Thursday 31 July 2008

Thieving swine bastards that are car garages

Following yesterday's car drama, today I trundled off to the garage to have the stupid thing fixed. I call it stupid because it's a 7 seater people carrier. And it is the car equivalent of a cow. Big, slow moving, completely unexciting and looks about as gormless. You can probably tell how much I love it.

So I took it in. Thankfully a women was on the check in desk because they always seem to fully understand girl explanations of things that go wrong with a car. 'Any problems to report,' she asked. 'Actually yes, several,' I said. 'Firstly, the brakes make a loud high pitched squealing, squeaking, screeching type sound when I brake and it makes the same noise even when I'm just driving along.' She nodded and typed as though she fully understood what I meant. A man would have been: 'So can you describe the noise more carefully - do you think it's the brake pads or discs - and at exactly what speed are you going when this sound happens and are you sure you're not just imagining it in your teeny tiny lady sized brain?'

Given our obvious connection, I told her about the other problems (I would have stopped after problem one with a man). 'Well there's something wrong with the battery. Even if we jumpstart the car, it won't start again the next day.' 'Ooh, that is annoying isn't it,' she said. Again, a bloke no doubt would have asked if I had the jumper cables put on correctly. Full of confidence I said, 'Oh, and my seat belt is twisted and I can't untwist it.' (thinking this really was a problem I should be able to sort out on my own). 'I hate it when that happens,' she sympathised. I handed in my key feeling fully confident, not something I normally feel at a garage.

I then had to wait for a car hire company to come fetch me and give me my hire car - because I am nothing if not a realist and I knew that my list of problems was probably going to get longer once they started digging around.

And indeed, it was. A man just called. Apparently the brake pads (or discs - one can never be sure) were completely shot in the front and even worse at the back (the reason for the loud squealing/screeching sound). 'It was metal on metal,' he said in a tone that implied I was a car heathen and should be shot. It needs a complete brake fluid change. It needs two new tyres. And a new seatbelt. He didn't mention the battery come to think of it, which was the reason it went in. So all in, with parts and labour, they would like £1400. Fourteen hundred pounds! I'm almost tempted to offer to sleep with the mechanic in a desperate bid to get the price knocked down, but I don't think he'll go for it. Not unless I buy new knickers.

So I said, fine, I guess if we have to do it we have to do it. I then relayed this to husband who immediately said that we can get the tyres done cheaper elsewhere and to cancel all non urgent stuff so that we can sell it. But that would mean phoning the guy back and having to try explain this and figure out which are the non urgent bits and quite frankly, I'm just not up to it. I have told husband to do it but he hasn't and am sure they're now closed. There are certain jobs that are boy jobs, and cars are one of them. I hereby relinquish all responsiblity for the silly cow of a car.

All of this fannying about with a car has not helped my productivity this week. Let's add it up:

  • A good hour long wait for my breasts to be fondled on Monday
  • A trip to the dentist on Tuesday followed by a trip to the doctor for a child with possible pox
  • A day trapped at home with children and no car yesterday
  • Half my working day wiped out today plus an eye-stingingly awful bill that's definitely a greater sum than what I made this week working
And tomorrow I potentially can't work because pox child is still semi-poxy and the nursery will ban him. Meanies.

I am starting to realise why people don't work and are stay at home mothers. I mean it's just about impossible to get a full day's work done. I have a grand total of 4 days of childcare left until 5 September. And more work than I can possibly do. I need to splice myself into 4 people. But I think that would hurt.

I'd better stop moaning and go do my month end accounts and bath beasties - although probably not at the same time. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

I hope to post cheerier posts soon.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

The day gets better

Despite the sun coming out and my laundry at last getting dry, the boys are bored, bored, bored. So in a bid to stop the nagging, I said we could to into town to the park to feed the ducks. After taking a good 30 minutes to get sunblock on/finding crocs/getting bread/final wees etc, we all got into the car, only for the sodding thing not to start. Cue much yelling along the lines of: 'Make it go mummy'. I would if I bloodywell could.

So I called the AA. They told me, after being in a queue for 10 years, that I'm only covered for roadside assistance, not home assistance. So if I could manage to push the car out of the drive and onto the road, I'd be fine. But again, I can't. So I could upgrade for £70. So I say fine, bloody fine. Just do it. Bleed me dry why don't you. But they tell me that my husband is the primary account holder and therefore me (a second rate citizen) cannot do it. I must instruct husband to do it. Husband is busy at a client. He's not going to be calling the AA.

And breathe in for four, and out for eight....

Chicken pox or not chicken pox - what to do is the question.

Youngest child may or may not have chicken pox. Symptoms: whinginess, bad temper, only eating one portion of food unlike his normal 3, a few spots on his left hand and arm that are sort of blistery, the odd spot elsewhere. For someone who is potentially ill, he seems to be full of beans. Quite frankly, I'd like it if he has chicken pox because then I can tick it off the list of childhood illnesses and I'd have a good reason for his vile temper. But he really doesn't seem very poxy.

This is annoying. We can't go play with other people in case he does have the pox (unless they're actively wanting to catch it themselves) but he really doesn't seem poorly enough just to sit around here all day. And they do seem quite intent on driving me mad this morning. This is largely because I am now reading yet another parenting book in a last ditch effort to manage the tantrums from son number 1. This book has so far told me what you're not supposed to do - which is everything apparently. You can't punish or give time outs. You can't reward or praise. I've yet to get to the bit where they tell you what you can do. (I do believe that I might get to the end and they'll just say: Sorry, but you're screwed.) But now I'm stuck in limbo, not really wanting to do anything to them but equally having to do something because they're systematically destroying the house and each other.

In accordance with the book, I'm trying to give them unconditional love, loving them for who they are and not what they do. This is a lot easier said than done. Especially when they smear syrup all over the furniture and decide that shredding a newspaper is a barrell of laughs. And it probably is. Except that they're not the ones having to pick up minute pieces of paper that keep appearing. But I am digging deep into my patience reserves and trying to ignore it. After all, it's just mess right?

My patience is also being tested by a deadly combination of moutains of clothes (about 1% of which are actually mine) which need washing and drying, but the tumble dryer seems to have decided to go on strike and refuses to dry anything, despite using up just about a year's worth of electricity and massively screwing up our carbon footprint, the washing line is still a dismal, wonky version of it's former self and even if I can manage to string a few things up without them touching the ground, the weather keeps changing its mind about whether it's sunny or rainy.

And once again we seem to have run out of food (except for pasta salad which quite frankly I cannot face and will be putting in the bin) which means a grocery shop. That might be a good outing with a poxy child as long as he doesn't actually touch another person. Then again, an online shop is infinitely more peaceful.

So that's my day. Looming large. It's been going since 5.30am and I'm ready to go to bed right now. But I shall soldier on. One very good line from the book I'm reading said something about how the breathing techniques you learn for labour really only come into their own many years later. I whole heartedly agree. And breathe in for four, and out for eight...

Monday 28 July 2008

Mummy, how do you make babies?

I had just written a complete blog post all about my heady day in which my washing on my proudly erected washing line got soaked in a thunderstorm. I also wrote all about my delightful trip to the breast clinic for a cursory fondling. I moaned about British people moaning about the weather. And I pointed out that I was feeling lethargic thanks to a carb induced coma as a resulting of eating too much left over pasta salad. But for some reason, blogger decided that it wasn't worthy of posting and so failed to save it and simply deleted my post. Which was a little frustrating, given that although the subjects weren't incredibly exciting, they did have a good rant quality to them.

But I cannot be arsed to try and remember what I wrote. So I shall instead relay the conversation I had with my eldest son during bath time (luckily it just wooshed loudly over the little one's head). It went like this:

son: 'Mummy, how do you make babies?'

me: (nervously wonders whether 4.5 is too young to be telling him about the birds and the bees but not managing to think of a very good reason to lie other than that he'll be the kid telling the other kids all about it at school and I'll have several parents ringing me asking why my child was telling their child obscene stories during breaktime). So I thought I'd go for an honestish answer and said: 'You grow them from a seed.'

Cue very puzzled look from son. 'Well how does the seed get in your tummy?'

Good, so that worked well then.

Trying to postpone the inevitable I asked: 'How do you think the seed gets in my tummy?'

son: (ponders the problem for a little while and then says) 'Do you put it in through your belly button?'

I should have just said yes. I should have. And left it at that. But I decided that really, what's the use in lying. He's only going to be picked on mercilessly when he's at school and he tells someone that the way babies are made is via your belly button.

So, taking a deep breath in, I said: When you become a grown up man, your willy will be able to make a type of water that carries the seeds in it. And (even deeper breath) daddies put their willies into mummies girly bits to make the seeds go into mummy's tummy.

And the two of them fall about laughing. Me fearing the worst that this is going to now be repeated to all of their little pre-school friends, wait for the hysteria to stop. 'Water with seeds in it from our willies. Ha ha ha.' The bit about the willy and girly bits seems to have been ignored in their mirth having discovered yet another exciting thing that their willy can do.

Once the jollity had calmed down, he asked: 'But is the baby inside the seed?'

'Well sort of, but it doesn't look like a baby,' I attempt to explain, not really wanting to go into how the sperm finds an egg and then splits into a bunch of cells. Probably a bit Too Much Info. So we then discussed how our tomato seeds didn't really look like tomatoes before they were planted but now they've grown into big green plants and that babies grow the same way.

