The Backlog

How long is your to do list right now? I can’t see the end of mine.

It’s been a week. I’m fully aware it’s only Wednesday afternoon, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t eyed up the gin already. I’m here for a mini moan, but I also have good news. Stick with me.

My Zoom link failed in my first new cohort class this morning. My iphone has been installing the latest brain washing update for almost 90 mins, my kids homeschooling is running two days behind and I’m locked in an eBay battle for an amazing pair of ceramic hoop earrings. I’ve just been outbid.

On top of the earring drama, I’ve still got to file my tax return, I have 80 pieces of written work to mark and we’re in desperate need of a big shop. Sod it, Koka Noodles for tea it is!

I’m not stressing anymore. It is what it is. There are bigger things at play. This week Boris Johnson made a promise to the public that once we’re through the Covid pandemic, there will be a day of mourning all those lost. What a load of bollocks. Why not just quit throwing money at crack pot ideas (read, giving your mates a load of tax payers money for shit that would never work) and protect the front line staff and those who are vulnerable?

The statement took me back to October. 4am sat on the sofa bleary eyed listening to my mum wail down the phone because my step dad had died suddenly in the night. From covid. Having worked a weekend shift in admin at the local hospital. The same place he was told earlier in the year to stay away from because he was classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’.

I sat there for about an hour. In shock. I went up to bed and told my boyfriend what had happened and cried. Then I got up, took my kids to school and went to work. It’s safe to say I’ve not even begun to deal with the grief, because it doesn’t feel like there is time. There’s homeschooling three kids, three meals plus snacks, my own workload, phone calls to make, my mum to look after, laundry, oh my days the laundry. Where does it all come from? It took me two days to put clean bed linen on my own bed. I have been so tired and lacking in energy. I slept in my kids’ bunkbeds because I just couldn’t be arsed.

Well here’s the good news. I’m writing, a lot. I am leaving my mega stressful job and starting a new role with an organisation I have admired for more than ten years. It is literally a dream job. An organisation which not only understands the demands on working mums, but encourages you to identify how you can get the best out of your working day. There’s far too many things to list, but it’s safe to say I’m mega excited.

Here’s some more good news. My kid aced her spellings this week. My other kid told me she wasn’t coping with her school work and it was making her upset. So we sat down and brainstormed for a bit and I introduced her to time blocking. Two days later, she’s a different kid. My son? He’s just living his best life in his Pokemon pjays. Rocks up, eats the entire contents of the fridge, does a bit of purple mash and then toddles off to play with his Lego, game on the Nintendo Switch or annoy his sisters. Oh, he painted his glow in the dark solar system yesterday, but we’ve lost Venus. Probably in the Dyson already.

We’ve started going for 8pm walks again. We did this in the first lockdown when I was scared of being around people. Now it’s just a great way to switch off from the days activities and get some fresh air before bed. A constitutional if you will.

If you’re anywhere near the end of your to do list, I salute you. If like me, you can’t see the end of your list, I invite you to join in an 8pm walk. Leave the list. Chuck the pen. Just wander. It’ll all still be there tomorrow.

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A Little Less Conversation

I’ve been thinking about communication a lot this week. How do you talk to someone?

If there’s one particular skill that is essential to being a journalist it’s being able to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. It’s also the single most annoying part of being a parent apparently. “Mum you’re so cringe, you talk to anyone.”

Are you one of those people who talks to their family every day? I am. I chat with my mum probably 2/3 times a day. I call my dad once a week and the same with my brother. I also send daft videos and memes and stuff on whatsapp and Instagram as a way of checking in. Covid restrictions haven’t really influenced this routine, it’s just how we roll. Although, things have begun to change.

As January trundles on I’ve found myself feeling more withdrawn from my usual chatty self. I feel as though there are only three topics of conversational allowed and I’ m so over them all. I think I’m ready to hibernate. You know all those Christmas and new year conversations we have; “All ready for Christmas?” people ask, “yes, just a few last bits” you reply. Or, “how was New Year, do anything nice?” they’ll ask, and you say ” ahh just a quiet one at home with a few drinks, you?”. Those inevitable conversations we enter into a certain times of the year? They’re only manageable because they’re limited to like a two week period.

