Monday 28 December 2009

From the mouths of babes...

We've been in the Netherlands with Husband's family celebrating what is apparantly our last ever (EVER) Christmas in civilisation (if you listen to the subtext beaming out loud and clear from my m-i-l, that is...). The highpoint of our trip was a visit to The Efteling Theme Park, a sort of pre-Disney Land fairy tale kingdom.

My mother-in-law has been planning this trip ever since her first grandchild made an appearance around 12 years ago, so this was understandably Big Deal for her. Consequently there were plenty of questions to the children (all 7 of them) as to whether or not they were enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, it seems Boy *2 did not recieve the memo about toeing the party line...

M-i-l: "So, did you enjoy that ride, Boy *2? Was it loek?" (Trans: cute, funny, enjoyable).

Boy *2: "Well... (I held my breath. This ride - the one she was talking about - was probably not what would normally have been his cup of tea. It featured elves, trolls, goblins, true, but it was also quite heavy on the fairy quotient). Yes, yes I did!" (I breathed a sigh of relief).

M-i-l: "And did you like all the magic?" (The ride took us through a fairy kingdom with various scenarios that might feature in your average elf's life).

Boy *2: "Yes... But... I was wondering. Who was controlling it all?"

Give me strength.

Sunday 27 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

It's hard to stay anonymous when you're typing in plain sight of your in-laws who are supposed not to know about your blog, (we're in Holland with Husband's family where I am shortening the 'family & fish go off in 3 days' rule by getting decidely snippy after only 24 hours), so you'll understand if I keep this brief.

Following on from last week's Best of British Mummy Bloggers round-up, here are the rest. Enjoy, as you ponder the wisdom of eating that last green Quality Street along with finishing the dregs of the port bottle, and then conclude that after spending the last 5 days with your nearest and dearest, all rules regarding controlled consumption are suspended for the duration...

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

Enjoy! (Normal service to be resumed next week...)

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Thursday 24 December 2009

This morning's definition of 'Panic'... realising you've forgotten your brother's Christmas present and that the town where you're staying is not likely to offer anything particularly exciting in the '£10 and under' price range your family has agreed to stick to for presents this year.

This morning's definition of 'Gratitude'... how you feel when your Husband returns from his foraging mission with 3 dvd's for under £10 all of which you know your retro-bro will love.

This afternoon's definition of 'Panic'...

is realising you've run out of wrapping paper, that the the nearest shop that sells it has just closed, and that you still have your sons' two 'big' Christmas presents to wrap.

This afternoon's definition of 'Gratitude'...

is confessing as much to your mother and finding out that she has plenty left over and is willing to share.

Happy Christmas all!

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christmas reflections...

Christmas for many of us is a time that you might call 'stupidly busy'. We - or I, at least - panic over the most inconsequential things. Are there lumps in the gravy? Have I got enough mince pies? Did I spend enough on Auntie Flo's present? It's easy to get wound up by things that for the rest of the year might just be water off a duck's back. Throw your nearest and dearest into the mix and it can be a recipe for turmoil.

For example, I've just got off the phone to my mother-in-law who was panicking that Husband might be on the roads driving to join us in the west country on this cold, snowy, icy, foggy evening. Quite what she would have done if he had already been en-route, I don't know, but midway through our conversation, as I reassured her he was safe and sound at home in London, I found myself starting to get a little frustrated by what seemed a fuss-over-nothing call. But then, I was suddenly reminded of my walk out with the Boys this afternoon.

It was cold, and the low-lying sun had made little impact on the icy slush in the lane we were walking along. My parents - with whom the Boys and I are currently staying - live on the side of a steep hill, and as we toiled up it to post the last (alright - the first) of our Christmas cards (no-one ever said I was organised, least of all me...), I found myself gripping Boy *2's hand tightly and instructing Boy *1 to take care. As the few cars willing to brave the ice drove by, I shepherded my sons onto the verge and out of the way. Boy *1, at least, would have been more than capable of taking the same evasive action without any lead from me, and yet I still felt the need to protect and look out for him.

So as my mother-in-law was talking to me about her concern for her son during our call this evening, I suddenly checked my irritability. Was what she was doing so different to my probable over-protectiveness earlier on? Who's to say that the feeling of responsibility that comes hand in hand with bearing and/or nurturing a child should stop when they are 10, 15, 20 or even 25 years old? It may be that as our children get older our protective instinct becomes more focused - we worry less about cuts and grazes, and more about drugs and alcohol, for example - and it may be that some of us become more expert at hiding it from others, but from what I've observed, it never lets up.

I hope that I'm not a helicopter parent, but what I realised during that call this evening was that you can't turn Motherhood off, the good or the bad stuff. Being a parent is project that you will never get to see finished and which you can never - god willing - draw a line under, or shut the door on, saying; 'well, that job's over and done with'. So my mother in law will no doubt continue to make those vaguely annoying phone calls for as long as she can dial the number, and I will probably continue to metaphorically reach out a hand to steady my sons on the icy roads they might walk for just as long.

And yes, both of us should probably just stop stressing.

But since this constant hum of low-level anxiety seems to be part and parcel of the way we love our children - along with the day to day highs and lows that come from rearing them and interacting with their emerging personalities - I think the best I can hope for is that I can rein in the worst of my protective instincts and give my sons enough space to grow up confident and independant. And that the next time I get one of those calls from my mother in law, that I will remember the chances are, I may well be making them myself in years to come...

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Christmas snapshots

Snapshot *1

My parents are at the table, enjoying a post-dinner glass of wine.  Dad looks across at Mum as he opens the second bottle of the evening, and says:

"I think, when one of us dies, I'm going to have to give up drinking..."

Snapshot *2

I've spent the morning in and out of the snow with the Boys.  We have thrown snow-balls (well, not snow 'balls' per-se - since the snow is very un-Britishly too powdery and dry for that - more handfuls of the stuff scraped off the top of the garden table or up off the grass and which, to be honest, are far more effective than snow-balls at properly soaking your opponents), got freezing hands and noses, and generally revelled in the unexpected white pre-Christmas.  We are, frankly, snowed-up to the max.

After defrosting ourselves and drinking a warming cup of hot chocolate, I kit the Boys up again, ready to make a trip to the shops.  We walk to the door.  I open it, revealing the snowy scene outside again.  Boy *2, standing behind me, gasps.

Me:  "What is it, Boy *2?"

Boy *2:  "SNOW!!!"

Sunday 20 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

So we're nearly at Christmas. There are many reasons why I know this to be true; here are a couple:

1. I'm at my parents and have been drinking at lunchtime. This never usually happens (the drinking at lunchtime, that is, not the being at my parents), mainly because I know it's the fastest way to an afternoon spent snoozing attractively on the sofa and waking to a patch of dribble on my shoulder...

2. My parents' Christmas tree has already come crashing down. It's not Christmas until there has been at least one smashed bauble and various muffled curses from my mother as she hoovers up the shards of glass and pine-needles whilst bitterly regretting having made that 'final' touch to the placement of the pressies she had placed prettily on the branches...

In any case, enough lunch-time wine-induced wittering; it's time for British Mummy Blogger of the Week. I thought that this week and next I might do something slightly different, however. In the last year the number of members in the BMB ning have increased amazingly; we've gone from an original roll-call of about 3 to 832 at the last count, a lot of whom have joined recently.

In fact, when I started writing the Mummy Blogger of the week post last May there were 235 members, which means that if you're one of the 597 who've joined more recently you might not have seen the earlier Bloggers of the Week, so I've decided to list all of them out - over this Sunday and next Sunday - for you to take a look at when the thrill of Christmas specials on tv and 'tidying up' the edges of the stilton and cheddar finally prove to be too much. Enjoy!

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

Happy Christmas! (September, October, November and December will be listed next week...)

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)

Friday 18 December 2009

Chilblains and their side-effects...

Growing up in an old and draughty house, as a little girl I used to get terrible chilblains on my toes. (Click on the word for a link if you're lucky enough never to have experienced them). Oh, that burning, itchy feeling was simply horrendous. The relief of taking my school shoes off at the end of the day so I could have a good old scratch is something I still recall today.

Boy #2 - unsurprisingly, sturdy little soldier - is unaffected by them, but of course (of course!) his older and more 'delicate' brother suffers. Normally I tend to brush off Boy #1's afflictions; with the exception of his allergies and eczema he's actually pretty healthy, and when he does complain the causes seem most often to be imagined, or the result of near-fatal encounters with the edge of the table or fallings-off the arms of the sofa. When it comes to chilblains however, having experienced them myself, I am very sympathetic.

Unfortunately it seems that there's not much you can take for them as a child unless - as his did last year - they get infected, and the doctor prescribes antibiotics. You just have to try and keep skin moisturised, legs and hands warm, and your circulation up.

So far this winter he only has the one chilblain and I'm trying desperately to keep it that way, so when at bedtime yesterday he complained it was hurting him I decided to bring out the big guns and - gasp - reached for a hot water bottle, which I part-filled with warm water.

