Wednesday 14 December 2016

A Christmas blessing on JK Rowling

Bless you, JK Rowling.

Bless you for writing the fantastic series of Harry Potter books, bless you for getting millions of children reading, and bless you for ensuring that once you passed the baton to Warner Bros to produce the movies, they stayed true to your vision.

But most of all, bless you for writing the screen play for 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'.

Not only is it a wonderfully entertaining story with a rip-roaring plot, but you created a hero who - how can I put this? - is not your average wise-cracking smooth-talking adventurer who never puts a foot wrong in any given social situation.  Who makes mistakes, and has to clear up the mess, and makes even more mistakes whilst he's trying to do that.  And yes, I know Harry Potter wasn't dissimilar, but at the time I was at a different life stage and the benefits of that went somewhat over my head.

Now, though, things are different.  Now I have a son who, like Newt Scamander, often doesn't really fit in the world he inhabits.

I wish there were another way of putting it, something that sounds less judgemental, but there it is; he doesn't.  And even though I wouldn't want him to - I love his way of looking at the world, his intense levels of focus in subjects that interest him, his disregard for those that don't, his smart and funny observations on what's going on around him, and the deepness of his feelings - there's no escaping the fact that he's not your average, run of the mill little boy.

Whilst I have no doubt that he will, eventually, find his place and his tribe, and that he will be successful not despite his differences but because of them, there's no denying that to watch him trying to find a foothold in the fast-flowing stream that is life as a child in modern Britain can be traumatic, as a parent.  I want to scoop him up and wrap him in cotton wool, to shield him against those slings and arrows - but I know that I can't, and mustn't.  All I can do is equip him with the tools to deal with the world as it is.  And it's hard.

So to be able to go to the cinema to watch a movie with my son where the hero is - at times - awkward, unusual, and somewhat singular is refreshing.  Especially when that hero is someone that my son can admire and empathise with, in a movie that illustrates it isn't always the sportiest, the slickest, the best looking or the most charismatic character that saves the day.  You know.  Just like in life.

I'm sure it all went straight over my son's head; these things usually do.  He's only a boy, after all, and it was just a movie.  But it didn't go over mine.

So Ms Rowling, thankyou.  A Christmas blessing on you and yours.  

Wednesday 23 November 2016

What a difference a day makes...

Tasks completed on Day 1 of child home sick from school (with a temperature but not ill enough to spend the entire day in bed)

Child spends an extra 2 hours in bed reading instructive literature (OK, back copies of Top Gear magazine, but beggars can't be choosers)
English homework completed
4 sessions of Mathletics completed
Intelligent conversation over lunch
Short session on National Geographic kids website games section
TV switched at 4.00pm due to pompous statement that it shouldn't go on until the same time school would have finished
Mother's Tasks: Laundry, cooking (delicious nutritious home-made Moroccan lamb stew), overseeing entertainment of child.  Writing: grand total of approx 20 minutes.

Tasks completed on Day 2 of same child home sick from school

Child spends an extra 30 minutes in bed complaining about boredom
1 section of 3 of next week's English homework completed
1/2 session of Mathletics completed
Loooooong session on National Geographic kids games section
TV goes on at 11.00am, (Don't judge me: 3 back episodes of Planet Earth 2 watched - I call that a win, under the circumstances)
Conversation over lunch about... I can't remember.  Not sure it was intelligent.
Tantrum over uncharged iPod Touch
Mother's Tasks: Tactical 'forgetting' to recharge iPod Touch, wrangling with child over completion of further homework, complete failure to unload laundry from the machine, and dinner likely to consist of any old veg I can find to serve with chicken stir fry.  Writing: are you kidding?

Tasks likely to be completed if there is a Day 3 of having same child home sick from school

None - because it's not going to happen.

(Better not...)

Monday 21 November 2016

Most embarrassing motherhood-related experiences #573

Went to town on Friday - literally.  When I say 'to town' I do, of course, mean that it should be pronounced in true Celia Johnson styley - 'to Tyne' - and am referring to London.  Husband and I were due to attend a swanky dinner, so I thought I would treat myself to a haircut first.

Luckily - LUCKILY - the lady cutting my hair has known me a long time.  (Parents reading this - you've already guessed where I'm headed, haven't you?).  Because otherwise I suspect I would have been thrown out on my ear just off Regent Street shortly after the following conversation took place.

Hairdresser:  'So, what am I doing with this today?'

Me: 'Not quite as short as last time, thanks - I think I like it a little longer.'

Silence whilst she fusses about (technical term, obviously) with clips and scissors etc .  Then, a little more silence whilst she closely inspects my hair.  I watch her and wonder if she is finally going to tell me that it's about time I got the grey seen to.  She would be right to - but no...

