Friday 29 June 2012

Life is short - eat dessert first...

Recently, I was talking to a friend who mentioned that I could expect to see her dressing more smartly in the future; on packing for her summer holiday she had realised that she has some beautiful clothes in her wardrobe that never see the light of day because whenever she thinks about wearing them, she decides to keep them 'for best'.  All very well, we agreed - but what if the day when your 'best' clothes are appropriate never comes?  Who knows what's round the corner?  You could put on weight, so they never fit; you might lose all your clothes in freak accident; a moth infestation might make confetti of them.  So my friend has decided to forget waiting for the day when 'the best' is required, and to start wearing her nicer clothes more regularly.

This has struck a chord with me so I've been trying out this philosphy myself - not that there is anyone to see in the wasteland that is currently expat Moscow - and was very interested to read a piece that one of my favourite bloggers, Plan B, has written, asking for help in choosing what to wear for her husband's 40th birthday party.  The theme of the party is 'Favourite Things' and she has photographed herself in various outfits and is hoping for readers comments that may help her decide which one to choose.

The last outfit she shows us is her wedding dress.  She looks sensational in it.  It put me in mind of a friend in London who, a few years ago, wore her wedding dress to a big party she threw and also looked amazing, ten years or so after the big event.  Obviously I am crippled with envy that either of them can even do the zip up on their dresses.   That aside, however, the comment I left was long and rambling and read:

'I would say - wedding dress. Of course you may want to keep that mothballed for the girls to use in future years. Although, being realistic, what woman doesn't want her VERY OWN wedding dress (your girls may) and of course the whole wedding concept may be ridiculously outdated by then, and then if either of those things happened you may regret not having given it another outing when you had the chance, so actually, if you want to wear it, WEDDING DRESS! It looks sensational - why not?'

So that's it, ladies.  You can expect to see me smartening up my own act, leaving the battered bowling shoes at home, and dumping the spotted, faded t-shirts in favor of something a little more pleasing (to me, at least).

I have to say that I'm not sure I'll be wearing my own wedding dress to any parties any time soon (the ship for my own 40th birthday party sailed 5 years ago and sadly fitting into it at that point was just a distant dream),  but the embellished tunics and flirty dresses I've been putting to one side for that special occasion will be brushed off in recognition of the fact that whilst the 'special occasion' per se is currently an insubstantial some-time-never possibility, the clothes are in my wardrobe now, and it won't do me any good to look at them in ten/twenty years time and think 'why on earth didn't I wear that more?'

Life is short - if you want to, why not eat dessert first?

What would you do?

Wednesday 27 June 2012


I was trawling through old posts on The Potty Diaries this afternoon, checking for links to this piece in the Saturday Telegraph 4 years ago so I could compare and contrast with this piece in last Saturday's Guardian.  Why?  Well, mainly so I could marvel at how much the blogging universe - or at least, the one I'm part of - has changed in the last five years.  Take a look at both pieces, if you have a moment, and you'll see what I mean.

But that's not the point of this post.  

The point of this post is that whilst I was fruitlessly searching the blog for a link to the Telegraph piece (thank god for online archives), I realised how much more I used to post about my children than I do now.  As they've grown older, the number of times they get mentioned on here has decreased; perhaps because I've become more conscious of their privacy, perhaps because my own world has expanded since I started blogging.  Probably it's due to a little of both.  But reading back through those old posts, two things struck me.  Firstly that actually, I like reading my own writing from back then.  It's funny.  Probably funnier than what I write now.  Almost certainly more honest - but that's a subject for another post.  And secondly, that - assuming I continue to save what I write in some fashion - this blog is providing one of the things I started it for; a record of those moments I would like to somehow bottle and hold onto from my children's lives.

So here, for my posterity, are two more to add to the memory box...

Boy #2 

We're trying to minimise the chances of summer learning loss - and perhaps even make some progress over the next few weeks - by working on Boy #2's reading skills over the holiday.  UK residents with children aged 4 - 6 years may be familiar with the epic adventures experienced by Biff, Chip and Kipper in the Oxford Reading Tree's series of phonics books, and today Boy #2 was - very slooooooooowly - working his way through one entitled 'The Mud Bath'.  In it, Dad falls flat on his face playing football, covers himself in mud, and goes home to take a bath.  Whilst running the bath, he is distracted by football on the television, settles down to watch it on the sofa and - well, you can guess the rest.

