Just stuff

Why I love Milton Keynes (for #LoveMK Day 2016)

#LoveMK and the concrete cowsToday is #LoveMK Day, the fourth annual day of its kind celebrating Milton Keynes. I’ve lived here for nine years now and I’ve only just caught on. Yes, I’m a bit slow. Born and raised in the shire, I moved to Leicester for a year and headed south to grace the MK Massive with my presence. And I’ve been here ever since.

Despite the extortionate house prices and as a non-native, I REALLY love it here. We’ve often talked about moving somewhere else to get more bang for our buck, but MK just has too much to offer. What, I hear you cry? (in my head). Let me spell it out for you…

M is for motorway

Sitting right next to the M1 motorway (I can see it from my house, lucky me), MK is super accessible and it makes hot-footing it up north or down south to see friends and family super easy.

I is for inspiring

Ever heard of Bletchley Park and the codebreakers? Then you’ll know that Milton Keynes has more to it than a load of dual carriageways and roundabouts; it has some proper cool history.

Milton Keynes aerial shot

An aerial shot of Milton Keynes.

L is for layout

Milton Keynes sits on a grid system, a bit like New York, albeit it named in a more obvious way. We have V roads and H roads (that’s V for vertical and H for horizontal) and they’re numbered from 1 to 10 (ish). They have proper names too, but are always accompanied by the letter and number (V10 Brickhill Street, for example), making it pretty easy to navigate anywhere once you’ve sussed out which direction you’re going in. Newbies will tell you everywhere looks the same, but once you get used to it it’s very handy. As well as the grid system, there’s the city centre, a hub of bars, restaurants, shopping and leisure facilities split into smaller sub-areas like The Hub, Intu MK, Centre: MK, Theatre District and Xscape – you can get anything you want, within reason, here. And then nestled amongst the housing estates dotted across the V and H roads, you’ll find what we call local centres, mini city centres comprising all the basic facilities you need. It’s all very handy. MK is built for convenience and easy access, with loads of parking spaces. I like convenient, therefore I like Milton Keynes.

T is for 10 minutes to anywhere

Generally, it takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to get from A to B in MK. Which supports what I said above – very convenient. I’ll happily take an abundance of roundabouts and dual carriageways over one-way systems and a sporadic sprinkling of speed cameras.

O is for open spaces

I grew up in Shropshire and it’s pretty damn, well… pretty. But I kid you not, from my front door in Milton Keynes I have access (by walking)  to more green and open spaces than I did back in the shire. Ralphie is spoiled for choice on his walks and if we decide to hop in the car and go a bit further, there’s even more. Take a wonder along the canal at Great Linford, for example, and you’ll soon forget you’re not in the middle of the countryside.

Swan on Tongwell Lake, Milton Keynes

And here’s yet another swan – there are lots in Milton Keynes. This one’s having a lovely time on Tongwell Lake.

N is for nightlife

I don’t really know what a nightlife is these days. Having two children kind of killed that off. But in my 20s I spent many a weekend frequenting the local pubs, clubs and restaurants. I never had to walk too far, I could always get a dirty kebab (or equivalent) before calling it a night and never failed to get a taxi home. Now my evenings are more boring civilised there are two big cinema complexes and loads of places to eat – the popular chain restaurants as well as loads of village-y style pubs nestled away in the prettier parts of Milton Keynes or just on the fringes. I’m thinking The Swan, the other Swan, and the other, other Swan off the top of my head.

Willen Lake, Milton Keynes

What we refer to as ‘mini Stone Henge’ at Willen Lake.

K is for kids

There is so much here for kids to do and you can find out more about this on this very handy blog. As the proud owner of two such kids, I’m not short of things to do with them and without having to wander far either. For example, the park on the housing estate where I live looks pretty cool from Google Earth. And it’s free! I think it truly hit home how great MK is for children (and their parents) when we moved to Dorset for a few months while waiting for our new house to complete. Dorset is beautiful and I’m never one to scoff at beautiful countryside and beaches, but… there was very little organised stuff for kids and what was on offer involved travelling a bit.

