Sunday 29 August 2010

Ringing of the School Bell

Boy #2 starts school tomorrow. Tomorrow? How did that happen? I just went to check on him in bed and he seems so small when he's lying down that I can barely make him out under the duvet. How can it be that he's ready to make first his foray into the big bad world when a too-hot risotto can still reduce my hungry boy to frustrated tears, and when after his bath I can bundle him up in a towel and carry him into the bedroom to find his pyjamas?

And yet. He's totally ready for it.

He has an answer for everything, does Mr Independant, and loves nothing more than to mix it up with his older bigger brother just for the hell of it if he feels things are getting a little boring. He plans to be a pizza-delivering train driver when he grows up (well, it's a niche, I suppose), and when he can, helps out with what he considers 'manly' tasks around the place whilst adopting a deep, matter of fact tone of voice. He likes to make conversation whilst on the loo when making a delivery (cough) during which he will make pronouncements on trains, planes, and the state of world in general. (I call being on the receiving end of this conversation 'being in the presence of Deep Thought'...)

He may get himself into trouble frequently but he knows the value of a prompt apology; after an unfortunate incident on holiday at his grandparents involving boistrous play, some floor-length curtains and a curtain rail that ended up where it shouldn't have, he was quick to own-up, quick to say sorry, and then just as quick to forget it and get excited over the subsequent opportunities that this accident afforded for diy. There was plenty of standing around with hands on hips, and speaking in a deep matter of fact voice whilst passing Grandad various tools to replace the rail. My father said wistfully to me afterwards; "He doesn't mess about, Boy #2, does he? Says sorry, draws a line under it - 'that's life, you know grandad' - and moves on. And expects you to, too..."

We looked at each other, simultaneously realising that that's a skill a lot of adults have yet to acquire.

All in all, I think Boy #2 will be OK when he starts school tomorrow.

I, on the other hand...

Friday 27 August 2010

In which I trawl through my draft archive...

My blogging mojo has stayed on holiday, it seems. Apparently there is a lot of this about right now, so I count myself in good company. However, that doesn't get away from the fact that the longer I leave it between posts the harder it gets, so here's one I made earlier and stored away in times of more plenty - at the end of last year, actually. In desperation and in search of inspiration, I just read it through this evening and despite our change of location, some of it (no names, no pack drill ,but cereal bowls and hormones may be involved) still seems relevant...

I feel as if I should have a sandwich board around my neck that reads:

'Treat with caution; Hormonal Female on the loose. May bite. Approach at your own risk'.

I started the day smoothly enough, but mid-morning bang! The Hormone fairy came to visit (any men reading, look away now) and I morphed from a fairly reasonable human being into a teenage witch (substitute 'w' with 'b' if you feel inclined). Not the normal fairly reasonable witch I've come to expect over the last few years. oh no. Instead her spikier cousin, freshly pissed off by who knows what and who, it seems, has a lot of unanswered QUESTIONS that no-one is able to answer. Or perhaps, they just don't want to get close enough to hear what the questions are. I know you don't want to know either (oh look, Aunty Paranoia has arrived too, how lovely!), but I'm going to ask them anyway...


How can a short walk with a preschooler, billed pre-departure as an exciting 'expedition' to the post office (I know, the glamour of my life knows no bounds) so quickly descend into a shouty stampy argument on the pavement outside our house over whether it's possible to scoot wearing new gloves. Even when they do look like fishes.


How long does a person need to stare vacantly into space to convince the older lady in front of them in the post-office queue that they they really DON'T want to engage in conversation about the second older lady who just stopped the queue-standing first older lady to ask if her fleece (featuring an attractive print of cats and dogs) had been hand-made for her? Would you think that would mean vacant space-staring would be required all the way to the counter, for the complete half hour it would have taken to reach it? I mean, I'm asking that question because I actually don't know; I bailed after 5 minutes of expectant looks and hopeful mutterings about long-dead cats and dogs thrown in my direction (I just have one of 'those' faces, it seems, even when I'm choc-full of Nastiness hormones) and headed to the bakers for a restorative ring donut which only made me feel dirty and used once I'd eaten it and - oh god...


Is it really so hard to put a dirty cereal bowl in the dishwasher rather than just leaving it on the work surface? I mean, IS IT??? IS IT???


How can I seemingly miraculously have been cured of my craving for chocolate and sweet stuff (I'll take this morning's donut under advisement, your honour), not really have indulged in either for around 3 weeks, and HAVE LOST NO WEIGHT? Tell me, HOW??? In fact, how can it be that I have in fact apparantly put weight on in the last day or so and....



