Wednesday 30 June 2010

The price of everything...

We're trying to teach the Boys the value of money. I've had enough of asking them to be careful with things and being told "You can buy a new one, Mama!" as they pick the dropped digital camera or similar up off the floor. Step One in our campaign involves the introduction of Pocket Money. We've tried this before and simply forgotten to hand over the cash each weekend, so in an effort to remind all of us about this, I've written out a list of tasks they have to complete - in the main - each day before they qualify for their 100R a week. It's not a long list that I've stuck on the fridge - it includes making their beds, and laying and clearing away the breakfast table - but it's a start and I can add to it as we go on (they'll be cooking dinner and washing the car before they know it, bwa ha ha...).

100R works out at around £2.20. It should probably be around 50R, but a 100R note is the only denomination we can be sure to have handy without lengthy negotiations over splitting notes between them, and subsequent wars over who gets to 'look after it' without charging their brother interest for holding onto his hard-earned cash.

This being Russia, of course, the opportunities to spend their pocket money on a weekly basis are quite low; 100R here will buy you a couple of litres of milk (not high on their list of priorities, funnily enough), or a big handful of sweeties (not high on mine), but not much else as the comics they might buy back home are all in Russian, and the toys etc all kick in somewhere around the 200R mark.

So my sons are beginning to understand the value of saving their earnings until they have enough to buy their hearts' desires. This morning, for example, at the supermarket they both decided what they wanted to buy - and were both around 9 weeks pocket money short. I explained this to them and they got the concept, lowering their expectations until they were only a couple of weeks shy of the toy they wanted. Great, I thought. They're learning. And I get two more weeks of table-laying and bed-making out of the deal too. Result!

Some children learn more quickly than others, of course. Which I realised after we got back here and I overheard Boy #2 telling a friend who had dropped by;

"Yes, you can play with that. It'll cost you 200 roubles..."

Tuesday 29 June 2010

The Gallery #17: Emotions

Week 17 of Tara's Gallery, and this week it's a double-header, also appearing on Sleep is For The Weak as part of Josie's Writing Workshop. The prompt is 'Emotions', and bound to throw up some humdingers of both photos and posts, I would imagine.

So what's my chosen emotion for today's piece?


Because sometimes I look at my life and I can't quite believe it's me that's living it. If someone a few years back had said that normal, staid, shy and probably a bit boring me would be living in Moscow, and what's more, had chosen to do so of my own free will? I would have told them straight; not a chance. I'd visited this country over the preceding 15 years, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like. It's too cold, I would have said. It's too far away. It's too complicated, it's too Russian, I would have said. It's just too damn hard, I would have said.

But when the chance really came up, what did I actually say?


Which is why, when I was sitting in traffic this afternoon and this view came into sight, I felt that I had to record the moment. Not a view a suburban Londoner who was never intending to live in Moscow would expect to see on her way home from the bank, is it?

It certainly fills me with amazement.

Note - look hard (with a magnifying glass) and between the two buildings you can see St Basil's Cathedral. Well, you can if you ignore the dirt on the windscreen of my car, that is... (And no. The car was not moving when I took this, officer. Chance would have been a fine thing...)

Monday 28 June 2010


Note to Self #544...

When Husband dresses the Boys in the morning, do remember to check that everything - clothes-wise - is present and correct.

Otherwise, when you are in a crowded playground with your younger son later in the day and he announces in the panicked tone he reserves for just such pronouncements "I need to GO TO THE TOILET!" and starts to pull his shorts down in readiness for his arrival at the loo, you - and the assembled mummies at pick-up time - might get rather more of an eyeful than you bargained for...

(This was inspired by Little Green Finger's post today. It's been a long first day of the second week of the school holidays - not that I'm counting or anything - and inspiration was running low, so thanks for reminding me about this one Dawn...)

Sunday 27 June 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I had a long waffle planned for tonight about rewriting history. But I'm afraid it's just too dam' hot here (a week of +30degC will do that to a person), and I'm dreaming of cold baths and sea breezes, (amazingly, not the alcoholic kind - it's too hot for any of that nonsense) so I'm just going to jump right into the point of this post.

This week's recommended reading, Jean of PlanetOutreach-ASD, writes of herself:

'I am an ordinary mum of 3 great kids, whose life became extraordinary when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. '

She writes of her struggles with dealing with a world that treats people with disabilities with contempt alongside posts about maturity and grumpiness, and whilst - as ever - this a purely subjective recommendation, if you've enjoyed any of the blogs that I've pointed you to in the past, I defy you not to like Jean's writing.

