Sunday 28 February 2010

British Parent Blogger of the Week

Sunday night, we're back in Moscow, and I'm trying to avoid facing up to the fact that I have a one-on-one 90 minute long Russian lesson first thing tomorrow morning for which I have revised precisely nothing.

I was so full of good intentions when I started this. Hell, I was so full of good intentions when I was packing for our trip to England that not only did I take all my notes with me but whilst there I also purchased two packs of index cards so that I could transpose all the new words I was planning on learning onto them, all the better to be able to test myself with.


In fact, HA!

I wouldn't mind but Ludmilla, my teacher, clearly KNEW this was going to happen because a) she teaches mums a lot, and b) she said to me at my last lesson the day before I left that I shouldn't worry if I didn't have the chance to do anything because we could go over it all again when I got back. To which I spiritedly replied that of course I would be working on it - I would have loads of time.

Again, ha. HA!

So, rather than dwell on the prospect of my forthcoming humiliation tomorrow, let's talk about something much more interesting. The British Parent Blogger of the Week. You may have noticed my use of the world 'Parent' there, rather than 'Mummy' and yes, there's a clue; this week's pick is a bloke.

Dan at All That Comes With It writes of himself:

'I live near Huddersfield in the North of England. I’m a 33 years old part time stay at home dad. For three days a week I'm also a community mental health nurse but you won’t find me blogging about that much. I’m married to Kerry and we have two children - Amy (5) and Evan (2). I keep chickens, grow veg, enjoy the odd walk, and am a complete and utter geek.'

He's been blogging longer than God (allegedly) and in his 'spare' time is co-ordinating the forthcoming Hadrian's Wall walk in aid of The Joseph Salmon Trust - you can find out more about that and how to sponsor the walkers by clicking here. And the video on his post 'This One's for the Xbox Family' last week brought tears to my eyes and reminded me what a blxxdy amazing thing blogging can be.

Have tissues handy.

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

Friday 26 February 2010

There's a new word in town...

Still on half term, still at my parents.

My Dad, probably like most fathers (in fact probably like most of us, if I'm honest), has a tendancy to 'pronounce' upon things when he's had one or two glasses of wine. If you were unkind and didn't know him very well you might even call these pronouncements just a little bit... pompous. (It is of course mine and my siblings job to puncture such bubbles, which I have to say he takes in very good part).

This morning at breakfast, there was a somewhat heated exchange which involved, in no particular order;
  • the Boys being told that they had to finish their breakfast before they got down from the table
  • the unfairness of such a despotly suggestion from their wicked mother
  • the fact that Boy #1's Power Ranger had fallen apart - FOR EVER
  • the fact that Boy #2's dirty diesel train was missing presumed STOLEN
  • the disaster of Boy #2 finding he had WEETABIX ON HIS HAND
  • the importance of putting the Power Ranger back together AT ONCE, BEFORE getting dressed and couldn't I see what a crazy suggestion it was to do things the other way round?
  • the loss of Boy #2's napkin, vital to rectify the weetabix situation (it was of course on the table in front of him)
  • the intervention of a grandfather trying to eat his breakfast in relative peace
  • and the slight outrage on the part of said grandfather when no-one took any notice of him and he realised that such a normally tranquil part of his day had disintegrated into whining and moaning
The fracas was brought to a swift halt however when Boy #1, outraged that no-one was taking the Power Ranger horror seriously enough, said loudly;

"Please! Can we just stop this POMPERSATION!"

and my father and I dissolved into fits of laughter after I muttered in reply "Well, of all the people to use that word with, I think you picked the right one..."

But on reflection, I think he may have hit paydirt. I mean, can't you just see the myriad uses for the word 'pompersation'? As in, 'let's sit down for dinner with some fine wine and some pompersation'? Or, 'They gathered for a drink in the local pub and after a couple of beers had a very fulfilling pompersation about the state of the world today...' Or, 'Daily Mail readers rallied round today to support the newspaper's latest pompersation about the parlous state of the country's immigration policy' ?

Personally I think the uses for this word could be extremely far reaching, and fully expect to find it in the next edition of the Oxford Dictionary. What uses could you find for it?

Update: I've been thinking. How about using this word as collective noun too? For example, 'a pompersation of Daily Mail readers'? (Feel free to delete DMR and replace with whatever takes your fancy...). And this evening, after (unsurprisingly) a couple of glasses of wine, the Greater Potty Family came up with a classification system for early warning of pompersations. How does 'DefPomp #1 / #2 / #3 / #4 / or #5' sound? The higher the chance of a normal conversation disintegrating into a 'pompersation' the higher the DefPomp rating. Or is that pushing it too far?

Thought so.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Observations #445

#1: Don't try to manipulate a four year old's emotions...

(Not if that 4 year old is Boy #2 and you don't want to be put firmly in your place, at any rate.)

Yesterday morning my mother-in-law was lamenting our forthcoming departure; we were doing the 'grandparent shuffle' and were leaving to spend the rest of half term with my parents. Talking to Boy #2, she said to him "I'm going to miss you when you've gone."

He appeared unperturbed by this information, and turned to her, big brown eyes wide and said, "Well, I don't miss you. Right now, I miss gran and grandad..." Long pause. Then: "But when I am with them, I will miss you instead."

Well, I suppose at least he threw her a bone.

#2: They grow up faster than you think.

This morning Boy #1 and I were listening to his younger brother wreaking havoc elsewhere in the house. Boy #2 was vociferously shrieking for help; the bathroom light needed switching on, and Boy #1 turned to me, sighed heavily and said, "These youngsters do go on, don't they?"

#3: Sometimes life is a cliche.

As when you are being driven down a busy Moscow highway through swirling snow by a chain-smoking taxi-driver, watching the traffic around you take part in it's complicated ballet, and suddenly on the radio you hear this...