E is for enterprise

Did you know that Milton Keynes is the 22nd best place to launch a startup? Or, if you read the 2016 Cities Outlook report, MK has the second highest number of startups per 10,000 population. To me that says MK is good for the economy, offers job opportunities, is creative, enterprising and innovative. This is good news for me and good news for my kids – I want them to grow up somewhere full of opportunities. I was pretty much laughed out of Shropshire when I told the school careers woman I wanted to be a journalist. I think much more is possible in MK.

MK Storm netball team

Lovely ladies: Me and members of the awesome MK Storm netball team, playing in the Milton Keynes Indoor Netball League.

Y is for…

Okay, so I’m struggling with Y. Read on peeps, nothing to see here.

N is for netball

I’ve been playing netball since I can remember and have always found teams to play in wherever I’ve been living. We all know when you put competitive women in a sports hall and throw a ball in the air it can get a bit bitchy. But I have the pleasure of playing for and with the nicest bunch of netballing ladies ever. And it just so happens that they’re pretty awesome at netball too. Go team MK Storm!

E is for education

Milton Keynes is home to The Open University, making education accessible to all, wherever you live and whatever your circumstances. I know this because I work there (and I won’t get flowers for writing this) and see first-hand the impact it makes. It reminds me every day that education is really important.

S is for smart

Milton Keynes is a smart city. Officially. And because I can’t be bothered to write anymore, you can read all about it here.

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Cats versus dogs (why woof gets my vote)

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I have a dog and am wildly allergic to cats. This could be a very short post couldn’t it…

I could curate some accurate and amusing meme here to help showcase my preference for dogs over cats, but that would be cheating.

This post, after all, is one in a weekly series (oops, we missed last week, sorry) in which Kate Owen and I challenge each other to write about something – anything – to update our somewhat dusty blogs. And this week’s post is cats versus dogs. So…

I’ll start with cats because this is easy. Aside from the usual cat qualities, I’m allergic, they make me sneeze, itch all over and hinder my breathing. So I tend to avoid them at all costs. Makes sense, right?

My oldest child. And the cleanest?

The same can’t be said for Ralphie, my almost six-year-old Cocker Spaniel (who has his own Facebook page btw) who knows he should bark wildly at them and chase them, but after that he’s at a loss. If he ever gets close enough to almost catch a cat, he does a speedy u-turn and runs in the opposite direction like he’s forgotten his wallet or something. If dogs had wallets, of course. Ralphie’s chosen currency would probably be gravy bones or chicken slices over cold, hard cash.

Pushing his cat confusion to one side, Ralphie is my oldest child, my black, hairy, four-legged, faithful and reliable child. And probably the cleanest. We collected him one sunny day from a layby off the M25 (sounds dodgy, it was a legitimate exchange) and he’s been at the core of our family ever since.

12036379_1169252879757034_1896091512501141259_nSave for a short period when we had human child number one and there was lots of crying and not a lot of sleep (Ralphie looked at us regularly with eyes that said ‘what have you done!?’) he’s been very happy to be a Bateman.

He makes his presence known by persistently dragging our shoes from the hallway to the family room, nicking off with the kids’ favourite bedtime toys just before bedtime, and rushing to our feet the second the fridge door is opened. He also takes up all the room on the bed (yes, something has come between Richard and I – it’s Ralphie) and has the longest eyelashes in the world. I love him.

Best house guest ever

But my love affair with dogs started when I was a kid. Mum left for work one morning with instructions that, after school, we needed to make sure the house was tidy because she was bringing special visitor home. And we obeyed, the house was immaculate when she walked in that evening with… Henri, a blue roan Cocker Spaniel! We – my brother and I – were giddy with excitement. Best. Visitor. Ever! Until in he did a poo in my bedroom…

He was part of our family, loved us loyally, and was so soppy we could sit him at the table with a tea towel round his next and feed him with a knife and fork. True story.

