Summer leaves… and autumn sun

My favourite time of year is finally here when the shift in daylight is suddenly noticeable, along with the dip in temperatures and a sense of a slide into nature’s seasonal reinvention. It triggers me pulling-up a metaphoric drawbridge into the autumn.

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Whilst friends lament over the loss of another summer or chase extending their summer abroad, I am welcoming the changing hue of the leaves, the longer shadows and an inner sense of change – a new beginning. I get excited with the exchange of seasons and it hits a spot in the way transition into spring never quite does.

The change incites expectation, a promise of things to come, which leaves me energised and refreshed after the assault of the summer – whether it has been a hot one or a wet one.

I have often wondered why I savour this part of the year above all others so much. I was born during the second half of August – as this was when I took my first breath in life, perhaps there is a primordial connection so integral that I cannot, nor would want to, shake.

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Somewhere in #midWales

Of course autumn falls in line with the academic year. I generally didn’t enjoy school but going back in September was almost as good as the day we all said our goodbyes for the long summer break. Having new things was a treat as I grew up and invariably in September we would have the excitement of a new pair of shoes, replacement uniform, plus pens and pencils. Oh for the total distraction of a new pair of shoes; whether I was guilty of ignoring the conversation of friends as I surveyed my feet squashing the leaves on the ground, or day-dreaming gazing at my feet under my desk in the classroom, focus was on my newest acquisition until the novelty wore off.

The autumn brings with it the change of outdoor colours and many of us continue to reflect this with our attire. I savour the day I get my winter clothes down from the attic and do the exchange with my hardly worn beach clothes. I relish the first windy dry day when I freshen up all my jumpers and fleeces, watching them dancing about in the breeze from indoors.

As I delve through forgotten outfits, I sieve out what no longer fits or is unacceptably out of fashion, making a mental note of what I need to replace. This leads to more excitement as I give myself permission for a shopping spree. I retrieve newly heeled footwear from the cobbler which is almost as good a fix as buying a brand new pair of boots. I can feel the anticipation rising of covering-up my arms and legs, the pulling on of socks and walking around the house with a top to toe protective warm layer. I prefer my warmth delivered by fabric rather than having limbs exposed as the summer months usually demand.

This is before I even get to my hats, scarves and gloves. Unlike summer, autumn is the time I do not have to worry about my hair getting damp and losing its style, because I just cover it up. The seasons colour changes also sees me tossing out the blonde hair dye and bringing on the red hair tones. Boosted by the power of the summer, my hair gets a good cut, as do my nails, both of which seem to have taken on a growth-spurt over the last few weeks. I go through my makeup bag and relegate anything too summery like the pale shimmery lipsticks.

What we eat changes. I buy different foods. Goodbye salads, hello organically harvested root vegetables from the garden. The tins on my shelves suddenly strain under the weight. Just in case we get snowed in.

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#StratfordUponAvon #Warwickshire

Downstairs, the two woodburner grates have been cleared and the logs are ready. I start recording and downloading box-sets ready for the cold, dark evenings. #GoT Game of Thrones 2017 is top of that list.

As the light fades and the days shorten, for some it feels a bit like going into a tunnel with little sight of reprieve. For me, autumn pays homage to my inherently lazy streak – I gain great satisfaction from the comparative inactivity of cupping my hands around a hot drink in front of the television and wearing my ‘comfies’ (pyjamas) as my young nieces put it.

Not that being outside can’t be enjoyable in the autumn. Daylight  strolls with jackets buttoned up to the neck, collars turned up, gloves on, a warm hat to the strains of my boots crunching through frozen leaves on a sunny day, just does it for me.

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On one autumnal walk I spotted this greedy tree had ‘eaten’ the railings! #GrovePark #Harborne #Birmingham

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This particular September early morning sunshine brought these ghosts to us when we lived at our last house. Spookily this was where we normally kept the bench. They only stayed a few minutes and were created by light bouncing off our conservatory windows down the garden, but I was glad they came to visit.

