Thursday 29 July 2010

Diamonds may last forever, but skoda's don't...

Dear Purple Skoda,

I really thought that this was a letter I would never have to write. I honestly believed that you would be part of our lives for ever, growing ever more crotchety - but still just about going - for many years to come, and yet hear we are, a mere 7 years after first meeting, saying our goodbyes.

I remember when we first met. I was 3 weeks off my due date with Boy #1, and Husband had finally bowed to Realism and accepted that our days of being young cosmopolitan Londoners who used public transport to get everywhere, only hiring a car when we needed to leave the capital, were over. Since I had always been the one to deal with transport issues up until then (having mostly been the one gifted with company cars), I decided that this time he could do the legwork, and let him get on with sourcing a suitable vehicle whilst I concentrated on finishing up at the office before going on maternity leave, and waddling around like a very hot duck at the end of the 2003 summer heatwave.

So when, the day after I shut down my laptop for the last time in 6 months and left work weighed down by good wishes and goodluck cards, I did so in the certain knowledge that when we went to the second hand car dealer the next day (getting there by tube, obviously), he would not have let me down.

Well, he didn't. Exactly. But he did wait until we were almost there, me sweating and sailing along like a ship in full sail, before announcing that he had already spied a suitable car on the website. "I'm not sure you're going to like it" he said nervously. Safe in my pregnancy bubble, I remained as serene as it was possible to be for a nearly nine month pregnant woman walking along in 30degC temperatures, and in need of the loo and vast quantities of cold water at the same time. A Ford Focus? A Clio, perhaps? How bad could it get? My husband, after all, is something of a petrol head. Of course he would pick us a good car!

What I had forgotten, however, was that as well as being a petrol head, my husband was also Dutch; a nation famed on mainland Europe for being 'careful' with money.

"It's a skoda" he mumbled.

I stopped, and looked at him. "You're kidding, right?"

"And it's purple".

"You're not kidding."

Not, perhaps, the most auspicious start to a relationship. But , dear skoda, you have done us proud over the last 7 years. You might not be the coolest car on the block, or even an acceptable colour, but your big boot enabled us to transport 2 children and their various accessories, over more trips to Holland and the West Country than I care to think about. Sure, there were rare incidents where you decided to throw a hissy fit; that time in a torrential rainstorm at midnight in Belgium, for example. When Husband decided to wash down your engine. Or when you decided we should splash out on a new exhaust. Or two.

But overall, you've been a good friend, ignoring the leaf-litter of papers, sweet wrappers and coke cans that rattled around on the floor, and proving good-humoured about always being the dirtiest car on the block (Husband still swears that our neighbours thought you belonged to the cleaners and that they probably all thought we weren't paying them enough...).

It was only when we pushed you too far, ignoring your pleas for more coolant, that you finally gave out on Husband on the M25 in rush hour one evening and threw in the towel for good. (And no, I won't remind you of how I repeatedly asked him if we should pay attention to the little light on the dashboard and of how he laughed at me and told me not to be so silly, there would never be anything wrong with you...).

So now it's goodbye, dear skoda. I have no doubt that your replacement - when we finally return to live in Blighty, whenever that may be - will probably be just as uncool and just as good value for money as you ever were. But I must admit that I do rather hope that in one respect, it will be different.

Please, not purple.

Best wishes,

PM x

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Summer-time - and does anyone have any diocalm handy?

I'm falling behind on my blog reading. I'm also falling behind on replying to comments, Twitter, newspapers, books, and practically everything that doesn't involve bouncing around in a pool with small children, soaking up the sun and regretting the croissant with butter and honey I had for breakfast.

But hey, you only live once.

I do, however, want to ask you one question;

Do you, like me, sometimes wonder how you came to partner up with a man so similar to one of your parents?

My sister, for example, married a man who has much in common with our mother (if it's possible to say that without making him out to be some sort of emasculated person, which he most definitely is not). And I? Well, I often wonder if I have ended up with a close copy of my father.

For example, Dad was something of a workaholic when I was growing up. (He still is, actually. Which is a neat trick when you're supposed have retired already.) Most of the time this manifested itself in not being around too much during the week (at least when we children were awake), and being on something of short fuse for much of the rest of the time. (Hmm...). And when it came time for the holidays, you could bet that the first 3 days or so would be wasted due to the fact that he would come down with some illness that pounced on his lowered immune system the moment he slowed down his normal frenetic pace and the adrenalin disappeared from his body.


I don't think I'm stretching the point too much when I think of my beloved languishing upstairs still suffering the after-effects of his stomach upset on Saturday if I say this pattern of behaviour bears certain... similarities... to those displayed by my father. (And no. This is not a one-off).

