Pushing water uphill

>> Wednesday, 11 January 2017

It was Boy #2's birthday recently (he was eleven.  ELEVEN.  How did that happen?)  He loves the fact that it's so early in the year as he sees it as an opportunity to mop up the items on his Christmas list that didn't turn up under the tree.

One of those was a laptop (we try to keep Christmas presents relatively modest, so there was no way this was going to make the cut), and another a game he's long been lusting after, to play on it.  Lucky boy, he scored both for his birthday.


Neither OH or I are computer wizards.  I would, in fact, go so far as to call us complete dimwits in this respect.  OH has been carting around 2 laptops for a month now; his old, barely functioning one, and a brand spanking new shiny-shiny that he has not got around to setting up yet.  I'm no better;  I've been having problems with my own 4 year old model recently, and have my suspicions that this is due in large part to the fact that I probably never set it up properly in the first place.  Not that I would admit that to my beloved, obviously.  Not when there is the chance of a new laptop for me as a result (my own birthday is not too far away, so... ).

Despite our technical shortcomings Boy #2 is now - understandably - desperate to get his new laptop operational and to get said game installed, so OH 'took control' of the job at the weekend.  Much frustration ensued, and when he left the house on Tuesday he hadn't managed to finish the job; he would, he informed us, install the game on his return at the weekend.

The issue, however, is that Boy #2 needs motivation at the moment.  (OK; bribes, essentially).  He's coming to the end of a long road with school tests etc, so it seemed to me that completing the installation earlier than that would be a good reward for all his hard work.

It should be easy, right?

In the last 2 days I have spent over 3 hours trying to get the bloody game set up, and have got precisely nowhere.  This afternoon I thought I might have made a breakthrough when it looked as if our anti-virus software might be the roadblock, but to circumvent that I needed the serial number of our account.

Which led to the following conversation...

Me:  'So, I can't set up that game on Boy#2's laptop.  I think the anti-virus software is blocking it - can you send me the serial number?'

OH:  'What anti-virus software?'

Me:  'The one you set up on his new laptop.'  silence.  'You did set it up, didn't you?'

OH:  'Well - no.  I didn't set anything up.  Because I couldn't even get Windows to work - that was what I was muttering about on Monday evening.  God knows what the problem was but other than registering Boy #2's name on the laptop, nothing's been done.  Were you not listening to me?'

Me (carefully ignoring the last question - of course I was listening to him...): 'Which is probably why I can't get this game set up.'

OH: 'Correct.'

Me:  'So I've been wasting my time.  All 3+ hours of it.'

OH. 'Uh-huh...'


Thanks for the memories

>> Thursday, 5 January 2017

So Carrie Fisher is gone.

Hard to believe that the woman who managed to rock that ridiculous hairstyle as Princess Leia - and still look gorgeous - is no longer with us.  I have lots of wonderful memories of her movies, but the one I'm going to share with you does not directly involve her.  It was, rather, inspired by her.  I hope that had she known of it, it would have made her laugh.

It's the summer of 2014, and the Moscow summer party season is in full swing.  Husband and I have been invited to one with a theme inspired by the first names of the joint hosts, the letter 'S', and I have no idea what to wear.

In desperation, I ask friends for helpful ideas.  One offers me a loan of a Princess Leia costume that might do - the link to the theme being the title of the movie franchise - and I quickly accept her offer.  (It's the white number with the headphone hairdo wig, from Episode IV, by the way.  Not the Return of the Jedi bikini outfit.  I may be foolhardy, but not completely insane...)

The costume arrives and I try it on, much to the amusement of my children who are intrigued by the sight of their mother prancing around in a polyester-based white dress and want to try on the wig themselves.  It goes without saying that they look far better in it than I do.   Meanwhile, I mention to one of the hosts what I'll be wearing.  She gets very excited; her husband and a friend are both going as Stormtroopers.  'Perfect!  You can get changed in the house next door and then they can come and fetch you, so you can all make an entrance as they escort you into the party!'

I say yes, reflecting that since I'm as tall as both the men involved, Princess Leia's initial exchange with Luke Skywalker will at least be relevant....

The big day arrives, and I realise that I've not discussed with Husband his plans for an S-inspired costume.   He has, of course, given the matter much thought.   'I don't know.  A shirt?' Which, if I'm honest, doesn't seem to be in the spirit of things.

So I hatch a plan, and after some fast talking (OK, some very fast talking) manage to persuade my husband to buy into it.

