Monday, 31 December 2012

Where I was - 2012

How can a year be so wonderful and so hard all at once?  That was 2012.

I started the year at home, going for walks in my usual favourite haunts - Epping Forest, Kew Gardens, Mum and Dad's house in France, the streets of London.

Kew Gardens
At Kew Gardens
Epping Forest
In Epping Forest
Hiking in France
Life ticked along.

Waiting for the tube
Waiting for the tube - reading my Kindle

Then in June I decided to see if I might be able to apply for a place at University in 2013 to do a post-graduate nursing degree, despite my lack of any science A-levels.  I took Olivia with me to the summer Open Day, and thought to myself there's no harm in finding out. 

By the end of the day I'd had a first interview (with Olivia sitting by my side - solemnly reading her Beano) and had been given a date for my second interview.  Two weeks later I had my offer - for 2012, not 2013.  What I thought might take a year to sort out, took just a fortnight.

Livvy reading her Beano in the lecture theatre at City University
Olivia reading her Beano , as we waited for a lecture on student finance at City University

In August the sportsmen came to town, and we all went to the Olympic Stadium.  Cam went as a performer too.

The Olympic Park with Cam - August
In the Olympic Park with flags - Cam and me

In September I started University for the second time and became a student nurse - the best, most overwhelming, most interesting thing I've done in my adult life.  So many injections, so much work, so many biology workbooks, so many flasks of coffee, so many hours referencing essays.

Smithfield Park - October
At West Smithfield - on my way home from the Health Sciences library
First day at University - lunch and coffee
First day at university - lunch, a bottle of water and coffee

In December I left the comfort of the campus behind and started my first placement - working long shifts in a large London hospital.  On my first day, as I walked to the tube along dark, cold streets at 6am, I thought to myself 'this is the single most scary thing I've ever done in my life'.

Epping Forest with Graham - November
An early morning walk for me and Graham - late November

And before I knew it, it was Christmas.  Two people in the family were very poorly and I was reeling with exhaustion.  I've spent the last few days feeling thankful:
  • for lovely, long-limbed children, who are kind and who make me laugh
  • for my own health - I've learnt this autumn and winter that you can't take health for granted
  • for friends who let me doze on their sofa, and forgive me when I don't write and forget to post their Christmas presents
  • for corner shops that sell Green and Blacks and decent cheap wine
  • for the doctors and nurses who looked after my own loved ones so well - I hope other people might think the same of me one day.

Dad and Graham
Dad and Graham - in France, Easter 2012
New Year's Eve - me and Nigel Slater
Me and Nigel Slater - New Year's Eve 2012
Along the way there were also two new nieces, a second hip replacement operation for my Mum, the arrival of a slow cooker and the departure of the bread machine, a bit of journalism, plenty of sewing, quite a bit of knitting and numerous cakes.  Olivia took up the French Horn and Cam became a teenager.  I don't think there'll ever be another year like it for testing me, challenging me and rewarding me.

Where I was in previous years:

Sunday, 23 December 2012

10 things

It's not that I've become disorganised - it's just that things have simply not been done.  I haven't even written any lists.

  • No cards have been bought - or sent.  No, not made either.
  • Graham has seven presents because I kept forgetting exactly what I'd bought for him already.
  • Some people's presents are still sitting on my desk, waiting to be wrapped and posted.
  • No parsnips have been bought.  Don't tell Cam - they're one of the foodie highlights of his Christmas.
  • Tomorrow I shall be breaking with tradition and going round to a friend's house, rather than making the stuffing and listening to Carols from King's.
  • Graham and the children put up the tree and decorated the house yesterday, while I was at work.  I came home, late in the evening, to a Christmassy house - magical.
  • Cam has made the latest batch of mince pies.  He puts much more mincemeat in than me, which is a popular development.
  • I need to prioritise my nap times.
  • My brain's so fuzzy that I'm not sure what day of the week it is, but I know it's nearly Christmas.
  • All will be well, because the bottles of alcohol in the fridge outnumber the bottles of milk.

