Day 2 of our ‘Northcoast 500 in Scotland trip has started fairly well. We’ve waved off MrytleBank Guest House in FortWilliam. The staff were very friendly, with their ‘wee this’ and ‘wee that’; the view from our room was stunning; and the facilities were excellent (just as well as we were all obliged to stay inside yesterday afternoon and channel hop between the cricket and the tennis.) The tyre swing was a hit with my kids (yes, I know they are allegedly grown up), so all is well in our world. The locals keep telling us to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I did nip into the town this morning to buy a new, very reasonably priced fleece, just in case the breeze picks up. We are in Scotland after all.
My plan had been to wear my landrover t-shirt (a gift for Mick that was too small!) for a departure shot each morning in front of Lazarus, but I’ve realised that this will create a whiffy rather than cool vibe so I’m having to rethink that idea. I’m feeling a little nostalgic as I love this time with just the four of us, but wondering how much of this ‘same same’ we can have with the kids before the ‘different’ starts. I’m starting to wonder if we are quirky ‘holiday makers’ or if all families are like ours. What do you think?
Same Same - Family
Different - Family
At school if I’d self-assessed and averaged out my grades I am pretty sure I’d have been a stock standard Grade ‘B’ student. I’d maybe reach an ‘A’ for the odd English piece; in French and Geography I was more ‘C’, but overall ‘B’ would be my forte. Better than fine or satisfactory – we all know what they mean – but not reaching the excellence of an ‘A’. Nothing has really changed, a 2.1 in my first degree at Essex, (though I’m sure firsts were scarcer in those days), and good solid merits in my later Masters’ degrees at the University of East Anglia and Nottingham and librarian diploma.
I think I know exactly why this is the case. Once I am sure that something is ‘good’ i.e a ‘B’, I can’t be bothered to do anymore work on it. I am a settler at good enough. In my life there hasn’t been any writing twice the word count allowed, enabling pruning and editing until the assignment is perfect. For me, once I’ve got enough words and it makes something like sense then that will do!
Transferring School Grades to Life
I’ve realised I apply the same attitude and approach to many parts of my life, especially things I have to do. Take housework, for example. In England I do keep things tidy and reasonably dust free, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve an ‘A’ grade for anything household related. With all house-y, and D.I.Y stuff I know what an ‘A’ looks like (my mum’s house) and an A* (my brother’s house!) but I just can’t be bothered to achieve such excellence myself. To be honest I’d only get a ‘B’ if the examiner was feeling generous! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have sunk so low that I have been known to use socks to dust the skirting boards. You might think that’s not so bad but I’ve been wearing them at the time!
Now I’ve started thinking about it there are loads of examples of my Grade ‘B’ approach to life. In fact it feels like I can’t escape it. This blog, is full of glitches, broken links and the like, preventing Google from even hardly recognising it, yet I just can’t seem to muster up enough umph to get it fixed up. We are back on the road to Scotland, this time heading to Fort William, (the first stop on our North Coast 500’ road trip in Lazarus the Landrover), though my holiday preparation has only reached ‘B-‘ grade. I bought the snacks, cooled the freezer cube thingies, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make sandwiches for the journey ahead of time. I decided we could make them en route whilst driving – which, to my detriment, I’m learning is actually easier said than done.
Even my beloved swimming – my way of maintaining a good enough level of fitness fits a grade ‘B’ rubric. I’ve made the effort to progress beyond, what I call, chinny swimmer, and I’m told I’m not too bad at all at freestyle now, but I can’t put the effort in to really master a decent breaststroke kick. Must do better!
When I was in the library I put ‘A’ effort into making it a fun environment and encouraging kids to love books. I was an ‘A-’ in creating a great collection for the whole school and parent community, (I like to think I know my books reasonably well), but I was only a C- in really embracing digital technology - and as for truly getting to grips with Dewey… I just couldn’t be bothered. I hope I was ‘A’ in developing a strong team, but in learning how to catalogue and classify books I was ‘D-’. So overall I guess at work I came out a ‘B’. No surprise eh!
Video courtesy of Bangkok Patana School Library. a great display we put together in January 2018 around an 'Under the Sea' theme, when promoting the enviornmental books of visiting author Gail Clarke.
It is interesting to see what I have invested an ‘A grade’ level of effort into. My family of course is top of the list, but I’m not sure I am mentally prepared enough to start grading my input into developing these complex relationships One thing I do know is they would probably give me an ‘A’ for worrying and nagging, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing!
The reality is that it seems that outside the personal stuff of family and friends there really isn’t much else that I seem to think is worth accomplishing beyond a ‘B’ in. Perhaps if I view my Grade ‘B’ achievement sympathetically I can justify it with the claim that I know what really matters or that I’m impatient to fit in as an infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of time so don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I think, though, on both counts that’s probably me just letting myself off the hook!
