Foo Fighter’s Pre-sale VS Harvest Festival Assembly

I told Mr TDF that I’d take the kids to school this morning.  It was the harvest festival assembly and I wanted to bag myself a good seat, but then it dawned on me – Foo Fighter’s pre-sale tickets went on sale at 9am. I felt panicked about the moral dilemma I now faced. The kids had been practising their songs for weeks, but I’d not seen Foo Fighters live since 2015 (in Sunderland, and then a couple of days later in Manchester).  I knew I’d have a much better chance of bagging the tickets if I was at home using the broadband, and I’d heard the kids murder Harvest Moon every day for the past week.  We named our first born after Dave Grohl, so surely they would understand how important this would be, right?

My daughter wandered bleary eyed into the kitchen still half asleep.  “Is it the harvest assembly today? Are you going to come to watch us?”  “yes, of course I will!”  *nervous laugh*

I prepared myself as well as I could.  Downloaded the app, charged up my phone, registered an account, gave my bank details over to the internet gods and memorised the pre-sale code.  Once at school I bagged myself a front row seat, positioned my phone in my bag and from 8.59 repeatedly hit refresh.

It wasn’t happening.  For 10 minutes I was getting nothing, and then all of a sudden I was in!  But where were the presale tickets?  I clicked on every link I could find, double checked my pre-sale code, and even tried for London tickets instead, but nothing.  They had obviously already gone.  The kids were starting to file in, and I knew my time was limited.  I quickly checked Google and Twitter to see if there were any pre-sale issues, but as my daughter walked in, I resigned myself to missing out and beamed a regretful smile out to my eldest who promptly plonked her bottom down out of my view. *sigh*  My son followed shortly after only to sit as physically far away from me as possible.  Great.  I’d missed out on Foo’s tickets to watch my kids in the harvest assembly and I couldn’t even bloody see them.

Trying not to give the stink eye to the pint sized infants, I scooted from one side of the hall to the other and unceremoniously plonked myself on the floor 2 metres away from my son.  I wasn’t going to let the morning be a complete write off.

The harvest festival assembly was a good distraction with highlights of ‘One Man Went To Mow” and of course “Harvest Mooooooooon”. As soon as the kids had filed out of the hall, I was back on my phone fruitlessly trying once again to get tickets.  I walked home feeling sad.  I’ve never lost out on pre-sales before, and though I would get another chance on Friday morning to get tickets it still stung. 


I got home and turned my laptop to see if anyone on social media had mentioned how quickly they had sold.  On the off chance I also went onto the ticket website and lo and behold they were still available!

Once safely checked out I breathed out a sigh of relief – it appears I could have it all!

Mummy, she said Dave Grohl!

Back story – my daughter is named after Dave Grohl, her middle name being Grohl.  She is 5 now, and we have moved on from the confusion of whether or not the Foo Fighters frontman is her Daddy (he’s not.  I have several times been close enough for him to shake his sweat onto me, but alas last time I checked sweat isn’t fertile), and we have moved onto why we named her after a man.  Anywho, I’m not here to tell that story….

We were in the car today and the news came on.  “Foo Fighters headline Glastonbury tonight two years after they had to pull out because Dave Grohl broke his leg”

DG – Mummy!  She said Dave Grohl!
Me – Yes, she did.  He’s playing at a festival tonight.
DG – Will we be there?
Me – Not at this one.
DG – But who will sing if he has broken his leg?
Me – Well that was a long time ago.  It’s better now.
DG – Phew.
Me – But when he did break his leg, he had some medicine and carried on playing the show…
DG – Wow!  What happened?
Me – I think the edge of the stage was wet and he slipped off the end.
DG – He should have had a tent…
Me – eh?
DG – If there was a tent above the stage like at the festivals we go to it wouldn’t have got wet…
Me – Well it was on a runway…
DG – ……or a carpet.
Me – Well yes….
DG – Mummy, he should have looked where he was going.

If my daughter ever has a career in event organisation you will sleep safe in the knowledge that there will be no wet floor to slip upon.

