Women Writers Network Favourite Reads of 2018

I am still in that valley known as the kids school holidays, so 2019 will not officially start until later this week. In the meantime here is a list compiled by Helen Taylor of all the  Women Writers Network Favourite Reads of 2018

Feel free to tweet us @womenwritersnet with any of your favourites.

Happy New Year and Happy reading!



As this wet and windy week has gone on I have fallen in a bit of a physical heap. Various aches and pains laying me low. A sore throat has been the latest symptom added to the list. Nevertheless I managed a ‘very’ social day yesterday – which included an afternoon playdate at a friends house with lots of mummy and kid chat, and an evening out to celebrate a work colleges promotion – being on maternity leave I had lots of news to hear and share. By this morning I could barely manage a whisper. Usually even if I am a little horse my voice will find its way back before to long. But not today. Today I am voiceless.
Looking after a toddler – who is himself learning new words at a rapid rate – without a voice has been interesting. A lot of our usual conversations go like this:
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
‘Yes Rafa’
And I wait, alwayssaintlike for him to get to the point. He is evolving. His conversations with strangers of: ‘Hi,… by’, now sometimes have a few words thrown in the middle, and even if he does not know all the words he does this very cute ‘mumble mumble mumble dog mumble’ – sentences in waiting. I have been thrilled with him learning to say Finn, on top of his usual repertoire of Mummy, daddy, baby. Anyway – the point is he expects a response! And I have had to whisper at best, which is confusing – and confusing, or frustrating a toddler is not something you want to do.

Our two boys in Autumnal Edinburgh, 2015

I did not dare take charge of walking Rafa along the street today. It is a challenge which requires a very firm voice – with clear ‘Stop’ commands. Luckily Jon was home and able to look after that task.
While Jon and the little boys went off to playgroup, voiceless me took my laptop to the local cafe to send some emails – a task not requiring a voice aside from an apologetic whispered ‘Flat white.’ I got on well enough. People who come to cafes with laptops are expected to be anti-social after all.
When the boys all came back after playgroup I took wee Finn and gave him a feed – he and I like to be together without words. Jon told me about the playgroup events and I nodded along.  Somehow due to the small cafes configuration Rafa ended up in a high chair adjacent to the woman sitting behind us in a wheel chair. Armed with a pork pie and plenty of words he did his best to chat with her and she did her best to chat back.
‘Mumble mumble mumble mummy,’ said Rafa
‘Yes,’ said the lady
‘Mumble mumble mumble mummy,’ said Rafa
‘Yes,’ said the lady
‘Mumble mumble mumble mummy,’ said Rafa
‘Yes,’ said the lady
‘Mumble mumble mumble mummy,’ said Rafa
‘Yes,’ said the lady
‘Mumble mumble mumble pie,’ said Rafa
‘Yes,’ said the lady.
As their chat went on – and round and round I began to realise that her chat was as limited as Rafa’s and mine – though for different reasons. She had perhaps suffered a stroke at some stage. Rafa eventually got restless and I turned around to him. The woman’s face showed her delight in realising that there was a smaller baby nestled in my arms and the movement I made distracted Finn from his settled feed – and drew his attention to the woman smiling at him. He smiled back. Sharing the delight of a beautiful babe in arms does not need any words. 
As the day has gone on it has been interesting to see how communication between my husband and I is impacted by my not having a voice. I have been limited to ‘necessary’ additions. A bit like speaking to someone who does not speak much of the same language – you are not going to speak of feelings or tell involved tales, you are going to ask where the bathroom is, and how much the beer costs. 
His speech however has been in full flow! With no pesky wifely interjections he can tell long Nordic sagas whilst I can only listen and nod along. If the occasion should arise that I should need to leave the room to feed the baby I can only hope I have the chance to catch his eye before I go in case he continues telling the story to an empty room.
Rather than calling out from room to room with a list of tasks I think he should be doing, if I want to speak to him I need first to make sure I have his attention. A touch on his arm, and eye contact needs to precede my quiet murmurs – or else all the effort is blown off in the wind. Nordic sagas aside I did at one point remind him that he need not whisper back to me, but there is something nice about looking your beloved in the eye and speaking the quiet important things that need to be said in the day.
Silence has interesting resonances. Pesky, frustrating at times, but on occasion the unsaid, or quietly just barely spoken connects us all. 

