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Why do I love Milton Keynes? Let me spell it out for you

Happy #LoveMK Day. I’ve lived in Milton Keynes for 11 years, plenty long enough to say it’s a great place to live, work, play and plan. Why? Let me spell it out for you:

Richard and Robyn BatemanM is for memories (warning, this bit’s soppy)

On #LoveMK Day it’s only fitting to share a love story, right? Except this isn’t just about my love for the place I live, but about my love for a boy. A romantic story with Milton Keynes at its heart. Of course, I thought Richard was a random stalker when he first tweeted at me  (in response to a pic I posted of Caldecotte Lake) in the first half of 2009. 

 Of course, I’m talking about Richard Bateman (he’s the guy behind the 2018 remake of the red balloon advert you’re likely to see featuring prominently on the #LoveMK hashtag). We met almost a decade ago on Twitter and we’ve been making memories ever since.

Our first date was hosted by the Wavendon Arms and our time together has been peppered with Milton Keynes landmarks… we planned our first holiday on the grassy banks of Linford Manor in glorious sunshine; we nervously let our dog, Ralphie, off the lead for the very first time at Riverside Meadow, Newport Pagnell, and spent more hours walking around Bury Field than I care to remember. Richard first watched me play netball on the outdoor courts of Walton High and his business, westfourstreet, was started from the spare room of our Caldecotte flat.

We celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple in a snow-filled Wavendon in 2010 (anyone else remember how cold that winter was?) and our first trip out of the house as parents of two small children in December 2013 was around a VERY muddy Linford Lake. And we’re still making memories in MK, our home, a place we think holds lots of future opportunities for our children. Which leads nicely to…

I is for inspiring

Ever heard of Bletchley Park and the codebreakers? Then you’ll know that Milton Keynes has more to it than dual carriageways and roundabouts (including that horrific one at Bletchley!); it has some proper history, the stuff worthy of making TV programmes about. Aside from its inspiring history, it has a buzzing future and you’ll get a taste of both at Milton Keynes Museum.

Milton Keynes aerial shot

An aerial shot of Milton Keynes.

L is for layout

For those not in the know, 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 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 HubIntu MKCentre: MKTheatre 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. Okay, so I HAVE gone into the back of a car on to separate occasions but if you’re paying attention, navigating MK is perfectly safe…

The Batemans hanging out at Willen Lake.

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. Tongwell Lake’s another of our favourite spots.

N is for nightlife (plus)

As a 38-year-old full-time working parent of two children, I’m not really qualified to talk about ‘nightlife’ on any great scale. My late 20s (I can just about remember them…) were spent frequenting the local pubs, clubs and restaurants as I found my way around MK as a newbie resident. I didn’t have to totter too far in my heels (now replaced with flats), I could always get a dirty kebab (or equivalent) before calling it a night and never failed to get a taxi home. Well, there was that one time…

Now my free time is more civilised (save for the wiggly slide marathon at Mead Open Farm the other week), I’m spoiled for options, whether it’s date night, girl time or a quality hangout with the smalls. 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 Swanthe other Swan, and the other, other Swan off the top of my head.

K is for kids

MK is great for families, we’re spoiled for choice here. It’s a haven for parks, soft play/activity centres, sporting activities and events (and people and community groups helping you find them).

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. Hubby is proof of the pudding here, a local boy come good. Starting your own business is a big thing and, supported by the local MK business community, he’s grown in confidence and capability. MK has the buzz of enterprise but the warmth of a rural village. It’s thriving and it’s friendly. And close to London. 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.

Y is for…

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

MK Storm netball team

Lovely ladies: Me and members of the awesome MK Storm netball team.

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 Panthers 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 see first-hand the impact it makes. It reminds me every day that education is really important, and access to it even more so. A new Milton Keynes University is planned for 2023 too, offering yet more educational opportunities.

S is for smart

Milton Keynes is a smart city. Officially. And because it’s late and I have Homeland episodes to catch up on, you can read all about it here.

 

window view

What exactly am I doing here!!??

