Things have been quiet ’round these parts lately, and in all honesty I’ve needed the break. It’s reignited my need to write, as opposed to doing it because I felt I had to. It’s also- shamefully- been pushed to the bottom of the pile of Things I Have To Do. What else could be so important, you ask? Well, we’ve been busy adulting hard. We’ve been packing, cleaning, embroiling ourselves in mortgages and temporarily decamping to our respective parents. The reason?

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!

Yeah, if ‘mortgage’ and ‘packing’ weren’t enough of a hint, we’re now officially homeowners. It’s taken two months from seeing it initially but we’re in. And we’re staying. It’s a whole new chapter and yet another massive change from where we were before. I still can’t believe that we have somewhere to call our own, after years of renting.

As exciting as it is, it’s also tinged with melancholy. I know these are super first world problems, and we’re lucky to have a roof over our heads regardless of where. I’m not complaining. It’s just that leaving our first flat was a little harder than I thought.

I’ve lived away from home, on and off, for ten years and always had a fondness for Glasgow’s south side. The west end was tired and pretentious, and I’d already lived way down east. The south side was new, uncharted territory. I knew bits and pockets but had never had any connection to it. When the chance of a flat came up, Ally and I leapt on it.

We’d been together for, at the time, two and a half years. We were ready to move in, although we hadn’t really looked. A flat came up at the perfect time, and we took it. Boom. It wasn’t in the most desirable area.  Mentioning a move there merited a sharp intake of breath. For us, that meant it was cheap and we weren’t complaining. It was busy, noisy, close to town and it was easier for work. We could walk into town as quickly as we could walk to the park and take in the views. It might not have been perfect, but it was perfect for us.

Our flat was the basis for a lot of firsts. As well as being our first place together, it was a new area for us to explore. It was the base from which we went on our first holiday together. We put up our first Christmas tree together there and carved our first Hallowe’en pumpkins. It was where I found out our first child was on the way. It was where we brought our son home from the hospital and it was Lucas’s first home. There were a lot of good memories in that flat. Friends could pop round, we could go out and not worry about getting transport home.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot I wish we could’ve done. The wallpaper peeled off of the bumpy corporation plastering, and we only had one bedroom. The single glazed windows rattled in their frames, icy tendrils of wind whipping through the cracks in the wood. When Lucas was born with jaundice, I couldn’t put him at the window to get some sunlight because of the draught. On numerous occasions, mice snuck their heads under the door or we caught a flash of them out of the corner of our eyes. We found ways around it, though. We’d wrap him up and walk him in the pram for hours, getting him sunlight and fresh air. It did us all good to get out, and we would talk for ages on everything and nothing. When we got home we put on the heater, piled the sofa high with blankets and cosied up in the living room. We painted the windows and Ally laid the flooring in the kitchen and we made it as homely as we could.

Having a son made us reassess what was important. We weren’t going out at all, our families and friends with kids lived far away. The noisy streets, dirty with rain and pollution, weren’t what we wanted our son to run around on when he was old enough to do so. We wanted space to live, a place where our little family could grow, that we could call our own. Buying our house happened so quickly that we didn’t really have time to think on the hugeness of it ’til the sale had gone through. It hit me a lot harder than I thought. I was ready to move on. I knew that what we were doing was for the best. However, there was still a bit of me that mourned the life we were leaving behind. I’d forged a routine for us. Lucas and I had our routes that we walked, and every time I went out I tried to find somewhere different for us to go. It was silly, sure, but as much as I was excited to move I was sad for the memories we would leave behind. Everyone kept saying “you must be so excited”. While I was, I felt like I couldn’t say that it was also tinged with sadness. Like I could only be looking ahead and wasn’t allowed to miss what I was leaving. That is, until one of our walks put it into perspective for me.

One day, I took Lucas around Queen’s Park when he woke up in the pram. I took him to the top of the flagpole to sit and feed him. As I did, I looked across the city skyline all the way to Ben Lomond. By that time he was asleep, nestled in my arms with no awareness of the world around him. It was then that I realised that, as much as I would remember that moment, he’d have no recollection at all. His memories were ahead of us. He needed a home where he could play, be safe, go out in the garden and run around with is friends. I wanted him to be able to walk to school without crossing any roads. I could still look back fondly on what we’d lived before, but that didn’t make the future any less exciting. Anyway so much had changed for us in the last year that it’d be nice to finally have a permanent base.