Outside or inside, autumn is my time – time to pull up that drawbridge, catch up with some television viewing, read books; time to use the excuse of the lack of daylight to lie in with the newspaper; time to take stock, to reinvent myself – all the things I do not get time for or have the motivation for in the summer. But please DON’T tease me with those idyllic chilly starts and warm afternoons! Stay cool the whole day through…

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#Ullapool October 2016

 

 

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Big, beautiful, bold Scotland – one UK summer

WP_20170702_14_33_32_ProI don’t like the sunshine. I wilt and can become unpleasant company in the heat. Lazing around by the pool holds no interest for me any more nor does developing a suntan and parading it in bars in the evenings. I don’t enjoy flying nor sitting on coaches to do expensive day trips. I lost my lust for two weeks of hot weather on my annual calendar more than a decade ago, although my husband still requires some of his Vitamin D intake from warmer climes which I approach with an attitude of compromise.

My first trip to Scotland was in 2006. We visited places like Fort William, Isle of Skye, Oban, Isle of Eriska and Edinburgh. My second trip was in 2015 to Ullapool when my brother-in-law married a Scot. This year we were faced with making last minute holiday plans in June and decided we could spend two and half weeks touring the Scottish coast in an anti-clockwise fashion from Northumberland – most of their North Coast 500. In reality we made it up as we went along.

Accommodation was booked the day before and we took advantage of online knocked-down prices. We stayed in guest houses, bed & breakfast places and hotels. Some had their oddities, others were superb but none were crazily expensive. We bought supermarket lunches and headed out to visit castles, stately homes, monuments and landmarks. There were coves and harbours to walk around, hills to climb and towns with pubs and restaurants to rest in.

There was history to learn, architecture to wow us, people to chat with, geology and nature to marvel at, breath-taking scenery and wildlife that surprised us. Seals played in the waters, a white owl nearly sent us off the road as it crossed in front of us one evening and two deer approached us strolling down the street to get their evening feed.

Travelling through Scotland was unpredictable but always fascinating, never boring and jam-packed with photographic opportunities. It was hard to believe we were actually on the same land mass as the Midlands (much as my homeland has great offerings too!) Here is just a selection of the highlights.

 

We all have impressions of places we’ve not seen. With the Scottish Independence and Brexit talks I’d forgotten the beauty and charm that lie beneath human disagreement. Summer 2017 was an unforgettable adventure; it was an enchanting, engaging and enlightening trip that I would wholeheartedly recommend on. I was deeply moved by the beauty of this land and I will be back – to do the rest.

 

DNA – a tall story

No other words for it – I’m excited! Part of my Christmas present was sending off my DNA kit to AncestryDNA and six weeks on, the final part of my Christmas present has been dropped into my email account – the results.

I’d no idea what to expect. Reports about DNA results for ancestry purposes have been on my radar for some time now. They were often negative, however, I chose to close my mind to any negativity and to have this self-indulgent adventure anyway.

Who would have thought a few years ago that one’s spit, a product of the vilest of insults to another, could actually be the key to so much, to life itself. It will take me some time to get to the bottom of all the information and to decide how I’m going to work with it, however, the initial surprise is that I’m far more European than British. I suspected that my great-grandfather’s native Germany might be something of an influence however, the inferences of 18% Scandinavian got me twitching with excitement. Perhaps this is why I love cold weather so much? I’m 62% Western Europe and only 10% British! Suddenly my heart and head that patriotically existed on the British side of the channel all my life are unapologetically tugging me across to the other side of that dividing watercourse.

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The ethnicity estimate was only part of the information they provided. I was informed I’d got 31 4th-8th cousins on AncestryDNA. How could they possibly be right? Yet what jazzed me even further was that some of the links to cousins carried ancestral names already known to me. I now had contact points for all these ‘cousins’, so I picked one of the names I knew from high on the probability matching score and fired off a message. Sure enough he came back to me and named a distant point where we were probably related. It was information I had already got via my genealogy work. I can’t explain it – the tingles and fizzy excitement at the thought of one couple getting together two hundred odd years ago and cascading their genes through time and space to here, now, strangers connected by DNA and technology.  I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of something life-changing.