Which leads me to my last question....

How can a 42 year old woman forget something so obvious that occurs every month, for goodness' sake?

(And no, it wasn't pregnancy. Rather the opposite...)

Thursday 26 August 2010

Little Dish & the Russian Ingredients Challenge...

So, it's review time again. Last summer, when I was (sob) still living in London, Little Dish were kind enough to send me some ready meals for my boys to try. The taste test was - mostly - a success, and I blogged about it here. Not so long ago, they got back in touch and asked if this time I would be interested in reviewing the 'Little Dish Favourites Cookbook'.

Now, I live in Russia these days. (You might have noticed - that fact has featured on The Potty Diaries once or twice...) And whilst there are many things you CAN easily buy here, like, um, well, honey... and umm vodka, healthy ready meals are not one of those things. Consequently scratch cooking is majorly back on the agenda in the Potski household (except for Fridays which is religiously Pizza night - I deserve one night in seven off, surely?) and having fallen into something of a rut on the meal-planning front, any and all inspiration is welcome.

So, the Little Dish Favourites Cookbook; how do I rate it?

The opening section on First Tastes contains simple and practical advice on weaning your baby. It probably wouldn't do as the only book in your repertoire, but it contains easy purees and is a great place to start, especially if you're a first time mum and have no idea where that might be.

It does contain a recipe for homemade chicken stock and whilst I have nothing against that per se I would say to all new mums introducing solids for the first time: on the subject of home-made chicken stock; DON'T DO IT. Your house will stink, you will stink, and since Waitrose (amongst other places) now sells a perfectly good salt, additive and preservative free alternative, buy a couple of packs there, stash one in the freezer for when you next need it and save yourself a whole heap of time and effort. (Sorry Annabel Karmel and any other Domestic Goddesses reading this, but life is just too short to make your own chicken stock...).

The main bulk of the recipes come under the Family Dishes section and in the interests of properly reviewing this book, I decided that rather than just reading it and making my mind up, I would walk the walk and use it to cook from. I chose one recipe per day for 5 days this week, and here are the results (It would have been 6 but, come on, Friday is pizza night after all...). So. What did I cook, and how did it go?

Sunday: GG's Chicken Supreme (p 78)

This was easy to make (even when having to substitute Russian ingredients like Smetana for the soured cream), and it was great to know that having put it together the evening before, I had minimal fuss on Sunday evening to pull dinner out of the hat. Plus it was absolutely delicious. We all loved it - even fussy Boy #1. I will definitely make this again.

Monday: Monty's Favourite Fish Fingers (p54)

Not a success. In fact, after my first bite I took pity on my sons and told them they didn't have to eat it, and we dined handsomely on vegetables and ham instead; however, this is much more down to the completely rubbish quality of white fish generally available here than anything wrong with the recipe. In actual fact I would expect this recipe to work fine with most fish you could get from a fish counter in the UK.

Tuesday: Chicken Enchilas (p76)

Pretty yummy. Boy #2 and I wolfed it down, Boy #1 - after initial negotiations concerning non-consumption of the flour tortilla had been concluded - did the same. With the exception of the tortilla, obviously. (What it did contain, which he usually never eats, was cheese. He didn't notice. This is a Result in my book - it's going on my List).

Wednesday: Easy Fish in Foil (p50)

I know, it's not fair to make the book run the fish gauntlet twice but I'm looking for any way I can to make the fish available here palatable. This time I used imported frozen salmon (from Norway), so the start point was a bit better, but I have to say the reaction from Boy #1 was still wholly unexpected. He pronounced the first bite 'Delicious!' and came back for seconds. Yesss!

Thursday: Spanish Tortilla (p122)

No fish today, and I decided to give ourselves a break from genetically modified meat with genetically modified eggs instead (seriously; you should see the size of the average chicken breast here. It would dwarf many turkeys back home...). This recipe was - OK. I enjoyed it, as did Husband who ate more than half of it without pausing for breath, but the Boys objected to the use of parsley and I would probably leave that out when I make it again for them (which I will). Again, it contained cheese and again, Boy #1 didn't notice (or at least, didn't identify that as one of the things he didn't like about it).

Overall then, I would give this book around 8 / 10. I will use it again, and already have my eye on some of the other recipes, so culinary boredom has been postponed for a while longer in the Potski household. Thankyou, Little Dish!

