Friday, 24 June 2011


Archie (our dog) is not terribly good at entertaining himself. ‘Go and play with the cats!’ I say, but we both know that as playmates, they are worse than useless. He leaps around in front of them: ‘Come and play girls! We can roll around in a slobbery ball!’ They stand stock still ‘Who is this idiot?’ and if he goes too close, they shoot off and he goes crashing after them: ‘I think we’re playing catch!’ but they flash effortlessly through the cat flap and he comes to a skidding stop at the garden door. They stare at the poor galloping fool through the glass: ‘You can’t even get through on your own – you need Mummy to open the door for you – big baby!’ When I let him out, as fast as he can career after them, they are up on the fence ‘Ha ha stupid dog. Can’t catch us.’

So he comes back to me: ‘Woof’
‘Archie you’ve just had breakfast, soon it’ll be lunch, so stop woofing for food.’
‘I said stop it’.
He nods. ‘WOOF’

‘OK, let’s play tug tug again’ I give in. ‘Tug-tug’ is a pretty challenging game of tugging a rope – you wouldn’t get it. Growling and panting optional. Then there’s ‘Fetch It’ where you throw a ball and he watches it receding into the distance: ‘Jesus that’s twenty gallops are you kidding? You think just because I’m a dog you can give me the run around. Think again, sister.’ Or ‘Football’, where you kick a ball for him to retrieve, and he chews your shoelaces and won’t let go.

If he’s feeling a bit sexy, it’s ‘Tickle Tummy’. He’s on his back before you can say Jack Robinson, nose to the sky, eyes squeezed shut and hind legs spread for all the world to admire his naughty bits. ‘Tickle my tummy, please’. And you do.

But he does get ignored so I can play grown-up games like work and moving mess from one room to another. I get the disapproving eye: ‘Jesus, when I booked into this hotel, I was told my every need would be catered for. Well I’m bored, and you look like you’re going to start another round of washing up, for crying out loud. I’m going to pretend to be asleep – but you can forget about leaving this room because I will LEAP up and walk right in front of your feet if you do...that’ll teach you...grumble grumble..’

Or he chews the kitchen (but not the chew toys). Or the washing! A big gusset man, Archie; if he hits gold and gets some pants out the dirty washing before I’ve noticed, he’s off to his favourite corner: ‘Don’t even think about getting these off me, I’m not listening’. But I try, for yay, I have pulled strips of pants from his bottom. He’s had eight gussets so far.

He found his voice around ten weeks old, growling fiercely at the Forsythia. ‘He’s turning into a man!’ I thought, so proud, and I was right for next it was the humping – anything - male, female, but for preference the green bath towel, which he gathers up with his front paws into a lump, pushes between his legs and vigorously humps. That is why I now run hell for leather up the stairs when I want a shower – to lock him out.

If he beats me to the shower, things can become a bit hairy; emerging from the steamy cubicle, twenty kilograms of dog throws itself at my dripping self, hanging on with front paws to the towel I’m yanking around my shivering form, but which he’s intent on humping. I’ve tried holding the towel above my head, but that was just a crazily good jumping game and didn’t do anything for getting me dry. My best bet is a two towel job - Archie humps my towel-clad right hip while I dry the left, then it’s a quick swap-sides, him humping left-wise and me drying the right. It’s quite scratchy, so mostly I’m just plain mean and throw two or three towels right over him, to confuse and knot him up for a whole thirty seconds, which if I work fast, is long enough for me to dry, put on pyjamas, and of course cleanse, tone and moisturise. Phew!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I Rilly Rilly Want My Ears Pissed

‘Bonnie’ I began, ‘as it’s the last day of the holidays, please start one of your five pieces of homework, or write something of your choice in your optional Writing Book – I’ll get it out, sit with you, find you a pencil, do it for you, give you crisps every day, kiss your feet-’ ‘LEAVE ME ALONE YOU CAN’T MAKE ME! ONLY IF YOU LET ME HAVE MY EARS PIERCED........’

The ear piercing campaign is an ongoing joy, but since Josie and Maddy had to wait until they were ten (God knows why I cooked up that arbitrary rule) it’s only fair that Bonnie does too. We wouldn’t want her to have her own way simply by going on and on and on and on and on and on until she has my head on the table, would we? She wrote me a note ‘I rilly rilly rilly want my ears pissed more than anything in the hole werld and I am not talking to you until you say yes’, but that heavenly arrangement was curtailed when she realised it was more effort giving your hand-maid written instructions every time you wanted something fetched or cleaned, than just howling orders from wherever you happened to be.

Bonnie is acutely interested in all aspects of appearance...but I am not in the least worried that she’ll become a fake-eye-lash-flaunting, orange-faced, belly-button-pierced babe. Certainly not; that would be judgemental and superior. That she can list designer labels, but doesn’t know her number bonds to ten, is just modern life!

I have even taken her to a nail bar - premises I never planned on visiting, me with my butcher’s hands past repair. ‘These are working hands’ I boasted (as if she would be impressed). I witnessed a pedicure, which involved soaking an old dame’s trotters in a bowl of water (spa-bath) and scraping off the dry dead skin in slices with a cucumber slicer. My stomach turns at the memory. That has to be the most revolting job, and presumably paid a pittance given that Bonnie and her friend’s forty minutes of nail filing, undercoat, buff, varnish, and highly skilled decoration, came to a grand total of £6.

I did get a cuddle out of it though (because she got her way). She was up close, smiling, looking intently at me. I’m thinking ‘she’s feeling the love’. ‘Mummy,’ she said, ‘you should dye your hair. This ringlet is nearly all grey’.

Later she tried a tactful approach. ‘Mummy, if you went grey, then would you dye your hair?’ ‘No, I don’t mind going grey’ I said, ‘Why not?!’ she shrieked - this was preposterous, incomprehensible. ‘My hair matches my face, which is getting old’ I said, ‘and you get this white line along your parting if you don’t dye it enough...’

On the tube, we were sat opposite two intimate young people. The girl had soft short grey-pink hair and shades, very chic. Bonnie raised her lips to my ear discretely; I was expecting ‘Mummy they are kissing!’ ‘Mummy’ she whispered, ‘why would anyone dye their hair grey??!’

At night-time she tries to turn me into Groomed Mum and slaps creams on my face, begs to apply lippy, and sweeps my hair into some god-awful bunch up on the side, clipped and bowed. Her own hair she deftly brushes and ‘styles’ every morning sternly refusing assistance. Then the brush is hurled in my direction, ‘I’m not going out like this’, and it’s time for the old chump to get stuck into the do-the-hair-wrong-so-she-can-rip-it-out routine, which I’m working on perfecting via deep breathing and contemplation of the finer things in life, like term-time between 9 and 3.

It occurred to me that perhaps I could harness her energy and commitment to the beauty industry and get some educational value out of it! We could just not do homework any more, but write, think, describe, add up, draw and create around H&M tops?? Somewhat excited at my brainwave, I hatched a plan – she describes (literacy!) whatever item of clothing she’s currently after, I casually draw it and she is persuaded to join in (art!). We make an advert, and price it (maths!!)...’Bonnie’ I began, choking with excitement, for this was the answer to all our problems! ‘That bikini you were talking about – can you describe it to me? Every detail – I’m really interested!’ She banged on the computer, and before I had a chance to say, Jack Wills, she’d brought it up on the H&M website. ‘I’ll leave it on the screen’ she said, and wandered off to varnish her nails again.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Some Things Are Worth Shouting About

A week ago I banned myself from rushing, stressing or shouting at the children ever again; I was forbidden, by some outside force, from charging around like a nut using threats, argy bargy, or any other effective tools for producing children with long lists of qualifications and perfect manners, or at least the occasional appearance at school with shoe-laces done up. It was a liberation! A happy, calm and harmonious vibe enveloped the familial abode and I acquired a gentle bouncing gait and a permanent half-smile. There was a place in the back of my mind that went into spasm if I thought about getting anything done this year, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It must be possible to have a full life and still stop for a chat; everyone else seemed to manage it.

For once, I didn’t start the plates spinning the minute I rose in the morning: ‘Bonnie’s got to do this, Alfie that, me that, that, that, and that, and that, that and that, Josie wants seventeen A* GCSEs or she’ll slit her throat…’ In fact on day two I awoke feeling playful, and after saying ‘Good Morning’ to sleeping Alan I spontaneously licked him all over his face, pretending to be the dog!! What was going on? Was our relationship to be refreshed, to boot?! Oh my.

No rushing, no stressing and no shouting meant taking all paths of least resistance: music practice was out ‘My knee hurts – I can’t play the violin’ ‘Uh..OK’; getting to school on time became a distant memory: ‘Please go to school now’ ‘When I’ve finished my nail varnish’ ‘Uh...please hurry’. Extra curricular activities were quitted ‘Don’t forget your flute!’ ‘I’m giving up orchestra and jazz band’ ‘Oh, that’s a shame...’, and since I was no longer in a rush, I was available – always! ‘Mummy, come here and look at this picture,’ ‘Uh...I’m doing the packed lunches, finding Alfies’s shoes, and on the phone, but I’ll come straight away....’ ‘Thank you, Mummy!’

Not that I wasn’t tested: I was called home from a dinner party ‘because the dog was being sick’, but the screams down the phone hinted at the truth - imminent GBH. Did I shout when I got home? Oh no no! I cocked a sympathetic ear, listened to both sides with a caring expression on my face, waited for the sobs to subside. I took one off to bed ‘Come darling, I think you need a cuddle’ (it was beautiful). ‘You lie down and take it easy’ I whispered to the other. ‘Watch some TV – you’ve had a horrible night, darling’. Then I cleared up the dog sick, congratulated myself for being so ace and churned some ice-cream I’d have churned in the daylight hours if I hadn’t been busy being amazingly un-shouty.

And when Bonnie squirted water repeatedly in my face because I said no to a bag of sweets at 9.05am, still shouty mum layed low! I took that darned squirt on the chin (in the eye anyway), blinking with as much dignity as I could muster, and said in deep and powerful tones ‘You are humiliating me, but you will not have the sweets’.

But last night I blew it – at least it was over something really important. Maddy had insisted on going out to get super noodles at 8.30pm, after some heated ‘discussion’ about two packets of crisps and a Feast lolly being enough junk for one day. Ignoring my good sense, off she went (SLAM). What was I to do – hang onto her ankles? When I found an empty crisp packet in the bag with the super noodles, I think you’ll agree, it was time to bring out the big guns. There were hands over ears and hollering on both sides. ‘I will not have lying and trickery!’ I shouted (though obviously the reverse was true). Some things – like super noodles – are worth shouting about.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Things Have Got To Change

Maddy likes a noisy, shrieking kind of party. So this year we squished a giant inflatable slide into our postage stamp garden, and she invited seventeen adult-averse teenagers to share our living space and ignore us for twenty-four hours, throwing themselves down the slide (‘AAAH!!!’), spilling sticky drinks, chucking cake about (‘HA!’), squirting writing icing at each other at midnight (‘EEEEE!!!’), and even consuming modest amounts of alcohol (what?) You want your fourteen year old to have friends who know how to party, don’t you?