Hurt them and I’ll hurt you

Cocker Spaniels are a lovely breed and I’d definitely have another one. In fact, baby number three is off and dog number two is on (at some point in the future, at least). I remember a vet saying that all dogs love you but Cocker Spaniels REALLY love you. And this is true of both Henri and Ralphie, both choosing to lie, if not on you, somewhere where all human movements can be monitored from a lying down position. And they’re a fantastic breed with children; I can trust Ralphie implicitly not to run off, not to bite and not to eat the kids’ biscuits. Okay, that last one isn’t strictly true.

12540928_1222678077747847_6754879257909777303_nSo it’s cats 0, dogs 10 for me. Every time. But with that said, I am a general lover of all animals and the single thing I hate most about Facebook (and there are a few) is the number of animal cruelty posts I see. I scroll past them super fast, not wanting to be reminded how sick some people are to hurt such innocent creatures when their only ask is to be loved. If you won’t love an animal, can’t treat it with respect, manage its needs, care for it, afford it, respect it, then don’t get one. Whatever that animal may be. They’re a commitment, like children, and you should be in it for the long haul. Hurt animals, be it on TV, cases of cruelty or just sad stories can fill me with tears in an instant. People hurting animals makes me want to hurt people.

Eek, sorry, that just got a bit heavy didn’t it. Moving on… I often joke that I’d love to swap lives with Ralphie, he’s got it good. And that’s all that he deserves in payment for loving us, making us laugh, getting us out in the fresh air and preparing us, in part, for the commitment of having children. Dogs rock.

PS Kate (a cat owner) and I need inspiration for next week’s blog post or we’re at risk of writing about saggy eyelids. I kid you not. Ideas welcome!

Journalism, Life in general, Online journalism

Creating more ‘me time’ by studying: 7 reasons why I’m doing an MA

Photo by Padurariu Alexandru via Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/Yvl081TVnvASigning up for a Masters degree seems like a strange thing to do to find time for yourself but, for me, getting some much-needed ‘Robyn time’ has been a surprising consequence of studying.

When I started the MA four years ago (pre-children, with a full-time job) I enjoyed study but was resentful of the amount of hours it consumed each week, especially in the run up to an assignment deadline. I was caught in this limbo land of enjoying the topics, the learning and the upskilling, but begrudging the time, the brain strain and the effort required. Alongside the fear of failure, of course.

Now I spin many more plates, I work the equivalent of four days a week, I have two toddlers born 11 months apart (which means more of everything – washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking), have a dog to walk, a netball team to play in and, occasionally, some friends to catch up with. Oh, and I LOVE sleeping. So free time is pretty non-existent.

NB I said more cooking above and this is a blatant lie – hubby is the cook in our family so this is one thing I don’t generally have to do too much of. But I am in charge of the washing machine!

What the hell am I doing?

To remind you all (do you like how I phrased that, to make to make it sound like someone is actually reading this?!) I’m embarking on the second half of the MA in Online Journalism, part-time via online distance learning with Birmingham City University. And hats off to them, for welcoming me back to study (first year completed before I had Child Numero Uno) mid-way through an academic year and extending the limits of flexibility. A week-by-week approach works less well for me (some weeks will be quiet and others manic). BCU handed over a whole module block to me, to work through in 12 weeks in any way I pleased and giving me complete control over which tutorials to do when. And my tutor (the guy who reassures me I’ve got the right end of this online journalism stick) is a call or email away if I need him.

There are lots of positives that come with immersing myself in a world of learning, but the most surprising thing has been that I feel like I’m getting quality me time. The time I spend on tutorials and project work and research is time for me, to get some quality alone time with the Mac or iPad Mini, read some interesting stuff, try some cool things, talk to some inspiring people. It’s all about me, and that feels pretty good – a common side effect of being a busy working mum with hobbies and interests is that time for yourself drops by the wayside.
Here’s why the MA is proving worthwhile:

