Tuesday 29 January 2008

Creepy-crawlies 'r' us

So here I sit, in our cubby-hole office, tapping away, throwing Smarties down my neck (and feeling slightly queasy as a result, blast my mother-in-law for bringing them for the boys, did she really for one moment think they would actually get passed on?) surrounded by... by... I can hardly bring myself to say it.... spiders.

I hate spiders.

Ever since I was a child, I loathed them. There's something about the way they scuttle about, dropping down silently from the ceiling to sit glaring malevolently at you from corners that really freaks me out.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not phobic. I'm able to make use of a glass and sheet of paper with the best of them. Always assuming the offending creature is on a smooth surface of course - carpets are just a nightmare, I end up with decapitations, amputations, and spider legs all over the shop.

And I'm not a spider murderer. Well, not any more. The days of telephone directories being dropped from a great height - and then dropped repeatedly if the little bugger was on guard, until the deed was done - are long gone. Now I just capture them in a glass and take them out of the flat, up the stairs, across the road and drop them into the garden square where I trust they will find a new and happier home. And if they don't, well, it's too far for them to come back. That's not excessive behaviour. Is it?

My mother used to despair of me. I grew up in a very old house in the middle of the countryside surrounded on 3 sides by a garden. It was arachna-tastic in that house. She spent much of the time racing up stairs coming to rescue me from the wretched creatures as I perched on a bed / chair / the edge of the bath screaming blue murder. But, as time passed, I grew up a bit. And learnt to deal with them.

But when I sit here tapping away and make the mistake of looking up - I wish I hadn't. For some reason this tiny room is what the spiders of South Kensington see as a highly desirable residence. They make every effort to come in here, setting up home in the book shelves and over the spotlights, so wherever I look is covered by fine mesh of cob-webs, rather like that scene in the first Indiana Jones film when he - oh, I can't bear to write about it.

And it's not like I don't fight back. I move them. I dust. I even - when I'm feeling particularly ruthless - hoover the shelves, wall, door and ceiling. And occasionally, the floor. Then we have a spider-free zone for about 2 days before they all come back in with their suitcases and mulitple pairs of shoes. Why? It's not even as if there are any flies in here.


I digress. This post was actually meant to be about my chasing Boy #2 round the viewing gallery during Boy #1's swimming lesson at Chelsea Leisure Centre this afternoon.

Imagine a charmingly reconditioned 1920's style swimming pool with a 3 tier bench viewing platform suspended 20 feet up, with only a set of railings that are set just a little too far apart for comfort between you and the drop, and you'll have the right picture.

Now imagine a cheeky 2 year old seeing just how far his mother is capable of being pushed without cracking. His opening move was the old 'orange peel dropped from 20ft into the pool' gambit. Well, it wasn't, not quite, but only because I clearly have more kung-fu reflexes than I realised. After a pause to lull me into a false sense of security, he decided to race along behind the benches to see if he could beat mama to the next gap - and a clear run down to those worrying railings. And then, when he had me stranded on the other side of the pool, he tried simply heading off for the exit in the hope someone would open the door and it would just be Boy #2 and 20 concrete steps.

And all of this in 27 deg C heat. Which meant I was rather more flustered than I would have liked to be whilst chatting to Boy #1's extremely good looking swimming coach after his lesson. There's just something about those wetsuits...

In any case, I was a little snappy on the way home.

But not so snappy that I have forgotten I still have an award and a tag to pass out. So, firstly, here is the 'Best Blogging Buddies' Award.

As Mya (who was kind enough to give this one to me in the first place) said, it is 'quite nauseatingly kitsch' - but very cute for all that. I would like to pass this one on to Iota at Not Wrong, Just Different, even though she's not blogging right now (not blogging, that is, in the same way that I'm not eating chocolate), and to Tracey at cRaZy tRaCe for being brave beyond the call of duty in cycling long distances and throwing herself down canyons with only a lolly-stick for buoyancy. Or something. And that's not to say that there aren't loads more people who don't equally qualify, but I will get bored with putting the links for their sites on this post. So if you want it, just take it.

Secondly, I need to delight a couple of people with the tag Reluctant Memsahib passed my way a week or so ago. You remember, you need to let us know what, in the last week, you have:

  • read
  • watched on tv
  • listened to
  • and surfed

I hope your selection is more edifying than mine, Expat Mum and Beta Mum... Enjoy!

Monday 28 January 2008

Izzy Whizzy, let's get Busy...

So this evening we were visited by The Great Chico Uno, Magician to the Stars, who decided to stage an impromptu show on the sofa-bed in his brother's bedroom. The show proceeded along the following lines:

Boy #1: Ladies & Gentlemen! Welcome to the Situation!

Boy #2 applauds enthusiastically whilst I wonder exactly what 'Situation' he has in mind and why he sounds like some crisis management expert...

Me: Hurray! A magician! But maybe we could just put some clothes on first?

Boy #1: What can you see, mama? What can you see?

Me (struggling to put Boy #2's nappy on as he does an impression of a particularly slippery eel due to the large amounts of cream I've just smothered him in, and facing in the opposite direction): Oh, I can see...Boy #2.

Boy #1: No, no turn around, turn around! Now, what can you see?

Me: I can see all of the Amazing Magician (are you sure you're not cold?) and... 3 books on the sofa.

Boy #1 (hastily stuffing one of the books down the back of the sofa): No, no. There are only meant to be two. You can only see 2, mama.

Me: I can see - yes, I'm almost sure - TWO books!

Boy #1: Now, close your eyes. No peeking... Now, what can you see?

Me: Wow! The books have completely disappeared and been replaced by two sofa cushions! That's incredible!

Boy #1: Now, say it with me: 'Abrapadaber! Go, on say it mama. One, two - no, Boy #2, leave the cushions alone! He's spoiling it mama! He's spoiling it! (Hostilities break out as Boy #2 attempts to scale the sofa and join in the fun. I pick him up. Calm is restored...) OK, mama, say it with me: AbraViagra! AbraViagra! Why are you laughing?

So I mentioned last post that I have a couple of awards and a couple of tags to pass on. I really am the worst at this sort of thing as I don't want to single anyone in particular out, but in the interests of keeping these things rolling (and in the hopes of being awarded more in the future - not that I need validation or anything), here goes.