One thing that I think I am quite good at is inspiring others to aim to achieve higher and being better than I am myself. I kind of expect it and it brings me pleasure that it is often the case. My kids have a better work ethic than me and are both kinder and more forgiving than me. When I was in the library, members of my team were phenomenally good at what they did, always striving for excellence. Perhaps I sewed some of the seeds but they followed through and paid attention to detail in getting things done properly. My housekeeper in Bangkok might smile ruefully at my self-analysis, at recognising excellence and desiring it in others. I certainly exact high standards from her in cleaning, washing and cooking-she doesn’t let me down!
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve recognised a lifelong Grade ‘B’ accomplishment pattern. It’s too late to change what’s been so I will have to be content to have been ‘good’ enough. Perhaps what I have been grade ‘A’ in is at cajoling, persuading and motivating others. The issue is though, that these days, the only person l have to cajole, persuade and motivate is myself. It would be great though to have a passion to be a grade ‘A’ in something and really go for it. Just right now, I’m just not quite sure what that something might be. I can't spend my whole life touring Scotland in the landrover - any other ideas?
I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve tried to be fair. I’ve spoken positively of my local pool. I've tried not to make negative comparisons between it and Thana City’s multiple swimming areas - all bathed in a warm, balmy, sunny 35 degrees glow, edged in 5 star comfort sun loungers, with waiters and waitresses who know me by name serving me poolside delights.
Similarly, I’ve not commented on the inevitable foot-print clad dirty floors of the local leisure centre, or minded its limited (non-existent) showering facilities. Instead, I’ve focused on the friendly welcoming staff - they're brilliant - and the diverse populace who are able to access this facility at different times. I've not minded the 'hour only' slots where the final fifteen minutes is spent lapping the waves with 60 pairs of beady, six year olds' eyes willing me to leave the pool early so that their fun lesson can begin.
I've tried, I really have, but I'm not finding swimming in the UK too much fun. Who is to blame? Well, it’s hard to say, but check what kind of swimmer you are and decide if it could be you.
The Walking Catfish
The Walking Catfish tends to wiggle rather than swim. S/he can be found towards the steps side of the pool slowly moving the length of it whilst chatting to a fellow Walking Catfish. S/he is likely to leave the pool along with other Catfish and head for a cuppa and a slice of cake. The Walking Catfish is a friendly breed of swimmer, but can be problematic to other fish, when the social aspect of walking with friends means that several lanes of pool are taken up and unavailable for actual swimming. Walking Catfish often leave zero room for overtaking by other species, but because they are so nice tend to get away with this.
The Neon Tetra
The Neon Tetra is a friendly fish, always quick with a smile and willing to share its lane with you. It clings to the centre lane and takes its time to travel the length of the pool. It rarely submerses its whole self into the water, preferring to keep its head above the surface so that it can welcome new fish to the water. It likes to squish up against other fish it is familiar with, sometimes without their consent. Outside of the pool it can be found chatting to the reception staff and is always quick with a joke. The Neon Tetra's only fault is its tendency to hover on one spot, thus making it difficult for other species to touch the poolside edge.
The BristleNose Fish
The BristleNose Fish is the master of disguise and one of the most annoying fish in the pool. It is often quite ripped in appearance and approaches the water as if engaging in fast and furious activity is its sole purpose. Hogging the roped off lanes, whilst chatting to other Bristlenoses or poolside attendants, often of the opposite gender, is its actual purpose. One disdainful look from a BristleNose and other species, move out of the roped lane area pronto. Although the BristleNose may often feature on leisure centre promotional flyers and leaflets, looks can be deceiving and after claiming the prime swimming area, it tends to lounge at the peripheries of the lane, thus making it impossible for less high profile swimmers to use this space.
Southern Cave Fish
The Southern Cave Fish enters the pool with aplomb taking a headlong dive into the depths of the water, regardless of any activity occuring at surface level. With no sight, and minimum hearing the Southern Cave Fish is largely unaware of surrounding water users. It only senses their presence through the vibration of shoving up against them with wide flailing arm and legs. The Southern Cave Fish is often an older, very localised male fish who is unaware of any negative impact of claiming the majority of the pool as its own. In truth, the Southern Cave Fish is disliked by all. The BristleNose is disdainful of the Southern Cave's less than perfect exterior, the Neon Tetra dislikes being separated from its 'tribe' and The Walking Catfish is frequently irritated from having the ground taken from beneath its feet as the Southern Cave dives in.
Sea Urchins emit a predatory and spikey aura that makes other fish wary of engaging with them. They often swim alongside the roped area, in an attempt to avoid the Neon Tetra Tribe and as an act of passive aggression towards the Bristlenose, whom they resent for lounging in the prime swimming spots. Most Sea Urchins swim fairly slowly, alternating freestyle and breast stroke, without ever getting their hair wet. but regularly meeting their daily exercise target. Sea Urchins are known for their longevity and secretly aspire to show Bristlenoses how it's done.
I think I probably fit the Sea Urchin type, though I do get my hair wet when I swim. That's another thing, why do UK swimming pools dry out my hair so much? Actually, perhaps I'm a new breed of swimmer completely, deserving of the Grumpyoldfart tag!
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If you are a fish lover, (or concerned about copyright) I've linked the images used so please take a look at the original sites I have borrowed them from.