You think you know where this is going, don't you?

Well, apparantly it was just what the doctor ordered, and within a few minutes he was fast asleep. I'm not sure if it actually made much of a difference in real terms but the novelty value alone was enough to convince him that I was taking the situation seriously enough (which is, let's be honest, what we all want when we're feeling under the weather). What a great idea, I thought. No medication, no fuss, no trip to the doctors.

What I hadn't given much thought to, of course, was the possibility he might wake up at 5.00am and realise the hot water bottle was now cold. And I hadn't even considered the possibility that instead of pushing it away and down to the bottom of the bed - like any reasonable adult (as in, not a 6 year old) might do - he would sit up in bed and scream the house down demanding that it be refilled.

So, no hot water bottle tonight. But on the upside, it's good to know that threats of the naughty chair work even in the dark cold of the early morning...

Thursday 17 December 2009

Yesterday's definition of 'Organisation'...

...was remembering that your younger son has a nativity play today, and that you have to deliver him to nursery complete with a dressing gown and a tea-towel for him to wear on his head so he can be a shepherd. (Good to know nothing changes, isn't it?)

Today's definition of 'Smug'... the feeling you have as you walk out of the door in the morning having actually remembered to take said dressing gown with you.

Today's definition of 'Apprehension'... what you feel on the school run when your son states categorically that he will NOT be wearing his costume in the nativity.

Today's definition of 'Relief'... when you realise that this is his nursery teacher's problem, not yours.

Today's definition of 'Just In Time Management'... arriving at nursery to discover that the performance you had thought was scheduled for 10.00am is actually at 9.00.

Today's definition of 'Resignation'... watching all the children assemble in their respective costumes and realising that amongst the host of assorted shepherds, kings and angels, the little refusenik in the red sweatshirt is your son.

And today's definition of 'Confusion'...

... is wondering who the hell the red sweatshirt actually belongs to, because you've never seen it before.

Boy #2 never fails to deliver, does he?

Tuesday 15 December 2009

It's beginning to look ....

...well, nothing like Christmas, actually.

(This post is inspired by Liz at Violet Posy's Christmas Decoration Carnival Tour... And I'm sorry Liz, but I suspect this one is going to be a bit of a disappointment; I am letting the side down in a major way...)

Unfortunately, the only place in our home that is looking at all festive is the front of our glass cabinet, where I have wheeled out a token recognition of Advent in form of our perpetual calendar. We've had it around 3 years now, so perhaps 'perpetual' is a bit of an optimistic description. I bought it when I was on a girls' weekend in Brighton and feeling that frisson of guilt I always get when I'm away from home without Husband and the Boys and enjoying myself. Luckily, the purchase of the calendar went some way to alleviating that - as did the vodka-soaked evening that followed it.

I'm not sure how many more Christmases the calendar will be pressed into service though; it's only a matter of time before the Boys cotton on to the fact that practically every single one of their friends has parents who aren't luddites and manage to score a chocolate from their much more up to date and totally non-advent specific calendar before school even starts in the morning.

You may be wondering why this calendar is the extent of our festive effort. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It's a Big Deal for me. Normally I would be baking tree cookies, have a wreath on the front door, be looking out the tree decorations, polishing the candle sticks and be considering a moonlight raid on the garden square to liberate some holly and ivy.

I would never do that, by the way. The thought of being apprehended by an angry set of garden committee vigilantes on the prowl for just such an incident, whilst vastly entertaining, is too much for me. Plus, my torch is rubbish and I don't have the right gear. I mean, you'd need to be all camoflaged up and wearing dark clothes and a balaclava and - is it showing that I really have considered this?

But I will not be checking the lights are working ready to put them up this weekend. I know, I said no tree - ever - until 3 days before C-Day but I do - amazingly - have a heart, and so I usually give in to the Boy's pleadings early, secretly loving it, of course...

This year, however, with our impending departure and the fact that we're in and out of the house like nobody's business over the next couple of weeks, we decided not to have a tree. I'm surpised to find that I miss it. More than the Boys, actually, who appear remarkably sanguine not only about the lack of Christmas cheer at home but about the fact that we're upping sticks and moving to a new country very shortly after that. I suspect that is because Husband and I are trying very hard to be matter of fact about the whole adventure, and not to make too big a deal out of the whole thing.

Or at least, not in front of them, anyway. 'Discussions' regarding delayed paperwork, negotiations with estate agents (both Moscow and London-based) and logistics are usually kept for after they're in bed. Which is a good thing because, you know how they say moving is the most stressful thing after a death in the family?

I don't know WHAT they're talking about.

Last minute dot com 'r' us...

So it's Boy #2's birthday soon. We hadn't really given it much thought (other than to organise presents, obviously), and I hadn't even considered having a party other than to think that it probably wouldn't happen as we will just have arrived in Moscow at the time.

But then the fact that he's been discussing his party since his brother's extravaganza at Gambado in September, dropping not so much subtle hints as great big suitcases full expectations of fun and cake, started to sink in.

Unfortunately this gives us something of a problem as his birthday neatly coincides with our arrival in Moscow, which whilst it will make for some picturesque snowy photo opps, also means we'll be a little short on a) somewhere to have a party b) guests to invite to it c) suitable supplies to serve at it.

So then we decided; a simple, low-key, understated party at home, nursery friends only, before we leave London.

Obviously, that's not how it's working out. At all...

Realisation #1: Half our stuff will be in boxes by the date of the party, and the other half will (god willing) already have left for Moscow. Hardly the best time to invite 15 rising 4 year-olds and their assorted hangers-on into your home.

Climb-down #1: We booked the church hall down the road.

(But I was definite; sandwiches only, and no entertainer. What's wrong with British Bulldogs and Pass the Parcel, for goodness' sake?)

Realisation #2: Well, if we're booking this church hall, why does it just have to be nursery friends? Especially since, being international jet-set types most of them will already have left for Christmas in their country of origin by then?

Climb-down #2: OK, let's invite kids of friends, too.

Realisation #3: When are we going to see our friends to say goodbye?

Climb-down #3: Hell, why not invite the whole family and kill two birds with one stone whilst we're at it?

Realisation #4: Better serve the adults something to drink too, I suppose. Can't just give them Ribena and the children's party food (which, by the way, was Climb-down 1.5; since they have an oven at the church hall there, let's serve sausages in bread rolls - isn't that simpler than making 20 lots of sandwiches?).

Climb-down #4; I'll do some mulled wine; it's Christmas, after all! (And I do like a warming drink on a cold day...)

Realisation #5: If I'm doing mulled wine, mince pies (what's Christmas without them?), sausages in buns for the kids, and trying to say goodbye to our friends pre-Moscow departure, when are we going to have time to organise the children to play Pass the Parcel and British Bulldogs?

Climb-down 5: It turns out that the only good thing about holding a party so close to Christmas - when most of the kids in the area have left the building - is that you can book pretty much any entertainer you like. Which is nice...

And whilst I have categorised this as a series of 'climb-downs' above, I prefer to see the whole event as a triumph of multi-tasking... Humour me. Please?

Sunday 13 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Boy #1: "Mummy, have you got the songs?" (Trans; please put The Jungle Book on YouTube)

Me: "No, no I haven't."

Boy #1: "Can you get them?"

Me: "Well, not right now. I'm doing something. (trying to write the British Mummy Blogger of the Week post, if you must know). Maybe later."

(30 seconds pass. Overcome with guilt at my neglectful parenting, I cave. Foolish girl).

Me: "5 minutes, OK?"

Boy #1: "OK."

He stands behind me, breathing heavily in my ear.

Boy #1: "I'm just going to stand here and watch you do that."

Me: "What, type?"

Boy #1: "Yes."

Silence, apart from me tapping away.

Boy #1: "I won't talk."

I tap away.

Boy #1: "I'll just watch you."

Boy #2 appears around the edge of the door: "What are you doing?"

Oh, for pete's sake... Let's just get on with it.

This week's British Mummy Blogger of the week, Not Waving But Ironing writes of her blog:

'It's about what on earth I'm going to do with the rest of my life now the kids are finally at school. I've already made an inventory of the contents of my chest freezer. I've cleaned the grouting in the shower with an old toothbrush. I'd love other mums in a similar situation to visit my blog and share their time-wasting, existence-justifying ideas with me.'

And if you're wondering what the signs of having let yourself go are, click here. But be warned - whatever you do, don't look at your hands afterwards....

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too.

Saturday 12 December 2009

One day...

One day I will not let it get to me when the Boys start and end the day with a whine.

One day I will stay serene and calm as the pre-breakfast energy-low hits just around the time I'm trying to persuade them that it is a good idea to let me use my icy-cold hands to smear moisturising cream into their eczema-prone skin.

(One day I'll find the right herbal lotion or potion to improve my circulation.)

One day I will ask them to put their shoes on for the school run, and they'll do it, first time. (No - that's never going to happen).

One day I will walk out of the flat for the school run cool, collected, and without the collar of my coat turned the wrong way out or hissing 'Just get up. The. Stairs!' at my sons.