After weeks of living between our parents’ homes, we finally got our keys last week. The place is still stacked high with boxes but it’s coming along nicely. Just as when he was born, our new routine is a mystery. Our new memories are unknown. The good news is that this time around, we’ve got all the time in the world to make them.

 

2017 is the Scottish year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and it’s definitely something we’re not short of. Not only is the country spoiled with a wealth of scenery, it’s also home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ever since I was wee I’ve had a love of history and exploring, ably helped by my mum and dad taking us to castles, heritage sites, landmarks and museums around the country.

Thanks to this, I was/am/will always be a massive history nerd. I devoured any information I could read about historical landmarks, so that when I went I understood its relevance (fun fact: I made a documentary of my trip to Linlithgow Palace when I was nine, putting me way ahead of the vlogging game). It’s been a lifelong passion for me, which has shaped my interests personally and academically. Of course, I didn’t understand the importance of culture and heritage as a kid. I just knew that these places nurtured my imagination and brought what I’d read about to life, and none more so than New Lanark Mill.

New Lanark Mill is nestled in the Falls Of Clyde, less than an hour outside Glasgow. Like a lot of 18th century villages, New Lanark centred around its cotton mill. Its residents lived, learned and worked in the village. However, unlike many other villages of the same nature, mill owner Robert Owen believed that the most efficient workers were happy workers. Key to their happiness, he believed, was access to education, healthcare and good food. Owen was what you’d call a “Utopian philanthropist”, concerning himself with worker well-being at a time of industrial revolution.

At the time it was a pretty innovative notion (let’s face it, it’d be an innovative notion today). As a result of its legacy, the Mill was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and the village still thrives today. I remember going as a child, but I don’t think I’ve been down that way in about twenty years. It was surprising how much of it I remembered (being a heritage site, there’s not a huge amount you can change, I guess). As soon as we got out of the car, the first thing that strikes you is the setting. The site is based within a conservation area, and the first thing you notice is trees for miles.

We were welcomed with tickets and a little passport which we had to get stamped in each of the five areas of the Mill. The first thing you come across is the Annie Macleod Experience: you hop aboard a pod that transports you through time, offering a history of the mill through the eyes of ten year old mill worker Annie. When the little girl’s voice came through the headsets asking “do you believe in ghosts?“, I remembered the shiver I’d gotten the first time I boarded the ride. It was strange, feeling like both a recent and distant memory. I’d forgotten the specifics of it, so it felt like a new experience watching the ghosts of the past swirl around us, bringing alive the stories of real people that could’ve easily been forgotten.

From then on we went into the mill room to see a real one in action, got a shot at hopscotch and learned some history behind Robert Owen and the establishment of the mill. In all honesty, I have no idea how a mill works but it was really interesting seeing one in action. The mill is still used to this day to make wool, which you can also take home. Textile production is a big part of Scottish heritage, and I found something quite reassuring about it. I think there’s some comfort to be found, in the time of fast fashion and mass production, that there’s still a demand for local, homespun, quality goods.

From then we took the lift up to the roof garden, the views from which were stunning. It was a bitterly cold day and we were short of time, so we didn’t get to take a trek along to the Falls Of Clyde but the views were enough to tick us over ’til next time. The Roof Garden is the largest of its kind in Scotland, contains over 70 different kinds of plants and is decorated with plaques featuring quotes by Owen. After the noise of the mill downstairs, the Roof Garden was like stepping away from the world.

After a quick refresh (the café is pretty decent, by the by) we made our way outside to the Old School House. For having such a large population at its peak, the village is fairly compact which makes it easy to navigate. Seeing the old classroom set up as it would’ve been was pretty cool, and I even had a shoddy attempt at cursive using the slates. Unusually for the time, the school was set up for both children and adults: children would learn during the day while adults (and kids who worked in the mill) could attend after a shift. It included a creche for young children and acted as a hub of activity for the community (it frequently hosted dances and concerts as well as having a library).

Across the way was an exhibition commemorating the men of the village who had fought in World War One, the women who worked in the mill producing textiles for the war effort and the efforts of village fundraisers. It’s hard to imagine the scale of loss suffered by villages like these and exhibitions like this help to keep the memory alive. It’s especially important as there are no more survivors left– it’s up to us to make their story heard and their faces visible. Seeing photographs, family treasures, handwritten letters and personal testimonies made it seem so much more poignant- and tragically pointless.