I’m sitting here on the first morning of a three-day writers’ retreat. And I have no idea what I’m going to write. In front of me is a huge sash window, beyond it fields, sheep and a lot of sky.  

Am I worried that I don’t know what I’m going to write? No, not really. For me, this weekend is about downloading some stuff just as much as pouring my creativity onto the page (I’m optimistically hoping it WILL make an appearance while I’m here). 

The last time I was here, in January, I was under pressure to crack out a 20,000 word eBook on Instagram, the final project for my MA in Online Journalism. Steam came off my fingertips (well, almost) as I bashed out the words, deleted them, reshaped them, threw in some new ones, reordered and polished them. In April, I submitted. In June I passed, with distinction. And in July I graduated. A huge part of my life for a couple of years completed. What now? 

First box sets, obviously. And lots of sitting on my arse on the sofa enjoying the feeling of not having to do anything. But I felt guilty, shouldn’t I be making more of my time? The MA gave me such satisfaction, such confidence, and I had hoped I’d use my ‘free’ time to crack on with my own personal projects, for pleasure. But I simply couldn’t be bothered. 

Other things have contributed to this, not just laziness. In April I went full-time and in a different role – the first time I’ve worked a 37 ish hour week since having my eldest, who is now approaching five. This change in hours coincided with the last few weeks of my MA and I can’t tell you what a head fuck that was. I had thoughts pouring out of my head at all hours, a billion questions I didn’t know the answers to and a ton of reading that went unread. I went to bed way too late during this time, and for the sake of my own mental health and the ever-growing bags appearing beneath my eyes, would prefer never to have to repeat that experience again. 

Back then, those full-time hours were compressed into 3.5 days with some ad hoc working from home, so I still had 1.5 days of the working week to tackle the other things life insists of you – washing, cleaning, general boring housey-type shit. But still, it needed to be done and got done. And quality time with the kids, of course. Parks, soft play centres, swimming, bikes rides etc. 

Last month I stretched those hours across five days of the working week. The last time I worked on a Monday was 2012! H started school and we’ve shuffled our hours to accommodate drop offs and pick ups, while my youngest attends nursery five days a week rather than two-and-a-half.  

It’s a big change for all of us:  

Big girl’s don’t cry (well, only when the lunch hall gets noisy)

H is now a fully qualified big girl, and learning all about books (but strangely thinks only men can be authors!!) and is making lots of new friends. This also means I have to give her breakfast every day, tea every day and spend lots of money on tights because she manages to ladder them EVERY day*. I’ve also discovered that ketchup and white T’shirts really don’t go and wearing the same shoes fives days a week makes her feet so stinky you could bottle the pong and use it to eradicate Donald Trump. She’s also asked me where babies come from what nits are. *scratches head* 

*Disclaimer: It’s that feeding my kids daily is unusual, bit I’m usused to nursery covering off two meals a day. Now I have to up my menu planning game.

Mind your winkle

A is now in nursery for the whole week, and without his big sister. With 11 months between them they generally do everything together. This new change has given him independence, he’s one of the older gang at pre-school and his close friendship with two boys there is blossoming. He’s becoming a man. Well, sort of. He burps a lot. Does that count? He’s also obsessed with the phrase ‘punch you in the winkle’ and for Christmas he wants a Batman sword, a Spiderman sword, a Hulk sword and a Captain America sword. Did all those super heroes even have a sword??!!! 

coloured pens

Everything strategic involves coloured pens, right?

Keeping our cool: fridge strategy

For me and Rich we’ve changed our hours, some longer days and shorter days for both of us. This means we have to remember who does what, including walking the dog, on each day of the week. A big chart  stuck to the fridge is my strategy for remembering all this stuff. And we’re both adjusting to working across five days of the week. Your body clock gets used to the pattern of your life and we’ve just upended ours. It will probably take some time to bed in. 

