Coaching is not just for Senior Leadership

Despite what we might think from LinkedIn, coaching is not that well known outside of HR and leadership circles. I predict this will change massively over the next decade, but we’re not there quite yet… I’ve worked in Higher Education for a decade and not one of my managers mentioned coaching, it was never an option for my training or personal development. It was actually through my work as a careers advisor that I even discovered coaching at all. This feels like a shame as I know I would have benefitted hugely from coaching when I was in those stressful, busy, chaotic roles that caused me to eventually burn out and leave.

I have noticed there are a few companies asking for new coaches to provide their services for free in exchange for helping to top up that golden 100 hours new coaches need in order to apply for further accreditation through the ICF (still working on mine!) Descriptions of these roles often say that the coaching will be for senior leadership and high-flying management only.

It strikes me as a little odd that we should only offer coaching to colleagues who have already had opportunities to achieve these high paid positions, when colleagues who have less experience, potentially of different generations, would benefit from coaching too.

I’m not saying I don’t ever want to work with senior leadership, everyone can benefit from coaching, but I do sort of feel like people of that level should be actively engaging coaches as and when they need them and most importantly paying for their coaching instead of seeking free coaching.

Colleagues who have not yet climbed up the ladder to a managerial role would benefit hugely from coaching. The support a coach can give will help these colleagues to develop and grow. And guess what, they will be more invested in the organisation because they have been given this support so early in their career.

It just seems to me that we have our engagement with coaching topsy turvy. Senior management can definitely develop through coaching and these positive changes will filter down through the organization through their leadership. There are also many colleagues with incredible potential who might be one or two jobs into their careers who need coaching to work out where they want to go with their careers. Organisations should be supporting these colleagues through coaching too. Who knows if I had had coaching years ago maybe I would have stayed at the University I worked at previously and maybe I would have found my calling as a coach much sooner!

I hope you enjoyed this article, my books are open for new coaching clients! You can book an intro session here. I’m also free to write articles about coaching, wellbeing, poetry and LGBTQ+ life. Get in touch here: hello@edgarveylong.com

All Being Well… Talking about “Just”

Just

This time we’re talking about a word that from my own past that revealed quite a lot to me about how I viewed myself and my work. All thanks to a chance encounter at a work event. The word is just but it’s in the context of “I’m just an admin guy”.

I remember very clearly when I said this to someone, and their reaction really shifted how I saw things. Years and years ago I was “just” an Administration and Projects Officer, I was at a work event I had helped to organise and run. I got chatting with a delegate and he asked me what I did and I said “I’m just the admin guy” he looked at me a little sadly and said “You know this is exactly why I do what I do, so that colleagues like you can learn to value the work you do” The man I was chatting to was a Rep for the Association for University Administrators (AUA). We spoke a bit more and he encouraged me to look into joining the union to access training, networking and advocacy that they provide.

He was right, I was selling myself short and it came down to how I viewed myself and my work. In answer to that question I could have said “I’m the administration and projects officer, I helped organise this event.” But instead, I spoke from a place of defeat and undermined my own hard work by modifying it with that “just”.

There’s a larger point here which I think needs to be explored elsewhere, even now work that is seen as basic administration is belittled within the office environment and employees are often seen as unskilled or unambitious.

When I was working as a temp I was referred to as “just the temp” more than a few times, to my face. I was “just answering the phones” or “just buying in the refreshments and setting up the tables for meetings” if I didn’t do those things the phones would bother everyone to the point they couldn’t work, if I didn’t provide the refreshments and set up for the meeting, some important people would be annoyed, hungry, and standing around not knowing what to do with themselves without tables and chairs.  

It’s important to examine how you refer to yourself. If you sell yourself short, if you belittle yourself guess what, you’ll feel sold short and belittled. It’s sad to say but you can’t stop other people doing that to you. When I was a temp, I couldn’t stop the boss telling people I was “Just doing the admin…” when he was showing visitors around the office. But I could control what I said about myself to other people.

This is exactly the sort of thing that comes up during coaching sessions, the way you speak about yourself is often so automatic that you don’t fully register what you’re saying, but a coach is listening, and a coach will probably ask you to pause and reflect on what you’ve said if you downplay your work by sating you “just” do something.  

I hope you enjoyed my article, my books are open for new coaching clients! Have a look here for more details. I’m also free to write articles about coaching, wellbeing, poetry and LGBTQ+ life. Get in touch here: hello@edgarveylong.com

All Being Well…Talking about “Could”

Could

Could is the cool younger sibling of Should (have a read of my write up of should here). Could is full of options and possibility without any sense of commitment or responsibility.

