Thursday 29 December 2011

Great things about blogging #979

It allows you to record moments like this which would otherwise be lost in the post-Christmas haze...

This evening, my sister (the erstwhile blogger 'Footballer's Knees'; far funnier than me, in case you were wondering, but also far busier -which is why she is no longer blogging), and I happened to be in the same room at our parent's house when an Irish jig popped up amongst the medly of Christmas songs on the cd player.

Imagine it; the music seamlessly segued from Mr Crosby's dulcet-toned 'White Christmas' to the sort of thing you would expect to hear at your school assembly on St Patrick's Day. Or at least, what you would expect to hear if you went to a Roman Catholic primary school, as FK and I did.

Reader, you would be pleased to know that, despite our lack of immediate Irish heritage (oh, it's there, alright, but you need to go back a few generations through Lancastrians determined to hide it before you get there, and frankly, find me an English Catholic without it), FK and I lined up and immediately assumed the stiff-backed, knees up to our chins, feet going crazy, heel-tapping, tippy-toed leapage that we all know and love from River Dance. Well, not exactly like River Dance, perhaps. But close enough, begorrah.

We cantered sideways across the (very small) dining room, straight arms linked to each other's shoulders, before repeating the exercise in the other direction, and then forward and backwards in perfect (PERFECT, I tell you) synchronicity with each other.

My older son and nephew had no idea what the hell we were doing, but were obviously incredibly impressed by our display.

Although I think the chances of either of them wanting to take Irish dancing lessons may just have been blown to smithereens by the sight of us.

Sorry, great great great great grandmammy...

Wednesday 28 December 2011

I didn't get where I am today without knowing my own mind...

My grandmother is 98 years old. She is a feisty lady, who knows what she wants in life - as evidenced by this recent conversation with my mother during the run up to the festive season...

Nana: "Now. Your Christmas cake, this year..."

Note: My mother is a goddess in the kitchen. A goddess, I tell you; a living legend in all things culinary, and her Christmas cake is no exception. There is just one teeny little issue, and that is that - delicious, tasty and moist as her cake is - we (as in 'the family') are generally too stuffed by the time we reach the cake to do it full justice. As a result, over the last 20 or so years Mum has got into the habit of giving a good 1/3 to 1/2 of the cake to Nana to take home with her at the end of the Christmas break. And Nana, as we shall see, has got into the habit of taking it.

So, back to the conversation in hand.

Nana: "Now. Your Christmas cake, this year..."

Mum: "Yeesss..."

Nana: "You don't need to bother to ice it. I don't really like the icing. Too hard, and too sweet."

Mum: "But I always ice the cake. We all eat it, and we all like it iced."

Nana: "Well, you don't need to this year."

I suppose that you don't reach the age of 98 without learning how to speak your own mind. Or, indeed, without putting yourself first.

(Needless to say, Mum did ice the cake...

Friday 16 December 2011

How not to give yourself a manicure...

So which one of you jokers out there knew that cutting up a pumpkin would give me brown stained fingers and palms, and chose not to tell me?


Because it was all oh-so-funny when I was mugging it up for the Boys as they ate their dinner, girding my loins with an apron for an epic battle with this 5 kilo monster squash, attacking it with my sharpest knife and asking my enthralled audience if they wanted to see it's intestines. And before you call me ghoulish, to be fair the stringy stuff inside did rather look like something's insides, especially if you're a 5 or an 8 year old boy (or a 44 year old mother with an over-active imagination).

It may not have been wise, however, to wave the sectioned and vanquished vegetable (fruit? vegetable? Fruit? It does have seeds, after all) over my head in triumph at this point. It might even perhaps have been a rather a silly thing to do, since the pumpkin spitefully proved to take what I thought at the time was it's last revenge, showering my newly cut hair with seeds in retaliation for the inconvenience of being cut up, but I was on a roll, my sons were laughing hysterically by this time, and it seemed like a good idea at the time Your Honour...

Less funny however were the 10 minutes I had to spend with a pumice stone removing the dried up and brown-stained skin on my hands afterwards. Turned out that in fact the seeds on my head were only a foretaste of retaliation, since the pumpkin's last act was to use it's juice to give me hands that looked as if I worked in a tannery or on a tobacco farm and which felt like I had spent the afternoon moisturising with Cif.

I had the last laugh over-all, though. The soup that I turned my victim into is delicious...

This post was brought to you by a rainy Friday night in Moscow with no new dvd's to watch. Normal service should be resumed shortly.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Lost: One Friend

I lost a friend. Not today, not yesterday, and not in the eternal sense; as far as I know, she's still out there, somewhere. Scratch that: she's not 'somewhere' - I know exactly where she is. It's just that wherever she is, it's not in my life, not any more.

I don't know why she doesn't want to be in contact. I've turned it over and over in my mind, and am no closer to a real answer. Maybe it was when I did this. Perhaps it was when I said that. It was probably the time I didn't do the other thing. Possibly I wasn't forgiving enough of whatever, or understanding enough of 'that' situation. Or did she just finally lose patience with my attitude to something I didn't even realise was an issue for her? Was I so self-involved that I couldn't see her drowning / moving on / washing her hands of me when she needed me to?

I know friendships are often cyclical. People come into our lives and go out of them when the seasons change; as an expat I see that happen now with alarming regularity. But there are some friends that you imagine will always be present in your life; whether you see them weekly, monthly, yearly or once every 4 years, there's still that bond. The time in between your meetings doesn't matter when you finally get your feet under the same table with a bottle of wine or a cup of tea in your hands, and this friend was one of those.

I have others, of course, some as close and who know me as well as she did. Friends who've also been there for the mountainous highs and the lows so deep that walking into the kitchen cupboard, turning the light off, and closing the door behind me to shut out the static seemed the only viable option.

