Friday, 22 November 2013

Letter to Grandma

This is an open letter to my grandmother, who sadly passed away three weeks ago today.

Dear Grandma

My amazing grandmother
Your great granddaughters, Betty and Dolly, are missing you so much. I am too. Dolly has cried a lot and keeps asking to see photos - there are many with you two gazing adoringly at each other. You both had a very special bond, and I know that the fact you always called her a 'little bugger' was a term of great affection.

Betty is showing her grief in a different way and is trying to be brave. She is concentrating on comforting her little sister. But just before bed the other night, I saw her thoughtfully looking at the candle we have had burning for you, and close to tears, she quietly said 'goodbye grandma.' It broke my heart. You two were also very close - you and granddad were her first visitors at the hospital when she was born, after all. And you both admirably braved the snow and ice to attend her first birthday.

Both girls always loved coming to visit you. And when we'd arrive you would always have a duster in your hand and the ironing board out, and needless to say, your house was spotless. This made me feel very nervous with two small children in tow. And while I was almost blowing a gasket, I was always amazed at how calm you appeared when the girls dropped cake crumbs throughout your house and then trod them into the carpet, and smeared chocolate into the cushions, and left jam fingerprints on the wall. But you always put me at my ease and refused to let me get the vacuum cleaner out. And then off we'd go, laden with Dolly Mixtures and Turkish Delight in the pink boxes, and you'd tell me off for having a filthy car. I would love to know what you did after we left - I am guessing you were up til midnight straightening things out. As granddad always said: 'If I had a brass button on my bottom she'd polish it.'

Grandma, you were truly brilliant... when I think of you...

I think of the lady who made the most perfect Victoria sandwich, and the best roast dinners. I had my first taste of sherry at your house, while you and mum were having a tipple before our roast lamb one day. And after lunch you and I would sit down and excitedly swap our Mills and Boon books with each other. We would talk about our favourite bits, and you would tell me about Rock Hudson. I think I was about eight at the time, and thought you were so cool. And my Sindys were the most well kitted out dolls in the history of mankind, thanks to you.

The speed at which you would knit while watching the telly was incredible, and you'd stay up all night knitting yourself a cardigan because you wanted to wear it the next day. You once knitted me a school jumper which wasn't quite the regulation shade of bottle green - at first I was mortified about having to wear it, but grew to love it in the end.

You had a wicked sense of humour, and we would heartily cackle together about the same things. You always looked immaculate, and were Marks and Spencer's best customer. You were fiercely independent, still cleaning your windows and weeding between your paving stones at 93.

You loved sunbathing, and your figurines, and yellow primroses, and Princess Diana, and Corrie, and you pretended to love cBeebies (for the sake of my children). You got me hooked on Viennetta and mint jelly. You made truly magnificent trifles and mince pies, and regularly force fed me angel cake, but you were a painfully fussy eater, often taking your own cheese sandwiches if we went out for lunch.

You often remarked on how much Tom looks like Elvis and how I'd got myself a real catch. And you completely adored and doted on Betty and Dolly. And you always asked after my mum who I know you were very close to. When you last saw her your smile lit up the room.

You were an amazing, funny, kind, loving lady and you touched us all. We all love you so much, and I am so glad that you and I held each other tightly not so long ago and told each other so.

You were such a big and important part of our lives, and you will be sorely missed. We send love, light and happiness to you always.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Things I hate about Christmas

a depressing Christmas scene
I am listing below my grievances related to the ever-expanding festive period:
  • Mince pies being sold in September, with a best before date of 25th October (two whole months before the big day itself).
  • People who buy mince pies in September, eat them, and remark on how festive they are feeling.
  • Shop-bought nativity costumes - tea towels, old sheets, tinsel, and dressing gowns are what nativities are all about, not spending a small fortune on an elaborate sheep costume in Sainsbury's.
  • Fake Santas - I have never seen a convincing Santa in a grotto. So when your child meets a skinny man (sometimes woman) dressed in red and wearing trainers, with no charisma, a blonde ponytail sticking out from under a cheap synthetic wig, who then hands them a crap present (which you've paid £5 for), it makes them ask a lot of questions, and completely shatters the magic.
  • Christmas cards - writing and sending cards is both time consuming and expensive. If you want to write a heartfelt festive letter (or email) to dear friends and family telling them of your news, then that's lovely. But merely scrawling your name on a tasteless M&S card and sending it to someone that you see every day, or haven't seen for thirty years come to that, just for the sake of it, is totally pointless. I realise I now won't receive any Christmas cards this year and I'll have to buy a load to send to myself from imaginary people otherwise my house will look bare and people will ask awkward questions.
  • Unwanted presents - my house is already filled to the brim with crap that I don't know what to do with, so I would really prefer not to add to it. So please think before you buy me that mini food processor (intended for a family of one) - will I actually find a use for it? Or will it kick around in the back of the cupboard, taking up valuable space while housing a few mice, before I feel an acceptable period of time has passed when I can cart it off to the charity shop?
  • The giant inflatable Father Christmas that pops up outside the garden centre on the way into Hereford, in mid October. Every time we drive past it, it has either deflated and lies in an ugly, muddy, depressing heap on the ground, or the looming monstrosity gets the children really excited because they think Christmas is just around the corner.
  • Christmas trees that start appearing in the windows of houses in November - I genuinely don't understand how the owners don't get sick of the sight of them - all those baubles, and gaudy tinsel.
  • And even worse, Christmas trees that are still up in February.
  • Receiving emails that are signed off with 'Wishing you a very happy Christmas' from the beginning of November.
  • Christmas shoppers in the January sales.
  • The question 'What are you doing for Christmas?' asked in July.
  • Feeling obliged to put on two stone.