Boy #2 found this hilarious.  Although not quite as hilarious as I found his comment when the Dad - somewhat inevitably - sat down to make himself comfy on the sofa.

"He's just so, so, so, PREDICTABLE, Mama!"

Boy #1

Taking children to Amsterdam for the weekend is a great idea; there's lots for them to do and see, as I wrote about here.  However, one should never lose sight of the fact that for many people Amsterdam is empahatically not somewhere they would take the children, and that the city caters more than adequately for people who visit it for much more adult forms of entertainment than playgrounds and museums.

I won't dwell here on a close shave we had with some red-lit windows other than to say that I think I very possibly should qualify for a Quick Thinking Mother of the Year Award; "Look over there (on the opposite side of the street) boys!  Who can spot the tallest steeple on that building?" as we moved smartly past the ladies on show.  No, instead I wanted to share with you Boy #1's reaction to a rather questionable poster for a forthcoming festival near Amsterdam.  It featured a very ordinary-bodied woman in a bikini, with milkshake dripping suggestively down her front.  There was no avoiding these posters; they were everywhere, so Boy #1 noticed one, as I knew he would.

There was a sharp intake of breath.  Then, "That's inappropriate, Mum..."

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Monday 25 June 2012

I Amsterdam...


Due to the fact that we are now in full-on summer holiday mode (Wk 2 started today.  Oh, sorry.  Did I mention already that the Boys have a loooonnnnggg summer break?  Did I? DID I?), posting on here may be sporadic for the next few weeks.  I will snatch the opportunity when I can, as I'm doing here, when my sons have finally gone unwillingly to bed, giving me a moment of calm - ignoring the unpacking from our weekend away, the laundry, the tidying up, and the preparations for visitors tomorrow.

We just arrived home from 3 nights in Amsterdam.  You've got to love the Dutch, you really have (well, clearly I do; I married one of them).  In this case however, I guess I'm referring specifically to the Amsterdammers.  They have a certain brash in your face character that - if you're not used to it, as the family we were visiting the city with weren't - can be rather... surprising.  They know how they want things to be, they know what they like, and they aren't shy of sharing that information with those who they clearly view as hapless tourists.

There was the waiter in a smart hotel who, having given the four boys under 9 in our party strict instructions in a very no-nonsense maner on what they were and weren't allowed to do in the garden cafe we were sitting in, then turned up with a gift for each of them, courtesy of the hotel (we weren't staying there, by the way - just stopping for a cuppa).

There was the manager of the terrace cafe outside the Rijksmuseum where we stopped for an afternoon snack which turned into a glass or two of wine whilst the kids played in the adjacent playground, who on hearing our order, proceeded to tell us how the bottle we had ordered was her very favourite wine in such a way that we actually believed she meant it.

There was the waitress in the poffertjes* restaurant who took a fancy to one of the boys in our party who was being particularly cheeky, and rewarded him with a big lipstick kiss on the cheek.

And then there was the waiter in the restaurant where the adults in our party went for dinner.  He gave us truly dreadful service and was hilariously unaware that he was doing anything wrong on what he freely admitted was his first night on the job.  I think the high point for me was when my husband complained about a dreadful smell of sewerage coming in through the open window next to us and instead of closing the window the waiter chattily replied "I know, isn't it awful?  You should smell it in the kitchen.  The poor man who had to go and deal with it was retching when he came back inside."

We didn't ask which part of the restaurant the 'poor man' was working in...

*Poffertjes: a tiny version of pancakes - but puffier - around 15 to a serving, dredged in icing sugar and butter, a heart-attack on a plate and not to be missed if you visit The Netherlands.

** No, that is not my husband or child standing in front of the I Amsterdam sign.  Just two people who had the temerity to get in the way of the shot I was trying to take.  No, seriously.  My family are FAR better looking than that...

Thursday 21 June 2012

Guns and the expat family

I had a classic Moscow Moment on Sunday.  In a quiet corner of our compound, one of the bodyguards who works for a fellow-resident was exercising in the sunshine.  What's remarkable about that?   Well - I say 'a quiet corner', but he could be clearly seen from our carport.  And I say 'exercising', but what I mean was tai-chi, martial arts moves, and push-ups on a bench.  So far, so par for the course, in this rarified world that we've somehow found ourselves living in.