So the results are in. Our drive to Edinburgh (on results day) for a weekend break was tinged with nerves and trepidation. We are lucky. Betsy did well so will be heading off to York University in September! I say lucky, but I don’t want to detract from how blooming hard she worked. Well done Bets!
(Just before I go on - if your child hasn’t received the grades they hoped for, take a look at my earlier blog post for helpful hints about what to do. I know it is easily said, but it really isn’t the end of the world so keep positive. I say that from some experience - I didn’t do marvellously well in my A Levels and ended up at Essex University rather than my first choice of Reading. Looking back I wouldn’t change that for a second. During my time at Essex I made great friendships, did lots of travelling and fine-tuned a life-long passion for reading. In addition, I met my future husband. Don’t get the vomit bucket out as I’m not going to gush about meeting the love of my life. Rather, I’ll draw attention to the fact that without him working in the recruitment department of British Telecommunications in Colchester I’d have never got an excellent temping job in the Pensions' Department of B.T. Consequently I wouldn’t have saved enough money to complete two round the world back-packing trips, giving me a thirst for life overseas!)
Betsy spent the final part of the journey to Edinburgh on the phone to her friends sharing exam news. I was impressed with how gracious the kids were to each other in their discussion of results. Once that was done her next self-assigned task was to share her news with her teachers and Math’s tutor. I think that her eagnerness to do this is testament to what a great educational experience she’s had. Thanks Bangkok Patana School and Mr T.
Annie's made a video of her trip. It took her all of 5 minutes! You'll easily spot the bits I'd edit out, but it's nice to have as a keepsake.
My first reaction to Betsy having acquired what she needed for university was relief rather than jubilation. Mick did better than me at feeling unadulterated joy and pride, whereas my emotions were more mixed - kind of nostalgia, pride and a sense of loss all mixed up together. I had the craziest of dreams on Wednesday night. It was something to with stars being turned off and me rushing to turn them back on. (That was along with a load of other stuff, but ‘they’ say that other people’s dreams are boring so I won’t bother sharing.) I dream a lot but they are never very subtle. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that this dream was all stuff tied up with anxiety that my baby girl is leaving home! I can imagine Saint Mick eye-rolling now – at least enjoy the results for a couple of days before fretting about next steps!
I suppose if I think about it I’m being a bit (a lot) selfish. Never mind about worrying whether Betsy will be homesick and enjoy her course, let’s make it all about me! Did I really sit in a restaurant with the family last night and insist that they help me plan out what I might do to starve off the sense of loss and make a new life for myself next year sans kids, sans job sans all… ? Yes I did.
Empty Nest Syndrome
I didn’t really come up with any answers but here are a few ideas to starve off ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’.
Travel. If you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your spouse and reconnect. Don’t feel guilty about this but enjoy the ‘couple time’.
More Travel. Again, if you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your mates. Set the world to rights, share your news and moan about your spouses to your hearts content. (I don’t mean that last bit - not really!)
Treats. To be honest I haven’t let having kids at home prevent me from lots of treats, but if you haven’t found time for massages, shopping trips, walks in the parks and curling up with a good book, now is the time.
Write down your Goals. When I was working I always wrote down my days ‘must do’ tasks and after quitting work and feeling a bit list for a while I started it again. Once both girls have left home I think to keep my sense of equilibrium this is going to be even more necessary.
Keep Perspective. The kids are going to Uni not the moon. You can text, phone, face-time, send postcards and letters (when Annie left I sent her a postcard twice a week for the first year.) During the second year I didn’t send any. Is it very bad to admit I couldn’t quite be bothered!
Hobbies. Personally I find this a little bit wishy-washy and twee. It’s going to take more than Betsy leaving home for me to hone my knitting skills sufficiently to make myself an arran jumper (you can tell I’ve just been in Edinburgh), but I think a hobby, along with a personal goal can be effective. For me I’m going to not let my swimming slip and I’m even thinking of doing that zero to five km running challenge. I need to research it more first – haha!)
Read. Best escapism in the world. Use goodreads to set a ‘reading challenge target.
Last Times. When Annie left home I thought it would be the last time we did lots of things together – last summer holiday together, last road trip, last time she ‘still belonged to me’, last picking up after her, last … Not so. Talk about blooming melodramatic! My mum said to me “Let her go and she’ll come back.” Did I tell you that my mum is a very wise lady!
Diary Writing. Even though I still had Betsy at home I really was gutted when Annie left. Specifically, my anxiety about her safety was through the roof. One way I managed these negative emotions was keeping a diary devoted specifically to exploring them. I call it my ‘Annie book’. I didn’t really come up with strategies there and then for handling the feelings, but found that writing them down helped counter the worry and enabled me to focus on what a bloody brilliant independent young woman she is. I think this time round I am more aware that it is ok to be sad.
In a similar vein, I’m feeling a little more together now I’ve thought through this. I might even give the kids and Mick a bit of attention instead of solely focusing on me! The drive home from Edinburgh is saturated in anticipation and pride at what they’ve all achieved and what is yet to come. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think I’ve, at least, made a step in that direction.