I might sound like a miserable old cow, but these things really get me down. I absolutely LOVE Christmas. I love taking the kids to the nativity service in Hereford cathedral on Christmas Eve, marvelling at the Christmas lights on Regent Street, buying them little stocking fillers that I know will make them chortle, making the Christmas pudding and sipping on mulled wine, seeing the kids with tea towels strapped to their heads, watching their little faces as they discover the presents under the tree, making decorations, eating pigs in blankets, singing carols around the piano, lighting the advent candle, leaving Father Christmas a glass of sherry and a satsuma, and playing with new toys and games. But for us, none of this takes place until we are well and truly into December.

So I really resent the fact that all around us, Christmas now seems to take up 25% of the entire year. Apart from anything else it gets in the way of my Easter preparations, which I like to begin in August.

Photo source: flickr/Po'Jay

Monday, 18 November 2013

Birthday/rugby mania, and Betty's big day

After a six month countdown, and a weekend of birthday treats and celebrations, Betty finally turned seven today! 

She was gutted that she had to go to school on her birthday. But as I packed her off this morning with the 24 cupcakes for her class, I was secretly relieved to be having a few hours' respite from birthday mania.

On Saturday we took the girls ice-skating at the Winter Wonderland in Cardiff. We thought it would be fun to take the train, until we realised that there was a major rugby match taking place at the Millennium Stadium later that day. The train was jam-packed, and we were told that unless we got the 3.55pm train back again, we would have little chance of getting home.

So Betty's birthday day out took place at very high speed. We had lunch on the go, while jogging to the ice-skating rink from Cardiff Central, pushing our way through the pissed Wales supporters, and dissuading the girls from wanting a Welsh dragon tattooed on their cheek.

After an hour on the ice, being bashed in the ankles and sent flying by Dolly and her penguin support, and trying to protect Betty from a fast but out-of-control woman who seemed to be tailing us for the entire session, we hung up our skates.

Betty and I then had a quick go on a fair ride, which spun us over the rooftops of Cardiff. It was exhilarating but terrifying, and I am always amazed at Betty, who freaks out over a pimple on her knee, but is totally unfazed by being shot 60 metes into the sky on a plastic swing with her mum screaming in her ear.

We then had to race back to the station before the rugby match finished. We made it just in time, and saw just one confused rugby fan wandering up and down the platform.

Having recovered from our day trip, my next task was to start thinking about the 'amazing' Disney Princess birthday cake that Betty had requested. I enlisted Dolly's help, and yesterday we pored over photos on the internet for inspiration. Thank goodness for Pinterest, is all I can say. Three tiers (and tears), 14 eggs, and a few minor disagreements with Dolly over the design later, we were done.

Betty, I do hope you like the cake and that it meets your expectations, and is better than the cake you said you wanted from Sainsbury's just an hour after I had spent an entire day making you one at home.

Happy birthday my darling, beautiful, clever, funny girl. Your love of Disney Princesses, and astronomy, and the workings of the human body, and rainbows, and gel pens, and joined up writing, makes you very unique and brilliant indeed, and we love you very very much.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Getting lost down memory lane (in London)

Betty on the escalator 
We went on a fleeting trip to London last weekend, just for one night. I liked the idea of casually jumping in the car on a Saturday morning with our toothbrushes, and making our way there, as though it were just twenty minutes down the road. Pretending it is that easy really comforts me and helps expand my mental horizons beyond sheep and mud. 

In reality though, the journey takes four hours, the kids get bored, fight over the iPad, and punch each other, while I bark at them, Tom sighs and we eventually turn the radio up loud enough to drown them out. However, as soon as we hit the A40 traffic on the outskirts of London, and started seeing signs for the North Circular, as always, my stress levels begin to lift. 