He was doing this all without his shirt on - which in itself, is also not remarkable here.  When it's warm enough it's not unusual to see Russian men without their shirts in town, whether it's exercising, just taking a walk alongside the main road, or sitting in the sunshine.

No.  What was remarkable was that he was doing his shirtless exercises with a hand gun tucked into the waist-band of his trousers.

Now, you can raise your eyebrows, shrug your shoulders and say 'Only in Russia' as many expats here do.  Or, you can do what I did, and complain to the management of the compound*.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not naive enough to imagine that the bodyguards looking after some of the more illustrious residents of our compound aren't armed.  I know that they are.  When you've got a follow-car and a couple of heavies in your entourage, of course your protection will be carrying guns, I get that.

But when those guns are carried in full view of my impressionable children, as if it is the norm, acceptable, and everyday behaviour to carry one?

Not OK.

* The management were helpful, by the way.  I'm hoping that at the very least, he keeps his shirt on next time.  Or leaves his gun elsewhere.  Either will do... 

Wednesday 20 June 2012

The Gallery: Family

This post is for Wk 102 of Tara's Gallery. Click here to see all the other entries...

When I was younger and child-free, I always imagined I would quite like to have 4 children.  Well - 2 or 4; for some reason an even number appealed.  Then, I met my Husband, got married, and had babies - but just the two.  We were agreed that 4 would be nice, but the timing just didn't work out and now I have to admit to being quite relieved about that.  So instead of a big rumbunctious family with 4 children, we just have our two boys.

The summer holidays have already started for us (you may have heard me mention that fact once or twice, on here and on Twitter), and we're staying put for the next couple of weeks or so before we head back to the UK for a while, unlike many of our friends here in Moscow who jumped ship the moment the school bell rang.  "How are you going to manage?" they ask, concerned for my mental health.  "What will you do with the kids, stuck in Moscow with no school?  Won't you go crazy?"

Well, no, I won't.  Because in addition to setting up 'playdates' with various friends, I know that there is one resource my boys will have.  Four years ago, when they were 4 and 2 respectively, we took them to Australia for 5 weeks.  Apart from a couple of days in the middle and at the end of our trip when we met up with friends, and the odd occasion when they teamed up with other children wherever we happened to be staying, it was just the four of us.  We had a limited number of toys for them to play with, and were in almost constant motion for much of the time.  You would think that we might have gone crazy then, but during the 5 weeks a wonderful thing happened; our Boys discovered each other.  They became more than brothers, they became friends.

Nowadays they're like any other brothers; they play, they fight, they playfight, they learn from each other, they comfort each other in the dark at night, they  tell rude jokes, they make each other laugh, sometimes they make each other cry, and then they make-up and start the whole thing over again.

 But no matter what, they are - and always will be, I hope - each other's family.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

(Unpaid) Movie Review: Megamind

Our summer break started this week. We are on Day 2 of 10 weeks off.  Ten. Weeks.  (Insert horrified gasp here if you're not part of the US or expat schooling system).

Don't judge me, but I think we might be watching the odd movie in our house over the Duration.

Rather than just waste that experience, I thought I would take the opportunity to post a couple of unpaid brief reviews on here.  Just in case, you know, there might be other parents who are interested and looking for movies to show their kids over the summer break...

So, this week's post is for the animated move Megamind, which the boys and I downloaded and watched on the ipad yesterday evening.

Age of kids I watched the movie with: 8 and 6 years old

Plot:  Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrel), a self-styled evil genius, has spent his life battling his nemesis, the goody-two-shoes 'Metro Man' (Brad Pitt).  When he inadvertently manages to destroy his foe, he finds that his life without him has no meaning and decides to create a hero to take Metro Man's place.  Unsurprisingly things don't work out as planned, and the situation is complicated by the fact that Megamind has fallen in love with sassy reporter Roxy (Tina Fey) who believes he is a nerdy librarian...

Movie suitability:  Have to admit that whilst watching it I did wonder if the plotline might be a little sophisticated for the Boys, and lacking in the requisite action.  I mean, there are some super-duper action sequences, but they're quite short, as opposed to quite long sections where the story focuses on clever twists on life as an evil genius, and the developing relationship between Megamind and Roxy.  I needn't have worried, of course - the smart people at Dreamworks know how to keep kids engaged.  The Boys loved it, and of course were far more interested in Megamind's side-kick (Minion, a fish in a robot suit) than they were in any lessons on being yourself and not judging a book by it's cover...