He considers all of this for some time and then says: 'So when the babies are grown, can we eat them?' I felt like saying, in some cultures they do mate, and well done them. But I didn't.

And after that, I feel I deserve wine.

Well whadduyaknow? The sun shone

Glorious. That's what the weather was (and indeed still is). It was as though we had a hotline to the weather gods and we'd managed to be the 100th lucky caller, thereby getting exactly the weather we wanted.

And so, under blue skies and baking sun, we had our summer party. And amazingly it actually felt like summer. We had about 100 small naked boys tearing around the garden with one or two bemused looking girls sitting on the side wondering how they'd landed in a scene from the Lord of the Flies. They swam, they splashed in an inflatable pirate ship, they ate sprinkles out of ice cream cones filled with ice cream sauce, they bounced on trampolines, they stole handfuls of crisps when they thought no-one was looking, they generally ran amok being little boys and having a ball. We, the grown ups, got to watch while sipping on wine. Some of us were even brave enough to unleash our matronly figures to take a dip.

All in all, it was lovely. There was a slight problem on the catering front insomuch as I obviously thought that I was feeding the entire population of West Berkshire and wanted to ensure everyone also had seconds. So despite applying ourselves diligently all weekend, we still have several large vats of salad and potato bake loitering in the kitchen. Getting numbers right is a female problem. Men don't have this problem because if they were left in charge of the catering there would be one tomato and a lettuce leaf to share between all the guests as salad doesn't count as a food group. There would be a huge surplus of meat, but because it's meat, it would all be eaten by the men in question, so again, no wastage.

But women, we feel the need to make sure that every person must be able to have exactly what they want to eat. And that might well mean an entire bowl of salad to themselves. Which means you have to multiply that volume by the number of guests to ensure everyone has enough. What we should actually do is count the number of female adults and create a small portion of salad for each of them. They won't actually be able to sit still long enough to eat a big portion. The men won't eat salad and the kids think it's poison. So note to self: for future catering, less green stuff.

The company was marvellous and I'd like to take a moment here to mention a special friend who wonders how I can blog without actually discussing anyone in particular. She feels it would be beyond her abilities to not gossip. So Fifi. Here you are. A mention and a gossip just for you. Fifi was the lady who resolutely refused to believe that summer was actually here so came attired in long jeans and a long sleeve shirt and then spent the entire weekend trying to stop her face from turning purple. Next time mad woman, bring a swimsuit.

There was one down side to the party, which only came to my attention this morning. We had to remove our washing line (one of those twirly whirly ones) to make space for small beasties to charge about. This morning I had to hang washing on the line as we seem to have used every towel and swimsuit we own, not to mention that all of last week's laundry was ignored in the pre-party build up. So I attempted to re-erect the washing line.

I feel that the manufacturers of these devices should include some kind of instructions that are stuck on the central pole. I spent about 30 minutes simply trying to get the thing to open. In the process, I managed to break one of the supporting joists and tangled all of the lines. After much cursing and with burning arm muscles, I finally had the thing looking sort of like a washing line again. As I tried to hang the first shirt on the line, I realised that it wasn't quite right given that the shirt was draping on the grass due to a complete lack of tension in the lines. Five years later I had rethreaded the whole sodding thing. It's still not right. But at least the clothes are now dangling a foot off the ground instead of being on it. This is a job for husband.

And now I must pretend to actually do some work instead of staring wistfully out of the window at the sunshine. Although I think I might take a break mid morning to go for a swim....

Friday 25 July 2008

Summer party - just a casual BBQ - not much effort required really

Tomorrow is the big day. Our annual summer party. We expect to have about 30 adults....and roughly the same number of children....all under the age of 7. The intention is to be outdoors, enjoying the garden, eating our own body weight in BBQd sausages and swimming in the pool. For the kids we've got face paints, bubbles, inflatable plastic things, ride on tractors, sports day games, the trampoline and the pool. For grown ups we've got lots of wine. It should be fab.

But according to the BBC weather page, the forecast is light showers. Excellent. Just what we need. At least they're 'light' showers as opposed to torrential rain with galeforce winds. Which was equally likely. So can't complain really.

As a result, this evening, husband and I shall attempt to erect two marquees - our rainy day back up plan - plus inflate two large inflatable ball pool thingies that will irritate the living hell out of me when the children scatter the balls all over the garden so that we spend the next year finding them nestling amongst our tomato plants. I also have to defrost the 17 tonnes of meat, make a potato bake to feed the masses and attempt to curry some peaches (my casual nod to a South African side dish. If this was a real South African affair, it would be called a Braai and there'd be double the quantity of meat cooked over a coal fire with beer bread, mielie pap and carrot and orange salad with beer - Castle Lager. But it's not, so it's a British BBQ with sausages and Pimms.)

Tomorrow we need to collect ride on tractors, a big gas BBQ from the pub down the road, prepare the rest of the food, clean the pool, set up a million other things including tents for people camping in the garden. And then once people arrive, I'll get to paint children's faces, organise kids races, shout at too many children jumping on the trampoline at once, instruct drunken grown ups to get off the trampoline altogether, serve food, break up fights, get kids into bed when they're over excited and over tired, and clear up.

At some point I do plan on having a glass of wine and a lie in the sun should the rain bugger off.

But it has become apparent to me that I am a fool for organising this party every year. For it to truely be a success I need a) Guaranteed sunshine (not something I'm ever going to get on this grey island) b) staff and lots of them including a herd of babysitters and kids entertainers, plus cleaners, chefs and groundsmen, c) lower expectations.

But fingers crossed it will all go swimmingly. I will attempt to report back with a hangover on Sunday evening. Till then, have a good weekend.

Thursday 24 July 2008

The end of my tether

I wouldn't say I'm at the end of my tether with my 4.5 year old son. However, the tether in question is coming up fast in my rearview mirror and is about to hit my butt.

He's never been an easy child. How fondly I recall my 31st birthday in which my 3 week old baby cried and cried and cried. All day. Non-stop. And of course there were all those days when we tried to go out like normal people who had babies - say to a pub for lunch - and while the other people's babies the same age as ours would merrily fall asleep in their buggies, ours would cry and cry and cry, so that one of us was always pacing and patting, patting and pacing.

Then there were the twos. Never a particularly relaxing time at best. But add a new baby to son number 1's already volatile temper and the result was tantrums of gargantuan proportions. I clearly recall a trip to the park in Henley in which son 1 wanted to go on a carousel and then didn't want to and then did want to and then didn't want to. And eventually, having driven the carousel operator completely mad, we left. This did not please son 1. And he produced the mother of all tantrums. People in powerboats on the river could hear his screaming over the roar of their engines. I had to push a buggy, carry a bag, a picnic blanket and a kicking, screaming, scratching, roaring demon-possessed beastie the full length of the park back to the car with everyone else watching in awe. I was dripping in sweat by the time I got there. My friends had managed to catch up with me at this point and it took three of us - THREE FULLY GROWN ADULTS - to get one small devil into his carseat.

He mellowed slightly in his 3s, eager to please but still prone to violent mood swings. But since turning 4 he has apparently left childhood behind and headed straight into puberty. The attitude and back chat is something to behold. He's taken to spitting, hitting and kicking. He sulks. If you attempt to explain why you want him to do something, he covers his ears and yells: 'I'm not talking to you.' In fact, I'm not even sure why he bothers covering up his ears because I don't believe they work anyway. I think when I talk, all he hears is a low level hum - like an annoying bee - so he simply walks away from it. This has meant that I talk louder until I shout.

I have become that loud, shouty mother who constantly threatens with counting to 3, warnings of sitting on the step and most recently plenty of talk about certain bottoms becoming acquainted with my hand. I know that all of it is completely and utterly ineffectual.

I know what I need to do. I need to pick my battles. I need to follow through. I need to praise the positives. I need to distract and turn things into games. And I need to give him plenty of one-on-one attention. I've read the books. I know what you're supposed to do.

However, those books are obviously written by people who don't also have 1 besqillion other things that they have to get done in any given day. They're also written by people who have all won nobel peace prizes and are saints in waiting. They're written by people who don't mind picking up the same puzzle pieces seventy times a day or having their ear buds used by their child and thrust back into the box so that you can stick a waxy ear bud in your own ear at a later date. They're written by people who have an infinite amount of patience and a super human ability to not get riled by doors being slammed in their face or felt tip pen artwork on their brand new kitchen cupboards. They're written by people who don't mind spending 15 minutes to reinforce the point that cushions live on the chairs and not the floor. They're written by people who don't mind having to eat another slice of toast with peanut butter because their child has insisted on having it only to say: 'But I don't want more toast. You're stupid. You shouldn't have made it. You eat it.'

These books are obviously written by people who can laugh in the face of adversity. They're probably war correspondents in their spare time, keeping calm in the face of life threatening danger. They probably negotiate world peace on their spare afternoons and give 'anger management' counselling to Sadam Hussein and Slobodan Milosovic (obviously they're no longer clients), Robert Mugabe and Osama Bin Laden. And if that isn't enough, they probably knit their own lentils and make lampshades out of recycled newspapers.

I applaud the authors of those books and I wholeheartedly invite them into my house to take over for a while. Because I need a time out and I'm going to go sit on the naughty step.

(And if my parents are reading this: yes, I know exactly who he sounds like and yes I know it's karma and that I thoroughly deserve this, having been a beastie child myself. I would like to formally apologise now for being the revolting little creature I was. To be fair, I couldn't help it, just like he can't. But now I fully understand why you always had a drink in the evening.)

