Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Down and Up Again

The positive mood has fluctuated over the past few days. Daughter #3 seems to have taken a nosedive again, and then pulled upwards. If only she had some decent female friends to confide in who could tell her that these feelings of alienation and 'not fitting in' are a regular - if unwanted - feature of the teenage years, being largely driven by hormone levels. Also of the peri-menopausal years, something I'm not going to divulge as it won't cheer her up any. It's unfortunate that as one member of the family is clambering onto the front end of the hormonal rocking horse, another is being bucked off the back end at the same time.
I've told her that life is pretty much hard work, but that it WILL get better and she WILL find her niche in the world, but I think she feels that it's so much hot air. On the one hand, she wants to hear comforting noises, but on the other, she's pretty disbelieving. I've tried to shortcircuit the tear-fests by briskly telling her to get up, get dressed, get some food and start doing something positive - anything positive - but my case isn't helped when she indulges in watching crap like 'My Mad Fat Diary' which dwells on mental and self-esteem issues. If you watched to much telly, you'd end up believing the world was a terrible dark place, with death and madness only a step away and you might as well wrap yourself up in a duvet and spend all day crying. But of course they all watch this sort of self-pitying victim stuff, so to not watch it is to be 'out of the loop', and 'out of the loop' is not what she wants to be.
Sadly, she seems to believe that the answer to her problems (or at least temporary relief) is for us to pay for her to go on trips, or to gigs, but I don't think she understands that we REALLY can't afford to do this. University is looming, and that is going to cost us BIG TIME when they're both there.
Fortunately the endless rain seems to have petered out. The sun is sort-of out at the moment and the river level is dropping rapidly, so some actual rowing is on the cards rather than the grim gym sessions, which everyone is p-r-e-t-t-y sick of by now. I coxed the older juniors this morning - the stream on the river is still pretty fast, so the coaches little lectures, given to a stationary crew, saw the quad drift back downriver some way before they got going again.
Leisure sculling outing tomorrow - hopefully. The better weather should see the squad numbers increase once again but, as  ever, those who haven't been down to the gym sessions will be unfit as well as lacking in technique and confidence. It'll take a few weeks at least
to get things going again, but by then the last of the Head of the River Races will be upon us. We'll be doing 'time only' rows, I think!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Knuckling Down

The sky is that awful leaden grey that doesn't change its tone from daybreak to dusk - a sharp contrast to yesterday's frosty sunshine. It is far, far less tolerable. I heard the water trickling off the roof into the gutters during the night and knew we'd awaken to more gloomy weather. It is getting beyond a joke.
I went down to the rowing club this morning and we were discussing that we hadn't seen the bottom towpath (which means it's safe for all classes of boats and experience to go on the river) since mid-December. The leisure squad's Christmas outing was undertaken in v-e-r-y marginal conditions; high water levels and fast stream, but with experienced steersmen and a safety launch accompanying the quads, but the river hasn't really dropped since then. It's been one of those winter's when we might as well have said 'no rowing for three months' so sporadic have been our outings. One head-race was cancelled last Saturday due to adverse weather conditions and I can quite forsee that's going to be a recurring theme over the next few months.
I suppose we're in a far better situation here that down south, where the Thames Valley is now severely flooded, as are the Somerset Levels and all the rivers in the south-west have burst their banks.
Touch wood, the Yorkshire Ouse hasn't come as high as it did last year when we had to evacuate the boathouse THREE times in almost as many weeks. But then after that, we had an exceptionally benign Spring/Summer/Autumn conditions-wise.
So this morning, a gym session it was; weights for me and ergos for the hardy leisure squad souls that bothered to turn up.
Not much fun (or leisure) for them, but there was at least some sense of achievement.
Hopefully I will still be able to move in 48 hours time - last week's legs session left me barely able to walk, with muscles so tender I could bear them to be touched, let alone knocked in any way.
It's always very, very difficult in the early stages of a fitness/strength campaign to just knuckle down and get the reps/miles in. It would have been the easiest thing this morning to look out of the window and think 'Naaah - don't fancy it today' and pull the metaphorical duvet over the head.
