Saturday 30 July 2011

E-buzzing Tart...

...that's me, right now.

Mainly because I'm taking not one, but two ads into the shower of my sidebar today. I didn't intend to, you understand; it's just that I installed the Intel ad on the right (Havainas, the previous incumbent, just didn't seem appropriate given our current British Summer weather) and then on the ebuzzing site I also saw the one above it, with Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton. I'm afraid to say that to my jaded eyes at least, that was far more entertaining...

However, just because I'm not bowled over by the Intel ad, that doesn't mean others won't be, which left me with the dilemma of which of these ads to use for blog decor for the short term future. (Oh, the dilemma of the big-hitting blogger, haha...)

So I've put both of them up there.

I mean, Jenson, Lewis, and the chance to pimp your facebook page? What's not to like?

Friday 29 July 2011

The curious case of the interchangeable grandads

On a trip out with Grandad yesterday afternoon, Boy #2 followed him across a carpark and temporarily lost sight of his grandfather when Dad walked around the back of the car to put something in the boot. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the confusion that followed when, as Boy #2 reached the side of our car in the busy carpark he saw an older gentlemen sitting in the driving seat of the car next to ours with the window open and his head down as he sealed an envelope. Like my father, this man had grey hair, glasses, and was wearing a checked shirt. The similarities ended there, but when you're five...

Boy #2 walked up to the car and then inquired incredulously what the man was doing, in that car. It was immediately clear to me that he had got grandads confused, but of course the man didn't know that and was quite shocked to be accosted by a small boy when he was quietly going about his business.

I cleared the situation up for both of them (Boy #2, that's not your grandad; Non-grandad, so sorry, he thought you were his grandad), and they proceeded to have a short chat about what the man was actually up to. It transpired that he was writing an envelope to post to his grandson, and was delighted to have the chance to chat with a substitute. This made Boy #2's next pronouncement - thankfully made from within my father's car just before we were driven away by the Real McCoy - all the more embarrassing.

"Mama? That man looked eeeeeevillllll."

He didn't, by the way. Luckily the windows were closed so I hope he didn't hear my son's libellous remark..

Monday 25 July 2011

Splinters, shoes and word replacement therapy

If I were writing a script for a movie of my life right now, today's effort would probably feature the following line:

"One splinter in your child's foot is unfortunate, PM. Two? That looks like carelessness..." (substitute 'neglect' 'fecklessness' 'unfit mothering' for 'carelessness' as you wish).

Never mind how it happened; today I had to pull not one but two splinters from Boy #1's foot. And I'm amazed that the social services haven't yet come knocking on our door, given the amount of screaming, pleading, weeping and cajoling going on. Amazingly, none of it was even from me...

In the end though, I - and the world's best tweezers - prevailed*, and the splinters were vanquished. The patient has now retired to bed, pale and wan but on the mend, with strict instructions he's not to set foot on any wooden floor for around the next 20 years without shoes on his tender little feet so-help-me-god...

In other news, I've posted here about shoe shopping in Moscow (you may recognise the post as a rehash of something I wrote on this blog a few months back. So shoot me. It's week 6 of the summer holidays; wanna make something of it?), and Boy #2 gave me a lift with his use of the world 'Snortle' for 'snorkel'.

Come on. 'Snortle'. I don't care how stressed you are about the holidays; that's funny, right?

*Not, I have to admit, until I had removed my contact lenses to give my aging eyes better close-work vision; how's that for a wake-up call that you're not 25 any more?

Saturday 23 July 2011

Twinkle, twinkle, little star...

We've moved base - again - on what seems like our never ending merry-go-round of visits this summer. We're now staying at the flat of some friends who flew off somewhere lovely earlier today (don't ask me where, too sick-making to even think of it given the weather here right now), and my sons are sleeping in their children's bunk beds.

It was all going well; we arrived, unpacked, went out to post a letter for our hosts, made the requisite stop at West London's top gelataria for the Boys to indulge in a little taste of heaven and for me to cadge the odd spoonful whenever their backs were turned (no, no, none for me thanks; I'll just steal my children's ice-cream instead), before returning to the flat for dinner and a bath.

