Sunday 18 December 2011

It's a Barbie world

Ever since Betty's birthday and the whole fairy princess cake fiasco, she has been into Barbies in a big way. So, when Betty wanted to spend the £10 that her great grandmother gave her for her birthday on a proper Barbie doll, I didn't have a problem with it. In fact, I was secretly thrilled, even though I was a fan of Sindy rather than Barbie.

When I was little, my Sindy doll was my life. I was obsessed with her, and she brought me an unbelievable amount of joy for many years. I was fascinated with her bendy legs that you could manipulate into virtually any position, I loved hacking at her hair, and crocheting her little woollen hats and dungarees with my mum.

I have such fond memories of my Sindy and the adventures she had. Her job in the bank where she would fill in lots of important forms and tick boxes, her love of travelling by train, her obsession with collecting stamps, and a passionate affair with Action Man. There were many secret ice-skating dates, and the two of them would spend hours galloping around on Sindy's horse.

Not once did I look at my doll with her skinny legs, blond hair, and big boobs, and aspire to look like her, or ever think that that is what women were supposed to look like. If anything I went in the opposite direction and spent much of my adolesence in big woolly jumpers, lumberjack shirts, Doc Marten shoes, no make-up, mousy hair, and non-existent boobs.  Never did I think back to my glorious Sindy days and think that I had somehow failed for not looking like her, or for not bagging a boyfriend with abnormal muscles and revolving eyes.  

Betty does not see them in this way either, and I very much doubt she ever will. To her, Barbie dolls are simply princesses in beautiful dresses.  I have made sure that her dolls don't don skimpy outfits and instead she has a collection of pretty ballgown type dresses.  I bought her a secondhand Sindy wardrobe on eBay, and Betty gets such joy from hanging her doll's dresses on the little hangers and arranging them all.  She has spent hours making all of Barbie's other furniture (table, shower, bed, sofa) out of cereal boxes, margarine tubs, and corks.  And she is very excited about the prospect of her and me sitting down and learning to crochet clothes together.  Betty, who loves constructing and all things arty, is getting creative with Barbie.

So although the manufacturers should be ashamed of themselves for making a child's toy so tarty and pink, I really don't think little girls see her as a role model. They just see her as a toy, something to dress and undress, to perform hair cuts on, to feed rice crispies to, and to snog Action Man (sorry Ken).

Saturday 10 December 2011

Feeding baby Jesus to the ox

I am a girl of traditions, and since Betty was born five years ago I have taken great joy in carrying on old Christmas traditions from my own childhood, and also creating new ones.

When I was a child, decorating the tree was right up there with the anticipation of Father Christmas sneaking into my bedroom with a giant bag full of presents. So I was thrilled that Betty had been nagging me for days about when we were going to put our tree up.

Despite Tom's suggestion to keep things simple, I made a real ceremony of it. On Thursday evening, there the tree stood in all its glory, ready to be adorned with a huge array of beautiful decorations; some we had made, some we had chosen together, some I have collected over the years, and indeed some from my childhood.

It all went beautifully for at least a minute. Betty in her pretty dress and plaits, cheerily singing Away in a Manger. The fairy lights twinkling on her delighted little face, as she hung the first few decorations on the tree. Meanwhile Dolly stood a couple of metres away contentedly playing with the nativity scene, and I watched on proudly, with my G&T, at my delightful children going about their Christmas acitivities.

Betty had hung about six decorations when she turned and clocked Dolly playing with the nativity set. She marched over to her and through clenched teeth said: 'You must not play with Mary and Joseph, they are not toys, they are just for us to look at,' and then swiftly snatched baby Jesus from Dolly's sticky little clutch.

Horrified that my daughter was probably parroting me, I calmly told Betty that Dolly was not doing any harm and to let her play with them. But Betty had the bit between her teeth and would not let it rest, and continued to get more and more irate with Dolly. Soon Dolly couldn't take any more and became inconsolable. All the poor kid wanted to do was feed Jesus to the ox, and make the two sheep kiss.

I shouted at Betty to stop, and she stormed off upstairs to her bedroom, and slammed the door.

There the tree stood, mostly bare, Dolly crying, and I knocked back my drink and poured another.

After a couple of minutes, Betty re-emerged down the stairs, walked over to a sobbing Dolly, gently put her arm around her, and soothingly said: 'What's the matter my darling, is mummy being horrible to you? Has she upset you?' 'Yes' said Dolly.

They defiantly marched off together hand-in-hand. I decorated the tree on my own, while my children sat on Tom in the other room and watched two cartoon pigs happily decorating a Christmas tree on TV.

Monday 5 December 2011


Tipis have always been very popular in our household.  Our next door neighbours have one in the field next to our house and Tom has spent many a happy hour in it with Betty and Dolly during the summer months.

During rather a desperate episode where we were housebound due to chicken pox, I tried to make the girls their own tipi, using bamboo and some sheets.  It was utterly rubbish (I blame the broken wrist).

So we were all absolutely thrilled to receive this wigwam from - it is the real deal with wooden poles and canvas material.  It is sturdy, weather-proof, and pretty spacious inside.  The kids love it, I love it, and even Tom, who is often pretty scathing about the kids' 'paraphernalia', loves it. 

However, it is currently situated in the middle of my sitting room floor, and I am a little nervous that it may be there for the entire winter...

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Plaster blast

Despite the strikes, I have been assured that my plaster cast will be coming off tomorrow - I am currently doing cartwheels, and swinging from the light shade.

Things I have missed with my arm in plaster:
  • driving
  • touch typing
  • washing up
  • washing my right armpit effectively
  • putting my hair in a pony tail
  • cutting up my own food
  • doing up my own shoe laces
  • being 2lbs lighter
Things I will miss when my plaster goes:
  • having a legitimate excuse to get the supermarket cashiers to pack my bags
  • having a legitimate excuse not to mop the kitchen floor
  • having a legitimate excuse not to do the school run
  • having a legitimate excuse not to brush my childrens' hair
  • showering with a plastic carrier bag on my arm

Friday 25 November 2011

Santa and the Policeman

My slightly jerky and distorted Christmas animation! It is Christmas Eve and Santa needs to deliver all the presents, but he gets distracted along the way and ends up at a fun fair, a zoo and a farm!  Will all the presents get delivered on time?  Starring characters from Happyland.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Labour of love

The day before Betty's birthday, I was stuck at home all day on my own, still not able to drive, and I saw the next seven hours stretching out before me.  So with one hand in a cast, and a serious case of cabin fever, I decided I could either lurk aimlessly around the internet, go back to bed, or set myself the challenge of making the most elaborate cake I could find.   

I spent the next six hours solid making Betty a fairy princess cake.  Certain aspects of the process proved problematic with one hand, such as kneading and rolling icing, breaking and separating eggs, and whipping egg whites.  I ended up with egg dripping down into my cast and a very achy, probably even more broken, wrist.

Meanwhile, when we were away in Pembrokeshire a few weeks ago Betty saw this fake Barbie doll in a shop for £1.00 and asked if she could have it.  I told her that she could have it for her birthday if she was very good, and then I snuck it into my basket when she wasn't looking.  

The doll happened to be wearing purple which was perfect for my cake colour scheme, and so, feeling certain that Betty would not even remember the doll she saw in the shop, or indeed recognise it in its new legless form, and with its new cake dress on, I used it for my creation.

Tom came home just I had reached the final hurdle - I was having a mini meltdown because I couldn't screw the top of the icing pump on.  'I just want Betty's birthday to be perfect' I wailed. 

With icing pump catastrophe averted, the cake was finally finished, and with just minutes to spare before Betty would be getting home from school.  I could not wait to unleash it on her the next day - a little girl's dream cake.  I gave myself a big pat on the back.

Betty then walked in from school with the beginnings of chickenpox. 

She was very poorly the next day (her birthday) but to my delight she asked to see her cake.  I ceremoniously brought it in with five candles burning and singing happy birthday, and proudly placed it in front of her.  She had a look of utter disbelief on her spotty, calamine-stained  little face.  There was stunned silence for quite some time before she dutifully blew the candles out and said: 'But Mummy, that's the doll I wanted for my birthday, please take her out of the cake so that I can play with her'.

