It's too damn hot... (staying cool at home in the summer)

>> Sunday, 8 July 2018

Well, it is for me, anyway.  I'm hot.  OH is hot.  The son who currently has an entire leg in plaster is hot (don't ask).  The other son (who claims not to be able to sleep without a duvet, crazy child) is hot.  The dog is hot.  Basically, we're all hot.

The thing about having been born and brought up in northern Europe is that until a few years ago, I didn't know how to manage summer heat in my home.  We so rarely have it, after all.  I don't know about you, but my first instinct when the weather outside is scorching is to open all the windows in the hope of finding even the slightest bit of breeze.  I mean, that's obvious, right?

Except, if you visit southern Europe, that's not at all what you see in the heat of the day.  If you walk around Spain, Greece, Italy, France, between 11am and 6pm you don't see rows of open windows.  Instead you're faced with closed shutters, windows and curtains. It's almost as if - wait a moment - people who are used to living with those climates are trying to keep the heat...  out.  Oh.

After a few summers spent in self-catering accommodation in southern Europe, OH and I finally picked up on the good sense of this practice and now whenever the temperature outside rockets, we do the same thing.  In case this is not something you've come across before, here's how to keep things cooler at home.

  1.  As soon as it becomes cool enough in the evening, open windows and blinds to let the cooler air into the house.
  2. Safety allowing, leave the windows that way all night.
  3. It’s not been heating up here until around 10am-ish, so leave curtains and windows open until then (or whenever that happens where you are), BUT...
  4. Around 10/11 am (or assuming you work outside the home, when you leave the house in the morning if it’s earlier than that), shut your windows. All of them (except perhaps a hatch into the attic, if you have one.  It makes sense to leave that open, to give any hot air that is in the house somewhere to escape to).
  5. Close your curtains and blinds to keep the sun out.  
  6. Then, when it starts to cool in the evening, return to Step 1.

And that’s it. It may seem counter-intuitive but I promise, it’s far more effective a way to keep your home cool than leaving windows and doors open in the hope of catching a through-breeze; all that does is move hot air into and around your home.
Good luck!


On mice.

>> Monday, 18 June 2018

So, mice.

Well - A mouse, at least.  Although there are probably more; as Husband said recently, they tend not to live alone.

Mice are one of the perils of living in our terrace of older houses; they probably pop in and out of numbers 1 through 6 with impunity, picking up a few grains or rice here, some crumbs of bread there, some spilled sugar somewhere else.  Admittedly I've not seen any recently, but I'm all too aware that doesn't mean we don't actually have any, despite the electronic thingamijigs we've plugged into the wall at various points and which supposedly emit a pulse that they don't like too much. (If they are here, do the mice in our terrace don little ear defenders before venturing into our house, perhaps? I wonder...).

I'm not sure why I'm so convinced there are mice in residence at our address, but for some reason I'm constantly on the alert for that unsettling little shadow moving swiftly down the edge of my peripheral vision.  The last time we saw them was back during The Big Cold of February.  It necessitated my unearthing of our humane mouse traps; you know, the ones that don't actually break their necks but which trap them in a dark tunnel of plastic until they are humanely released into the wild by the wuss (me and my boys) who has decided that leaving them to freeze to death at the bottom of the garden in minus 6degC and half a foot of snow is kinder than ending their life with one swift blow.  Actually, I knew it wasn't kinder; I just couldn't face clearing up the mess that the alternative would result in.

In any case, we set the traps.  Days passed before any of the doors dropped shut, to the extent that we began to wonder if perhaps the mice had upped and moved on.  Eventually, however, we struck lucky and came down one morning to find one of the traps had been triggered.  Boy #1 (now 14) gingerly picked it up.

'I think there's something in there, Mum."

'You think?  Well I'm not touching it.  What do you reckon; is there or isn't there one inside?'

'There definitely is.'  He sort of waved it around a bit.  'I think it's heavier.  Shall I check?'

'If you must. Be careful.  OR, you could put your boots on and just go and check outside...'

'No, it's too cold out there. I'll do it here.'

Carefully, he unhooked the door.

When I was a kid, there was a roller coaster at Blackpool called The Wild Mouse.  Whilst the drops weren't particularly high, it was one of the scariest rides I ever went on because of the speeds that the cars would run at, and the sudden twists and turns the track took.

You can guess what happened next in our kitchen, I think.  Boy #1 levered the door open and as he did so a limber and quite formidable mouse - perhaps an Alpha Mouse - grabbed it's chance and literally flung itself out of the top of the tube.  Catapulting to the floor amidst a chorus of screams and squeals from it's unprepared captors, it made a break for freedom and escaped back under the cooker, never to be seen again.  In my defence, who knew that mice had such mad skillz in the climbing up the inside of plastic tubes department?