One day I will drink coffee, and like it. The world of double plus plus latte's with mocha shots and fairy wings sprinkled on the top will be my oyster.

One day I will sit in elegant cafes on the King's Road, Chelsea, watching the world go by with newly-polished boots (fxck it - let's just make them new), skinny jeans that don't dig in at the waist because I just can't bear to admit I have gone up a dress-size again, fitted (but not too fitted, because that would be trashy) t-shirts from Joseph, as I talk knowledgably about World Events.

One day I will buy something from Pret a Porter.

One day it will fit.

One day I will click 'open' when my e-mail notifies me that a new piece of news has come through to me from The Financial Times.

One day I will understand the term 'sub-prime'.

One day I will be paid to write.

One day I will have something useful to write about. One day I will be able to walk away from bitchy comments left about pieces I have written on other websites in the understanding that it is not about my issues, but theirs.

One day I will groooooooooove to jazz. One day I will be able to pick a tune out of the discordant jumble of notes and not start itching every time the name Dave Brubeck is mentioned.

One day I will enjoy opera. Or at least, be able to stay awake through it.

One day the Boys won't erupt in the car on the way home from school when I say that no, they can't have a second biscuit because we are only five minutes from home and they can wait to have a sandwich there.

One day the reason there aren't any more biscuits won't be because I snaffled the rest on my way to collect them.

One day the Boys won't mutter and complain when I point out that they chose an extra ten minutes television over a second bed-time story.

One day they will choose that second bed-time story instead of the extra television.

And then, one day, they won't. Because they won't want any bed-time story.

One day, I'll miss the whining at the beginnng and the end of the day. And I'll be glad I loved it - really - whilst I was going through it.

Friday 11 December 2009

And THAT is why I write blog posts and not books...

I had a post all planned for this morning about party bags. It was a wonderful post, if I do say so myself. I had written it in my head as I battled Boy #2 unwillingly into his clothes, explained to Boy #1 why - despite the fact that it was indeed a wonderful den he had created out of the sofa cushions - that he needed to tidy to it up before he went to school, gave them both breakfast, and arranged an estate agent's viewing for later this morning.

Then I sat down and tapped my Pulitzer-winning post out pdq in the space of a couple of minutes. It was short, concise, touched on the various forms of entertainement the Boys have been treated to in the 50 or so birthday parties I've accompanied them to during the last few years, self-deprecating, and funny (or at least, I like to think so).

I was just about to put in the last sentence.

The phone rang.

I answered it.

Wrong number.

And by the time I came back to the computer to hit save and publish, Boy #2 had switched it off.

Oh well. I suppose the world can live without my pronouncements on party bags, after all. And honestly? I think this makes a better post...

Thursday 10 December 2009

Nonsense and Stuff

In the car this morning my two sons decided to act true to type...

Me: "So, Boy #1, what do you do at school on a Thursday?

Boy #1 (always loving a bit of drama and suspense when - most importantly - he is the one dishing it out); "I don't know. It's a mystery! We'll just have wait until we get there to find out..."

Me: "OK... And Boy #2? What do you have at school on a Thursday?"

Boy #2: "Sausages!"

Cutting straight to the chase, as usual. Good to know he's aware of what's important in life...

The whole move to Moscow thing is becoming a bit real today with estate agents calling to value the flat for lettings and international movers hassling us for paper-work, so once again I suggest that if you want to read coherent thought from me you check the following;

Powder Room Graffiti - where I'm musing on the dubious benefits of Skype's video-call facility

or Alpha Mummy at Times Online, where I'm revisiting and expanding on my thoughts from my earlier post on a Husband-shaped space in our lives.

Oh, and Red Magazine is running an article about the British Mummy Bloggers Ning this month, featuring an interview with the divine Susanna of A Modern Mother who set the network up. And yes, I am in the photograph. (Note to self - work on posture... Pilates, perhaps?)

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Attn Country Cousins

It's that time of year again.

No, not the time for Christmas cheer and last minute desperate searches through the 'present cupboard' (formerly known as your sweater shelf but which is the only place in your wardrobe the children can't see or reach), in the hope that you have something suitable when visiting friends break the cardinal rule - no unannounced presents - by turning up with Lego Pods for your children when you have nothing to give their offspring in return (oh, the shame!).

No, it's far more exciting than that; it's Circular Letter time!

Now, I appreciate that for you web-savvy folk in this age of Facebook and Twitter, when your nearest and dearest not only know what you had for dinner but how long the meal took to digest, this may seem a sweetly out-moded concept, but believe me, these little treats do still appear tucked into cards all across the land.

Last year I was particularly taken with the concept that an acquaintance encountered; that of writing a round robin letter from the family pet. Unfortunately, due to allergies (both to pet hair and to the work involved in caring for one), we don't have a pet - but I got around that by enlisting the help of the ever-obliging family of mice who were at that time making far-too regular appearances in our flat.

This year, however, times have changed.

After fierce battles featuring traps, poison and plastic buckets with our furry friends I had convinced myself that they were gone...

Attn. Country Cousins.

This may be a short missive. Stop. Hope all is well. Stop. Currently in deep cover under the Floor Boards. Stop. Human Family Above-Boards convinced we have been eradicated. Stop. Not true (Clearly). Stop. They are fools for even imagining it. Stop.

Our unit is currently working on a plan for global domination Above-Boards featuring adaptation of Human Children's Lego City Police Station. Stop. We are hoping that radio comms attached to the station's roof will link us in to High Command for further instructions. Stop. And that miniature microwave will prove useful in heating up my Cornish Pasties. Stop.

Have already appropriated Power Ranger Motorbike and Transformer Rocket which Cousin Brains is converting into all-terrain vehicle suitable for Kitchen assault. Stop. Grappling irons have been sourced likewise from Playmobil set in Toy Box. Stop.

Uncle Hannibal running boot camps under the Living Room Sofa for Rookies. Stop. Casualties slight to-date. Stop. If only he would stop making the raw recruits scale the bookshelves in search of paper clips and other deadly weapons they might be negligable. Stop. Death by impalement on Lego Shrapnel not pretty. Stop.

Floorplans for target gratefully recieved. Stop. Our condolences to Great Aunt Sissy on the loss of Uncle Bert in the operation to obtain them. Stop. Those solicitor's offices can be death-traps. Stop. Who would have thought that the shredded paper he was bivouacking in would get re-shredded? Stop.

Getting light now, Humans traipsing around Above-Boards and orders being barked to 'get Shoozon'. Stop. Wonder once again what they are talking about and why it requires such emphasis. Stop. One day we'll break their fiendish code. Stop. Must stop. Stop.

Signed, Private Ro Dent.

(Yes. I know it. I need to get a job).

Tuesday 8 December 2009

A Christmas carol, anyone?

Last night I took a break from explaining to my Boys why Santa may not be bringing them every single item in the Lego and Power Ranger catalogues, and went to a Christmas carol service at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It was to raise funds for Home Start who, 'through a network of nearly 16,000 trained parent volunteers, support thousands of parents who are struggling to cope. The families they help need support for many reasons including post-natal illness, disability, bereavement, the illness of a parent or child, or social isolation. Parents supporting other parents - to help build a family's confidence and ability to cope'.

Home Start is a fantastic charity and the carol service was a wonderful experience, even more so because we're leaving London so soon. Just to add to the sense of theatre, it was held in The Chapel at the Royal Hospital.

I experienced something of a Susan Boyle moment as it started. The Chapel Choir processed into the church by candle-light and as they entered, stopped at the doorway. One of their members, an unpreposessing middle-aged woman, stepped forward and nervously raised her hymn sheet in front of her.

I have to admit that at this moment, my heart was in my mouth for her. I mean, really, not having heard this choir before I had no idea what to expect. Obviously I should have known better, for she took a breath and, unaccompanied, sang the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City', beautifully. Just as beautifully, in fact, as any boy soprano chorister that I've heard.

The lesson, I suppose, is not to judge a book by it's cover...

There were readings too; at one point the friend I was with whispered that it was rather like listening to a 'best of' on Radio Four. They included The Nativity sketch by Joyce Grenfell (a hero of mine - click here for a poor attempt by me at writing in her style), and a parody of 'The Night Before Christmas' written and read by Richard Stilgoe which unfortunately I couldn't find on Youtube, but which ended with the immortal words '...I must have been barmy, to end the night eating three Peperami.'

We were also treated with one of my favourite Christmas-themed monologues; 'The Journey of the Magi' by TS Eliot. If you've never heard it I can recommend it; it will give you food for thought whatever your religious inclination...

Monday 7 December 2009

Keeping the space free

Husband and I sat down yesterday and made a list of all the things we still have to do to make our move to Moscow happen in just over one month's time. Bugger, there's a lot of stuff on it. Throughout this planning process I found myself fighting back the stress-yawns that any type of house-move always prompts from me (it appears my 'fight or flight' instinct is in fact a 'fight or stay on the spot and take a quick nap' instinct), and I have to admit that it did occur to me - more than once - to wonder; 'Why are we doing this, again?'