The first was handed on to me by Jen at Something to Say : About Life in the Netherlands and in her words:

'It's a big kiss, of the chaste platonic kind, from me to you with the underlying 'thanks' message implied. I really do appreciate your support and your friendship and yes, your comments.'

I would like to pass this one on to Aims, Pig in the Kitchen, Frog in the Field, Dulwich Mum, and Mya - and to all of you, if you have this already, apologies, but tough. Here it is again.

So, having thought about it, I have decided to string this awards thing out a little (yes, as mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm short of stuff I'm allowed to blog about, so got to make the most of material as it presents itself), so am afraid you'll have to wait for the second award, but following on from being tagged by Mya a week or so back to reveal 7 Random Facts about myself (see here if you have a few minutes to kill and no paint to watch dry), I would like to tag...

Tattie Weasle - because I haven't heard from her in ages - and Elsie Button. Looking forward to reading them, ladies, and again, sorry if you already did it for someone else. (And let's face it, they have to be more interesting than my 7 Random Facts...)

Friday 25 January 2008

Tig TAG Toe...

Lucky me, I've been tagged again, this time by the hugely talented Reluctant Memsahib. If you haven't checked out her blog yet I can highly recommend it; you don't get that much further from urban than where she is now...

Just one thing, though. This tag is the real deal. It calls on me to reveal the following:

  • What I've read (OK...)
  • What I've watched (are you serious?)
  • What I've listened to (help!)
  • What I've surfed (Holy Mary, Mother of God, I've been rumbled)

Well, that's it. The game's up. As I said on my comment to Reluctant Memsahib, I am about to be unmasked as the cultural philistine I really am. Farewell; once you've worked your way through the list below you may not pass this way again.

You might wonder at this point why I'm going through with this. Is it because I'm short of ideas? Well, no, actually not. Just short of ideas I can actually blog about. Check out Iota's blog to see what I'm referring to (in brief, the dangers of people you know reading your blog). But enough of my peppering this post with references to other bloggers to try and distract you. I said I'ld do this, so here goes....

What I've read.

(I'm sitting here scratching my head struggling to come up with something not too embarrassing...)

Oooh, oooh, yes! Yes! The Times! I read the Times! Yesterday, in fact. (Thank god, I'm saved). Obviously I paid particular attention to their Times 2 supplement (a glorified gossip sheet if I'm totally honest) with the article in it about Amy Winehouse imploding, and the editorial about how school selection procedures can blight a mother's life, but in my defence I also vaguely remember a more serious piece in the main body of the newspaper about the energy crisis and how we are all going to have pay a lot more to have the lights on over the next few years.

To recover from the overdose of reality (ha!) detailed above, I have also been reading some chick-lit.

No, do I really have to tell you which book?

Damn. 'Me and Mr Darcy'. There, I said it. And no, I'm not saying it again, and no, I'm not commenting on it. Read it yourself and then decide how much you are going to bill the author for wasting your time... Why, you may be wondering, does a clearly educated (University graduate, me, I'll have you know), usually lucid and occassionally intelligent woman in her 40's (OK, just 40 anyway) pick up this kind of title? Well, I could bore you with stories of how, having studied English Literature at uni for 3 years I then foreswore all serious novels for the next 15 and still have to break myself entirely of the habit of reading crap, but really? The clue's in the title of my blog. I'm potty.

Oh, yes, and I forgot, I have also been reading recipe books (Delia Smith, and Tana Ramsay. Separate books. Not together. That would be silly). Partly so I can work my way through the surfeit of vegetables we acquire every week when the Riverford Vegetable Box is delivered, but mainly because if I have to cook spag bol for the boys one more night I shall scream. And probably so shall they.

What I've watched

(Bet you didn't think this would take so long, RM...)

Not much over the last couple of days, actually, since our Sky dish has been playing up, and living in a basement, we don't get terrestrial reception. Well, we thought it was the dish. But then I mentioned the signal failure in passing to the builders working on the first floor flat in our block, asking nonchantly if any wires had been disconnected in the last 48 hours. Of course, they denied everything. But funnily enough, when I switched on the set this afternoon to put a dvd to distract the boys whilst I made dinner, there was C-Beebies in glorious technicolour. Hurrah!

But before that malarky, this week I have been watching (in no particular order)

  • The News; So that Husband I can get depressed about the state of the money markets, the resultant impact on the City, and what that might mean for us.
  • Larkrise to Candleford; a BBC costume drama special with all the trimmings, escapism in it's purest form and the tv equivalent to chick-lit (except Husband watched it too).
  • Charlie & Lola; if you don't know what this is and have kids, you should. Google it now. (BTW - it is for the kids. Even if Charlie does promise to grow up into an upright and talented young man someday. But it's not like I fancy what he might turn into or anything. I mean, that would be sick).

What I've listened to

I should be saying something highbrow like Radio 4, BBC World Service, and Mahler's 5th Symphony, but something tells me that if you've read this far you aren't going to fall for that. So...

  • Capital Radio; for the travel and Johnny Vaughan every morning (that man cracks me up), and for the weather. What do you mean, look out of the window?
  • XFM in the car during the day, because they really do play a variety of new music (rather than constantly playing the same few hits over and over like, I hate to say it, Capital), and it helps me to fool myself I'm still tuned in to the zeitgeist and can get down with the kids. Which I can't, obviously. I would hurt my back.
  • The 'Gym' playlist on my ipod. A mixture of tracks to try and make me forget the awful pain it is running on the spot for 20 (well, OK, 15) minutes. Covers everything from Rolling Stones, to Aretha Franklin, Scissor Sisters and The White Stripes through Jamiroqui, The Arctic Monkeys and Beck, to Sheryl Crowe and INXS. Eclectic, I agree.

What I've Surfed

Honestly? Not that much, actually. Obviously all the blogs on my favourites list, and then some. And frankly, once I've got through that lot, there's not a lot of time for other stuff. I have, though, looked at:

  • BBC News website (I'm not obsessed by the news. I just often don't get to watch or hear it during the day so when I'm online I check every now again to make sure I haven't missed anything important. OK, yes, I'm a panicker...)
  • Snow report websites. Not that I'm getting excited about going skiing in a few weeks. Ooooh no, not me. No sir.
  • A couple of restaurant review sites. Because - just occasionally - Husband and I do get a life and go out, and whilst he's normally been anywhere swanky on his expense account, I haven't and it's nice to know what you're (supposed) to be getting.