Value for money: the download cost was £9.99.  Bearing in mind that the boys will definitely watch it again, probably in a week or so (but only because we have an embargo on watching the same movie or tv show more than once in 7 days), and the relative price of taking them out to a movie (plus of course the added hassle of doing so here where I would need to find an English showing, pay a fortune for popcorn and drinks, and battle the traffic before and afterwards), I would say that yes, this move provides good value for money.

If you would like to join in with this, please feel free to link to your own movie reviews in the comment box; I'll drop the link onto the bottom of this post if you do...

Monday 18 June 2012

You can lead a horse to water...

We are lucky enough to live in something of a paradise for kids.  There are 2 playgrounds, a tennis court, a football pitch, roads quiet enough (most of the time) for them to scoot and cycle to their heart's content.  There are no fences, so no impediments for explorers and adventurers.  I never imagined when I moved to Moscow that I would be able to open the back door and just set my sons loose, but there it is, I can.

Today, the weather is glorious; not too hot (around 22degC), almost cloudless skies, a light breeze.  School is out for the next 9 weeks or so.

I have arranged playdates for both boys.

The barometer, you might say, is set fair for a day of outside fun.

And yet where do they all want to be?


Give me strength...

(I am now going upstairs with my 'nasty mummy' head on to bodily throw all four of them out of doors whether they like it or not...)

Saturday 16 June 2012

Never knowingly under-caked...

A Baker Days cake...

Here’s a confession that won’t surprise people who know me well; I like to bake.  In fact, I love to bake.  You might say – in fact, I did, to a friend just this evening – that I am never knowingly under-caked.  I can’t help it, I think it’s in my blood (my mother is a demon baker), so bearing in mind that for most people their default model of parenting is the one they were brought up with, despite the fact that I really didn’t do much baking when I was young(er) and child-free, in my case the iced writing was on the wall the moment I became a mum.

There’s something about being able to offer your children a piece of cake for pud (after, of course, the requisite helping of fruit - *looks furtively around and thinks that yes, she probably got away with that one*), or being able to offer guests a slice with their cup of tea that is peculiarly satisfying.  Cake is, I think, something of a cure-all; life generally tends to look a lot less grim if there is a piece of it on a plate next to your cuppa.

Working from home I’m in the privileged position of being able to find time for all this baking (although even so, I don’t usually manage to until after the kids in are bed), but it’s still only a once a week indulgence, and  I certainly don’t ever get round to baking for people outside the family in the way that I might like to.  Because there’s something special about a cake as a gift for a good friend or a loved one, whether it’s for celebratory purposes or purely as a pick-me-up, isn’t there?

What I am not, however, is an expert at sending cake further than around the corner in the back of the car.  Just think of how it looks after you’ve brought a purchase home from the local WI Bazaar and you’ll get what I mean, so when I was contact by Bakerdays, I was very interested in the service they offer; their website gives you the opportunity to send a beautiful personalised cake through the post.  You can either use one of 300 existing designs or create your own to decorate one of 6 cake recipes, which they will ensure is delivered to your chosen recipient along with a party pack of candles, gift card, balloons and a party horn.  One of the sizes they offer will even fit through a standard letter box in its’ own tin.

Prices start at £14.99 for a letterbox-sized cake, which seems quite reasonable when compared to the price of a delivery of flowers, for example.  And when you can’t be with the people who are important to you, this is a great way to show you care – and to ensure that, like me, your friends and family are never knowingly under-caked...

This is a sponsored post, but all content and opinions are my own

Friday 15 June 2012

It isn't easy, being Green...

Ever heard the one about the expat woman who takes her own shopping bags to a Russian hypermarket that already provides free plastic ones for it’s customers?


Neither have the cashiers, apparently.  I swear I’m known as ‘That Expat Bag Lady’, based on the number of raised eyebrows and confused expressions when, each week, I stop them from packing my shopping for me and pack it myself into a motley collection of reuseable over-sized shopping bags.

‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’;  three not-so-little words that – if you live in the UK, at least – may as well be engraved on top of your rubbish bin, are enforced by waste-collectors,  and which are often parroted at you by your children who have been indoctrinated with the philosophy by their schools from a very early age.  Most homes are equipped with bins for glass, bins for paper and card, and bins for tins and aluminium.  Depending on where you live, there may be composting bins for your left-over food too, and also drop-points for used batteries.

And so, to Russia.  Where there are just about none of these things.  I was told once by a Russian friend that during communist times recycling was a civic duty as well as a practical necessity, but that nowadays it’s seen very much as something that they used to do rather than a requirement for modern life.  This may account for the not-infrequent sight, during drives outside the city, of clearings in the forest filled with domestic rubbish – or perhaps that’s just the result of unscrupulous waste collectors fly-tipping once they are out of view of the village they’ve just collected from.

Another friend of mine here, who likes to make her own pickles and jams, tells of ongoing battles with her cleaner who, given half the chance, will clear the top shelf in the pantry of all the glass jars lovingly collected over the last few months in preparation for pickling season.  The cleaner dumps them in the bin because of course you can buy new glass jars cheaply at most supermarkets at the right time of year, rather than using those second-hand ones...

Visiting friends and family from Western Europe are appalled when they see all our refuse going into the same bin, but since there are no alternatives,  that’s where it all ends up.  Hence my determination that when supermarket shopping at least, I will try and make my own small difference and take my own bags.  It’s not entirely selfless, I have to admit; I can fit into 1 of my reuseable bags the same amount that the cashier would distribute between 3 of the flimsy ‘packyets’(sic) that they provide, thus reducing trips between car and house on top of giving me that feel-good moment when I return the empty bags to the car boot ready for their next outing.

But if one more cashier looks at me as if I’m a crazy woman as I race to get all my purchases onto the belt in enough time to be at the other end of the till to pack it all myself once it’s been scanned through, I swear I will have to start wearing a t-shirt printed with the words ‘It’s the Environment, stupid’ (in Russian, of course) every time I do the weekly shop.

They’ll still think I’m crazy, obviously.  But then no-one ever said it was easy being Green...

This post first appeared over at my other blog; 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' at The Moscow Times Online

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Packing it in...

Moscow doesn't seem to like me too much at the moment.  Not only did it put in an extremely poor performance when friends visited last weekend, throwing torrential rain at them, releasing super-strength mosquitoes on their children and - to add insult to injury - closing the doors to the Kremlin on not one but two attempts made to visit it, but it paid no attention when I banged my head and gave myself concussion a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday did it's damnedest to take the top off a couple of my fingers when I was trying to close a door in hurricane-strength wind.

(And if you see any typos in this post, try using a keyboard without the second and third fingers of your right hand before you judge me too harshly, please).

So naturally, given Moscow's hissy fit and the fact that the Boys' school term ends in less than 48 hours, my thoughts have turned to summer holidays.  More especially, the packing that goes with them.

Being an expat presents a special set of challenges when packing to go away for the summer, especially when you don't have just one place to get to and then relax in for a few weeks.  In an attempt to see as much of our families and as many of our friends as possible, our 6 week summer break will cover no less than 4 different countries and 6 different destinations - some of them twice.  Sounds great, and it will be, but dealing with both the UK and southern Europe from within the same suitcase, whilst leaving space for those essential purchases I need to make back home to bring back to Russia is a something of a logistical nightmare.

But it's not the first, and probably won't be the last time I need to do this, so I've picked up some tricks along the way, not the least of which is that once you've decided what to take clothes-wise, take a good look and pull out one third of it and put it straight back in the cupboard or wardrobe; that seems to be a fairly consistent average for the amount of clothes that I bring back unworn from most holidays I go on.

And then secondly, if you have a partner like mine who insists on packing everything else himself to minimise space, do ensure that he also repeats the process before you return from your trip - dirty laundry and all.  It's all about sharing the burden, after all - and you did do the hard work of selecting the clothes in the first place...

For more tips on successful holiday packing, expat or not, short or long-haul, check out Toni Hargis' recent Expat Focus piece on the matter here.  (You might even recognise the names of a couple of bloggers who contributed advice...)

Monday 11 June 2012

What time bed-time?

What time do your children go to bed?

Don't worry, this is not some social services sponsored survey, or a Daily Mail research question asked with the intention of writing a piece about the shocking time that we as modern parents put our children to bed.  I'm just interested in how the rest of you achieve what should be a relatively simple exercise; that of putting your children to bed in a timely manner.