We’re now in month, I don’t know 9/10(?) of homeschooling and the same perfunctory conversations we were having in April 2020 and still here. Lingering like a empty wine bottle by the bin, waiting to be taken out and replaced. A lady in the park yesterday asked me if I was enjoying homeschooling. I switched into robot mode, “Oh you know, we’re getting a few bits done each day. That’s what counts isn’t it?”

She went on to tell me about how she studied IT in university 20 years ago and introduced computers into high schools for the first time. Her daughter is an architect and she’s making plans to oppose the local park being built on. 125 apartments, imagine the extra traffic? See, I listened. I asked questions about her Dachshund (who knew they barked so loud?) and her granddaughter (much less barky), both of whom we’re trying their best to get into the doughnuts in my shopping bag. She is the only stranger I have spoken to in months and the conversation left me weary.

Oh, that’s not entirely true. An Arriva bus driver told me he liked my phone case when I was paying for a ticket. I smiled and said: “Ahh it just stops me from smashing the screen on a daily basis.” We both smiled that knowing smile all Iphone users do and I went and sat down. Meh. Kind but meh.

I’m torn between wanting something new and exciting to talk about, the inauguration bought us a few covid-free days, but then lacking the motivation to engage. It all seems so trivial and I’m in danger of losing my conversational skill to funny Tik Tok videos and Instagram reels. Why bother to tell the joke when you can send a video of a cat snoring into a microphone? Right?

There are people I am close to who will say that this description does not match the person at all. I am loud, gregarious, sweary and forthright. And they are right, usually.

It’s stressing me out all this not talking. It’s like I need to perform, to be that loud, gregarious girl, always with something to say and never afraid to say it. But it’s knackering and striving to be that person is making me blue. I abhor being negative. Hate it. Always try to look at the postives. But my family are far away, my daughter is struggling with lockdown, my mum is so desperately lonely having lost my step dad in October, the list goes on and it’s mostly crap.

*Audible sigh here*

I went for a five mile walk, posted some Ebay stuff (said hello and answered the home schooling question again from the lady in the post office) and gave my head a wobble. Reset firmly pressed.

Rather than fight it, perhaps now is the time to be quiet. Embrace it. It’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’m signing off from one adventure and beginning a new one. Lots to learn, many new colleagues and people to meet and new routines to establish at home. Maybe this time was always meant to be spent in quiet contemplation? Maybe it’s time to be more of an observer and less of a participant?

January is to me, a month of change. Ordinarily I buy into various resolutions and ‘new year new me’ bollocks until around 13th when the wheels fall off. I also start writing a new diary and clear out my email inbox and message apps. This has all gone to plan, including the wheels falling off bit. But the more noticeable and sustainable change is how I communicate. It’s taking some getting used to but I think I like it. It’s less turbulent, more considered.

Communicating in the right way at the right time, as opposed to just ALL the time, is a 2021 habit I can really get behind. I never wanted to believe it, but maybe less really is more?

Are you feeling lockdown weary or covid/homeschool gagged? What are you doing to combat it? Talk to me.

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9 Really Fun Home School Activities for Lockdown 3.0

These ideas don’t take ages to set up, they don’t need lots of expensive equipment and you’ll definitely enjoy them yourself (when the kids have gone to watch Cartoon Network!)

I woke up with Whitesnake’s 1987 hit, ‘Here I Go Again on my Own’ stuck in my head. Following yesterdays anouncement of lockdown 3.0 in the UK, I decided to make a start on some fun home schooling activities for my younger two. My teen is already being inundated with work from her teachers, but we both know she’ll emerge from her tech cave to join in the chalking and science experiments. They always do!

So, here’s 10 ideas I’ve pulled from the likes of Pinterest to help ensure my kids to actually learn something, but also explore activities outside of Purple Mash and TT Rockstars. My younger kids are age 6 and 9, years 2 and 4 at school respectively. I try to find activities they can both do, and leave the targeted English, maths and science to the pack sent home from school. Basically, I’m trying to be the fun substitute teacher who lets them paint their hands with glue and do word searches!