This was a sponsored post. (I got a free copy of the book, in other words).

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Fisherwomen's tales

God, these summer holidays are dragging on a bit. Aren't they? I mean, I love my sons and everything but after a day as Camp Ents Officer, by the time evening comes around I'm too exhausted to even think about coming up with original thought to put on the blog. So I am - as you may have noticed - grasping for inspiration wherever I can find it.

Luckily for me there are loads of great bloggers out there with far more interesting stuff to say than I have, and today's shot in the arm came to me courtesy of the fantastic Troutie (who's been featured on The Potty Diaries before as British Mummy Blogger of the Week). Today she posted about having possibly her last pre-arrival of 2nd baby massage, and this put me in mind of a story told to me by a very good friend about what happened to her husband once on holiday.

At the time they were in the middle of an impossibly romantic and glamorous trans-continental relationship. He was living in Australia, and she was in London. They used to meet in fabulous places and 'catch-up' (if you know what I mean). On this particular holiday, they met at a well known spa in Thailand; and during the holiday my friend S found out to her horror that her unreconstructed bloke of a beloved had never had a massage. As a special treat, she arranged for him to have one, and decided to have one herself at the same time.

They duly went in for their relaxing experiences. As they came out, she asked him what he thought of it. "All right" he replied. "But my legs got very tired."

S was confused. "Your legs? What do you mean?"

"Well, you know. They were hanging off the end of the table. I had to keep them straight, and it wasn't that comfortable, to tell the truth..."

S questioned him more closely. And let's just say, never having had a massage before, he hadn't realised that the hole at the top of the table was for your face. He thought it was a receptacle for... something else. God only knows what the poor masseuse thought when she came in to find him lying there completely the wrong way around, but she chose not to correct him and so consequently he spent the whole 40-odd minutes lying half on, half off the table, holding on for all he was worth, trying to keep his legs straight....

Men, eh?

Monday 23 August 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I've got that back to school feeling. Not surprising, I suppose; after the initial boost at getting home, being surrounded by my own stuff again, and being a little more in control of my own destiny, it's hit me that my 7 week vacation is over and now that Husband has gone back to work and there are no grandparents around to help take the strain, it's just me and the Boys.

The Boys, and me.

Oh, and the great pile of papers that has built up over the summer and which - once we finally get round to buying a filing cabinet - needs to be stowed away before I go MAD with the clutter... I can't believe we've managed without proper storage for it all in the 6 months since we got here, but I suppose the extra wide window sills in our Russian dacha had to be used for something. Having said that, I discovered on our return that Husband has now filled the available window space downstairs and co-opted the ones in our bedroom as additional filing space, and whilst I'm no feng-shui disciple, enough is enough. A filing cabinet it must be, and fast.

There's something about imposing a little order on the administrative crap in our lives, isn't there? Which is perhaps why I've been drawn to this British Mummy Blogger of the Week. TheImperfectionist - who's tag line is 'ticking one item off the to-do list... and adding four more on the bottom' - writes of herself that she is:

'Organising a family and realising that I'm not Mary Poppins, tragically.'

I love her recent post on entertaining the imperfect way, and foresee many happy hours using the weird converter on snowy afternoons when they start in here, sometime around the end of September, probably...

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

Sunday 22 August 2010

Smug parents r not us...

Oh, how I laughed when I read this post by More Than Just a Mother a couple of weeks back.

But then, in the taxi on the way back from the airport on Thursday, Boy #2 was asleep and Boy #1 and were messing around. I was tickling him...

Him: "You're a mongrel."

Me: "A mongrel? Really?" (I have heard this one many times before; it's courtesy of one of the characters in Boy #1's Crocodile Hunter film). "Oh dear."

Him (aware that I was unimpressed): "No, you're not a mongrel. You're a muthamucker."

Me (Don't panic. Don't panic. Keep smiling. Don't over-react. If he knows this is bad it's going to reappear. This is what you get for spending the summer in England. Who did he hear this one from? His older cousin? On the tube? On the street? Where? Where?) "OK. Right. Who did you hear saying that?"

Him: "Boy #2."

I might have known...

Saturday 21 August 2010

Thoughts on returning to Moscow...

On the Compound

Gosh, it's quiet. The compound is like a ghost town. Where is everybody? (The answer to that question: still on holiday, mostly. Apparently you're nowhere as an expat unless you take a minimum of 8 weeks out of your country of residence over the summer... We took 7. We're toast.)