So I'm wondering. Is it that I've essentially chosen a man who has many of the same qualities I admire in my father (in this instance; being a hard worker, incredibly focused, and with an eye on the long term goal rather than a short-term easy life) and which of course have similardown-sides (finding it hard to slow down, getting ill when he does)? And do we all do the same thing of looking for traits we respect in our parents when we choose a partner?

Or does this sick-holiday syndrome happen to everyone and I'm just reading too much into it?

Monday 26 July 2010

Notes to self on booking next holiday...

We're in the south of france having a lovely time. The children are becoming water-nymphs, the accommodation is practically perfect, the wine is chilling in the fridge, and the sun is shining. But I imagine that the fact I'm having a good holiday is not something you want to hear about if you're stuck at home, so I've worked VERY hard to come up with a list of things that might help you feel better about that..

Notes to self when planning next holiday:

The night before leaving on holiday, do not allow your husband to eat Indonesian food left over from the day before.

Most especially, do not encourage him to have seconds.

But if this happens, make sure you are sleeping in a well-ventilated room and that you have packed diocalm in an easily accessible part of your luggage.

Do not blithely assume that the threat by EasyJet's board to make it change it's name if they don't improve their record of time keeping will have made any difference to their actual practices.

Do not bother to make arrangements to meet the family you are holidaying with at the airport you're flying to. See note above as to why.

Do not relax back into your seat once the airplane finally takes off, safe in the knowledge that nothing now will stop you arriving at your destination in 1 hour 40 minutes. You might, of course, but that's unlikely when your plane has to make an unscheduled landing at Paris due to another passenger being taken ill.

Do, however, rejoice that said passenger is not your husband who has been looking decidedly pasty since he got up due to excessive consumption of possibly dodgy Indonesian food the night before. (To the extent that when the paramedics arrive to check out the other passenger, they ask your husband if he would like to be seen as well, just to make sure...)

Do not assume once you've landed that all your problems are over. Not when you still have to pick up your hire car on the first day of the UK summer holidays in a hot-spot for 'discerning' travellers, anyway.

Make sure that if you are the designated driver (man, this is getting to be something of a habit - more of why another time), your husband reads the directions you've printed out correctly and doesn't miss out a crucial line instructing you to turn left rather than continuing straight on.

Keep a tight rein on your temper when still sickly husband's mistake is discovered.

And finally, think twice about the wisdom of buying your first bikini in 15 years when you have a) been somewhere without access to a gym for the last 6 months, b) have kept on what another blogger once charmingly referred to as your 'winter coat' due to lack of access to said gym, and c) are holidaying with one of your closest friends to whom 9 1/2 stone is a weight she only ever reached whilst pregnant and who is still on nodding terms with her hip bones. And who has brought a different bikini with her for every day of the week.

Will that do? Probably not...

Friday 23 July 2010

On the hamster's wheel

It's the day before we go on our summer holiday. All is chaos at my parent's in law where we're currently staying before we leave for France. After spending 3 weeks with my parents and Husband's mother I'm becoming something of a basket case. I love them both dearly (although my parents more, obviously - it's the law, apparently), but I haven't spent this much time with them since I left home 25 years ago.

Husband suggested this morning that I take 'a couple of hours' out at a coffee shop to surf the internet and have some time to myself. Great idea. Except, by the time we emptied out our car ready for it to be scrapped (once we find the ownership papers, and god only knows where they are), went through the stuff in my mother-in-law's loft trying to find various pieces of clothing for the boys (also a fruitless exercise), and tried to rationalise some of our luggage before flying out with 'Not so Easy Jet' tomorrow morning, 'a couple of hours' had gone down to 1 hour 15. Throw in running a couple of errands (funnily enough for shaving foam that I won't be using and a card for my brother-in-law), and I was left with 40 minutes. Then I had to find a coffee shop with wifi (lose another 10 minutes) and queue up to get the code in the only joint in town with a working connection, and I have 2 minutes left to write a post.

And now I'm late.

What a relaxing 'couple of hours' that was...

So that's it, Internet. No more blog post right now. Hopefully the next time I log on I will be ensconced by the pool with a glass of chilled rose in my hand.

Update: My saint of a mother-in-law has taken the boys out to the park to give them the chance to let off steam and me time to pack.

I am, of course, blogging instead, so I can give you the skinny about my accident on the way home where, stomping along crossly in my new fit flops, I caught the incredibly thick sole on the edge of the pavement and executed a perfect triple salko ending up with me, my handbag, the shopping, and crucially, my laptop bag, hitting the ground with an ominous thud. Damage report: two grazed knees (amazingly through my jeans, no rips thank god), two bruised palms, a damaged sense of dignity and a slightly more rattly computer.