What I’ve realised about this new regime is that I don’t have it all planned out. That big chart on the fridge – my strategy – fails to include the washing. So at the end of week one I realised none of us had any clean clothes to wear. The house was a shit tip. And I had ‘to do’ lists for both work ad home that just weren’t getting done. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, on this writing retreat. To reorder my thoughts. Rich thinks my constant need to write lists is my downfall, that I try and control too much and beat myself up when things don’t go to plan. On some level he’s right but I enjoy creative problem solving, I enjoy finding efficiencies that make life easier. And lists are a part of that. Reading Sarah Knight’s ‘How to Get Shit Done’ is also a big part, I’d recommend it to you all.  

I repeat, what am I doing here?

So why am I REALLY at this writing retreat? When I booked it in the summer my intention was to dust of my old novel, written around seven years ago, and actually do something with it. But I’m not putting myself under any pressure. This is about creating head space, finding creativity that’s not linked to an agenda, objective or deadline, and unwinding a little. Part of me thought I might use the time to catch up on work when a colleague told me that would be an utter waste of ‘me time’ and she was so right. 

Don’t cry over a forgotten bear. Or maybe do

We all need this sort of time, whatever our responsibilities. Time out. When I arrive here last night it hadn’t been a good day. I’d yelled at the kids while getting ready for school (not how I wanted to part ways when leaving them for the weekend); I forgot that H needed to take a special item (see images as proof of special-ness) into school and while I am not an overly emotional person I felt I’d let her down and cried when I got back to the car.

I was awkward, shy and self-conscious at school, in any new situation, and still am to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, in my comfort zone I’m the life and soul but outside of that the mouse in me squeaks to the surface. H is so like me and I don’t want to be the cause of any anxiety. I’m small chunking here – I just went home, retrieved Pooh Bear, wrote a little love heart post it note and dropped it back at school. All fine. No one emotionally damaged. Well, maybe me. I don’t forget things as a rule and this time I had. When I went to call Rich to fess up my parenting faux pas, I found I’d left my bag at home too. Another trip back to retrieve it. Grrr. And then I was late for work. FFS. 

So here I am, yesterday a good reminder that everyone needs to take time out every once in a while. That thoughts and tasks and responsibilities and wish lists all mount up and it’s either time out or implode. 

If you are still reading this btw, pat yourself on the back and go and grab a cuppa and a biscuit. There’s  still a bit more to come… 

So, enough of the whining, here are some positives… 

Play Doh roast dinner

Halle’s Play Doh version of a roast dinner. Thankfully we didn’t have to eat this one.

What’s your beef? 

Since our routine change, we’ve recognised how bad we are at eating together as a family and have introduced the tradition of Sunday roasts. Hardly groundbreaking, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. This is awesome on lots of levels: who doesn’t love roasties smothered in gravy? The kids really enjoy a) the food b) the chance to chat to both parents at the same time c) getting involved by clearing plates and choosing and dishing up dessert. They recognise it as a weekly tradition and look forward to it. Plus Ralphie gets leftovers so it’s win-win for all of us. So simple, so brilliant. 

#TeamAwesome 

While work is relentless, there’s never enough time and I often don’t feel like I’m achieving much on a day-to-day basis, there are some huge benefits. I have an awesome team who I genuinely enjoy working with: talented, funny, hard-working and on the same page as me. I’m lucky on this count, most defo. And we’ve just been nominated for two awards – some proper recognition of the awesome work we do. This feels good. 

lots of peopleForever friends 

I have an amazing set of friends. Like-minded, not perfect, spinning multiple plates. And, most importantly, not prolific Facebook status updaters. Second to that (just kidding) talking to them reminds me that I’m normal. We all feel like we fail a lot but we take comfort in each other’s situation and how much we do. That we live in a busy world and we’re in charge of how we manage that world. We share coping strategies! One of those pals is here on the writing retreat with me – she’s just scarpered upstairs with a bowl of snacks, and is both an inspiration and part of my support network. I also have lots of funny stories to sell the tabloids when she gets really famous. 