I sloped off back to the kitchen with the cake, painstakingly removed the doll, and ran her under the tap to remove the butter icing, replaced her legs and handed her to a relieved looking Betty.  'Would you like some of your birthday cake?' I asked bravely.  'No thank you Mummy' she said 'maybe when I am better'.

I have been eating my way through the cake, pretty much on my own, ever since.

Thank you Mum

We have had a pretty grueling couple of weeks, and then to top it, Betty got chickenpox on her birthday.

Tom and I were at the end of our tether, and with me only having the use of one hand, and no family around to help out, we were finding things pretty tough; there have been arguments, tears, sleepless nights, and much angst.  But my mum, who has very limited mobility and often tells me that she feels utterly helpless when she sees us struggling, well and truly saved us from going insane.

She may not have the strength to walk unaided, or cook, or drive, but my goodness she is worth her weight in gold.  She has been sitting with a very unwell and ailing Betty for the last three days solid (night-times included), rubbing her back, reading her stories, cuddling her, and being unbelievably patient and calm with her.  Betty and her granny have a very special bond, and care deeply about each other.

I cannot thank my mum enough for all she has done; she is utterly selfless, and generous, and kind.  She is an amazing mum and granny, and I love her very much.

Friday 18 November 2011

Betty's 5th birthday

There has been mounting excitement from Betty about her fifth birthday since her fourth birthday. She has been doing a countdown for the last few months; 100 sleeps, 99 sleeps, 98 sleeps, and so on.

Her party had been planned, presents had been wrapped and purple fairy princess cake made (one-handed), decorations and balloons were waiting in the wings, the smoked salmon breakfast sat in the fridge, and her new pink glittery bike hid under blankets in the shed.

Heartbreakingly, little did we know, chickenpox was also waiting in the wings. With just one sleep to go, Betty came home from school with a fever, a spot on her cheek and an itchy back.

And so today, Betty's birthday, my darling girl is very poorly. With breakfast uneaten, presents half opened but not played with, party cancelled, and candles blown out through tears, it has been a pretty sorry day.

My darling, beautiful girl, I am so sorry you are unwell, it just doesn't seem fair. I promise that when you are better you will have a wonderful party with your friends, play pass the parcel, eat lots of cake, and get to play with all your lovely new presents.

You continue to make us so unbelievabley proud. We have watched in awe as you have embraced school life so enthusiastically, made lots of new friends, insisted on going on the school bus, learnt to read and write, drawn wonderful pictures, and all with a big smile. You are very kind and considerate of others, you have a lovely temperament, you are great company, and you are very funny.

Your mummy, daddy, and little sister love you very very much, as do many others. Get well soon my darling, and please don't worry, your birthday will just be a little later this year.

Sunday 6 November 2011

One-armed tedium

Never again will I moan about the tediousness of household chores. Hoovering, sweeping, making a cup of tea, hanging washing out, and clearing away toys, with one hand, and a coccyx so excrutiatingly painful and bruised that you can't bend, let alone sit down, gives a whole new meaning to 'tedious'.

I fell backwards on Thursday afternoon, landed on my wrist awkwardly, heard and felt the bone snap cleanly in two, momentarily passed out, and then as calmly as I could muster I yelled at Betty to go and get her dad.  Tom later told me that as he was being led through the house by a panic stricken Betty, he imagined seeing our car in the ravine at the bottom of our driveway (again). 

So with my wrist in a bright purple plaster (for my kids' benefit, you understand) for the next six weeks, I am not able to do certain things, namely driving, washing up, and changing a dirty nappy. If Tom is going to work uninterrupted, Dolly will really need to buck her ideas up and start taking the potty training malarky a bit more seriously. 

Dolly will also need to stop thinking that it is funny to use my cast as a drum, and stop telling me that she has filled her nappy the moment that Tom steps out of the house, sending me into a frenzy, when in fact the nappy is clean. 

Earlier today Betty, who has been dressing herself for the last three years, asked me if I would get her dressed; I told her that I couldn't and that she had to do it herself.  This came just after I had asked her to clear up all the bits of cut up paper, sellotape and beads she had left on the sitting room floor.

Betty retorted with: 'I cannot be the mummy round here, just because you have done that to your arm'.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Backfiring surprise

I happened to be driving past Betty's school at home-time last Friday, so I decided to surprise my little darling by collecting her in the car, rather than meeting her off the school bus.  I also wanted to demonstrate to the teachers that I do still exist and care.

I was greeted by her teacher who turned to Betty and enthusiastically said 'Look, isn't that lovely, your mum has come to pick you up!' This immediately made me feel like a neglectful parent. Betty gave me a big smile and took my hand, and began tugging me towards the car, eager to tell me all about her day, I imagined.  

As I got dragged across the car park by a silent Betty who was probably too overcome with joy and excitment to talk, I had pangs of guilt and wondered whether, despite her insisting on the whole bus thing, I was damaging my child by letting her do it at such a tender age. Would she grow up with feelings of abandonment and neglect, and would it be soley my fault if she turned to a life of crime?

These doubts were short-lived.  As soon as we were safely in the confines of the car and out of her teacher's earshot, Betty turned on me: 'Why are you here Mummy?  I was really looking forward to going on the bus with my friends, you've ruined it now'.  'There is always tomorrow,' I reasoned. 'Tomorrow is too far away,' she retorted stroppily.  She made me promise I wouldn't do it again, and it took a KitKat bribe to get her to be nice to me again.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The secret club

Almost from Betty's first day of starting school (six weeks ago) she has been nagging us to let her go on the school bus.

I had reservations, mainly because I thought she was too young.  I felt that she needed her mum or dad to walk her up the playground to her classroom, hang her coat up, put her book bag in the right place, and make her squirm by trying to sort her hair out, wipe the porridge off her face, and kiss her goodbye in front of her teacher.

To make myself feel better, I reasoned that Betty taking the school bus would mean I would avoid having to awkwardly manoeuvre my people carrier in amongst the Range Rovers and BMWs in the miniscule school carpark.  I also wouldn't have to face thin and glamorous mums every single morning and afternoon, who all stare at my greasy hair and protruding stomach and probably wonder whether or not it is safe to congratulate me on my impending birth (it's not).   

This school bus is pretty tame - it's a little minibus, and the journey from our house to the school is about two minutes, along a country road, including a Postman Pat-style railway bridge.  So after a lot more nagging from Betty, and Tom telling me she would be absolutely fine, I finally agreed. 

Betty has been going to and from school on the school bus since Monday - my innocent sweet little girl got on the bus at the end of our driveway at 8.33am, and then got off the bus again at 3.33pm about ten years older.

I have been finding cryptic notes written by older kids, in Betty's book bag, which mainly consist of random letters or pictures.  When I ask Betty what they are or who wrote them, she tells me she is in a secret club with five other children, and I am not allowed to know what they say.  Aside from the secret club, one note was clearly meant for me and said: 'Can S come to my house for tea?'  When I asked Betty who 'S' was, she told me that she is her new best friend, but is NOT a member of the secret club. 

Using my best detective skills I have worked out a couple of their rules; whenever Dolly tries to enter a room, Betty barricades the door and says: 'You can only come in if you call me Princess'. Trousers are also a big no-no - Tom, Dolly and I all got chastised for this. 

Tomorrow the whole school are going to Cardiff to visit a Hindu temple.  Betty has been worried because a member of the secret club has told the other members that, inside the temple, they will have to walk barefoot across fire and do yoga in front of everyone.  It broke my heart a bit that this evening Betty was frantically searching for my yoga dvd so that she could practice. 

Sadly, Betty is no longer a member of my secret club - the club where its members would make play dough, play with Megabloks, paint pictures of rainbows, and watch Peppa Pig - instead she has been poached by some six year olds.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Caught out

At around midday yesterday, I was happily driving along in my car, relishing my child-free morning, and enjoying listening to MY music in peace. 

I was on a narrow country lane and thinking about the gorgeous winter coat I was about to buy for myself, when I had to pull in to let an oncoming minibus past.

As it passed me, I realised that it was the school minibus, and that Betty was on it with her classmates.  They were coming back from a morning out at another school.  It's one thing for your four-year-old to be at school and playing with beads and plasticine, but to meet her out and about, and doing things independently of you, is very weird. 