And that's it. Revealed, in all my spendour, the shallow being I really am. Nice knowing you...

(BTW: I know I'm remiss, have a couple of awards to hand out, and now two tags to hand on, but I think I've trespassed on your goodwill for long enough this time. Maybe next post...)

Wednesday 23 January 2008


So, I am going to vent. Again. I know, I know, I should learn to get it out of my system at the gym or something. But dammit, this is about the gym! There's nothing worse than going somewhere hoping to work out all your frustrations on the treadmill and then coming away feeling even crosser than when you went in...

Why am I at boiling point? Well...

First off, I discovered when I went to put my stuff in the locker that they do not have a tampax machine in that changing room. I mean, really. It's a woman's changing room. Full of women. Most of whom are at the age when that sort of thing might come in handy at some time - say, about once a month when dates get mixed up and you are unprepared.

Oh, they have vending machines, yes. For mints. For hairspray. For conditioner and deoderant. In fact, for most of the stuff that Tresemme sell in the shops. Very handy, I suppose. But surely - you are much more likely to suddenly find yourself in need of a tampax than shampoo (which, by the way, is also on tap in the shower cubicles). Or is that just me?

So, after searching the other two women's changing rooms (what can I say - it's a big gym), I finally located a machine hidden in the back of the one furthest away. Which was out of stock of all but mini tampax. Without getting too graphic, WHAT THE FXXK? (I am no longer 18. I have had 2 children. Know what I mean?).

After complaining to a completely non-understanding 18 year old Polish girl the size of a twig on reception, I made the most of what was available and stomped into the gym. Only to be confronted with a succession of nubile lovelies writhing about on the tv screens in front of the bank of cross-trainers, stair masters and treadmills. To be fair, there were also other programmes on view. Jeremy Kyle shouting at teenagers for getting pregnant and then treating the whole situation as if it was a playground spat. Fatuous morning tv shows discussing soap operas. Children's tv. Sky Sports.

Shoot me now.

Of course, the gym can't be held responsible for the rubbish quality of what's on tv. They can't be held responsible with MTV's fascination with Shakira and Beyonce writhing around on the floor and pouting provocatively at the camera. But here's the thing. Out of around 10 people using this bank of machines, NOT ONE was a man - surely the target audience for this soft porn. You'ld think at this time in the morning - straight after the school run - they would put on some equivalent for their Mummy users. I don't know - maybe some gratuitous shots of the England rugby team? Perhaps some marines in training? A few shots of some Himbo's in Baywatch?

So, having crossly used up a few hundred calories, I left. The visit wasn't a complete loss. On my way out I heard two women discussing how they could just never get organised. One was complaining how she had managed to forget her socks again.

"That's nothing" said her friend. "Yesterday I forgot my underwear. Now that isn't pretty."


Tuesday 22 January 2008


So. Boy#1 has succumbed to some nasty virus which resulted in a sick day for him today. Last night was a 'difficult time' for all involved (i.e. all of us except Boy #2 who calmly slept through the whole affair), in much the same way that it could be said Mr Brown has had a 'difficult time' since he finally got the job he wanted last June. That is, surrounded by unpleasant brown smelly stuff with no paddle in sight...

Following our tumultuous night, I decided that it was best to let Boy #1 sleep rather than go into nursery this morning. Besides, I think I mentioned the heavy-handed mobsters waiting outside the Boy's school with their 'search and destroy' approach to all who enter for infectious diseases or nasty colds, and I didn't fancy a repeat of the Oh la la! incident. So Boy #2 went trotting off sans brother with his father, proudly carrying his little green school bag and turning to wave and blow kisses before he got into the car (cue collective aaaah....).

The moment the door shut behind them, Boy #1 opened his eyes. I should have realised then that something was up.

Me: 'How do you feel, darling?'

Boy #1: 'My tummy huuuuurrrrts.'

Me: 'Do you need a poo again?' (Please, no)

Boy #1: 'Noooooo.' (Breaking down into little whimpers)

Me: 'Oh dear... Shall we read a story?'

Boy #1: 'Nooooooooo...'(more snuffles)

Me: 'Perhaps you might feel better if you had some water.'

Boy #1: 'Yes. And then, I know what might make my tummy feel alright.'

Me: 'What would that be, sweetie?'

Boy #1: 'Chocolate. And television.'

I don't know where he gets it from.

Note - I should say here that he really was ill last night. Just not, it seems, this morning. Or since...

Saturday 19 January 2008

Fully Formed at 7

So following on from the ketchup debacle, the boys and I spent a slightly tetchy weekend alone-ish.

Not entirely alone, obviously; we went to Holland Park on Saturday morning and got sand into places you wouldn't expect, until even I was forced to agree that that it had 'stopped raining slowly' and was now bucketing down. Then in the evening I took them over to friends for dinner so that they could trash their children's toys and then refuse to eat part of the dinner which had kindly been prepared for them. Not completely refuse, of course: Boy #1 ate everything except the broccoli, and Boy #2 ate everything except the chicken. You'ld think I would have learned by now to cook only one meal for them so that they could share it out between them like Jack Sprat and his wife.

My beloved then arrived back from his trip to the white stuff yesterday lunchtime. This was 5 hours earlier than scheduled - hurrah!

Determined to have some time off, I refused to cook dinner in the evening citing extreme cabin fever, and the fact that if I didn't get out of the house I was likely to implode - or at the very least, make him unpack his ski stuff before he planned to. Things didn't work out completely as planned, however, when the planned walk to a local Italian restaurant was rained off and I decided that dragging Husband and the Boys away from their train set was tantamount to cruelty. They looked so idyllic, playing together on the floor, that I just couldn't face suiting them up and getting soaked on the way to the car, only to sit in a noisy restaurant for an hour trying to get Boy #2 to stay put and Boy #1 to eat without whining.

So I went out to get pizza. By the time I got back it was only Husband playing with the train set whilst both Boys were glued to the tv. Hmmm....

