Hello again – as you probably realised I ended up taking the whole of last week off. Thank you to everyone who sent a little message checking up on me, it showed me that you notice when I’m not here so perhaps I do bring some value with this blog… which is something I often wonder about. Of course we ‘should’ have been in Paris but as it happened I had a nasty chest infection anyway (not Covid, I did have the test). I’d tried working through it for the week before last but just couldn’t shake it so in the end I decided it was better to submit. I’m completely better now though and ready to go – I’ll be starting to talk about Christmas on Friday so brace yourselves. Before I move on to what will a different kind of Christmas for us all though, let’s have a catch-up. I’ll start with the downs, move on to the ups and then end with a round-up of the retail offers that are on because there are some good ones but they end soon. So here we go, Midlife lately – catching up after half term

Midlife lately – catching up after half term

Where should I begin? As well as not feeling well, last week was one of those where stuff just happens. On Monday we had a call saying that mum-in-law had been rushed into hospital with chest pains. Of course the hospital was on lockdown so nobody was able to go with her and we had to wait for updates by phone. It’s hard to know what to do at the moment when something like this happens. Your instinct is to drive straight over but we knew we wouldn’t be able to do anything if we did so we had a few days of high adrenalin, ready to spring into some kind of action even though we didn’t know what it would be. In the end she was sent home and we’re still not clear what her diagnosis was. The hospital could only liaise with one relative and my Geordie brother-in-law isn’t one for detail but we’re keeping in touch with her and she seems to be ok now. It means that we’re keener than ever to have a base nearby but my goodness that’s proving to be hard work.

Trying to buy an apartment at the moment is like wading through toffee. The process is painfully slow and I suspect it’s only going to get worse as we hit the new lockdown. It’s the same with insurance claims and our ragged-looking, ceiling-less rooms are driving me mad so I spent quite a bit of last week having firm conversations with people. I’m not sure that I made much progress but at least I felt a bit better. And of course in the hope that the wrecked rooms will be restored in time for Christmas, we’re trying to line up tradesmen… another challenge. I’m not moaning, I know these are all small problems in the scheme of things, it’s just my record of what’s going on here at the moment.

There were other little annoyances – getting the boys’ car through its MOT stung and as you can imagine, we had to say goodbye to the pitch for the time being at least – travel to China just isn’t an option. And of course then came the news about lockdown#2. Most of my real life conversations take place at the gym at the moment because even though lockdown hasn’t begun, we and most of our friends are in Tier 3 so it’s the only place that we have face to face contact. In the last few days I’ve chatted to all kinds of people and the conversations have ranged from those who are relishing the thought of four weeks on furlough while complaining that they’ve run out of boxsets and books… to those who feel that after months of bailing their ship is sinking, taking all of their dreams and everything they’ve worked for with it. We don’t know how it will pan out for us yet, we won’t sink but we do feel exhausted by a year that has seen us working twice as hard for half the billing and still no government support in sight. However we just have to crack on, hard work doesn’t daunt us and I’ve been really pleased to see that it’s rubbed off on our boys too.

The eldest has managed to find a job at the Covid testing centre down at Lancaster University. It involves him doing thirteen hour shifts and he has two long bus journeys to get there. Since he started it hasn’t stopped raining and he has to stand outside from 7am until 8pm but… so far he hasn’t complained once. I’m so proud of him because it’s far from what he, or we, imagined he’d be doing now with his brilliant degree. I think he finds some reward in the fact that he’s playing a small part in helping us all to battle this wretched virus.

As for the youngest, you may remember that he had a weekend job as a kitchen porter at a local restaurant. Of course that came to an end at the beginning of the year and since then he hasn’t been able to find any way of building up his spending money. Last week though he managed to get a weekend paper round so he’s now up and out very early and he’s setting himself a challenge of getting faster every time which means he runs the route… and nods off on the sofa like a little old man in the evenings.

Over in the East however the middle boy is living his dream. When he was thirteen we took him to the London Dungeon for the first time and he was captivated. As we left he declared that he now knew what he wanted to do with his life and that was to be paid to scare people. Last week we got a text from him bubbling over with excitement, he was going to be paid the grand sum of £30 a day working at a Halloween pop-up on the Quayside. He had to stay very still in a room until a tour group came in, then jump up and scare them before thrilling them with the story of his tragic demise. Here’s a rather gruesome action shot that he sent me:

Midlife lately - catching up after half term

And that one burst of youthful effervescence gave me faith that there will be a future for all of our young adults even though they’re going through some really tough times at the moment. Of course I’m aware that in discussing this here, I’m talking about a sub-section who’ve had a fortunate start because most of our children have been cushioned by supportive parents but for them, this should be a good lesson in resilience. And I’m reminding myself of that every ten minutes as I sit in my warm office thinking about the eldest with the rain hammering down outside!