Most of the mill workers’ houses have been turned into either owner-occupied flats or form part of a Housing Association, with the ambition of keeping the village as a living community. Luckily, they haven’t all been modernised: our next stop after the school were the preserved examples of housing from the 1930s and 1820s. What struck me the most was that the houses were apparently generously spaced and in good condition for the time. It consisted of a kitchen (OK, a pretty big one, but still) and a little bedroom off to the side. The 1820s house consisted of even less: a singl’ end style property could see ten people crammed into one room. It put our current living situation into perspective- seeing the way people lived back then made me feel a little bad for complaining about our one bedroom flat. While the style of housing wasn’t all that different to anywhere else, it was the conditions they were kept in that set them apart. The mill houses had electricity and running water, and latterly indoor toilets- practically unheard of at the time.

We just about squeezed in the village shop before we had to leave: the shop was a co-operative, set up so that villagers could have access to fresh produce at lower prices than in the local towns and cities. To this day it sells Fair Trade products, including New Lanark’s own-recipe ice cream. The mill also still produces its own wool, which is pretty impressive given its inception was over 200 years ago.

Places like New Lanark are crucial to our understanding of social history. It’s one thing to study it or read about it, but seeing it first hand brings it vividly to life. It makes history tangible, shows us where we came from. The mill and other places like it were milestones in social justice. Its emphasis on humane conditions was innovative at the time and remains so today. Access to education and healthcare are now recognised as fundamental human rights, and places like New Lanark realised this in a time when workers’ rights were unheard of. The layout of the place is easy to walk through, picking up information on the various attractions as you go. Lucas might have been a little young to appreciate it, but it was still nice to have a little family day out and take in some culture. There’s so much to see that we didn’t even have a chance to get around it all in one day. We’ve still got the Falls Of Clyde to explore, and we’re already looking into going back in the summer for the Brick City Lego exhibition. Who says history has to be boring?

We were invited to spend the day at New Lanark Mill as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 celebrations, but my opinions are all mine.

  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations are running across the country throughout the rest of 2017 and you can find out more here.
  • More information on UNESCO and its world heritage sites across the UK can be found here.

My last blog post ended on a somewhat optimistic note, as I mused over my impending maternity leave and preparedness for birth.

“I’ve written out my birth plan, we’ve packed mine and the baby’s hospital bags, Ally’s achieved the impossible and constructed IKEA drawers for the baby’s stuff in the time between him finishing work and me getting home. We’ve got a little rocker all set up in the corner, a cot, a pram and a car seat all ready to collect and a stockpile of nappies we’re adding to every week.

All we need is a li’l bean to fill them. I just hope we’re not waiting too long”

Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting in the maternity ward of the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital with my newborn son in my arms.

Everyone, meet Lucas.

baby-boy-lucas-james-birth

I know, I know. It was a pretty big shock to us, too. When I’d said I hoped we wouldn’t wait too long, I meant ‘after my due date’. My last day of work was supposed to be the 9th of December, after which we’d have ten days to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I had so many plans: birth plans to finalise, playlists to make up, forms to fill in, a flat to clean, a breastfeeding DVD to watch, one last aquanatal class to go to and maybe- if I had time- hair to dye and nails to do.

It’s fitting that it didn’t turn out that way, really. My pregnancy was an unexpected surprise so why should the birth have been different? Much like that fateful day when I took a positive test, the birth saga itself feels like something I watched out of body. It’s hard to articulate without being matter-of-fact. I’ve already retold the story so many times that it feels like I’m running through the plot of something. I worried that it came across detached when the reality as quite the opposite. It was all I could do to keep my emotions intact to stop me feeling scared and overwhelmed. In order for me to do so, I had to treat it like any other day.

In the end up, I don’t know if going the full ten days would’ve made me any more prepared. I’d probably have sat at home, frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Yeah, some time off would’ve been nice. The way things ended up, it was for the best that li’l bean came out when he did.

I had a half day on the Thursday to go for my 38 week midwife appointment when I had the weirdest feeling. Walking up from the stairs from the train, I felt a sensation that was altogether warm and cold.

“Shit”, I thought. “I’ve pissed myself”.

Pregnancy is a pretty undignified process at the best of times. You lie in clinical rooms while strangers poke and prod you, ask intimate questions about your health and have a feel of your bones and muscles. You swell in areas you didn’t know you could and bloat beyond recognition. Still, though. Pissing myself? That was a new one. I’d drank a lot of water in order to take a sample to my appointment and figured I’d left it too long. It briefly crossed my mind that it might be my waters but honestly, I had NO IDEA what that entailed. In the early stages of labour you generally have your show first, then your waters break, then you get contractions. There’d been no sign of the first stage, which meant to me that I was in the clear. I thought your waters erupted in a gush, like The Shining’s elevators but with amniotic fluid. In any case I toddled to my appointment and was sure they’d let me know otherwise. I got there, they took some bloods, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and felt my tummy.