That's it. No wittering today - I'm off to cool down. Where's that fan?

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note; we're called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too...)

Friday 25 June 2010

Dear Tooth Fairy

Dear Tooth Fairy,

I know you're really busy - zipping around the world collecting tiny teeth has to be a full time job, I appreciate that - but I have a couple of questions it would really help me out with if you have moment.

1. How do you manage to sneak in to swap the tooth (under the pillow), for the cash without being caught? I mean, I thought Father Christmas had it tough, but at least he only has to dump and run (if you'll pardon the pun), leaving the stocking or pillow case at the end of the bed. Of course, in our case the switch was not helped by the fact that just as I was about to reach under Boy #1's pillow, a particularly loud fire work went off close-by (these Russians don't do 'subtle' when it comes to celebrations, even mid-week), and woke him up. It's lucky that I habitually check on him before going to bed each night otherwise my son might have suspected something. As it is he just sat up in bed and said "What? Is she here?" and somehow I don't think he was referring to me...

2. What's the going rate for a tooth these days? We started Boy #1 off with 50R (about £1.20), but on doing a little market research, I find that some children in this area are receiving 100R a tooth and for their first, 1000R. A THOUSAND RUBLES? That's - well, that's - a LOT of money. (Give me a break, it's still early). Lucky it's the school holidays or I would have to keep Boy #1 in isolation for the next few weeks in case he found out that the tooth fairy in our house is on more of budget than the one who visits his friends...

3. What do you do with the evidence? Am I supposed to keep them? ALL? At the moment there is a tiny tooth scudding around on the mug shelf (out of Boy #1's sightline), and it seems callous to throw it away. Something tells me though that the charm will wear off by the time I reach Tooth #3 and #4. (To be honest, it's sort of worn off already... But then again, I didn't keep the baby books up to date either, so I guess that shouldn't be a surprise)

Anyway, I must go because it's half past ten in the morning during the summer vacation and today's first showing of Ice Age* has just finished, so I need to go and put on my Butlins Red Coat and become camp organiser for the next scheduled activity...

Yours faithfully,

Potty Mummy

* Before you judge me on the Ice Age thing, we had a hairdresser visit this morning** to give the Boys their summer clip and putting on the tv is the only way to end up with an even fringe...

** And before you judge me on the hairdresser visiting the house thing, it's cheaper than going to a salon out here (or at least, to one where they speak English), and since she's accustomed to cutting the hair of expat's children there's the added bonus that they don't end up with the ubiquitous Russian mullet haircut (long at the back, short at the front) that so many boys wear here...

Tuesday 22 June 2010

I'll never make a personal shopper...

I should be trawling through my files for something to use for this week's Gallery over at Tara's, but this week's theme is 'Creatures' and for the life of me I can't think of any suitable photos to use for it.

I can think of one I could use; that of a toad squatting fatly brown underneath an upturned log on the minibeast safari we organised for my son's 4th birthday, but since it just looks like a toad-shaped piece of bark (which I guess is the point of camouflage), I hardly think it's worth it. And I can think of one that I would like to use; that of a rolling wave off Noosa beach in Queensland Australia that shows water so clear you can see the silver shapes of fish hanging suspended inside it, but sadly that's an impossibility. Whilst the image is burned clearly (and I hope, for perpetuity) into my mind's eye, I didn't have a camera in my hand at the time, so I can't share it with you, I'm afraid.

So no entry in Tara's Gallery for me today.

Instead, a conundrum (and no, it has nothing to do with helping me come up with a schedule for what on earth to do with the Boys during the school holidays).

This afternoon I met a friend of mine who is soon to travel to England for the first time. Having lived in the US all her life, and not having travelled that much outside it before she and her family were posted to Moscow, she's keen to make the most of her experiences as an expat. A part of this is her wish to take home a tangible souvenir from each of the countries that she visits whilst she's more European-based. For example, she's decided that when they finally leave Russia to go back home to the US, she will take with her a samovar. This summer she's also visiting Norway (a troll is on her shopping list), Scotland (bagpipes are a planned purchase), and Croatia (where she's hit a bit of road-block as it seems the only things invented there were the tie and ballpoint pens. Who knew?).