Tuesday 22 July 2008

One year on since the rains came (and nursery rhyme nightmares)

Last night my almost 3 year old woke up at 1.50am screaming. I raced through (well staggered blindly stubbing my toe on the wall) to find out whether he was losing a body part. He wasn't. He was having a bad dream. He has these regularly. The best thing about his bad dreams is that although they are no doubt very traumatic for him, they're very amusing for anyone listening to his half-asleep yowls. In the past we've had: 'I WANT MY PUDDING. I WANT MY PUDDING.' And even more specific, we've had: 'I WANT MY APPLE CRUMBLE. I WANT MY APPLE CRUMBLE.' The poor deprived child obviously has deep seated scars about not eating his vegetables and therefore not getting his dessert.

However, last night's bad dream had nothing to do with pudding. It took an even greater swing towards the surreal. He is now apparently dreaming in nursery rhymes. 'I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JACK AND JILL'S HOUSE. I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JACK AND JILL'S HOUSE.' I have no idea what Jack and Jill were doing - no doubt tormenting him with threats of putting him in bed with his head wrapped up in vinegar and brown paper. But it took me at least 30 minutes to talk him off the ledge and convince him that no-one was going to be sending him to Jack & Jill's house or indeed up any hill or to any well.

So that was how my 22nd of July started, the 22nd of July being an auspicious day. Because exactly one year ago today I was quietly working in my office, looking at the torrential rain outside and wondering when it was going to end. I then noticed a small stream running through our garden, which very quickly turned into a large stream and then a river. That river of muddy brown water had only one place to go, and that was in our house.

For some strange reason, despite the several feet of water that had risen up the outside of the kitchen door, I naiveley thought that perhaps our house had some kind of protective shield which prevented water coming in through the cracks. I was wrong. Charging downstairs I watched in horror as water began pouring in through every door. I called my husband in panic saying: 'We're being flooded!' His advice was to 'Get towels' (obviously this is the standard emergency procedures for all events from floods to giving birth). Given the deluge pouring in I don't think he quite grasped the full extent of what was going on. So I started to cry. As you do when water is lapping around your ankles inside your house.

'Put things up high,' he instructed me. Where to start? I mean where do you start? For me, it was rescuing our wedding photo album off the floor in the lounge which hadn't yet got quite as wet. Not knowing how high the water was going to come, I was probably slightly over zealous and ran upstairs and shoved the album on to of the tallest cupboard. Let's just say that if the water had gotten that high, we would have had bigger fish to fry than a ruined wedding album.

However, my little detour upstairs had wasted invaluable time. By the time I got back down again (about a minute later) the water was another foot higher. The sofas were now floating and the things in the kitchen cupboards were bobbing about and clunking into each other. It's safe to say that at this point I entered full panic mode. I stood in the kitchen with a powerful current of water rushing around my knees and was at a complete and utter loss as to what to do. The fridge suddenly lifted up off the floor and crashed into the opposite wall with an enormous bang, startling me out of my dazed and confused reverie and spurred me into action.

At this point we had no elecricity which meant we had no phones (as all of our phones are silly electric-fangled thingies) which meant we had no internet access. I also didn't have any charge in my mobile phone and no cell phone reception in the house anyway. So basically I had no way of communicating with the outside world. There was no way I could open any of the doors because of the weight of water on them.

So I figured that I needed to escape the house via whatever means necessary. I had the presence of mind to pack car keys, a phone charger and mobile phone and the telephone number for the nursery, which luckily the boys were at. I donned a not very waterproof jacket but didn't really think through my footwear situation - flip flops. I managed to climb up onto the kitchen counters, open a window and climb out landing waist deep in icy cold water, and instantly lost my flip flops. I also noticed the large gas BBQ bobbing around the garden which isn't a site you see every day.

I managed to wade through the garden to higher ground, traversed the public bridleway which at this point had turned into a raging river, threatening to take my feet out from under me. I got to a neighbour's house where I managed to call for help and alert the nursery - although they rather usefully asked me to come collect my children as they were closing up. There was no way out of the village as the road was blocked. I couldn't go back into my house. I could just sit there and feel my stress levels shoot skyward.

To cut a long and arduous story short, I did finally manage to retrieve the children and we got back into our mud filled, stinking, very wet house. We lived in that delightful atmosphere for a full month, the children getting all sorts of chest problems in the process, until we could find temporary accommodation. £150 000 later, courtesy of our insurers, we moved back into a lovely fully refurbished house that the children have already managed to destroy.

So I raise my coffee mug to the sunny day outside in a silent salute to all that has gone on in the past year. I wouldn't repeat the experience, but then again, I do love my shiny new kitchen. Every rain cloud has a silver lining after all.

P.S. on a completed unrelated subject, I have failed in my duties as a mother for the second time in a week. On Friday I forgot that it was the leaver's event at the nursery, missed it entirely. Today I completely forgot that it was Teddy Bear's Picnic at pre-school. Not only am I not attending (rotten, evil mother that I am) but I forgot to pack special picnic treats in their lunchboxes and most critically, forgot the bloody bears. My children managed to drive the point about my maternal shortcomings home with their very loud sobs. Sigh. I am rubbish.

Monday 21 July 2008

Teacher's present etiquette. Why someone needs to write a book.

I've said it before but I'll repeat myself because I can: there is a market for a book telling parents who are about to send their first child off to school what school etiquette is. There are so many things you just don't know and I'm sure they become readily apparent the first time you've embarrassed yourself hugely in front of all the other parents/teachers/head teacher/pupils. But it would be nice to avoid that embarrassment and just be able to read up on what is supposed to happen.

For example, tomorrow is the last day that my son will be at pre-school forever (unless he keeps forgetting how to wipe his own bottom and the big school sends him back for another year's hygiene training). And until very recently, it skipped my notice that as a parent with nothing else to do or money to spend on things, you are supposed to buy teachers presents at the end of the year, particularly if you're leaving and never coming back.

This fact actually came to my attention a couple of months ago but was like a ball of fluff. It just drifted in one ear and out the other and I didn't think twice about it. Until today. Actually until an hour ago. So what do you get for a teacher at 7pm the night before the day it is to be presented? In fact what do you get them full stop? And are you just supposed to give the main teacher a present or all the staff? You see how many questions there are that a book could easily explain. I can see paragraphs being consumed on this subject alone.

So back to the subject of what to get them. I've been advised that wine is always well received. I'm sure it is. It's quite well received in this house too. And although I could afford to buy one not-totally-vile-and-semi-drinkable bottle, I certainly don't feel like paying for it five times over to thank all the staff. If I'm going to spend that much on wine I'd like to be the person consuming it. I mean it is these same people who send my children home with glitter and pine needle art so how big a thank you should they get? Despite all these very good arguments for not buying wine, the decision is somewhat made for me as we have none left in the house (why we invested in a wine fridge I'll never know - it's never full). So that's the end of the wine discussion.

Moving on. I could get son to wake up early tomorrow morning (he does anyway) and create a lovely piece of art for them (pay back time - I'll go digging for grass shavings now). But I fear that they probably won't appreciate yet another piece of - let's face it - fairly dire artwork. They probably see enough of it in their day jobs so taking it on holiday with them probably won't happen. So scratch that off the list.

I believe that gawdy trinkets like a pink ceramic elephant with tears running down its cheeks holding a sign saying: I'll miss you my best teacher, are considered naff. And rightly so. Which is good because we don't have any of those in the house either.

Which leaves one thing. Baked goods. I can do baked goods. I'm not convinced the teachers want baked goods. I have no idea if they have nut allergies or on a mega-slimming programme before trying to squeeze into their summer bikinis. But quite frankly, tough. It's chocolate brownies in cellophane bags with gold ties (because I do just happen to have some of those in the house, a carry over from my walnut packing episode several years ago... it's a long story) and they will take them and smile. If they feed them to family, hand them in at a homeless shelter or drop them in a bin, I don't care. It's the thought that counts. And the bloody effort at this time on a Monday evening (particularly because Husband still has to bring home the chocolate as I don't have enough.)

So there, dilemma solved. But I was seconds away from embarrassing myself by arriving empty handed. And given I still have another child who has to spend two full years there, and given his propensity for peeing in his pants, I probably need to curry favour now. Now if someone had just written a book about this, I would have had none of these conundrums.

Must bake.

Things that annoy me

Today I am in a black mood. Dark, brooding and thoroughly unfriendly. Strange that I should have this mood on what is a gloriously - if incredibly rare - sunny morning. What's more, husband is back home. I had a full day to myself without children on Saturday sailing the high seas and spent yesterday pool cleaning and gardening so that we now look like we live in a show home (except for the congealed cornflakes under the kids table). I've even managed to get the pool to be blue, clear, clean and warm all at once. Small miracles do happen every now and then.

However, I am still in a miserable mood. Let's hope a full day of sunshine can cheer me up. But while I'm in a grump, I might as well make full use of it and have a little rant about things that annoy me:

Annoyance 1: The fact them when trying to type this blog, I can't leave a space between numbered items if I use their silly numbers so have to type it as I have here.