At the moment we can only really separate the micro-circumstances from the macro because we have no control over the bigger picture and how it affects the running of our lives. However I’m trying to manage my own view of it by focusing on the tiny wins each day, whatever they are. A warm cup of coffee as I watch the autumn leaves in the garden, a moment of vicarious pleasure on behalf or a friend or a loved one, a simple acknowledgement of the fact that things could be far worse.

I’ve been aware of my cousins’ struggle as they try to plan Uncle Stan’s funeral. It still hasn’t taken place because just after he died they, along with their mum, my Auntie Enid, went down with Covid. Auntie Enid was a particular worry because she’s 81 and has asthma. However they all pulled through and managed to arrange a socially distanced funeral for close local family for this Friday. They were even able to find a venue that could offer us all a meal at separate tables in the same room (a meal that would have met with Stan’s approval – a hot dinner with pudding rather than a buffet). When Saturday’s announcement came through they were the first people I thought of but then yesterday they sent an email saying that the service would still go ahead and instead they’re planning a big family celebration of his life next summer so that we can scatter his ashes up in the fields that he loved so much. In the face of such sadness I’m so impressed by their resilience.

Going back to my roots

So you see there was a lot of life going on for us last week and as I’ve said, it rained so much that we were ready to build an ark. That meant that I didn’t have the autumn walk in the woods that I’d hoped for with the youngest but we did have one trip out and some of you came along with me via Instagram Stories. You see for the first time since my mum died I’ve picked up the journey that she started with our family tree. When she retired in the 1980s it became her passion and she and my dad travelled all over the country in search of church records to uncover our lineage. When she was ill with cancer, I spent quite a bit of time inputting it into Ancestry as a surprise and of course the algorithm then came up with lots of clues that would enable us to go further. I thought she’d be thrilled but actually she was furious – I think she felt it undermined all of the time she’d spent physically tracking things down. It meant I didn’t dare touch it again so the clues have been just sitting there gathering since 2011.

Anyway a couple of weeks ago I had a reminder that I was still paying my annual subscription so while I was feeling grotty, I opened it up again. I won’t go into detail but one of the things that interests me is my dad’s side because I know far less about it than my mum’s. On one of the censuses I found the address of a farm that my great great grandparents had and so given that there weren’t many exciting trips that I could suggest for half term, I came up with the idea of a family day out. The boys were quite keen, especially when I said we could pop into the New Balance factory shop on the way – I don’t know whether you’ve been there but it’s well worth a visit. It’s just off the M6 at Shap (Junction 39) and if you have sneakerheads in your family, they’ll appreciate the fact that you can buy the very sought after ‘Made In England’ range for about £40 a pair. I offered to treat them and they gallantly accepted… you can buy sportswear there too.

New Balance Factory shop Shap

After that it was a long drive into the wilds of Stainmore to find our ancestral home… and here it is.

Midlife lately - catching up after half term

It’s hard to show you just how remote it is in photographs but those of you who saw the video will have had a feel for it. There’s absolutely nothing else around other than sheep.

Lunedale House, Stainmore

Never ones to miss an opportunity, they’d come prepared for a Halloween TikTok video…

Midlife lately - catching up after half term

All of us said that we felt a connection with it though maybe we imagined it. It certainly gave me a chance to show the boys that we come from stern stuff, after all you have to be strong to make a living and support eight children in terrain like this. I wonder if my great, great grandmother Susanna would have approved of my new white Storm Boots… I suspect not.

Midlifechic outerwear

M&S jacket (past season); merino jumper; girlfriend jeans (gifted AW20); Storm Boots

It was a really special day and as we were driving home we passed a tiny churchyard so we stopped quickly and look what we found… their grave. I had no idea it was there so it was pure luck but it rounded the day off perfectly. It’s nice to see that Susanna was obviously very loved.

