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

It was twenty years ago today...

I had a ranty post all written up and shiny-new ready for today, featuring in no particular order; PMT, shouty walks with pre-schoolers, unwashed cereal bowls, PMT, sneaky donuts, PMT, and gloves that look like fishes. But I'm afraid you'll have to wait to read that little belter as I realised this morning that today it is 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

This resulted in two thoughts; firstly, god, am I really that old..? And secondly; what would my life be like if it were still standing?

You might think it would be pretty much the same (with the exception perhaps of the fact that I would be unlikely to be moving to Moscow in the next 2 months). But I think this is a perfect example of the butterfly effect. Although admittedly, given the impact this event has had world-wide on not just the people of Germany but of the whole previously Soviet Bloc and ultimately, the world, the butterfly in this instance would be more like a planet sized insect than a fluttery tortoise-shell (now there's an image to give you nightmares)

I remember exactly where I was when the Wall started to come down. An ex-boyfriend and I were in the middle of a very badly-planned hitch-hiking trip to northern France (Hitch-Hiking? In Normandy in November? For Pete's sake, why???), and I was sporting a very fetching black eye from having tripped over in the dark as we arrived on the night ferry to Cherbourg. (Poor Ex-Boyfriend - previously referred to in this post as Sporty Boy - spent the next 4 days being given very suspicious looks by everyone we encountered. At the time I thought that was in part deserved for having convinced me a trip hitch-hiking in Northern Europe in late Autumn was a good idea). Obviously the hitch-hiking thing didn't really work out - no shxt, Sherlock - so we found ourselves on a train to Mont St Michel where we chatted to a perky American girl, travelling solo, who was hoping to head East to watch 'the show' as she so fetchingly called it.

Now, I don't really buy into the whole fame / infamy by association thing. It's not important to me to rush to be in Trafalgar Square when London is awarded the 2012 Olympics, or stand outside the Big Brother house cheering or booing the latest unfortunate to arrive or be booted out. But I can't help feeling that not travelling to Berlin when this incredible event - that would ultimately result in the fall of the Soviet Communist state - was taking place was particuarly short-sighted of me. I should have just stayed on that train with Perky American Chick and gone as far as I could go in that direction. It's a sign of how much my horizons have broadened that I realise now that getting there would have been achievable with actually not very much effort. It's one of the few regrets I have in life that I didn't do it.

As for how the Berlin Wall's demise has impacted directly on my life, well that's easy. I would never have met a tall skinny Dutch guy temporarily working in London in transit to a job in Moscow, for a start. Everything from that point on - for me - would have been different. Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different.

And, most probably, a great deal more boring.

How about you? Did it affect your life?

Sunday 8 November 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Boy #1 has decided I am not a 'fashion girl'. Apparently this is because I don't have hair down to 'here' (indicates mid-thigh), don't drive a 'fashion car' (I think we've established this already), and don't own 'fashion bags and shoes'. Bearing in mind I was sitting at the breakfast table this morning, unshowered, still in my dressing gown and looking - shall we say - not my best, when we had this conversation, I have to say that his decision on this matter was not one I could challenge.

It still stinks, though...

Let's change the subject, shall we? This week's British Mummy Blogger of the Week has been blogging for nearly 7 years, but I only came across her blog when she recently joined the British Mummy Bloggers ning, and it stopped me in my tracks. So many of us - myself included - blog about surface stuff. The really personal issues, the nuts and bolts of our emotions, stay hidden as we seek to make sense of our lives in a humorous way. One of the reasons I started blogging was that I figured if I could make what was going on in my day-to-day existence funny, then it would all seem somehow more worthwhile. I've moved on from that now - blogging is so many other things too - but there are still some subjects that are off-limits, that I would never have the guts to expose.

Everyday Stranger doesn't do that. Her posts are heart-rending, soul-searching, funny, and above all honest, and once you start reading you may find yourself - like me - unable to stop before you reach the bottom of the page.

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

Friday 6 November 2009

Roll on the weekend...

Once upon a time there was a smart, groomed, elegant, sassy (or at least, I like to think so) thirty something who's life was sorted.

And then she had children.