Annoyance 2: The Gillette Venus razor advert that blathers on about women revealing their inner goddess. Do the ad executives who come up with this shite really think that women feel like a goddess when they shave their legs? Don't they think that perhaps women shave their legs because they've started to look so hirsute that people have begun to call them Yeti and their husbands keep complaining that they've got stubble rash on their own legs thanks to yours scraping theirs in bed. And do they really think that women get to lie in the bath, languishing about with candles while they transform themselves into a goddess? Of course they don't. They hop about frantically on one leg in the shower while two children crawl around the supporting leg trying to catch the bubbles and learn a few choice words when mummy realises that the blade is so blunt she's removed her shin bone instead of the hair. So no, I do not want to unleash my inner goddess while shaving thank you very much. I just want to be able to not bleed to death.

Annoyance 3: Those pages in magazines - particularly the Sunday Telegraph magazine (Stella) but it is not alone in doing this - that take some mildly famous person and ask them for their address book of their favourite places. So of course they prattle on about some fabulous little shoe shop in Venice and the perfect place to get sushi in Tokyo as though they are there every second Wednesday just because it's so fab that they'll endure a transcontinental flight just to eat some raw fish. Stop showing off. For a start, your carbon footprint is pants. Secondly, I too could rustle up a handful of must-see places in different parts of the world. Just google it. Twats.

Annoyance 4: Stuff. We seem to accumulate a lot of stuff. And it drives me nuts. There is a particular corner in the kitchen that is particularly prone to gathering stuff. And it's homeless stuff. Stuff that has no real place but probably shouldn't be chucked out as it might be vaguely useful one day, and so it goes into the Drawer of All Things (which in itself is a nightmare but at least it is out of sight). Why do we have so much stuff? Why am I not better at selling stuff on eBay, giving it to homeless shelters or just putting it in the bin? I think my life would be happier if it was completely decluttered. But you just never know when you might need an inflatable exercise ball or a bag with 25 tins of paint samples in it. Do you?

Annoyance 5: That I have to drive all the way into Newbury now to post a parcel and withdraw some money (on the wildly optimistic assumption that there is some money to withdraw) because I refuse to pay a £1.99 fee to a hole in the wall money box at the service station. Of course the petrol to get to Newbury will cost more than £1.99 and the time I spend not working is worth far, far more but it's the principle of it. Blood sucking thieving swines.

Annoyance 6: That women who've had children end up with stomachs that look like tinned sweetcorn mixed with orange peel wrapped in an uncooked thin covering of pastry, with the consistency of a jelly that isn't fully set. It's not fair. We had to cart the little beasts around for 9 months and then push them out doing untold damage to our pelvic floors and fanoirs only to be thanked with a Mr Blobby jelly roll that prevents the wearing of midriff tops and bikinis ever again. Where is the justice in that?

I'd better wrap it up there as I do have to do some work (another annoyance). Here's hoping my mood improves. Otherwise it's going to be a long week (particularly for my husband.)

Kiss kiss.

Friday 18 July 2008

We are sailing

I have a lot to do today. And I've already managed to fold about a 100 years worth of laundry, tidied up my clothes cupboard so that I could fit my newly, not very well ironed clothes in it. I also tidied up the boys clothes cupboard, put on a load of laundry, unpacked the dishwasher, repacked it, washed a few dishes and now I'm ready to start work.

However, my computer is operating so slowly it's almost going in reverse. I think it might be because I have over 7000 items in my deleted items folder and I haven't defragged the machine for a while (mainly because I'm never too sure how one defrags a pc or what the hell it is supposed to do). So I am typing this while intermittently deleting more deleted items.

I've just checked out the weather forecast for tomorrow and it's going to be 19C with sunny spells and a 21 knot westerly wind. The reason this is important is because I am going sailing. In the Solent. On a 45 foot yacht. With no children. Quite frankly, even if the forecast had been galeforce winds and torrential rain coupled with sleet, I'd be ok with it because I am going to be on a boat in the sea with no children anywhere near me. Lovely husband bought me the sailing trip well over a year ago but I've not had the chance to use it. He was meant to be joining me on it, but as he'll be winging his way back from Seattle, I roped in a friend who is just as pleased to escape her children for a full day.

I grew up sailing. It's one of those things I'm sort of proud of. I can't play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language (well not one that counts - Afrikaans and Zulu are hardly going be universally useful are they.) I am athletically challenged in every way. I used to think I could sing, but having heard myself sing in a kareoke bar many years ago, it's apparent that I don't have that talent either. But sailing, I can do.

My husband doesn't like sailing with me. He thinks I become 'shouty'. I do. Particularly if we're racing and someone is going faster than us and my crew tries to impersonate a snail by moving really slowly and doesnt get his sail in fast enough. Or when there's about 30 boats crowded on a start line, sails flapping, waiting for the seconds to countdown before the start gun goes. And your crew - whose job it is to look out for things and warn the very busy skipper - fails to point out a large boat barrelling down on us so that we end up having an almighty collision resulting in a big hole in the side of the boat. Then yes, in those kinds of 'theoretical' situations I can get a bit tetchy.

But tomorrow won't be like that. Because tomorrow we will have a skipper and a crew and we can decide to help them winch in sails if we fancy it, or we can simply swan about and watch them work. We get to have a grown up, girly lunch on the Isle of Wight, and then we get meander back across the Solent again. Fabulous.

I'm very glad that husband will be coming back tomorrow. I'm growing rather weary of this single parent lark. For a start, the kitchen surfaces haven't been buffed since Erika the cleaner was here on Monday and yesterday I had to do the bins all by myself. Bins are a boy job. As is mowing lawns and ours are in serious need of doing. I'm sure he will be thrilled with his to do list upon his return. Then again, he's had a week of eating US sized steaks so he gets no sympathy from me.

I need to go and turn off the washing machine now because it's beeping at me and it's incredibly annoying. So fare thee well. I will return to report back on my adventures at sea.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Empty bins and face painting. So quite a good day really

Today was a good day for many reasons. Firstly, the absolutely rubbish recycling company that the not-very-intelligent West Berkshire council selected to pick up our recycling stuff (as part of their new, improved going green initiative), finally managed to pluck their heads out of their butts and collected our stuff. Hoo-bloody-rah! We haven't had it collected since the end of May. Four calls to the council later and finally, our recycling bins are empty again. Just as well as my efforts to be green were going seriously off the rails. However, I can now dutifully wash out the sticky peanut butter jar again. Lucky me.

I also had a remarkably successful day at work. There are some days when the term 'fannying about' springs to mind when you work at home on your own with just the snack cupboard for company. But today was not one of those. I powered through a mountain of stuff, had a number of press clamouring for a client story with very little effort on my part, got asked by a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BIG company if I'd like to be considered in their search for a new PR agency (yes please but also oh shit) and feel as though I am finally starting to feel as though I might be able to make some money to pay to Sainsburys soon.

What's more, today I tried my hand at face painting. I'm not particularly good with my hands. Which is why I leave doing the edging of walls when painting to my husband, the cutting of our children's hair to my husband, the sewing of name badges on clothes to my husband and indeed the making of our wedding programmes many moons ago, to my husband. Yet, in the privacy of my home with no-one to laugh at me, I painted my children's faces. One was spiderman. One was a tiger. Admittedly, spiderman looked like he had been mauled by the tiger, but my customers were happy. And now I feel virtuous and in need of a shiny good mother badge.

My children ate their vegetables and actually chose fresh fruit for their pudding. They managed to bath without soaking the entire bathroom. And by the sounds of it, have actually gone to sleep without asking for a drink, another soft toy, a bowl of cereal, a song, a book or to do a poo.

I should celebrate this glorious day with a bottle of champagne. Except that I do have to work tomorrow and I'm not supposed to drink during the week (although ever since husband has been away, I've been slightly less strict on this particular rule). And I need to iron. My ironing pile is a teetering, wobbling mess that will collapse into chaos any second now. And ironing and alcohol are not brilliant bed fellows. Not unless scorch marks are in fashion. But perhaps a glass won't hurt...

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Waste not, want not, pick it up and eat it.

When the prime minister told us recently to stop wasting food, I felt it my duty as newlyish British citizen to do as he said. So I've been making a concerted effort to ensure nothing goes to waste. And given my current financial situation, it's become even more important to turn my potato and carrot peelings into a hearty soup. Perfect for this fine summer.

I have come to the realisation that the biggest food wastage in our house (bar half opened bags of lettuce that go slimy - mainly because I think I will be a healthy eater but decide against it quite often) is the food my children ask for and then don't eat. They, for example, plead starvation and beg for something to eat. So I present them with an apple. They take one bite and say they've had 'nuff'. Two minutes later they'll say that they're hungry again. What that actually means is that they want something out of the red tin up high that contains the sweeties.

So I end up eating an apple, whether I want it or not. Supper rolls around. Tonight it was lamb chops (those cost a fortune I'll have you know) with rice, peas, courgette (grown in our very own garden - talk about saving pennnies) with gravy. I was told by son 1 as he sat holding his head in his hands, gazing at his plate in a very sad way, that "this supper is boring. It's the most boring supper I've ever seen." At which point we had words, and there was definitely a mention about children starving in Africa, which obviously led to a discussion about Mama Mirabelle's home movies because Mama Mirabelle is from Africa.

So child 1 ate the rice and vegetables but refused the lamb. Child 2 ate the lamb but refused the rice if it had gravy on it - "only the white bits mummy" - and certainly ignored the vegetables including our beautiful first ever home grown courgette. He then insisted on a second lamb chop, but obviously he couldn't have his brother's rejected chop because it had been given the plague the minute it hit his brother's plate. So after coercing him to eat more rice and peas, I finally agreed that he could have another chop. He had one bite, then pronounced: "I've had nuff."