Baking and cooking together teaches all kinds of great skills.

My advice, not that you asked for it, but my advice for homeschooling is don’t sweat it. Yes there will be days when they have square eyes from being on tech, there will be days when you assign Lego building as an educational achievement (well, it is) and some days you’ll get a full set of timestables done with dry pasta shapes before cooking it for tea. It’s all good.

Here’s 10 fun homeschooling activities to check out during lockdown 3.0

1 – Cotton Bud Painting

My little boy hates practising his handwriting. He practically has his own font, but it’s the one thing that gets flagged up at every parents evening. We’ve had a go at cotton bud painting to make it more fun and then made dot art pictures afterwards. All you need is a box of cotton buds, some paint and paper. More here.

2 – Me on the Map

My kids both enjoyed making maps of their local areas at school. I thought we would take on this idea, and see if they could identify where they are in the universe, never mind their own postcode. Paper, sweet wrappers, pens, highlighters, glitter, string, whatever. Make a map of your world together.

3 – Salt Dough Dinos

I LOVE salt dough, but playdough is just as fun to mould. We’re combining history and play here by making some salt dough dino prints. We’ll prob watch Jurassic Park afterwards too. More inspiration for salt dough creations here.

4 – Maths Pegs

Maths is a bit of a chore in our house and so anything that can make numbers more fun is a bonus. If you can get your hands on some wooden pegs, this is a great way to get to grips with times tables without needing the wifi code. Paper, pens and pegs. More info here.

5 – Scavenger Hunt

These scavenger hunt cards are so easy to make and you can choose to stay indoors or even take them out into the garden or the local park. Paper and pens is all you need. Set your kids a challenge to find something rainbow coloured, slimy, fluffy, green, hard, smooth, whatever. More ideas here.

6 – Taste the Rainbow

Did you know there so much more to a bag of Skittles than just eating them?! Science experiments with Skittles are a great crowd pleaser for little ones. It’s as easy as arranging the sweets in a circle on a plate and adding warm water for an instant rainbow. Alternatively, if you have some food colouring at home, check out this rainbow lettuce and celery experiment.

7 – Marble Run Maze

It’s day one and the kids have already eaten me out of house and home, which on the plus side means, I have loads of boxes and tubes to use. Get yourself some selotape, some boxes and scissors and make a marble run. You don’t even need marbles! Toy cars, frozen peas, bouncy balls, all work just as well. I’ve found that taping boxes to the walls often pulls the paint off, so I stick to the doors or fridge works best. More inspiration for your little engineers here.

8 – Historical Pick A Number

Do you remember making these ‘pick a number’ things in school (bottom left hand corner of the pic)? I have no idea when I learned, but I can still make them in my sleep! Why not mix up your kids history projects with a bit or origami? Great for history or English tasks, swap out the ”you’re cute’ messaging for comprehension questions, where did I live? What food did I eat? Name one interesting fact about me, what era did I live in? More on this idea, here.

9 – CHALK!

Chalk is the most versatile teaching aid of all time. You can pick up a pack of chalk for about £2 and teach your kids something from every aspect of the curriculum with it. Draw the solar system on your driveway, draw around each other and sketch in the bones, make an Urban Orienteering playground in your own garden, blend the colours to make art, draw a treasure map, write times tables down path, draw a frame and snap selfies, the possibilities are endless. More ideas here.

To all the parents and care givers taking on lockdown homeschooling, I wish you good luck! Let’s do our best.

Give these ideas a go and drop me a line with how they went, I’d love to hear your feedback. I’m on Twitter @katereillyjames or email me, katereillyjames@gmail.com.

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Liverpool Blues

Blue is the colour

I teach Journalism in the heart of Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter. Nothing makes me happier than slipping out of the staff room at lunch to wander the cobbled streets, and day dream about living in one of those amazing houses. Especially in December, when they’re bestowed with baubles and wreaths. It’s like a scene from the original 101 Dalmatians animation.