I’ve been styled by… 

This is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own. In short, there’s a lovely lady called Susie who dishes out the most wonderful style advice. She makes people feel good about themselves and her USP is that she is a regular, normal person. Someone we can identify with. She hasn’t turned me into a fashion icon (she can’t work miracles!), but she has reignited a passion for clothes (not good for ye olde bank balance, mind you) and made me feel more comfortable about my body shape. I’ve also just lost a stone in weight – you need to take action when your clothes are actively hurting you! I’ll write more Susie in another post, she deserves one. 

We have a cleaner!

Move along, nothing to see here.

And finally… the future 

I still think I want to be a journalism lecturer when I grow up. I’m in my late 30s so I hope this happens sooner rather than later; the growing up bit I mean. 

But before all that, I’m using this time at Stickwick Manor in Devon to rearrange my priorities. So come Monday, when I return to Milton Keynes, I’ll be a new woman. Or probably the same woman with a shiny new, and focussed ‘to do’ list. 

And it’s Christmas soon, right?

 

 

 

Fess up: 100 ideas for your blog #2

The idea of this post is to confess, blab about your failings, tell people you’re human. This already feels uncomfortabe…

Here’s five…

Hare’s breath
When covering a court case as a junior reporter I wrote that the defendant was within a ‘hare’s breath’ of *insert punishment for menial crime here, I can’t remember the details* What, in fact, I should have written – and was pointed out to me by the smirking subs’ desk – is that the magistrate actually said ‘hair’s breadth‘. Duh.

Man found hanged
Sometime later, as a deputy editor, my headline on a story about a man who killed himself in the car in his garage – suicide by intoxication – was ‘Man found hanged’. I’d read the story, knew what had happened but for some reason typed in ‘man found hanged’ in the headline box and, wowsers, it was a perfect fit! What’s more amusing is that the reporters who proofed the pages didn’t pick up on it AND neither did a SINGLE reader. Amazing. Lucky for me it was the same week as my editor made a typo in a headline which should have read ‘Grass cutting’ not ‘Grass c*nting’. That one made it into FHM magazine.

Falling in love
When I was in high school I was delighted to be friends with one of the hottest guys ever, in the year above me. Trouble is, I was always ‘the mate’ and never the girlfriend. So I was a smitten kitten when Nicky – that was his name – challenged me to a race on the playing fields one lunch time. I’d won the 100 metre sprint at the recent sports day and he reckoned he could beat me. I knew he couldn’t. So we raced, to the amusement of our friends who were watching. I was ahead of him, the finish line was in site, when… he took my legs from under me and I went FLYING. Arse over tit, skirt not covering the bits it should, face utterly red. I laughed it off with the others but I was DYING inside.

Tale of too many tissues
During my journalism training we visited a prison and had a look around a lifer’s cell – which was rammed with boxes of tissues. I stupidly piped up, a bundle of nervous enthusiasm, and asked what all the tissues were for. “Take a look at the walls love,” said the warden guy, as I glanced up at poster after poster of nude women. Ah, nuff said. *Red face*

Science failure
I was the only person in my year to fail my science GSCE. I took the top paper (why did you insist Mrs Miller, you silly teacher, you!) and so the lowest grade I could have got was a C. I missed out and even after a remark, failed by two points. If I’d taken the lower paper I could have scraped a D. I am very BITTER about that.

Inspired by No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas For Your Blog by Margaret Mason

£50 on eggnog lattes!!! Am I Mrs Scrooge?

I’m full of the Christmas spirit – yes, it’s only November. I’m watching my swelling collection of festive films, recording everything TrueFilm on Sky has to offer in seasonal movies and Michael Buble’s new Christmas CD is now the only music I play in the car. I am the incredibly proud owner of snowflake pyjamas, two Christmas jumpers and a cardigan sporting knitted reindeer and I keep getting distracted from my MA studies by mince pie recipes on the internet. I’m also thinking about making mulled wine for the hobbits visiting from the shire this weekend and have organised my diary around the switching on of Newport Pagnell’s Christmas lights. Oh, and my reward for submitting my first MA assignment in a couple of weeks will be a visit to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.

