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..