Tuesday 28 December 2010


Despite swearing that I would have a digital free holiday, today has dawned blustery and overcast. The children have their noses glued to their new Nintendo DS games that they got from Father Christmas and my husband is reading some epic novel about the Battle of Rourke's Drift. So I thought I'd have a short interlude with the interweb.

We are in South Africa, having rather miraculously managed to flee frozen Britain. We were one of the 7 flights that left Heathrow last Sunday, although the delayed departure time meant we missed our onward connection in SA, which meant sitting on standby for a full 24 hours in Johannesburg before finally getting to Redhouse, Port Elizabeth, the place I spent the first 12 years of my life.

It is the first time in five years that I've been home. Home. Having lived in 17 houses, 7 towns/villages/cities and 4 countries, it's weird that I still think of  Redhouse as home. It's been a long time since I last lived here, yet the memories created in this small place have made the most long lasting impact.

The village of Redhouse lies on the banks of the Swartkops River. Driving from Port Elizabeth to Redhouse, you'll be struck by something. Ugliness. The buildings are not quite crumbling but certainly shabby, their 60s and 70s architecture looking even less attractive with decay and age than they originally did, and they were never beautiful.   Litter lines the fences and everything looks wind blown. You trundle past the old Carbon Black factory, belching out its noxious fumes beaten into submission only by the stench of the sewage works sitting opposite it.

Looking to your left as you make your way past the village of Swartkops, you see litter strewn scrubby bushes, hard dry earth, a defunct power station, thirsty looking salt pans and dirt poor townships as far as the eye can see, with tumble down houses packed together under towering electric power pylons. Ugly.

At last you turn off the road, which supposedly takes two lanes of traffic, but which somehow accommodates four straggly lines of banged up cars, souped up bakkies, taxis that look barely roadworthy and the odd donkey cart. Entering Redhouse is like going back several decades. The houses are smaller and flatter than I remember them being as a child. Unlike the rest of South Africa, most of the front walls are free of electric fencing, although many have sharp spikes as a deterrent to unwanted visitors.

The narrow road winds through the village, past the old library, the train station, the park (which now looks dry and brown, with far fewer trees than I remember), over the level crossing with the familiar tummy sinking feeling as you zoom down the far side, past the tiny play school that I attended as a child before turning into my father's drive. To anyone new to Redhouse, they will up to this point wonder what on earth the fascination with the place is. They will have travelled a journey from extreme ugliness to dry, windblown ordinariness. They could be forgiven for wishing they hadn't made the trip.

But then, you walk through the house and out onto the Towpath and the reason for the journey is revealed. In front of you lies the Swartkops river, just wide enough to make it a fairly tiring swim across. On the opposite bank  lies Sandy Beach, where I spent many, many happy hours as a child building dens, looking for treasure, covering ourselves in thick mud (the name Sandy Beach is a loose term). Beyond the river's edge lies a bird sanctuary swarming with flamingoes and herons. Beyond that lies a row of aloe dotted hills that march away into the distance.

Back on the Towpath, a grassy green stretch of lawn runs in front of a row of houses, all of which are designed to invite people in. Shady green trees provide respite from the heat of the sun, with lucky beans and syringa berries scattering the ground beneath them. Children and dogs run in gay abandon up and down the Towpath playing games of rugby, cricket, football or more imaginatively forming gangs of goodies (boys) and baddies (girls). They hide and pounce on each other, with the boys regularly trying to tie up the long suffering girls with bits of rope.

Days are spent paddling in canoes, sailing, swimming, reading books, lazing and staring at the vista wondering how this little sliver of an idyll continues to weave its magic when all around it the world collapses.

I know that my home is no longer in South Africa. I no longer feel the the tug on my heart strings when I return here. I feel more foreign than local. Yet, when I am in Redhouse, I return to my childhood, where my most beautiful, magical, innocent memories were created. And I know that I am truly home.

Thursday 16 December 2010

The best laid plans

I have a sick child. Well two actually, but one is more noisy cough rather than fevered brow. They've taken turns to be ill all week. It has made for a less than productive work situation but it's December, officially cold and flu season, and it's become something I accept.

However, my real dilemma is what to do today. You see, I have to get my hair done. Before you call me vacuous, vain and selfish, hear me out.

It is long overdue a cut and a colour. I almost never get time to get my hair done, which is why the hair dresser sends me rude text messages saying: 'It's been months since we last saw you. Don't you like us anymore?' And it's not that I don't like them, I just can't seem to find a time when both children are looked after, I'm not working and we don't have to drag ourselves off to stand on the side of a field watching small boys kick balls of various shapes.

But I finally thought sod it, and managed to secure a coveted spot with the hairdresser. I have been counting down till the big day when I can stop looking like Worzel Gummidge. The glorious day has arrived - along with a temperature of 39C on son 1. I can't send him to school. I can't take him with me. There aren't many people standing in line shouting: 'Pick me! Pick me! I'll look after the poorly child.' Funny that.

I leave in 3 days time to go to South Africa to see long lost family and would really rather not arrive looking like a grey shaggy dog. What's more, this evening I have a Christmas party to go to. As someone who works at home on my own, I don't have a busy Christmas party calendar. I have no need for the party frocks or spangly ear rings that are advertised at this time of year.  I live in the Berkshire countryside. If I wore something spangly, people might talk.

But a bunch of girls and I thought that it was high time that we had a  Christmas party to go to. We've booked a table at the local upmarket pub (that's as good as we get here) and have agreed to don our glad rags (in my case a cat suit with fierce heels - now the locals really will talk - and a very nice new hair cut). That is supposed to be happening tonight. Did I mention the sick children?

My husband is away in London until Saturday attending a carousel of different PR luvvy dahling Christmas parties so isn't able to help out. I'm not sure I can leave two sick kids with a 14 year old babysitter while I go out and drink wine.

Unless a Christmas fairy waves a magic wand, I can see my plans changing from lovely to lemsip in the blink of an eye.

It's one of those time when people might say: Don't be selfish. It's not as though you have something vitally important that you HAVE to do. Look after your poor sick child and remember why you're a mother.

But as any real mother knows, what we actually want to say is: Bollocks. What about me?? Feel free to commiserate with me.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Christmas gifts: when men are from mars and women are from planet to it all

Last night I saw an advert for Boots on telly. It featured a woman showing her husband what she'd bought for various people for Christmas. While she showed off the gifts, the man stood there doing the requisite nodding but the look on his face said it all: complete and utter disinterest bordering on depression at how dull and no doubt expensive the whole gift buying business was. It was so very much like the look on my husband's face that I laughed out loud.

Every year I make a list of what presents we need to buy for whom, including his godchildren and family. I then try to get his opinion on my suggestions. It's safe to say he could give a monkey's bum. Occasionally he'll disagree with my suggestions but won't offer an alternative. He also finds these conversations very taxing, causing him to sigh often as though he cannot understand the need for so much discussion so far in advance.

So I head off and shop. Bit by bit the gifts arrive from internet purchases or in a heavy cluster of bags after a day on the high street. Until at last everything is bought.

I then tackle the wrapping of them. I tend to do this early as we have family strewn across the world and to hit the international posting dates, I have to be organised. Wrapping evenings go like this:

I sit down surrounded by bags of gifts and reams of gift wrap. I then pull out various gifts and show them to my husband, saying things like: "I got this for your mum. Do you think she'll like it?" He'll look up from playing Angry Birds on his iPad and look either a) bored b) annoyed (that his game is being disturbed) or c) bemused as to why this is even happening. 

Eventually all the gifts will be wrapped. All the cards will be written. All of the things that need to be posted are posted.

On Christmas Eve, my husband will ask me where the wrapping paper is, and he'll wrap my presents that he's bought that day. And that will be his contribution to the gift giving process.

Having read several books on raising boys, I've come to realise that males only do what needs to be done at the very last minute because - their rationale goes - that they could get hit by an alien spaceship on the way to work tomorrow, rendering anything done in advance a complete and utter waste of time. So I assume they apply this same logic to the Christmas gift buying process.

And I get it. Men have bigger, more important things to think about than whether Aunty Majorie will like a floral teapot (like who beat who in the Premiership or working out how many curries they've eaten in 2010).

But here's my issue: I don't expect men to do the shopping, wrapping or posting. I don't even expect them to think about what people might like or who we need to buy for. I know that  gifts are a pink job, the same way cleaning the fish tank is a blue job. But I do think that at least pretending to be interested in our purchases would buy men a whole lot more brownie points. And brownie points equal sex, or at least a slightly greater chance of ever getting lucky. Why haven't they worked this out yet?

The exact same process happens when planning the Christmas meal. For years I've tried to include my husband in the discussion about whether to have turkey or ham, Christmas pudding or trifle. I've realised that he just doesn't care. At. All. In fact, if he woke up on Christmas morning and there was no food to eat, he'd boil up some pasta, put on some pesto and he'd be good with that. It's us that care. Us women folk!!.

