8pm and Out

Lock down life has got me hitting the apples and pears much earlier than usual. What is there to stay up for?

Since I began in teaching in September, I can’t stay up on a school night. Then my step-dad passed away suddenly and I began to wake up at 4am, regardless at what time I went to bed. Next up on the bedtime rollercoaster, the clocks went back and as it’s dark at like 5pm, I’m done and turning in three hours later.

I’m not even making it through Bake Off! I woke last week to find Hermine has been booted out of the tent and Dave (DAVE! DAVE? OMG, why is DAVE still there?) smuggly through to the final. I blame myself, I wasn’t there for Hermine and her cube cake show stopper. I’m sorry.

I’ve fallen into this routine of falling asleep on the sofa/in the living room chair around the 8pm mark and waking up with all the lights and TV still on around 11pm. Realising this was detrimental to my decrepit spine and winter energy bills, I promised myself to hit the hay once my eyes got heavy. The issue with this is that I could genuinely go to bed at 6:15pm. My kids however, cannot.

At the weekend I try to wean myself off this infantile bedtime routine. But then there was an EPIC delivery of Berry & Rye Elder Flower Collins and Southern Belle Punch and I was more sleepy and sated than I had been all week. Cue me missing the last 20 minutes of S1 E4 of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. I’m having to watch everything twice.

I guess if you feel tired, you should just sleep, right? If you’ve watched everything on Netflix, drank all the gin, read all the reading books and recited all the spellings and times tables. If the dishes are done and the uniforms are ironed, just slide into bed and rest your noodle, yeah? Is there any point in fighting it?

I just want to see Peter win Bake Off. Is that asking too much?

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What The World Thinks I Do

Did you see that series of memes that did the rounds a few years back? You know, the ones that used 6 images to portray how different groups in society view your job/vocation? Like this one….

I mean, it’s not far off the truth.

I quite like this one. I think it’s a fair and accurate representation of life as a journalist from all perspectives. Especially the last one.

In 2018 I was thrown a serious curve ball. No longer ‘just’ a journalist working the entertainment and lifestyle desk. In August 2018 I became a paediatric vascular disease patient expert – almost overnight.

Putting all my investigative journalistic skills to good use, I spent night after night on the small hospital sofa reading research papers in Danish, Zooming Italian vascular patients and their families, and dissecting x-ray, MRI and CT scan results in the early hours, at the nurses station.

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What I discovered shook me to the core. My daughter’s have an incurable hereditary disease that may or may not result in premature death. In the states they call this disease ‘the silent killer’. Some people have symptoms, some don’t. Some have strokes, liver failure and blood clots, some don’t. It’s a luck of the draw type situation.

I’m not one for sensationalism. Okay, I totally am, (I studied sports journalism, of course I love sensationalism), but I was far more taken with the research, how the disease has brought about pioneering medical and surgical interventions and of course, what trials and potential cures my girls’ could benefit from in their life times.

As a journalist, I write stories. I listen to people, I research, I ask annoying questions. I also photograph and record things. I relay facts and figures and sometimes I write a punchy headline or two.

As a HHT Mum, I wipe up a hell of a lot of blood, sometimes on a daily basis. I pick up nose plugs that have fallen out during night bleeds. I prepare my eldest daughter 48 hours in advance of a blood test, which involves a barrage of text messages, ensuring she eats and hydrates on approach, providing snacks for when she comes round, on the floor/in the phlebotomy chair – when it all gets too much.

I hold and squeeze hands and use brute strength to keep her in the chair until the nurse draws the blood she needs to adequately monitor the situation. I wipe tears, mop brows, carry coats and school blazers, wringing with sweat. I provide her with bottles of Oasis for a sugar rush, post blood test. I offer tissues for the inevitable nose bleed which accompanies any stressful situation.

I take calls from school when her blood pressure or iron levels have bottomed out and she faints. Usually in biology. I encourage vitamin intake, sometimes I raise my voice to get the job done. I reassure. I tell white lies. Necessary white lies. I move work and school to accommodate clinic appointments. I ask more questions. Constant questions. Sometimes I panic.