I may rename my new shoes 'titflops' - because I suspect I looked like one...

Wednesday 21 July 2010

A boob of large proportions...

Boy #2: "Mummy. Why do you need boobs?"

Boobs? Boobs? Where has he heard that word?

Me: "Um, well, because I'm a woman. And women have breasts."

Please don't push me on what we need them for - memories of walking into the bathroom last year to find you trying to use your brother's nipples for what they will never achieve are still too fresh...

Boy #2 (very seriously and matter of factly): "In England, you know, we call them boobs."

He puts his hands firmly on my chest to indicate exactly what he's talking about.

Me (where did he hear this?): "Yes, but we also call them 'breasts'."

Boy #1 (mischievously smiling): "Breadsticks? Do we call them 'breadsticks'?"

Me (give me strength): "No, Boy #1, I said 'Breasts'. BREAASTSS."

Boy #2: "So. In England, some people call them breads. BREADS. But my Auntie K has bigger ones than you and she calls them Boobs. So that is what I will call them. Boobs."

Boy #2 then jumps around the bedroom, clasping his chest and shouting: "Boob-di-boob, do-di-boob. Boob-boo-di-boob..."

Repeat to fade.

Just wait 'till I get hold of my sister...

Lord of the Views; The Gallery, Wk 20

It's Week 20 of Tara's Gallery, and this time she's set us the challenge of coming up with a photograph to illustrate a favourite title, whether it's a novel, a fairy tale or a children's book.

My favourite book is, I'm afraid, a marmite book. You either love it or hate it. I love it, but am sympathetic to those who don't; it's long, takes a while to really get going, and sits firmly in the category called 'fantasy'. Those who've never read usually roll their eyes and mutter 'nerd' under their breaths when I admit to the fact that I re-read this title every few years just for the fun of it.

As for those who have read it, and didn't enjoy it, I have to say I can understand that too; it's an epic, and even worse, an epic with very few women in it. Not something I would willingly pick up for the first time nowadays, it's true. But this book is very much a product of it's time (it was written in the 1930's), and is reflective of the author's concern about what was happening on the world stage at that stage of history. The winds of change echo throughout it, even after the happy ending.

What is also apparent throughout, however, is JRR Tolkien's love of the English countryside. (Guessed what it is yet?). Perhaps I'm more sensitive to that right now, living in Moscow, but I do believe that it has a special kind of beauty. And yes, when Peter Jackson made his recent Lord of the Rings trilogy, he chose New Zealand as the backdrop, and it worked brilliantly, but for me there are still places in England where you can see The Shire in glorious technicolour.

This is one of them.

And yes, it's a view across the Somerset levels to Glastonbury Tor, not really a scene from 'The Lord of the Rings', but - as long as you can ignore the pesky telephone wire - you have to admit, it does sort of work in this context...

Monday 19 July 2010

Rites of Passage

I took the Boys to Southbourne Beach near Bournemouth today. This was an important Rite of Passage; this part of Dorset is where my mum's family is from, where she grew up, and where I spent not only some very happy holidays but also two formative summers during my sixth form years - on this very beach, in fact - after my parents moved down there for a while.

Whilst we were dodging waves and building trenches this afternoon, the sand was invaded by a 50-strong party of teens, probably from the very same school that I spent those two summers at. Seeing them race into the waves, wrinkle-free, skinny-hipped, and far more beautiful than they will ever realise (or at least, until they come across a photo of their 17-year old self in 25 years time), it took me back to some of my own rites of passage, like leaving school on a hot and sunny afternoon and heading down to the beach for a spot of illicit sunbathing when I should probably have been doing my homework. Spending hours making a cup of tea last in the cliff-top cafe, putting the world to rights with my earnest girlfriends, and wondering whether the guy playing drums in the school band actually fancied me or just happened to be glancing in my direction when he was having trouble with his contact lenses. Finding out that he did actually fancy me, and getting into trouble with my dad (waiting by the garden gate for my return after a night out- oh the embarrassment!) for being an hour late for curfew as a result of this discovery...

Luckily for me however, my sons were there to pull me back to reality before I found myself wandering amongst these teens muttering dire warnings about the transience of youth and making the most of it whilst you're young and firm (like I would have listened at their age if confronted by a 40+ mother of two looking unkempt and unfashionable on the beach in glamorous Bournemouth), since Boy #1 wanted to inform me of two discoveries he had made all by himself on this sunny afternoon.

1. There is almost nothing to compare with the satisfaction of peeling sunburned skin off your own feet...*
2. ...except for, that is, answering a call of nature whilst sitting down in the sea.

So it was Rites of Passage all round today, then.