And then? Well, then it was time for the Boys to go to bed. They are sleeping in the bunks belonging to the gorgeous children who live in this flat. It must be said, I had a moment's disquiet when I realised that one of the bunks was sporting blue bedlinen and the other pink, but luckily the latter was destined for Boy #1 and he's quite grown-up and sporting about stuff like that these days.

Or at least, he was. Until he pulled back the duvet, about to climb in, only to discover that the little girl who had slept under it the night before had liberally coated herself - and the sheets - with glitter-ised moisturising lotion...*

Thursday 21 July 2011

Meow; Too-close encounters of the Feline Kind

Summer holidays, and it's raining, again. But here I am, a little ray of sunshine to tell you that - no matter how wet you got on your way between the car and the supermarket as you dragged your complaining children behind you, counting the weeks until the end of the break under your breath - actually, life could be worse. For example, you could be a suicidal cat living with your mother, trapped in the cone of shame.

How outlandish, I hear you cry. What the hell is she on about this time? She's making it up just to get our attention...

But actually, no. Gather round to hear a tale of woe from CatWorld...

The Potski family have been staying with Husband's brother in the Netherlands. We arrived to find the younger of his two cats drugged up to the eyeballs, sporting a wicked looking scar running down his now shaved front haunch, and wearing the cone of shame to stop him from pulling his stitches out. The french door to the back garden was boarded up, the older cat (his mother) was sitting sulking and spitting in the corner, there was cat litter all over the floor in front of the litter trays, and a bill for over €600 from the vet sitting on the table.

So far, so 'Anthony & Cleo lay dead on the floor' riddle. (Remember that one?) What had happened was this; Cat B (the younger, injured, party) fights with Cat A (it's mother). Sometimes these confrontations get out of control, as on this occasion when my brother in law, upstairs one morning, was disturbed by the sound of yowling cats and the sound of glass smashing, and then... silence.

It appears that in the heat of the fight Cat B was so desperate to get away from it's mother that it literally threw itself through a plate glass window, leaving only blood, fur, and smashed glass behind as clues to what had happened. Cat A, knowing it had dun wrong, also scarpered, only reappearing a couple of days later to growl and hiss at her son who was now doing an impression of Banquo's Ghost, wandering sadly around with a dark green cone of shame velcro'ed around it's neck, meowing every time someone opened the front door and he realised that he was not going to be allowed to go through it.

So far, so not our problem.


Except, we were house-sitting for my brother in law, because he and his family were about to head off on holiday whilst we used their home as a base for our Dutch Adventure Week (featuring trips on trains, trams, and too-close encounters with raw herring). So for much of that week we were also caring for Banquo's Ghost (Cat B) who was:

1) unable to leave the house as his wound hadn't healed and so
2) consequently was over-utlising the litter trays
3) which, whilst we're on the subject, he was unable to use properly because said cone of shame stopped him turning around to make his deposit or, indeed,
4) from covering it up when he had delivered it.
5) And also couldn't groom himself (because of, again, the cone of shame) so was shedding everywhere
6) which set off Boy #1's allergies
7) which meant we had to keep the doors to the bedrooms (where the cats normally sleep) shut
8) which resulted in much complaining not only from Banquo's Ghost
9) but also Cat A, who reappeared regularly for food and to bully her son
10) and - once she realised that the way to her normal sleeping spot was closed - to wee on the sofa (repeatedly) in protest.

I think it's safe to say that as a result of this holiday, the Potski Family will not be owning a cat anytime soon...

Monday 18 July 2011

In which I show my true colours whilst travelling on a budget airline

On a budget flight between the Netherlands and the UK today, my experience of a week or so ago was put firmly behind me. The lovely lady checking passengers in at the gate sent the Boys and I to a special boarding queue reserved for parents travelling with small children, and we were allowed to follow the priority boarders onto the plane before the main bulk of the passengers were released onto the tarmac to tussle for their seats. A far cry from my having to beg an unwilling passenger for the chance to sit next to my own children on the outbound flight, thank heavens.