Everything is fine

I am resigned to never having white bed linen or soft furnishings, or clothes. I walk a little slower when she gets chest pains on the school run. I take pictures of her lung scars to show her how well it is healing, two years post surgery. I ask how PE went this week, any pain? I check up on blood results, oxygen saturation levels and chase clinic appointments. I talk to other HHT patients around the globe. I beg my own HHT surgeon not to retire, and swat up on the latest potential paediatric clinical trials. I educate others.

I’ve found a role you can’t roll into six humorous images. It’s almost a shame. If there were more awareness and chat about HHT, maybe I could make it more fun. For now, it’s back to the nurses station at 3 am, armed with more Garibaldi biscuits and a stack of lung x-rays.

Find out more about HHT, here.

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The Stopwatch

I’ve inherited a stopwatch. It’s not a beloved family heirloom, it’s a mark of personal progress and I’m feeling the pressure with every second.

September 2020 brought around a whole bunch of surprises. Namely a new path in my journalism career. Having spent sometime during lockdown, indulging in a number of community arts project, I accepted a job offer in the medical sales/beauty industry. I quickly realised that lips, nips and tucks were most definitely not my thing and after agreeing to produce a media strategy for the company, we parted ways amicably.

Nest came the summer holidays, which in reality were nothing more than an extension of the previous two months the kids had been off school. Eat Out To Help Out was launched and we were able to get out and about more, thanks to the good weather and more people wearing masks.

As September loomed, I was worried about affording uniforms and school shoes and winter coats and birthday celebrations, hoping my part time charity job would keep me afloat.

A conversation with my former journalism lecturer lead to a Zoom call, and a flurry of Whatsapp messages and eventually an interview, complete with ‘You’re on mute’ hilarity.

I’ve officially gone full circle. I began my professional journalism career with an NCTJ Journalism Diploma at The City Of Liverpool College, and now here I am, teaching shorthand and Essential Journalism to the next cohort of budding reporters. It’s an incredible honour and they’re a great group too.

I’m now 9 weeks into the job and I’m still loving it and still as overly optimistic about education as I was back in the summer. My students are bright, determined and showing real promise of walking into the industry with portfolio’s bursting with published work. It makes me really proud to have played a small part in their journey. A journey which takes just 18 weeks on the fast track NCTJ course. The days fly by. Between classroom taught lessons, industry work experience and days spent out filming and interviewing, blink and it’s Christmas.

I came into work today, ready to teach a fun filled afternoon of Teeline Shorthand. I was rummaging around in my desk drawer for a white board marker that worked and came across a black box. I’d not noticed it before. I can only assume it’s been there the whole time and I’d paid it no mind.

Inside is a polished, silver stop watch. The very stop watch which ticked away hour upon hour of shorthand practise when I was a student in this very classroom. The sight of it used to give me shivers. Clicking the start/stop button brought all my memories flooding back. The discovery of the stop watch made me a little more sympathetic of my students’ and their battles with shorthand. It’s a real skill, one that takes hours of consistent practise and no bullshit excuses.

We’re hurtling towards a jam-packed exam schedule, which naturally raises the stress levels for all involved, students and staff. We’re also hurtling towards Christmas and hoping for normality. Or maybe you’re looking towards New Year and hoping 2021 will bring relief from the lockdown, Covid and stress? I know I am.

If only we could just stop the clock for a moment, and breathe.

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Saying Goodbye

My step dad died very suddenly last month and now I have an internal rage for every single person I see who isn’t wearing a mask.

I’m well aware that there are some conditions for which wearing a mask can exacerbate a pre-existing health condition. But if the risk of catching Covid was so great to your ill health, I can’t help but think you’re unlikely to be doing the school run everyday or perusing the new season fashions in ASDA.