For me could feels like standing in front of a ploughed field with a variety of seeds in your satchel and you’re assessing which is the best to sow right now. Maybe I’ve played too much Stardew Valley, but that’s how it feels to me.

Could is open and limitless.

Could can also be absurd, you could hop on a flight to Tokyo or sell all of your possessions on ebay. There is no judgment of a could statement in a coaching session. Clients in a coaching session can explore all of the options they can think of, even the stupidest option, even the option that is effectively not doing anything at all and each option is respected and discussed without judgment.

This is helpful when you’re mulling things over because often you might know which is the right option for you, but you might doubt yourself too much or you might worry that your partner/parents/friends would not agree with the decision. Coaching is a safe place to try on these ideas without someone immediately shooting them down.

I say there’s no judgment, and that’s true so long what is discussed does not break any of the confidentiality agreements made at the beginning, i.e. if the client is seriously considering murdering someone and wants to discuss options in a session “I could use this poison or this sword…” that’s when we might have to stop the session and inform a third party with the client’s knowledge.

Could is a good helpful word, embrace the could!

If you enjoyed this, please consider booking a coaching session with me. My books are open for new clients at the moment. I’m also free to be commissioned to write articles, send me an email: hello@edgarveylong.com

All Being Well… Talking about “Should”

One thing I love about coaching is picking up on certain words clients say that hold a lot of meaning. A word or phrase can hold a lot of power over us and we can use it so often we just don’t see how its affecting us.

Should is one of the words that comes up a lot. I am constantly surprised by how people’s body language changes when they start talking about things they should be doing. People’s faces drop, they turn their heads down, they break eye contact.

Should and it’s fancier sibling ought are words we use every day and do have their uses in language, but when we talk about ourselves or to ourselves about things we want to do, things we could do, things we will do we sometimes start saying should instead. Why is that?

Looking up the definition of should is pretty funny as it contains lots of things we are taught in coaching NOT to do with clients. Some choice quotes are:

“[should is] used to instruct…used to give advice…expresses unfulfilled expectation…obligation”

As a life and career coach, I’m not here to instruct you, advise you or hold a deadline above your head and say ‘well by next week you should do this’ and I don’t want you to say things like that to yourself either. I get it, when we all have things we know we need to do, but we haven’t done them yet that’s when the word tends to come in.

As a coach I’m here to stop you and ask questions around that. When you stop and reflect you might be surprised at what comes up. Sometimes there’s a complex reason, sometimes it’s as simple as “I just don’t want to do it” This is great, then we can talk about what this task is, we can talk about what would happen if you didn’t do it, what would happen if you did it first thing tomorrow, all in a space free from judgment. Maybe the reason you don’t want to do it is because you don’t have the confidence to do it, or you don’t have all the information you need in order to do it well. This is helpful to realise, you might not finish the conversation ready to do that one annoying should thing on your to do list, but you might know what you need to do next to get to that thing later on.

Should isn’t a bad word in itself. It’s useful “you should eat your breakfast” is a good one. But should like all words, is a tool which can be helpful or harmful depending on how you use it.  

All Being Well…#1 “Trust Yer Gut”

All Being Well…#1 “Trust Yer Gut”

I was interviewing for a job a few years ago, it was a pretty basic admin job at a sixth form college. When I turned up I immediately KNEW it was wrong for me. I’ll let you pick up on all the red flags as we go…

There were five candidates interviewing for the job, I know that because we were all held together in a meeting room, with teas, coffees and biscuits. Each of us were given a printed timetable for the morning. We had a tour of the school with the headmaster, then we had an interview with the deputy headmaster, then an interview with the headmaster. The job didn’t entail working directly with either of these people. We did the tour all together right at the beginning of the morning so people felt like they had to strike up a rapport with the headmaster during the tour, I cringed at it all, I felt like I was on the Apprentice or something.

Because we all had different schedules, we took part in the different interviews in different orders. Hence all the waiting around together and the Headmaster’s Exec Assistant ferrying us back and forth between the waiting room and the interview rooms. The other candidates were all really nice and we did chat quite a lot, being left to get along in that room.

The interview with the deputy was fine, the usual sorts of questions. I noticed that she had a water bottle on the windowsill behind her that had green gunk floating on top of it. I hoped it was some sort of science experiment and not just a bottle of water that had been left in the sun for several years. I guess I’ll never know.