Why do we care?  Why is it that women are the upholders of tradition? What would happen if we all just stopped? Would Christmas happen at all? I'm almost willing to give it a try next year just to see what happens. But then I imagine my children waking up on Christmas morning wondering where the tree was, where the presents were and why they weren't having anything other than pasta with pesto for lunch and I know that I'll be doing it all again next year.

Did someone say it is the season to be jolly? I must have missed the memo.

Friday 3 December 2010

This week's bleats

Not sure what a bleat is, read this. Unfortunately, this week's bleats are all of the Eeyore persuasion. Sorry.

Seriously, enough already. I am done being ill. Sure, it's a great weightloss programme. But it is so incredibly boring. You can't leave the house. No-one wants you to go near them in case you infect them. You don't want to eat or drink and a diet of plain toast and rooibos tea is not stimulating. I don't even want to drink wine. Yes folks, I am THAT ill. Everything is an effort. How people with terminal diseases find the energy to climb mountains or cycle naked around the country for charity I have no idea. I can't summon the will to take the washing out of the machine that has been there since Wednesday.

The same way that I applaud seriously ill people for their gumption, I'd like to applaud single parents. This week I have been a single parent. I am a single parent on a regular basis as my husband travels for work. However, being a single poorly parent is hell on earth, particularly when you add poorly kids to the mix. What's more, it is very, very lonely. And boring. That word again.

Am I the only person in Britain who feels we haven't had our fair share of the white stuff? Berkshire, the tropical oasis of England. Sure the ground is covered in a sprinkling of snow and we have a high of -3C but it's not like it's enough to get the plastic paddle sled things out that I purposefully bought before they sold out - unlike every other year when I've been woefully unprepared.

I confess, this week my children have either been at school or watching tv/playing wii. That is it. Apathy levels and poorliness have turned me into a negligent parent. Perhaps I should add the tag #don'tcare.

Following a rather marvellous Thanksgiving Meal (which thank god we managed to eat before the virus of doom struck our house) my cooking skills have gone somewhat awry this week. Roast chicken in a bag on Monday wasn't bad. Leftover roast chicken in a not great stirfry Tuesday, which made a reappearance later that evening. Egg and beans for kids on Wednesday. Hotdog sausages and chips for kids on Thursday. And I have no sodding idea for today.#don'tcareonceagain

We all have them. But when you run your own business, you can't go and bitch to a colleague about it. You have to just project a fabulous inner calm and all-will-be-well-persona. This week was particularly trying. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that we had a fab client story which should have been picked up all over the place. Yet for whatever reason (still not sure why) it wasn't. I started out baffled moved to furious and ended up despondent and ready to pack my PR bags and leave for the sunny climes of waitressing or similar. There was a small silver lining when a radio station finally picked up on it today, but it's not enough. Damn your eyes journalists. I will not be defeated.

Hello kettle, meet pot. Here I am writing a blog full of self-pity and deathly dull subject matter, which I will post onto twitter and Facebook. Yet, I am actually bored of social media. Facebook I'm still cool with because the people on there are my friends - although I have recently done a friend cull. But Twitter is just so ME ME ME. It's all about 'bigging yourself up' (#annoyingphrases) and bloggers trying to blag things (not all!) and intellectuals trying to sound clever. It's all so fake. Yet, due to aforementioned job, it is a requirement that I partake in tweetville. I need to increase my interaction with the real world and step away from the keyboard.

I am aware that this blog post makes Eeyore looking like a prozac abuser in comparison to my obvious happiness with life right now, so I shall try to end on a happy note. We do have things to look forward to. Husband returning home tomorrow. 2kgs lost this week which will make getting into a swimsuit over Christmas easier. Christmas in South Africa i.e. a hot place requiring of swimsuits. The Eclipse DVD coming out next week. A new year in which I shall make some resolutions which I SHALL keep. Life changing ones. Watch this space. I won't be ill forever and when I am back on form, I intend to kick my own butt.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

All hail the Stomach Flu

Warning - this post involves vomit.

Son 2 had to leave school early because he was pale as a ghost and complained of a sore tummy. Several hours later, I got to see the contents of his stomach, from both ends. It was a joy. What made it more of a joy was knowing that the cheque was in the post and that it was only a matter of time before the rest of us succombed. He stayed pale and wan all weekend and didn't eat a thing, thus scoring a day off school on Monday.

Husband gets on a plane to Seattle and mid-flight the lurgy hits. Cue almost fainting spell in the airplane loo, following by much gritting of teeth for remainder of flight and taxi ride to hotel, before he too could get rid of the contents of his stomach. He hasn't wanted to eat food since. Sadly for him, he is in back to back meetings without the option of lying convalescing in bed. And just to add the cherry on top, today is his birthday, which he will spend feeling ill, sitting in a boardroom before returning to his hotel room to feel sorry for himself. Happy birthday my darling. Here's hoping the rest of the year goes better than today.

Son 2 at home sick. Me still remarkably fine.

All seems well. Son 2 is back at school. Son 1 is eating for Britain. I feel fine. Until 8.30pm. At which point the dogs of hell are unleashed upon me and continued coming until 2am. What a night. Shivering so violently while trying not to fall off the loo while holding something to be sick into. Then breaking out into sweats that literally saw rivulets running down my face, before freezing and shaking again. Finally fall into an uncomfortable sleep at 2.30.

Wednesday 3am:
Son 1 crawls into my bed complaining of a very sore head and sore throat. Very high temperature. I rummage in the cupboard trying to find calpol all while desperately hoping to hold onto what remains of the contents of my stomach. After much more back and forth between the bed and the loo, I finally collapse.

Wednesday 6.45am:
Son 2 crawls into bed demanding tea. We all get up. Son 1 gets to stay home. Son 2 has to go to school, but there is no way I'm going to get him there. So I ask a neighbour to take him. Excellent. Ensure son 1 is nurofened up as we're now out of calpol, cancel all work meetings and collapse into bed. Sleep till 12. Son 1 still watching telly. Is there a limit to how much tv a child can watch even if they're poorly? Because I feel we may have maxed it out today.

Text a friend begging them to go buy me some calpol to see me through the night. Thank goodness for lovely neighbours. Watch son 1 throughout the afternoon, waiting for the vomiting to start. Nothing. Just temperature and headache. He wants supper. I take this as a good sign. Son 2 wanted nothing to eat so perhaps it's not the same thing. Still, I try to convince him to have toast and marmite or something innocuous. He insists he wants scrambled egg and baked beans. All I can picture is what this will look like when it comes back up. I can see a new recipe book coming out called: Foods that make acceptable looking vom. Doesn't matter anyway, whatever he eats there will be carrots and sweetcorn.

I am about to put them to bed. But I fear that tonight is going to be another one to notch up on the 'Why being a parent sucks sometimes' board. Wish me luck.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Thanksgiving: A beginner's guide for Brits

When we used to live in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving. We had no idea what we were supposed to do other than eat a lot. We also didn't have any suitable items to eat a roast dinner off of, so we spent a small fortune at William Sonoma, not realising that Crate & Barrel would have saved us quite a bit of dosh. Got to love being new in a country.

Anyway, the first Thanksgiving we had, we invited an American work colleague to join us. She was in her early 20s and didn't have anyone to spend it with. She advised us on what to do. For example, she explained that the way you make pumpkin pie is you buy a ready-made pie crust, open a tin of ready made pumpkin puree, put the puree in the crust and possibly scatter it with marshmallows (it was vile). She also told us that after eating, you just watch telly and eat giant packets of crisps.

I don't think she was the best person to introduce us to Thanksgiving. Maybe that is genuinely the way most Americans spend Thanksgiving, but given the number of Bon Appetit magazines I've read and Martha Stewart shows I've watched, I know that there are people who don't do this. And I think I prefer my version.

So for those of you Brits who might want to hold a Thanksgiving meal but aren't sure what to serve, here's a beginners guide (P.S. as we're not actually American, we don't have Thanksgiving on the correct day. Rather the Saturday closest to it - so that we're not managing a hangover at work):

1. Starters
Despite having a main course that would easily be more food than any one person needs in a year, there is still the need for a starter. This is usually something light (thank god) but like all Thanksgiving dishes, reflect the season. Salad leaves with figs wrapped in bacon. Pumpkin soup. Cream cheese roulade with autumnal chutney. You get the idea. My advice: either skip this or keep it VERY light.

2. Main event
Front and centre should be a turkey. One that is so big it's unlikely to fit in your oven. However, at a push, you can have a whole baked ham. Or you could have both. I mean, why the hell not right? The ham should always be glazed in something sweet (honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, brandy etc) and usually involves cloves unless you're married to my husband in which case you don't put a clove anywhere near a perfectly good dead pig.