What, she asked me, should she buy whilst in the UK? Her initial idea was to buy a tea set, which of course I pooh-poohed because, well, it's such a cliche (unlike the bagpipes, troll and samovar, obviously), and of course there has to be something permanent and tangible that reminds one of England that is more interesting than that.

She was interested. "Really? What?"


There was a long pause whilst I realised that for me, most of the things that speak of England are not tangible. Crisp Autumn days, the long-ago sight of burning fields in August, the sound of cricket matches (I almost wrote 'the sound of leather on willow' but who knows what hits on google that would turn up?), soft West Country rain, thunder and lightning ice-cream, eton mess, church bells on a Wednesday evening, patch-work fields, Class (with a capital ''C'), picking blackberries with purple-stained fingers in prickly hedgerows, rubbing dock leaves on nettle stings, cornish pasties, cream teas, roast potatoes and yorkshire pudding, mass hysteria over Wimbledon, morris dancers, school fetes, country shows, pub lunches, cotswold stone walls, Brit pop, 80's synthesiser pop, the New Romantics, The Wombles, Paddington Bear, St John's Ambulance, the Brownies, Bonfire Night - well, the list is endless*. But not one of those things can you package up and take home with you to pull out and show to someone to say 'And of course we visited England too, and this is what we came home with...'

She got bored waiting for me - her quintessentially English friend - to come up with something, and said "Well I guess I do already have my Waterford stuff, of course."

I woke up from my reverie. "Waterford is in Ireland", I replied. "Definitely not in England. You'll have an entire nation upset if you make that mistake, I promise - and it won't be the English. No, there must be something else. Other than a tea-set, I mean."


I've said I'll get back to her. Any ideas?

*BTW - I have a list of these for London too, but as anyone who's lived there knows, London is not really England...

Monday 21 June 2010

Close Shaves and school holidays - the Beginning...

We're three days into the Boys' summer holidays. I can see any Brits reading this throwing up their hands in horror. Summer holidays? ALREADY? Oh yes, dear reader, al-bloody-ready. The summer holidays at their school in Moscow last a little longer than those I was used to back in Blighty - like, from now until the end of August.

(Cue suitable pause for you to pick yourself up off the floor, open the bottle of sauvignon blanc and pass me a brim-filled glass...)

Actually, believe it or not, it could be worse. The Russian schools have been shut for two weeks already, and will remain so until the 1st September. No wonder vodka is so popular in this country...

Anyway, in those 3 days (because yes, I am counting Saturday and Sunday as days since it suits my purposes for this post), a couple of notable things have happened...

Our house has become Rampage Central for a number of kids in our compound. It seems that playing in our home - by far the smallest on the block, and probably the least well-equipped with electronic entertainment systems - is the new black. This had led me to the following discoveries:

1. We are running out biscuits.
2. We are running out of juice.
3. I am not in the least shy of being a school-marm type with children who are not blood relatives.
4. Seven and eight year old boys are perfectly capable, when being informed that 'in this house we have a 20 minute rule when you're playing with Boy #1's nintendo DS, and your 20 minutes are up' of picking it up, walking out of the door, and saying 'I'll just take it home with me, then...' (Needless to say, Elvis did not leave the building - hence the discovery of my school-marm potential).

What else have I discovered? That a trip to the car wash offers great entertainment opportunities for 6 and 4 year old boys. The key of course is to remain inside it for the maximum experience as the team there cover your car with soap and - crucially - to explain to your younger son not to open the door as they do so...

Oh, and that Boy #2 likes to wander. God help me. The 15 minutes spent fruitlessly combing the compound for him yesterday afternoon are not the favourite moments of my life to date. Of course, he turned up at home having somehow evaded all the searchers hunting for him (some of my lovely neighbours jumped on their bikes and helped us look), toddling straight up to bed and falling asleep. God knows how he managed that; I have images of him crawling commando-like through the undergrowth, maintaining radio silence and ignoring Husband's and my calls until he reached his objective. I know this is not what happened, obviously. He was on his scooter, for starters and it's not an off-road model, and there were no traces of camo-stick on his face when I found him...

Joking apart, this was not a funny experience. It will join a list of other not-funny close-shaves I've had with my sons, most of them still too jagged around the edges in my memory to want to see written down. As is this one, almost, so I'm going to stop writing now, push the thoughts of the unguarded building site at one end of our compound from my mind, and go upstairs to gaze on my beautiful boys and give thanks.