So, having eaten my already rather large portion of dinner, I was faced with two half chewed lamb chops, quite a bit of rice and lots of veg. The price of the lamb chops alone could have bought child 1's new big school trousers so there was no way they were going in the bin. And I could have put them in the fridge, but something about day-old half-chewed chops doesn't really appeal. So I had to eat it. All. Waste not want not and all that. Except that my waist line is in no way wanting.

If I keep having to stop our family wasting by eating all of my children's food, I am going to become the model used on the NHS anti-obesity campaign posters. The solution is to cook less, hardly cook anything for me, and then just eat the kids leftovers. We save money. We cut down waste. I don't eat as much. We're all winners. Except that eating half chewed left overs isn't a fab culinary experience. I think for now I'll just have to keep being a good samaritan and eat for all of us. Once husband gets off his mega slimming drive, he can take over. Or we need to get a dog.

P.S. During the dinner that wasn't eaten, son 2 said: "Daddy's in Merica." Son 1 had just finished telling us all how we live on planet earth. So upon hearing his younger brother's comment, he thought for a second and then said: "Is daddy still on planet earth?" Good question lad, good question.

Money - or rather the lack of it

Today I came perilously close to what would have been my most humiliating moment of my 35-year old life. I was once again in Sainsburys, adding to their profit margins. We'd had a relatively pain free shop, had gone through the checkout and packed all the bags. It was time to pay. First of all, the silly lady wanted to know whether this was a month's worth of shopping because it came to £155. "Ha ha," I said. Then realised she was serious. "Er, no actually it's just a week." She looked at me as though I was some kind of frivolous spendaholic. I wanted to point out rising inflation rates and how the cost of food was a global issue as discussed by G8 leaders but it didn't seem the time or place.

Anyway, I pulled out my card to pay and after punching in the code, she said in a furtive whisper, "I'm afraid it's been declined."Really?" I asked feeling the first flickers of panic. "Can you try again?". So she did. "It's been declined again," she whispered. Now it has been a while since I checked my bank balance and I know the cost of things have gone up, but I'm not normally completely broke.

Despite having a wallet full of cards, I only know the pin to one of them. The one that was declined. Actually, I know the pin to another joint credit card, but I'm sure I remember my husband saying that he'd cancelled it. So there I was, with a trolley full of melting ice cream, two small boys bouncing a new ball I'd got them so that it careered off everyone's trolleys and just generally got in the way, and there was the queue of impatient looking people standing staring at me.

I realised that not only would I have the very embarrassing situation of having to say sorry, I can't buy these after all, but I'd also have a house with no food in it and a small problem of no toilet paper, a situation that would stay that way until husband returns home on the weekend. I rummaged in my mental larder trying to imagine what I could make out of a tin of carrots I'd won at the tombola at the village fete, some dried pasta and half a cabbage that would last 3 of us for 4 days.

Growing redder and redder in the face, I said: "Let's try another card shall we." I pulled out a card, which since receiving it three years ago have never known the pin too. About a month ago I asked the bank to send me a pin code. They did. I looked at it. And promptly didn't give it another moment's thought. There are too many other things to be thinking about and remembering besides yet another 4 digit number.

So there I was, like a scene from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the clock ticking, the scary music playing (that was probably just in my head), I stared at the key pad thing and willed my brain to remember the code. I punched in a number that seemed vaguely familiar and looked at the lady, who was also holding her breath, to see if it had worked.

Miracle of miracles. The card had been approved. I could leave with my self respect and my groceries. A double triumph.

I came home and immediately checked my bank balance. It's true. I have no money left. I'm not sure where it all went. Perhaps I am a frivolous spendaholic after all. It's not a nice feeling being poor. I can see that my tinned carrots are going to come in handy after all, because once we've munched our way through this lot of food, that's it, we're reverting to WW2 rationing.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Sports day

Sigh. I should have taken it as a sign that sports day wasn't going to go well when I picked up my lemon drizzle cake intended for the sports day cake sale, and dropped it on the floor. Luckily I applied the 5 second rule and managed to scoop it up before it could get cooties. But it didn't survive unscathed. It wasn't going to win any beauty awards, but trying to get two boys, their spare clothes, bags, lunchboxes and the cake out of the house all in one go, I didn't really care.

So a somewhat shaky start, but at least the boys seemed happy to be going to sports day.

Now, before I continue, I need to give a bit of history. Child 1 doesn't like being looked at. He hates being the centre of attention. He will not participate in group activities. Or rather, he will not participate in group activities if he thinks he's being watched by his mother.

When he was a toddler, I attempted a music group type class with him, one where all the mums feel like idiots singing the wheels on the bus while the children play with their navels. Let's just say we only went once. I don't think they would have let us back in again if we'd tried. When he was roughly 2, I took him off to Little Kickers, mini football, because he loved kicking balls around. I had to spend every session running around the pitch with him looking like a right twit simply to avoid a tantrum, while all the other mums sat and watched while their children gamely joined in. After one tantrum under my chair too many (him, not me although I was close), we decided not to return. £80 well spent.

I then gave up on group activities. But sports day is one of those things that isn't really optional. Last year he sat on my lap and cried his way through it. I was told by many well meaning people: 'It's an age thing. He'll be fine next year.'

So this year, armed with that sage advice and feedback from teachers that he had been doing very well and winning races in all the practice sessions, I felt confident that he might actually take part.

So you can imagine my deep, deep joy as I saw said child emerge onto the sports field with all his classmates, howling and holding out his arms for mummy. I pretended I had no idea who his mummy was for a while in the hope that by not getting any attention from me, he'd settle down. I was wrong. It simply escalated. I sighed deeply and went over to cuddle him. Between his teacher and I, we talked him off the ledge and got him to sit on the mat with his mates. But he refused to take part. Again.

How I do enjoy missing a full morning's work to watch other people's children charge up and down a field. At this point I pegged my hopes on child number 2 who's normally game for anything. He had a good start, taking part in race 1, but was definitely completely bemused by the experience and forgot that he's learned how to run with his arms bent at the elbows, and reverted to his penguin run, arms flapping wildly behind his back. But he tried. At least he tried...

Thereafter he refused to take part again. Instead, mummy had to sit on the mat with him. At least by this point, son 1 had decided to pluck up his courage and have a go. For a kid who normally appears to have a nest of ants residing in his pants, he moved at snail's pace. I think it was his attempt at making a statement, saying: 'Yes, I'll do it, but no it's not cool and in no way am I going to put myself out for you lot.' Still, he tried. Which is more than he did last year.

And miracle of miracles, he even got up to collect his leaver's certificate without any kind of meltdown. So leaps and heaps of progress really. Maybe by the time he's 18 and wrapping up his high school career, he'll be the school egg and spoon champion. I'll be sure to have my camera at the ready.

Monday 14 July 2008

Cleaners. Because life is too short not to have one.

Mondays are lovely. I know that goes against popular views, but in my world Mondays are fab. Because on Monday the cleaner comes. Yes, I have a cleaner. I will give up many, many things in life if it means that once a week someone can spend three hours cleaning the house. (Given we rarely go out to eat and I don't own fashionable clothes or shoes or even knickers without holes in them, I feel justified in this one little extravagance.)

It's not that I hate cleaning (although admittedly it's not high on my list of extra-fun things to do) because it can give you a small sense of satsifaction when you've got the place gleaming. What I hate, however, is how quickly the house goes from sparkling to filth in a matter of seconds, courtesy of two small boys who seem to carry sand in their shoes and cornflakes in their pockets. It's the sheer groundhog-day-repetition of it all that does my head in.

Which is why I don't do it. I have a lovely Romanian lady called Erika who comes along on a Monday and calmly sweeps up a week's worth of congealed noodles, cereal and squashed peas out from under the kids table. She gets the kitchen surfaces to gleam like only she and my husband are able to do (he's part Polish so maybe getting granite to glisten is an Eastern European special skill). She even manages to get the limescale marks off the shower door - using nothing but lemon juice I might add. She and I have interesting conversations where she tries to explain what she needs me to buy and I try to guess and use overly large hand movements in a bid to demonstrate dettol wipes.

But what poor Erika doesn't know is that a few short hours after she's left the house smelling lovely, two small boys return home from nursery dragging with them tons of glitter-covered art, a quiver of assorted sticks, several small stones and sand. Always sand.

And then, like today, we have to whip up a lemon drizzle cake for the school sports day tomorrow, so that involves full body contact baking, resulting in flour, castor sugar and butter strewn across all kitchen surfaces, so that their irridescent gleam is but a distant memory.

I will spend the next week grimacing as things stick to the bottom of my feet and may have to get the hoover out mid-week for an emergency clean - usually once a bowl of cereal has been upturned on the sofa - but then Monday rolls around again and for a few short hours, I live in a sanitary environment.

Anyway, I'm off to make more mess in the kitchen while I whip up my dinner.

P.S. As mentioned, tomorrow is sports day and leaver's ceremony at the pre-school. That means I will have to somehow convince child number 1 that he should take part even though there will be many people watching and that when they call his name out to get his certificate, he won't actually spontaneously combust if he has to stand up and go get it with all eyes on him. I fear I'm not going to be successful.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Summertime and the living is easy

As I sit and type, I feel something I haven't felt for quite some time. It's the warm, slightly taut, prickly sensation you get on your skin when it's caught the sun. And it's lovely. Much like today was, because SHOCK! HORROR! ALERT THE MEDIA!, the sun actually shone. Admittedly it was what weatherman calls 'sunny spells' so hardly consistent and when the sun went behind the clouds, I was tempted to reach for a jumper. But still, the spells that were sunny definitely constituted a summer's day. I think that makes it three so far this year.