On the Weather

Great, it's raining. Wouldn't you know it; Moscow has the longest heatwave in living memory and the day we get back it clouds over, starts tipping down and the temperature drops by 15 degC.

On the Unpacking

One of the advantages of having a Husband travelling back and forwards between London and Moscow whilst you stay on holiday with the children is that you can give him all the 'supplies' you've bought (children's clothes, toiletries and hard-to-get groceries like tomato puree and G&B's chocolate) to take back with him on his interim visits. At least, it is an advantage as long as you keep track of what you've sent.

(Note to self #1; next time, keep track of what I've sent. I imagine we now have enough shower gel to last until some time after we eventually return to the UK).

(Note to self #2: the next time you buy a blender - or indeed any electrical appliance - and send it on ahead with a Husband in his useful role as advance party sherpa taking your purchases to Moscow before you get there yourself, remember; Test the damn thing before you send it. )

On the Washing

Thank heavens I did so much laundry whilst I was away with the children. At least I don't have that to deal with now...

In that case though, what's that overflowing over the top of the laundry basket?

Jesus. Did Husband wash one single shirt whilst I was gone?

OK, yes, that's true. Two is more than 'one single shirt'.

I suppose I shouldn't really wonder if he washed the sheets...

Ah. Well, at least stuffed down the back of the laundry basket (because it's unable to fit into it due to the Great Dirty Shirt Surfeit) is better than still on the bed. I suppose.

On the contents of the Kitchen:

Now, milk... Let's have a look in the fridge. Oh, you've got to be kidding me. How out of date is that ham?

And those eggs...?

And the butter?

And the - sod it. Let's just throw the whole lot out.

Damn, it's good to be home.

And actually, it is.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Do YOU Show Respect On The Road?

This is sponsored post...

It's funny. Not funny 'ha-ha', so much as funny 'well, who'd have thought it?' funny, but I think that driving in Moscow has actually made me a better driver. Well, when I say better, maybe that's not actually what I mean... (and Husband certainly wouldn't agree, but that's the subject of a whole other post).

Don't get me wrong: I'm no saint when I'm behind the wheel. I get as frustrated with the other numpties (because isn't it always the other driver a numpty, not you?) around me as the next person does. But one thing that I've learned whilst living in Moscow is that frustration, when in control of a car, is not just a wasted emotion, it's a dangerous one. I've written before about the high level of road casualties in Russia; - 30,000 fatalities last year - and after the first few weeks of tears and tantrums it dawned on me that whilst it's easy to be reduced to tears of impotent rage at other people's driving, or at the world's most inconvenient traffic jams, it doesn't help. In fact, it usually makes things worse.

Interestingly, this zen-like realisation also seems to have occurred to many of Moscow's drivers. Whilst it is often scary, and always 'interesting' to drive anywhere in the city, the one thing I have noticed is that with the exception of your standard number of psychopaths and bad apples, most people on the road are actually quite polite to each other. Perhaps it's because of those bad apples that this is the case; I mean, we're all in this mess together. Yes, there are always the idiots who take liberties, who sneak up on the inside, who park across the lights and stop traffic turning left or right, or who stick a blue light on top of their car and believe that because they've done that they have the license to do quite literally anything on the road and screw up everything for everyone else, but overall - touch wood - it's less of a jungle than it might be.

For example, people (almost) always indicate. They - gasp - let each other in from side roads in traffic jams, for example. And - hold onto your hats here - they acknowledge it if they're on the receiving end of that; a quick flash of the hazards to express their gratitude usually does the trick. I guess you could call it something of a blitz spirit in action.

However back in the UK, like Pavlov's dog, on familiar roads and driving on the side of them that I'm used to, I have to consciously work at not resorting automatically to old patterns of blood pressure-raising behaviour. And amazingly, it is working. I only have to think about the comparison between driving in England and what I'm going to be dealing with when I head back to Russia, and I am calmer. But when I saw the AXA 'I Respect The Road' campaign, it gave me pause for thought. Because I'm not so secure that I don't wonder: if my Boys were to be filmed mimicking my driving style as the children in this clip are their parents, what would I see?

This post is sponsored by AXA Car Insurance

And whilst we're on the subject of traffic, just be careful what you say in a black cab in future. You might find yourself on t'internet...

To find out more about this campaign, visit:

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Monday 16 August 2010

Bed time stories...

Boy #1 is now reading a lot more easily. This is great, and we're working on improving his fluency still further - but there's a problem. Most days, at some point, I read to my sons on the sofa, and at least once a day this will be as a reward for Boy #1 having read to me first.