Clutter Queen

I find notes she’s left. Little tid bits. A train ticket from Melbourne 2011, half a postcard, a small pile of stamps shorn from past post, a stack of old magazines with pictures cut out, a bag of lace doilies- moth eaten but with some usable fragments, wrapping paper from last Christmas and don’t get me started on the drifts of old receipts – avalanche warning!

Every time I come across one or more of these hindrances to my stream lined self, these annoyances, this… this clutter – I curse her. I curse myself of yester-year and yesterday. I swear it will be no more. There will be bin bags in the skip, there will be Japanese books on streamlined living read (online so as not to add to the groaning bookshelves). There will be order in my life and not this debris underfoot. Past recollections be dammed.

And for half an hour I sort and throw out.

But she’s crafty. She gleans things back. I see her out of the corner of my eye as she tucks the old train ticket between the pages of a book. She is touching that top that used to fit and I think she’s going to add it to the throw out pile, but then I find it hanging back in the wardrobe. She’s artful that clutter queen, she stacks things under the bed while I get the dinner on.

 ‘Look, look,’ she says. ‘We’ve made progress, real progress. Life will be orderly!’

And I believe her until I stub my toe on the box containing almost nothing but thimbles.


Learned Behavior

My 18 month old son was exhibiting somewhat disturbing behavior the other day. After my initial surprise at his actions had worn off I realised that his behavior was of course entirely the fault of his parents. He is not in daycare, does not spend large chunks of time with anyone besides us, nor does he watch a lot of television.

He has been demonstrating just how susceptible he is to following our lead for quite some time. His favorite thing to do is talk on the phone, or talk to anything his brain vaguely conceives could be a phone. He and I had quite a squabble during a skype conversation with his Australian Grandmother the other day. I was willing to share the phone: he was not.

Other behavior he has obviously taken on board is his love of sweeping the floor and wiping up spills. I do not love doing these things but I certainly spend a good chunk of time doing them. Unfortunately unlike his little friend Rose, Rafa does not have a mini broom and he quickly comes to grief when it comes to navigating around corners with an adult sized broom.

Rafa playing in the mud, February 2015, Edinburgh.

He also loves to help push his own pram, play on the beach, eat from my breakfast bowl, splash in mud puddles and give cuddles. It was with cuddles that the disturbing behavior started. This morning whilst I was sitting on the floor playing trucks with Rafa he came over and gave me a cuddle. That was very nice – one of the highlights of my life. But he quickly moved on from the cuddle and leaned in to give me a kiss. It was not a fairy kiss on the cheek. It was a full and insistent open mouthed pout. Whenever I tried to move away he gripped me tighter and shoved his mouth at me again. If this unwanted advance was taking place between adults at a party there would be a knee in the family jewels.

When I howled with laughter at his passionate embrace he howled back in distress. Eventually I managed a compromise and returned a couple of his open mouthed kisses with my own closed mouth kisses and he let me go and returned to his trucks.

Appartently a similar pattern had played out when his father was putting him to bed the night before. Jon’s question was – what has he been watching that he is doing that?  My answer was – us.

He is at an age where he absorbs everything around him and he lives in a house where his mum and dad exchange kisses. We give him plenty of kisses as well – but they are different from the kisses we give each other. I am not saying we spend the majority of our time together playing tonsil hockey, but obviously from the perspective of our little blond angel kisses happen.

This demonstration of how much of a sponge toddlers are is a good reminder of how aware we need to be of our own behavior around these precious bundles. Rafa does not live in a home where he is ever exposed to violence, but his slimy kissing attempts made me think of the ugly adult behavior that a child can learn at his parents side; making the saying that violence breeds violence take on a real and scary dimension.

Luckily I am so far seeing good evidence that love breeds love as well.

I just have to hope that  Rose or some other of his other girl or boy friends teach him what happens to slimy unwanted advances before he hits the teenage party circuit.

