Bath time: I’ll just sit here and smoke

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IMG_4320 At bath time and in the morning, when they are getting dressed, there is sometimes shouting. I usually have to ask them to do something a minimum of four times, with increasing volume, before it might happen.

This evening I snapped, as after countless attempts to extract them from the bath they were still absorbed in their own world of flooding my ground floor and comparing wounds (microscopic cuts). Once out, BUB.1 and BUB.2 then proceeded to shake themselves like two hairy dogs, sending water flying everywhere. I shouted. It was a longer than normal shout, because halfway through my reprimand I warmed to my subject and continued longer than necessary. It felt good. I needed it.

They both know that when I shout a)I mean it and b) I still love them dearly because 90% of the time I start laughing halfway through or they do. But when I’d finished, there was silence. Punctuated only, after a few seconds, by BUB.2 sitting himself naked on the landing, and saying: “Well I’m just going to sit here and smoke” as he lit an imaginary cigarette and started puffing nonchalantly on it.

He’s just turned five. We don’t smoke. No one he knows smokes. I don’t know where he has seen anyone smoking. It must be something he got from school, perhaps?

But it sums up parenthood to me.

1) One of them will always stop you dead in your tracks and make you laugh (when you should probably cry) and 2) Once they unfurl themselves from fluffy toddlerhood and become a fully fledged child, you no longer control them and you no longer control their sense of humour.

And in the middle of a raucous, stressful bath time, that is the BEST feeling in the world. These, not the triumphs at Sports Day or the glowing school report, are the parenting moments that speak the loudest to me.

Diary of an imperfect mum
Cuddle Fairy
Petite Pudding

Blue whale birthday cake

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Last year I made BUB.2 a birthday cake that perfectly symbolised his temperament at four years old. This year, on his fifth birthday, my blue whale-loving boy deserved a birthday cake to symbolise how far he has come since being a volcanic four-year-old.

I had spotted a few whale cakes on the internet and quickly shut it down. They were either completely terrible or completely incredible. Let me get this straight, I have never used sugarpaste (or fondant as some people like to call it) icing before. I am not a birthday cake-maker. I’m winging it. Some birthdays I don’t bother. Usually by August, BUB.3’s birthday, I’ve completely run out of steam and I ask him which supermarket cake he would most like.

But it was June, so off I went to Hobbycraft, feeling like a (excuse the pun) fish out of water and acquired dark blue icing for the sea and pale blue for my whale.

Blue whale birthday cake

It took me a few goes at rolling out the sugarpaste icing and getting it on top of the cake (I have no kitchen at the moment so my Mum had kindly made a Mary Berry chocolate cake with buttercream icing). Eventually, probably on the eighth attempt and with BUB.3 hanging off the back of my leg, I did it.

If I had my time again I’d be more careful to create a rippling wave effect around the edge but I was just happy to get the cake covered. I could have cut around the edge and made a prettier, neater cake but decided to go rough and ready.

Fortunately, I had some sea shells to nestle in the creases. I had ordered these pretty ones from eBay.

Fondant icing sea shell

I was going to use edible glitter on the sea but decided to go for a shimmery spray instead. I managed to spray my camera, BUB.3’s face and most of the room, so be careful and, unlike me, follow the instructions.

Dr. Oetker cake shimmer spray

Next I made this little fella, following the guide I found here on Pinterest. He’s not perfect, in fact he could use a little bit of botox and most certainly a tail lift, but I liked him anyway.

Fondant icing blue whale

I created the breaking waves around the whale using these sparkling sugar crystals, also from Hobbycraft. I had thought about piping some icing to create waves, but as is often wise in issues of skill and patience when you have a two-year-old whimpering at your feet, I took the easy way out.

Sprinkles sugar crystals cake decoration

I added some silver sugar balls I had lying around to create some little bubbles. It was a whim, I was freewheeling by now.

Blue whale birthday cake

A sparkler in the shape of a 5, to denote some minor eruptions of temper still, plus five regular ones, and we were off.

So last year there was this…

Volcano birthday cake

…and this year we had this.

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My boy has come a long way.

 

Pink Pear Bear
My Random Musings
My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
3 Little Buttons
Petite Pudding

The Dukes of Berry – Kangaroo Valley to Jervis Bay

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IMG_3425A sausage competition. A meat shop. Sun beating down on a beautiful landscape in the background. Two dudes in a Dukes of Hazzard car. Australia, right there in one picture.

This photo, taken in Berry in Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, pretty much sums up Australia for me. Whenever we drove from Sydney to Jervis Bay we’d take the Kangaroo Valley route and visit Berry, a beautiful nugget of NSW.

IMG_2920The valley is two hours from Sydney or Canberra, and is all rolling green pastures, glittering creeks, fascinating wildlife and little towns like Berry where you can stop for an ice cream.

IMG_35003We didn’t see many kangaroos.*

IMG_34943But like most places in Australia, kangaroos or no kangaroos, once you’re there you can be in no doubt where you are in the world. You’re a long, long way from most other places but at that moment there is nowhere else in the world you’d rather be.

IMG_34372Australia is full of drama. Just as one minute you can be paddling in the shallows and the next minute swept out to sea by a rip, you can also be happily driving along, sunglasses on, only to glance back to see this behind you.

P1030628And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, once you arrive at your destination, for us beautiful Jervis Bay, you might get treated to something like this.

WHALE_BREECH_2_LR*There is a kangaroo’s bum photobombing one of these photos if you look closely.

Smelly old bag

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I was travelling home from work drinks in a London cab about nine years ago when an old lady opened the front passenger door and hopped in. I didn’t mind, I was going her way and when she arrived at her house and rustled around in her bag for some change, the driver and I both protested: “No, no, no, please, we’ve got this” and watched her teeter up to her front door and slowly disappear.

As he pulled away, the cabbie glanced back at me.

“Are you single?”

I hesitated, but answered yes, coaxed by his pleasant manner and the fact he was wearing a wedding ring.

“It’s hard finding someone isn’t it?” he asked, smiling at me in the rear view mirror. “You have to use your brain. When I hit 30 I took a year off work to find a wife to make sure I did the job properly.”

His romantic sabbatical had succeeded and he was now living happily with his wife and two children.

There was a couple of minutes of shared comfortable silence – my relief that I hadn’t been raped, his marital content – before he suddenly sprang to life again. “Did you smell her bag?” he asked me, pointing his finger at the seat where the old lady had sat five minutes before. I hadn’t got a waft but I sensed from his wrinkled nose that it hadn’t smelt of lavender and cold cream.

“When she opened it up, it just smelt awful.”

He paused, then said: “Isn’t it sad that she hasn’t got anyone to tell her that her bag smells?”

I nodded, gravely.

“And that’s the thing: you don’t want to leave it too late, because you need someone to tell you that your bag smells bad, don’t you?”

I couldn’t argue with that. I joined Match.com the very next day.

 

The word as arrow

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Whenever I am asked why I became a journalist, I pretty much trace it back to one afternoon at school. An ordinary English lesson in an ordinary school in an ordinary part of England with an extraordinary teacher.

Mrs Packwood, one of our ‘A’ Level teachers, had printed off an acceptance speech made by Václav Havel when he received the Friedenpreis des Deutschen Buchandels, the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers Association, on October 15, 1989. I have never forgotten the excitement I felt as she read that speech to us and my sudden appreciation of the power and significance of words to human society.

“Words that electrify society with their freedom and truthfulness are matched by words that mesmerize, deceive, inflame, madden, beguile, words that are harmful—lethal, even. The word as arrow.”

In the whirl of death threats against Salmon Rushdie at the time, the content of this incredible speech electrified me. “We live in a world in which it is possible for a citizen of Great Britain to find himself the target of a lethal arrow aimed—publicly and unashamedly—by a powerful individual in another country merely because he had written a particular book.”

The thrill I got as she read the phrase “The word as arrow,” has never left me. This speech popped into my head again this week as I prepared my letter to my children’s school, explaining why I was taking part in the May 3rd kids strike against SATs.

I thought about how much I loved school and how inspired I was by my teacher. And how teachers in primary schools are being robbed of precious time to illicit this sort of response in their pupils. With endless learning of grammar rules, complex arithmetic and comprehension, in order to pass the Year 2 SATS, what is being lost?

I couldn’t shake Vaclav’s sentiment that words can build human society and destroy human society and that they can illicit great joy and great suffering. They are us.

“Words can be said to be the very source of our being, and in fact the very substance of the cosmic life-form we call Man. Spirit, the human soul, our self-awareness, our ability to generalize and think in concepts, to perceive the world as the world (and not just as our locality), and lastly, our capacity for knowing that we will die—and living in spite of that knowledge: surely all these are mediated or actually created by words?”

And our Government has reduced the learning of the magic of these words to complex grammatical labels that mean nothing to a young child.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan today got it so, so wrong in her address to the National Association of Head Teachers’ conference in Birmingham.

“What are the limits placed on a child’s imagination when they cannot write down their ideas for others to read?” she asked.

WHAT?

Michael Rosen, a fierce critic of the current way of teaching and testing, hit back on his Facebook page by saying:

“Nicky Morgan is posing the idea that when this comes to one specific matter – ‘writing’ – first you have to learn how to write, then you can be creative. This supposes that we can’t learn how to write by being creative! What an absurd and illogical idea. Anyone who has worked with young children has observed hundreds, if not thousands of occasions, when children have been inventive and creative and pushed at the frontiers of what they can (and can’t do) with a pencil in their hand making words and sequences of words.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t think a six-year-old needs to look at a sentence and identify the expanded noun phrase, just to use an example from my child’s homework last week. It just seems to frustrate and bore him.