Sunday 18 July 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I am not a 'crafty' person. Oh, I might occasionally throw some paper and glitter around with the Boys admittedly, and whilst I was growing up my poor parents probably had more than their fair share of salt-dough decorations weighing down the branches of the Christmas tree. Oh, and there was that two-year sojourn in the land of the macrame artiste, when members of the family and various unfortunate friends were given strings of scratchy hemp fashioned into pot holders, wall hangings and yet more pot holders...

Nowadays, though, whilst I like the concept of craft for it's own sake, it's not something I generally get around to much. Which is why, when I come across a blog that touches on this subject I am held in thrall. How do they do it, these women who run up a dress in an evening, an ottoman cover in a day, and artfully distress a chest of drawers over a weekend?

She doesn't only write about this, but being crafty is something that I know holds no fear for this week's recommended Mummy Blogger. The Coffee Lady writes of herself:

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

She and Santa are like that. Hell, she even knows what to do with felt. And guess what? There's an ottoman in her bedroom that wasn't delivered looking like this by John Lewis...

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

Friday 16 July 2010

Ghosts in the 'machine'.

This morning, in my parent's dining room, I was watching the happenings on twitter (an addictive personality? Me?), and Boy #1 was indulging in a spot of Nintendo-love. Every now and again he would mutter something obscure like 'pink road', 'blue road' or 'I've got protection' (What?).

Now, I have to say that I have been eating slightly richer food here than I would normally do. My mother is a fantastic cook, and not only would it be foolish in the extreme to turn down her culinary offerings, it's more than my life as a beloved daughter is worth. So (have you guessed where I'm going with this?) my stomach is a little more 'volatile' than it would normally be. A little 'noisier'. A little - oh, alright. I'm more explosive than usual.

I've been trying not to share this too much with my children, but what the hell, a fart's a fart at the end of the day and I'm not going to leave the room for one; it's not like they do that for me, after all...

So, there we were, Nintendo and laptop keys singing along in happy unison when suddenly there was an unidentified (to Boy #1, at any rate) noise. A sort of a squeal, if I could call it that. Now, I knew where it came from. But Boy #1 - safely on the other side of the room - didn't.

He looked at me in surprise. "What was that?" "What was what?" (I know - I'm a charlatan). "That - that noise?" "I don't know..."

"Oh. Right. Do you think maybe it was... a ghost?"

Dear Internet, forgive me. My answer? "Gosh. Well, of course there are no such things really, but yes, I suppose it could have been..."

Will I burn in hell, do you think?

Thursday 15 July 2010

What's wrong with this picture...

...metaphorically speaking, that is?

Sometimes it's painfully clear to me why our economy is in the mess it is...

Boy #2 recently dropped our 7 year old digital camera. Thankfully, it wasn't the really expensive one (the one that never gets used and which was bought more recently in a moment of unsupervised madness by Husband, which I am too scared to ever to take out of the house - for good reason, it turns out), and it still takes a decent shot, but the lens cover no longer closes when it's not in use. There's also a little teeny dent in it, but I've carried on using it and the picture quality seems fine.

Since we're staying at my parents for a week or more, however, I thought that it might be a good opportunity to get the lens cover fixed. I took it into the local camera repair shop, and after showing it them the damage, had the following conversation.

Me: ", can you fix it?"

Shop assistant (sucks in air through his teeth and looks doubtful): "Well, we can. But honestly, you might just as well buy a new one. Once things start to go on these cameras, you just need to do one repair after another."

Me: "Oh. Right. But it hasn't 'started to go', it's been dropped. And it still works. I just want to the lens cover to close when it's not in use."

Him: "Still..."

Me: "Well, how much would it cost to repair it?"

Him (more sucking of teeth): "Oh. Probably £60, £70?"

Me: "Right. And how much to buy a new one?"

Him: "Well, we sell the latest version of these for around £250."

Me (doing some teeth-sucking of my own): "Well, £60 to repair it does sound a little cheaper than £250..."

Him: "Yes, I suppose it does, really..."

As it happens, I didn't get it repaired; the time it would have taken was longer than we had (More tooth sucking "You've chosen the busiest time of year to bring it in, you know..."). But neither did I buy a new one. Instead I bought some cleaning papers to keep with the camera so I can make sure there's no dust on the lens when I use it. The price? £1.50.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Burn before reading (out loud)

OK. If I've hit publish on this, it's because I've just listened to myself reading a post on Radio Four's 'Woman's Hour' (how many apostrophe's can you fit into three words?) and rather than wanting to jump off a cliff at how strangled I sounded, have decided that it was actually OK.