Merry Crisis and Happy New FearAll that said and done, I have a small inkling that I may be turning into Mrs Scrooge this year – ever since my husband announced he’d spent almost £50 on eggnog lattes this month and I nearly choked on my turkey and cranberry panini. Now don’t get me wrong, eggnog lattes are lush – but £50!

There’s one more pay day between now and Chrimbo and it’s just not going to cover the yuletide spending frenzy I’d like. And this year I’ve become positively anal about savings and don’t want to dip into that pot, uh uh. And I’m worried that I’ll be asking Santa for contributions to my inflated car insurance, due for renewal in January and bound to be extortionate following a recent prang. Bloody Milton Keynes and its roundabouts!

I’m also wincing at the fact that now I’m a married woman I have to cough up for extra presents, which means less money for myself. Christmas is about treating yourself, right? Oh no, it’s about goodwill and peace to all men, or something like that. Pah. We have two families to buy for and I very much like the gift of giving, even if I don’t like paying for it.

So I purposely left toilet roll off the weekly shopping list yesterday, just to save myself a whole fiver, when I’m only going to have to order it next time because loo roll, let’s face it, will always get used. Toilet roll manufacturers are never going to go out of business are they?

This time of year is also sociable and sociable generally means expensive – Christmas dos, catching up with friends over eggnog lates – and we all know how expensive that can be *coughs and points to husband*, iceskating trips, and buying useless Christmas trinkets because you’re too weak to walk past shop windows without popping in to ‘browse’.

So I guess I’m less a Mrs Scrooge – because I wholeheartedly support the feel good factor that Christmas brings – and more torn between wanting to splash the cash on having a very merry time and wanting to have something bigger than a rusty twopence in the piggybank by the time 2012 rolls around.

Someone pass the winning Lottery ticket! Santa? Are you listening?

Picture by decarr66 via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

Why I hate nightclubs…

Fame hen weekendI had loads of fun at my mate’s Fame-themed hen weekend (I have to say that, I was co-organiser, but it happens to be true) although it did serve to remind me why my clubbing days are well and truly over. I used to love a good night out but now the sofa beckons…

Here’s why…

1) You have to pay to get in. And if you don’t like it when you do get in, there’s no refund policy or try before you buy.

2) Even if someone is shouting directly into your earhole, you still can’t hear them.

3) Random men feel it’s appropriate to dribble over you, grab your buttocks and spoon you on the dancefloor. It isn’t.

4) You have to queue for a ridiculously long time to get a drink. In this day and age where you can get the latest James Paterson novel on your kindle in three minutes flat, slow bar staff and elbow-jostling queues just doesn’t do it for me.

5) Clubs smell of incredibly sweaty armpits. The toilets smell of wee, poo and incredibly sweaty armpits.
Going to the toilet involves dodging other women’s wee, grappling for tissues in the absence of loo roll and getting scowled at by other women as you top up your lip gloss in the mirror. At the weekend, two guys were so brazen they chose the ladies loos as a good place to (potentially) pull. Helllloooo! Seriously guys, you need to try harder.

6) Women in nightclubs don’t like other women. Every other female who isn’t your friend (and sometimes even your friends count) is judged as competition for single men or a threat to happy couples and nice looking women are generally disliked most. None of this bothers me in the slightest but as a semi sober person I noticed a lot of women scowling.

7) High heels and dance floors don’t go. My trainer-hungry feet were screaming at me in pointy high heels and forced me to lean against a wall and sway for the latter part of the evening as my shoes lay idle on the floor and my bare feet dodged the spilled beer and broken glass.

8) Night clubs don’t get busy until very late. We arrived at 11.15pm and it was practically empty. 11.15pm is pushing my bedtime as it is, it’s a struggle to stay up later just to catch the crowds.

9) Leaving nightclubs is the best bit, the chance to kick off the killer heels, head towards a warm and cosy bed and maybe scoff a dirty kebab on the way. But first you have to dodge touchy-feely men, drunken shouty women and sporadic piles of sick, just to get to the taxi.

10) The reason why I used to like clubbing? I was so blind drunk that I never noticed any of the above. Maturity and sensible drinking has a side effect – awareness.