A couple of hours later two 5' 7"-ish stormtroopers arrive to escort Princess Leia to the party and are confused when I open the door wearing a silver sequinned dress (see what I did there?).  All is made clear, however, when my 6' 4" husband, dressed in a white dress and headphone wig, delivers Carrie Fisher's immortal line;

'Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?'


A Christmas blessing on JK Rowling

>> Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Bless you, JK Rowling.

Bless you for writing the fantastic series of Harry Potter books, bless you for getting millions of children reading, and bless you for ensuring that once you passed the baton to Warner Bros to produce the movies, they stayed true to your vision.

But most of all, bless you for writing the screen play for 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'.

Not only is it a wonderfully entertaining story with a rip-roaring plot, but you created a hero who - how can I put this? - is not your average wise-cracking smooth-talking adventurer who never puts a foot wrong in any given social situation.  Who makes mistakes, and has to clear up the mess, and makes even more mistakes whilst he's trying to do that.  And yes, I know Harry Potter wasn't dissimilar, but at the time I was at a different life stage and the benefits of that went somewhat over my head.

Now, though, things are different.  Now I have a son who, like Newt Scamander, often doesn't really fit in the world he inhabits.

I wish there were another way of putting it, something that sounds less judgemental, but there it is; he doesn't.  And even though I wouldn't want him to - I love his way of looking at the world, his intense levels of focus in subjects that interest him, his disregard for those that don't, his smart and funny observations on what's going on around him, and the deepness of his feelings - there's no escaping the fact that he's not your average, run of the mill little boy.

Whilst I have no doubt that he will, eventually, find his place and his tribe, and that he will be successful not despite his differences but because of them, there's no denying that to watch him trying to find a foothold in the fast-flowing stream that is life as a child in modern Britain can be traumatic, as a parent.  I want to scoop him up and wrap him in cotton wool, to shield him against those slings and arrows - but I know that I can't, and mustn't.  All I can do is equip him with the tools to deal with the world as it is.  And it's hard.

So to be able to go to the cinema to watch a movie with my son where the hero is - at times - awkward, unusual, and somewhat singular is refreshing.  Especially when that hero is someone that my son can admire and empathise with, in a movie that illustrates it isn't always the sportiest, the slickest, the best looking or the most charismatic character that saves the day.  You know.  Just like in life.

I'm sure it all went straight over my son's head; these things usually do.  He's only a boy, after all, and it was just a movie.  But it didn't go over mine.

So Ms Rowling, thankyou.  A Christmas blessing on you and yours.  


What a difference a day makes...

>> Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Tasks completed on Day 1 of child home sick from school (with a temperature but not ill enough to spend the entire day in bed)

Child spends an extra 2 hours in bed reading instructive literature (OK, back copies of Top Gear magazine, but beggars can't be choosers)
English homework completed
4 sessions of Mathletics completed
Intelligent conversation over lunch
Short session on National Geographic kids website games section
TV switched at 4.00pm due to pompous statement that it shouldn't go on until the same time school would have finished
Mother's Tasks: Laundry, cooking (delicious nutritious home-made Moroccan lamb stew), overseeing entertainment of child.  Writing: grand total of approx 20 minutes.

Tasks completed on Day 2 of same child home sick from school

Child spends an extra 30 minutes in bed complaining about boredom
1 section of 3 of next week's English homework completed
1/2 session of Mathletics completed
Loooooong session on National Geographic kids games section
TV goes on at 11.00am, (Don't judge me: 3 back episodes of Planet Earth 2 watched - I call that a win, under the circumstances)
Conversation over lunch about... I can't remember.  Not sure it was intelligent.
Tantrum over uncharged iPod Touch
Mother's Tasks: Tactical 'forgetting' to recharge iPod Touch, wrangling with child over completion of further homework, complete failure to unload laundry from the machine, and dinner likely to consist of any old veg I can find to serve with chicken stir fry.  Writing: are you kidding?

Tasks likely to be completed if there is a Day 3 of having same child home sick from school

None - because it's not going to happen.

(Better not...)


Most embarrassing motherhood-related experiences #573

>> Monday, 21 November 2016

Went to town on Friday - literally.  When I say 'to town' I do, of course, mean that it should be pronounced in true Celia Johnson styley - 'to Tyne' - and am referring to London.  Husband and I were due to attend a swanky dinner, so I thought I would treat myself to a haircut first.