Thank god, they are still there. But for whatever reason, she's not. And it turns out that some friendships will stay with you, whether they are are active or not. So I think of her, maybe when I'm listening to a piece of music that reminds me of a shared memory (I'm listening to Adele's '21' as I write this and I just know she would bloody love it), and wonder what is happening in her world. I wonder whether it was a conscious act to cut me out of her life, or if that's simply how it turned out, and that I'm just not relevant to her situation any more. I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that question, actually.

From time to time, I wonder if she ever thinks of me & mine. I wonder if she reads this blog. I wonder if she's reading this post. But mostly, I just miss her friendship.

I've been thinking about this post for a while but was inspired to write it today by this piece over at Jane Alexander's Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman

Wednesday 14 December 2011

You can leave your hat on...

No, please. Let me. Leave my hat on, that is. Because 'that' time of year has arrived — The Time Of The Eternal Hat.

I've never had an easy relationship with head-gear. Throughout my childhood I managed to avoid them as a rule. Sure, there was my uneasy truce with a dun bobble-hat when I was in the Brownies, and then the airline stewardess look-alike cap I had as a Girl Guide — the things I did for Queen and Country — but overall, I was always aware that generally, hats were not for me.

I'm not sure why that was. Oh, alright, I know exactly why that was. I have a big head and fine hair, a disastrous combination for any aspiring hat-wearer, and one that invariably tends to leaves me either looking like I borrowed my younger sibling's titfer (hat on), or (once I've taken it off) with hair so lank, straight, and flat against my head that I might as well have tipped a vat of cooking oil over myself. Not, I am sure you will agree, desirable outcomes in either case.

But, here I am in Moscow. Where the temperature for, oh, I don't know, five or six months of the year is so inclement that only a fool would venture outside without 'protection.' At times, it gets so cold here that if you are silly enough to set foot on the street without a hat, you will be accosted by well-meaning but more than a little scary babushkas berating you for your idiocy and prophesying doom in the form of cold, pneumonia and imminent death if you don't immediately put the woolly bobble hat your mum knitted for you back on. (Mind you, they make the same pronouncements about drinking beverages with ice in them, so...)

But this s the start of my third winter here, and having spent the previous two in an adequately warm but frankly unstylish wool confection from (name deleted to protect the innocent), I was determined that this year, THIS YEAR, I would find the perfect hat.

Reader, I promise you, I tried. It's not as if Moscow is short on hats. They come in every shape, size and material, and surely there must be at least one within my price range to suit? But therein lies the problem — the "within my price range" disclaimer. Certainly, I saw lots of beautiful hats. Some of them — in the right light and with half-squinted eyes — actually suited me. But amongst the ones I could afford? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. If only I could make like my sons and simply throw whatever happened to be warmest and fit me on top of my head.

Instead, I've ended up with a velour number that looks distressingly like the sort of thing your grandmother would sport on a trip to the dentist and which, whilst it fits, doesn't even keep my ears that warm. To add insult to injury, despite it's being too loose, it still manages by some Moscow static magic to glue my hair to the sides of my head by the time I take it off, leaving me with a daily dilemma: add 40 years to my age and keep my hat on inside like some misplaced Edwardian lady on sabbatical from a BBC drama, or remove the offending item and look instead like a drowned rat?

Decisions, decisions.

This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' , on The Moscow Times.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Guest Post: Slummy Single Mummy on the lies we tell our children

Every now and again the opportunity comes up for me to run a guest post on The Potty Diaries. I normally give an unequivocal 'no' in reply; this is my blog, I like to write the content. Call me controlling, or just come right out with out it and call me anal, I don't care; this blog is the one area of my life where what I say goes. But when Jo at Slummy Single Mummy offered to write a post for me, I deliberated for about - oh, I don't know - 10 seconds, before biting her hand off.

I love her writing. Plus, she won the undying affection of myself and some other 'veteran' bloggers at our first face-to-face meeting during the 2010 CyberMummy conference when she rocked up with a nearly full bottle of wine she'd half-inched off a pr, announcing that she had decided to share it with us because we were 'the coolest'. Since we could all give her at least 10 years and had been feeling somewhat like school prefects at 3rd form disco, you can imagine that went down quite well...


A good friend phoned me the other day.

“I’ve ruined Christmas!” she wailed, never one to underplay the drama in a situation.

“What have you done?” I asked, in a muffly I-answered-the-phone-with-a-mouthful-of-sandwich voice.

“Derek asked me straight if Father Christmas is real and I told the truth!”*

“Oh dear,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic whilst at the same time keeping half an eye on twitter. “It’s so hard isn’t it? Belle asked me to absolutely promise that I wasn’t the Tooth Fairy this week.”

“What did you do?” my friend asked.

“I lied.”


I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. Belle certainly didn’t seem happy with my response.

“Swear on my life Mummy that you’re not the Tooth Fairy,” she said.

Awkward pause.

“I swear on your life that I have never dressed up as a fairy and taken a tooth from under your pillow.”

Not very convincing.

“I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” she shouted, folding her arms across her chest and turning away from me. “Mummy’s aren’t supposed to break promises. How will I ever trust you again?”

The questions had come on the back of a visit to see Santa in his grotto, a visit which Belle had treated with a good deal of scepticism. “How can that be the real Father Christmas,” she asked, quite reasonably I thought, “when I saw a sign earlier saying he was going to be somewhere else in town this afternoon?” It was a fair point. “Besides,” she added, “I could see the line where his beard was stuck on.”

This bit wasn’t fair at all, as his beard was real, and one of the most impressive Santa beards I have ever seen. She wouldn’t have it though, even when I zoomed right in with the camera and showed her the individual hairs growing out of his chin. (In a photo afterwards, not on the actual man).