An Angel in Aldi

School days are hard.  Mercifully Mr TDF works at the kids’ school so he takes them in the morning leaving me 2.5 hours to get as much work done as I can. I have to be at school by 11.30 to pick my son up from nursery, and then again at 3.15 to collect my daughter, however yesterday I had to throw a 3rd return trip in to the mix at 4.30 so my youngest could attend a reception open evening.  Fun.

Usually playing on the tyres is part of my ‘waste as much time as possible before going home’ routine which has the double bonus of keeping the kids busy whilst affording me some dicking about on Facebook time.  In hindsight playing on the tyres would have been the best way to waste the hour, but no, much to their despair I decided to hustle the kids out of the playground and into the car with ambitious plan to do the weekly Aldi shop before returning to the open evening.

The tension in the car rose with the temperature which was about 15 degrees warmer than outside.  Hot and ratty, the kids started to fight.  My daughter wanted her book bag to go on the front seat next to me, but I told her to just put it on the seat between them.  My son immediately swiped the bag causing my highly strung daughter to squeal in protest flailing her legs and kicking my youngest.  My demands of a ceasefire were drowned out with screams and we arrived at Aldi feeling cross (me), hot (son) and tear soaked (daughter).  Deep breaths.

I put my delicate flower of a girl into the trolley seat, as my youngest wanted to ride on the side of it.  Or so I thought.  What he subsequently revealed was that he *really* wanted to sit in the trolley – a request that was refused on the basis that the food needing to go there. Dramatically he threw himself on the pavement screaming in protest. Calmly explaining my reason for not letting him sit in the trolley fell on deaf ears, so I lifted him off the ground and told him that he was to be my special helper, giving him my shopping list to give his new role some importance.  Watching this from the throne of the trolley seat was my daughter who I’d forgot I had also given a distraction task to on leaving the car – to put my empty Diet Coke can in the bin. My 5 year old had the can held upside down with her tongue shoved inside it.  Carefully removing my daughters anatomy from the sharp edges I turned my attention back to my youngest who in protest of being made my special helper had destroyed my carefully crafted shopping list.  On the verge of losing my shit, I pushed the trolley into the store hoping that he would follow, or someone would adopt him.  Whichever.

He of course followed me inside where his screams seemed amplified. Wracking my brains to remember if it was fake cheerios or fake shreddies that we needed was made harder by my son deciding he wanted to push the trolley something my daughter showed her distaste for by kicking him repeatedly.  Remembering to use my p’s and q’s I asked him to not push the trolley into people please, or infact not to push it anywhere when I needed it next to me, please, but when the trying to remember the shopping list/reminding my son to listen to me/stopping my daughter from kicking him in the face became too much I sharply said to my son “I. Told. You. Not. To. Do. That.” I must have been a touch scary, as the man behind us jumped and dropped his onions.  *Deep Breath*

Hauling my daughter out of the trolley seat and plonking my son in I decided to plough on. As we rounded the corner onto the last aisle my ever so weak bladdered daughter announced her need to pee. For those of you not in the know Aldi doesn’t have customer toilets. It’s the black cloud to their silver lining of marvellously cheap food. Having potty trained both my kids whilst being an Aldi customer I am not a stranger to whipping them outside to have a wee in a grid, but today I couldn’t face it.  Begging my daughter to hold it in I distracted her with the cheese selection.  Excited about the prospect of orange cheese (I decided now wasn’t the time to explain that it was basically the same as our normal cheese but with food colouring in), the need to pee was postponed.

At the checkout I unloaded the trolley quickly whilst trying to save the breakables and squashables from the heavy hands of my children.  One of the reasons I love this particular Aldi (Offerton branch to those who are interested) is the staff.  They are all so kind and either don’t mind, or internalise their distaste when I pack my groceries straight into bags, so with the queues growing and me packing as quickly as humanly possible of course it was the moment when my daughter announced “Mummy, I need to wee right now”.  Wide eyed, slightly panicky and at a loss of what to do I begged her to hold on and not pee on Aldi’s floor.  The checkout assistant, Charlie immediately called a colleague over and asked him to let us into ‘the back’ so she could use the staff toilet.  Abandoning my son, my half packed shopping and an increasingly long queue I dashed to the loo where my daughters relief was immediate and lengthy.  Now I don’t know what happened to me in ‘the back’ *chortle*, but calm washed over me, and we returned to my unperplexed son and the wonderful Charlie packing my bags for me with much more care than I would have done myself.  Thanking her profusely and apologising to the queue we paid and left the store.

