December – the end of my fourth year of retirement

Took my grandchildren and husband to see my two paintings in the Cardiff gallery – MADE in Roath. Another special moment for me.

Continued to hunt for a bungalow for my mum to buy so she can move closer to me. It’s such a big step for her at 90. Also it’s difficult for me too. So many worries about this.

Christmas arrived at speed. Christmas Day at my son’s house was new this year – manic with 2 very excited grandchildren. Boxing Day with my other son and his two great dogs was just as good. I think I actually enjoyed Christmas!!!!!!!!

Now I need to think about the last four years. What did I plan to do when I retired?

1. Clear out all the mountains of STUFF I brought home from my Art room and office after 100 terms at the same school.

2. Swim or walk somewhere every day.

3. Play for a minimum of one day per week with my granddaughter – no rules.

4. Find out about volunteering to help somebody.

5. Join in with a kindness every day.

6. Have lots of long lunches with other retirees/escapees.

7. Sleep in. Get up later than normal alarm setting – later than 7 am.

8. Think and do art.

9. Plan visits abroad

10. Phone mum every day.

11. Don’t die yet.

12. Laugh with someone more often.


Well what a list…….

I have made a start on number 1. Plenty to do.

Completed and continuing number 2-5.

Number 6 – occasionally – need to do that more.

Number 7 – Alarm set to 7.10a.m. by hubby but I don’t get up then, listen to the radio, read, get up slowly.

Number 8-11 completed and continuing.

Number 12 – still to do.

I don’t think I’ll add anymore goals that’s certainly sufficient for the moment!


September -October-November

Autumn into Winter

September was just doing my normal routines, duties, daily drawing, grand – parenting and visiting Mum in Preston. The big event was the front room parquet floor being restored. After being covered since the fifties it was an amazing transformation. It is fantastic. I love it. It is now my favourite room.

October continued, but at the end of the month I collected mum from Preston and we all went to Saundersfoot for a week in a gorgeous house overlooking the beach with a hot tub. It was great to have 4 generations of my family together. Helen is expecting their third child in February so we’ve lots to look forward to. It was a wonderful week. I started my third year of daily drawing this week.

November was my birthday month so I invited my sons and their families to my house to celebrate. It was perfect. Two of my paintings were accepted for the Winterwall exhibition in the Cardiff MADE gallery. I was so chuffed. Quite a special day. They are white treescapes on tissue paper. The trees are tiny silhouettes on top of the mountain opposite my house – my daily view.

My annul visit to the O2 to see the ATP Tennis finals happened in a different way – I stayed with L. (university friend) and together we managed to see the Tate Britain’s Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition and the tennis, some long conversations and then I visited my brother and his daughter and met my new grand niece Erin for the first time as  well as my other two grand nice and nephew. A frustrating visit but the kids were superb.

August 2017 Venice Biennale and Rome

A holiday month.

Flew to Rome for the first time – extremely hot, gorgeous penthouse apartment, some great restaurants but sites SO busy. Enjoyed the catacombs and Coliseum. Modern Art Museum MAXXI was superb.

Caught train to Venice – worried about this trip as never attempted this before, but really enjoyed first class across the countryside of Italy – super fast!

There aren’t enough good words to describe what I feel about the Venice Biennale – it is like Christmas for me – or a huge sweet shop. I just loved it – even the crap stuff. The work is always inspiring, challenging, creative, quite mad………

Managed to do some great drawings. Amazing apartment was on a canal with its own balcony/dock. We had a water taxi to the airport – fab fun.

Only one down side we had a horrible experience in one restaurant when we were followed and harassed in the street by a waiter demanding 2 euros that we hadn’t paid but we had – BUT we hadn’t left a tip as the service was appalling. Really upsetting – the worst of bullying behaviour I have ever experienced.

I will go back in 2019.

July Celebrating 90th birthday of my mum

This month was my mum’s 90th birthday. It seems amazing but also fills me with dread as she is so old, yet she is generally well an independent. But that can’t last. I should be prepared, but I’m not. She has been with me for 62 years – always there, how can she not be there?

We had a series of celebrations – a party for her friends at her home – a cake and tea afternoon followed by a trip on a steam train from Carnforth to Scarborough via York. We had a 3 course breakfast and a 4 course evening meal on the train – it was great fun and she enjoyed it all. To top it off but as a surprise my younger brother and his partner arrived on the platform and joined us. We then travelled to Wales and had a family party at my house with ages 90 to 2 present. I gave her a photo montage of old photos of her life.  A lovely day.