It's an interesting experience, being given the opportunity to read some of your own - pre-considered - words to an audience the size of Woman's Hour's. Nevertheless, that's what I, Sandy Calico and Amy from 'One More Means Four' did this morning. I wonder if the other two felt the same way about it that I did; on the one hand, I wanted to scream it from the roof tops to everyone I know, everyone I don't, and their respective friends and relatives. 'Turn on the radio!' I wanted to say. '10.00am! Tuesday the 11th July! Don't miss it, because it's likely to be the one and only time I ever get the chance!'

On the other hand... what if my reading was rubbish? What if I ended up sounding like that woman in 'Brief Encounter'*? Everyone might laugh at me. I might never live it down. And as for what I actually had to say - people might not like it. They might think I am a self-indulgent fool. The effort I'd put into crafting what I saw as a coherent, honest post might be drowned out by a chorus of disapproval over the meaning behind it. After all, it's one thing to put a post out there for people to read to themselves using their own voices, but to be given the incredibly rare chance to read it to them, in the way that I want them to hear it, and then they still think it's rubbish, well...

But I'm a thick-skinned cow at the end of the day. And bearing in mind that my blog is 'anonymous' - ha! - even if it has all gone horribly wrong, I'll get over it...

So what the hell - I'm going to hit publish now, before the radio programme goes out.

And I can always delete it afterwards if my worse fears come true - that is the beauty of the internet, after all...

If you're interested in hearing the original programme, it's at the beginning of this, and for the full version of the post I read click here...

*And just to cheer us up the first rainy day in 2 or 3 weeks, here's a youtube clip I found when I was googling Celia Howard and Brief Encounters (for those of you who had no clue what I was referring to earlier on). It's not Brief Encounters, but instead is a pastiche by the fabulous Victoria Wood, which seems to work quite well with the whole Women's Hour theme of this post. Enjoy!

Monday 12 July 2010

Drowning - If your summer holiday involves water, read this...

3 years ago, Boy #1 nearly drowned in a friend's pool. I can't actually bring myself to write about what happened; 36 months on it's still too raw. Consequently, I found this article in MumsRock hard going - it's much too close for comfort - but I still did to remind myself of what to look out for, and urge you to, too.

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

A speedy update this morning. A post on this week's British Mummy Blogger of the Week puts me in mind of something I did when I was a young and callow student, and really should have known better...

My boyfriend of the time (previously referred to as Sporty Boy on this blog) was just about to move into a new house with some of his friends. Bearing mind that we were all students, you can imagine the standard of accommodation I'm talking about; mould on the shower curtains, rats in the bins outside, slugs on the kitchen floor. Basically, it was the pits. My girlfriends and I, two of whom I lived with and who's boyfriends were also part of this new house set-up (so far, so 'Friends') in Disgusting-on-Thames, held a war cabinet.

There was no way, we decided, that we were going to spend any time in a conditions like those. But that meant our boyfriends would then spend all their time at ours, and that wasn't going to fly either; a flat that just about held 4 of us would not reasonably hold 8. What to do?

Well, there was only one thing to do. We offered to clean the new house from top to bottom. On a one-off basis, for a fee (I believe it was the princely sum of £20 each - which 20-odd years ago was actually not so bad...). Of course these boys jumped at the chance, and as they moved all their kit and caboodle in, we put pegs on our noses and set to.

Dear internet, it was disgusting - and I say that having had a job cleaning caravans after they had been occupied by groups of fishermen, as a teenager. It's Monday so I won't make you dry-heave into your morning coffee, but I'm sure you can imagine the filth we had to deal with. The most horrific part, however? Dealing with the smug look on our boyfriends faces when they told us they would pay us 'tomorrow'...

This week's BMB of the Week would, I'm sure, never do anything as foolish as willingly clean out a student loo. Unless, of course, the student in question happened to be her son. Ladybird World Mother writes of herself:

'Am a Mother. To four children. Am a Wife. To one Husband. Live a chaotic, task-filled life, where nothing is ever tidy enough, clean enough or paid enough. Despite that, there are moments of great contentment. I try to write about the things in my life that make me spit out my tea. And any biscuit lurking. I LOVE this life. But sometimes I yearn for a clean and tidy one.'

Check out her posts about student loos and chicken-lovin' rabbits if you need to raise a smile this - or any other - morning...

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning click here (Note; it says 'mummy', but dads can be members too...)

Saturday 10 July 2010

John Lewis; sheepskin-lined bovver boots and dresses worth die(t)ing for...

I'm not a natural shopper. It's a big effort for me to go out and spend on stuff that I don't need yesterday (other than on clothes for the Boys, where for some reason money trickles through my fingers like water...). I suspect this is based on some deep-seated subconscious memory of there not being a lot of cash to spare whilst growing up (credit cards? What were they?) and painful shopping trips with my mum, looking for clothes for me and where we had vastly differing expectations of the outcome...