Back in the car I wept, my faith in humanity marginally restored. A family shopping trip was a terrible idea, and I should have known that, however it’s the Charlie’s in this world that make things bearable.  I’m sure that she won’t come across this blog, but maybe if we can all be a little more Charlie, then our outlooks may be a bit brighter, and that 3rd trip to school seem more achievable.

Harems with miss match legs

A Whole Lotta Woman

Big girls, you are beautiful!

Custom dyed dress
Custom dyed dress

It’s always been important to me to dye clothes for all shapes and sizes.  From tiny baby clothes to petite size 6’s to gorgeously curvy size 28 I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible and it fills my heart with joy when I source new clothes at the larger end of the spectrum.  Why?  Because I wear a size 26 myself.  I live in leggings and skater dresses/tops. I’m a lucky because my very talented Mum sews bespoke clothes out of my white cotton jersey and I dye them exactly how I like them.  This is one of the reasons why I offer a custom dyeing service at no extra cost on all my clothes as you know which colours and designs work best on you.

I stock a whole range of clothes in size 16 and above.  My beautiful swing dresses and fitted vests go up to a size 18, my harem pants up to a size 24 and my maxi dresses to a size 24/26 (though I will be the first to admit that they can be a bit clingy).  I also have tee shirts and hoodies up to a size XXL, which I can comfortably fit into, and my very popular onesies up to a size XXL which is about a size 20.

Those are the things that I have in stock all the time, however sometimes I am able to get limited edition runs.  I cannot wait until it is warm enough to wear one of these floaty tunics.  They are really lightweight and the best thing – they have pockets!  I think they will look amazing with leggings, or could even be thrown on over a swimming costume when on holiday.  I only have 6 available, and they are all dyed up already, so if you like the look of them, act quickly.  I also have some ex Paul Costelloe stock.  These batwing tops are beautifully made as you would expect.  The fabric is soft and it drapes perfectly.  I think these could be worn slightly more dressed up, so for work, or even a wedding or special occasion. I only have 3 of these tops in plus size, so again, don’t hang about.

I’m going to continue to work hard and source clothes in all shapes and sizes, but I’ll always get a little thrill when I find something big and beautiful <3

As Seen On TV

Back in the October half term holidays we had only just made our ferry to the Isle of Wight.  We weren’t late into Southampton, quite the opposite, but a trip to McDonalds and then to Asda via some bizarre not-so-scenic route had ensured an in-car tiff between Mr TDF and I, and many a clenched jaw as we inched down the road back to the ferry terminal. Once we boarded, we then had to haul two grumpy and hungry small things up a gazillion flights of stairs where at the top we discovered that every seat and other conceivable surface already had a bottom planted on it.  Loitering at the front of the lounge area I heard my mobile ringing.  It was the holiday park asking if were still coming.  Sigh.  During the phonecall Mr TDF had whisked the kids off to the toilet or somewhere.  Or at least I hoped he had…

Killing time, I checked my emails and there was a tie dye enquiry from a woman asking about ordering a number of tee shirts.  She was really lovely, but incredibly particular.  We emailed back and forth during the ferry journey, but then I didn’t hear anything else from her, and I put it to the back of my mind. 

A couple of weeks later the lady got back in touch, placing an order.  When I directed her towards a payment method she said that I would need to invoice them, and she would send me the details.  An email came through later with a BBC address attached! *Gasp*  The tee shirts we dyed and posted, and as a few days passed without feedback my heart dropped a bit, they obviously didn’t like them and had decided not to use them.  But then another more urgent email arrived.  They loved the tees and needed four more different ones, urgently.  On receipt of the blank tee shirts from my wholesaler I turned the order around and had it at the post office in four hours; a turnaround so quick that it involved the microwave to speed up the dye fixing process!