The thing is though, and you may have forgotten this if your children are now fluent readers, but when a child is first familiarising themselves with the process, they do tend to read slowly and in something of a monotone. The dramatisation and pauses for effect that become de rigeur when you're a parent with more than your fair share of am dram in your past are things that don't come naturally until later in life.

So the last few times when Boy #1 has finished reading the latest installment of The Magic Key or similar to me at the end of a long and tiring day, I have to admit; it hasn't been either of my children who have been taking a nap on the sofa...

Friday 13 August 2010

#Blogladesh; let's just do it.

When I was 17 years old, I moved schools. No, scratch that; I moved universe. My parents relocated from Gloucestershire to the South Coast and I moved from the safe, known quantity of the Cotswold convent school that I'd been attending for the previous 6 years into the urban jungle of a mixed Catholic grammer.

Hardly 'the hood', I know, but for me it was a step into the unknown.

It could all have gone so very wrong - and I suppose that, academically, it did. Note my use of the word 'academically' though. I didn't use the word 'education' there, and for the very good reason that this move probably did more to educate me in the real world and how it worked than I realised at the time.

Clearly, my grades suffered, no question. I'm not sure that I would have done substantially better in my A-levels if I'd stayed put with the nuns in Cheltenham - I was always in the 'could do better if only she would apply herself more' category - but I could probably have squeezed out one or two extra points on my UCCA form. So I suppose I might - might - have gone to a different college and (perish the thought) have made different long-term friends at university than the ones I still see today, but overall I don't think the long term outcome would have been so different. And no doubt it would still have taken me until my mid-20's to become properly interested in turning up to work on time and trying to make anything like a career work for me...

Unsurprisingly, on the other hand, the move from convent to grammer school improved my social skills and social life immensely. You could say, in fact, that it was the making of me, because for the first time in my life I realised that I didn't have to fit the same persona that I'd worn for the previous 11 years of education - a bit shy, a bit of an outsider, always with my head stuck in a book - but could be who I wanted to be. Which, admittedly, was not so different from before, but which had one crucial added ingredient; confidence. I suddenly realised that I was in control of my destiny; it was up to me to make things work or not; it was up to me to decide if I wanted to fit in or stand on the outside; I could Make Things Happen.

I have to say, as a seminal moment, it was hard to beat.

Of course, it was easy for me think I was becoming more confident and less retiring. But only a couple of weeks after I arrived in my new school something happened that made me realise it was time to walk the walk; I saw the first of Micheal Buerk's news reports on the BBC about the famine in Ethopia. I watched it, appalled. How could this be happening? How could we let it happen? Surely people couldn't stand by and do nothing?

So, for one of the first times in my life, I decided to not stand by. The next morning I went into school and (having asked the head's permission first like the good convent girl I still was really at that point) I visited every single class in the 1200 pupil school, reminded them of what we'd all seen on tv the previous evening, and asked them to hand over all their spare cash for me to give to Save the Children to channel to the victims of the famine.

It worked. I can't remember the exact sum I handed but it was approaching £300 (worth around £670 now, not that bad for a shock collection in a school). I was lucky, I think, in many ways. Firstly, 26 years ago, there were only 4 channels on television, and the Beeb was still king. At that point they were still showing the main news of the day at 9.00pm, and almost every single child in the school had seen the same footage I had and wanted to help in some way. Secondly, I was the Newbie, and as such I had nothing to lose. I had no reputation to trash or otherwise by doing such a 'worthy' thing; there were no expectations of me by long term friends or teachers, I had no boyfriend to embarrass, and I didn't much care (at that point) whether it was acceptable to the cool kids or not.

I just decided I had to help, got off my butt, and did it the best way I knew how.

Times change, obviously. We're all much more jaded on the issue of handing over money to charity now than we were back then. Sure, we all do it, but the noise that's generated by all the different needs and causes out there can be deafening; who to give to, how much, when, and by what means?

But there are additional ways to help; we are living in the 'information society'. We have the power to make a difference simply by tapping a few keys to communicate with others. So whilst I'm not for one minute suggesting you should stop giving to the DEC who need your money right now for so many different issues including but not limited to victims of the flooding in Pakistan, I would also like to ask that you pay attention to what three bloggers are doing at the beginning of September when they travel out to India for an awareness saving trip with Save the Children.

Josie at Sleep is for the Weak, Eva at Nixdminx, and Sian at Mummy Tips are walking the walk of the brave and going out there to see it all at first hand, report back, and to help make a difference to children's lives.