May be I’m being too harsh? My step dad worked for the NHS for 22 years. If you’ve ever had to go to A&E at Liverpool’s Royal Hospital, there’s a chance it was my step dad you gave your details to at check in. He was a familiar face on ‘the desk’ and more recently worked weekends when the department is usually at its busiest.

He caught Covid and four days after his symptoms manifested, he died. Age 63. My mum realised something was wrong in the early hours of the morning and tried in vain to resuscitate him until the paramedics arrived. He’d already gone.

My mum, also positive with Covid was admitted to hospital three days later. The pressure of the virus, grief, constant calls from the coroners office, funeral directors and GP surgery had taken its toll. All alone in the house, which is now bereft of the constant chatter of Sky Sports and police documentaries. My step dad’s favourites.

It took four weeks of agony to finally be able to plan a funeral service. Only 15 people allowed to attend. Minimal flowers. A drive around his beloved Anfield – he’d followed the reds all over Europe back in the day, and finally to Anfield Crematorium.

A low-flying migration of birds flew over as we exited the chapel, having said our final goodbyes and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone at the tops of our voices.

My heart aches for my mum. She’s in her 60’s. Locked down in a house full of memories, which is all but silent. Thank god for Lola cat, keeping her company. I’m visiting every day, taking her the paper, walking down to the community centre once a week for our Covid tests, always wearing a mask and sanitising our hands.

Take some advice from me. Don’t wait until Covid has taken your loved one, before you start taking this seriously. Wear the f*cking mask. Not under your chin, or under your nose. What’s the point in that? Find one you prefer, you can get them online or in any of the supermarkets, and WEAR IT! Wash them regularly and stick a couple in the car and in your coat pockets.

Wash your hands, stay the hell away from people wherever you can. The rate may be coming down, and yes, we are making good progress, but only if we keep at it.

I’ll say only this about the people gathering in their hundreds to protest wearing a mask. You’re f*cking idiots and very much part of the problem. God forbid you get sick and need the NHS. Go home.

RIP Ste, we love and miss you so, so much.

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I’m Published!

A Spray of Hope is now available on Amazon with proceeds from sales of the anthology go to NHS charities in the Merseyside area.

Writing in lock down as followed the same roller coaster pattern as my mental health. Some days I’ve battered out 100 or more words, other days I can’t even remember my WordPress log in details. I’ve been flooded with inspiration and so lacking I’ve turned to Pinterest blog prompts. There’s no rhyme of reason.

However, a tweet from The Literature and Science Hub at University of Liverpool sparked an idea, and now, just a few months later, I am bursting with pride to say its grown into an actual published work.

A Spray of Hope, poetry and prose from lockdown 2020 is an anthology comprised of works from NHS staff, key workers and self isolating members of the public. We all took part in a ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ initiative which offered us a chance to connect nature and technology to our every changing situations. We wrote about family, community, love, loss, mental health and hope for a brighter future, post pandemic.

It’s a moving read.

My own submission focused on a place in my family home, where I spent most of my teen years. Before mobile phones. The soundtrack to my after school free time was dial up internet and the early showing of Neighbours. I’d hog the house phone, talking to friends I’d left just moments earlier at school. Forever being stepped on or over, as I took up position on the third stair. The house phone stretched just far enough to wind the cable around my fingers. Simpler times, yet devastating news still found a way to reach us and change our lives forever.

As you will read in blog posts to follow, October was the catalyst for a truly devastating time for my family. The NHS is an organisation very close to my heart. I’m proud to say that something I have created will play a very small part in supporting NHS staff and volunteers in their daily lives for the incredible work they do.

A Spray of Hope: Poetry and Prose from Lockdown 2020 is now available on Amazon, here. It’s just £6.00 and will make a lovely wintertime read.

I hope you like it.

Huge thanks to Bernadette, Sam and all involved in creating this fantastic snapshot of real life in 2020. It’s such a privilege to have been involved.

