Thursday 25 February 2010

The heady heights of celebrity

"Do you want marmite or jam?" I yell to my children glued to CBBC, while I attempt to make breakfast, a packed lunch, sign homework books and find a clean school jumper. I hear my phone ring and ignore it. I get the toast out just as my phone bleeps that a message is waiting. Weird for me to be getting a call at 7.30 in the morning, so I listen.

It's BBC Radio Berkshire and could I give them a call about swimming with whales.

Did I just enter a parallel universe? Have I had even more cups of coffee than normal? Huh?

So I call back.

"Hi Melissa, thanks, I knew YOU'D call back," says the lady who interviewed me several months back on my sailing trip across the Atlantic. "You swam with whales right?"

"Um, no."

"Oh, well did you see the story in today's paper about the lady in Florida who was killed by a Killer Whale?"

"No." Funnily that didn't make my top ten must reads this morning.

"Oh right, well didn't you see whales?"

"Yes, from the deck of a boat, at a distance."

"Great, we'll call you back in 15 minutes to talk about it."

Um. Looking at now dead telephone. In 15 minutes I will need to be in a shower, getting two children dressed, forcing not eaten toast down their throats and generally charging around in the well-known lunatic-mother dance that happens across the country at around this time.

So instructing my children to turn off the egg boiler once it buzzes and asking them to please keep quiet while I attempt to discuss whales, I go find a quiet space.

They call. I have to listen to someone rattling on about RBS and the bonuses they receive, meanwhile, counting down the seconds I have till one of my children charges in saying something like: "I NEED A POO!"

Then my moment arrives.

"We've got Melissa Talago of Newbury on the line. And Melissa, I believe you've swum with whales."

"Um, no. Definitely not."

"Oh right," says presenter sounding bemused. "So uh, what's your whale story then?"

(I don't have a sodding whale story, you called me and I haven't even gotten out of my pyjamas yet)

"Well I sailed across the Atlantic last year and saw some whales."

"Oh wow, so what were they like?"

"Well, big and whaley." (I mean what the F?)

Then diving into PR mode, I regale a lovely tale about a pod of whales swimming alongside our boat and how a whale hit one of the boats (not mine) on one of the racing legs (not the one I did) which did no damage to boat or whale but made a loud bang. Not a story that's likely to be regaled at many dinner parties really. However, during the telling, I did mention that it was lovely to listen to the sound of the whales as they swam alongside us.

"Oh right, so what did they sound like?"

"Well, they made blowing sounds."

Silence. Awkward. I fill it.

"Like this..."And there on live radio, I did a whale impersonation. What a proud moment.

And the interview ended quite rapidly after that.

Heady heights of stardom await I feel.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Let it work

I have a friend who has been trying to have a baby for many, many years. I've lost track of how many courses of IUI and IVF she and her husband have undertaken. She is now 3 weeks away from turning 40 and today she underwent her final IVF treatment.

Having conceived two babies by apparently just walking past my husband, I have no concept of what it must be like to have to go through the hell they've had to endure. I cannot imagine the utter despair they must feel everytime she has a period. And I can't begin to think what's it's like watching all your friends push babies out with alarming regularity while your own family stays as a couple.

There have been many times that I've envied their exotic holidays away and long lie ins on the weekend, the freedom to do the things that they want to do, the fact that she still has fashionable, lovely clothes instead of something bought in Sainsbury's (because you don't have the time or money to go anywhere else).

I've tried to explain what impact having children has on your relationship, your social life, your body and your bank balance, all in a bid to make her feel better about her lot. But it doesn't matter how hard being a parent can be, if it's something you want to experience, not being able to experience it is cruel.

Right at this very moment, two little eggs could be doing what little eggs are meant to do. Sticking in the right place, growing and turning into babies. I am hoping with every single fibre of my being that that is exactly what is happening.

If you're of a religious persuasion, have good karmic skills or just want to send positive vibes her way, please do. No-one deserves a baby more.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Where the grass is greener

I'm one of those sad people who partakes in house porn. You know the type. We watch every episode of Relocation Relocation, Build a new life in the country, Escape to the Country and Grand Designs. We spend hours on Primelocation, searching different parts of the globe for houses that could potentially become our new dream home. We drive to Weymouth for a weekend just to see if it would be a good place to live. And if I didn't have children and did have slightly more bravery, I'd spend my weekends going to view houses for sale just because I'm nosy.

And it's not that I live in a tiny box fronting a motorway that has me searching for something more. In fact I live in a Grade 2 listed quintissentially English thatched cottage with a big garden and swimming pool, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. So why do I have the secret house porn fetish?

The truth is, I'm not looking for a new house per se. I'm scouting around for a potentially new lifestyle. I've always dreamed of living by the sea as that's where I grew up, so searching for seaside properties is an ongoing jihad. But I've scoured most of Britain and have yet to find a seaside location that works for us (mostly somewhere that allows my husband to still commute into London). Plus, living by the sea has less appeal when seaside visits require thermal underwear and sou'westers.

So I cast my eyes further afield.

I've spent many hours looking at the US as a possible option. We used to live there. I loved it. Could I go back there? If so where? East Coast. West Coast (certainly not the middle). I see the potential for a fantastic life, but I also see the lack of things that I missed when we lived there before. Like good pork sausages. And pubs that don't feel like a plastic chain. And cars so small you can almost fit in your handbag. Would I want American children? Sure summer camp looks great. But the schools give me the willies. Hmmm.

