A time of interesting journeys

It’s been a while since I’ve written – apologies for my/our absence on the blog.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve been avoiding writing a post – things went a little awry recently, and it’s taken me a couple of weeks to work through the fog and begin to see things clearly again …

Life consistently brings twists, turns, and unexpected challenges to us all. It’s the meaning we take from these, and the changes in direction we choose, that makes a difference to our future.

I’m aware I’m waffling a little, as I consider the words to publish as an update.

So, since the previous post on 23rd September (4 weeks ago today), we’ve traded at Parkhead Canal Festival. Barry missed the Saturday night entertainment as he was helping Tony and Julie to set up the Calendar Club store at Merry Hill until the early hours, so his weekend was incredibly tiring. On the Sunday of the festival I literally whooped with glee at a surprise visit from Gav and Helen, good friends who lived for many years in Gisborne and recently returned to UK for family reasons.

The Home Brew Boat

Amazing to see you both – come back soon!

The following week we celebrated our 7th (UK) wedding anniversary, and my 57th birthday, as well as Barry’s first shifts working for Julie and Tony and their Calendar Club shop, and I relished three days at the UK Face and Body Art Convention staying in the luxury of the Copthorne Hotel at Merry Hill (something I’ve been paying monthly to cover for almost two years!).

Calendar Club Merry Hill

Barry and Julie at the Calendar Club, Merry Hill (the downstairs one, by the bus stop!)


Face painted by the incredibly talented Anita Lyn who travelled from New Zealand for the convention photo by Audoire Images

Oompa Lumpa

In my Oompa Lumpa fancy dress costume for the Saturday night ‘Wonkalicious’ banquet night

A regrettable and distressing change of direction

Onto the rather difficult bit …

My return to Midwifery wasn’t a success for a variety of reasons.

The NHS, and midwifery practice, has changed beyond recognition for me since I last worked clinically in UK – ironically as the ‘Recruitment and Retention’ midwifery lead at a large London teaching hospital, followed by the ‘National Midwifery Recruitment and Retention Lead’ for England May 2003 to December 2004, a post funded by the Department of Health. My main focus, coincidentally, was on ‘streamlining’ the Return to Practice Journey (RtP) for midwives – and raising the profile of midwifery.

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) stated in a recent survey that followed up a 2002 report ‘Why do Midwives Leave’:

“Maternity services are performing as well as they are on the backs of the selfless dedication of midwives and other maternity staff, and their capacity to go that extra mile for mothers and babies, day after day. However, this shows that many cannot fight that battle any longer.”

I can’t begin to describe how disappointed and affected I’ve been by my unsuccessful RtP in midwifery journey.

Out of respect to all the dedicated people doing the best they can with what they have (and what’s been taken away from them or added exponentially to their workload), I will not be detailing my challenges here. Suffice it to say, if you read the RCM report, especially the quotes from midwives, I can testify to many of their words.

I’m hoping, in some small way, to use my previous and recent experience to highlight what’s happening and raise awareness of the challenges the midwifery profession in UK is facing – I just haven’t worked out how yet! Or I may just feel thankful for the life we live and get over it gracefully …

It goes without saying that having lived aboard our narrowboat since April 2013, my perception of what’s ‘normal’ is vastly different to the normal of midwives who have been working in the NHS for many years. I guess I also didn’t account for that sufficiently.

There’s an amazing amount of excellent midwifery care and services in this country, and I have absolutely no wish to discredit that or anyone. However I’m aware many units struggle with an increasing number of births (per se, plus the amalgamation of units) and the shortage of midwives, alongside the increasing culture of blame and defensiveness (“watch your back“, “tick the box“) that’s endemic here from what I learned during my recent short journey.

I’m extremely thankful that I’ve made decisions in my life that enable me the choice to walk away – I gave my all to the profession for 25 years, and know I made a difference to hundreds of women’s experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, which for me now is enough …

Seasonal work

Changing the subject completely brings me to Barry’s seasonal job with The Calendar Club, working for our lovely new friends Julie and Tony.

It’s by no means the most thrilling work, entailing standing for long hours (which with Barry’s wide feet and dislike of wearing shoes causes him some discomfort), but it’s a job without the dramas and never ending rules and regulations of most places of employment. He’ll be commuting (he says he hasn’t commuted to work since his trip to UK in 1976 with his mate Keith, and they worked in London at a leather warehouse!) to Merry Hill three days a week until 4th January 2017.

Having found myself without my planned commitment until January, I’m going to be doing some shifts for the Club too – at Merry Hill, and also in Tamworth at Ankerside Shopping Centre where another boater has a pop-up shop (Sandra Willis from The Doggie Boat).


Barry and I will both be working Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, so Christmas will be a little subdued this year …

I’ve also got a big weekend facepainting 2nd to 4th December at The Christmas Shopping Show, Three Counties Showgrounds in Malvern to look forward to – and possibly a couple of facepainting parties in between times.

I’ll be promoting The Home Brew Boat more on Social Media too, now I have unexpected time on my hands – the more online sales the better – and Barry will be trading in Birmingham from 10th to 18th December at the Roving Canal Traders Association Floating Christmas Market. I’ll be covering five of his Calendar Club shifts that week.

So we’ll get by, and still have lots of flexibility to be together and for me to spend time with my precious UK family. With the wonderful bonus of a month in New Zealand in March 2017 to look forward to – connecting with family and friends there too.