They grow up so quickly don’t they? A couple of years ago she was completely taken in by a visit to what was genuinely a teenage girl in a Poundland quality fake beard, and yet now, faced with an elderly man with impressively bushy white facial hair, who almost had me convinced, she’s doing everything she can to pull him apart.

It’s a tricky one, because actually I still really want to believe in Father Christmas myself, and I want to keep the magic of things like the Tooth Fairy alive as long as I possibly can. Pretending that you believe is surely almost as fun, so isn’t it OK to try to keep up the pretence? Or should you be honest with your children, even if perhaps they don’t really want to hear it?

When did your children stop believing?

*Not his real name. Seriously, who would call a kid Derek??

You can find Jo blogging over Slummy Single Mummy, amongst other places...

Monday 12 December 2011

Potski Mumski gets all domestic with Apple & Raisin Chutney

I am addicted to cheese.

There, I've said it. I love cheese. Loveitloveitloveit. Soft, hard, creamy, nutty, tangy, smooth; I love it all. I'm not quite as bad as one ex-colleague who claimed that there is no dish in the world - sweet or savoury - that doesn't benefit from the addition of a little of the stuff (her favourite combination was curry and cheddar, which goes a little too far even for me), but I have to say that cheese does feature more often than it healthily should in my diet.

However. Cheese on it's own? All well and good. But cheese with a little bit of pickle or chutney? Culinary heaven. And in my opinion, there is no condiment in existence as well suited to a cheese sarnie as the Apple and Raisin Chutney that my mother makes, and which she has done for as long as I can remember.

Of course, there's a problem with this; I live in Moscow. Getting my hands on an extra-large jar of Mum's chutney is no longer as easy as it used to be, so I've been forced to take desperate measures. Yes, aged 44, I have become that cliche; I now make my own. And not only is it incredibly easy to do, but it's ruddy delicious if I do say so myself.

I happened to mention this on a previous post and as a result have been asked for the recipe. I can't remember the name of the 40 year old cook book my mother pulled this out of for me, so I will just call it West Country Apple & Raisin Chutney. And please note; this chutney does not only go well with cheese; it's perfect for that Christmas night turkey or ham sandwich as well...

West Country Apple & Raisin Chutney


  • 1.75kg (4lb) cooking apples; peeled, cored and chopped (please note; I have also used eating apples from the garden and it tastes fantastic - even sweeter and tangier if possible)
  • 4 medium sized onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 900ml (1 1/2 pints) white (preserving) vinegar
  • 450g (1 lb) raisins
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 kg (2 lbs 2 oz) soft brown sugar (I used dark brown muscavado and it gives a gorgeous dark brown colour, but light brown will do too)


  • Place the apples, onions, garlic, lemon juice, mustard seeds and 600ml (1 pint) of the vinegar in preserving pan (any large heavy bottomed pan will do).
  • Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour until the mixture is soft.
  • Add the raisins, ground ginger, salt, sugar and remaining vinegar and simmer, stirring frequently until the chutney is thick. (This bit can take up to 20 minutes or so; don't lose your nerve and go too early, but likewise don't expect it to set or to be much thicker than a loose apple sauce. It will thicken up as it cools).
  • Put into sterilised jars*, seal with a waxed paper disk and lid, and label with the date. The yield is approximately 3.2kg (7lbs)
  • This is ready to eat as soon as it's cold, but tastes even better a week or so after you've jarred it. Store in a cool dark place. Attack with a spoon when you fancy a sandwich. Or a salad. Or pretty much anything savoury, actually...

* To sterilise the jars, wash the jars and lids thoroughly in warm soapy water, rinse, and then heat the jars (not the lids) in a moderate oven (180degC) for 5 minutes on a clean baking tray. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes before using. Or, you can do as Expat Mum suggests in the comments for this post and run clean jars through the dishwasher to be ready to use just as your chutney is ready...

Friday 9 December 2011

Is it just me, or...?

Is it just me, or is this equipment slightly over the top for recording your child's Christmas concert?

Or am I just being a grinch?

(I probably wouldn't have minded, but she was blocking my view of Boy #1 with all her paraphernalia, stopping me extending my paparazzi telescopic lens all the way out, the selfish witch...)

Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Gallery Wk 84: My Awesome Photo

This post is for Week 84 of Tara's Gallery. Click here to see all the other awesome photos...

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'My Awesome Photo'. Before I started to write this post, I decided to go over to Tara's blog and check out some of the other entries. Big mistake. One might almost say 'awesome' mistake. There are some (no, am not going to use the 'a' word again - 4 times in the first two paragraphs would be too much, even for me) fantastic, incredible photos on there.

I can't compete, clearly. I mean, I could compete, but only if I was prepared to show you photos of my family, which is not possible, however much I want it to be. (If I'm honest, my natural competitiveness might have won out if unchecked, and I have would picked one of many 'awesome' photos of my sons, but since Husband reads this blog occasionally and I have faithfully promised him I would never cross that line, no dice.)

So then I thought, which photo to choose? There are a number of contenders, most of which have appeared on this blog before, but I decided to go with one that hasn't. It's not deep and meaningful, with a sense of the brooding menace that one often finds here - like this one - or visually interesting - like this one. It's simply an image that I took whilst on holiday in Croatia this summer, which I think works. I hope you like it, too.

Sunday 4 December 2011

It's not Christmas...

...not yet, anyway. But check on this blog and you might be forgiven for thinking that it is, because today, instead of joining in with Silent Sunday as I usually do (but can't because the weather has been so gloomy I haven't been inspired to take a single photo this week), I'm taking my cue - again - from Tara and answering her question about which is my favourite Christmas song.

It's almost impossible for me to answer this question. I have so many 'favourites'. But Husband and I watched 'Elf' on Friday for the first time, so I decided that the following clip, of Zooey Deschanel in that movie, singing two of my Top 10, would do nicely, thankyou very much...