I know too that this is a question that friends and family ask themselves privately - and not so privately, on occasion. I mean, we could just maintain the status quo; Husband flying backwards and forwards every week, the Boys and I safely ensconsced in London and just seeing him for 2 - 3 days every weekend. I could continue to hold the fort on the home-front whilst my beloved brings home the Russian bacon.

But that would be wrong on so many different levels, I can't contemplate it. Manic though the next few weeks are going to be, we can't continue as we are doing. Not only because it is important for our sons that they get more time with their father (and for our marriage that their parents get to spend time together too), or that the constant travelling - for him - and solo parenting - for me -is exhausting both of us, or even that moving to Moscow going to be a great adventure in our otherwise staid and middle-class life. No, the problem with leading life like this is, I've found, that when one parent is gone for a significant amount of time - in this case, approx 75% of the week, every week - it creates a vacuum.

All the e-mails, skype and telephone calls in the world can't hide the fact that there is a Husband-shaped hole in our family when he's not here, in London, with us.

That's bad enough, of course. But I'm aware - both from my own experience, and from that of friends who've found themselves in similar situations - that what happens subsequently, as the absences become more common-place than exceptional, is almost worse. The longer the situation continues the smaller that hole becomes, because as they say; Nature abhors a vacuum. So what happens is that the family left behind starts to expand to fill that hole. It's a coping mechanism, and there's nothing wrong with that. Except, of course, that in this instance the partner who is absent comes back every weekend, expecting to find the same space they left behind empty, open and waiting for them.

I recognise this. He recognises this. And we both recognise that it is not a long-term recipe for healthy relationship. So we're moving to Moscow.

On the plus side, every single thing that we ever thought 'I must get round to that someday / I must throw out / I must organise' is going to be sorted in the process. And I'm anally retentive enough to be quite excited about that...

Saturday 5 December 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

There must be something in the air; I seem to get riled quite easily at the moment. But I took time out from huffing about party bags (fine in themselves but I hate the behaviour they prompt in my children) and railing against chocolate filled advent calendars (what's wrong with festive scenes of robins and reindeers, huh? Never did ME any harm as a child, twitch twitch...), to watch 'ET' with my children this evening.

Unsurprisingly it was my younger son who was enchanted, firing questions at us about rockets, spacemen, aliens, and whether ET was waiting outside our house, and my older son who hid beneath a quilt, peeping out every now and again to protest about being forced to watch such a scary movie. Never mind the happy ending - which we assured him frequently was on it's way - we were apparantly committing a heinous crime by switching on such a horror-flick in the first place. I should have known, I suppose. This is a boy who gets spooked by 'Numberjacks' on C-Beebies, after all.

All the fun and games, prevarications, negotiations, confrontations and reconciliations, however, are still to come for this Blogging Mummy of the Week.

Myshka is not a new blogger, but is currently in the eye of the storm that is becoming a first-time mother. As someone who's mostly forgotten what that was like, it's fascinating to read her real-time observations, both on what's happened since her daughter was born, and on how she felt about it all before-hand.

I particularly recommend this post, where she talks of her change in perspective; I know I'm a soft-touch these days, but I defy you not to be moved. It certainly reminded me of what having a new-born can feel like.

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Friday 4 December 2009

What would you NEVER do?

I've found that one of the best things about getting older (yes, amazingly there are some that fall under the category of 'good, better, best'), is the fact that I have become less certain about long-held beliefs and started to realise that sometimes life is just too short and too uncertain to ever say 'never'. Even some of the most fiercely felt principles are 'adaptable' sometimes.

Sceptical? Let me walk you through how this can work...

For example, I have always said firmly that 'I will never drive a 4x4'. They're petrol guzzling, unneccessarily large vehicles that serve no real purpose in a town other than being a testament to conspicuous consumption, from my very prejudiced point of view. Living where I do (Chelsea-on-Thames), we're covered with the things like a rash, they're everywhere. Taking up two parking spaces. Cutting the corners on pavements. Being driven like weapons, and generally just pissing me off, to be honest.

That was my start point, anyway. However, as I've got older, my immovable statement mutated into 'I will never drive a 4x4.' (See how the rot sets in?) Because not everyone else thinks the same way I do (I know, it's crazy, but - sadly - true) some of our friends drive them. And sometimes accepting a lift is unavoidable. And boy, are they comfortable. Still wrong, of course, but every now and again, just about acceptable. Let's just hope that my balaclava'd comrades in the Anti-4x4 movement never spot me in the passenger seat...

Time moves on though, and recently my position has changed again. Now, it's 'I will never drive a 4x4 in London'. (Lo, how the mighty have fallen...) Because there's a possibility that once we finally get to Russia, expediency will win out and I'll find myself behind the wheel of one. I mean, there's the weather (ice and snow for 4 months of the year), the state of the roads (pot-holed, unfinished, constantly being renovated), the additional safety that driving a virtual tank gives you in an accident (I'll be driving on the opposite side of the road to the one I'm used to), and the uncertainty of the skill level of the drivers around you (I'm told that in Russia it's more normal to buy your driving licence than it is to take the exam).

Plus, I'll have been uprooted from my normal comfort zone, will be far from my beloved family, bessie mates, and unlimited re-runs of 'Friends' on E4, so who knows? I may just think 'Fxck it. Bring me that 4x4 - covered in chocolate. Because I'm worth it.'

I don't expect that to happen, by the way, but you get my point.

Anyway, this moving of moral goalposts is something I've written about on Powder Room Graffiti this week, with regard to an issue that often raises outraged hackles; that of the Fur Coat.

So, what would you NEVER do? I would be interested to know...

Thursday 3 December 2009

Let's take a Moment or two...

I'm having those 'moments' rather a lot, recently. The sort of moments when you whether you wonder which reality it is you're actually living in. Needless to say, they usually revolve around my sons. Here are a couple of Boy #2-related examples...

Boy #2 (from the back of the car as we drive through heavy traffic to collect his brother from school): "Did you see it? Did you see it, Mama?"

Me: "What? What was I supposed to see?"

Boy #2 (exaxperated): "The HOUSE, Mama. The house!!"

Me: "Well, which house did you mean, Boy #2?"

Boy #2 (sighing heavily and no doubt rolling his eyes at his mother's tiresome insistence on watching the road when driving): "The HOUSE! The blue one! The one covered with smoked salmon!"

Heaven knows what he was on about. I mean, I do live in South Kensington, but even here conspicuous consumption hasn't reached quite those levels...

And recently, every time I start the car, it jumps forward as it has been left in gear. Not by me, I hasten to add - never by me. No, normally it's Husband who does that. (Is it a Man thing, or a continental European thing, I wonder? In any case, it drives me crazy.) However, Husband - in case you hadn't noticed recently - is rarely in the country during the week at the moment. So how is this happening?

Boy #2, of course. He has made it his raison d'etre to do this. Every morning and afternoon, he climbs into the back of the car and, whilst I'm walking around to the other side to clip him in, nips in between the two front seats to slam it into gear. By the time I've wrestled him into his car seat, located the seemingly impossible to find clip underneath him, and discussed whatever is on his mind, I invariably forget to check the car is not in gear when I finally get into the front seat to start the engine.

I turn the ignition and we bunny hop, to his great delight. Not, so far, into a car parked in front of us (we live in area where off-street parking is but a distant dream), but it's been close a few times.

I keep having nightmares where a clerk at my car insurance company opens my claim form and says "You remember that woman in London who hit a car at 5 miles an hour and gave some poor bloke whiplash? Well, she's back. This time she's totalled an Aston Martin parked in front of her and she's expecting us to be believe it was the fault of her three year old son..."

Hmmm. I think I need to leave a post-it note on the steering wheel.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Top Tips and bad man-management

Right. It's Top Tip Time.

Here's the first; if you have a small child about you and want to get completely, utterly and totally into the Christmas spirit, wait until they're at school / asleep / on a visit to loving grandparents and wrecking their tree rather than your own, and visit this post at Sticky Fingers. Then follow the links to create a real live video message from Santa Claus to your tiny tot, to show them at some suitably festive moment. It works, I promise. Hell, it had me believing in him (and even tearing up, if I'm honest) and I was the one who typed in the information to create it.

And here's the second tip. Are you super savvy when it comes to caring for your home and running your family? I bet you are. I bet you have loads of money saving tips to pass on and share. My top tip, which I've written about before, is to make a meal plan and a list before I go to the supermarket. Oh, and not to take the Boys down the cereal aisle where they can get seduced by the free toys. I know - I'm a horrible, controlling mother. Especially since designing, manufacturing and distributing those very same toys was the best job I ever had...

Other than Motherhood, obviously. (Cue sickly sweet smile as I pick leek and potato soup off my cardigan).