The Georgian Quarter offers up so many visual gems. Hope Street is crowned at either end by an architectural delight. Not one, but two cathedrals. St. Brides Church is another personal favourite landmark, towering up from the pavement with it’s Parisian, Madeleine-esque columns. What I love most is the huge expanse of sky from Gambia Terrace, Hope Street, looking out to Liverpool Cathedral, especially on a clear day. Similarly, the wet paving stones on Percy Street offer up beautiful reflections after a downpour.

My lunchtime strolling had led to an accidental Twitter series of pictures. My Liverpool Blues features whatever I come across on my Georgian Quarter walks which includes a shade of blue. Usually it’s the sky, sometimes its a front door, railings, anything. I just always seem drawn to the colour and can’t resist taking a pic.

It’s not at all grim up north, sometimes you’ve just got to dig a little deeper, or take more time to appreciate what’s around you. What better time to invest in your surroundings that during lockdown 3.0? We’re allowed to get in some exercise outside with members of our own household, so why not charge your phone, pick a colour and see what looks good in your neighbourhood?

Send me your colours on Twitter, @katereillyjames and I’ll share the hell outta them.

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Meet Me At St. Paul’s

I’m a pluviophile. I love the rain.

I’m also a big fan of pina colada’s too but I’ve only just made that connection. There’s something about the rain I find soothing, calming. You can stick me in the middle of a bustling cityscape, say London, during rush hour, during a torrential downpour, and the tube is flooded from Euston to Waterloo – and I have to get to Bank and carrying an overnight bag and laptop and, and…..I’d still be wearing a smile, because of you.

Of course, it was destined for failure. But at the moment, that damp, cold, October night, nothing has ever felt more right. The rain belted down from mid-afternoon. From my lunchtime spot in the Trafalgar Square pub, I watched both tourists and Londoners alike dash about with umbrellas trying to dodge the puddles. Still, I wore a secret smile.

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The advertising training session ploughed on though the afternoon and the heavily loaded clouds persisted over the Thames. Growing steadily in number and weight. Looking out from the 14th floor, searching for the landmark, knowing you were so close, yet the clock held us apart. It took everything I had to not bolt out of the room at the end of the day. Hurried goodbyes and papers stuffed into my bag, I made for the tube.

The course had been a casual event, which is lucky because my leather trousers and Adidas combo were my only defence against rush hour people, trains, cyclists, and the persistent rain. That rain. It was biblical. London reached critical mass at exactly 5:27pm. The Northern line had flooded, the city was gridlocked. The phone connection was patchy at best. With no umbrella and the hefty weight of my overnight bag on my shoulder, I made a decision.

There’s no way I was going to meet you looking my best. I made my peace with it. So out came the Yankees cap up went my denim collar, and the 2-mile trek across the city began.

I was wet in places you can only be when you’ve hauled ass through the pouring rain for something truly unmissable. I was drenched. Head to toe. Racing towards each other through packed streets, filled with pissed off commuters and shoppers, we checked in with short calls: “Where are you now?” “Oh wait, my phone is getting wet, let me duck in somewhere.” “I’ll call you right back.” “Stay right there I’ll get the tube towards you.” “Oh no, that’s flooded too.” Until finally.

“Okay, let’s just pick a central point, I’ll meet you at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Whoever gets there first, just take shelter and check back in soon, yeah?”

“Okay,” I smiled.

It was 2.3 miles, from where I was stood, outside New Look in the rain, soaking through my buttoned-up denim jacket and Adidas, to the steps on the west side of St Paul’s Cathedral. I was so cold. The type of cold that feels like it’s all up in your shoulders and neck. I looked like I’d walked twice that distance by the time I arrived.

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But the moment I laid eyes on you, it didn’t matter. Nothing did. It wasn’t meant to be a Hollywood moment. It really wasn’t. But it felt like one. Smiling and kissing and laughing. Just staring at each other in disbelief. Stood, rooted to the spot, almost in shock that it was even happening.