Taking the l-o-n-g view means thinking how I'll feel sitting in my all-in-one lycra, in the boat, in the Summer: relatively pleased with the training results, or wishing I'd done those reps? How I'll feel on the beach....happy in a bikini, or opting for the big T-shirt?
Yes, I know, I know....I talked only yesterday of not being vain, and really I'm not. But I like to feel strong and - I suppose - to look like I've made a bit of an effort training-wise.
As I've always maintained, I'm more interested in what people can DO, rather than what they LOOK
That goes for me too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Brightening Up

Things are looking a little more like they're on an even keel now.
Apart from the horrendous squelchiness and interminable mud brought into the house at every turn, life is definitely looking brighter.
Husband has received some good news on the work front which means that his efforts are going to be recognised...and not before time.
Daughter #3 has come round a bit and cheered up - at least temporarily. She's joined the local gym on a short-term contract that should take her through until the nights are light enough for water-training to start again after school. To that end, she's been sorting herself out a training programme. This busy optimism is great, but I wonder whether it's just another pressure she's putting herself under? When did our children feel like they had to fill every moment of every day with worthy activity? What happened to pointless fun?
I feel that it's probably something that she's absorbed from us, her parents.
The Husband has always been absolutely rigorous about his 'training' regime, even when his training consisted of only that - training. He has a remarkable ability to get himself to the gym three or four times a week when there's very little need to be so committed. I think it's probably because he thinks of himself very much as a physical being. He defines himself by his strength and the way he looks, which is all well and good, but what happens when his physical prowess goes into decline (as it surely will)? It's the same for the woman who defines herself by her attractiveness to men, her looks, her slim figure. How will she feel when the skin wrinkles, the tummy sags, the men no longer stare longingly at her....? Seems to me that old age will be more difficult than it already is, if all our energy and interest has been invested in mortal flesh.
I don't think I have the same level of vanity....but I might have. I don't know. Looking at photos of my young self, I regret that I did not value my youthful slim figure and what might pass as prettiness. As far as I was concerned my external appearance was only minimally interesting. I had a passing interest in clothes, but never any money to indulge in fashion, so I formulated what might be nowadays called a 'hipster/boho' look based on what I could get from the Oxfam shop. Funnily enough there were very few charity shops around as far as I can remember. Grandad shirts, a tweed jacket, tight jeans (always Wrangler), clogs, long hair worn loose, scarves and the like. It fitted my pseudo-intellectual pretensions, the carrying of the poetry or philosophy books. And many of my friends were of the same cloth, so to speak. Apart from the huge lacuna of my twenties, I don't think I've really strayed from that look or image. I was, and still am, a pretentious cheapskate, an intellectual lightweight and bullshitter. Only now the hair is greying, the midriff thicker and less taut (four kids you see...), the joints achier. Ah but youth is wasted on the young!
Funnily enough, as I was walking the Dog in the glorious February sunshine this morning, I had a very intense recollection of a moment in my sixteenth or so year: It was another brilliant chilly morning, and I was - for some reason - walking to school sometime after the start of the school day (dentist or something?). I'd stopped to light up a cigarette (I know, I was part of the 'image'). It was, I can clearly remember, a Peter Stuyvesant, from a soft top packet. I was very brand/image conscious when it came to cigarettes. I eschewed the regular flip-top packet (no No6 or Bensons for me!), preferring foreign fags; Gitanes of Gauloises (my favourites by far, having 'taken up smoking' on a school trip to Dinard), Camel (liked the pic on the packet), Black Cat (ditto), or anything that was slightly exotic or foreign. One of my friends had a taste for the menthol St Moritz (very posh packet), and the school cool girl smoked Disque Bleus.