Confirming the order had been sent, I tentatively asked what they were going to be used for.  The new Gary Barlow show she replied.  EEP!  After a bit of googling I learned that the BBC were having a prime time, Saturday night show searching for young men to be stars in a west end show featuring the music of Take That.  I had been asked not to say anything on social media until after it had been aired, so I kept my excitement under my hat.

When the show started I watched eagerly, but didn’t glimpse any tie dye.  As the weeks passed, I kept an eager eye open, but last night’s show started early.  Mr TDF and I had had a rough day with the kids.  They were tired and emotional, giddy and silly.  I had poured myself a glass of wine which I ended up wearing because my smallest thing was treating me as a climbing frame. After we put them to bed at 7, Mr TDF and I went downstairs, ordered a takeaway and poured more wine that I hoped I would get to actually drink.  I realised that ‘Let It Shine’ had already started, but I decided to watch from the beginning.  After a few minutes of watching I had a feeling that this could be the night. Panicking somewhat I put the TV on ‘real time’ and bumbled a Facebook live video telling friends and my page likers to tune into the programme.

Our take away turned up, but my plate went cold as I had about four minutes to prepare a strategy for getting as many people as possible to see my tee shirts on TV as possible.  Fuelled by wine and adrenaline I decided to Facebook live the whole thing.  Those seven and a half minutes were filled with me blabbering on, sipping confidence building wine, while an amused Mr TDF chortled in the background.  It was better than I could have hoped for – my tees were being worn in a number with The Kaiser Cheifs, and exposed during their song ‘I Predict A Riot’.  With Ricky Wilson fronting the band looking particularly lovely, the 8 lads sang and danced their hearts out.  The tee shirts looked great, and as I watched (albeit through my phone whilst on Facebook) I felt such pride.

It really warms my heart that a massive corporation like the BBC would seek out a tiny home-grown small business like To Dye For to provide clothes for a flagship programme.  To most people watching my tee shirts won’t have crossed their mind, but seeing them being worn makes everything feel worthwhile. So I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame now, and I couldn’t be happier.  Nothing will change, I was still back at the dyeing table this morning, but there was a sparkle of pride there – I was on the telly!  Kind of.

Christmas the atheist way.

My knitted wreath

I occasionally get asked why I celebrate Christmas if I don’t believe in God.  Like a lot of people I was christened when I was a baby. We weren’t a family of church goers, however I was a Brownie, I attended Sunday School, took part in nativity plays, and I even sang in the church choir for a brief time, but as I turned into a teenager, my opinions grew too, and I eventually arrived at a conclusion that would label me an athiest.

So why celebrate Christmas?  It’s no secret that this isn’t my favourite time of the year.  For some reason I really struggle mentally with it and get full of anxiety and sadness.  It’s never really been a problem, but since having kids I’ve felt the pressure to pull some cheer out of the bag. So what do I do? I think about all the things I loved about Christmas as a child.  I loved the traditions. The stocking hung on my door handle that I knew would have a satsuma stuffed in the toe and sneaking  into my brothers room so we could open them together.  The bacon butties that my Dad would make for our breakfast, and the feast that my Mum would prepare for the whole family with grandparents (including great grandparent) and my uncle squished round the table on a mismatch of dining chairs, computer chairs and a piano stool.  Raising a glass to absent friends and family was always poignant and important. The pulling of crackers and the telling of terrible jokes was as standard as being made to wear your paper hat for the entire day, and the adults getting tipsy before nodding off on the sofa late in the afternoon.

