Wednesday 30 March 2011

Pet deprived

We were given a large lump of frog-spawn the other day.  There it sat in a black bucket next to where we park the car, neglected for several days.  I had totally forgotten about it, until the friend who gave us the spawn asked Betty how her tadpoles were getting on.  Betty, understandably, had no idea what she was talking about.

I promptly cleaned out a large clear plastic tub I found in the shed, and filled it with water from the hose, and in sploshed the jellied mass.  I was surprised to find that during its time in the black bucket the spawn was now literally hundreds of little tadpoles, some of which wiggled around in their new surroundings with delight, but most of which looked dead.  

Betty has been absolutely beside herself with excitement about these tadpoles ever since, and has been looking after them very well.  She has been giving them bread-crumbs, dock leaves, sprigs of rosemary, and twigs to eat, and a stone to sit on.  She then went on to do a picture of the life-cycle of a frog which she has now stuck on her bedroom wall, referring to it when she needs to.  If she is annoying me, all I have to say is: 'How many of your tadpoles have legs now?' and off she goes, and I don't see her for what seems like hours, while she tries to count them.

I was perplexed at her excitement - after some thought, I think she realises that because of my dislike of any animal-type creature, this is the closest she will ever get to having a pet.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

The Cottage

On Saturday afternoon, Betty and I threw our sleeping bags and toothbrushes into the car and headed for the hills for the night. We were off to visit my Dad who had travelled down from London to spend a night in the cottage - a holiday cottage he has rented for 40 years, of which the lease will expire later this year.

After an hour long journey winding our way up into the mountains along narrow single track roads, we arrived.  We parked up, scrambled over the gate, and trudged up the muddy field with sleeping bags under arms.  We crossed over the wide stream using the wobbly stepping stones, up a muddy bank, and finally got to the cottage. We saw a wind-up radio perched in the branches of a tree blaring out some local music station, and we saw lots and lots of daffodils.

We entered the cottage, and immediately felt the warmth of the roaring open fire crackling and spitting, and the familiar smell of fried onions and paraffin from the oil lamps filled the damp air. Betty shook her wellies off and slumped into the big old brown leather armchair next to the fire, and asked me for some food. Off I dutifully went to the kitchen where I saw my dad's old bow saw with its orange handle, hanging off a chair. I carefully placed it in the middle of the kitchen table. The large dresser in the corner of the room caught my eye and for the next ten minutes I became completely immersed in my childhood. I opened the cupboard door and found the old metal train set, the wooden bird puzzle, the Rupert annual, and a neat little pile of very old, slightly warped, musty smelling Ladybird books. 'The First Day of the Holidays' (about a pair of penguin siblings called Pen and Gwen, who didn't want to shell peas and instead found a motorcycle to go for a joyride on) particularly caught my eye. I hadn't seen this book for almost 30 years. The nostalgia started seeping in. I held onto the book and decided I would read it to Betty at bedtime.

Completely forgetting Betty's food, I went up the steep narrow spiral stone staircase - the steps were warmed by the fire beneath - and was immediately drawn to a painting (by me at around Betty's age) hanging from a cherub on the bedroom wall.  It had faded with age, and I wondered what I was like when I was four, and what I'd been thinking about at the time.  I looked at the bunk bed I used to sleep in and affectionately remembered another picture I had drawn, of a jar of Marmite, stuck to the bed rail for many years. I felt the mattress and it was hard and lumpy, and I couldn't believe I had never noticed this before.  Memories of my dad kissing me goodnight, and the sound of the crackling fire and the kettle whistling early in the morning came flooding back.  This is where Betty and I would be sleeping tonight.

Betty called to me: 'Mummy, I am starving' which quickly snapped me out of my reminiscence. I went back downstairs and sat in the armchair opposite Betty. I looked at her sitting there for the first time, in a chair, a cottage, a valley, that has always been so unbelievably dear and special to me, a place I rarely come to these days, but spent so many happy times here as a child at weekends and during the school holidays. A place that has been ours since before I was born, but a place that will no longer be ours very soon.

My Dad then appeared in the doorway holding a broken wooden rake, and said 'Hey there you two, cup of tea?' I suggested we all went to the local pub instead, before it got dark, and I wondered if the pool table would still be there. 