Hairdresser (in a low voice): 'Potty...'

Me:  'Yes?  Is it the grey?'

Hairdresser (clearing her throat as she ever-so-slightly backs away): 'Um - no.  Is it...  do you think...  could you have... lice?'

Ah, parenting.  The gift that keeps on giving...

Thursday 17 November 2016

And so it's November...

Where on earth did the rest of October go?

Life has been busy here for the still-re-acclimatising Potty family, as I'm sure it is for everybody.  And also, as I'm sure is the case for everybody, most of what's been happening is not suitable blog-fodder; either too boring to share (do you really want to know what I thought of Netflix's 'The Crown?  I thought not - but fabulous, just in case in you do), or too personal to put out there.  Consequently, I'm taking the easy way out and will use this post as an opportunity to share another piece of writing I've done; the prologue to a novel I finished (in as much as you can ever finish writing an unpublished book) in the summer.

It's odd, finishing one novel and starting another, as I have done over the last few weeks.  I find it hard to imagine sharing the latter - it's still too fresh in my mind, I'm too protective about it - but god, I am SO over the former. After so long spent working on it I've lost all objectivity and can only see it's faults;  I can easily imagine sticking it in the back of a metaphorical desk drawer and never looking at it again.  That seems a bit of a waste though, so instead I'm putting it up here - at least then some of it will have seen the light of day at some point!

I hope you enjoy it - and no, this excerpt is not too long. At least, I don't think so... (see? No objectivity...)

Finding Katie (working title)

Prologue: October 1993

I strip down to my swimsuit on the nearly empty beach and look out at the sea, a flat grey in the early morning light.

And I know already that I’m not going to be able to do it.

When I woke alone in the quiet darkness of the caravan an hour ago, my mind was made up; this was the only way out.  As I folded my nightclothes and left them in a neat pile on the bed, I was resolute; this was the only way out.  Whilst I made my way through the dunes, purposefully avoiding any other early risers in case they gave me a smile I wouldn’t be able to return, I was still certain; this was the only way out.

Now though, as I stand shivering in the chilly autumn morning, I come to my senses.  This is a crazy plan.  I can’t just walk into the water and… go.  No matter what I’ve found out, I can’t finish it like this; it will devastate Mum and Dad. 

And my brother.  Oh god, my little brother...  It will destroy him.

The memories come rushing back, one after another, and I think back to when he was tiny, Mum was ill, and it was my job to look after him.  I remember his gummy smiles and warm compact little body, and how used to clamp his arms around my neck and cover my cheek with hot sticky kisses as I hoisted him out of his cot in the mornings. 

I think about him toddling across the living room floor pretending to be a car.  I think about the time I took my eleven year old eyes off him for one minute to read my latest copy of Smash Hits and he walked into the door, cutting his head open on the lock.  I think of how he hardly cried as I held his hand in the back of the car on the way to hospital to get the wound stitched up.  You can still see the faint scar in his hairline now, even though he’s fifteen.
And I realise again that I can’t do it. 

I can still call it off – one phone call, and I can still call it off.  And then, I can just head back home and… 

Oh god; home. 

Shivering slightly in the cool morning air, I pick my way gingerly across the sharp stones of the pebbled beach, and force myself to step into the water.  It’s freezing, and I give a sharp intake of breath as goose-bumps run like an electric shock up my legs but I ignore them; this is no time to be feeble. 

The cold laps around my ankles, then my knees, and I keep right on going until it’s at waist-height.  Then I take a deep breath, plunge in – fuck, it’s like ice – and start swimming, away from the shore.

Because it’s time to stop pretending; there is no other way out.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Flash fiction - or not...

I'm taking an online writing course.  (And yes, I've finished the Great Work, but bear with me on this; we can all benefit - especially me - by being taught by professionals).

One of the tasks we've been given this week was to deliver a piece of 'flash' writing; that is, to use a writing prompt of only a few words to deliver a piece of writing completed in only 15-20 minutes. 

Here's one of mine (and you'll see why it's relevant to this blog - and that I'm still not over Russia - if you read it...)

I’ll never forget my first day in Moscow.

The snow fell thick and fast as we woke the boys that morning, seemingly coming down sideways, and I wondered aloud how we would manage to get them to school without a car.

‘Walk, of course’ Husband said, shovelling down spoonfuls of the sugary cereal that was the only local substitute for muesli we could find, rushing to make the minibus that would take him to the nearest metro station. 

I stopped as I rooted through one of our many over-stuffed suitcases in the hunt for the Weetabix we’d brought with us.  (Never let it be said I’m unprepared on the kids’ breakfasts.)  ‘But – isn’t it really cold outside?’