Is that going to help him write? Will it improve his ability to put ideas down on paper? Won’t he naturally write a collective noun phrase at some point anyway? Won’t this endless learning and testing of grammatical rules just deaden any excitement about words? Will the magic of reading and writing be thwarted by attempts to understand and label the grammatical cogs behind it before creativity has even had a chance to bud, let alone blossom?

I hope not, but I’m fighting just in case.

 

 

 

 

Let Our Kids Be Kids

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My two school-age BUBs enjoy school. They skip there and they skip back. They go to a great school where they get taken on fantastic school trips, have regular dance and sport sessions, visits from exotic animals, musicians, people with disabilities talking about the clever ways they adapt. There was a temporary planetarium in their school hall a few terms ago. They are the luckiest children in the world in terms of being safe and cared for by their wonderful teachers in a great environment.

I’m taking my children out of this fantastic school on Tuesday 3rd May as part of the Let Our Kids be Kids campaign, in protest against the externally imposed Key Stage 1 SATs and the government’s decision to turn all schools into academies.

I can’t sit back and watch as their enthusiasm and curiosity is stifled by a curriculum that puts emphasis on advanced (for a six or seven year old? In parts, for me, a degree-educated journalist) arithmetic, grammar and comprehension. Every week the homework is tedious preparation for these tests and saps the life force out of my August-born six-year-old who is expected to sit a week of tests in May. Since he started Year 2, he has expressed increasing frustration with the work load, the focus on eyes-down, learning by numbers.

None of this is the teachers’ fault. The teachers are wonderful.

At the start of Year 2 I used to pass my six-year-old’s classroom window on the way back from dropping my four-year-old into his classroom. Immediately, as soon as their coats were hung up, they were sitting down on the carpet with their pens, trying to complete the sums displayed on the board at the front. Hunched over, doing mental arithmetic, when moments before we’d been jumping over pine cones and talking about what’s for lunch. I realise the morning is the best time to get these little minds working, but before everyone has even had a chance to sit down? No song, no welcome, no chance to say hello to everybody first? The teachers must feel there is no time, that there is so much to get through.

BUB.1 is struggling to keep up, probably because he is the youngest but maybe also because he’s quite easily distracted, but in the most part he shrugs it off. He’s fascinated by birds, engines, dinosaurs, skeletons, the Ice Age and he’s kind. His school report tells of a lack of concentration. BUB.2 already worries when he can’t get thing right or doesn’t know the answer. He is fascinated by animals, football, and he’s hilariously funny. His school report tells of a lack of confidence.

I’m doing this for both of them. I’m doing it because this open letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is exactly how I feel.

I have no idea what BUB.3 will be like yet. But I know that I don’t want her to be squeezed through a learning sausage factory and to be told in her school report that at four years old she is anything other than herself.

Since following the campaign and talking to people about it, I have heard about children crying before school, feigning stomach ache, undressing themselves before they leave the house, because they don’t want to go. This is disastrous for them and for their families.

I don’t put any pressure on my child about SATs testing.  The school has emailed us example test papers for all the subjects. I’ve printed them off, looked at them and filed them under “Let’s not worry about that”. I, along with most of the parents I speak to, ignore the emails that show us what a child’s handwriting is supposed to look like at this age. My son’s looks like he sneezed out a decomposing spider. He tries hard.

The data is for the Government. It has no bearing on my son.  The other day I broached the subject of the May tests with BUB.1 and he started talking animatedly about the Easter bunny. Relief flooded me.

I don’t care about these tests. I just want them to stop so the teachers can focus on being teachers with the freedom to teach in an inspirational and child-friendly way and the kids can be kids and continue to love learning about things that matter at seven and eleven years old.

If you feel the same, there are things you can do to help the campaign:

Sign the official petition https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/122183
Like the Facebook page: Let our Kids be Kids

And, if you can, join us in taking our children out of school on 3rd May to show our support for teachers and our rejection of externally imposed SAT exams. If you can’t, please share the campaign and show your support.

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Who’s going to drive you home…?

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IMG_1306.jpgSo many times I have heard it. “Oh you have two boys then a girl? That’s the perfect combination, two older boys to take care of their little sister.” It’s often followed by “Her boyfriends better watch out,” or “It will be so handy having those older brothers when she’s 18!”

It’s never sat well with me. I DO love the fact I have two boys then a girl but only because I get to experience the closeness and craziness of same-sex siblings and I get a girl too. But not so I can dress her up as a princess or so she has two older boys to look after her. No, just because she’s a girl like me, I like girls, girls are cool, like boys are, and it’s kind of cool to create one. No other reason.

I just can’t shake the fact that before she’s even aware she’s a girl, before she can even speak for herself, her role is being positioned as a) in need of protection and care from boys b) the future object of predatory men.

It’s International Women’s Day today which made me want to write this. But I think this is unfair on both little girls and little boys. Boys hear this and think a) it’s their role to look after helpless women and b) they are going to and are indeed expected to turn into predatory men. And that somehow that girl they are playing dinosaurs with is the prey?

It might be a throwaway comment. It might be that they do look out for her (and her them!) when she’s bigger and it might be that one day she needs their help. But that’s far more likely if we keep portraying men as a threat to women and women as in need of protection. How does my partner feel when he hears this? Our children are being told that men are a danger to women. That women are in some way in need of male protection – from men. And this is happening before they can talk or properly understand the world around them. And we wonder why we’re in a mess?

Society takes its shape from a whole bundle of things, but how we treat and speak to our children has to be the place we start to make it right.

My Random Musings

Parenting in a nutshell

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2014-10-16 15.37.25There aren’t many pieces of parenting advice from my antenatal classes that have stuck with me, but there is one thing that our tutor said that has come back to me time and time again over the last seven years.

She told us that around eight weeks after the birth of your first child you will suddenly be hit with the crashing realisation that THIS IS NOT GOING TO STOP.

You’ll get up every morning and you’ll do the same things you did yesterday. These tasks will change over time, but there will always be tasks. She told us that it would suddenly hit us that this child is here to stay.

“And that is both a wonderful and a difficult thing,” she said, knowingly.

She nailed it. I remember holding that growing little boy as he started to smile and gurgle and thinking incredulously: “You’re mine. And tomorrow when I wake up you’ll still be mine.”

I don’t think a day has gone by since then when I haven’t heard myself thinking: “I can’t believe I am doing this again.” Tasks feel the same, they look the same, they are the same. It is the ultimate Groundhog day.

Between the hours of 7am and 9pm every day I’ll do everything to keep these children alive and the house still standing. This involves a series of mundane tasks that have to be done but from which little joy is gleaned. In amongst this are an endless list of random requests and relentless questions that I must deliver a response to, whether physically or verbally. There are sudden tears, howls of laughter and many, many catastrophic food spillages. Every day someone will lose a shoe. Or a cup. Or their mind. It’s like gravity. You can rely on it.

And whatever has happened, however tired, drained, hoarse, tearful, frustrated or numb I might feel, whether someone has done a shit on the rug, thrown juice on the sofa, lost their welly, killed my spirit, told me I look like a man with long hair, stabbed me in the eye with a toy sword, asked me why I’m not as kind as their teacher, made me crawl from room to room looking for a lost bottle of milk under every surface, felt-tipped all over my new diary, even if I have spent the day longing to be able to do even one single thing for myself, even when I can’t believe I will have to do it ALL again the very next day when I don’t think I have an ounce of me left to give, when I lean in to kiss their little sleeping cheeks, I still get that surge of disbelief. That strange and ridiculous juxtaposition that parenthood slams us into and from which we can never escape.

“I can’t believe I get to keep you.”

 

3 Little Buttons

Starry, starry night

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imageI had a long distance relationship with a man in New York. We’d been together for a year when he moved there from London and every time I went to see him for the weekend on a Friday night, flying straight from work and landing late evening, he had never bought milk for my tea. Like a crack addict, I needed my tea so badly that I started bringing those little pots of milk from the plane with me. Every time his fridge was bare I would dig out my warm, acrid milk pot from my bag and peel back its tiny lid.

On this one particular trip I wanted to see The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  Since the first time I saw it, those eternal, golden, swirling, unanswered, questioning spirals captivated me. I hung it on my teenage bedroom wall alongside fellow masterpieces Michael J Fox and Ralph Macchio.

“Shall we go and see it?”

“No, I’ve already been to the MoMA, let’s just chill out today.”

“I haven’t been. I have to see it. I want to. It’s just up the road and I love it so much.”

“You sound about three!”

“I painted it in pastels at school. I got an A!”

“So why do you need to see it, you know better than most what it looks like.”

“I know what it looks like it. That’s why I want to see it.”

“Ok, so see it.”

“I’ll go tomorrow.”

“Ok”.

I went to see The Starry Night alone and I guess that’s the best way to see something that you love. Your emotions can run wild without fear of the person next to you ruining everything by saying “It’s very gaudy” or “Did you see a toilet on your way in?” It was a highlight of all of my trips to New York, because while I wanted to climb tall buildings, he didn’t. I had to force him up the World Trade Centre and, after practically begging him to go up, it’s lucky that we did because four weeks later it was decimated.

When I arrived at London Heathrow late on that cold Sunday night I headed straight for the small supermarket to pick up milk for a cup of tea at home. As my eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the shop, I grabbed a basket and heard the opening bars to Don Mclean’s Vincent over the shop’s audio system. It’s the song with the opening line “Starry, starry night” and is written about the painter and painting I had visited that weekend. It was the closest thing to a cosmic hug I had ever had. He should have at least bought you milk, the universe seemed to say. At least.