This morning this rumpled, messy-haired, slightly down-at-heel, struggling to remember the date now forty-something has:

  • dragged two unwilling children from bed
  • breakfasted them
  • tidied them up and asked them at least 4 times each to PUT. THEIR. SHOES. ON.
  • started the dishwasher (half empty, but the smell of last night's baked bean saucepan was just too dreadful not to)
  • done the school run
  • checked her oldest son's shoes when he climbed out of the car at school to try to locate the source of the very unpleasant smell, and discovered it was not his footwear, just the car decaying
  • stopped for a restorative cup of tea in a cafe and been generally amazed at how unpleasant some business people can be when they feel their space is being invaded by a small boy who is behaving beautifully - even if he is a little demanding on the subject of having Harry and Dinosaurs read to him
  • picked up a product to review (more of which later)
  • been to the supermarket
  • made more adult conversation with the guy on the fish counter than she's had in the last 24 hours
  • unpacked the shopping & put it away
  • put the laundry on (actually paying attention to the care labels for a change in the hope that the new wool jumper purchased for her oldest son doesn't shrink like the last one did, before he's even worn it)
  • Put some vegetables in the oven to roast so that she can throw them out cooked rather than raw
  • Negotiated with her youngest son for half an hour of internet time by selling out and letting him watch tv

And found out when she finally managed to fit in her first loo stop of the day that she had completed all of the above tasks with her flies undone.

Thursday 5 November 2009

It's never too late to do the right thing...

I can't imagine the living hell that Madeleine McCann's family have been going through for over two years now. Somebody, somewhere, knows what happened to her. Please take a moment to view this video and see the new images of how she might look now.


Wednesday 4 November 2009

The Ambassador Is Not Amused

Pass me those Ferrero Rocher, Monsieur Attache. It's time for me to take up my role as an Ambassador again...

However, this time I'm not wearing my Oscars style floor-length gown with the perilously high heels. Nor indeed am I all decked out in the latest sharp business suit with my 'I mean business' Laboutins. No, today this Ambassador is wearing fatigues, soldier, because she's mad and has decided that this is no time for Mrs Nice Guy. Mrs Nice Guy has, in fact, temporarily left the building, and been replaced by Mrs 'WTF! Drop down and give me 20! And whilst you're at it, clean the heads with a toothbrush and DON'T LET ME SEE YOU USING THAT WUSSY ELECTRIC ONE!!!'

Hmm. What's brought this on? I mean, I've sat through a number of films in my role as a Disney Blu-Ray Ambassador, including Beverly Hills Chihauha and High School Musical 3, so you would have thought that any scruples I had would have long since bitten the dust. But no. It turns out that all it takes to press my buttons is what may well be one of the best-loved movies of all time.

Snow White.

Now, before it was sent to me to review, I had never watched Snow White all the way through. Sure, I had seen excerpts from it on countless tv show 'best-of's, the dwarves merrily whistling as they worked in the mine, the dastardly queen talking to her mirror and such-like, but I had never sat down and watched the movie from beginning to end. So when it arrived last week in all it's Blu-Ray glory, I happily sat down with my sons and did so.

Let me start by saying that the High Definition delivery on this version is just about as faultless as it could be with the source material they were working with. Short of starting from scratch and making the whole movie again, I don't think they could have done a better job (or at least, not until the next new technology, whatever that may be, is out of the labs and in common usage).

But actually, I think that that is exactly what Disney should do; make the whole movie again, preferably with a completely different plot. Because, for a modern mother trying to teach equality between the sexes to her two young sons, the storyline stinks. I know that a lot of older animated moves can't be held up as being models of virtue, Sleeping Beauty definitely being one of them, but I can't remember the last time I found myself feeling as uncomfortable about a property created for children as I was when watching Snow White with my boys.

Where to start? Maybe with the sound-track. Not only does it jar with the crisp and colourful animation, reminding you at every turn that whilst the pictures have been updated, there is only so much that can be done with pre-digitally recorded sound, but Snow White's voice has got to be one of the most annoying I have ever heard. She's supposed to be at least 16 years old, for pete's sake (or at least, one would hope so bearing in mind that the mirror deems her old enough to be more beautiful than the icily gorgeous queen and suitable to be of interest to the Handsome Prince), and yet she has a 7 year old's voice, and that's with my being generous to a 7 year old's vocal skills. A child's voice in a young woman's body. What's right with that?

Or perhaps it's the way that the so-called heroine of this movie is so passive, and frankly, a bit of a wimp. Oh, she sighs at the tasks she's set by her cruel stepmother, but she doesn't do anything about changing her lot. No, she meekly finishes washing the steps and sings a charming little song about a wishing well. And when given a reprieve from certain death by the Huntsman and told to run for her life, she finds everything in the forest so terrifying that she swoons... I mean, swoons? Please. Give me a break.

I think though that what I found most irritating about this movie is the blind assumption that Snow White had no control over her own fate. It was down to the Queen to persecute her, try to murder her, and cast the spell of Sleeping Death over her, and down to the prince to kiss her, wake her, and sweep her away to Happy Ever After Land; she just had to stand (or sit, or sleep) and look beautiful. All the good - and bad - stuff would come to her simply because of that.