Anyhow, the sense of lighting up that cigarette came so strongly back to me in the frosty sunshine. I can completely recall the feeling of pure HAPPINESS that washed over me at that moment, and it washed over me again this morning some forty years later. The recollection of such intense happiness was incredible. I don't understand why I was happy at that moment in time - it was certainly just an ordinary day, with nothing exceptional to look forward to - just that I WAS, sublimely happy. It was like a pinpoint in time, or a moment that stood outside time in an inexplicable way. It was separate from time itself, a pure discrete sensation. I understand that there are physical conditions that can have a similar effect, epilepsy for example, but I don't believe it was in anyway thus caused.
But the sensation that it left me with, an afterglow, has persisted throughout the morning. I feel energised and hopeful, ready to take on new challenges, should they present themselves.....It's gradually fading of course, as the day goes on. If only I could preserve that sense of happiness and revisit it for inspiration throughout the darker days!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More of the same...

Another day dawns. The Husband is off to Manchester first thing and leaves me the car. This is both good and bad. It means I don't have to walk down to the boathouse for the junior training session later this afternoon, but it means I don't GET to walk down to the boathouse, which means I'm falling short on the load-bearing mileage thingy that I've got going to keep me fit.
It does mean. however, that I can give Daughter #3 a lift home after her double training session, which today is probably a good thing as she is most definitely feeling really down.
Poor girl. She tries so hard to be hard-working, conscientious, responsible and fit....and she does so well.
I am constantly staggered at her drive and commitment (and wonder where she gets it from!) but worry that she is taking on an awful lot onto her teenage shoulders. School work, rowing training, TWO paid jobs...enough!
There was a bit of a crisis this morning. A welling up of sadness and loneliness that spilled over as I hugged her and tried to comfort her. What prompted this? I ask it a hormonally driven fluctuation, the result of driving herself to try for perfection, a seasonal funk of gloomy days and not enough sunshine?
I've always said to her - and reiterated it again today - that our love for her is absolutely unconditional.
It's FAB if she does well, and we're really proud of what she achieves, but it has no bearing on our love for her. It's not conditional on anything she DOES, it's there because of who she IS. Our girl.
I feel for her so much. My teenage years weren't the happiest. My parents, as I have mentioned in the past,
were generationally conditioned in the post-war era to expect that children were largely there to fulfil their own often-frustrated lives and plans. They were supposed to dutifully toe the line, pursue post-university careers that would make the old folks glow with vicarious pride, and never, ever, do anything to bring opprobrium onto the neatly tended semi-detached respectability carefully nutured by restraint and making-do. I was not their ideal child. Sulky, rebellious, frustrated and desperate to be independent (although not financially - that never occurred to me) I made the most horrendous errors of judgement that effectively cocked up my late teens and twenties. But the errors of judgement were ALL MINE!
So what I want more than anything is to make sure she never feels that she has to do things to make us happy. I want her to be happy, for herself, and in herself. And at the moment, that doesn't seems to be happening.
The best I could offer - over and above a listening ear and comforting noises - is that she is essentially lonely, because there isn't anyone of her acquaintance who in any way measures up to her in terms of excellence. She is in a different league, but will find her soul companions as she progresses in life and goes to university.
Unlike some teenaged girls I know, I would trust her to govern her own life at university NOW on account of her amazing maturity. But I DO know that - deep down - she is still just a little girl. And it's that little girl that I'm looking after today.
So the plan is, little things to look forward to, dotted through the coming days, weeks and months: coffees out, a new activity or two, a day out at a music festival. Cutting back on the remorseless work ethic, the endless 2 and 5k erg-tests so bloody beloved by the rowing fraternity. Keeping it light.
I know her mood can flip just like that, for the the better or the worse. I just hope that when I get down to the club tonight, she will be feeling a bit better in herself.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Return to the Front

Absolute madness - the urge to write gets no less, despite the traumatic ending to the PhD which saw me refuse at the last fence to do the proposed corrections.
Much shock and disbelief at someone who had completed, submitted, had a viva....and to all intents and purposes passed (although there was much huffing and puffing about the borderline status).