Sunday 20 June 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I am a Bad Wife. Why? Because I. Forgot. Father's. Day.

Oh, I can blame the hangover that I'm still experiencing from the party to end all parties on Friday night, of course I can. No further proof of the ageing process kicking in is needed than that I forgot the cardinal rule not to mix my drinks. Starting an evening with vodka cocktails, moving onto white wine and then indulging in more vodka (we do live in Russia, after all) was a sure fire recipe for a messed-up weekend.

Oh, and also a sure-fire recipe for a rather nasty bruise on my right hip from when, sauntering home from the same party to release the baby-sitter at far too-late-o'clock, and struggling to calculate what 5 hours x 250 Roubles + 500 for her taxi home actually was, I lost concentration for a moment and fell off my previously perfect new Campers' wedges. (And as any wedge wearer out there knows, once you start to topple in those babies, there ain't no way to stop until you hit the ground...). Luckily I had already left the party at that point so none of my fellow-guests saw me.

Unluckily, all the staff from the party - caterers, security guards from the compound, drivers of other guests and who knows who-else - were having a smoking convention just about where my fall from grace happened. I tried to style it out -that seemed like a good idea through the vodka-induced haze - and probably made myself look even more ridiculous in the process; springing up, brushing myself down and scampering (well, swaying, anyway) home as fast as my two wedge-encumbered feet could carry me.

So this evening has been spent blog-surfing in an effort to forget my twin shames of the Fall Which Shall Not Be Referred To Again, and of forgetting Father's Day. Although in my defence, Husband arrived home from the same party even later than I did and is only now recovering from his own vodka excess, hunched on the sofa and taking refuge in re-watching the last series of '24' since there's no football to be had on Russian tv right now. I might have preferred to watch our borrowed copy of Mamma Mia, but who am I to complain? I forgot Father's Day*, after all...

Anyway, British Mummy Blogger of the Week. (Apologies for the long preamble. I clearly felt the need to purge...)

This week's Mummy Blogger, Joyce McNicoll of Beauty Judge Blog, writes of herself:

'I like to champion the little guy. I love beauty products which do what they promise (whether made by a little guy or a big guy!) I like cunning ways to get more for your money and random goings-on in the beauty world'

I love her most recent post about weird and wacky beauty products (bacon-flavoured lip-balm, anyone?), and her signpost (geddit?) to ShopPulse is a reminder to me that checking out new blogs is ALWAYS worthwhile... OK, so I'm not likely to wear what's on there (Browns was my preferred eye-candy today), but a blogger can dream, right?

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

* Fathers Day will be celebrated in this house, just on a rescheduled date, when I've had the chance to dig out the card I bought in London two weeks ago and have unearthed the presents and pictures that the Boys brought home from school at around the same time, both of which I hid safely away so that they would be ready for today. You see? It never pays to be too organised...

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The Gallery #15: Motherhood

Week 15 of Tara's Gallery, and the theme is 'Motherhood'. I deliberated for a long time on which photograph to use here; should I go for gritty reality (breakfast dishes left unwashed on the table, rain-coats scattered over the hall floor, calpol stains on my best white skirt), sweet imagery (shoes lined up in order of size, a small hand placed trustingly in a larger, more calloused one), or should I just bite the bullet and use the photo that I first thought of?

Bearing in mind that this week's Gallery offers the chance to win prizes, I caved and went for the last one. You can even - gasp - sort of see my children's faces, probably not well enough to pcik them out in a line-up, but still, one step further than I've gone on-line before. However, since Photobox - who, by the way, are ideal for filling that present gap also known as 'what the hell can I give the grandmother who has everything, for Christmas?' (answer; a yearly photographic summary of her grandchildrens' highlights in a hardbacked printed photo album) - are awarding the winners printed copies of the winning pictures, I asked myself one thing.

Based on the very remote possibility that I might actually win, what would I prefer to have on the wall; a picture of dirty dishes, or a picture of me and the Boys on holiday a couple of years ago?

So here it is. My take on Motherhood - as it sometimes is.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Works by the Artist as a Young Man...

I went to an art show by Boy #1's year at his school yesterday. It was great; all the art that they had spent the last term creating, all on display for proud parents to gaze at. There were a number of themes and artists referenced, but what I found particularly interesting were the titles that the children gave their works.