The turkey won't be ala Delia wrapped in bacon. No sirree. You might want to try a shitake mushroom rub, a citrus-glaze with chipolte or perhaps maple and dijon. The flavour you choose for your turkey will dictate the flavours for the rest of your meal. It's tricky. Trust me. It is basically the theme for your meal. Are you going Tex-Mex? Deep South? Classic? Citrus?

Your turkey flavour will dictate your gravy flavour. So a thyme-roasted turkey might go well with a ginger snap gravy while and orange-and-mustard basted turkey would pair well with apple cider-mustard gravy. See? Tricky.

Right, now you have to get all the other bits to match the piece de resistance.

Dressing or stuffing: this is seldom found stuffed in a turkey. This is a dish in itself usually involving bread. For example: chestnut, bacon and corn bread stuffing or artichoke, sausage and parmesan stuffing with sourdough. This should complement your turkey's flavour. No clashing please.

Potatoes: Unlike a traditional British Christmas dinner, roast potatoes are probably not that likely to feature. Or they may feature, but alongside mashed potato, twice baked potatoes, new potato salad with bacon, sweet potato (topped with marshmallow - gag) or all of the above. On Thanksgiving Day, Americans become Irish in their love of the spud.

Vegetables: Roasted root veg feature strongly, but so do green beans, sweet potato puree, butternut squash or even southwest corn, chili and cumin saute, depending on your flavour theme. The thing is, there will be a lot of them and they all require more work than just peeling a few carrots and microwaving them till they're soft. Trust me.

Cranberry sauce: I love cranberry sauce. I love making it because it is dead easy and looks like you're really clever. And it's a great way to add additional alcohol to meal. My personal favourite is cranberries with port and dried figs.

Bread: Because obviously everyone will have a little spare room after eating all of the rest of it, there is a need for a bread basket. The bread should be made by you. It could be corn bread, sweet potato rolls or rosemary twists - basically it is another labour intensive thing for you to do and which is really just plain unnecessary waistline-wise.

3. Dessert
Having eaten so much that you can barely move, it's time to tuck into some pud. Pies are the order of the day really. Ideally pumpkin pie, but due to the incident mentioned above, I just can't get excited by the stuff. But you could try apple pie or pecan pie too. Alternatively, cranberries are big at this time of year, so anything cranberry related is a winner.

Some people do suggest a cheese board for afters. I seldom make it that far. Depends on your gluttony level really.

So that's the food covered. And that's all I know. Because I've never quite got to the bottom of what you're actually supposed to do on Thanksgiving other than eat and eat and eat. Maybe it's because I'm not American, but we find it woefully embarrassing to sit around a table with friends saying what we're thankful for, when all anyone is really thankful for is that they don't have to do the washing up and that there are still five more bottles of wine. I just don't see Brits sitting around holding hands while they give thanks for things. We're more likely to stop queuing or reading red top newspapers first.

In our house, we simply have friends over to eat, drink and be merry - sort of a Christmas for friends, rather than family. And that I have friends and family and food - that is what I am thankful for.  Here's our Thanksgiving menu for this year:

Waldorf salad with cranberries and walnuts in radicchio cups

Honey and cider glazed ham
Wholegrain mustard mash
Maple glazed roast butternut and carrot chunks
Green beans with pecans
Creamed savoy cabbage
Apple cider mustard gravy (strictly speaking you shouldn't have gravy with ham but the mash needs it - going off -piste here!)

Cranberry cheesecake

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Introducing the Bleat: where twitter and blogs collide

I have come up with a new invention. It's called a Bleat. It's a random thought you have (which you'd like to share) and is too long for a tweet and not quite long enough for a blog post in its own right. I was going to call it a Bleet, but according to the UrbanDictionary, a Bleet is: 'When A male rubs his penis on the outside of a womans vagina. no insertion only rubbing inbetween the vaginal lips of the woman. the step befor sex.' There is so much I don't know. Sigh.

Anyway, Bleat is better as people can then say: "What are you bleating on about?" See? Perfect. So please feel free to create your own bleats and set the trend in motion. I wonder if I can copyright it...

Here are my bleats for today:

I've come to a rather late yet startling realisation: it is impossible to parent calmly and have PMT at the same time. I've tried for six (almost seven) years and it just isn't doable. This is particularly true during the getting-ready-for-school-morning-madness in which I have to ask my children to put their socks and jumpers on at least 20 times, while they instead throw the aforementioned items at each other, taking out eyes and anything else that happens to be in the way. On a normal day, this is taxing. On a PMT day, it causes blind fury resulting in me yelling in a way that will have the neighbours calling social security and my son yelling back: 'I HATE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!!'  I must start taking evening primrose oil.

I've noticed something about Sex And The City - the four lead characters eat almost constantly and pack away more calorific cocktails than even I do, yet barely ever exercise and remain stick thin. Sure Charlotte has the odd run in Central Park and we all know how Samantha gets her daily exercise quota, but the only time you see Carrie doing anything energetic is running after a pair of shoes. Surely this is grossly misleading representation and all four of them should be shot or at least drip fed Big Macs?

Following on from my previous blog post about irritating things, I'd like to have a word with people who make packaging. Particularly the people who put the plastic covers on DVDs which are impossible to remove; the people who put a toy/toothbrush/razor into a pack encased in thick plastic that is impossible to get into unless you have garden shears and even then you are likely to either have your eye out or get a vicious plastic cup (like a paper cut, only worse); the people who put food like slices of ham into plastic packs with an 'easy-lift' corner which is never easy and invariably doesn't lift so that you have to resort to using a knife to get into it; the people who decide that children's toys all need to have 17 billion tiny pieces of wire to hold them in place so that on Christmas morning you have a child who is only topped in the frustration stakes by you as you try to untwizzle them.

It is becoming apparent that unless you live on wheatgrass and lentils and want to end up looking like Gillian McKeith (shudder), there will come a time when regardless of how much you exercise or how good you try to be dietwise, your mid-section will insist on making itself known, particularly in knitted dresses.

That's it for today. I shall be bleating again in the future I'm sure. Please feel free to bleat at will.


Sorry - I have another bleat to add which simply can't wait:
 #royalwedding #journorequests
So Will and Kate are getting married on 29 April. Cue every newspaper and magazine in the UK to issue an immediate request for people getting married on 29 April. Has no-one got an original idea? Seriously. How many features are we going to have to read about this? Personally I think Will and Kate are being very generous getting married on a Friday, giving us an extended weekend and as most people marry on a Saturday, not a Friday, it means there'll be fewer brides weeping into their cream cakes about why everyone is watching the telly on their big day.

Thursday 18 November 2010

What the *beep* is going on?

There is a book I read on the loo, you know, one of those toilet humour books that are the trappings of all middle-class homes. This particular one is called: 'Is it just me or is everything shit?' by Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur. They have created an A-Z list of things that irritate them. It has me laughing out loud regularly, so much so that my children seem to think that mummy on the loo is a rather jolly past time and they should join me so as not to miss out on the frivolity.

But I've noticed that under the letter B, they have a serious ommission. Beeping. Or rather, things that Beep at me.

Let me list the things that beep at me and which are quite possibly going to result in me taking a sledge hammer to them:

1. The Washing Machine
This wins the Oscar award for annoying beeps. It beeps when it has finished its cycle, stridently telling the household (and indeed the neighbours given its volume) that it's time for me to drop whatever I'm doing and hang up the wet clothes because there is obviously nothing more important to do. It will beep loudly 4 or 5 times. Then stop. You forget that the washing needs taking out. Until 30 seconds later, it beeps again. And will keep on doing so until you cannot bear the torture and yank the door of the machine open, yelling at it as you fling wet clothes into a washing basket, where they stay for the rest of the day (because the basket - thank God - can't beep).

2. The Dishwasher
Far, far less offensive than the washing machine, it emits a low level, discreet beep letting you know that it's done. Where the washing machine is your bling appliance, the dishwasher is far more elegant and understated. But it's like an old dear that beeps at you half-heartedly, gives up and then decides several hours later (usually the middle of the night, just loud enough to wake you) that it's time to be reminded that it still needs emptying. Here's a tip dishwasher: I shall empty you, when I run out of clean cups. Until then, shut up.

3. The Microwave
This is loud and obnoxious but can be useful. Sometimes. However, it has a whole repetoire of beeps for any given situation. Should you say put something into the microwave, set the timer and don't turn it on, it will give you a few minutes, and will then beep at you, as though saying: 'Oi, fuckwit, you forgot to turn me on'. But actually maybe I didn't. Maybe I just wanted to be ready to hit the start button a critical juncture. But no, you know best don't you, you holier-than-thou appliance. And let's not forget about your beeping once something is actually cooked. God forbid we don't open your door exactly when it's done. Wait more than 30 seconds and you incur 'Micro-wrath', which could be made into a children's Saturday morning cartoon.

