#Nurture 18/19

The #nurture posts are a way of reflecting on the year which is ending, and looking ahead to the year about to begin.  I have written them for the last few years – initially for @staffrm and now on this blog. Last year’s is here.  I find the thinking and the writing is a helpful way of processing experiences, and clarifying my perceptions of how my life is developing.  I hope the same is true for you, if you decide to write a #nurture post of your own – even if you don’t want to post it online to share with others.

January/February 2018

The start of the year was difficult for us.  John and I had both been unwell over Christmas – cold/flu symptoms which developed into chest infections meant that we had to cancel our New Year plans.  Then on New Year’s Eve my mum, aged 95, became unwell, and she deteriorated over the next few weeks.  She lived in South Yorkshire, an hour away from our home, in the house I had grown up in from the age of 11.  I spent more and more time with her, until she needed me to be there every night.  We’d arranged social services carers, who were great, and my brother and sister-in-law were always prepared to support when necessary, but I was the one she felt comfortable helping her in and out of the bathroom, in the shower, and getting ready for bed and dressed in the morning.  It was a privilege to be able to take care of her, but it was a sad time.  I wrote about her here.

She died on 12th February.

Prior to mum’s death, and in the weeks afterwards, I was very much aware of what was sustaining me.  My husband was amazing, as he always is, and friends and family were warmly supportive.  I usually managed to get to my choral society rehearsal on Thursday evenings, and always found that positive and soothing.  Reading is a continual source of pleasure and a way of managing stress, and the work I do was very helpful, too – especially in the weeks after the funeral.  Planning, delivering and reflecting on work, whether a conference presentation or leadership training, was a useful distraction.  I was relieved not to have to balance a full-time, pressured job with care for my mum, but I was grateful for the part-time, consultancy work I choose to do.  I have enjoyed taking part in podcasts, and Chartered College and #WomenEd online book club discussions of ‘Making the Leap’, in addition to being invited to read and comment on copy editor drafts of a number of educational books this year.  I was also very pleased to write a chapter on ‘Applying for leadership positions: Get the job you dream of’ for the forthcoming #WomenEd book: ‘10% braver’.  And Andrew Hampton and I still run the online course on ‘Leading an Independent School’ once each term.  All this helped to give structure to my life as I was dealing with grief.


Winter gave way to spring.  In April I was 60, and John had organised a trip away – we spent my 60th birthday in Madrid, and had a really good weekend.  I did shed a few tears when I woke on the day itself, realising that it was the first birthday in sixty years when mum hadn’t sung to me.  But John was brilliant and he’d arranged a wonderful birthday celebration, including my gift – a piece of gold jewellery he had designed himself and found a local artist to make.

We enjoyed wandering round Madrid – a city which was buzzing with an important Barcelona v Seville football final on the Saturday, and the Madrid marathon on Sunday. We visited Reina Sofia art gallery and saw ‘Guernica’, strolled in the sunshine in Retiro Park and had an excellent tasting menu at Cebo (17 courses – each one related to a different region of Spain).  It was a memorable and enjoyable birthday weekend.


Since I finished full-time headship in 2010 I have relished being able to go on holiday in term-time, and this year, in the spring and early summer, we spent a week at my brother’s apartment near Murcia in Spain, and then ten days in Biarritz – during the world cup, and watching England’s victory over Tunisia in a French bar called Le Berry was a particular highlight.

June 2018 Biarritz JPBERRY 20180617_202645


I enjoyed celebrating friends’ 60th birthdays throughout 2018 – I remain in touch with a number of friends from my year at school and so we all hit this milestone this year.  In August we hosted a lunch for nine of us – John enjoyed catering! – and this is the photograph I chose for the header at the top of this blog.  It was a very pleasant day and wonderful to catch up with friends who have enriched my life over the years.

We also enjoyed the wedding of a friend’s son this summer.  Summer is definitely my preferred season, and sitting in the sun, reading good books or chatting to (and drinking Prosecco with) friends definitely rates as one of my favourite pastimes.  There are several friends I regularly meet for breakfast, for coffee, lunch, or drinks and a meal in the evening, and these occasions have punctuated the year and brought me joy.