Tuesday 23 February 2010

A Thorny Issue?

Apparantly my M-i-L is scared of me.

This was the bombshell Husband dropped on me today, casually, as if it were something I should know but no big deal really. He then amended his statement, to something more like; well, not scared of you exactly, but she worries about what you think.


Scared of me.

Is this a good or a bad thing, I wonder? I mean, I don't go through life with the aim of being the Dragon Lady. I like to imagine that I'm kind, approachable, and have an open face; hell, otherwise why is it always me who gets stopped and asked for directions by every tourist and crazy in town? I'm good with kids; I talk to rather than at them, my son's friends are happy to come over on playdates, and I appreciate children as individuals rather than an as encumbrances (unless, of course, I need the loo and they just won't let go of my leg to let me go to the bathroom, which happens more than I might like).

OK. Perhaps I can be a bit brusque at times. I don't always suffer fools gladly, and I'm self-aware enough to admit that in fact, if we're being completely honest, if you catch me at the wrong moment I occassionally resemble a cactus, but I usually soften up pretty quickly with the liberal application of wine. Or chocolate. Or wine and chocolate.

So, spikey, yes, I'll admit to that. But scary? I hope not.

The shocking thing though? If she chooses to think that about me, I can live with it.

To put this in context; I realised when I first met her that my mother-in-law is a warm, open, loving and wonderful mother to her children. Who wants to know EVERYTHING about them. The first things, great. I can only hope to be able to deliver the same benefits to my boys. That last, though, that is the sticking point. I come from a very private family where words were carefully considered, and where talking too much about your feelings was, for a long time, something that needed to be diluted with humour, just in case you hurt someone else. Or, preferably, something you didn't do at all. 'Just suck it up and get on with it' could have been our family motto.

There were reasons for this, (none of them sinister, all of them private), and the result is that for a long time, neither of my siblings or I took too well to sharing our deepest thoughts. We do it now, of course we do (hellooo! I'm blogging!), but on our terms, not someone elses'. So I have to admit that whilst I like and admire my mother in law, I always held my distance and kept my defences up.

And when the Boys arrived, I did nothing to change the status quo. If anything, I enforced my spikey persona still more when they were first born. I suppose that the reason behind this was that I worried she would try and take over. Her delight in her grandsons (her first) was total and I felt that lines had to be drawn so she knew that what Husband and I (oh, alright, I, if I'm honest) wanted in terms of how they were treated was not just some easily disregardable fancy but very important to us. And I suppose the feminist in me felt that all this adoration of the Boys simply because they were boys was a bit of a slight to the grand-daughters she already had.

But you know, looking back on it now, it seems petty, silly. There was never any question in my mind that she had anything but my sons' best interests at heart, it's just that her interpretation of what they were was slightly different to my own. You know; softer. Less Anxious New Mother. More laid-back, and seen it all before. More like that of... well, a Grandmother.

So nowadays, having had that realisation, I am much more laid-back. I don't over-react in the same way, at least I hope not, and we have reached an understanding that seems to work very well; she thinks I'm a bit overly strict but respects that, and I think she spoils them - a little - but generally let her get on with it.

But 'scary'? Well, if 'scary' means that when I'm not around she doesn't let the Boys watch television in the morning or give them that 3rd and 4th chocolate biscuit in a row when they look at her with those big beseeching eyes because she doesn't want to upset me, I guess I will just have to live with that.

How about you? How do you deal with your mother in law?

Monday 22 February 2010

Today's Definition of...

....Pride coming before a Fall;


Yesterday evening Husband and I watched the Baftas. When he remarked that he was going to be in Chiswick today and who knows, might bump into local Bafta Best Actor Colin Firth, I flippantly suggested that if he did so he should mention that I personally was unimpressed by the bouffant hair style he had been sporting at the award ceremony. (Although, like everyone else no doubt, I was mightily impressed by his speech - the only really entertaining one of the evening - in which he described how you should never send an important e-mail without getting your fridge fixed first).

The Fall

I got my hair cut today by an unfamiliar stylist. Suffice it to say, I have been 'bouffed' to the max.

Serves me right.

Note: You might think I would have known better than to make the comments above, since a while back I wrote a post on hairdresser disasters for Powder Room Graffiti; check it out here if you're interested...

Sunday 21 February 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

We're back in England for the week - hurrah! I have a long list of things to do and buy, and whilst I won't go into that here I'm sure that you won't be at all surprised to learn that it includes purchasing large quantities of Green & Black's cocoa powder and chocolate bars.

Since arriving yesterday I've found myself noticing the weirdest things. How clean all the cars seem, for example. They're not, obviously - it just seems that way after being surrounded by their excessively mucky Moscow counterparts. And I'm surprisingly happy to see the rain. Now THAT's weird. And it will probably only last as long as the first time I go outside into it and my snow-proof, extremely-low-temperature-proof but in no-way waterproof Northface coat is soaked in two seconds flat...

I'm not sure how much time I'm going to have for blogging during the forthcoming whirlwind of catching up with friends and family, which is why I'm posting this week's British Mummy Blogger of the Week now. Deerbaby writes of herself:

I'm a mum of two - a girl of 2 and a boy of 10. I started this blog because I want to remember it all -"The rotten and the bliss."

And her most recent post where she draws a comparison between the conspiracy of silence regarding the changes that parents experience pre and post the arrival of their first child with the movie 'Fight Club' ('First rule;you do not talk about Fight Club. Second rule; you do not talk about Fight Club') contains one of the few useful hints about baby kit that I was given before Boy #1 arrived...

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

Friday 19 February 2010

He's 4. FOUR!!!