The interview with the headmaster was simply everything I hate about interviews all in one. As I entered the fusty office I noticed he had drawn the curtains so it was uncomfortably dark, he sat at a grand desk with an oil painting of himself on the wall behind him. I’m not making this up.

Firstly he asked me why I had applied for this job because the salary was clearly too low compared to my previous one (I wanted to go from a full time role to a part time) He then said he would have to think about whether it would be ethical for him to agree to give me this job, when the salary was so low compared to my previous job. He then asked me to explain my work history since I took my GCSEs. At the time I was in my early 30s. So I had to go through 16 years of my life and work history, including answering follow up questions about why I moved to and then left Peterborough (relationship, then a break up) and why I moved to London (getting over same break up).After I explained my entire working life, he then asked me to explain my work as a poet, this was not something at all relevant to the role I was interviewing for. He then tried to impress me with his knowledge of some almost-contemporary poets. If you’ve been in this situation, you know to just nod along and act impressed that they’ve heard of Seamus Heaney. He said he wanted to get a proper understanding of me as a person as working here was like joining a family.

The call telling me I didn’t get the job came that afternoon, from the headmaster himself, repeating that he wouldn’t have felt morally right causing such a pay drop to “a man like me”, but he was pleased to have met me and he wished me best of luck.

Even before the last, humiliating interview, I knew knew KNEW I didn’t want the job. But I felt like I had to go through with it all anyway, just in case my mind changed. My mind may have been undecided, but my gut was 100% sure already. If I’d trusted my gut I might have left early, maybe that would have been rude, but it would have been the right decision.

I’m not saying we should all be following our guts and cutting and running out of situations all the time, but listening to your instincts is really important. That first thought is usually the truest one. If it means you don’t have to sit through a morning of awful interviewing, it’s probably worth it.

Highgate Wood :: Journal 23rd Feb – 28th Feb

Ciara Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

23th Feb – It’s still nice to be at home sometimes

I’ve not written for a few days out of not feeling like it, out of having a bad few days. I’m on my week off work now. This was such a good idea. The relaxation is very much in full swing, the weather is much improved, mild, a lovely blue sky tempered with some high mottled white clouds. The sun is out. Yesterday the government announced a roadmap to recovery, it seems steady and slow and that they’re now listening to the scientists which is a reassuring change. The day everyone’s immediately focussed on is 21st June. That’s when  all measures will be taken away all together, apparently. If every stage between here and there goes to plan. It feels like, as with the vaccine, sometimes things do go right instead of wrong, despite government incompetence and stupidity. It may well be that by June the world will be much changed. I hope so. That we will all slide slowly out into a world again and decide it’s still nice to be at home sometimes, out of choice, not a fear-ridden necessity. 

Wiltshire Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

24th Feb – post-lockdown world 

Vivid dreams, dreams about being in a busy bookshop and not being afraid of strangers, not keeping away from strangers. Friends were there and books were being sold frantically. I’m groggy now and all I have to do this morning is sit around in it and recover. This week off was such a good idea. This feels like the beginning of the post-lockdown world. That narrative is seeded in the air now. It’s in the thrust of the headlines on the news sites and causally people seem to be allowing themselves to talk about it. All of this in time with the bright spring sky. Whether it is true or if this is a sad false dawn, of course, we do not know. 

Queue for the Zoo Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

27th Feb – Highgate Wood

Who will we all be in the future? Ourselves again? I hope I’ll be calmer and less stressed on the tube, less worked up on the streets, less annoyed. I’ll have to work on that for sure. I do think that we’ve all been reminded how fragile we all are, how lucky we were to have what we had. Who will we be? We’ll be the people who all went through this in a million different ways. People are obsessing over this 21st June date. I worry it might be too soon to think about it, like starting your Christmas celebrations in early November, by 3rd December you realise how long the months really are. 