“His head’s engaged”, one of them said. “How have you been feeling?”

“Well, I actually thought my waters had broken”- she winced- “but it turned out I’d just peed myself”

Apparently this is a really common occurrence, so they didn’t second guess. I didn’t even realise it was still going. I told them I was finishing work the following day, they both wished me well and hoped I’d get some rest before baby came along. I made my appointment for 39 weeks, went into town to pick up some Christmas shopping and realised the pee was still going. It continued the whole way around town. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had a little accident in The Disney Store but I’m sure the overwhelming majority are of single-digit age. By the time I got home, I had what felt like pretty gnarly menstrual cramps too. A bath didn’t help, and neither did a bounce on my gym ball. The li’l bean had given a few grumbles but nothing to suggest that he was on his way. The constant dull cramp had given way to sporadic bursts but it was nothing that a couple of paracetamol, peppermint tea and an early night couldn’t fix. Or so I thought.

As the night went on so too did the ‘bursts’, but due to a lack of show I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. Ally kept insisting that I phone the midwife. It was only an hour later, when I realised that I was still- umm- leaking, that I took him up on it. When she asked if my waters had broken, I detailed the peeing myself debacle. She told me that it was a continuous process and I explained that it had been going on for about ten hours.

“It does sound like you’re in the early stages of labour. Keep timing your contractions and contact us when they’re about 3-4 minutes apart”

Ffffffuuuuuuucccckkkk. This couldn’t be happening. We weren’t ready. I had playlists to make up. Forms to fill. A week’s worth of me time to catch up on. It was ten days early. But no, contractions were coming on heavy and before I knew it, it was 4am and I was bouncing around on my ball while we double and triple checked our hospital bags.

Even looking back at it all now feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t remember feeling scared or apprehensive as long as things kept ticking along. I felt very matter of fact. We busied ourselves with organising and tidying, pushing away the thought that every contraction as following closer than the last. Time seemed to stand still and tick away all at once. A follow-up call to the midwife confirmed that things were on track and I should go for a bath. I sat in it for almost two hours. It was gross.

The standard advice for mums to be is to stay home as long as possible before going into hospital. It’s supposed to be that your home is a familiar environment, it’s where you feel safe. That’s all good in theory but being at home was starting to have the opposite effect on me. I’d messaged my friends, my mum was on her way, my bags where packed. I’d started to normalise as much as I could but it was running out fast. I wanted to be where there were professionals and equipment to monitor my baby. I could only ration so much. It suddenly seemed ridiculous when my biggest concern was making my mum wait outside while I wrapped myself in a towel while still in the bath.

In the end, when she came to get us, we didn’t even phone the hospital. We just left. We piled out and the fresh air burst our little bubble. I thrust my phone at Ally, insistent that he phone my manager to say I wouldn’t be in for my last day. After that last piece of life admin was taken care of, I finally felt like this was it. I was in labour. Nothing was going to make it go away, other than actually having my baby.

But that’s a story for another day.

When I started blogging again, it came from a wont to document the ins and outs of pregnancy but there were other reasons, too. There had been an underlying urge to reignite some kind of creativity for a while. I just didn’t know what that would be, or how I was going to do it. I don’t know quite why the urge took me when it did. It’s hard to pick the most prevalent reason but if I had to choose I’d whittle it down to maybe three.

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On the fourth day of blogmas, I give you… a snowy little snapshot of the city I call home.

queens-park-glasgow-southside-snow-winter

Glasgow at Christmas has a very special place in my heart- it has done for as long as I can remember. The seasonal shift, to me, started when we were wrapped up in coats and hats and bundled along to Glasgow Green to see the fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ Night. From then on my birthday would come and go and before I knew it, the lights were coming on. Ever since I was a baby, my mum and dad would take me into town to see the Christmas lights go on in George Square. I later learned this was because they didn’t have any money, it was free, and I was entertained by shiny things (no change there).

Still, I always remember it being such a magical event. The nativity scene, the lights, the huge tree in the middle with the little cartoon Rosie and Jim. People spilled over from the square, onto every side street. Some local celebrity would flip a switch and suddenly everyone would gasp, and clap, and the Christmas season would officially begin.

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