To celebrate, the boys and I spent most of it lying on a picnic blanket in the garden. Well I lay on it, they hurled themselves at me, wasted most of the sunblock on 'painting' each other and shouted at bugs that deigned to crawl on the rug (which I didn't mind).

I also had a moment of complete nostalgia. I set up the garden sprinkler thing that waves backwards and forward spraying water out in a fan shape. The two of them charged through it stark naked, shrieking in delight. It took me straight back to my childhood. Particularly the part when they decided to bring the sprinkler over to mummy , which resulted in more shrieking, only there was a bit less delight involved.

As husband hopped on a plane to enjoy a week of sleeping late in a hotel and long boozy dinners in the evenings, obviously interspersed with 'work', I decided to prove that I can be thoroughly self sufficient as a single mother and managed to rustle up a lunchtime BBQ. That's not quite as taxing as it sounds as I didn't have to rub two twigs together to get a fire started or even use firelighters and charcoal. I simply had to turn the knob on the gas grill, but still, that's normally husband's job so I got a small moment of omnipotence as I stood manfully turning sausages. (It also reinforced what I already secretly knew - that BBQing meat is easy yet men make it out to be A VERY IMPORTANT JOB THAT ONLY MEN CAN DO - so that women get to prepare everything else with all the credit going to the man with the tongs.)

I'd also spent much of the morning manually vacumming our swimming pool. Let me stop right here in case you think we're landed gentry with a butler called Jeeves. We're not. We just happened to buy a house that has a swimming pool. It was built in the early 80s and hasn't been updated since. I'd ignore it or add fish to it, except that having two small boys who might appreciate it once they progress out of armbands, means that I spend many, many hours trying to figure out how to make it blue. In the last month we've had to change the filter sand and pay £500 for a new pool pump. Now our automatic pool cleaner has died and the pool guy thinks its because an impeller has gone in the cleaner pump (I'll bet that sounds as though I know what I'm talking about. I don't.)

Which means that I have to manually vacuum it. Like vacumming a house that has two very mucky boys isn't enough. It is a somewhat therapeutic pastime, if only I wasn't constantly yelling at the boys to get their hands out of the pool chemicals or to stop leaning precariously over the deep end.

(I'll interrupt this pool story to tell you another one. Last week when Andy the pool guy was here, he helped me fish a dead mouse out of the pool. Chuckling at my squeamishness he said: 'That's nothing mate. I've just come from a pool with a dead cow in it.' Apparently the people who owned the pool had been away for a week. Their pool lies next to a field, home to several cows. One cow, in a bid for freedom or just bovine stupidity, managed to escape, charge across the pool cover before sinking into its watery grave. It's now spent a week getting nice and bloated. Andy was about to go join the fire brigade to try and remove the cow while trying not to burst it. Because if it burst, the pool owners would have a terrific cleaning job on their hands, making my paltry efforts pale in comparison. I can only imagine the poor pool owners popping out for a morning dip, rolling back the cover to find a bloated haunch of beef bobbing in the pool. Must have put them right off their breakfast.)

Anyway, back to why I've blathered on about the pool. Because having finally gotten it to a point where it is mostly clean, mostly blue and mostly warm, I thought it was time we actually swam in it. And so we did. Well I did. The children sat on the edge and wailed until I pulled one of them in, which resulted in even more tremendous wails until he realised that is was actually quite pleasant.

So a combination of sun, swimming, sun tanning, sprinkler running throughing, BBQing, crazy dancing to my new '101 sounds of summer' compilation CD - earmarked for use at our summer party taking place in two weeks time - including doing the Macarena much to the boys bemusement, it was all a rather lovely day.

There was only one real blight on the whole thing (well besides the odd lurking cloud and a two year old who got overtired and whingey mid afternoon).

It's official. I am vile. I knew things had gone a bit pear shaped (literally) of late due to lack of exercise from sprained ankle. But looking at me in the bright sunshine today, I realised that I cannot blame my ankle on the state of my flab-tastic body. There is not one bit that is toned. This is years of abuse I feel, coupled with carrying two children in my belly. I look like a rather plump uncooked pork sausage. It's not pretty. Something has to be done. What, I'm not sure. But I am sliding into middle age hitting every cellulite bump on the way through.

Although, come to think of it, realistically it's not really too much of a train smash. I mean it's only 3 days a year that I'm going to be seen in public with very little clothing on anyway. If we move to the tropics, I might have take the self improvement venture a bit more seriously. But for now, I think I'll eat another left over chicken goujon from the kids supper and wash it down with a glass of wine. We've had summer now. Bring on the winter pies.

Toodle pip.

P.S. A footnote. Just finished bathing children and getting them into bed. I was told that they want to move house. I asked why. They said they would like to leave this house to the bugs. Again I asked why. 'Because, the bugs keep coming into our house through a hole somewhere and we don't like bugs. Specially beetles and spiders. So they can have this house and we'll get a new one.' I'm not sure anyone has mentioned the economic downturn to them...

Friday 11 July 2008

It looks like rain

It looks like rain.
Now won't that just be jolly.
It looks like rain.
You know I thought it would.
It looks like rain.
I'd better get my brolly.
A short, sharp shower will do the flowers good.

This was a little ditty I learned in primary school. It was part of our elocution lessons so that we could speak in the Queen's English as opposed to sounding like little Souf Efrikens with flat accents. Living in a drought ravaged country - where water restrictions were so strictly enforced that to this day I still ask if anyone would like to share my bath water and only flush if it's vital - rain really did seem like quite a jolly thing.

That was then. Flash forward 25-odd years and quite frankly, I feel that even the flowers are gagging for a bit of sunshine and my brolly has long since given up the ghost. When will it sodding-well end?

The weekend is looming. Husband is going to Seattle....for a week. I shall be left alone with two caged up beasties determined to vent their frustration on my sofas. We cannot possibly bake anything else, which is our normal wet weather programme. I am already the size of baby elephant. My trousers no longer do up and even my boobs are escaping from my C cup bra so that I get that attractive double boob thing under a t-shirt. I don't do crafts. a) I'm not crafty and b) the boys only do the craft activity for about 30 seconds before turning the playroom into a glue/glitter/paint-tastic nightmare. I don't think even more TV is the answer. The track with its various forts is even starting to lose its appeal to the boys, and the throwing of stones in puddles is becoming a listless affair.

I despair. Somebody help me. Please.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Postcards from the edge

So that's another Wednesday that I survived. It all went pretty well really, bar a few special moments. Here are some of the snapshots from my day:

Shortly after my morning blog post I was foolish enough to think I could poo in peace. I mean my husband spends a good hour in the loo on his own everyday. Thanks to my regular intake of All Bran I don't need such extensive visits, however, a few moments alone would be nice. This morning that was not to be. Not even 30 seconds in, urgent yelling came from downstairs. 'MUMMY! MUMMY! MUMMMMMMMMMMMY!' Assuming somebody was losing a limb, I yelled: 'What??' No explanation, just more of the same screaming, only it got louder and more emphatic. Assuming the worst, I hastily tidied things up and barrelled downstairs still doing my trousers up on route. 'What's happened?' I asked. Eldest child informs me that I have to guard his cushion from younger brother and that no matter what I must not let him have it. Slightly out of breath and a bit bewildered I say: 'But there are three identical cushions on the floor. What's wrong with those and why can't you guard your cushion? (And is someone on the verge of bleeding to death?)' 'Because,' he informs me already striding off, 'Jamie wants my cushion and I need to poo.' And off he goes to poo in peace leaving me to guard a cushion wondering just how that had happened.

The poo theme didn't end there. Oh no. Having just regained my composure, son on the loo calls me to wipe his bum. So I go, relinquishing the cushion which younger son immediately pounced upon causing more drama a few minutes later. I ask the poo interrupter whether he had attempted to wipe his own bum given he will be going to big school in a few short weeks time and that no-one would be doing it for him there. So he had a go, half a roll of loo paper for a cursory wipe repeated three times. This was flung onto of the world's largest poo. So once we were finally able to flush, the water level simply rose and rose with its contents threatening to spill over the top. Thank god it didn't. But it did result in me having to get the loo brush to break up the poo contents so that it could all eventually get down, while both of them cheered me on.

Moving on to about 10 minutes later, younger son was eating dried cranberries. He then sneezed at the same time. I was in the kitchen writing a shopping list. Shrieking ensued. Pen dropped, I raced over once again thinking that something absolutely dire had just happened. 'Look,' small child exclaimed. 'LOOK!' And I looked. And had the pleasure of seeing yellow snot coupled with saliva and half chewed cranberries that looked like blood globules spread across the back of his hand. I momentarily thought he might actually have a nose bleed, then spotted the cranberry lumps, wiped it up and resumed my shopping list.

I then had a shower and let the boys get in with me as a special treat. That was fine. However, getting myself dry afterwards was less pleasant. They decided to play 'Look at mummy's bum bum', which involves the two of them running behind me and attempting to force my butt cheeks apart so that they can 'see where the wee wee comes from'. Someone has to teach them some biology soon.

This was followed by naked bouncing on the bed (them, not me) and insisting on wearing odd socks to the shops.

