Sunday 31 January 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

After yesterday's 'isn't life in Moscow wonderful' experience, today brought me down to earth with a bump. And as so often is the case, Ikea is indirectly to blame, but the disconnect between men and women is the real culprit.

I ask you, who in their right mind would start to assemble a flat-pack chest of drawers (not one drawer, not 2, or 3, but FIVE, no less), in the children's bedroom only 30 minutes before their bed-time?

A man, that's who.

But let's not dwell on that; instead we will move smoothly on to this British Mummy Blogger of the Week. The Coffee Lady writes of herself:

'I am Trying New Things. I am turning off my cynicism and sarcasm and turning my face up like an amazed flower towards the wonder and joy of life. Well, I'll give it a go at least.'

And if you're at all interested in 'Frasier', Anthony Head, and Lempsip I recommend you check out this post where she convinces me, for one, that the only way to deal with a heavy cold is to retreat to the sofa...

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

Saturday 30 January 2010

There are worse ways...

... to spend a Saturday afternoon than sitting in a cafe overlooking an ice-rink in Red Square, sipping hot chocolate, and watching your husband take your sons for a spin on the ice...

Friday 29 January 2010

Negotiating the weekly shop and other impossibilities...

Boy #2 and I did the weekly shop in The Hypermarket from Hell today and survived, despite spending an hour and a half in traffic on the way home (Moscow's traffic jams are the stuff of nightmares). I'm viewing our expedition as a huge success however, as not only did we survive, but we left there with everything that I had put in the trolley. This may not seem like much of an Event to those of you who's weekly shop at Sainsbury, Tesco and the like achieves the same end each and every time, but let me tell you, here, it's a big deal.

Why? Well, customer service is never something you should take for granted in Moscow. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not.

'Not' includes the assault course that is negotiating the aisles full of enormous packing trolleys that, in Western supermarkets, usually only get wheeled out when the shop is empty in the small hours. The combination of reasonable prices, other customers hungry for bargains and not used to queuing (or not in the 'after you, Claude' cultural style that this English rose is more used to, anyway), and trying to handle a wonky trolley weighed down with a feisty 4 year-old hanging off the front does not make for a relaxing shopping trip.

Making it through that without needing to reapply your deoderant is enough of a challenge but then you need to run the gauntlet of putting your shopping through the till without then being faced by the blank look the cashier gives you when your fruit is not barcoded correctly or there is no label on the waste-bin you're trying to buy. There's no Checkout Captain here to rush off and find out what the price should be, oh no. Just a shrug of the shoulders and a tacit acknowledgement by both the customer and cashier that it would have nice to have some mandarins but, well, they've been barcoded by you, the stupid consumer as satsumas, so better luck next time...

Of course, the incorrect bar coding probably wouldn't happen if I had managed to get any kind of grip on learning the language before moving out here, but I have to admit that whilst it was a priority, it was clearly not high enough on my pre-departure list. I've written about this in Powder Room Graffiti if you want to see a perfect example of the best laid plans of mice and men not quite working out as intended...

Thursday 28 January 2010

How to assert your individuality when you're 4 years old

Boy #2 continues to impress.

I left him at a playdate this afternoon whilst I went to collect his brother from school. (It has warmed up - a little - but I still figured that if I didn't have to take him out into a minus 18degC day that would be no bad thing...).

When Boy #1 and I arrived to pick Boy #2 up, my friend greeted me at the door.

Me: "How was he?"

She: "Oh, fine, very well behaved. But I have to tell you..."

Me (heart sinking): "What? What did he do?"

She: "He went to the loo. When he came out, I could hear that he hadn't flushed the toilet, so I said to him, 'Honey, did you flush when you finished?' And you know what he said?"

Me: "Ummmmm?"

She: "He said, 'My name's not Honey! It's Boy #2. And - no.'"

Apparently, he did then go back and rectify the situation. And planted a couple of unsolicited large smackeroonies on our host (a gorgeous blonde) as we left.

Being Boy #2, of course, he then rather diluted the charm of that action by continuing on her other cheek with some raspberry kisses....

Wednesday 27 January 2010

How to get your mum's attention when you're 4 years old

Master Class Lesson #1500

Boy #2: "I need the LOO!"

Me (answering e-mails): "OK - off you go then."

Boy #2: "But I need a POO!"

Me: "Well, off you go - you know where it is."


Boy #2: Actually, too late. I done a poo already. In my pants."

Me: "What? Come on then, let's sort it out."

Boy #2 "But I want new PANTS! I WANT NEW PANTS!"

Me: "Don't worry, we'll get them. Let's just get you cleaned up first."