And then, because for me nothing brings in Christmas like the performance The Messiah at St Martins in the Fields on Trafalgar Square, here's a flash mob performing the Hallelujah Chorus on a food court back in 2010. I think I've featured it before; I KNOW I've watched it before. But every time I do, it makes me cry. I suggest that if you're at all soppy, you have tissues handy.

Friday 2 December 2011

The Twelve Days of a Parent's Christmas

This post was inspired by Hot Cross Mum and Expat Mum, following a Twitter conversation about boys, loos, and needing to clean the bathroom floor more often than we might like. I'll leave you to join the dots together yourself on the subject... At any rate Hot Cross Mum took that start point and created her own version of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' - and challenged us (in my 'oh, I'm not competitive at all' head, anyway) to do the same.

Obviously she's already mined the rich seam that is boys and the loo, so I was forced to look elsewhere - to something else that is currently at the forefront of my experience - and have re-written The Twelve Days of Christmas to a children's illness theme...

To be sung - in your head only, please - to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas...

On the first day of Christmas, my children gave to me: a headache and a high temperature.

On the second day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the third day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my children gave to me: 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the sixth day of Christmas my children gave to me: 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my children gave me to me; 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the 8th day of Christmas, my children gave me to me; 8 days missed homework, 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the 9th day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 9 doctor's notes, 8 days missed homework, 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the 10th day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 10 messed up bedrooms, 9 doctor's notes, 8 days missed homework, 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the 11th day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 11 sweaty pj's, 10 messed up bedrooms, 9 doctor's notes, 8 days missed homework, 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.

On the 12th day of Christmas, my children gave to me; 12 'I'm so boo-oo-red's, 11 sweaty pj's, 10 messed up bedrooms, 9 doctor's notes, 8 days missed homework, 7 hours internet shopping, 6 concerned grandparent messages, 5 broken nights.... 4 missed appointments, 3 hits of Calpol, 2 snotty tissues, and a headache and a high temperature.


Nappy Valley Girl has jumped on board with this one too - click here for a link - and so has Iota at Not Wrong Just Different. If you're inspired to do like wise, leave a comment telling me where to check and I'll add yours here too...

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Gallery; Wk 83

This post is for Week 83 of Tara's Gallery. Click here to see all the other photos...

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'My Kitchen'. We're currently living in rented accommodation here in Moscow, so I suppose that essentially my kitchen is not really 'my' kitchen. But, apart from the last two homes we lived in in the UK, we were always renting, and yet I always felt at home in my kitchen - wherever it was. Thinking about that, I realised that as with so many things in life, it's not the geographical location or the details of ownership that matter, but the things within it.

Pictured here, then, are what I would consider the essential ingredients (see what I did there? That's because I'm such an experienced blogger, that is...) for my kitchen.

Bought or made locally, in no particular order; salt and pepper, obviously, two types of olive oil (extra virgin and ordinary), balsamic vinegar (not only for making salad dressing but for adding to any tomato-based sauces, it really brings out their flavour), onion and garlic, a jar of the home-made apple chutney that no cheese sandwich is complete without (I admit it, I'm showing off here, but having made some for the first time this year I can't believe it's so easy and that I left it so long to get round to), and ginger and cinnamon. Well, you can't make muffins without them and there are almost always muffins of some kind in our house.

Then, there's my folder of recipes, mostly from the Sainsbury Magazine but also ripped out of any other publication featuring what I like to call food porn, which has moved around with me since 2000.

And finally, there's my Travelling Arsenal. These items have been all over the world with me, stowed in my hold luggage and meaning that whenever we arrived at our destination, be it Australia, Russia, the UK, Barbados, France, you name it, I was able to cook healthy meals for my family. They are: Marigold Vegetable Bouillon, a fan steamer, a Sabatier knife, and my trusty easy-to-use-I-would-hate-to-have-to-manage-without-it vegetable peeler.

With the exception of the vegetable bouillon, I know you can buy most of them anywhere in the world but I ask you; is running to the nearest cook store the first thing on your mind when you arrive somewhere on holiday?

What makes a kitchen for you?

Monday 28 November 2011

How do you know...

...when your child is living too secular a life?

I'm supposed to be a Roman Catholic. I have to admit though that, since living in Moscow, I have let my attendance at mass slide somewhat. It's not only because the nearest service in English is in the middle of town and conducted in a not particularly charismatic way; I also, like many Catholics I know, have 'issues' with various situations within the church recently, but I never planned that my concerns would impact on my sons being able to understand the faith they have been baptised into, or interfere with their making a fully informed choice for themselves on whether to embrace it or to look elsewhere in the future.

However, you can't drop your children into a foreign (literally) environment and expect them to absorb your religious education and beliefs by osmosis - as I am discovering. You have to work at it. And following a conversation I had with Boy #2 this weekend, I think I need to prioritise that.

We were discussing who in our family will have the next birthday. Boy #2 knew full well that his is the next birthday, but he just wanted further confirmation of that (when you're 5 going on 6, these things are important).

Me: "Well, yours is the next birthday, Boy #2."

Boy #2: "Yes, yes it is..."

Me (tongue in cheek): "Unless you count Jesus as being in our family, of course. If you do, then his is the next birthday."

Boy #2: "Is it? When?"

Me: "You know when it is! It's on December 25th."

Boy #2 gave a sharp intake of breath "Wow! That's amazing! Jesus's birthday is the same day as Christmas! How lucky is he?"

We got it sorted out, eventually. But I wonder how much actually went in, because the next day...

Boy #2: "You know how my birthday is quite close to Christmas?"

Me: "Yeeees."