‘Well – it’s still snowing, so it probably won’t be any lower than -18degC.  You can walk in that.  We’ve got hats for them, haven’t we?’

I looked at him blankly.  Yes, we had hats for the children.  But we’d only got off the plane from London the previous afternoon; in the cliff-face of luggage stacked in the Ikea-furnished sitting room, I had no idea where they were. 

Half an hour later I located them lurking beneath the sitting room sofa under a pile of coats, soaked through after yesterday evening’s walk.  Turns out when you’re 4 and 6 years old, putting wet kit onto a radiator when you come inside after half an hour spent throwing yourself into snowdrifts isn’t top of mind. 

Cursing under my breath I emptied two more suitcases, adding to the impossible starburst of clothes across the living room floor, before finding the woollen back-up beanies I had packed ‘just in case’.  Now we were running out of time; the first day of term started in just 20 minutes and it was at least a 15 minute walk from the house to the classroom door.

I shoe-horned the boys into their snow gear; layer on layer of padded goretex over already bulky trousers and sweatshirts.  Then we crammed on their snow boots, taking care to pull the straps of their snow pants under their feet – wouldn’t want them to get wet socks before they even arrived at school – and tugged the zips of their coats shut.  As a final touch we pulled the ridiculously flimsy-looking woollen hats onto their heads and fastened the Velcro straps of the hoods of their coats over the top, just to be sure.

My London-bred sons looked like nothing so much as little Michelin men in their Moscow winter gear.  Not that I minded; wouldn’t all that padding be an advantage if they slipped on the thick ice that, as I had already learned to my cost, lurked beneath the freshly fallen snow?

‘OK boys, say goodbye to Dad – he has to go to work – and then it’s off to school.’ 

‘Is it far, Mum?’  Boy #1, worried, looked at me with big grey eyes.

‘No, of course not.  We drove past the school on our way here last night, remember?  It was the building like the lighthouse – the one we could see on the corner from the road… Come on, put your rucksacks on and we’ll be off.  And guess what?  You get me to pull you there on a sledge, remember?’

That did it; they started jostling each other excitedly as I laced up my snowboots and pulled on a pair of gloves.  Opening the heavy metal front door – the one with the thick layer of frost on the inside of the lock - was the bit I wasn’t looking forward to, but I knew that the longer we stayed in the too-warm brick-built house the harder it was going to be set foot outside.

At last, layered up and channelling my own homage to the Michelin man, I snapped open the wooden sledge.  Steeling myself – I hated the cold – I opened the door and stepped out with my children into what I can only describe as Narnia.  And against all my expectations, right there and then, I fell in love with the Russian winter

It was quiet, oh so quiet;  Muscovites take their time to get going in the morning, especially if – as on that first day – the snow ploughs haven’t made it to their street yet.  We stood, entranced, surrounded by clouds of glitter; in the yellow of the sodium street lights flakes of snow spun lazily in the still air, floating gently to the ground and settling prettily on the top of the boys’ hoods.  I’d never seen such enormous ice crystals before, their crenulations clearly visible, each different from the last and perfect in their imperfection. 

‘Are these real?’  Boy #2, seated on the front of the sledge in front of his brother, held out an arm decorated with drifts of enormous flakes.  Used only to the rather damp approximation of snow we had back in London, he was fascinated by the way these sparkled, holding their shape on his jacket for minutes at a time in the polar temperatures.

Leaning forward slightly to take the strain as I tugged the sledge along the tyre-rutted track, I nodded.  ‘They certainly are darling.  Get used to them – they won’t be the last you see…’

Monday 3 October 2016

The Jam Spider

It's been quiet on here for way too long.  As ever, this is not because I don't have anything to share, but rather because I have too much, none of it for public consumption.

Kids.  They have a way of stimying (sp) creativity like that.  (And how DO you spell that word, by the way?  Anyone?).

So until I find myself in a position to share my own writing, here is some of my younger son's.  He was tasked last week with writing a poem about an extraordinary discover in an ordinary place.  Of course, he told me he couldn't do it.  It was impossible, he said.  No way, he said.  But we sat, and brainstormed a few ideas, and this is what he came up with.

The Jam Spider

One morning I came downstairs.
I put some bread in the toaster
And readied my tea.
I reached for the jam jar and opened the lid.
As I did so I noticed a little spider
With sparkling red eyes.
It waved a leg as if to say,
'Some privacy please, while I finish my breakfast.'
So I had honey instead.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Escapism, pure and simple...

The summer holidays are here so normal service on this blog has been suspended (even more than usual) for the time being.  To keep things ticking over, however, I'm using a fb exchange between my sis and I from this morning.  I think it's entertaining...