Silence whilst we bustle to the bathroom. Then...

Me: "I thought you said you had done a poo, Boy #2. There's nothing here."

Boy #2: "Really? Can you read me a story now?"

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Extreme snow days...

Boy #2 wants to go home.

Not all the time, not completely, but every now again, the comment "I want to go home to 57 Penridge Road*" is uttered.

I can't say I blame him for it. Whilst we are fortunate enough to be living in one of the least urbanised areas of Moscow, surrounded by trees and open space, the extreme weather at the moment is keeping us penned inside for most of the time. Hell, it's even too cold to take him on the walk to Boy #1's school and back; this morning the outside temperature was -23degC.

Obviously the answer is to get him into a nursery, which we're trying to do, but sadly that isn't as simple as it might be unless we want to parachute him into a Russian-only one, and whilst I'm all for immersing our sons in the local culture the thought of Boy #2 sitting there and understanding nothing, not being able to communicate, and being the oddity is just too much. He's only 4, for pete's sake.

So we're hunting frantically for somewhere for him to go, but in the meantime it's just the two of us during school hours. He's handling it very well, I have to say. The fact that we haven't had more fallings out than we have, bearing in mind our current lack of a tv, limited supply of dvd's to play on my laptop (3, at the last count - I know, not good planning on our part), and still-small circle of friends for him to play with (all of whom are already in nursery so not available most of the time), is testament to his good-natured stoic character I think.

Right now he's lying on the sofa, chilling, and no doubt bored stupid. There's only so much Poisson Rouge a chap can take, apparantly. (Thanks Emily from Maternal Tales for that tip, by the way!) And only so much playing at airports that a mum can take, I'm afraid.

As for going outside, and playing in the snow and bright sunshine? Well,to give you some idea of what - 23degC actually means, the photo below is of the inside of our front door lock.

The white stuff?


On the inside of the door.

We're definitely not in South Kensington anymore, Toto...

* - not our real address, obviously.

Monday 25 January 2010

Is your handbag comfortable?

Husband and I had our first night out without the children since we arrived in Moscow on Saturday. We went to a restaurant in the middle of town where I made a number of interesting discoveries...

a) Borsch is actually quite nice (and a little spicier than I anticipated). I know, with my long history of association with Russia, you would have thought I would have got round to trying it sooner, but for some reason the thought of beetroot soup never appealed... However, to celebrate our Moscow adventure I thought I should probably kick off the meal with something locally relevant. Well, it was that or a shot of vodka, and I thought I should save that for a time when there wasn't going to be a walk to the metro along icy streets afterwards.

b) Following 6 weeks of a total lack of gym attendance, it seems my body is a fickle thing and a dress that had fit perfectly pre-Christmas now... does not. Dammit.

c) Superstition assumes a whole other level here. Shortly after we arrived in Moscow a friend told me not to leave my handbag on the floor as the Russians think it bad luck. This may have something to do with the fact that very often the ground (when you're outside or in a public area, at least), actually is quite mucky. Inside people's homes, however, shoes are always - but ALWAYS - left at the front door, and floors are usually mopped every day to collect the dust that seems to get everywhere (that's what you get when there are power stations actually inside the city, I suppose), so it's rarely a problem. However, in the spick and span swanky restaurant last night, the floor seemed faultless, so I put my handbag next to my feet under the table. The result? Within two minutes our waitress sashayed up the to table with a look that clearly said 'You poor deluded ignorant foreigner' and, I'm not joking here, brought up a special doll-sized miniature chair, which she placed on the floor next to my seat. For my handbag.

Sunday 24 January 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

The Potski family are busy making new memories here in Moscow.

We spent yesterday morning putting together the latest flat-pack delivery from Ikea (don't knock it - I am living the Swedish dream...), and in the absence of our radio which is still waiting to leave Blighty, were listening to my ipod on Shuffle. Suddenly, a song I had no idea was on there started playing (courtesy of the soundtrack to Ashes to Ashes - thank you god), and I was transported back to my sixth form years and all the fun and frolics that went with them. The fretting that I wasn't as pretty as Rachel C with her steely blue eyes and flicked-back hair. The longing that I could have the same wheaten tresses and endless legs as Alex T. The endless deliberation of what to wear to the disco; the powder-blue cotton jump suit, or the pink high-waisted cropped jeans? The delight when my hair was finally long enough to tie back in a high pony-tail finished off with a pair with a pair of day-glo shoe laces...

As of yesterday though, whilst those memories will always remain, this song will forever be associated screwing together tables and chairs with the bright sunshine, magnified by sparkling snow, flooding in to our new Russian home.