I burst into tears (I don't think the minibus passengers saw).  And I didn't stop crying until I had reached town and had my new coat in my arms.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Over-ambitious fairies

Having battened down the hatches a week ago ready for the winter that is going to be 'twice as bad as last year', this sudden freak weather made us think we might want to go camping.  However, on Saturday morning Betty announced that she was 'far too tired from having to go to school, and really needed to rest at home' this weekend.

Both Tom and I were quietly relieved.  As much as we love tents, it was exhausting even to think about getting out all the camping paraphernalia that had been slung up into the loft some weeks ago.

So instead we stayed at home and were impressively attentive towards our kids; a done-in Betty and an annoyed Dolly (Goldilocks the goldfish had just pegged it).  We did lots of sedate crafty type things, like these Plaster of Paris fairy cakes which I was pretty excited about. I perhaps became a little too protective over them, though I did allow Betty to hold them as long as I was around to supervise.

The girls have been leaving random items such as felt tips, mud, and now fairy cakes (to my horror), for the fairies who come and have parties in their den at night.  In return the fairies leave a little surprise. In fact they are getting more and more ambitious with the ways they say thank you.  It started with little trails of glitter (fairy dust), and beads, but being slightly obsessive fairies, they quickly upped their game.

Betty was sitting in her den this morning admiring the latest fairy thank you gesture - a throne carved out of a butternut squash. Inspecting the slightly shoddy workmanship she wondered if the hens had eaten half of it, and so told me to ask the chickens if they had attended the fairies' party the night before. I don't know why she thinks I can talk 'chicken' but I asked them anyway, and one hen replied with a cluck.  Betty gave a knowing nod, and informed me that they had indeed attended the party.  I couldn't help thinking that putting chickens and fairies together at the same party was surely a recipe for disaster.

Slightly flummoxed by the new vegetable throne addition to her den, Betty asked: 'If I make the fairies a thank you card do you think they will leave me a chocolate croissant, and then maybe a big pink bike without stabilisers?

Friday 23 September 2011

Germ control

I am completely neurotic about germs. When out in public I will not touch the buttons on a pedestrian crossing, or shop door handles, or the keypad on cash machines, or anything else that the masses might have put their grubby mitts on. I will always use my sleeve. And I would certainly never touch the flush handle in a public toilet, or the taps, or the button on the hand dryer, without using a piece of loo paper.

I had mild panics about Betty starting school and the fact that my 'germ control' would be out of my hands. And sure enough, just two weeks into the term Betty, who is not a sickly child, got a sickness bug. This has only further fuelled my anxieties about all the grotty germs lurking at school. Lots of little people, clumsily wiping their bottoms, not washing their hands properly, holding hands, sticking their fingers up their noses, and into their mouths, and then sharing each others sandwiches.

The vomitting occured just before we were about to leave the house for school on Tuesday morning, when Betty complained of a stomach ache. I naturally thought she was making it up, and ushered her towards the front door. She then promptly projectile vomitted all over me. Meanwhile a bemused Dolly watched on from the car.

Betty sobbed and begged me not to send her to school. Crikey, she must have a really low opinion of me, I thought to myself. I calmed her down, mainly by helping her identify what was in her sick and why it was the colour it was, and soothingly assured her that I would not be sending her to school.

I naively imagined her staying in bed all day, with a flannel on her head, sipping water and watching DVDs, leaving me to get on with all the work I had planned on the only full child-free day I get a week.

After twenty minutes of lying tucked up in bed in her pyjamas, Betty had basically made a full recovery. I walked into the room expecting her to be ailing, but found her making a den, wearing nothing but her gold tights and ballet shoes, and eating her way through a packet of chocolate biscuits. And it wasn't even 9.30am.

By 10.00am, although relieved that she was suddenly better, I think both Betty and I were wishing she was back at school. 'You are driving me nuts,' Betty told me.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Hooves beat along the quiet lanes

'When I turn into a grown-up, can I ride a foal Mummy?' Betty asked me as we drove back from the pub along the narrow country roads. 'Yes of course you can learn to ride a horse when you are a little bit older,' I replied, through gritted teeth.

I have had many run-ins with horses in my time, and don't particulary like them very much now. The combination of the subject of horses and the fact we were driving along a remote country lane, took me right back to a Christmas when my best friend and I thought it would be fun to foster a horse over the holiday period. This meant proper responsibility - feeding, mucking out, and riding...

Weirdly I really didn't mind the feeding and mucking out bit, but was absolutely terrified of the riding part. The one thing that made it slightly more bearable was that my friend and I did it together; one would lead the horse and one would sit on it.

On Christmas morning my friend announced that she was far too busy opening presents for horse duties and that I had to go it alone. I was pretty annoyed about this. Not only was the whole looking after a horse for the Christmas holidays her idea, but also I was desperate to play with my new much anticipated midi hi-fi.

As I rode Simba, the horse, down the remote country lane, with not a single soul in sight, we began our decent down a fairly steep hill. A couple of seconds in I felt a very weird sensation, and one I hadn't experienced in my limited riding experience. I quickly realised, to my absolute horror, that we were now sliding down the icy hill on Simba's hooves. I glanced at him to see if he seemed in control of the situation, but his eyes looked big and frightened. I, in turn, was terrified.

Skidding down the hill, and landing in a heap at the bottom with a chestnut horse lying on top of me, possibly dead, and no one being around to rescue us (because they were all in their nice warm houses opening presents and drinking sherry), and dying of hypothermia, and all on Christmas morning, was what went through my head.

In fact, none of this happened.  We probably slid for all of a second before the horse regained control, and we turned around and slowly walked back to the paddock. But this, and many more subsequent horse incidents have put me off horses for life, and I have been dreading the day when my kids would bring up the whole 'I want a pony' thing.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Save the Children - No Child Born to Die campaign

Children are dying from causes we know how to prevent or treat. That’s why lots more doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers are needed in the poorest countries. We can stop millions of children dying. The No Child Born to Die campaign has helped secure a massive increase in funding for life-saving vaccines. Now we must take the next step to ensure children don’t die simply because they are too poor to see a doctor or nurse. Half of the 8 million children who die each year are in Africa, yet Africa has only 3% of the world’s doctors, nurses and midwives.

Join the No Child Born to Die campaign to ensure that no child dies because they can't see a health worker - help to save children's lives by signing this petition.

The world leaders are meeting at the UN in New York on 20th September - please support the campaign by calling on David Cameron to play his full part in solving the health worker crisis.

Take a few moments to sign the petition, blog about it, put it out on Facebook and Twitter (#healthworkers), anything to help spread the word.

Monday 12 September 2011

Housework confession

The low autumn sun really shows up the dust and dirt and cobwebs in my house.  And then when the sun goes down, the dirt seems to disappear with it.  So in the evenings I slump onto the sofa with my wine and kid myself into thinking that just because I have thrown a hoover around for a bit that my house is immaculate.

Due to the nature of my job (raising children) I find my cleaning standards have slipped somewhat.  After a day spent washing up, sweeping food off the kitchen floor, wiping all the surfaces, picking up toys and random objects up off every floor in the house, cooking, looking after my kids, making beds, and hanging washing out, seventeen times over, I have no remaining energy to do any actual cleaning.

So this is the bare-minimum-cleaning routine I have found myself slipping into, I am ashamed to say:
  • I only clean the downstairs bathroom when I know we are going to have visitors, who might need to use it (I am highly embarrassed on the occasions when I get caught out with a surprise visit)
  • I only clean the the upstairs bathroom when I know people are staying the night, as they will need to use the shower
  • I only hoover the downstairs rooms about once a week - normally on a Thursday night after Tom and I have had a takeaway curry and spilt pilau rice and poppadom crumbs all over the carpet
  • I only hoover the upstairs bedrooms when I am in a bad mood, as I find it is a good way to let off steam
  • I only clean Tom's office when I know that he has a business meeting in there, or a piano lesson, or a Tai Chi drinks reunion (although in actual fact Tom should clean his bloody room himself)
  • I only mop the kitchen floor when our feet are actually sticking to the tiles or when Betty tells me it is looking 'disgusting'
  • I only dust the TV and the windowsills about twice a year
  • I never clean skirting boards or windows or door ledges or under the beds
I am currently sitting back with my glass of wine in the darkness and congratulating myself on a clean house.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Starting school and the Gurgle blog awards

Betty started school on Tuesday, and survived the week without a hitch.  She even picked up a little certificate in the Praising Assembly on Friday for 'her enthusiasm about school life and being a pleasure to have in the classroom'.  And while Betty was very cool about it, I was jumping up and down with uncontrollable joy and insisted we went out for a celebratory dinner.  I had to stop myself from framing the certificate (it is now stuck on the fridge instead).