The rain stopped. We walked across the Millenium bridge to the Southbank, unaware that another human being walked the earth. It was all eyes on us. You snapped a pic of me having run across a busy road, dodging slick hackney cabs and red, London buses. Looking at it now, it could be a simple pic of St. Paul’s in the dark. But there I stand, unaware of your camera, yet wholly aware I was breaking every single rule in the book.

We wandered along the Southbank in a steady rhythm of comfortable silence and bouts of raucous laughter and conversation. You knew the perfect place to grab a bite to eat but suggested a drink first to dry off and settle the nerves. Nerves? The age of us, behaving like kids.

Shakespeare, the creator of the most famous lovers, looked on as we went for a late dinner at a cosy Borough Market restaurant. It was perfect. We’re sharing tapas, you’re getting tipsy on the red. You paid the bill and came back with two glasses of prosecco. Clinking glasses before we left for the apartment.

I remember feeling cold at dinner, my jacket and leather trousers still slick with rain. The nightcap prosecco took the edge off and loitering around Potters Field, snapping the lights reflected on the water, feeling your gaze one me, quickly took my mind elsewhere.  Stopping to take pictures on London Bridge, illuminated against the inky blue sky, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Like a teen on a first date I walked along next to you silently hoping you were going to stop and kiss me again. As backdrops go, we’d started strong at St Paul’s, and London Bridge after a rain-storm is a pretty good second base.

Almost as if you’d read my mind, you took my hand, pulled me over towards the wall, and kissed me long and hard. against the backdrop of an in illuminated city. I was breathless. Your hand on my right cheek, the other pulling me into your body. The weight of my overnight bag on my shoulder, forgotten.

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When It All Falls Down

Work is online, school is closed and the threat of COVID feels closer than ever before.

It’s day one of 2021 (for those like me, who didn’t kick start their New Year until Monday) and it’s all gone to shit already! I will be teaching online for the foreseeable future, my kids are all home until at least 18th January, and I just heard that another 5 people I know have COVID.

First of all, I have to look at the positives. I hadn’t yet bothered to iron any school uniforms, so that’s a tiny win. I’m genuinely a little bit excited about home schooling my younger two kids. We have a ‘paint your own solar system’ and a shed load of new Lego to get started on. I emailed my kids’ school this morning to thank the staff for everything they’re doing behind the scenes to ensure the pupils have access to school work and reading books. I fully support their decision to close and protect themselves and their families.

Back to window gazing it is then.

My mum, who is now part of our support bubble, having lost her husband to COVID in October, is asbolutely delighted that she can spend more time with the kids and help keep them occupied while I work. Speaking of work. I’m looking forward to two weeks worth of Zoom lessons with my NCTJ students. It’ll be the first time we’ve gone fully digital as we battled through in the news room in 2020. With exams looming, we’ll be battering the wifi to get their portfolio’s completed, it’s a challenge I’m wholly up for.

There’s no way to sugar coat this horrendous virus. Both my mum and step dad contracted COVID in October and sadly, my step dad died. My mum was hospitalised and has made a good recovery, despite her grief. Thank God for grandchildren.

Today I leaned another 5 extended family and friends have caught COVID. All of which have continued working throughout the pandemic, but have taken every precaution otherwise. No pub drinks, no meals out, hand washing, mask wearing, law abiding, and yet, they’re all suffering the effects.

Scotland has just locked down until the end of January. Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon made the decision despite believing the country is approx 4 weeks behind London, in terms of infection rates etc.

Is a UK lockdown just around the corner? With confirmed COVID figures now surpassing the height of the peak back in April 2020, surely it’s the only option? I don’t know about you, but I’m more nervous about COVID now than ever before. I’ve seen first hand how it can reduce a person to a shell. I don’t want that for anyone.

Home Schooling in 2020

In the coming weeks I hope we can go back to looking out for each other again. Checking in, saying hi, sharing recommendations for take-aways and Netflix shows. I’m going to try and source some more, fun home activities to do with the kids and share them on Instagram. It’s just small things, but they can mean a lot.

Having my family close gives me a little bit of comfort. Mentally I’m preparing to lockdown again. I think it’s coming. And if it doesn’t, then God help us all.

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10 Things I Can’t Do

….without having a nosebleed.