Why? Why did I not knuckle down and just do what I was told? Rewrite the bits that were considered unsatisfactory, go through with a fine tooth-comb and correct the typos, insert the references that were suggested as suitable?
Well, that boat had sailed. I could no more open up that document and write another word in it than fly to the moon. I had HAD it with academia. And academics, and the pifflingly unsatisfying nature of research done at such a micro level, that no-one either knows nor cares what the findings of your thesis are. Not even me. At a party, someone asked me to sum up my PhD in a sentence, 'Because' he said 'it's perfectly possible'. So I said 'Verbal aspect is not all it's cracked up to be'. And it isn't. And its not worth another moment spent on it, not even to get to wear the funny hat and have a limp and half-hearted buffet reception in the department common room.
But still...the urge to write persists, and its been a peculiarly unsatisfying 18 months on the intellectual front.
On the one hand, I have a great deal of specialised knowledge. On the other, I have neither the desire nor the opportunity to use it. I open many books and notebooks, my mind skids from one subject to another enthusiasm; it burns but briefly before the volumes are abandoned in the pile on the table, gathering dust.
What is my problem? Why am I such a light-weight, a butterfly, a charlatan? Have I had some psychological crisis that leaves me thus unable to commit to a project, or am I frightened of becoming a jack-of-all-trades, a flailing amateur, destined to half-fill journals with half-baked prose?
I've considered maybe I've been depressed, but I don't feel the awful sense of pointlessness and doom that supposedly accompanies that. I don't know what I feel. Boredom mostly, a sense of the drumming of fingers whilst the days fly by unused, a need to fill my days with something other than hoovering up mud, washing and cooking.
Even a part-time job - in a pleasant enough environment, with tolerable people, became a hindrance to getting on with...nothing. But I resented it's restrictions.
Rowing: Rowing is great when it goes well. It takes you out of yourself (because you HAVE to concentrate!), keeps you lithe and co-ordinated, fills your lungs with fresh air, but the interstices tend to become just time when you sit around waiting to go rowing again.
The children are growing so fast that I merely tend their needs and they beetle off on their own.
The Husband is going through such a total career and existential melt-down that we seldom communicate in any meaningful way at the moment. He is mute with misery, but I don't want to replicate his mother's inane witterings to fill the silence.
The Dog...the Dog is a blessing. Rescued mutt, desperate to love and be loved, bounding, extravagantly pleased to see his humans and snuggle inconveniently alongside them in bed. He keeps me busy; active, anyway.
So resurrecting this blog (as I have found the login details) will be a bit of therapy.
I shall work through - in words, blessed, necessary words - what it is that I am missing, and try to heal that wound, whatever and wherever it is, that lies across me.
Bear with me. It might not be pretty, or happy, or even useful. But I am going to give it a go.

Friday, November 4, 2011

You Are What You Eat

Food has always played an enormously important part in our family life - and not always in a good way! The Husband, having pursued many, many years of weight training before his reinvention as a rower, has always been meticulous about the composition of his diet. He knows precisely what he has eaten, the percentage of protein/carbs/fat in most common foodstuffs, what to eat, and when to eat it for maximum benefit. Even when he lived at home (before he was let out and married me) his most excellent mother catered for his every nutritional whim to the extent of making packed lunches at 5am before he set off for work and popping to the shop to pick up extra gallons of milk for the protein milk-shakes if required. Bit of a shock then when setting up his own home to realise that a good diet required a great deal of forethought, effort....and money! Still, in those days we were both working, young(ish) and idealistic and as a couple still managed to hit the gym three or for times a week and eat a pretty healthy diet. Photos from our first foreign summer holiday together show us lean, toned and muscular. To be quite honest, we were pretty vain and narcissistic and probably bored the pants off everyone around us.
All that was to change with the arrival of our first child, a bonny bouncing thing who - having turned up with a bit of difficulty two weeks late - decided that sleeping was a Bad Idea. We became drawn, irritable and haggard and comforted ourselves with the thought that the second baby (who arrived placid and smoothly two years and two months later) could NOT POSSIBLY sleep less than the first.