There were plenty of sweet, pretty titles around. My son's offerings however, whilst many and varied, tended to centre around a ubiquitous theme of 'boy art', and included the following:

Collage of white on black paper: Flower of DOOM ('if you enter it, you get thrown in jail or eaten...')
Seeds on paper: Lightning bolt ('it can destroy anything, even metal, even glass...')
Batik: Dragnoid and Drago* having a Meeting ('and they're going to Kill the baddies in a trap')

... and I leave you with the following 3d masterpiece, titled 'Flower of Scariness'- which I think needs no explanation from either myself or Boy #1:

*Bakugan characters. Obviously.

Monday 14 June 2010

Stupid is as stupid says...

On Friday I wrote about being English. Given the England football team's lacklustre performance in South Africa on Saturday night, I might shelve that one for a while...

Reading Susanna's British Mummy Bloggers update this morning, I came across a couple of posts on MummyTips written by Sian and her husband. They were about racism.

Living in Russia, where racism is a part of daily life if you are anything other than caucasian, I have so much to say on this subject, yet on the surface I'm not personally affected by this issue. I'm white, British, middle-class and privileged, no question about it. You think?

Dig a little a deeper and it's not that simple. I think my family's ethnicity is probably not so different from many people's in the UK; many people who, in fact, might unthinkingly use some of those thoughtlessly racist terms that Sian and her husband mention. A 'chinky' to refer to a chinese take-way. An 'Indian-giver' to refer to someone who gives with one hand and takes away with another. In the Netherlands, calling someone 'East Indian deaf' if they pretend not to hear what you're saying. A 'Paki-shop', to refer to a corner shop owned and managed by Asian shopkeepers. The list of casually abusive racist terms in common use is endless - and none of them are acceptable.

And a lot of them, in fact, may be a lot closer to your own personal heritage than you might think. I'm going to use myself as a case study to illustrate...

So, I look like this. Dark hair, olive to medium-fair complexion, brown eyes, and I burn before tanning - although then I do go pretty brown. In fact, I'm hard to place; I could come from any number of countries probably, which is actually not far from the truth.

My maternal grandmother, for example, looks Spanish. My uncle and cousins - her grandchildren - look like Moors. You could parachute them into Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, the Lebanon, and they would fit right in. We always assumed that this was because there was a link to Spanish sailors who survived the wreck of the Armada on the South Coast of England, and their very Catholic family name seemed to bear this out. However, this theory appears to bear very little relation to actual fact (especially because the wreck of the Armada took place on the coast of Ireland rather than Dorset, and most of the sailors who survived the wreck were then killed by the Irish).

The truth behind our dark eyes and hair is both more interesting and more recent than that, as my mother found out when she made a first attempt at putting together a family tree. It seems that as recently as the beginning of the last century, my great-great-grandparents were Romany travellers. We can't be sure of this, because historically once a family left that part of their lifestyle behind them they did their absolute best to hide it due to the shameful connotations involved, but based on parish records and census information we are as certain as we can be that that's the case.

And my paternal grandmother's maiden name was as Irish as they come, due to the fact that - again, we only think, we don't know, and she certainly never discussed her family's heritage - her family left Ireland during the Great Potato Famine and moved to the north of England where they made a life and a fortune, only to lose the latter in cotton when the UK market crashed after the 1st World War.

So, let's see. Without going back more than 100 years or so - only 4 generations - there are Irish and Gypsies in my ostensibly more English than English background. Both of whom, whilst I was growing up in ignorance of this, were the frequent butt of what was seen at the time as acceptable mockery (thank god, we've moved on since then).

Now, let's throw my blue-eyed Dutch husband into the mix. His family - as I've probably mentioned before - is much more complicated than mine, and includes Dutch, German, Russian, Indonesian, and Chinese heritage. And that's what we know about.

And just to cap it all, when my older son was born he had (and still has) a birth-mark which one of the doctors in the hospital told us is typical in shape and location of children with African genes, and when my younger son was born and for the first year of his life he had the dark blue bruise at the base of his spine which I'm told is also typical of children with that heritage. Where did they come from? Who knows, but my point - I hope - is clear; we're all a composite of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Dig deep enough and no-one is 'only' from one place; whether you like it or not we're all related.

Please, think about that before you turn a blind eye to casually racist terminology. Not so long ago it was acceptable, for example, to call some-one wearing glasses 'speccy four eyes', a clumsy person a 'spastic', a supposedly ugly or not very bright person a 'mong'. Thankfully - at least in my experience - most of these terms have now slipped out of public usage; it's one of the positive side-effects of political correctness. And now, just as our mothers did with those terms and us, we're in the perfect position whilst raising our kids to make sure that terms like those which Sian and her family have experienced disappear just the same way.

