Monday 31 March 2008

You must remember this...

We've been in Holland for the weekend, catching up with family and friends. Now, there are a number of things I fully expect to happen when we visit the Netherlands.

Firstly, I expect to eat twice my own body weight in unidentifiable fried brown stuff. In my limited experience, the Dutch do fried snack food better than anyone else - with the exception, perhaps, of the Indonesians. But that's OK because, having appropriated Indonesia as a colony back in the 17th / 18th Century (right through until after World War II), they then took the next logical step and appropriated their cuisine as well. The Dutch found Indonesian food so delicious that they were unable to choose between the various dishes, so in a typically Dutch fashion, they found a very practical solution. Why choose at all? Why not have all your favourites on the table at the same time, and call the resultant meal a 'Rijstafel' (no prizes for guessing that means 'Rice Table' in English).

But even without all the yummy spicy stuff, the Netherlands could hold their own in a 'How to use up every conceivable part of a pig / cow / sheep by wrapping it in a potato / batter / bread covering and tossing it in a deep fat fryer until it resembles something you really shouldn't touch with a barge pole but then you do and oh, god, it's good' competition.

What else do I expect? I expect to have the pants scared off me when driving on their motorways. The Netherlands is not a big country, you understand. And they don't have that big a population (around 15 million, I think). But boy, do they like their cars. (To be fair, they also have a pretty good public transport system, and in addition about a zillion bicycles that they actually use, which is why they can eat the afore-mentioned fried snacks with impunity and not put on an ounce, blast them). But - probably due to what not long ago seemed an inexhaustible supply of oil - they have a love affair with their cars. Now, we're not talking flashy 4 x 4's here - though I must say that there are more of those every time I visit - because it's not traditionally Dutch to flash your cash, but even so, they drive what they have like race cars once they hit the highway.

Perhaps it's because there's not much space, but the motorways are always busy, and often filled to the brim with traffic jams. The result? Well, it's my experience (and apologies to any Dutch readers who are blameless in this respect, Sweet Irene), that a large number of people have given up taking the jams seriously and simply treat the whole driving thing rather like an arcade game. They switch lanes without hesitation; once that indicator light is flashing, anyone in their way better get the hell out of it because hey, like it or not, they're coming through. Never mind if the gap is only 2 meters long - it's a gap, isn't it?

I knew about this - but yesterday was so freaked out whilst on the A12 to Utrecht that I had a fit of most unseemly feminine vapours, and had to pull off the motorway to let my big Dutch husband finish the journey. Most disappointing of me, I know.

Oh yes, and I expect Rain. With a capital 'R'. When the sun shines in Holland there's nothing to beat it (apart from England, of course), and on Saturday it did just that. The sky was blue, the sea air crisp and bracing, and the hot chocolate in the cafe on the beach topped with sweetened cream. Who could ask for more? Certainly not the Boys, who ran around with their cousins shrieking in the stiff breeze, chasing bouncy balls and sliding down sand dunes like children from a 1950's postcard. But other than that? Well, when it rains in the Netherlands, it doesn't mess about. And it rains a lot. A LOT. (This is something of which we have yet to convince our friends over there, who react to news of good weather in South East England with an incredulity which would be a little insulting if we didn't know it masked their envy...).

So, fried stuff. Traffic jams and crazy driving. Rubbish weather. I expect all that. But what I did not expect, sitting at a friend's house yesterday afternoon, was to be hit by a blast of nostalgia from my 1970's/80's childhood.

Did your mother - or you - ever get involved with Herman? Before you start picturing big beefy German types with blond hair and rippling muscles (always vastly over-rated, muscles, in my limited experience), I'm talking about - wait for it - a cake. A Friendship Cake, to be precise, which my mother used to make. And there it was, in our friend's fridge, with the instructions for use stuck on the front in what I swear is the same type-font that was used in the instructions my mum had stuck to our fridge around 30 years ago.

In case you never heard of this, Herman is basically a yeast-based cake that you create from a starter portion of gloop given to you by - you guessed it - a friend. You then added to the gloop, fed it, parcelled up a few tupperware boxes for other friends, and used the remainder to make your own cake. What a nice idea, hey?

Except of course, when I got home this evening and called my mother with the news that Herman is not dead but alive and well and living in the province of Utrecht, she said "Gosh, yes, I remember Herman. Nice idea - but I seem to remember he tasted pretty horrible."

Obviously I didn't call my friends in Holland and tell them that. Why rain on their parade?

(But if you still want to give it a try, there's a link to Delia's site with a recipe on it here. And don't say you haven't been warned if you don't like the result...)

Friday 28 March 2008


Don't you just hate it when someone starts a sentence (or, in this case, a post) with the words: "Now, don't get me wrong. I like cars / men / football / trapeze acts, but..."?

Well, don't get me wrong. I like cats. Grew up with them, actually. Though we started with dogs; a bitch, called Rosie. A sweeter Golden Retriever puppy you could seldom meet. The Andrex puppy had nothing on her big brown eyes and cuddly tummy. Granted, she bit the postman, and chased the milkman so often he took to leaving our daily pinta just inside the gate. And she refused to move out of my sister's and my room at bedtime after she had snuck upstairs when my parents' backs were turned, baring her teeth and grabbing onto the carpet with her velvety paws. But, when she arrived whilst we were aged 7 and 5 respectively, she won our hearts.

No happy ending here though. Within six months of our first family walkies, she had to be put down due to suffering from diabetes.

(You would think that this would leave a lasting scar, but I was clearly a shallow little girl as within a short space of time all I could remember was her cuddliness, rather than the fact she had died. Kids, hey?)

After that, my parents - understably - balked at forking out a relatively large sum of money with no guarantee they wouldn't have to simply repeat the whole sorry exercise (at the time, retrievers were so inbred that this was a common problem - apparantly). They decided instead, to get a cat. (I'm told that it was purely coincidence it was around this time my mother spotting a rat in the drain outside the kitchen).

Shortly after this, Cindy arrived. Cindy was tiny (8 weeks old. Which, by the way, seems the height of cruelty to me now I've had kids and regularly lecture Boy #1 on why it is so cruel to take the baby chimps away from their mummies when we're watching Monkey Business on Discovery...), She was mainly grey, with a white napkin and white socks, and in short, was the cutest kitten you could ever hope to see. But man, were her little claws sharp when you went down to the kitchen in the morning with no slippers or socks on...

No tragic story this time, you'll be glad to hear. Cindy lived to the ripe old age of 17; fat, sleek, and happy, a champion mouser who was even known, in her time, to drag a beheaded wood pigeon back to the front door to horrify my mother. (Probably her way of making sure mum knew who was boss. She was a bit like that, Cindy). My sis and I, blood-thirsty country kids that we were, simply thought it astounding that she could manage to hunt and kill something twice her size. But then we also took a mole that my father killed into school for show and tell. Aaah - happy memories...

We had moved by the time Cindy died, but my parents were still beset by rodents - or were, once the local mouse and rat community heard the big boss had passed on - so they got another cat; Chloe.

Chloe was a rather different kettle of fish. No big sleek mouser here; she was instead a rather fetching tortoise-shell. She was also nervy and a little tetchy. Aged around 3 years,she had to be given hormone replacement therapy after she was found to be marking her territory in a rather male fashion. Around the house. (I think what finally drove my parents to the vet was the discovery she had decided the toaster was also her territory. Inside the toaster, to be precise. Which of course they didn't discover until they used it... Would you care for butter and marmalade on that?)

But I digress. The drugs do work, and once treated for this hiccup Chloe rapidly became a much loved and very successful replacement for Cindy, and my family's association with cats continued until she died a couple of years ago, at the grand old age of 18 years old.

So, I should like cats. In fact, I do like cats. But we're staying at my brother-in-laws right now, and he has three. The Boys love them of course. They spend hours chasing them round the house, and I think that Boy #2 will sleep soundly despite the lighter mornings due to the number of times he's chased them up and down the stairs today, the cats always two steps ahead and looking back at him with that horrified feline expression that practically shouts: A toddler? Here? What the hell's going on?