I have HHT. I’ve written about it a few times previously, but if you need to catch up, head this way first. I have daily nosebleeds. Sometimes it’s just a 5 or ten second trickle. Sometimes it’s 40 mins in my boyfriends bathroom and it’s exploded all over the sink, the tiles, the floor and me. The gift that keeps on giving.

Lots of people have nosebleeds. I get them because HHT causes my blood vessels to form improperly. They’re a big old tangled mess. It’s a hereditary condition and my dad, brother and two daughters have it too. Needless to say, we go through a whole load of toilet roll in our house.

HHT is a royal pain in the arse. When it’s not causing life threatening symptoms, such a liver failure, stroke and pulmonary issues, HHT likes to find an outlet to bleed like hell, without any warning. I’m a fan of sharing just how frequent and severe my bleeds are on my social media. I believe it helps to raise awareness of the disease, which in the UK is massively underrepresented.

Filtered pics and trigger warnings aside. My HHT gets me down a fair bit. A fellow HHT sufferer posted in a Facebook group that she’d lost a loved one to HHT over the festive period. If that wasn’t bad enough, her state of heightened emotions meant she’d suffered horrendous bleeds of her own, every day since. It’s hard going.

While there is no cure and treatment is still very much in the developmental stages for HHT, having each other is the best medicine right now. People who understand what living with a potential ticking time bomb disease feels like. It’s not great, but an understanding ear and virtual hug means the world.

Sharing tips on how to stem bleeds quickly (tampons up your nose – winner) or what questions to ask your ENT, vascular or genomics specialist (can I see what you just pulled out of my nose please?) and the odd message of support, it’s all we’ve got.

I want to share some things with you that I can’t do. My HHT dictates what’s good on a daily basis. Some days I can ride my bike to work. Some days I can ride my bike to work but I arrive looking like I’ve been involved in a road traffic accident, covered in blood. You get the idea.

Debilitating is the word I’d most associate with HHT. Frustrating is a close second. Here’s why.

Ten things I can’t do without having a nosebleed.

1 – Blow my nose. Nope, don’t even thing about it. Guaranteed a double nostril downpour, for sure.

2 – Sleep on my right side. After multiple laser surgeries, my right nostril is now weaker than the left. If I lay on my right during the night, the pressure builds in my nose and it’ll pour all over my pillow and bedding.

3 – Take a hot shower. Yep, hot water and my nose simply do not mix! Team lukewarm over here!

4 – Blend foundation or concealer on my nose. Nah, red, blotchy and interesting it is. Not worth the risk.

5 – Sauna or steam room. Again, nope. Is that my temperature creeping up? Incoming nosebleed it is then.

6 – Bend/lean over. This sounds utterly mad, but even if I so much as lean off the sofa for the remote, my nose is going to go.

7 – Rush. This one is particularly troublesome because I’m not exactly the most organised person. The morning school run, in the rain, laden down with bags and flutes and pe kits and lunch bags has resulted in many a HHT fail. I think our school friends are used to seeing me covered in blood these days.

8 – I’m going to say it. Sex. I’ve bled on my other half a couple of times at the worst possible time. It’s not a consistent problem but it’s not exactly great. Luckily he’s awesome about it.

9 – Strain. Again, ewww but true. I know that anything that builds pressure will result in a bleed. I’ve got a lot of love for leafy greens and less awkward chats with my consultant about toilet habits!

10 – Brush my teeth. I do it twice a day, so obviously I run the risk of two bleeds each day. Which then makes me feel sick and light headed. Plus, if my nose bleeds into my mouth, or my lips or tongue bleed, then yes, you guessed it, I have to brush my teeth again. Such fun.

So there you go. A little insight into the daft but annoying as hell limitations of having a vascular disease. If you’d like to find out more about HHT, head to www.curehht.org.

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HNY 2021

New Year was truly lovely, but saying goodbye to 2020 has taken an extra 72 hours.

I celebrated New Years Eve with my boyfriend, lots of lovely food, cocktails delivered from a fab local bar and a kick ass playlist. We counted down on the door step, in the rain watching the neighbours firework display across the road. We clinked glasses, kissed, took some pics and went inside to resume kicking/heading balloons around and drinking champagne. It was perfect.