Can it, I wonder, be done without shouts, cajoling, and threats?  Today's doozy was that unless Boy #2 stopped complaining his pillow wasn't plumped up enough  - poor little Lord Fauntleroy that he is - I wouldn't have time to make fairy cakes* for his end of term** party taking place tomorrow afternoon.  Bad Potty Mummy.

Unsurprisingly, the threat worked and you could hear a pin drop as I completed the task in hand (isn't the mixture for vanilla fairy cakes delicious?  Who needs dinner, anyway?) whilst making enough noise in the kitchen with my ancient electric mixer to wake the dead.  And amazingly, even with the motorbike-like noises that the 20 year old machine emits, by the time I had finished the cakes at 8.30pm both of my little angels were fast asleep.

I could pretend that this is a result of our nightly routine being smoother than a baby's bottom.  I could.  But I won't torture you with such smug lies.  I suspect, in fact, that it was more to do with a riotous weekend, when the Boys had a couple of similar aged house-guests staying (never a recipe for an early night or a lie-in), and a bbq that got a little out of hand (curse these long light evenings!), which meant that on neither Friday nor Saturday night were they in bed at anything like a respectable hour.

So now, after a day at school, they are exhausted.  Which helps somewhat in the pursuit of a reasonable bedtime hour in a season when the sun doesn't set here until around 10.15pm and it stays light until gone 11pm.  But I would really love to know, other than blackout curtains and blinds (already in place), is what blandishments and bribes you use to get your kids in bed on time during the summer.  Answers in the comments box, please...

* Yes, FAIRY cakes, none of your cupcake nonsense.  In Union Jack cases too, so there... (Can you tell that much as I love living in an international environment I am SO ready to head back to Blighty for a couple of weeks?)

** And yes, it is the end of term for us this week.  No, you don't have to say it.  I know...

Friday 8 June 2012

Curses! Foiled again...

You know how it is; you have friends to visit, and you really, really, REALLY want to impress them with your current city of residence, so you take them to the centre of Moscow for the ultimate wow factor, but when you get there you discover that Red Square closed (as in: not allowed in, gates barred, policemen on the corner, don't even think about trying to sneak a look at Lenin's Mausoleum), so you go into the world's most expensive coffee bar in GUM to circumvent the security and look out on the square from their terrace, only to discover that there is an enormous ruddy great set of scaffolding taking shape on it for tomorrow's Russia Day celebrations, completely ruining any view & photo opportunity, so you leave in a huff to see the cathedrals inside the Kremlin, but discover when you reach the ticket office that staff have taken an extended lunch break with no sign of ever coming back and to all intents and purposes may never sell tickets to go inside the Kremlin complex ever again?

(And - breeeeaaaathe...)



Wednesday 6 June 2012

I'm sorry, I'll say that again: Adventures with Boy #2

Yesterday evening, Boy #2 became very upset just before bedtime.  He raced into his bedroom, howling in anguish over some slight that had taken place, and once his older brother and I could take our hands from our ears, we tried to work out what it was.

Now, he's 6 years old.  His vocabulary is pretty good.  But for the life of me I couldn't work out what it was he was creating about.  The only thing Boy #1 and I could tell was that it was something to do with the television programme they'd just watched, and the fact that it wasn't what he had been expecting.

But what had he been expecting?

Dabido Dapeda, apparently.

Oh, I'm sorry.  You don't understand?  Let me tell you again.

"Dabido Dapeda.  YOU know.  Dabido. Dapeda.  And the hammerhead sharks!  The sharks!! Mama!  Stop laughing!  The sharks!  Dabido DAPEDA!!!"

Yes, that would be David Attenborough.  Isn't it obvious?

Monday 4 June 2012

Lighten up on yourself: obsessing about diets in front of your children

This post has been brewing for a while now, but something about the onset of summer and plethora of 'bikini-ready diets' and 'do you dare to bare?' features in the press and magazines has finally pushed me over the edge to write it.  Well, that, a great post that Very Busy Mama wrote at the weekend about dealing with her own body issues, and a conversation I had with friends last week.

I grew up in the 1970's and 1980's.  (Yes.  I AM that old...). And for as long as I can remember, my mother - and all her friends - were on a diet.  Many of them still are.