Boy #2: "Well, if my birthday was on Christmas Day, and Jesus' birthday was on my birthday, then I would be God!"

Yep. Still a little work to do there, I think.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Love Train

Boy #2 has a new obsession. It is, of course, for a form of transport, and if you've acquainted yourself with his adventures on The Potty Diaries before, you won't be at all surprised to learn that it is for a train. But not just ANY train, oh no.

Boy #2's current object of desire is the mag-lev train.

Almost every waking hour is occupied with unending discussion on how it works, how fast it might go, how many passengers it carries, how it works, how fast it might go... Oh, am I repeating myself? Well, welcome to my life.

He has it all planned out. When he grows up, he will become a mag-lev train driver by day, a singer in a band by night, and after he has finished wowing the crowds at his gigs he will return to the mag-lev where he will sleep, because he is going to sleep on it, oh yes he is. He is not going to have a wife and family because, apart from the fact that girls insist on wearing lipstick on their wedding day (and he can't abide slidey lips), there will be no room for them in the sleeping compartment of the train.

When he learned recently that some good friends of ours are moving to Japan shortly (where one of the two commercially operated mag-lev's operates), his joy knew no bounds. We are going to visit this family, he decided, we are going to 'take a hotel' (his expression, not mine), and we are going to ride on that mag-lev train. Our conversations quickly evolved from general discussion about the train's advantages onto exactly when we were going to visit our friends in Tokyo to experience those advantages for ourselves.

If only he knew that not only were they going to be in Japan but that their mother is planning on using a train (not the mag-lev, thank heavens) to take the children to school every day, that would be the absolute end of any rational discussion about 'if' we visit, and his trunkie would be packed and ready to go before you could say 'magnetic levitation'.

Last night, I heard that our friends' planned move has been temporarily put on hold. It will still happen, just not straight away. And I am thanking god, not only that I get to spend a little longer with my friend, but that Boy#2 no longer has any immediate reason to force me to book flights to Japan...

Wednesday 23 November 2011

The Gallery: Week 82

This post is for Week 82 of Tara's Gallery: click here to see all the other entries...

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'Something I am Proud Of'. Wow. Like everybody I'm sure, there are things in my life that I'm not proud of (the unpacked boxes from our move nearly one month ago, the fact that after nearly two years in Moscow my Russian is still - to use a technical term - 'crap', my procrastination when it comes to any and all things financial, etc etc), but over all, there's a lot in my life that I AM proud of. So, where to start?

It's lucky, in a way, that I don't post photographs of my family, because I am inordinately proud of my children. Not just of their amazing characters, their achievements, and their resilience but - if I'm honest - how goddam beautiful they are, too. They may be boys, but that doesn't stop complete strangers stopping me and telling me what good-looking sons I have. (It's all from my side of the family, obviously.) However, as I have frequently said, I don't post photos of The Boys here, so you're saved from those...

Instead, then, I'm going to show you some photos I've taken since I've been in Moscow. Not only am I proud of them simply as images, but I am proud of them for what they represent to me: living here, making it work, and not just making it work, but - if you'll pardon the expression - taking this experience and making it my bitch...

Monday 21 November 2011

The one where I get mistaken for security...

I think that perhaps I should be quite offended.

Today, I took a formal guided tour around The Moscow Kremlin for the first time. (I say 'The Moscow Kremlin' because most old Russian cities - and indeed, many cities outside Russia proper - have their own 'Kremlin', as the actual word means 'fortress'; not something you might be aware of if you've never visited here).

It was fascinating, and I'm very glad I did it. Shame it was ruddy freezing and that it's taken me nearly two years of living here to get round to it, but there you go...

Anyway. The moment that caused offence. To enter the Kremlin one has - of course - to go through a security gate manned by armed soldiers. You step through the metal detector, submit your bag for a cursory search and that's it, job done. At least - job done for the four ladies I was on the tour with.

However, after I had gone through the standard procedure, the soldier pulled me to one side and mumbled something in Russian. I couldn't hear it properly so asked him to repeat it - and then I still couldn't understand it. At this stage, he realised I spoke English and asked me very matter-of-factly if I had any guns in my bag.

Guns? In my bag?

Well, I laughed and said no, of course not. But when I discovered that none of my friends had been asked the same question (we were clearly part of the same group), it all became horribly clear.

The soldier thought I was their body-guard.

I guess you can't blame the poor man; two of my friends were tricked out in expensive fur coats, whilst the other two were looking significantly more designer-clad than dressed-for-warmth North-Face branded me, but still. A body guard? I mean, I knew my hat was bad, but really...

Friday 18 November 2011

Self-publicity, Kindle, blogging, and other embarrassments

Sitting at the Boys' school yesterday, fruitlessly trying to sell tickets for a forthcoming event (yes, I AM that masochist you see sitting in the hallway with a fixed grin and an empty cash-box in front of them), I was chatting with a friend. "Do you still blog?" she asked - more to fill the time than anything else, I suspect. "Yes, I do, actually." "And how's it going?" "Well enough. It keeps me busy, what with my normal blog (The Potty Diaries) and the blog I have over at The Moscow Times."

Mention any newspaper and it seems to pique people's interest. Suddenly, blogging is less of a self-indulgent solitary pleasure and seems more glamorous, for some reason. (For me, too, if I'm honest).

"Really? Do you blog over at The Moscow Times? I was just on their site yesterday - funny, I didn't see you on it."

"Well, I don't blog as myself. Obviously. I use a pen name."

She looked at me suspiciously. "Well, I did see a blog on there by a mum in Moscow, but it wasn't you."

"It was, actually." (I was fairly certain on this point, having just checked the Times blog roll that morning).

"No, no. She had another name. I can't quite remember it now..."

"It was me, really. I use the name Clare Taylor on there."