1) It’s a confidence booster

Just being accepted onto an MA course (I don’t have a degree) was a huge confidence boost and I confess to being hugely nervous about returning to study post-kids, confident in the fact many of my brain cells were thrown out with the placenta during childbirth. That’s two placentas in the space of a year so probably a lot of brain cells. I repeat myself, forget things and talk shit far more than I used to (and that was quite a lot). So being able to grasp concepts, contribute valuable ideas and communicate at MA level does wonders for self-confidence. It’s easy to lose a sense of yourself when you’re a working mum and this claws some of that back. I’m remembering what I like, what I’m good at and that I’m multi-dimensional. I’ve discovered that…

2) I have a brain

I definitely have a brain, although it malfunctions on a regular basis. But my brain is starting to work in a different way, thanks to the MA. I’ve always been good at getting shit done but I’m now asking questions and looking at different ways to approach, organise and do things. I’m becoming more strategic. The way the MA is delivered – online and with a ‘learn by doing’ approach, I’m being forced out of my comfort zone and stretching those brain cells. Don’t get me wrong, my brain is working so hard I probably have some kind of internal bleed, but when you come out the other side of a mental block it’s quite a nice feeling. I am not an academic by any stretch of the imagination but I do have a brain. Which leads nicely into…

3) Impact on work

The MA directly relates to what I do for a living and it’s having an impact on how I conduct myself at work. I have more knowledge stored away and more resources – from contacts to apps to books to technology – to help me. I’m approaching ideas from a journalist’s point of view again and having that external focus really helps when trying to promote an organisation from the inside. On the flip side, work is also helping with the MA. I’m getting to test theories and tools during the working day which contributes to my learning journey without eating into personal time. And…

4) It’s good to talk

I have more to talk about beyond business as usual (work), toddler tantrums and threenagers (home). This latest module on enterprise and innovation is helping me to help my husband, who runs his own web design agency, and we’re swapping advice on entrepreneurship over the dinner table (our dinners on our laps on the sofa). I’m swapping ideas with colleagues about the way we brainstorm content and campaigns, the way we tell stories, the channels we use and confidently doing things that stretch me at work and tick an assignment box at the same time – mobile video interviews and editing, for example, which I’ve been doing for both. Trust me, I like talking brainless shit too but it’s nice to talk semi-intelligently at times too. This also helps build…

5) A growing network of useful contacts

It’s no coincidence that my network of followers on Twitter has grown since jumping back on the MA trail. Not only do I have more to talk about offline, I’m more chatty online too. I have more to say and on a different range of topics including entrepreneurship, digital marketing and small business and this is reflected in my new following. I’m not showing off here, by the way, just pointing out that growing a following organically is a nice consequence of study and learning new shiz. Add all the points above together and this means I am…

6) Making more of my spare time

The spare time I get now is hugely limited and therefore massively valuable. So I make the most of it. When I collapse on the sofa to catch up on The Night Manager or watch a movie with hubby, I know I truly deserve it (I know, a movie night, I’m so rock and roll). I think the more you do things, the less you enjoy them and I was guilty of using up my spare time slumped on the sofa, thinking it was the only way to switch off and relax after a busy day. Now my sofa slumps are rare but utterly earned. So I’m enjoying everything else outside of study a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, my life consists of shifts, juggling acts, running to and fro and my social life has taken a huge hit as study comes first. Me and the hubby are like ships passing in the night but I have a little over a year to go and it’ll be worth it. Family holidays, breaks and date nights in between will be enjoyed all the more during this hectic time. Learning to make the most of your time is, to me, just as important as learning how to critically evaluate a project. And finally…

7) I want to leave a legacy

I’m the first member of my family to enter university-level education. I don’t believe university qualifications are the best route into careers and won’t be pushing my kids towards uni if it’s not for them (I ignored it when I was 18 and it did me no harm), but I’m proud to be doing it now, aged 36. And I feel like I’m setting a good example for my children – that you can achieve things at different times of your life and you can combine work, family and education and survive (I say that, I still have a year to go so will report back then. If you don’t hear from me, maybe I didn’t make it). I literally cannot wait for my graduation, should I be lucky enough to get there. And how awesome is it that my tiddlywinks will be able to be there and be as proud of me as I am of them.