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My September Song(s)

Ready for some new music? My September Song(s) Playlist features a right mash-up. From K Pop to Motown, RNB to Warren G. 30 songs, 2 hours, 1 playlist. 

After a recent road trip to Scotland this summer, I realised that I’m absolutely rubbish at compiling playlists. Never one to be beaten (why am I so competitive, why?) I’ve started investing in a monthly playlist to share on Itunes/Apple Music.

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I’ve gone with a 30 song format, one track for each day, you know, in case listening to my taste in music is too much to bear. I’ve fallen in love with some new music this summer and mixed it in with K Pop influences (BTS, Dynamite was playing during my MRI last week and I LOVE it).

My love for Motown, RNB, and Hip Hop tunes will never die and so there’s always going to be some Alicia Keys, Marvin Gaye, and or Prince in there somewhere. September has also brought about a new fascination with Taylor Swift (bit random, I know) but Peace is a gorgeous track that caught my attention on shuffle. Give it a go and see what you think.

I’m also revisiting Alicia Keys V John Legend as part of the Apple Music Versus series. I love listening to their commentary as the songs begin.

I love these tracks, all 30 of them. At some point or another, they’ve provided the soundtrack to some random (or not) event in my life, which has made me abundantly happy.

Listen to my September Apple Music playlist, here.

All feedback welcome, including song recommendations!

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Back to School

My kids go back to school tomorrow, and this September, I’ll be right behind them, heading for the classroom. I’ve only gone and bagged my dream job!

When I was at school (hundreds of years ago), I wanted to be a teacher. I did my year 10 work experience at my school – I interned for the PE department because it was my favourite subject. I loved the idea of playing a part in students’ development and watching them learn and master new things with your guidance.

Somewhere around age 17, I lost the thirst to learn. I knew university wasn’t for me. I was partway through my A-Levels (PE, English Lit, English Language, Psychology) when an opportunity to go home (Sydney) and work at the Olympic Games 2000 came up, I grabbed it with both hands. Bags packed, I was out of school and all ideas of education and teaching we’re left on the tarmac.

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20 whole years later, I’ve done it. I’ve finally got myself a teaching job. I’m absolutely delighted to say I’ll be joining the staff at The City of Liverpool College and I will be delivering the NCTJ Journalism Diploma programme. It’s the very course I graduated from back in 2016 and the very course I have championed to anyone interested in a career in journalism.

Since the vacancy came up online, I’ve thought of nothing else than delivering shorthand training and supporting journalism students with opportunities to expand on and polish their portfolio’s, ready for the world of work. I can’t wait to get started.

It’s inevitable that the new job has made me stop and think about my previous career decisions. It’s entirely possible that, had I have knuckled down at 17, gone to uni, got my PGCE, that by now I could be enjoying 15 years worth of educating others. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, right?

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So this September, there are four pairs of shiny new shoes (okay, mine are Nike’s) on the stairs, four new water bottles lined up ready for the first school day, and three students rooting for their momma on her first big day.

It’s going to be fairly chaotic for us all going back to an educational setting. Whether it’s the kids, teens, or adults. I hope your youngsters enjoy seeing their friends again, you settle into a routine quickly, and you’re all safe and well.

Happy New School Year!

Miss James

 

 

 

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21 Minutes

“Can you keep a secret?” She looked up from where her head nestled in the crook of his arm, nothing above them but blue sky and fluffy, white clouds. 

“Of course I can” he snorted in reply, “you can tell me anything”. He brushed a stray hair of hers from his stubble and stretched out on the blanket, adjusting his legs, crossed at the ankle.

“I mean, like a proper secret. Not like, oh I’m scared of the dark or I once stole pic n’ mix from the shop as a kid.” She bit her lip but kept her head bowed.

“Alright, I’ll bite. Go on. You have to tell me now.” He sat up, propped up on his elbows with a bemused smile on his face. She sat up to face him, long legs curled to one side, and looped her hair behind her ear. Suddenly looking serious, she fiddled with the hem of her dress.