But the Boy's eczema has flared up, all our clothes are covered with cat hair, one of the blighters is sleeping in the middle of our bed right now, and to cap it all, when I got up this morning to fetch Boy #2's milk, slipper-less, sockless (you would think I would have learned all those years ago with Cindy), and contact-lens-less, I trod right in the middle of the overspill from the litter tray.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like cats, but....

Thursday 27 March 2008

A taste of things to come...

Nearing the end of a long car journey this afternoon...

Boy #1: Look, Boy #2, a crane! Can you see that? A crane!

Boy #2: Plane!

Boy #1: No, I said a crane. A crane! Over there - a crane!

Boy #2: Train!

Boy #1: Noooooo! Mama! Tell him - it's a crane! (Reaches over to give Boy #2's car seat an admonitary tap). Iiiiiiiiits a CRANE!

Me: Boy #1! No hitting. Not even chairs. If Boy #2 wants to say plane or train, he can. You know it's a crane, that's what's important. He'll get it eventually. Won't you, Boy #2?

Boy #2 (under his breath and grinning at me cheekily): Crane. (More loudly) Plane! Train! Plain! Train!

Give me strength...

Tuesday 25 March 2008

To Russia, for Love?

I first met Husband around 13 years ago. I had recently come out of a 7 year on-again / off-again relationship with a guy I met at uni who really was no good for me (and, to be honest, nor was I for him), but who kept me on my toes and turned me into the stubborn madam I am today. (And, of course, he had a great bod. Don't they always?).

Anyway, the ending of this relationship with - let's call him Sporty Boy - really took it out of me. I wept, railed, stopped eating, and generally moaned incessantly about my lot. For about, oh, 3 whole days, actually. And then, to my shock and suprise, I started to feel better. (Which was pretty unexpected considering we had just moved in together before he unceremoniously dumped me from a great height). Frankly, the absence of worry and tension about the relationship was so liberating that rather than simply repeating my past mistake (i.e. wait until he saw the error of his ways and then take him back at the first opportunity), I started to enjoy myself - on my own.

Now, I won't bore you with the stories of my sowing of wild oats, or with how that was very much overdue at 27. Or with the tale of how, some months later, when Sporty Boy contacted me by e-mail to say he had made a big mistake and that his new squeeze didn't understand him like I did, I mailed him back to say; hope you're happy, you made your bed, now lie on it sweet-cheeks (God, that felt good). But suffice it to say that when one of my Best Friends offered to set me up on a blind date with a guy working with her then boyfriend, my first reaction was to say- no. The absolute last thing I needed at that time was to bother with such manufactured relationships - I was having a perfectly good time dodging commitment all on my own, thankyou very much.

But she persisted. And that is how, one rainy Sunday evening, I ended up on a blind date with a tall, skinny Dutch guy in a pub just off Leicester Square, drinking far too much red wine, eating much too large a chinese meal, and making my drunken way home - alone - on the train. (Then, not wanting the fun to end, I ended up falling asleep, missing my stop, and having to pay a fortune in taxi fare when I finally woke up in a deserted station at 2.00am on a Monday morning. That was a hangover to remember...)

Tall skinny Dutch guy (let's call him TSDG for the moment) was actually quite good looking, I realised the next morning when I tried to remember through the haze of shiraz and cigarette smoke (for yes, children, at that time we were allowed to smoke in public - not that I did, of course. Filthy habit...). So when he called to suggest another date, I said yes.

Oh, alright then. I called him. (You can take the girl out of the convent...)

Not quite knowing how to say no to such a forthright young lady, TSDG said yes. Hurrah! And after a whirlwind courtship, 6 years later we were married, dear reader, and TSDG became Husband.

Hang on.


What took us so long? You may well ask. 'Another' came between us. This seductress already had her claws into TSDG before I even met him; in fact, in a way, she is why we are together at all. He was in London only on his way to her; this mysterious Eastern temptress had in fact been in his thoughts and dreams for almost as long as he could remember.

Now, to be fair to my beloved, he was straight with me from the start. I knew from the time I met him that his London sojourn would not be for long. And frankly, I was OK with that. No strings, no commitment - in my post-Sporty Boy state, all I wanted was a bit of fling, actually. However, the fling got out of hand. We fell for each other. But she - she was always there, waiting in the wings to whisk him away, just when it was getting interesting.

You see, Husband was in London only to train for a paltry 4 months before heading off to her open arms for however long it took. This 'she' was, in fact, Russia.

I didn't try to compete. Didn't want to, actually. But somehow, once he had gone, we stayed in touch. He flew over to see me. I sorted out a visa and went to see him. And before we knew it, most of our disposable income was being spent on plane fares and telephone calls. Long distance relationships definitely have their down-sides, but at the time it was mostly one big adventure. Meeting at romantic cities across Europe for the weekend. Taking the night-train from Moscow to St Petersburg. The joy when he surprised me by turning up out of the blue.

And before we knew it, 4 years had passed, the economy in Russia had crashed (1998), shortly after that he decided to come to London, and we moved in together. The rest is history.

But she has always been there, hanging around, sending messages, reaching out, trying to suck him back in. And now that he is once again a free agent job-wise, she's knocking on our door again. (Note the 'our' this time. It has already been made clear that she won't get Husband without me and the Boys.)

I've visited her a few times over the years, and honestly, I don't mind her. She's 'alright', in her own way. Beautiful, I must admit. But cold. Changeable. Not to be trusted. And populated by people I'm never quite sure of. However, if this credit crunch continues to bite, it may be that our path lies in her direction, so I'd better start making friends with her. Learning her language, maybe (though not just yet).

Not that we're going, you understand. We're not. But just in case....

(And let's be honest, can you imagine the blog fodder? Outstanding...)

Tea for three

Yesterday I wrote my 100th post.

Who'd have thought it?

And in celebration, I bring you an excerpt from a conversation with my children this morning. Boy #1 had just been unpacking his toy-rucksack following our return from my parent's the previous evening.

Boy #1: Oh look Mama, a toy car. It isn't mine. Is it mine? Boy #2, is it our car?

Boy #2: Tea? (Boy #2 is currently obsessed with pouring imaginery tea for everyone he meets. It wouldn't be particularly funny, but he asks in just the tone that a vicar's wife - or, if you happen to live in the UK and have seen the 80's comedy Keeping up Appearances, Hyacinth Bucket - would use. With a rising inflection and a big smile plastered over his cheeky face).

Boy #1: Yes please, Boy #2 (he knows that he won't be left in peace until he is holding his imaginery cup of Earl Grey). Mama, look! I said, a toy car, that isn't mine!

Me: Oh yes. Maybe we brought it home by mistake. Perhaps it's one of Cousin J's.

Boy #1: No, no, we didn't bring it by mistake. We were just stupid.

Boy #2: Cake?

Ah, the wisdom of babes. (And yes please, Boy #2. I will have that cake).

Monday 24 March 2008

40 winks, anyone?

...and yes, it's STILL the Easter weekend.

I never really thought about it before, how this holiday just goes on and on. In a secular world I suppose it's something of a triumph for Christianity that the least believable part of the gospel story (and before you start foaming at the mouth at my heretic-talk, I am a 'practicing' Catholic. Some day I hope to get good at it...boom boom!) is the one that has the most impact on everyone's lives in the UK, namely by allowing us all 2 bank holidays whether we sign up to the whole resurrection thing or not.

But anyway. Enough religion. Here I am. Still on holiday. Still in Somerset. Still struggling with my parent's blasted apple Mac.

The only thing that has changed is the fact that I have put on about 10 stone over the last couple of days, what with the marathon of eating and drinking that always - but always - ensues when my family find themselves together in one place. Surprisingly - and I know you may find this hard to believe - not a chocolate egg has passed my lips. That, however, is more due to the cooked breakfasts, hot cross buns, Easter biscuits (you don't know them? Oh, you should...), pre-lunch snacks, lunch, afternoon cake, pre-dinner snacks, and 3 course dinners that I've been consuming. Quite simply, I don't have space for any eggs.