Luckily - LUCKILY - the lady cutting my hair has known me a long time.  (Parents reading this - you've already guessed where I'm headed, haven't you?).  Because otherwise I suspect I would have been thrown out on my ear just off Regent Street shortly after the following conversation took place.

Hairdresser:  'So, what am I doing with this today?'

Me: 'Not quite as short as last time, thanks - I think I like it a little longer.'

Silence whilst she fusses about (technical term, obviously) with clips and scissors etc .  Then, a little more silence whilst she closely inspects my hair.  I watch her and wonder if she is finally going to tell me that it's about time I got the grey seen to.  She would be right to - but no...

Hairdresser (in a low voice): 'Potty...'

Me:  'Yes?  Is it the grey?'

Hairdresser (clearing her throat as she ever-so-slightly backs away): 'Um - no.  Is it...  do you think...  could you have... lice?'

Ah, parenting.  The gift that keeps on giving...


And so it's November...

>> Thursday, 17 November 2016

Where on earth did the rest of October go?

Life has been busy here for the still-re-acclimatising Potty family, as I'm sure it is for everybody.  And also, as I'm sure is the case for everybody, most of what's been happening is not suitable blog-fodder; either too boring to share (do you really want to know what I thought of Netflix's 'The Crown?  I thought not - but fabulous, just in case in you do), or too personal to put out there.  Consequently, I'm taking the easy way out and will use this post as an opportunity to share another piece of writing I've done; the prologue to a novel I finished (in as much as you can ever finish writing an unpublished book) in the summer.

It's odd, finishing one novel and starting another, as I have done over the last few weeks.  I find it hard to imagine sharing the latter - it's still too fresh in my mind, I'm too protective about it - but god, I am SO over the former. After so long spent working on it I've lost all objectivity and can only see it's faults;  I can easily imagine sticking it in the back of a metaphorical desk drawer and never looking at it again.  That seems a bit of a waste though, so instead I'm putting it up here - at least then some of it will have seen the light of day at some point!

I hope you enjoy it - and no, this excerpt is not too long. At least, I don't think so... (see? No objectivity...)

Finding Katie (working title)

Prologue: October 1993

I strip down to my swimsuit on the nearly empty beach and look out at the sea, a flat grey in the early morning light.

And I know already that I’m not going to be able to do it.

When I woke alone in the quiet darkness of the caravan an hour ago, my mind was made up; this was the only way out.  As I folded my nightclothes and left them in a neat pile on the bed, I was resolute; this was the only way out.  Whilst I made my way through the dunes, purposefully avoiding any other early risers in case they gave me a smile I wouldn’t be able to return, I was still certain; this was the only way out.

Now though, as I stand shivering in the chilly autumn morning, I come to my senses.  This is a crazy plan.  I can’t just walk into the water and… go.  No matter what I’ve found out, I can’t finish it like this; it will devastate Mum and Dad. 

And my brother.  Oh god, my little brother...  It will destroy him.

The memories come rushing back, one after another, and I think back to when he was tiny, Mum was ill, and it was my job to look after him.  I remember his gummy smiles and warm compact little body, and how used to clamp his arms around my neck and cover my cheek with hot sticky kisses as I hoisted him out of his cot in the mornings. 

I think about him toddling across the living room floor pretending to be a car.  I think about the time I took my eleven year old eyes off him for one minute to read my latest copy of Smash Hits and he walked into the door, cutting his head open on the lock.  I think of how he hardly cried as I held his hand in the back of the car on the way to hospital to get the wound stitched up.  You can still see the faint scar in his hairline now, even though he’s fifteen.
And I realise again that I can’t do it. 

I can still call it off – one phone call, and I can still call it off.  And then, I can just head back home and… 

Oh god; home. 

Shivering slightly in the cool morning air, I pick my way gingerly across the sharp stones of the pebbled beach, and force myself to step into the water.  It’s freezing, and I give a sharp intake of breath as goose-bumps run like an electric shock up my legs but I ignore them; this is no time to be feeble. 

The cold laps around my ankles, then my knees, and I keep right on going until it’s at waist-height.  Then I take a deep breath, plunge in – fuck, it’s like ice – and start swimming, away from the shore.

Because it’s time to stop pretending; there is no other way out.


Flash fiction - or not...

>> Thursday, 13 October 2016

I'm taking an online writing course.  (And yes, I've finished the Great Work, but bear with me on this; we can all benefit - especially me - by being taught by professionals).