This afternoon the Boys and I were sitting in the school cafeteria. I was bribing them not to moan on the 20 minute walk home through the driving snow by feeding them chocolate croissants whilst piously consuming only hot water myself. (Honestly. Who knew I would turn into my mother so early?).

It was busy, with pupils from right across the age spectrum of the school (4 - 18) stopping by to refuel, and next to us there was a table of five approximately 15 year-old girls, laughing and chatting away.

Boy #2, having finished his croissant, sat there with a chocolate smile on his face, surveying the room. A particularly loud 'Oh my gaaaaaaad!' from the table of girls behind him caught his interest, and he turned around to take a look.

He did a double take.

Then, he leaned over, nudged his brother in the ribs and said "Boy #1! Look!"

Boy #1, in a world of his own, recounting the plot of 'Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs' to me for the nth time, stopped. "What? What is it?"

"Look!" came the answer, a cheeky grin on Boy #2's face as he pointed behind him with a sticky hand. "Look! Gaaaaayells*!"

This is how it's going to be, isn't it?

* That's 'girls' for those who don't speak Four Year Old Boy.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Tanks for the memory...

You wouldn't think, would you, that filling up your car with petrol would ever be a challenge? (Unless of course you've read 'Wife in the North's book when it seems it is beyond her husband's capability on multiple occasions). But yesterday, as I sat in our car looking disbelievingly at the dashboard which read 'Miles to empty tank; ---' it certainly seemed to be.

Now don't get me wrong; petrol stations in Moscow abound, and with prices of around 50p a litre neither availability nor cost are a problem. It was more that a) I had to drive approx 2.5km on vapour through heavy traffic and b) that I had no knowledge of how 'the system' would work when I got there. What 'system'? There's a system for everything here in Russia, and it doesn't always work in the way you might expect...

However, nervous as I might be, the fact remained that we needed petrol, so after a fortifying hot chocolate in the school cafeteria (never let it be said that I get my priorities wrong) Boy #2 and I set out on our mission to 'tank.' (Spot the Expat American English creeping in to my vocabulary...)

We were parked at the bottom of small hill. My trepidation at this point was such that I was sure we were going to run out half way up it, so I called Husband to alert him that I may be requiring his phone-based translation services in the next half hour or so. Safe in his office, he was sympathetic but amused at our situation - nice.

I started the car, desparate that something might have changed on the readout, but no, it still showed those intimidating dashes, although the engine turned over, thank god. We nosed slowly out of our parking spot onto the road and crept up the hill. Muttering curses under my breath about every obstacle in our path, we reached the highway. Boy #2 sat in the back seat, exhibiting an air of quiet expectation every time we slowed down.

"Are we going to stop, Mama? Will the police come?"

Damn. The highway was practically at a standstill - but it was the only way to get to petrol station. And Boy #2's concern was not unfounded.

Russian highways can be - how can I put this? - a little dog eat dog. Back in the mid-90's when Husband first lived here, I used to scoff at his tales of how a 3-lane motorway would become a five-lane car park in the rush hour as drivers simply created their own way of dealing with slow-moving traffic, driving mirror-to-mirror through the heaving throng. It couldn't be true, could it?

Of course, now I know differently. I would like to think that the problem might partly be a result of the fact that the road markings disappear under the muck and dirt caused by the snow and the chemicals used in the winter, but I suspect that this is a standard hazard of driving in Russia.
As are; the unlicensed and uninsured drivers (driving tests are seen as optional over here, and I'm told many people simply bribe examiners to get their certificates); the high level of traffic accidents (official statistics - not necessarily trusted by many Russians - listed the number of fatalities on the road as 30,000 in 2009. That's THIRTY THOUSAND DEATHS, in case you missed a nought or two); and the traffic police who are regarded by many with fear and suspicion. Add to that the fact that if you do have an accident you are required to leave your car exactly where it was at point of impact - even if that is slewed across the road with little more than a scratch - until the police arrive to investigate (which may be 2 - 4 hours), you can understand why the thought of running out of petrol in the middle of the motorway was not something I was totally enamoured of.

However. It had to be done; we had to get some petrol. So I entered the fray and set off on the remaining kilometre or so to the petrol station. In the back seat, Boy #2 sat wide-eyed and wondering where the nice lady on the sat-nav's voice had got to. I didn't like to admit that I had switched the sat-nav off in the ridiculous notion that somehow by doing so I was decreasing our petrol consumption (I know. That's crazy. But it was that or pull out a rosary at this stage; superstition strikes in the oddest situation).

So, crawling on, sweating cobs, and praying to the saint of new expats (there must be one, surely?), we inched towards the petrol station.

Thank god. We made it.

Oh, and the petrol station 'system'? Not so hard to handle. Well; not if you're able to sketch out numbers in the air, have no fear of looking like a complete and ignorant idiot, and the kiosk has the total cost for differing quantities of petrol displayed on the window for just such eventualities, anyway...

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Stopping the rot before it starts

At Boy #1's school in London, bullying wasn't much of a problem - at least, not in the 15 months he went there. I suspect this was because Reception and Year 1 had their own sites away from the big kids, meaning that the general atmosphere was fairly laid-back and low key. So we never had to deal with it.

His new school in Moscow, however, is built on a much larger scale. Sometimes this is definitely an advantage, as with the library that parents have access to with a life-saving dvd section full of kid's titles. As with the cafeteria that is open to parents all day and which does a mean hot chocolate and the only freshly-squeezed orange juice I've come across in the city so far. Or as with the outdoor ice-rink that the children get a lesson on every week in winter when the weather is cold enough.

Sometimes, however, the disadvantages of a larger establishment become apparant too. Yesterday afternoon post pick-up, the boys were in the playground and Boy #1 was targeted by two 2nd graders who were looking for someone to torment.

What do you do in that situation?