And if I'm honest, my chocolate cravings have been more than sated by the puddings my mother has concocted. Which may have included chocolate. And eggs. And, on more than one occasion, chocolate eggs. But I haven't actually unwrapped a chocolate easter egg for myself - so I think that's OK...

We're heading home later. We could stay until tomorrow but Boy 2 has started waking abnormally early.

Now, I used to be one of those smug parents who listen to other mothers and fathers bemoaning their lot when then their kids get up with the sun, thinking, why don't they just ignore them? Leave them in bed? I mean, it can't be that difficult, surely?


Now I know.

That will teach me.

It can be that difficult. Especially if Boy 1 is sharing a room with Boy 2 and is also woken up. My sons couldn't be more different, in so many ways, and one of those is the fact that whilst Boy 2 is a little ray of sunshine when rising from his bed, his older brother will often be grumpy and uncooperative. (Yep, I just can't wait 'till he's a teenager).

Their styles of waking in the morning go roughly as follows:

Boy 1 wakes when we go into his room if it's before 7.30am. If it's a good day, he smiles. If not... I'll leave you to imagine. If we leave it until 7.30am (i.e. once in a blue moon), we usually hear him shouting "I need a poo! I need a poo! Somebody? I need a POO!" at the top of his voice. (It appears that, aged 4 years old, he still hasn't worked out he can climb out of his bed unaccompanied. Shame. Like I'm going to challenge that...)

Boy 2, on the other hand, wakes by himself, usually around 6.45am. He lies there, chatting to himself for a while. This builds to a gradual crescendo at around 7.15am, by which time either Husband or I have dragged ourselves, blinking and stumbling, to the kitchen, to sort out his milk. He then greets us with a cheery smile and a big hug when we go into his room. Bless.

But now, it's getting lighter. And it seems that Husband and I are - to put it politely - screwed. We not only have Boy 2 to entertain at 6.00am when he's been awake for half an hour and has finally lost his temper because his cute cooing and singing has gone unrewarded with a mug of warm milk and cuddle time with mum and dad, but we have Boy 1 inconsolable and on the warpath.

Separate rooms - at home - is the only way.

And tomorrow I will be investigating blackout blinds for my younger cherub's room.

The fun never stops with this parenting lark, does it?

Saturday 22 March 2008


It's the Easter Weekend. How do I know this? Well, two reasons really; traffic to my blog has halved (you all obviously have much more interesting things to do than sit inside and look at the computer), and it's been snowing. I mean, of course it has. It's nearly the end of March. Oh yes, and if I see another chocolate egg I may implode. Or just eat it. No telling which.

I am at my parent's house in Somerset with the family, stealing a few moments to feed my internet addiction, whilst Boy 2 naps and Boy 1 entertains his grandmother and great-grandmother with stories of flying skunks. (No, really. It wouldn't be so bad, but he has taken to illustrating the skunks' abilities with real life smells of his own at the relevant points - for authenticity's sake, you understand. Luckily his great-grandmother hasn't noticed - or is just too polite to comment. And there's not even a dog to blame it on...)

If this post turns out to be a little short or rather odd, it's because I'm using my parent's apple Mac and am struggling with it. I like to think of myself as creative, but am clearly an accountant underneath as I find these things impossible to use (where is the hash key? What's with the moving around of the @ sign? Why can't I maximise the screen? Where is the 'end' key? Etc... Bring back my pc!)

For those of you still interested, Thursday evening's foray into my past life went pretty much as expected. Husband was late home, (knew I should have booked a babysitter) I spent the hour before I left dodging the ever-present trail of snot from Boy 2, and Boy 1 demanded to know why I was prettied-up, and if I was going to a hotel. As I always do on a Thursday night, clearly.

Then it rained between the tube and the bar, and having left my umbrella at home in the interests of appearing less mumsy (which was rather beside the point since I was still prepared for all eventualities, with handkerchiefs and wet-wipes spilling out of my handbag), I arrived looking less polished than I had hoped for...

Once there, of course the main question on my ex-colleagues lips was "What are you doing now?" I toughed it out and answered truthfully.... "Staying at home with my children".

Cue pause.

In some cases, quite a long one.

The women (both with and without children) clearly thought I was mad, whilst all the men were impressed. The gender divide is alive and well, I'm sorry to say....

What was interesting, however, was my reaction to both points of view. With the women, when they waxed lyrical about time spent with the children, being a good mum etc, I played up the down and dirty side of being a SAHM. Snot was mentioned. Pooh may have been referred to. Crushing boredom may even have been touched on. And the toilet door joke (see my profile) popped out more than once. I mean, whilst I strongly believe I've made the right choice for our family to put my career on hold, I'm very much aware that for most people it's simply not a financially viable option. Whilst I complain incessantly on this blog, underneath the bluster I believe that I'm very fortunate, frankly, that I have the chance to do this. So the last thing I wanted to do was to rub the noses of women who couldn't make that same decision in the fact that yes, my being home is working out well for us.

With the men, my 1980's feminist conditioning - and the double vodka and tonics I had been drinking since I arrived - took over... After an evening of platitudes, nodding sagely when middle-aged men misted over at the thought of mummy greeting them at the school gates, and holding my tongue mainly because if I ever want to go back to work, I will probably be reporting to them, I had had enough. When some poor young, unmarried guy reminisced about how his mum stayed home and did 'the most important job in the world', I couldn't help it. I pointed out that when he reached that stage, (never mind the 'if' he reached that stage), he and his partner may not be able to afford to survive on one salary. That the mother of his child may not want to stay home. That it is not always the best option for the happiness of the family. And mainly, why assume it should be her in the first place? Surely he would be just as capable of changing a nappy? And so on...

Luckily, he was a) quite drunk (which if I'm honest, so was I), and b) not that senior. I think I got away with my rant.

And then I left the party a little early to sway home on the tube, in order to make Tesco's before it closed to pick up the milk for the boys.

Well, somebody had to.

I am woman, hear me roar...

Thursday 20 March 2008

Have we met before?

I have an interesting evening coming up. I'm going to my ex-boss's leaving do at the company I used to work for. I'm planning on meeting up with someone I used to know quite well.

This woman doesn't have children. She loves her job. She dresses well, and her shoes are polished and never down at heel. She would never dream of meeting a friend for lunch wearing a scuffed pair of bowling shoes that haven't been cleaned in heaven knows how many months. She never turns up for work with snot on her shoulders or on her thigh at the level of Boy #2's nose.

She can stay in the office as long as she likes, with no fear of domestic crises ensuing as a result of that. She can travel at will, and frequently does.

She gets on with her office colleagues. They have a laugh. She can fit in with most people, normally using humour to win their trust and respect, but can be serious when called for. Work-wise, she knows what she's talking about and it shows.

She listens to the radio at her desk - not boring old Capital FM, but cutting edge indy stuff. She goes to gigs. She wears make-up, and gets her hair cut once every 5 weeks without fail. She even manages to fit in the odd manicure on one of her occasional Saturday shopping trips. She never falls asleep in meetings or in front of the 10 o'clock news. She can finish a conversation without being interrupted by someone falling over, dropping something, needing their bottom wiped, or their face freeing of bogeys.

She works with people with kids, and doesn't see what the big deal is. How hard can it be, right? She rolls her eyes (unseen, she thinks) when her child-encumbered colleagues have to leave dead-on 5.30pm every day. She covers for them with good grace when their children are sick and it's their turn to stay home with the high temperatures and the vomit. She watches interestedly as they become increasingly skittish when a meeting rolls on past it's allotted slot, and they sit there trying to work out how they are going to fit the rest of their days' work into an ever-decreasing number of hours.