Fridge - ready for Chistmas
And there's a bottle of bubbly and two bottles of Aspall's just out of shot

Monday, 10 December 2012

10 things on a Monday evening

    6am, Leyton High Road
    Walking to the tube - 6am on a Monday morning

  • My alarms go off at 5:28am and 5:30am on work days.  I am so worried that I might oversleep that I'm usually awake and waiting for the alarms to go off by 5:25am.
  • I eat my toast in the kitchen, listening to Farming Today on Radio 4.  I love that I live in London, work in a massive, modern hospital, but listen to Farming Today talk about partridge and fertiliser prices when I'm having my breakfast.
  • I wrap up well and set off for the tube station at just gone 6am.  Graham and the children are still in bed, fast asleep. 
  • The roads are quiet, but there is a steady stream of other early bird workers walking to the tube with me.  I don't get a seat; the carriages are all standing-room only by 6:15am.
  • I am wearing no earrings, no watch, no necklace, no bracelet and no wedding ring.  I carry my uniform in my bag and I have my mobile tucked into the pocket of my jeans as a portable watch.
  • I arrive on my ward a little early, and once I've changed I sit in the Doctors' office drinking a cup of coffee until handover begins.
  • I work a 13 hour shift, with two 30 minute breaks.  It flies by.  I talk to patients, relatives, nurses, doctors, porters, phlebotomists, receptionists, a radiographer, and the guy from the IT department.
  • I love every single minute of it.  Truly.
  • On the way home, I get a seat on the tube after just one stop.  I read my book and nearly miss my stop.
  • I get home just in time to see Cam before he goes to bed, but Olivia has been asleep for over an hour.  Graham nobly listens to me witter on about my day and all the amazing things I've seen and done.  He wants to go to bed too, but I'm still wide awake and needing to process my day.  I decide to let him go to bed, and I write my blog instead.

Friday, 7 December 2012

10 things on a Friday night

Tonight I am...
  • Pleased that Graham bought not just a bottle of wine, but also olives, on his way home.
  • Thinking of the patients on my ward - today has been my first day off this week, and I'm wondering how they've all got on today.  They may well be relieved that the student nurse has not been around to put the blood-pressure cuff on the wrong way round again.
  • Bracing myself for a trip to Westfield tomorrow morning, with Olivia, to go Christmas shopping.  Oh my.
  • Annointing my hands with posh handcream.  All the alcohol handrub at the hospital is taking its toll.
  • Considering whether to head off to a farmer's market on Sunday morning.
  • Missing my University friends - one is on the same ward as me, but the rest are scattered across a variety of different hospitals and wards in London and I may not see them until March because our shift patterns are so antisocial.
  • Making a list of cakes I want to bake this weekend.
  • Shrugging off my usual no-decorations-whatsoever-until-the-weekend-before-Christmas-at-the-very-earliest attitude, and wondering whether it might be nice to string up a few twinkly lights this weekend.
  • Wishing I'd had a photographer in the car this afternoon when I was driving Olivia back from school - the sunset was breathtaking.
  • Going to curl up on the sofa to watch some old episodes of Cold Feet - I had forgotten how lovely that programme was.

Monday, 26 November 2012


I have a love-hate relationship with essays.
  • I love planning them.
  • I hate writing them.
  • I love editing them.
  • I love submitting them.
  • I hate waiting for them to come back.
  • I hate referencing them.
  • I love reading for them.
  • I love the ordered chaos around my desk as they are written.
  • I hate typing them up.
  • I love rubbing in hand cream as I pause for thought mid-sentence.
  • I hate losing my train of thought and grinding to a halt.
  • I love that carefree feeling once they are handed in.
Essay deadline
My desk - and surrounds - this weekend

Monday, 19 November 2012

Embracing autumn

It's my very favourite time of year, but this time round I've barely been outside to enjoy it.  This weekend I fixed that, and headed out with Graham early on Sunday morning for a brisk walk through Epping Forest.

Autumn colours in Epping Forest
The colours, the wind, the chill, the colours, the damp smells, the leaves, the colours - they're all still there.