I desperately wanted Betty to have a taste of everything I had experienced when I was her age at this magical place.

The following morning Betty and I woke to the sound of the crackling fire and the kettle whistling, and my dad clanking around downstairs.  We toasted bread on the fire for breakfast, played in the treehouse, raked the grass, explored the stream, and I took lots and lots of photos of every little thing: the food cupboard with its wire mesh front, the ancient calor gas cooker, the wooden cabinet holding glasses, mugs, tins of baked beans and toilet rolls, the oil lamps (one in particular with its big white berry-like shade), the table with lawn mower underneath, everything.  And when it was time to leave, I walked back across the stream, and down the muddy field, with Betty in one hand, and the Ladybird book about the penguins in the other.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Next Blog

Yesterday, Tom had been out all day helping his pig farmer friend put up a new pig fence half a mile long, so was knackered and went to bed at 8pm last night. I have given up wine for lent, there was nothing on TV (which is quite a statement coming from me), and I had no one to talk to. I decided to start a new stripy jelly creation, but as each layer takes over an hour to set I felt there must be more exciting ways to spend a Friday night.  Our house was freezing because the sun had been out and I had mistaken this for Summer, so I had turned off all our heating.  So through boredom and coldness I too went to bed, half an hour behind Tom.

In bed, Tom was in a heavy sleep, but I was not in the least bit tired.  So I sat up in the dark and turned on my laptop.  I began typing out a blog post, but in amongst his thunderous snoring, Tom somehow woke up and told me off for making too much noise.  Trying to think of things I could do that didn't involve actual typing, I cast my eye to the top of my blog page and saw the 'Next Blog' option.  I figured a bit of silent mouse control and the odd mouse click would not be detected by Tom. 

I spent the next two hours engrossed in the world of 'Next Blogs'.  I think I must have looked at around 100  blogs, and I made myself give each and every one a chance (unless they were written in a language I didn't understand ie. not English).

I was surprised to find that the majority of the blogs I came across were Mom blogs, and most had very similar styles: a photo of an immaculate Mom and Dad and their two kids, all smiling big perfect-teeth smiles in some idyllic looking setting as the blog header; lots of swirling colorful fonts, and lots and lots of photos of their kids' trips to butterfly farms or play centers. 

Every so often I would come across some fascinating reads: a blog that described a woman's lifelong obsession with women's pants, another woman's journey of adopting an Ethiopian girl, and a man writing about how he walks backwards everywhere and documents people's reactions. 

When I eventually turned off my laptop and lay down to sleep, my head was buzzing with the information from all these different peoples lives.  Annoyingly I didn't save any of the blogs to my favourites list, so they have disappeared into the big black blog hole, and so I will never find out how the walking-backwards-man got on during his upcoming trip to Snowdonia, for example.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Taking the fifth

Betty woke at 5.30am the other morning  claiming to be 'disappointed' with the temperature in her room.  The commotion woke Dolly up.  Tom stayed in their bedroom with Dolly, and sent Betty off into our bedroom, on the understanding that she would sneak into our bed and go to sleep quietly next to me (I was ill).

This was the conversation the following morning:

Tom:  Betty, did you let Mummy stay asleep when you got into bed with her?

Betty: Yes Daddy, I did.

Me:  You did not!  You nagged me for an hour about putting the TV on and then you informed me that 'you were not my slave' when I asked if you could find the remote control yourself.  You then went on and on about how Duckie [her toy duck] wasn't very well, and you became irate when I wouldn't switch the light on to find him some Calpol.

Tom:  Betty?  Is this true?

Betty:  No Daddy, it isn't true.  I let Mummy sleep.  I was a good girl, I went straight to sleep.

Me:  Betty!  You did not!  You are fibbing.  You must not fib, it is naughty.  I am taking away your treat today.

Betty looking panic stricken, thinks for a second

Betty:  But Mummy, I can't know what I am saying.

Long pause

Tom to Me: I think she is claiming the fifth amendment... or maybe trying to make out that she wasn't of sound mind at the time of the utterance? We seem to have either a great lawyer or a criminal mastermind on our hands here.

