Just be

I found a particular set of nude photos on my laptop recently whilst transferring everything to a new one. They are old and there have been many more since but seeing them again made me realise I was incredibly proud of this particular set photos because they were the only set of this type that were absolutely “no holds barred” from back then and that was a big thing for me at that time. I looked at them and I was proud of the person in them and who she has become. It’s been a very long road with many insecurities. There are now less insecurities. I still have days where I don’t really want to look in a mirror but on the whole, all is well and I am comfortable in my own skin.

These photos really got me thinking and I recalled an incident shortly after they were taken. There had been an mix up at a place of work. An I.T technician had picked up my personal laptop and not my work one for some maintenance. He had found these photographs of me and then decided to show the Manager. I was obviously called to the office and the misunderstanding was soon realised. I walked out of the office that day with my head held high not giving two hoots about anybody’s opinion. The technician came to me soon afterwards to apologise and said he thought they were sexy and he admired my confidence to have them taken. Indeed, some would call them “sexy” but I really don’t need labels on my self expression. It is confidence. This is the kind of expression that gets rejected by society. It is the kind that comes from true confidence not from looks. It is about power. Power that leads to the empowerment of others. It is about me being fine with who I am. You don’t have to love your body all the time, but loving who you are is another story. I am sure that does not make sense to everyone. How can I sit here naked and not be ashamed or worry about my body. It is simple. I will not let the critical eyes of societal standards stop me from existing fully. It is not real. It is a fiction that is forced upon us. We are programmed to see an image with cellulite or a few extra pounds of flesh on the bones and start shaming and comparing for so many different reasons. Too fat. Too short. Too sexy. Too naked. Watch your thoughts next time you do it and ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you doing it because you want to or because you’re programmed to? Instead look at the picture and find all the positives in it. You’ll find them and when you do, you will start to see them in yourself too.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through years of shame, it’s that I will never please everybody. No matter what my body looks like, no matter what I’m wearing, no matter what I say, somebody somewhere wants to bring in the shame. The people that will find shame in the main picture attached to this Blog will far outweigh the positive ones. Do I care? No, not now. At this point, I know it has to do with them and not me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t experience the outcome of embedded thought patterns that cause society to dehumanise and manipulate women, especially as one living in a body that doesn’t conform to the “norm”. 

 In addition to scrutiny over women’s bodies, society doesn’t either quite know what to do with medium, fat, short, tall or long bodies. Many people are disgusted by them. Many people quietly fear the possibility of fatness for themselves. Many people project insecurities under the guise of health policing. I can’t really blame them; I grew up without any exemplification and the only time I saw a body like mine was for a diet shake, a pre fitness video example, a new weight loss fad or the latest detox plan. So we learn that fat must be bad and the rest spirals out of control from there. Yes, I hold my hand up and say it can indeed be bad and unhealthy but should there be a loss of control of who we are because of that? Should we feel bad about a body that is different from the one that is thrust upon us in every catalogue or advertisement we come across? No. No we bloody shouldn’t.

It is a fact that women’s bodies are sexualised far beyond the amount of space I have available in this Blog. If I published a picture of me sitting in my underwear , it would honestly feel like a political statement because not only would I presenting my body without the shame society thinks I should feel, but I also have cleavage, curves, a peachy rounded backside, big hips, and all of these things that society sees and says are “too sexy” or “bad role model.” This response is hilarious to me because so many accept women’s bodies and sex as a way to sell things. Women’s bodies are continuously being “papped”  and scrutinised on the cover of magazines you walk past at the newsagent, but as soon as a woman chooses to reclaim her body or even show it out of her own power, her own control, her own choice, people get opinionated. That’s because the shame, sexualisation , and dehumanisation of women is a control tactic. It has nothing to do with bodies or indeed with sex. It has everything to do with sickening patriarchal power. 

As a result, it’s pretty taboo and uncomfortable for many to see a woman embrace her sexual power. We are taught sex is shameful, women’s bodies are shameful, women enjoying sex is shameful, women feeling or expressing their sexuality is shameful, I could go on. I won’t. I do however say that it is poppycock. It took me years to undo the detrimental narrative surrounding women, fat bodies and sex. Separately and together. It took me years to realise there is nothing wrong with my tummy, cellulite, stretch marks, slightly different shaped breasts, lack of thigh gap, wibbly thighs and everything else that I have actually now grown to love. Yes LOVE! It took me years to realise I deserve to enjoy my body through all it’s transitions, prioritise my pleasure, and express myself however I want, whenever I want. As I’ve grown to work through these insecurities, I’ve grown to appreciate all parts of my power. My body, my mind, my sensuality, my sexuality, my vulnerability, my compassion and ultimately my confidence in being who I am. All of these things are my strength and are a beautiful part of what makes me, me. If people don’t like it, tough. If friends don’t want to be out with me because I don’t fall into the correct sizing or fashion category, their loss. I don’t want to be a sheep on any level. Don’t ask me to be and certainly don’t expect me to be. You keep your “Sliders” and I’ll  go barefoot. You have your lip plumping collagen injections and take all the photos in the world of yourself but don’t make me feel ashamed to be in your photograph because I don’t fill my lips with plastic. Do it if it makes you happy and confident. Do whatever makes you happy. I don’t have the slightest problem with that but don’t make me feel bad because I am happy with who I am and I don’t want to. 

I shun the concept that women cannot or should not revel in their sensual power whenever they want. I shun the concept that fat bodies, in fact, any bodies, ever deserve to be sexualised by others. I shun the idea that it is at all taboo for women, especially fat women, to embody “sexy” or display the beauty of an intimate connection with themselves. I shun the idea that women aren’t allowed to feel sexy, beautiful, confident, powerful, whatever we bloody well want.  