The pizza delicious and both children shovelled it down as if they had not been fed in weeks, until Boy #1 said "I love pizza, mamma. Thankyou for making it." Deciding I couldn't really take credit for Strada's work, I owned up and said "Well, I didn't actually make it darling. I went and got this from a restaurant." Silence. "That's not very nice!" Shocked, I asked, "Why on earth not?"

"You can't just go into a restaurant and take people's food off their plates!"

Clearly he thinks I am the type of person who would make a hit and run attack on a pizza parlour. And I don't even own a striped shirt, black hat and mask... well, not since I left university, anyway.

On a more prosaic note, I read recently that the latest thinking amongst the child psychology community is that by the age of 7, most children's characters are fully formed (in their basic state). For example, a child of 7 will be passionate about 2 or 3 things, and these same things are the ones that - all being well, and barring any problems in development - they will remain passionate about for the rest of their lives.

This got me thinking of course about my boys, but also trying to think back how I was at 7 years old. What got my motor running at such a tender age? I should of course ask my mum, but she is out gallivanting as usual (when did my parents get a better social life than me? Aah yes - with the arrival of my children, of course), so I forced myself to think back on what was important to me at that age. This is a struggle because I can't remember what I had for dinner the day before yesterday, let alone what I did 30+ (ahem) years ago. It almost made my brain hurt - I could practically see the steam coming out of my own ears.

Still, after a good 5 minutes of intense brain activity, I came up with the following:

  • Reading
  • Learning - and regurgitating - useless facts
  • Telling other people what to do
Is it any wonder I ended up working in marketing?

What were your passions at 7? And are they still manifesting themselves in your life?

Thursday 17 January 2008

Apocalypse now...

Panic at Restaurant Chez Potty ce soir. Well, to be honest, mayhem set in somewhat earlier than that. After a stupidly busy day ('stupidly busy' in so far as I'm not sure what I actually achieved, but I didn't stop moving from getting out of bed to - well, around now), at nursery pick-up time I also collected a friend of Boy #1's to bring him home for a play-date. (Cue deep-felt shudder from any Mums reading this post).

After marching away from the nursery - Boy #1 and Friend had clearly been reading military history in their Quiet Time, given the rate at which they were issuing orders to each other, Boy #2, and me - we stopped to cross the busy road.

Me: OK, stop, everyone. Wait here until I say go.

Friend: I am the Captain, I am in charge. I say when to go.

Boy #1: No, I am in charge. It's my turn.

Me (picking up Boy #2 and firmly wedging his considerable weight under one arm whilst doing a balancing act with their school-bags, a couple of cards - please, no more party invites! - and a flimsy plastic freezer bag containing Boy #2's baked offering of the day, chocolate rice crispy cakes, yum): No, you're both wrong. I am the general, and I am in charge.

Friend: No, no, I am the general.

Note: we had missed at least one opportunity to cross during this exchange, so I decided to take control.

Me: I am the Brigadier General (having no real idea who outranked who here, but banking on the fact I was dealing with a four year old, for chrissake), because I am the Mummy and we are going to cross the road when I say. Now let's go!

Eventually we got home after more arguing from the back seat of the car about army ranks and whose Daddy goes to the bigger school, and then things started to get interesting.

Demands were made by the Friend for bread with jam on (thankyou MIL, for providing home-made bramble jelly that sits waiting forlornly at the back of the fridge for a hungry visiting child to demand a snack that doesn't involve ham, cheese or chocolate), by Boy #1 for me to time how long each of them wore the knight's outfit to avoid outright hostilities, and by Boy #2 for me to carry him round on my hip in the kitchen whilst he wrapped his legs around me like a monkey and tried to reach the contents of the knife block, the recently boiled kettle, and the controls for the oven.

When Husband arrived for brief visit on his way to the airport (don't ask me where he was off to because I'm too envious to talk about it, but it involves ski-boots, dammit), he stood there blinking whilst the maelstrom whirled around him. The air of chaos was not helped by the fact that for some insane reason I had chosen this afternoon to make some curried parsnip soup (to cap it all the new veg box arrived this afternoon, and I couldn't face throwing yet more food away without making some attempt at being a home-maker), so it smelt somewhat more fragrant than I would have liked.

Husband left again (only to return somewhat later when his flight was cancelled due to recent events at Heathrow), and in the meantime the Friend was picked up by his mum and left, restoring relative calm to the flat.

But then disaster struck.

The menu this evening? Sausages (done to rather more than a turn, must fix that timer), potatoes (what's this stuff, mummy? The skin, darling. Needless to say, not eaten), carrots, and (in an effort to kid myself my children have a varied diet), purple sprouting broccoli. With the exception of the broccoli, fairly bulk-standard pre-schooler food, one would think. But wait. Something is missing - apparantly. Some vital food group. Something necessary to complete any meal with sausages. I was sent post-haste to the kitchen to rectify the oversight.

Imagine the horror then, when I opened the fridge door to find out...

...we had run out of ketchup.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Sainsbury's, the Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London. 3.00pm yesterday.

Walking through the fruit and veg section, taking care to be environmentally conscious and pick items which have travelled as little - or as economically - as possible. My two beautiful boys accompanying me, Boy #2 in the trolley, Boy #1 making himself useful by darting backwards and forwards to pick up various items, proudly counting lemons out, bagging apples, and shunning bananas (which went in anyway).

We move towards the fish counter. I smile graciously at a fellow mummy I recognise from nursery school, looking at her 2 year old chewing on a dummy (pacifier if you are US-based) thinking to myself; "SO glad the boys both stopped with those voluntarily at only 6 weeks old..."

Boy #1 turns in my direction. Runs towards me, waving his right hand importantly as he shouts at the top of his voice;


Swallow me up, ground.

But enough of my retail humilations. The Lovely Mya has given me an award which you'll find on the right at the bottom. Thankyou Mya, I should probably have a long list of additional people to thank in an Oscar styley for getting me here, but since the latest format for award ceremonies is featuring none of that rubbish I consider myself exempt...

She has also tagged me to reveal 7 Random Facts. Lots of soul-searching here; what can I tell you that is going to be the remotest bit interesting?

Long pause.

Sod it - this lot will have to do.