In a recent post, Eva wrote:

'When I set up a hashtag on Wednesday I thought it might help, it was #bloggersforpakistan, and based upon the #bloggersforhaiti which we used earlier this year. By lunchtime the same day it went global. It surprised and amazed me as a seemingly disconnected community continued to retweet the hash tag and link to the DEC fund raising site – the support gathered swiftly and made an impact in a way that none of us could ever imagined a few years ago. Suddenly there was a buzz which generated awareness.

Imagine this ‘buzz’ as a Morse Code, or a cyber smoke signal, if you will – a spark of inspiration quickly ignites a flame of interest. We want to keep this flame burning bright. So for the next few weeks, you’ll see #blogladesh attached to many of my tweets, please retweet and help us. I am heading to Bangladesh with Mummytips and Porridgebrain for an awareness raising trip with Save the Children.'

Ladies, I salute you; I know you can make a difference.

Thursday 12 August 2010

I don't normally do this...

...but when I saw this e-mail pop into my 'potty mummy' inbox I decided it could only be of benefit to any pregnant mums out there to know that from today until Sunday, Isabella Oliver are offering 33% off their new autumn range.

Admittedly, their clothes are not cheap as chips, but every blossoming mum needs something in her wardrobe that makes her feel gorgeous, and this is as good a place as anywhere to look for that. So go on, click through - what are you waiting for?

Note - this is not a sponsored post...

Calling all preschoolers...

Dealing with parents can be an uphill task. Getting their attention when they are otherwise engaged in boring domestic tasks (be it emptying the dishwasher, tidying your toys away, cooking your dinner, or ferrying you from one playdate to the next) can be frustrating and almost impossible at times.

So how do you ensure that your immediate needs are dealt with now, not at some unspecified time in the future when your Dad has put down the newspaper or your Mother has switched off the computer?

We at PLEAD (Push to the Limit to Ensure Adults Deliver) Solutions have the answer. After a 7 year survey in which we have conducted laboratory standard experiments in crossing parental boundaries, we can report that there are a series of short and easily completable actions and commands which, with a little training, can ensure you never have to shout for attention again.

For example, want your parent/carer to stop making the beds and instead get your breakfast ready? The answer is simple; find a handy chair or window seat and stand next to the open window waving your arms and threatening to throw a hard-edged die-cast truck out onto the street below. Or want to break up one of those long summer car journeys and get out to stretch your legs? Threaten to play the 'wee card' on your brand new car seat. Or if your intransigent and unreasonable parent is standing between you and a ride on the fairground carousel? A short and sharp session of face-down-on-the-pavement screaming may well yield the results you are looking for.

For all these tips and many more explained and illustrated, simply send 4 week's pocket money to PLEAD and by return of post you will receive your 'I'm In Charge' starter pack*.

*All applications which arrive by the end of August will receive a complimentary pack of fake poo smears and snot stains with which you can reward or discipline your newly trained parents as required...

Disclaimer: No parents were permanently scarred in the creation of this product. Please note that grandparents may require a different package.

Monday 9 August 2010

Existential homesickness...

Dammit. I've just spent half an hour trying to download some music onto a flip video to show you just how gorgeous - yes, just GORGEOUS! - London was today. No joy though(my ignorance, not the flip's), so you're just going to have to take my word for it.

It's funny; up until now, I've not really felt homesick for London. I guess that the excitement of being in Moscow and the attendant stresses and strains have distracted me from the fact that really, this city is my home. This city is my manor.

Since we got back from France on Friday, it seems as if London's been putting on her best face for me. Suddenly she's put on her lippie, thrust back her shoulders, and been strutting her stuff for my delectation. And it's not just that I've had the opportunity to spend some quality walking through Hyde Park this afternoon in the sunshine - although lord knows, I'm not sure that there are many capital cities with such an amazingly beautiful park in the centre of them. No, it's more that I've been reminded of what it is that I really love about this place and which is so noticeably absent from the streets of Moscow.


And you know what? It's not even celebrated diversity, because that would imply that it's noticed. No, London is full of diversity - and no one gives a shit because that's just the way it is, and has been for a long time. Funnily enough, that's what a number of my Russian acquaintances have said they like about my home town; the fact that they can walk along the street speaking Russian as loudly as they like, and no one cares. In Moscow, if you single yourself out in any way, it's noticed; not necessarily in a bad way, but you're still aware that you're 'other'.