Our kids are 4 and 3 attending reception and nursery school.  In previous years we have asked family not to go overboard, and we haven’t bought anything new for them ourselves. Second hand sites on facebook have served us well bringing trains, small world play, books and a wooden garage into our home for a tiny fraction of the price they would have been new, but the introduction of school has brought greater pressures this year.  We will still try and keep it low key though – there wont be an elf on a shelf keeping an eye on my kids’ behavior and reporting back to Father Christmas, there wont be a social media display of presents under the tree, Christmas Eve boxes will be shunned in favour of snuggling on the sofa and reading The Night Before Christmas before Mr TDF and I get tiddly and bring the presents down from the loft. Then on the morning of the 25th our kids will be beyond excited to see all the presents appear – presents they know that although Father Christmas has delivered, they have been bought for them by family.

These are the things I will be taking forward to create traditions for my family – a celebration of family coming together with good food and wine. Perhaps taking the dog for a walk together but whatever we do, being together and having our hearts full of love and laughter. Will my kids take part in a nativity at some point in the future?  I’m sure they will.  Will I still enjoy singing Mary’s Boy Child at the top of my voice until the kids ask me to stop?  Definitely, and that is ok.  Christmas will mean different things for everyone – for us it will be a celebration of family coming together.


How old are you Mummy?

My daughter has never had a problem with declaring her love for me. In fact, next to a long, drawn out “Muuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmyyyyy…..” I’d say that “Mummy, I love you” might be her most uttered phrase.  I can hear a collective awwwwww from you all.  You’re right, it’s lovely.  The first time I heard it my heart melted – this tiny human being loved me!  Fast forward 2 years, and I hear this phrase many, many times a day.  So much so that (sssshhhhhhhhh) I sometimes just ignore her *ahem*.  You see my daughter often has a case of verbal diarrhea, constantly wittering on about things, punctuated with ‘Mummy, I love you!’ It’s nice, but kind of tiring.  I mean, I like the kid, but not that much! (That was a joke by the way, for anyone who lacks a sense of humour).

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks a new question has taken over.  “How old are you Mummy?”  I’ve tried brushing her off with “oh, dead old”, “younger than Daddy!” or “How old do you think I am?”, the last of which completely backfired as she answered “54”.  *sigh*  What I didn’t realise was this constant line of questioning was coming from school.  It isn’t that Mrs Ash or Mr Lucas have a burning desire to bake me a cake or make me a card for my next birthday, but it is one of their cunning ways of teaching these 4 year olds numeracy. I find it fascinating how teachers manage to get through to our little ones who lets face it would rather spend all day playing – but that’s the thing – they are playing all day and doing fun things, and just so happen to be learning along the way!

I have huge amounts of respect for school teachers and the time and patience they dedicate to our children.

All is merry in the little kingdom.

Yesterday I got the dreaded phone call from  pre-school.  My youngest had had a squirty bum accident and needed picking up.  OK, it wasn’t exactly a disaster – it was a mere 20 minutes before I was due to collect him, however it did mean that I needed to keep him at home for 48 hours just in case he passed any lurgy onto his cronies.

Needless to say that the squirty bum was an isolated incident, and my son let me know he was absolutely  fine through the medium of obnoxiousness and noise.  It also happened to occur on my busiest week of the Christmas period.  Sigh.  Tie dyeing it seems has been temporarily replaced with a marathon of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.

I actually quite like Ben and Holly, but I have to admit that I am a tad sick of seeing the same 2 series over and over again, however Mr TDF unlocked a vault of new episodes last night (or at least showed me how to use the Firestick), so the 8 hour marathon which lies ahead (Hellloooo Worst Parent of the Year committee!) will be full of never before seen episodes!  Huzzah!

Of course that would be too easy wouldn’t it? It took half an hour to console him over the fact that he wasn’t going to school today.  He then insisted on showing me his ‘snowballs’  *ahem*  and yes, they are what you think they are, and no, I have no idea where he learnt it from.  Once we had covered that subject we moved onto this delightful conversation…

Small thing – Mummy?  Where your willy?
Me – I don’t have a willy, I’m a woman.
ST – My willy?
Me – Yes, you have a willy. It’s called a penis.
ST – Indy’s willy? (the dog)
Me – No, Indy doesn’t have a willy.  She’s a girl too.
ST – Yes she does!
Me – No she doesn’t.
ST – Yes she does!  Look! *points at her tail*

*sigh*.  It’s going to be a long day.