It was OK; if I kept my head down and charged across the kitchen only when absolutely necessary, I could still make ice-cream in the middle of it all, and churn, label, pot, store, deliver...and keep the little ones happy (MUM! ALFIE’S GOT THE UNIT AND HE WON’T GIVE IT TO ME! MUM! DO SOMETHING! DON’T JUST SIT THERE! MUM!!’).

I didn’t have to make pancakes for the eight that slept over – but I wanted Maddy’s friends to think I was totally the coolest, nicest Mum in the world, so I was there with the double frying pans the next morning, even letting them have the maple syrup! ‘It’s fine darling – it’s your birthday’ I said, sickly-sweet, bracing myself for the drips down the bottle.

But later I began to fray around the edges, shunting children in and out of the house to do their Crouch End Fun Runs, slide still there, (‘OOOH! AAAH!’), sucking shoe laces three minutes before the start-gun to thread the blasted race-tags on (‘What are you doing Mummy – I’m going to miss my race!’ ‘Just stay still!’), running down to see the races (big smile – hurrah! – come on, whatsyername in Class thingy!!), and chatting normally with other folk as if my head was not going AWOL.

Finally the slide was gone, the races run, the guests had said ‘Thank you for having me’ Thankyou for coming!’ (first time that girl has looked at me), the dust had settled, and it was time for the children to lie down in front of the telly and relax (‘I’m tired Mum’ ‘Tired? You don’t know the meaning of the word’). But the shadowy figure in the corner (me) was still moving up and down at eight o’clock in the evening, picking up soggy socks out of the flower beds, scrubbing icing off the kitchen floor, hanging up washing, packaging up food, hoovering crisps out of the stereo, stressing about homework, making and delivering ice-cream, washing hair, spending poor quality time with children who were moody because it wasn’t their birthday weekend and with children who were moody because it was... Martyre Mum began to decompose, as she does, slowly but irreversibly, into that highly flammable bundle of anger and self-pity that is Monster Mum. ’Will someone please GET OFF THEIR ARSE and do something helpful, I have asked you to come up to have your hair washed SEVEN times now AND PICK YOUR PANTS OFF THE FLOOR, I AM CRAWLING AROUND LIKE EVERYONE’S SLAVE....’ BANG BANG BANG-BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Pathetic. Always the same.

Still stressed on the Monday, when I hit a jam on the North Circular, I thought I’d have to do a U turn through the central reservation or I would explode. And when I took Alfie to have his third blood-test-because-we-don’t-know-what-else-to-suggest at the Whittington and ran straight into the glass of the revolving door, because my mind was so many elsewheres it couldn’t figure out how to enter a building without denting my head, I thought – you know what? I quit. Things have got to change.

So Tuesday was the first day of the rest of my life, guidelines as follows:

Thou shalt not rush. (You are not the Prime Minister, none of this really matters)
Thou shalt not stress. (Choose to be calm, man. Breathe.)
Thou shalt not shout. (You are vile. The children will leave home and never come back. All their lives they will recall their mum as a raging bull)

Three simple steps to a changed existence - easy!

Friday, 27 May 2011


I am not good at comforting an injured child, not good at all. The thud of the banged knee followed by over-long, exaggerated boo-hooing leaves me cold; I’ve done my time staring at little scratches (‘You brave brave girl!’), moaning in sympathy while snatching a look at my ‘to do’ list. It’s OK if there’s some actual blood so I can get a plaster, but otherwise nowadays it’s ‘oh dear’, and I’m changing the subject. The children complain bitterly of course: ‘Mummy comfort me! Don’t just say ‘oh’ and carry on with what you’re doing – don’t you care?’ So I make a joke of the performance expected of me (callously in their view) and thunder across the room, arms outstretched to cuddle and cosset, ‘What happened, darling?’ I groan, seeking out the invisible knock, to shower kisses upon it. Kills me!

Well, we had a real accident at the weekend; my fault, because leaving a thirteen year old and a ten year old home alone with a new Ipad for entertainment was clearly going to end up in Accident and Emergency...If I’d had half an ounce of common sense I would have foreseen that Maddy would promise Alfie a go on the Ipad, but then – haha! - close it down! (‘Daddy said I must’). And it was perfectly obvious that Alfie would wallop Maddy’s head with a pillow,into the edge of the Ipad. But there you are – I just didn’t think it through - too busy swanning around in Crouch End buying a new mop head to think of fitting the children with protective clothing before venturing out for such high jinks.

I also forgot my mobile phone as usual. And since Alan was speeding happily towards the golf course (‘I never get to play’) when the Ipad lid sliced Maddy’s head, it was neighbour Jess who had to deal with the screams, the buckets of blood, and all the panicky life threatening stuff; calling ambulances, doctors and all our friends and relatives (that’s two calls) trying to locate Alan and me, to please get the hell home and act like proper parents.

In the aftermath, my instinct was to be Ogre-Mum: ‘Rrrrrrrrrrr! THIS IS MONSTROUS. IT MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! GO TO YOUR ROOMS AND STAY THERE TILL NEXT YEAR!’ but Liberal-Mum had the right to be heard too, and she understood that it was natural for children to vent their anger, and be foul to each other, even if they ended up dead: ‘Hey guys, you and your arguments, you kill me - and you nearly killed each other! boom! boom! Next time sit down and talk it through, OK? Cool’.

‘We should learn from this’ I began ponderously. ‘What should we learn? That you are animals. That sixteen years of ‘Careful – that is dangerous/ Say sorry/ Be kind/ Think about other people’s feelings/ Use words not fists, has come to a great big NICHTS. I’m taking the dog for a walk’.

Friday, 20 May 2011


I have not had a good weekend with technology. First, the blogspot, so gaily named, had it in for me. It has been unhelpful for some time, refusing to accept corrections to my blog, so every time I make a tiny mistake I have to start all over again from the beginning. This is quite annoying not least because your average dimwit would sit down and work out what was wrong but no, I have to put up with it for weeks and weeks because I AM TOO ANGRY TO TRY AND FIX IT BECAUSE I KNOW I WON’T BE ABLE TO AND THAT WILL MAKE ME MORE ANGRY. I hate computers.

This weekend Mr Blogspot Esq would not save my blog at all, so being a patient philosophical kind of guy I carried out the remedial action required which was to press all the same buttons millions of times accompanied each time with fouler and fouler expletives, ultimately concluding ‘right that’s it I won’t do the sodding blog any more’. Of course, there was a simple explanation: I’d forgotten to post the blog on a day with ‘u’ in it, so the next day it worked - I’ll know for next time.

None of this was helped by Josie slopping lemonade over the keyboard so the keys stuck down and had to be yanked up as soon as they were pressed, otherwise your script would look like tttttttthhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssss. ‘I cleaned it all up’ she said ‘but I need to focus on my revision now’. The only method that really shifted the lemonade was licking the keyboard then sucking hard – remember the tip!

And the mouse was on a go slow. So I’m sat there going click, click, CLICK DAMN YOU but nothing happens because the mouse is still hovering over the icon you aimed it at half an hour ago. I’m swishing to the right, swishing to the left, shaking it all about, tap tap, and then smashing it on the table with a force not suitable for delicate electronic instruments. How was I to know Alan would tiptoe into the room? ‘Banging it on the table isn’t going to help’ he said, flinching, but he agreed to take a look (not straight away – after he’d got dressed, and read a bit on the toilet). ‘There’s often a simple solution to these problems’ he said, after examination, holding the mouse up (‘Exhibit A’) and looking at me as he said ‘simple.’ ‘There is a speck of dust in the hole on the underside of the mouse (pointing to the hole ‘Dust in the hole’ I repeated after him). ‘It just needs a quick blow – poof!’ he said, blowing it so I knew what he meant, ‘and it’s right as rain!’ He straightened his tie and smiled at himself in the mirror (one helluvaguy) and marched off to work, leaving me and the kids blowing – Poof! Poof! Poof! – at the hole on the underside of the mouse, which had stopped working again.

At least we’ve said goodbye and good riddance to our craptop whose mischievous side drove us all nuts closing down randomly mid-Tesco shop, but refusing to close down when actually instructed, unless we pulled the plug out the socket and waited for two days. Monitoring the use of just the remaining computer has been a piece of cake, but it was too good to last; there was a knock at the door this week and a snazzy new laptop joined the family! According to Alan Grant we need it to reduce pressure on computer 1, so he can do his work emails (check the football scores on the hour) and I can get busy after school swatting children off two computers, wading through thickets of lies, deciphering who really does need the computer for homework, who is entitled to use it for relaxation because they worked so hard all day they’ve completely forgotten what lessons they had, and who is entitled because I promised them they could for eating a small lettuce leaf. Great!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Yellow Bananas

A blood-curdling scream. ‘AAAAAH!! ‘SHE BIT ME! MUMMY WHERE ARE YOU?!’ I thanked the Lord I was at the top of the house so I could say I hadn’t heard, and shut the door quietly. I was supposed to be shuffling debris around in Josie’s room, but was mid-reverie, re-playing a scene from that morning when I’d tripped backwards over a paint-water pot on her carpet and landed on her waste paper basket, squashing it flat. (The table that I bragged about fitting into her bedroom last week is now buried so she’s painting on the carpet again). Anyway, while I was blustering about the paint-pot, she had wagged a finger and smiled knowingly: ‘You’re a real visual learner Mummy,’ she said. ‘That’s why you want everything in exactly the right place!’ Like I was a real weirdo or something.

The door swung open. ‘MUMMY, MADDY BIT ME! DON’T YOU CARE?’ Damn, the game was up. ‘What did you say, Bonnie? She bit you? That’s terrible! Why?’ (There could be a good reason). ‘Because I said I would tell you she was drinking coke unless she gave me some’. Now I was interested - drinking flat coke with breakfast whilst lying on the sofa watching crap TV breached my relax-it's-the-Easter-holidays boundaries and warranted a rant, whereas biting Bonnie I could understand...

I stormed down to deliver the rant: ‘Coke at this time of day, Maddy? That is revolting!’ ‘It’s only a bit of Coke, no big deal’ she replied, bolting the rest. ‘Have a fruit if you want something sweet!’ I whined, bored to death. ‘You just think I’m fat’ said she, to throw me off balance. ‘No I do not!’ I screeched, overreacting ‘I’m thinking of your health...why don’t you have a lovely banana?!!’ ‘I only like yellow bananas’ she said, ‘yours are always rotten’. I decided not to say again that markings on bananas mean they are RIPE, and later in the day I purchased yellow bananas for her to not eat, carefully placing them in a controlled and cushioned environment offering uniform humidity, temperature and light.

