching around for what I too might find. I think I found out about Emma through Lucy of Attic 24 who in turn will probably never know the effect she had on me during my early struggle with learning to crochet with seven hundred fingers and ninety thumbs and also the sales of Robin DK yarn in the local branch of Watt Bros! Thank you to both of them for bringing such beautiful things into my life.

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On Friday night, we took 13 Beaver Scouts and 11 Cubs along to a Strathcalder District sleepover at the Glasgow Science Centre. I won’t try and kid on that I wasn’t at all worried about this – this was my first major outing leading a group without most of the parents being within easy grabbing distance, and I’m not the most confident of souls; but I’m delighted to report that it was absolutely amazing. We didn’t lose any in the throng of 400-odd other children all dressed the same; nobody required the First Aid kit; and any homesick tears were soon gone with bribes of arms full of (well deserved) badges and certificates. It was the first-night-away-from-family for a lot of them (sometimes I forget how young they are), and they were fantastic. Their behaviour and attitude was remarkable and I was so, so proud of each and every one of them and won’t hesitate to organise more trips with them.

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I was full of the cold yesterday and spent the morning lounging about cat-like in the sun’s rays on my bed; annoying people on Twitter, drinking copious amounts of tea and catching up with the gossip from Ambridge; but by the afternoon I was becoming stir-crazy and suggested a wee daunder down the farm lane to the Old Mine Nature Park. Boy 2 could have used the perfectly adequate wheelchair, bike and pram friendly gate at the side, but hey, where’s the fun in that?

Despite the snowdrop and crocus displays in the village and in the woods being tremendous this year; the lane is still cloaked in winter. There is the first sign of budding on the prolific hawthorn bushes, but not much else and I was just starting to feel rather melancholy and despondent when Boy 2 pointed out birdsong. The skylark! We often hear it along this walk as there are farm fields surrounding the lane on all sides; and we weren’t able to see it yesterday, but that unmistakable song never fails to raise the spirits. We continued along our way chatting about nature, and school. He described what adjectives were:

“Adjectives are describing words; like red, or blonde, or disgraceful.”

We came home to warmth, and tea, and the not-husband making dinner and I settled down to listen to Poetry Please, my Sunday afternoon guilty pleasure, where I heard this absolutely beautiful poem by Carol Ann Duffy:

The Light Gatherer

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,
and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,
warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I’d enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,
the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,
and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.
Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,
like a jewelled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.

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After bathtime, we managed to drag them away from their various bleep-bleep machines, to which they were appearing to be glued, for a game of Family Trivial Pursuit. It doesn’t happen as much as it should do. All too often we sit together in the living room with Boy 1 on a headset in front of the XBox, Boy 2 on headphones watching YouTube on his tablet, the not-husband on headphones watching a film on the laptop; and me crocheting and listening to the radio or something on Spotify; so although we are together, I am very conscious of the fact that we are all sat there in our own little bubbles; so it was really lovely to break out of that.

It’s now 10.36am. I have been typing for an hour and a half. It is still silent, but for the wind and the occasional bird. Have I missed Twitter or Facebook? No. Not at all. Have I missed the radio? Do I feel as though I have missed something vital to my understanding of the world in which we live? Do I fear I will fail my children by not keeping up with the minutiae of daily political intrigue? No.

I was chatting to someone about anxiety this weekend; we were talking about trying to find brightness on dark days; trying to find these self-same #SmallGoodThings; and how we need to treat them like kindling flames; to nurture them so they become bigger flames, light that illuminates the dark corners and keeps us warm.

Silence, today, has been my #SmallGoodThing

Thank you for reading xx

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Snowdrops at Bothwell Woods through Prisma filter.

 

 

 

Imbolc, The Outrun and no Whiskers on Kittens

So, the wheel has turned. Depending on what you believe, and what branch of paganism you follow (if indeed you do) Imbolc – or St Bride’s Day – falls on either February 1st or February 2nd or, as some believe, when you see the first physical signs of Spring – usually snowdrops. If the latter is the case, I apologise – you celebrated Imbolc around three weeks ago up here, when I first noticed the much anticipated little white heads appearing through the dark, dank, rotting Autumn leaves.

Imbolc has dawned on a very different world to that of last year’s – I don’t need to laboriously hash out the details again; suffice to say that a time I usually welcome with open arms and a singing heart is a time that dawned heavy, laden with expectation but not much hope.

I don’t usually do much in January. I certainly don’t make resolutions. I count January as the last month of hibernation; the post-Christmas month-long trudge to the kitchen for more tea and more cheese and crackers (I swear our crackers have babies in the night, either that or Odin himself has blessed us with a crispy cornucopia, a cracker-box of plenty, as this thing seems never-ending); some gentle pootling (usually via a shop that sells wine) and that last, gentle stretch into the wheel-turn at the beginning of February.

This January has, for many obvious reasons, been one of worry. One of dark thoughts, wake-in-the-night panics, of grief and frustration. I listen to Radio 4 when I’m not working; listening with increasing annoyance, then anger, at articles on Donald Trump, on immigration bans, on the gradual dismantling of the NHS, on the omni-shambles vanity project that is Brexit. I mull and muse for hours on the grim realisation that Theresa May has few options now than to cosy up to what it looking to be the most horrifying leaders of the (free) world in most people’s living memory.