Happy New Year 2021

Waking up 6 or so hours later, it didn’t feel like a fresh start. It felt like Friday. A normal, run of the mill day in tier 3. We cleaned up. Okay, he cleaned up. We went for a wander along the waterfront and did some laundry. He napped. The whole weekend has felt much the same. We watched films, cooked, cleaned up, went for walks and covid tests, showered, etc. All very samey.

It’s now Sunday, and tomorrow feels like a brand new start. What is it about Mondays? The kids are home. Work emails have restarted, I’ve considered ironing some uniforms, although no one knows what will happen in terms of schools re-opening. Does anyone believe anything the government say anymore?

I’m ready for 2021. I’m excited. Nervous, but overall excited. I feel like I need to write. There are words and ideas swirling around in my brain, desperate for a creative outlet. A portion of this has been spent creating shorthand and portfolio study aids for my students during the festive break. Transcribing football press conferences, Oscar winners speeches and celeb interviews certainly breaks up the more traditional ‘ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to this council meeting’ openers!

The prospect of travel, new career opportunities and a little personal growth is keeping my spirits up. My boyfriend and I had booked to go to Rome when lockdown 1 began. Travel plans grounded, we managed 4 fantastic days away in Scotland in the summer instead. This year I’m hoping I’ll finally get to see Thomas Keats’ final resting place, as well as the ancient architecture and delicious Italian cuisine!

Work wise – things are mega busy this month. My first cohort of journalism students sit their final exams in late January and fly the nest! It’s foot firmly on the gas until then, however, post 22nd January, I’ve no idea what will be. Will there be bank hours available? Will I be out of the job? Who knows? I am loving teaching but I understand that education isn’t an option for as many people, given the year we’ve had, and so application numbers will be down. Gulp.

I have kept my hand in. I was published with Explore Liverpool last month. Fellow Evertonian and all round fundraising legend, Phill Hayward has embarked on a year long challenge to support Wirral Mind. Naturally I want Phill to get as much support and donations as possible so we organised an interview and hey presto! You can read his story here.

Cambridge based publisher, Kettle’s Yard also published my poetry submission in December. Take a look at this collaborative piece, dedicated to NHS staff and key workers.

New Year Resolutions never work out for me. I lack discipline. It’s something that holds me back from achieving my ill thought out goals, and by January 3rd, I’m usually done. This time I haven’t set any goals, until January 3rd, so I’m already winning, right?

Inspired by the one and only Dawn O’Porter – whose excellent list of 2021 to-do’s had me nodding and smiling in agreement, this is where I’m going to be in December 2021.

1 – Yes! It’s a massive cliche, but I will be lighter, fitter and healthier. You can’t outrun/cycle a bad diet and being hot at 40 is rapidly approaching! Body overhaul time.

2 – Sleep more. I love my bed and this one sounds pretty easy, but in order to get more than 5 hours, I must be more organised. Double whammy. Sleep app redownloaded!

3 – Read more books. Another double bubble here, because in order to turn more pages, I simply have to put my damn phone down. I have no less than 14 books to read and it’s only January!

4 – Stop swearing. I would fit right in on any turn of the century docklands with my overuse of the f-word and co. It’s unbecoming and I will instead expand my vocabulary to be more ‘Susie Dent’.

5 – Write a book. I’ve been threatening this for years. I’ve attempted it a few times and lost confidence. Published in 2021 sounds good.

6 – Clean and wear my glasses regularly. It’s not rocket science. I can’t see. Don’t know why I make it so difficult for myself.

7 – Learn to play Z Cars on the piano.

8 – DON’T dye my hair. I have been going steadily silver for about 10 years. In August 2020 I decided to stop dying my hair. This is the longest I’ve ever gone and I currently have about 3 inches of white/silver hair. I’ve come this far. 2021 will not break my resolve!

So that’s it. Come December 2021 I will be a fit and healthy, white haired, well read, well rested, published piano playing author with clean lenses. Who’s with me?