Actually, now that I write it down, of course they do, but still; it was cold, dark outside, and we hadn't yet had breakfast...

Shortly after that, we got The Dog.  I'm told that owning one can actually increase the possibility of having mice; something to do with the fact that their food bowls are on the floor, resulting in free meals for rodents.  However, since we got a Labrador, one of Nature's most effective eating machines - thank goodness the pattern on the kitchen floor tiles is part of the moulding rather than printed on - there's literally nothing left for any mice to eat.

I think we're good - but I'm still on the alert for that little black shadow in the corner of my vision...


Laughing at my own jokes, and other embarrassments

>> Friday, 8 June 2018

I was searching through old posts on here this morning; god, I had a lot to say back in the day.  Some of it was even quite entertaining - or at least, it is, to me now.  That raises a question, actually; is it bad form to laugh at your own old blog posts in the same way that you're not supposed to laugh at your own jokes?  I like to think not; after all, back when I started this blogging malarky it wasn't sponsorship or advertising led.  No, those of us who were doing it (and there were only a handful back in the mid-noughties) were generally doing so for the fun of it.  Well - that, and for the therapeutic benefits of editing our reality and making it funny.

And so to another question; can I write posts now that I could look back at in ten years time, which would still make me smile?  And then, that leads to yet another; given the relative quiet on here recently, can I write any posts at all?

I think I could.  I would have to be even more circumspect now than I was then, of course; Boys #1 and #2 might be less than happy if their lives were used as blog-fodder.  Teens and their insistence on privacy, dammit.  But still.  There's always The Dog, right?  He doesn't get a choice in the management of his digital footprint.  And actually, I find that now I'm in my fifties there are things I want to say, reflections I want to make, that perhaps I can't say out loud to people around me.  There's only so much one wants to share with the other Year 9 parents about continence clinics and a lack of patience with  what my sis calls 'performance parenting', for example.

(Those two subjects are unrelated.  Obviously).

Blogging as a form of thinking out loud: that's pretty much the reason I started all this back in 2007.  Nothing changes, after all...

So, to that end, and until I manage to find the time to write something entertaining about what's going on in my life at the moment, here's a flight of fancy that I wrote on The Potty Diaries back in 2011.  I hope you enjoy - it made me smile, anyway...

September 2011: And in Other News...

...I've just had an email asking me if I am interested in buying accessories for my washing machine.

Excuse me? Accessories for my washing machine? Before I clicked on the link (for yes, I am that mug), I spent a happy few seconds imagining what they might be. Perhaps a jaunty little hat for those trips to the farmer's market? A natty pair of leather gloves for those chilly days, now that autumn is here? Or maybe an autumnaly coloured scarf, for wear whilst out mushrooming in the forest?

No, of course, don't be potty, PM. Let's get real.

Perhaps, then, the term 'accessories' when matched with 'washing machine' could refer to some swanky go-faster stripes, colour-coordinated to match the granite work surface in your kitchen. For obviously, no washing machine that would need something as grand as an accessory could possibly be seen anywhere without a slab of granite or corian close to hand. Or actually, maybe the granite or corian IS the accessory, and this is the manufacturer's way of branching out into a new market-place? Or, perhaps it refers to some washing machine bling; a cheeky little swarovski crystal tattoo around the base of the door? (Don't laugh - I actually think Sub-zero have already done this with a fridge).

But no. 'Washing machine accessories' actually means 'detergent'. And, if you're going to push the boat out, it can also mean 'descaler'. Who knew?

Oh yes, and my older son just asked me if, when he's 12, I will let him watch that well-known movie 'Pirate Caravan'. I said yes, naturally. Well, a film about pirates on holiday in a 4 berth caravan, perhaps on the west coast of France, squabbling about who's turn it is to empty the waste container, who ate the last weetabix for breakfast, and who's responsible for their getting lost and ending up at a nuclear power station instead of at the unspoilt beach within easy reach of a local vineyard - what's not to like?



>> Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Summer's supposed to be just around the corner.  Note my judicious use of the word 'supposed'.  We live on the top of a hill in the west of England at the moment, and I swear that the plants in our garden are at least 2 weeks if not 3 behind those in my friends' much more bloomsome plots down in the valley below.  (Like the word bloomsome?  You heard it here first).

As a result of this go-slow on the part the plants, it appears that I have a bad case of garden envy.  Not to the extent that I'm actually going out into the garden to do real work in it, of course.  No, it's mostly manifesting itself in a change of behaviour regarding Gardener's Question Time, insofar as nowadays, I actually listen to it.  Well, I listen to it when I'm in the car, anyway.   This could be the Beginning of the End.  Or middle age.  Which, honestly, is more likely.


