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.