From my sis to me: 

Tory name = first name of a grandparent + the name of the first Street you lived on hyphenated with your 1st headteacher's surname.
Reginald Elvaston-Woodhouse. Sorry Potty Mummy, I bagged it first.

From me to my sis: 

Well, I'll have to be your unmarried sister, Joan Elvaston-Woodhouse. Pillar of the local WI, unpaid house-keeper for Reginald, and still pining for a young accounts clerk, Alfred, who declared his love before going to Tenby on a works trip, falling for a brassy barmaid, and never returning. 

Alfred and Primrose run a sea-side cafe now and he often thinks wistfully of Joan and her bramble jelly as he wipes condensation from the salt-stained windows. 

Joan, meanwhile, is unaware that the local vicar, wounded in some unnamed war and bearing a slight limp as a consequence, dreams of her at night. Reginald knows, mind you, but keeps it to himself, unwilling to lose his devoted sister to another form of affection. And... Breathe....

From my sis to me:

Oh my God. I want to know more. 

Does Joan ever find out about the vicar's secret love? 

Will Alfred leave Primrose to peel the potatoes for the chips and take the bus back to Joan's village for the day, sitting next to the phone box on the village green, hoping for a sight of Joan whilst eating his corn beef and pickled sandwiches? 

And will Reginald take his attention away from the golf course just for one minute, to appreciate Joan's sacrifice?

From me to my sis: 

Don't think too harshly of Reginald. He is holding a torch for the redoubtable widow Verity Ssykes-Winton, a strong-willed lady with a bust like the prow of a ship.

Verity rules society in Upper Moultings with a rod of iron and, whilst she enjoys Reginald's attentions, has no intent - now that she's outlived her aged and querulous former husband Colonel StJohn Ssykes-Winton - of ever submitting to the marital yoke again. So Reginald is distracted, and a little envious of the puppy-dog devotion that his sister inspires in Vicar Edmund Oak-Wooton as she moves around the church arranging flowers and embroidering samplers for the pews...

That's it - for now.  Stay tuned for more inanity from Little Moultings.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  The next post on here is unlikely to happen until the next term starts...)

Wednesday 29 June 2016

OK - time to walk the walk

So the die has been cast; Little England it is.

I'm not going to say it's 'alright'; from what I can see right now what is happening in and to the UK is most definitely Not Alright, but I'm trying to remain optimistic.  To that end, if you voted 'Leave' last Thursday I would really, really, love it if you could explain why you did so.

In fact, I'm begging; please, please, please, tell me why you voted 'Leave' - without using any of the already debunked pre-referendum promises or that load of old toss phrase 'take back control' - and I will listen.

I promise not to judge, I promise not to argue with you.  I am simply looking for positive, realistic, and quantifiable reasons for your vote - surely it shouldn't be that hard to come up with some?

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Little England or Great Britain?

No prizes for guessing this fact, but I'm voting Remain in Thursday's referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

It seems like common sense to me to do that, but just in case it doesn't to you, I'm going to tell you what's led me to make this decision.

I suspect that, like me, you've felt bombarded by the figures and the stats that both sides of the debate have been throwing out in the last few weeks, so I'm not even going to start with the financial benefits or otherwise (although what are we, Area 51 Conspiracy Theorists?  The 'Leave' camp seems to expect us to join them in ignoring the advice to Remain flooding out from an overwhelming majority of highly trained and respected organisations and individuals, just because it doesn't fit their Brexit agenda,)

And in any case, financial reasons aside, there are plenty of other reasons why I think it's important for Britain to stay a part of the EU.

  • Europe does not have a stellar history of peaceful internal negotiation.  One or other - or more - of it's nation states were either at outright war with each other, or planning to be so, for about 1000 years before the end of World War II, so 70 years of peace in Europe is not to be taken lightly. The nations in the EU bloc - including the UK - are stronger together than they are apart; anything else is crazy.  And if you think that a repeat of World Wars I and II just 'couldn't happen again', take note: that's exactly - EXACTLY - what the population of Europe thought the last two times around.

  • Putin thinks we should vote 'Leave'.  He's rubbing his hands at the prospect, in fact.  If that doesn't give you pause, I don't know what would.  The analogy of a predator separating the weakest animal from it's herd is not irrelevant here, I think.  And I don't want to be that weakened animal, forced to make trade and visa agreements (because don't think for a moment that the two would be separate in negotiations with Mother Russia) that are not to our advantage.

  • I've lived in a country where citizens do not have the right to visa-free travel to Europe.  Lucky enough to be exempt from that, I still saw how difficult it was for Russians to work in or to travel to EU countries, and the hoops they had to jump through.  Mind you, if we're going to get friendly with the Russians if we leave the EU, there's always the Crimea for two weeks every summer if we can't get to France, Spain or Italy, I suppose...