4. The Fridge
The fridge beeps when the door is left open for too long. Fair enough. Useful to know, particularly when you have small boys who plunder the fridge snack drawer, and then in their excitement to rip their cheese strings into thousands of tiny strips, they leave the door open. The beep kindly informs me that it might need closing. But when I'm trying to unpack groceries and the children are grabbing things and dropping bottles of wine on the floor and I'm trying to squash a head of broccoli into the overfull veg drawer, I do not need you telling me to shut the door. I get it. Ok.

5. The Cooker
Now this is one beeper I couldn't live without. You see, I pop food in the oven, go upstairs to 'work' i.e. twitter/facebook/blog and lose track of time. All of our food would be cremated if it weren't for the cooker beeper. But it is particularly strident and when you're say, cooking a roast lunch, and you're trying to get the lumps out of the gravy, and carve the chicken, and not overcook the veg and the beeper goes off telling you that the roasties are done, but frankly you don't have a spare hand, it just adds to the stress levels. I invariably end up whacking it just to get it to shut up, only to forget that I turned it off and we end up having burnt roast potatoes.

6. The Car
The car, particularly my husband's fancy car, has beeps for everything. What do you mean you haven't put your seat belt on and you've turned the key in the ignition? Foolish women. Stop at once. Beep, beep, BEEP! It even beeps at me if I put a heavy bag onto the passenger seat because it has sensed that someone is sitting there and therefore must be strapped in. I have in the past actually strapped my bag into its seat, just to make the car shut up. Then there is the beep saying that you've opened the car door while the engine is running, because God forbid you might want to run out and get something or pop a letter in a postbox. There's the beep letting you know that you've left the lights on (fair enough but do you have to be so obnoxious in your alarm?). And there's the beep that says one of the doors isn't quite closed properly, which tends to be the car hooter sounding, so a particularly vengeful noise and scares the bejesus out of me. Don't even get me started on the satnav telling me to turn around at the next available moment....

Bank machines, trucks reversing, supermarket checkout scanners, mobile phone text messages, mobile phone missed call messages, new tweets, new emails - beeps are everywhere and they're all sooooo demanding! Needy, needy, needy!

Ironically, all of these beeps have been designed to help us. Alert us. Keep us safe. Keep us informed. It's the nanny state gone mad.

So my message to you manufacturers: I don't need my white goods to talk to me. I just want them to do their jobs and I'll see to them when it suits me. Until then, Shut the *beep* up.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Anyone seen my mojo?

Not sure if it's the weather, the imposing spectre of the long winter ahead or just the fact that it's the second last month of the year, but I feel decidedly pphht. Sort of like the noise a balloon makes when the air is let out of it, only with less flying around the room.

It might be because for the first time in, gosh, 5 years I actually have more time than work to do. Well, I always have work to do, but not the pressing deadline driven stuff that I normally have. Which obviously means I do nothing. When I have an absolutely chockful day, I somehow always manage to do all my work, plus the laundry, bake cakes, blog etc etc etc. But now that I'm not so busy, I seem incapable of doing anything.

The kids are watching more TV than ever due to my eroding parenting standards. The house is littered with clothes that need picking up. The kitchen has received a cursory wipe down only - and most surfaces are thoroughly clatty. My blog has been left unattended (my business blog too). My office is a paper mountain. It all needs sorting out. But - I. Just. Can't. Be. Arsed.

It's terrible. What makes it even worse is that I'm not revelling in my doing nothing. I'm fretting about it. I'm sitting at the pc, doing nothing except worrying about doing nothing. Not even online shopping or reading of news. Just mooching. Everything I attempt, I give up after a half-hearted effort so that I have several openened but nowhere near completed things on my screen. And it's this feeling of lack of achieving anything that is driving me insane.

I would prefer to say to myself: Today I shall achieve nothing and just sign myself off for the day. Lie in bed and read a book. Take a walk. Watch crap on tv. But I don't. I say: today I shall achieve something. Anything really. And then don't.

Urgh. Someone kick me up the backside.

And while I'm having a moan and a whinge, where the hell did 2010 go? How is it November already and we have Christmas marching towards us at an alarming pace? In fact maybe that's the crux of it. Last year was so crazy that this year I purposefully decided to put the brakes on and do less. But now that I look back on it, I'm feeling as though I've actually achieved nothing much at all. Why do we have this perpetual need to achieve things? Why is sitting on your bum doing nothing not enough? Or perhaps it's just me.

So in the random way that this post is going (much like my past week), I shall attempt to think of the things that have defined 2010:
1 snowy trip to Scotland
1 long haul trip to New Zealand
1 very hot sailing holiday in Greece
1 big client launch with possibly the best coverage I've ever gotten for a client ever
1 big name client win
biggest turnover of my business life to date
putting house on the market
researching the possibility of moving to the USA
youngest son starting big school
actually having a real network of local friends for the first time
purchase of first ever cat suit and fierce high heeled shoes (these last items happened very recently in a bid to stop being quite so mumsy and I feel are worthy of  a mention)

Not quite the same as sailing across an ocean the year before but not a shabby list now that I write it out. So why the blah? Probably because I know that there are things not listed on here that I should have done but haven't.

Inspire me someone. If only I'd mistakenly sat down on a firework on Bonfire Night. I need a bit of a rocket up my arse.

Friday 5 November 2010

Putting the magic back into Christmas

Yesterday afternoon my children decided to write their Christmas gift lists. I encouraged them in this past time, mainly because the 5 year old seriously needs to practice his hand writing. The results were as follows:

Son 2 (5 year old) - utterly illegible scrawl which even Santa, with his magic powers, would have a hard time deciphering. I got him to translate it for me. It included a DSi, a light sabre, top trumps and gogos. Fair enough although I'm still not convinced that I'll be getting him a DS. I know, I know, I know - everyone has them and it is small and would fit easily into luggage as we're spending Christmas abroad and would keep him occupied on the plane on the way home. But I think it will become a battle ground where he wants to be on it and I want him off it and much gnashing of teeth will ensue.

Son 1 (6 year old) - a very, very, very long list of things including a DS, a camera and a phone! A phone!!! Who the hell is he going to call? When did children become grown ups? What happened to the magic of Christmas?

And then I got a call from a company asking me if I could help them promote a service of theirs and given my frustration with cynical children, I said yes. So this is a sponsored post, but happily, fits into my life very well.

The company lets you create a personalised letter to your child from Santa. MagicalSanta offers four distinct letters, which can be tailored to each child. Each letter has been written by a published children’s author, and each is written for a specific age group and gender.

By adding the child’s name, gender, friend’s name, what they’ve done to qualify them for the ‘Nice List’ and what present they want the letter becomes all about them.

(Sadly, it doesn't have a bit about not back chatting your mother, not cleaning your teeth and not eating your vegetables - I believe there might be a market for letters from Santa that threaten children that presents won't be forthcoming unless these things are done!)

Each letter costs £2.99 and includes free delivery within the UK, when ordered directly from the website. By clicking on http://www.magicalsanta.co.uk/ref/mfogg, the rate is further discounted price to only £2.79.

Letters will be sent by Royal Mail in the first few days of December for all orders received before this date. For orders received on or after 1st December all letters will be posted out within 2-3 working days on receipt of the order, up to the Royal Mail's last posting dates.

These dates are:

UK 18th December
Europe 13th December
Other Countries 10th December

Payment can be made online by credit or debit card, and a full refund within 30 days is offered if the purchaser isn't completely satisfied.

So go on, send your child a personal letter from Santa and help get the magic back. You know it won't be long before they're saying: 'Christmas is like so lame', so milk the magic while you can!

Thursday 28 October 2010

Everybody needs good neighbours

I may have posted about our neighbours and 'The Hedge' issue in the past. Here's the abriged version (even though it still seems long, believe me it's the short version):

We have a hedge. It is cut back regularly. It cannot be cut back too far or else it will die (it's a stupid Leylandii hedge). It does not overgrow the public bridleway which gives access to 3 other houses. The old farts elderly people who live in these houses feel that the hedge makes it impossible for them to drive up and down the path. They have asked us to fix the situation. We have had tree officers and god knows what out to look at 'the hedge'. And bottom line is: It's fine. They CAN'T drive. Both my husband and I have driven our cars up and down, forwards and backwards along this path. IT IS FINE!

Over the summer holidays, after a particularly long, arduous 5 hour drive in the rain back from a 3 day rain-filled camping trip with two hideously annoying children, the Witch neighbour chose that exact moment to launch into another complaint about 'the hedge'. She went on and on as I stood in the rain with icy water running down my neck holding heavy bags. And eventually I said: "Look, could we have this discussion another time please, now isn't a good time." At which point she stomped off saying: "There's never a good time. You don't live in South Africa anymore you know!"

Racist or xenophobic? Either way, definitely a Daily Mail reader.