I devised breakfast the next day in the Scandinavian tradition, casually laying the still yellow bananas on the breakfast table. ‘Would you like yoghurt today?’ I yodelled. ‘Or some yellow banana sliced over your Special Flakes – like the picture on the cereal packet!?’ I grasped a banana and a knife, and noticed I was kind of shrieking. ‘Ugh, no way’ she said. ‘But there are raspberries in the picture too - have you got any raspberries?’ (like I kept raspberries in my pocket) ‘No, I have not. I have got bananas’. Don’t get cross.

Maddy’s lunch box was enormous, because although I made the sandwich miniscule in order to starve her into eating her banana, I had to wrap the banana in layers and layers of paper towel and float it in its own special box in case of bruising. We’ve done banana cases - too embarrassing.

‘Did you eat your banana?’ I said, when she returned from school. ‘I’m not sure’ she said, and I knew what that meant. ‘I wasn’t hungry..’ she said, a crisp packet falling out of her pocket.

Time was running out; there were very faint black dots appearing on the bananas. We had tea. ‘Nice banana for pud?’ I was jolly. ‘I’m quite full actually’ she said. ‘Just have a half - ’ I said, ‘ - go on - I’ll slice it up!’ as if this would transform it into a Magnum. ‘Maybe later’, said Maddy, half out the door.

Then I lost it. ‘COME BACK HERE AND EAT A FRIGGIN’ BANANA FOR CHRIST’S SAKE’. ‘It’s got black spots’ she muttered. ‘It’s rotten.’ ‘IT IS NOT’. I grabbed a banana and peeled it under her nose to illustrate. I took an angry bite. ‘There! Delicious! Perfect ripe banana! Someone has grown this lovely banana’ (talking with my mouth full) ‘picked it, put it in a lorry, driven it to a ship, across the world, to London, then I (poor me, poor me) have slogged over to Woodgreen at your request...’ She paused and watched me in my madness. ‘So bananas have a high carbon footprint and are bad for the environment. Raspberries are grown in this country. Why don’t you get them instead next time?’

Sunday, 8 May 2011


‘Mummy! I’ve done loads of development work but no refining!!’ It was Josie. It was the Art. I clapped my hand to my mouth and did my I’M SHOCKED! look, though I had no idea whether this was brilliant or terrible news. ‘Cup of tea?’ usually covers it. ‘I can’t eat, I can’t drink’ she panted, ‘I have too much work to do. I am in crisis.’

She is doing a PhD in Art – cunningly described as a GCSE - entailing about six hours of work daily, responding to this, developing that, describing the journey ya? from eye-balls to ice-cubes, dunes to decomposing apples, culminating in – tada! – the Final Piece, all for one measly GCSE. I am not thinking about what is expected in the A Level - the Podium in Trafalgar Square?

First it was the working space; her tiny bedroom was rearranged and a space for a large table magically tessellated (by me), only downside being you now have to take a running leap over the table to reach the wardrobe. This was cutting off my nose to spite my face since I’m the one who picks the clothes off the floor and puts them back in the wardrobe, which I think I’ve probably winged about before. The arrangement is doing wonders for my high-jump.

Next, my purse and I were invited to Cass Art in Islington for materials – parking impossible of course, so it was queuing in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon (clever) in order to spend ten quid for ‘free’ parking, thus missing home delivery of the Tesco shopping I did want...but at least the materials for the Final Piece only came to £60, including a canvas for Bonnie (‘I’ve always wanted a canvas - how come Josie gets all the cool stuff?’) on which she has painted one eye, then left as a catch-all on the kitchen table with the general debris.

Josie’s Final Piece was an extravaganza of silhouettes, windows, styles from different decades…the theme was similarities and differences (you knew that) and the whole thing – why not? – was to be lit up from behind. I knew she’d request my technical assistance with the illuminations, it being a bit hot and tiresome lugging florescent tubes home from Homebase, but I was pleased to help, though I would have been more so if it had not been 8pm the night before show time. But when I staggered in with the pile of wood, florescent lights and screws (£50) I did have a sense of satisfaction; ‘Good old Mum saves the day again!’

...which lasted for two minutes, for when we opened the lights we realised that florescent lights need to be screwed to a ceiling and connected to an electric circuit in order to produce light – sticking them onto the frame and crossing your fingers like a dummy wasn’t going to do it. ‘You want to use push-on LED lights’ said Alan, from behind the paper. ‘They’ll be much better for the job and you can get them anywhere!’ ‘Thank you so much for your timely contribution’ I said, thwacking him over the head with a four foot florescent. I did some shouting at Josie too about everything always being at the last b----y minute which may have ruined all my good work with the cups of tea, but made me feel a lot better about rearranging the next day, to fly around north London sourcing push-on lights (‘get them anywhere’ my foot) as she sat her exam, and delivering them to her at school asap, Sa!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Captain Eggpants

The school’s Easter Egg Competition is a creative, fun and frantic affair where children decorate a single egg or a whole scene of eggs (that’s the keen guys, who also sit on the top table for Maths and English, and who bring things in to show every day). The children may be helped, controversially, by their parents, causing much bitching amongst the parents who insist their kids muck it up all on their own: ‘I can’t believe an eight-year-old made that solar-powered spaceship from three thousand blown eggs’. Amusing titles are de rigeur – for instance ‘Eggs Factor’ (I’m already laughing) or ‘The Olympegs’ (catch yourself!)

I hoped to be retelling the ups and downs of supporting a wilful nine year old’s emerging creativity in the eggy line, perhaps a collaboration with friends encompassing both teamwork and imagination! However Bonnie took her usual ‘I decide what I do and when’ stance to murderous degrees, and wasn’t going to be bamboozled into some silly egg painting a couple of days early, when there would doubtless be a perfectly serviceable slave on hand with nothing better to do than run around boiling eggs, super-cooling them and leaping about fetching materials at 8pm the night before show-time. This timeline allowed her to focus on the more important matter of her school disco outfit for later in the week, in case she were scouted for a touch of modelling somewhere between our house and the disco.

I screeched on regardless. ‘How about ‘Dog Eggspert!!’ HA HA!’ - as she rumbled through the clothes she already knew she had. ‘Mummy my new pants will match the dress but I have no jacket to go on top at all’. ‘Bonnie you are nine years old. You should be playing in the park, having fun – making your egg entry - not trying to look like a supermodel!’ (old bag) ‘Oh stop going on about the egg competition, Mummy!’ said she. ‘I’m doing Captain Eggpants OK?!’ I squirmed at the lack of pun. Captain Eggpants?? My idea was so funny and brilliant...

I went off disconsolately to boil a single egg which she grabbed (without admiring my boiling skill - no cracks) and started sploshing paint onto while it was still steaming hot. ‘WAIT!’ I shrieked. ‘Use a pencil to draw your design first.’ ‘Mum, mum, MUM!’ she whined ‘I can’t draw the waistline on it. You do it.’ But I was feeling bloody-minded (no praise for the tenderly boiled egg). ‘Yes, you can’ I said, ‘Just put a little dot half way up the egg, like this, then turn it-’ ‘I CAN’T DO IT – YOU DO IT’ she shouted, ‘OR DO YOU WANT IT TO BE RUBBISH?’ She slapped the paint on and tossed the egg at me to hold for an hour while it dried so she could look through her nail varnishes. I put the egg down (reasonably) carefully but somehow it ended up in the dog’s mouth and the paint was licked off. Suddenly the egg was the most precious thing Bonnie’d ever made and there was howling. I fixed it up ‘Good as new!’ but then it was knocked off the table and smashed up for good. ‘I’ll just boil another - you can make it even neater this time!’ I sing-songed, as if it were a marvellous stroke of luck that Captain Eggpants had been sucked by the dog then dashed on the floor.

It being past nine by now, I felt Captain Eggpants’ could go without his signature red cloak but obviously it was a waste of time voicing this opinion. ‘This is exactly why I asked you to start two days ago’ I muttered. ‘You’re the one who’s entering this egg competition and here’s me at midnight charging around...’ ‘You’re the one who wants me to enter!’ she said, which shut me up. I stuck the red cloak and my finger onto the egg with superglue, but Bonnie disagreed with the positioning and in trying to slide the stuck-on cloak down the egg, my thumb ended up up Captain Eggpant’s bum with a nail full of boiled egg and no ideas how to make this seem fine. I quickly hid his bottom in an egg-cup. ‘How about I do your nails now, sweetie?’

Friday, 15 April 2011

They might think we're POOR!

The Easter holidays have arrived, and it’s time to decide whether I can hack having the children at home squabbling over Archie for free, or whether I should book them onto some self-improving activities that they don’t want to do (it’ll be fun!) when they could be lying in bed, playing computer games and lying about how they were doing their homework, actually.

A friend asked if Bonnie was interested in a four day high quality orchestral course – ‘Uh no!’ she said after a second’s reflection. But I felt she’d enjoy it once she got there, until I checked the website and at £135 decided that actually, free time was what she really craved. ‘I’ve just texted back that’s it’s too expensive’ I said to Bonnie. ‘Mummy!’ she said, alarmed, ‘they might think we’re POOR!’

‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, ‘What if they did think we were poor? You don’t judge people by how rich they are! Wouldn’t you be relieved if one of your friends said that they couldn’t afford something? There are children in the world who don’t even have enough to eat!!’ I was off.

They’d switched off, but I hadn’t. ‘You have no idea what poor means; we are very lucky we can go on holiday each year – to Wales or somewhere else nice!’
‘Big deal – everyone else goes to America or somewhere’
‘Well we choose to spend our money on different things.’
What do ‘we’ choose to spend our money on? I never get anything.’
‘Children’ I intoned, ‘this life of ours doesn’t pay for itself – there are bills to pay, food to buy...the car needs fixing...and we spend money on making your lives rich in experiences and the learning of skills.’ Unless it’s too expensive.
‘Why don’t we ever go out for meals, mummy?’
‘...You will look back and remember learning ballet with your friends, excitedly preparing for the Christmas show.....You will always remember the concerts you took part in...’
‘I want to go to Disneyland – everyone’s been there’
‘You will remember the holidays you had walking in the countryside with your family – that’s much better than buying a new top from Primark every week – isn’t it?!’
They looked at me as if I was completely mental.

‘How come you can afford to spend thousands of pounds on Daddy’s new teeth??’ ‘Well...everyone has their vanities’
‘How come you spend loads of money on Daddy’s golf membership’
‘Er...Daddy works very hard to pay for this nice house and for all the nice things we do, so he is allowed to play golf and enjoy himself too!’ It made me sick to say it.

‘I’m going to buy a laptop with my own money,’ said Maddy. ‘I need it for my homework’ ‘Very funny’ I said, ‘You’d be watching junk all day. I do not give you permission’. ‘It’s up to Daddy – he earns nearly all the money and he said maybe.’ Splutter.