But here? You speak French, Swahili, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Lithuanian or Finnish? Well, so what?

God, I love that.

Which is why the fact that we can't fly back to Moscow as planned on Wednesday - due to the thick brown tar that is currently masquerading as air - is somehow not bothering me so much...

Saturday 7 August 2010

Thoughts during a haircut...

When I'm in the UK I always try to get my hair cut at the same place. It saves on those agonising conversations that one often seems to have in a new salon when we establish that:

  • yes, I do have very fine hair
  • yes, it is very straight
  • and quite short, yes
  • and no, I don't want it too much shorter as I can't take that nowadays (a cut-glass jaw-line no longer being in my possession, sadly)
  • I am starting to go grey
  • Yes, there does seem to be a lot of that going on around my temples
  • But not quite enough to do anything serious about
  • No, I don't really want to grow it out. Because of the fine straight thing we already talked about. Because that makes it look shit. And doesn't work on my face. And I really can't face the year or so it will take to make it look like a style instead of just looking like I forgot to fit in a hair cut...
  • Can you just get on and give me the same cut I had 2 months ago, please?

So I save myself the pain and go to the same salon that I've been using for 10 years, where I have had my hair cut by the same stylist (a feisty French woman who is searingly chic) for all that time, in the vain hope that some of her chicness will transfer itself to me by osmosis. It hasn't happened yet.

And every time, I have almost the same conversation with myself...

Oh God. Tell me again why I travel to the centre of town to get my hair cut at a salon specialising in cutting Japanese hair, when mine is as European limp and fine as you can get? I mean, look at the other clients. LOOK AT THEM! With their gorgeous black tresses that look like they've stepped straight out of vogue...

Oh, I want her hair. The long hair. The thick long hair that softly waves at the bottom...

No, no, wait, scratch that. I want that hair. THAT hair - the short and sassy blunt bob sitting just above the shoulders.

Or maybe the mid-length shaggy cut... Stop it Potty. Stop it! You know your look. Short, practical, occasionally a bit funky if the length and humidity are kind to you. It's taken you 40 years to find a cut that works, step away from the style magazines...

But whilst we're at it, how come hair stylists always look so skinny and on-trend? Is that something they learn in hairdresser school? You know; how to throw on a t-shirt, a pair of rock-chick skinny jeans and a little belt and make those of us to whom 'little belts' are a but a distant memory get carried with the right-on-ness of the place and spend far too much on product as we leave?

Is there any way that I could ask them for a hair transplant? Maybe I should get a perm. No, wait. I did that already. In the 80's. The poodle hair photos are still too horrible to look at.

So, over to get my hair washed. And no, they still haven't changed the set-up - I still have to climb into the barber's chair whilst some teenager half my size has to try gamely to pump it up to the right height for the sink... Maybe I should offer to climb out so she can do that without giving herself an embolism? No. Better not. That would just draw attention to an already embarrassing situation.

Ho hum.

She's still pumping. Perhaps those extra helpings of bread and cheese and the one or two glasses of rose on holiday weren't such a good idea after all...

Right. Rolled up towel over the eyes. I. Am. Liking that. I can think about lists and worries without having to make conversation... or, I can nod off whilst she shampoos, conditions, rinses, and gives me a lovely head massage and............

God! Is that over already? Did I nod off? Did I dribble? Please god, let me not have dribbled. Oh, thank heavens. No drool-patch on my shoulder. Although the towel seems suspiciously damp around my face. In fact, maybe that's why they use the towel; to save their clients blushes...

Ah. Yes. What would I like? Well can you change the nature and colour of my hair to something like yours (long, black, straight, possessing about 3 times as much body as I get with the most powerful hair dryer known to man), in a limited time-frame and on a limited budget? No?

Same as usual then, please.

And yes. I WILL buy that new product to try at home. Obviously.

Thursday 5 August 2010

The Bigger Picture

It's tempting, when on holiday with your children and finding yourself - you think - run ragged by your little prince and princess's demands, to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Just in case that's happened to you recently (as it has to me), here's a video from Unicef UK entitled 'Put it Right', which they've created to support their 5 year initiative to inspire action to protect the rights of children everywhere.

And before you click away, there are no images of gratuitous violence against children on it; just kids doing what they do everywhere and simply getting on with their lives. But in circumstances that may make you weep.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Life-guard duties and wake-up calls...