The thick smell of car fumes, the rows of short flickering street lights near Heathrow, the old Hoover building, and picking up Magic FM on the radio... All reminders for me that we were entering one of the best cities in the world, and returning to the scene of some of my happiest memories. 

As we wove our way through the narrow streets of West London, Tom and I excitedly pointed out familiar landmarks; the house I lived in when I was 23, Tom's favourite sausage roll shop, our favourite Thai takeway, and a big tree that is still causing the pavement to erupt next to the launderette. In part the conversation was designed to demonstrate to the girls just how well their parents knew this great city, but in the back of the car Dolly had found a plastic spoon and Betty wanted it. 

These days, as soon as we get into London, I am always itching to get straight on the tube. The familiar worn blue velvety seats, the yellow sticky poles, the adverts for holidays in the countryside and perfume, and most importantly, the people. I try to imagine who they are, what exciting things they might have done that morning, and where they are going. In Hereford this game of people watching is far harder, because pretty much everywhere you go, you know everyone and where they are going. 

As an adult, traveling by tube means either staring at your book, or your nails, or trying not to get caught staring at the person sitting opposite you. Heaven forbid if you make eye contact with someone, or raise a slight smile.

With children on a tube however, it becomes a totally different experience.  People were happily offering up their seats for my girls, and chatting to them. One guy gave Dolly a hanky to wipe her nose, while someone else stopped Betty going flying as the train screeched to a halt in a station. 

And this friendliness towards children isn't just restricted to the tube. People were still friendly on the escalators, on the streets, in the shops, everywhere. 

It was also so blissful and urban, and such a contrast to the routine out here in the sticks, that I confidently strode off in completely the wrong direction when we came out of the tube station and we quickly got lost. For quite a long time I pretended to know where I was going because it was too much for my pride to look like a tourist, and I would rather have ended up in Epping Forest or Dorking than get out an A to Z, or ask for directions.

Eventually, however, Dolly started to grow suspicious (it was growing dark by then, and we could almost see fields) so Tom asked a friendly man in a hat where exactly we were. It turned out that he didn’t know either, but luckily we managed to find another tube station before too long and we piled back onto another train. 

It wasn’t quite so friendly this time and the novelty was starting to wear off a bit for Betty and Dolly. Pretty soon we were all getting upset and shouty and people were giving us looks. I wanted to turn around and say, hey, we’re not a bunch of chav hicks, I used to live next door to George Martin, but by then the bubble had burst. 

It was a lovely weekend though. Such a great place to visit, and I still sort of consider myself a Londoner even though I live miles from the smoke. London is still mine, all mine, even if I look like a clueless tourist sometimes...

Monday, 11 November 2013

Urgent Appeal: Philippines Typhoon

Save the Children have put out an urgent appeal to help families who have been affected by the devastating typhoon in the Philippines, who need urgent, life-saving supplies.

195mph winds have struck populated areas, forcing families to flee their homes, and putting lives at risk.

Please help by donating to their Philippines Typhoon Appeal.  A donation of £50 could provide four families with clean and safe water and soap for a month.

Please give what you can to help children through this terrifying time.

Competition! Fabulous Snow Play theatre tickets

Betty and Dolly building a snowman
Where we live, when we get snow it can mean being marooned for several days at a time, and I don't like it!  Pretend snow is far more civilised, which is why I am very excited about taking the girls to see Snow Play at Bloomsbury Theatre in London this December (that's if we're not snowed in).

And I have a family ticket to give away as a competition prize!

This critically acclaimed show (which first premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2011) features snowball fights, snowman-building and a stage full of snowy-white fluff, as children and families are invited to take part in the action in what promises to be a uniquely interactive and engaging production.

Winter, in the form of Mr White refuses to leave when Mr Green, representing Spring, arrives back home from his holidays. Worse still, Mr White loves covering Mr Green’s house and garden with snow! As the weather gets warmer the two embark on a series of adventures, in a fun-filled snowy-showdown between the seasons. 

The show runs from 10th December to 11th January, it lasts one hour, and is suitable for 3-8 year olds.  The winner will be able to choose the date they wish to go.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a family ticket is leave a comment at the end of this post telling us when you think we will get our first flurry of real snow this winter.

For an extra entry you can tweet:
Win a fabulous 'Snow Play' family theatre ticket with @elsiebutton at: http://bit.ly/17ZirtZ

The competition will close on Monday 25th November at 6pm when all entries will be placed into a draw and a winner picked out at random. Please remember to leave your contact details so that we are able to get in touch with you if you win. The tickets will be sent out direct from the organisers.

Good luck!
UK residents only

Friday, 8 November 2013

A seven-year-old's birthday wish list

It's Betty's seventh birthday in just over a week, and boy don't we know it.  She has been doing a countdown since May, and every single day informs us of how many days there are to go.  I just hope that when the big day arrives it's not going to be a massive anti-climax - I am seriously feeling the pressure right now.