She nods understandingly when they speak despairingly of ever reclaiming their pre-pregancy wardrobe, but secretly wonders why they are stuffing down a double sandwich from Pret followed by a chocolate brownie if they are really that bothered. She watches the post-natal women at the gym struggling with their sit-ups as she pounds along on the running machine and vows never to let it get that far.

You guessed it, of course. That used to be me. And you know what? I really don't think I was that much of a bitch - just a normal, career-focused, childless woman. 15 years post-uni of having responsibility only for yourself (excepting of course marital, family and friendship obligations) will do that to a person.

But obviously, I've changed. Or rather, my priorities have. So it's going to be interesting this evening when I go to this party, to see how my ex-colleagues react to that. Or, in fact, if they even notice any difference...

Back in my reality, brushing the Boys' teeth, this morning...

Me: I must get you a new toothbrush, Boy #2...

Boy #1: Why?

Me: Because Boy #2 chews his toothbrush so this one is looking a bit sorry for itself.

Boy #1: Can I see? (Pause, whilst he studies the evidence & considers his verdict...) Oh, yeeeessss. It looks like a sad little mouse lying dead in the road after being squashed by a car.


Thursday 13 March 2008


Thursday Morning

Whilst packing, Husband opened the fridge. "Oho! What have we here?" he asked. (Well, he didn't actually sound like a minor character from a detective story, but it makes good copy). In that spooky married way, I knew exactly what he was talking about, and answered - somewhat spikily, I will agree - "I've been on my own with the kids for five days. Want to make something of it?"

He was, of course, referring to the blasted chocolate eggs....

Thursday Evening

Fifty three sets of instructions, two stressed parents, one rebellious Boy 1, a heartbreakingly sweet Boy #2, and a number of terse exchanges over the suitcases, and we finally managed to leave. And I won't bore you with tales of rude check-in assistants, rude waitresses or rude shop assistants at Heathrow Terminal 4 because frankly, I can't believe I made it that far.

I spent the time before our flight left expecting my phone to start vibrating with dire news from the Home Front any minute, but forced myself to make hay whilst the sun shines and forget all about broken plastic steps, thermometers, and Karvol, and reached once more for my glass of of red...

Friday Evening

Skiing without the kids is fine, except for one thing. There is - how can I put it - an 'expectation' that one will do more skiing than with the kids. Not by anyone else, I hasten to add. No, just from my subconsious 'Mrs Should' who's main job in life is to stop me taking it too easy whenever I get the chance.

However, I was strong. I consigned her to the broom cupboard at the back of my mind (to mumble and mutter to herself about calories burnt in a morning on skis not actually being balanced out by the vast amount of sugar in just one hot chocolate), and after a fun morning spent swooshing around with no technique and a great deal of effort, I rewarded myself and spent this afternoon sunning myself outside a bar on the slopes. I mean, somebody had to...

Of course, ostensibly I was keeping Husband company. He realised in the morning that after lugging his ski boots all the way the over to France, he couldn't actually fit his bandaged toe inside them - and that the bandage was unlikely to come off in the double quick time he was hoping for. Blast - obviously those superman pills he was taking didn't work, then...

Saturday Evening

I. Can. Hardly. Move.

So much for those sessions down the gym getting my skiing legs into gear. Although of course the fact that my skinny (pre-babies) ski trousers still don't fit should probably have given me a clue on that one...

This morning we got a transfer to another part of the ski area, and took a scarily high chair lift up into Avoriaz.

My god. I have never seen so many Brits in one place with snow. It's a bit more egalitarian than some resorts I've been to though; not quite as Fendi Fur and Prada sunnies as Courchevel (which is more Moscow-on-the-Slopes than Chelsea these days), not quite as PARTAAY PARTAAY PARTAAY!!! as Val Thorens (if you're over 18 then they issue you with Botox when you arrive), and not quite as sloaney as Val d'Isere (which has nowadays been renamed Val de Sloane Square, I'm told).

(To illustrate my point on Val 'Isere, I once joined a ski class there with a woman called - wait for it - Plum. Her REAL name. Every time we skied around a corner she would spot someone she knew and bellow: "Poochey! (or similar). Hellaaaiiir! How simply faaaaaabulous to seeeeee you! Meet you at Dick's t-bar with Chin-less for a spot of vino later?" I'm not joking, by the way. This really happened).

By the way, if you're interested, we were actually staying in Les Gets this time round. A bit low but still ski-able even towards the end of March, and very family friendly. Not that we had ours with us, but I would recommend it if you are thinking of going with your kids. And the hotel was pretty good too; 3 star (so basic, but with all you need), a good location 3 minutes walk from one lift and 5 from another, and very friendly helpful staff. Which, if you have any experience of French ski resorts, is not ever a given... (Hotel L'Ours Blanc, Les Gets)

Sunday Evening

Home again. But not before a morning spent creaking through fresh snow on empty slopes and wishing we were staying just a couple of days longer. Husband, on the other hand, was delighted to leave, having ascertained that there was a not an English or Dutch language newspaper less than 2 days old for a 20 mile radius, and that consuming your body-weight in melted cheese and dried meats in the evening followed by a dearth of exercise the next day due to a damaged foot does not lead to an enormous sense of well-being.

Frankly, I think he handled it all admirably well. I'm sure I was a lot more bad-tempered when I spent 5 miserable days sat at the bottom of an Austrian Alp watching everyone else ski their socks off whilst I was pregnant with Boy #1. Still. Now we're quits...

The boys, of course, were delighted to see us when we picked them up. Boy #1 even took his eyes off watching a dvd of 'Madagascar' for long enough to glance in our direction.

Monday Evening

Took the Boys to a birthday party this afternoon where Boy #1 got the resident face painter to turn him into a lion before racing around the room shouting "Who's the cat? I'm the cat! Who's the cat? I'm the cat..." He then refused to answer to his name, responding only to 'Alex', the name of the lion in Madagascar. I hope he hasn't been doing that all day at school. Makes a mother proud, really...

And the chocolate is now - almost - all gone. The box and one bag of eggs were delived to Mother-in-Law to thank her for looking after our little pashas. Husband opened the fridge door and saw the few lonely eggs left in what remained of the other bag, and got quite excited. "Chocolate! I'd forgotten about that being there!" As I bit gloomily into an apple, I answered "And that is the difference between men and women..."

I mean, forgotten...?

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Shopping List


1. New child's plastic bathroom step. (Note to self: plastic bathroom steps to do not take to well to being kicked out of the way by frustrated mothers thwarted in their 10th attempt of the day to go to the loo with the door shut. If you get my drift)

2. White waitress apron (to service mini-Pashas ensconced on the sofa watching c-Beebies and demanding drinks and snacks throughout the day)

3. Nurses uniform (unsexy as possible please). Husband + damaged toe arrives this evening. Am expecting the worst.

4. Replacement sense of humour (due to existing one being worn out)

5. Training course in how to use an ear thermometer on a 2 year old without getting a set of 5 wildly fluctuating readings within the space of 2 minutes. (Poor Boy #2 is now so used to having his temperature taken that he assumes the position - presenting an ear with head pressed against my chest / stomach - the moment he sees the aural thermometer come out of it's case).

6. Anger management course in how to deal with difficult doctor's receptionists refusing to put me through to a nurse or a doctor when I know they close in 5 minutes and Boy #2 has come up with the same temperature 4 out of the 5 times in the last 2 minutes. The problem being, that the temperature was 39.5 deg C. (Actually, scratch that request. The anger worked. They put me through.)

7. A sense of calm resignation which is what I am expecting will be required when Boy #2 does not improve in time for Husband and I to leave tomorrow on our weekend away skiing together.

8. A sense of calm resignation if we do get to leave but Husband is unable to ski due to grievous injury inflicted on big toe, resulting in a petulant beloved sulking at the bottom of the slopes whilst I escape up the lifts to vin chaud and freedom...

9. Hangover cure. For dealing with the results of No. 8.

And of course...

10. Industrial quantities of Chocolate. Which goes without saying, really.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

This camel's back is gone...