Here they are; OMD singing 'Souvenir' in all their 80's fabulousness; I suspect it will now always be a 'moving to Moscow' trigger song for me, and I hope you enjoy wherever your trip down memory lane takes you..

And after far too long a break, it's time for the next British Mummy Blogger of the Week. Sitting here surrounded by white stuff, snow is pretty uppermost in my mind right now so I suppose it shouldn't surprise anyone that it's also a hot (haha) topic for this week's recommendation. Saffia Farr is currently questioning the effect that government health and safety initiatives have on our perception of the white stuff, and writes of herself:

'My blog is called Motherhood and Anarchy and it is about family life with three young children and a husband who works abroad. I created it to support my book Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan which tells of the three years I spent living in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, pregnant and then with a small baby. I love to write and am working on a fictional mum's diary. My blog is a way to share my thoughts and experiences of motherhood'.

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

Friday 22 January 2010

Pause for thought...

It's very easy to get caught up in daily life here, just like one does wherever you live.

The school run might consist of pulling a sledge along snowy tracks rather than jumping in the car and driving through the bijoux streets of Chelsea, but it's still, when all's said and done, the school run. A trip to the supermarket may involve a taxi ride along busy roads to the biggest hypermarket in Europe (more of which another time), and leaps of faith once you get there as to whether the tin of tuna you're buying is in brine or oil, or whether the bread you're purchasing is going to taste like cardboard, but you're still doing the weekly shop. Petty frustrations such as having nowhere to hang your coats or dry your laundry are solved by the same ubiquitous solution - an Ikea trip - that you might resort to back home.

But every now and again, the enormity of how our lives have changed hits me.

For example, as this morning, when I was walking through clouds of glitter as the humidity in the air was transformed by the freezing temperature into sparkling ice crystals (oh-so-pretty, but very drying for the skin, sweetie). As at the Parent Teacher Organisation (henceforth to be referred to as the PTO, because something tells me this may not be the last time I mention them) coffee morning I attended for parents new to the school, where everyone in the room introduced themselves and I was one of only 2 or 3 new parents who was an expat for the first time. Lists of previous postings as long as your arm were trotted out and nobody batted an eyelid. Or as when I climbed into a taxi with the boys and, after helping them knock their feet together to get rid of the snow (taxi drivers understandably prefer that you don't bring it in to their car with you), listened to them wish the taxi driver 'good morning' in Russian.

It's not all great, of course. I'm bored with not having curtains upstairs and having to get dressed and showered in the dark until that situation's sorted, and with not having an iron yet, which means that my already limited wardrobe is restricted to whatever doesn't look too creased. (Oh, alright; same old same old on that one, really).

I miss having my family close at hand and long conversations on the phone with my mum and my sis (although skype should sort that out). I miss the easy camaraderie and the chatty coffees with my 'mum friends' that I used to have pre-school pick-up in Baker & Spice or Paul's. I miss my girlfriends, who I've known for so long that we can use short-hand in conversation and know immediately what we're on about when we refer to the packet of chewing gum one of them always used to take with her on nights out at the student union.

I miss the ease and convenience of my London life (the supermarket round the corner, the two tube station 5 minutes walk away, the 4 Starbucks at each point of the compass, and the streets and shortcuts that I know like the back of my hand).

But all of that will still be there, waiting, when we finally head home (whenever that may be). There will be new friends, and new shared histories, to add to the old ones. Maybe I'll even manage to break myself of my addiction to Starbucks' hot chocolate.

And in the meantime I am determined to make this adventure - living in Moscow - as real as possible. Athough maybe not quite so real that we actually eat the bread that tastes like cardboard...

Wednesday 20 January 2010

A Heated Issue

You might wonder, having read yesterday's post on the current freezing temperatures in Moscow, how the people here cope with that. Do they sit inside, nursing their Ovaltine in fingerless mittens, watching their breath cloud the air in Dickension style as they huddle down inside their slanket and kangeroo-hop around their homes inside their big slippers? Do they sleep in their overcoats and in three layers of clothes? Are the insides of their windows prettily decorated by Jack Frost when they wake in the morning? Or do they simply crank up the thermostat to the max and think 'be damned to the heating bills!'

Well, outside of Moscow, I'm afraid I can't say. But inside of Moscow, none of the above. In fact, as far as I know, most homes don't actually posess a thermostat to control their own hot water or central heating, because it's all centrally controlled. So - and the environmentally aware reading this should probably look away now - the heating (the cost of which is usually included in your rent or service charge) goes on in October / November regardless of your individual preference, and off some time in the Spring. (If, that is, the White Witch ever releases her grip enough on Narnia/Russia to let Spring arrive, and I'm thinking that the jury is out on that right now). It doesn't matter if there is an unseasonably mild spell, or a ridiculously cold snap, the heating rumbles along whatever.