"Was that it...? She wrote a post about politeness, or something. And having been in London this weekend. Oh my god - you were in London this weekend! It WAS you! I can see it now..."

It's interesting, being caught up in a situation like that. Within my circle of friends in Moscow, I don't hugely publicise the fact that I blog here at The Potty Diaries, but I'm happy to mention what I do for The Moscow Times, since what I write there is even less reflective of our family life than what I write here. Since I've never been very good at self-pr, however, I don't even mention that very often.

If someone asks me what I do with my time (other than being a mum - which as we all know leaves us with endless hours in which we do nothing but sit around chatting, drinking coffee and eating chocolate, with the odd flower-arranging class thrown in for good measure) my answer usually involves mumbled references to blogs, writing for other sites, proof-reading, writing for myself and sometimes - sometimes - The Moscow Times.

But, having been inspired by Emily over at More Than Just a Mother to sell this blog on Kindle (it will be an interesting experiment, if not anything else), I need to start publicising that fact. Imagine, then, the following paragraph as being written through metaphorical gritted teeth;

I've just put my blog up for sale on Kindle. I know that if you read it here, the chances of your wanting to pay the princely sum of £0.99 a month to do so on your Kindle reader are slim - and I wouldn't expect, or indeed want, any different. However, if you are inclined to at least take a look, I would be very appreciative of some positive review comments on Amazon.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it PM?

*PM pulls her head out of her hands and, blushing furiously, slinks out of the door...*

Thursday 17 November 2011

Show me your caption...

Tara over at Sticky Fingers is running a fabulous competition right now, to win a Tassimo hot chocolate maker.* Despite the fact that I'm not in the UK right now I have entered, and - what? I live in Moscow and if there's any place in the world where you need - that's right, NEED - hot chocolate, it's right here, right now and that gadget is mine I tell you mine! And - breathe...

Aaaand - I'm back in the room.

Anyway, I entered the competition. To do so, you need to leave a comment on the post telling Tara what you would write on your ideal mug, and the winner will be drawn at random from all the entries received. Some of the captions, let me tell you, are hilarious, and so what I would like to know is; if you could write anything you wanted on your very own bespoke coffee / tea / hot chocolate mug, what would it be?

This was my entry, by the way:

Yes, I DO know everything.

Now go back and flush.

So come on, spill (not literally, of course. Hot chocolate is terribly sticky); what would you write?

*I suspect that this machine also makes other brews, but let's be honest, it's the hot chocolate that is the main event as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Gallery: 11.11.11

This post is for Wk 82 of Tara's Gallery - click here to see all the other great entries... (And if you don't check in there regularly, please take the time to read her posts on her recent visit to Indonesia with Unicef - they will open your eyes)

This week's theme for The Gallery was to record what we were doing on 11.11.11. Now, today I'm sitting in Moscow, it's -4degC, and it's trying (rather pathetically, if I'm honest) to snow. But last Friday, I was - well, no prizes for guessing where.

God, I love London.

I enjoy living in Moscow, don't get me wrong, but London? London is home. And no matter where else I live in the world, I suspect that it always will be.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Service with a smile...

This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' on The Moscow Times website

I spent the last four days in London, without my family. This was an interesting experience because not having the children to entertain and wrangle freed my attention sufficiently to notice a few things that I wouldn't normally remark upon. Perhaps it's because I used to be too close to the city — it was my benchmark of "normal" — whereas now, nearly two years after leaving, my expectations and measures of "normal" have changed.

Once upon a time, for example, I would not have been at all surprised by courtesy as a part of everyday life. On this visit, however, I was impressed to see how many people were polite to each other. And I'm not just talking about the service culture being a little more established over there than it is here, no, this is politeness as a two-way street. Not only were cashiers, servers, waiters and suchlike helpful and polite to their customers, but — get this — their customers were polite back!

No grunting, no muttering, no avoidance of eye-contact, no shouting across restaurants waving your hand in the air for service. Instead, people were politely chatting at tills, exchanging pleasantries (invariably about the weather; the British do run true to type on this one), and even smiling at each other.

There could be any number of reasons for this difference in day-to-day life between what I experience here in Moscow and what I saw in London. It could be that I just happened to strike lucky while visiting the latter. Certainly, if you speak to a Londoner, they will say that it is a very unfriendly place to live these days and remark on how standards have dropped. It could be that that people are simply glad to either have a job selling products or the money to spend on them given the economic gloom in the country. Or, it could be that my benchmark for common courtesy has been significantly lowered by my time here.

At the risk of offending a city of 16 million people, I suspect that it is the last of those.

I understand that Moscow is a hard place to live. Money is tight everywhere, the traffic is terrible, the weather is often inhospitable. Families live in close quarters, competition is fierce, you never know what's coming tomorrow. The world is a frightening place, and it's tempting to batten down the hatches and simply conserve the energy it takes to engage socially with another human being at the supermarket, the petrol station, or the cafe, and save it for the fight.

I also know that many people believe there have been great strides in recent years, and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly the goods and services you can access here nowadays are not so different from those "back home." But a decent service culture is only a part of the puzzle and is unlikely to be achieved without some positive feedback from those on the receiving end.

Moscow is a great and exciting city, as I'm constantly telling those who've never visited. But from my limited viewpoint, I would venture to say that life could be so much easier if we were all a little nicer to each other.

It's all very well to expect service with a smile. But you can expect it all you like; you won't see anywhere near as much of it if you aren't prepared to give one in return.

Monday 14 November 2011

How you know you've lost the edge...

How do you know you've lost that sartorial edge?

Obviously, this post is not about me. I am, of course, a mere whippersnapper of coughcoughmumblemumble, only buying my clothes from Top Shop, Miss Sixty and other places that cater to the stick thin and trend-led such as myself.