However, I felt a neglectful mother, because during Betty's first week at school, I went to London to attend the Gurgle blog awards on Thursday, which meant I wouldn't be around on Thursday afternoon/Friday morning.  Again, Betty was very cool about this, but I was not, and I thought about her constantly while I was away. I couldn't wait to get home and see her and Dolly. Tom told me later that Dolly had taken my absence pretty hard and asked him a couple of times 'Where's my best friend mummy?' Which just about broke my heart.

But, the Gurgle awards were great fun.  I took one of my best friends, who lives in London, and we had a fab time.  Having gone for dinner in Pizza Express, we wandered up and down Dean Street in our ridiculous shoes, and could not find the Soho Hotel anywhere (which is where the awards were being held).  Finally we rocked up, about an hour late, sweating like pigs, just in time to down some wine and miniature burgers. And before the ceremony had even begun I had no choice but to change into flip flops which I happened to have in my bag, much to my friend's combined disappointment and embarrassment.

We met the lovely Gurgle team and Mothercare staff, and some lovely bloggers.  I wish I had got to meet more bloggers, but it all seemed to go so fast. I was absolutely thrilled to win the 'Mothercare Loves...' Gurgle blog award, but I was far less thrilled at having to stand next to the lovely Myleene Klass and have my picture taken.  It really knocks the confidence, standing next to someone so immaculate, beautiful, thin, funny etc.  When I got home I tried to do a bit of tinkering on Photoshop to make the photo look better - I changed it to black and white for a start, to disguise my red shiny glow, and I tried to get rid of my double chin using some blurring out tool.

Anyway, all in all this week has been very emotional, nerve-wracking, hectic, and fantastic. Now we are about to go to an Onion Fayre, which I am told is the place to be, of a grey drizzly Saturday, and I get to spend some quality time with my girls.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Not just a one-off

Today, having:
  • not slept all night
  • deliberated over blue v grey school tights between 2am and 4am
  • woken up to the alarm (for the first time in years) having just got to sleep
  • considered whether to phone the kids in sick and get more sleep
  • woken the kids up
  • meticulously packed their lunch boxes with an array of impressive food items
  • given them a proper hearty breakfast, as opposed to their usual Cheerios
  • got them dressed
  • felt surges of pride towards them
  • taken hundreds of photos of them in their uniform
  • bribed them with sweets to stand still, hold hands, and say 'cheese' while smiling nicely
  • joined the scrum in the school car park, trying to find somewhere to park
  • nervously walked Betty into her new classroom
  • stopped myself from bawling
  • stopped myself from begging Betty to come back home with me
  • clocked that I was fatter than all the other mums
  • realised that I had forgotten to brush in all the Batiste dry shampoo on my hair
  • walked Dolly into her pre-school
  • stopped myself from bawling
  • clocked that I was fatter than all the other mums
  • taken some paracetamol
  • moped around, hoping that my kids were ok and having a nice time
  • ran to the loo a lot
  • re-joined the scrum in the car park, and made an embarrassing hash of trying to reverse the new people carrier
  • cursed Tom for not removing the attention-grabbing pod from the roof
  • tried to extract information, in vain, out of both girls about what they had been doing all day
  • eavesdropped on a conversation between Betty and Dolly about what they had been doing all day
  • carefully removed school uniform and folded it up neatly
  • uploaded a photo onto Facebook of the girls in their uniform
  • unpacked bags and lunch boxes, and washed flasks
  • prepared a special celebratory 'first day of school' supper
  • taken some paracetamol
  • got the kids to bed
  • wondered whether wine with a banging headache was a good idea...

I slumped into a chair, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and thought 'thank goodness that's all over with'.  I have been so focused on 'the first day' that I think I subconsiously thought that that is all it was, one day, before getting back to staying in bed for as long as we liked, and having tea and toast in front of CBeebies, wearing nothing but gold sparkly tights and tiaras all day (the kids not me) and all meals casually merging into one.

It slowly dawned on me, as I lay in an exhausted and emotional heap, that we had to do the whole thing again tomorrow... and the next day... and the next...

Sunday 4 September 2011

Thank you for the summer of 1990

Who would have thought that exactly 21 years later, I would be writing about an ex-boyfriend (who I will call R) on this blog - an ex-boyfriend who I hadn't seen since our summer teenage fling back in 1990 - one of the most memorable summers of my youth.

It was the summer that I left school. The sun shone a lot, and my friends and I, and R, spent most of our time at the river having bbqs, swimming and laughing a lot.  I will always remember that summer.  I will always remember being besotted with R - the new boy in town... the boy that I bagged... the charming, confident, funny boy from away, the boy who told me that he would love me forever.

He then broke my heart, but in a very kind and gentlemanly way, in a way that made it impossible to hate him.  He had had a profound effect on me during that summer, and then it was over and he had run off with a school friend of mine.  And being a fickle teenager, I quickly moved on to somebody else too, and all was forgiven and forgotten.

I didn't see him again, or so I thought. Unknown to me he grew metre long dreads (having always been a short back and sides kind of guy) and so, without realising it, I probably bumped into him on countless occasions during my visits back from London.

Then last week I found out that in July, he was in a fatal motorcycle accident not far from here, and died at the scene of the accident.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about him ever since.  I find it hard to articulate why I can't stop thinking about him, specially as I haven't really given him a second thought for the last 21 years.  Perhaps it is because although I don't often think of that summer, I never forgot, and I held the memories firm, and now I feel that part of me and my past has been altered, and will never be the same again.

After some Googling, I found a Facebook page that has been set up for everyone to post up pictures, video clips and memories of R. This is how I found out about the dreads.  And apart from the dreads, he looked exactly the same; the same sparkly face, just 21 years older.  The comments were unbelievably touching, and utterly heartbreaking to read. He was obviously very well loved by his family and all his friends, and he was still the charismatic and funny boy I remember all those years ago.

If only I had known about the dreads, I may have recognised him in the local Co-op and sparked up a conversation with him.  And I would have been sure to point out to him his very dodgy hair.  It makes me feel very sad that I will now never get the chance, but perhaps if he hadn't died, I wouldn't have thought about him for another 21 years.  Who knows.

I am raising a glass to you R, thanks for the summer of 1990. May you rest in peace.  x

Friday 2 September 2011

A place of my own

When we lived and worked in London, in dreary, crowded offices, Tom had romantic ideas of living in the countryside, and having an office in our house that looked out over rolling hills, a winding river, and apple trees. A room that would be his sanctuary, his quiet space, where he would sit at his late grandfather's old antique desk and write his first novel about the end of the world. The walls would be lined with his vast book collection, and a piano would sit along the far wall, along with his array of guitars.

Tom fulfilled his dream, and he now has this office, where he works from home, plays his piano, and listens to weird music.  And before we had children he began his first novel.

Two children later, the novel is still unfinished, and his room has slightly changed form.  Despite having a playroom in our house, his space now has toy shopping trolleys, ride-on bugs, and glittery fairy pictures lining the walls, and plastic tea sets and lego strewn across the floor. It also has two miniature beings whizzing across its long wooden floor on scooters and bikes, and bashing at his beloved piano, at will, with no consideration that 'Daddy has to work'. The kids aren't totally to blame though, as I too have now claimed part of his room, and have planted my own desk in there, because I also wanted to sit in a nice place and write, while staring out at the fields.

Despite all this, I believed that the set-up of Tom and I sharing an office was working, and felt a little bit smug that we seemed to be the ultimate, modern day, cool couple, who could sit and write/work together in harmony, while the kids were at preschool/school.

However, Tom recently announced that he finds my presence off-putting, that I tap the keyboard too loudly, that I sigh and tut a lot, that I make him feel self-conscious with my comments about his telephone conversations with his work colleagues, and that he indeed needs to work alone.

I coolly suggested that he invest in a garden office, where he could sit in peace once more, and watch his pumpkins grow, and gaze adoringly at his chickens, while getting some work done, and finishing that novel.