We managed to make a hasty getaway to Sainsbury's and had a remarkably pain free shop, until we were packing the bags and younger son decided that the new loo brush (see above as to why it was needed) was the perfect thing for brushing mummy's hair. It was at that point that the check out lady said: 'Madam, are you sure you don't need any help?' I wanted to say that actually I could really do with a nanny but I don't think that's what she meant.

We then managed to squeeze in play group, lunch, a walk in welly boots and raincoats up the track to inspect our fort/look for snails/throw stones in the puddles, returned home sodden to make cranberry muffins which according to my two food critics tasted like lemons and are 'gusting' resulting in me holding partly chewed cranberries for the second time in a day, prepared dinner, read all of the Beatrix Potter books and broke up several fights about who was going to play with the orange car (I have no idea where the obsession with orange comes from - maybe they're part Dutch?)

Just before dinner, we had a double drama. Older son cut foot (tiny, barely noticeable) but which required lots of screaming, immediate attention and a winnie the pooh plaster. Younger son decided to wipe his own bum. I don't need to say anymore but it involved a lot of soap thereafter. Just as I was trying to get dinner on the table, I noticed one of the part chewed cranberry muffins had been left lying on the sofa leaving a lovely cerise stain behind. I then pulled out the big guns and said: 'That's it, I'm calling your father.' Cue extra loud wails.

Dinner went remarkably well. Older son refused to have a bath for fear of his winnie the pooh plaster getting wet and god forbid his foot falling off. There was a fair bit of screaming due to random leg pain which was instantly cured the minute the calpol bottle was promised.

And then they were off, away with the fairies. So you see, this stay at home mum thing is a lark... Seriously, I bow down to all who do it on a fulltime basis. Your alcohol habits must be worse than mine.

Getting an early start

It's not 7am yet but so far I have:
  • had coffee
  • sorted out a fight about whether to watch a DVD or cbeebies
  • prepared milk and cunningly managed to let each small boy have part of an orange cup to avoid fights
  • unpacked the dishwasher
  • repacked the dishwasher
  • folded yesterday's laundry from the line
  • put load of wet washing into dryer
  • folded dry laundry from dryer and put away
  • put on another load of washing
  • gone through email
  • checked the world wasn't ending courtesy of BBC website as I never actually get to watch the news on tv
Am about to go make breakfast and then have the toss up: do I do my teetering ironing pile or do I get the kids out of the house and into Sainsburys really early so that we can be done in time for playgroup? If I choose the latter, it means I have the afternoon free of chores. But it also means trying to entertain two hyped up boys on a rainy day. At which point a trip to Sainsburys becomes quite appealing just to keep them entertained.

Decisions, decisions. I'm sure there are many hedge fund managers and other important people dealing with bigger decisions at this early hour, but this is quandary for now.

Wish me luck as I head into a full day without childcare coupled with torrential rain. I shouldn't have had the wine last night. I know it will be needed by the end of today.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

I need wine.

I am gagging for a glass of wine. I can imagine the sound of icy cold pinot grigio or chardonnay or to be honest any damn thing being poured into a glass. The first sip. The cutting coolness of it. Aah. But it's Tuesday. That's a day of the week. Not the weekend. And we're not supposed to be drinking during the week because

a) it costs too much
b) it's fattening
c) you're not supposed to have a million units of alcohol a week. Something to do with gout and liver disease.

So we have supplemented wine for tea. In my case, rooibos tea. And quite frankly, caffeine free tea is not a very satisfactory wine replacement.

I know that if I don't have any wine tonight, tomorrow morning I will wake up feeling clear headed (well as clear headed as anyone waking up before the birds can feel) and I will have the warm glow of satisfaction that I didn't succomb to what are worrying alcholic tendencies.

But it's been a not brilliant day. Not awful mind, just a bit out of sortish.

Firstly, I'm definitely having a career wobble. I shouldn't be surprised. I have one about once a month (hmm, I wonder what the cause could be?) I am my own worst critic and the slightest thing tends to make me question my abilities. Right now I am grappling with the 'do I scale up or do I stay small' dilemma. Both have pros. Both have cons. Both require me to remove my butt firmly from the fence which I've become quite comfortable sitting on.

Secondly, I have two small boys. Yes, I may have mentioned them before. Today, the younger son was apparently tired. Very. That means an awful lot of completely irrational behaviour coupled with loud yelling. And that's just me... ba boom. But the older one wasn't on fabulous form either - and given he currently sports a black eye from his younger brother head butting his cheekbone - he looks more thuggish than usual.

We had the fight over who was going to have the orange cup, for something new and completely different. Then we had the fight about who was going to play with which of the 4,000 plastic cars we own. Then we had the fight about who had said 'Snap' first. Son 1 hasn't quite mastered the art of losing so playing a game like snap is dangerous ground. Then son 2 refused to go for a pee. And then promptly peed his pants. Then I had to get dinner going and son 2 wanted to help. By that read, I peeled the potatoes. He used the peeler to lacerate my cookery book. I chopped the potatoes. He 'helped' by putting them into the pot of water .... dropping them from about 15 feet up so that the entire kitchen was drenched by the end of it.

Broccoli, a firm favourite in our house, became the world's most evil vegetable during today's dinner and son 2 also refused to eat the mashed potatoes he had helped make. For pudding, I offered yogurt. Cue major screams as yogurt doesn't include ice-cream or chocolate. Finally resigning themselves to boring old yogurt, they proceeded to fight about who was going to snap the tubs apart. Eventually the both pulled, ripping two of the tubs in half resulting in a yogurt explosion and cries of: 'That one's oogy. I don't want that one.' Obviously. So much for Gordon Brown saying not to waste food. Does the man have children? Real ones?

Anyway, I could go on about bathtime antics and the fact that the younger son caused the older son to smash his head into the toy box just before bed, but I won't. Because I'm going to go get some wine. I'll pretend it's Saturday. After all, it's Wednesday tomorrow which means I'm not working. Hurrah.

Green and pleasant land

It was William Blake (or so wikipedia informs me) who coined the phrased 'green and pleasant land' when referring to England. Let's just ponder those words for a minute shall we. 'Green'. Well yes, it is very green, particularly if you live in the countryside and certainly when you contrast it to the dry, yellowy brown plains of Africa that I grew up with. And the reason it's green is because it never stops raining. Ever. The grass could try with all it's might to wither and die in a vain attempt to turn brown. But the relentless onslaught of rain means it doesn't stand a chance. It will just grow and grow and stay shiny and green. Just ask my husband who gets to mow the stuff every weekend.

Which brings us onto 'Pleasant'. Billy Blake doesn't know just quite how accurate he was with that adjective. 'Pleasant'. It's not a bold word. It doesn't project greatness, magnificence, awe or wonder. It's not negative (mustn't complain after all) but it's not wholly positive either is it? It's just very, very English. As Bill Bryson sort of describes in his Notes from a Small Island book, only the English would describe having a dry rich tea biscuit with a cup of milky tea in a poky tea shop with driving rain bashing against the windows as 'lovely'. So describing the entire country as 'pleasant' is spot on. Blake could equally have chosen 'this grey and wet land' but he was probably an optimistic sort.

So here we are, living in this green and pleasant land. And every now and then, I wonder whether we've made the right decision in choosing this place as our home. It wasn't a decision taken lightly and to become British I've had to jump through many bureacratic hoops. Let's see, there was the initial proving that I was actually married to a Brit and getting indefinite leave to remain. Then there was the constant stream of paperwork that accompanied anything I wanted to do - from opening a bank account to buying a car - as I had to prove I wasn't some nasty foreigner who would do a runner or launder money or sell small children into slavery (recently I've thought that isn't such a bad idea).

Then there was having to redo my driver's licence - the theory and practical bits. I became the world's most annoying woman telling anyone who would listen what the travelling distance should be between two cars in the rain (very pertinent for driving in this country). And I was amazed to discover that the round white sign with a black line through it meant national speet limit. I'd always thought it meant no entry for the colour blind.

And once I'd got past that test, I had to do my Becoming British test. Instead of asking questions that might actually help a new citizen in every day life - like who you should call if you fall and sprain your ankle while looking after two little boys - they asked things like 'Where did the majority of bus drivers come from in the 1950s?' (I think the answer was the West Indies but quite frankly, should I care? I don't even catch the bus now much less in the 50s and even if I had, I doubt the driver's ethnicity would it have made a difference to my trip unless he had brought some of his homemade rum with him).

And once I'd passed that test, I got to go to a citizenship ceremony in which everyone rather embarrassingly stumbled through the national anthem and had pictures taken with a portrait of the queen. Our son crunched noisily through a packet of crisps the whole way through and instead of wearing a smart suit - like everyone else in the room - I'd turned up in jeans. Probably not the proper way to become a citizen but there you go.

And finally I was the proud owner of a pink passport that allowed me to travel anywhere in Europe without the need for long waits outside embassies in London to secure visas.

So here I am. British. Bona fide. I even have a Union Jack Emma Bridgewater mug to prove it. Yet, as I gaze outside at the drizzle, wearing a jumper and wondering whether to pack wellies for the boys today as well as raincoats, I do wonder whether perhaps we should have chosen somewhere a little sunnier to call home.

Then again, where else do you get Radio 4 and their endless discussions on the trials of pea growing in North Yorkshire, the aforementioned Rich Tea Biscuits (and custard creams), the NHS (don't complain about it until you live in a country where you either have medical aid or die), summer fetes (that are guaranteed to be rained out), Wimbledon (also guaranteed to be rained out), Pimms and lemonade, Yorkshire Pudding and very nice sausages. So really, mustn't complain.