But…

There is a downside though… studying means there is no time for reading for fun so I have a huge backlog of novels to catch up on. And I’m juggling more to do lists than ever before – thankfully, Wunderlist makes this SO much easier.

Journalism, Just stuff, Life in general, Marriage, Media, Motherhood, Online journalism

2016: It’s all about me

2016, it’s all about me. Sound a bit selfish? Abso-fucking-lutely. But there’s more to it than that; it’s about looking at things from a different perspective, making the most of the year ahead and doing things that make me happy, and that I enjoy. Not because I feel obliged. Life is too short to make other people happy by making yourself unhappy and I must accept that I can’t do everything.

For me, 2016 is about being honest, liberating myself from the constraints of the ‘must do because you should do’ and being mindful. A happy me, generally, means the people around me are happy too. That all sounds a bit gushy and deep, but I’m keen to tackle this year in a different way; I’m bored with the same old shit approach. So… I’m writing my New Year blog post in February…

Collapsed gingerbread house

This year I’ll say no to the kids if they ask to build a gingerbread house. Here’s why.

1) I’m saying no and I won’t feel bad about it

I’m actually pretty good at this anyway, but this year I’ll be better. No more agreeing to go to works dos/family parties/events if I won’t enjoy them/don’t have time/can’t afford it/or just don’t feel up for it. After reading this Guardian article, it reinforced something I already knew: it’s okay to say no to things and not feel bad about it. I can’t make that leaving do but best of luck in your new venture. I can’t make the family party but send love and hugs to Uncle Bob. I can’t make training tonight but I’ll see you at the game tomorrow. I’m not up for that cinema trip, but maybe next time. And you don’t even need to give a reason, just saying no is fine. I’m saying goodbye to obligation and it feels liberating.

 2) Only working for me, myself and I

No more crappy freelance. I’m being harsh here, freelance isn’t crappy but helping other people out leaves no time for me. It means that my notepad full of ideas and personal projects get left right there in the notepad and never put into practice. Whenever I get a surge of motivation I’d think ‘Gah, I don’t have time, I need to finish something for someone else.’ As 2016 is all about me, not taking on anything outside of my day job (apart from point number 4 below) frees up time to focus on these projects. No more displacement activities, or whatever you want to call them, means I can crack on with my ‘me’ projects.

Robyn Bateman3) Making an effort

Last year was about family really and I think, like a lot of parents, I let a little bit of me go. This year, while time is and always will be an issue, I want to make the effort to wear earrings, paint nails, buy boots with heels instead of flats and trainers, and occasionally pop on some red lipstick (thanks to my Secret Santa!). They’re small things but they make a difference. I’m currently writing this post in knee-high boots… (not JUST boots, you sickos, I’m fully dressed!).

4) Return of the MA
The year I fell pregnant, I was part-way through an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University. I was awarded a scholarship and supported by my employer; opportunities like that don’t come around every day to degree-less, non-academic bods like me.

I decided to interrupt study to enjoy the last months of pregnancy and birth of ‘Bean Child’. And I use the term ‘enjoy’ loosely.  I then popped out the Boy Child, endured a period of mania, lack of sleep and resettling into work. Now is my last chance to get on and finish the MA and I’d be an absolute idiot to ditch it now. Hard work is ahead but it’ll be so rewarding and challenging. I know I’ll love it, moan about it, get excited, swear a lot and other contradictions but it has to be done. I work at The Open University and see, firsthand, the amazing educational achievements of our students who complete qualifications while spinning many plates. And I see their proud families, their new careers, their sense of self-achievement and I want me a slice of that. Distance learning makes it possible and BCU have been really accommodating, putting more flex into flexible so I can work at my own pace. When I get my arse in gear, you can read about my progress here.