Whoever you are, you can be whatever you want to be, and you can even feel good about it, too. 

Just be.

The perfect imperfect 

We all strive to be a perfect beauty that does not exist. What we see in magazines is not real. We pout, we pose, we exercise, we diet. We are never happy. We take pictures and then we delete them because we don’t like them.

“There’s that wonky nose” “Urgh, that double chin”

“Oh my god that lazy eye that doesn’t react quickly enough to the flash.”

“Oh my broad swimmers shoulders, quick lets crop them!”

We add a filter because our skin is bad or the lighting was dreadful or we look pale today. I’m guilty of it all. I will no doubt, continue to do it.

When I was young, I used to think I was missing out on something because I wasn’t skinny after the age of 12. When I look back, I feel like I wasn’t present for half of the time. Always worried about what others thought. Always thinking about what I needed to to do be worthy. I spent most of my teenage years trying navigate having a body I thought was bad. I was told it so often, I believed it. You would be hard pressed to find a picture of me as a teenager. There are a few though that I can look at now and realise, how right the Graduate that wrote the words that Baz Lurhman turned into a famous song named “Sunscreen”, actually was.

“You are not as fat as you imagine”

My 19 year old self didn’t believe that. My 35 year old self knows now that I wasn’t. There’s probably another line in that same song somewhere that gives you advice about that very type of situation too.

I became exhausted from trying to redefine myself or hiding who I was in order to protect others from….me. From the hype in those glossy magazines on thinness, sexy abs, pleasing partners, beach bodies. They had me thinking I deserved to be unhappy for being who I am. And then, aged 23 I realised I was the only one missing out on not loving who I am. Bingo! As soon as I started doing that, life got a whole lot better. You can’t buy it! It doesn’t come as a bonus with any particular body type. It’s about self love. Loving and accepting who you are. It is yours when you want and oh my, does the lens change when you do! Suddenly I already had what I needed. I wasn’t going to miss one more moment of my life. I wasn’t either giving in to societal expectations or outsider opinions. I’ve been big, I’ve been small. I’ve been in between. I’ve got the scars to prove it all. But I live, I love and I laugh. Some days are and always will be hard. Every day is a battle but it’s a battle I’ve been winning since I was 22. Recently I’ve struggled. There has been too much temptation and lack of routine. It’s a Summer of new beginnings and adventure. That can’t be an excuse but it’s not helped and I’ve not been loving myself quite as much as I should have. Then, yesterday on the way home from London, a friend took a picture of me. It’s not the best picture of me, it is a bit dark and it’s a bit blurry too because I’m a gobby cow and couldn’t keep quiet so I was moving whilst it was being taken. However, in that picture I saw me. It made me happy. It made me smile and it made me realise, I love myself and I love who I am.

When someone takes a picture of you like this and you see your character with your smile lighting up your face and making your eyes sparkle, you realise, in a split second, that that is you. Not “the pout”, not “the pose”, but “the you”, and you like it. You’re winning. You’re beautiful. Not stereotypical beautiful, but beautiful all the same. “The imperfect perfect”.

Nobody that matters will care about your lumps and bumps or your perfectly imperfect body. They see your glorious soul shining out and they see you for who you are. Who really needs to be an unachievable “perfect” anyway? Be you. Be yourself. When you are, the right people that you need in your life, will be attracted to you. I don’t just mean lovers. I mean new friends too. The likelihood is, they already are because they saw who you are, long before you did. #Beyou #Positivebodyimage #Beyourself #Wartsandall

A cut above the rest 

As I relax into the comfiest leather seat and I’m offered a divine selection of sandwiches, treats, goodies and alcoholic or non alcoholic beverages, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was in a plush restaurant or wine bar. The fact is however, that I’m in the most fabulous hairdressing salon I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

I first came to Jo Ferns Lydgate 2 and a half years ago after moving back from Lytham. For 6 months I had travelled backwards and forwards to my old hairdressers because I quite simply couldn’t face the thought of anyone new “getting used to my hair” or messing with my much loved locks.

This backwards and forwards journey would take a day out of life and it was becoming harder and harder to fit it into life. I had to face the reality of needing to find a local hairdresser. I visited a couple that I’d liked the look of. On One of these had a very uncomfortable atmosphere and the other completely messed up my hair colour after not listening at all to what I was aiming for. At a low ebb I was losing hope of finding what I wanted from a hair salon in such a small area. I contemplated heading to Manchester, the most local City to our cluster of tiny villages. This though didn’t fill me with joy either, purely because the thought of Manchester prices filled me with horror.

Then, a chance meeting in a local pub in Lydgate with work, allowed me to stumble across Jo Ferns Lydgate. What a gem!! A stylish, modern, clean looking salon that looked perfect and just what I was looking for. I took the number and rang to make my first appointment. I have never looked back and I have certainly never considered going anywhere else ever since.

When I first walked into this stunning salon, I was met with glorious interior styling, a friendly and polite receptionist that immediately asked if I’d like a drink. I sat in the waiting area which was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with up to date magazines and a selection of mini cakes and Prosecco.

My stylist Rachael was friendly, helpful and understanding. She understood my apprehension of being somewhere new straight away and listened to everything I had to say. The importance of this at the time was vital to me. I didn’t want to feel pushed into anything I didn’t want and also needed time to build up a professional relationship with my new stylist. This has not once, in all my appointments changed. Rachael, nor any other member of staff have ever asked me either “Are you going on holiday this year?”

Two and a half years later and standards have never once dropped. In fact I think, if possible, it’s got better. Nicola Gerrard MUA has also started working from the salon which has added an impeccable beauty service alongside the 5 star hair salon which is wonderful as it now means that I can get everything done in one place. In fact, standards have raised so much that Jo Ferns Salon has rightly won “Outstanding 5 stars” in The Good Salon Guide.