Alfie gave up and went back to surfing the internet for £200 mobile phones to play games on, which he is under the delusion he will get when he goes to secondary school, despite being too scared to phone anyone (‘someone might answer’) and too confused to text, although the keyboard going this way instead of that way is crucial. ‘Alfie, I’ll get you a basic phone and if you use it properly, we’ll see about getting you a posher one.’ But the way he looked at me, I could see his social cudos would be in tatters. It’s complicated.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

First Strike

Bonnie had her violin exam on Monday so the preceding weekend was always going to be especially joyful. ‘Bonnie’ I said, ‘as your actual exam is on Monday morning, you will have to practice on Saturday and Sunday.’ ‘OH MY GOD’ she said ‘YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS YOU PROMISED I NEVER HAVE TO PRACTICE AT THE WEEKEND YOU TRICKED ME!’ and she fell face down on her bed, marking the end of the conversation.

We had a nice chat about it, ‘it’s for your benefit’ and ‘hate’ figuring heavily in the conversation, and after I’d emptied my soul onto her lap, she mentioned casually that she’d lost her exam music anyway. ‘What do you mean?’ I spluttered. ‘Haven’t you been playing your pieces all week?’ ‘YES!’ she said, looking shifty. After all, if you dispensed with the music, you didn’t have to do all those annoying bowing and dynamic instructions, and you could make up your own notes.

Alan was pretty busy wistfully re-filing his photo collection from before he met me, but no exam music was a calamity, so I sent him off to my sister’s for a copy, as her daughter was taking the same exam (but had miraculously not lost her music). It seemed a waste of potential free time for me to send Alan alone, so I told him to take the dog and Bonnie - ‘they’ll enjoy it!’ (I will) - forgetting that the dog doesn’t walk, he only slides, so Alan had to carry him and that did his dratted back in. He had, regretfully, to spend the rest of the weekend in bed with the newspaper, apart from a drink with his mates in the late afternoon because pain is worse if you are lonely, much better if you can get out to the pub ‘just for a quick one’.

Upshot was my weekend was spent being passive-aggressively ‘good’ about the bad back (‘You need to rest, it’s completely fine, I’ll do EVERYTHING’) and helping everyone do their homework while they shouted at me (‘how should I know what a verb is?’ ‘I can do my homework wrong if I want to!’), kicking people out of bed, into bed, off screens, cajoling Bonnie into practicing by threatening her with no food or oxygen, and trying to spend quality time with each child while the rest tapped me on the shoulder and fought with each other.

By Sunday night I’d had enough. ‘Who’s going to pick that toilet paper off the floor? WHO?? ME! You treat me like a skivvy’ bla bla bla, usual lack of self-control leading to troubling thoughts about suitability for motherhood. When I rose on Monday morning, nicely knackered from my weekend, instead of providing a calm and positive atmosphere for Bonnie’s debut in the examination room, the time seemed ripe for Spring Heating Wars (Round One) to commence.

Don’t get me wrong, I had not planned the first strike; despite the mild weather I obediently whacked the heating on at 6am in order that Alan would not get narky and could roast in bed while I sweated through my chores downstairs. But when I went up with room service (cup of tea) and discovered that he was up but still hadn’t switched the heating off, (the switch is in our bedroom) I burst out ‘IT’S BOILING IN THIS HOUSE – WHY HAVEN’T YOU SWITCHED THE HEATING OFF YET?’ ‘I’m not up,’ said he (which was surprising as he was vertical, washed and primped) ‘and don’t shout at me first thing in the morning!’

Round one to him (moral victory) – but he did turn the heating off the next morning.

Friday, 1 April 2011


I am keen on Puppy Training, I mean very keen. I’m the swotty one who went to the first class without the dog so’s I could take notes. You see I’m scared of dogs - behind every cutie-pie there’s an American Pitbull straining to get out and eat my hand for breakfast! So I need to be in control, or I’ll be cowering in a corner and Archie will be the one wearing the trousers as well as eating the shoes.

I have already faced my doggy demons. Guided by various American videos, I have placed my hand between Archie’s teeth, waited for him to start munching then roared ‘OWWWWWWW!’ This will teach him not to bite, hopefully while there’s still some flesh on my fingers. If that doesn’t work, I have to reinforce the message by bearing my teeth, looking in his eyes and GRRRRRRRRROWLING fiercely. GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

At puppy training the first lesson is that all family members are above poochkins in the pecking order; so when the children rise of a morning, they should not dive upon Archie and shower him with love-talk (‘Archie darling! Hello Archie! You’re so cute Archie Parchy - I love you!’) for ten minutes, then throw me an aside ‘I’m bored of Branflakes’. No, they should greet Mother and each other ‘Good morning brother!’ ‘Did you sleep well, little sis?’ before Archie even gets a look in. All of which is well-nigh impossible because they hate each other, but we’re working on it.

Anyhow, I was on the phone to the puppy-trainer, Sue, about plops, before the first session. Praise the good and ignore the bad, she said. ‘Yes, I know, I know,’ I said and explained I’d been swooping on Archie mid-poo and charging into the garden with him, his four little legs wiggling in the air, and me yelling ‘GOOD BOY’ as the product landed outside the back door. Sue was silent for a minute then said that my zeal would terrify him into pooing in secret places and that I should ‘keep calm’. I should ‘name it’ wheresoever it may fall (‘Poo!’ point and smile, gritted teeth), and merely congratulate the successfully placed ones (which is where standing outside in the dark freezing your b------- off comes in).

So the garden door is now permanently open, to calmly encourage the chances of success, though Alan The Dog Expert keeps closing it because he gets chilly (‘Don’t sit about then!’ I say. ‘There’s the hoover’). ‘Take him out, take him out!’ he says in the next breath - ‘then he’ll learn to poo outside!’ DER. ‘Excuse me’ I say, ‘what do you think I’m doing every five minutes from 6am to midnight?? Stop shutting the door. GRRRRRRRRRRR!!’

Friday, 25 March 2011


Alan has a great little time management model which categorises activity into four types: there’s (1) important-urgent (your hair’s on fire!) (2) important-non urgent (tell me you love me) (3) unimportant-urgent (wipe the cabbage off your cheek before you go out) and (4) unimportant-non urgent (playing golf). We set about categorising our daily chores thus to better prioritise our respective workloads, but when it became apparent that 99% of my activity is unimportant-non-urgent, I decided the model was stupid, though Alan kindly agreed that if you leave unimportant-non-urgent for long enough, it becomes important-urgent; if it’s never quite time to try that recipe for peanut cookies, I may become depressed with the meaningless of life and kill myself!!

Given Alan’s testy temper of late, methinks there is too much important-urgent in his day – what with holding down the Big Job (‘I’m doing two peoples’ jobs!’) and then home to ‘Daddy where have you been? The rubbish internet’s not working again – I need it for my homework now’ (and face-book). So he has to call the amusingly titled ‘help’ line at the call centre in India, staring angrily at his new SUPER hob which he bought to speed up the internet, but which has actually killed it. I did suggest we’d be better off without the SUPER hob but I got ‘I AM NOT GIVING UP I AM GOING TO MAKE IT WORK’ (red-faced). When I said he seemed stressed and maybe he should put a little unimportant-non-urgent into the mix, for instance by picking up a few puppy plops of an evening, I just got a look which said important-urgent = me, puppy plops = you.

As he’s in the grip of important-urgent matters at all times, muggins here, as well as doing all the usual unimportant-non-urgent jobs (toothbrushing enforcement, cleaning and tidying, general moaning and yelling) has been assigned furniture construction. Previously Alan had been happy to spend a day constructing a Murmb or a Duk, smiling at TalkCrap behind closed doors, hammer in a limp hand, until I gave him a shove to get working again. But now poor old Daddy needs to relax ‘a bit’ at the weekend by playing golf then dozing in front of the football. All day.

So this week I constructed an Ikea chest of drawers and an acoustic drum kit all by my little self, including getting the packages up to the top-most bedroom; Alfie had squealed on Daddy, who’d said ‘Mummy might not be able to do it properly’ so I was damned if I was asking for help – I’d do it myself or my name was not Bob the Builder.

The flat-pack Ikea box, eight inches thick, the size of a door and the weight of a car, would only shift up the stairs if I slid it, but could I get a grip on the sod? No, so I sat on the stair below and pushed up with my back, and then with my head by lying face down on the stairs. My head was moving but the flat pack was not, which started alarm bells ringing. Finally I gave in to common sense, and took the pieces out of the box and up the four flights one by boring one, hearing my Dad’s voice in my head ‘Less haste, more speed’ Ner ner ner ner. Next was the bass drum box which was the shape of a washing machine. I couldn’t get my arms around it for love nor money so it was another sliding job. Disaster struck at the penultimate stair corner which needed an up and over, but luckily Alfie was off sick-ish, to offer encouragement and someone to fall over, and he really would have helped if he didn’t have to suck his thumb and hold his comfort blanket. There was effing and blinding, but eventually drawers and drum kit were constructed, properly.

Alan came home, ‘Come and look!’ we shouted down the stairs. But he was firing off e-mails. ‘Sorry, this is really important – and urgent – I’ll look later.’ He’d had time to pour a glass of wine though...

Friday, 18 March 2011


We’ve bought a puppy. Visitors are queuing up to hold the little bundle of fluff, followed closely by me, the dettol and the paper towels.

It’s all Bonnie’s fault; she’s the dog-lover, and we are not talking whim here; she’s learnt all the breeds, and it’s been ‘Look at the cute dog!’ every five minutes for as long as I can remember. ‘I only have to wait another six years till I can have one!’ she exclaimed the other day - that was what broke me.

‘Alan’ I said ‘I really think we should get a dog while Bonnie’s still actually living at home’. He hurrumphed about. ‘You know nothing about dogs – it’s like having another baby. And what about when we go on all those exciting foreign holidays?’ ‘We don’t.’ ‘What about the garden?’ ‘It has nothing in it’. ‘It would need walking every single day – 6.30am!’ ‘My job!’ ‘Poo?’ ‘Love it!’

Being enthusiastic and excited got me nowhere. Only when I tried to look really grim (this will not be good or fun in any way) did he come round. I’d reserved a hound within minutes, which is how I came to be driving out of Taunton on Sunday morning with a pooch in a cat-basket snuggled in his doggy-mummy’s blanket, bound for home.

‘Leave him in the basket for the journey’, said the owner. But I knew better, and out he came for a delightful cuddle with Mummy at the first service station. I popped him back in, and that’s when the yelping started. Be firm, I thought; he’s just like a baby who doesn’t want to go back in his car-seat. The barking rose to hysterical shrieking, and then... the stink. He’d pooed in the cat-basket and I couldn’t get off the motor way. He was spinning around inside the basket, biting his tail, having a doggy-breakdown. ‘Get me out, Wicked Step-mother!’ he cried. His golden fur was brown and wet with poo, as was the interior of his temporary accommodation. I couldn’t stop in the hard shoulder to stop a pooey puppy crying...could I? ‘It’s all right, Doggy!’ I yelled over the racket, but there was nothing all right about this situation at all.