Henry and Susannah Sowerby

More bags…

Of course the other thing I did last week was dispatch all of the bags – thank you so much to everyone who bought one, as always I was amazed by your speed and enthusiasm. Every time we go over to Turkey Mr MC tells me I should be more confident and order more than I do but we don’t make a huge margin on them so I always feel nervous about ending up with lots of stock. Anyway I’ve had so many requests for a restock that if we can get enough orders, I’m going to do one more batch. As you know they’re made by hand and so they do take time but they should be here before Christmas if we order this week (but I can’t guarantee that). A few of you have asked for a blue one so I’m delighted to say that in addition to pewter, chocolate brown and black there will be a lovely navy mock croc too. I have to prepay so I’m going to run on a pre-order basis only – we’ve reopened the shop so if you’d like one, please can you place your order before the end of this week (Sunday 8th November). If there isn’t enough demand to go ahead, I’ll refund you next week.

So it’s been a funny old post today but I felt we needed a catch-up before we begin to plan a different kind of Christmas on Friday. My take on it is that this year we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do things a bit differently so let’s make the most of it. I think we need to pepper it with as many small pleasures as we can and then savour them – if we do that it can be more personal and more meaningful than the usual giddy blur.

To get you in the mood…

I’m going to sign off by recommending two books to get you started. First of all, the wonderful Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater. I talk about this every year but if you don’t have a copy, this really is the time to get one. Starting from 1st November it has a short entry for every day up to Christmas and then a few more to take you through the rest of the winter up until 2nd February. As you would expect it contains recipes but much more than that. He writes so beautifully about the British winter with little observations that lift every single day. Really, I can’t recommend it enough, it’s a very special book.

Midlife lately - catching up after half term

Best Christmas books

Christmas Chronicles – Amazon

Christmas Chronicles – Waterstones

The other book is The Little Library Christmas which is a cookbook filled with Christmas recipes inspired by literature. It’s written by food blogger Kate Young who writes The Little Library Cafe where she creates recipes to match the food found in her favourite fiction.

Christmas recipe books

There’s eggnog inspired by the Moomins along with Christmas recipes from old favourites including Little Women, A Christmas Carol, Harry Potter and The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Midlife lately - catching up after half term

The Little Library Christmas – Amazon

The Little Library Christmas – Waterstones

A bonfire night recipe

Hopefully you’ll have those in time for Friday when I’ll be kicking off with relaxed party clothes that you can wear at home. We’re all going to need a touch of sparkle, even if we aren’t going any further than our own living rooms so I’ll come up with some easy ideas. In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing what bonfire night will be like on Thursday. For years I’ve been saying that displays are getting too big and too stylised so I’m looking forward to seeing lots of fireworks going off in the gardens all around us. Of course it will be Teddy’s first experience of the crackles and bangs so I’m not sure how he’ll cope – Gary was always pretty chilled out but we’ll have to wait and see.

Bonfire night for me was always preceded by making toffee with my dad (the only thing he ever cooked other than bacon and eggs). Here’s our family recipe – you can’t watch fireworks without sticky fingers from a bag of this hidden in your coat pocket.

  • 1lb brown sugar (any kind – the darker you go, the richer it gets, I usually use demerara)
  • 12 oz butter
  • 5 fluid oz water
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (malt)
  • Pinch of salt

Put everything into a big pan and bring to the boil very slowly so that the sugar doesn’t burn. Turn the heat up and after about 10 minutes, start dropping splodges of toffee into a cup of iced water until it holds its shape and you can roll it into a ball. Then pour it into a buttered baking tray and leave to set. When it’s hard, smash it up with a rolling pin and divide into small bags.

Have a good week everyone… and to our American friends… I’m sure we all wish you the very best of luck for this week!

Retail offers and new season drops – the last ones of the year

M&S beauty box here – £20 when you spend £30 on clothing, home or beauty (value £120)

John Lewis & Partners beauty box here – (value over £160)

Boden – new season collection just arrived here and 15% off with 6T2C at checkout until 10th November.

Baukjen – new season arrivals here and 20% off with code MIDLIFECHIC20

Hush – new drop just arrived here

Mango – 30% off ALL outerwear, knitwear and boots here until tomorrow (Wednesday 4th November)

Karen Millen – 30% off everything here and a further 10% off if you use code LAYBUY or an extra 15% off new in with code NEW (makes no sense I know) until tomorrow (Wednesday 4th November)

Jigsaw – 30% off everything in store only until Wednesday 4th November

Cox and Cox – 20% off with code AGEN20

Disclosure: ‘Midlife lately – catching up after half term’ is not a sponsored post

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