Having time out whilst running a business has sometimes been hard to juggle but I can always get an appointment here around everything else I have needed to do. This “me time” is a vital part of life and I can be sure that every time I visit this fabulous hairdressers that I will get the VIP experience just like every other client of Jo Ferns Lydgate.

Thank you Jo Ferns Lydgate for your faultless and professional service. You make me feel a million dollars every single time I leave, no matter how I felt when I walked in. I honestly believe if I’d been to ten or more other salons before finding you, I would never once have been offered the impeccable package and service you offer!

My Granny

I am a life lover. I live it. I make memories, I have fun. Every now and then though, life takes me by surprise. Today has been one of those days.
Within 9 months, I lost two of the most influential women to ever grace my life. Both of them, feisty, passionate, cheeky, witty, hilarious, sharp, formidable, determined, independent, inspirational and beautiful. They are, I’m sure working their magic to make life currently so very beautiful and full of complete happiness.
One of these women though, I was lucky enough to be able to call Granny. She raised me to be who I am today. She wasn’t just my Gran, she was my Mum. That was how she rolled.
She often used to say “I won’t be around forever Katie”
I would hole her beautiful hand and told her “Shush, I don’t want to talk about it”
Rather selfish really. I never for a minute considered that she might want to talk about it. Get things out in the open about what she wanted when she was gone. She may have hated coming out of church to Elvis’ “If I could dream” or Going into the crematorium to Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise” I doubt it, but she might. She may have had a very different plan for the celebration of her life. That though, is how us Brits are. We don’t talk about death. It’s not the done thing.
I never believed she’d go. Even when I knew she would have to very soon because she was so poorly and on oxygen 24 hours a day and staying alive became such a struggle for her. She left us two years ago today and it feels like it’s been an eternity without her. This beauty is missed more now than ever and thought of every single day. Life hasn’t been the same since. But then, it was never going to be.
I found a poem when she died. The words rang so very true.

 

SHE IS GONE
by David Harkins

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

When I found these words, I knew instantly that they were the ones I would read at her funeral. Before the day came, I had been in to church and practiced them so many times, just so that I would become hardened to them. So that on the day I would not waver in any way in front of everyone who was there to celebrate her life. I truly believed these words when I read them that day and I know they are what she would have been telling us to do. I cannot now though read them without crying, despite still believing she would want us to do all that they say.
When it was my turn to speak on the day of her funeral, I took that dreaded deep breath, stood up and walked to the front of a full church. As I walked forward, my left hand instinctively reached out to gently touch her coffin. It felt like a way of reassuring her that she was safe. The last moment I felt that I could love her. It was as close as I could get to touching her one last time. My final chance to do her proud in her physical company. It was my final gesture of pure, genuine love.
In the two years that have passed since then, I have learnt that time heals and life without a loved one, especially one as special as she was, does become easier. Instead of memories being painful, they instead offer you comfort and joy. Today though, on the second anniversary of her death, the physical pain has come so hard and unexpectedly that it hurts more than the day she left us two years ago. I ache. Every inch of my body aches and my heart feels more torn today than it has in the last two years. I have busied myself seeing friends and doing things she would want me to. However, the day is the day and there is no escaping it. Things consume us sometimes even when we do not want them to. We sometimes have no control over that. And so, I am going with the rhythm of the day. If the tears need to flow, then who am I to stop them? I used to refuse to cry. Now I do not. I believe it is good for the soul. Crying is just as good as the laughter that I know will eventually follow. Pretending to be strong gets nobody anywhere. It will always come and bite you on the backside eventually so you may as well deal with it in the moment.
Earlier, I went to look for something that I wanted and in doing so I have found some things that I have been able to seek great ease in. I got the dominoes out that we loved to play together from me being young even right up to a few weeks before she died. I also found the speech I wrote for her 90th Birthday. I have laughed at the memories of that day and all the other days I was lucky enough to be able to share with her. Those words I wrote mean more now than they did when I originally wrote them. Why? Because she kept them. My Gran didn’t keep much but she kept that piece of paper tightly folded away in the ornate, highly polished bureau in her lounge. I seek great relief in that because from those words she could always remind herself, even when I was not there to tell her, how much she was loved.
I have always been a private person. I share some things, but not everything. Today I feel like sharing. Sharing my words from her 90th Birthday feels like the right thing to do. Sharing my love for her feels perfect and letting the world know how phenomenal she was.