We had the lemon juice & hot water diet (*makes face like a cat's bottom at the memory of the taste*), the British Heart Foundation Cabbage Soup diet (only to be tried once for fear of suffocation), the Hi-Fibre Diet (only to be tried until you run out of loo roll), the Leslie Kenton  Raw Food Diet (believe me, there are only so many ways you can eat raw carrot and celery), The Atkins Diets (woman cannot live on red meat alone - unless bad breath really doesn't bother her), The Grapefruit Diet (the only one that necessitated the purchase of new cutlery - in this case, serrated-edged spoons), the Three Day Diet, The Chicken Soup Diet, the one that gave you red days and green days (can't remember the name of that one), the Whole Food Diet (to this day I refuse to eat bean sprouts as they are the work of the devil), and the plain-old stop eating so much diet (which, frankly, is the only one that really works).

And through it all, I can't really remember my mum ever being fatter or thinner.  She always looked great, whether she thought so or not, and whether she was eating normally or not.

You would think that with this background I would be a bit of a diet junkie myself, and I have to admit, over the years, to having dabbled with Weight Watchers, food combining, and detox (thankyou Carol Vorderman for introducing me to quinoa, if nothing else), but nowadays - and for some time - I have simply tried eating healthy, balanced food, and applying the 80:20 rule (and sometimes the 50:50 rule, or even - at Christmas and on holiday, the 20:80 rule).  Guess what? It works - mostly.  I don't have a goddess-like body, certainly, but I do have one that I can live with and which I don't feel the need to do down in public at every opportunity.

And that, actually, is the point of this post.  (Apologies for having taken so long to have reached it).  Why, ladies, in this age of supposed empowerment and liberation, do we still feel the need to put our bodies down?  And even worse, in this age of an explosion in the numbers of children and young people suffering from weight-related disorders, why do we do so in front of our children?

Certainly, if you feel the need to, do something about your weight, but for the love of god, please, don't stand in front of your impressionable sons and daughters bemoaning the fact that you no longer possess the body of an 18 year old girl (even the 18 year old you once were) when you are - in fact - 38.  Or 40.  Or, indeed, cough, 45.

How on earth are children ever going to develop a healthy relationship with their own bodies and food (everything in moderation, etc etc), or realistic expectations of how it will develop as they get older, if all they see are their mums seemingly obsessed by the latest fruit and chocolate diet*?  For pity's sake; of course we don't have an 18 year-old beach-babe's toned skin, cellulite-free legs and perky boobs (And if you do, and aren't an 18 year old beach babe, good for you but I don't want to hear about it).  For most of us, the writing is on the wall.  We've got older, we've had babies.  Our bodies have been used, for want of a better term.  The lumps and bumps that we sport as the years pass are a change from our smooth-skinned youth, no doubt about it, but unless you want to make like Demi Moore and spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars on surgery, that's the way the oh-so-delicious cookie crumbles.

To a child, most of what their mother says is gospel.  (Disregarding, of course, the requests to put on shoes, brush teeth, find their missing sweater and clear their plate away from the table; that's just so much filler and white noise - for all the notice my sons take of such directions, in any case).  So if they hear their mother constantly belittling herself, moaning about not being able to wear sleeveless tops because she's over 40 and heaven forbid she shows her upper arms, refusing to take her kaftan off by the pool in case - gasp! - anyone should realise that she has cellulite / thread veins / sock marks round her ankles (oh, is the last one just me?), and generally allowing her life to be restricted by the self-imposed limitations she's placed on herself, like it or not the chances are that her children will impose the same restrictions on themselves in the future.

So, whether you do, or don't, decide to lose weight this summer in preparation for your summer holiday, please be careful of how you talk about your body in front of your children.  A split-second throw-away comment can so easily be internalised by an impressionable adolescent and result in a life-time of issues and an obsession with weight. And if you're anything like me, then I suspect that that is the last thing you want for your beautiful child.

* Although, I can see the attraction in that one.  And I'm sure I can dig out some serrated-edge spoons for the grapefruit...

Saturday 2 June 2012


It is not my place to say it, but I will anyway, because I want to acknowledge the tremendous effort that was made on behalf of the #tippingpoint collective blog and twitter action yesterday.

Liz Jarvis has posted here on BritMums how it went, so I won't steal that thunder other than to say I am reeling from the numbers that the campaign reached even before the big push at 4 - 5pm.