One of the tasks we've been given this week was to deliver a piece of 'flash' writing; that is, to use a writing prompt of only a few words to deliver a piece of writing completed in only 15-20 minutes. 

Here's one of mine (and you'll see why it's relevant to this blog - and that I'm still not over Russia - if you read it...)

I’ll never forget my first day in Moscow.

The snow fell thick and fast as we woke the boys that morning, seemingly coming down sideways, and I wondered aloud how we would manage to get them to school without a car.

‘Walk, of course’ Husband said, shovelling down spoonfuls of the sugary cereal that was the only local substitute for muesli we could find, rushing to make the minibus that would take him to the nearest metro station. 

I stopped as I rooted through one of our many over-stuffed suitcases in the hunt for the Weetabix we’d brought with us.  (Never let it be said I’m unprepared on the kids’ breakfasts.)  ‘But – isn’t it really cold outside?’

‘Well – it’s still snowing, so it probably won’t be any lower than -18degC.  You can walk in that.  We’ve got hats for them, haven’t we?’

I looked at him blankly.  Yes, we had hats for the children.  But we’d only got off the plane from London the previous afternoon; in the cliff-face of luggage stacked in the Ikea-furnished sitting room, I had no idea where they were. 

Half an hour later I located them lurking beneath the sitting room sofa under a pile of coats, soaked through after yesterday evening’s walk.  Turns out when you’re 4 and 6 years old, putting wet kit onto a radiator when you come inside after half an hour spent throwing yourself into snowdrifts isn’t top of mind. 

Cursing under my breath I emptied two more suitcases, adding to the impossible starburst of clothes across the living room floor, before finding the woollen back-up beanies I had packed ‘just in case’.  Now we were running out of time; the first day of term started in just 20 minutes and it was at least a 15 minute walk from the house to the classroom door.

I shoe-horned the boys into their snow gear; layer on layer of padded goretex over already bulky trousers and sweatshirts.  Then we crammed on their snow boots, taking care to pull the straps of their snow pants under their feet – wouldn’t want them to get wet socks before they even arrived at school – and tugged the zips of their coats shut.  As a final touch we pulled the ridiculously flimsy-looking woollen hats onto their heads and fastened the Velcro straps of the hoods of their coats over the top, just to be sure.

My London-bred sons looked like nothing so much as little Michelin men in their Moscow winter gear.  Not that I minded; wouldn’t all that padding be an advantage if they slipped on the thick ice that, as I had already learned to my cost, lurked beneath the freshly fallen snow?

‘OK boys, say goodbye to Dad – he has to go to work – and then it’s off to school.’ 

‘Is it far, Mum?’  Boy #1, worried, looked at me with big grey eyes.

‘No, of course not.  We drove past the school on our way here last night, remember?  It was the building like the lighthouse – the one we could see on the corner from the road… Come on, put your rucksacks on and we’ll be off.  And guess what?  You get me to pull you there on a sledge, remember?’

That did it; they started jostling each other excitedly as I laced up my snowboots and pulled on a pair of gloves.  Opening the heavy metal front door – the one with the thick layer of frost on the inside of the lock - was the bit I wasn’t looking forward to, but I knew that the longer we stayed in the too-warm brick-built house the harder it was going to be set foot outside.

At last, layered up and channelling my own homage to the Michelin man, I snapped open the wooden sledge.  Steeling myself – I hated the cold – I opened the door and stepped out with my children into what I can only describe as Narnia.  And against all my expectations, right there and then, I fell in love with the Russian winter

It was quiet, oh so quiet;  Muscovites take their time to get going in the morning, especially if – as on that first day – the snow ploughs haven’t made it to their street yet.  We stood, entranced, surrounded by clouds of glitter; in the yellow of the sodium street lights flakes of snow spun lazily in the still air, floating gently to the ground and settling prettily on the top of the boys’ hoods.  I’d never seen such enormous ice crystals before, their crenulations clearly visible, each different from the last and perfect in their imperfection. 

‘Are these real?’  Boy #2, seated on the front of the sledge in front of his brother, held out an arm decorated with drifts of enormous flakes.  Used only to the rather damp approximation of snow we had back in London, he was fascinated by the way these sparkled, holding their shape on his jacket for minutes at a time in the polar temperatures.

Leaning forward slightly to take the strain as I tugged the sledge along the tyre-rutted track, I nodded.  ‘They certainly are darling.  Get used to them – they won’t be the last you see…’


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