Usually my stance is to keep an eye on things and perhaps offer a little helpful advice along the lines of 'stay away from them, if you can't do that then ask them why they're doing it (and hopefully make the aggressor realise what an idiot he is), and then finally, if all else fails, fight back - although be prepared to run fast if you do...'

This time, however, the boys were 2 years older and substantially bigger. Boy #1 stood no chance, and these 2 unsupervised boys showed no sign of letting up. So I committed the cardinal sin, and confronted them myself (I mean, my son had been forced to take refuge under a wooden vehicle in a snow hole and was beset from both sides by these two boys).

I walked up to them. The ringleader saw me coming and scarpered, but his cohort was cornered. "Why are you doing that?" "What? I'm not doing anything!" "Come on. You can see he's not enjoying it. Why would you continue to chase and push someone smaller than you if you know they don't like it? Really, I'm interested. Why?"

A look of confusion crossed the boy's face. A grown-up was having a reasonable conversation with him about something that he was plainly in the wrong on. What the hell was going on? "Don't ask me. Ask my friend. He's the one in control, he's the one telling me what to do."

Now I was the one who was confused. "So does that make it alright? Doing something that you know is wrong just because someone else tells you to?" He shrugged. I tried another tack. "So, do you always do what people tell you to? Do you always do what your mum tells you to, for example?" "Yeeeesssss." "Oh, come on. I doubt that." "Well - sometimes, I do...." "Thought so. I think that maybe this time you could think for yourself and see this is not the right thing to do. Otherwise I might have to find your mum and talk to her about this."

He thought about that, and melted away whilst I pulled Boy #1 out from under the wooden ambulance (how fitting) where he had found refuge.

End of conversation. But not, perhaps, end of situation. I'm worried that I did exactly the wrong thing, but I couldn't just stand by. Not only were my motherly instincts up and fighting but the whole unfairness of someone smaller being picked on got to me too.

On the plus side, he didn't seem unduly perturbed and was happy to continue playing with his friends for a few more minutes before we headed home. And as he doesn't share break-times with the class these boys are in, the only time they're likely to cross paths in the near future is when I'm around. Also, thanks to the Moscow winter, the children are all so heavily disguised at the moment with their snow gear and hats that I'm hoping that the fact I put Boy #1 in a different coat and snow pants this morning (rather than his previous orange / red combination, which did make him rather visible) means he might just slip under the radar until the aggressors have forgotten all about it...

But what would you have done?

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Valentine's Day? Was that what it was?

As you may have noticed in yesterday's post, the Potski Familiski finally has access to a car in Moscow. This is most definitely a Good Thing, and has freed us up from the tyranny of the waiting for the Taxi that Never Comes, a frequent occurrence if you live off the beaten track in Moscow. Since we've moved to our new home we've heard the 'he has a flat tire' excuse, the 'he took the wrong road and couldn't get through the forest from there' excuse, the 'he went on the wrong road and got stuck in a traffic jam' excuse, and the best one so far, 'he doesn't come from Moscow so didn't know how to get to you' excuse (which does rather beg the question, why call yourself a taxi driver?).

Now however, we are free to hop in the car at any opportunity and be late because of our own stupid misdirections rather than someone else's. This weekend we took full advantage of that, trying as usual to fit in far more than we had time for, and on Saturday drove into the centre of town to try and find a few hard to get comestibles (wrapping paper, a birthday card, and eye-make-up remover. Didn't think they were hard to get, did you? Let's just say I'll be stocking up on my forthcoming trip to the UK...).

We found ourselves in a smart department store on the Novy Arbat and whilst I was making a purchase, the Boys were approached by 2 handsome young men wearing short (VERY short) Roman tunics, each bearing a tray of heart-shaped biscuits. Of course my sons took 2 each (oh, the shame; I never feed them, you know), and munched away as I made my purchase. Or rather, I tried to. In many Russian department stores they still operate the old Soviet-style system, as I found out when I tried to pay.

It works as follows; you go to the cosmetics counter. You select your eye-make-up remover. You try to pay. There follows a confusing pantomime where the lady behind the counter explains that you can't pay here, you have to pay over there at the till. She puts the product in a bag anyway, which you try to pick up. Then there is further confusion and a bit of tussling when she hands you a ticket, but not the bag or the product. Then your husband comes to the rescue whilst you wonder which parallel universe you are in, and he takes the ticket over to the till on the other side of the store, pays, comes back with the reciept, and you are finally handed what you came to buy. Why you can't take the product to the till I don't know (it's not as if these places aren't security guarded to the hilt), but that's how it's done. Now you know, should you ever find yourself short of eye-make-up remover in the former Soviet Union...

In any case, the Boys were happily eating their biscuits, as was Husband. I was, shall we say, enjoying the view of the young men in their tunics. And then Husband and I had the following conversation...

Him: "So, now you know where to come for cosmetics, at any rate."

Me: "Yes..."

Him: "And if you fancy a free biscuit you know where to come for that too."

Me: "Well, only until tomorrow, though."

Him: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Well, don't you think that two young men in toga's offering free heart-shaped biscuits might have something to do with it's being Valentine's Day tomorrow?"

Him: "Aaaah."

Needless to say, in the Potski household there was no further mention of February 14th's being a significant date...

Monday 15 February 2010

Congratulations, and celebrations...

This will be the speediest of speedy posts, but today is something of a red letter day so I hope you'll forgive that. Today, I have:
  • driven a car in heavy snow on untreated roads (for the first time)
  • in an automatic car
  • on the wrong side of the road (at least, 'wrong' for us Brits)
  • in a road system that I don't yet properly understand
  • using a sat nav that shows the road marked in an alphabet I can't yet read
  • in a city where most expats start dialing the men in white coats if you tell them you're going to drive yourself

Not to mention having:
  • argued the feminist point about whether stay at home mums 'work' (I doubt I need to tell you which side of the argument I was on) with my Russian teacher
  • and stayed awake and focused throughout said Russian lesson
and last but by no means least, celebrated my 43rd birthday.