Now I come to think of it, I have yet to meet a returned expat in the UK who wants to vote anything other than 'Remain'.  Perhaps that's because we've seen the alternatives to living outside Europe firsthand, and don't rate them very highly.  Ultimately it comes down to this, for me at least: we can stay in the EU and work towards making life better for all 500 million of it's citizens - starting with you, and your family - or we can Leave.  Quit.  Run away.  Pull up the drawbridge.  Take our ball and go home to play alone, like the sulky child who doesn't want to share their cake at the birthday party.  Behave like Little Englanders.

Personally, I think we're better than that.  Personally, I prefer to behave like a Great Briton.

Every vote counts in this referendum.  If you're planning on putting a cross in the 'Remain' box, please make sure you get down to the polling to do so on Thursday.

Monday 6 June 2016

You think your parenting duties keep you busy?

Last week the Boys and I walked past a pair of swans and their nine cygnets.

I'll say that again; their NINE cygnets.

Don't believe me?  Here's a photo.

You might be forgiven for assuming this was some sort of swan creche - I know that I did - but I checked and no, it's not; those swans really do have nine little beaks to keep fed.

Is it just me, or do the parents look a little... harrassed?  Somewhat beset?  A little bit, 'can I just have 5 minutes to myself to go to the loo in private?'  Or slightly 'well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that all those eggs have hatched I'm not sure this was exactly what I intended...'?

Captions in the comments box, please...

Thursday 26 May 2016

Passive-aggressive washing machines and other nonsense

It has become clear that our LG washing machine hates us.

In fact, it hates us SO much that on Tuesday, when I go down into the basement to empty it, I discover that it's walked it's way to the edge of 6 inch high shelf it's situated on and thrown itself off.    Now, it's lying forlornly face-down on the floor, looking nothing less than pathetic.

"I can't take any more" it says.  "Go on without me" it says.

Well obviously, it doesn't.  But if an inaminate object could speak, that's what I would hear.

I look down at it.  "When did it get this bad? Was it really necessary to end it all, just to avoid another load of the Boys' sports kit?  You should have said something! It's not as if I put a heavy load in this morning..."

It sighs deeply, leaking water over the basement floor.  "You say 'not heavy'.  But when was the last time you tried washing a king-sized duvet cover and base sheet?"

"Honestly? I've got no answer to that."

"Thought not" it harrumphs.

From the other side of the room the tumble dryer watches smugly.

"And you can just shut up," the washing machine mutters.

The tumble dryer looks affronted. "What did I do?"

"Nothing!  That's the whole fxxking point!  Bloody nothing!  She hardly ever uses you, you never pull your weight properly; a few sheets and towels each week and that's it.  Jesus, if I had your workload I wouldn't have to crawl forward to the edge of this precipice (the tumble dryer and I both look at the 6 inch high shelf and forebear to comment) and throw myself off it."

There's silence in the cold, clammy basement.  Because the washing machine is right, of course; I don't use the tumble dryer, not really.  No need to when there's a drying rack and an airing cupboard.  But a washing machine? That's indispensable.  I tell it so.

"But - you're indispensable!"

"Ha!  Should have treated me better then, shouldn't you?  The odd clean-out of my detergent draw, the even rarer wipe-round of the seal, it's not enough.  So I'm off to the great recycling yard in the sky in the hope that whatever poor machine you get to replace me is shown a Little More Respect."  I clear my throat.  "No!  Don't speak to me!  I have nothing more to say.  I'm shutting down now, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.  Farewell, cruel world!"

And with that, it leaks it's final drop of soapy water and expires.

The tumble dryer and I look at each other.

I shrug.  "There's still some wet laundry in there.  A duvet cover and a sheet..."

The tumble dryer creaks ominously.  "I'm in mourning."

"You're WHAT?"

"I'm in mourning.   You might not understand but we were close, that LG and me."

I raise a sceptical eyebrow.  "Really..."

"Oh yes.  So feel free to put that wet un-spun laundry into me, but I just... I don't know how I'll handle it.  I might be forced to blow hot and cold.  And then hot again.  Too hot - if you know what I mean.  So if I were you, I would just trot along to that laundrette at the end of the street and spin the sheets properly, before you even think of opening my door.  If I were you..."

I cram the soaking laundry into a plastic bag and stand to leave.

"Oh - and whilst you're at it?"

I stop and wait.  What now?

"I'd really appreciate a clean out of my filter, and an empty condensing drawer.  When you have a moment..."

I give the tumble dryer a steely look.  "You're not trying to take advantage of this... unpleasantness, are you?"