Three days later I pulled into a Sainsbury car park, and took the pooey puppy (with my bare hands) out of his poo-smeared prison. Armed with a packet of baby wipes, I set to, wipe-wipe-wiping every inch of his tummy, toes, willy, bum, mouth and ears. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever had to do. Doggy-mummy’s blanket went in the bin (bye bye Mummy), along with his new pooed-on doggy toys.

He had to go back in the (baby-wiped) cat basket for the remainder of the journey, which oddly enough he didn’t fancy, so he barked all the way home (two hours). All I had to offer him by way of comfort and distraction was some wiggling fingers (if I fed him he might poo again). I was stressed. I texted Alan to get Bonnie out of the house; this stinky hound was supposed to be the best surprise of her life. He’d needed a bath first – another lovely surprise along with being removed from his mummy, siblings and home, and being incarcerated with his own poo for hours on end – the psychological damage meant we may as well have got a dog from Battersea in the first place...

All dreadful experiences come to an end, and little Archie (named by unanimous vote while I was out) was duly bathed, blow-dried and presented to Bonnie later that day. When the penny dropped that this pup was actually ours for keeps, her look of disbelief and joy brought a tear to Alan’s eye. Alfie was pretty amazed too. ‘Is it second-hand?’ he said. That’s my boy!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Just A Tiny Bit For Me!

The conversation bit of a proper dinner party fills me with dread: ‘Compare and contrast the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions – start NOW!’ So I displace the anxiety about what to say onto what to cook, fussing and flapping for days on end before the big event.

My Jewish friends came recently, and they observe the meat and milk prohibition. I decided that if I chose the meat and lost the dairy, I was throwing away my key cooking skills - buttering bread, grating cheese on top of everything - in favour of the scary stuff (roasting meat (Raw! Tough!), cooking vegetables (‘Mmmm – they’re so...crisp!’).

But if I kept the dairy, I’d have to do fish. And what with Alan not being partial (er! Bones, picky-pick!) I only know how to cook fish pie and I did that last time...They might think it was the only thing I could cook (true) or that I thought it was so brilliant I just had to do it again (oh no), or worse still that I had forgotten I did it last time (embarrassing, Christ) . But there was no way I could make conversation and fry a fillet or steam a sprat at the same time (SERVE IMMEDIATELY!) had to be fish pie again; the only alternative was vegetarian and you know people are disappointed when you do that because they keep saying ‘I love vegetarian food!’

During the week, I tried a number of horrendous practice dishes. First, vegetarian Croque Monsieur, which sounded Parisien and chic for a starter, but was a Croque of Shit for my purposes as it was basically a vast cheese and tomato sandwich, and you don’t want to dump that in front of your guests when you’ve bothered with the candles and put a blouse on.

Next starter idea was a posh mushroom tart. I strode into Waitrose like a big shot and flashed around the porcini dried mushrooms which I soaked, squeezed and cooked very, very, slowly, popped into a homemade parmesan pastry and served to Alan who took one bite and covered it with ketchup, so that was a no vote.

I tried a new fish pie which looked glorious in a pastry crust, but by the time I’d served it, was fit for the slops pot; oh and the famous ‘foaming Hollandaise’ which turned to scrambles in the time it took to forget you were in the middle of cooking a foaming Hollandaise.

I was relying on my sticky toffee pudding – lovely old fashioned comfort food, I thought. But I should have accepted it had taken a turn for the worse when the smoke alarms were going at full throttle. Instead, I stubbornly set the electric carving knife to ‘bone’, and sawed Alan a portion of the black brick, ignoring his panicky ‘just a tiny bit for me!’ After a decent effort though, I agreed his new caps were at risk, and let him off.

My last try was home-made mayonnaise. Nigella said ‘Never rush an emulsion. Silly I know’ (giggle, giggle) ‘but I like to beat the glossy wodge by hand (!) just as my mother did’. ‘Piss off’ I thought, grabbing the electric mixer ‘I bet you’re not doubling as the buffer for your childrens’ indoor roller-blading track at the same time’. I curdled the mayonnaise (rushed it, tut, tut) and had to do it twice.

The day before the dinner party, I had a bowl of mayonnaise and a head buried in the sand. I was sort of bored with the whole thing, so I put my trust in fate; I fanned through a cookery book and jabbed my hand in at random. Whatever recipe I turned up, that was what I had to cook.

Absolved of all responsibility, I had a ball! It was like performing a delightful scientific experiment. While my guests chatted their way through Bahrain and Barclays, I seared tuna, kneaded gnocchi, and bubbled sauces galore. I’m going to do it that way next time.

Friday, 4 March 2011


I am forty-five and I am a tripaholic. There’s this evil voice bent on destroying my karma that intones ‘take them to the National Gallery National Gallery National Gallery….’ and before I know it there I am again, sweating under a mountain of coats, hissing ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’ at my beloveds, who never said they wanted to go there in the first place.

I blame a friend’s advice for the last relapse. ‘National Gallery – no problem!’ she said. ‘I take my three to the computers in the basement. They choose a few pictures and print out their own route. They love it!’ My heart began pumping though my head was screaming ’Don’t do it!’

Alfie rose first. ‘Alfie’ I said, ‘we’re going to do that computer thing at the National Gallery!’ (don’t ask, state). He agreed to come out of pity, providing I guaranteed no workshops, and home by lunch. Then Bonnie got up. ‘Bonnie, do you know what?’ I said, ecstatically. ‘You can go on the computer at the National Gallery-‘ ‘I KNOW ABOUT THAT YOU’VE TOLD ME A THOUSAND TIMES I AM NOT GOING!’ she shouted and put her hands over her ears. Crushed, I was. ‘FINE FORGET IT, YOU SPOILT GIRL!’ I shouted back. Alfie involuntarily took a hop and a skip; this was unbelievable good luck - the trip was cancelled and Bonnie was getting it in the neck.

Ten minutes later and I’m still sulking when Bonnie says ‘I want to go now.’ ‘Well I don’t want to go any more – you’ve ruined it all!’ I said, maturely. ‘I want to go! I want to go!’ she shouted, ‘Mummy, first you say we are going, then you say we can’t go!!’ I wavered, and Alfie realised another U turn was imminent. ‘Can I not go please?’ he said.

‘For God’s sake, I plan a LITTLE TINY trip and TRY TO MAKE IT FUN so you can BARE IT but NEITHER OF YOU really want to go because you’d rather be doing NOTHING. I felt REALLY HAPPY when I got up and now I am EXTREMELY FED UP.’

We did go. I resignedly refereed another journey: ‘Shh you two – people on the bus don’t want to hear your squabbling’ ‘Alfie, I saw that, you shoved her’ ‘I didn’t mean to!’ ‘If I’m good what will you pay me?’ ‘Have we got any sweets?’

The computers all hallowed be thine name, in the basement of the National Gallery were lovely (silence). We printed off our route and I started to breath. But we couldn’t find the most popular rooms in the Gallery with all the Monets, Manets and Van Goghs (although the longest staircase in the place was key to the search). The second information desk we tried revealed that these rooms were shut (SHUT??) for staff training (‘You promised we’d be home by lunch!’). Severe exhaustion had set in by now of course and the children had to hang off my arms just to stay alive as their legs were buckling under them. We spent a half-hour sitting on a bench in silence right outside the door of the closed galleries. ‘Everyone having a lovely time?’ I said, announcing a Burger King reward for future good behaviour. It was grim.

Eventually, the galleries opened and the children made a dash for the selected masterpieces – ‘there’s one – tick it off – let’s go!’ they shouted, not losing speed. ‘Can I just stand still and look at a painting for one second please?’ I grouched.

Fifteen minutes later, all done, we were in the lovely Burger King, where the children stood on their own two feet with apparent ease and stared at the menu for considerably longer than at all the masterpieces added together. ‘Which was your favourite picture today?’ I said (final effort). ‘Dunno. Mummy, she got more chips than me!’

Friday, 25 February 2011

Housework Sucks

In theory, I should be doing ‘my’ Deep Cleaning until the ice-cream season starts again. This is terribly bad news, obviously; the spectre of maid’s caps, scouring pads and red raw hands, not to mention the possibility of a spot check from the health and safety inspectorate, makes me go cross-eyed.

But I have made a start with the War on Wires. Although everyone in the family (except me) is besotted by digital devices large and small (MY PHONE’S GOT AN INVISIBLE SCRATCH! WAAAAH!), when it comes to unravelling the knot of wires and cables backstage that connects these electronic beauties to the power supply, interest falls off pretty sharpish. Nobody knows what plug belongs to what so when you need to plug in the hoover, chances are you’ll unplug something really important, like a football match set to record or an ipod being charged, and be told off big time for fouling up someone’s leisure plans by your stupid plug selection, when you should have just unplugged something trivial like the fridge, to do your silly hoovering. Cut a long and boring story short (except I just told you it) the job of separating and twirling dusty cables into nice neat little spools falls to me, and is one of the enjoyable and satisfying jobs that I have accomplished this week, and would have missed out on entirely if my family members were not such lazy gits.

I have also performed the annual dusting ceremony of Maddy’s birthday presents from age seven onwards that she hasn’t opened but won’t give away – I’m sure she’ll notice and say ‘thank you for dusting my presents again’. And it doesn’t end there - I have faced the DVDs-into–their-correct-cases job. Looking at it from the children’s point of view, you get so tired sitting down watching a film that you can’t put a DVD back in its box then, and in the morning, even if your Mum reminds you, you’re so busy. It’s tough.

But this was not Deep Cleaning and I knew it…so I headed for the kitchen window frames with the cream cleaner when Lo! - brown globs were found evenly-spaced along the window recess. My heart missed a beat; an ice-cream maker cannot have globs! Jesus, is it a leak from the flat roof above, forming putrescent stalactites inside the kitchen? Or has an insect vomited upside down at regular intervals? Infestation?? I sprang up onto the sink’s edge to take a closer look; the globs were sticky…hmm…With enormous relief I identified syrup that had condensed from all the sugary steam that billows about when I’m making ice-cream. I could just wipe it off – hurrah! – which I did with gusto, causing myself to wobble scarily on the sink’s edge. I had to clutch the ceiling, else I’d have fallen, and in doing so left a very obvious hand-print on the ceiling. Hells bells – there was syrup all over the ceiling! Now I was in deep; the more I wiped, the more smeary and smudgy and dirty the ceiling looked; I’d have to wash or even paint the entire ceiling, just because I’d touched it.

I trailed off to the cellar to find a rock-hard brush and try to guess whether the syrup-coloured ceiling was once magnolia, twisted barley, hint of noodle or lank linen. Housework sucks.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Oh Barry

Heating is something that Alan and I love to scrap about, along with whether background music is absolutely essential throughout your waking hours, and which way round you put the toilet paper on the holder. ‘I want the heating ON!’ (stamp) ‘Well I want it OFF so ner!’ (stamp).