One of the great things about holidaying with friends who have children of a similar age to your own is that the job of entertaining your offspring all is not just halved but quartered. Not only do you have other like-minded adults to help with the camp organiser duties, but the kids themselves are quite happy to tear the place up themselves with no thought to asking for adult interference.

In fact, it appears that they prefer you don't get involved at all, other than in essential cases like reaching the too-high handle of the freezer door to access the ice-creams, providing an endless supply of snacks and meals (the less healthy the better, obviously), and to act as life-guards around the rather too-deep pool (well, you can't have everything).

This sudden - and very welcome - reduction in duties has meant that over the last few days I've had the opportunity to laze in the sun and try to -unsuccessfully - tan out the strap marks on my feet acquired due to an early summer spent in an unwise choice of strappy sandal (admittedly, choices of affordable footwear are limited in Moscow but really, what was I thinking??), and also - less trivially, perhaps - to ponder the fact that come September, when Boy #2 joins his older brother full-time at school, it's time to start putting my money where my mouth is and start motoring on 'the writing stuff'.

I had already formulated an extremely sketchy strategy (involving getting paid large amounts of money and being generally lauded for my extreme fabulousness, in return for minimum amounts of work, obviously), when I came across this post on the BlogHer site by Her Bad Mother, which provided something of a wake-up call.

In it, Catherine (Her Bad Mother) writes of how she was detained when travelling through US Customs by Homeland Security because - get this - she told them that the purpose of her visit to the United States was to attend a Yahoo conference as a mum blogger, and the male officers she was being interviewed by didn't believe that to be such a thing could possibly be a real, professional, paying job. To the extent that the question 'who do you really work for?' was even asked.

This does seem a rather short-sighted misogynistic attitude on their part regarding the validity of basing a career on writing about being a mother. I don't think, for example, that if a male writer for Loaded magazine told them the purpose of his visit to the US was to go to various bars to find girls willing to take part in a feature called 'We Like Big Boobs', he would be pulled aside for an hour long interview. I hate to say it, but I rather think they would shake his hand as he was waved through the VIP channel...

But I think that what really bothers me here is that if Her Bad Mother - a very successful blogger - gets pulled up and asked these sort of questions (and let's face it, which of us hasn't been faced with blank faces and questions like 'Hang on. Do you mean to tell me that you write about your life with the kids and people not related to you actually read it? And then come back for more?'), what chance do I stand of making this 'writing stuff' work?

Hmm. That strategy I mentioned earlier? May need fine tuning a little...

Sunday 1 August 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

It's exhausting, this holiday malarky. No matter how good a time you're having, I have to ask; is 'holiday' the best word to describe a trip away that takes military levels of organisation and which sometimes feels just like being at home - only without the convenience of a working washing machine and internet connection?

On top of that you also have to take responsibility for the packing and repacking of your stuff, the kid's stuff and - if you're particularly unlucky / saintly (delete as appropriate) - your significant other's stuff too. Small wonder that often trying to buy, and then find space in your luggage for, all the blockbusting summer novels that you promised yourself you're going to have the chance to read on your 'relaxing' summer holiday, gets prioritised down to a last minute dash to the bookshop in Duty Free...

For those who have small children, are not holidaying with benevolent grandparents attached as doting babysitters, and who have forgotten what it is to sit in the sun with a good book, I'm talking about the books you read in the time you have to yourself.

You know, on your relaxing summer holiday? Time, that is, when you're not making trips to the local supermarket hunting for non-sugar rich breakfast cereal whilst sneaking a croissant or two yourself (it won't show under the control-top swimsuit, surely?), tidying away explosions of beach kit scattered like shrapnel immediately inside the front door, drying out towels and swim suits stiff with salt or chlorine, hunting for the kid's sun lotion, applying said sun lotion, persuading them that wearing their hat in 35degC IS a good idea (I said it IS a good idea, well I don't care if you don't like it; you're wearing it anyway, and stand STILL please whilst I put this factor 50 on you or you'll get it... all over my skirt), and so on.

Which is why I'm being extremely lazy and rather than trawling the members list of British Mummy Bloggers to find you something new to read this week, I thought I would instead gift you (yes, I like that word; 'gift'. It implies great sacrifice on my part rather than simply pulling out a post I wrote earlier for this very occasion) with a full list of ALL the British Mummy Bloggers to-date.

Who needs to pick up a chic-lit novel the width and weight of a telephone directory, when you have the following list? With one click-through you can have access to writing far better than you'll find on most airport bestsellers' lists...

May 2009

February 2010

The Rubbish Diet

April 2010

Paparazzi Mum

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