As a result, today we sat in only the second row from the front, directly behind a rather over-excited mother and daughter who were keen to tell everyone else around them that this was the first time they had sat right at the front of the plane.

They were from the U.S. and I think this was their first experience of budget air travel in Europe, hence their rather optimistic request that the little girl be allowed to go into the cockpit to have a photograph taken with the pilot (some hope). Halfway through the short flight, Boy #2 overheard the mother telling her daughter that essentially they were sitting in First Class on this plane. Since we had spent the last week travelling through Holland by train, taking advantage of a summer offer to travel 1st class for less than the usual price of a 2nd class ticket, this actually meant something to him and so he wanted clarification.

"Are we?" he asked me. "Are we travelling 1st class?"

What I meant to say in reply was that all the seats on the plane were the same class. Honest. I did, really. No, really.

What I actually said was "There is no class on this plane, darling."

Which of course was untrue. Well, we were in row 2, for starters...

Sunday 17 July 2011

Boys & Pocket Handkerchiefs...

... are two mutually exclusive concepts, it seems. Mothers of sons, do you recognise this picture? Please tell me yes and that mine is not the only washing machine constantly running...

Sniff. Sniff.

"Boy #2, come here and blow your nose please."

Sniff. Sniff.

"Please, Boy #2. Come here and blow. Your. Nose."

Sniff. Sniff.

"Boy #2..."

"I don't need a tissue."

Sniff. Sniff.

"Boy #2. Please. Come and blow your nose!"

Sniff. Sniff.

Oh well. Why would you want a tissue, indeed, when you have a shirt sleeve / beloved blankie/ arm of a sofa / mother wearing a long cardigan close to hand?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Gallery: Travel

This post is for Wk 66 of Tara's Gallery (click here to see the other great entries).

I've taken some great photos this week; Delft, the beach, the harbour, the market. All suitable for this week's theme of 'Travel', apart from one thing; in my travel plans for the summer, I forgot to factor in a connecting lead from my camera to the laptop.


Instead I'm going to show you one from my archives, taken in Moscow (which whilst it is nominally home to me right now, still fits the category in my mind), and which proves to me the Universal Theory of Travel;

You can travel as far as you like, but Disney's going to get you in the end...

Tuesday 12 July 2011

TV as babysitting; Turtly Necessary

I'm going to come straight out and say it; we're in Wk 4 of The Summer Break and I'm not Superwoman. So I have, on occasion, resorted to tv as babysitting over the last couple of weeks to let me get a few things done (like write the odd blog post, for example).

That's why I was delighted to be sent a copy of 'The Turtle's Tale' to review with The Boys on this blog. Here's some of what the blurb says about it;

'A TURTLE’S TALE: SAMMY’S ADVENTURES 3D is an epic global adventure story, an animated family feature made spectacularly real by the latest in 3D technology. A young sea-turtle’s romantic quest for his first, lost love, a fellow hatch-ling, born on the same Californian beach, takes him on a marathon voyage across the seven seas, to the furthest corners of the earth.'

We watched it together, and the Boys loved it. So much, in fact, they've watched it twice since and would have done so more but for the strict embargo we have in place on watching more ANY film more than once a week (it was the excessive Star Wars viewing that forced the introduction of this rule, your Honour).

In brief then, it's great entertainment for the children for an afternoon, it's heart is in the right place, there are plenty of positive messages about the Environment and taking care of it throughout, fun characters, good role models, and The Boys - given the re-enactment currently taking place in the living room - rate it highly, so I'm more than happy to recommend it to you as suitable holiday entertainment...

A TURTLE’S TALE: SAMMY’S ADVENTURES 3D will be released in 3D on DVD and Blu-ray by Optimum, on 18th July 2011

This was a sponsored post.

Sunday 10 July 2011

This is NOT a Silent Sunday post..