Still, if you're not feeling particularly super or savvy this cold December day, there's always the supersavvyme website for back-up. In the interests of full disclosure, they hosted a fantastic blogger's meet-up for the British Mummy Bloggers at London Zoo on Sunday, not only providing yummy sandwiches and somewhere to shelter from the freezing wet weather, but giving us the rare and very welcome chance to chat face to face, which is why they're top of mind for me right now. Check out A Modern Mother's blog for photographic evidence of the event and proof that we do, indeed, exist in the flesh...

Right now though, there is one area of my life which I'm not feeling either super or savvy about. No top tips here - just a sad tale of bad management on my part.

Not long ago I wrote about my inability to deal with 'the cleaner'. Reading it back, I decided enough was enough, I was paying her good money - more in fact than the our previous, better cleaner - and the next week (when she grudgingly turned up on time and as agreed) I spoke to her about understanding that she had been ill but that I needed to be able to rely on her. I explained that since we were moving soon and would be showing the flat to potential tenants, it was important the place was kept reasonably clean and that obviously she could help me with that.

You would think that would be the end of the matter, right? That she would either accept those terms or say 'thanks, but I don't think it's working out, you need to find yourself someone else'?

But no.

Since then, she has been when she said she would, that's true. She has done a just about OK job, also true. Not a great job, as I still find cobwebs and dust in blindingly obvious places, but I can live with that.

What I hadn't reckoned on, however, was that in retaliation for the unwelcome news that she was expected to start earning her wage, she would start helping herself to my toiletries.


Time for a new cleaner, I think.

Monday 30 November 2009

Does my blog look big in this?

So, it's been a while since you looked - really looked - at yourself in the mirror. You know how it is; you find a look that suits you, that you think is the bees knees, and you stick with it. It fits you, it reflects what you're up to at that particular point in time, and you feel comfortable with it.

Time passes, though. Your shiny new look starts to look a little less new and a little less shiny. In fact, it becomes a little grimy around the edges and feel a little uncomfortable in certain places. It doesn't fit as well as it used to. You start to notice that there are other people around who are looking quite a bit sharper than you do. Their colour-ways are clearer and brighter. They are more on-trend, more on-message. They can do things you can't. You start to feel like the frump on the edge of the dance floor whilst the cool chicks are getting noticed and getting on down under the lights, and you begin to feel a little left out.

So you grasp the nettle, take your courage in both hands and decide it's time. Yes. You are going to have a blog make-over.

Well, actually, I grasped the nettle in the summer and got my logo designed then, but in the way of all good ideas, at that point the project stalled. I uploaded the logo, thought 'ah, that looks purty, I must do something about the template now' and funnily enough real life came along and got in the way, dammit.

So it's only now that the final look is present and correct and ready for duty.

I hope you like it. And if you think my blog looks too big from behind, don't tell me please. I'm just enjoying the moment for now...

Please don't think for an instant that I achieved any of this myself, as I am a luddite of the first order (you may have worked that out from the somewhat home-made previous incarnation of The Potty Diaries). If you're interested in doing something similar with your own blog, details of the lovely people who helped me with this transformation are as follows;

Bespoke blog logo design by

Template design by

Overall blog design and project management by Liz at Violet Posy Design (Liz's other hat is as the fabulous blogger Violet Posy)

Sunday 29 November 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I'm distracted, I have to admit it. I have a travelling Husband, here only a couple of days a week. A younger son who has recently discovered the power of a whine delivered at top shouty volume, and who has forgotten how to use the words 'please' and 'thankyou'. An older son who is (I am delighted to say) discovering the joy of reading, which is great, but which does currently involve a lot of interaction from me. Plus, of course, day to day life, and a move to Moscow in the next few weeks.

Overall then, I suppose I should be grateful that in a rare and completely out of character moment of organisation, I've stockpiled a list of contenders for British Mummy Blogger of the week. On the flip side, admitting this does imply - correctly - that I've not had the chance to check through the most recent joiners, but I promise I'll get to you, I promise...

This week's Mummy Blogger of the Week, Kitty Moore, writes of her blog and herself;

'Love and life as a single mother. I created it to share my experiences - I know I'm not the only one! Film professional turned writer. Doing my best to juggle everything.'

I loved her tale of haruanging a poor hapless official at London Bridge when her train was cancelled, and her ongoing tale of getting involved with a man of whom her mother would definitely not approve. It's not your normal mummy blog fare - and I'm hooked.

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Saturday 28 November 2009

I'm wearing my glasses... that should tell you that when I went out last night with 3 girlfriends, and ended up in a gay club watching Motherhood the Final Frontier doing a fantastic personal appearance in front of some adoring fans, I may have had a vodka and tonic or two along the way...

Therefore, I'm going to beg your pardon and politely suggest that if you want to read anything approaching cohesive thought from me, that you pop on over to Powder Room Graffiti where you'll find me chuntering on (again) about moving to Moscow.

And there's good news; the deadline for entering the Robinsons Put On a Panto competition to win panto tickets at theatre local to you has been extended to 11th December. Go on - you know you want to!

Scroll down to the bottom of this post for details...

Happy Saturday!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Today's definitions...

Today's definition of 'WTF Were You Thinking?'...

... is agreeing when, during a post-school play-date, your children ask to continue erecting the lego monstrosity they started and abandoned yesterday afternoon. (And which you had since hidden in the study in the hope they might forget all about it).

Today's definition of 'Diplomacy'... working out how best to deal with the discovery that your son's playdate visitor is a bit of a lego fiend and has issues with 'sharing' and 'taking turns' when it comes to deciding who gets to put which piece of useless moulded plastic where.

Today's definition of 'Relief'... when 2 out of 3 participating children decide after 15 minutes that lego is 'boring' and you see an end in sight to the horror, the horror...

Today's definition of 'Dashed Hopes'... when your younger - and more obstinate - son refuses to give up the ghost and insists on continuing to build the police car that comes as an essential part of the 'City Police Station' kit.

Today's defnition of 'Pain'

... is the sensation in your knees as you 'find' yet another tiny walkie-talkie / street sign / railing / choking hazard without using your hands.

Today's definition of 'Frustration'... when you spend 20 minutes looking for the one tiny piece of plastic shrapnel without which said police car cannot be completed.

Today's definition of 'A Sense of Achievement'... when you find the piece and can finish the damn thing.

Today's definition of 'Resignation'... when you look up from attaching said piece and find you are alone in the room, surrounded by a sea of brightly coloured plastic, and realise that no child has been involved in this project for at least a good 15 minutes.

Today's definition of 'Groundhog Day'... when you hand the finished police jeep to your delighted son, turn around to start the clear up operation, and hear the crash as the dratted thing falls to the floor and disintegrates into a million tiny pieces.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Who is She?

Who is She, this other woman who supplants me between the hours of 7.40pm and 7.55pm each evening if the Boys don't get to bed on time? Because I've got to tell you, she's pissing me off, with her temper tantrums and her short fuse.

For the rest of the day, there I am, (mostly) sweetness and light - or at least, quite reasonable, anyway - enjoying spending time with my Boys, delighting in their quirks, cracking jokes with them, rolling my eyes sure, when I have to ask them for the 5th time to put their shoes on when we leave the house in the morning, but generally fully aware of the fact that they are (mostly) great to be around.

This afternoon, for example, I was 'present in the moment' enough to be able to enjoy it and make sure that I remembered it when my youngest son suggested that if I was going to call for Jesus (following an unfortunate tripping over a crack in the pavement incident on my part), I should make sure to do it loud, so that he can hear me.

And I was able to sit down perfectly happily with both my sons after school and start the lego equivalent of a 5000 piece jigsaw in the full knowledge that we would never finish it today, and that the 'City Police Station Construction Project' is likely to form a core part of our activities for some time to come.

(I should add here that in addition I finally got to make use of what I think is probably one of the best pieces of advice a friend ever gave me about bringing up boys; when you start with the Lego, do so on a sheet on the floor so that when you need to stop / finish / give up because it's time for tea, you can simply pick up all the corners and tip the remaining plastic shrapnel back into the box. Sammie, at the time I didn't know what a gem you were passing on, but now I finally get it; thankyou.)

So today I was aware of how fleeting these moments can be and am now able to sit down and record the memories here, safely storing them away so that I can pull them out at some indeterminate point in the future and turn them over in my hands like lucky pebbles...

And yet, the moment the Boys reneged on our deal regarding an extra 15 minutes of 'Wild Russia' on National Geographic Channel in exchange for not having a book read to them in bed, She arrived. I mean, it's not like they were watching 'Deal or No Deal', for chrissake. This was interesting, riveting stuff; of course they wanted to watch more on how the brown bears like to eat flies on the shores of Lake Baikal. (I know - don't ask). In hindsight, it was perfectly reasonable for them to want to push the envelope and nag me for a story as well after they had previously expressly promised they would go straight to bed. They're 3 and 6 - that sort of double crossing is their job.