1. Aged 8, my parents gave me a pair of folding scissors in my Christmas stocking. Not smart of them really. They realised this when I cut a hole in the curtains. In my defence, it's important to test these things out on materials other than paper, and the spot I chose couldn't be seen when the curtains when they were open. When they were shut, however, the sun shone through like a spotlight on a stage.

2. After a particularly nasty break-up I got so drunk with two girlfriends that I was still inebriated when I reached the office the next morning. I had to spend 2 hours sleeping under the boardroom table before I was sent home... (not my finest hour)

3. I met Husband on a blind date. You saw it here first; they can work.

4. Aged 17 - this one is really going to date me - I was so appalled by the news footage from Ethiopa that the next morning I collected £200 for Oxfam, by going round every class in school first thing in the morning and refusing to leave until they had handed over all their spare cash. The only reason I got away with it was because I had only moved to the school 3 weeks earlier, so had no reputation to trash...

5. I learnt to drink vodka working in the Student Union bar of my college because it was - we thought - the only spirit that you couldn't smell in a glass of lemonade, so could help yourself to when the bar manager's back was turned. Even if the myth about the smell were true (it's not), he probably spotted his bar staff getting increasingly drunk on glasses of clear liquid. I think he probably worked it out.

6. Husband and I once met Matthew Macfadyen and family on holiday. Very nice guy - much fatter in real life. (His wife Keeley Hawes, however, is disgustingly beautiful).

7. I have no waist.

Random enough?

Monday 14 January 2008

Volkswagen's in disguise

A couple of posts back I mentioned our car. Those of you paying attention to the comments that followed will have noticed that I owned up to driving a Skoda. Yep, say it loud and proud, I drive a Skoda. And not just any Skoda, oh no. I drive a PURPLE Skoda.

How did this happen?

Once upon a time, I had a certain style when it came to cars. Nothing flashy, you understand; I started with a VW Golf, moved on through couple of a BMW 3 series, then on to a couple of Saab 93's (not at the same time, obviously), and finally a the updated version of the Alfa Romeo Spider (or something - this was a filler car. Nice to drive but I would never have chosen it). They were bulk-standard company cars, but I liked them. I especially liked the Saab, and would buy one of those again tomorrow. Or so I thought.

But then the dreaded day came when I started working for a company that didn't provide cars. This would previously have been a deal-breaker for me, but it was based slap-bang in the middle of London and there was no earthly reason why I needed one for my job; any client visits were usually an airplane ride away rather than up the motorway. So, no car.

Husband and I thought about and decided that we didn't really need a car. We could use taxis, the tube or train, and if we needed (heaven forbid!) to venture outside the center of the known universe (aka London), we could hire one. This plan worked, give or take the odd taxi disaster, for just over a year. But it only worked because we didn't have children.

Come September 2003, I was working up to the arrival of Boy #1. Going through my checklist shortly before I went on maternity leave (nappies? Check. Sterilising unit? Check. Pantechnicon buggy? Check.) , I suddenly realised that we had the requisite car seat to take our bundle of joy home from in hospital - but no car to put the car seat in. Knowing from friends that every time you set foot outside your home with a small baby or child you need to take virtually all your belongings with you, I began to think this was something of a problem. Days of trekking round one dealership to the next stretched out in front of me; never an idyllic prospect at any time, but at at 9 months pregnant, even less attractive than normal.

I needn't have bothered.

Husband was way ahead of me. He had, he said, found the perfect location for us to find our car. It was a 'car supermarket' on edge of central London, where there were 3000 cars for us to choose from. He had even, he said, looked on their website, and found a couple of hot prospects to us to zoom in on when we visited at the weekend. Would this be my first weekend on maternity leave, I asked? The same one that I had big plans for, spending it relaxing and perhaps doing a final spot of on-line shopping to fill the gaping holes in my hospital bag?

Don't worry, he said masterfully. It's just a short tube ride, and we'll be done in no time.

It's testament to how hormoned up I was that I didn't challenge this - or ask which particular cars he had selected for us to look at - but I didn't.

So, at the tail-end of the hottest summer in the UK since records began, Husband and I set out on our epic trek to the car supermarket. It turned out not to be a short tube ride. It took around 1 1/2 hours, with multiple changes. Plus a 15 minute walk at the end. No joke when your unborn baby is using your pelvis as a trampoline, you're carrying around 2 stone (OK, closer to 3) in extra weight, and it's around 32 degrees celsius. (For those of you not aware of this, our venerable tube system in London is about 100 years old. So, air-conditioning? Pah!). It was a rather hot, sweaty (sorry, 'glowing') and rotund butterball that struggled the last few yards to the car supermarket. My energy was gone, and my resistance was low.

This was the moment that I asked husband exactly which cars we were going to look at. To be fair, I had given the matter some thought, but only so far as; 'It's probably a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra or something. Really, how bad can it be?'


Husband announced we were going to look at a Purple Skoda. Frankly, I was so relieved that I was going to have the chance to sit down in something that I didn't put up much of a fight, so we bought it.

I gave birth 3 weeks early, 2 days later. I still think it was delayed shock. And if I hear my beloved say 'Of course, it's really just a VW with a different badge' one more time...

Friday 11 January 2008

What are we doing today, Mummy?

Yesterday's posting was a bit sad at the ending of an era. But don't worry - I've spent a rainy day (well, morning, actually) at home with both boys and I am SO over that.

SO SO over that.

If you have children you will be very familiar with the phrase I've used as the title of today's posting. It's just a few words, but - unless you are much better prepared for a rainy Friday than I am - I imagine it drives mothers crazy the world over.

'What are we doing today, Mummy?'

Do you ever dream of answering that question honestly?

"Well, darling, today we are going to clear up the breakfast things, start the dishwasher and the washing machine, reorganise the laundry on the drying rack to minimise drying time, rush around opening all the blinds and curtains, and do the first of many rounds of tidying up. This is in no particular order, and one task may interrupt another at any time for no good reason (other than the fact that I am incapable of staying focused on only one job for more than a couple of minutes), thus resulting in most of them taking them twice as long as they need to.

Then, I am going to ask you put on your shoes - 4 times, probably, before you take any notice - bundle you and your brother into your coats and hats, realise it's raining cats and dogs and that I've left the umbrellas in the car down the street, and manhandle the buggy up the steps. I will then run back down the steps to double check I've locked the front door (which I know I have but hey, let's just make sure), before embarking on a splashy walk to the shops.