“It’s just that, I’ve done something, well, something happened. It was an accident and I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, of course I didn’t, you know I’m a massive Jessie and I hate the thought of pain or anyone being upset.” The words tumbled out in a torrent, she looked at him with pleading eyes, knowing she had to go through with it now.

“What do you mean, what happened?” He sat upright, looking puzzled. “You can tell me anything, Nat, tell me what happened. Are you in trouble?” He reached out for her hand, she let his fingers entwine with hers. An act of solidarity, which she was certain would vanish once he knew what she was capable of.

“It happened last night. I was running late and I had to get back for Emma watching the kids. I’d been chatting to Clare after the class and time got away. It was dark but I was still pumped from the class but I knew I could jog back through the park and make up the lost time. It was stupid I know. I know it’s not safe.”

“What the hell happened Nat, are you okay?” He moved closer, holding both her hands now. “Jesus, just tell me.”

Tears came thick and fast now. Rolling down her cheeks as she choked out the details of the attack. “I saw him leaning against a bench by the lake, just up from the play park. I must have been huffing because he saw me jogging right into his path before I was close.

“It was dark but I knew he’d seen me.” She lowered her head again. Not able to look Ben in the eye.

“Oh God Nat, did he touch you? I swear to god if I find out he laid a fucking finger on you again, I’ll kill him. I’ll tear him apart.” Ben, her dependable Ben, was up on his knees, holding her shoulders now. Pulling her into his arms and against his chest.

“He didn’t touch me, Ben. He didn’t get the chance.” She whispered.

“I know you shouldn’t have to avoid certain places Nat, it’s not fair to live your life like that, but avoiding the park in the pitch-black would be a good start. You’re only just building up your confidence again and…” She cut off his exasperated pleas.

“He didn’t get chance to hurt me, Ben, because I got to him first.”

 

 

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Urban Orienteering with The Lantern Company

This summer I worked with award-winning, Liverpool-based creative events company, The Lantern Company. The Street by Street, Creative Revolution has begun, and the DIY Festival project is now live!

Back in July, The Lantern Company put a call out for artists to help create a DIY Festival blueprint for families, community groups and neighbours. The Lantern Company is known for producing memorable, artistic events ( City of Light, The Monster Halloween Ball, Lumiere London, Liverpool Sound City, Hong Kong Parade, etc.) Due to Coronavirus lockdown, The Lantern Company can’t bring people together in its usual, inspiring way and so, it launched a brand new initiative. A DIY Festival Kit.

The Lantern Company

From The Lantern Company website: “The Street by Street Creative activities have been specially designed to kick start the party, from where you live. You can enjoy the activities in any way you want – at home anytime or as a way of connecting with your neighbours.

If you want to inspire families, friends, and neighbours to come together in your block / street / local park in a safe and socially distanced way, these activities are the perfect way to come together, apart, and have a mini celebration.”

I saw the call for commissions and immediately set to work on my proposal. A few weeks earlier I’d taken to the paths of Springfield Park to create some chalk artwork challenges for kids and their families to enjoy. They were well received and so I submitted my ideas to The Lantern Company – and they loved them too!

The Lantern Company

So, it gives me immense pleasure (still can’t believe I get to say this) to present to you – The Lantern Company, Street by Street Creative Revolution, DIY Festival Kit. Included are 6 different activities ranging from dance to music, baking, art, and my very own addition: Urban Orienteering.

Playing out is the new staying in! Inspired by old school pavement games, such as hopscotch, this workshop shows you how to create your own fun trail, using basic art materials and your imagination. Plan your route down the garden path, driveway, street, or community centre, with 2m gaps, add a start and finish line and get ready to race.

Rain or shine, young or old, we’ll have you stomping, roaring, twirling, and reaching for the stars, safely with your friends, families, and neighbours.

It’s essentially an arty obstacle course. It can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it. My favourite steps have been ‘Stomp and Roar like a Dinosaur’, ‘Emoji Stepping Stones’, and ‘Walk The Plank’.

