Monthly Archives: March 2013


I don’t know if other countries besides Britain have anything like Army and Navy stores – they specialize in selling off surplus or second hand clothing and equipment from the services. Go in there and you rub shoulders with a strange group of people – the hard up looking for cheap warm hard-wearing clothes, the outdoor sports crowd looking for camping gear, and slightly seedy military enthusiasts. And these days you might run into me.

There is no end to the things that kids can teach you. I have held a pretty jaundiced view of our great British military tradition, and done my fair share of marching and demonstrating on various anti-warfare causes. So when my son came home and announced that he wanted to attend air cadets two nights a week after school I was appalled. I only agreed because I didn’t think he would last ten minutes: one taste of discipline and he would be out on his ear.

Except it didn’t work out that way. My son, who has a history of bucking any authority, absolutely adores military discipline. He excels at cadets, he wins awards there, he gets involved in anything and everything they do. He goes camping with them in the snow, he flies gliders, he shoots guns, and he stays up all night on exercises. He helps out raising funds, he does voluntary work, he plays in the band. And he has amazing experiences – he interviewed an army medic who had just come back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he is hoping to visit Gibraltar this summer. It is what a teenager like him needs – very clear boundaries, a certain amount of physical danger, and reward for his enthusiasm and boundless energy.

My views began to change when I first saw him in dress uniform – what boy doesn’t look handsome in uniform? What mother’s heart doesn’t swell a little with pride? The first parade I attended seemed silly and pompous, but by the second I had begun to appreciate how difficult it was to get the kids to march so smartly in step. Some weekends seem to be spent driving him about the countryside to one RAF airbase or another. And if I have a few minutes in my lunchhour at work, I’ll pop down to the Army and Navy store at the end of my street, to pick up a mess tin or a thermal vest for his next camp.

DSCF1806 One of these beauties in the left hand tray is going to become a nice big sage bush in my back garden one day. I wonder which one. We had a snowfall yesterday so I hope they are not dismayed at what they can see of their future life outside the window.

Everyone in the house now has a cold – aching limbs, sore throats, streaming noses. It’s much easier to look after people with colds than with depression, even when you have the cold yourself. If I had a choice I would pick the cold every time.


I am in Mummy Bear protective mode today. I am protecting my bear cubs against The System. A System, I have to say, which they often seem to invite into our den. Yesterday, it was another trip to A&E, and the usual unwelcome scrutiny of psychiatrists and social workers. Your daughter has taken an overdose? Again?

Yes, again; that’s what she does; nothing to see here; move along please. It took us twelve hours to extricate her from the clutches of the hospital. The poor thing came home after midnight, exhausted, distraught, had missed her usual medication, in need of a great deal of soothing. She is seventeen years old, but sometimes she needs handled like a small child. My husband, having stayed by her side for hours, is the shape of the chair he had been sleeping on, grey with care.

I spent the day doing very practical mothering: making sure she eats, sleeps, keeps busy, takes her medication. You have to be her eyes and ears and arms and legs, walking her through the day, fending off the inevitable waves of self-recrimination. Why did I do it? Why did I mess up again? Meanwhile I have my own urgent questions for her caseworker: how can we keep sailing through these difficult patches if The System keeps kicking in and detaining her for hours like this? It won’t be the last time we have to go in. I want The System to serve us, not try to take control again.

These lovely tulips arrived on Mother’s Day, which we held a couple of week’s ago in the UK – while there was still snow on the ground. To cheer myself up, I spent some time photographing them after I had finished work. And then I started off some more sourdough for tomorrow’s bread. Beautiful things to look at, and the smell of sourdough – what greater pleasure can there be?


It only takes a step outside the door, to find something amazing. I planted these crocuses and anenomes years ago, and they have never come to very much – until this year for some reason. So spring seems to have arrived, quietly, during the week.

At the end of every working week I like to try to make a rough guess at what the shape of my next week will be like. Which days will I make it into the office, and which ones will I work from home? I think this is only fair on my staff – and there is the little matter of booking a parking space!

Until a few months ago, there was no variation from week to week – I worked from home four days out of the five, and I had a brief visit to the office once a week, which was necessarily jammed full of (catch up) meetings. It was not a great way to work.

But over the last few months, my daughter’s recovery has finally reached the point where she is going to school most days. I now visit the office three, and sometimes four, days a week. I love this! I get to pick up a coffee from my favourite coffee shop to drink at my desk, I get to speak to my staff face to face, and I get to leave it all behind me when I trundle home again. Who would believe how much you could look forward to working in my shabby rundown office in the centre of town!

Next week is a bit of a gamble, though. My daughter’s recovery has experienced a bit of a set back – she is struggling to get through the days. The staff at school have suggested she spends more time at home for a couple of weeks. Does she need me to cancel my plans and work from home again? We tentatively agree that she will try staying at home alone,and we will monitor how this goes. This has proved a failure in the very recent past – with me having to abandon everything at work and rush home – but overall she is improving, and we will only know if we try.

It is, I know, completely impossible to explain to my colleagues at work why next week I will be a little jumpy, and sometimes a little short tempered.


It’s that time of year again – in fact, I’m late this year. The urge to fill up every available windowsill in the house with trays of potting compost didn’t strike me until this weekend. By this time in previous years, we have been up to our ears in nasturtiums and tomato plants, all waiting for the weather to improve before they can be put out.

This year I need to restock my borders, so most of the trays are perennials – echinacea, foxglove and verbena. And this year’s special project is sage, the herb I most often miss when cooking. I have fond memories of the scent of a big sage bush in the garden when I was a child, so I am keeping a nice big sunny spot in my garden. But so far, all I have is some sage seeds lying in a damp tray of compost!