I have shared this silly ‘cosmic hug’ story for years, particularly when I’m raging bitterly about long distance relationships and wasted years. This song, not one that you hear very often, revisited me during a trip to London earlier this year. Now a mother of three beautiful children with a man who would visit every art gallery if we had the time, which now of course we don’t, I had a rare night away in a London hotel for a work reunion. It had been my first job in journalism and in London, and was the very essence of me before children, before New York, before anything.

After checking in and billowing about unencumbered for a couple of hours in the room, I switched on my favourite radio show, one that I listen to every Saturday afternoon to feel like “me” again in amongst the chaos of family life. As I put my shoes on, a cover version of a song I recognised came on. Vincent. I immediately thought of my moment in the airport supermarket all those years ago.

Just before I left my room a text message beeped my phone. It was from Sue, my old boss. “Dermot O’Leary is sitting in the pub where we are. Hurry!” The DJ who had played Vincent had just finished his show and was having a drink in the pub where I was headed. The universe suddenly felt very small. I missed Dermot, despite undignified running all the way to the pub, but that’s life.

Two weeks later, my wonderful Auntie passed away. Standing in my kitchen, exactly a week after I knew she had passed away, I decided to switch on the radio to try to ease my broken heart. And I swear, in the instant I pressed the ‘on’ button and at once heard the first bar of the song, I knew I was going to be OK.

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night

You took your life, as lovers often do
But I could’ve told you Vincent
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frame-less heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget

Like the strangers that you’ve met
The ragged men in ragged clothes
The silver thorn of bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

KERBOOM birthday cake

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imageIn the future, if I ever struggle to remember what it was like to have a three-year-old child, I will just look at a photo of the birthday cake I made BUB.2 for his fourth birthday.

He had seen similar cakes on the internet when I was searching for dinosaur cakes and said he wanted one just like it. So a volcano it was. I’m not a cake-maker and time is of the vanilla essence, so I roped my Mum into making the chocolate sponges. I chose this chocolate madeira cake recipe, because madeira is a firmer sponge, less likely to crumble when being formed into a volcano.

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For the crater I decided it would be best to bake the sponge in a Pyrex measuring jug, to give the right sort of shape. I had seen volcano cakes that had been created using a dome-shaped cake tin, but I’m afraid that results in more of a Christmas pudding effect than a volcano.

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Next, I covered the entire cake in chocolate buttercream icing, using rough strokes to achieve the look of a craggy, lava-eroded mountain. Nothing Christmas-puddingy about this monster.

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And then I went a *little* crazy over the decoration.

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Strawberry laces, jelly beans and coloured fondant icing for the lava, mini Toblerones, fudge and chocolate chunks for the tumbling rocks and popping candy and sparklers for the KERBOOM.

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We decided to use mini toy dinosaurs on a grassy edge rather than attempting to fashion them out of fondant icing. I have my limits. BUB.1 came up with the idea of using Cadbury mini eggs for dinosaur eggs. I liked it.

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One minute happy, playing dinosaurs and the next moment, often without warning, KERBOOM, an almighty explosion.

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And that, in a nutshell, is being three.

Pink Pear Bear
Pink Pear Bear

That London

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Without fail, when you mention London, someone will say: “Oh that London. So dirty, so busy, so noisy, it’s too big, everyone is in such a hurry, no one smiles, there are too many people and everyone is fighting each other when they’re not blowing each other up, then there’s the everyday crime, what about the crime, you just don’t feel safe, do you? You need to be rich to enjoy London. London, no it’s fine for a day, to see something, I don’t know, a play or an exhibition, but London, no you can keep it. I could never live there. Who could?”

I don’t recognise that London.  All I know is the London of this weekend, a weekend when I spent two days seeing old friends, sleeping in a hotel and meandering around with a backpack exchanging smiles with equally enamoured people. The London I worked and lived in for years and which still makes me giggly.

I walked from Paddington to Holborn, over two miles along Oxford Street, possibly the busiest part of London on a Saturday afternoon, but I wasn’t jostled or scowled at by anyone. I hopped along merrily.

I went to the British Library, where I saw children and adults from every race and religion, all pouring over Shakespeare’s sonnets, Jewish, Muslim and Christian texts, Jane Austen’s Persuasion and the musical notes of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. I visited the Magna Carta; Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition, where I viewed the 800 year old charter for freedom and human liberty, which has resonated and been reworked into modern human rights acts and bills ever since. I overheard an American man say to his wife how moved he was. I heard a small Indian girl explain to her brother what a “manuscript” is. I saw three people of three different races standing side by side reading the same historical Islamic text.

I saw people in cranes and people in high visibility jackets sweating in the stifling heat. I saw smiling bar staff and waiters and hotel staff. I saw apartments being built, restaurants being refurbished and new cafes opening. I saw rich people and poor people, people who are clearly busy being the best at whatever they do, working hard to live in this city and people to whom life has been unfair and cruel.

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I saw a mother of a tiny baby speak cautiously but kindly to a homeless man who had been staring in awe at them both. I helped an old man buy his ticket from a machine. I saw a woman having to choose between offers of help up the escalator with her buggy and two children. I saw a woman rustling around in her bag for change so a stranger could use the Ladies toilet in Paddington station. I saw Dads with children on their shoulders, grandparents with excited children in museums, I saw every colour and every race and heard every language and no one seemed to want to hurt anyone else.

I walked through Tavistock Square, one of the scenes of the 7/7 bombings ten years ago today. I thought about that morning. But all around people were laughing and talking and heading to see and do exciting things with this glorious sunny day. Around the corner, people played tennis. Most people don’t want to blow you up or shoot you or frighten you. Most people will stop to tell you that you’ve dropped your train ticket on the ground. Most people will smile if you accidentally run into them. Most people will help you if you clearly need it, without even being asked. Normal people, at ground level, are mostly decent, gentle and kind. It’s dangerous to forget that.

Yes, there are a lot of people in London. But at least half, if not more, of my enjoyment was watching other people enjoy London, seeing their reactions and interactions.  I don’t want a quiet, sedate London all to myself where I don’t have to wait patiently in polite queues or side step smiling tourists or peer over somebody’s shoulder to read a museum notice.

You can keep that London.

 

 

 

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

My Random Musings

We’re all picking up the same sh*t

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imageWhy do we keep talking about non-working mothers? They are like unicorns, they do not exist. If there was such a thing as a non-working mother, “working” mothers wouldn’t have to pay someone to do their (non) job in order for them to go to work. They’d just leave the kids on the shelf at home.

This (non) job in question has an economic value which you can find out by typing the word “childcare” into Google, followed by your local area. This job only has an economic value if the person doing the job is a relative stranger to the child. That’s not to say it’s a highly-regarded career choice, when of course it should be. But the point is, it’s the SAME job, no matter who is doing it. The only difference is, one person gets a detailed job description, a salary and holidays. The other doesn’t.

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Parents who stay at home aren’t a blubbery, economically useless void. A parent at home undertakes a series of daily tasks THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DO. That parent can either go to work and get paid to do something else while they pay someone to look after their child or they can look after their child themselves. Often this depends on their individual financial and personal needs and desires, as it should. We are all different.

One of the daily tasks in childcare happens to be love. The rest, the stuff that takes up 99% of their waking time, are routine, sometimes laborious, often sticky tasks that keep a child alive and healthy. Yes, I check Facebook. Occasionally I get half an hour to write or pay my bills online or eat my lunch sitting down. Every now and then I meet some friends for lunch, which we spend cajoling, feeding, cleaning and running after our children that we can’t just leave at home to do their own beans on toast.

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Every minute of the day is spent working, whether it’s with a smile on my face or sitting rocking in a corner. This day starts at 6.30am (on a good day) and ends around 9pm (on a good day) giving me approximately an hour to myself before I need to go to bed.

Small children don’t cook their own meals, fetch their own things, go to the toilet alone, shop for food and clothes, amuse themselves, clean themselves, wash themselves, fetch their own toys, put their toys away, clean spaghetti from the walls, take themselves out and about, socialise with other humans, take themselves to bed or learn to do ANY of those things by themselves. They don’t get it instantly. They learn with the intensive help of one or more able adults over the course of a few years. Not just by watching, but by having it done for them, day in day out, and then by being shown how to do it themselves. This is a full time job, for a parent or for a childcare professional. It is truly exhausting. But all that really matters is that it’s done with care and love and that can happen at home or in a childcare setting.

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What lucky, lucky children they are in our part of the world, having food, water, warmth, toys and love. So why do I keep reading articles bickering over who is doing it? We’re all picking up the same sh*t here. Someone is doing it and, by and large, we get a generation of functioning human beings at the end of it. That’s all that matters.

Why is it only considered a job if these tasks are performed by a stranger rather than a parent, or more specifically, a mother? You don’t hear many stay-at-home-Dads referred to as non-working fathers. They are demi-gods who have sacrificed much and are rushed off their feet.

Which is what I consider every non-working AND working mother I know to be.

Mud pies and rose-petal perfume

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trampScary Mommy got it right. In her post ’10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Kind of Summer’ she called it. Every. Single. Thing. Apart from number 4 and 5, because my children are too young. But apart from that. Rock on.

I’ve written about this before in Lazy Pig. The idea that an endless search for stimulating activities and mind-developing, memory-making, instagram-worthy endeavours, might in fact be robbing our children of the one thing they need the most. The need to weave, out of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, something magic.

For weeks now, everywhere we go, we are subjected to a soundtrack of BUB.1’s whine “I want to go home.” We could take him to the beach, Legoland, the moon, he’d want to go home. And that’s flattering and it’s fine. So this half term, we have spent half the week playing with his cousins near Manchester and the second half flopping around the house. Literally, ricocheting from one meal to the next, from fighting to laughing, TV on, back door open, toys strewn, socks OFF.