You might wonder whether central control of warmth means that people are left to freeze in their sleep by cost-cutting administrators, but actually - due no doubt to the wealth of natural resources here - the opposite seems to be the case. Most houses / apartments / public buildings that I've visited are warm and toasty, if not roasting. It's possible to be practically weeping from the cold as you (well, me, in any case) return from the school run and yet within 5 minutes of finding refuge inside, feeling so hot that you end up stripping down to a t-shirt.

Obviously this adds an interesting aspect to trips outside, because you find that you're piling the layers on yourself or your children in anticipation of the minus 15deg C day waiting for you whilst still inside your 25 degC home. Think about it; the difference between the two extremes can be around 40degC or more...

I was discussing this with Husband, who is of course a lot more experienced in dealing with this problem than I am, having lived here before.

Me: "How do people live like this?"

Husband: "Well. The Russians, of course, have developed a highly sophisticated method of dealing with over-heated homes that allows them to control the temperature precisely."

Me: "Oh, thank god. Can we get whatever it is? Is it easily available? What do they do?"

Husband (deadpan): "They open a window."

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Life in the Freezer

(with apologies to David Attenborough for appropriating the title of his tv series, but it seemed... appropriate...)

What to tell you about our two weeks in Moscow so far? There's so much that I almost feel as if there's too much. Every day something happens and I think 'I must write / blog about that', and add it to my ever-growing mental list, where it slips to the bottom and invariably gets mislaid. So I think what I'm going to do is take it one subject at a time, and I imagine that from the title of this post you've probably guessed what today's is.

I've never been too good with extremes of temperature. As a wimpy girl I once collapsed weeping on the kitchen floor when informed that Iwould have to go back out into the cold (cold as in, oh, a paltry -4 degC) to catch the school bus that was finally on it's way after having kept us waiting for 40 minutes whilst the driver defrosted it. And when in Holland over Christmas once and I experienced -10 degC, I thought that was probably the most I could take.

When, 15 years ago, Husband was working over here after we first met and regaled me with tales of minus 25, I thought he was crazy. I mean, what kind of idiot would willingly subject themselves to a country that dishes out a climate like that, for chrissake? (Possibly the same kind of idiot who would move to said country in the depths of the coldest winter for 4 years, but let's not go there). Never mind that he always assured me that -10 degC in Moscow doesn't feel any colder than minus 2 in London due to the much greater humidity in the UK (that lovely raw, damp cold that comes in straight off the Channel, in other words), I just thought he was trying to soften me up and get me to move there. Which I never would. Obviously.

But now? I have moved here, and guess what; minus 10?

Minus 10 is for wimps. I laugh in the face of minus 10 nowadays... Pretty much like Husband did in my face this morning when, on discovering that it was minus 21 degC as we walked Boy #1 to school this morning, I remarked that it did feel a little chilly.

God, I hate it when he's right.

Obviously, when it's this cold, you do have treat the weather with respect. And that includes staying inside as much as possible and when you do have to go out, poncing about in some of the ugliest snow boots known to woman, but when it comes to keeping my toes I take no fashion prisoners. Luckily, it seems that neither does anyone else (with the exception of the fur-clad mummies at the school gate, next to whom I feel very dingy in my North Face quilted coat and Monsoon wool hat), and if you make mistake of going out not wearing anything on your head, you can expect to be stopped and harangued by strangers in the street for your stupidity.

As for the children, well they get bundled up in skipants over their trousers, with snow boots, thermal tops, jumpers, ski jackets, hats, scarves, and - in the case of Boy #2 who at 4 is finding this especially hard to handle - two lots of gloves. Let me tell you, getting that lot onto a recalcitrant child at 8am tends to slow you down somewhat. And even bundled up like that, the cold still affects them. What should be a 10 minute walk to school is currently a 20 minute crawl when my youngest is with us, due to the cold slowing him down.

I thought I'd beaten that by buying a sledge so I could pull him along in double quick time (practical and picturesque, how stylish!), but yesterday - dammit - Moscow's road sweepers did what they do best and got rid of all the snow. One day it was there, the next, gone to the great snow pile in the sky at the edge of the city somewhere. So, no snow means no sledge. I must be the only person in the city praying for more of the white stuff in the hope we make it to school on time.