So when the boiler packed up after Christmas, we were united in getting it working again so that we could carry on scrapping.

It’s been on the blink for years, but being sensible responsible kind of guys we had to spend most of our cash on ballet lessons and unenjoyable holidays so not much left for fancy stuff such as hot water and heating. We’d already put one new boiler in - shouldn’t some grown-up fix it for us this time?

We did purchase (1 Star) boiler break down cover (‘Patch It Up Plumbing’) a couple of years ago. The gloomy personnel of that particular outfit said dolefully ‘sludge in the system’. Bowing to the experts, we were chemically de-sludged, at a cost of £400 (not covered by the insurance obviously) in exchange for half a teaspoon of sediment. This treatment (surprise, surprise) made no difference to the heating, only to the children’s pocket money, nor did their other idea, on the second and last page of their training manual, which was to change the pump once, twice, three times.

Patch It Up got the thumbs down, so when the boiler died we gathered recommendations, first up being Pipework Paul. ‘He’s not flash, but he’ll have a really long and careful think about your pipework’ (ooh, pipework!) ‘and then he’ll diagnose’ (the master – he’s going to get it right!). I asked Alan to stay home so that he could have a man to man and explain that the heating doesn’t work better than me. Pipework Paul arrived and was treated with due reverence (‘Quiet children! Let the man think!’). He diagnosed a leak in the nether regions under the house, said he’d send a quote, then disappeared off the face of the earth.

Next was Andy Ape, assisted by his skinny scared son (‘Fucks sake you twat get yer arse up ‘ere’ – never done a days work in his life’ says Andy Ape). ‘The whole shyshtem’s clogged innit?’ said he. I explained haughtily that we had been de-sludged already (you’ve obviously got this wrong dear fellow). ‘Na na na’ says Andy Ape, ‘You need the power (‘pa’) flush – snot cheap mind you – ball park five hundred quid - I’ll send a quote from the Canaries.’ We shivered and shook for another week, by which time we had decided Andy Ape was not nearly grovelling enough and too rich.

It was Divine Providence as it turned out, for Boiler Barry then came into our lives. ‘Barry loves solving problems’ (an intellectual!) ‘and he won’t say you need a new boiler if you don’t.’ Boiler Barry marched quickly through the house – mind if I go straight up to the boiler Miss Pyett? (tick!), diagnosed the problem (tick! tick!) and fixed the boiler in a day (tick! tick! triple tick!). Boiler Barry, you’re my first, my last, my everythang…

Friday, 11 February 2011

Beauty is only Skin Deep

This media-dominated world is driving our girls to be body-conscious – sexualised – before they’ve even hit their teens. It said so on the telly!

So I was on the rampage today when I found Bonnie navigating her way around ‘GoGirlsGames', dressing up doe-eyed chicks in cool gear (click!), styling the hair (click! click!), applying the make-up (click! click!)… ‘You can go on The National Geographic Society website’ I’d said ‘it has some interesting games for your age-group.’ But she’d tricked me, and I’d let an hour slide past – that's an hour of brainwashing already.

‘Bonnie – this is superficial sexist narcissistic drivel – turn it off now. You are internalising inappropriate sexual stereotypes.’ I thought I had the tone about right. ‘That Geographic thing was so boring’ she said ‘and anyway, you had Sindy dolls, same thing, so don’t be a hypocrite’ ‘Yes but I wasn’t begging my Mum to take me clothes shopping every three seconds,’ I said ‘and I wasn’t trying to sneak mascara on for parties!’ (‘What is a tart Mummy?’ ‘Shh. I didn’t mean to say that…’)

‘Anyway Mummy,’ said Bonnie, ‘you promised to stop calling everything I like ‘drivel’’. Oh yes! I must keep the channels of communication open, man. I changed my tune: ‘Bonnie’ I simpered, ‘you know that beauty is only skin deep, don’t you sweetie? It’s what’s inside that counts.’ She looked me up and down witheringly. ‘Actually, Mum, you need some new clothes…Anyway, see Lola on the screen, do you think I should crimp her hair or straighten it?’ My words of wisdom were clearly hitting home.

Josie and Maddy have taken to watching ‘their TV’ (that means it has lots of supermodels disguised as school kids, swearing, taking drugs and having sex ) behind closed doors, because they know I’ll moan. Usually I’d respect their privacy, but not today. I opened the door quick as a flash (‘Oh sorry girls – didn’t know you were in here!’ cough cough) and caught a flicker of a babe drinking a shot of whisky out of a boys belly button before they could wipe the picture. ‘Girls’ (I was stern) ‘You must watch age-appropriate TV from now on.’ 'Everyone watches this – we’ll be left out’ they said. ‘I don’t care!’ I replied, ‘this is for your own good. You know all your isms these days ‘sexism’, ‘racism,’ ‘homophobic…..ism’…but watching drivel like this means you are more shackled with inappropriate sexual expectations and more beset with your body-image than ever. There’s a fantastic programme called ‘The Human Planet’ I’ve recorded – let’s watch that instead!’ Silence.

I’ve been telling them they are beautiful since they were born, but they see only perfect physical specimens around them. ‘I’m fat,’ said Bonnie, ‘look at my tummy! I need to go on a diet.’ ‘What??? WHAT DID YOU SAY??’ I am aghast, horrified. Eight years old. That’s it – anorexia, bulimia. And they’re all at it: ‘I hate my podgy knees, my hair is disgusting…’

‘Just eat healthy food, girls, do not go on diets’ I say. Turns out it’s my fault they binge on sweets and chocolate because I only buy ‘horrible’ fruit, and of course vegetables are not on the radar at all, don’t be daft. Year round blueberries and mangos would be helpful…so I dug deep and bought a heap of exotics with red ruby pomegranates as the centrepiece, the seeds of which I scattered hither and thither amongst fresh pineapple. ‘Look at those colours!’ I cooed ‘-what a stunning dessert!’ But it was ‘Ow! Pips! Bitter!’, Alan helpfully concurring in the background: ‘Mmm. I always found pommegranate disappointing..’ (SMACK). ‘Actually Mummy is their any ice-cream?’ they said. ‘Or is it bad for your skin?’

Saturday, 5 February 2011


HALLELUJAH!! With Secondary School just a few months off, Alfie has come in with the Big One; he is reading Harry Potter!!! His impressive reading bank now comprises Beano, Captain Underpants, Wimpy Kid, Match Magazine and Harry Potter! (I could include Top Trumps, but that would be gilding the lily)

To celebrate, I have thrown caution to the wind and bought new copies of the Harry Potter volumes at full price, an extravagance hitherto reserved for the School Book Fair when the Head is watching. ‘They’re classics, Alfie,’ I drawl ‘so we should buy nice new copies - maybe your own children will read them one day!’ (He reads a chapter book, next thing is I’m asking for grandchildren!’)

This zeal for self-improvement is down to his new teacher, the inspirational Ms P: ‘She writes words after my work instead of just ticks!’ ‘Never!’ ‘And she’s made this huge chart of conjgetives!’ ‘Con-nec-tives?’ ‘Yes!! D’you know about them too??!!’

Before Ms P (BP) literacy was as interesting to Alfie as a wet carrot. I’d find some ripped up piece of paper with illegible markings in his pocket, which I would waggle in front of him, wondering if he was planning to blow his nose on it. ‘What is this?’ I would say. ‘This is my story’, he’d reply, biting his lip to repress a snort of laughter. ‘I’ll read it to you: Billy Whizz got his lovely dinna and he got his shinny spoon and he put all the dinna in his mouth yum yum the end’

We have a little prayer of thanks for Ms P:

Our Ms P, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy pen
I thought I couldn’t write
Till you shone the light
But now I can spell ‘eleven’

Same story wih Maths – he’s on fire! ‘Mummy! Can I do another mental maths test? Please?’ ‘That’ll be ten tests, Alfie’ pinning my eyelids open ‘Ready? Two.. Thousand.. Divided.. By-‘ ‘SLOW DOWN MUMMY!!..’ The minute the test is finished ‘Mark it! Mark it!’ hopping from foot to foot – ‘What d’I get??’’

By contrast, the lovely Maddy, with GCSE courses a few months off, is in danger of sleeping through her entire secondary school career, though in her opinion it is the school that keeps tests and homeworks a secret from her. (‘Why didn’t you know about this homework???!!! Were you in the class??!!!!’ ‘Yeah, obviously’) She has to choose her GCSE Options: ‘So what do you want to do at GCSE, Maddy?’ ‘Nothing’ she says. ‘…well that’s as good a starting point as any...’

But she doesn’t have a Ms P, only me, so I decided this weekend it was time to pull out the big guns: ‘Maddy, I’ll do anything you want if you will just get your act together. I will buy you Supernoodles for a month!’ ‘Now you’re talking, Mummy!’ she said, putty in my hands. ‘Give me a pen – I’ve got work to do!’

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

The Historic Palaces Family Membership that I took out with such pride last Spring has been seriously under-used!!! Only one visit to each Palace; repeat visits declined! We should be intimately acquainted with every nook and cranny, every arbour, every stairwell of these national treasures by now!

Our trip to The Tower of London was a flop admittedly. I took Alfie and his friend Tommy (more fun with a friend!) but Alfie came over all poorly when we got there, collapsing on the stone slabs every three seconds. Tommy politely did the treasure trail provided alone, while I growled in Alfie’s ear ‘Come on, stand up, Tommy doesn’t want to talk to me all day!’ Very awkward; we couldn’t get home fast enough.

But Hampton Court went pretty well, what with ‘Henry VIII’ (‘is he the real one?!’) wandering around, and the Maze to look forward to at the end! It was a shame about the torrential rain, forcing us to do the Maze at a sprint, but we strung out the sandwiches in the car with a few word games that got everyone laughing, slightly, and everyone seemed fine about missing the Orangery and going home earlier than planned…

Kensington Palace was great – because of the fabulous designers’ exhibition livening up the rooms - so yesterday, I decided on a return visit, no excuses accepted.

Well first Maddy texts me from her bed ‘Just realised I have three home-works to do today! Really sorry –can’t come!’ I smiled – that girl always puts her work first! - then stomped up to her room: ‘Get up, then!’ Next Josie decides she can no way keep to her GCSE revision timetable, go to Kensington Palace and squeeze in nail varnish shopping. And then Alan pushes Alfie forward: ‘I will come,’ he says, ‘but Daddy and I have to be back for Spurs v Man U by one o’clock.’ ‘OK,’ I said, with gritted teeth, ‘we can just pop in to Kensington Palace for half an hour – that’s the beauty of Family Membership!’

By the time we’d spent three hours getting ready to ‘pop in’ to Central London, the timescale was looking a bit tight. ‘You always drive really really fast, Daddy!’ shouted Alfie as we raced along. ‘I don’t go that fast, son!’ said The Man, chuckle chuckle (‘it’s the testosterone’). ‘You do!’ said Bonnie, ‘and Mummy goes really slowly but she still bashes the car all the time! Hey look!’ she pointed. It was my sister and family, a good twenty-five minutes into their Sunday Walk. ‘See – they go for walks!’ I sniped.