All I have heard is squeals of laughter. No one has moaned, complained or wished they were somewhere else. Today, Sunday, the last day of the break, they didn’t even change out of their pyjamas. BUB.2 wandered around with a very 1970s blackcurrant squash moustache for much of the day. We caught up with homework, we managed to get the stuff in the loft that has been clogging up a bedroom for weeks, WW bought a drill, we pottered. We caught our breaths.

There have been highs (butterflies emerging from their cocoons – thank you Insect Lore), and there have been lows (many many many many many spilled drinks).

For much of the week, we are all apart. One at school, one at preschool, one at work. Sometimes I don’t want to spend this precious time together packing bags, driving, finding toilets, looking for change for parking, saying over and over again “Come on, we can go home soon, just try to enjoy yourself. OK, WHO WANTS AN ICE CREAM?”

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One of my happiest childhood memories is lying in the garden with my Dad, side by side on our sun loungers, chatting about the universe.  And making rose-petal perfume with my friend Sarah. Bouncing a ball against a wall. Riding my bike around and around the same bit of path. I don’t remember feeling like I was missing anything.

Whenever I try to spoon feed my children “fun” activities, they tend to look at me like I’m insane. But watch for 30 seconds while they play with some friends their own age (or not even their own age, or not even humans, sometimes just a bug on the path) and you see them get lost in their own world. It is THE world. This is a world you cannot create for them, or buy tickets for, but one into which you must just gently shove them.

Earlier today we were talking about going back to school tomorrow and BUB.2, my preschooler, said “I don’t want to, I like staying home best,” to which I replied “But you’ll have fun with your friends and anyway I’ll pick you up at 3 o’clock!” His heartbreaking response was: “Can you pick me up at zero o’clock instead Mummy?”

So over the summer, when I see all the posts about fun activities and ideas to keep the kids amused, I’ll just sling them my old rusty muffin tin and tell them to make mud pies while I watch from the open back door, clutching a cider ice lolly.

 

 

 

Cuddle Fairy
Mummascribbles

Mummy knows breast

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imageI keep reading posts advising soon-to-be or new Mums to largely ignore advice and go with their gut instinct. Ah, the irony.

While I agree that you will usually know what’s best for your baby, there are some occasions when you simply don’t have a clue. When BUB.1 was born he was a healthy seven pounds four ounces, but like all babies he lost a bit of that weight. And like some babies he didn’t put it all back on within the ten days or two weeks they hoped that he would.

Sitting in a circle of new Mums in Bondi, where I was living, I listened as my fabulous robust health visitor (“Big Jan”) asked each Mum how much their baby had gained that week. BUB.1’s gain, and I think it was his first gain, was meagre. She asked to see me afterwards.

Standing next to her after the group was another Mum whose baby had also failed to make the grade and we were given our no nonsense instructions. After every breastfeed we were to express milk and give that extra milk to the baby after the next feed. So we were to breastfeed the baby, then give the baby a bottle – or a cup initially to avoid nipple confusion –  of breast milk while also expressing another bottle. It takes a bit of juggling. Bra-snapping. Boob-heaving. Nipple-cracking. A lot of commitment, shall we say.

Over the next fortnight, I did this. It took up all of my time. Willy Wonka’s family were visiting from the UK, so day trips around Sydney saw me hunched over in the back of the car with my manual Avent breast pump. I expressed at the top of Centrepoint tower in Sydney. By night I sat up in bed crying with fatigue, breast pump in one hand, imaginary shotgun in the other.*

It was tough, but it worked. Slowly, over the course of about two weeks, BUB.1’s cheeks puffed out and he started to pile on the pounds. My boobs became gigantic, and I went on to breastfeed him for 19 months, during which time I got to experience all the joys of engorgement and mastitis. I just needed a kick start.

Looking back on photos, we can now see how thin he looked during those first few weeks. But the important thing is no one panicked, he was fine. We just needed to tweak things.

When BUB.2 came along, at a bouncing seven pounds ten ounces, the EXACT same thing happened. The midwife didn’t even have to say anything on my home visit when he wasn’t regaining his birth weight. I raised my hand to shush her, told her what had happened with BUB.1 and she said: “That seems to just be the way your babies are” and left me to it.

I invested in a Medela electric pump this time so I could keep my hands free to deal with BUB.1. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t exhausting, and left little time for anything  else, but it fixed the problem. He put on weight.

By the time a bumper seven pound 13 ounce BUB.3 arrived, I have to admit, my energy was floundering. She was an undiagnosed breech, and she had a tongue tie. So until she was 11 days old and underwent her little tongue snip, she was having some formula anyway. Even the kind ladies at the breastfeeding clinic said I needed to consider the whole family.

But, I went onto to express again and I managed to breastfeed, with formula top ups, until she was six months old. I meticulously noted down exactly how much formula and expressed breast milk she was having to ensure she got at least equal of both. I drove myself crazy with my little notepad.

A combination of having two other small children, a baby who seemed to be VERY content** with a combination of both formula and breast milk and an overwhelming feeling by 9pm each night that I’d rather put a wet finger in the plug socket than my breast pump yet again, meant that my supply dropped off much quicker than the first two times.

Despite her being my last baby, my fondness for breastfeeding, and the morphing of my breasts into two empty pitta breads, I refused to let sadness cloud me. I knew that I had given my all.

It must be wonderful to have an instant and abundant supply of milk for your baby but for many people, it takes a little bit of extra work to get things going. And even then, it doesn’t always work, or there are other factors such as family or commitments that mean you just don’t have it in you.

I think what I’m trying to say is that if you experience difficulty breastfeeding and the solution offered to you seems difficult, or hard work, it might be miserable but it will probably work quite quickly. If it doesn’t, there will be something else to try. I remember crying down the phone to a breastfeeding hotline handler, but soon enough that misery was resolved.***

As for the question of advice from seasoned Mums, it won’t always be about breastfeeding, because soon enough there will be something new to cry about. Welcome to motherhood.

* It led to me coining the phrase “expressing like a bastard”, which is best delivered through gritted teeth while brandishing a dripping, overheated breast pump and a crying infant.

 ** comatose

*** Since publishing this post I suddenly remembered that yes it worked, but it was a constant balancing act between expressing enough to get the supply going, but not too much that the boobs were empty sacks once the next feed was due ( roughly three minutes after the last one for a newborn) or so much that your boobs overproduced and you became engorged and at risk of getting mastitis, a horrible business involving cold cabbage leaves, red hot bosoms and a weird floaty feeling. Just thought I should mention that.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

RECOMMENDED

Group B Strep – wassat?

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IMG_6824.jpgSpot the difference:

BUB.1: My waters broke almost eight hours before I gave birth, during which time I was left to labour in the comfort of home. My midwife only came near me about a minute or two before he arrived in the birth centre. I was on my feet the entire time, it was drug-free and I had utter freedom to move around. It was primeval.

BUB.2: My waters broke about eleven hours before I gave birth but I had to rush straight to hospital and was monitored for signs of contractions, which seven hours later had not started. I was moved into a delivery room, antibiotics were injected into my hand and I was hooked up to an IV drip to induce labour. For the four remaining hours I barely moved from the bed because I was attached to the IV. It was annoying.

Why the difference? Because when pregnant with BUB.2 I had tested positive for the bacteria Group B Streptococcus. I had BUB.1 in Australia where it is routine to screen every pregnant woman for GBS, which if passed from mother to baby in the womb or during labour, can prove fatal to the child.

The bacteria lives harmlessly in 25 per cent of people, one in every 2000 births are affected by a GBS infection and 1 in 10 babies with an infection die.

To be honest, because I tested negative for the bacteria in Australia, when I came back to the UK and got pregnant with BUB.2 I had forgotten all about GBS. I was only reminded of it by chance when my Mum mentioned a couple on the ITV programme This Morning who had lost their baby to it.

Although I knew a positive result would mean I would need antibiotics in early labour, which might jeopardise my chances of another free-roaming birth centre experience, of course I had to test. The test is not offered routinely by the NHS here in the UK, so I sent off for a test from the internet (www.gbss.org.uk/test) towards the end of my pregnancy.

When the result was sent via text to me a week or so later I was shocked to see the word ‘positive’ on my phone. I had expected it to be negative again.

At my next midwife appointment I mentioned the result and she stamped ‘GBS’ all over my notes. This was a fact that was clearly not to be missed. This was important. It is important. But it had been up to me (and my Mum) to know about it. To test for it. To potentially prevent it.

I was instructed to go straight to the hospital at the first sign of labour, in my case my waters breaking during the night. Once your waters have broken, the baby is unprotected and could pick up a bacterial infection. It’s important to administer antibiotics during labour to lessen the chances of infection.

Rather than let nature take its course, I was induced first thing in the morning. It was a totally different experience than with BUB.1. With him I never wanted to leave the room he had arrived in. With BUB.2 I couldn’t wait to leave.

But I left with a healthy, living baby.

I had to stay in hospital for 24 hours so BUB.2 could be monitored every hour for signs of infection. He was fine. The seriousness of the GBS stickers across my notes, and the friendly head poking around the hospital curtain every hour after birth, stays with me. Why, if it is so serious, is every pregnant woman in the UK not screened?

When I got pregnant with BUB.3, the midwife said there was no need to do a further test because as a known carrier of the bacteria, I was treated as positive. GBS was again stamped across my notes and I was told to come straight in and the first signs of labour, which again was my waters breaking.