How wrong we were! The Bright-Eyed Boy was not only just as bad at sleeping, but much worse, had some sort of hair-trigger motion-detector that sensed breathing three-foot distant and roused him in inconsolable wailing. Night and day this continued, one setting off the other in a constant round of baby-noise. Unsurprisingly NOTHING got done. I'd given up going to the gym as I was constantly shattered and, more than likely, somewhat depressed. The Husband still went occasionally as far as I remember (I'm not really sure) but when we had a major extension built on the house (cheaper than buying something bigger) he spent two years decorating and fitting stuff whilst I sat zombified and minded the babies. Pretty grim actually. The Husband looked like a skeleton, and I piled on the weight through exhaustion and an inability to care. At the same time the Bright-Eyed Boy developed some sort of digestive problem that made him throw up constantly: every night I'd have to strip off next to the washing machine, carefully pulling jumpers over my head that were covered in vomit. Just as the spewing got better he decided that eating was a Bad Idea altogether, and it was all we could do for a year to coax him to eat custard creams. This aversion to food persisted until he went (kicking and screaming) to nursery and saw that hey! Other Kids Eat! So he started to join in and although he still had quite rigid ideas about what he liked, he has got better and better and now at age 12 has a fairly sophisticated palate. I think the root of the problem is that he has an extra-sensitive sense of taste/smell so that what we would count as fairly bland and unremarkable flavours seemed to him outrageously bitter, sweet or sour, hence his insistance at age 5 on having a pizza that consisted only of the base and the cheese (I think they are now quite trendy and called 'pizza bianca' or somesuch) - absolutely NO tomatoes in ANY shape or form. The Daughter has always eaten like a horse and her diet as a rower needed only minor tweeks to make it fit for purpose (e.g.porridge for breakfast, lots of pasta, tuna, chicken etc.). Even the BEB, having taken up rowing this summer, has taken to eating more, although quite often this consists of attempted raids on the cupboard for chocolate biscuits before tea.
Anyhow, in our home food has gone in a complete circle: the Husband started really taking an interest in nutrition again when he took up competitive indoor rowing a few years ago (before 'proper' rowing was even a twinkle in his eye) and his interest rekindled my interest. Being told by the practice nurse that I had the beginnings of hypertension spurred me on to take stock and radically rethink and reform my diet. Drawing on all my former knowledge, which up until that point had been buried under the quotidien family crap that all families wade through, we decided to pull our socks up and Get Serious about nutrition.
Not that it's been easy - it's really hard to plan ahead for healthy dinners if we don't know who's going to be around at tea-time and who's got an activity organised. The slow-cooker is an absolute boon (thanks Sam!) allowing for stews, curries, pasta sauces, and chilli to be taken out as needed, but sometimes the best-laid plans fail and there is a certain amount of nutritional compromise. As I am the one who works on academic research from home, it falls to me to prepare the vast majority of the meals and although I am mostly OK with that, I have to admit that occasionally this particular worm turns. Hence fish and chips. But there was no excuse for my lunchtime lapse today when I am ashamed to admit I actually ate a Pot Noodle. I'd just come in from town, needed to fire up the computer for work and just could not be bothered to sort out something healthier. At least I know precisely how many evil calories I have ingested (392) and comfort myself that had I indulged my appetite with a panini, brownie and latte whilst out, the total would have been a great deal higher than that. On the upside, Friday night is sirloin steak night, eaten with mushrooms, salad, a few oven chips and a big glass of red wine. Food of the gods! And rowing training tomorrow to burn it all off....