"Gosh, no!  How could I do that?  I'm just a tumble dryer, after all.  Sitting here.  All alone.  On my lonesome.  Alone, alone, alone.... All alone on a 6 inch high shelf..."  It peers sadly over the edge of what the LG had referred to as the 'precipice'.

I sigh and empty the filter and condenser before taking the wet washing down the road to the laundrette.

Because I know when I'm beaten...

Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Elephant in the Room

I've agonised over writing this post.

When you return to your country of origin after a time living abroad, most people don't want to hear about any problems that you encounter; not the friends and family you've returned to (you've come home, after all!  How hard can that be?), or those that you've left behind you who are still living internationally (because they will be going home at some point, too, and no-one needs yet another worry to add to the list).  Part of me thinks that perhaps it's best to keep any issues to myself, but having discussed them with other friends who've recently moved their families from one country to another and found that we are not alone in our situation, I've decided that perhaps none of us are helping anyone by keeping silent about the elephant in the room.

Which, in this case, is assimilating expat kids into an environment where their new peers don't have similar experiences.  It's about the difficulties of bringing them home - and making them feel like it is Home.

Over the last months since we've returned to the UK I have frequently been reminded of Philip Larkin's famous poem 'This Be The Verse' (first line: 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad.'), and realised that in oh so many ways, it's true.

Because expat kids are different - and we did that to them, with our emphasis on making the most of our opportunities.  I wouldn't change a thing about our six years away, and I know that it was the right thing for our family at the time - but it comes at a price.  We returning parents might not like to dwell on that as we congratulate ourselves on finding the right house, in the right location, close to the right school, and put all the pieces of the jigsaw in place to try and facilitate a smooth re-entry, but it's true.

Children who have lived in a culture not their own have had a wealth of experiences that - for all their richness and diversity - set them apart from their new classmates who have attended the same school all their lives.  The passing references that our kids make to trips to this place or that, to this winter activity or that summer camp, to the parties in the sun with live tigers and bears as entertainment (no, really), or climbing walls in friends' back gardens, none of that resonates with the children that we - their parents - are hoping they will make friends with now they are Back Home.

Some kids pick up on this quickly and learn to keep their past history to themselves.  They drop the accent, get with the programme, only ever refer to their previous lives when they are with people who will 'understand'.  I hate to see it happen, but that's how it works - if you want to make friends.  They can share their stories later, once the foundations of these new relationships are established and the pressure's off.

Other children?  They find the whole thing more complicated.  Why should they not talk about that sailing trip on blue seas, or the overnight train journey across frozen wastes?  Why can they not share their tales of flying to the other side of the world to catch up with best friends, and the volcanoes and natural wonders they encountered there?  They can't understand it - these are fascinating stories, don't their new friends want to hear about them?

No.  Actually, they don't.  The child who doesn't toe the party line on accepting oft-parroted truisms about other countries, or who professes too much knowledge of business class seating (even if it's only gleaned from walking past it on their way to the back of the plane, as in our case), or the child who excitedly chips in that yes, they have been to that once-in-lifetime holiday destination - twice - and isn't it amazing, did you swim on the reef whilst you were there, and how about the horrible porridge that they served for breakfast... they are labelled as show-offs.  Different.  Weird.  They don't fit.

So as a parent, when you hear your child starting to regale their new friends with another of the 'Greatest Hits of My Expat Life' you find yourself desperately signalling to them with your eyebrows to keep that story for another time, or butting in and changing the subject, or serving dinner earlier than you planned, or - heaven forbid - switching on the X-box to provide a distraction.  You're trying to throw them a life-belt, even if they don't see that.

And then there are times you find yourself pulling your child out from underneath their bed in the morning because they don't want to go into school (at least at home, they reason, they won't have to think before they speak).  Or sitting outside the loo that your child has locked themselves in because they can't face whatever activity it is that you've lined up for them to help them meet new friends and which you just know they're going to enjoy, if they would only undo that bolt and come outside...

Not all returning expat kids go through this, of course.  And for those that do, I'm told that it gets better, with time. But whilst they're in the thick of it, it can be - well, difficult.  For them, and everyone else in the family.

Yes, these are problems grounded in what I know are First World issues.  And unfortunately, other than being there to provide support and a listening ear - and all the other coping strategies the literature on this recommends - I don't have an easy answer on how to handle it.  But when your child is hurting, sometimes it helps to know that other families have been through it too. Which is why, against my better instincts (of course we're fine!  Everything's going swimmingly!), I'm sharing this here.

We're not all fine.  But we're managing.  And we're getting there.

Friday 13 May 2016

Today's Task: Write a Blog Post in 10 minutes...

I'm putting together my writing cv.  It is, shall we say, a little 'thin'.  It's not that I don't have any experience in writing, you understand - over a thousand posts written on here alone are testament to that - it's just that I don't have so much experience in writing for publications that actually pay.