Must head out into the green and pleasant land now with two small boys. Hopefully we won't get too wet.

Monday 7 July 2008

My brain is full. I need an assistant

Perhaps having children has shrunk the size of my brain. Perhaps my brain is now just full of new things - like all the words to The Wheels on the Bus, Horsey horsey don't you stop and every other children's song on the planet. Maybe the constant juggling of a million different things everyday is making my brain's receptors short circuit - like trying to remember what time to fetch which child from where or whether we still have toilet paper or frozen peas left in the house.

Perhaps its years of drinking too much wine which has slowly killed the brain cells, leaving me with fewer that function. Or perhaps it's just chronic sleep deprivation.

Whatever it is, I think my brain is full. I'm finding it increasingly hard to remember things. It's like my brain processes something and then immediately deletes it to make room for other new stuff coming in.

The result is that after a full day's work in which I feel I have achieved nothing concrete, my brain feels as though a small family of hamsters has taken residence and are frantically spinning their wheels.

I really think I need an assistant. Someone who can handle all the billions of little things that fly at me everyday. They need to be organised. Very organised. Because I'm not. They need to be able to do things like take out magazine subscriptions for me (a pathetic task that will earn me no money and cost me a fortune but which must be done for work purposes. Incidentally, to all those magazine publishers out there, streamline your blinking ordering process please!! And no, I do not want to be sent any sodding information from any of your carefully selected partners).

The assistant will also have to update my press lists and tidy out my outlook inbox and possibly even call the odd journalist or two on my behalf. They will have to search for and scan client coverage. They might even have to answer the phone. And they must be willing to be paid a pittance.

Know anyone?

Because unless I get someone soon, I'm just going to start responding to everyone with the same response: Brain says no.

Must go fetch the children from somewhere. Just got to remember where.

Good bloody morning.

When? When will it end? These hideous early mornings. Four and a half years now and still our children rise well before 6am. Everyone said it was a phase. They'll grow out of it. Just wait till they're teenagers. Well bring on the bloody teens is what I say.

The problem, I've realised, is my husband. He has defective genes that means he naturally wakes at about 4am. He appears to have passed those genes onto our children. And I know I've ranted about this before and the solution is obvious -if he's up, he can deal with the children.

BUT, during the week, husband gets up early and hops on a train to London, going to a gym before starting his working day. Well done him. However, that leaves me to deal with the beastie boys.

I'll be fast asleep and hear the plodding of small feet. They always go to their father's side of the bed first because they know they're less likely to lose a limb that way. On seeing their father's empty bed, they immediately say: 'Is it morning? Can we go downstairs? Is daddy here?' On the mornings that husband hasn't gone into work early, I happily mumble: 'Daddy down, go.' And off they trot, ready to share the dawn with their dad. (I realise that this causes inconsistency and lets the children believe that it's ok to get up that early, but as a parent, you take the path of least resistance particularly if it means additional sleep.)

But should daddy already be hurtling towards the big city on First Great Western, the situation doesn't work out quite as well. In reply to the 'Can we go downstairs?' question, I mumble: 'No, snotmorningyet, getinmybedkeepquietandstill.' They crawl in and for about 5 seconds we have a lovely cuddle. And then the wriggling/inane questions/verbal diarrhea starts. 'Mummy, why don't dogs have wings?' 'Mummy, I'm not going to pre-school because I don't like my friends.' 'Mummy, when can we get a pet?' 'Mummy, when can we go to Disneyland?' 'Where's daddy?' 'My pillow isn't comfy.' 'I need more room.'

(On the subject of needing more room, we have the world's biggest bed which we bought in the USA. And let's face it, most Americans need big beds. Well ours is called a Californian Super King. It is roughly the size of a small football field. We bought it because my husband is six foot five and I like personal space when sleeping. Yet despite the vast dimensions of our bed, our children are still able to force me onto a postage stamp size space while they starfish their way around the rest of it.)

Anyway, so the child is wriggling and talking and elbow jabbing and toenail raking itself into my bad books. And just when I think it can't get worse, plod plod plod plod plod, and in comes the next one.

So once again we have: 'Is it morning yet? Can we go downstairs? Where's daddy?' I then growl: 'Snotmorningyet.Getinliestilldon'ttalk.' So obviously that works because then their are two bored boys who think it's much more fun to burrow down to the bottom of the bed to make a tent with the duvet than actually sleep. No tent is complete without pillows so gradually all the pillows make their way down towards my feet, including the last square of the one I'm attempting to use and I have my head unceremoniously yanked upwards as they attempt to free it.

Then the fighting starts about who owns which pillow and who's got more space. Elbows fly. Toenails dig deeper. The rolling and yanking of covers reaches its zenith. I snap.

'GET OUT OF MY BED NOW! GET OUT! GET OUT! OUT! OUT! OUT!' At which point they both start to wail as I obviously look like some kind of insane she-devil with hair standing on end, yesterday's mascara not quite removed and a look of death lurking in my eyes. 'But we want to sleep,' they wail. 'WELL THEN BLOODYWELL SLEEP. THE NEXT PERSON WHO SO MUCH AS BREATHES TOO LOUDLY WILL BE LOCKED IN THEIR ROOM.'

Silence and stillness descends for about 3 seconds. Then the giggling starts. Then 'Mummy, the clock says six one five. Does that mean it's morning yet?' 'No. It's only morning when it says six three zero.' And so they start the count down. 'Mummy, the clock says six one six.' 'Mummy, the clock says six one seven.......' etc.

My day would be infinitely better if I just resigned myself to the fact that I am by this stage well and truly awake and got out of bed. But I fight on, determined to win this battle. Each minute by minute announcement ratchets up my bad mood by several notches until we finally reach the magical 6.30am and I huffily get out of bed. They tear off down the stairs all excited to finally be freed from the confines of bed before starting the fight about who's going to have the orange milk cup. I pee. Make coffee. And curse my husband and vow that from now on we will enforce the no milk or tv before 6.30am rule and that they will be trained to sleep/read books in their room until the alloted hour.

But I know it'll never happen. Not until they turn 16 anyway.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Busy, busy, busy in a tizzy, getting dizzy

I haven't fallen off the planet. The planet just seems to be awfully busy at the moment. Hence the lack of blogging.

What have I been up to then that's kept me so incredibly busy, I hear you ask?

Well, for starters I had to eat a lot of cake over the weekend. I finally got to hold my girly tea party. And it was as girly and frou-frou as I'd hoped it would be. I managed to make a gravity defying three tier cake full of luscious marscapone and blueberries and although we all applied ourselves well, there was still enough cake left over to feed several starving families in Africa. Although I imagine if I was a starving family in Africa, cake with marscapone and blueberries might seem a bit OTT. Anyway, I had to eat my way through a lot of that which left me feeling bloated and ill and in no way capable of blogging.

We also got to go to Beale Park on the weekend. This is one of those places with many small, foreign and very dull animals in cages/pens/paddocks which you battle to find in amongst all the foliage and which the children aren't really overly bothered about seeing anyway. The Hawk Owl made a big impression on the four year old though, and we had to revisit that bit of the park several times, complete with smell of rotting mice that are apparently used to feed it. As if we weren't feeling queasy enough, we got to eat bad food at a cafe to add to the indigestion.

On Monday, I tried to do the workload of four people. And then for evening giggles, I got to do month end accounts. How I love month end. Not. I should really enjoy it, totting up my invoices to see how many pennies I've made before I give it all away to the nursery/childminder/pre-school, but I don't. I have this ridiculous belief that all my clients are going to object to being presented with a bill. I mean I do the work for them, so I have an entirely valid reason for giving them a bill. It's just that I somehow feel guilty about doing it. I'm beginning to think that perhaps I'm not a natural entrepreneur.

On Tuesday I tried to catch up on all the work I should have done on Monday and then my sister arrived with her baby. So that meant lots of time telling my sons that their 7 month old cousin probably doesn't want a loud, roaring dinosaur shoved in her face and that she can't be used as a cushion to bounce on.

Wednesday, I had to pretend to be a good hostess and actually go get some groceries to feed our guests. Nothing like a quick whirl around Sainsbury's for a morning's entertainment. I spent the afternoon with the boys dressed in wellies and raincoats, exploring the track for buried treasure. We found: a trowel someone had left behind (which was very handy really because we needed something to dig up the buried treasure), two power sticks (i.e. two sticks which magically turn into guns and make the noise: POWER! POWER!), a Large Throwing Rock (don't really need to describe what happens with this do I?), a leaf (actually we found about a million of those but for some reason the one we took home was precious), a rusty old buckle (could quite possibly be of roman origin... or not), a pine cone and two acorns. Quite a haul.

And today, I'm back at work, having managed to get older son into big school for his last trial session with only a few bruises on my shins. About to go have a meeting with the head teacher (scary) and tonight - Shock! Horror! Alert the media! - husband and I are actually going out as we have built in babysitters (thanks sis.) What we'll talk about is anyone's guess. Then again we're going to a movie which will cut down on the need to make conversation quite a lot. It's not that we've not got anything to say to each other, it's just that it takes more than a single night out for us to remember how to talk seven types of shite again instead of serious issues like when the lawns next need to be mown and whether to buy sew-on or iron-on name tags for the kids clothes.

Speaking of which, I only have 30 minutes left till I need to be at the school so must run. But as Arnie says: I'll be back.