Now, I'm not for a moment saying that we've moved so far from 1937 - when this movie was made, which goes a long way to explaining it's sexism - that there aren't plenty of women around today who fit this stereotype. And I'm not even saying that this approach - of waiting for life to come to you instead of going out there and making it happen - isn't lauded in certain magazines and in other forms of mass-media. Or indeed that it isn't aspired to by a whole tranche of young girls and women who should know better.

I'm just saying that in this current day and age Snow White's example of womanhood is - to me at least - outdated and dangerous, and that it's not one that I feel comfortable showing to my children. Never mind that all this subtext went right over the Boy's heads, it's the start of a slippery slope and there are enough opportunities for them to see sexism in action in real life without having it sugar-coated and fed to them as a fairy tale. So I'll be sending our copy back to the agency who forwarded it to me.

Thanks, Disney, but you can keep this one.

And for those of you who haven't watched it in a while, who think I'm making a fuss over nothing, I suggest you sit down and watch it again - and then read my post...

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Slap-stick comedy

So yesterday morning I went along to a photo shoot with A Modern Mother - check here to see why, and who else was there. (I didn't want to go, you understand. Just like her, I felt this really was taking things a step too far, but for her sake, I did it. Oh, the pain...) And the immediate upshot was that I ended up with a face-full of make-up by 11.30am.

Anyone who's met me will know that cosmetics and I are not the best of mates. Admittedly, I wouldn't be without my close personal friends, mascara and eyeliner, but as to those trollopes eyeshadow, foundation, lippie? No better than they should be. Oh, I've tried to make nice with them over the years, really I have, but every time I think we've worked things out and are getting along well they double-cross me and I end up looking either as if I have two black eyes and smacked cheeks, or so understated that nobody actually notices I've bothered with them...

However, make-up artists don't earn that title for nothing, and after the initial shock of yesterday's experience - who the hell is that woman in the mirror? And what happened to her hair??? - I actually decided I quite liked the effect. I have no idea how to reproduce it, mind, and was far too overwhelmed by the whole thing to do anything sensible like make a note of what product and colours were being applied, but still, I thought I looked OK.

Amazingly, by the time I got home it was still in place (the reasons for which became clear yesterday even when I had to remove the mascara with a pick-axe, but there you go, you have to suffer to be beautiful - or so I told myself), so I was interested to see my family's reactions.

Husband was gratifyingly impressed. I suspect he was also wondering why I don't make this level of effort a little more often, but I didn't like to open that particular can of worms.

The Boys, however...

Well, Boy #2 took no notice whatsoever - until at lunchtime, sitting next to me, he spotted a glimmer of lipgloss left on my mouth. His expression became more serious. He stood up in his chair. He leaned over - and wiped it off. "All better now!"

Maybe not quite the reaction I was hoping for.

Boy #1 walked straight past me when he got home. When asked by his dad if he could see anything different about his mum, he gave me a cursory once-over and shook his head dismissively. Later on though, when I bent down to help him with something, he did a classic double-take. "What's that?" "What's what?" "That. Stuff." "Oh, it's make-up. Do you like it?" "It looks spikey. All pointy around your eyes." "OK. But do you like it?" "No." "No?" "No. There is no way I am wearing that to school tomorrow."

He has a point, I suppose.

Sunday 1 November 2009

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

It may be the end of half term. It may be raining cats and dogs and even small rodents outside, forcing us to cancel our planned expedition to Horse Guards Parade to watch the Changing of the Guards (part of our plan to experience London to the full before we leave it). It may even be the first of dark and dreary November today. But I am relaxed and rested. And do you know why?

Because the Boys' uncle and aunt are in town.

Let me tell you, there is nothing as likely to allow you to catch up on a whole load of household tasks (plus writing a Sunday morning blog post), than having your children distracted by an uncle who has been expressly summoned to town to erect the Lego monstrosity he bought for your eldest son's birthday.

My brother - and his girlfriend, bless her; now that's true love - have spent the weekend kneeling on the floor fiddling with teeny tiny fridges, motor bikes, and satellite dishes as they try to decipher the coded instructions to make a Lego City. Hmm. Giving up your weekend to spend it with two small boys and a whole load of fiddly plastic shrapnel? I call that making good on family ties.

Or, cosmic payback for buying the present in the first place.

So this morning's Blogger of the Week may be lucky enough to escape Lego syndrome, having only daughters (at least so far), but something tells me she'll be busy enough dealing with the trappings of 3 little girls under 3 not to notice that. PlanB - who has just about the scariest photo of herself I've ever seen on the BMB website - writes of herself:

"I'm a 32 year old mum of three girls, L is 2 1/2 and A and S are 10 month old identical twins. I have a wonderfully supportive husband and a Proper Job which I do three days a week. We live in London. "

And not only does she have identical twin girls to deal with, but her older daughter is doing a very good impression of a superhero to boot...

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