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Thursday 1 September 2011

Blowing dandelion clocks in slow motion

Tom thinks he sometimes gets a bit of a raw deal on this blog.  I tell him that it is all in jest.  But in his honour, I wanted to document what he got up to with his girls last weekend...

He took them on long walks with big bags, and collected hundreds of blackberries.  He spent hours with them at the chicken coop, collecting eggs and letting the chicken run free so that the girls could chase them.  He spent an afternoon with Betty putting about a billion miniature foam balls back into a washed bean bag.  He picked bunches and bunches of Sweet Peas with them and got them to place them in vases all around the house. He did loads of cooking with them: they made blackberry and apple crumble, plum jam and a big roast dinner using all our veg from the garden that they picked themselves. He prepared breakfast for them using the jam that they had made together. He took them out in the rain with their umbrellas because that's what they love to do.  He did some gardening with them, drew pictures, made up stories, took them shopping, and tended to them in the middle of the night. 

He danced barefoot through sun-dappled meadows with them, blowing dandelion clocks in slow motion, with the sounds of 'Why do birds suddenly appear' drifting through the air.

Meanwhile, I spent time putting up shelves, cleaning windows, clearing out the shed, and taking stuff to the rubbish dump.

Sunday 28 August 2011

A vacuum cleaner revelation

After letting my car roll down our steep driveway and down a 20ft vertical drop at the bottom, we had to set about getting a new car.  Tom saw this as an opportunity to down-size, but I saw this as an opportunity to up-size.  We now have a people carrier.

So the people carrier now lives at the bottom of our driveway, and is parked sideways on, so that should Henry ever get his grubby little nozzle on the handbrake of our new purchase (which is highly unlikely, as he has been banished to the house), the car ain't going nowhere. 

Tom quite rightly pointed out that as I had already cost us a small fortune, I wasn't really in a good financial position to start demanding a new vacuum cleaner, when Henry was still perfectly capable.  So as a compromise, and unable to ever let Henry outside again, I bought a £7 portable car vacuum cleaner, on eBay. 

My new vacuum cleaner arrived yesterday, and I was gagging to get outside and suck up all those crumbs that have accumulated over the past few weeks - a dustpan and brush doesn't really do it. 

As soon as Tom knocked off work, I charged outside weilding my new friend, and plugged her (notice it's a her not a him this time) into the cigarette lighter - she is powered by the cigarette lighter - how cool is that?  I attached the clever little nozzle that gets those difficult to reach bits between the seats, and I was in car-cleaning bliss.

Ok, so she looks and sounds like a budget hairdryer, but she sort of does the job, and she certainly doesn't have it in her to sabotage the car.  And there is the added bonus of being able to vacuum the car as we drive along - no sooner have the kids eaten a biscuit, or Tom a scotch egg, I am there with the vacuum cleaner, practically sucking the crumbs out of their mouths.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Emotional trickery

Dolly and I are lying in bed this morning, after she woke me up AGAIN in the middle of the night.

Me: Would you like a cuddle?

Dolly: No, I would like a rice cake

Me: You can't have a rice cake in bed

Dolly: Pleeeeeeeeeeeease

Me: What would you like to do today?

Dolly: Eat rice cakes

We both continue to stare at the TV in silence.

And then....

Dolly: Mummy, you are my best friend (said while stroking my cheek)
Me: Really? (I say with an air of disbelief, but I'm secretly thrilled)
Dolly: Please can I have a rice cake?

Thursday 25 August 2011

Living on sunshine

After months of lobbying from Tom, I finally agreed to the installation of solar panels on the roof of our house a few months back. The thing that convinced me was the security of having a back-up electricity supply if the power starts going off in the next few years (as Tom tells me it might)… especially living in the middle of nowhere as we do.   Heaven forbid if I were to ever miss an episode of Eastenders.

The builders arrived and the panels went up in three days. With all my health and safety alarm bells ringing, Betty and Dolly had great fun playing around the scaffolding.  Although when the scaffolding was still there after a week, I made a stroppy call to the scaffolding company and told them of my concerns (Dolly had tried to scale the side of the house more than once), and that it must be taken down immediately.    

It’s been pretty sunny since the panels were installed back in March and it’s very satisfying to put the washing machine on when the sun is shining knowing that it costs nothing. I even allow myself the odd use of the tumble dryer, only when the sun is shining mind.  Tom sometimes makes himself a random cup of tea when it’s sunny ‘just for the sheer satisfaction of it’. It seems to make Betty happy that our electricity comes from the sun - and she has an impressive antennae for spotting other buildings with solar panels on their roof - this makes Tom extremely proud.  

We obviously don’t get all our electricity for free, just when the sun is shining, so the panels do nothing for our night storage heaters. But because we’re both at home all day we get to actually use the free electricity, unlike in some houses where people are out at work all day, so over the past few months our bills have gone right down. 

We received our first cheque for nearly £200 from the government feed-in tariff the other day which was the icing on the cake, and Tom was walking on sunshine (boom boom).     

Solar panels aren’t right for everyone (you need a south-facing roof and the initial financial outlay is rather a lot), but they are working great for us and we’d definitely recommend that other people look into solar panel installation.

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Wednesday 24 August 2011

Starting school: A sinking feeling

Despite the rocky start to the Summer holidays (namely writing my car off by letting it roll down a bank into a ravine), August has been such a fabulous month.  We bought a new car (far nicer than the old one), and have been on several jaunts around the country, from the mindblowing Camp Bestival, to camping with family and the hilarious Kevin Bishop for four days on a farm in Dorset, to becoming free-spirited and smelly at the Wilderness Festival, to being tourists (and nostalgic) in London for a few days. 

I cannot believe that August is already nearly over.  The week after next Betty starts school.  This gives me a sinking feeling.  This is because:

Firstly, my sweet baby girl is about to embark on a very grown-up thing - the education system, and she will be in it for many years to come, and for five whole days a week.  She will get attitude, learn unsavoury vocab, develop awful dress sense, and probably start to hate me.

Secondly, we will lose our freedom to a certain extent; no more visiting great grandma for lunch on Thursdays, no more going on holiday whenever the heck we like, and no more just being able to hang out together at home on weekdays, and get on each others' nerves, and argue about what we are going to have for lunch.

Thirdly, going into town yesterday to get Betty's new school shoes, and fighting our way through all the other parents and their slightly depressed looking kids (that was me thirty years ago) trying on shoes, made me realise that we are now part of the school pack - the pack who have to do these grown up things every term (or at least every year) for the next twelve years or so, like get school uniform ready, buy pencil cases and rubbers and exercise books and lunch boxes and bags - we are no longer in our own exclusive pack where we get to wear whatever colour shoes we like.

Our Summer of fun and freedom is coming to an end, and soon it will be back to routine and serious things like spelling tests and getting up early, and making sure we have edible food in the house for packed lunches. 

But Betty is very excited about starting school.  In fact, she cannot wait to start, and told me the other day: 'Please Mummy, no more camping, I just want to go to school and do my letters with my new teacher'.  Of course I share her excitment and enthusiasm, and on the one hand I feel excited and happy about this new chapter, but I still can't help that sinking feeling.     

Monday 22 August 2011

Unfamiliar memories

Our last night in London, we jumped on the bus and went to Parliament Hill. The kids hadn't been going to sleep until about 10pm for the previous three nights and so we decided to keep them up late, to teach them a lesson they wouldn't forget in a hurry, and save ourselves the heartache of trying to get them to go to sleep.

We decided on Parliament Hill because it was a beautiful sunny evening, and it is the place where Tom proposed to me about eight years ago.  We wanted to show the girls the place where their Mum and Dad sat sipping champagne out of plastic wine glasses, gazing at the sparkling diamond, feeling utterly elated and dizzy from the moment, while fat men flew kites in the background.

As we strode up the hill, we passed many familiar landmarks (the Mandala pub, Tanza Road, the memorial bench), and it filled me with nostalgia and now slightly unfamiliar memories of being in my twenties, and spending long lazy afternoons here with my friends picnicking and drinking cider. Then a few years later the memories of Tom and I throwing frisbees, flirting, and talking a lot of rubbish to each other,while building on our friendship, which would eventually turn into marriage, and a Betty and a Dolly. Who would have thought.