Friday 18 March 2011

On a plate

A couple of  blokes in fluorescent jackets and hard hats appeared in my garden early this morning.  I shook Tom awake and politely asked him what the heck they were doing there.  It turned out they had come to put scaffolding up at the front of our house, ready for the solar panel installation people on Monday. 

The solar panels are part of Tom's save the world crusade, along with refusing to go on an aeroplane ever again, trying to stubbornly cycle everywhere on his electric bike, and having a go at me every time a lorry backs up our driveway and dumps on our doorstep 'more clutter that will only end up in landfill'.  I had to put my foot down when he tried to convince me that we could get by (as a family of four which includes two small children needing large cumbersome carseats) with just a Smart car and an electric bike.

Of course, I have total admiration and respect for everything he is doing, and I agree that things certainly need to be done, but not necessarily at the cost of making things impossible.

Having solar panels is the latest thing, and while I was nervous about it because of the huge initial costs, I am actually really pleased because it has given me peace of mind, that when the world does go completely tits up, I will at the very least still be able to watch TV.  Tom has been giving me pep talks for the last few weeks in preparation, and has told me that once the panels have been installed I am only allowed to use the washing machine and the kettle when the sun is shining, for example.

Anyway, after heaving Tom out of bed to go and see to them,  I then walked across the landing, which has one large long window running across it, to get to the bathroom.  I looked down and saw the scaffolding men outside, on the ground, drinking the tea that Tom had made for them and looking quite settled.

I had my shower, and then merrily strode back across the landing, with just a towel round my waist, like I do every morning, but this morning I came face to face with the two men , who were now at the window of my landing at first floor level.  I was already halfway across the landing when I clocked them, and so it was too late to turn back, as I would have drawn more attention to myself.  So I continued my stride, hunched over, and head down, and dived through my bedroom door. 

Outside the bedroom I could hear my darling children shouting things through the window like: 'Look men, do you like our shoes?' or 'Hello men, would you like my mummy to make you some more tea?' As I got dressed, in a mortified state, I went over and over it in my mind, did they see me, or didn't they?  There is no way they could not have seen me.  I hung around in the bedreoom for as long as I possibly could, until Tom bellowed up the stairs 'Elsie, it's 10 o'clock, I need you to take the kids, I have to get to work, WHERE ARE YOU?  I emerged from the bedroom, fully dressed, and casually took a photo of the men at my landing window as I walked past to go downstairs.

No sooner had this photo been taken than Dolly escaped into the garden chanting 'man, tea? man, tea?' and I had to run out after her to retrieve her and face these men in the flesh, when all I really wanted to do was disappear in a puff of smoke.

Monday 14 March 2011

Jelly in the bin

Both Tom and I were ill with the same thing over the weekend.  However, he was the one convalescing in bed, and I was the one soldiering on.  As a distraction from how rough I felt I decided to make a stripy jelly with the kids (pictured left).  This creation took us all of Saturday. 

As I coughed and sputtered and sneezed over orange and pink and purple jelly cubes and waited patiently for each layer to set before adding the next one, Betty remarked 'But Mummy I don't even like jelly anymore'.  And it is a known fact that, like me, Dolly has never liked jelly.  'Ok' I thought, 'so you and your sister don't like jelly (although yesterday you loved jelly you fickle little four year old), but Granny and Daddy love jelly'. 

Once all the layers had set, I began turning it out of the mould and the nerves and excitement really started to set in.  Out glooped the jelly, and there it proudly wobbled, perfectly formed, in all its stripy glory.  I placed it on the table and stared at it in awe.  Jelly really is an exciting and versatile medium to work with.  Betty sauntered up and said 'Why have you made that yucky jelly Mummy?'  I ignored her. 

It turned out that Tom was 'too poorly' to eat jelly, and Granny didn't want to catch my germs that were 'more than likely festering all over it'.  So with no-one actually wanting to eat the jelly, I took hundreds of photos of it, then ate a token spoonful of it, before slopping it into the bin; rationalising that the whole thing only cost £1.20 and that it had helped take my mind off the feelings of wanting to stick my head in the oven.