My hand was again punctured by antibiotics. Fortunately this time my contractions ramped up quickly without the need for an induction. As it turned out, she was an undiagnosed breech, so I was dashed into theatre and she arrived quickly anyway. Again, she was monitored for any signs of infection in the 24 hours after birth. And she was fine.

Which is something this couple, who lost their baby daughter to GBS infection at birth, cannot say. They are calling on the UK Government to make it a legal requirement to screen every pregnant woman for GBS and to give antibiotics to high-risk mothers when delivering their baby, and to monitor those babies following the birth.

I’ve signed this petition because an item on morning TV could have potentially saved the life of BUB.2 or BUB.3. A terrifying thought.

Rhyming with Wine
Pink Pear Bear

Weight loss, it’s a thing.

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20150205-204625.jpgAside from rigorously following Slimming World for eight months, people ask me how I lost 3.5 stone (three of which I tell myself were each of the BUBs’ fault, half a stone was the biscuits’ fault, but it’s probably the other way round).

What was the secret? It was this:

Individually-wrapped Moser Roth chocolate bars from Aldi. To be precise, and you do need to be, five 25 gram bars per packet, in a myriad of flavours. And Sauvignon Blanc. Measured into 125ml or 175ml glasses. Preferably this bottle from Aldi, or Brancott Estate or whatever I could lay my hands on.

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For me, it was most nights for the chocolate. If I wasn’t having wine then I could sometimes have two chocolate bars, depending on what else I’d had that day.

It was my ‘thing’. You need to have your ‘thing’.

Fortunately my ‘thing’ was also all the stuff you can have and indeed much of which there are no limits on: beans, potatoes, noodles, cous cous, fat-free dairy products, pasta, lean meat and fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, rice, a sprinkle of cheese. MARMITE. Think every meal you’ve ever cooked, but loaded with more vegetables and cooked in less fat or oil. That’s dinner sorted.

There’s no tedious calorie counting and minimal weighing, just cheese, nuts, cereal and bread for me, which you’re allowed a little of each day. Fair enough. I ate huge plates of food when I was hungry and went back for more if I wanted.

The secret to not wanting all the 25g bars of chocolate in the packet is to make sure that you’re not hungry. Ever. It’s that easy. Keep eating the right stuff all day. Pile it high.

And that’s why diets that leave you hungry will never work. The chocolate (or whatever your ‘thing’ is) will always win.

And, sometimes the chocolate DOES win, even when you’re stuffed to the gills. The wine definitely has a knack of winning. That’s life, and the trick then is to just carry on the next day as if nothing has happened. It can be your dirty little secret.

It’s good to have those once in a while.

3 Little Buttons

Disco boats

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I love The Wizard of Oz. Always have done. In many ways my journey is like Dorothy’s, with an escape to Oz, a magical journey filled with wonderful people and a return home.

BUB.1 knows I love The Wizard of Oz. But he is only five. He plays with my ruby slipper necklace, he loses it down the back of the sofa or at the bottom of his toy boxes, and then it’s found. And around we go again.

BUB.1 loves Lego. He would sit and create Lego buildings and vehicles all day if he could. He’s made wonderful things for me like this disco boat. A disco boat! Who could ask for more?

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A few months ago, following a very out-of-character peruse of Pinterest, I made BUB.1 a Lego workstation, partly to keep the baby away from the endless Lego piles that he left around the house (it didn’t work).

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And partly because I thought he deserved somewhere to work, where he could build his jungles and his windmills and his disco boats and endless other things. Because I love him and seeing him happy makes me burst.

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The other day he had lost my ruby slipper necklace for quite a while, a few days, and after a little quiet spell at his Lego desk, he presented me with my favourite Lego creation yet. One that told me that he loves me just as much as I love him.

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My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

I didn’t know I almost drowned until I read this

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P1020202One of the most important articles I have read as a parent was this one a few years ago and any article since that reinforces the point that drowning doesn’t look like drowning.  That drowning doesn’t wave its arms in the air, shouting. It sinks, silently.

Before I read the article, I didn’t know that I already knew this. I knew this because years ago I was rescued from a situation I didn’t even know I was in. Swimming in the shallow, calm, turquoise water at Boomerang Beach in New South Wales, one of my friends was suddenly paddling quickly towards me on his surfboard, scooping me up onto it and pulling me back to the sand.

He might have saved my life, but at no point did I think that’s what had happened. Until I read this article.

I had been aware that my feet were no longer making contact with sand and I could feel a sort of whirlpool beneath them out of which I couldn’t seem to tread. I was incredibly close to the shoreline, where my friends were standing with their surfboards, laughing. I tried repeatedly to step outside of the whirlpool and find solid ground, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought it was only a matter of time before I managed it. It wasn’t a strong current, I wasn’t far from the shore and I knew I was only inches from the bottom.

I was watching my friends, smiling at them, wishing I could swim a bit closer to join in the conversation, but no one seemed to notice. Except this one guy. He had noticed and although I never asked him specifically, I can only imagine that he had noticed that I was still. I wasn’t kicking or using my arms and I was silently staring at them. I must have been focused on just keeping my head above the water.

If he hadn’t grabbed his board and come to me, I don’t know how long it would have been until I could no longer do that.

At no point did I feel I could cry out. I just smiled and hoped they’d notice. I think it was more than me just being very British. “Oh please don’t bother yourselves, I appear to be stuck here and I can’t get out but really, I’ll be fine.” I now believe I couldn’t cry out because, as the article explains, my respiratory system was focusing on breathing.

But I didn’t feel that. I just felt a bit removed, a bit left out. I wanted to get back to them, but I couldn’t.

I used to wonder how children in swimming pools could just disappear to the bottom without their nearby parents hearing or seeing. It’s because it happens quickly, silently and without fuss. We must watch our children in the water at all times. * Even if they are playing quietly. Even if they are close, so close you could touch them.You need to watch because you probably won’t be able to hear it if it happens.

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

*To know exactly what to watch for, and to truly understand drowning, please read the superb article.

My Random Musings

Monster

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20140327-225357.jpgLast week we were posting “make-up free selfies” on social networks to help raise cancer awareness, which raised heaps of cash. Brilliant.

Not so brilliant was that most of my friends labeled their pictures with apologies and jokes about putting people off their breakfast or struggling to find a room dark enough. I did too.

It’s shocking, isn’t it? That it’s considered brave or cruel to inflict our bare faces on our friends and families. The self-loathing of people I love was chilling. I took mine by lamplight so that I wouldn’t look like I really do without make-up in the cold light of day or under the harsh bathroom light.

People who suggest we’d all look “a lot better without make up” are often the very same people who when you don’t wear make-up say: ” You look a bit peaky/tired/poorly/worried/ill/unhappy/weak/different/pale/sad today”.

That has pretty much happened EVERY time I have gone without any make-up. And it reaffirms the view that my bare face, my unmade-up face is not acceptable. Is ill. Is not pleasant to look at. So I wear make-up.

But there’s more to this isn’t there? There’s the media. I made a joke a few months ago that I was looking more and more like Charlize Theron every day…. in the film “Monster”. On that film’s release the media let out an audible gasp at the state poor old Charlize had let herself get into in the name of art.

Was it just me who thought that Monster Charlize was probably closer to Actual Charlize than Red Carpet Charlize? Without make-up, airbrushing, the gym, skin care, lighting, she would not look like Red Carpet Charlize. Without make-up she might not look like a mullet-wearing, wild-eyed, jaw-gnashing serial killer either, but she definitely doesn’t look like Red Carpet Charlize.

But a lot of us, including Charlize, DO look like the trashy magazine’s ‘Stars without make-up’ pictures, often headlined with words like “SHOCK” or “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO..?”. Nothing, that’s what. That’s what they look like when nothing has happened to them.

And we’re not really shocked are we? What’s shocking is that despite knowing all this, we still look at those pictures with relief and glee that our human face is a normal one, our made-up face is not.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Pop!

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20140210-231046.jpgJust a few weeks ago we were in a pre-BUB.3 decorating frenzy, complete with new boiler, new radiators, new plug sockets. It wasn’t a house of horrors but we were camped out, during the day, in one room with boxes piled high at one side.

Both BUBs had a coughing lurgy which had kept them off school for almost a week each. At the end of week one, during a laundry-related rage, I pulled a muscle in my groin that caused great discomfort and week two saw me crippled with unearthly late-pregnancy fatigue.

We were going out of our minds.

I had just watched The Fly episode of Breaking Bad, which the show’s creator Vince Gilligan referred to as a ‘bottle episode’. A bottle episode is the name given to an episode of a TV series involving minimal characters and locations to reduce budget and often increase suspense.

The Fly’s action predominately happens in the laboratory where Walter and Jesse cook their crystal blue meth. Gilligan notes that the limited setting and cast allowed for a slower pace and deeper exploration of character traits and motives. He says:

“Even if financial realities didn’t enter into it, I feel as a showrunner that there should be a certain shape and pace to each season, and the really high highs that you try to get to at the end of a season — the big dramatic moments of action and violence, the big operatic moments you’re striving for — I don’t think would land as hard if you didn’t have the moments of quiet that came before them. The quiet episodes make the tenser, more dramatic episodes pop even more than they usually would just by their contrast.”

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In those weeks leading up to the birth of BUB.3, I felt my existence had been reduced to a bottle episode. A reduced cast, a solitary set and tension turned up to ten. And endless cups of tea. I guessed that our operatic moment would come when BUB.3 arrived and this waiting game was over.

I guessed right. She arrived four weeks ago and she is wonderful. It was tense, it was dramatic and the angels did sing when she popped into our world.