Pause whilst PM picks herself up from the floor, laughing hysterically, and pops upstairs to change her sensible M&S underwear. Pelvic floors ain't what they used to be...

So, how do you know when following fashion is no longer your top priority?

When you show your best girlfriends the new pair of highly desirable boots you picked up on the Kings Road, with patent leather and everything, and the aspect of them that everyone agrees is amazing?

"Look at that! That's fantastic! Do you know how difficult it is to find a pair of nice-looking boots with a decent tread on them?"

We are becoming our mothers.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Netmums Blog of the Week? Why, I don't mind if I do, thankyou very much!

May I point your attention in this direction? Having uploaded my blog to Netmums some time back, I promptly forgot all about it, so being singled out as Blog of the Week was a doubly nice surprise when I found out about it this evening.

Thankyou, Netmums!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Things that make you go; hmmmm....

An acquaintance of mine was talking recently about how, having written his Christmas list at the end of September, her son announced last week that it was now out of date and he had changed everything on it. Everything. Which, if you are as poorly organised as I am, not doing your present shopping until a week before the big day, would be no biggie, but this lady is slightly better sorted than me.

So much better sorted, in fact, that the September list presents have already been purchased and are awaiting collection at various relatives houses.

You will be pleased to know, Reader, that I did not revel in this proof that my slightly haphazard approach to the Big C is a good thing. No sirree. Not in the slightest. But that was mainly because I was too busy trying to keep my face expression-free as she continued with the story to tell me how she was now frantically trying to buy everything on the new list.

I mean, surely a quiet word with her son about how Santa already put the order in with the elves for the previous list - or at least some of it - wouldn't have gone amiss? Just because they ask for it, should kids automatically get it?

I've already written - here - about my approach to presents for the Boys. (Basically, whatever they want as long it comes in lots of pieces that can be wrapped separately for maximum gift-wrap-rippage opportunities, and as long the total budget comes in at less than £70- £100). But how far would you go to accommodate your children's Christmas wishes?

Monday 7 November 2011

In which PM shows how good a student of Russian she is...

The eagle-eyed reader may have spotted a reference in one of last week's posts to the fact that we moved house recently. Not far - 200m, to be precise - but it is a different house, it did require a total boxing up of all our possessions (so they could rattle precariously from one side of the compound to the other on the back of a flatbed truck), and, of course, now that we're in, it also requires a number of visits from The Workmen.

Because, you see, we are not allowed to do anything to our house ourselves.
A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And 'anything' not only includes sorting out shower curtains and putting up shelves; even knocking in picture hooks and changing lightbulbs would put us in breech of contract.


I've been through this before of course, when we first moved here, so you would think I would be prepared for it all, but honestly? Not so much. My Russian, I'm afraid to admit, has not improved that much since the last time - nearly two years ago - that we moved into a house. I'm handier with a dictionary now than I was then, but otherwise... And the workmen's attitude to me has similarly not improved. I thought I was imagining it, but was lucky enough to be visited by an English Russian-speaking neighbour during one of their recent sessions here. "It's shocking how they shout at you just because you don't understand them so well" she said before she left. Which, now I come to think of it, is probably how English workmen treat Russians in the UK, so I guess there's some cosmic payback going on here.

In any case, I was going to treat you to another of my interpretations of what the Russian Workmen might be talking about in an alternate reality, but realised that I actually I've already done that, so instead I am going to cheat and reproduce what I wrote about this in February 2010...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence, broken only by panting and puffing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence and more wheezing...

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

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

Saturday 5 November 2011

Sky High and a sponsored post...

This is a sponsored post.

The Boys (and their father) are watching Sky High. Well, it's the end of half term and they've been so well-behaved that... Oh, alright, I admit. We all love a bit of cheese from time to time; so sue me.

Rather than bore you with details of the fiendishly complicated plot unfolding on screen (although I have to say I did quite like the comment I just overheard about one superstrong hero vs a technical superstar; "Yet he'll be the one on cereal boxes. Show me the justice in that..."), may I direct your attention to Feather & Black's website, where right now there is a sale going on?

I have to say that whilst I personally have not bought any of their childrens bedroom furniture to date (Feather & Black are sadly short of retail outlets in Moscow at present), the boys were lucky enough to be sent a pair of their Jaws pyjamas each last summer and despite the dropping temperatures (it's due to hit a low of -7 degC here tonight), these are still firm favourites. That may of course have something to do with the fact that Boy #2 is going through a growth spurt and whilst he's grown up, he hasn't grown out; rather the opposite, in fact. As a result all of his other pj's are now too loose in the waist, leading to some interesting builder's bottom situations at the breakfast table...

Whatever the reason though, the quality of these pj's is good enough that I will be taking advantage of the F&B sale myself when I visit the UK next weekend.

This may have been a sponsored post but I was serious about the sale and taking advantage of it...

Friday 4 November 2011

Greater love hath no mother...

...for her children than to stay in the kitchen cutting up pizza for them whilst the volleyball scene from Top Gun is on...

What's your idea of a 'supreme sacrifice' for your kids?

Oh, and whilst we're at it, I've been blogging over at The Moscow Times again. Click here if you want to read the pearls of wisdom I could have shared - but didn't - with some new arrivals recently...

Thursday 3 November 2011

Staycationing is the new Expat black...

It's half term here in our corner of Expatville and unlike most of our peers, we did not head for the hills the moment the school bell rang last Friday afternoon. We stayed put, brave and trusty souls that we are and have been forging our way through the wasteland that is Moscow without school, scheduled activities or - crucially -playdates.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's been brilliant. We have got up late, hung out, unpacked boxes (for yes, Potski-watchers, we have moved house), and generally had a really really relaxing week. When I think of the alternative - packing suitcases, rushing for the airport, flights, picking up hire cars and moving from pillar to post for 6 days - I am so happy we have just stayed put.