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Clash of Antlers

The Husband has merrily trotted off down to the boat-house to meet up with some of the guys who were on his 'learn-to-row' course last May. He is extremely lucky in that he has found three other people who have taken to the sport of rowing with as much enthusiasm and commitment as him, and together they have made a reasonable - if somewhat unusual - quad crew. There! That didn't sound too anarchic,did it? And yet, the reaction in the club up until very recently was, if not actually hostile, then certainly very unhelpful. Having encouraged folk to learn to row, and very happily relieved them of a not-inconsiderable amount of cash to take up full active membership, there seemed to be an unneccessary amount of obstacles put in their way to prevent them doing precisely that which they were initially encouraged to do: row. I'm not sure how the women's squad runs things, but the men's squad seemes to be run along the lines of some minor public school, where the 'new boys' are made to jump hurdles merely for the amusement of the 'prefects'. Arbitrary training regimes were set up - and amended - on a weekly, daily or even (and I kid you not) hourly basis. It was initially a source of some amusement, and later despair, to receive emails all marked 'high importance' stating that 'the men's squad will meet at 6.30pm for a 3k run, then circuits' only to have that replaced by 'please meet at 6 for a 2k ergo test'. Programmes were sent out and then abandoned before the first date on the list. The whole set-up seems based on whim rather than solid training principles.
The Husband found the whole thing ridiculous. He'd always wanted to have a go at rowing but, like many people, never got round to it. Having taken the opportunity to learn, he was keen to give it his best shot and willing to put up with a bit of frustration and annoyance to fit in. But he came within an ace of packing the whole sorry mess up as he and his new colleagues were told that, yes, they could go out in doubles, oh wait no, you can't: singles only. No hang on a bit we're not going to be on the river tonight (what! it's beautiful out there!) - there's going to be an ergo piece...2k...note your times. And by the way lads - you won't be rowing as a quad together: we don't encourage private armies.
Okay, thought the Husband, keep the head down, don't antagonise the chief buck (who, by the way, is never seen on an ergo, in a boat and quits out of circuits to go home after one set of reps). Dutifully he did what was asked of him: circuits twice a week, 2k tests etc. etc. Even kept his frustration under his hat when beautiful autumn evenings went un-rowed.
The first head-race of the season took place about a month ago in north Lincolnshire. At less than 3k and on a river that is merely a big, straight drainage ditch, the Husband and his mate thought it would be an ideal first race to have a go at, and put it forward that they could enter in a double, not with any expectation of doing particularly well, but as a first-time experience, a bit of fun. This was greeted with much humming and ha-ing and prevarication until - hey presto! - the entry list was closed. Through gritted teeth this was accepted: we were down there anyway as Daughter #3 was racing in a double and then a quad. More frustration ensued:  more revised training schedules, broken coaching appointments, more reminding that the Husband and friends wouldn't be racing together at any point.
Imagine his surprise when he got an email (marked high priority, natch) with a boat-list up for the next head-race a week hence (on a notoriously bendy river) containing....yes, the Husband and his LTR chums. With less than seven days to practise for it. Never rowed as a crew.... Assuming that the mick was being taken, they rearranged their work commitments to squeeze in a few sessions on the water. And yes, you've guessed it, when they arrived for the first one, they were told they couldn't go out on the water that night....Well, an explosion was due, and it happened. A few home truths were delivered. And from that time on things seemed to get a bit easier. A second early morning practice session was arranged and encouraging noises made. The head-race itself was windy, choppy, nerve-racking, included a minor crash (at a bend - bow had only steered the quad twice!), but they came away grinning from ear to ear at the achievement and enthused beyond measure. And that's where they all are this morning, happily going up and down the river.
But why the stupid delays and aggravations? You would think that the club would want new blood to swell their ranks - particularly dedicated and enthusiastic blood. Not to mention the membership money! The problem, I believe, is the hierarchical nature of the set up. The junior section runs like an oiled machine, thanks to one person who gives up an unconscionable amount of time to organise it. Everyone knows what they're doing, when they're doing it, and with whom. The older rowers, the ones who have kids are fine, relaxed, helpful, keen to offer advice and even coaching. The middle section tend to be in their late twenties, early thirties, single, unchilded, and range from flint-eyed monomaniacs to swivel-eyed loons. There is a lot of testosterone about, a lot of competitive antler-butting and, as goes with the territory, an aversion to incomers - particularly those who just might - one day - end up as competition. I rest my case.