How that alone makes me chuckle. When I say share it with the world (or rather the few that may read this) my Gran at 96 was never, no mater how hard I tried, able to understand what the internet or the World Wide Web actually was. The fact that her glorious face is now attached to it in this Blog has added sunshine to my day.
“Happy 90th Birthday Gran!
We have held this surprise party today because, frankly, we knew you would object if we told you we were going to make a fuss but there are times in your life when it’s important to make a special point, and this is one of those times. So, here we are, all of us together, celebrating the 90th Birthday of one very special lady, you Gran.
Gran, because of you, I have been able to experience some of the best things in life. Syrup on toast and a Fox’s classic biscuit washed down with a pint of Diet Coke for breakfast after you had babysat the night before. You taught me the lifelong skills of knitting and more importantly cooking the best Parkin ever! Not only that though, you have taught me the meaning of love, laughter, happiness and courage.
As a child and still now, your beautiful eyes, and sweet smile comforted me no matter how difficult life became. You were and still are always there when I need you. You are my role model and my inspiration.
You are now 90 but I sometimes look at you and I see myself in your eyes which luckily for you, only makes you 26! You have energies to admire. You make me howl with laughter when you look at men your own age and tell me they do not stand a chance because they are “old codgers” are “too slow” or “too boring” and simply “too old to keep up” with you. This a testament to you, a beautiful, lovely, wonderful Dynamo with a passion for life younger than your years.
I also need to say Gran that you have a tremendous amount of love in your awesome heart. It may not always be shown, but it is there. I know it even if nobody else does and that is all that’s important. You have been an extraordinary Grandmother. One in a million, not only to me but also to Neil.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone for being here. A magnificent assembly of family and friends, all here to celebrate with my dearest Granny on your 90th Birthday. They are all here to show their love and appreciation for you. A most special lady.
So, Gran, the Birthday Girl, the life and soul of any party, especially this one. We are thrilled to share this wonderful occasion with you. We are also utterly sincere when we tell you how much we love you, how much we appreciate you and how much we wish for you, many, many more seasons in the sun. May you sing and dance for a long time to come.
Happy Birthday to a very special lady. My Golden inspiration. I love you so very much.”
The words I would write now would include so much more. I am 9 years wiser and although we think we are grown up, we never stop learning and my journey since I wrote these words has become richer and wiser. The fact is though that they are what I wrote then. These are the words she heard me lovingly and genuinely speak that day. They are the words she kept. The happy memories of her are what I keep. I will cherish what I had with my Granny for the many years I was blessed with her. After all, I had my Gran for longer than some and for that I know I am incredibly lucky. For as long as I continue to breathe, her memory will remain alive in me. Always.

 

To all my little pupils, thank you 

Recently I had to sort through a box of old photographs. There amongst them was a picture of my 24 year old self staring up with the most beautiful, wide eyed 5 year old with his chocolate brown curly hair and the most gorgeous, cheeky laugh emblazoned across his delightful, happy face. My arms embraced him with the love I gave him every single day I had the joy or working with him. That’s what I did then. I supported this glorious little boy with all his extra needs, quirks and unique ways.This picture, in an instant brought back memories of his class mates. From their first day in Reception class on September 2004 they were tiny, vulnerable little humans that were ready to begin their journey through education. I realised this little boy would be coming up for 18 this year. Through the joy of Facebook and social media and because I am no longer education, I am lucky to be able to be connected to some parents and even some old students of mine. This picture, coupled with the fact that a few posts had been written recently by old students from my time in education had made me reflect upon my years teaching and how incredibly proud of some of them I am. 

I spent so much time with these children throughout a school year. Sometimes more than their own parents. We would get to know them and their characters and I always felt that was both an honour and a joy. 

I remember vividly my last day in education as I was about to embark on my new career in my old hometown. As I walked across the car park on my last day in education three years ago, I looked ahead into Ansdell’s school Field, thebstunning Summer sun sent swirling red and pink tinged clouds lingering in the distance, beyond the red brick rooftop of the building in which I’ve spent endless hours working, planning, marking, teaching. The incredible sky, sharp like fire, added to the poignancy of my last day in this role. The finale of my last school production was done. The SATs were finished and the school year was done like the day itself. I literally got to walk off into this glorious Summer sun. 
The late day sky brought to mind Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” This was one painting I had adored since my own favourite teacher, my art teacher, Mrs Robinson, had spoken about it when I was 15. I think I liked it so much then because I related to it. I felt like I was screaming for my entire teenage life. Munch captured a moment of private terror in “The Scream” The unbridled optimism of his era was giving way to anxiety and ultimately terror in a world where technology had not solved but rather was enhancing the problems of humanity.

“The Scream” represents an existential crisis set against the backdrop of beautiful, even tranquil, nature. A picture that captured my teenage life so perfectly. How appropriate that as I was leaving education, I was able to look up at that Summer sky ablaze and consider my own personal crossroads, knowing that I would soon step away from an identity and place I’d known for my entire adult life. The future was in no way going to be what it used to be, but one thing I knew for certain was the place my students had and will always hold in my heart.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893, meant something completely different to me as a teacher than it did to my 15 year old self. It represented a constant, and it is the students who come and go. So many little souls have walked in and out of my classrooms. Now as I exited stage left after my final curtain call in an assembly bidding me fair well, where I reminded students to never let anyone “dull their sparkle”, I found myself thinking about all the people I had met over the years, the faces that have looked to me for answers, some of which I had, many of which I did not.

And so, with the recent incident with the photographer bringing back all these memories, I felt compelled write to all my little pupils. However, what do I want to say to 11 years worth of little humans? Difficult to put into words, but here goes…

Dear little ones (I know you’re not anymore but that’s how I still think of you),
You have inspired me.

So many of you fought to overcome learning and life challenges. You stretched beyond the identity you entered the room with and found a heart for people who do not look, sound, or think like you.

Things could sometimes get heated with pressures of tests or learning lines for class assemblies alongside your usual daily learning but you never gave up. You respected the environment and, for the most part, each other, even when you disagreed or didn’t like the way someone else did something. The essential thing to learning is a willingness to be wrong, a lesson we often learned together.

So my dear ex pupils, you have defined me.

As educators, we can often e guilty of fashioning ourselves into stars at the centre of an overblown hero culture. Admittedly, the front of a classroom is a stage. A friend recently described me as theatrical. I was confused by this and blamed theatrical friends I have. Then I realised, I spent 11 years at the front of a classroom and therefore “the main attraction” or “the star of the show” as many teachers would think of themselves. 

The stage, once stepped upon, I had to play a role, a character who’s an extension of myself. You were a gracious audience, but I hope the role I played was always true, and I hope I never used my position as anything other than passionate educator. 

We are human and therefore needy. We desire security in the knowledge of love and a meaningful identity. You granted me such security with each compliment and kindness, with each attentive hour, with each appreciative smile. With each encorebdemand for my “Grand High Witch” 
Some of my amazing little classroom stars walked through loss with me.