Now had I not been holding two heavy bags, I think I might have run after her, rugby tackled her, planted her face into the mud and shown her exactly what South Africans are famous for (rather than overgrown hedges).

I didn't. I used every fibre of my self control to turn away and breathe deeply. I decided however, that I dislike her more than almost any other person on the planet.

Today, I was sitting at my desk and I see a car pull up outside our house. The Witch  neighbour gets out and puts something on my car windscreen.

I go get it. It's another cheerful note saying how she's nearly had a second accident (with several of these !!!!!! for effect) as a result of our trees (this is new, normally it's the hedge) and my car being parked on the road. It isn't normally parked there, it just is today as I'm about to go out again and husband's car is blocking the driveway. But that's besides the point. Countless other people park in the same spot every day.

After searching my navel for the deep meaning in this, I've come to a profound conclusion.

a) She can't drive
b) She is a cow

I'm thinking about starting a counter-offensive. Possibly slipping funeral home flyers into her letterbox....

Sunday 24 October 2010

Would you put your mummy tummy on the internet?

There's a game my children play. It's called 'Grab mummy's belly'. It involves grabbing handfuls (yes plural) of tummy and squishing it. They particularly like to fold the flab into origami-style designs so that my belly button is entirely hidden from view. "Look mummy!" they yell. "Your belly button is absolutely, completely gone" in a Charlie & Lola-esque performance.

I suppose I could take offence to this and on particularly grouchy days, I do get a bit snippy. But mainly, I've accepted that my belly is now more jelly than six pack and it provides less messy fun for the kids than playdough.

When I first had my children, especially after my second pregancy which saw stretchmarks creep their way from my belly button downwards thanks to being two weeks overdue, I couldn't bear the sight of my stomach. It was in my mind vile. And while I knew that I was probably too old to be wearing crop tops anyway, I became obsessed with tunics or long tops that had no chance of riding up should I happen to be reaching up for something. My bikini days were gone forever and I found it difficult to feel even remotely sexy naked.

However, like all things parenting, you gradually get used to it. And amazingly, one day you accept it and possibly love it.

I remember doing a sea survival training course (as you do) and having to get undressed in a change room with a bunch of women, none of whom had had children. I couldn't help but steal furtive glances at their figures. Some were slimmer and better toned than others, but none of them had that distinctive tell-tale sign that they had carried children for nine months.

And all of a sudden, instead of feeling self conscious of my less than perfect belly, I felt proud. I realised that these women with their virgin tummies, all smooth and stretchmark free with belly buttons that don't look like a puckered prune and a without the tell-tale bulge of lost elasticity, didn't know what I knew. They didn't know what it means to be a mother. They hadn't yet experienced the depth of emotion, felt the highs and the lows, the love and the fear, the complete transformation your life undergoes.

And I smiled to myself. Because it made me see that my mummy tummy with all of it's imperfections will always be there proudly telling the world that it has performed its job. It has stretched beyond the bounds of comprehension, cocooning my babies, and has returned to do it's day job. So it doesn't look as good as it once did, so what? It is beautiful for what it has achieved.

Which is why when Justina Perry, a client of mine, contacted me last week to say that she was fed up of the body image anxiety mothers have (a 31% increase in mummy tummy tucks) and she was on a mission to change it, I jumped on board.

We have created a gallery of mummy tummies. We have taken pictures of our bellies and put them on the internet for the world to see. And we want more mums to do the same. We want to get as many mums as possible to say: 'Sod it, look at what my amazing body has achieved. It may not look perfect, but it has done a miraculous job. And it's time it got recognised for that.'

So are brave enough to join in? Head on over to here and take a look at the bellies already there. See if you can guess which one is mine. And then join in. Send in your pic and help spread the word.

It's time to show the mummy tummy some love.

P.S. My bikini days aren't over after all. I wore one over summer with pride.

Thursday 21 October 2010

House porn American style

I have a dirty secret. I look at house porn. A lot. Apparently Rightmove has a bazillion page views a month. I think I make up at least 80% of those on my own. And that was before we were actually contemplating moving.

I'm now so au fait with the properties available in most of southern England, that I've had to cast my net wider. There was a time when the option of moving to any number of places in the US was considered. So I searched Boston, Long Island, San Francisco and Seattle properties. They ranged from OMG! to WTF?

More recently I've narrowed it down to Bellevue and surrounding suburbs in Seattle. I now feel as though I actually know the different areas, the pros, the cons, the schools. I know which places have the best views. Which have the most convenient access to shops. Which give you more property for your money. And all this without leaving my somewhat sweaty chair in my home office in Berkshire, England. Isn't technology marvellous?

And in my house porn travels, this is what I have learned about American property/Americans in general:

1. They like wood. Lots and lots of wood. The more wood in a house it seems, the better.

2. They like fireplaces. Big ones. In most rooms of the house.

3. They like TVs. Even bigger than the fireplaces. In most rooms of the house.

4. They like to keep their homes looking like show homes with almost no personal items at all. They could in fact all be show rooms for Crate & Barrel, Restoration Harware or Pottery Barn.

5. Everything is bigger than in British homes. Windows. Doors. Rooms. Fridges. Fires and TVs (as above). Views. Lots (that's the size piece of land the house is on). Square footage (that's not something advertised often in UK homes).

6. Kitchens are less important than bathrooms. I find this strange given how much food Americans eat. I have seen many houses with lovely big kitchens, but I've seen some with hardly any kitchen at all. Meanwhile, EVERY SINGLE HOUSE will have a HUGE bathroom. Bigger than the average British master bedroom. Which is why Americans are better groomed that Brits.

7. Hot tubs. What the hell is the fixation with hot tubs? Seriously.

8. Having a media or work out room. Now I like the idea of a work out room. Currently we have a cross trainer and a TV in our guest bedroom. It's not ideal. It means we have to wash the bedding a lot due to sweat flying off our hard working bodies. But a media room? Like a cinema in your own home with two rows of lazy boy chairs and a screen big enough to play tennis on? No.

9. Lack of floor plans. Why is this? I have discovered the Rightmove equivalent in the US and it is jaw droppingly good. I mean, for a house porn afficienado, this has me fondling my mouse as I click my way around the site. It tells you everything you could possibly want to know about a property, including what the owner's had for breakfast, but it doesn't give your floorplans. No-one does. Why is that??

10. The estate agents actually seem to want to help. You are forced to register on their sites in order to see properties (clever them, data capture and all that). But just when you think your email address is being sold to a Chinese dildo manufacturing plant who will send you countless emails from here on in about 'getting satisfied your way', you receive a perky email from Dan or Jana. They'll be ever so personable. Not pushy. Just like a buddy. 'Hey, you need some help there friend finding that house? You tell me if you find 'the one' and I'll just head on out and take a few extra shots for you. Or if you need any other info, you just let me know and I'll be right on it. Take care now, Dan'.  Contrast that with the British 'Computer says no' approach and it's hard not to be seduced.

The bottomline is this, once you start looking at American house porn, you can never go back to British. I might as well just buy our tickets now.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Putting down roots

The last month or so has taken me to some weird places mentally and emotionally. As previously mentioned here and here, we put our house on the market having no idea where we would move to, but knowing that where we currently live isn't right for us. We have spent weekends visiting Devon, the Isle of Wight, Hamble and Lymington. We've gone to see 12 houses. I have spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at houses on the internet, researching schools, lifestyle, sailing clubs and commuting distances for just about everywhere in the south of England.

And here's the thing. What we want doesn't exist in the UK. And so now the US is seriously being considered.

But it has made me think deeply about what makes a place home, when your own roots have been pulled up with an industrial size digger. My husband comes from a town in the UK that he has no desire to return to (and I share this sentiment entirely). I'm from South Africa and we will never move back there. It means we are rootless. The world is our oyster. We can put down roots anywhere. How liberating. Yet how bewildering. Scary. Lonely. Directionless.

Marrying a Brit and moving here meant I had to go through the strange experience of losing my national identity. I realised very early on that to fit in I'd have to become British. I picked up a Britsh accent (although I still have an SA twang). I took the British-ness test and swapped my green passport for a pink one, no dual-nationality for me. I retook my driver's license and learnt a new Highway Code, including learning how to navigate roundabouts (or traffic circles as I used to call them).  I've learnt all about the British schooling system, health system, tax system, government, media, everything. There are still times I know that I'm not British - like when someone famous dies and the whole country goes into mourning and I've never heard of them.

But it's happened. I've become British. I now support the English rugby teams over South Africa. Traitor I hear the South Africans hiss. But it's true. In my heart, when England plays SA, I'm rooting for the white shirts with the red rose on it.

And now, having embraced this new culture, with tiny shoots starting to dig into soil, we're suggesting that we rip up the seedling and plant it in foreign soil. I'm pretty hardy, so reckon I'll manage to adapt and grow. But what will I be then? American? British? What? How many times can you change nationality before you lose all sense of yourself? What about my children? I think of them as little English boys. And I love that. But if we went there, they'd become American. Not British like their dad. Or South African like their mum. But American. Something neither of us is. Are we happy with that?