In the comments box on my last post, Pig in the Kitchen - a very wise blogger - asked if Law of the Universe 327 had 'swung into action'. She wrote that this Law states:

'When your partner is away - and especially if he is in a different time zone - the chances of you having to deal with an ill child increase dramatically....'

She was half right. It's actually Law of the Universe 328 that has come into force - the one that refers to 2 children getting ill at the same time.

We had a rough night last night. Boy #2 was coughing - a lot - though did not have a temperature, and Boy #1 had a couple of nightmares. These are not nightmares that you or I might have; the sort that involve falling off buildings, or being chased by who-knows-what, though. These nightmares are, if you are a mummy finding it difficult to get to sleep in the first place, the kind that wear thin after a while. The ones that involve your rushing to your child's room with your heart in your mouth, only to be faced with said child lying there resembling nothing so much as a little Pasha, saying: "My blanket's creased, mama. Can you fold it for me?"

So anyway, by the time this morning came, we were all three a little frayed at the edges. (Well, actually, I was rather coming apart at the seams...). But, they both seemed fine, so I dropped them at nursery as usual - with an aside to Boy #2's nursery teacher that if she had any concerns she should call me immediately.

Then, rather than heading for the gym followed by a fun-packed morning of supermarket shopping, laundry, tidying and admin as had been my original plan (and how I justified my un-showered and tracksuited state to the much yummier other mummies when I dropped the Boys off), I went home to bed.

Well, if you could, you would, right?

Not before I had put the phone on my bedside table though - just in case, you understand. This wasn't ideal, of course. It meant I was disturbed a number of times; most notably by Mother-in-Law claiming I'd called her - again. She really should learn how work how her mobile properly, but of course I was polite. Couldn't have her guessing I was tucked up under the duvet instead of cleaning the tiles in the bathroom with a toothbrush now, could I?

But what I was not disturbed by was a call telling me that Boy #2 was actually not very well, with a temperature, and asking could I come and get him. Why was I not disturbed by this call? Because the less than intelligent administrator at his nursery called my mobile phone (safely tucked away in the bottom of my handbag, and in another room), and left a message there. She did not, as any sane person would, follow that up with a call to our landline. Or even chase me when there was no response. No, she just left it. And then went home half day.

So by the time I got this message 3 hours later, I was actually on my way to collect Boy #2 as normal, and the poor little sausage had been ill at nursery all this time.

Obviously, I feel incredibly guilty. I probably should have had both phones in the room with me. But, leave aside the fact that the nursery has - and use - both of my phone numbers, and both Husband's too, there comes a point, surely, when common sense on their part should take over? I mean, they know me. I've been taking Boy #1 there for 2 1/2 years now. In all that time, if they've ever asked me to collect him, I've been there like a shot. So an unqualified silence on my part in response to a message that one of my Boys needed me should ring a warning bell or two, shouldn't it?

I know, I know. The woman was probably very busy. But we are talking about a sick child. And I would like to add that I'm not one of those high-maintenance mummies who blow up at the slightest thing, like the fact that little Caspar didn't spend the requisite 40 minutes outside because it was raining, or that darling Olivia came home with stories of being given smarties in class. (Believe me, it happens, I know women who do this. But then maybe that's just South Kensington, I certainly hope so). I believe - perhaps mistakenly - that I'm actually quite laid back in my dealings with them. Once I hand over my child to the nursery's care, I leave the details to them. They are being good enough to look after my Boys after all. And yes, we pay them - a lot - but still, they do seem to know what they are doing.

Apart from today.

In any case, the long and short of it was that there was a mess up, and Boy #2 now has a temperature of 39 deg C + and a mummy frantically checking every 20 minutes to see if it's come down yet. Throw in an older brother who already had a bit of a cold and is now doing a more than passable impression of a snot factory at full tilt, and what do you get?

Chocolate, that's what.

(And after all that waiting and build-up, the eggs are not even that great, dammit. Well, not after the first 5 or 10, anyway...)

Straw 6

I've cracked.

More of why later....

Monday 10 March 2008

Oh ye of little faith...

Well, I finally know how to get you guys interested. It seems that chocolate is the key - why on earth didn't I think of this earlier? Just include the word 'chocolate' in a post and hits on the blog go up by 20%. Brilliant!





(Repeat to fade...)

But I know what you're really here for. Did I eat it or not?

Now, I thought about stringing you along for a while in a radio-show host styley, which by the way, really pisses me off.... Don't they think about the heart-rate of the poor person on the other end of the phone when they say; "Sandra..... Sandra...." "Yes?" "How much do you need this money?" "Oh, Chris, you have no idea. It will really make a difference." "And what do you think? Did you give me the correct answer?" "I don't know Chris. I mean, I thought I had, but then my neighbour's sister-in-law knocked on the window during the ad-break and told me that the capital of Spain was Majorca, and now I'm all confused..." "Well, Sandra. She's wrong. It's not Majorca." "Yes?" "So Sandra......" "Yes?"

And so on.

But then I realised you would just skip the waffling and jump straight to the answer, so here it is.

No. I did not eat the chocolate.

But before you click away, muttering to yourself about inhuman will-power and start thinking I am not the down-to-earth everywoman you imagined, let me add this:

I did not eat the chocolate. Yet.

I know, I know. I've come this far. 3 days home alone (with the Boys, clearly, who can forget them?), and I've not given in. Why stop fighting now?

Have you heard about the straw that broke the camel's back? Well, these are today's...

Straw 1

As you know, Husband is away. Whilst I'm generally an emancipated independant sort of a woman, since I had the kids I find it difficult to sleep if there is no snorer next to me. I kind of put myself on high alert in that situation, so if the boys so much as sniffle I sit up in bed and start imagining all sorts of disaster scenarios. For example, last night...

Disaster Scenario 1.

Boy #2 coughs.

What if he's got pneumonia? Who will look after Boy #1 if I have to take Boy #2 to hospital? Will the neighbours answer if I call them to do it (at 3am?). Who else will be in the peadiatric emergency ward if I take Boy #2 in? Will I be exposing my child to TB / Legionnaires Disease / The Plague? Should I pack a bag? What about formula? Where is the Karvol?

Disaster Scenario 2.

It starts raining.

Oh god. We live in a basement. Will the drains take it? What can I do if they don't? I KNEW I should have bought sand-bags. But then where would we keep them? Can't keep them outside because of course then they would get wet in the rain, and then they would be too heavy for me to move them in front of the front door. But we don't have them, so... Gosh, that rain's heavy. Where are the passports? Better have them handy in case we need to get out of the flat. (?????)

And so on.

Straw 2.

Boy #1's whinge-fest when he got up this morning. It sounded as if I was inflicting all sorts of injuries. When I asked him to clear up the blocks he had tipped all over his bedroom floor before we left, you should have heard the moaning. There were tears, shouting, sobbing, and general despair as he tried to explain (through the hysterical hiccups) that he was simply looking for the rest of his Dizzy (Bob the Builder) lego toy, which it was vitally important to find before he went in to school.

Now, I knew that most of this toy was rattling around in the bottom of his toy box, but that would have entailed a full-scale excavation worthy of the Valley of the Kings, with all sorts of treasures coming to the surface to distract and delay us before we left the house at 8.15am, so decided that the upset was better than the chaos that would have ensued if I shared this information.

Bad mummy.

Straw 3

Husband calls from Moscow. When I dutifully enquire after his health he announces grimly that he is alright - now.

Clang (that's the bell of doom, by the way).

It transpires that, whilst staying in a friend's apartment, he was taking a shower this morning, stepped out of it to reach for the shampoo he had left in his soap-bag, slipped, careered across the tiled floor, fell with a mighty thud, and slid into the side of the bath where his foot went through an unbacked tile, slicing open his big toe. (I won't tell you left or right. The poor man has to keep some secrets).