I'm not one to hold a grudge, you understand, but to give you an example there was that time she had one idea about what I was going to wear to the 3rd year end of term party (involving taffeta and burgundy), and I had another (involving funky knickerbockers, high heeled boots and a tinsel-threaded scarf, with possibly a glittery band worn Adam Ant-style around my forehead). No need to say who won, I suspect - but I remember the slippery feel of that taffeta to this day...

One of the few shops that seems to escape this unconscious embargo however, and which I am happy to wander around in is Peter Jones, the John Lewis flagship store on the Kings Road. For some reason it seems to be one of the few places where I can almost always find what I need, so when JL offered bloggers the chance to get a preview of their Autumn/Winter Christmas range last Thursday I jumped at it.

Can I just say now that it's a good thing I'm spending most of my time in Russia at the moment? Otherwise I think most of my disposable income would be headed straight for the JL Partners pockets. In the kitchenware department I saw an ingenious soup maker that also blends and crushes ice (Cuisinart, £139), a bread maker that also bakes cakes and makes jam (John Lewis, £60), a cup-cake maker that resembles nothing so much as breville sandwich toaster in the way that it works, and a speaker system that streams from it's own console or alternatively from your i-phone, internet or for all I know, the kitchen sink (Sonos S5, £349).

Then the nice people giving the tour took us down to where the fashion buyers had assembled a limited range of the gorgeous numbers they'll be selling this winter, where I had dark and lustful thoughts about Barbours with English Eccentric linings, a Celia Birtwell dress that looked like it could stylishly disguise the evidence of any pre-Christmas mince-pie excess (£80), and any number of pieces in their Russian Military range (but especially the sheepskin lined Dr Martens which sound awful but aren't, and which would be PERFECT for the snow and ice of the school run in down-town Moscow in January...)

And that's not all. There was a new line by Mint Velvet, some gorgeous 'lounging about' lingerie (which of course has no place in my life but I can dream, can't I?), and lots of reasonably priced evening wear that would even be worth die(t)ing for. Not to mention the 'casual sparkle' pieces to spice up JL's Rebel Rebel themed line which should probably be worn by fresh-faced teenagers and 20-somethings, but which definitely will appear in the wardrobes of some 40+ ladies who should know better (myself included), and a pair of Henry Holland-designed JL tights which feature Big Ben as a motif. (I am a London girl at heart, after all).

And then - and then - they took us to the home-wares section where bloggers from across the land made plans to acquire an Allegra bedspread which was a thing of great beauty (at £60), various pieces of gorgeous Ercol furniture, and a skinny artificial Christmas tree to show-case some Nordic themed tree-decorations.

I would love to have some fantastic photos or footage of all this stuff, but whilst I didn't lie when I told the lovely ladies at reception that I do know how to use the Flip Mino camera they so kindly gave me on my arrival, it turns out - on viewing what I did film - that I'm not actually very good at recording anything worth seeing. Instead I've lifted this photo off it as the best I can offer, which whilst it isn't moving pictures is at least a good illustration of how easy it is to get high quality stills off the hd movies that the Flip takes. Sorry JL - I'm sure that's not at all what you had in mind when you handed it over...

Oh well; maybe by next year I'll have learnt how to use it. And look at the pretty colours!

Thursday 8 July 2010

Anyone for Tennis?

I've had an exhausting day. Not because I spent 3 hours alongside some other bloggers in the company of the lovely people at John Lewis as they showed us their Christmas range, which by the way was fabulous, and some of the clothes were even worth die(t)ing for (see what I did there? I'm not an ancient blogger for nothing, you know...). Nor because I followed that up with a trip on the London Eye with Boys #1 and #2 and Mother-in-Law. And not even because today I wore far-too-high wedges that whilst they are perfectly comfortable in the 'standing still and looking tall' department, are a little precarious and require some concentration when it comes to the 'walking down-hill in the rain on the way to the tube first thing in the morning' department.

No, I'm knackered because after we got back home, Boy#1 and I had a game of 'Boy#2 Tennis'.

Boy #1, you see, has been inspired by Wimbledon. Now, personally I'm not a tennis player. Actually, that's something of an understatement; I am SO bad at it that at school the sports teachers used to walk past the court I was attempting to play on, sadly shaking their heads. So you can imagine how delighted I was when my older son insisted we dig out my mother-in-law's state of the art tennis kit (2 plastic bats and a number of plastic balls sent over the wall by the adjacent school) and play so he could pretend to be a Wimbledon champion.