About half way there you will start to complain that your legs hurt, and I will endeavour to distract you by pointing out the biggest puddles I can find for you to jump in (thus ensuring a change of clothes and yet more washing is required when we get home). This technique will restore relative calm until we are nearly at our destination, when your brother will start to shout for food because he wouldn't touch his breakfast and is now - an hour later - starving.

As we leave the bakers -with you and your brother stuffing your faces with bread roll and doing a pretty good impression of children who are never fed at home - you will announce at the top of your voice that you need a poo. This will cause all the tourists eating their breakfasts (who had been enjoying the picturesque view of you and your brother looking winsome, nudging each other and smiling in an avuncular style) to turn away and hurridly finish their coffee. We will then need to go into the shop with the nearest guaranteed to-be-not-too-disgusting loo to avert disaster. As usual, this means Starbucks, so my resolution not to buy myself a hot chocolate will go out of the window, and you and your will brother demand a chocolate coin. All 3 of us will then be totally sugared up before 10.00am..."


What I actually said was something like "Oh, well, let's see. This morning you're coming to the dentist to watch mummy get her teeth checked so you can see what happens there, and later this afternoon we'll see Fred and Jamie in the garden - if it ever stops raining."

You've got to hold some of the good stuff back, right? No point getting them totally over-excited...

Thursday 10 January 2008

Oh brave new world...

So, it's here at last. The day I've alternately dreaded and looked forward to for what seems like months.

Boy #2 started nursery this morning.

I am sitting here alone.

No small person sleeping silently in the room next door, bumbling around the flat with his brother's scooter, walking into the table, standing next to me in the kitchen stealing fruit as my back is turned or sitting on my feet when he wants to tell me it really is time for lunch now, mama.

No toddler sneaking into the office every time my back is turned and switching on the printer, pulling all the magazines off the sitting room table and spreading them around the floor in a crazy collage, and helping me with the laundry by putting the clean clothes into the dirty linen basket.

No dark-haired bombshell smiling cheekily as he hangs onto my legs demanding 'book! book!' until I give in and stop what I'm doing to indulge him (yet again). No little tyrant staring out other children at the supermarket and melting the cashier's hearts with his grin when they pay attention to him.

I have a long list of things to do with these extra three mornings a week, starting with actually making use of the gym membership we've been paying for and ignoring, moving on through decluttering the boy's toys, getting rid of anything in my wardrobe I haven't worn since Boy #2's arrival, and - mainly - doing all those jobs that we've been putting off since we moved in here nearly 2 years ago.

Not sure I can stand the excitement, actually...

(I will be back shortly - in less gloomy frame of mind, one would hope!)

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Cursing, French-style

Yesterday I found out what it might be like to be a social pariah.

Boy #1 finishes nursery at 2.15pm. This is not at all convenient when you factor in naps for Boy #2, lunchtime, generally getting things done and - one misty day in the future - lunch dates, but that's how it is. Anyway, at around 2.05 pm the yard in front of the nursery building starts to fill up with parents and carers, either picking up from the morning, or dropping off for the afternoon session.

The parents are almost always mums, with the occasional domesticated father on his push-bike for variety. (He is invariably looking around for approbation on how emancipated he is to be picking up his child.) The carers consist of nannies and the odd grandparent. It's a pretty good cross section of the Chelsea population and usually, with the exception of the nannies, I am the token English person there.

Sometimes I drive (eco-crime, I know, but have you tried coaxing a tired 4 year old home in the rain on a 25 minute walk?), but just as often I load Boy #2 into his pantechnicon buggy ('let's go off road in Kensington and Chelsea!'), and walk, taking a foldable scooter along for Boy #1 to coast home on. Apart from the obvious advantage of factoring a 50 minute walk into my daily routine (namely, I can discount the Starbucks I buy on the way back as negated by the exercise), it also means I don't have to fight for a parking space. There are around 8 - for normal sized cars. And approximately 40 kids to be picked up - usually in mafia-black 4x4's of one variety or another. You do the math... It's a jungle.

Once we get there, I normally take Boy #2 into the nursery with me so he can get excited about this whole school thing. He was due to start there 3 mornings a week last Thursday, but obviously chicken-pox put paid to that until he is no longer contagious. This should be any day now, but is not yet the case. Inconveniently, the pox has also put paid to my routine of taking him into the classroom to fetch his brother, so for the last couple of days he has had to stay strapped into his buggy in the yard out front whilst I run in and out at top-speed to minimise both his frustration at being left trussed up, and the possibility he might - Houdini-like - finally work his way out of the straps.

So, yesterday, that is what I did. But - horror - when I came out with Boy #1 (as usual, he was moaning and complaining about having to scoot home rather than travel in the questionable comfort of the potty-mobile), in amongst the melee, a little girl was playing with Boy #2. She was waiting to go in for the afternoon session, and was NOT keeping her distance. Her mother - French and tres chic - was standing by her side, looking proudly on and ignoring the crop of spots on my son's gorgeous face.

"He's got chicken pox, I'm afraid" I announced as I cantered down the nursery steps and removed Boy #2 from her child's reach. "That's why he's still strapped into his buggy, and not inside with me."

The yard fell silent. I swear I heard a bell toll, and in my peripheral vision, saw tumbleweed blow by. The massed ranks of Euro-parents waiting to take their children in for the afternoon session glared. (The nannies were unperturbed - chicken pox, so what?)

And Chic French Maman said, as she gathered her child in her arms and looked at me like I was a mass-murderer, "Oh la la!"

In 7 years of living in this area and being surrounded by French people, I have never actually heard that before. I thought it was just a charicature. I thought nobody really said it. But there it was.

I am now waiting for an opportunity to use it myself. Any suggestions?

Sunday 6 January 2008

I don't pretend to know about cars, but...

It's the day after Boxing Day.