Let’s be honest, it wasn’t always easy. We were tested in more ways than one. Sometimes I came up short, and so did you.

I lost some of you to a host of things. Some of you gave up on yourselves. Some of you stopped believing in what you could do. A couple of you were taken out by unstoppable bullies that ripped you down from being big skyscrapers to mounds of rubble, difficult to rebuild with the same previous glory and stature you’d been proud of before. However, some of you broke out of your own personal prisons through the learning we shared.

One of you died in a tragic accident. Your last “show and tell” in your hand as you took you last tiny, desperate breath. I had to break the news to the rest of your class, explaining that we would always keep your carpet space for you and nobody would take it in order to keep your little spirit alive in our classroom. I often wonder about the kind of young woman you would have become. You were the little girl in the front row who everyone liked and I had to explain that you would not be back. You were gone. That moment hung heavy and always has. I and indeed the rest of your class wrestled with whatever lesson we were supposed to learn from you leaving us.
You’ve helped me survive.

How many times have I walked with purpose towards the classroom with so many problems crushing down on me? Having to be professional and “leave them at the door” How many times I’d been beaten down at home, got in the car, cried all the way to work and sat in the car unable to get out without the support of a friend and colleague? How many phone calls I had taken only minutes before our lessons? How many days have I fought bitter and negative thoughts in the moments before entering your happy learning environment. I went through some of the hardest battles of my life whilst I taught many of you. A whole host of failures and endings. At one pint, for months, I lingered in a daze yet got out of bed each day because there was work to be done. You were in those uncomfortable plastic chairs, with your plethora of pencil cases on your desks, waiting for me. I never stopped showing up because you never did. Our classroom became a shelter. A sanctuary. Salvation.

Your presence was life-giving and without doubt life-saving. We teachers could often get frustrated and stop feeling the passion. Ground down by jumping through Government hoops but teaching was and is a privilege and students are a gift. 

I can’t tell you how much it meant when you told me you used to hate R.E with Miss or Mr X, but with me you loved it; when you described the long conversations you had with friends and family about something that had sparked an interest for you because of something we were studying or just happened to be talking about because of a spare five minutes we had in our class time together; when you forced yourself to consider why you believe what you believe; when you called me a brilliant teacher; when you shook my hand after completing your last SATs test and said all those kind words; when you thanked me for making you love your year in school. 

You injected my life with meaning.

I kept every note, card, and gift you gave me as reminders that each of us can make a difference in someone else’s life. Even me.

I hear that some if you as adults, have changed your career path, the very course of your life, because of what you experienced during our time together. Some of you chose to become teachers and are now making a difference in the lives of your own pupils. We are part of an ever-growing Oak tree, our influence like branches that produce more Acorns that grow more mighty oaks. 

You have taught me a great deal. 

I could write a book about how much you’ve meant to me.

We laughed so much.

We questioned.

We answered.

We wondered and experienced wonder.

You have often sent me messages months or years later saying, “You probably don’t remember me…”

But I always remember you and will not forget you.

We may not meet again, but I still see you in my memories. Remember what we said in all our times together. It’s memory, how we recall experiences. I told many of you in History that you cared about history even if you didn’t think so because we care about our own story. Now we are part of a shared personal history. 

I will always recall my days among you with warmth and affection, some of the best of my life to be sure.

I wish the biggest and best things for you.

Seek truth. Never lose hope. Challenge yourself and others. Wherever you go and whatever you do, leave a mark. Be a massive crater. Make a positive impact. Be kind. Alter the landscape of someone else’s life. Never, ever stop being yourself. Never let anyone dull your sparkle and the minute they do, be strong, close the door and move on. You deserve better! 

You’ve already altered my life in amazing ways. I am forever grateful. Thank you for letting me be your teacher.

Yours with a full heart,

Miss M

Breakout! 

I have had plenty of fun being locked in a room before but never, like this! On a day out in Manchester that was supposed to be full of walking, culture and blue historical plaques, we soon found that not all great things are planned and that spontaneity (which is something I’m learning to quite like!) can sometimes end in glorious amounts of fun!

We parked in the Arndale centre unusually for us but then we don’t normally visit on a weekday and hadn’t planned on all the car parks being pretty full. We were heading for The Northern Quarter anyway so the Arndale seems like a logical car park to use. Never again – it was a total NCP rip off! You can get much cheaper secure parking in Manchester elsewhere that’s for sure. 

We came out of the car park onto The High Street, where all of a sudden, my eyes did meet “Breakout” Now, I’ve wanted to go to “Breakout” (a live interactive puzzle room) for quite some time now and it’s always been a weekend or evening and booked up. 

It was such a hot day and we hadn’t had lunch, so we decided to visit Ginger’s Comfort Emporium on the 2nd floor of Afflecks Palace. As we did I was still thinking about a “Breakout” 

As we dived into the most delicious, award winning French Elvis and iced coffees, I decided to look online at “Breakout” As everywhere we went, we felt like we were melting, maybe walking around wasn’t such a good idea after all, (on the hottest day of the year so far) so why not go for being locked in a room for an hour?! Pretty normal, hey?

I logged into my iPad and quickly found the website. I browsed through the options and as 1st timers looked at 2 star difficulty rated rooms. These however were booked up. I then found “Identify” which was a 3 star difficulty rating. The description seemed fun (if finding the killer of one of your murdered friends can be fun!) “Your friend has been murdered! You know who did it, but the police do not believe you. In a desperate attempt to find justice you have invaded the killer’s lair in the hopes of finding the proof to bring the killer to justice. However, the maniac could return at any time. Gather the proof and send this killer to prison before he returns. Do you have what it takes to IDENTIFY this psychopath’s other victims?”