Where else?

Some of my family live in South Africa. My husband has just returned from a work visit there and waxed lyrical about us moving back. The weather. The education the kids could get (£3k a year for private schooling - that's the price of a nursery place for a few months here). The outdoor lifestyle. The vibracy. The entrepreneurship. The wildlife. The food. The wine. I was seduced. I spent many evenings - munching on biltong - surfing South African houses and drooling over the space (I particularly loved the way they'd advertise a house as having 5 bedrooms and then in fine print at the bottom would point out that it comes with separate 'staff accomodation' including another two bedrooms, sitting room and kitchen - like that wouldn't be shouted about at the top of a UK brochure).

But then I thought about the crime, the weak currency, the likelihood that our children would leave and we'd just repeat the cycle of a family living in different parts of the world. The fact that Johannesburg (which is where we'd have to live for a job) isn't next to the sea and is a big snarling city.

So I look towards Oz, where so many Brits emigrate to. And watching Phil Spencer search for houses Down Under has had me salivating. But I've never been there. My experience of Australian men has put me off the population as a whole (which I know is a gross sweeping statement but there you go).

The truth is, every time I look to greener pastures, I find that there are few that are quite as green as those in Blighty (probably because it never stops sodding raining). If we left here, I would miss those things that are so absolutely British: like going blackberrying, walks that involve stiles and rickety fences and gorse bushes, supermarkets that have fantastic food, Ocado, history, free healthcare, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson. The fact that last night I walked back from our local pub (in the rain) with my boys waving a torch and hunting for owls and never once feeling unsafe. Simple things really, but things that I've grown to love.

But then there's the weather. The fact that every bank holiday is spent sitting in a car in a traffic queue before sitting on a pebbly beach in the rain, the cost of living, whinging politicians... and I talk myself out of staying all over again.

I have no solution. I guess I will just keep on with the house porn until a pasture presents itself that has just the right amount of green. If you have any suggestions, let me have them. I'm sure I could wile away a few more evenings surfing for the perfect location...

Friday 5 February 2010

The joy of boys

I know that hearing about other people's children isn't the most fascinating subject in the world. But today son 1 has been so utterly lovely that I have to share.

He's not been the easiest child - non-stop crying baby, worst tantrums ever toddler, shy and lacking confidence pre-schooler, and petulant early schooler.

But he's soon going to turn 6. Six is my lucky number and it appears that it coincides with him blossoming into the world's loveliest child. All of this week he's been sensible, kind, loving, independent and mostly a joy to be around.

Today, however, he excelled himself.

At school assembly, plans were unveiled for a new look school. A new building that would give them the space they desperately need. But it will cost £150k. They have grants and such, but they still need to raise money, lots of.

Chatting to son 1 on the way home I asked him how he felt about the new school plans. He said he wanted to donate some of his money so that they could build it. I said that was a lovely idea, but why not come up with a plan that he and maybe his friends could do to help the school raise money. He immediately, having just walked throught the door, sat down with a piece of paper and wrote a list. It went like this:

Bild Beedon Scool (you can tell what this says right?)
By Son 1 (not putting his actual full name here)

1. I love Beedon (the love indicated with a wonky heart) with an arrow pointing to the action: donate your monie (the aim behind this was to get other kids in the school to donate their pocket money or some of their savings to the school and in exchange he'd make them a badge that said I heart Beedon).

2. Competetetetiosion (competition) with an arrow pointing to: to make the most monie (the aim being to encourage other kids in the school to try and see who can raise the most money for the school)

3. My personal challenge (the spelling was correct here as he asked for help). After much debate about what his challenge might be, he decided that walking 6 miles (1 mile for each year he's been alive) would be his challenge. He would get sponsors. I would help. I would in fact have to use all my PR connections to get him massive airtime to get him sponsors so that he could raise 'monie' and thus win the competition.

4. Here he drew a picture of the school as he currently sees it (a box) with an arrow pointing to how he sees the new school (a castle).

He is determined to do this and definitely would like to be in the paper, but doesn't want to have to say anything to anyone about it and perhaps I could instead.


Then this evening, we went to the school bingo evening. He arrived late having been at football, delivered to me cold and rosy-cheeked by a friend. He looked all glowy and handsome in his football kit and it made my heart thud just a little to see how grown up he's getting. We then managed to win two prizes in the raffle. I asked him to choose them for me. He chose a bottle of wine. Good lad. Knows his mum. Followed by some bath smellies. Again, for me.

Next we won on bingo. I asked him to go choose a prize. He pondered and walked up and down the prize table for some time, studiously ignoring the toys at one end and returned to the table with a box of lovely candles. I said: "Those are lovely my darling, but why didn't you choose something for you?" He shrugged. A teacher came up and said: "I showed him the toys but he said he wanted to get something for mummy." You can get your tissues out right now. I almost did.

So I insisted he put the candles back and to go choose a toy. He did so reluctantly.

We managed to win one more time and again I sent him up to choose. And he came back with an array of hand/body creams for me.

Honestly, by the time we left I don't think I could have felt more in love with or more proud of my son. He was so sweet, lovely, kind and gentlemanly.

Tonight gave me the tiniest insight into what it means to have sons. And I'm so very glad I do.