You might think that you know your family's heritage like the back of your hand, but do you, really? Just a few generations ago, it could have been you - or your children - on the receiving end of this stupidity.

Sunday 13 June 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Whenever Husband and I, in the sweet ignorance of youth, spoke about having children (before we actually did, that is), we always said that we wanted either two, or four. I know that three kids is a good number - that's how many there were in both of our families, in fact - but we felt that sometimes - just sometimes - the dynamic worked out as 2 plus one, and that it was usually the same 'one' who was left on the outside.

So, two or four. That's what we believed we wanted, and continued to do until Boy #2 arrived and suddenly the wheels fell off our well-worked out plans when it became clear that having 2 children didn't just double the work, it tripled it. (For us, at any rate). There was of course also the small fact that we weren't getting any younger and if we kept the same spacing - approximately 2 years between each child - I would be 43 before our 4th child arrived (always assuming that everything went smoothly and things went to plan, which of course was highly unlikely).

So we stopped at 2 boys. And whilst I'm (mostly) OK with that, I do wonder from time to time what it would have been like to have a tribe of boys rather than just the two (because you just know, don't you, that they would all have been boys.) Luckily for me, however, there are plenty of bloggers out there who can tell me what larger families than mine get up to, and this week's recommended British Mummy Blogger is one of them. 'FourDownMumToGo' writes of herself:

'Do you know, I never liked children (I still don't some days). I never rushed across the office to wrest newborns from the arms their frazzled mothers taking a brief break from maternity leave, resisted the pleas of tiny relatives to read them stories and failed to earn a penny babysitting during my misspent teenage years, so just how did I end up mum to four boys? And more importantly just how will I cope without the assistance of round the clock childcare or at the very least a lifetime supply of Gordons and tonic?'

You have to love a writer who so neatly encapsulates the pang of saying goodbye to early motherhood with the regret that she will never again 'trail out of a hospital dragging foil helium balloons and a car seat filled with the rest of my life'.

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

Friday 11 June 2010

I've got the fever...

I'm British. Well, to be absolutely specific about, I'm English. You might have noticed. It's not something I talk about much, because it's so much a part of me that I don't normally feel the need to analyse it. It's just an intrinsic part of who I am, like being a woman, having dark hair and yet still burning before I tan, being a feminist, and being brought up a Roman Catholic (more of which another time).

But there's nothing to make you more aware of your nationality than moving away from your home country. A lot of the touch-points that you take for granted, such as hearing your native language spoken around you, hearing the 'duh-duh-duh-duh' at the beginning of the East Enders closing credits, and the casual references to archaic drinking laws, Paddington Bear and Top of the Pops that get thrown into nostalgic conversations with friends are suddenly not part of daily experience any more.

Don't get me wrong; in my London-life I was hardly surrounded by Brits. In the Boys' school and nursery classes they were each in a minority of 2 in holding only British passports (yes, they could also have a Dutch one but that's Husband's job to sort out, so 6 years down the line we're still waiting on those...), and when we went out into the communal gardens where we lived I was invariably the only Brit around. I was surrounded by people of all nationalities in central London, and I loved it.

Living in Moscow and mixing with very few Brits has however had some interesting effects on me. I find, for example, that frequently I'm camping up my English accent. Sometimes I sound like the Queen's cousin, for god's sake. I find myself correcting the Boys' pronounciation too; one of my favourite phrases at the moment seems to be 'it's got a 't' in it. A T! Not a D, a T!' I find myself making a point of calling things by their English names; it's 'pavement' not 'sidewalk', and 'biscuit', not 'cookie', for example.

I've found myself hunting high and low in the shops here for cornflour, not to thicken sauces but to make shortbread. Shortbread! I probably made it twice a year when we lived in London. Now? Almost a weekly treat. And when my mother-in-law arrived this week for a short stay, she delivered - as I had requested - Golden Syrup, so that I can make the Boys some gingerbread.

I even found myself offering to provide 'English' recipes to Melissa for her to feature at Smitten by Britain if you're interested in the shortbread recipe, by the way... (click here for the link).