If I do say so myself, Happy Birthday to Me, indeed!

Saturday 13 February 2010

Pushover? Moi?

A couple of weeks back one of our new neighbours invited us over for a cup of tea. It was a lovely gesture, all the more so because recently arrived and basically camping in our new home, such civilised events as actually sitting down (on chairs!), drinking tea (from proper cups!) and eating cake (home-made, no less!) were something we had got out of the habit of doing.

Her children got on well with ours, and the afternoon was marred only by a pushing incident when one of them got a little too physical with Boy #2. Just a one off. Nothing to worry about. But still. I'm a mum, right? So I made a mental note to keep a weather eye out in the future when said child was around.

A couple of days back, a few children came over for a playdate, and this child was among them. I resolved to keep an eye on Boy #2 and make sure the boy in question didn't pick on him. Nothing more, just observe from a distance.

The child's behaviour was, of course, exemplary, and mid-way through the playdate he walked into the kitchen where I was putting together a casserole for a dinner party (just call me Abigail). He sniffed the air. I watched him, narrowly. 'You can't put one over on me, sunshine...I've got your number.'

And then he turned to me and said "Smells good. You must be an excellent cook."

And I, cold hard woman that I am, melted, and said in reply; "Thanks. Would you like another biscuit?"

See? I am definitely no pushover...

Friday 12 February 2010

Shock news; cold weather gear sucks...

I think I may need to smarten myself up a bit.

I reached this conclusion as I arrived at school to drop off Boy #1 this morning, clad in my normal sexy combo of Northface long-line padded coat, ski trousers, moon-boot sized snow boots, woolly hat and embarrassingly grubby gloves. My cheeks were red, my nose was running, and oh joy - as I discovered when I got home - the snow storm I had come through had helped the mascara I applied at 7.00am to migrate from my eyelashes to my cheeks. Not a good look.

All of this would be fine if my sartorial take on the morning school run was the majority choice, but dammit, it's not. Boy #1's school is populated by mummies who arrive wearing delicate high-heeled boots, stylish jeans, and body-conscious jackets. Or fur.

Which, by the way, I object to on principle - or rather, I did, until I found myself enduring the coldest Moscow winter for 30 years. Now, my high falutin' principles and protestations that 'there must be a decent man-made alternative, we are in the 21st century after all' are being worn by down the incessant minus 15 degC temperature to 'Gosh. You look warm...'

Anyway. I'm not cutting it in the yummy-stakes at the school gate. Which, whilst it isn't important enough for me to ditch the padding and shiver in style (hell, I never exactly wowed them in London, now I come to think of it), does make me wonder how they do it. Or rather, it did, until I put two and two together and realised that whilst I am yomping through the Arctic tundra pulling a sledge with two small boys on it, most of the other mums are tripping gaily out to their cars and hopping in the passenger seat as their driver takes them on to their next appointment...

Note to self: Add 'staff' to weekly shopping list...

Thursday 11 February 2010

Unexpected boosts...

Don't get me wrong; I love my blog. It gets most of my creative attention, as soon as I've checked my e-mail it gets top billing whenever I switch on the computer (which is still going 'buzz buzz buzz' by the way, but I'm ignoring that until I get back to the UK in the next week or so. Just call me an ostrich) and it's far far cheaper than therapy.

But as you may already know, I write elsewhere as well. And thank god for it. Because on a day like today, when nothing seems to be going right and tetchy conversations that are unrepeatable on the blog (if I want to maintain a steady course in my marriage) are the order of the day, nothing lifts the spirits like checking elsewhere and finding that a piece I wrote a couple of months back and had forgotten all about, is now online.

And that, despite everything, it still manages to make me smile...

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Wednesdays - who needs them?

It's one of those mornings where I'm feeling a long way from home. I'm sitting here with Boy #2 sprawled out on the bench beside me ('Play with me mama, play with me'!), watching the snow fall in those mesmerisingly pretty patterns and contemplating how exhausted I feel, whilst waiting for technical support in the UK to answer the phone. In front of me, my laptop is making increasingly desperate noises. I know, I should turn the dam' thing off and call them - but since Skype is the best way to contact them, I need to have it on.

I can't contemplate what I will do if they tell me to turn it off and not switch it back on until I can get it back to the UK where it's under guarantee. Not only will I go stark-staring mad without my internet life-line (more of which another time), but since we still don't have a tv or dvd player, my sons may go bonkers too.

On the plus side of course, their increasingly frantic complaints about the latter may finally force Husband and I into action and get us galvinised to go and buy a television.

So I suppose every cloud has a silver lining.

Update: I finally got through. Apparantly there is nothing the UK manufacturers of my computer can do because, guess what, it needs to be back in the country before they can help. Just off now to google 'what to do when your computer sounds like it has a host of angry bees trapped in the back left-hand corner of the keyboard' after which I will no doubt fruitlessly open the fridge searching for diet coke and the cupboards in search of Green & Blacks before I remember we've run out of the both and my next shopping trip isn't until tomorrow.

Who said the life of an expat wasn't filled with glamour and excitment?

Tuesday 9 February 2010

More stuff and nonsense

I think the Pottski family may be getting themselves a reputation with the workmen who service the houses in our compound. This morning when our friendly English-speaking manager called to inform me that after only 1 day our washing machine is now fixed, and that we can have it back tomorrow, I had to break the news to her that I had been going to call her anyway to ask if someone could come out to sort out the plug which was stuck in our bath.