Autumn leaves in Epping Forest
I breathed deeply, turned my face towards the sky and my camera towards the colours.
Sunrise in Epping Forest
I came back home and knit a few more rows of my autumn hurricane hat.  Then without realising it, the hat was finished.  I feel like this hat knitted itself without me really noticing.  Surely the sign of a good pattern?
Autumn hurricane hat

This means I now need to go back to the forest and photograph my hat (and my autumnal scarf) amongst the leaves.  Maybe this weekend.  Autumn's nearly over, and I've barely noticed it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Seen on the tube - very early one morning

Central Line - Leyton to St Paul's
  • A young man, loudly chewing gum and trying to spike up his hair with the palms of his hands.
  • A teenage schoolboy asleep in a corner seat, rubbing his eyes occasionally.
  • Five builders in a row. Each wearing multiple layers of jumpers finished with a tatty grey hoodie, plus steel capped boots and shaven heads; each clutching a can of redbull and with a hard hat on their lap or by their feet.
  • Two women, heads together, handbags tightly clasped on their laps, whispering intently before one passed the other a wad of folded money

Dawn over Leyton
Leaving the house at dawn
The early morning tubes - before about 7:10 - are full of semi-asleep builders.  They are very peaceful trains, with an air of respectful pre-dawn camaraderie amongst the travellers.  I don't usually get a seat - even at that time - but I lean against a pillar, reading my Kindle and looking up occasionally to watch everybody else doze.  It's a surprisingly unstressful time of day to travel.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The next step

The first term's teaching is finished, and we have covered what the undergraduates cover in their first year in just seven weeks.  Yes, really.

Caroline Bowen in Nurse's Uniform by Roy L. Parsons
I am reeling, tired, thrilled, motivated, emotional and overwhelmed all at the same time.  I'm also in the middle of another essay.

Joan Saxton, by Frank Cadogan Cowper

I now have my uniform and am about to embark on a four month placement of actual nursing.  The first little bit in mock wards at the University, and then on real wards, with real people, in a real hospital.

Nurse at work, unknown artist

My uniform is not as elegant as the ones in these paintings.  I don't think any of the uniforms in these paintings are made from nylon.

Portrait of a Nurse, by Eric Meadus

Nor do I feel as serene as these nurses appear to be.  I flip between being incredibly excited and incredibly nervous, several times a minute.

Nurse Ellis, by Beryl Trist Newman

But I have already made some wonderful friends on the course, and I know that they all have the same jumble of feelings that I do.  Once we're wearing those uniforms, and walking through those hospitals, we're going to start to feel like nurses.  That's going to be quite something.

Nurse giving an injection of penicilin, by Henry Marvell Carr

All these pictures are from the wonderful Your Paintings website.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Happy and lucky

As a Friday treat I left my flask at home and bought myself a cup of coffee when I got to the campus early this morning.  I settled into a window seat, with a view over the square (the same square I ate my breakfast in during the first few weeks of term), plugged myself into my iPod (listening to this, which always reminds me of lying in the sunshine at summer festivals) and finished off a piece of work.

Breakfast view - inside
Breakfast view - outside
And as I sat there - with beautiful music, a glorious view, a hot cup of coffee and interesting work - I thought how very lucky I am to be this happy at 8:30 on a Friday morning in November.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

10 things

  • The University is a 7 minute walk from Loop.
  • I have been running errands to Loop for my Mum.  She needs some nice projects to knit whiles he recuperates from a second hip replacement operation.  Nice projects need nice yarn.  Loop has verrrrrrry nice yarns.
  • Mostly I have been terribly well-behaved and just bought what Mum wanted, but yesterday my resolve crumbled and I bought myself a skein of Malabrigo Worsted in  the Rhodesian colourway - a wonderful burnished orange - to make myself an autumn hat.
  • Autumnal hurricane hat
  • I don't really have time to knit, as I am too busy practising my aseptic technique, writing biology notes and submitting my first essay.
  • My first essay in eighteen years.
  • That makes me feel even older than saying 'my son is thirteen'.
  • Olivia has decorated the chimney breast in the kitchen with A5 sized manga portraits of everyone in the family.  It looks wonderful.
  • Olivia and her manga family wall
  • Some of the likenesses are uncanny - Uncle Richard and Granny are particularly good.
  • Manga Cam and Manga Granny
  • I am still cooking - almost as much as I did before I started my nursing qualifications.  I am still baking all our bread, and making yogurt, and making midweek suppers and packed lunches.  Olivia's doing most of the baking though, and Graham is cooking on weekends.
  • It is not easy to let other people have their turn in the kitchen.  Doing the cooking is what I do best.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The raspberry pi

Some of you will have heard of the raspberry pi, but many of you will not.  Ours recently arrived, and is already making its presence felt.