Not that She sees that. She felt taken advantage of, exhausted, put-upon. It was all shoutiness and crossness and general childish behaviour for a good 5 minutes. There may even have been a Thomas Tank Engine book flung to the floor when a plastic cup (it wasn't even a breakable glass, for goodness' sake) got knocked over necessitating a swift clear up with a hand towel. Which can, of course, be washed, although you wouldn't have thought that from the huffing and puffing that ensued.

And then, as ever, She left as quickly as she arrived. Two minutes in the kitchen refilling the spilt water glass was enough to bring to me to my senses and send Her packing. She's gone, and I'm left with a sense of shame, a guilt hangover and a resolve that tomorrow I will be a better mother to my two darling Boys.

She should be ashamed of herself. And I am.

It's not all a barrel of laughs, this parenting lark, is it?

Tuesday 24 November 2009

It's time to draw the line

Just because I don't write about woman's place in society and the issues surrounding that, it doesn't mean that it isn't important to me. It is, as I'm sure it is to most people. I may choose to interpret feminist teachings in a different way to those who think that because I've chosen to spend some time at home with my children, I've ignored the call to arms, but that doesn't make my belief that society should be one of equal opportunity for all, regardless of sex, race, creed or colour any less valid or any less heartfelt.

And I hope that the way Husband and I are raising our sons reflects this, not least in the way that they will in the future view and treat women.

When I read Noble Savage's post on what happened to her at the Reclaim The Night March in Central London, I was horrified - although given the number of damaged individuals out there, I suppose I should not have been surprised. And when I read the follow-up post, about the vigil to be held in Trafalgar Square tomorrow night (Wednesday 25th November), even though I can't be there, I promised to post about it.

She's right. This shit has got to stop.

Monday 23 November 2009

The language of Love

How are you at learning new languages? Personally, I'm not the best, never have been. Along the way I've had shots at learning French, German, Spanish and Dutch, none of which has particularly sunk in.

For example, the only thing of value that I remember from 5 years of French lessons is the word for 'slice' (and you would be amazed how handy that comes in when shopping for cheese in Provence, sweetie). Oh, and the first verse of the Marsellaise, which to this day I can sing perfectly due to a particularly fearsome and intimidatingly chic French woman who taught the subject in my 3rd year. (That's Year 9 in new money. I think).

German was a non-starter from Day 1. Bearing in mind that in the 70's and 80's we were never really taught how to conjugate verbs in English, the chances of teaching a group of bored convent school girls how to deal with the 4 cases in German (Nominative, Accusative, Dative and Genetive - and yes, I did have to google those) when there were other important things to be done like looking up rude words in our dictionaries were always going to be slim.

Spanish? Well, that was for a couple of terms at university when, in the first year, I was forced to choose between some 'improving' subject (like Spanish, for example) or spending each and every Wednesday afternoon running around a hockey pitch being chased by scary stocky girls with very short hair and interesting piercings, all in the cause of glorifying the college sporting record. I know how to order beer in Spanish as a result - but that's about it.

Dutch appeared on the menu the year that Husband and I got married. I managed a couple of terms, attending an evening class almost exclusively composed of women with Dutch boyfriends, with maybe 2 men dating Dutch women, but bowed out when I got pregnant with Boy #1 and the term 'morning sickness' proved to be someone's idea of a cruel joke. Morning sickness? I don't think so; my nausea arrived promptly every morning, yes, but then decided to hang around for a laugh until bedtime...

So when faced with a move to Russia, I have to say that the prospect of learning an entirely new language, with an entirely new alphabet, didn't fill me with joy. Nevertheless, I'm giving it a go, and am now often to be found of an evening keeping company with Mamselle Rosetta Stone doing my best impression of Madonna in her 'Vogue' persona (think headphones here please, rather than pointy bra), swearing at the screen when I prove unable to say 'bread' in Russian for the 50th time.

This on it's own is not so bad. However, I am married to Mr Languages himself; he absorbs them by osmosis - oh, and very hard work, obviously. This skill on it's own is also not so bad. (Have you ever seen 'A Fish Called Wanda'? Remember how Jamie Lee Curtis loves it when John Cleese speaks Russian? That's what I'm talking about... But I digress).

Anyway, Husband speaks a number of different languagues, around 5 - including Russian - fluently, and another couple that he claims he can 'get by' in. And there's the difference between us. For me, 'getting by' is making it to the correct destination by taxi in Malaga without being ripped off. For him, 'getting by' is being able to order your coffee in Spanish and specifying that you don't want the whipped cream on top. Which, to my mind, is rather more than 'getting by', so I think you'll agree that our start points are not in exactly the same spot when it comes to learning languages.

Which is why I should not have been at all surprised by the following conversation...

Him: "So, how's the Russian coming?"

Me: "Oh, OK. You know."

Him: "It would be really great if you were able to communicate a bit with the locals by the time you arrive."(at the time of this conversation, around 8 weeks away).

Me: "Yeeeees. How do you mean, exactly?"

Him: "Well, you know. Talk to people in shops. Chat to the cleaning lady. Give directions to a taxi driver."

Me: (after a very long pause). "You do realise that what you've just described is my ultimate goal for when we've been living there about two years, don't you?"

Him: "Oh."

Sunday 22 November 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Despite having had a glass or two of wine last night I find I'm still capable of sitting down to write a blog post, especially when the alternative is sitting with the Boys and watching 'Crocodile Hunter' on DVD for the third - or is it the fourth - time this week. Well, it was that or Beverly Hills Chihuaha again and frankly, that I couldn't face...

But I'm well aware that having to deal with Steve Irwin-mad children whilst fighting the effects of a little over-indulgence is not really a problem. It's nothing, for example, when compared to the issues faced by the families of very sick children. When my two boys were baptised we asked that friends and family, rather than buying yet another silver cup, spoon or money box to sit on the shelf growing gradually duller until a visiting grandmother can stand it no longer and polishes them up, should instead donate money to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

So whilst I never seem to get round to watching The X Factor, I was delighted to learn - via Brits in Bosnia - that their Christmas single is in support of the hospital (click here to watch a video all about it. But have your tissues handy). Not only are Sony donating all profits from sales of this single, but if you click on this link it will show you which retailers are also donating a portion of theirs too.

Now, onto the British Mummy Blogger of the Week. Vegemite Vix writes of herself:

'A keen fan of Vegemite, and all things Kiwi, Vegemite Vix moved her three kids, dog, cat and all her earthly belongings from Auckland New Zealand to a small town in the English countryside. This is her blog about how to survive and thrive as an expat a long way from home.'

It's always interesting to look in the someone else's mirror when it's held up to things that we take for granted about life in the UK - like our education system, as she posted about here. And her notes on how Facebook has changed the way that teenagers deal with the end of 'True Love' showed - me, at least - how our communication-rich society can be something of a double-edged sword...

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Friday 20 November 2009

Faaather's caaar's a jaaaaaguaaaar...

This morning, in the car on the way back from the supermarket, Boy #2 was doing his best to send me crazy. He had decided he was going to mimic the tannoy announcements he had heard in Sainsbury's by booming instructions at me from the back seat with his hands over his mouth - thus making his pronouncements impossible to understand. Our conversation went something like this:

Boy #2: "Calling all..mimm..ens"

Me: "I beg your pardon?"

Boy #2: "I said, 'calling all cmirmbintes.' "

Me: "I can't understand you, Boy #2. Take your hands away from your mouth..."

Boy #2: "No! That's the point! 'Calling all snutegetmrssns...' "

I never did get to the bottom of what he was trying to say. But it put me in mind of this post about children's accents over at A Modern Mother's blog a couple of days ago, and also got me thinking about something that happened last week...

I was sitting in the doctor's surgery with the boys when a woman of about my age came in with her mid-teen son. They chatted to each other in a mix of German and English whilst they were waiting, and it became clear that whilst she was German / Austrian / Swiss or similar, he spoke English with a very middle class accent.

Until, that is, his mobile rang.


Then he had a conversation with a friend in what is sometimes called Hackney Patois, his mum sitting next to him and stoically ignoring the whole thing.

Something tells me that if my boys spend their teen years in London this may well be my future. Good god. I can't wait, really...

For those of you who've never had the pleasure of hearing Hackney Patois, according to the Urban Dictionary, it is the result of a combination of East London cockney, Afro-Carribbean, general chavspeak and Hip-Hop slang. Essentially, it's the next step on from Ali G.

Check here if you want to know more...

Thursday 19 November 2009

When David met Mumsnet...

So today it was David Cameron's turn to run the Mumsnet gauntlet.

Gordon Brown did this a few weeks back and whilst he scored a few points from the mummerati (not my term but it does sort of fit), a lot of stuff he said got missed in the furore over what type of biscuits he prefers - or rather, in the furore over his refusal to 'fess up to what type of biscuits he preferred. (In the end Sarah put them out of their misery, if you didn't hear. Shortbread. Although I'm betting it's not the Duchy Original's version...)

Anyway, today it was David Cameron's shot at convincing the 'early adopters' at Mumsnet that he's their best hope for an improved Britain come next Spring.