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Sunday, Sleep and Scandal

I enjoyed a rare, lazy Sunday morning and wrote something scandalous.

It’s not the first time I’ve put pen to paper in an attempt to turn up the heat on a cold Sunday morning. Like last time, I won’t be publishing the finished article here. Ensuring I take responsibility for the sensitive content I occasionally create, and how it is freely available on the internet, I’ll be keeping this one on lock down. Unless of course, curiosity gets the better of you and you request a copy*

Over 18’s only.

katereillyjames@gmail.com

Enjoy x

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The Bright Lights of Peasefield

While Blackpool is covered in a pandemic blanket, a group of Liverpool residents saw their chance to shine. And they took it.

This weekend I realised how much I’m going to miss doing fun christmas activities with the kids. No grotto’s, no wandering around the city centre and waterfront, snapping daft selfies with the fun windows displays and giant Liverpool ONE Christmas tree. We’ll even miss our annual trip to Alder Hey to see the ‘best Christmas tree in the whole city’ according to my 9 year old.

I know Christmas is going to be different this year. Granddad wont be with us. We;re going to my mums for the Christmas weekend, in an attempt to help her through the grief of losing her husband. I haven’t bought as many gifts this year, I am sending more Christmas cards than usual. I am using the wrapping paper left over from last year, and thanking my lucky stars that all my Christmas tree lights are still working.

We’re all cutting our cloth, in different ways. Trying to keep each other safe and well, but still reaching out because a kind word, card or gesture can make all the difference after the year we’ve had. Not that January 2021 is going to be vastly different, but we have hope.

It’s in times like these that kindness really matters. Being able to make someone else smile, for absolutely no other reason than, it’s a lovely thing to do, is a blessing in itself.

A group of residents in Dovecot, Liverpool, have decided to club together and decorate their street in Christmas lights, for others to enjoy, througout the festive period. Peasefield Road is a crescent of three bed houses in L14, about 5 miles from the city centre. It’s not an affluent area. I can say that, because it’s my area too. People do alright.

This spectacle has brought a little bit of joy to so many in the last couple of weeks. Including us. We washed up after dinner and wandered over to see if for ourselves. It didn’t disappoint.

Offering so many photo opportunities and selfies, this suburban street had more of a carnival feel to it, despite everyone keeping their distance and some wearing masks too.

Residents and homeowners had gotten crafty to decorate their front gardents and driveways. Lollipops made from pool noodles, sweets make from footballs and wrapping cellophane, all manner of illuminated nativity scenes and festive figures adorned the houses, from one end to the other. There’s so much to see.

It’s free. You can just turn up after dark, and walk along to enjoy the lights strung from house to house and all the garden scenes. What a lovely, kind gesture for other people to enjoy. The electricity bills must be through the roof!

The whole experience brought back a little big of Christmas cheer and we all realised how much we needed it. Tree officially up, turkey in the freezer and advent calendars at the ready. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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Women on the Ball is BACK!

After an 8 month break, cheers pandemic, I got back into the podcasting hot seat for a chat with Everton Women, for The Blue Room.

Our last ‘Women on the Ball’ recording session, on a particularly chilly night at Goodison, was 8 months ago, cheer pandemic. Chatting with former Everton Women keeper, Kirstie Levell, The Blue Room supported Everton in the Community at the charity’s annual ‘Sleep Out’ event. Watch that interview, here.

It’s taken some serious graft, from all concerned, to be able to secure another opportunity to chat with another member of the squad. My thanks to all who have participated in many weeks of email tennis. Bang in the middle of Internationals, we managed to score 30 minutes with Everton’s number 7, Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah.

Homegrown, passionate, Everton through and through, and a player who has truly come through the ranks and proven herself to be an incredible asset to Willie Kirk’s determined blues, Chaney answered questions from girls at AC Hoylake, talked candidly about life as a pro player, equality and swapping the pitch for the dance floor.

You can watch Women on the Ball, from The Blue Room, here.

Everton fan? Find out more about what’s coming up from The Blue Room, this week, here.

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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.

Legends

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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