While browsing the aisles in Sainsbury's yesterday, I had a little moment of nostalgia.  Those days of her being over the moon at receiving a sticker book, or a pot of glitter from a supermarket are long gone.  Having said this, I do take heart in the fact that she has requested a couple of surprisingly simple (cheap!) items this year.

Here is Betty's birthday wish list (at the time of going to press, anyway):
  • Ruby Ducks printed dress - as readers of this blog know, Betty loves her duck, probably even more than she loves us - so for her this dress is PERFECT.
  • Pink 'grown-up' camera - for the last few months she has been using an old camera of mine, which has a big crack across the screen - but she has demonstrated her love of picture taking, and is actually quite good.
  • Gel Pens - the girl is obsessed with gel pens.

Thanks to Joules for sponsoring this post! 

Monday, 4 November 2013

I broke Gove's rule, and my children benefited


We recently went on holiday to Mallorca, and to save ourselves a heck of a lot of money, we went three days before the girls broke up for half-term.

The delightful Michael Gove says that by taking your kids out of school for a few days during term-time for a family holiday will harm their education.  And so he has imposed a ridiculous new rule on us. Bollocks!

For the sake of missing a few days from school, my children were exposed to a whole wealth of new experiences - which they would never be able to get at school.

It was the first time we've been abroad as a family, and everything was new.  My girls experienced an airport for the very first time.  They learnt about aviation, and had the thrill of taking off into the sky and being above the clouds. They saw a bizarre circular rainbow. They got to go into the cockpit, and meet a real life (extremely handsome) pilot. They got to see almost the entire length of England and France from above - the millions of green fields and 'toy houses', and the Pyrenees, and the boats on the English Channel. And then they had the thrill of sucking lots of sweets, popping their ears, and landing in a different country. They marvelled at the hot weather, seeing real palm trees and giant cacti, swimming in a warm sea, and having massive grasshoppers crawl up their arms. They learnt how to expertly peel a prawn, and they got to speak proper Spanish, and drink Fanta (and watch mummy drinking PiƱa Coladas). They saw magnificent cathedrals, quaint Spanish villages, donkeys, beautiful pink flowers, incredible street entertainment, and Dolly got to meet Mickey Mouse. They got to splash around in an outdoor pool without getting frostbite, play on lilos, and greatly improve their swimming and ball skills. They got excited about the hotel lift and took it in turns to press the buttons. They experienced a crazy electric storm and flooding on the streets, and a terrifying drive along a windy and steep mountain road. They learnt about a different culture, the people, the food, the language, the plant and animal life, the time difference, and driving on the wrong side of the road. 

And as a family we had a very important and happy and relaxed time together.

So, Mr Gove, if you think there's a more educational and wholesome way to spend a few days, I'd like to hear it... 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

An Autumnal Scavenger Hunt

This fun scavenger hunt was supplied by Center Parcs - happy hunting!

With winter approaching faster than any of us would like, it is important that we get out and enjoy the autumnal weather. Autumn is a magical season of tonal changes and brusque walks. Admit it, there are few greater pleasures than wading knee deep in a pile of leaves, and I don’t care how old you are. It’s a season of great diversity and colour and lends itself to scavenger hunts set up for children. Be it in your garden, local park or as you set out on an autumn break, Center Parcs have designed a scavenger hunt for your child to enjoy with their friends. 

The Rules
  • Write down a list of things likely to be found in your garden/park. (We’ve started you off with a few examples below)
  • Give one to each child, along with a bag to carry their autumnal treasures
  • Explain that they need to find these items in an allotted amount of time 
  • Call them back 5 minutes before you stop the clock so you can see what they have found and give them a score
  • More points are awarded for rarity/difficulty to find. The winner is the one who found the rarest items.
An Example List of Scavenger’s autumn treasure
  • 1 point (least rare) – A yellow leaf
  • 2 points – An orange leaf
  • 3 points – A red leaf
  • 4 points – A twig with moss on it
  • 5 points – A squirrel
  • 6 points – An evergreen leaf
  • 7 points – A pigeon feather
  • 8 points – A pine cone
  • 9 points – A conker
  • 10 points (most rare) – An acorn
  • 50 points (extremely rare) – A hedgehog (remember to leave the hedgehog where he is, he doesn’t like being woken up!)

This is a great way to get the children out the house and into the great outdoors. With winter fast approaching it’s important to get them out in nature, break the rule of television and teach them about our indigenous wildlife. This game will entertain and exercise your children and their friends as they are challenged to find the most items. What inventive ways have you thought of getting your children outside and, most importantly, enjoying it?