The car spoke: ‘You are now entering the Congestion Zone!’ ‘Oh no!’ said Alfie, ‘How much is the Consheston Zone??’ (he’s a big saver). ‘It’s the ‘Con – gesssss - tion Zone’ Alfie, I corrected: ‘say it after me: Con - gesssss-‘ ‘HOW MUCH IS THE CONGESSSSSSTION ZZZZZZONE???’ he shouted. ‘There’s no charge on Sunday,’ said Bonnie, clever-clogs. ‘Actually my nose is congested,’ she went on ‘and I will uncongest it into my hand.’

All good things come to an end. We parked, and after we’d killed ourselves laughing at the children pretending to be fast asleep inside the car while we froze outside, Alfie got out, did a time-check ‘TWELVE O’CLOCK!’ and put us on our marks: ‘GET READY, GET SET, GO!!’ We ran the mile across the park and were in the Palace by ‘FIVE PAST TWELVE!’, bit puffed. Alfie’s hand was on my back, pushing. ‘Look at that beautiful dress, Alfie – Bruce Oldfield!’ I said, luching forwards. ‘QUARTER PAST!’ he shrieked, ‘Come on!’ Bonnie knew a better way around the Palace than the one in the leaflet, which meant doubling back when we got lost. ‘TWENTY-FIVE PAST!!!!’ Alfie bawled in a frenzy, yanking me by the sleeve from one room to another. ‘Do we have to tear around like lunatics to get back for your cursed football?’ I grumbled. ‘TIME’S UP! WE’RE GOING HOME!’ he replied. ‘RUN!!! OR WE’LL MISS KICK-OFF!!’

We were back home so fast I surprised Maddy with her hands in the kitchen cupboard – not eating the drinking chocolate, but scanning it with her I Touch. ‘Look, Mummy, my I Touch can tell you what this is, and where you can buy it – isn’t that cool?!’ ‘Have you done the homework that prevented you from coming to Kensington Palace?’ I said, deadpan. ‘Because otherwise, you will be scanning drinking chocolate in a supermarket for the rest of your life!’ She looked quite keen on the idea, but got out her books.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Three Cs - or was it C Sharp?

If we're talking mother-daughter relationships, there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to Bonnie and me. A few minutes of her ‘willful’ approach to life, and I am a screaming purple-faced wretch, clawing at the sky, howling into the moon:


So I've come up with my very own mantra - the kind that has Alan dancing on the ceiling in his management training courses - and here it is: ‘Three Cs in a Crisis: Calm, Control, Consequence.'

Armed with the Three Cs I ‘helped’ Bonnie with her violin practice this morning. She just doesn't understand how fortunate she is that I am a piano teacher, on hand 24/7 to correct her mistakes! If we got through this without a show-down we were really on to something...

‘You expect me to play the violin on a Saturday morning when I’m supposed to be free?’ was her starter for ten. ‘Yes – remember you promised, because you wouldn’t practise in the week? Tell you what - we can do some art together afterwards as a reward!’ ‘OK then’ she groaned, eyes to the ceiling, ‘but I’ll do the art first’ (She likes to make the decisions). ‘In fact, I’ll paint my walls!’ Another unilateral decision.

Now I was hippy dippy when we had scuzzy crumbling walls, but now that we are skimmed polished and painted (due to a series of lucky floods) I couldn’t bare the daubing of hearts, dogs and Mario all over the smooth pink, so there was a sigh. ‘Well, I’ll do your art thing if you want me to,’ she said. ‘It’s not me who wants to do it!’ I snapped (whoops) ‘I thought you would be delighted to have me all to yourself!’ Petulant, and I haven’t finished yet: ‘We can forget it if it’s such a big effort!’ ‘Mmm, actually I’d rather ‘go somewhere’ for my reward’, she said (shopping).

Back to the practice (Keep your focus! You are in Control!). Eventually she started on her piece. ‘Bonnie’ I said, ‘can you just stop a minute, that C-’. She carries on playing. I let her play the whole piece. ‘Now, Bonnie, that C-’. She carries on playing. ‘Bonnie, would you mind just stopping, that C should be C sharp...’ She starts plucking her violin loudly while I talk. Plink! Plonk! ‘Bonnie, can you hear me talking? ‘ she’s pulling a face, mimicking me, which I ignore at the expense of my blood pressure. Plink! Plonk! ‘Bonnie can you stop plucking while I’m talking -’ ‘Are we finished yet, Mummy??’ She’s flopped her head back, groaning, and falls onto the sofa. ‘Bonnie! Stand up please! ’ ‘Hey, Mummy! Have we got any noodles?’ ‘Bonnie!’ I said, in my chokey voice, the one that is suppressing raging fury (that’s the CALM voice). I wrestle the violin off her. ‘Listen. This is C, and this is C sharp.’

‘FOR GOD’S SAKE’ she shouts, ‘I DID DO C SHARP!! And you are not my actual violin teacher. You are just a little piano teacher. YOU JUST WANT TO MAKE ME FEEL BAD AS USUAL!!’

There is a short silence while I consider whether to ram the violin over her head. But I would have a real sense of failure if I did, what with The Three Cs, so I leave the room – CALM!!! CONTROL THE SHOUT!!!! CONTROL IT!!!! - without shouting. ‘Fine! Be like that!’ she calls after me. SOD HER.

I congratulated myself on finally getting things right: no practice, no art, no loving relationship – fantastic! Mind you, no shouting. Now for the Consequence…

She sidled up later: ‘Are we going shopping yet?’ ‘I am waiting for you to apologise for being so rude, Bonnie.’ ‘What for? Oh yeah sorry when are we going shopping? You promised to buy me some pumps! Remember, when you and Daddy were building the table tennis table you said ‘if you bloody well stop batting ping-pong balls at my head I will buy you some pumps’’ This is true, but I was ready with the Consequence! ‘We are not going shopping unless you do your practice. Actions have Consequences, young lady!’ Calm, Control, Consequence! Oh, man!

And then she did practice. (WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!)

So we skipped off to the shops. I got cocky when we passed Clarke’s Shoes and thought maybe I could exert some Calm, Control and Consequences over the shoe situation, so that the warm, waterproof shoes sitting in our hall, could replace the crocks that have kept her feet wet and cold all through the winter...but too much brilliant parenting might have Consequences. ‘Give me a hug, Bonnie’ I said. ‘Straight to Primark..?’

Saturday, 8 January 2011


After throwing a truly sensational New Year’s Eve dinner party of left-overs for my oldest friends, Alan went off to visit his parents on New Year's Day, and I sat down with the children to receive their compliments about what a wonderful Christmas they’d had and how the old family wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Well. Two of them said they felt that their siblings all absolutely hated them. Josie said she felt invisible. Alfie made no contribution to this inspirational exchange since he’d been ill in bed since Christmas, incidentally stemming the usual two-way flow of emotional and flesh wounds between himself and Bonnie. Anyway, I was going off this conversation fast and decided to delay my book on parenting.

Maybe we’d all had enough of each other’s company? Could it be true?

Alan returned from the parental visit also rather strained; the remit for the trip was, as ever, to inject enough odd jobbery, bright-eyed listening, and good news stories about all of us into their lives to last until the next visit; it was merely an unfortunate side-effect on this occasion that he was able to notch up another Bank Holiday out of the house when everything is shut shut shut, not that I’d complain, it being his Dad’s birthday and all.

Yes, Alan was definitely on the ratty side today; as we climbed into the car (for we were out for lunch), Bonnie said ‘There’s a huge scratch on the car, Daddy’, and the reply came straight back: ‘There are a lot of scratches on the car that don’t appear to be anyone’s fault’ (barely perceptible glance at me). Ouch!

It was high time to launch New Year’s Resolution Number One themed around stop-being-a-grumpy-old-cow and SMILE in the face of adversity thus spreading joy and harmony about your person. When Alan comes home from work instead of continuing to wipe counters with my back to him and mumbling ‘…didn’t know you were going to be late again..’ or continuing with my foul stream of consciousness but out loud for his benefit ‘...who left that there!!?? Already tidied up once!...’ I shall turn around, look him warmly in the eyes – perhaps even take him in my arms! - and say ‘Hello, how was your day?’, then I will SMILE widely. Likewise, when the children get up in the morning, instead of carping on ‘…What’s the point in me waking you up an hour ago it you just lie in bed?!!You’re late!!! ..’, I will SMILE and exclaim ‘Well, looky here! It’s my special girl/boy! You really needed that sleep didn’t you??! Now you gotta run run run!!’

So there we were in the car, me SMILING all over my face, no point denying that scratches do appear on the paintwork quite frequently. But let's move on! I requested freezing air conditioning during the journey, since we were taking ice-cream with us to our friends (surely thumping our hands together for warmth was better than melting the ice-cream?). Alan’s response was a sharp ‘This is a family car, not an ice-cream van!’ (Ooooh!)

Time to pull out New Year’s Resolution Number Two, ‘Let’s Agree to Disagree’ (or ‘Two Rights don’t make a Wrong’ as one of the children so refreshingly put it) for I had inadvertantly wandered onto mutually forbidden territory – heating of airspaces!! – the subject of open warfare between two otherwise reasonable human beings for twenty two years. SMILING would get me nowhere here. The germ of this second resolution had been born on a mild night in December. Alan had come home earlier than expected and caught me red-handed with the heating off. ’Fires are not for just switching on and off!!’ he fairly shouted, as if I was crazy. ‘Why did you turn the fire off?’ ‘It was stuffy’ I muttered into my lap, shakily ‘the heating’s been on since 6am’. ‘Well, now I’m cold’ he pouted, and we were off, or would have been if I hadn’t stopped and thought ‘Let’s Agree to Disagree!’ (I’ll just turn the heating off without telling him).

Back in the car, I glanced at my ice-cream anxiously, and forced it out: ‘Let’s Agree to Disagree’ and - score! - a compromise agreement was struck and the air-conditioning was set to ‘cool’. Bring it on, 2011!!

Lemon Glue

There goes Christmas for another year - done! (but not dusted). A combination of ice and illness has now transformed us into a clutch of activity-averse, pallid-skinned yawners, lumbering in slow motion from one warmish-spot to another, our pathetic radiators (‘OK, we give up’) providing less heat than the steam off a cuppa. The children are flicking switches, topping up their pouches with chocolate, and lying amongst banks of handcream, Florentines, cranberry chutney, sweet wrappers, teddies, books flicked and left, Wii discs out of boxes, CDs, DVDs, malting tinsel, pine needles, all the rubbish chocolates, and things half-put-away by me before exhaustion set in at the thought of the BIG SORT OUT required to find crevices for all the new junk.