But already we have had our fair share of ‘bottle episodes’ since her arrival. Waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for the floods to subside, waiting for my c-section wound to heal, waiting for tummy bugs to pass, waiting for the baby to put on weight. Right now it feels like an operatic moment will be just leaving the house and climbing into my car.

We are going out of our minds.

But the angels are still singing quietly in the background, every day. She is here. She is HERE.

A mouse cannot live on Shiraz alone

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BridgetLike a lot of women, I’ve always felt an affinity with Bridget Jones, but the closest I have come to outright Bridget Jonesness was during my two minor pest infestations.

The second incident was in a studio flat in Sydney, so riddled with cockroaches that when I opened the door to enter, the walls seemed to move, a bit like in an Indiana Jones film. Things stepped up a gear when mice started running across my feet while I was preparing my infamous singleton one-pot-mush dinner. Pest control told me an unsealed pipe connected my flat to the restaurant kitchen below. But why would any sane mouse leave the kitchen of, I have to say, quite a lovely restaurant to seek food in the wasteland that was my kitchen? A mouse cannot live on Shiraz alone, I reasoned.  And indeed, one poor mouse did appear to try and fail, his body found shriveled under my sink.

The first incident, a couple of years before, was more unusual. Renting a room from a good friend in London, I was awoken each night by a low, soft scraping sound. This went on for a while. Then I started to notice silvery trails around my bedroom, up over cupboards, down chair legs, across the carpet. Lifting my bed one day, I discovered a family of snails peering back at me. The scraping had clearly been the top of their shells on the base of my bed. The carpet beneath the bed was a criss cross of intricate silver lines.

Piecing it together, a recent snail infestation and extermination in the garden had obviously gone awry and I must have inadvertently brought some snails into the house, on a bin bag, my shoes, or something. Most strange was that I also discovered, living behind my wardrobe,  a family of slugs. But they at least were very quiet. No trouble at all, in fact they could have stayed there forever.

The reason this has all come to mind is that my copy of Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy arrived today. And for the last few nights something has been troubling me. When I lie my head on the pillow, and if, and if it’s a BIG if, I don’t fall asleep within two seconds, I hear a very faint, low tapping sound from within. When I lift my head again, I can’t hear it.

I don’t know if it’s in the bed, in the floorboards or in my head. But I’m not sure I can curl up with Bridget tonight not knowing if I am completely alone.

What was that?

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Leaves

Our walk to school at the moment is peppered with fiery red leaves, conkers, glittering spider webs and questions. The other morning, as we emerged from the end of our road, it started.

BUB.1: What was that?

Me: What was what?

BUB.1: That, Mummy.

Me: What, I didn’t see it?

BUB.1: What was it though?

Me: I don’t know, where? (looks behind)

BUB.1: THAT Mummy, what was it?

Me: I didn’t see it. What did it look like?

BUB.1: I’m asking YOU.

Me: But I don’t know what you mean?

BUB.1: What was it?

Me: What? Describe what it looked like and I can tell you.

BUB.1: You describe it Mummy!

Me: I can’t, I don’t know what ‘it’ was.

BUB.1: Yes Mummy, but that’s what I’m asking you, what was it?

Me: I don’t know. I didn’t see it. What was it?

BUB.1: I’m asking you Mummy!

Me: What sort of thing? Just so I can try to work out what it was.

BUB.1: What was it though?

Me: I don’t know. I didn’t see it.

BUB.1: Mummy!!

This went on for the entire five-minute walk, by the end of which I was almost crying with laughter and BUB.1 was tearing his hair out with rage.

I was so happy to see the lollilop lady, who proved to be the necessary distraction to break the cycle.

Until the next time.


You are my sunshine

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P1050652Yesterday evening, as the BUBs lay on the sofa, up late because of a long afternoon nap, BUB.1 pulled himself around me and said: “Mum, you are my sun.”

I asked him why he had said that.

“Because I love you, Mum.”

Touched beyond words, I remembered that when I tell him I love him,  he often asks me: “Why do you love me, Mum?”

And I often reply: “Because you are my son.”

Peace in Perth

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Traveling south of Perth for a week with a then eight month old BUB.1 epitomised what is good and bad about traveling with babies.

We got to see some beautiful sights, but not for long. We very often saw the sights alone as the other one waited in the car with the sleeping baby. We dashed a mad relay to drink in some of the most stunning sights on the planet. For just an instant.

As well as visiting some of Willy Wonka’s family in Perth itself, we managed to cram in Fremantle:

Cottesloe:

Yallingup:

Margaret River:

Pemberton (where Willy Wonka climbed the Gloucester Tree):

Rottnest Island:

William Bay national park:

and onto Denmark and Albany.  If you don’t know Australia well, this is a tiny slice but it’s vast.

But once in a while we pulled up to somewhere like this beach in the Walpole Inlet, where we parked the car right by the water while BUB.1 snoozed in the back. There was no one else there and we could take in what was the most still, calm, beautiful place I have ever been. Together. Alone.

For that moment, everything else disappeared. The chaos, the schedules, the responsibility, the rushing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling with babies or children isn’t worth it.

What would life be without these moments, however brief they may be?

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boys

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I just love it when in the middle of a book you stumble across a paragraph that makes you feel so..something, that you have to read it again. And again. And you never forget it.

At the moment we’re searching for our next family home, something that hopefully we won’t have to move from for a few years and in which these early years of BUB.1 and BUB.2 will continue to play out. We’re moving counties to be closer to my parents so that the BUBs and us can have more time with their grandparents and we get a bit more help and perhaps a trip to the pub. As a twosome.

When we bought this house less than two years ago it was a different story. We knew we had to be within striking distance of London, we wanted a nice city and a period property. We got it all. But I was pregnant with BUB.2 then and I didn’t realise how much more of a juggling act two children is or how much I would like to be closer to my family and them us. Or quite how bad my hair would look if I couldn’t make it to a hairdresser often enough.

This time around, it feels so much more daunting. I’m imagining my family growing up in this house. I feel pressure to get it right. I lie in bed in the early hours sweating about the enormity of the decision, which isn’t like me at all.

We could move to one of our dream locations but the house would be small and we’d probably want to move again pretty soon. As someone who has moved close to 30 times in my life, I’d rather not move again *too* soon. So maybe we can get a bigger house, but I won’t be able to walk out into a busy street with lots going on. I might be stuck in suburbia or a quiet village. Would that be so bad?

And of course, it’s bloody ridiculous. If this is our only worry, then of course we are very, very lucky.  And that made me think, rather randomly, about a passage I loved in Michael Cunningham’s brilliant novel The Hours (as an aside, I’m a bit of a Virginia Woolf fan and Mrs Dalloway is my second favourite book of all time).

Here is that passage, in all its simplicity:

“It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk. The anticipation of dinner and a book. The dinner is by now forgotten; Lessing has been long overshadowed by other writers. What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and its perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”

To me the notion that while we are planning and waiting for things to happen, things actually do happen, are happening, is just so beautifully expressed here. And like all good literature, it just makes me feel a lot better.

Houses are just backdrops to our life. They are not our life. Whether we drive or walk to school – we will be happy. Whether there are fields outside our window or roads the same as ours – we will be happy. Whether there’s a view from the kitchen, a beautiful bath, a corner shop or theatre nearby, a big driveway, an inviting hallway, big windows, painting to be done, an old kitchen, a funny smell – we will be happy.

We might be inconvenienced, annoyed, irritated, delighted, indifferent to or excited by a house. But it’s what happens inside those four walls – the laughs, the love, the life, the words spoken – that make a life. Life is the play, not the theatre. Although pick the wrong seats and your bum might hurt a bit.

But your review won’t include that, will it?

As John Lennon far more poetically put it: Before you cross the street. Take my hand. Life is what happens to you. While you’re busy making other plans. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Beautiful boy.”

Dawn of the Red

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There was a story in the news this week about a photographer who accidentally snapped a sunrise marriage proposal at Bondi Beach.

It reminded me of a photograph Willy Wonka took one extraordinary morning in September 2009, six weeks after BUB.1 was born, at that very same spot.

We woke up as usual, opened the blinds and..woah. The world had turned orange. I don’t mean slightly orange (as if that was normal), I mean tangerine orange. Everything was bathed in an intense, misty orange glow. Like someone had planted a bomb inside a gigantic packet of Cheesy Wotsits.

Turning on the TV we found out that there had been a dust storm that had whipped up lots of red dust further inland in NSW and carried it out to Sydney. The morning sun was casting a martian red glow across the entire city.

Willy Wonka immediately ventured outside to photograph down at the beach while I stayed safely inside, fearful of what the dust might do to BUB.1’s lungs.

Lots of the amazing photographs taken that day by people made it to international news sites and I really wish I could have breathed some of the toxic air myself. The view from our apartment in North Bondi was breathtaking.

My favourite photo taken by Willy Wonka is this one, where he accidentally captured two people on the edge of the cliff. Little martian creatures, stuck to the side of the rocks.

It was one of those mornings when the world shifts on its axis a little. A day when you realise that life can really surprise you. A day when you just can’t shake a feeling of trepidation, excitement and awe. A day you relive in your mind from time to time, to remind yourself that you’re here.

The best kind of day.

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” – T.S. Eliot

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Back CameraI was having dinner with a an old friend last week and he told me how he’d been reading T.S Eliot to his soon-to-be-born child. And it made me think.

I studied English Literature at University, and if there is one thing I want to pass onto my children it’s a love and appreciation of books. When I was pregnant with BUB.1 I read aloud to him. When he was tiny, we played classical music to help him sleep. I made playlists of songs to play softly in the background as I read our carefully selected books to him. I wanted to nurture his mind.