How did he do? Well, if you don't want to check out the whole 100+ pages of comments, questions and answers on the thread, click here for an edited transcript. I mean, feel free to check out the whole thing if you like, but I imagine a shortened version might be more up your street.

Alpha Mummy at Times Online also ran a real-time live blog analysis of what was going on (I was part of the panel) and if you want to see how that went, click here.

My take on his performance? Firstly, I take my hat off to both him and Gordon for doing this; the audience at Mumsnet can be a tough crowd and I certainly wouldn't want to get on their wrong side. Overall though, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know (although I have to admit that since I was going to be involved with this I did do a bit of prep before-hand so perhaps if I hadn't, I might have), he's not the world's fastest typist (but then, is that an important skill in a potential Prime Minister? Discuss), and he's going to have to work a bit harder to count on a lot of the Mumsnetters' votes.

And mine too, now I come to think of it.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Rules for a Perfect Family Christmas

Yes, yes, I know it's a little soon. And I also know that there is rarely such a thing - in a modern family - as a 'perfect family Christmas'. But we can all hope, and it never hurts to set your stall out early on these things, so when I was asked to participate in John Lewis's 'Rules for a Perfect Christmas' campaign I decided that now was as good a time as any to outline some of ours.

1) Children...

...should be seen and heard no more loudly than, say, a light aircraft. Jet engine levels of noise are strongly discouraged. And rocket ship levels will not be tolerated apart from on Christmas morning itself during present opening. (Grandparents are strongly advised to turn off their hearing aids during this time. Everyone else - there's cotton wool in the bathroom cabinet).

And on a more practical note, posting a letter up the chimney is all very well but what if you live in a house with no chimney, as we do? Simple; the rule in our house is that the children write Santa a note with a short summary of their Christmas list. Leave it with the carrot, mince pie and glass of sherry / whiskey / red wine / whatever you've convinced them is his favourite tipple (funny that it's the same as yours, isn't it?). Then, once the tots are in bed, cut a potato in half, carve the bottom of one of them into a semblance of a reindeer hoof, wipe some mud on it from the garden, and leave Rudolf's hoofprint on their note for them to find on the end of their beds with the stocking in the morning. Watch their faces when they see it. Magic.

2) The Christmas meal

Ignore the brussels' sprouts that your mum prepares every year as part of Christmas lunch. Whilst this will not make them disappear in a puff of smoke (because of course they do that anyway when they eventually get eaten, boom boom), it will mean there are enough of them left over on Boxing Day to be turned into soup with the left over ham stock from Christmas Eve. Quite how the most noxious vegetable known to man can be turned into one of the world's most delicious soups I don't know, but there you go, it works - you heard it here first.

3) The in-laws

Be kind. One day - with luck - you'll be in their shoes.

4) Entertainment

Pull out the box of Pictionary and / or Trivial Pursuit. Divide into 2 teams; men vs women. Light blue touch paper and retire 10 paces to watch in wonder as the family ignites...

For a more congenial experience, our family rule is that there must be a trip to see The Polar Express in 3D at the London Imax. Watch the animated snow fall inches from your children's noses as they reach out to try and touch it, and round the afternoon off with tea in one of the Southbank restaurants. Beats braving the Christmas crush on the local high street any day of the week.

5) Decorations

The tree and the decorations are never - NEVER - to be put up until a maximum of 3 days pre-Christmas. This means that the magic is all the fresher once the big day arrives. Tree decorations should preferably include:

  • home-made tat that you made at school 35 years ago which your mum still can't bring herself to throw out and so has passed it on to you for 'recycling'
  • garish balding tinsel that you insisted on buying when you were seven and bling was the new black, and which your mum has been delighted to finally pass on to you with the insistence that since she had to use it for 35 years, so should you...
  • tasteful designer glass baubles you bought on a pre-child trip to Prague and which you put as high up as possible to stop small hands interfering with them
  • home-made gingerbread cookies lovingly baked and decorated by yourself and the children and which you proudly hang on the tree, only to discover that the mouse problem you thought you'd dealt with last May needs attention once more...

Note; the 3 day rule is allowed to be broken if Christmas is not being spent at home, obviously; there's nothing worse than arriving back from the grandparents on Boxing Day evening to a decoration-free home.

What about you? Are there any rules in your household?

This is a sponsored post.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Ovarian Cancer and Pasties in the same post - who'd have thought it?

As I mentioned in Sunday's post, this weekend I went to a benefit event held by Ovarian Cancer Action to raise funds for research into ovarian cancer. This 'silent killer' is not a disease that many people think about, and yet it kills far more women each year than cervical cancer. I thought it would be helpful then to list the symptoms, as most of us don't know what to look out for.

The following is quoted from the leaflet I was given at the benefit:

'If you experience any of the following key symptoms on most days of the month, then ask your doctor if they have considered ovarian cancer, since research shows that these symptoms, when very frequent, can help a doctor distinguish between ovarian cancer and other less serious conditions e.g. irritable bowel syndrome.

persistent pelvic and stomach pain
increased stomach size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
difficulty eating, and feeling full quickly

Any other sudden onset, frequently recurring or numerous symptoms should also be reported to your doctor. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

needing to wee suddenly or more often
change in bowel habits
excessive tiredness
back pain'

If you feel like getting involved in supporting this very worthy cause then please check out Ovarian Cancer Action's website where there are lots of ideas on how to help.

And yes, there was burlesque dancing at this event, which for those of you who have never experienced it (like myself pre-Saturday night), features gorgeous ladies who wear big pants but not much more on top than fans and sparkly pasties on their nipples. And I would like to state that before writing this post I had no idea that 'pasties' was the correct name for those interesting nipple covers that look a tad uncomfortable (although who am I to say that, not ever having owned any) and which are sold on the Agent Provacteur website should you not know what on earth I'm on about and want to take a look. (Single Parent Dad etc, settle down).

Isn't it amazing where a straightforward post about ovarian cancer can take you? (And never say my posts are not - occasionally - informative...)

Sunday 15 November 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Yesterday evening Husband and I went to a benefit for Ovarian Cancer Action, which amongst other things featured a short and informative film about the disease, and which I hope to put on this blog in the near future. The evening also featured some burlesque dancers. I'll post about my reaction to that another time, but whatever you think about burlesque, I think you'll agree that as an entertainment it's not one you would normally encounter on a Saturday night out...

Unsurprisingly then, Husband and I were discussing it this morning. Boy #1 overheard the word 'dancers' and this is what followed...

Boy #1: "Did you say there were dancers there yesterday night?"

Me: "Yes, there certainly were."

Boy #1: "What were they wearing?" (I think he was expecting me to say 'tutu's' or similar).

Me: "Not very much, actually."

Boy #1: "What! You couldn't see their... their..." (uses his hands to indicate his upper half)

Me: "Do you mean bras?"

Boy #1: "Yes! Yes! Could you see their...(takes a deep breath) bras?"

Me (deciding to limit the amount of information that I give him and that for the purposes of protecting his 6 year old mind, in this instance nipple tassles could be referred to as bras) "Yes, you could."

Boy #1: "Really? Really? I'm glad I wasn't there. I would have been terrified!"

Me: (sotto voce) "Much like your father, I imagine..."

And now for something completely different...

This week's Mummy Blogger of the Week writes of herself:

'Voracious reader, reluctant runner, failed dog discipliner, kitchen experimenter, non-clearer-upper. Punching well above my weight sartorially. Rarely, if ever, stumped for an opinion - believe this to be a Good Thing.'

Mon Avis, Mes Amis is an entertaining mix of anecdotes, dog-training, reminiscences and historical titbits and I recommend you check out her account of finding herself slap bang in the midst of all children's nightmares; that of being the daughter of the geography teacher...

To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Friday 13 November 2009

Balancing Act

A few people recently have asked me why I don't Twitter. And very occasionally, I wonder myself, especially since when another blogger who does is kind enough to tweet one of my posts, hits on The Potty Diaries go up by around 50% for the next day or so. Which is, of course, nice, and extremely flattering.

But then I think of all the things I should already be doing whilst I tap away on the keyboard. That's not to say I feel guilty about blogging - much - just that it does tend to eat into your time. You sit down to check comments, click through to a couple of new posts on your blog-roll and bang! All of sudden, 3 hours, gone. Whilst in the background, every-day life continues without you, and other things pile up. House-hold stuff. Personal admin. Getting organised for The Big Move. And most importantly, spending quality time with my husband and sons.

Then I think of how my competitive and slightly addictive personality (what? You haven't seen any of the many posts referencing my chocolate habit?) would handle yet another stream of information coming into my life. I see my over-loaded, slightly-steaming, most-definitely-not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be grey matter reaching overload level. I imagine myself tweeting in the playground when I should be enjoying sitting on the wings of an airplane flown by Captain Boy #2 on my way to Australia / Siberia / Somerset. I see myself sneakily checking my Blackberry or i-phone (not that I have either but I just know that would be the next step if I made the leap into Twitter), when my sons are telling me about their day as we have a post-school afternoon snack, nodding absently as they share their triumphs and disappointments away from home with me, but actually hearing nothing.