However, I'm determinedly looking on the bright side. It's going to warm up tomorrow; the weather forecast is for cloud and only -12 degC; that's practically tropical compared to today.

I may hang some washing out.

Monday 18 January 2010

Not dead, just in Moscow...

What better way to start my Russian blogging life than to nick the title of this post from the last line of my sis's most recent entry on here?(And don't get me started on what she wrote - does she not know how hard it is to find Kleenex Balsam tissues in Moscow? If I'm to avoid even more attractive nose-chapping than I'm already experiencing in the current temp of -20 degC, I'm going to have to send to England for supplies if she keeps saying nice stuff about me...)

So. Here I am in snowy Russia and finally - FINALLY -back on line, after nearly 2 weeks without internet access. Hal-le-xxxxxxx- ujah! I never thought I was that dependant on the world wide web, but guess what? Turns out lack of access to it was rather like losing an arm; I'm something of a basket case without it. However, all that's behind us now, and you're not interested in angst and missed opportunities for blog posts, I imagine.

Instead, here are some observations that I've made over the last couple of weeks;

Never - but NEVER - leave your workaholic Husband in charge of one of your two sets of movers for the day whilst you go and ferry your children from one set of grandparents to the other. Or rather, don't do it if you don't want to find that due to the fact he has had his head buried in his laptop (feel free to substitute alternative word for 'laptop' if you feel it's merited), half the stuff you had earmarked to be sent to Moscow has been packed by your over-zealous movers and now is actually in 'deep storage' somewhere near Reading. But then again, who needs a tv, anyway? Or a duvet cover? Or a myriad other items, including but not limited to Husband's snow boots? (Actually, that last one is poetic justice, since when I sent mine and the boys over with him before Christmas to be here waiting for us when we arrived he scoffed at my over-preparations and told me we'ld never need them. 10" of snow says differently, I think. And gosh, are my toes warm and toasty....)

Never move over Christmas. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but it is not. 'Nuff said.

Never trust your Husband when he says that there really isn't that much to do before the movers arrive in 2 days time. There is that much to do, and you will only have yourself to blame for having finished up early the night before to go and see Sherlock Holmes (which I highly recommend) when you find yourself sitting outside your self-storage facility (shut due to the unprecedented happening of 2cm of snow falling in Slough) at 5pm the night before you fly, with a car full of crap and nowhere to put it.

Be nice to your mother in law. You may need her spare room - for storage - some time.

Always double check the terminal you're flying from. Even if your beloved says that Aeroflot - and let's face it, given the fact that he travels to Russia most weeks, he should know - always fly from Terminal 2, just make sure. Especially when it transpires that for the last 3 months he's actually been flying with British Midland so was unaware that in the intervening period Terminal 2 HAS CLOSED FOR RENOVATION, FOR FXCK'S SAKE! Otherwise you may well find yourself rushing to find another taxi to take you, your beloved, your two children, 5 hefty suitcases, 54 small hand luggage bags and a rucksack-full of stress to Terminal 4 with only 2 minutes left to check in before the flight closes.

Having said all that, do try not to let the deep crevasses in your self-composure show too much. Or no more than will ensure you are bought a new laptop at Duty Free as an apology whilst you wait to board your plane, at any rate.

Stay tuned for more observations - on life in Moscow next time, I promise. And I just wanted to say thanks :- to my sister for writing such fantastic posts, and to everyone who's stopped by for making such great comments, and for harrassing her into restarting her blog which I'm on my way to check out now. So all it took for her to get writing again was for me to move to Moscow. If I'd known that, I would have done it much earlier...

Saturday 16 January 2010

Never were there such devoted sisters...

Still PM's sister. I've just had a long conversation with Potski Mummy for the first time since she moved. Her mobile has decided to stop sending texts, but they now have a house and a landline, although not much else until the IKEA delivery arrives. I'll let her tell you all of her news when she updates - she's hoping to be back on line by the beginning of next week.

Anyway, she's asked to me add another post in the meantime to keep things ticking over until she's back.

I can't believe how much I miss my sister. We've lived in different parts of the country for almost ten years now, so don't see each other too often. But I didn't realise that we've always spoken almost every day and I now miss that contact.

PM is experiencing a very different life to me. In fact, we've led quite different lives since we both left home. I find myself thinking - we had the same parents, went to the same schools, were brought up with the same values, but have ended up in very different places.

PM has generally got things right in life. She's always worked hard - for her degree, her successful career, her friendships, her marriage and at being an excellent mother. I think that her secret to a successful adult life is that she's always stayed true to her personal values.