As expected, my son did not take to the game like a duck to water. The look of confusion on his face when he realised that this is a game that takes just a little practice took me right back to our school playing fields circa 1979 when I made the same discovery. However, the day was saved and any looming tantrums were cut off by Boy #2 happening upon us, and deciding that whilst he might not want to play himself, he was damned well going to be in charge of those of us who did.

He appointed himself Umpire, and installed himself on a deckchair to one side of our 3 metre wide court, but not before he had set the game up the way he wanted it. The rules? Well, they changed slightly from the ones you might know. We had no net, so instead a line of plastic skittles was set up across the middle of the court. Then, Boy #1 and I were informed that the new aim of the game was to hit the skittles and knock them over rather than to hit over the top of them. Points were to be awarded based on the number of skittles knocked over, and whoever had accumulated the most points by the end of the game (or bath-time, whichever came first) was to be the winner.

But this was not all, oh no...

No; before each and every ball was hit (because let's be honest, managing to return a serve that is meant to skim along the grass and knock the skittles over is highly unlikely), we had to wait for permission from the umpire. To grant that, the Umpire had to stomp to the middle of the court, count to 5 (or 4, or 6, depending on how he felt or how high he could remember), and then blow a short blast on an old wooden recorder as loudly as he could. Then - and only then - were Boy #1 or I allowed to hit the ball. Failure to wait for permission could result in general huffiness, some shouting, and a threat to knock the skittles over himself before being placated and starting the whole process all over again.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Dear Internet, I enjoyed this game of 'Boy #2 Tennis' more than any other game of normal tennis that I've ever played in my life.

Have they finally broken me, do you think?

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Potski and the road to Cybermummy...

At the parent's in law, still in London. The sounds of 'Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang' drift out from the sitting room where the boys are spending a glorious morning ensconced in front of the box... (don't judge me; it's week 3 of the school holidays. WEEK 3! And it's only July 6th!) Every now and again Boy #1 bursts out into the dining room where I'm tapping away on the lap top to ask pertinent questions like 'It's the same man in this as in Mary Poppins. Does that mean that Bert has two jobs?' and to exclaim 'No! No!' when the pirates sail over the horizon. I'm currently on standby for when the odious Child Catcher appears since I have no doubt my presence will be required to ward off his advances...

It's all a very long way from Saturday when I joined 200 other delegates at the Cybermummy event in Earl's Court.

Nixdminx summed up the day pretty well for me in a post yesterday when she asked the question 'Cybermummy or Womanhood?' So many different women, so many different lifestyles, but all part of this phenomen and all giving a voice to their experiences of being a woman and a mother.

Before I started blogging I have to admit that I thought of bloggers as people who sought solace and companionship in cyberspace because they couldn't find it in the real world. Bloggers, I thought, probably didn't wash very much. The curtains on their homes were usually shut. They played fantasy games on the internet, and ate a lot of take-aways. They certainly didn't do the laundry, the school run, hold down a job,or juggle a family's schedule. Then - almost by mistake and entirely thanks to Pig in the Kitchen - I became a blogger myself, and suddenly the preconceptions that I had previously had became those of others about me, others who knew nothing about this new and vibrant world that I had stumbled into.

To start with, I didn't really tell anyone about my on-line life. I was worried what they might think of me (given my own previous prejudices, for example), I was worried that they might - the horror! - read what I wrote. But over time, I gained confidence and started to share with close friends what I was doing. I even told my Husband the address after a close friend of his took the trouble to find the blog on google (never forget; you might think your blog is anonymous but if it contains even a kernel of truth about your life, you're not. Bear that in mind when you hit publish...).

And then I took the final leap into linking my real-life with my on-line life; I met another blogger.

As I stood and waited for her to arrive I have to admit that I did wonder what the hell I was doing. One of the issues that seems to come up time and again for bloggers is the hypocrisy of repeatedly warning your older children about 'the weirdo's on the internet' and the absolute no-go of ever meeting them in person - and then going to do exactly that yourself. What if she turned out to be some sort of psycopath who bore no resemblance to the warm and witty person I knew online? What if she turned out to be some kind of internet stalker? What if this meeting turned into a special feature in The Daily Mail, a tale of horror, the apparently sympathetic tone of the article heavily underscored with the unspoken suggestion that 'she should have known better; no good can ever come from the interweb?'

Of course, that's not how it turned it out at all. Frog in the Field and I had a great time; so great in fact that when she roped me in to a special screening for mummy bloggers of 'Chuggington' a few weeks later I didn't hesitate to say yes. And that's where I met 'A Modern Mother', and Jo Beaufoix amongst others. A couple of weeks later when the former asked us to be part of a new ning she was setting up, instead of replying 'what on earth is a ning?' I answered yes, and that's how I ended up in Earl's Court on Saturday, surrounded by yet more warm and witty people who I had also met on the internet.