It is a tiny little computer, about the size of a credit card, that comes with no peripherals (such as keyboard, mouse, cables or monitor).  It doesn't even come with a case - it is just the green circuit board with various ports attached.  Because it is so small and basic it is very cheap - just £25 - and the idea is that pretty much any family will be able to buy one, and children (and adults, if they wish) can use it to learn how computers, and programming, really work.

Raspberry Pi - it's all you need
Our raspberry pi - we bought a plastic case to protect ours, but the pi itself is just the green circuit board

The designers of the raspberry pi wanted to see a resurgence in programming skills in the UK, which they felt was something that had been lost over the last twenty years.  Children at school today are very familiar with IT, but more and more as users and consumers rather than as programmers or designers.  The IT syllabus focuses a great deal on being able to use Powerpoint or Excel and evaluate the design of web pages but not so much on how these tools came about. The raspberry pi hopes to rekindle people's understanding and enthusiasm for programming and help them understand how the computers that we now all take for granted, actually operate.

We bought a plastic case to protect our raspberry pi, and have been able to add things like a keyboard, cables and mouse from leftover bits of computer we had lying around at home.  For a screen, we use the TV or the Xbox monitor.

Getting started
Cam, with the pi plugged into the TV

In the picture above you can see Cam with the pi on the floor in front of him, a keyboard plugged in to the pi and the pi itself plugged in to the TV.

You might look at this little green circuit board and think "where on earth would I start?", but that's okay - there is, of course, a wealth of information out there about how to get to know your raspberry pi and what you can do with it.  We bought two books to help us out - one a user guide to the pi and one on a simple programming language, Python.

Cam's Raspberry Pi books

The raspberry pi website has a quick-start guide, and there are a plethora of Twitter accounts and online forums to help you too.

Cam had learnt about the Scratch programming tool at school, and now uses it on the pi at home.  It's a fun and quick way to start that doesn't seem to techy for somebody new to programming, but actually requires you to think about things in the minute steps that programming requires.

I love the fact that the pi is all about learning and not about consuming.  At thirteen, Cam is already a 'gamer', and would spend his every waking moment on the Xbox if we let him (we don't).  But I don't mind his enthusiasm for computer games so much if there is a core of knowledge behind it, and he has an understanding of how games work and an ability to create his own if he wishes.

We all know knowledge is power, and the raspberry pi aims to give the knowledge of how computers really work back to anyone who wants it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The two of them

There is one day in between their birthdays.  Yesterday Cam turned 13 and tomorrow Olivia turns 10.  Today is the day in between.

The two of them
Aged 7 and 4
Olivia and Cam with their Union Jack cake
Aged 12 and 9

They've always been close, and for that I am thankful.  But this birthday season makes them into even more of a unit than usual.  They become quite twinny as they plan wishlists, outings and birthday menus.  The excitement of the other one's birthday seems to make their own even better.  They spend weeks secretly drawing each other birthday pictures and working out what to buy one other.

The two of them
Aged 5 and 2

And if they can keep this closeness through their teenage years I shall be delighted.  It doesn't always happen.

Brother and sister
Aged 12 and 9
Happy Birthday, my two loves!

Monday, 15 October 2012


I arrive at Barbican station each morning. 

It has long been one of my favourite stations on the whole tube network, because of the view of the Barbican estate tower blocks stretching up above you when you step off the train (when I win the lottery I will live in one of the appartments near the top of these towers).