Cocker Spaniel Ralphie in trainers5) Pass the endorphins
I’ve started running. It should be noted that I am not a runner, and I don’t really like it that much. However, given time and budget constraints lack of time and cold, hard cash (MUST shake off the work jargon!), running can be done anywhere, at anytime and is completely free. I walk the dog every other evening anyway (me and hubby take turns) so I might as well run a bit, even though Ralphie’s not so keen because he likes to stop and sniff. I now say I’m taking him for a drag, not a walk.

Also, and this is important, I’m setting limited expectations (there I go with the work jargon again). What I mean is, just doing it is enough – the time/distance/pace/calorie burn etc doesn’t matter. I’m not working my way up to run 5km and I’m fully accepting of my run/walk/run/walk approach. I can only run in short bursts and that’s okay because it’s better than nothing. And if it gets easier and I can go for longer, great. But if it doesn’t and I can’t then that’s okay too. Secretly, I’m kind of enjoying it. I feel great and smug that I’m excercising beyond my weekly netball match and thanks to my new running trainers (Christmas motivational present from hubby, modelled by Ralphie over here ——->), I’m positively bouncing off those pavements. Well, almost.

6) Recognising those who support me
Being truly selfish requires help. And there are lots of people I could mention, I thank them all, but there’s one who needs naming. Richard Bateman. Our time together has been a whirlwind of romance, marriage, kids and juggling all the things we love to do. And it’s because we’re really good at the sharing, supporting, balancing act of being responsible adults that I’m able to do all of the above as well as raise two children and get to work on time Richard and Robyn Bateman(dressed and washed, too). For me, the juggling of our family life is split between us and I recognise this is not the norm: mums often play the lead role and make more personal sacrifices when it comes to raising a family. We are not traditional in that sense and take an equal role in family, work and social stuff. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy for me that the kids often run to their dad when they’re ill, instead of me, or for him to manage running a business when he’s expected to be flexible. Yay for us!

So, here’s to tackling 2016 in a different way. But I’m not totally selfish… if you’re stuck in a rut, I can offer you this: read Thrive. It’s an eye-opener (how to reprioritise and emasure success in different ways) and this book by Sarah Knight, if for nothing more than the fact is has a swear word in the title.

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Oh poo, we’ve lost Pooh!

It was over a year ago now that he moved in with us. We weren’t expecting to take on a lodger, particularly not one naked from the waist down, slightly jaundiced and with a penchant for honey. But we soon warmed to him and it wasn’t long before he’d semi-permanently nestled his way under my daughter’s arm, and was sleeping in her bed. All, rent free.

It was Halle’s first birthday and Pooh Bear, a gift from my little sister, had been unwrapped and discarded along with all the other presents. But as friends and family exited the celebrations, one by one, Pooh remained. Halle picked him up, tucked him under her arm and, fast forward 17 months, and it’s where he still spends most of his time.

Halle loves PoohHe’s been everywhere with us from shopping trips to theme parks, family and friends’ homes to hotel rooms and Spanish villas, from Christmas fairs to meals out, beach trips to picnics. And he’s travelled by plane, car, taxi, bus, bike and pushchair. And if Halle isn’t carrying him around, her younger brother is having a quick hug before she notices, or Ralphie the dog is using him as a cushion on the sofa. He’s loved by all of us, one of the family. And while our yellow, furry lodger doesn’t pay rent, we’ve had our money’s worth out of him. He’s been puked on, weed on (no poo on Pooh, thankfully), dropped in mud and covered in paint and crayon. He’s spent a fair bit of time going round and round in the washing machine and he’s had a couple of stitches in his leg. I fear his ear has a hole in it and his bum area looks close to splitting. He’s also less yellow now, and more dirty.

Pooh + potty training = confusing
He appears in family photos, he sleeps in Halle’s bed, has breakfast, lunch and tea with us, waits patiently in front of the TV while Halle has her bath, and snuggles into her when she drinks her pre-bed milk. He’s there when she falls and hurts herself, when she’s ill or tired and grumpy. And he was always close by during potty training, which was confusing – does she need a poo or Pooh? Silly name for a bear.

In short, he’s always there. Until…

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