Boy #1, now 14, is taking his bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.  (For non-UK educated readers, this is an award children aged 14 -18 can participate in, which encourages them to try new things, improve their skill set, and increase their physical abilities).

He took part in his practice Expedition a few days ago.  This entails a two-day walk (15K each day), as one of a team of 5, carrying all the equipment and food that they need to survive their trek and a night's camping in the wild.  On the way out he got lucky, and only had to carry the trangia (no, I didn't know what it was either; essentially a fancy name for a camping stove).  On the way back, however, he carried the three man tent he and two friends had slept in the previous night.

The next day I asked him what was to happen to the tent lurking ominously by the shoes.  "I have to hold onto it until the actual expedition in a few weeks time, Mum."

"OK.  Is it wet?"


"Shall we check?"


"Well, it might need drying out if it's wet."

"I told you, it's not wet."

Visions of Boy #1 and his team-mates stopping for the night on the real Expedition, and pulling out  their tent only to have it fall to pieces. covered with mildew, came to mind.  "You know, I think that maybe we should just take a look..."

"God!  Mum!  I told you!"

"I know.  Humour me, OK?"

And so it came to pass that the tent was checked and lo, was discovered to be Absolutely Bloody Sopping Wet.  It's now draped attractively across our living room.  Given my older son's less than stellar track record of tidying up after himself, it could be adorning our furniture for a while. (I present Exhibit 1, m'lud; last week's sports kit still sitting unwashed in his kitbag in the hall.  He doesn't know it, but I'm playing a game of chicken to see how long he leaves it there.  Of course, since I'm the only one in on the rules of this game, or who even knows that there IS a game, it could be there for some time.)

I'm tempted to set up a den underneath the tent, if Boy #1 doesn't get around to tidying it away soon.  Might be quite nice, to have a little retreat where I can sit and think deep thoughts and eat chocolate away from grasping hands who might want to share it.  Although of course it could also be counterproductive, and give him a reason to leave it there - so maybe not.


Puppy news:  he's growing apace.  And boy, is it nice to have someone in the house who - FINALLY - thinks I'm God.



>> Tuesday, 13 March 2018

So, we got a puppy.  Well, it was the one piece of the middle class jigsaw that was missing, after all, and I've never been one to avoid living up (or down) to a stereo-type.

We're just over 2 weeks in to the experience now.  We'd prepared ourselves, I thought, but actually there are a few things I thought I might share in case you're considering making a similar adjustment to your own, perhaps previously smooth-running, life;

  • Be aware that puppies can be unbearably cute, and are almost as big a distraction from Getting Stuff Done as is the internet.
  • They grow too fast.  It's an old piece of advice, but the watching them get bigger is like watching your kids growth pattern on fast-forward.  So, just like with your kids, take photos.  All the time.
  • Watch them, like a hawk.  Puppies (and dogs) use body language to express themselves first, but if they don't feel listened to (like, say, at 3am when they want to go outside for a wee) they can make a hell of a noise.  Or, wee on the floor.  Whatever; they're not fussed.
  • Make sure your neighbours are either extremely understanding, or hard of hearing.  Either are good - both is better.
  • Expect vastly reduced amounts of sleep.  Babies and toddlers are good training for this aspect of dog ownership.  Unfortunately, 14 years into parenthood I had forgotten the impact that frequent wake-up calls have on general irritability and tetchiness.  (Mine, that is - not the dog's).
  • Training is not something you can put on hold until your little darling pup is a little bigger.  It has to start straightaway - never mind that you have the laundry to fold / the floor to wash (no need to explain why)/ the shopping to do.  Oh, and it's a lot more involved than I ever imagined. 
  • On the plus side, you are allowed - in fact, encouraged - to resort to bribery to build good behaviours.  Positive reinforcement works wonders for dogs, and a packet of liver treats is a lot less expensive than the new Xbox games your children might demand in a similar situation.
  • Having warm clothing by the bed, ready to fall into when you wake at 3am to race downstairs to stop the piteous 'I've-been-left-all-alone-does-nobody-love-me-I-think-I-might-be-alright-if -someone-would-just-take-me-outside-for-a-wee' crying, is not just good planning but entirely necessary to avoid waking the entire house as you stumble around trying to find a pair of socks.
  • If well-meaning friends advise you that when planning the timing of getting a puppy you should consider the fact that house training a dog in the winter is tricky, take them seriously.  Because...
  • ...  standing outside in -6degC and a howling blizzard in the small hours, waiting for a dog to go to the loo in half a foot of snow is even less fun than it sounds...
  • ... and probably even less so for the puppy.

But, when all is said and done, there's always this...