The things I respect most about my sister:

  • She has never let a man make a fool of her. If he has, she's made sure that she's not been around to let him do it again.
  • She makes the best fruitcake in the world. Fact.
  • She is patient with life and doesn't rush around trying to fix things - she thinks the problem through and so comes up with the best solution.
  • She buys me slippers every Christmas.
  • She is the best mother I know, and as a result has two intelligent, charming and kind boys who will grow up to be excellent young men.
  • She falls up the stairs, but does it gracefully, as if it was meant to happen.

We're sisters but look different, live differently and have different tastes in everything from men to food. She's never coloured her hair in her life, I'm known to close friends as Miss L'Oreal. She goes to the gym, I go to the couch. You get the picture.

But, like me, she needs the toilet as soon as she walks into a library. Genes will out, after all.

P.S. As I check this post, I realise that it reads like a eulogy. Don't worry, PM isn't dead, she's just in Moscow.

Monday 11 January 2010

The names have been changed to protect the innocent

Potty Mummy's sister here again. This evening I had a choice between topping up the hot water bottle that is the comforting task of updating PM's blog, OR jumping about in my (now too small) sports bra to Hannah Waterman's new fitness DVD. So, here I am.

Potty Mummy is fine, busy visiting the Moscow IKEA and discovering the delights of the Russian underground system. I don't mean that she's getting in touch with the dark underworld of a Muscovite crime network, I mean she's been on the metro. She hopes to be back on line by the end of the week.

So, back to the post. I forgot to mention a couple of incidents from the Christmas period which reminded me what it's like to be divorced. My son's father and I split about ten years ago now (a relief for both of us, I think) and I married my lovely new husband five years ago.

Incident Number One
My son had a major part in the school production of The Sound of Music. He invited his dad along to the performance. And his dad brought along his mother. She's slightly deaf and he's not one to pretty up his opinions to spare feelings, even those of children.

So I had the pleasure of spending the evening sitting on a small, hard school chair, in the dream company of my parents, husband, ex husband and ex mother in law. Ex Husband whispered expletives in my ear every few minutes. Ex Mother-In-Law shouted her opinions in the quiet moments, when the orchestra rested. Question - how many Exes does it take to enjoy a school orchestra tuning up for three hours? Answers on a postcard, please.

Incident Number Two
Before I remarried, I'd changed my name by deed poll back to my maiden name. I couldn't bring myself to change it when I married again. I suppose I should think about it now - after five years together, it looks like it might work out.

Anyway, this has all resulted in three different surnames for our little family. It's never been a problem for me, but appeared to be a problem for Canadian passport control officer when we arrived at Montreal airport for our ski trip before Christmas.

He couldn't accept that my son lived with us, despite the letter from my ex-husband granting me permission to take my child on holiday (don't get me started on that one), the copy of my son's birth certificate and a copy of my latest marriage certificate (Liz Taylor has nothing on me).

Silly me, I'd forgotten the copy of my decree nisi, the copy of my name change by deed poll, my last will and testament and that recipe for peanut butter brownies. After making me sweat for a few moments, he took my son to one side and questioned him about visiting his father, living with me and so on. Fortunately, my son didn't get flustered, answered correctly and we were granted the pleasure of continuing our holiday.

The same thing happened on our return, at Heathrow airport. Seven hours of flight socks and listening to Swiss Family Chav witter on behind us had made me a little grumpy. I think that the British passport official could see that he shouldn't mess with a woman with swollen calves and maple syrup cookie crumbs caught in her cleavage, so waved us through after asking a few half hearted questions.

I've been advised that, in future, I should have a permission letter from my ex husband, witnessed by a solicitor. The thought of going through that rigmarole makes me reach for another peanut butter and maple syrup brownie.

Friday 8 January 2010

Top Gear

Hi from PM's sister again - still keeping her blog warm for a few days.

I've just received an update on the Russian situation via the Potty Family grapevine. Unfortunately it was from my father rather than my mum, so it was kept to sentences of less than 10 words and sounded like a telegram, so not much detail...'Your sister has arrived. Stop. All well. Stop. House and children fine. Stop. She will call tomorrow. Stop.'

'Oh, thanks, dad. What about the...Oh, you have stopped.'

Anyway, today was quite a red letter day for me, despite the fact that we spent three and a half hours driving the thirty miles to work from Somerset to Bristol. I have discovered that I am a BETTER DRIVER than my husband in these winter conditions. Obviously we haven't discussed this. It is not to be mentioned. Ever.