Apparantly, as he was falling, in that split second 'life-flashing before your eyes' moment, he foresaw complete disaster and envisaged breaking his back and having no way to answer the call to the emergency services when they came rushing to the door to save him. (Honestly, talk about hysterical thoughts, or what?).

A hospital visit was required, (although he was able to walk there, hmmm), and shots and antibiotics were prescribed. Unsuprisingly, he is feeling rather sorry for himself.

Great. I'm sympathetic, of course I am, but as we are due to be skiing this weekend (yes, our weekend away, the one without the kids), this is not the best news. And guess who no doubt will be carrying both our bags through the airport?

Bad wife.

Straw 4

Nuts at this afternoon's playdate. None consumed by the Boys, but my condition of 'high alert' was increased until it was one minute to midnight on the Doomsday clock (check the link if you don't know what I'm talking about) for the whole afternoon. Not relaxing. I wouldn't mind but I always let the mums know about Boy#1's allergy in advance. I think that next time this happens I will simply walk around with the Piriton on my belt in a holster.

(It's a shame we all have mobiles in a way. If we didn't I could drive the point about cause (nuts) and effect (hospitalisation) home even further by asking the host mum to make sure she keeps her landline free in case I need to call 999...)

Straw 5

A parking ticket when I came out of both the Boy's parents evening at their nursery. Yes. I know. Parents evenings for a 2 and a 4 year old. (Obviously they are both child prodigies who are delights to teach, but you don't need to know that...).

And so. No chocolate consumed - yet.

Saturday 8 March 2008

Go on, you know you want to...

There's chocolate in the house.

And what's worse, I know where it is.

This is a potentially disastrous situation. Husband left for Russia this morning, so I have been home alone with the Boys all day, with only a diet coke as a treat for solace and consolation. Consequently there's a little voice in my head telling me how good I've been, reminding me that he's gone until Wednesday evening, and pointing out that even should I weaken and consume some (oh, alright, all) of it, I can replace it and no-one will be any the wiser. Except my waistband, of course. Oh yes, and a certain little African Bird who apparantly loves my consuming sugar and will reappear the moment I do.

But even so, I can hear the siren voice of the chocolate calling me from the top of the fridge as I sit here trying to ignore it.

Oh yes. It's in the fridge. That means it's The Good Stuff.

Normally I wouldn't be foolish enough to have such temptation in the house, but we went to Selfridges on Thursday morning. It was ostensibly a trip to the Oxford Street John Lewis to pick out some housey-housey stuff for long-overdue furniture renovations, with a only a 5 minute side-trip to the Shrine of Shopping for Husband to stock up on coffee for his Nespresso machine.

However.... once it had taken him 20 minutes to make the purchase of what had originally been planned as two cartridges of coffee pods and ended up as rather more than that (think presentation display box of every variant of coffee under the sun), we had no time left to schlep down to JL.

(I wouldn't mind, but I don't even drink coffee. This, by the way, is why I call it 'Husband's Nespresso machine', which he purchased in a moment of extreme stress shortly after he got the bad news about his job. He calls it a 'money-saving device', and claims it will stop him from being forced to consume his body-weight in coffee at one of the 4 Starbucks outlets situated less than 5 minutes walk from us at all points on the compass. I call it 'retail therapy', and wonder what's wrong with the machine we already had. But whatever, if it keeps him happy, I am prepared to give up precious counter space in the kitchen.)

So anyway, there we were, standing in Selfridges with time to kill and I couldn't help myself. I had to check out the food hall. And on the way there, we happened to pass the Leonidas stand. For the uninitiated amongst us, I've included a link, but think Belgian chocolate, praline, deliciousness and extreme opportunities for over-indulgence and weight gain. (It's not quite as good as Rococo, but it will do...)

I can't help it. If it's chocolate, and expensive, I'm addicted.

But only if it's in the house. I am capable of walking past these high-end outlets without so much as a second glance - well, maybe without so much as a third glance - but then Husband pointed out that it's Easter shortly. And also that his mother loves this brand and will need a pay-off for looking after the boys for us next weekend when he and I scoot off for our illicit weekend away (hurrah!). It made perfect sense to stock up whilst we were there, he said.

Before I knew it, I found myself unwillingly dragged to the holy of holies. Doesn't he know what this stuff does to me?

Thankfully, we were unable to buy any eggs for the Boys due to issues with nuts (and let's face it, what 2 or 4 year old wouldn't really prefer a £2.99 milk chocolate Thomas the Tank Engine egg from Marks and Spencers - guaranteed nut free - over a plain, boring, unlicensed, totally delicious - oops, getting carried away again - one from Leonidas, Prestat or Rococo?), but we did come away with a box of chocolates for Mother in Law, and - crucially - 2 bags of mini-chocolate praline eggs 'just in case' we needed to give them as presents at Easter.

Presents? At Easter?

If they make it to Good Friday it will only be because I have suffered a blow to the head and have forgotten what the yellow Selfridges bag tucked so obtrusively on the top shelf of the fridge contains....

I would like to think that I could rely on some vestige of willpower to see me through, but with Husband out of the country and sugar levels low following a restricted diet in an attempt to cut out visits from the Bird, resistance is low.

Or should I say futile?

Add to this the fact that we dropped Husband at the airport mid-morning. Picture perfect as it was, this is not a mistake I'm going to repeat. Whilst Boy #1 got the point that Papa was only away for a few days, Boy #2 (at only just 2 years old), didn't. Airports, to him, mean family trips. Holidays. And most importantly, planes. (Or, 'paynes' as he calls them). When he realised that we weren't accompanying his father through the International Departures gate, and that no plane ride was in the offing, all hell broke loose.

He did a more than passable impersonation of Houdini with the straps on his buggy whilst Boy #1 and I made a rush for the exit. The air of chaos surrounding us was not helped by Boy #1, affected more than I'd realised by Husband's departure (silly of me really, but he'd been so matter of fact about it all up until then), getting confused over who is who and starting to wail that he wanted his mama. Yes, mama.

Now, he meant papa. Clearly. You know that, and I know that. But if you were standing in the check-in queue, looking at a harrassed woman rushing two small boys out of the airport, one of whom is crying fit to break your heart, and the other of whom is shouting for his mother, wouldn't it raise an eyebrow?

Amazingly, we didn't get stopped.

I consoled Boy #2 with a detour around the Heathrow perimiter road on our way home, nearly crashing the car any number of times in the process as I pointed out various planes to him (who knew they'd changed the layout due to the introduction of Terminal 5?), and then rewarded Boy #1 for not turning me in to the authorities with an illicit viewing of 'Crocodile Hunter - Collision Course' later in the afternoon.

With Husband out of the house I thought I would get away with this excessive tv viewing and that no-one would be any the wiser as to my poor parenting skills, especially as my original plan (which he was aware of) had been to take them to Holland Park after Boy #2's afternoon nap. But no. The first thing Boy #1 did when my beloved called from Moscow this evening?

"Papa! Papa! We watched Crocodile Hunter THE MOVIE! It was great!"


No wonder I want chocolate.

Thursday 6 March 2008

For better and for worse...

So, you heard it here first. The 'credit crunch' is real, and there are human casualties - namely, Husband. He was made redundant in January in the first of what will no doubt be many rounds of firing, by the world's most profitable company. No names, no pack drill, but if you look for details on a bank that is due to get rid of somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people on a world-wide basis, it won't take you long to work out which one.

Are we upset? More to the point, is he upset?

Well, yes and no.

It's definitely time to move on, however it happened. He's disillusioned with the structure, he's been there long enough to have a respectable number of years on his cv, he's outlasted almost all his contemporaries and made it further up the ladder than he thought he might, and a bit of time at home with us is going to be great. (He says).

But he's worked his butt off for this company since he returned from his stint in Russia. He's put in hours that make people unconnected with the world of high finance blink and say 'But not every week, surely?', but which we have become accustomed to. I learnt long ago not to count on holidays actually happening (or, when they did happen, that they would be uninterrupted by his needing to fly out for a day or two to a meeting), or to rely on his being available for anything during the week, because the chances were strong that, having started at 7.30am, he would still be unable to get home much before midnight. Around 4 days a week. Or more, if he were working on a deal.