And the best thing?

The Boys are loving it. Sure, there have been a few utterances of 'I'm bored!' but judicious application of board games, stories, football, monster sessions in the playground (guess who was the monster...) and yes, the odd session of playing on ds's and watching dvd's (don't judge me - there's only so much roaring and racing around that a monster-mother can do) has soon sorted that. It's been a fantastic example of how children really don't need their time scheduled to the nth degree, and how well they can react to needing to entertain themselves.

Obviously I'm not intending that we should never go on holiday ever again. But on Monday, when my sons return to school rested, delighted to be back with their friends and ready for the second half of the term, and are surrounded by jetlagged and exhausted children who have spent the last week racing around the globe, I have to admit that I won't be sorry we stayed put this time around...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Gallery: the letter 'T'

This post is for Week 80 of Tara's Gallery (click here to see all the other entries), and the prompt is the letter 'T'. Not having a 'tache easily to hand as Tara does I've had to reach somewhat more for a suitable photo, and my offering is nowhere near as entertaining as hers, but here goes.

I took this photo on Sunday afternoon. It's from the bridge between Bolotny Island (where the old Red October chocolate factory used to be) and Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and it shows a beautiful sunny afternoon, the newly built cathedral (an exact copy of the one in the same spot that was knocked down by the communists 80 years ago), one of Stalin's Seven Sisters (the tall building in the background), and in the far far distance the soaring sky-scrapers of Moscow City (the Russian equivalent - sort of - of Canary Wharf).

And where does the letter 'T' come into all this? The buildings, the sunshine, our being in this city in the first place; whether we like it or not, they're all Transient. Or Temporary. You choose; either will do...

Monday 31 October 2011

Where did it all go so wrong?

Yesterday Husband and I decided to exercise our Culture muscles and expose ourselves and The Boys to a little more than Halloween candy and dvd's for a change, and headed off on a trip to The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Moscow. We ignored the round the block queues for the Salvador Dali exhibition, and instead joined a much shorter one that gave us access to two exhibitions; Kandinsky and Annie Leibovitz. The former was interesting, although not very extensive, but the latter was amazing.

However, this post is not about the genius of Annie Leibovitz; I'm not an art critic, I wouldn't be able to do her photography justice. This post is about one particular photograph of hers that got my attention among a host of other attention-getting images. I'm not going to reproduce it here - I don't know the copyright laws well enough to feel comfortable that I wouldn't be breaking any of them - but I will describe it to you, and provide a link in the paragraph below.

This photograph was taken in 1993, I believe for Vanity Fair, and shows Cindy Crawford wearing only a boa constrictor. It's an arresting image in it's own right - she was then, and is now, a beautiful woman - but the thing that really stopped me in my tracks was her shape. She looks like a real woman. An amazing, incredible woman, who could charge $10K simply to get out of bed in the morning (allegedly), but still, a real woman. Unlike many of the size 0 models held up as having the shape we should aspire today, she had a shape that I recognise, that women I actually knew, friends of mine, were not so distant from.

Fast-forward to today, when girls as young as 12 and 13 will refuse dessert on the grounds that they are watching their weight, stick-thin models sashay down the catwalks on legs that look as if they would snap if their heel turned the wrong way, and magazines berate celebrities for not losing their baby weight fast enough or for showing a couple of inches of extra flab around their waists on the beach.

In these supposedly emancipated times, when women have more control over their own bodies and destinies than they have had throughout history to date, how did we let this happen? How did we get from Cindy and her ilk - incredible bodies, yes, but not so far removed from our own as to be unrecogniseable - to the size 0 culture of today, in less than 20 years?

Where did it all go so wrong?

Please note; no Boys were corrupted in the making of this post. Neither of them paid much attention to the naked women on view, much preferring to fight each other for space on the seats than to pay close attention to the photos being exhibited. Although Boy #2 did comment on a series of shots of a crying baby, still covered in vernix, that had just been born, saying that it looked very unhappy and as if 'it wasn't having much fun.' See this previous post for my sons' views on childbirth...

Wednesday 26 October 2011

The Gallery: Faces

The prompt for Wk 79 of Tara's Gallery is 'faces'. This being a pseudo-anonymous blog (cue ironic laughter), that one presents me with something of a problem. No names, no pack drill, and - crucially - no identifiable faces. Other than my own, on occasion, but I figure you deserve better than that.

Russia is famously full of beautiful faces. Natalia Vodolononiavonoviifcokeo (or whatever her name is - can you tell I'm behind on my Grazia and Heat reading?), and many other supermodels hail from this land of the gorgeous. I'm not sure why Russia seems to have more than it's fair share of beauty; I suspect it's a combination of genes, eating habits, and the women here ensuring that whatever they have, they make the best of it in a way which isn't necessarily a priority to many of us from elsewhere.

Sure, Western women may not particularly like the way sexuality is used as currency here, and there's certainly a different style of dress and make-up involved, but it's a fact of life that Russian women take more noticeable care of their appearance than many of us elsewhere. Whatever else they may be, they certainly don't feel invisible as they grow older in the way that women often complain about back home.


I am here to tell you, ladies, that there is a counter-culture. Women who wear their experience on their faces rather than smoothing away their wrinkles and blemishes with potions and lotions, perhaps not by choice but all the same, they don't fit the mass-export version of Russian beauty as shown in the meja.

I took this photo outside the Pushkin Museum last spring. This woman is simply sitting, probably on her break (she may well be one of Russia's redoubtable Museum Curators I refer tohere, she certainly has that look about her), enjoying the early May sunshine.

To me she looks formidable; not a bad thing to be in this city. And whatever else she may be, I would say that one thing this face isn't, is invisible.