Sunday, 11 November 2018

Walking South from the City

A rare trip to the city centre today to a children's music event at the Royal Concert Hall, but which actually ended up more spent in the library at the basement of GoMA. We ate lunch in the children's section while Ula ran around the carpet and did some colouring in. It was very wet outside and I had not brought my waterproof coat.

Ula finally asleep in the buggy we decided to walk the three and a half miles home. A late, vivid blue sky was breaking out before sunset. It has been a few years since I have done this walk, and I was satisfied at the prospect. The walk south from the centre takes you over the Clyde, then a sharp left under a low, broad railway bridge before heading down a very straight road that was once purposed for a tramline. This straight road takes us almost the whole way home, to the entrance of Queen's Park. This crossing from the centre to the south is one of my favourite parts of the city. It has a desolate, industrial beauty, and just a peppering of a few interesting places to eat and drink that are a little off the beaten track. Lauriston, Eglinton Toll, Pollokshields, Govanhill, Queen's Park: these places get gradually more defined along the journey of this two mile stretch.

We discover an excellent Middle Eastern shop just over the Clyde, and pick up a delicious spinach and cheese pastry along with a simit, both warm in my hand through the paper bag. I greedily eye all the spices and numerous types of beans, lentils and olives before deciding I will make a further visit some time soon.

Two views of the sky were worth picturing today along this walk. The first was a chunky snippet of a rainbow as you look up Hope Street from the bottom of Central Station. The second was at Eglinton Toll, over the railway line and abandoned warehouses, just before going under the broad flyover that's painted a brilliant sky blue.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Plastic tubs

I have been keeping some bits of packaging to one side - the plastic trays ready made cakes come in, a chocolate box tray, yogurt pots, that sort of thing, as it occurred to me that these could be used for play some how. It's quite alarming to see how much of this stuff we use and that can't be recycled in our area. Yesterday I cut some of these things up and they were a real success. I thought they were a much more stimulating source of creativity, as they could be adapted to make all sorts of things, and really complimented playing with plasticine and small figures.
I cut up a chocolate box tray to make lots of single chocolate size containers, which made little stools or a trough for an animal. A yogurt pot is a used as a cooking pot here and the clear plastic tray is a bath.
The cake tray is used for an animal shed, and below some plasticine has been added to make a fire and a couple of tree stumps to sit on.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Autumn in the Hidden Garden

A reasonably mild and dry day today, Ula and I went to the Hidden Garden to meet a friend and her toddler. We packed a picnic: a salad of grated carrot, red cabbage, apple and sunflower seeds, with a little white wine vinegar and pepper; cheese; rye and caraway seed bread, raisins and a few pears - along with a groundsheet for the grass. S made a tasty black bean sald, with feta and spring onions. S is a friend I met when I lived for a short spell in the East End of Glasgow last year, and we have recently begun to meet up every week or so and share a picnic together.

Lots of textures to interest Ula in the garden today. Grey, velvety buds on the branches of a magnolia tree; shrivelled up rose hips; the dried up flower heads of some thistle type plant, that feel like a soft brush when stroked across your cheek, then quickly disintegrate as you crush one between your fingers. The ginkgo tree looked stunning, emboldened by its golden leaves. I collected a few to try in the flower press we recently found at a car boot sale in Govan.

Friday, 19 October 2018


Reading for pleasure is a great thing. However, I recently became aware that - particularly since having a child - this was increasingly becoming the one thing I did in my spare time. I always like the idea of writing creatively, also of keeping a sketchbook of sorts, but never really found the time (what an earth did I do before having a child?). Anyway, for the past few weeks or so I have ditched the habitual paperback shoved in the bottom of the bag and replaced it with a sketchbook (in terms of writing of course, I am making the effort to keep a blog).

I have just been away in Brighton for almost a week on a short break for a friend's wedding, and the sketchbook only emerged once to begin sketching a beautiful winter squash (or ghost pumpkin, as I liked to call it) that my brother in law brought from his allotment. This will never be finished as half the squash has since been eaten (delicious it was too, roasted along with carrots and onion and blended into soup; sliced and sauteed with butter and sage then mixed with pasta and sprinkled with Parmesan). Other than that I have managed a 5 minutes here and there playing with colours and textures alongside my toddler, a few rough pen drawings when out and about as a family, and a few pencil sketches when out alone one morning, at the Kelvingrove Museum (a taxidermy Highland Cow from a few different angles) and then down by the Kelvin Walkway and river. I wouldn't say I'm particularly pleased with any of these bits and pieces in a technical sense, but now I can genuinely say this doesn't bother me. Of these, there are some sketches that are better than a photo in capturing a moment as a family; others have allowed me to understand something about mark making and colour; another has created an interesting composition. Sometimes I've only drawn a few lines, began to write a note, then just left it forgotten.