We are visiting my parents in Somerset for the second of our two family Christmases, and Husband has persuaded me that it's a good idea for the two of us to drive down to Honiton and take a look at some antique shops. He has sneakily persuaded my parents to babysit before mentioning this to me, knowing that my dislike of shopping (unless, of course, it involves jewellery or designer labels) extends to dragging up and down Honiton High Street peering through grimy windows assessing whether the levels of twee inside them are outweighed by the potential for buying yet more furniture to take home with us. (Yes, we have been down this road - literally - before). Husband is smart. If he hadn't covered off his bases by sorting childcare first I would have had a cast-iron excuse not to go, but as it is, there is no escape.

Before we leave, he gives our extremely non-cool, non-South Kensington car a wash and a thorough clean. This clean includes washing down the sills on the inside of the bonnet. Out in the garden with the Boys, kicking the ball around and pretending that I am god's gift to soccer (I'm not - but you probably guessed that already), I look up to see him apparantly pouring a bucket of water inside the engine of the car.

Are you supposed to be doing that?

Yes, it's fine. I know what I'm doing. (subtext: I - Man. You - Woman. Do not question me on matters of Car)

But what if you get the sparkplugs wet? Or - something...

Don't be silly. Car engines get wet all the time. (Subtext: You do say the silliest things)

But isn't that why they have bonnets? To stop that happening?

My comment is disregarded as too stupid to countenance, and we leave. 40 minutes into our journey, it starts to absolutely tip down. Just after this, the car starts to shake and shudder. Just a bit. After 5 minutes of resolutely ignoring it and hoping it will go away, we start to acknowledge the problem. He checks I have paid our AA membership. I suggest that maybe we should turn round. This is not an option, apparantly, due to the fact we are only 10 miles from Honiton so we might as well go and take a look - it will just be a few minutes.

Half an hour later, we arrive. Apparantly the A-whatever is not dual carriageway all the way. Who would have thought it?

The car has continued to lurch periodically. We get our priorities straight, and have lunch (at The Boston Tea Party, if you're ever in Honiton. I can recommend their tuna melts...) before looking in a few antique shops.

Husband enters each with a spring in his step and a positive attitude, open to possibilities for chinese side-boards and yet more mahogony occassional tables. I am determined not to allow yet more clutter into our home if I can help it. We clearly have very different viewpoints, so we settle our differences by purchasing a couple of foot-high wooden birds which we can put on top of the chests of drawers in our bedroom. Once we move all the crap off the top of them, that is. Husband is happy to have made a purchase (role reversal 'r' us), and frankly I'm just relieved to have got away without taking home anything that requires floor-space.

The car judders back to my parents, and we discuss stopping at a local garage to get it checked out, but decide that on balance we would much rather wait until it gives out on the journey home to London with the Boys in the back. We are adrenaline junkies of the first order.

1 week on, back in London, space still hasn't been cleared on the drawers for the birds, and I have yet to take the car into our local garage to get it checked out. This is because there have been no more problems. Yesterday, following various hospital trips and an hour drive up to North London to visit yet more family, we decide that actually it seems OK.

Perhaps it was that the spark plugs got wet.

How could that have happened, I wonder?

I say nothing else. I don't have to...

Saturday 5 January 2008

Chicken pox is harmless...

We've been having some fun and games here over the last day or so.

(I should say now that there are number of medical terms to follow; I'm not a medical person, although I've spent more time in hospital over the last couple of years than I ever thought I would, but in advance, apologies for any misspellings.)

As a child, and still occassionally today, I suffered from eczema. Not to a debilitating extent - although aged 15 when it was particularly bad around my mouth and in my hair, I would probably have argued that point, as it didn't do much for my self image - but enough that it has given me a pretty good understanding of the condition. So, when Boy #1 developed it shortly after birth, whilst it was upsetting, I could handle it.

We went from doctor, to specialist, to alternative practitioner, back to specialist again, in various attempts to get rid of it. But of course, eventually I had to accept what I had known for myself for some time, but had not wanted to for my Boy; sometimes you just have to manage these conditions and get on with it.

So when Boy #2 was born, I pretty much thought I was ready for anything in that department. That'll teach me.

Within 1 week of his birth, he was back in hospital with both jaundice (nasty enough on it's own), and stapphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. SSSS, for short. This is when a bug that lives naturally on the surface of most people's skin finds a way in (which it will if you have a dry skin condition), and starts to (apologies, but this is as gross as it sounds) eat your skin. It looks like a carpet burn - and spreads a whole lot quicker. Imagine seeing your 8 day old baby lying naked under lights (for the jaundice), covered in grease (for the dryness), with what look like burns on his stomach and legs, and with tubes coming out of him in various places (for the liquids and the antibiotics).

It wasn't the best time for us. Breast-feeding never really took off as a result; it's a bit tricky to breastfeed when they won't let you pick your child up for 12 hours because his bilirubin levels are off the scale, and the doctors think that even 20 minutes away from the lights could present a problem. And expressing only 8 days after birth when your stress levels are somewhat high can be challenging - if not impossible. (Consequently I don't have that much time for the breast-feeding police). On the plus side, I certainly lost a lot of that baby weight fast...

Of course, it was sorted out, and a week later we were all back home thanking our lucky stars. However, that wasn't the end of it. For the next 4 months we were back and forth to hospital (insisting on outpatients only, though; whilst I was grateful for the care he was given, if I saw one more person approach his bed without using the hand gel first I was going to scream), as that infection kept coming back for repeat visits.

The grand finale came when he was just over 4 months old and I went for what I thought was a routine appointment to check the results of the most recent test they'd done to check which of the two bugs it was (Staff or Strep) so that we could stop taking the antibiotic that didn't apply. When you're dealing with a condition as aggressive as SSSS they prescribe two types of medicine to cover both possibilities, until the tests tell them which it is. Belt and braces; a good idea, but it does mean every time he got sick he got a double hit of medicine. It's bad enough making a baby scream once when you force foul-tasting stuff down his throat, but having to do it twice? Four times a day?

Anyway, I'd gone in to out-patients to get the results and discount one of the two medicines. The charming young doctor (there have be to up-sides to every situation, don't you find?), went off to check them. He returned, pale, and steered Boy #2 and I into a side room. Alarm bells start ringing in my mind. He goes to get his boss. Shit. The boss returns, accompanied by his nervous but still quite dishy sidekick...

'Mrs Potty?'


'Now, don't freak out.' (I'm starting to freak out - quietly. I don't want to scare the baby).


'Boy #2 has MRSA.'