The dangers of changing rooms

Every Friday for about a year I have taken my eldest to swimming lessons.  It’s been lovely to have someone else telling her to listen every 2 minutes rather than having to parrot it myself.  For 30 glorious minutes I would sit at the side of the pool and half watch my daughter indulge in her love of water (and half dick about on my phone).

September brought a change.  My eldest was starting reception and with my youngest attending preschool each morning I knew that trouble was on the horizon.  I had tried to sign my son up to swimming lessons too, even going as far as to warn them that they needed to put him in Scott’s group (think slightly scary, but really lovely teacher), but a change in the rules meant that he couldn’t start lessons until he was 4. This would mean that for half an hour each week I would have to intercept my youngest’s attempts of throwing himself in the water while he was simultaneously having a tantrum over the injustice of being so close to the water that our eyes were hurting from the chlorine, but still being dry as a bone.  Not even the fancy blue overshoes would sweeten the deal.

Luckily most weeks this was avoided as my Mum or ‘Auntie Caroline’ would look after him, but then an answer so logical I feel stupid writing it down occurred to me.  I’ll just take him in the big pool for a splash about while my daughter has her lesson in the small pool.  Of course!

With my new plan in place I squared my shoulders and entered a family changing cubicle. Swiftly changing into our swimmers I felt sympathy for the mother in the next cubicle as she begged in desperation for her son not to unlock the door until she was dressed.  The 30 minutes in the pool passed quickly.  Mostly because my son has no fear.  None whatsoever.  He was repeatedly bombing into the deep water caring not whether I was there to fish him out.  Firmly issuing the pool rules (MY pool rules) was falling on deaf ears and I looked like I was auditioning for worst parent of the year with an audience of parents lining the pool – some slightly wet from my sons splashes, others failing to not gawp, all secretly relieved that this wasn’t their child.  At some point the life guard came to tell us to go back towards the shallow end as my son had ‘monkeyed’ his way down the side to the 2 metre deep end.  When I glanced up to the oversized clock and realised it was time to get out, relief washed over me.

With my eldest just about to come out of her lesson and my son begging me for a wee, I hovered outside the toilets keeping one eye open for her and one eye on my son – who had failed to get his trunks all the way down and had wee pooling on his lap.  My daughter dashed up to me also needing a wee, but as my son was still on the toilet she failed to hold it in and just stood there, lip wobbling, while it ran down her legs.  Stripping the kids, and sploshing loads of water from the sink onto both the floor and my kids they did the naked walk of shame to our cubicle.  Drying my kids off I made the fatal error of dressing my son first.  With him ready to go, he soon became bored and a minute later I found him on the floor looking underneath the cubicle to ‘next door’. Fishing him off the floor and telling him how rude it was to peep at other people, I made my second error – getting my daughter dressed.  As I was completing the impossible task of trying to get socks on damp feet I heard the awful sound of the lock being slid open.  I had approximately half a second before my naked body was on public display.  Yelling at my son to ‘NOT OPEN THE DOOR’ I grabbed the nearest thing to cover my modesty (my handbag), and grabbed the door pulling it shut.  I quickly dressed and exited the leisure centre feeling considerably more stressed than when I arrived I 45 minutes earlier.

Next time I have a great idea I must try and think of all the potential pitfalls before I carry it out.  *sigh*


Closing a Train Door

Yesterday, at 6.30am I was sorting out the coat pegs (as you do), getting rid of coats that I haven’t fit into for at least 2 – ok, 3 – years, too tight waterproofs of the kids and a brand new ATW fleece. Underneath all of these was a handbag that I haven’t used in what felt like years, and a peak in side was like looking into someone else’s life.

The bag hailed back from my days as a train driver, and clearly by the time I left I wasn’t ready to deal with sorting all the shit out. There wasn’t anything particularly exciting in there – I had had to hand all that stuff back in when I left, but the diary, route cards and high viability vest remained, transporting me back to 2014.