Every time we go to London now, my former pre-children life seems to slip a bit further away. I found it almost impossible to remember the sense of total freedom and independence that I had when I sat in the very same park, a park that hadn't changed at all.  It was all reassuringly the same, yet felt alien - like I was some kind of fraud for thinking I did exist then - a much thinner, younger, carefree, less serious, less stressed me. 
I watched my girls dancing freely on top of the hill, while posh Hampstead types walked past and gave them admiring looks.  The wonderful views of London were behind them, and Tom was photographing them, and I felt very happy, and very proud. 

Friday 19 August 2011

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Seeing London through the eyes of a small child is such fun.  While Tom and I wander around feeling nostalgic but happy to be back in London for a short while, Betty and Dolly give us that excuse to become real tourists.  And instead of getting excited about visiting old haunts (ie pubs, cafes, markets, parks etc) we find ourselves getting excited about merely getting on the tube, or spotting black taxis and double decker buses, or seeing big buildings and statues.

Betty was almost beside herself when she saw a poster of Kate Middleton in her wedding dress on the wall of a tube station.  'Look Mummy, it's the beautiful princess who got married on the telly!'

So this morning we are off to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and if the queues aren't too long we may go on a tour of the palace itself where 'the dress' is on show.  I have secretly wanted to go inside the palace for years.

We are also going to go on a double decker bus, eat sushi, and go on the boating lake at Regents Park, and today, the sun is shining - London in the sunshine is just the best.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

In the Wilderness

Tom has been smelling like a trout lake for the last three days, and I have been smelling like someone who hasn't had a shower.  When we got home yesterday afternoon after our stint in the wilderness, we almost had a physical fight over who was going to have the first shower, and who was going to scrub the tired and cranky kids. It had been three superb days of slighty stressful fun.

I have put on about a stone in weight, because we have been living on a diet solely of pie and chips and cider, apart from the one ostrich burger Tom bought me when I entrusted him to go and get lunch while the girls and I watched The Flying Seagulls show. He was severely reprimanded for this error of judgement.

Tom did a Chi Gung class in a yurt ('even waftier than I expected', was his verdict), he sat on a hay bale in the middle of the field and played a piano, he went on half a foraging expedition (terminated when Dolly's Hula Hoops ran out and she insisted they return to the main site), and he swam in the lake every morning.  Betty threw a pot, made a fairy crown and a felt butterfly, and learnt the art of stone balancing. Dolly spent a few short but specatular moments bashing some drums with a clown on stage. And I made sure there were enough nappies, snacks, and warm clothes at all times. I was almost tempted by the 'gong bath' but was put off by the constant gawping audience, and the giggling kids pointing at the poor person trying to get healed.

The festival had a Boutique Babysitting service, which was absolutely fantastic. Their tent was so warm and welcoming that I would have quite liked to spend a bit of time there myself. And the staff really went the extra mile. I took the kids along to have a look at their tent, and they loved it - in fact it was their favourite part of the whole festival. The lovely lady said we could leave them there til 11.30pm if we liked, at no extra charge.

So we dropped the girls off with great excitement and a tremendous sense of freedom. We could go and watch a gig, hang out at the masked ball, eat fine food, listen to a talk, drink cider, anything we liked. We ended up sitting in silence in a beer tent opposite the babysitting service, eating pie and chips and watching for any signs that our children might want us to come and get them. The pressure became unbearable after about an hour: we collected them and went off for an early night. We lay there smugly in our sleeping bags, listening to people stumbling around in the dark trying to find their tents and tripping over guy ropes throughout the night. The sun had not yet gone down when we'd gone back so we'd cleverly avoided that problem.

On the last night Betty and Dolly dressed up in their fairy/princess costumes and rocked out to Mercury Rev. Tom had promised to take Betty dancing all weekend and this was the moment. There was a fabulous atmosphere, it wasn't raining, and for a while we were all completely chilled out and happy.

It all went tits up when Betty and Dolly, in their excitement, accidentally bashed heads, so we bundled the wailing pair up and started making our way across the field towards our tent for another early night. Then the opening strings of the song 'The dark is rising' drifted across the site, and lured us straight back to the gig. Tom had wooed me with this song ten years previously, in a flat in Bayswater, and now here we were listening to it live, in the company of a couple of miniature humans who looked like us.

Wilderness, is a new three-day festival of music, food, theatre, literary debate and outdoor pursuits located among the lakes, forests and ancient parkland on Oxfordshire’s Cornbury Estate - a weekend of freedom and inspiration for all free-spirited festival lovers.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

An audience with Jo Whiley at Camp Bestival

Betty and I have just got back from a full-on, but fabulous weekend at Camp Bestival which is held at Lulworth Castle in Dorset. Persil very kindly invited us to the festival to take part in their 'Pass on the Love Picnic' campaign. Tom and Dolly stayed at home (we decided that, at two, Dolly was a bit too young to appreciate the full glories of festival life), and so we invited a friend and her little boy to join us instead.

Persil organised for me to interview Jo Whiley (who was fronting the campaign) at 3pm on Saturday.  I think Tom was quite in awe of me, and the fact I was going to meet her. 'She is amazing, I LOVE HER' he said excitedly beforehand. 

At 2.45pm on Saturday, I sat drinking my tea, watching a magic show with Betty, my palms sweating. At this point I hadn't slept or showered for two days. I had white powdery hair from all the Batiste I had been putting on it, a ruddy blotchy complexion, dirty fingernails, and grass stains on my jeans. All ready to dazzle one of the country's top DJs.

The interview took place in a corner sectioned off in the Persil tent, where Jo and I were asked to sit on tiny kiddie chairs - this was fine for Jo because she is very light and narrow, but me being a somewhat wider and heavier load, I balanced precariously on the seat while desperately trying to remember the questions I wanted to ask her, and attempted to disguise the fact I had forgotten to take the gum out of my mouth.

So there Jo sat, looking fresh-faced, clean, immaculate, cool, and downright amazing. As I gazed at her, my mind went momentarily blank.  Being the lovely lady that she is, she put me at my ease, and asked me about my blog, and my children. As I babbled away about the ages of my children (and was about to mention the fact that Betty liked butterflies and fairies whereas Dolly prefers rocks and mud), I had to stop myself short; she was not here to interview me, I was supposed to be interviewing her, and so we began...

Having had a stressful two days with Betty in tow (mainly because I was neurotic about accidently losing her)I asked Jo how she manages her children at festivals, whilst working, and trying to have a good time, and she said that she is lucky enough to get a lot of help from either her husband or her friends. I was sorely missing Tom at this point. She said she loves having her kids there with her, as when she is not working, she gets to spend lots of time with them, doing fun festival things.

I had spent the last two nights in a tent, on a 45 degree incline, with no showers to speak of, and I was desperate to ask Jo about her festival digs, but I restrained myself in case it embarrassed her to highlight the comparison between her no-doubt luxurious surroundings and the crowded slope where I was camped.

Instead the conversation turned to Camp Bestival and how fantastic, and child-friendly it is - there is so much geared towards kids of all ages, and also towards adults - and with so much going on, it is totally mindblowing.  And Jo talked about Persil's 'Pass on the Love' picnic - where children are invited to bring along an old unwanted (but clean) cuddly toy, place it in a big basket, and pick out a different one to keep.  Betty picked out a giraffe, which she has named Jeremy, and who now sleeps in her bed with her - so like Jo, I think the campaign is a great idea.

I finished the interview by telling Jo that she looked amazing (and prayed that she wasn't getting wafts of my sweaty Birkenstocks).  I asked her how she always looks so good: 'Good hair and make-up!' she replied.  She also said that she goes to the gym a lot (she would have to with a figure like that), and enjoys her time in there, and that being in her line of work there is that incentive to look your best.  I, perhaps naively, inwardly consoled myself with the fact that if I was a celebrity, I too would look like Jo, and enjoy going to the gym.

As I shook her smooth, cool hand, I thanked her very much for chatting to me, and blurted out: 'MY HUSBANDS LOVES YOU', before we parted.

Jo Whiley is warm, friendly, and just lovely! - thank you to Persil for setting it up, and inviting us to be a part of this fab campaign and a truly fantastic festival.

'DJ and mum-of-four Jo Whiley hosts the first 'Persil Pass on the Love Picnic' at Camp Bestival this weekend. Mums and kids were encouraged to hold a picnic and bring newly washed soft toys for another child to love - for fun family picnic ideas and more visit'

Wednesday 27 July 2011

My vacuum cleaner wrote my car off

I have been in a severe state of shock since last Thursday.