Why outline what could be seen as mundane details? Well, I for one have always felt that the "creative process" eludes me. I have always envied the people for whom this seems to flow naturally. I have worked on this difficulty over the years: I have lots of friends that are artists, I have spoken about it at length, read articles on the topic. I have done a short course in illustration as an adult, as well as studies at school and university. And then I have become determined at various points to "DO" something: have a grand idea and then stew and squirm over it until I convince myself the idea is terrible and it gets abandoned - with just one light touch of the page, if that.

Now, I am not going to say there is one moment or thing that has allowed me to make some degree of progress on this; there isn't. There is a lot I could discuss (the Bronte Parsonage Museum and the under-represented Anne Bronte's pebble collection; a conversation with an old neighbour: "we just need to play more"...). However, one thing that is a barrier is the nature of the process of trying things out; playing, flowing from one thing to the next without analysis or second thought. Watching my toddler drawing and painting has helped me with this:

TODDLER: Never mind the paint, look at the effect water has when I splash it all over the page? And when I push my finger through this soggy paper? And come to mention it, never mind the piece of paper that has been put in front of me - look how great the paint looks when smeared over the newspaper covering the table? There's a whole pile of paper over there! Onto the next page!

ME: [anxiously hovering over, sometimes managing to suppress attempts to control this, often not... another piece of paper, ermmmm, really...... okay....]

Playing. Experimenting. The education system soon stamps out much of this - or at least, it attempts to channel these things into something with "purpose"; an exam, a career, which in turn destroys the essence of what these things are about. In toddlers through to Early Years education, play, quite rightly, is viewed as fundamental in a child's development. However, very soon "play" is something frivolous, something a child is chastised for when they should be working or something consigned to the playground. As adults they are opposites - Work and Play. But doesn't it seem more natural and right for our development, if the education system just continued to support more sophisticated models of play? (an aside: as well as nurturing our creativity, it would be a lot more inclusive). Alongside this, the importance of documenting things is given no value at all as far as I can remember. Notes and thoughts written in a diary, sketches of what we see: these things are rich extensions of life that allow us to see the world in clearer and more varied ways, to hone in on the details of life, which in turn helps us to connect with our surroundings.

We don't judge when in play, because we are just, well, playing. It doesn't matter if there is an end in sight or a focus, we just do it. We are in the moment, free from other thoughts.We live in such a short-term obsessed world, where we often feel the need to justify what we are doing, explain a reason. People don't like revealing their mistakes, the scribbled out or forgotten page. But some people need play - yes to create wonderful pieces of artwork, but for so many other reasons too. And so many of us adults don't know how to do it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Creatures of the Park

Having spent almost the entire day indoors Sunday, quite rightly by late morning yesterday Ula was keen to get out. The rain slowly disappeared and the wind was strong at times but no where near as fierce, so dressed in our waterproofs and wellies we were more than prepared. We took what is a regular walk for us, past the hospital over to Queen's Park. Ula walks the first part of this so of course it's at a slow pace.

I'm always amazed by how much we can discover even before we get to the park. We have enjoyed looking out for fungi this past month, there seems to be so much of it round here this autumn. Four or five pearly white, large, elongated mushrooms strike us on the first lawn we walk past. The most likely name Milky Conecaps I reckon, from a quick search. On arriving at the park there's even more of the stuff, and Ula is quick to point out any she sees, categorising them as "mummy", "daddy" or "Ula" fungus, depending on size (or so I'm guessing...). A thick-set, sticky browner than brown variety seems to like the edge of the path among the dead leaves and the neighbouring golf course (my attempts at classification come up with different varieties of Boletes, apparently yummy and often a culinary delicacy: I must be wrong!). We soon find several large families, one type with a flat, white, almost rippling cap; another a very attractive sticky rosy red blush - the nose of an old man with a cold in winter.

