I was dubious about the red tent. Curious but dubious, and perhaps a little apprehensive about what might emerge once I had entered. The welcome email preparing me for the day stated I should probably like to bring some crochet or knitting to occupy my hands while we talked, to bring some nutritious snacks while we shared stories and to do some yoga stretches to keep supple throughout the day. We were asked to wear something gorgeous and red, to bring objects which meant something to us, to read poems and tell tales which were meaningful - for the group to learn from.
Yes, it was a big 'hippy' women's group. The red tent refers to the place, according to ancient law, that women gather while menstruating or giving birth. A place where women once found mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts.
A good percentage of you are probably groaning or rolling your eyes, or spitting your tea out at the computer in hilarity. In fact, I made fun of it before I had attended, in the way that you do when you are nervous or unsure.
The reality was the most amazing experience which blew me away. A safe space to share, comfort, learn, love, hold, cry, grow. I feel very privileged to have had this chance to be with some incredible women, to have exposed deep thoughts and feelings, to emerge a better person for it even if emotionally exhausted.
A looked glum as she came out of school on Friday, all pale and tired from another week at school.
"I'm not a Maths legend, I'm not an English legend and I'm not a penguin legend," she exclaimed. I guessed she meant that she neither got all her spellings correct or her times tables. Or her penguins.
"Don't worry darling, I'm sure you did brilliantly, I make spelling mistakes all the time. We can try again next week!" I said encouragingly, not giving a toss that she didn't get them all right but caring very much that she was so upset about it.
"Let's go for a cake!" - we all smiled and agreed that this seemed a very good idea indeed. Just like that, the tests and mistakes were forgotten with a toffee covered brownie - I only wish I could heal so quickly through cake, for my mistake lies heavy on my chest, plaguing me, gnawing at me...
I rose at the unfeasibly early hour of 4.30am to plait Fletch, the great big ginger horse I ride. I had been given the chance to ride in the team dressage this weekend and I was very, very nervous. He looked beautiful, all shiny with sparkly white socks and an air of knowledge about him for he knew he was going to a competition. You see, Fletch has been there and got the battle scars to show, he has jumped higher than me, raced against the finest thoroughbreds and ponced about dressage arenas with the best. He is my teacher and I, his very eager student. And I let him down so very badly this weekend. As I entered the arena my heart was thumping and the wind was gusty as I listened for the bell to begin, enter at 'A' proceed in working trot down the centre line. Then my mind went completely blank. Vacant. Lost. I had no idea what to do. I had completely forgotten my movements.
Mortified, I returned home, my head unable to throw the feeling away.
"Don't worry Mummy, you can try again and if you still don't get it right you can just try again!" commented the wise A.
So I feel we are in it together A and I, learning together and being tested together. Sometimes we get it right, most often we don't. And there is always cake.
I doubt many of you can tell me what '8 x 9' is or '12 x 7' or that little bugger of '8 x 7 ?'
You might have to trawl through the whole times table to get there, or it might be imprinted on your brain from primary school days or you may have counted on from the last times table you know. Or you used a calculator. Or you couldn't give a shit.
A now has the delight of learning her times tables, starting from the 3's. This is done as a test every week, if she gets 10/10 every week for three weeks in a row, she has the privilege of moving up to her 4's. If she fails to get them all right, I guess she stays on the three times table forever.
So we started trying to reason with her, to use logic, to use her already accumulated mathematics to try and see the patterns. Everyday a little nudging and cajoling. You could see the cogs working in her tiny brain.
"7 times 3, A?" I would ask her, cutting up the fruit for breakfast.
"24, no 18, 24, yes it's 24. No no no, it's 21!" she remembered. The numbers were in there somewhere, just not in the right order.
I figured she could remember the key numbers, she had the answers but just didn't know which questions to marry them with. So we made up little ditties, rhymes, silly expressions and jokey voices.
"Eight times three - knock on the door - twenty four!"
"Seven times three is Mummy's favourite - twenty one!"
"Six times three, bra's on your head - eighteen!"
No idea where the last one came from but it worked, she remembered all her three times tables, with zero amount of logic and absolutely no maths applied.
It was the very last treat of the year, one before he starts his new job, a treat without the children and one last chance of travel in my 40th birthday year. Lucky us, we went to Iceland. A last minute thought, a wonderfully weird country with stunning scenery which could not have been imagined.
A trip starts at the airport, excited glasses of wine watching the planes take off to distant lands. No children needing a poo, no one saying they didn't like their dinner or wanting to look in the toy shop. Instead a bar, full of adults, being civilised and thrilled at the same time. Sometimes the airport is the most exciting part - the anticipation, the thought of being somewhere completely different in a few hours, the no-mans land feeling, the people, the wondering and the watching.
Reykjavik is small. Perfectly formed, cold but really small. Incredible views from the harbour, where imagined whales are hauled ashore after their unfortunate harpooning, over to the mountainous parts of the craggy archipelago. Christmas-like houses dotted the city with their red walls and white corrugated roofs. The shops sold thick Icelandic wool jumpers, itchy and scratchy but warm and waterproof. We went around museums without anyone shouting "I'm BOOOOORED!" and learnt about the Vikings who settled on this strange but intriguing island. We had coffees which costed a small fortune, beers which broke the bank and he even tried smoked puffin. Sorry.
The scenery was wild and desolate, volcanic, grey and smoking with hot pools, fumeroles and geysirs which erupted to the delight of onlookers. Waterfalls cascaded dramatically, glaciers spotted in the distance and horses wandered about rugged and pure. The weather changed in minutes making us feel vulnerable and adventurous, the Northern Lights were pursued and not found and I felt I could live here, just for year - to see if I could do a winter.
But I really wanted to show the kids this land, we might have to go back so they can bob in the waters of the Blue Lagoon, so they can find the Northern Lights with us, so we can trek over a glacier together and ride a horse through the volcanic desert.
It was really fun by ourselves, but would be different and possibly better with the children.