Having got back from Betty's 'farewell assembly' at her pre-school (emotions already running high), I decided to clean the car out - a rare event it has to be said.

Betty and Dolly were having their dinner with their grandpa who was visiting, and I was outside with Henry (the vacuum cleaner), rigging him up to the extension lead.

All car doors were open, mats were out and shaken, and Henry was happily whirring.  I vacuumed the driver's seat, without a hitch, then shoved the nozzle down between the passenger seat and the brake handle to try to get to a rogue Shreddie I had spotted.  The next thing I knew the button on the handbrake went 'PING' and my car started rolling away from me.  Bloody Henry, whom I have previously referred to as my 'saviour', let the frickin handbrake off.   Normally this would not have been so much of a problem as being the neurotic person that I am I ALWAYS leave the car in gear on our slopey driveway.  However, just 30 seconds before, I had pushed it into neutral to vacuum out all the crisp/biscuits crumbs inbetween the gear stick.

I dived out of the way, got knocked by the open door, and was pushed into my father-in law's car, then I watched as the car, who also decided to knock into my FIL's car, then went careering off down the driveway and down a steep bank at the bottom and into the ravine (as the recovery man referred to it) at the bottom.  I watched in absolute horror, car doors flying clean off as they hit trees on the way down, and my beloved car disappearing out of sight.

In my hysteria, I scrambled down the bank into the bog where it lay, and through a mangled doorway, I began sweeping off the remaining crumbs from the driver's seat.

Thank goodness no one was hurt.  A complete freak accident, but a shocking experience all the same.  The car is a write-off.  I was hysterical.  I have been beating myself up about all the 'what ifs?' ever since.

Once I had calmed down (only yesterday) Tom, who has been amazing throughout, commented: 'You've got to laugh, it is all rather slapstick'.

Henry got dragged down the hill with the car, but amazingly he survived and still innocently whirrs away as it nothing has happened.  However,  as irrational and callous as it may sound, he needs to go.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Stealing and lying

I tell my kids white lies on a daily basis, and rarely feel guilty. I think they are needed in order to run a functional, less stressful life: 'No we can't go to that fairground, it is for children over ten' or 'No we can't get the paddling pool out, there is no water left in the taps'.

However, recently I got caught out by Betty, told a white lie to save my bacon, and felt awful about it. She is a hoarder, and can make her Easter egg supply, for example, last months. I am a chocoholic, and if there is chocolate in the house I find it very hard not to eat it. I do have morals though and draw the line at stealing from a four year old.

The other night, however, one minute I was watching Eastenders, the next thing I knew I had devoured an entire egg, from Betty's collection.

Despite my prayers that she might not notice the missing egg, she of course noticed the very next day. 'My very very very special big egg has gone' she said with tears rolling down her cheeks.

'It's ok' I said, 'The Easter Bunny must have come back to collect it in the night, because it has been there for so long it became mouldy, and he didn't want you getting sick'.

Betty eyed me suspiciously. I felt wretched. And although fairgrounds will continue to be for over ten year olds, and our taps will conveniently run out of water when it suits, I will never ever steal from my children, and then lie about it, again.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Progress reports

One goes in...

'Dolly has started here without any problems, she has settled in very well and is quite easy going. She needs a little support at circle time and lunch time as she does like to be on the go. She is confident with staff.'

And one comes out...

'Betty is a very confident, capable and independent child.  I feel sure she has enjoyed her time here, just as much as we have enjoyed having her.  She is now ready to move on to 'big school'.  I am sure she will do very well.  We will all miss her'. 

And while I held the two progress reports in my hand and sobbed pathetically, Tom was strutting around punching the air, with his chest puffed out, thrilled at these particular lines:

'Dolly has helped in the garden, weeding and composting'.

'Betty loves being out in the garden and making sure we do the composting'.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Dressed to impress

We went to a fabulous wedding in Somerset on Friday, and got back yesterday evening.  The return journey should have taken two and half hours, but instead it took five.  Tom ignored our new lady friend and me, thought he knew better, and took a wrong turn.  He now feels he needs to make amends, and last night he put the kids to bed, and cooked supper, and this morning I am getting breakfast in bed.

Anyway, the wedding was great - apart from the embarrassment of Betty sitting on a hay bale and sobbing inconsolably, and saying 'But this isn't the same as the other wedding we went to - where's the carpet? I want to take my shoes off and dance on a soft carpet - I want to be at the other wedding we went to'.  This went on for some time, and when the groom overheard and looked hurt I considered throwing in the towel and leaving. Instead I bundled her up and took her for a walk around the grounds to explain that not all weddings were held at the same place.

Miraculously our little chat did the trick, and Betty became accepting of the carpetless circumstances.  She got her second wind, asked for her Snow White dress to be put on, and took ownership of the dance floor til the party finished (one woman was so taken with Betty's dancing that she went up and kissed the startled little performer). Meanwhile Dolly wandered around asking everyone if she could have a swig of their champagne, and if she could borrow their phone, because she wanted to play a game.

Before the Snow White dress came out, Betty and Dolly were wearing matching Stella McCartney dresses (we have a friend who occasionally sends us these wholly inappropriate garments for our kids).  Dolly took exception to her frock and spent the day angrily trying to rip it off.  And Betty didn't want to wear her leggings underneath because she said she preferred the 'pretty colour of skin'.  And before we'd even got into the actual wedding they both had massive grass stains on their knees and pig slobber on their hands which was wiped down the fronts of their dresses. 

As we walked up the grand pathway towards the wedding venue, Betty said: 'But Mummy, when are you going to get changed?'  So with me sporting Primark's finest, coupled with Birkenstocks, and my children in their designer wear, they looked like they didn't belong to me.  The only thing that gave it away was the fact that Dolly was in a pair of Clark's Doodles beach shoes.

During the day, I caught up with some old school friends, a few of whom I hadn't seen for years, and we had a merry old time.  I saw a bloke I was at school with and we happily chatted away for quite some time, until he said: 'I have absolutely no idea who you are'.  When I told him, he said: 'No way! I totally didn't recognise you - mind you, women do tend to lose their looks as they get older'. 

By the end of the night I was telling anyone who would listen: 'I write a blog you know - you must read it - it is absolutely amaaaazing hic', while spilling red wine all over the white jacket I was wearing (on loan from a friend). 

Wednesday 13 July 2011

New lady friend

We Buttons had to drive into central London last week, for a function which was being held near Tottenham Court Road.  To help us negotiate the busy roads (Tom had forgotten the A-Z), we had an additional passenger in the car with us - a calm lady with a deep soothing voice, a lady completely unfazed by my children's backseat antics, and Tom's blatant rudeness and hostility towards her.

After a long journey on the M40, with the help of the lady, we effortlessly cruised down Marylebone Road, and Tom began warming slightly towards her, and commented that perhaps she was quite useful after all.  It was at this point that Betty declared that she did not like the lady's silly voice.  I defensively told Betty that this lady was about to single-handedly revolutionalise our experience of driving through a city.  In protest, Betty talked over the lady whenever she tried to direct us. 

When Tom misheard direction from the lady, mainly thanks to Betty, I could almost sense the lady inwardly tutting, as she announced for the third time in three minutes: 'Please do a U-turn at the next junction'.  'I am not doing a bloody U-turn on Marylebone Road, it is dangerous, and it is illegal,' Tom told the lady.  But it was when she coolly told us yet again to go the wrong way down a oneway street that Tom began shouting, and demanded that she get out of the car.  'Why are you shouting Daddy?' Dolly asked him.  'I don't like this ridiculous lady,' he replied.  'She is a funny lady,' Dolly said.

I think the lady could sense the tension in the car, and began to sound a bit exasperated herself, as she announced for about the 56th time that she was 're-routing' us.

Just as we were literally a minute from our destination, Tom and the lady had yet another argument, so begrudgingly, and at Tom's insistance, I muted her.  We then drove round and round without her, and eventually parked up, and walked for about half an hour to our destination.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

The Birkenstocks' journey

They spent the first year of their life in London; frequenting the bars in Notting Hill, hanging out in the BBC canteen, and picnicking in Hyde Park. They were in their prime, and despite the wine stains, quite cool.

