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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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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