It’s not good for you, you know?

I battle with my conscience, of how much I need to be aware of to be able to do my best to educate and inform; against mindfulness and the idea that we cannot do more than live fully in the now. The latter starts to sound hollow, convenient. Lazy.

I have periods of clarity. I realise that rather engaging with news and current events, I am emerged – submerged – in them; they are sucking me under with more and more questions, more and more worries.

I seek solace in the things that bring me peace, things that I do where I can physically feel my shoulders and neck start to soften and the dark clouds, a constant dull ache in my head these days, part.

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The charity blanket continues to grow. I start to knit, too, as a project for this year’s village craft bomb. I am not very good at knitting. In fact, I am terrible at it and keep either dropping stitches or picking them up; but I am only knitting 30 stitch squares so I am just using the hours as a lesson in patience and technique (I am a loose crocheter, but a much tighter knitter, but I understand this is quite usual when you start – I have discovered that two rows of the ripple blanket in its loose, effortless treble stitch, seems to be enough to limber up my hands to keep my tension looser when I pick up the needles instead of the hook). I don’t have any photos of the knitting yet, because I haven’t actually finished a square. There is a photo on Instagram of a red piece, which got to full size and then I monumentally ballsed-up when casting off. Ho-hum!

outrun

I have curled up in my chair, or sought solace in a hot bubble-bath to read, to transport myself away from this grey, scary place; and this book has been a wonderful escape. It is, in parts, far from an easy read – Amy has lived a life that many might not have come back from; but this really is autobiographical nature writing at its most beautiful and, I’m relieved to say, its most accessible. I loved it so much, loved the pictures she painted and the way she beared her soul, that I forced myself to only read a chapter a day because I didn’t want it to end. When the inevitable end came, I was bereft, as though I were waving goodbye to a friend. Her life in London echoed so much of mine, a few years earlier, and I suspect it was luck, rather than judgement, that carried me away from the bright lights and the easy highs when it did.

We have been out – we didn’t hide in completely during January. In fact, my hormones (ha, you knew I would mention it at some point, surely?) were going so crazy in January that the malefolk would all be chattering around the three-bar fire whilst I stood on the back steps in a t-shirt, fully expecting steam to emanate from my person. So, where better to go when you really just want to feel cold?

Largs, of course! It always seems to blowing a hoolie in Largs, even in July; so off we drove in the teaming rain at the arse-end of January to be blown down a rainy beach. Remember the times when I used to moan about bad weather? Remember when I was cold all the time, even when we went to Lanzarote and it was three days of 90 degrees before I took my jacket off?

Those days, my friend, are a distant memory.

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It wasn’t blowy enough in Largs. My hands were nicely cold, but I wanted the sort of cold that makes your face sting and your jaw ache and your earlobes thrum. Fortunately, for a bargain price, you can hop over to the lovely island of Great Cumbrae. Great Cumbrae has geocaches, cows, a marvellous view of the local nuclear power station, nosy old duffers in cars who yell at you because they think you’ve abandoned your eight year old (when in fact he was just having his own little adventure and being watched by us from a few metres away), and these bizarre road signs that say that the main town, Millport, is 1.5 miles away, regardless of where you are actually are on the island.

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Millport was, by the time we got there (we walked from the slip), mostly shut; but it seemed a lovely wee place with absolutely stunning views over to the snow-capped Isle of Arran; and we were delighted when a gentleman with a dog confirmed that the wee black heads we could see bobbing around in the sea were in fact seals. My face nicely chilled, my hands and ears frozen, my heart several tons lighter and my head considerably less scrambled, we walked up to the bus-stop by the pier and got the bus back up the road to the ferry, full of excited plans to return later in the year with our bikes, after getting a train up to Largs.

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The day was so lovely, it inspired me to get a wee gratitude journal to write in. As you’ll remember, I did the 100 Days of Gratitude on Facebook and felt I gained a lot from it in terms of actually stripping back what we need from life rather than what we desire, and giving thanks for and cherishing memories of the right things – health, peace, a day out adventuring, laughs, a kind word, that wonderful, warm sleepiness that comes from being physically, rather than mentally exhausted. I got this wee book from Amazon marketplace (where you buy direct from the seller), it is made by a women’s co-operative using sari cut-off fabric and recycled paper, and it really is a beauty; and small enough to fit in a pocket if needed. It’s an interesting exercise to go through your day looking for things to give gratitude for, rather than dragging yourself from gloom and doom ridden news report to news report.

As I said at the beginning of this blog-I-didn’t-think-I-had-the-wherewithal-to-write-tonight (and I’m very glad I persevered!), Imbolc dawned. The wheel has turned, and the light is returning. The world is going to feel like a dark place full of long, black shadows that we feel we cannot escape from; things we are too weakened to fight. I am reminded of the snowdrop. So small, so delicate, its tiny head bowed down not in submission but in determination. Determination to blossom and spread and bring beauty, whatever the still changeable, cold and uncertain days hurl upon it.

Whatever your belief, or whatever you don’t believe; I hope you can find beauty and determination in the dark.

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PS: Sorry if you were expecting some terrible story about baby cats with no whiskers. I was just doing my Sound of Music thang. Again.