For all the info about the DIY Festival from The Lantern Company, including video workshops and downloadable PDF’s, click here.

We’d love to see your own DIY Festival pics and receive your feedback. Share your pics with the hashtag #LanternDIYfestival and have LOADS of fun! 

 

 

 

 

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The Community Power Coat

During COVID lockdown, I was commissioned by Collective Encounters to create a piece of art that reflected the thoughts and feelings of my local community.

Do you remember how great it felt when your school mates (and one of two of the more sound teachers) signed your leavers shirt? Do you remember finding it hanging in the back of your wardrobe or rolled up in a memory box in the loft years later? How wonderful does it feel to remember those life events?

I took my cue from this feeling. I remember leaving primary school with the positive weight of good and hopeful wishes, literally on my shoulders. Fast forward five years and there I was again, leaving senior school with messages from all my friends scribbled and drawn all over my sleeves and chest.

Physically wearing thoughts and feelings is a truly transformative experience and one the majority of us remember fondly. Sadly it only seems to happen in childhood.

When I first moved to Liverpool age 8, I remember hearing my mum say ‘Oh, she’d give you the shirt off her back. referring to a friend who would help anyone and everyone, whenever she could. The saying stuck with me.

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As my teen years wore on in L13, I became increasingly aware of labels. I wore Bon Bleu, Sweater Shop, Fila and Nike Air Max 95’s. Our school coats were Helly Hansen and Sprayways. The lads all wore Rockport (in tan, obvs). Labels enabled us to fit in where it mattered. If you didn’t wear those labels, you weren’t cool, or in with the popular kids. It’s an age-old cycle on which we’ve all been on one side or another.

I looked more closely at how labels and their meanings change to us as we grow older. During the pandemic, labels such as Key Worker, NHS, Furloughed, and asymptomatic became more prevalent as we learned new ways of social acceptance.

Back in May 2020, Collective Encounters commissioned 10 new works by emerging artists. The commissions form part of its Above & Beyond project, and respond to themes of “community power” and “community action”. To fulfill my artistic brief, I combined the ideas of wearing feelings, labels to fit in, and labels to stand out and engaging with a community with human kindness at its heart.

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I created a coat. It’s a run of the mill, beige trench coat that you’ll see on any street in any town or city, around the world. Men and women wear this style and its colour is universal.

I began collating input from friends and family, then on social media and then with my neighbours, local food bank, and volunteers involved with food hampers and medicine deliveries.

I asked the questions: “What does community power look like, to you?” and “What does community power mean?”. The answers to these questions, coupled with the labels, words, sayings, and phrases that have become the ‘norm’ during the COVID pandemic, then formed the pattern for The Community Coat.

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The more I explained to people what I was working on, the more giving they were with their own experiences and feelings. Grief was an overriding theme as elderly loved-ones in care homes passed away without family members present. This gave way to rising anger as political figures were seen to be flouting the rules while funerals were watched through Zoom.

New behaviours and hobbies came to the fore. Family bike rides, street bingo, and making masks all got a mention. While riding the highs and lows of mental health on the Corona Coaster also featured heavily.

I used mixed textiles to recreate symbols old and new during this time. Black Lives Matter protests and moving tributes to the late George Floyd are there alongside nods to the International Space Station, our incredible NHS, and our city’s iconic architecture – surrounded by wildflowers, reminding us that the world revolved, without us.

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From crayons and sharpies to embroidery, temporary tattooing, stitching, gluing, painting, stenciling, feathering, and caligraphy – The Community Coat pays homage to a city filled with passion, dealing with grief, injustice, and new normals, all while having each other’s backs.

My profound thanks to Collective Encounters for allowing me to do something different with a creative brief, and for helping me to bring people from my community together, during unprecedented times.

Thank you so very much to each and every person who generously donated their words to The Community Coat. I hope it speaks volumes about our lives during the lockdown.

 

 

 

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