But that's what holidays are for, isn't it? Unwinding, emptying your head - I get that, dood (at least I try to). Why not watch morning TV!!? For a long time? Why not? Why not sleep till 1pm? Only nutcases and competitive freaks would consider squeezing five minutes flute practice out of their over-pushed children, or dragging them out in the cold to experience the snow upon their mitts, or getting homework done before the first day of term - honestly, those poor kids! Not me, no. This emancipated mum rejects middle-class pressures (for two weeks) and will provide instead a loving and cosy nest for her little chicks to snuggle in…

But occasionally my stomach goes flip. Oh no! We are dumbing down! Why won’t the girls select the Plight of Wild Black Bears in Minnesota instead of Friends, just occasionally? What is wrong with us that we don’t want to do anything?? Oh no, oh no! Something has gone terribly wrong. Get your violin out! Read the damn book! ‘Have you got any homework?’ I ask Maddy. ‘Mummy! Not now!’ as if I’d suggested skinning a rabbit. ‘But you are doing nothing, I believe’ I dare to utter. ‘Actually I’m exploring my ipod touch’ (eight days and counting) ‘and later I’m meeting a friend to eat crisps and sit down’.

Apart from the occasional neurotic flare-up on my part (six gigantic pink and lime storage boxes from Wilkinsons – put things in boxes, it doesn’t matter what!) I'd just about got the hang of the slothing, when blow me, Bonnie started getting all active! ‘I’m opening my Slime Set’ she said. ‘Wonderful darling!’ I shouted, hoisting myself out of my coma of low level housework. Father Christmas had given her various arty sets to keep her busy for a few months, but no, she was going to do them all today, starting with mixing up the olive oil, sugar and lemon facial scrub (‘You can use some when I’ve made it Mummy!’) requiring vigorous whipping according to Bonnie’s take on the directions. So I’m wiping it off the walls while she tips the remainder on the floor and starts on the second row of her knitting, which I’ve been passing from one surface to another since Christmas Day. ‘Mummy! Are you listening to me? I’ve dropped a stitch!’ and it’s off with the marigolds (support the creativity – do not complain!) to check the knitting and stand in the lemon glue.

At this point, I introduce a reminder in my getting cross now voice that she needs to clear up one activity before starting the next. ‘Yes, Mummy’ and she floats a paper towel down to my feet for me to use, simultaneously beckoning, ‘Come on Mummy, I want to make the pyjama case in my Girls Annual!’ I leave my shoes in the oil slick and get her some old pyjamas to cut up. ‘Mummy, I thought you wanted me to learn how to sew! Why aren’t you helping me?’ Up I come off the floor again where I’ve discovered oil and sugar to be a challenging combination for one who does quantity but not quality cleaning. We discuss cutting and stitching and I thread a needle, all on tippy toes because of sticky feet. She does a couple of enormous stitches then Maddy appears, having risen alarmingly before mid-day to train Bonnie in using her new Wii game. ‘May I go Mummy? Please?’ I pretend disappointment for a millisecond, then smile ‘Oh, go on then’, because I only want her to be happy..

Monday, 27 December 2010

Pack a Punch

I think we are coming to the end of an era. Bonnie marched up to me on Christmas Eve and fixed me with a glare somewhere between scorn, victory and disappointment. ‘I’ve got something very serious to tell you, Mummy: I’ve found the presents: You are Father Christmas!’ and she led me to a stack of presents in Alan’s wardrobe. ‘I think those are Daddy’s surprise presents for me!’ I whispered ‘Can you keep it a secret?’

It was a long night: ‘You can’t send me to bed; Christmas is a time to be with your family!’ (10pm); ‘I’m indigesting my food’ (11pm); ‘I don’t know whether I believe in father Christmas or not!’ (midnight, weeping); ‘I’m still awake!’ (1.30am).

At some point in the dead of night there was a commotion in the cellar, the crash of falling bottles, a muffled ‘OW! SH*T!!’…but there on Christmas Morning, set before the fireplace, were four piles of presents – magical!

The front room was transformed quickly into a trash can of wrappings, bells and bows, presents small and large tossed aside for the next one, and children lying down on top of the clutter, tapping and stroking their various squillion shmegabite this, that and the others. Alan made grateful noises about his (yes, his) stocking fillers, ‘ah, this edition of Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable…I don’t suppose the new one is much different…’ and tried to understand why the fridge magnet I chose for him ‘Fridge Pickers wear Large Knickers’ made me howl quite so uncontrollably. But soon I was getting twitchy about the mess so disappeared into the kitchen to get down and dirty with Jamie Oliver and ‘pack a punch’ into the maris pipers (‘smash those little babies (garlic) and chuck’em in with the big boys’), speed-peel the apples for a crumble, and of course teach Bonnie to knit right now (‘Father Christmas gets me the best presents’).

Alan was upstairs reading the ingredients on the toothpaste, in fact everyone was relaxing while I was doing my usual clockwork mouse impression, so I roared ‘What exactly are you all doing? Cathy and Johnny (neighbours) are coming in a minute, get dressed all of you, tidy up, teeth, hair, MOVE!!’ (Happy Christmas!), and funnily enough, Alan shot down the stairs a second later looking like that was exactly what he was about to say, and started yelling at the children who bawled: ‘I DIDN’T MAKE THE MESS - YOU’RE SO MEAN’ . Soon it sounded like he might ‘pack a punch’ into something else…

But just then our lovely neighbours arrived for a Christmas Drink, controversially arranged by Alan to start half an hour before we were due at my sisters for Christmas Dinner. ‘We can be flexible’ he’d remonstrated, meaning I should give in and ask her to stall the roast: ‘it’s Christmas – there’s no timetable’ he said (Oh?). I put it to him that he might not feel quite so flexible if he was the one with a duck in the oven already at the crispy stage and no guests in sight. But according to him, my inclination to show up before Ducky was cinders was anal rather than courteous so I delivered my own off-the-air Christmas Lecture, (and this one did ‘pack a punch’) on the subject of ‘I AM EXTREMELY ANGRY*!!*’ in the car on the way to my sisters, switching seamlessly to ‘Hello! Merry Christmas!’ upon arrival. We passed a very pleasant family day, all our lovely children getting a bit of the limelight - mine for stretching the hamster, hers for making the desserts, one a piece. A Merry Christmas To One and All!

Friday, 24 December 2010

We are Family

The serial Christmas Show-watching has drawn to a close. My highlights of the week:

1. Street-dancers, Secondary School Show - bums 'n' boobs, thrust 'n' jerk! - in the faces of the audience of middle-aged parents. Crikey.

2. Eleven year old boy band, same show, crooning ‘I lost my way, oh yeah, the lonely path, oh oh oh’ (‘Marmite soldiers for breakfast please, Mummy!’)

3. Inaudible Brownie Show ‘The Pnshs Oun’, that's all I know.

4. The shocking BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAST of Bonnie’s brass and wind concert: thirty beginner trumpets and clarinets in concert…but not in control. Very frightening.

Now it's just us, time to be together, reconnect. Snow underfoot (what a treat!), arms linked as we stomp across the Heath, then home to a roaring coal fire, tree twinkling, cocoa and muffins, ‘Mummy, do read us a story!’ ‘Yes, darlings, gather round!…Once upon a time...’ We are family.

Seriously, I entered the holiday so SICK of telling them all what to do since September (get up! go to bed! pick it up! eat it! stop eating! do your homework!) I decided to chill, man, after all this is the twenty-first century, things have changed - why would anyone want to make a horrible Christmas decoration when they could be shooting squeaky blobby things? ‘You can do whatever you like’ I said with the magnanimity of one who is about to get two weeks of quality time alone, and they vanished to log on. I closed the kitchen door: haha! I get it now!

But guess what – we can bicker with all the computers and tellies on, as well as off!

Mummy! It’s my turn on the computer. Alfie won’t come off!’
‘She can use the laptop!’
‘The laptop’s rubbish -tell him to get off!’
‘Wait! I’m in the middle of a level!’
‘Five minutes Alfie – be patient Bonnie!’
‘You always take Alfie’s side!’
‘No I don’t - I’m just trying to teach you to be a nice person, Bonnie’
‘You are teaching me to be a nice person badly!’
‘What about the wii, Bonnie – why don’t you go on that?’
‘Maddy won’t let me’
‘Hey - that’s because you always promise to put it away then don’t!’
‘That’s not true Maddy – you got it out first!’
‘You used it last, and it’s mine anyway!’
‘It’s not fair, I can’t buy anything because I haven’t got any money
‘Bonnie, that’s because you spend it all!’
‘No it’s because horrible Mummy fines me all the time for nothing!’
Hey Mummy! She took my chair, I only went to the loo!
‘It’s my turn anyway! Haha! OW! OW! Mummy! MUMMY!!! He hit me!!’
‘She stole my chair!’ and on..and on.. and on.

The screens rule came crashing down. ‘SWITCH IT OFF! AND THAT! AND THAT! OFF! OFF! OFF! NO SCREENS TILL 3PM!’

So Alfie set about entertaining himself:
‘I’m bored. What can I do?’
‘Read your book!’
‘I don’t know where it is’
Look for it, and look properly, don’t just stand still and swivel your eyes about!’
‘Mm.. I’m bored. What can I do?’
‘Empty the dishwasher’ (he is a Junior Citizen now after all).We negotiated a price of 75p
‘You should do chores anyway!!’
So he began, lifting one small plate: ‘Where does this go?’
‘In the left hand cupboard’
‘Where’s the cupboard?’
‘In front of you. Those are the cupboards’
‘What’s the left?’
‘The left cupboard. The cupboard that is on the left.’
(OK, calm down, you can do this).‘What hand do you write with, Alfie?’
‘Um…um…this one!’
‘That’s your left hand... So put the plate in the left-hand cupboard!’…
’Mummy, where does this go…?’ Jesus.

Bonnie can pass twenty minutes or so providing I’m prepared to hoover glitter off the ceiling, and I tricked Alfie into decorating a yule log by inviting a friend of his who likes that sort of thing, but he got his own back: ‘Look Mummy, Father Christmas’s head is in the chocolate butter-cream, and the reindeer’s on his bum ha ha ha!’ ‘Now now boys, don’t be silly!! Let’s just take Santa out and wash his head’.

We did have the snow: ‘Alfie you must stand at least one metre away from Bonnie when you throw compacted snowballs at her face’. But in the main, it’s been hard-going – and still three days to go..

Poor Alan’s working right up to Christmas Eve ‘Sorry Soph, someone has to do it’ (punching the air), and partying after work most nights with some TLA (Three Letter Acronym) or other: ‘RSM tonight – just got to show my face’ (home at midnight) – or worse still, ‘I’ll be home for something to eat’, slipping in as I’m letting rip the final tender goodnights ‘THAT’S IT – YOU’RE NOT GETTING A TUCK IN!’, to boozily fill me in on his plans to offer a human resources service to the entire galaxy by 2012, while I nod and think ‘I forgot the pink shrimps for your stocking’.