Amongst the excitement, a few thoughts are stirring. I voted Brexit. Admittedly that was because I disagreed with the control the EU had but I was approaching this from a feeling I’m completely British and that I celebrate the different nationalities out there and want to preserve them, not dilute them. I don’t like the thought we’ll lose that and end up as one mishmash of people. I love the French, Germans, Italians, Dutch etc for what defines their wonderful unique countries. Now I know I’m more European than British it is a bit mind-numbing and I’m questioning who I am, who I want to be. The truth is there really isn’t such a thing as a pure race or nationality. We all are a cocktail so complex, so huge, so…. so related and inter-related. I AM a mishmash of people and can’t be defined by words, nor contained by labels.

It will cost me more money doing my research. The Ancestry website has the information sewn up in slick sections and there are payments to be made to access different information. I will be joining Ancestry.com/.co.uk because I need access to all the other family trees that exist on line already. I want to be part of the Ancestry community along with my other cousins.

And I need time – lots of it because I can feel this is going to take me over. I want to find living (and deceased) relatives and ancestral connections. I want to find out where my 6ft tall genes come from (although my bet is on my Scandinavian ancestry!). And I want to unearth stories; stories that I can’t even imagine today.

I suspect this will be the Christmas present that will just keep on giving…

 

 

Divided by a common language – us & US

What every traveller or communicator between the US and UK needs to know – the language differences… You could be forgiven for thinking that English is a one-size-fits-all.

When I was enjoying a front row seat unwittingly living the inspiration for what became Love Travels, we came across many terms that were alien to each country. It was a source of great amusement and entertainment. That was in a social setting but there are some I wouldn’t want to get wrong. We talked about creating our own version of what so many people have since published to ease relations between the countries.

I liked the one that found me today and reminded me of those fun exchanges; some of which are referred to along the way in Love Travels.

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It isn’t just the language, it’s also the spellings. American spellings often have fewer characters. For example we say travellers, they say travelers. We say colour, they say color. Have you realised how many words there actually are?

This is a useful list: http://www.tysto.com/uk-us-spelling-list.html

Left me wondering how fewer printer cartridges the US uses simply because they use fewer letters in some common words? I suspect someone could actually measure that.

As someone who has battled through the hidden settings of US English spelling and grammar checkers, I wonder if one day in the future we may decide on a little more agreed commonality… The world seems to strive to make things easier but then there is often resistance to change. Brexit and Trump – say no more.

Text-speak of course took off with a life and language of its own. However that’s the young for you! I love languages, I love differences. And I’ll always have a soft spot for what the US and its ancestors have done with the English language.

 

Did I take a wrong turn in my career? Is a wrong turn ever reversible?

Back between the 1970s-90s I found it relatively straightforward to get employment. I lived in a big city, was young, and had a variety of roles from IT Training to database work. I was a happy bunny at work feeling like I was doing something useful and important; I revelled in meeting new people and sharing my rapidly expanding IT skills I had a smile for everyone. A couple of job roles during my late 20s saw me driving around in brand new company vehicles, although for me, carrying a briefcase was the ultimate status symbol.

At some point this was no longer enough. At some point it didn’t feel like progression and I wanted more – I wanted a role that meant I had to think rather than regurgitate my well-rehearsed performance. I was hankering after a role that made me feel clever as well as important. I worried the need for IT trainers would diminish as the schools were bringing children up to that level – it wasn’t the last time I’d be wrong.

In response to my gut nagging for me to reach for more, in the noughties I started a part-time OU degree (which took me almost a decade to complete). By 2012 I was officially clever – I’d arrived for the second time since buying that briefcase in the late 80s.

From the 2004 – 2009 I worked in a Project Management role and then I did something crazy; and wonder if I’ve been paying for it since. I moved area and took on the project management of a derelict house. My husband and I assumed the roles of bread-winner (he was also our civil engineer) and project manager respectively, until we had a brand-new home and were able to sell the caravan that had been our home for 9 months.