You think this is bad? You should try being a junior associate in one of these companies. All nighters were frequent in his first 2 - 3 years. We often said that it was a blessing we met when he was working in Russia because at least it gave our relationship a better chance of survival - with his working 2000 miles away - than it would have had if we hadn't got together before he started in the depths of the City.

Of course, I hear you saying; but what about the bonus? Didn't that make it all worthwhile? No doubt you've heard tell of these fat cats taking home millions every year to their mansions in Knightsbridge, and storing it in offshore accounts to avoid being taxed.

Ha! And thrice, Ha!

Of course there are people who benefit like that; but let me tell you, as in so many stories that the press pump out, in reality they are few and far between.

So, he is just a little downcast right now. Not only because of his current situation, but also because he enjoyed his job, and it looks unlikely the banks will be hiring again until much later this year. Which leads me neatly on to my dilemma in all this.

No, not will he get another job. Of course he'll get another job. It just won't be tomorrow. And in the meantime...

What the hell am I going to do with him around the house?

And before you suggest it, me getting a job is not an option - much as I might want to. He's likely to be away consulting for the next few weeks, so I still need to be here to hold the fort. (Plus, after 2 years of questioning whether being home was the right thing for our family, I've finally started to enjoy it. So sue me...)

But in the meantime, we've already had the arguments over my incorrect stacking of the dishwasher. I am ineffecient, apparantly. Are the plates clean? I ask. That's not the point, I'm told. I bite my tongue. (I am doing a lot of that recently). We reach a compromise: I won't mention the un-emptied gym bag or the coffee cups left around the place, he mustn't criticise the way I stack the blasted dishwasher.

We've had conversations about the time I leave to collect the Boys from school. Too early, he suggests? Only if you don't have to fight the mafia-black 4x4's for one of only a few parking spaces, I reply. But if it bothers you that much, be my guest, darling. You go.

And do we really need to take supplies of drinks and biscuits on the afore-mentioned school run? Can't the Boys wait until they get home, it is only a few minutes drive, after all? OK, buster (through gritted teeth). You try not taking the in-flight refreshments. I will make sure I'm out when you get back so I don't have to listen to the wails approaching up the street of two hungry and thirsty pre-schoolers who are convinced the world has turned upside down because there is no apple juice or low-sugar biscuit in the car... (Although of course when Daddy picks them up the excitement at such an unusual event cancels out the need for food and drink. Little traitors).

Today's topic was a doozy.

I always try and leave it 48 hours in between trips to the gym (often, of course, it's a great deal longer, but let's not dwell on that fact). This is to give my basically non-sporty body the chance to recover from the shock it gets when I do any kind of fitness-like activity. Not necessary, I'm told. Your body can take a lot more than you think, it seems. Apparantly, since Husband's intensive training and weight loss programme started at the beginning of the year, he has realised that the 48 hour thing is a myth. (How much does it piss you off, by the way, when men lose weight by only doing a few swims and cutting out their mid-morning cappucino? 5 kilos in 5 weeks? Gah!) Anyway, never mind that I have spent 12 years or so slogging away on the treadmill and he is only a convert to the gym for the last couple of months; I am doing it all wrong.

I bite my lip, and stick to my guns. No, I am not going today - not even if it does fit in with your schedule better, beloved.

And so it goes on.

But on the plus side, it actually is quite cool to see more of him. I did marry him, after all...

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Time Off...

I've been meaning to post this for a while: it's an account of a weekend off husband and I had in New York 18 months ago, and have finally got round to it after being inspired by Iota and her trip a few days ago. It's not short - consider yourself warned....

Time Off

Thursday 5th October

So Husband and I are off to New York for a long weekend, leaving the Boys in the care of their grandparents for 4 days. Am both excited (I get to sleep, uninterrupted, all the way there if I want!) and apprehensive about leaving them; this is the first time since Boy #2 was born that we’ve done this. Conflicting emotions abound; the bliss of travelling without the kids (and not least, their related luggage) versus the pain of leaving them behind. And don’t forget the guilt… how can I do this to them? The sensible part of me states they won’t remember my leaving, only my return. But the Emotional Mummy part knows I’ll scar them for life…

My father drops us at the airport, following a frantic morning of last minute shopping and writing of copious lists. I never realised it was so complicated looking after the Boys until I had to put it all on paper for grandparents who haven’t done this sort of thing for a while. But the evidence shows that they have done it – and since Husband and I both made it through our childhoods, I can just about force myself to make that leap of faith it will all be OK…

Once on board the plane, the pre-flight glass of illicit champagne never tasted so good (thank heavens for air-miles and free up-grades; I knew there had to be some advantage to Husband having to spend more time in the air than a commercial air pilot…). I watch a movie uninterrupted, such a pleasure – but what is it? ‘Cars’, of course. I just can’t turn this mummy business off…

We arrive exhausted with great plans to go out, but crash before 9pm local time (in my defence, it is 2am at home), and sleep through until 5.30am when my beloved gets up to work. (The fun never stops with his job)

Friday 6th October

Thanks to the time difference, for once we are up early on holiday, and are even out of the hotel before the shops open. We walk down through Soho and Greenwich, getting cold and wet (what happened to the glorious autumn weather we ordered?), and stop for a restorative hot chocolate in a very un-American French bakery. Why does drinking out of bowls seem exotic and right in France (or indeed in a pretend version of it), and just a pain in the backside anywhere else?

Then on to the Rockefeller Centre and 5th Avenue to give the credit card a warm-up, before lunch in the Boathouse in Central Park. We are surrounded by middle-aged ladies (tanned, leathery, with bad posture, and frankly dreadful clothes), all of whom are having reunions, loudly and competitively comparing photos of their nearest and dearest. “Yes, that’s me in our back yard, with a wild turkey” I hear one say. Her friends look less than impressed. I can almost hear them think; is that the best she can do? There is also a wedding party with a shivering bride who looks like she wishes she had heeded her sisters’ advice and waited for better weather next spring.

I notice that there is not a single child in the restaurant. Of course it’s a school day, but where are all the babies and toddlers? And, bearing in mind this is supposed to be a child-free weekend, why on earth do I care?

After a stroll through the park we pay a quick visit to FAO Schwarz. It would be rude not to, really. We pick up a couple of presents for the boys, and admire the enormous stuffed toys (I think Boy #1 would particularly like the moose, almost life-size, yours for a paltry $1599). We also watch some ecstatic kids creating their own ice cream flavours and enjoying a birthday party they will never forget in the store cafĂ©. It’s hosted by a Robin Hood and a Snow White who put most kids entertainers I’ve seen back home to shame – but then, this is New York. They probably have night jobs on Broadway.

In the evening we go out with a couple of Brits and a very opinionated New Yorker (although that is probably an oxymoron), who talks damningly of London crime rates and dirt. I am desperate to counter with the fact that I’ve seldom seen a shabbier first world city than her home – but decide that to say so might not be the most tactful response. I sit on my hands and keep schtum.