In 2003 they moved to the countryside, where the new terrain took a bit of getting used to. In their new environment they were something of a rarity, and although they relished being different, they missed their pals back in London.

It didn't take long for them to get back in their stride; they began walking up muddy mountains, wading through rivers, and frequenting the local pub. They happily started making new friends, and were delighted when others just like them started moving into town.

They went on to have many adventures; they went on a 15 mile trek in Cuba, they paddled in the sea in Italy, and they walked around many chateaus in France.

On a couple of occasions they were met with much hostility, once at a wedding, and once at a dinner/dance. But they stood tall and strong, and proudly danced for a good five hours, anyway.

In July 2005, they finally got the recognition they deserved, and although this time they were sadly not present (not for want of trying), they were mentioned in not one, but two speeches at the best, happiest wedding in the world, by two speakers who had become very used to having them around.

It was a sad day for them during the Summer of 2010; barely intact, they were begrudgingly put away, to make way for a much newer, shinier pair. Although they welcomed the much needed rest, they missed their trips to Sainsbury's, the playground, the soft play centre, and even the chicken coop, where the hens seemed to take exception to them being on their turf.

However, just three days later, they gleefully waved goodbye to the newer, shinier predator (who were now happily frolicking around on eBay), and they were back! And still to this day, although they are weary, they just keep on going.
Written for Josie's writing workshop

Sunday 19 June 2011

Crying in the playground

Betty went to school for a three hour induction session last Thursday morning, the first of five, in preparation for September. 

As I was walking back down the playground, having just dropped her off in her new classroom-to-be, I saw the Head Teacher.  'Is Betty OK about it all?' she asked me.  'Yes, she is absolutely fine  - really excited' I said. 

'Is the school uniform skirt, blue or grey?' I asked her, then burst into tears. 

Still whimpering, a barrage of questions then came out of my mouth:  'Will Betty have to wear black shoes?'  'Will she need to bring her own pencils?'  'What time does school start in the mornings?'  'Do the reception class have their playtimes on the big playground with the big kids?'  'Do they have homework at this age?'  'Does she really have to come to school?' 'Do parents often cry like this?'  The Head Teacher was warm, empathetic and reassuring in her response.

When I went back to pick Betty up at midday (after a fractious few hours of Dolly having a meltdown, and insisting that she too wanted to go to school), I asked Betty how she had got on.  'I played in the big playground, and I made a new friend, and I really like my teacher, but I really don't want to wear grey tights Mummy - please can I wear my gold sparkly ones?' she said. 

With a huge lump in my throat we drove home. We spent the rest of our Thursday making purple glittery play dough together, and then going to the playground, and having an ice-cream.

Friday 17 June 2011

No handbrake turns today

After a couple of hours at the supermarket with an unusually impeccably behaved Dolly, when we got to the top of our driveway, I rewarded her by letting her sit on my lap at the wheel, and 'drive' us the rest of the way home. I somehow knew she would relish this.

There she sat with two hands firmly on the steering wheel, she checked her rearview mirror, did some movement with the gear stick and then assertively said 'Go Mummy'.

I know that Dolly has only just turned two, but it took me right back to the days when I first learnt to drive. My brother, who is 18 months younger than me, taught me in a field when I was 14 (which made him about 12). This is what us country folk did back then - we didn't have anything else to do, other than terrorise sheep in fields by skidding and bombing around, doing handbrake turns, with windows down and some dodgy 90s track blasting out; 'All That She Wants' by Ace of Base springs to mind - I seem to remember listening to this song a lot in my Electric Blue Ford Escort car - the love of my life.

I very slowly took my foot off the brake and we began sedately meandering our way down the muddy track. 'GO FASTER MUMMY' Dolly bellowed. 'This is quite fast enough my darling' I said.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

I want to live in America Mummy

I sit at the kitchen table eating my toast, and look up at a picture on the wall of Dolly at around 7 months old - cute, and smiley, and relatively tame.  I reminisce fondly about her baby days; her being content with just a teaspoon to play with for hours on end, while gazing at me and Tom lovingly, and smiling sweetly at her sister.

'MUMMEEEEE' shakes me rudely from my thoughts.  I see Dolly, standing at the world map poster on the wall.  'I will live here' she says, pointing at North America.  'I will live here' she says again, as if labouring the point, and still pointing at America.

When I got to about 17 years of age, I had hankerings to move away from my hometown, onto to somewhere more exciting. Dolly has just turned two.

'And you, and Daddy, and Betty will live here' Dolly says, pointing to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday 13 June 2011

I don't care what the weatherman says...

Having camped many times in my life, I would describe myself as a pretty seasoned, unfazed camper.  I have experienced: being woken by a massive bird sitting on my chest, the car accidentally dragging the tent half way across the field by its guy ropes, not being able to remember which tent is mine, large bear-like animals poking their noses into the canvas in the dead of night, tent/music rage, being attacked by midges, tent burglary, and most weather conditions, including getting drenched, and getting half baked in the early morning sun.

So there we were on Saturday night, us Buttons, all lined up in a tired, snug, little row, in our tent, listening to the sound of the waves, our faces glowing from the cider, and the sunny warm day spent on the beach, playing in the sand dunes.  And I couldn't help but feel a little bit smug that we had ignored the weatherman's warnings, and made a last minute dash to the coast.  All was perfect.  And off we all went to sleep, in sandy, cosy, slopey airbed heaven.

At 3am I woke to the sound of rain lashing against the tent, and the wind ripping through it, blowing and bending it this way and that - rather vigorously I have to say.  And I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks just 50 yards away.  Tom and Dolly were snoring soundly.  I looked over at Betty and her eyes were wide open, not blinking.  'Betty' I whispered 'Are you ok?'  'I'm a bit scared' she replied.  'It's ok my darling, it's just a bit of wind and rain' I told her.  My heart was pounding, I was sweating like a pig, I was terrified.  I kept thinking about my friend's 12 ft trampoline, and how just a few weeks ago, the wind managed to blow it clean over her garden fence and onto the main road some distance away.  I imagined our tent being the trampoline (with us in it) and the main road being the sea.

I lay there, holding Betty's hand, and trying to think of a survival plan, if the tent indeed took off and landed in the sea, or collapsed and suffocated us all, or if the tent poles came free and knocked us unconscious.  I had just accomplished the first part of my plan, which was to find a form of light (my trusty mobile phone) in order to be able to see during the rescue operation, when a huge gust of wind swept under the tent and lifted us a couple of inches into the air.  Now convinced we were in a hurricane, I shook Tom awake, and told him he was to transport our children to the car.  'Don't be so ridiculous' he said, and promptly started snoring again.  I shook him again and aggressively whispered in his ear 'We are in severe danger, we need to get out'.

While Betty got more frightened, and I pretended not to be, Dolly slept on, and Tom was outside whacking tent pegs back in.  When Tom reappeared he coolly said 'It's all fine, go back to sleep'.

As we drove out of the campsite at 4am, with a befuddled Dolly, and a shell-shocked Betty, up to their ears in wet tent parts/sleeping bags etc, we saw many battered tents and campers dotted about the place.  We also saw that one family had given up on their tent completely and hurled it into the bins as they made a dash for cover.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Doctors and nurses

Betty's doctor's kit has been getting an airing recently, and she has spent many a happy hour fixing us all.

Betty to me:

'What have you hurt? Your ankle? Did you hurt your ankle in the desert or the woods? Is it the ankle on your arm or your foot? Did you fall over, or get a splinter from a tree? Right, take Calpol tonight and when you wake up. Stick this in your mouth and bite it [a thermometer] it will make you much better. I just need to count your teeth before you go. You have nine teeth, that is great. That's lovely, thank you - can you go home now please - go on off you go. N-E-X-T'.

Tom has also been treated by Dr Betty. They spoke intently for a while as Betty took Tom through the diagnosis: He had been doing Tai Chi balanced on the side of a boat and fallen into the sea, where 100 crabs had attacked him on the head and the knees.  Apparently Betty had treated his knees but said that his head would take a while longer to heal up.

Meanwhile 'Nurse Dolly', who was supposed to be assisting the doctor, was wandering around with an unidentified piece of furniture that looked like it had been ripped off a chair, and was bashing it against anything in her path.