So, thankyou to everyone who posted, tweeted, re-tweeted, read the posts, read the tweets,signed petitions.  And thankyou most especially to Liz and to Kate, who took notice of a tweet sent in a state of shock and translated it into positive action.

It could be argued that yesterday we made not a jot of difference in real terms.  But I don't agree.  If we did nothing else, we showed that events like those in Houla matter to ordinary people.

The horror that leads us as parents to turn the page on bad news, to switch channels when the images become too upsetting, to zone out from stories we just can't - just don't want to - deal with (because what, as individuals living so far from these ghastly events, could we possibly hope to change?) could  - by those who are immediately affected by and living surrounded by such atrocities - be seen as indifference.  It isn't, of course it isn't.  It's just us trying to do the best we can with the circumstances we live in, in our here and now.

Once confronted with the facts, no-one could be indifferent.  And although raising our voices in collective protest, as we did yesterday, and encouraging others to do the same, may not seem like much to us as we resume our comfortable lives today, as a direct result of what a very specific section of the blogging and tweeting community achieved, an audience of what was possibly close on one million people are now uncomfortably aware of what happened in Houla in a way they weren't before.

Their eyes have been opened, their bubbles' burst.  And who knows?  As a result of the added impetus that gives, change may follow.  For the sake of a couple of posts and a few tweets, it was a chance worth taking.

Friday 1 June 2012

Bursting the bubble; #TippingPoint

Sometimes, being an expat, away from English language tv and radio, I feel as if I live inside a bubble.

It's pretty, this bubble.  It sparkles in the sunshine.  The iridescence swirls in the light, catching my eye, distracting me from what's going on outside it's walls.  Sometimes,  I can get so caught up with what's going inside this bubble that days can go by without my really checking the news.  Oh, I try to stay current, by looking at the online reports once a day, but if for some reason I don't log on, the only news that reaches me is the local English language newspaper which is, unsurprisingly, mostly preoccupied with what's going on in Russia.

This is perhaps why the full horror of what happened in a small town in Syria last Friday didn't become clear to me until Wednesday, when The Times lowered the paywall for a day on it's cover story; 'The Tipping Point'.

The main picture was of a young child, wrapped in a sheet, looking as if he were sleeping.  He wasn't, of course.  Here is an excerpt from the article, in case you didn't see it:

'The children of Houla were not killed by random shelling. The UN yesterday revealed that they were murdered one by one. The militia came in the night armed with knives and guns, and the young victims were executed with a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat.
One photograph shows a cherubic baby girl, no older than 2, with a tiny gold ear-stud. She is wrapped in a white shroud. Half her skull has been hacked or blown away. A saucer of bone juts from a bloody gash in what remains of her head '
(You can read the full article on The Times, or if you don't have access then amongst other papers The Guardian is free to read)

I read it, wept, and my bubble burst.

I can't imagine it.  Over 110 people killed, of which 49 were children; and not  from a distance by bombs or mortars but in their homes alongside their families, by men wielding guns and knives.  Many of the children were nursery age.  Think about that for a moment.  Actually, think about it for more than a moment; they deserve that consideration, at least.

Burst your own bubble.

I've been asked what we bloggers posting today hope to achieve by doing so.  We don't have a manifesto other than #stopkilling which, given the circumstances, seems like a pretty good place to start to me.  We don't have some grand plan on how to resolve the situation.  Hell, we don't even have a joint opinion on who might be able to solve this, so honestly?  I don't know what we might achieve.  But I do know that I cannot let what happened in Houla on Friday pass unremarked and unmourned.

There's a quote - over 200 years old - that keeps running through my head.

'All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.' (Edmund Burke).

So I and a number of other bloggers are posting today and are asking you to tweet and retweet (using the hashtags #Syria, #StopKilling and/or #TippingPoint), to link, to write your own blog posts, and to raise awareness in any way you can of the need for conversation about these horrific events.  Even if it's only by discussing the situation at the water cooler, the school gate, or by forwarding an email link enabling friends and family to sign the AVAAZ or the Save the Children petitions, please, take action in some way.

Because what we're suggesting you do may not amount to much, but it sure as hell isn't 'nothing'.

Click here to see other posts that are part of this collective action (and to link to yours, if you've written one) over at the BritMums site, or on the Netmums site, here