But it was quite a coup for me to be able to drive out of the (very small) snow drifts several times, after my husband had failed to negotiate the icy road, sat with his head in his hands for a few minutes and then got out to push. I nimbly popped over to the driver's side (well, as nimbly as one can go when dressed in ski socks, snow boots, thermal long johns, ski trousers and a North Face jacket a size too large that makes me look like a ripe raspberry), slipped the car into second gear and away we went.

Husband (as I've been told on a few occasions) has passed his ADVANCED driving test. He is a nervous passenger. However, he didn't appear too nervous in my rear view mirror after I pulled out of the third snow drift, so I think we have both learned a thing or two today, and are better people for it. It's great that, after several years of marriage, we're still growing as a couple. Makes me feel all warm inside. Or perhaps that's because I've left my thermals on?

P.S. Potty Mummy, if you're reading this - I sent The Boy yesterday to call on the old lady down the road and ask if she needed any shopping delivered in these icy conditions. He was not keen and it took several minutes of lectures about 'character building experiences' and comments such as 'It didn't do me and your aunt any harm in the winter of Eighty-One,' to get him out of the door. I have become my parents.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Burberry Pooch Pouches

'Stand in' post from Potty Mummy's sister.

PM is either winging her way to Russia or sitting in the departures lounge trying to keep Boys # 1 and 2 occupied with approved reading, unscheduled snacks and the sight of several planes on the tarmac. Boy #1 will be happy with the snacks. Boy #2 has probably found his way into a cockpit and is trying to gain a slot for take off from an unsuspecting air traffic controller...'but exactly where in Russia, Flight Bravo Alpha niner-three?...We don't have any co-ordinates for ice skates and a pool.'

Anyway, she's asked me to keep her blog warm with a guest post until she bundles kids and husband into slankets and snow boots, closes the door behind them and pulls the laptop from the priority baggage. I'm missing her already, but won't go into that, or else will start crying into the keyboard.

I've just returned from a stupidly expensive ski trip to eastern Canada. Thirty Canadian dollars for a glass of Moet (THIRTY?) led to us wandering around the hotel on New Year's Eve clutching a carrier bag containing a bottle of duty-free champagne and several glasses of various shapes and sizes borrowed from several of our party's rooms. Well, after having to tip enough during the previous few days to pay back the Icelandic debt, I thought we were entitled to a break from the spending.

We had a great holiday, despite the expense, (I had to sit down with a stiff drink after settling the bar bill. D'oh! There goes another thirty dollars). We spent Christmas Day morning with friends on the slopes, husband and son on double blacks, me trundling down easy blues and were back in time for a huge breakfast and then gift exchange. As Master Card says - priceless. And he should know, we paid him enough for the pleasure.

However, the holiday did confirm to me that I have A Problem. Its been creeping up on me for a few years. First, the realisation that the less people have to say of anything of substance, the louder they speak. I learned that one in queues in airports, shops, restaurants - any place where people gather in annoying numbers (i.e. over 4), and invade my personal space (i.e. stand within 10 feet of me).

My Problem has now reached the point where everyone, other than friends and family, annoys me on holiday:

The couple staying in the seventh floor Gold Suites (my nirvana...I will get there one day) who wore sunglasses inside - they annoyed me.

The three pre teen boys who kept playing with their hair, wore skinny jeans and were allowed to roam at all hours around the resort with their own credit cards - they annoyed me, (well, I think they would have annoyed anyone).

The woman who came and sat on the fireplace ledge in front of me, blocking out my heat - she annoyed me.

The people who fell off the chair lifts, thus causing it to slow down - they annoyed me (oh, how quickly I forget).

And when I say 'annoy', I mean that seethe with a silent, low level but unhealthy rage until I can't bear it and have to start a quiet, half whispered rant to my husband about the unsuspecting perpetrator of the latest crime. 'See that woman over there? The one with the two small dogs in tartan baby slings? There, the one with the furry boots and the son in the stetson? Can't you see? The one with sunglasses and implants? Well, she's wearing really annoying perfume...'

I will have to address The Problem soon. If this carries on, I'll end up like my dad (see previous PM posts for more details) or will drive my husband to some sort of breakdown. He's already started humming tunelessly every time someone wearing a fur coat or a slightly large hat comes into view. And I've noticed that he rocks backwards and forwards very gently if we're sitting in a restaurant near someone talking to their children in the third person...'Zander, Mummy would really like you to try another mouthful. Would you, darling? Or would you like a biscuit? Juice? Would Zander like juice?' Zander would like to be left in peace with a Power Rangers comic and no questions asked, but that's as likely as me joining another Reading Group. Don't ask.