Fabulous, I thought and as luck would have it, it was available at 3pm. I booked it without letting on, otherwise we’d never have gone and would have been walking around looking at historical places getting dehydrated and sunburned. The total cost was £36, so £18 each for two of us. However, teams of 5 can play and that way the price reduces the more players you have. No matter how many of you there are up to a maximum of 5, the total cost would be £36. The prices do vary throughout the week and at weekends*

We arrived at 2.30pm as it was just too hot to be outside and we wanted to cool off before we started. You need to be there 10 minutes before your slot anyway. There was aplenty of seating and some fun puzzles to look at around the waiting room whilst you wait. It’s a great idea to look at these and not ignore them. That’s all I will say. 

We were met by a lovely lady that said we could go in a bit earlier if we wanted to so we agreed to go for 2.45. Before she went in she explained the rules and health and safety. Basically, no cheating, but then you’d only be cheating yourself anyway and not to move anything large. This is a mental challenge not a physical one. She also explained that there were 4 CCTV cameras that she could use to see us to see how we were getting on and that there was a TV screen. When a telephone sound played, a clue would appear on the screen but not for long and we needed to look at it. She also said for the first 15 minutes she would not intervene with help or clues and just leave us find our feet. This must be one of the best jobs, to watch people desperately trying to work out clues, scratching their heads and panicking over ridiculous things. In fact the majority of her time watching us must have been spent belly laughing in her office and thinking she was watching an episode of “Laurel and Hardy” as apposed to ” Cagney and Lacey” the poor woman deserves a pay rise for putting up with the two of us in there! 

We were ready to go. She took us to a door, and opened it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but basically, my yes popped with excitement as they were met with a brilliant scene that we were to spend the next hour in trying to find clues to catch our friend’s killer. The lady left and a few minutes later, the timer hour countdown began. That was it, we were off…the adrenaline pumped and the following hour, was quite literally so much fun and one of the fastest hours of our lives!

Other than that, I can’t tell you anything because I don’t want to spoil the secrets and surprises. I’d love to thrill and excite you with what happened in there but I simply can’t. You’ll have to take my word for it. I can however tell you, this is so much fun and in no way a waste of your time and money and I highly recommend being locked in a room here. 

For two of us it was a challenge and as the clock gets to the final 10 minutes (if you’ve not broken out by then) the numbers are red and the music intensifies. This in turn, makes you rush as you’re desperate to “Breakout” We shamefully didn’t manage a “Breakout” but apparently and rather frustratingly only had 2 clues left to find. the lady also explained that Teenagers tend to do better than adults as we tend to over think things. There is a lot to be said for common sense going further than intelligence that’s for sure!

I thought at first we maybe didn’t have enough man power and needed a larger team but on thinking about this, I think that could have been a case of “too many cooks spoil he broth” Maybe a team of three next time! Or considering that only 50% of people Breakout, maybe we didn’t do that badly after all. Who am I trying to kid? We were pretty rubbish! 

In all, we absolutely loved our experience here and talked about it all the way home. It really challenged us mentally and proved that as a team of two we are pretty good! If you’re looking for something fun to do in Manchester, whether you’re friends, family or colleagues, these live “Breakout” rooms are a definite must! 

We can’t wait to return to a different room to see if we can succeed and “Breakout”

A huge 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ entertainment value rating from us without a doubt! 

Although we were based at Breakout on High Street for this live room experience, there are other rooms at different sites around Manchester. They have rooms at Town Hall on Brazennose Street too. 

*Cheapest time slots are Monday – Friday 10am to 5pm. 

Friday 5pm – Sunday 10pm is peak time. 

Friendship

I have some pretty amazing friends in my life. By far the strongest group of friends my life has been blessed with came from my time at Mayfield Primary school. I had no idea quite how much getting at job at Mayfield would change my life but change it it did. In many ways.  However, the nine women that came together as a result of that job are the strongest, most powerful group of women my life has ever been blessed with. All our times together were and still are wonderful and as a unit we are pretty epic! For 13 years now, I’ve been surrounded by this strong group of friends who have in addition to making life a whole lot of fun, impress me all the time. Over and over again I find myself proud to know these stunning, kind, genuine souls I know and all the things they accomplish.
When we first met, we got to know each other because we worked together. We soon became firm friends that meditated together and became known as “The Crystal Crew” but eventually we rebranded ourselves as the “Dining Divas” because once a month we would dine in fabulous places, drink, belly laugh and do all the things friends do best. Over the years, some of us got new jobs, got married and had lots of babies. Between us we have celebrated every decade from a 30th to 60th and two retirements. Some of us have been through the hardest times of our lives. Death, miscarriages, break ups and make ups, coming out and Cancer diagnosis’ of selves, partners or children. There is nothing that as a group of friends we haven’t been through. Been through, but most importantly supported each other through.