A great celebration of a long life.

June on the road

This is my moderating month – a conference in Cardiff followed by three weeks of travelling to schools and colleges in England this year to examine a sample of their A level Art & Design examinations and coursework. It is so lovely to see new moderators and an absolute delight to get hugged by returning old friends.  Some of the oldies have given up so its sad not to see them. I only see these guys once a year but its like an adrenaline rush. This year I stayed in the hotel which was good as we were all together in one place and I could enjoy the after work socialising. We did enjoy ourselves. The work was manic and the paperwork crazy but I love it. I love seeing the work of young people – new inspiring ideas and I like meeting the art teachers too, seeing the way they do things and what their school is like. I don’t like all the computer work and report writing and sometimes I get lost finding the school – actually sometimes I can’t find the way in!!!!! I go to places I would never go to – this year I’m off to Poole in Dorset and Andover in Hampshire in the south of England. the second week starts in Birmingham and then to Coventry – the Midlands. the third week takes me to safer ground to Liverpool – nearer to my beloved Lancashire – I still miss it. It means I can fit in a stay with mum for a weekend too.

Last Thursday I got some sad news – Derek Stears has died. I first met Derek when I was 22 on the postgrad ATC course at Howard Gardens in Cardiff as he was on the team of tutors, with his long black hair and trendy leather jacket. We all sat waiting to be allocated our tutors, silently wishing we were in his group. We all trooped out on to the beach near Cardiff to build a pink wall across the beach with Adamstown primary kids – mad times!

Later our paths crossed again when I did my MEd at Cyncoed, Cardiff University – we had long conversations about creativity and also the changes I had to make to my thesis! A few years later he invited me to be part of the 2000 A level moderating team and I’m still doing it.

He taught me a lot and it was his respect for Art teachers and the work they do, often in difficult circumstances, often at the bottom of the pile within the hierarchy of a high school ( except when needed for inspections!!). He taught me to be realistic about what we could do and keep sane ourselves and always be inspired by those we taught. Enthusiasm and creativity was what I tried to give my students as he gave to me. His sense of humour was wicked and his eye for detail was often beyond me at times, but much appreciated.

I had a day of sadness and reflection then carried on as I had my amazing grandchildren to look after for the day. They were so special that day as cheered on Andy Murray on the TV as he got through to the semi finals of the French Open. George (aged 2) picked up the phrase “Come on Andy ” and said it in a deep voice in a broad Lancashire accent and it just creased me with laughter all afternoon.


May in the Lake District

This month I usually escape to Spain but neither mum nor Chris are fit and able to travel on an airplane so Keswick it is instead. Mum and I stayed in a lovely ground floor flat in the town and apart from very little parking spaces it was perfect. Weather was not as good as Spain but after 2 wet and dull days it was dry for the rest of the week. Daily walks were a must but on the flat as mum is nearly 90 yet really good for her age. We had a traditional trip on the launch around Derwentwater. I looked at Catcalls and had a flood of memories about dad – we walked up there many times as well as virtually every mountain in the North Lakes area – can’t think of one we didn’t wend our way to the top and back to our caravan in the council caravan park. What great six week summer holidays I was given by my parents. A lot to thank them for.  I’m not going to say they were all sunny days as I have been completely drenched for days during some Augusts. We revisited the caravan park and walked to Friar’s Crag, talked a lot about dad and of our memories together. Mum had afternoon naps and I had short afternoon walks and a chance to sketch, often down by the boats and geese. I managed to find quite a few small art galleries – not all tacky landscapes, some amazing crafts – glass, pottery and photography.

In contrast I still can’t believe Donald Trump is President of the USA. How mad is the world? Add to that the ridiculous debacle of Brexit and the so called civilised “Western world” is looking decidedly wobbly.

April in Helsinki

My adventures in Helsinki are recorded by students on – have a look – it includes photos of where we went and what we did.

As a summary we had an immense time meeting Finnish students, drawing, photographing, filming, learning Finnish, visiting markets and galleries, the zoo and a fortress on the islands, eating some amazing food – Italian, Mexican, Finnish, American – attempting creative challenges and getting sore feet. not to mention the Secret friend Moomin writing game – a wonderful experience lasting throughout the week ending with the big reveal on the last night in Hard Rock Cafe. There was a lot of laughter and fun but also so much learning about ourselves and Finland. Roll on next year’s trip.