*

Yesterday we walked in Highgate wood with our starbucks, sat on a bench at the edge of the clearing in the wood, the green where they play cricket and everyone let’s their dogs off for a run. We were watching the drama of the dogs and owners, the children and owners. One very young child was using it’s pram to stand up with and then it rolled backwards very comically into the mud with no sense of self preservation at all. The two parents were stood with their backs to the infant talking and I pointed out to my husb with a laugh that the baby had hit the deck. The mother heard and fussed the father into rescuing it, giving us an evil glare as if we’d pushed the blighter down ourselves. I wouldn’t dare get so close to a stranger’s child, the germs! You have to wonder sometimes if parents even want their kids half the time. The same child, this is a crawling, not even walking baby, was later confronted by a quite large stranger’s dog which lolloped around by it, testing how close it could get, sniffing at it, pawing at it to see whether the little thing (once again in the mud on the ground) would play. Again the parents seemed broadly indifferent. This time at least noticing their mud-bound child but unmoved by the situation. This stranger’s dog could have had a particular taste for delicious baby arm, they had no idea. They do say that the tragedy of the current world is that the people who are clever are too clever to have kids, as such the human race will get dumber generation on generation. I joke, of course. It was beautiful to watch the open field space, a big green space walkers let their dogs off and there’s enough space for them to run and play with other dogs, without them going off and getting lost. The green is ringed by woodland the whole way around. We’ve sat here a few times over the past year, it’s always been lovely. This was possibly the most normal I’ve felt in a long while, something almost exactly as it would have been before. It really helped to see people and take a temperature of how people were behaving. To see people being normal, sensible, but also seemingly not too afraid. We’ve always kept ourselves months behind the current advice, always overcautious to avoid worry. It was reassuring to see what more normal people were doing, not just shut-ins with nervous conditions and complementary anxiety disorders. The weather was clear, the sky a lovely blue. We were sweating into our long coats by the time we found a good bench. It stands out as a gorgeous diversion, a little something different for us both, on a lovely bright optimistic Friday. I long and hope for more of that to come. 

28th Feb – Split ends

I never learned what split ends were (and I still don’t want to know) as such I feel like my hair is a beautiful mop without imperfection. If I knew, I’d realise I had them and maybe I’d feel differently. 

Not one wild notion :: Journal 6th Feb – 17th Feb

Tresco Tana Lawn™ Cotton [purple] – Liberty Fabrics

9th Feb – the closest possible distance

The snow continues this morning. I’ve never seen snow so intent on snowing for so long without bothering to settle. It’s not keen to commit to being here on the ground with us. I don’t blame it. I’m tired today. I feel like a loose boiled courgette, all stringy bits falling into itself into mush. I stare out the window and the white/black stripe pattern of snow in between the tiles carries over in my brain to the white page. We’re so closely here right now. Even as the snow comes, we feel our world shrink even more to the closest possible distance. Maybe we’ll look back to now knowing it was on its way to being over. I hope so. 

10th Feb – A Brightness 

The snow’s back, or still going. A brightness is here in the sky but there’s still high cloud and the same dusting as yesterday. I feel like I have more space and time today, from waking up earlier. The morning feels solid and clear. We sneak up and up to the anniversary of all this, the idea that we’d been confined to our homes for most of a full year is insane. Is it tempting fate to hope this is the largest and worst global disaster I’ll have to deal with in my lifetime? I long for a quietness, for news about things that don’t matter. 

Wild Flowers Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

11th Feb – Alpine meadows 

Snow again overnight. But even by midday the sun is stronger and melting it away. I feel like spring is turning towards us day by day. The day feels brighter now, the light is allowed in. I long to be on a plane flying above some beautiful mountains, looking down at the snow, the rock faces, the villages high up on alpine meadows. I long to experience that space, that distance, that speed. 

14th Feb – My memories of these streets

It was almost still light around half four this afternoon. When we went out for our walk at five it was newly dark and the clusters of families and couples were still scurrying about as always either exercising caution in keeping distance or none at all. I think we’ve learned that no matter what some people will always be inconsiderate, stupid, rude. I think about time again. Whether I’m losing my mind or if it’s just this situation we’re all in. I don’t think I realised how much I got from the exhausting busy detail of life, the rush and crowd, the streets, the architecture, history. It fed me, just walking from Leicester square towards Covent Garden and past towards work, watching the buildings, the quiet 9am streets with handfuls of tourists keenly fed on hotel breakfasts and thrown out for the day. I miss the automatic pull of the agreed walking route to work, agreed so as to be able to concentrate on buildings, atmosphere, the outfits of strangers, shop windows, the blue sky against the marble grey of the freemason hall, the wicker chairs stacked up outside caffe nero. My memories of these streets, walked in contrary directions, in other years, for other reasons. Now I walk across them towards work. Is that the same Nero’s I took my mum to when we saw Hairspray near here so long ago? I think so. 

15th Feb – Milestone

I finished my last official patch panel for the quilt last night. I still have more rows of patches to make to bridge the gaps here and there but in this totally arbitrary project I’ve reached another milestone. It feels great. Doing this has always been a dream of mine. I’ve always wanted to make a patchwork quilt like the one my nanny made for me. 