It was wonderful. For a start, everybody there had washed. There were no drawn curtains, no take-away cartons (at least, not during the day. I can't speak for later after a few glasses of wine had been consumed, obviously...) And I can't sum up my feelings about the day better than to quote something from an e-mail that a good friend of mine - who, whilst I had never met her in person before Saturday most definitely fits that description - sent afterwards, and which I think applies to just about everyone I spoke to at Cybermummy;

'I loved meeting you. You are so very YOU!'

Sunday 4 July 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I'm in London, recovering after a flight over here on my own with the Boys on Friday, and yesterday's Cybermummy event in Earl's Court. This is a British Mummy Blogger of the week post, I promise, but first two other things...

1. Friday's noteable quote came from Boy #2 on the plane, when he was introducing me to a four-year old flame-haired almond-eyed temptress who had ensnared him in a game of mutual tongue sticking out and tummy flashing. (She started it. I swear). Once the courtship ritual I described above was completed (and is it really so different from what happens when we get older, I wonder?), he decided to introduce me to her. We eyed each other warily, as Boy #2 said "And this, this is my mummy. But her stage name is Clare*."

My stage name? I was torn. Part of me wanted to ask where on earth he heard that expression. And the other part wanted to say "Oh darling. That's not right. My stage name is Potty..."

* Clare is of course not my real name, as you will know if you were actually at yesterday's fabulous Cybermummy event, and which leads me neatly onto the second thing I wanted to note...

2. Whilst there will no doubt be a 'proper post' on my Cybermummy experience on The Potty Diaries in the near future, it's not today. Instead, I just want to say that I am inordinately proud of myself for not running up to any number of the fabulous bloggers that I met in person for the first time yesterday and saying, in true hysterical woman fashion 'I bloody love your blog, I do...'

So. This week's recommended reading. I've decided not to put up an attendee from yesterday as I suspect that anyone who didn't go will be heartily sick of hearing those who did waxing lyrical about it. Instead, I'm going to recommend a relative newcomer to the BMB ning. Belgravia Wife of Belgravia Wives writes of herself:

'Mother of three, have to say, particularly dinky children. Central London resident, baffled by the whole school business - school fees vs. home schooling - let's talk ! Freelance head-hunter- working with clients who have loyally stayed by my side throughout three bouts of baby induced uselessness. Writer - novel coming along - nicely....somewhere else. In fact writing quite a few novels - just not particularly quickly.'

Check out her posts for musings on goats in yurts and living in London - although not at the same time, obviously - and for delicious menu ideas to boot.

(And in the interests of full disclosure, I do actually know Belgravia Wife in real life. But don't hold that against her, please...)

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

Friday 2 July 2010

Stop-gap post...

We're leaving for a holiday in the UK this afternoon but there are a couple of things I wanted to get down in a post first...

London City Mum has very kindly given me this award. Whilst I'm always delighted to receive such things I'm rubbish about acknowledging them on my blog (and even worse at passing them on), but this Must Change, so LCM, thankyou very much, I'm delighted. I'll pass it on when I'm not so pressed for time (come on - I did warn you I was even worse at that bit...)

A rash of bloggers are participating in Dulwich Mum's hilarious Alternative Boden Catalogue. Check it out - but practice your pelvic floor exercises first...

I have two sons who look similar and have identical abilities to delight and frustrate, but they are separated by approximately two years in age. To open a window onto the experiences of mothers who have twins and triplets - always illuminating - check out the Carnival about Twins And More over at You've Got Your Hands Full.

On a personal note, I'm feeling vindicated this morning. Last week, after 5 months of having no bank account (in Russia, at any rate), I finally got my hands on cash cards that won't cost an arm and a leg when I withdraw money over here. As expected, bureaucracy reigns (this is Russia, after all), and we had to go all the way to the other side of Moscow to pick up both the cards and the pin codes. I stowed the latter somewhere safe (OK, in the middle of a pile of papers - but I knew exactly where they were) when we got home, only to find that they had disappeared without trace a couple of days later when I finally got the chance to activate the cards.

Husband was - to put it mildly - annoyed. As was I; how could I have been so STUPID? I turned the house upside down looking for them, to no avail, and then had to make two more trips back to the branch to confess my foolishness and get new codes. This morning, however, I got a phone call from a very contrite Husband who had found said codes in an envelope of 'stuff' he had packed up and taken to the office. Whilst we did waste time looking for them and trekking backwards and forwards to the bank, overall I'm treating this as a positive experience because:

a) neither of us said anything too damning to the other in the original hunt for the lost codes...
b) I'm NOT crazy, I hadn't lost them...
c) my beloved Husband 'fessed up when he really had no need to. Which is one of the many reasons why I love him so.