Our next holiday was in Cadiz in September – a few last days of sun before we moved into autumn and my work picked up again.  We returned in time to attend a reunion at the school where I had been the head.  I always enjoy meeting former students, parents and staff and catching up.

We spent a week in Scotland as I had work in Aberdeen and Edinburgh so John came with me and we made a mini-break of it and had excellent meals and time in bars, where I discovered the joy of ‘boozy hot chocolate’ – a new way to enjoy whisky.  Throughout the year, John has joined me when I have had work in London, Manchester, Blackpool, Worcester, Birmingham, Hampshire, Oxford, Portsmouth and High Wycombe – it is always good to turn a work opportunity into a social experience, and I very much enjoy his company.

In October we joined a local health club and since then have visited it several times a week to swim (or, in my case, to make use of the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna) or to use the gym.  We encourage each other in our commitment to keeping fit and well.


In addition to my choral society concerts, I have enjoyed more ‘come and sing’ events this year in Lincoln, Southwell, Hull and Nottingham.  The musical highlight of the year was the joint production of Britten’s War Requiem in Lincoln Cathedral to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.  Five local choirs were joined by a choir from Neustadt in Germany, two orchestras, three soloists and the amazing cathedral choristers.  The names of the fallen who had some connection with choir and orchestra members were projected onto the cathedral pillars as we sang, and at the end there was a huge poppy drop which was magical and moving.  This is a musical event I was proud to be part of (especially as I was invited to be a member of the semi-chorus too), and which I will always remember.

War Requiem poster

On mum’s birthday, 22nd November, my brothers, sister-in-law and nephew joined John and me for a family lunch and we scattered her ashes beneath a newly planted Japanese flowering cherry – a weeping variety – on our land.  This was what she had requested we should do, and it was appropriate to do this on her birthday, looking forward to the first flowering next spring, a year after her death.  I thought I might find the day upsetting but, in fact, it was a positive day and an appropriate celebration of the impact she had had on all our lives.

Mum's tree

And then it was Christmas.  Being a part of Jaz Ampaw-Farr’s ‘Lipsync’ version of East 17’s ‘Stay’ was a joy.  You may not have recognised me…

I thought I might find Christmas Day difficult – the first Christmas Day when I haven’t spent time with my mum, but John had organised a short break in St Andrews in Scotland, and it was lovely.  The weather was perfect – sunny and bright but cold and frosty.  The hotel was wonderful.  We walked by the sea, explored St Andrews, made use of the hotel gym and pool, and shared excellent food and drink.  The only time I shed tears was during our Christmas Day evening meal when John and I played charades in response to instructions in a cracker, and I cried because I was laughing so much!  It was a great end to the year.

And what of 2019?  My #oneword2019 is ‘exhale’.  I want to work a little less and to relax a little more; to spend even more time with those I love; to take it slightly easier now I am in my seventh decade.  John and I are going to Thailand and we’re really looking forward to that.  He is coming to Amsterdam and The Hague with me – an invitation to an international conference at the British School of the Netherlands has coincided with my birthday and so we have decided to turn this into another mini-break.  I have various other work commitments already in my diary and I know I will continue to enjoy the work I do – speaking, reading about and commenting on educational leadership and taking part in events which celebrate diversity, including #WomenEd and #BAMEed.  The launch of the #WomenEd book to coincide with International Women’s Day in March will be good.  I always relish the opportunity to support serving and aspiring leaders at all levels and am sure there will be the chance to do more of that in the year ahead.  There will be more singing, reading and drinks and meals with friends and family.  One of my goddaughters expects her first baby in January; another goddaughter is getting married in Dorchester in August, and we have also been invited to the summer wedding of one of my former Head Girls.  We will enjoy catching up with friends and former students and staff.

It will be a good year.

Photo credit: John Berry  August 2018, celebrating our joint 60th birthdays this year – with Jayne, Sue, Karen, Anne, Annette, Kirstie, Margaret and Anne.

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