Ultimately I want to find a place to put down roots and let them grow and grow so that our children and their children will have the pull of a place they call home. But choosing the right place is so incredibly hard when you have absolutely no history there. It's quite simply pot luck.  And it's not just my life or my husband's life that is affected by this. We are choosing our children's future. That's pretty huge. And I thought choosing their names was difficult.

Friday 8 October 2010

The Gallery: Discovery

I'll confess. I am a Gallery virgin. Oh I've been lurking for a while now, but have just not managed to get my act together to actually post a pic. But today I thought I'd have a go. If you don't know what the Gallery is all about, see it here at Tara Cain's Sticky Fingers blog.

The theme for this week is: Your favourite photo

Hard one. I have many. I considered pictures of my children, husband, family, holidays and lost loved ones but finally settled on this series of pictures which I'm calling: Discovery

I very recently posted one of these pictures and a story that went along with it, so I am going to cheat a bit and suggest you read this post for the full story.

But to add: these pictures represent a discovery. A discovery of what an amazing place the ocean is. A discovery of how beautiful the world is. A discovery of what I am personally able to achieve. And a re-discovery of me.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Winter coats in carseats - safety alert!

When I had my first son, I remember that the midwives wouldn't let me take him home until they could see that he was strapped into his carseat. As it was winter, it was freezing so we bundled him up in his ultra-cute all-in-one puffy snowsuit and away we went.
I remember sitting next to him on the backseat watching him breathe, terrified that something might happen to him (I think it took me about 6 months to return to the front seat of the car).

Little did I know though that while I thought my baby was strapped in safe and snuggly warm, I was actually potentially putting him in danger. Here's why:

When you put your baby into a carseat wearing a thick coat or snow suit, you tend to tighten the straps as tight as you can to the coat, not the child. But in an accident, coats can compress (just sit on a puffy coat and see how much it squishes down to get the idea). If the coat compresses, the straps will be too loose which means your baby could get flung from their seat (which has happened in the US - hence the reason Americans seem to know about this but us Brits don't).

The reason I know about this is because a client of mine - www.morrck.com - has spent the last year researching it. We spoke to experts who specialise in car seat safety testing and they said that the fault didn't lie with the coats, but with the parents who don't tighten the straps enough. Apparently, 60 - 80% of all car seats are used incorrectly, with harness tension being the single biggest failing.

But how tight is tight enough? As parents we all know what it's like when you try and strap a child into a car seat in a thick coat and pull it super tight. The whinging starts immediately about being uncomfortable and hot. So you may be tempted to loosen the straps....

Morrck suggests that you do The Two Finger Test to figure out if a coat is too thick - like this:

1. Put the coat on the child.

2. Strap the child into the car seat and tighten to ensure a snug fit.
3. Remove the child from the car seat – without loosening the straps.
4. Take the coat off the child.
5. Strap the child back into the seat – but don’t adjust the straps.
6. Do the Two finger test. If you can fit more than two fingers underneath the harness at the child’s shoulder bone, the harness tension needs to be tightened or avoid using the coat in the car seat.

And if you want proof as to how much of a difference coats make to the harness tension, watch this video
Obviously this begs the question: how do I keep my child warm on cold winter days? There are a bunch of ways, from placing a blanket over your child to letting them wear a thin fleece. 
Morrck also has an innovative product called the Baby Hoodie that lets you strap your baby in to the car seat in their indoor clothes and you then simply wrap the hoodie around them. It doesn't affect harness tension, is easy to open if the child gets hot, is easy to get to the emergency release button and has been tested in a crash test lab for safety (and passed with flying colours). In the interest of transparency, I repeat, Morrck is a client of mine so I would say their product is great, but if you want to see what other people say about it, click here
This is the hoodie in action below
You can find our more information on this issue by clicking here - there's also a second video that shows you how to use a hoodie. So please help spread the word about this relatively unknown safety issue - whether it's at toddler groups, NCT classes, the school gate, Twitter, Facebook or blog posts - particularly as it's getting colder and those coats are going to start coming out!

Friday 1 October 2010

Why search a country when there's a whole sodding world

Since my last post about moving house, I feel as though I've been on a funfair ride that keeps going faster and faster, and just as it slows down and I feel as though I'm getting my bearings, it speeds up again and I lose all sense of direction. In fact I'm starting to feel a little sick.

The problem is that I really don't know where I want to live (despite thinking I'd found my spiritual home). I know that it's probably not where we currently live. But finding a place that ticks all our boxes is proving a little difficult. And I'm not talking the perfect house. I'm talking the perfect village or town.

Where is there somewhere that offers me the feel of small, friendly place where you're not just a face in the crowd, but equally has enough va-va-va-voom? With people like us (or PLUs as we've come to call them). That has big enough house sizes and gardens with access to the sea and sailing but isn't so exhorbitant that you have to live on beans and toast in your deluxe kitchen? That has fantastic schools and is commutable to London and not too far from airports or friends or or or...

It's too hard. Nowhere feels right. And maybe that's because I don't know anywhere well enough. And when you're trying to start a new life without knowing a thing about the place you're starting it in, it's a bit like Russian roulette. You can take those kind of gambles in your twenties, but when you have two kids and two careers and have to realise that you can't keep uprooting if something isn't right, then it makes it all a little more tricky.

Just to add to the mix, husband has just been away for a week in the US. And it was hard. He's regularly away like this - which is what had led us to think that us living far from London is ok because he can weekly commute and he'll be at home about as much as he is now. Except he won't. Because now he at least has the option to come home if he's in London. If we live too far away, he won't. Do I really want to be a single parent for the foreseeable future?

Can't we find somewhere that ticks all of our life boxes? Am I really unreasonable to expect this? I know Phil and Kirsty are all about 'compromise' but which bit do you compromise on? How do you figure out what is most important until you do it and realise, "oh shit, we made the wrong choice."

And while husband was in the US, he chatted to his boss about our impending move and she said that if moving to the US was something we'd consider, to let her know. Nothing immediate, but there could be.

And this then throws open a whole pandora's box. Finding somewhere in the UK where we can visit (albeit briefly) to investigate on weekends is one thing. To move to a new country and embrace an entirely new lifestyle is quite another. We used to live there, and I LOVED IT. But that was pre-kids. Now I am more fearful. Everything seems harder. You can't just find a swanky one bed flat in the heart of the partying district. You have to find somewhere with good schools and community and blah blah blah.

If we moved to the US, what would happen to my work? What would happen to all I know about being a mother? Everything works differently there.

But, on the other hand, when you look at US properties for sale (and obviously I have looked - me being the house porn slut of the year 2010), everything just looks shinier. Bigger. Better. More well kept. Less dowdy. Did I mention bigger.

Should we be adding the entire US of A to our search criteria on Rightmove?

It's all far too exhausting. I shall now retreat to the drawing room with a small snifter of brandy to recover.  Do let me have your thoughts.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Shaking things up.

So here's the thing. You know how you say: 'I'd love to live by the sea'. Or perhaps you don't. Perhaps you say: 'I'd love to open my own coffe shop or fashion boutique'. Or perhaps you'd rather keep pigs and knit your own lentils instead of sitting on a tube to a job in the City. Or perhaps you're entirely happy with your lot. If so, good for you and you might want to move to another blog.

But I am one of those people who has always wanted to live by the sea. Or actually, by water. A river would be very good. Possibly it's because I grew up right alongside a river and have been searching for home ever since.

Whatever the Freudian reason, it all came to a head over the August bank holiday weekend. We were visiting friends in the Isle of Wight, and we just said: 'What are we waiting for?? We don't love where we live. We don't hate it. It's nice. But it doesn't make our souls sing does it?'  We agreed that it didn't and that living next to a river/sea would give us the outdoorsy, sailingy lifestyle I(and apparently husband) hankers for.

And so, in true male fashion, my husband wasted no time, called estate agents and put our house on the market.

Insert screeching car noise here.

You see, we're perfectly happy here. I have finally made friends, the school is fab, we have the countryside on our doorstep. It's fine.

But it's not the sea.

So having signed a contract with an estate agent to say that 'yes please, we would love to sell our 300 year old thatched character cottage in the biggest recession of all time so that we can be homeless', we spent this weekend looking for a new home.

We went to Devon. In fact we went to Sidmouth, as we had been told by many people that it was lovely. And it is. So utterly beautiful that you want to rip the clothes off your body and run down the beach praising whoever is in charge of beaches. Except (and you can insert that screeching noise again here) that Sidmouth is populated with old people.