Believe me when I say that I really hadn't wanted to stick my head above the parapet on this one, but the thought of putting the Boys in the shower (in the absence of useable bath) this evening and the carnage and mayhem that would ensue (if social services exist in Russia I have no doubt our neighbours would have been looking up the number on hearing the shrieks that would have been issuing from the shower-room) drove me to it.

I'm not sure that she properly understood what I was telling her however, because shortly after we spoke, yesterday's Mild-Mannered Foreman and 2 of the same workment arrived to deal with the hefty problem of removing the plug from the plug-hole. Yet again, I found myself listening in, in the hope I might understand some of what they were saying. Yet again, my fledgeling vocabularly let me down ('lemon', 'white bread' and 'fork' not featuring in their conversation apparantly), so I was forced to imagine what they were saying...

Mild-Mannered Foreman (looking, I may say, a little less mild-mannered this time): Heavy sigh. "OK. What's she managed to do this time? Let's get it over with."

Workman #1: "You're joking, right? We've been called out here to sort out this piece of crap bath plug? What are they doing using it in the first place, I'ld like to know. Has nobody pointed out the shower over the top of the bath?"

Workman #2: "Don't be silly, comrade. They're western imperialists, remember? Why take an economical shower when a bath using 5 times as much water will do? Somebody pass me a bucket, I need to get rid of some of it so I can sort it out."

Workman #1: "Again with the orders! Do it yourself. I'm going to crack the window so I can have a quick cigarette..."

Mild-Mannered Foreman; "How many times, Ivan? No smoking in the imperialists... I mean client's houses. Never mind that your coat smells enough to stink out the entire upstairs..."

Silence and wheezing...

Workman #2: "Somebody pass me the - oh, don't worry, I'll do it myself. There we go. Sorted. But let's keep talking a bit longer so we can make it sound like a tricky job that really needed the three of us. She's western. She'll never know. And get the manager to tell the silly cow that bathing every day is unhealthy."

Workman #1: "They'll never believe you. Just like that police officer didn't believe me that the vodka in my glove compartment was to use as screen-wash. Do you think her mascara suits, me, by the way? What? Don't look at me like that - we're going already? I just wanted to check out her eyeliner..."

Like I said; I really need to learn this language...

Monday 8 February 2010

It'll all come out in the wash...

It's just before 9.00am and the kitchen is currently full of Russian workmen, replacing our new - and broken - washing machine with an old - unbroken - one. Lots of instructions are being bandied backwards and forwards, one of the guys has his head under the kitchen sink and is making a muffled commentary from there, and every now and then there is a worrying silence, punctuated only by the wheezing sighs of habitual smokers. As I type, the dishwasher has been pulled out (please god, no! Don't take the dishwasher!) and the tumble dryer is being balanced precariously on top of it.

Frankly it's the sort of thing which, if I owned any of the appliances they are currently messing about with would give me kittens, but since I don't, I'm just enjoying the show.

The thing is, in my non-Russian speaking bubble, right now I have no idea what's going on. For all I know, the conversation could be as follows:

Young Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Come on guys. I know it's early but we need to get this sorted out."

Workman #1: "That's easy for you to say. You haven't got at dishwasher balancing on your head. What did the stupid cow do to break the washing machine anyway?"

Workman #2: "God knows. These westerners and their crazy wash-every-day ideas. Every one knows you don't need clean clothes every day. No wonder the damn thing's broken "

Silence, broken only by panting and puffing...

Workman #3 (head under the sink): "Would it be out of the question to light up a quick fag, do you think?"

Workman #4: "Better not. You know how arsy they get about that type of thing. Not a decent ashtray in the place as far as I can see. Somebody pass me the monkey wrench?"

Workman #2 "What am I, your servant? Get it yourself, Comrade!"

Workman 4: "Comrade? That's behind us now. I don't need to answer to you, commissar."

Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Hey! Hey! Stop with the political discussions and eyeing up the chocolate biscuits and pass him the monkey wrench for pete's sake. We're all new Russians now. Right. One, two, three, lift..."

Workman #1: "Watch out for the laminate flooring! It's brand new! We didn't take up the perfectly decent parquet for you to scratch Ikea's finest laminate that we replaced it with."

Silence and more wheezing...

Workman 3: "OK. One previously perfect Samsung out - one slightly ropy Ariston alternative in. Give it a wipe down with your handkerchief, comrade, and let's be off."

Workman 2: "Let's see how long it takes the Western Imperialists idiots to break this one with their compulsive washing habits... We do know she doesn't understand us, I take it?"

Obviously I don't think for a moment that this is what they are saying. But I do have my first Russian lesson this morning. And thank god for that. Then I can stop all this ridiculous imagining...

Sunday 7 February 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I was contacted by an eco-friendly company this week, asking me if I would be interested in reviewing their products. I'm not going to tell you who they are as I've said yes and want to keep my powder dry until I write the post, but it got me thinking about eco-friendliness and the apparant complete lack of recycling facilities here in Moscow.

Everything goes into the same bin. Everything. No separation of card, glass, plastics, batteries; nothing. I'm told by a new friend here, who has made it her mission to try and educate people about the advantages of recycling, that this is a direct result of the communist era when everyone was forced to recycle. Now, they don't have to - so they don't. Recycling is something Russians now see themselves as being lucky not to have to do. And let's face it, with a country as vast as this one, I suppose it's not too hard to find remote spots to dump the trash in vast landfills where nobody is immediately affected. Out of sight, out of mind.

I wish my new friend the best of luck - I think she's going to need it.

So I suppose it should be no surprise that with this issue top of mind for me, I'm recommending as British Blogging Mummy of the Week another crusader for recycling. Almost Mrs Average at The Rubbish Diet writes that:

'The Rubbish Diet is written by Karen Cannard, a housewife and now freelance writer, based in Bury St Edmunds, where she lives with her husband and two young children. The blog was only intended to last for just 8 weeks, to chart Karen's attempts at slimming down her bin for Zero Waste Week in March 2008. However, having realised the importance of the issue it has since been impossible to shut the woman up.'