Rachel Tana Lawn™ Cotton [blue] – Liberty Fabrics

16th Feb – Not one wild notion 

I’ve put on Andrew Bird from 2003. Reminds me of the foggy years after undergrad when I was studying on my MA but also skint, unemployed and thrown out of the educational system with not one wild notion of how to get a job. These times were so long ago now I can be fed by the fond things without falling into a depression about my situation and worst of all, my choices. Everything I did and didn’t do lead me here and here we are. I finished Sandi Toksvig’s book last night. I’ve been reading it off and on for so long I can’t remember what I was reading before. It was a lovely slow read, facts and history about London alongside her life, it was really enjoyable. I don’t know why I don’t just read books I’ll enjoy. I need to be better at that. No one’s looking over my shoulder, no one’s vetting my reading for acceptability. I’m not gearing up for a PhD… which is what I thought I might be doing a year ago. I’m not saying I’ll never do it, but I don’t have that drive to do it right now and you really need that to pull yourself through it. I think I just wanted to be a Dr as well, I wanted to be able to show off easily and quickly how clever I am. I am reaching a funny place, post twitter, where I don’t have to tell everyone about everything. Sure I write this and maybe this will be online, but no one reads it. There’s no pressure compared with twitter. The morning is mild and rainy, a little dark so the lamp is still on despite the curtains being open. It’s a year today since I saw two of my friends for afternoon tea, one of the last social things I did before all of this. 

June’s Meadow Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

17th Feb – Idle Goals 

I don’t think any of us know who we are any longer. We can live in isolation but we need other people, more people to feel real and whole. The morning is windy, the bare trees branches are skipping around and birds are swirling around the currents, trying to ford the winds, use them to their advantage, like sailors cutting a path through the weather. I ordered some books from Gays the Word online last night. I loved going into their shop for a pick me up when I worked in Bloomsbury. I’d often try to get into small talk with the lovely staff, just to have some facetime with some other LGBTQ+ folks. They were always kind and chatty, sometimes I’d be half-remembered, very generously. One of my writer’s dreams is to have a book of mine sold in there, to do some signed copies for them. Maybe in the future. It’s good to have idle goals like that. I don’t even know right now what that book would be. 

*

On our walk two lads pull up on their scooters and park up, get off and go indoors. They’re both so constricted, their voices strain to be monotone, clothing is regulation, haircuts the same. Straight boys have to work hard to fit in. I feel sorry for them. They don’t know how constricting the standards are, they just accept them. As they get older they’ll learn to loosen up, or they won’t. They’ll be happier if they loosen. Right now they can’t express any individuality, any passion. 

the strange consequences of the present moment :: Journal 3rd Feb – 8th Feb 2021

Betsy Duchesse Silk Satin – Liberty Fabrics

3rd Feb – like a houseplant you overwater

I’m holding on to this relic of the former world, this notebook travelled more places in 2019 than I did in 2020. It’s known the crush of busy tube trains and windswept beaches. It’s hard to keep hope. It’s like a houseplant you overwater, eventually it’ll start to falter with too much. It needs to be dry before it needs water again.  I am groggy today and concerned, tired and feeling imprisoned. The escape, the exit, the the-world-will-come-back-eventually of it all. I’m tired of thinking about it.

Papercut Petals Silk Satin – Liberty Fabrics

5th Feb – I’ll see you in the next notebook 

There’s a note of double cautious optimism in the news this morning. A list on the BBC of positive changes. I’ve been watching the news, not on TV but more like monitoring what the general trends are. Editors know the bigger picture, you can get a sense of the most horrible reality by seeing what is pushed to the front of the queue. The Bank of England are reporting about predicting huge surges in spending in Spring into Summer. It seems the Bank of England knows better than we do. Last night of Drag Race UK the trailer for the next episode showed Rupaul telling the queens they had to stop production due to covid. Their faces were heartbreaking. It really affected me, I think actually it triggered me, seeing that moment again from March 2020 that we all lived through with horror. I’ve loved this season of Drag Race UK, but I knew it was filmed in the run up to lockdown and then 7 months later, I’ve wondered each week when the bright shiny world is going to be shattered by the reality of March 2020. I do think we’ll all live with trauma from all of this. I think we’ll all need to do work on coping, to help us move on. 

*

I’m glad I’ve come to the last pages of this book with this small small Friday optimism. Whether it bares out, we don’t know. Whether we will be living a more normal life by the end of this year… or a summer and then back into restrictions in the Winter, I don’t know. I know doing this, ordering my thoughts like this has helped me a lot. 

