I’ll be working all this weekend, so I did some store cupboard cooking this morning: a litre of yogurt, a dozen large soft bread rolls, a box of coleslaw, and a lamb ragu. It’s the sort of food that’s handy to have in the fridge, so that I can quickly put together a packed lunch and packed tea for work. I get up at 5:30am when I’m working a day shift, and I do not want to be dithering around too long sorting out my food at that time in the morning.
Once my cooking was done (and I’d delegated the hoovering and the sorting and emptying of rubbish and recycling to the children), I spent most of the rest of the day working on a new summer dress.
I haven’t done any dressmaking at all since I started work in January. That’s partly because once I was earning money I was able to afford to buy nice clothes again, so I didn’t have the same urgency to make them. But it was also because dressmaking requires care and attention, and in the first few months of nursing I had absolutely no head space left on my days off to concentrate on the precision of setting sleeves and evenly distributing gathers.
Goodness I’ve missed it though. I had a very satisfying time today pressing, marking, cutting, pinning, pleating and sewing. I’m making a summer dress from one of my Japanese pattern books, and it’s a slow process because there are so many adjustments and small details to be fussed over. I’ve had to put it away tonight, half done, but I can pick it back up on Monday and finish it off before I start nightshifts again later in the week.
I have always loved the school summer holidays. I feel as though the children belong to me again, and it's a pleasure to see them unwind, please themselves and chill out. Now that I'm working full-time (for the first time since Cam was born, nearly sixteen years ago), I wasn't sure how we'd get on – but it's turning out to be absolutely fine.
My shifts mean that I am still around for half the week, and the children only have a couple of days at a time by themselves while both Graham and I are at work. They are nearly sixteen and nearly thirteen, and are perfectly able to look after and amuse themselves without any input from us. I finished a run of nightshifts this morning, took them out to breakfast, and caught up on their news over cappuccinos and egg McMuffins. Cam has dyed his hair bright red, and had eaten his way through pretty much an entire loaf of bread in two days by scoffing endless toasted cheese sandwiches. Olivia has been working her way steadily through the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook and managed to vaguely tidy her room.
After breakfast we went to buy hen food, and then they put it away while I had a quick shower and crawled into bed. When I resurfaced at about 3pm, I found that Olivia had made more cupcakes and Cam was out with friends. I lay on the sofa with a massive cup of tea and one of the cupcakes and wondered what to cook for supper. Olivia and I watched Pitch Perfect (she is obsessed and I had never seen it before), and flicked through some magazines. It turns out that my level of tiredness after nightshifts matches perfectly with their own well-earned levels of summer idleness.
The children finally broke up for their summer holidays at lunchtime today, so for the next six weeks I will have their company (at least partially – they're teenagers, so they are pulling away from home and towards independence), on my days off. I am very happy about this. They are excellent company – funny, interesting, challenging and thought provoking – at this age.
I made a plum and almond cake this morning to celebrate the start of the holidays, and Olivia is now making lemon bars (from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which she loves).
Cam wants to play on his guitars, listen to music, and go to the cinema occasionally. Olivia wants to bake, draw, watch endless episodes of emotional American teenage TV series (Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl mainly), and has also said she want to do some more exploring of London. I reckon I can accommodate all these requests, with a mixture of work days and days off.
Of all the different things I do on a day off, running is one of the most challenging things to fit in. Running doesn't take very long in itself – I'll usually run for between half an hour and an hour – but the tiredness it inflicts on me afterwards can wipe me out for much longer.
I've been running for two years, and am growing in confidence all the time. Recently I have started to have the confidence to say “long distance running really isn't for me”. For many people – I would go so far as to say for most runners I know – long distances are what they enjoy, and are maybe even the point of running. So many runners have a marathon or an ultra as their ultimate running goal. But I just don't have that desire. Above all I love running as fast as I can – and for anything much longer than 5k, it becomes more about holding back for most of the race and then picking up pace towards the end. I don't enjoy that; I'd rather run fast for the whole distance.
And then there's the tiredness. An energetic half hour run will leave me tired for several hours, but a run of an hour or more will absolutely wipe me out. I'll definitely need a nap when I get home, and then I will spend the rest of the day weary and listless. That seems such a waste on a precious day off!
Yesterday I ran in my first 10k race. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, as you can tell from my dubious expression in the picture above, and the weather was really far too hot for racing. I spent the race thinking about distance and tiredness, and how running has to be so carefully fitted in to my days off. When I finished the race I was so very glad it was over. A small part of me though was also very pleased I'd entered, as I had finally convinced myself that 5k and 1500m are the best race distances for me, and fit in better with the way I work and relax.
Tomorrow I start a batch of three nightshifts. Nightshifts are where running really comes in handy. If I go for a hard run in the morning before I go to bed, I can absolutely guarantee a good day's sleep afterwards. It also helps me feel like I've done something other than just work and sleep, which is generally how nightshifts leave me feeling.
So tomorrow – if it's not too hot – I will get up at 6am, have a quick cup of tea and then head up to the forest or to the Olympic Park for a run. When I get back I'll eat a big, hearty, healthy breakfast (my other guaranteed method of sleeping well during the day), have a long soak in the bath with magazine or two, and then go back to bed for the rest of the day. Doesn't sound too bad, does it!
It's been a gently-busy, pottering-around sort of day off today.
After the children had gone to school, I made some spicy apple and nut flapjacks.
I sat in the sunshine and wrote some Thank You cards.
And then on impulse, I popped out to a local pub for lunch and a pint of cold cider with a friend. We sat in the cool, airy main lounge and discussed chickens, teenagers, work, holidays and our mutual love of chips with mayonnaise. We both agreed that an impromptu lunch date is always going to be a good call.
Yesterday was my birthday. Everyone else was at work or school, and I wanted to do something indulgent and different – just for me – so I went to the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street.
Many years ago, I used to work in the previous office block which stood at 20 Fenchurch Street. It wasn't nearly so glamorous as this one.
When I stepped out of the lift and into the vast, glass atrium on the 35th floor, the views absolutely took my breath away. I stepped out onto the balcony and gazed across the river at the Shard and my husband's office. Then I noticed Tower Bridge, City Hall and HMS Belfast slightly to my left. I turned my head again and saw the river twist away east to the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. In all, I stood on that balcony gazing at all of London laid out before me for nearly an hour.
Back inside the Sky Garden there was tea and cake to enjoy, steep gardens of lush, tropical plants, and then another hour or so of sitting in a chair, reading my Kindle and glancing up every so often to gasp at the view.
London at my feet, a good book in my hand, and a cup of tea by my side – what more could I want from a birthday outing?