...because I forgot to bring the connecting cord for my phone to my laptop on holiday. Dammit. But I've got some fabulous shots on there, I promise.

Not least 2 photographs which I would love to show you but which - now I come to think of it - actually I couldn't because they show my sons' faces. At least, I think they are my sons, but since the images are of each of them with their eyes closed in ecstasy as they eat that most of Dutch of Dutch treats - raw herring - I can't be sure.

Now, I love sushi. But there are limits. And they're supposed to be my sons, for goodness sake. You know, adventurous in their eating but still able to keep a handle on what is and isn't actual 'food'. And yet, there they are, on film, holding a raw (admittedly gutted and headless) fish by the tail and eating it.

Boy #1 told me (as I tried not to dry heave too visibly at what I was watching) that he loves herring SO much he wants to live in Holland when he grows up so that he can eat it every day. Husband practically exploded with pride, I can tell you.

Time for us to finally sort their Dutch passports out, I think...

Thursday 7 July 2011

Travelling with kids; it's not the children you need to worry about...

The woman looked at me as if I was crazy, horror and outrage written all over her face. She didn't even need to say what she was thinking; how could I have made such a ridiculous suggestion? Who did I think I was? What on earth had I done to merit any kind of special treatment? I looked around but all about I could only see stony faces, eyes elsewhere, people who had their faces buried in books and magazines - anything rather than acknowledge the situation unfolding inches away from them.

I tried again.

"Would you mind moving? It's just that this was the last free row of 3 seats, I'm travelling with my five and seven year old children, and I think it would be sensible to sit next to them."

I refrained from pointing out that the row in front and behind her each had 2 free seats; if she needed extra room that was still possible, and that I was asking her not because I had singled her out for unfair treatment, but because she happened to have taken the last free row that the stewardess at the front of the plane had directed me to.

Not meeting my eye she answered me "I'm waiting for two friends to join me. So no, I'm not moving."

I looked at my sons. I thought about simply dumping them next to her (there was no sign of her two friends, & first come first served), and sitting across the aisle whilst I fed them messy chocolatey snacks and refused them access to their Nintendo's, resulting in certain meltdown; in my opinion, a suitable reward for her behaviour. I also thought about pointing out to her that the flight we were about to take was only 45 minutes - FORTY FIVE MINUTES! - and surely, surely she could live without her friends' company for that long (especially bearing in mind that they hadn't bothered to do her the politeness of standing in the queue with her). I thought about asking when the last time she struggled through the airport with two young children on her own was, watching other passengers rush past her in the certain knowledge that she was going to be last in the boarding queue - which was of course how I had ended up in this situation in the first place.

I even thought about suggesting to the couple in the row opposite, firmly staring out the window holding hands for all they worth as they tapped their ruby slippers together and wished me and my troublesome children away, that perhaps they could split up and move to alternate seats...

Luckily for all involved none of these things happened, as a woman in the seat in front politely stood up, moved, and gave the row of three up for us as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Budget air travel. It surely is a wonderful thing...

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The Gallery: Grandparents

This post is for Week 65 of The Gallery...

This week's prompt is 'Grandparents'. And I think that the photo below needs no explanation. (If you're wondering where the other Boy is, obviously he's in the wheelbarrow...)

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Statement of intent...

I can't ignore it any more. It's been eating away at me for months now, if not years. I've tried to push it to one side. Don't be stupid, I've told myself. You don't have the time for this. You don't have the headspace for this. You've got too much going on. When on earth would you find the opportunity?

And - if I'm honest - there's also a small voice that asks dismissively; what makes you think you could?

But always, always, it's there at the back of my mind, like the elephant in the corner of the room, like a great unsolved puzzle, like - well, like nothing so much as an unacknowledged pregnancy, actually.

Despite the thousands of words that I write here and elsewhere every week, I feel pregnant with creativity that I haven't allowed myself to express. I know; that's a big statement. It's so self-important, too. Oooh, get me with the creativity. Get me with the big plan. Christ knows, I don't have the first idea where or how to start. But I need to stop messing about and just get on with it.