Quietly celebrating.

>> Friday, 23 February 2018

Yesterday evening my son came home from school, took off his tie and blazer, sat down at the table, had a snack, and did two pieces of homework. Just sat down, and did them.  Dinner followed, and then he chilled out in front of the television.

Whilst this might not seem remarkable in itself, I can tell you that in this house, it is.

For various reasons that I'm not going to go into, homework can be an issue for him - and consequently for me, too.  And if it's an issue for me, then of course it follows that that spills over into the rest of the family's lives, too.

Looking back over the last three years or so it seems as if 99% of school evenings have featured some kind of confrontation about homework.  The weekends too, if I'm honest.  I'm of the belief that if there's homework to be done it might as well be dealt with on a Friday night or a Saturday morning; that way, we can relax for the rest of the weekend.  My son, however, is of the opposite opinion; as far as he's concerned it's best ignored until the very last moment at which point, amid much shouting, stamping around, obfuscation, and wailing and gnashing of teeth, it is tortuously completed.

It's frustrating to watch; both my husband I know this is what will happen and consequently try (usually fruitlessly) to circumvent it by encouraging him to break the pattern and instead complete the tasks sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately this sensible approach is not one our child subscribes to, so the resulting confrontations often lead to the entire weekend being held hostage to the completion of the damn homework.

If your child is of a similar profile you might recognise these statements: 'In a moment...  I'll do it later... Just let me finish this lego model/chapter/episode/game/toilet trip (delete as appropriate)...' and so on.  Then, of course, when he has finished whatever it is he's using as a delaying tactic, instead of just dealing with it, he uses another.

Looking at it from the outside you might ask yourself why we don't just force him to sit down and get on with it.  I know that some of our nearest and dearest have wondered the same thing over the years, but some children, they just learn differently.  Some children are such perfectionists that they can't face their homework not because they don't want to do it, but because they can't face the possibility that they might do it wrong, so they hide, they ignore, they act out.

It's not a recipe for relaxed family life, that's for sure.

So what was different about last night?  How was he able to just get on with it, to the extent that I watched in quiet wonder and asked myself if this is how things are on a typical school night for those families whose children get less anxious when faced with their own very human imperfections?

Partly, I think, it's the fact that he's getting older and more mature, is better able to deal with the swings and roundabouts of everyday life.  Also impacting may have been the fact that the task he chose to do first was one he didn't find difficult and which, because it was online, he was given instant feedback on, so knew that he had completed it perfectly.  That buoyed him up to deal with the second task, which he was less keen on, but still able to do well.  Or perhaps he just had the right thing for lunch, or I said the right thing when I met him from school, or another of the million things that might have affected his mood.

But I don't really know; kids don't come with a manual, no matter what the parenting gurus out there might say.  And if the last few years of dealing with the fallout of my son's learning style have taught me anything, it's that we need to be grateful for those moments of calm - because there might not be another one along for a while.


When I rule the world...

>> Monday, 22 January 2018

I'm thinking of opening a cinema.  Not just any cinema, mind.  Oh no.
  • In this establishment, there will be no concession stand - not in the entrance, at any rate.   No opportunity to max out on sugary or salt laden sweets in-house before the showing begins (although I'm prepared to compromise and have the stand at the exit for customers on their way out).  To ensure no contraband makes it's way into the theatre, customers will have their bags inspected to check they are not in possession of crisp packets, bags of popcorn, rustly bags of any description, large slurp-inducing cartons of drink (although a multi-use bottle / cup may be permitted, because, the Environment), or anything else that needs to be consumed noisily.
  • Patrons will also be notified that whilst a mobile phone is permitted, there is no wifi in the cinema and their 3/4/5G signal is unlikely to work.  Because, blocking.
  • Texting is allowed (babysitters, obv), but if anyone is seen or heard making or taking a call during the movie the screening will be paused, and a searchlight trained on the offender for a spot of public shaming (they will be offered free of charge phone etiquette rehabilitation classes to avoid any future transgressions).
  • 'The cinema is not your living room' will be flashed up onscreen if any customers are spotted taking their shoes off.
  • Families, whilst encouraged to attend, will be expected to treat the cinema with the respect it and the other patrons deserve.  Before visiting this cinema parents may have to give their children a crash course in ensuring that any comments or questions they have about the plot are asked with lowered voices, and not at normal or above-normal decibel levels.  
  • Should two adults be accompanying one or more children, the adults should sit either side of their charges to avoid unfortunate bystanders being forced to endure any transgressions of the chatting loudly, crunching defeaningly, or slurping offensively kind.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?  Why on earth would a person need to come up with such a ridiculous set of rules?

Our local Odeon on a Saturday afternoon, that's why.


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