The view from the platform  at Barbican station
The enormous recessed arches on the eastbound platform are the other delight.  I admire them as I walk past in the morning; and I lounge within them, feeling tall and elegant as I wait for my train home in the afternoon.
Barbican station

Saturday, 13 October 2012

10 things

    Dry, unadorned nurse's hands
    Dry, unadorned nurse's hands (late at night, while I should have been studying the nervous system)

  • There is no space in my head for anything other than nursing.
  • The tunica interna of an artery is made up of the endothelium, the subendothelial layer and the internal elastic lamina. Did you know that?  I didn't until this week.
  • For practicals, and when we are on placement at a hospital, we can't wear any jewellery at all.  Our fingernails have to be very short and neat and our hair must be completely tied back.
  • I didn't realise I would feel so naked without my jewellery.
  • This weekend I am (amongst other things) preparing a presentation on the biology behind the government's Drink Aware campaign. 
  • I didn't fancy my usual Friday night bottle of Weston's organic cider last night.
  • On Tuesday we measured lung volumes and breathing rates. I have big lungs.
  • For the urinalysis practical we used sugary tea (no milk), instead of actual urine. I was slightly disappointed by this.
  • Already, I wash and dry my hands thoroughly and methodically like a proper nurse.  Even if it's just after chopping garlic. 
  • The heart is an amazing organ.  It's so amazing that if I think about it too deeply, I start to wonder why on earth it's still beating if it's got that much to do.
Weekend work
Weekend work

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Maintaining creativity

Despite the full-time (and over-time, really) study around here these days, I'm still determined to keep some creativity in my life.  It's very hard though.  I come in late, talk to the children, help with their homework and wish with all my heart that someone else was making dinner - I don't feel like pottering in the kitchen when I've been doing urine tests and drawing bacteria all day.  The early evening in the kitchen is no longer a creative part of my day. I absently stand at the stove, thinking of biology or planning essays in my head and not really caring so much what sort of soup I'm making.

But late last night I finished knitting a sock, and today I had a morning at home learning the cardiovascular system, so I took five minutes out of my studies to photograph it in the sunshine.  This sock grew really fast until I started University, and since then it's only grown a couple of rows at a time.  I knit for ten minutes at a time, late in the evening after I've finished studying, maybe once every few days. 

New sock, old sock
New sock (l) and very old sock (r)
So I know this sock is going to be without its other half for many months to come, but just imagine the sense of accomplishment I will feel when it's done!

The other outlet for my creativity is colouring pencils.  With so much anatomy and biology to learn, I find it easiest to take in the information by drawing and colouring.  Yesterday, it was mitosis and today it has been the directional flow of blood through the heart.

Four phases of mitosis

Directional flow of blood through the heart
I think my anatomy and biology notebook is going to be the most colourful one on campus.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lecture mix

I didn't expect that being a student nurse would make me so hungry.  I spend the entire time at on campus with a growling stomach, wondering when it's next time to eat.  And it's not just me -  my new friends are all the same.  Being a student nurse gives you a huge appetite, it seems.

Many of our lectures, practicals and tutorials run back to back with no break.  Often they are scheduled over lunchtime too.  The hunt is on for snacks that we can eat discretely in lectures, and food that we can shovel into our mouths with no mess or fuss as we dash through the building to the labs.  This is our list of snacks we've tried and rejected so far:
  • crisps - too noisy, and not healthy if you eat them all the time
  • apples - too noisy, and where do you put the soggy core?
  • bananas - too stinky, and where do you put the skin?
  • croissant - crumbs all over your notebook and the notebook of anyone sitting within three seats of you
  • cake - too sticky
Then this weekend inspiration struck.  I made a big batch of trail mix for Olivia's lunchbox, and realised that it would work perfectly as a lecture mix too.

Trail mix is a combination of seeds, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate that is designed to fuel you on long distance walks (or trails, hence the name).  Those delicious boxes from Graze are basically trail mix.  Of course the beauty of it is that you custom your mix to what you have in your kitchen and what you like to eat - I also have to leave nuts out of anything I make for Olivia's lunchbox because her school has a strict no nuts policy.

The batch I made at the weekend had in it:
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • sultanas
  • dried apricots, chopped to the size of the sultanas
  • mini marshmallows
I make enough to fill a large 1 litre jar, and whoever wants some can shake a few handfuls into a little pot.