I’ll see you in the next notebook EGL 5/2/2021 

*

[new notebook same date]

I think I want my voice back. This is stupid because I haven’t lost it, I just have been using it in a different way. I’m coming to the end of my quilt project. That coupled with everything else has meant I’ve only written nonfiction, I mean, literal journals. Yesterday I had a small notion of a poetry pamphlet,  not even a poem yet though. I mean it comes because I read some poems. Ultimately you can’t write well or at all if you’re not consuming or even interested in the thing you want to create. You need to appreciate other people’s work otherwise you won’t grow, you also won’t support the world you want support from, You have to pay into the system because you want to not just because you want to withdraw from it. 

Lindy Pop Lasenby Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

6th Feb – outrageous and campy and funny and tragic

We watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch tonight. I bought the Critereon Blu Ray of it, I’ve loved the film for so long and the DVD was originally a birthday present from my friend Vickie, so I wanted to show up and give some money to it. I knew every frame of the the film, every line, but also it was like seeing myself from 12 years ago all again. I loved it. I was a bit worried about how it treats Hedwig as a transwoman, but I think for the time it was groundbreaking to tell that woman’s story, even if it was outrageous and campy and funny and tragic. I really loved the film, the way it was made, the characterisation of Hedwig and Tommy, their emotional creative affair, how creativity in collaboration can be like a relationship in itself. How you slowly become each other and sometimes you keep growing and growing apart. I loved it. The music was beautiful, emotional. John Cameron Mitchell’s voice is just a deep well of emotion. Some people’s voices just hit you, straight in your heart and that’s what happens when I hear him sing. The emotion, the hope, the complexity of it, it’s all there.  

Ava May Lasenby Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

7th Feb – shocking, cacophonous 

It’s been freezing cold all day. And we have had small sugar crystalised snow that’s just been sprinkling it’s way down all day, not really settling too much. You talk about the world, this place. Even if we’ve been lucky enough to remain healthy during this time, we’ve had to deal with illness, stress, forgetfulness, lack of sleep, anxiety, regret. As we slowly give up our small patches of the world and our range and scope widens again, we’ll be in shock at the reality of time and space, the absolute diversity of experience, architecture, the sounds on busy streets. It will be shocking, cacophonous. Bright wild extreme. 


Wild Bloom Lasenby Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

8th Febthe strange consequences of the present moment

We had more snow overnight. I woke up around 5am and could see a glow of light from the top of the curtains, early light given more power from bouncing around all these cold white surfaces. It’s by no means a snow that stops anything from happening. Last night I had the full story of what it was like getting the vaccine, my parents found it really easy, they didn’t even have to queue and all the people working there were kind. A nurse apologised for not being able to offer them a cuppa, the managers decided if they did offer cuppas everyone would just hang around all day drinking tea instead of getting work done. I’m so relieved it was so easy. Knowing that they have that protection is such a relief. 

*

The morning goes on quietly and snow falls. The little sprinkles are bigger now, I think. None of us can see the future. None of us can guess the strange consequences of the present moment. Out there a pigeon shuffles on a tree branch. The snow continues to fall in flakes that bounce around in the air, floating back from the window for a second before continuing to fall. Even the little burst of optimism from a few days ago feels fragile. It’s hard not to feel like this will last forever. I am keen to usher in change, to welcome in something else, not just something else, something better. But the world holds us too close and there’s not space to move, right now at least. How quickly things changed for the worse. I hope things can turn for the better just as fast. Things rarely get better as quickly as they go catastrophically wrong. 