During the time I’d been occupied with builders, plumbers, electricians, planning officers, financial spreadsheets, kitchen fitters and trips to B&Q, a recession had got a grip. I’d emerged excited with my new-found experience to a world that wasn’t interested.

I was lucky on a few occasions to secure some temporary work but I needed to fall back on more generic, basic and transferable skills. I picked up an eclectic mix of non-contiguous, temporary, and usually part-time contracts which left me wondering who on earth I was in terms of an employable entity. My label had fallen off. And the more I did, the more I tried to capture the experiences, the more complex my CV became. Was I diluting my appeal by actually working at all?

I soon realised life in recruitment had changed. No longer could you walk into an agency and be listened to by wide interested eyes as the recruiter had a light bulb moment knowing where they’d place or promote you. No more did the recruiter place you in a temporary role so you could try it for size and be picked up by an impressed manager. Organisations didn’t trust recruiters. Recruiters didn’t trust candidates. Now you had to attend an interview to even become a temp. But the biggest shock was the rates were the same as I earned circa 1987 and often I wasn’t picked, trounced by someone younger! How low could I go?

Soon it was apparent that one size doesn’t always fit all. In my search, the talent of matching skills and experience had been drowned by an automated tick-box exercise. As a candidate who rode the wave of technology in the 80s, I was never out of work. What I was able to offer was in demand. A linear role. All they needed to know was ‘which software’? Now, having added a raft of experience from qualification project management to house renovation, I truly had no idea where I could fit.

So without a pigeon-holed label to guide me, I was left with clicking ‘one click apply’ buttons across a variety of job roles. I was filling up recruiters inboxes when all I’d have loved was a conversation with a talented recruiter who could see what I’m good at and with a human bent to thinking outside the box, understanding what the client  and industry wants and perhaps play more than a game of snap.

Eventually when a long contract came to an end, I made a decision. It was time to write the novel I’d had bouncing around my brain for ages. I sat down and started. It took me months and months, and months. During that time I also tried to become a useful house-person, cooking most evenings for my husband and attempting to look content with the ironing board out during an afternoon watching the Corrie omnibus.  I nearly lost my mind trying to assume two labels and although my husband was adamant I didn’t need to work – I realised I wanted to; for me. How else would I justify my Clinique skincare habit?

Putting one word in front of another, finally in January 2016 I self-published my first novel. I did the writing, editing, formatting, uploading and marketing myself. Approximately 80,000 books are published on Amazon every year. Without good marketing, it doesn’t matter how good you are, chances are your masterpiece will get buried under the others. Yet that is one herculean achievement! And those who’ve read it agree. Love Travels has received some lovely reviews. However, you need to sell an awful lot to make a living from it.

As fate would have it, I need to be looking for work again to support my husband as the company he worked for has unexpectedly gone into administration. We are waiting to see if redundancy and notice payments will appear and in that time, we both have to be job-seeking. I don’t know exactly what I’d like to do because I’d like to do something around the many skills I have that I’m good at and enjoy. Yet writing is pretty much all I’ve known for a few years. I don’t know how to translate my skills into a job role, largely because I’ve not been out in the big wide corporate world for years and don’t know or even understand what is out there. With the expectations of the Job Centre weighing on me, I have to play ball and look for work.

The search feels impossible. The job titles and descriptions that don’t match; the fields that only let you enter what they want to know and don’t allow for explanations. Eg are you prepared to relocate? Y/N and I’m expecting to move house later this year. How do I capture that in Yes or No terms? Job searching people deserve more sophisticated software than a one-size-fits-all approach. A large amount of energy will continue to be wasted (on both sides) and quality candidates will inevitably fall by the wayside without it.

Meanwhile I consider: am I washed up now I’m in my 50s? And with that thought, I will put my author label on again and continue throwing some words into my second novel.