Three years ago, three of us were to geographically part the Dining Divas. I was leaving Lytham to move back to Manchester. Alison’s husband had got a job in Germany and Lou had decided to embark on a huge adventure to go and teach in Doha for a year.
These three moves out of a group of nine wonderful women were always going to change the dynamic of a group. Keeping in touch wasn’t going to be easy especially when some are better at that than others. Whether that’s because of busy work and social lives or simply because some can’t be bothered quite as much as others. Either way, it’s life and we didn’t know what moving would do to the friendship unit. Thank the good world for FaceTime and Skype. Because of this, we have been able to keep the unit as close and together as humanly possible. Some of us were determined to. That is testament to our fabulous, 13 year friendship. We have even been out for meals and had an iPad on the table to include one or the other of us able to join in via FaceTime.
There is however a main point of this Blog. It is not to champion my friendship with my Dining Divas. I am sure we could all do that in our own way about our own individual groups of friends. This Blog though is to rather champion just one of us.
Out of all three moves three years ago, I thought one was the bravest of all. Lou’s move to Doha took courage like I have never known. To move alone to a country a six hour flight away in order to go and teach in a school that you have never visited or seen and where things were so very different to here in Britain was so brave. I knew Lou’s reason for this adventure. I admire her for doing it and sticking to her guns and not only for one year as originally planned but for three. Embarking on a move to a new country that you have never visited knowing that there will only be the wonder of technology and 2 trips home a year to keep you close to those that you love and being totally cut off from all that you know must have been one of the most daunting experiences anyone can face. However, face it she did and she has come out the other side a better human for it. My complete and utter admiration Lou, cannot truly be put into words. I am immensely proud of all you have achieved in going abroad to teach. I know it’s not all been easy but I also I know you’ve made amazing memories and friends. You have achieved your goal and now your dreams can come true!

Now though, you have one last adventure to go on. Have the time of your life and then it really is time to come home to us so we can carry on partying like rock stars. Manchester and all its glorious cocktail bars and indeed your Divas are ready for you!!! We have more memories to make, there is an epic wedding to be celebrated, babies to come and complete and utter joy to be shared and that is just for starters. Lets do it!!

Gill, Rachel, Lou, Alison, Lynda, Karen, Lucy and Karen you will always have a corner of my heart. Love.

“True friends are never apart. Maybe in distance but never in heart”

 

Goodbye, farewell, adieu…

It’s probably the one thing I am totally dreadful at. Saying goodbye. It leaves me an emotional wreck. Whether it’s waving a friend off at the airport, leaving a job or that most dreadful of goodbye’s, a funeral, you can guarantee that with me there will be tears. A friend went travelling with work recently and I was a total wreck the day I knew she was off and I wasn’t even waving her off on the day. We had said our goodbyes before her actual departure day (cue another crying episode!) I’m not sure when this started but I am sure that there will be some deep seated trauma attached to it and a psychologist would have an absolute field day with me. “Goodbye” leaves me ridiculously exhausted. 
I am currently psyching myself up for a goodbye that I know I will find dreadfully traumatic. 

The day Neil, Dad I will walk out of the mill, together as a family for the last time. Mallalieus of Delph will cease to be family affair. Neil and I have already said goodbye and left but it doesn’t seem real yet. I truly believe that will come when we return to do it with Dad on his last day at the end of July. That is when I will truly saying farewell. I will be saying goodbye to two of the most genuine, dedicated, faithful friends I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They are fierce and dedicated to their job but mainly to the friendship the three of us have formed over the last three years. 

There is nothing they don’t know about me and there is nothing we haven’t been through together. Love, accusations, illness, death, joy and hysterics. We have used dark humour to the best of our abilities to get us through some of the hardest things three humans will experience. We have played practical jokes on each other and laughed until we have nearly done a little wee. There are always people you will miss when you leave a job but with Linda and Sharon it’s a different kind of “miss” We have all shared things and have a loyalty I have never experienced with work colleagues before. We are tight and have had each other’s backs. I will miss that level of friendship and loyalty on a daily basis. From the bottom of my hearts I will miss you both dearly. 

I will miss seeing my Dad and my Brother daily. Without them knowing, it allows me to keep a close eye on them. It’s not always easy working with your family I am sure but the last three years have never on the whole been difficult with them. This decision for the three of us has come for a few reasons but I know for my Dad’s health mainly, it has been a much needed and positive decision. He will thrive now and become a free soul to enjoy life and retirement instead of being trapped as a Managing Director, a job he’s done from being 19. It’s been a job and a hobby for him and I am sure there will be a huge grieving process for him to go through but he will fill the void with exciting things and a much needed new and relaxed way of life. And hey, he can get a dog now too! 

As for saying goodbye to Mallalieus, it’s steeped in our history but it is a building and not even the original building. We said goodbye to that last June when fire cruelly ripped through her old bones, so there is nothing really to say goodbye to in that respect. It’s textiles that pumps through our veins and who knows? The next adventure might well involve textiles too so that may not be a goodbye just yet. 

I do believe though, as we walk out of those doors as a family for the final time, there will no doubt be a tearing at the heart and a physical pain that won’t be able to be masked in any way, so I won’t try to. It will be what it will be and we are heading to exciting things. I wish goodbyes were easy. I wish I wasn’t as mushy about them as I am but the fact is, this emotion makes me raw. It makes me compassionate and empathetic. It makes me human. For that I will make no apologies.  

Deia, Majorca. Or rather “Sebastian”

I love good food. I am a foodie. I’m no food critic. I don’t want to be. I’m just an ordinary member of the public that enjoys food and every single mouthful at the restaurant I’m about to tell you about was an absolute joy. I’ve always loved the name Sebastian from the moment I clapped eyes on the cute, Coral coloured crustacean in The Little Mermaid. So, when one of the restaurants that was being highly recommended to us whilst on holiday in Deia, Majorca, shared the name of Aerial’s feisty little guardian that I so loved as a child, I hoped so much that it would not disappoint and bring sad connotations to a name so loved. Well I can assure you, it most certainly did not bring any disappointment. 

This gorgeous little restaurant is nestled down a quaint street, off the main road housed in an old stable, looking out through large open glass windows at the most beautiful views (no picture will ever be able to do this view real justice) of colour changing mountains and the deep valleys at their feet. It truly is a little diamond. The staff here are professional, friendly, welcoming and superbly presented. From the moment you step foot inside this delightful restaurant, you are offered superb standards with exquisite attention to detail. When it

comes to front of house, the “icing on the cake” is without doubt, Patricia. She is warm and welcoming in a way that makes you feel like you’ve known her for years. I like that a lot. There were indeed returning and regular customers whom she was clearly fond of. However, as brand new customers, Patricia made us feel just a welcome and just as special. I could have watched her all day with the way she oozed beautifully natural customer service that was above and beyond any I have ever witnessed before. Patricia makes a divine restaurant, happy and welcoming without being over bearing. A combination by no means easy to achieve so perfectly. 