Now, I'm not for one moment suggesting that this is what happens to other bloggers who tweet. I think that most probably the majority of people have a better ability to pair the word 'moderation' with the internet than I do. But I know my limitiations, and I feel that already my beloved Boys see far too much of the back of my shoulders as I sit turned away from them in the office, relating to a world they're not directly a part of.

So whilst I can see that Twitter is really the next logical step for a blogger, and that it adds a great deal to many people's lives, I think it would simply detract from mine.

Shame, really. I'ld love a cast iron reason to buy a swanky new i-phone...

Do you have 'Cleaner Dis-enablement'?

What is it with us Brits?

I'm a fairly mature individual - at least, I like to think so. I run my own home (mostly). I have successfully produced and managed to sustain two gorgeous boys. Husband and I have a happy marriage. When I worked in paid employment I was successful and was able to manage a team of people to achieve the end result I was after.

So why is it then, that when faced with dealing with someone who is cleaning my house - someone who I am paying a very decent wage to clean my house - I am seized by a crushing embarrassment and find myself totally unable to have a proper working relationship with them?
It's not as if I'm new to the idea of having a complete stranger come into my home and clean up after us; it's been at least 16 years that I 'recycle cash into the economy' (well, I had to come up with some way of rationalising it and dealing with the guilt). And yet, in all that time, I've never managed to crack it.

Some of them have been good, and some haven't. Some have stayed with us for years and have become pseudo aunts to the boys. Some haven't. But with none of them have I ever felt able to say - in the way I might with a colleague in the office - "I think this needs to be done again." Instead, when I spot the cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling or under the cupboard during their visit, I won't mention it, because that would be rude and of course they're going to deal with it. Aren't they?

But no. They finish up, put on their coat, I'll ask them about their life, sweetly hand over the cash, wait until they've left, and then... do it myself. Muttering about it, yes. Cursing, perhaps. But I'll still do it - and then not say anything the next week, simply handing over the readies for a repeat of the whole process.

For goodness' sake, what's all that about?

Don't answer that question, I know. It's the guilt. Unless you're from a very upper-class or moneyed background (and I'm not), we're just not used to having people in our own home 'serve' us. Indeed, the very word 'serve' is part of the world 'servant', and we've not been comfortable with that for some time in the UK. Or is that just me?

This is top of mind for me right now because our latest cleaner has just called in sick - again. She's probably managed only a 50% hit rate since she started with us a few weeks back. On the one hand I find myself thinking "It's just not good enough, I need someone I can rely on, I'm paying good money, I really should find someone else." On the other hand I also think "Oh, but you should be grateful! She's being good enough to clean up after you, a job that you don't want to do, don't you think you should give her a bit of leeway?" Which is all very well, but she's actually not very good at her job. Now, if this were an office-based workplace, those two facts - low attendance and poor performance - would be enough on their own to merit at the very least a discussion and if a decent explanation were not given, possibly result in a warning.

When you're dealing with a person who has the keys to your house, however, the goalposts tend to move a little. In my case, somewhere outside the stadium. So whilst I know I should sit down with her, ask her what the problem is, and explain that I need someone who, whilst allowed to call in sick every now and again, shouldn't be doing so every other week, and who notices the cobwebs / soap scum / water marks on the shower door, I also know that I probably won't.

She is cleaning up after us, after all... And god, does that make me feel guilty...

Thursday 12 November 2009

Never let the truth...

...get in the way of a good story.

Which is another way of requesting, as I respectfully ask if you might be interested in visiting Powder Room Graffiti to read my latest post there on the subject of 'the man cold', that you take it all with a bucketful of salt...

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Today's definition of 'Embarrassment'.. answering the door to an electrician you have booked to come round and sort out the lighting in your bathroom when you know that right now the air in that bathroom is a little... fragrant.

Today's definition of 'Prevarication'... the number of electrical based faults in other rooms that you can find to take a look at and discuss at length with the electrician on your way to said bathroom.

Today's definition of 'Relief'... realising when you finally reach the bathroom that your diversionary tactics have paid off.

Today's definition of 'Paranoia'... wondering whether in fact you're kidding yourself and if your relief is misplaced, because perhaps it is just that your nose is accustomed to this brand of 'perfume'.

Today's definition of 'Maturity'...

... is deciding not to worry about it and to use the whole experience as blog fodder.


Today's definition of 'Mortification'...

... is the horror you feel at just how filthy the top of your shower-head is revealed to be, now that you can see it in the mended light.

Apologies to the sensitive flowers amongst us...

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Oh no, she wouldn't...

Oh yes, she would! (Run a competition, that is)

This is a sponsored post. But I think you'll like it anyway...

Boy #1 can be quite shy. Not with his friends and direct family, but put him into a new situation, meeting new people, and he will take around an hour to warm up and get into the swing of things. Whilst that long and painful hour is ticking past he prefers to skulk around the edges of a gathering, pulling on my or Husband's hand and coat-tails, refusing to tell interested parties anything other than his name, rank and serial number, before ultimately disappearing to wherever the 6 year old action is and then having such a good time that he never wants to go home when we call 'time'.

I can't think where he gets it from.

Except, of course, I can. My shyness was ten times worse at his age; my parents used to despair of me, I know. And because I went through this I also know that he will grow out of it - as I did. Somewhere around the age of seven, a sea-change occurred, and having been the little girl who hung back and didn't like to be noticed I became - not quite a monster - but certainly someone who wasn't shy about pushing myself forward.

I think a large part of that can be put down to my sister's and my fascination with plays; specifically, with making up our own and performing them for our parents. At the time we lived in a house with recessed window seats in a couple of rooms, and my long suffering mum was repeatedly led to one or other of those before having the curtains drawn in front of her nose prior to being subjected to our latest offering.

Then, following excited whispers and much rustling about, the curtains would be pulled back, and hey presto, the play would begin!

In true home-made pantomime style they featured prolonged pauses whilst lines were forgotten, changed or made up; splendid costumes cobbled together from whatever we could find in the dressing up box (an old nightie in a gorgeous blue green, a gold sash, and a black felt hat once worn by my mother to weddings were particularly fought over, I seem to remember); and occasionally the odd stunt or two where soft toys and dolls etc were 'invisibly' pulled across the carpet using parcel string. Our masterpieces even included music from time to time when my sister or I murdered our violins in the name of art.

Gosh, my poor stoic parents.

And whilst I heartily applaud (geddit?) the amateur efforts made all those years ago by sis and I, I must say we would have been delighted with a bit of help in putting together a few minor details along the way. You know, ideas for plot, stunts, props, and costumes...

Which is why, when I was given the chance to feature this site and an accompanying competition, I jumped at it. Put On A Panto is a FREE site sponsored by Robinsons which takes kids through the steps of putting on their very own pantomime, from planning, to practising, to performing (it even includes invitations, posters and suggestions on making costumes). The idea is that it is a fun, creative activity for youngsters, and gives parents a little break while they prepare for the holidays.

Plus, it even features the chance to enter a competiton to win tickets to your local pantomime up to the value of £250. Altogether now: oh no it doesn't! Oh yes, it does!! (Sorry - couldn't resist).

Entering the competition is simple;

1. Simply take or dig out a photo of your favourite panto costume (for example one that the kids have worn or have designed especially for this, or some random photo from your archives featuring, maybe, a turquoise nightgown, a gold sash and a black felt hat circa 1978).

2. E-mail the photo before 11th December 2009 to amodernmother (at) gmail (dot) com with PUT ON A PANTO in the subject line.

The winner will be selected by a third party before 14th December 2009, and the winning entry gets tickets for 2 adults and 3 children to a 2009 local pantomime (or equivalent) worth up to £250.

Good luck!

This competition is also being held at: A Modern Mother, Violet Posy, Bringing Up Charlie and Jo Beaufoix.

Competition Terms & Conditions:

1. This Competition is open to all residents in the UK and ROI over 18 years of age, excluding employees of Robinsons and its affiliates or agents, the families of such employees and any other person connected with this promotion.
2. The Promoter will not be liable for applications not received, incomplete, or delayed. Last date for receipt of entries is 11th December 2009.
3. To enter, please leave a comment at this blog and then email a photograph of your favourite panto costume or a drawing of a panto costume to amodernmother (at) gmail (dot) com, including PUT ON A PANTO in the subject line.
4. All entries received by this date will be entered into a prize draw and judged by a third party.The winning entry will receive tickets for up to two adults and three children to a local pantomime (or equivalent entertainment) up to £250.
5. There will be no runners up prizes. The prizes are as stated and cannot be transferred, sold or exchanged. There is no cash alternative. No bulk or third party entries accepted.
6. The winner will be notified in writing by 14th December 2009.
7. The Promoter reserves the right to substitute the prize with a prize of equal or greater value in the event of unavailability due to circumstances beyond the Promoter’s control.
8. By entering this competition, entrants agree to be bound by the rules and by any other requirements set out in the promotional material.
9. PROMOTER: Robinsons