I am not ageist. But I do feel slightly intimidated by the fumes coming off the purples rinses. They are lovely. And slow. But lovely. But slow. And old. Did I mention old? Seriously, the stores (described as regency period) stock goods that are genuinely not far off that era. The restaurants serve food last seen in the late 60s and the service is so slow I expect most of their customers die before they eat.

Despite this, we fell in love with Sidmouth. We believe more property will come on the market if you wait long enough. Someone will die soon.

But then after seeing THE PROPERTY TO TOP ALL PROPERTIES EVER we were told that it has shared gardens and the owner was a complete knob who hated children and really we would hate living there (got to love honest estate agents). So we bid farewell to the views but thanked the agent for her tip to go see a village called... Situation X.... because I don't want to reveal it on blogland.

And we went there. And I found my spiritual home. It is so lovely. And everyone was just like us with kids like ours and it's commutable and involves sailing and has good schools and well just everything.

So now, having panicked about putting our house on the market in haste not knowing where we might move too, I now just want to sell and start our new lives next to a river, a spit from the sea living the dream life I've always wanted.

I feel all jumbly inside. This is all so sudden, yet not. Stay tuned .. I might have bought a luxury liner before the next blog post and have moved to Bali.

Monday 13 September 2010

One year on

Date: 13 September 2009
Place: Hull, UK
What: The start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

Exactly one year ago today I set sail from Hull en route to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil via La Rochelle, France. Anyone who followed my More to Life than Laundry blog will know the huge amount of effort involved in getting to this point. A mum to then 3 and 5 year old sons, a business to run, a normal busy life to take care of. But I wanted to get off the hamster wheel of life for a little while and do something for me.

And so after months and months of very hard work organising, fund raising and training, I was finally ready to set sail. What followed was a six week experience that had been billed as life-changing. A year on, my question is, was it?

On paper, my life is exactly the same. I have two (slightly older) boys, my business, a busy life and house to run. I have the same frustrations that were always there (the laundry pile never gets any smaller). But something has changed. And it's very hard to define. 

What's changed is me. It's a very subtle thing that probably isn't visible to the outside world. But I'll try to explain...

I feel empowered. Not in that in your face women's lib kinda way. But in a quiet, understated, gently simmering warm feeling of knowing that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

I feel free. The constraints of motherhood, adulthood and responsibility can feel suffocating, stifling with the question of 'Is this it?' loitering in the dark corners of your mind. I'm free of that now. Because I know that there's a horizon out there that is blue and golden and it's perfectly possible to go explore it.

I live life. I used to berate myself for not having a global business empire or greater business achievements. I've made peace with that now and set myself a new objective. To have fun, to enjoy life, to cut myself some slack. And I've spent most of this year doing exactly that.

I feel peaceful. Obviously not all the time as my last post highlights, but when times get tough, I go to my mental sanctuary. A place I discovered in the middle of the Atlantic. It tastes of salt. It smells of clean sea and fresh air. It sounds like rushing water. It feels like a warm breeze tangling hair tendrils that whip against a sun-cleansed face. It looks like a never-ending blue canvas that arches around me in all directions. It is bliss.

So yes, it has been life-changing. Not in the 'I'm changing career and taking up adventure sports' way, but in the ways that count. Best of all, I did it, and nothing can ever take that away.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

When you don't like your child

I love my children, dearly. When I watch them sleeping in their beds, hair mussed up, chests rising and falling, they look like little angels and I can't believe how lucky I am.

Yet most days, particularly most mornings, I don't like one of my children. That's a terrible thing to say. But it's the truth.

My eldest child has been difficult from the day he was born. A baby who didn't stop crying and wouldn't sleep. A toddler who had tantrums worthy of oscars. A pre-schooler who wouldn't join in and would cling incessantly. A school starter who would cry everyday at school drop off, run out of school and throw monstrous tantrums. He's never managed to control his emotions - happy or upset. All of these stages I have found incredibly hard work and sometimes downright bewildering, but I have learned and accepted that he is a sensitive child who takes a while to adapt to things. I've tried to provide the right balance of firmness with understanding and love.

But now he's six and a half. And we're in a whole new world. I take heart talking to other parents that their children are similarly behaved, but what I find most upsetting is how I feel about him.

His moods are relentless. He screams, yells, throws things about, is aggressive, rude, hits, kicks, spits, breaks things and is bone bloody idol. He will do nothing to help himself - unless there is something in it for him. He takes responsibility for nothing. He won't share. Yet he demands that things are shared with him. He never seems to learn from any discipline or punishment or consequence or reward. He refuses to listen if you try to have a reasonable conversation with him, simply covering his ears saying: Blah blah blah. We go through the exact same things over and over and over. He believes the world is out to get him. Mostly he seems unhappy and very, very angry.

I know that as a parent it is my job to help him work through this. To teach him social niceties and how to behave. To help him find out how he fits into the world and how to make the most of his abilities. To help him be happy. But parents are human. And even though I love him, I am finding it particularly hard to like him. And this makes it so much harder to remain the calm, loving, firm parent I want to be.

There are moments when his lovely nature shines through and when it does, I want to grab onto it and hold a mirror up to him and say: 'See, this is what you can be. It's gorgeous and lovely and wonderful!' But it's like holding water in your hands and it slips away all to fast.

I desperately want him to be happy. I want him to know I love him. But mostly I want to like him more often. I fear that the more he behaves in this way, the harder it will be for me to separate him from his actions. That I will start to resent him and in turn he will resent me, and our relationship remains one of me-against-him and him-against-me for a lifetime.

I am fairly certain that my own parents felt the same way about me, as by all accounts I was a particularly vile child. So perhaps it's simply karma that I should have the same experience. Retribution so to speak. But perhaps it's because I know how I felt as a child that I want to help my own son so much. I wished with all my heart that I didn't behave like I did as a child. I remember sulking and fighting with my siblings and wishing that I wasn't, but some how being unable to stop myself. I am almost certain that my son feels the same way. But how do you help a child out of that cycle? Particularly when his behaviour is so maddening that you're hard pressed to remain civil much less find a solution.

Perhaps I am wrong to even write this post. A grossly inappropriate thing to admit. But I just so badly want to like my son. I can't believe I am the only parent who feels like this. And perhaps by just writing it, it's the cathartic release I need to be able to put my feelings behind me and move forward to help my son.  Here's hoping so anyway.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Wot I mostly did on my summer holidays

And so the summer holidays end. And with it, the start of glorious weather. How ironic. It has been an exhausting, but lovely 5 weeks. If I were feeling less shattered, I'd attempt to write something clever or moving or poetic. But as it is, I can barely keep my eyes open. So instead, here's my first-day-of-school-summer-holiday-recap. Sit quietly in the front row, put your hand up and you'll get your turn to tell us about yours next:

  • Fantastic break up day party involving parents getting far too drunk but it certainly set the tone for the rest of the holiday
  • Three days of actual work, while the children had a ball with their childminder.
  • Two weeks in Greece. I could write a lot about this. But suffice to say that week 1 saw our children in kids clubs from 9am to 5pm daily (despite us offering to take them out repeatedly - they declined as they were having too much fun) and then video club from 7pm - 11pm. So really utter bliss during which I suntanned, swam and sailed (and drank unhealthy amounts of Greek wine and Mythos beer). The highlight had to be sailing in dinghy races daily, something I haven't done since I was a teenager, and I won! In fact I kicked butt. It felt marvellous. I was absolutely hyped when I came off the water and just wanted to head straight back out for more.
See exhibit A of sailing action:

  • Week 2 involved us going on a flotilla around Greek islands in the Ionian Sea. It was fantastic but very stressful at times, like when you're trying to moor up next to a £2million yacht and not knowing what you're doing and trying not to bash it and trying not to shout at your husband to hurry up with the fenders all while saying to the children: "No, we can't play Uno right now". But besides the mooring/anchoring up, it was marvellous. Lots of swimming off the back of the boat in the sea, eating and drinking too much and general swanning about. Bliss. See below

  • Back home for a day of recovery before 3 days of work and then a fab day out with fellow mummy bloggers Pantswithnames and Nappyvalleygirl.  It was lovely to meet people that I've got to know virtually and with 6 little boys between us, there was plenty of charging about for the kids.
  • Then a day of doing a Treasure Trail in Hungerford with old friends, followed by a day at home and a fab pizza evening out with friends and kids playing in country fields.
  • Then off to the Peak District for three days of camping in torrential rain. Oh what fun it was. I can't bring myself to write more about this other than it involved mud and lots of it.
  • Back for one day of work, before heading over to the Isle of Wight for a final summer soiree for four days, drinking too much, laughing a lot and exploring the Island with the view to possibly moving there.
  • We've since had two days at home, during which I've attempted to catch up on work and failed, played with friends and gone for long walks in the countryside.
And now on the eve of back to school day, I feel in dire need of a holiday to recover from it all. Actually, what I need is to get back to work before my brain turns to mush. And I should really start to night, but I won't. I shall savour the silence of the evening knowing that tomorrow morning will see my littlest boy head off to big school for the first time, while I sob into my breakfast tea.