Why I love the Victorians

The Victorian Slum was an emotive series touching those who know little about the era as well as those who know much more about it. As I tweeted at the time, this programme should be on the school curriculum.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Victorian era. For me it is the era where history starts. Anything since the Victorians is just modern day whereas anything before it stands as a Victorian gateway, guiding us yet further into our past.

Queen Victoria died in 1901, just seeing us into the new century. It was the century during which almost everyone I know (older than 16) was born. Somehow that connects us along the production-line known as the human race.

The Victorian Slum was a well-crafted insight on fast-forward across several decades into what life might have been like for the poorer end of society. I initially watched as an observer but got emotionally pulled into the trials of all of the inhabitants of the tenement building. I’d never before considered the connectedness and the intricacies of how one person’s bad luck then might be good luck for another inhabitant. I lived it with them.

And I was particularly outraged for The Victorian Slum-dwellers when the paying wealthy public were permitted to tour the slum homes and gawp at their misfortunes. Yet gawping is something we still do in this day and age at both the wealthy and unfortunate, yet perhaps a little more in the privacy of our own homes – via the internet, television or newspapers.

wp_20161205_11_06_25_pro-1During my lifetime I’ve met real-life Victorians. My maternal great-grandfather (a German – pictured) came to Sheffield, England in 1888 as young teen for a better life. He moved with family down to Birmingham where he married and settled into a new life, marrying in 1897. Sadly he died when I was a young girl in the 1960s and although I can remember him as an elderly gent in a tall Victorian front room sat in front of an open fire, I wonder what the younger man was like. What was going on in the world that made his mother pack him off to relatives in Victoria’s England for a better life when he was so young?

My paternal step-nan was born in 1899. She lived into her 90s into the 1990s. What a world of change she must have seen. She’d have been a toddler in 1901 on Queen Victoria’s demise so, strictly speaking she was a Victorian and we only lost her about 20 years ago. That IS recent history.

Victorian memorabilia surrounds us in abundance of what they’ve left behind – design, industry, architecture, monuments, commercial buildings and houses. Paintings, documents, books, crockery, fashion, events, a way of doing things. We see it, use it, live with it all daily.

This is the first era captured comprehensively by photography to give us clues as to what life might have been for them. The Victorian era can be brought alive by photographs – real pictures taken of our ancestors. Whether it is with formal photographs of rigid looking families all dressed up in their Sunday best or those less formal taken by the very wealthy who owned a camera or news enterprise. I stare in fascination into the faces of those caught on camera, time-travelling and pondering on what they did immediately after breaking their frozen pose. They walked our land.

For me this all adds up and contributes to the feeling the Victorians have only just got up and left our planet. They’ve left so much of themselves for us to ponder on or enjoy.

Life has changed considerably since the black and white world of the Victorians was here. But it’s important that we don’t lose this history nor stop making the connection that most of us touch these ancestors in some way.

Another of my favourites is back – Who Do You Think You Are? Tantalising series pulling us into the depths of someone’s ancestry and mixing in social information of the day. Invariably they transverse the Victorian times, sometimes they stay and explore awhile. Victoria came to the throne in 1837. A census exists from 1841 and every 10 years thereafter facilitating this research.

It’s important to know where we came from if not to stand back in awe at how far we have come and how grateful we should be for the advancements in science, technology, medicine that we are able to take common advantage of today. For the very fact we can sit in the warmth of our centrally heated homes, enjoying a journey into an often uncomfortable past on our flat-screen televisions; sustained by popping to the kitchen cupboards for a high calorie snack or hot drink – the things we take for granted are vast.

December is here. That means Christmas is not far behind it. I love Victorian-influenced pictures on Christmas cards, the kind I rejected first out of the box when I was younger. I savour anything with children, snow and frosted shop windows on it! Perhaps its time I got Charles Dickens out for a reminder of the grim reality of Victorian Britain. Although I can be effortlessly transported via the written word and pictures into a Victorian world, I suspect I only do it so readily because I can decide at the flicker of a few brain cells to return to be living more than a century later where we can decide to luxuriate in and spend time on pleasure, rather than the more immediate business of trying to stay alive…