I am now dreaming up my next jelly creation.  The next one, when I am better (for I have now succumbed to my illness, kicked Tom out of bed, and am under the duvet), will involve Betty and Dolly's castle shaped beach buckets. Having researched how to create new and exciting colours of jelly, the possibilities are endless.  For me, jelly is the new play dough. 

Sunday 13 March 2011

Dolly mixture

Dolly will be two next month.  Her first two years have gone in a flash, and suddenly, it feels like overnight, I find myself not with a Phil Mitchell look-alike baby, but a feisty, independent and very pretty toddler.  The term 'toddler' doesn't feel right when describing her, because although she is a little person who toddles, it feels too unsophisticated for her, or slightly patronising.

So, I have a little person who moves purposefully around, busying herself with making us all copious amounts of tea in her toy kitchen, and taking random items for walks in her toy pram; yesteray I noted she had strapped in a toy train, a felt tip lid, a toy sheep and a little metal tin.  And her dolls had been placed in her oven.

When she is not making us all laugh out loud with her sheer, and very deliberate funniness (and subsequently laughing at her own jokes), she is either holding forth in an argument with Betty, being naughty and not taking the blindest bit of notice if we tell her off, demanding that my yoga dvd be put on 'I want yoga on' so that she can stick her nappy bottom in the air, or demanding cuddles and showering us with kisses.  The kissing thing is always on her terms though - if I dare to give her a kiss without prior authorisation she gets stroppy and says 'No kiss Mummy'. 

At not quite two years old yet, the little lady's vocab is huge. Compared (and I know one shouldn't compare but it's often all you have to go on) to Betty who barely uttered a word until past two, she is talking in short sentences. Having said this, this advancement must almost definitely be attributed to Betty actively teaching her to talk - Dolly mainly talks about farts, poos, sweets and chocolate.

Although Dolly mostly refers to me as 'Mummy' she does sometimes decide to call me by my name, perhaps when I am misbehaving.  And where I am the one that can normally decipher everything she says, she often looks at me and says 'TART' and I genuinely cannot work out what she is trying to say.  She cannot be calling me a tart, can she?  Anyway, despite her thinking me a tart, she is a bit of a Mummy's girl and she looks just like I did when I was her age; it is a weird sensation looking at your child and constantly being reminded of hundreds of photos of yourself when you were little.  She also has this thing of wandering around with nothing on but her wellies; something I used to do.

I could go on all day long about this gorgeous little specimen of a child, but will finish here for now, by saying the little tyke melts me about 100 times a day, and both Tom and I (and Betty, though she probably wouldn't always admit it) are totally smitten.

Friday 11 March 2011


Last Friday afternoon was Betty's first induction session at school.  In the hours leading up to it I was an emotional wreck.  I had an urge to listen to 80s music - the music from my own school days.  I imagined walking Betty up the school playground later that day for the first time and I cried.  I remembered walking up the very same playground on my first day of school.  I thought about my childhood and wondered how and when I got to where I am now, with two children of my own, one about to start school, and the other not that far behind.  I opened the cupboard to seek out my secret stash of chocolate buttons and they had gone.  I cried. 

It wasn't the physical act of taking Betty to school for the first time that was bothering me, for she is desperate to go and so ready for it, but the symbolism of it all.  I have spent the last four and half years in a blissful little mummy bubble (ok, not always blissful I know, sometimes bloody hard, as this blog documents, but totally blissful in retrospect) and now it feels like I am entering back into real life.  A life full of rigid routines that I will no longer have any say over, a life of my kids not being around nearly so much, a life of things becoming slightly more out of my control.  I know that my children are still only four and two and not about to leave home, but suddenly life seems a little more serious. 

No more whiling away the days making play dough, painting, throwing glitter everywhere, dressing up as fairies, having playdates, going to the playground, watching CBeebies.  Well not with Betty anyway.  Of course I still have my gorgeous delightful Dolly to do all these lovely things with, but both she and I will really really miss Betty's presence.  And even my baby Dolly (who will be two in a few weeks) will be starting pre-school after Easter, and embarking on her own rapid flight out of the nest.

So with all of this going on, I feel emotional, and sad, but happy, and a little bit like I am heading for redundancy in my current job.