I don’t talk much about why I left the railway. People are far more interested in the fact that I used to be a train driver, and there aren’t many people who are bold enough to ask about the details, and if they do, I rarely feel prepared to give them the honest answer.

The stock answer has been that it wasn’t a family friendly job, that I never saw my kids, and that we, as a family, had to make some difficult decisions that concluded in the realisation that money didn’t make the world go round, and that we would be much happier with less money but a more present family.  This is of course all true.  The hours  required of a train driver are bonkers.  Your shifts can start as early as 2.30 and on a late shift can finish at 5am, and that makes it impossible to be there for every bedtime or every morning rush.  Leaving a well paid job was indeed a massive decision, however made much easier by the fact that we were mortgage free by then, but there are still many people who will never be able to fathom how I could give up so much money.  These reasons were completely valid, but they weren’t the back bone of the decision.

When I returned to work after having my eldest I was already 3 months pregnant with Flynn, and the year that I had off was eventful to say the least.  We moved from Machynlleth in Wales to Stockport when I was 7 months pregnant.  The house that we were buying hadn’t gone through yet, and so in the meantime we lived with my parents.  I’d just like to say that I don’t advise any emotionally charged heavily pregnant mamas-to-be do this.  It was far from harmonious, but huge parent points to my Mum and Dad for letting us (and the dogs) stay.  With eye-rolling timing the house completed when I was 38 weeks pregnant, and needed a complete renovation – rewire, damp proof, plastering – the lot. With the most incredible team on board I managed to get things done at lightening speed (who is going to argue with a heavily pregnant woman, right?!), but my daughter still spent the first 6 weeks of her life at her grandparents. As it turned out, this was great for me – I had no idea what I was doing, and having my Mum around to guide me was such a help, but it was still a relief to move into our own home on my 30th birthday. The following months were spent in a haze wondering why our daughter cried all the time (answer – she’s a baby), battling with breastfeeding, and naturally having a tough time propping my relationship up.  In a massive (last ditch?) effort to make our relationship more solid my now husband proposed to me, and we got married 4 months later. A spanner was thrown into the works two weeks before however in the form of a surprise positive pregnancy test.  At the time it left us in a daze for months, wondering how we were going to cope.  Our daughter would only be 16 months old when the baby arrived.  How were were going to survive having two babies when we could barely cope with one?  The pregnancy thankfully was our superglue and the wedding and the forthcoming arrival signaled not so much a fresh start, but a new page.

So 3 months pregnant I returned to work – to a new boss, a new depot, a new signalling system, new colleagues and driving a main line.  You can imagine my first day nerves having to go and tell them that I was expecting another baby, but my blunt, straight talking boss was right – it was what it was.  The 5 months I was in work ‘between babies’ was mostly spent wasting time – driving trains under instruction and getting familiar with the different traction and signalling was all useful, but it was no secret that my manager didn’t really see much point in it all if I would be taking another year off.

When my son splashed beautifully into the world life was good.  He was a happy baby, and I felt much more relaxed and confident with my parenting decisions.  The months flew by, some days easier than others, often inexplicably  difficult, and when the time to return to work came round, I was not really looking forward to the drastic change of lifestyle to the one I had been living for the last 2 and a half years.

Starting back at work felt like starting again, but at the deep end.  I had so much to learn, but equally I had two little people on my mind too, including one who refused to sleep past 4am.  I was amazed how different things were from the Cambrian branch line which I had loved driving and found so easy.  The line that I had learned to drive on seemed to be embedded in my mind and the new Cardiff to Manchester line was foreign.  A longer time in the driving seat than I was used to pushed my concentration levels out of my comfort zone and things started getting on top of me. The shifts were also long, and I had a 1 1/4 hour commute each way. Along with this I had a huge amount of annual leave to take, which meant that during my retraining period I took an entire month off, plus odd days and weeks here and there.