Karen writes in an interesting, knowledgeable and entertaining way about the challenges of 'slimming down your bin' in our consumer society. And in my book, anyone who says: 'So think about it, if the bathroom can last one more day, then leave it and go and do something more interesting instead' in Week 4 of their New Year Rubbish Diet Challenge has got to be worth a look...

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

Saturday 6 February 2010

Culture shock

This is not my story, but I am allowed to tell it...

One of the refreshing things about Russians is that - probably as a result of such a long time being a communist society - just about everybody feels equal to everyone else. I don't mean in terms of income, obviously; the disparities here are huge, far greater than I've seen in most European cities. No, more that we all on an equal footing. People speak their mind.

This can, however, be a double-edged sword, as a friend of mine found out this week. Like me, she has recently arrived in Moscow from a western city. With 3 children spanning the years from primary school to 3 months old and no local family support structure, she hired a nanny to help her through the tricky school / nursery pick-up / witching / bath-hour time of day. All was going well with the Russian nanny she had found, until Olga (not her real name) expressed shock that my friend's 2 1/2 year-old son - Alex - was not yet out of nappies.

"In Russia, all children are potty-trained at two" she said.

My friend didn't really want to start with this; the nanny only works from mid-afternoon to early evening, leaving her to deal with the resultant accidents and a practically newborn baby for the rest of the time. She thought, however, that perhaps she might give a shot and see how it worked out.

Of course, with the nanny watching him like a hawk Alex had no accidents that first afternoon. But one evening trying to deal with breast-feeding her baby and wipe up wee changed my friend's mind. She decided that potty-training could wait until the summer when things were a little more settled, the weather was warmer, and the laundry would dry more quickly.

She informed Olga of her decision next day. The nanny was not impressed.

And the next time Alex filled his nappy, she found my friend and said: "He had a poo. You change him."

Thursday 4 February 2010

Buckle up - we're taking the Moscow Metro

Oh, it's non-stop glamour here in Moscow, let me tell you. Where to start? I could relate the incident this morning when my older son, in the room whilst I got dressed, watched me critically before telling me I had 'nice brows' (you work it out. And no; I haven't been getting busy with the tweezers). Or I could touch on the task waiting for me this evening, that of shortening a ready-made Ikea curtain to finally - FINALLY - give us complete privacy in our bedroom. But that would probably bore you almost as much as the prospect does me. In fact, I find it so mind-numbing that I'm playing hooky. Instead, I thought I would take you on a journey with me.

I've already written about the weather, and the central heating systems of Moscow. To continue this racy, high-flying, cutting edge series of posts about the city that we've moved to, I thought I would take you to a new low - literally. Yes, today we're going to travel on the Metro.

Tell a person that you're moving to Moscow and if they know anything at all about the city their response often includes '... and I hear the tube is amazing!' Well, yes, it is - and of course, it isn't. Wikipedia is a mine (boom boom!) of information if you're interested in that type of thing; there you will learn it wasn't built until 1935, that it carries an average of 7 million passengers a day, and that it is the second busiest metro system in the world after Tokyo.

Rather than blinding you with stats though, I thought I would take you on an average journey as experienced by the Potty Family.

And before I start, I must warn you - this is a long one...

We reach the station. Invariably we're later than planned due to the excessive amount of time it's taken us to get out of the house with our suited and booted children, so we're already a little frazzled. Husband pats his pockets, frantically hunting for the metro ticket he bought recently, put in a safe place, and is now unable to locate. (Note: the Boys will travel for free, but Husband and I can travel on the same ticket since it's just the number of the journeys that count, rather than who paid for them). Obviously, he doesn't find the ticket, so we buy a new one...

We enter the station, heaving our way through the heavy swing doors and trying not to end up with a decapitated small boy in the process, to be blasted by the enormous air conditioning units situated just inside which keep the temperature in the metro system positively balmy compared to the deep freeze outside. Negotiating either the slippery slush brought in from outside or the mops of the cleaners who are there to try and control it, we make our way to the turnstiles where the Boys smile sweetly at the invariably rather square lady manning the gates, who lets them through. Meanwhile, Husband and I do the two step with our shared smart card as he waves it over the beam, steams through the turnstile and neatly back-hands it to me. (I frequently fumble the catch and drop it.)

We make our way to the escalators. Think you know long escalators? Think again. Moscow's really deep Metro line escalators will give the unfortunate vertigo, and most first time users pause for thought. Husband and I station ourselves one in front of each of the Boys, and I spend the next couple of minutes counting fur coats (normally between 20 - 30 on each side of the escalator), and trying to persuade Boy #2 not to run his glove along the wall. Usually I fail at the latter and he comes off at the bottom with about 2 inches of silt on the palm because unfortunately, the one thing the Moscow Metro is not, is spotless. It's not dirty in terms of litter etc, but there is a layer of grime over practically everything which the gallant teams of cleaners working 24/7 fight a losing battle against. Must make a terrible mess of all that fur...

We step off the bottom of the escalator, hurrying the Boys along against their natural inclination to stop and dawdle as, given how busy the tube system is and how fast the stairs come down, there is potential for disaster if they do. (Most of the longer escalators, by the way. are controlled by an individual who sits at the bottom in a little cabin, and who has responsibility for speeding things up or slowing them down depending on the weight of traffic. It can make for quite a hairy ride if you're not used to getting on and off at high speed...)

Once the Potty Family is safely disembarked from the escalator, we make our way to the platform. Luckily, Husband knows his way around the metro system, so we don't have too many incidents of ending up on the wrong part of the station (the interchange system can mean that whilst on the map it looks like two lines cross, in reality there's a 5 - 10 minute walk between them).