It's time to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can actually put more than 500 words down on paper in one go, and crucially have them make some kind of sense. Don't get me wrong, blogging has been (and will continue to be, I'm not giving it up) fantastic; it's helped me find my 'voice', gain confidence in so many ways, and build up a network that I value and treasure, but amazingly, I think - I think - that it might no longer be enough.

Somehow, I have to give writing - I can hardly bring myself to announce my intentions in public for fear of god-knows-what - a 'proper' book a try.

I have no idea what form it will eventually take; I have a couple of ideas and plan to work them through properly, but I suspect that what will kick-start the creative process, for me, is simply to sit down and just get on with it.

And then, I'll know. Have I got what it takes? Watch this space...

Monday 4 July 2011

Home thoughts from - well, Home actually...

I've been back in the UK for 12 days now and here are few random observations:

It's a good thing I don't claim to be a practicing Roman Catholic. Or Boy #2's question of "Why are they all eating biscuits?" during mass last Sunday might have blown the whistle on that one.

I used to think that the roads here were infested by 4x4's. Having spent the last 18 months driving on Moscow's mean streets were I was truly surrounded by them, I am delighted to report that here in the UK, actually there really aren't that many of them...

The warmer weather of the last few days has shown me that some women here can't check their back view before leaving the house. Nothing else could explain the high number of 'black g-string under transparent-in-the-sunshine white dress' offences that I've encountered recently. (And this is not to mention the red and white polka-dot pants under white linen trousers sported by the lady in front of me at church on Sunday...)

The NHS, the fantastic wine merchant on the High St in Wells, the Royal Academy, Waterstones, Waitrose, and Boots the Chemist; I love you. That is all.

Boots Opticians. You are the devil's work. That is all.

Friday 1 July 2011

Recyling In Moscow and the 1000 Bins Campaign

At last Saturday's Cybermummy, (nearly a week ago, how did that happen? Can whoever stole the last 6 days give them back, please?) one of my oldest blog mates Karen Cannard at The Rubbish Diet mentioned in her excellent presentation that she has recently started a campaign to raise awareness of recycling litter bins in the heart of the community.

I love recycling. I think it makes absolute sense. When living in London I was only too happy to sort through my rubbish and separate it all out; in my mind, it was an easy way to make a positive contribution to minimising my impact on the environment. Much like getting a vegetable box delivered every week (virtually no disposable packaging, seasonal locally produced vegetables and amazingly, lighter on the wallet than buying the equivalent in the supermarket. And my mother in law always loved the swede I could never bring myself to cook...), and taking UK only holidays.

OK. That last was in my dreams, the one where I wear a Cath Kidston apron whilst baking bread for my family and simultaneously writing an award-winning column for The Times from my eco-house in Cornwall. But still. Recycling? Win-win all round, to my mind.

But here's the thing, since I've been living in Russia, I have had to stop recycling. Pretty much completely, if I'm honest. Why? Because there are no recycling facilities available. Don't get me wrong; there used to be. Back in the bad old days (cough), it was a comrade's duty to recycle, so every one did it. But now, since people don't have to do it, they don't do it. AT ALL.

Part of the problem is that Russia is a country with seemingly inexhaustible natural resources, and one of them is space. Sure, they have 150 million people, but they also have vast tracts of unused (and in many cases, due to the extremes of climate, unuseable) land. A few landfills can't hurt, they reason. Why not just dump acres of waste in previously pristine forest, no-one's going to see... It's not true, obviously. But there will need to be a huge change of mind-set before many Russians realise that.

That is why, whilst walking in the Sparrow Hills in Moscow recently, I was delighted to see a proper recycling bin, with separate sections for different types of waste. It's not much, I know, in the whole scale of things, but it's a start, and so - way before I knew about the 1000 Bins campaign - I took a photograph to record the existence of what might be the only recycling bin I ever see in Moscow.

I know. Most people take pictures of views; I took one of a bin. Maybe that's why Karen and I get on?