Most people put off by the weather, we pretty much have the park to ourselves. We stop to look at some wildflowers (yarrow - a Google search tells me - and buttercups) and hairy acorn caps, before the inevitable arrival at the play park. The park's glasshouse  has an indoor eating area, as well as a fish pond and a number of reptiles and other creatures, which is perfect for escaping the weather when necessary. We picnic there before a quick look at the animals before heading home; my favourites the axolotl and the schneider's skink, whose names I never tire of saying. 

Friday, 5 October 2018

Breastfeeding Peer Support

Currently Friday afternoon is the time that I do a few hours training to be a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter. The course is 8 sessions in total and I am just at the half way point. Once qualified my role will be as a volunteer either on hospital wards or at a local Baby Cafe, supporting mothers with breastfeeding. My partner is able to get some time off in the afternoon to look after Ula while I attend. So far I have found it incredibly interesting. When I'm there, I am always bursting with so much I wish to say and at the same time trying to soak up as much as possible. I spend a lot of time reading up now on the latest evidence based information surrounding breastfeeding, and the more I know the more convinced I become that the fact we are the country with the worst breastfeeding rates in the world is a public health crisis.

But where to even begin, with a problem on such an epic scale?

The first important thing to recognise in my role, is that it is not the fault of individual mothers if they do not breastfeed. How can it be? Something so natural that has been done for thousands of years, that in many other countries and cultures is still practised by almost the entire mother population - there are clearly wider cultural and social factors as to why our rates in the UK are so low. It is a shame that much of the debate in this country surrounding breastfeeding is about the guilt and blame of mothers, when in fact so many mothers wish they could have breastfed their babies but didn't due to a lack of support. Instead we should be looking at how we can better provide support for mothers to continue breastfeeding (the UK has a reasonably high initial take up of breastfeeding, but this dramatically goes down after a number of weeks).

 Much of our training is on how to listen to people when they speak, and how to ask open questions which allow the person responding to express their feelings and come to their own decisions. Telling someone what they should do, even if it is the right thing, is of course no way to persuade someone, and can often in fact have the opposite effect. At the same time, how frustrating when I might be on a ward with a new mum who is convinced she is not even going to try to breastfeed? What approach to take? I've come to the conclusion that it is the encounter with someone, the feeling we get from them, whether or not we feel like we have been truly listened to and respected, that often empowers us to then go on and make a good decision. In only being allowed such brief encounters with new mothers in my role, surely such a position of respect, a listening ear and empathy are by far the most important aspects in trying to support a new mother to breastfeed?

Thursday, 4 October 2018

An ordinary day

We finally got out the house late morning today. Ula was keen to see some of her friends at the Tramway, a local art space, attached to which is the Hidden Garden. It's a lovely wild but contained space, perfect for little ones to run around and feel free, their parents content they are safe enough. Then on to the local library. As soon as we get into the children's corner Ula jumps straight up on one of the chairs, rests her arms on the table and announces she would like to do some drawing. She starts colouring on the sheets I've given her and all this makes me aware another shift has happened: there is something more controlled and precise in her movements. Even her colouring is neater. Another nudge along in her maturity. We read an Anthony Brown book through twice - "Into the Forest". Ula is delighted by it, a slightly dark but less gruesome version of Red Riding Hood.

We are three miles from home and Ula falls asleep in the buggy. A perfect opportunity for me to get a bit of exercise and I decide on a route through our local park (Queen's Park) after picking up a couple of bits for dinner. When I arrive at the top of the hill that leads to my exit I realise another shift has happened: the lime trees that line the hill  are now yellow and sparse. As I approach the road dry leaves are beginning to pile up at the edges of the pavement. Autumn has truly arrived.

We get a local fruit and veg delivery, all seasonal and so we don't know exactly what we will get each week. I enjoy thinking up different recipes to use every last bit of it up. This evening was noodles: I fried up a couple of garlic cloves and an equal amount of fresh ginger in rapeseed oil, after which I added some thinly sliced strips of carrot. Boiled up some noodles, adding some broccoli florets and thinly sliced cavolo nero leaves for the last few minutes, then combined them all in the frying pan with a dash of honey and plenty of soy sauce and fish sauce. I let it all sit whilst I fried up a couple of fried eggs to go on top.


Walking South from the City

A rare trip to the city centre today to a children's music event at the Royal Concert Hall, but which actually ended up more spent in th...