Awesome! Life is good, we have choices, we’re happy and healthy.

17 thoughts on “A time of interesting journeys

  1. Hi Sandra, I read this post back while we were still in the UK on a brief holiday, and thought to myself then that you probably had a lucky escape! When you first mentioned the midwifery a few months back, I had wondered how that would fit with a peripatetic lifestyle. I know you are younger than me, and even so I am sure you will agree, that life is too short to be doing stuff that doesn’t light us up. And there is clearly plenty that does inspire you, so it’s good to let go of something that doesn’t.
    Now I could be wrong, but I have a suspicion though that you have a ‘be perfect’ driver … So, it’s good to know too, and to acknowledge, that you gave it your perfectly best shot.
    Cheers and hugs, Marilyn

    • Kia ora Marilyn, lovely to hear from you. The reasons for the return to midwifery were many-fold, though admittedly a lot to do with Barry’s visa and planning for the future when one or both of us would have to be in employment to show ‘the powers that be’ that we can sustain ourselves. I had no intention of getting a substantive post until/unless it was necessary, in the meantime I would’ve worked on the agency/bank. That actually determined my decision to stop – working intermittently in a job that to be frank scared me intensely, does not fit with my values or chosen lifestyle.

      I love your last paragraph, very intuitive! And thank you, I’m slowly coming to terms with it, the shock of how much the whole system has changed has been a huge one for me 🙁

      Hope to catch up properly next year maybe?

  2. Did you consider going back to Mercia Marina again for the winter? We were there a few weeks ago and it’s really humming.

    • Kia ora Phil
      No, we only went to Mercia last year as we were invited to take up a trade mooring. This year we’re staying close to Brierly Hill as we’re both working in seasonal jobs.
      Hope you had a fabulous time in UK, sorry we didn’t get to see you both. Maybe catch up in March, in Gisborne? 😉

  3. Good for you. You tried, but it clearly wasn’t for you this time round and far better to bite the bullet and walk away than start a job you’re going to hate at a time when many are looking to stop working. All the best and keep us posted!

  4. So sorry that it was the intensive shock that it was. But I’m so proud of you and all that you have achieved. This not only allowed you the opportunity to step away from the situation and proactively step towards other much more positive options, but it has also granted you the trust and confidence in yourself to be able to know when something is so inherently wrong for you. You haven’t punished yourself for feeling as you have, nor have you have locked yourself into what sounds like it was your own version of hell.
    You and Barry sound like you are embracing life and its diverse nature and once again making new connections, enjoying new experiences, and remembering the phrase – “we can only die once”.
    As you suggested, I am more than certain of the impact you have had on many women’s lives, and I’m so happy that you are now also such a positive impact on your own. It is not always an easy thing to do!
    Much love to you both.

  5. Sorry things did not work out for you Sandra. Like Jim I too am glad I am retired as life was seriously unpleasant in the last few years at work. You have a busy few months ahead – do enjoy them. Just had a catch up of your blog and I am delighted to see that Barry has the okay to stay and work. Are you still cruising or are you moored up for the winter? Jennie nb Tentatrice

    • Hi Jennie

      Thanks for getting in touch – yes lots going on in the winter for us, well all year really lol! But great to have the flexibility to do different things and not be ‘stuck’ in a soul-destroying job.
      Barry has been able to stay and work Since October 2013 – in fact it was 3 years ago today that he returned with the first round of his UK spousal sponsored visa. We’ve just successfully got through round 2 – still another round to go in early 2019 for ‘Indefinite Leave to remain’! Not quite over the finishing line yet …

      We’re tootling about Birmingham and Merry Hill over winter, as that’s were he’s working. Nice to be central to get to see mum.
      Maybe we’ll catch up next year?

      • We may even make it to the Floating Market, so might see Barry at least, We have no set plans for next year, but we will keep an eye out for you as we travel wherever that may be.

  6. Sad that it didn’t work out Sandra. But as a maternity network manager whose post and network disappeared in 2014 as working together with midwives and consultants across Coventry and Warwickshire for a greater understanding and better partnership working wasn’t deemed important anymore by the new GP commissioners it doesn’t surprise me at all at your recent experience. I just feel the nhs has missed out again in having experience staff like yourself coming back into the service. I oversaw the rtp for midwives in early 2002/3 for Coventry and Warwickshire workforce and so find it’s a shame that whilst it worked back then, due to recent changes in the service it hasn’t worked for you. Good luck in all you do! X

    • Hi Diane
      I loved working with you in 2003/04, those were the days aye?!
      It did feel as though midwifery is being subsumed into nursing more and more, and massive changes have taken place since I previously worked in the NHS – and so many more on the cards for midwifery in the light of recent reports. It saddens me greatly 🙁
      Hope to catch up again with you soon.

  7. Well done hun. Life is too short for excessive challange. Journey well over the next period of time while you find your heading again. Xx

  8. Sorry to hear things didn’t work out for you Sandra. The backside-covering and tick box culture have ruined a lot of things and are two reasons I’m glad I’m retired.

    Hope Barry’s enjoying being “on the buses” though.

    • Hi Jim

      He’s a happy chap, apart from when he gets the wrong bus in the evening and ends up in Dudley instead of Birmingham lol! It’s all learning curve 😉

      And yes, the litigation culture is not a pleasant place to work …

      Hope you and Hilary are well and happy. x

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