quiet instead of panic is a blessing :: Journal 30th Jan – 2nd Feb

Geo Jewel Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabric

30th Jan soft boy

This month feels like it should have ended two days ago, at least. Today it has rained a lot and we spent lots of time clearing and faffing around. I baked a wheatsheaf loaf from my Paul Hollywood Bread Book. Husb said it looked a bit like an octopus. Sure it wasn’t a perfect representation of a sheaf of wheat, but I was happy with it. I enjoyed the plaiting part of it. When I was a kid my mum taught me how to plait hair. She gave me three strands of wool and set them up on a hook on a shelf by my bed for me to practice. I don’t know how it came about or why, but that’s what happened. I was probably a strange child and grownups probably worried about me: desperately soft, emotional, uninterested in most normal boy interests. Looking back primary school for me was just a series of embarrassments, crying, being told off for crying, more crying, being told I’m too soft, crying again. One time I do remember succeeding. We had to write stories and I wrote one about a tortoise who was looking for his home, he was wandering around the garden looking at rabbit holes and birds nests thinking why don’t I have a home like that? In the end he realises his home is on his back and he’d forgotten he was lucky to always have a home. The story caused a real sensation in the classroom, teachers and the other kids told me how clever I was, how brilliant the story was. A girl who sat next to me even stole my idea but tried to make it about a bird looking for its home, misunderstanding the tortoise element of the premise somewhat. Thinking about it now, I’ve recalled that memory a lot over the years, probably the first time I had positive reinforcement for writing. It seems like such a simple story that it must have already existed somewhere else. I know I didn’t plagiarise it at the time though, but maybe it was something I’d heard before and wrote it thinking it was new. I don’t know, maybe not, maybe I’m just a genius?! I used to write with fountain pens then unlike all of the other kids. I don’t know why, another thing that I did to set myself apart. When I’d finish my ink I’d go up to the teacher and ask politely for more and he’d take a little plastic ink cartridge out of his desk for me. I get a sense now that maybe I should have had my own ink cartridges instead of scrounging off the teacher all the time. I was probably doted on a bit, allowed to take liberties. A known soft boy in the school. Another time from primary school, a poet came. She made us do writing exercises and I loved it. I remember writing something like: “the tropical breeze in the Florida Keys” and she was very impressed and asked if I’d been there, of course I hadn’t but I wrote that because I loved the BBC show Holiday and always wanted to go to far off places, especially Florida, for Disney World. 

Children of Liberty Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabric

31st Jantoday we walked in the rain

We sit in a precarious place and we cannot believe we are moving forward positively. The daily numbers seem to be going down slowly as the weeks have gone on. On our Friday shop there was a sense from others that people weren’t too bothered about keeping a distance. We’re the weird ones for keeping a distance and looking at people with daggers when they get too close. It’s going to take a lot of work and time for us to be okay in crowds again, in public in general. I know we need to think about that, but also bringing that up is a sign we feel it’s going to be over and I just can’t let myself believe it.

*

Today we walked in the rain. It was not heavy and the quiet streets made it so pleasant. The quiet streets and being under an umbrella. Walking down with the streetlamps behind us I noticed the shape of my umbrella in shadow, a squashed hexagon just like the shape of my patchwork pieces. Maybe I’ve sewn too many and now I’m seeing them everywhere. 

Sunshine Meadow Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabric

1st Febquiet instead of panic is a blessing

I’m groggy from a night of intense dreams, not scary just real. I was swimming across a lake towards a castle tower, very Zelda. Then I was negotiating an Indonesian airport. Then having a second wedding when the first one was the day before. 

*

We sit precariously in February, hoping if we don’t move or breath, things won’t get worse. I think we’re in a place where things will get better very gradually. Things often get worse very quickly, but rarely get better at the same speed. The idea of Christmas 2021 being more normal is more acceptable now, but we could not have understood or accepted that in April 2020. The weather is a steady blank white cloud sky mistiness out there. Moss on the house roofs soak up the atmosphere. A morning with nothing but quietness. No grand ambition or sense of import. Quiet instead of panic is a blessing. 

*

I don’t know if the foxes are more brazen then before or whether they were always about and we weren’t. We’d never walk these back streets on a week night after work like this, so really, we’re the intruders. The lone foxes lollop about the streets, jump up onto garden walls and watch us without fear as we walk past. They know we’re not after them. The careful hope of the world coming back to us, even gradually, is too exciting to really think about seriously. I just hope in the end things end up better, a few days working from home every week instead of going back to five days in the office. The future is coming, not matter how slow, it’s coming. 

*

My parents had their letters about booking their vaccines today. It’s made me giddy with anticipation, knowing they’ll have that protection will be such huge relief. 

Jitter Bug Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabric

2nd Feboff-cuts from other rain

I got a box of fabric in the post from Hobbycraft, including the wadding for the quilt. I can’t believe I’m skirting around the edges of completing this project, might be another two or three weeks, depending on how much time I can commit to it. I’d decided to try to do it in Jan 2020, but obviously it was lockdown that gave me the time and space to really take it seriously. I have spent so many hours sewing and it’s been such a pleasure. So many hours with youtube in the background as I’m sewing away, just always on this one project.  

*

Today we have a small sharp pin prick sort of rain, I can see it on the window and if I look carefully outside against the chimney of the house across from us, I can see the strobing, rushing raindrops, tiny discarded flecks, off-cuts from other rain. 

*

Both my parents had their first vaccines today. Honestly it’s such a relief. I cannot believe it. I’m so grateful to everyone who work so hard to do this, to make it happen as soon as this. It’s overwhelming. I know things will still take time, but this is at least the first positive news I’ve had in a long time. 