The Birds and the Bees.

On a visit to Berwick -upon-Tweed last year my mother visited a pottery and came home with a gift of two little coffee cups – there is a bird cup and a bee cup- a not unsubtle hint to her thirty something year old daughter to get a move on with the provision of grandchildren.

Birds and Bees cups from Tweed Mouth- Berwick.

The birds and the bees coffee cups lesson must have sunk in!

Waddling around at my slower pace, with this growing child on my mind I am more often that not
pre-occupied with the here and now of an aching back, constant need to pee and the unfolding drama of giving birth. On occasion however I manage to get a quick glimpse past all that, to contemplate the sort of world I want my baby to exist in. This is a big picture – small picture kind of contemplation that can take me from pondering disposable v’s washable nappies to the roll technology will play in the unborn ones life and the type of kindergarten they will one day attend. 

Then of course there are the really big things – which bring me back to small things like the birds and the bees.    

I talked a bit about the bird watching opportunities available in my new flat in my last blog. I did not get around to touching on the bee watching I have been doing.
One of the lovely mirror world aspects of living in the UK is the Bumble Bees – these little fuzzy round flying creatures never fail to set off the cute receptors in my brain – and they are out in force at the moment bumbling away amongst the flowers along the canal. Unfortunately the healthy bee habitat of the canal bank is not the norm.   

Union Canal – a healthy bee corridor

Insects tend not to be everyone’s idea of a cute and cuddly animal – they are rather more prone to get squashed than other creatures and more prone to be forgotten about when we think about endangered and vulnerable creatures.
I recently found myself giving little mini lectures to my work colleges as to why it was not OK to kill the bees that came into our workplace – this was received somewhat bemusedly until a few days later one of the girls came in and told me she and her boyfriend had watched a documentary about bees and their currently precarious place in the world – at the end of watching it she apparently turned to her boyfriend and said ‘Sandy already told me all of that.’

I know that stopping a couple of girls from squashing a couple of bees is not going to help much in the larger scheme of things, but with bee’s being the canary down the coal mine when it comes to the health of the world it does seem worthwhile that as many people as possible know we should be guardians rather than executioners of these fuzzy little creatures. The internet has plenty of in-depth information about why this is so if you are on the indifferent or executioner side of things – this Greenpeace blog is a good place to start your re-education.

The difference between how things were ‘in my day’ and how they will be in the tomorrow of our child’s life is mind boggling and I probably have not even begun to imagine most of the differences – but I am pretty sure that no matter what the shape of the world becomes I will always want a world with birdsong out the window and where bees (be they bumble or not) buzz amongst the flowers and crops.   

This Canal Life

Many years ago I watched one of those travel shows which featured a segment on British canal boat holidays. Bobbing along in your little floating caravan on quiet waterways from one waterside drinking place to another looked very idyllic.

Since arriving in the UK I have continued to be captivated by life along the canals – and it is very exciting to find myself in my new flat overlooking a real life canal.

Union Canal looking towards the Pentlands, Edinburgh.

Many of my posts this year have been reporting on Edinburgh’s snowy weather – so I am pleased to announce that to coincide with our move springtime has arrived at long last to Scotland. From where I sit the birds sing, the sun is shining,  the wind blows gently in the lush green trees and just a stones throw away the life of the canal burbles happily along.

Union Canal tenements, Edinburgh.

My new commute to work starts out along the canal and my current waddle allows for plenty of time to watch the world go by. Although there are no flamingos to watch on this city waterway there is plenty of non exotic birdlife to keep this amateur twitcher happy.  

Flamingos inside at the new flat

There is a lone swan on a stretch of canal I walk along regularly- and for the first few days I felt rather sorry for this solitary bird. But then one morning I saw it attacking the ducks quite vehemently – which brought back all my childhood memories of being chased down by hissing geese and dissolved my sympathy.

A Union Canal Mallard

The ducks seem quite good at attacking each other – though perhaps springtime in the air is making the male ducks boisterous. Looking up at the bellies of some ducks flying overhead the other day I saw two ducks clip wings, I was close enough to hear the soft sound of feathers colliding in mid air. The bumped elbows jostled for space in the crowded air for a moment and then separated out again.