Having kidded ourselves for the evening that we are still young and in touch we finally give it up and go home early around midnight, where we find ourselves in the hotel lobby surrounded by hip locals and tourists from New Jersey who trek in at the weekends to be part of the ‘happening’ crowd in the bar upstairs. Of course, I was much too knackered to take advantage. Life the fast lane…

Miss the boys throughout the day, especially Boy #2’s compact, heavy little body, and Boy #1's mercurial temper…

Saturday 7th October

Better weather (thank god), a visit to MoMA (exhausting – I can only do so many floors of pictures before I start to get art-blindness. I know – I’m a philistine), more shopping and then lunch in a soul-less mall with a nice French cafe. (Don’t worry, we also found room in our weekend to gorge ourselves on local cuisine; did I mention that our lunch at the swanky-sounding Boathouse was in fact a hamburger?). The mall is home to a shrine to cookery on the ground floor, a store stuffed to the gunnels with expensive cookbooks, pots and pans – mostly imported from Europe – which according to friends over here, once installed in splendour in tiny New York kitchens, are destined never to be used. Most should never lose their ‘For display purposes only’ stickers…

In the evening we go to a local Italian in Greenwich and pretend we are in any number of gangster movies / chick flicks. The food is… OK. The atmosphere is priceless. Then back to the hotel for yet more sleep. How much is enough, I wonder? Is it ever possible, post kids, to have too much sleep? Don’t think about this for long however, as I start to worry that the grannies might not be taking good enough care of Boy #2’s eczema (as it turns out, I’m right). And before I know it, it’s morning again…

Sunday 8th October

Our final day, and glorious sunshine. At last, the weather we ordered. We have a leisurely breakfast, another walk, and then go the Frick Collection for a spot more culture, because we really should take advantage of the opportunity to visit these places without having to worry about our children destroying some priceless antique. There is a parade on 5th Avenue – Hispanic Columbus Day – so to avoid the surrounding gridlock we walk the 30 blocks downtown to the Empire State. By the time we get there however we find there is a 2 hour wait before you can go up, so give it up as a bad job and go for lunch in a diner instead. Yes, more hamburgers, delicious. Almost as delicious as the Bloody Mary I precede it with (well, I am on holiday, after all…)

We sit outside, people-watching in the busy Meatpackers district, marvelling at the endless parade of New Yorkers with their dogs. According to our opinionated New Yorker from Friday night, dogs are essential for a proper Manhattenite as not only do they replace the need for children, but they give them an excuse to talk to complete strangers and so create a social life where there was none before. The dogs all seem happy enough, and fall into one of two categories; small and yappy, or big and aristocratic. I wonder if the dog’s size is an indicator of the owner’s wealth & status (bigger apartment = bigger dog?) but am assured that this is not the case, as most of these animals spend their weekdays in Doggy Day Care anyway – where there is plenty of room to run about, sofas to lounge on and TV’s for the pampered pooches to watch. Only in New York.

Find myself peering nosily into passing prams and buggies (I see the Bugaboo, that badge of the uber-mummy, has arrived here too). Feel marginally guilty that I’m doing this on a child-free get-away with my husband until I see him doing it too…

Finally, we go for one last walk in an effort to shift a few calories from our carb-heavy lunch, and finish off at a faux French bar opposite our hotel. One last drink, into a taxi, and back to the airport for the flight and a night of disturbed sleep in an attempt to ready myself for the onslaught of the boys when we get home.

Monday 9th October

Home at last – well, it feels like at last, although it has in fact only been 4 days… Boy #1 greets us at the door with delighted giggling, hugs, kisses and demands for presents (luckily we come prepared). Boy #2 sits on the floor and just beams at us.

How could I ever have left them?

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Married bliss

Him (sitting in the drivers' seat of our car, looking expectant): 'Can I have the key, please?'

Me (handing my house and car key over): 'Oh, of course. Sorry.'

A couple of minutes pass, broken only by demands from the back seat for juice,biscuits, the steering wheel, and arguments over dinosaurs.

Me: 'Did you ever find your car key, by the way?' (Knowing of course that he hadn't).

Him: 'No. It will turn up.'

Me: 'Maybe you should think about keeping it on your key ring with all your other keys. Rather than separate, when it's easier to lose.'

Him: 'Don't be silly. Of course it's not easier to lose when it's on it's own.'

Me: 'Have you ever lost your other keys? You know - the ones on a key ring, altogether?'

Him: 'No.'

Me: 'Have I?'

Him: 'No.' Then, under his breath: 'Bollocks.'

Saturday 1 March 2008

Home sweet home...

Hurrah! We're home!

That's not to say that we didn't have a fabulous time (we did), that the chalet we stayed in wasn't perfectly located (it was), or that we argued with the friends we were on holiday with (we didn't), but it's just lovely to be back in your own space.

Even if there are about 5,000 loads of laundry outstanding.

I told Husband this evening that when we win the lottery, my main luxury will be to have someone to do our washing for us. Of course, being a man, and having initially pointed out that you need to be in it to win it (can't remember the last time we actually got round to buying a ticket, but never mind), he got carried away, and started envisaging all sorts of house-keeper type services. Apparantly just laundry is not enough; we need someone living in the grounds of the palatial mansion we will move into, who will be on-call at the touch of a button, who will do all the shopping, tidying, and general admin, will ferry the kids to school, and generally take the pain out of life.

He's clearly missing catered chalet-living already - and we only got back at 3.00pm today.

So this evening, I sent him out to forage for a curry as since we have - yet again - forgotten to buy a lottery ticket, there is no-one to do our laundry other than me, and I am clearly far too busy sorting coloured clothes from whites to consider setting foot in the kitchen - and I wanted to write this post.

I can't blame him for missing the 'help' really, it's addictive. But I think the main thing that has come out of this holiday is how different it was from skiing holidays pre-kids.

For example:

Then: drive through the night to arrive first thing in the morning, bleary-eyed and dehydrated, to dump your stuff in your tiny apartment, and rush down to the ski lifts to get your pass and dash up onto the slopes.

Now: arrive mid-afternoon (after a crushingly early start, mind you - I am not at my best at 5.30am, especially when covered with milk from Boy #2's leaking bottle), unpack - everything, including all the useless stuff you added at the last minute knowing you probably wouldn't use it but hey, that spare pair of sunglasses could come in handy in case Boy #1 loses his at ski school and of course you will be far too busy to walk the 10 metres to the shop to buy replacements there (even if the sales have started already) - and then sit down for a nice cup of tea before sorting out your ski hire.

Then: following an extended apres-ski session at Pub le Ski Lodge, spend a happy couple of drunken hours sliding down the nursery slope on your butt and a tea tray, squealing like a stuck pig and wondering why everyone in the resort isn't out there with you having the time of their lives too.

Now: after an extended bath session with your sons, spend a frustrated couple of hours with them trying to convince Boy #1 that no, it isn't a good idea to put on his ski trousers and go and join the oh-so-happy grown-ups out on the piste, and that it really is time to go to sleep now. Once he has eventually dropped off, and you have woken up from your half-hour nap on the twin bed next to him where you just put your head on the pillow for 5 minutes to convince him to close his eyes, you chunter crossly to the other grown-ups in your party about irresponsibility when drunk, and wonder enviously if those 20 year olds outside could just turn the volume down a little...

Then: leave the apartment each morning at around 8.45am to make the first lift up, spend the day skiing hard (though of course not well), fortified only by vin chaud, tartiflette, mini-mars bars and the odd plate of chips, before skiing home exhausted at around 5.30pm just in time to change your sweaty top and head for - you guessed it - Pub le Ski Lodge, to talk about the number of wipe-outs you had and how funny it was watching Mark take out Rob at the top of that icy slope.

Now: wake up at 7.00am, spend the next hour and 45 minutes cajoling your children to eat breakfast, suit up Boy #1, cover all his exposed skin with heavy-duty sun cream which of course also smears itself attractively across your black ski trousers, and drag him unwillingly across the piste to his lesson.

Once there, he practises his impression of 'The Scream' face whenever he looks at you, but is cheerfully chatting to his neighbour, the teacher and anyone who'll listen about how he'll be skiing down the mountain by lunchtime the moment your back is turned. You know this, because of course you have eyes in the back of your head, but still feel horrifically guilty as eventually, around 9.30am, you leave the edges of the class and head back to the chalet to get your skis. By the time you reach the lifts it is 10.00am, and you have exhausted yourself by simply putting your boots on.

After a gentle of couple of hours on the slopes you decide to call it a day and go home. You are totally knackered, and fall asleep on the sofa to the accompaniment of children's dvd's (Winnie the Pooh in Dutch - guaranteed to be soporific) at around 3.30pm.

Needless to say, we will be booking next year's trip toute suite...