This is why I have been absent from the blogosphere. This is why I have been absent on the work front. This is what summer is meant to be all about. Hope yours was just as lovely.

Saturday 31 July 2010

If you need a little time out...

Perhaps the kids are screaming. Perhaps the school holidays have barely started and already you're losing your grip on sanity. Perhaps holidays never actually feel like a holiday for you. If this is you, then I invite you to spend 2 minutes watching the video below (a link as I cannot figure out how to put the YouTube clip direct into the blog post).

You may have seen it on my http://www.moretolifethanlaundry.com/ blog but given how rarely I update it these days, I doubt many people amble over there anymore. So I thought I'd put it on here too so that all those stressed out mums who wish they could just escape on their own for a little while can see that you actually can!

In case you're not familiar with what it's about, last year I decided that I needed time to do something for me. The hamster wheel of work, kids, house, chores felt stifling and I just wanted the chance to do something a bit different and entirely for me. So instead of popping down to the spa for a pamper day as any normal person might do, I spent six weeks sailing across the Atlantic in part of an around the world yacht race.

This video is a short snap shot of what it was like. I'm not the best video editor but the fact that I've managed to make a video at all is fairly remarkable given my technological ineptitude.

So grab a glass of wine, put the volume up on your PC and watch.  And yes, it's me on the helm!

My Clipper Experience

Incidentally, I'm off tomorrow for a two week family holiday involving boats again, only this time I'll have my boys sailing with me. Get you when I'm back!

Thursday 22 July 2010

End of an era

For three years, I have been driving to my children's pre-school, initially son1 and most recently son2. I've stood waiting in the lobby for the doors to open, getting to know the many mums who wait alongside me. I've walked into the pre-school at the end of a day and watched how my son's face lights up as he searches for me, then barrels over, throwing his (usually sticky) little arms around my neck.

We've spent years carrying home painted pine cones, pasta pictures and glitter art, most of which still live on the back seat of my car. We've lost hats, wellies, raincoats and jumpers. We've gained underpants, shorts and t-shirts from origins unknown. We've got years and years worth of progress reports, showing at what age my boys could stack blocks, make puzzles, play make believe and hop on one foot. They're mini time capsules, showing how they've progressed from babies to big boys.

I've sat through sports days in blazing heat and driving rain, laughing as the tiny little people attempt to balance an egg on a spoon and crying when my boys have managed it with looks of utter concentration on their faces.

I've been on the pre-school committee, going to meetings, organising fund-raisers, doing the PR. I've baked more cakes for fetes and fairs than I care to remember. I've met people and made friends, having moved here not knowing a soul.

I've come to know the staff who have looked after and loved both of my boys. They know my sons almost as well as I do. How do they manage to say goodbye to children year after year?

Because today I got to say goodbye to them. Today is my son's last day of pre-school. Forever. Here on in he is a school child. No longer a baby.  And while I've been longing for this day to come, so that I no longer have to do the five minute drive there and back and will gain an extra hour of work time every day, now that it's here I can't stop crying.

It's the end of an era. A life chapter closing. I know there are plenty of exciting chapters ahead, but I can't help shedding a tear for the one that's just ended.

To all at Chieveley Pre-School who helped my children have wonderful memories, thank you.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Who are these children?

Last week the only adjective that could adequately describe my children was 'vile'. End of year over tiredness, too many late nights thanks to long summer evenings and general tetchiness resulted in two thoroughly unpleasant little boys.

Now perhaps it's because the end of school year is in sight, or perhaps it's because they were left with their ex-military father all weekend, but this week, my children have become angels.

Sure there was the 'whacking my brother with the sprinkler after he scraped my back' incident and the 'I hate you, I'm not listening, you're all stupid poopy pants people' moment from one of them. But I can actually recall the individual bad moments, rather than them becoming a continuous background blur interspersed with the odd good behaviour.

Yesterday as we walked home from school, 6 year old (who for the last few weeks behaved more like a 16 year old) said that he needed to go up to a friend's house in the afternoon to help retrieve a ball from some man's yard on behalf of a third friend. It took me a long time to get to the bottom of what was going on, but in essence, a year 6 had kicked his favourite football over the school fence and into someone's garden. He was very upset about it. So my son and another slightly older boy had promised to go and retrieve it for him after school.

I found this quite remarkable as my son is fairly shy. When I asked him what he was going to say to the old man who's house it was, he said that his friend was going to do the talking and that he was going to do the fetching. He wanted permission to go off and run this errand.

I said I couldn't let him go off with a friend (who I didn't know) to a house (which I didn't know) to a man (who I didn't know) all on his own. But I promised him that we could go and get the ball and that I would simply be in the background.

I was so impressed. He went to his friend's house (he's not a close friend, just someone at school with him), knocked confidently on the door, went with the friend to two houses (they weren't sure which house the ball was in), the friend asked very politely if they could get the ball, the two of them found it, they thanked the man and left. My son then went to the year 6's house, knocked on his door and returned the ball to the boy's father.

It might sound like nothing. But it was the first time he's ever shown this level of independence and confidence, not to mention thoughtfulness. I was genuinely gobsmacked. And so proud that he'd made a promise to a friend and followed through with it.

It also occurred to me how close I'd been to saying no to the whole escapade as it had all seemed so complicated when he tried to explain it to me, which would have meant that I'd be the reason he couldn't fulfil a promise. It reminded me again of how important it is to listen to your children and not just automatically say 'No' just because what they want to do doesn't fit into your pre-arranged plans.

This morning, my children:
- ate their breakfast without complaint
- took dirty plates and milk cups to the kitchen
- got themselves dressed
- packed book bags
- cleaned teeth
- found library books
- tidied the toy room


You could have knocked me down with a feather. I have no idea what has inspired this new, marvellous behaviour but long may it last.

To put the cherry on top, when I dropped 6 year old at school today, he ran off with his friends without a backward glance, so I called out a goodbye to him. He waved at me, was about to run off with his friends, before he turned back, came out to me, gave me the biggest hug and kiss (in front of all his friends), said 'I love you mommy' and then ran off.

What a lovely start to my day.

Monday 12 July 2010

Do you have a novel in you?

For as long as I can remember, I've said that one day I will write a book. I just have had no idea what it is going to be about.

There was a moment when I lived in New York that I thought I had something. I was crossing 5th avenue with all the traffic and people zooming by, millions of busy ants. Like a bolt from the blue, I realised that I was ordinary. Just a person, no-one exceptional. Not terrible, but just another face in the crowd. Someone who hopefully would live a happy and contented life, possibly stirring things up a bit, making a difference, but probably not setting the world on fire. And it occurred to me that maybe that was my book: The Startling Reality of Being Ordinary.

But I couldn't flesh the idea out. I got stuck. What happens to this ordinary person? Does she simply come to terms with being ordinary? And if so, wouldn't that make for a terribly dull novel? Does she do something remarkable? What's the story? I told a colleague at the time about it (he had aspirations of being an author) and he said: "God, not another chick lit book." And just like that, I felt that door had closed.

Then after the birth of my first son, I started writing down my thoughts, thoughts that I felt sure could turn into something. Because the process of becoming a mother is so utterly remarkable that it must be worthy of capturing. Somehow. But muffled by sleep deprivation, my thoughts became cloudy and woolly and then lost altogether. And in hindsight I'm glad they did, because there are so many novels just like this, where the author has discovered the amazement of motherhood and felt compelled to share it with others, only to find that several billion other people on the planet have gone through the exact same thing and it's not that remarkable after all.

A few years later, frustrated beyond belief by my children's incredibly annoying habits, I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and knocked out two children's stories about two incredibly annoying children and their long suffering mother. They rhymed and everything. But they probably aren't what children want to read and the rhythm is clunky. They're still saved on this very pc, but I am not sure they will ever become more than folders in my directory.

I feel as though I've just gone through a library-ful of life experiences in the last few years with rich fodder for novels, yet nothing has as yet sparked me into creating something that has genuine potential. Mostly, it's because life takes over. I don't have time to flesh out characters and storylines, plots and intrigue.

I find reading any books - children's or adult fiction - both invigorating and slightly depressing. Ideas within books remind me (daily) about what else I could do, they trigger story ideas and re-ignite my determination to write something. Yet I always feel slightly dejected about the fact that the book I've just read is one less story idea open to me. And the fact that they've managed to do it and I haven't. Yet.

I'm probably making little sense (it's late) but I guess that's why I blog. I don't do it because I want to be a top rated blogger or try to earn a living from it. It's simply a way for me to capture those fleeting thoughts that stray through my head. Thoughts that could fit into a novel somewhere or somehow, but right now are best jotted down for that one day when they slot neatly together and present themselves as the novel I always knew was waiting within.