The tray in the picture is a little different – a handful of bell peppers started too late last season and then orphaned over the winter. To my amazement, they solemnly produced tiny fruit on my windowsill this week, despite snow on the ground outside.


What do you say when your teenager admits that they aren’t eating those packed lunches that you lovingly prepare for them every night? Acting on a hunch, I asked my son the other day if he actually ate what I gave him, and he candidly admitted that for the last six months he’d been throwing it in the bin. It wasn’t this that worried me – I’m not that proud of my cheese sandwiches – but that he was doing it because it would “make him fat”. Turns out, he eats nothing between breakfast and dinner.

What would you do? I was tempted to call him a bloody idiot – he’s spent those six months complaining about how tall and strong his friends were becoming, leaving him behind. But I didn’t because… well, because he’s spent those six months complaining about how tall and strong his friends were becoming, leaving him behind. It’s tough for the boys who are late developers, even if some of their attempts to solve their problem seem laughable.

I don’t want to overreact to this. On the one hand, I have been thinking for a while that he was scarily thin – which is why I’d carried on making his lunches in the first place, feeling uneasy about whether or not he was getting the right nutrition. On the other hand, I know that teenagers try lots of things out, and they don’t always stick with them for very long. In fact making a fuss might be counter-productive, because the chances are he’s eating more than he actually thinks he is anyway. He does still eat breakfast, and he eats everything I put on his plate for dinner, so it’s not exactly an emergency.

What I did in practice was make it clear that I thought skipping lunch was a pretty rubbish idea – and point out in a matter of fact way that to grow taller and smarter his body was going to need good nutrition. And I’ll just have to make sure in future that there’s a bit more on his plate at dinner, and plenty of appealing snacks in the fridge. I’m trusting to good old teenage appetite to do the rest of the work for me! In the meantime will I worry about it? Well of course I will – that’s what mothers do.

Can you solve these problems just by cooking and shopping smarter? How I wish there was someone to talk these problems over with!


This one picture displays all the knives that I ever use in the kitchen – a grand total of three. I cook every day, and between them these knives are the pieces of kitchen equipment that I use to prepare every single meal. I think of them as friends and have even been known to take them on holiday.

The one on the left with the rivetted handle is my main knife, used for 80% of tasks – vegetables, meat, fish, carving, general prodding and poking. It is small, light and flexible, and takes an impressively sharp edge.

The central knife is used for everything else – cheese, butter, bread, spreading icing, emergency rescues from frying pans, waggling at naughty teenagers. This could also take a sharp edge, but I don’t keep it sharp. This knife, with its bone handle, reminds me of my grandmother, who used the same sort of knife for seventy years until she had worn it to a strange stump of a blade and finally (unceremoniously) just threw it out.

The third knife is just the bread knife: not very sharp, can’t be sharpened, and only useful because big enough to cut a big loaf. It’s the brawn, not the brains, of the trio.

I used to have a knife block and about a dozen different working knives. My husband liked to collect them, in the fond belief that the more you spend on equipment, the better the cooking. Some were pretty impressive and pretty expensive – those from Japan in particular. I had one for meat, one for fish, two for vegetables, and one I used solely for grapefruit. I used to think it was impossible to cook with less than half a dozen of these beauties.

Then my daughter got sick, and like many other families in our sort of situation, we found medical staff telling us urgently that we had to lock the knives away. Just as we had to remove a lot of rather useful common painkillers and other medicines from our cupboards. Just as we had to lock away our matches and our bleach. We locked the knife block in the garage, and I imagined that I would be back in there on a daily basis fetching out my knives. To preserve my sanity, I saved just one small knife in the kitchen – the one with the rivetted handle – and hid it in a drawer.

But to my surprise, I managed just fine with that one knife. It cuts everything I need it to cut. When I was given the bone handled knife later, I let it get blunt because I never needed the edge (though I appreciated its broad spreading surface). I still have that knife block, gathering dust in my garage, but I have not used the fancy knives in it in three years.


Where are we going to go for our family holiday this summer? It has been the subject of much heated debate in our house this week.

My daughter, Julie’s illness has meant that we have not had a family holiday – as in all four of us together – for the past three years. This is the first year that we can even begin to imagine it happening, but there are a lot of constraints. As I found out on our brief visit to Paris, travel with Julie needs to be taken very steadily and carefully. We managed Paris by train in winter, but a busy airport at the height of summer – and we are still locked into school holidays – is more stressful. If this is going to be a holiday we all enjoy, it looks like the best bet will be somewhere that we can reach easily by car, without going through any security barriers. A good old-fashioned British seaside holiday beckons.

The difficulty is Julie’s younger brother, Duncan, now turning fifteen. His last experience of a family summer holiday was an age ago, when he was just a child – and he is now a teenager. For the last couple of years, he has been treated to holidays alone with one parent – first his Dad, then me – travelling abroad, free from his sister, seeing the world. For him, any sort of family holiday is a retrograde step, let alone one practically on the doorstep, in dismal Britain. Quite understandably, he would rather not go on holiday at all, and is petitioning to be left behind. He won’t be – he is just too young.

What can we do? My husband and I desperately want to have a holiday anywhere where we can be together, Julie has to be with us but cannot travel far, my son wants to be anywhere else than with us! It looks like there is no compromise that can be reached. The likelihood is that we will go ahead and book ourselves a seaside retreat, and have to endure sharing it with a sullen and uncooperative teenage boy.

"A NEW NORMAL" by Celenia Delsol (c) 2021

M.A. Counseling Psychology & Grief Recovery Specialist

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