Other good things I like to put in my trail mix if I have them are:
  • chocolate buttons or chocolate chips
  • dried banana chips
  • dried figs
  • dried cranberries
  • salted peanuts
  • cashew nuts
  • bombay mix
  • dried, sour cherries
  • rice krispies
Trail mix - for lectures at lunchtime
Let's see if this will get me through three hours of back to back biology and anatomy lectures without my stomach growling.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Seen on the tube

Central Line - South Woodford to Mile End

  • A husband and wife, both tired and sleepy.  Him with his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer; she picking lint off the knee of his trousers.
  • A young lady with long purple fingernails, reading a Kindle in a purple suede cover, and with a purple handbag tucked tidily between her feet.
  • A pregnant woman in a suit eating her way determinedly through three apricot cereal bars.
  • A woman with wet hair frowning in concentration at the oven manual she was reading.
  • A young man in a beautifully tailored charcoal grey suit, with chunky rings on every finger.
On top of the tube
On top of the tube at South Woodford

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The new breakfast routine

Of all the new routines that are emerging, one of my favourites is my picnic breakfast, sitting on a bench in the square in front of the main University buildings.

Picnic breakfast

I have a flask of hot coffee, and a foil parcel of wholemeal toast and peanut butter.  There's no time to eat at home - and it's too early anyway - so I bring it with me.

Early morning at the University

I watch the squirrels and the pigeons pottering around the square, and see the other nursing and midwifery students starting to arrive for early lectures.  I admire the beautiful old windows in the terraced houses around the square and turn my face to the sky to soak up a little of the early morning sunshine.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The force of goodwill

Today is my last ever day of being a stay-at-home Mum.  Almost exactly three years ago I left my job as an accountant in the City; although I didn't know what I was going to do next, I suspected that I wouldn't ever go back to accountancy or banking.

I was right, because on Monday I start a whole new life as a full-time student nurse.  The impact this change will have on the whole family is enormous.  Olivia will no longer have me waiting for her at the school gates, and reminding her to go back and get her lunchbox/horn/coat/homework; Cam will no longer have me putting the kettle on for a cup of tea for him when he gets in from school or from a friend's house; Graham will no longer have someone willing to wash yesterday's stinky running kit at a moment's notice.  Instead, everyone else will be joining in with the cooking, cleaning, tidying and looking after the hens.  Once I've tested Cam on his French vocab, he will have to test me on my biology in return.  Graham will have to listen to me discuss essay plans rather than sewing plans.

The change for me is, of course, enormous too.  I will have to get better at delegating jobs around the house to others (the hardest one will be delegating the supermarket shopping to an online service, because I really love doing the supermarket shop), and I will have to be ruthless at carving out study time for myself.  I won't be able to go to any more class assemblies at school, and appointments for the hairdresser, optician, orthodontist or gas man will all have to be squeezed into the weekends.

But despite this impending domestic earthquake I am not stressed, nervous or doubtful - just incredibly excited and full of anticipation.  This is mainly because there has been an overwhelming surge of goodwill and incredible support for what I am doing - from everybody: friends, family and complete strangers.

Student nurse
The Ladybird book of nurses - a present from Tess

So many of the mothers at school have offered to pick up or look after Olivia for me - "If there is anything I can do to help just let me know!" has been the generous phrase I've heard most frequently since term started.  It's so reassuring to feel that there is an army of mothers behind me, whom I can call on if there is a childcare crisis (and of course there will be - and of course at the most inconvenient times, like when I have to be in University for an exam by 9am).

My card from Gill
A wonderful handmade card from Gill
Friends and family have been delighted for me and have sent me so many sweet cards and presents and offers of childcare.  Each week this summer the postman has brought me new surprises - the most recent one was yesterday from my dear friend Janine who is embarking on her own new beginning this autumn.
Alpaca from Janine
Alpaca yarn - a present from Janine
My new basket
My new basket - a present from my parents

So many blog readers, many of whom I've never even met, have sent me touching emails and comments expressing their support and delight - frequently letting me know about their own experiences of nursing.  Thank you all - it truly does mean so much to me.

This force of goodwill has been overwhelming and very moving.  It means that I leave behind the domestic world of a stay-at-home Mum with very little sadness or regret, even though I have loved (almost) every minute of it.  What comes next for me is even more exciting.