And now? Well, now the football World Cup is about to start, and the fever's got me. I can't help it, I'm rooting for my home team even though I know it's the longest of long shots that they'll make it past the quarter finals. Whilst I didn't go so far as buying a cross of St George to put on the car (unfortunately it seems to rather miss the point, being in Moscow and all - and frankly, you don't want to single yourself out as an expat on the roads here) I did buy my sons England football shirts in London last week. Would I have bought them if we had still been living there? Would I hell. (Whether my opinionated children will actually wear them, of course, is another thing entirely.)

So in a fit of Englishness I'm going to leave you today with what 'I still believe' (geddit?) is the best English world cup song to date, albeit in it's updated version for the 2010 tournament. As far as I can tell - from 1500 miles away - the official video is not yet out, so here is a youtube offering (Thanks Bob at Smitten by Britain for pointing me towards this). Watch it if you can handle the mix of best and worst moments of England at the World Cup for the last 40-odd years.

And I have to admit - I did punch the air a couple of times whilst watching...

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Possibly my shortest post ever...

Him: "So, I hope you're impressed that I did the laundry whilst you were away last weekend."

Let's be clear here; I was away 3 1/2 days. One load got done.

Me (thinking, 'how best to deal with this one?'): "....Well, I'm not impressed - you are a grown man, after all... But (come on, let's acknowledge this somehow, and he did have paid work to do as well as holding the fort whilst I swanned off to London without them, footloose and fancy-free...) I am glad that you did it..."

What would you have said, though?

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Time off

I've not been here for the last few days, because I spent last weekend in London, ON MY OWN, without Husband or Boys. It was the first time in 2 years I spent more than a few hours without any of them, and it was enlightening. I discovered the following about myself:

I can still sleep for 8 hours straight (I thought I had lost the knack).

I can still shop for 8 hours straight (as long as the expedition is punctuated by trips to the chiropractor, haircuts, a sushi lunch on a bench in St James' Park and the odd sneaked Snickers bar for pudding in honour of the fact that I'm not accompanied by nut-allergic children - so it would be rude not to).

It's exhilarating to travel light, walking out of the house with only a handbag containing simply wallet, purse, sunglasses, keys and telephone rather than being weighed down by the usual mix of epi-pens, sun cream, snacks, emergency toys, emergency snacks (for when the first ones run out), and not a cardigan, coat, or sweat-shirt to my name due to the fact that the London weather behaved itself and it was 24degC or over all weekend.

I should not buy cheap nailvarnish to put on my embarrassingly naked toes (one thing that the London ladies seem to have down-pat is well-decorated toes), because...

...even in my 40's I still can't apply nail-varnish properly.

I loved staying in a friend's empty flat and singing along to Xfm at the top of my voice because a) since she was away for the weekend my renditions couldn't upset her (although let's be honest, she's listened me murder music for 25 years now, so she could probably live with it), and b) there is no 4 year old Boy to regard me solemnly from the back of the car or the other side of the kitchen and and say 'Can you stop, Mama? You're embarrassing me...'

That it's actually not much fun to be away from Husband and Boys and have the latter not want to speak to me on the phone because to do so would mean interrupting their dvd viewing schedule...

...but that, every now and again, I can live with it.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Crazy Fonts and Mixed Emotions

OK, firstly I need to apologise for the crazy font sizes that seem to have been going on over the last couple of posts. It's when things like this happen that I wish I paid more attention to operating instructions. No doubt those Mac enthusiasts out there will tell me that I really should be using one of their babies because it's so much more 'intuitive' and 'creative' and other artsy buzz words that get right up my nose. Yes, Dad and Little Brother, I'm talking to you. And no, I'm not going to come over from the Dark Side - aka PC World (geddit?) - to join you in White Heaven because, well because... I'm just too dam' stubborn...

Anyway. Where was I before that rant took hold?

We're reaching a crossroads here in the Potski household. Since the beginning of February I've been buckling Boy #2 into the car twice a week and driving him through the Moscow traffic to nursery. It's been stressful, I don't mind telling you, and has made me totally rethink the way I am behind the wheel (basically, just let the idiots go; the assholes who drive like assholes are going to do that no matter how cross it makes you, so just ignore them and concentrate on defensive manouvres to stay alive).