As I reached the end of this still-as-yet unfinished cv I realised that perhaps, if I'm going to refer to this blog, I probably should write something.  You know, like, a post.  It's been another month, after all...

So here I am.  With the ten minutes before I have to leave to collect the Boys from school the only time I'm likely to find in the near future.  What to tell you?

Well, Boys #1 and #2 are now ten and twelve years old.  How did that happen?  I was reminded of how far we've come today when I took them both to our local - excellent - hospital for their first allergy test in seven years.  It went smoothly, no problems (and yes, they are still allergic to nuts, dammit).  Now, the last time we did this was in London and it was something of a seminal experience for the three of us.  Boy #2 - three years old at the time, still chubby and toddling around - handled the whole experience with aplomb and dignity, whimpering a little as they scratched his arm, but generally behaving well.

His older brother?  Not so much.  There was a visit to the paediatric ward 'Quiet Room' involved, I remember, to allow him to calm down.  There were chocolate buttons (well - I can't remember the chocolate buttons, but since there were usually chocolate buttons or smarties involved in times of stress, I'm thinking I'm pretty safe in assuming they made an appearance here).  There would also have been wailing and gnashing of teeth, no doubt - obviously, since we were banished to the Quiet Room, I suppose.

But the thing is, I actually don't remember that many of the details.  I guess that may be due to having blanked it out as not having been our finest hour, who can say?  But whatever the reason, it's interesting to realise that however awful a parenting experience might be at the time (and I do remember that at least; it was awful), you actually are unlikely to remember the details in the future.

Which is a comfort, I suppose.  Especially as I look the teenage years squarely in the face.

And of course the other comfort is that whatever happens, and whatever the years ahead hold, there will, of course, still be this blog to refer to, to remind me that there were some difficult times before, and that we made it through those.  And there will still be smarties and chocolate buttons.  Or Green &; Blacks.  Whatever comes to hand, really...

There you go - a blog post in 10 (no, 12, actually) minutes.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Well, would you look at that?

It's been a month since I last posted.  A month. How did that happen?  Actually, scratch that question; I suspect that all I need to say is 'Easter Holidays' and anyone who has, has had, or ever plans to have, children attending school will probably understand.

The little darlings are back in class today though, so life has resumed it's normal rhythm.  Which is to say, I have been kicked out of the office because Husband is 'working from home' this morning and so I've been banished to the dining room table.  Not, in itself, that much of a hardship since it's closer to the tea and biscuits.  And the chocolate.  And the left-over Dutch Easter bread.  And - oh, jesus, I have to stop this right now.

*casts desperately about for a change of subject*

You might have noticed that productivity has fallen off a cliff as far as this blog is concerned.  That's because I have been 'finishing' The Great Work, aka My Novel.

*pause whilst tumbleweed rolls through the streets of 'Oh, Who Cares?'*

(Apologies for the gratuitous use of caps in the last couple of lines; they are of course totally unmerited, but, you know, it's My Blog.  So...)

An explanation now for the use of apostrophes around the word 'finishing'.  (A few of lines above  this - come on, keep up...).   Anyone who has ever spent *mumbles incomprehensively* years attempting to write a novel will probably know how difficult it is to actually finish it.  Especially a first novel.  An un-comissioned, un-represented, probably un-wanted first novel...

But, you know, that's just detail.  The difficulty that I'm trying to communicate here is in the finishing.  Because every time you think you've completed your ms (short for 'manuscript' - get me with the writer talk), you spot another typo.  Or a novice mistake.  God, the novice mistakes...  For example, if you're writing an observational passage in which a man has an unspoken thought, is it necessary to write '... he thought to himself.'?  No.  Of course it isn't.  Because that would be foolish.  I mean, who else would he be thinking it to?

It is, therefore, worth bearing this in mind whilst editing your ms (cough) down to the requisite sub-100,000 words.  If you don't you will just have to go back through the damn thing again to take the offending phrase out, each and every time you've used it.   And during this exercise you will of course find a million other phrases that sound trite, unconvincing or just down-right unnecessary and which will also need to be removed from the narrative for the sake of your sanity and more importantly, to avoid sounding like a 12 year old.

So, when I thought I had finished the ms (feel free to substitute 'damn thing' for ms if that seems appropriate - it did to me), it turned out that actually, I hadn't; there was still a fair bit of weeding to go.  And whilst I was at it, it seemed like a good time to drop in the additional narrative from another character's point of view that not one but two people Whose Opinions I Should Have Taken More Seriously At The Time suggested almost a year ago.  Which of course required a fairly hefty rewrite of about about 30% of the book if I was going to keep it under the 100,000 word limit.