I have had a long and muddled history with anxiety and depression which I have mentioned in previous blogs, and I knew that I was suffering, but I ignored it.  Understandably the railway have very strict rules on drugs and alcohol, even down to strong pain killers, so I knew that anti depressants weren’t an option, and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable talking to my boss about it, so I continued on. It wasn’t long until I made a mistake.

Freshly out driving by myself without an instructor, I drove from Crewe to Manchester.  Fine.  On the way back to Crewe I didn’t brake in time for a station, and I overshot the platform.  It was no disaster.  I was able to speak to the signaller and drive the train back into the station.  But it shook me up.  I knew that when I should have braked my mind was at home with my kids, exhausted from another bad night with my youngest.  Luckily one of the more sympathetic driver managers was at the station, and I knew that I finally had to come clean about my depression.  I was emotional, but he was really kind.  It was decided that I would be put back under instruction for a period of time, and I was grateful.  I felt stupid for having made such a mistake, but aside from my pride, I was concerned about why I had made the error.

Being with an instructor made me feel safe again. I still wasn’t really addressing the depression, but my confidence grew as the weeks passed.  Until my next mistake.  This one was under instruction, and was a lot more serious.  I had a SPaD – signal passed at danger – I had gone past a red light braking just as I passed it.  My instructor and I were both shook up.  How had this possibly happened?  We weren’t chatting, the signal had good sighting, our speed was correct, it just didn’t add up in our minds.  I’m not sure how long we were stuck just passed that signal for, but it felt like a lifetime.  Neither of us were allowed to drive the train, so we had to wait for a relief driver to turn up and take the over before we went back to our depot where we were split up, questioned and made to wait for routine drug and alcohol tests. When we were eventually allowed to leave, my stomach was in knots.  How could I recover from this?  How had the mistake happened? Was it my depression?  The kids? Had I changed so much as a person in the past 2 and a half years that I was no longer suitable for the job?

I couldn’t ignore my depression anymore, and went to see my doctor who prescribed me medication and counselling. I sat at home for days with my phone next to me as I was sure that I would get a phone call from my boss.  Eventually it was decided that the SPaD wouldn’t be on my record as I was under instruction, and my instructor had somehow blagged himself back into work, and as more time passed it became harder to imagine myself back there.  I was petrified of what my next mistake would be – and what the consequences of my last mistake could have been.  I catastrophised the whole matter, and ended up in my own personal hell – I had a job, we needed the money, but I couldn’t do that job – so where did that leave us?

Luckily my union representative was incredible.  He kept in touch with me, listened to what I had to say and supported me 100%. After many hours of crying, and some very difficult conversations with my husband I was finally able to vocalise the fact that I didn’t want to be a train driver anymore. The bottom line was that no amount of money was worth doing a job that put so much fear into you, that made you so full of dread and depression.  Once I had made that decision a small weight lifted from my chest, and although I was still employed by the railway I knew that I would never have to drive a train again.  The relief was immense.  The union continued to back me and about 4 months after I passed the signal, 4 months of sitting at home with my stomach and mind in knots, I left the railway.

Life was not to be straight forward as I threw myself into opening a small business.  I still struggle massively with depression and anxiety which is ‘controlled’ by the highest dose of antidepressant.  I drink far too much, and eat all the wrong things in an attempt to comfort myself – I am by no stretch of the imagination ‘fixed’, but my wonderful ex-sister in law said a few months ago ‘I can’t remember when I last saw you so happy’, and I’ll take that!  Also having the most amazingly supportive husband and family around me helps more than they will ever realise.

Do I miss the railway?  Not a single bit.  I feel very lucky to have experienced it, to have been part of the Cambrian family, to have seen some of the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets up the Welsh coast, to have been the first woman in the UK to have driven under the ERTMS signaling system, to have earned a wage that now allows us to live in a lovely home without a mortgage, and to have worked in a job that impressed both my kids.  I even miss a few of my old colleagues, but the decision we made as a family for me to leave the railway was the best and most suitable one I could have ever made.

Sometimes you just do have to make some really difficult decisions, and you never know, they might be the best ones you could ever make.

The remnants of a train drivers bag
The remnants of a train drivers bag