Vivacious Gusto :: Journal 26th Jan – 29th Jan

Matilda May Cupro Twill – Liberty Fabrics

26th Jan – not every wave is a tidal wave

The roof snow is still melting and the pavements still have their tired cake icing layer. I woke both of us up at around half six this morning by unconsciously kicking my hotwater bottle out of bed, it made a heavy wet rubbery slouchy sort of noise, like a barrel of fish slopping in the back of a van during a sharp left turn. I’m listening to The Mountain Goats again. This album has fully taken me over as some albums do a few times a year. The lead singer used to be a poet and you can tell from the evocative wordy strange lyrics. That appeals to me, of course. They have a song called Tidal Wave that goes, very hopefully ‘not every wave is a tidal wave’ the album came out in mid 2020 and it’s hard not to hear that song as a hope against the horrors of the waves of disease we’ve been experiencing. Things are bad but they won’t always get worse. 

*

I’ve caught up with myself a lot recently, in the way I think posh rich people do when they’re on a yoga retreat for five weeks. I feel like I’ve been able to identify some things I’ve held onto that I don’t need any longer. The thing that always rings true is that if you want to do something you’re probably already doing it, or finding a way to do it. Like tattoos or dyeing my hair, I talk about wanting to do it, but if I really truly wanted to, I would have done it by now. You can only get in your own way for an amount of time, eventually you break through and find a way, if you really do want to do it. I’ve known I’ve loved fabric for years, but it’s only truly since the past two years I’ve found an outlet for that passion in my quilt. You follow your passions because it feels natural. Most people aren’t up at 11:20pm each night writing in their journal, but here I am doing that. I could easily be doing anything else but I love doing this, and I gain a lot from it. An order to my thoughts. An expression of my thoughts is very helpful to me. 

Pineapple Paisley Tana Lawn™ Cotton – Liberty Fabrics

27th Jan – vivacious gusto

I’ve started my final panel of my patchwork quilt. I’ve intentionally not sewn all the pieces together quite yet. I’m anxious about finishing it, really. Using it and not using it, whether it will start to fall apart. Whether it’ll be too cold or too hot. I think about it, how many hours and hours I’ve spent on it through all of this awfulness. The fear and wish for forgetting, change is all there in the stitches. I just hope it comes out well and I’m happy with it. I’m sure I will be. Part of me knows I’ll do another one, I kind of have to. I’ve honed the skill over this year from doing it most days: I need to keep making and learning. 

*

I’m telling myself I don’t have to do everything, or even anything. I just need to follow my wishes and the joy. I will be happier if I do this. I am happier as I try to do this. I think about airports, foreign train announcements, continental breakfasts, I think about Euro and Kronor. Reviewing your photographs from the day. The distant rush of the sea. Boats on the river. These things will return or we will return to them. We are now at a moment of great compression, and soon, however gently, the spring will allow itself to expand again and we will once again know the world and live in the world with vivacious gusto. We will, for a few years maybe, take it too far from the relief of being safe to do so. The spring will spring. There will be an end.  

D’Anjo Sky Cupro Twill – Liberty Fabrics

28th Jan – We have the smallest hopes we can muster

One thing I think about a lot is making the most of the place you’re in, making the most of what you’ve got. Take opportunities ahead of you. Don’t just wildly switch around on a whim. Most of the time, if you’re there the things will come to you, being there is the key. That’s what was great about Poetry School, it set me up and put me on the path to be published. I was there putting in the time. Showing up is a big deal. Showing up for what you want, what you’re proud of, showing up for yourself. I’m not there with poetry right now, that’s fine. I’m going to be there again, when I am, I’m sure it will be something brilliant (so modest!). In this time, I’m here for my journal, for my quilt and for getting through this time. The rain continues outside, a constant skipping shaky sort of rain, not driving or insistent. We have the smallest hopes we can muster. We have not named the hopes quite yet, the hopes are that maybe this was the last big peak, that the numbers will continue to fall. But neither of us bring it up in conversation, but I know we’re both thinking it, looking at the numbers every evening and hoping hoping hoping.  

Circus Stripe Silk Satin – Liberty Fabrics

29th Jan – this collective trauma 

Watched a few videos of The Mountain Goats last night. I’ve loved them for a while but recently their most recent album has spoken to me. I realised it was a while since I’d cried from pure joy as I was watching them perform and crying. Maybe this collective trauma will open us all up a bit, make people empathetic, more able to be honest with their feelings. It’s something we’ve all been through together, that will give us common ground in the future. I hope it means we’ll be kinder to each other.