March and Mothers

This year I decided to visit my mum on Mother’s Day. At 89 it’s important she’s not alone on that day. We went to her church and watched the local primary children sing, read poems and give every woman a bunch of daffodils. It was surprisingly lovely. I always visit my dad’s grave when I visit the church in Bilsborrow, Lancashire and, though I don’t believe in an after life, find myself talking to him in my head.  She’s a little frailer this year but still lives independently and is a visitor for Help the Aged – she visits a lady called Monica who is over 90 for them. We had a gorgeous walk on the prom at Lytham St Annes, remembering when I brought my children there and we marvelled at the old white windmill. When we got to St Annes we walked a little way on the beach and had our coffee from Gran’s blue flask. The weather was kind to us, with bright blue skies although it was cold. The rest of the week I tried to sort out her phone – a trial with Talk Talk – a boring but predictable and infuriating saga. we worked on a corner of her garden which she is finding more difficult now.

This month has been frantic planning and organising a trip with Year 10 pupils to visit Helsinki – a mini International Youth Meeting with our group and a small group of students from Pielavesi in Finland at Easter. More hours than you can imagine has been put into the planning of this trip as it is a new city for me to visit. Normally I just change planes there and see the airport shops flash by as I dash for my next plane to Kuopio. I have been meeting the students every Tuesday and Saturdays bag packing and for a sponsored walk along the canal.

I managed to get to see the David Hockney exhibition in Tate Britain as well as see my University friend Lindsay. I spent a day drawing in the V&A which was a delight for me. It’s such a special experience – I treasure it. My drawings are better than last year.

I finished my “White landscape” painting at last and put it in the Women’s Art Exhibition in the Theatre Frycheiniog. Where they hung it was beautiful. I was proud of this painting even though it is so simple, so I was worried about the reaction from people, but I needn’t have worried. I think most people liked it. I’ve painted three small white paintings on tissue paper which I will frame or hang on a narrow pole later this year. It has given me a real boost of creativity.

February adventures

As the month started I visited my mum and had a lovely week together. Being 89 she is relatively fit and well but changes are happening. Anxiety at this age is increasing and she needs more reassurance – actually most people would be amazed at what she does. She is so independent. It’s 10 years since dad died and this hits her hard. Like me she misses him every day. We both think about him daily. Strange when I think of him as a quiet, steady person, an intelligent man, a fixer of things, a maker of things, a repairer, an inventor,  a grower of vegetables, a logical mind, a family centred man from a little hamlet in Northern Ireland – I loved him so much. He gave me so much and luckily I realised this long before he died. Yet I still have regrets, particularly about the last weeks of his life. He should have been home not in hospital. Why did I let that happen?

My travels this month included taking sixth formers to Berlin. I enjoyed it better than the last Barcelona trip. The city is great – calm and interesting. Different to other European cities. This year I found a wonderful Sunday market and had time to myself there – muddy underfoot but amazing stalls from arty crafty to boxes of junk as well as great street food. A real gem. Also discovered a new art gallery/museum – the Kathe Kollwitz gallery – fantastic drawing and etchings. Loved it. Nearby there was a lovely shop where I bought gorgeous red earrings.

Tai Chi was better for some sessions in February – shibashi and meditation are favourites apart from the short form. It’s variable so looking for other classes locally. Need a change I think. I need it to be a constant in my life to balance me. Important when I have a wobble.

Daily drawing was inspired by the Berlin visit, even drew human beings! Tried to finish my white landscape – not finished yet…….

January 2017 New Year New Adventure

After my first New Year in Edinburgh I’ve got a lot to think about. Started by booking a holiday next October for all the family. Felt very reflective after my illness. I want to work out what I want to do. I get this kind of longing to change things for the better. To expand. To discover something new. I also feel I need to get away from everyone and be anonymous. Yet I love being with my family, sons and grandchildren. Sometimes I feel a sense of disquiet too. Not sure where this thinking is going.

There’s been a lot of emotion and challenges for me this month. Things I can’t say publicly in case I ever meet you. Old traumas have returned. I’ve been trying  struggle through this thinking and almost ran away from the hurt and pain – which is easier, which can I cope with – stay and put up with it, working my way through it and submerging the worst feelings and sadness or run and don’t look back just forward. For a strong woman I feel weak.

Well I’m still here.