Poor old BUB.2. At bedtime I am so exhausted, I grab the first book I can find, read it to them both (even if they’re otherwise occupied in throwing cars at each other), and try to get them off to sleep as quickly as possible. I received a letter from the library today regarding an overdue library book – I’ve been meaning to go in and explain to them that I can’t find it for weeks but I’ve kept putting it off.

So tonight I made sure they were both in bed and both listened to the story (Julia Donaldson’s Tyrannosaurus Drip). BUB.1 was pretty attentive, BUB.2 squeaked and pointed at the jubilee flag in the corner of the room until I got it for him and then proceeded to poke me in the eye with it.

That will teach me. Off to the library it is.

F*** festivals

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We’ve all seen them, the young family at the music festival, all floaty and serene, who appear to be having it all. Who says having a baby means the end of your music festival days they seem to be saying, the smug bastards.

Quite. Well that was us yesterday. We chose the most middle aged festival to attend, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park, the “festival in a day”, largely because of Status Quo who for some inexplicable reason Willy Wonka likes to blast at full volume to excite his two sons at bedtime. Other acts such as Paloma Faith, Tom Jones and Jesse J were up too.

I had chosen to wear all white cotton, unusual for me who normally favours uncomfortable, poorly-fitting black, in an attempt to remain cool for the forecast heat. Think voluminous white tunic with white pedal pushers underneath (Willy Wonka cruelly started singing the Hare Krishna mantra to me on our way home). For a fleeting moment, I was that floaty mother, dancing around with her two cherubic sons, pausing to put one in a carrier to allow him to sleep or to read the other one a bedtime story in his buggy. To those glancing over, they would have thought we had it all.

We had a ruddy nightmare.

Mistake 1: Dropping into Willy Wonka’s uncle on the way and picking up a gorgeous hand-me-down wooden car garage for BUB.1. All day, after every song: “Yay! Can we go home now and play with the garage?”. Every song. All day.

Mistake 2: Sitting too far back. On arrival we spent about 20 minutes arguing about location, location, location. I quite rightly needed quick access to loos, food and the exit, and room to move about. Ideally, I wanted several other children around us for playmates. Willy Wonka wanted the “wow factor”, a more central position and somewhere we could at least make out the artists on the stage. I sort of won, apart from there were no children around us. It was only four hours later, shortly before Jesse J came on stage and when people started to move forward, that we upped sticks and found ourselves something closer to the stage. We then started to enjoy ourselves, because we felt like we were actually at the event, for about ten minutes.

Mistake 3: Thinking a sticker book, some crayons and some toy cars would keep the boys amused for seven hours in one spot listening to songs they neither knew nor cared for. Lots of festivals have fairgrounds and children’s play areas for the daytime. That is because they are necessary. One hundred percent necessary. We didn’t see many kids at yesterday’s festival – yes there were a few other buggies and some older children. But taking two toddlers was a little bit of a mistake.

Mistake 4: Wearing white. Chocolate ice cream, beef noodles and orange crisp dust conspired to make me look like a bit of a dickhead.

Don’t get me wrong, the children were amazing. BUB.1 happily queued with me for fifteen minutes for the port-a-loo, danced, got excited by the lasers and Status Quo and put himself in his buggy when he was tired, covered himself in a blanket and tried unsuccessfully to nod off.  BUB.2 was smiling most of the day and even slept in the Ergo carrier on us both, in turns. But they weren’t happy. And we tried unsuccessfully to make them happy all day. And that of course meant that we weren’t really happy.

We finally left during Tom Jones’s closing set, before he’d even sung Delilah or It’s not Unusual. We decided waiting 45 more minutes and then trying to get on the tube to North London to pick up our car was bordering on child cruelty. As it was BUB.1 didn’t actually go to sleep until he got in the car at 10.30pm. He’s only three, and the effect of that the next day is grim for everyone.

A friend of mine and I used to have a phrase we used when the subject of music festivals came up. It was simply F*** festivals.  Because even as a single person, they can be frustrating, boring, unfulfilling and exhausting. The last festival I went to in Sydney, when I was footloose and fancy free, saw me and a few friends slope off to a quiet, crowd-free wine bar hours before it was due to finish. My time was up. And I think that was in 2006.

And yet I can’t let it lie. However ridiculous it makes me look. Last year we took our two to Lollibop festival in Regent’s Park, a festival for kids (i.e. The ZingZillas and Rastamouse were headlining). It rained, there was nothing for our very small kids to do (3 months old and 2 years old) and Willy Wonka spent 45 minutes queuing for a chorizo sausage sandwich with roasted peppers which he promptly dropped as we ran for shelter.

And to think I almost persuaded him that we should, as a family, perhaps camp at a festival this year. What is WRONG with me? I know people do it. I know. But I now know that one of you would surely have to go back to the tent at 7pm when the kids got tired. Imagine pulling that straw.

I think the lesson is that if you see a family at a festival, dancing and looking happy, you’re not seeing the whole story. And that if you insist on persevering with the notion that you can have it all AND you have very tiny ones, do your research, make sure the festival has lots of stuff for kids or leave them with a babysitter. Or go with a group of other people with kids. Or at least don’t expect to stay until the headline act.

Or quite simply, to f*** festivals. Once and for all.

My Random Musings

Attached at the nip

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I hadn’t even heard of attachment parenting before I had a child and in fact didn’t come across it as a notion until very recently. After having my second child and moving to a new area, I was browsing through one of those scary Mum web sites to find out about local activities in my area and saw a post from a local Mum who wanted to meet ONLY other mums who practiced attachment parenting – breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping and so on.

Oh! I do all that, I thought (I didn’t want to meet her though. She sounds like a knob).

You learn a lot about yourself when you become a Mum. I did buy a couple of books before the birth of my first child and found them useful to reassure me in those early days but as soon as the baby arrived I realised they are just that, reassurance. Your baby writes the rules and you work out any compromises together.

I didn’t know if I’d be a Gina Ford-type Mum, and feed my baby at set times and be under constant instruction to break wind no later than 2.30pm while climbing the stairs, or whether I’d be a more go-with-the-flow kind of Mum but it turns out I’m the latter. I have my own routines and schedules but they are relaxed. This doesn’t suit everyone and that’s fine too.

“Include them in everything you do”, my future father-in-law said, on hearing that we were pregnant for the first time. Great advice from a great father, and one that seems to keep them happy. And happy children, surely, are easier children to be around. I found it useful to ask myself what I would do in any given situation if there were no books and no internet – and then I did that.

I even imagined myself as a cave woman with a baby to care for. I know that’s silly and that we live under different circumstances now but for me it just felt natural to keep them very close. For others it is important to breed independence and self-soothing techniques. Whatever works for you.

This happy hippy approach is of course facilitated by the fact I haven’t returned to paid work since having my first child and the fact that I have breastfed them both. So I’ve never had the faintest idea how many fluid oz they drink per day or what their napping pattern should look like – it changes every day and he sleeps when he is tired  – he yawns, we cuddle up and he drops off before I put him down, usually at the same sort of time every day until that changes. Sometimes at night if he wants a feed he ends up sleeping with us. In the early days, they slept in their carriers or slings. A lot.

This of course means he needs me more than a baby who will just drop off in his cot but it also makes him very portable – we go everywhere together so it’s not a problem for me. And they’re placid, happy children, most of the time, so it works for us.

And this is attachment parenting, apparently? And there are books about how to do it! I feel a little sad that we need to be reminded of our babies’ need to be close to us. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Or does that make me a knob too?

Lazy pig

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I spent the majority of my childhood bouncing a tennis ball against my bedroom wall, and I often wonder if in today’s rush to fill our toddler and preschooler’s  lives with endless activities we might be missing something?

I was recently stuck inside for almost two weeks with BUB.1 and BUB.2, nursing a ghastly, medieval, chronically painful sore throat. During the lock down I stumbled across a wonderful article called “I’ll never be a proper Mum” that appeared in The Guardian just over two years ago. In it, Sali Hughes talks about the pressure to be an alpha Mum and the single line that saved me was this: “The only person who expects me to make a papier-mache piggy bank is me.”

Oh, and with it the weight of guilt about our incarceration and back-to-back CBeebies regime lifted. With the rain pounding down outside, we just sat and played for a long time and I noticed, really noticed, for the first time the look on my one year old’s face as he turned the pages of a book, something I might have seen but maybe not registered if we were racing out the door to a music class or toddler group.

My Mum’s generation spent a lot of time indoors, most of them not having cars, and didn’t have access to the myriad of classes and groups we do. Don’t get me wrong, I value the power of a collective moan with other Mums and the chance to offload some of that energy in a safe, happy environment. But I do sometimes wonder if might we be missing the simple pleasures of a swift walk around the block before the rain comes or a cup of tea with a friend, and time to see our children’s faces, rather than bustling them into car seats and buggies and driving them off to their latest appointment.

I know that the days I spend just mucking around with the kids, rather than trying to fit lots in, are the hardest and the best days, the days when I am utterly exhausted at the end and covered, literally, head to toe in food, sweat and tears. The days when we throw a ball around or put flowerpots on our heads. These are the days I feel most like a Mum, what I always thought being a Mum might be like, rather than the Mum I sometimes feel I should be.

Or am I just a lazy pig?

Nice buns!

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Everything I bake seems to look like boobs at the moment and I blame Fay Ripley (author of the brilliant What’s for Dinner?: Easy and delicious recipes for everyday cooking and Fay’s Family Food: Delicious Recipes Where One Meal Feeds Everyone. Whatever Age!

Check out Fay’s Raspberry Sweethearts:

And here are her jammy dodgers:

Get a load of her Cornershop Cookies:

Is it it me or…?