The halls and platforms are often beautifully decorated in art deco / nouveau / soviet style. At Revolution Squaure, for example, the walls are lined with bronze statues of heroes of the Great Patriotic War (that's WWII to you and I). In true egalitarian style, it's not just human heroes who are represented; the Boys are always enthralled to see statues of some of the dogs who served up there as well. So too it seems are many Russians; the dogs' noses are always shinier than the rest of them as the custom here is to stroke them for good luck.

Once on the platform, we glance at the digital clock at either end. This doesn't tell you the time of day; it tells you how long it is since the last train left. And guess what? I've never seen it reach more than 2 minutes. Most of the time the next train pulls in approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds after the previous one departed. (London Underground eat your heart out).

The train rattles into the station at high speed, doors slamming open, and people throwing themselves off as fast as they can. We hustle on quickly, avoiding the fiercely sharp elbows of the babushkas, making sure the Boys either have a seat (which they often do, as small children are given priority and normally someone will stand up for them) or something to hold onto. The reason for this is that underground trains in Moscow are fast. Average speed between stations (according to Wikipedia) is 40km+ per hour... Boy #1, true to type, always wants to sit down, but given the choice Boy #2 will stand at the end of the carriage facing the door. We only recently worked out the reason for this; so that he can more properly pretend he is driving the train...

Depending on the length of our journey, the Boys slump down in their seats, over-heated in their hats, scarves, gloves, jackets and snow pants over trousers, and sometimes even nod off, despite the terrible noise as we rattle along. Whilst de-clothing them is a good idea, unless I've brought a beach-bag sized holdall to carry all their cold weather accessories, keeping them on is the only way to ensure we leave the carriage with everything we brought on.

Eventually, we bustle off the train at our destination, walk along yet another dimly-lit and splendidly decorated platform, climb through the vertiginous escalator system and stumble out onto the street in the slush.

And that, ladies and gents, is a trip on the Moscow Metro. I hope you enjoyed travelling with the Pottski Familiski... Next post? Skating in Red Square, and how I managed to avoid the certain disaster that would have ensued had I got on the ice...

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Small World, Russian Style

I've borrowed the title of this post from one of my favourite bloggers, Iota at 'Not Wrong, Just Different'. She posted today about discovering that one of her favourite bloggers went to the same primary school, and it put me in mind of something that happened to me at the weekend.

A bit of background; before Christmas I was speaking to the mum of one of Boy #2's classmates. I mentioned our forthcoming move, and she told me that her brother lived and worked in Moscow. She told me a little bit about him and his family - it turned out that Boy #1 would be going to the same school as his children - and sent me his details on e-mail. Which of course, in the frantic rush to move, I forgot all about.

Cut to last weekend. We were out for dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday (yes, I know, out for dinner again. Apparantly you have to move to Moscow to get a social life...), and I found myself sitting next to a very charming Russian lady. We chatted, she told me a bit about herself, we found some common ground. Then she mentioned her husband. He was British. She told me a little bit about him and what he did. And all of a sudden, bells started to ring.

You guessed it. I was sitting next to the sister-in-law of Boy #2's classmate's mum. Really, what are the chances of that? Not only that we would meet in the first place, but that we would actually get on before we even realised the connection?

Iota, you're right, it IS a small world.

What about you? What freaky coincidence story do you have to tell?

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Black ice and other blessings

Here's a thing. Did you know that it doesn't need to be above 0 degC to rain? And did you know that when that rain hits the ground (in less than 0degC) it will turn immediately to ice and coat everything on the ground in a thin coat of invisible glass?

I mean, I thought I KNEW black ice, from London. I thought I was able to deal with it. But apparently in Moscow it can - at only a couple of millimeter's thick - give enough glide for boots able to deal with the thickest of slippery snow to slip and slide like nobody's business.

It's not elegant, let me tell you.

But it is great if you're pulling a wooden sledge with a tired and fractious 4 year old on it, trying to make school pick-up on time after a much-delayed departure due to having had to chase said child around the house because he doesn't want to venture out into the raw cold to collect his brother. The relief when you realise that you don't have to decant him from the sledge because you're hitting what you think is a patch of bare, snowless track, but which is in fact covered with a sledge-friendly patch of black ice, saving you at least 2 minutes on your yomp to the school gate, is significant.

Of such small triumphs is my life currently composed. And I'll take them - and be grateful - thankyou very much.

Monday 1 February 2010

Three Week Angst

I don't want to be that mum.

I don't want to be that mum, the one who is sharp tongued with her children for no real reason. The one who tells her son off for damaging the knees of his trousers when all he's doing is crawling on the floor playing with his lego. The one who shouts, enraged, at her children when they are squabbling over who gets to use which set of cutlery at dinner time. The one who feels like screaming at her tired sons as they trail home, exhausted at the end of the day, because they are not going fast enough and it feels like her toes are going to drop off from the cold. The one who only ever seems to ask nicely for something to be done once before descending into muttering and frustration.

The one who knows that her children are doing amazingly with their change of world, and is so incredibly proud of the grace under pressure they show that she seems unable to access for herself.

The one who's world has temporarily contracted and is finding that stifling.

The one who is struggling with feelings of powerlessness and lack of independence, who knows it will get better, that this is the worst bit, but is not handling things very well in the meantime.

I don't want to be her. The one who would quite like to go home.

So I'm trying to pull myself together, and not to be that mum. To think twice. To hold my tongue. To look at it from their point of view. To make sure that they know that whilst I might be a bit touchy right now, I love them beyond life. And to find a defining purpose in an existence quite different to the one that I had before. To gain a sense of perspective again.

But it's a struggle. And I would still quite like to go home.