Sebastian Pasch, the chef at “Sebastian” has mastered an exquisite menu of Mediterranean delights with a hint of Asian infusion. Beautiful breads with accompanying home made delights that really titillated the tastebuds. These preceded an Amuse-bouche. On our first visit this was a delightful Tuna tartare and on the second a mini tuna ball (cooked perfectly) skewered and served over a shot glass of delightful spicy coconut soup. A stunning combination.  

I can highly recommend the Lobster ravioli as an appetiser. It’s so very rare to find homemade ravioli done to perfection. This was it! 

On both visits we both had the half portion of Lamb with a herb crust and beans. No ordinary beans. These were Jack and The Beanstalk Beans – Magic beans! I can’t describe them and do these little green sticks of magic justice. When I had my first mouthful of them, Patricia came to ask if everything was alright. I had to explain that when I find something utterly delightful on the tastebuds I call it a mouthgasm and that she had literally just interrupted one. Lucky me, here, it wasn’t the last. Bravo Sebastian, you excelled in multiple mouthgasm on both our visits to your restaurant! 

Carry on with your culinary magic Sebastian. You deserve every ounce of respect for what you are doing. 

Patricia and Sebastian, you quite clearly work hard for this beautiful establishment of yours to work and work it does. Like all great duos, French and Saunders, Morecambe and Wise, Fanny and Johnnie Cradock, you are quite obviously doing the right thing and doing it worthy of a Joe public whopping 5 ⭐️’s 

You made our holiday and for that we thank you immensely. 

Oh and Patricia, thank you for the Amaretto. And we did indeed go on to other things not that we needed any encouragement 😉
If you are lucky enough to be jetting off on holiday to Deia, “Sebastian” comes highly recommended and would undoubtedly be a highlight of your trip. I would imagine booking in the season is a must as it has a regular, loyal clientele. 

Manchester. My love.

IMG_7029.PNGAll my friends will tell you, I love Manchester. It is true, that I occasionally have a brief love affair with London but I am always thrilled to come back home to my beautiful Manchester. I’m passionate about it. Of all the cities in all the world that I have been lucky enough to visit, Manchester for me, is my favourite. It really is the “Bees knees” and never before has this phrase meant more or been more powerful.
I grew up on Manchester’s outskirts in Saddleworth. When I was little, my brother and I would have to wear our Sunday best to go on a trip to Manchester. It was a day out. An experience. A complete treat!
Manchester is where I’ve spent some of the best times of my life. It is the home of my favourite Italian restaurant where many a belly laughing hour has been spent. It is where my Dad, Brother and I chant in the stands of The Etihad stadium “Come on you Blues” until I am hoarse. It’s where, in its exquisitely stunning Town Hall, I will marry the love of my life.
I champion Manchester. It’s a small big city. It’s diverse. It’s friendly. It’s full of everything needed for every walk of life. No matter how much or how little you have, Manchester has something for everyone. Manchester is a beautifully faceted, complex Diamond that I love to visit. As you study the crown of the diamond, the girdle twinkles and catches your attention and takes your eyes in another direction that offers something new. Before you know it you’re studying the Pavilion of the diamond and you’re in. Hypnotised by its intricate beauty. A new sight or a new experience at every single part of the incredible jewel that it is.
However, there is one thing Manchester has in abundance. Love. So much love. Love for comedy, love for music, love for theatre, love for culture, love for its people, love for its visiting people. Love for its Shoppers, love its businessmen and love for its city break visitors. Whoever or whatever you are, Manchester makes you smile with its pure, genuine love. It invites you in with its intoxicating promise. It proudly shows its abundance of wares from stunning architecture both antiquated and modern to restaurants, bars, museums and many other delights.
And then, from behind, she gently creeps up and wraps her arms around you, tenderly embracing you in homely love, making you feel safe, warm and at home.
Manchester is at it’s very heart, unity, love and solidarity. The action 6 days ago, that was designed to divide us and cause hatred has done exactly the opposite. It has brought us together in a way I have never in my life experienced and if something good has to come out of the total and utter atrocity that was last week, that single act has brought out the best of Manchester. This week I have witnessed or read about some of the thousands of acts of kindness and humanity to come out of it. Already Manchester is triumphing over adversity. The massive gash that will leave a scar, is being tended to by good, kind, genuine people that want the wound to heal the best it can in the long term. That single act has undoubtedly united us. It has let us show the overwhelming love we have to give. And although we would all much rather not to have had to show it, the fact is, we have. We are now showing the world, and I mean that quite literally, that we are the most human city you will ever be able to visit.
Humanity is the best response to hate and the people of Manchester have shown that in the last 6 days.
You will never defeat Manchester with hatred because Manchester loves too much, too hard. Its passion pumps too vigorously for anything to be able to spoil it. You can try and try again but that love will always, always remain.
Unity, love and compassion are a more powerful weapon than anything that seeks to divide us. Thousands of people are being tattooed with the “Manchester Bee” in a show of solidarity so powerful, that even I am tempted to get myself inked.
We are currently united in an incredible grief, but we will mend. We have before and we will again. We will carry on loving. We will especially love the families of those that had loved ones taken away so cruelly here. I know that. They will always be loved and their loved ones will never be forgotten by us. Never. We will go on to the next stages in the grieving process but Manchester and its bees that are still buzzing, will love so fiercely that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done.