You pretty now

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One of my favourite times with my sons is when they sit next to, with or on me as I apply make up.

I melt as they smear pink paste over their cheeks and (unhygienically) pound the mascara wand in and out of the tube. I lurch as they squeeze the foundation tube from the bottom and I grasp as the bronzing puff is detonated against their tiny faces.

And I wince as when my work is complete my first born declares: “You pretty now. You a girl now.”

Desert island pregnancy survival kit

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Pregnant? Right, you’ll need a whole host of bizarre things like belly bands, belly belts, belly balm and breast pads won’t you?

Hmm, well in trying to think of the things that I would quite like to have access to on a desert island if I was pregnant and washed up, I found it was everyday items that would be my essentials.

I’ve put together my “basics” kit. I’d love to hear what everyday things you would pop in your survival kit. Perhaps we can add them to it to make a “deluxe” version.

  1. Gaviscon – get a tank installed in your garden and order by the gallon. Just trust me on this.
  2. Dream diary – the notations will mainly be about ex boyfriends. It’s the psychological equivalent of a number of doors slamming shut.
  3. Paracetomol – blinding headaches can blight the middle part of pregnancy but your options are limited. But still, you need to do something. Take this and wait a few minutes for it not to work.
  4. 4Head Headache and migraine relief – I found these moderately soothing in the absence of real pain relief and it prepares you for the sense of futility that gas and air gives during child birth when you’ve decided to go au naturel.
  5. Heavy duty concealer/foundation for hyperpigmentation – during pregnancy I was delighted when my adult acne cleared up but I ended up looking like Judith Chalmers crossed with a giraffe.
  6. Dustpan and brush – you’ll get clumsy. You’ll smash things.
  7. Slippers – so you don’t tread in the broken glass scattered around you.
  8. Travel acupressure bands – I found morning sickness to be like seasickness but without the view. Or close to the feeling you get when you come off a waltzer.
  9. Chocolate, cheese and crumpets. Not together. Actually, yeah, together.
  10. Bolster cushion or two pillows stuffed into a long pillowcase – wrap yourself around this in bed at night, especially as you get big, to ease your aching back. WARNING: It will be extremely hard to give this up once the baby is born. Your partner might end up like mine, waking up in the middle of the night sleeping in the prayer position, knees on the floor, head and hands on the pillow, shunted out by the bolster. Draw a face on it if it makes it less weird.
You Baby Me Mummy

Swine Time

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Rhyme time, what a lovely idea. Take baby or toddler along to your local library once a week for half an hour of familiar songs and enthusiastic hand gestures. Sounds good, sign me up.

Little did I know that from the earliest age BUB.1 didn’t give a shit if Polly put the kettle on and would rather climb the bookshelves, mount the CD racks and menace the job seekers in the quiet computer section than sit still for even five seconds.

The library at Watson’s Bay in Sydney is delightful, perched on the sea’s edge, little tea shop next door, French doors opening out onto an outdoor area where we’d all gather, treasured infant tucked into lap, awaiting the classic rhymes of our childhood to be passed to the future generation.

Perhaps BUB.1 was embarrassed that first time by the fact that his mother was the only one to make a loud, realistic snorting noise during Old MacDonald rather than make what she now knows is the customary polite “oink oink”.

All I know is he never again stuck around long enough to hear me do it again.

Sand between your what?

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Every time we take a bath together Bub.1 points to my décolletage and asks “Is that sand?” No son, it is the cruel effect of six years of Australian sunshine.

I wasn’t too rigorous with my sun protection during my Aussie years, something that I bitterly regret. In fact, it was when on new year’s eve 2006 that I leaned in towards the mirror to apply lipstick and caught sight of something resembling Judith Chalmer’s upper lip that I decided to move back to the UK (sure there were other factors like acute homesickness and escalating debt but the ruched skin swung it).

There is a certain crepiness about my temples now that there is nothing I can do about. And my son asks me if he can dig sandcastles out of my chest. During both my pregnancies I suffered hyperpigmentation (or the “mask of pregnancy” as it is sometimes known), an affliction I am yet to shift and I am sure has something to do with previous sun damage.  So if there was one piece of beauty advice I’d give to my 16-year-old self, it would be to wear sunscreen every day.

That and put the hotbrush DOWN.

Everything is perfect

2014-10-0314.41.43

I saw one of those “quotes of the day” on Facebook the other day that read: “When I’m with Mummy everything is perfect.” I groaned and probably made a gagging face.

I must have had five or six conversations this week, with different Mums, about feeling guilty about not “doing enough” with their second, third or in one case, fifth child. We have access to millions of things our own parents didn’t: toddler groups, soft play, messy play, swimming, kids mornings at the cinema, craft ideas on Pinterest, baby music classes, sensory classes, sign language for babies, football for toddlers, rugby for toddlers, oh I could go on for eternity.

But the result of these wonderful itineraries are the perfect images of childhood and parenting that we see on social media, and the horrible feeling that everyone else is stimulating their child so much more than we are because we’re knee deep in laundry (literally) or trying to sort the bathroom cabinet out or matching up tupperware lids or bagging up old clothes or rearranging the toy storage or rustling up food and snacks fifteen times a day or looking for lost keys.

All I could think about was that silly Facebook quote and how suddenly it made sense. I think the little ones just want us to step away from Facebook and Pinterest, put our phones down* and smile happily into their little faces as they find a bug on the floor or they master a new karate chop on their brother.

I have touched on this before in my post “Lazy Pig”. But as half term looms, and my only solid plan is to visit Poundland for party supplies for BUB.2’s fifth birthday party next weekend (I dream big), I am going to remember that silly little Facebook quote and try to hold on to the fact that children aren’t looking around wondering why Clara is fluent in French or Luke plays junior badminton or Minnie has stronger collection of googly eyes and fuzzy pipe cleaners in her craft drawer.

They’re just looking at Mummy looking at her phone and wishing she was looking at them.

*Without my phone I would go mad, MAD, I tell you. I just should probably hold onto it for dear life a little less.

My Random Musings

The beautiful ones

IMG_9465I’ve been transcribing some interviews with top fashion designers and hairdressers, the guys who headline at London Fashion Week. The big shots. As I listened to these hugely successful creatives talk about their journey I have been struck by a few common themes in all of their stories.

Their passion started young. Really young. Growing up in a small town in southern Italy, a famous hairdresser went to work in a barber shop aged 11, for something to do. This same top stylist to the stars worked as a shepherd and fell in love with animals and nature. He learnt to build walls with his builder uncle. An uncle who was a suit maker taught him how to stitch and draw patterns. From another relative, he learnt how to mix paints for cars by hand. He learnt about colour. At 16, he said, he had “learned everything”he needed to build this incredible career. In a town where there was “nothing to do”.

Another hairdresser was cutting pony tails off My Little Ponies at three-years-old. One of the world’s biggest make up artists found some vintage make up at her grandma’s house, which she used to draw with and add water to, build shapes with, to see what happened. Another watched her French mother putting on her make up at a nice boudoir mirror with great precision. She was mesmerised.

These people took this spark and put themselves in the right place. In the right fashion colleges. The right salons. The right neighbourhoods. They put themselves where people who were leading the way hung out but the spark was there long, long before. In some cases, from a very early age. And that spark, along with a heavy dose of confidence, talent, commitment and courage, led them to the very top of the fashion industry.

These kids didn’t have anyone telling them they were a failure or that they had to pass tests to be successful. And they’re now top of their profession and internally renowned in a creative field.

I am taking part in the May 3rd Kids strike, taking a stand against SATs, sending a message to Nicky Morgan and the Government that our kids don’t benefit from rigorous testing at seven and eleven years old. Not only do they not benefit, they are being harmed by them.

What they need is the time, space and freedom to find their spark.

The current Government is not allowing them that. It’s treating them as statistics. Little lives to be measured and assessed based on how accurately they can do arithmetic or identify an adverb in a sentence.

Little lives whose confidence, courage , talents and commitment will be destroyed, whose spark could be lost forever, if we don’t take a stand. On Tuesday and for as long as it takes.

If you feel the same, there are things you can do to help the campaign:

If you can’t, please share the campaign and show your support.

 

 

My Petit Canard

Morten Harket: a retrospective

IMG_2490.JPG“Did you see it?”

“I saw it.”

“The way he blew his fringe off his face at the end?”

1985. 1984. Who knows? But A-ha were on Wogan’s early evening chat show, and as he finished singing his multi-octave song he stepped back and blew his sweaty fringe from his face.

My hand hit dial. Or hers. I can’t remember. Had she seen it? Had she felt it? We analysed this for hours. Today, we could have replayed it over and over again. Shared it. Tagged it. Never lost it.

I can’t find the clip. I have searched, believe me. I can’t find the fringe-blowing clip.

But I remember it. I remember it vividly. And a month ago I went to see A-ha with a whole new bunch of friends. I want to say that almost 30 years has put distance between me and the fringe-blowing incident.

It hasn’t.

IMG_1810.JPGWe might as well have been 14. Pizza before, squealing during and a Whopper on the way home, it all just goes to show that at 42 you’re only as young as you feel.

Nothing has changed. You can capture Morten and save him and share him. But nothing beats turning to your friend and saying ‘He is so beautiful.’

The music is awesome too. Totally underrated. My six year old deems ‘Stay on These Roads’ as the “best song he has ever heard.” My two year old has Take on Me on loop. Their new album Cast in Steel is REALLY good.

I am lucky to have met a group of friends who I can nudge and say: “He is so beautiful”.

Some things are timeless. Morten Harket, friendship and Whoppers are all those things.