I don't think I will forget that moment as long as I live. However, in the manner of all real-life situations, it was a lot less dramatic in person than it looks on paper. You just handle it, right? Much as I might have wanted to run around the room shouting, screaming, tearing my hair out and generally cursing, I decided that it wasn't the best plan if I wanted these people on-side...

And as it happens, this was the best outcome for us. How could MRSA be the best outcome? Well, it finally - FINALLY - after 4 months of being pushed around, meant we got to see the right people. And the MRSA was sorted, the eczema was dealt with - to an extent - and Boy #2 got much better very quickly. The pediatric dermatologist who cares for him now is outstanding, I have to say that. It's just a shame nobody called her up to the first floor 4 months previously when Boy #2 was first in hospital. (I know - I should just count my blessings. But I hold grudges like that when my kids are involved).

So, I've vented. Back to the point of this post. Boy #2 now has chicken pox, a pretty bad case of it. The poor thing is spot-tastic, and clearly very, very itchy. Which means he scratches his spots (try explaining to a two year old about scarring). And last night, in the bath, guess what I saw? You guessed it. Our old friend SSSS is back.

Thank god, this time Husband and I know how to play the system. After a lot of fast-talking, and explaining repeatedly to on-call doctors and telephone receptionists that;

  • yes, we know what the normal procedure is but
  • no, we're not going to follow it because
  • actually, we know more about this condition than you should ever need to
  • and no, we are not going to go to A&E and sit there waiting for a house doctor to see us, and then be fobbed off that there is no dermotologist on-call over the weekend
  • whilst all the time this burn spreads further and further over my son's chest
  • so please can you just phone the on-call dermatologist
  • who, by the way, we know exists, because our Consultant's secretary (based at the same hospital) told us so when I got hold of her last thing Friday night, so stop stalling and just f**king call them!
...we got to see the right person. This morning.

Thank god. We're not out of the woods yet, but the feeling of panic has subsided somewhat.

Lucky we know how to play the system, huh?

Friday 4 January 2008

Elegance Personified...

Even in the midst of a non-stop round of Calpol, Nurofen for children, calamine lotion and Piriton, there are moments of fun, and since I can't find the time or even muster the brain-power (after a night spent with a spotty, itchy, cross and exhausted Boy #2 in our bed) to write a proper post, I thought this might do.

And yes for those of you who asked for it, this is The Hat. Modelled beautifully, along with a pair of my boots (one can't survive without Timberlands in South Kensington), by Boy #1.
The more I look at it, the more that Hat is going back to the mothership.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Happy New Year!

How is your 2008 going so far? Two days in, ours has got off to a slightly bumpy start...

Boy #2 (an infrequent visitor to this blog, though I think you may see more of him in the near future if Christmas behaviour is anything to judge by) has got Chicken Pox. It appeared yesterday, and after we ascertained with the glass test that it was not meningitis (we are nothing if not panicky parents), it rapidly became clear that the dreaded pox was upon us.

Now, it's actually rather hypocritical that I call it 'dreaded', as in this instance I put him in harm's way myself, rushing over to a friend's house before Christmas to take advantage of her daughter's illness, but now that he has it, I'm feeling rather guilty. Boy #1 had it at only a year old, and sailed through it relatively untouched and with only a few spots, but as is usually the case, his brother is doing it bigger and better. I remember when my sister caught it, aged 11. The poor thing looked like nothing so much as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or some particularly nasty Dr Who character from the 1970's - I'm so hoping that Boy #2 is not similarly affected.

So, it's Piriton and calamine lotion all the way for us for the next few days. And just when he was about to start nursery - tomorrow - as well...Bye bye to-do list.

Which neatly leads me onto the fact that Husband and Boy #1 were waiting outside the nursery this morning at 8.15am. Which of course, since term starts tomorrow, was dark and empty as a gym between Christmas and New Year. Ooops!

And ah yes, the gym. I had an update session booked for today. The first day that the Boys were both back at nursery. Or not... Needless to say, I didn't think that my pox-ridden boy would be welcome in the creche, so that didn't happen either.

Plus, PLUS, I did a really silly thing when it came to Husband's christmas present from the Boys. Can you believe it? I bought him (or, to be completely honest, us) Season 6 of '24'. So of course now all our evenings are shot for the next week. Some people may be able to watch one episode an evening, but it seems we are incapable of any self-denial; last night not only did Husband and I work our way through the 2nd 4 hour session of Jack's exploits (I KNEW it was his Dad - apologies to those of you who didn't), but we polished off the remains of the Boy's christmas chocolate. This is of course why I so badly needed that update session at the gym today. Surely it's possible to work off all those calories in just one 10 minute jog, whilst desperately holding in your tummy so you don't scare off the instructor too much with a wobbling stomach still bearing that little post-c-section overhang? It's not? Blast.

And our phone packed up over the New Year. After my immediate guilty thought that it must be due to an unpaid bill (those student days are with me still), it turned out the handset was faulty and needed replacing. In a fit of organisation, after visiting the doctor to check that it really was chicken pox (it really was), the Boys and I whizzed in to the mothership when it opened at 9.30am (aka Peter Jones - if it doesn't stock it then I don't need it).

After a somewhat tense mobile conversation with Husband about brands and it being on my head if the purchase didn't meet his exacting design requirements (i.e 'if it looks ugly it's your fault'), we bought the ugliest phone I could find and went upstairs to the 6th floor cafe. Here, Boy #1 entertained the troops with his favourite song ('do the right thing, do the right thing, do the right thing') sung repeatedly at the top of his voice, and Boy #2 decorated the window with pieces of flapjack. We then topped off our successful trip with visit to the hat department. It's supposed to snow later today (readers in the US, this is an EVENT in London) and I realised that I had nothing to protect my head from the elements. So I took my trusted advisors with me (children can be so astute in matters of fashion), and Boy #1 and I tried on hats for a hilarious 15 minutes. Hilarious, because I have the biggest head in the world, so buying hats is always a treat - which is why I didn't have one already. Then I realised that the cheap looking faux fur dustbin look-a-like my older son was prancing around in actually cost £100. We swiftly put it back, I bought a somewhat cheaper version, and we left the store quietly and quickly.

So here I am. And it still hasn't snowed.