The mornings that he and I negotiate the highway are classified now in my mind as four, five, six or seven lane days. There are in fact only 3 lanes marked on the road (with a fourth feeder that peels off to the right shortly after we join it), but invariably this is not the number of lanes of traffic that greet us as we join it. Every day, some drivers get increasingly frustrated by the slow moving traffic, and a bright spark always thinks 'Hey! There's some space between those two lanes! Let's just see... Oh yes, I can! I CAN squeeze through!' And then before you know it someone else has snuck in behind him, and suddenly, 4 lanes of traffic become five, become six, become seven...

On the plus side, at least when this happens it's likely that any accidents that take place are too slow moving to cause any real injury. (Find that silver lining PM, find it!).

However, in only 2 weeks time, this schedule of drop-offs and pick-ups draws to an end because then Boy #2 will stop going to nursery prior to our summer holidays, and from the end of August will be joining his older brother in Big School, only a 15 minute walk from us.

Like all mums I imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I know that with a more settled schedule working to standard school times, the opportunities for me personally to experience Moscow during our time here are going to completely open up. I have a long list of things I want to do and places that I want to see and visit which just aren't feasible with a 4 year old (and his trusty scooter) in tow.

In addition, I'm hoping to get a little more serious on the writing front, and to use my creative impulses for more than just typing diary entries onto the blog. And I'm going to become the world's best filer, for another thing. All those cooling towers of paper currently sitting on our window sill? Adios. I will be a whirling dervish of productivity when it comes to getting administration sorted (Husband, if you're reading this, don't hold me to it. Remember, a declaration made on a blog does not hold water in family court...)

On the other hand, however... Once Boy #2 starts school, who is going be Tonto to my Lone Ranger? (Or, if I'm honest, who is going to be Lone Ranger to my Tonto?). Who is going to sit in the back of the car issuing instructions on our way to the supermarket as to which one we should shop at based on his preference for pushing his own miniature sized trolley or riding in the car trolley at that particular moment? Who is going to demand book-reading with menaces and cuddle into the crook of my arm on the sofa when I agree? Who is going to push the start button on the washing machine to hear the beep?

Who is going to build complicated train tracks around the sitting room that make hoovering a nightmare and which cause me to have scabby knees from sitting on the floor to walk my fingers onto the top of the next wooden train to reach Knapford station? Who is going to listen to birdsong with me as we toil back up the hill from school, and point out - before squashing - the insects on the path? Who is going to retire to bed 5 minutes before the school-run in reverse in the certain knowledge that a trip to the school canteen will be offered as bribe to get him out of bed in time to meet his brother?

Who will demand a pull-along on his scooter and then fit their hand so neatly into mine as I oblige?

Now I know - I know - that all these things will continue. But they will be different. As will he - and I.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

The Gallery; Still Life

Week 14 of Tara's Gallery. This week her prompt, inspired by a heavenly photo of some bacon, was 'still life'. I thought about photographing some food, I really did. But whilst we eat well here at Potski Mansions, we don't necessarily eat photogenic food. I'm going to blame the quality of the ingredients from Russian supermarkets not being what they might be, others might blame the fact that I care more about how food tastes than how it looks . Substance wins out over style every time, in my book. (Which might explain my tight waist-bands). Anyway, no pretty photos of cup-cakes or prawn cocktails here today.

Instead, I've photographed some wild flowers in the garden outside our house. They're not outstandingly beautiful, although they are quite pretty, but this photo is more about that what they represent than how they look.

We live in a compound, you see. We don't get to do the gardening ourselves; there's a team of people who do that for us. For the record, we are not allowed to do it. It's a tough life, sitting back and letting someone else take the strain, but I'm prepared to take that hit for the family...

Anyway, back to the point I'm trying to make. Not speaking much Russian yet, I don't have many opportunities to communicate with the gardeners here, but I'm betting they are not trained landscape designers, mainly because most of them are in fact from the same team of guys who keep the roads and paths clear of snow and ice in the winter.

So this makes it all the more suprising to me that this little patch of wild flowers - and many others like it throughout the compound - survive the ministrations of the gardeners driving the squadron of lawn-mowers that trundle out of the work-sheds at the back of the compound on any dry day in the summer. Most of the grass here is mown to within an inch of it's life, so how could the flowers have been missed, I wondered?

And then, last week, I was at home whilst the lawn outside our window was being mown, and I saw exactly how the wildflowers had survived when the guy behind the machine carefully and delicately mowed around them, making sure - in fact - that if even a single flower was blooming, he steered a course around it.

He clearly had a poet's soul.

So this photograph represents yet another reminder for me not to judge a book by it's cover.