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'