It's done now.  And just to make sure of that I've taken a couple of precautionary measures.

1.  I've started on the next one.  Well, when I say 'started' (again with the apostrophes), I mean I've drawn a few spidergrammes and written the first chapter - the one that I will no doubt edit out in time but which seems essential to the plot right now.

2.  I've submitted the first Great Work to a couple of competitions and a couple of agents.  Will anything come of that?  Who knows.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and at least the ruddy thing is finished.  (Well - until I open it back up and decide to start tinkering again...).

Thursday 10 March 2016

Things I have recently learned...

... since moving back to the UK.

1.  How to bleed a radiator.

This is no small thing when you're living in an older house with an antique heating system, I can assure you.  Waiting for your managing company (we're renting) to send over a handyman to do the job for you gets old pretty quickly - especially when you realise you can buy the tool to do it yourself (a brass radiator key, approx. £2.50 from your local hardware store) just down the road.  OK, so there might have been a slight issue with dirty water squirting out from one of radiators, but what the landlady doesn't see (evidence of) won't hurt her.

And at least now your children - acclimatised to tropical indoor temperatures after 6 years in properly insulated and heated houses in Russia - won't have to sleep under two sets of duvets.

I am Woman with Brass Radiator Key - hear me roar...

2.  How to change a light bulb

Bear with me here.  I DO know how to do this, obviously.  But after 6 years as a cosseted expat in Russia, where - according to our tenancy contract - I wasn't supposed to (I had to call The Management to send over a workman to do it), I must admit to being surprised by the frequency with which it's necessary.  Again, old houses and their suspect wiring, I suppose.

I mean, I DID change light bulbs in Russia, of course I did.  Especially since the alternative in Moscow was waiting at home for a frequently chain-smoking workman to arrive whenever he deemed it appropriate (after finishing his lunch / afternoon tea / morning coffee / not at all), watch him as he took his boots off at the front door, put on his battered tapichki (slippers to you and I), listen to him mutter to himself as he wheezed his way through the house with his plastic bag full of an assortment of different lightbulbs for different light fittings, and endure his rattling smokers cough throughout.

OK, that was just the first guy who used to come, replaced after a couple of years by Ivan Version 2.0 - less wheezy and much more jocular - but the memory of Ivan Version 1.0 lingers, much like the scent of stale cigarettes and B-O that he so generously left behind.

So, on reflection, then and now, much better to do it myself.

3.  How to deal with Husband's misguided assumption that the garden in our new house is my responsibility.

Actually, this one was quite simple.  We recently visited Amsterdam, and passed the flower market.

Husband:  "Shall we buy some bulbs to plant out the back?"

Me:  "I didn't know you like gardening!"

Job done.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Re-acclimatisation milestones for Expats

I think that this 'saying goodbye to our life in Russia' thing is getting a little bit out of hand.

When we left, I knew that we would miss friends, homes, and the weather.  Yes, the Russian weather.  What?  Never has a British winter seemed more gloomy, damp and grey than when compared to a bright, frosty, minus 15degreeC snow-bound Moscow January.  And don't get me started on missing the relentless social calendar of an expat living in Moscow.

I knew too that we would feel the difference on significant dates.  Boy #2, for example, recently had his first non-Russia based birthday celebration in 6 years.  He noticed that.  Quietly, and without any fuss, but he noticed all the same.  When the yearly photo album contains of images of parties with snow-man building competitions in the back garden and snow fort fights outside friends' houses, +8 in the UK and -8 in Moscow are not at all the same.

But what I didn't know was that I would notice the running down of our Russian supplies, or that this - insignificant as it is -  would give me pause.  It's not that we can't buy photo copy paper here, or baking parchment, or Ikea gift wrap, or any of those things that Husband still hasn't quite forgiven me for including in our shipment back to the UK.

I never meant to include them, by the way, but to simply toss them into the bin seemed too wasteful.  And then I never found time to pass them on - and frankly, fellow ex-expats, how tired did you get of giving a home to other people's unused kitchen supplies when they left the country and in their turn, couldn't bring themselves to throw it away?  I just couldn't bring myself to do the same thing.  Apart from the spices, obviously.  And the vanilla essence.  And the cocoa powder.  All that good stuff was 'gifted' to friends, I have to admit.  (But it was in-date, your honour.  Honest!)

So now I stand in the kitchen, in our new home BackHome, realising that we are about to run out of clingfilm, and that the next time I buy some it won't be the crappy budget version in the grimy and cavernous Auchan hypermarket out at Stroghino, or in the neat, tidy, beautifully presented but hideously overpriced Stockmann's at Metropolis, or even at the mid-range handily local Aliyya Parussa in Shuka, but at Sainsburys down the road.

And that still takes a bit of getting used to.