On the footpath with me there are fast folks on bikes, runners, and daily commuters with headphones and some place better to be; but there are also the meandering folks feeding the birds, children in prams demanding that flowers be picked for them, couples happy to stare into each others eyes and feel the sun on their backs and people sitting on benches reading their books by the water.

The canal boats putter along quietly under the warbling pigeon bridge off towards Glasgow. Once the canal was used for industrial transport – now that trains and trucks have taken up that role the canal is a leisure zone – canal boats are floating restaurants and holiday accommodation – providing waterway wine time. 

Canal boat

As I walk along by the water, or sit in my new lounge room looking down on the world it is pleasant to imagine that things will always be sunny and green in my new canal life – and after a winter which seemed to go on forever who could blame me for indulging in a fantasy of endless springtime – and possibly a few days of summer??

Sunny days on the canal, Edinburgh.

In a Name

I have names on my mind of late. I have often pondered, as girls tend to do getting married – and though the question of whom I might marry has been very uncertain for the last thirty years I’ve always felt certain that if  such an event took place I would not be changing my name. The tradition in my family of strong women is to retain your own surname on getting married and when thinking of it in the abstract I never felt inclined to alter my initials.

In the hear and now of being newly-wed I am however quite happy about taking on my husbands name – though still entirely disinterested in giving up my own. So Ms S.B is becoming Ms S.B-H, (the Mrs, though I don’t mind being referred to as Mrs by my Mr, it is still a little alien to use in everyday life).

The new Mr and Mrs and our piper. Edinburgh 2013.

So I have changed the signature on my email and my name on Facebook… but what next? Bureaucracy is what is next. With my current passport having less than 12 months before it expires I thought that would be the place to start, so with my new marriage certificate in hand I happily set about filling in the passport application form.  According to what I could make out on the form all I needed was my marriage certificate and some other ID with my old name and things would be right as rain.

Then I got a bit further on in the form filling out process and discovered I needed a photo witnessed by a fellow Australian. I had some of those gathered about me for the wedding, but they were long gone by the time I started on the bureaucracy. So I got myself a photo and posted it off to London to one of my high school buddies, stamped – self addressed envelope included to hurry it back.

It arrived and I filled out my guarantors details – scarily realising in the process that I had known her for 17 plus years – turns out we are indeed old. With all the other boxes ticked I printed out the form, read over it, about to put my shoes on to head to the embassy and discovered that she also had to sign the form.  So off it went.

Back it came and I got my shoes on again, got all my documents assembled only to discover that the little photo my friend had witnessed for me was absolutely nowhere to be found. Whether it is a baby brain thing or a packing thing or a general chaos of our lives thing I do not know – but there was a temper tantrum. The husband helped me look – fruitlessly and then he calmly headed off to the post office with another photo and stamped – self addressed envelope while I sat down and Skyped with one of my Aussie mates to bemoan the misery that it was to be me.

Back the photo came, arriving on a Saturday when the Embassy was closed, still I opened it up happily enough, finally things could go forward… only to discover that my friend had miss-spelt my husbands surname. I am pleased to say that at this point I managed to laugh rather than throw another tantrum. I pondered – would the bureaucrat look closely at it? Could I alter it to the right spelling? Should I send her another photo? Should I give up the whole notion of a new name?

Sunday night I was sitting up in bed writing some notes to myself in my little notebook and what should fall into my lap but the original, correctly named photo.

I put on my shoes and caught the bus to the embassy with a light heart on Monday morning, certain that my new name was within sight. Unfortunately the very nice embassy lady informed me that although the British wedding certificate signifies to the Australian persons who care about such things that I am married, it is insufficient evidence for an Australian to change their name on a passport. I must send of a pile of papers to the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages in the state I was born in and apply for a legal change of name before I can be Ms S.B-H.

So it was back to the paperwork for me.

At least the guarantor signatures on my passport application form remains valid for six months – and I am storing it in a safe place.