Anyway, I digress. I've decided to tackle The Problem. And have booked another ski trip. To France for half term. Busy pistes. Expensive beer. Airport queues. Lots and lots of loud braying types, (alas, no small pooches in Burberry carry pouches, but you can't have it all). If this doesn't cure me, nothing will. At least, that's what I'll say to the bank manager when I explain the hefty overdraft.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday 4 January 2010

2009: That was the year...

...that I've been tagged to list highlights from by the fabulous Modern Mother.

Hmmm. Well, it had it's downs as well as ups, but I have to say that overall I think 2009 was a pretty good year for me.

First off, our holiday in Egypt showed me that you can get small boys interested in ancient history if you are prepared to brave claustrophobia under the pyramids, and risk life and limb in taxis without seatbelts, airbags or indeed any sense of caution or knowledge of the highway code on the part of the driver...

Then, in the same month - in fact, in the same post, as it happens (most unlike me to be so economical and use one posts when two would do) - not only was Boy #2 finally potty trained, but I was paid - PAID, I TELL YOU, PAID! - for writing something. A red letter day indeed.

Next up, I would have to say that this one is an unlikely highlight but I'm putting it up here all the same; I found myself lambasted in the comments box of Alpha Mumm for daring to stand up for 'stay at home' mums. Funnily enough, the dismissive and disparaging remarks by various people about those of us who have chosen a different course for a few years, rather than sending me into a decline, simply made me realise how comfortable I feel with my temporary status.

Other highlights? Without getting soppy about it, the constant surprise, amusment, and delight of raising two boys. (Alongside the more than occasional sheer boredom and frustration that go hand in hand with the same thing).

Revisiting my youth with Husband and larging it at U2's Wembly concert, and being fussed over and photographed for the January 2010 issue of Red's when they set up a photo shoot to feature Susanna of a Modern Mother along with myself and 3 other bloggers. (Thanks Susanna for the chance to do that!)

And finally - FINALLY - after what feels like years (but is only months) of prevaricating and procrastinating, deciding to take the plunge and move the family to Russia for a while. It may not sound like a highlight but making that decision was the most exciting thing that we've done in a while. It is also why I'm sitting typing this on my lap in a mostly empty flat after the moving company descended on us like locusts this morning to pack up our life and leave us with dust, cobwebs, and a mattress on the floor until departure-day later this week.


Oh yes, and I tag: Sparx, Expat Mum, More than Just a Mother, and Jo Beaufoix. It would be more but I'm using the fact that the wind is whistling around my cold and empty home as exemption from excess blogging tonight...

Saturday 2 January 2010

Do you ever get the feeling your kids are smarter than you?

Am bracing myself for a crazy few days. Now that the Christmas break is well and truly over, it's time for us to face up to the fact that in 5 days time we will be leaving the UK for the forseeable future. Bearing in mind the fact that moving is not something I particularly enjoy, it could be a bumpy ride.

With the first of two sets of movers (one domestic, to store the bulk of our furniture, and one international, to ship a few odds and sods to Russia) coming on Monday, Husband and I are leaving the children with grandparents today to go back and try and impose some kind of order on our possessions. Thankfully we don't actually have to pack anything as that will invalidate our insurance (hurrah for insurance!) but we do have to separate things out so that vital supplies we will need in Moscow don't disappear into storage for the next couple of years. You know, life-saving appliances like a coffee maker, for example...

So we're leaving the Boys behind for a few days. Boy #2 is unconcerned by this; at just under 4 years old he probably doesn't appreciate the level of forthcoming upheaval. Boy #1, as expected, is handling it differently, and is 'unhappy' at being left behind. Suffering from more than just a few last-minute jitters myself, I'm probably overly sympathetic, but that doesn't change what has to be, so behind he must stay...

Normal service is continuing however, as illustrated by the following conversation that took place in the the car a couple of days ago. Boy #1 and Boy #2 were arguing about something or other (I think it was of vital importance and involved battles between Megatron and Optimus Prime). Suddenly...

Boy #2: "You're wrong! You bloody bugger..."

Me: "I beg your pardon?"

Boy #2: "I said, 'bloody bugger'."

Me: "Well, please don't. We don't say that."

Boy #1: "What? Bloody Bugger?"

Me: "Yes. Please don't say it. You don't hear Papa and I say that, so please don't say it yourself."

Boy #1: "Alright. We won't say 'bloody bugger' anymore."

Boy #2: "Yes. No more 'bloody bugger'. Don't say it, Boy #1. No more 'bloody bugger'."

There is silence for a few minutes whilst I try to contain my giggles and maintain the facade of being a responsible parent, until Husband gets into the car.

Boy #1 and #2 in unison: "No more 'bloody bugger', Papa!"