Wednesday 27 April 2011

The bleat returns (with a mostly French flavour)

I don't have the mental capacity to write a whole coherent blog post today (see bleat 1 as to why), so I offer you instead some bleats (a cross between a blog and a tweet):

Bleat 1: Cluster f**k
Today I was merrily working away, with a headache that has lingered for two days brewing quietly in the background. Then KAZAM! It hit. It felt as though someone had taken a tazer gun and rammed it up against my brain aimed it down towards my left eye and pulled the trigger. The pain in my head, eye and face was extraordinary. My eye started streaming tears and I was left gasping in pain, thinking that I was possibly dying. I crawled into bed and lay there hoping it would go away. It did. I woke up an hour and a half later with my head feeling as though someone had taken a baseball bat to it. I decided to see a doctor just to check it wasn't a brain embolism. Apparently I had a cluster headache. They're called cluster headaches as they apparently come in clusters. Oh joy. Because that was only number 1....

Bleat 2: Fattening France
We went to France. We ate baguettes and pain au chocolat and croissants and cheese and saucisson and more cheese and drank wine and washed it all down with Easter eggs. How is France not the fattest nation in the world? Even the salads are the size of small cars and are draped with cheese, gizzards, duck liver pate and fried bread or potatoes. I can see why they have so much wine - they have to, to dissolve the fat.

Bleat 3: How to enjoy a holiday with boy children
If you're going self-catering (which unless it's an all inclusive family friendly resort, you really want to do) make sure you stay somewhere that other families are too. Not the great unwashed you understand, but a small selection of nice families - like a gite cluster. The kids then have friends to play with. Make sure the property has lots of kit for them to play with and if not, lots of woods for them to play dens and gangs in. Do not attempt to do too much sightseeing. When you do, find sights that involve blood and gore as far as possible. We found a Roman amphitheatre which did nicely. Use ice cream as a daily incentive. (PS - we had an utterly fantastic holiday by following these principles. I can also say that rural France is a great place to let your children run wild, for any helicopter parents out there who feel the need to hover over their kids every day. It's safe as you like and they (and you) will be so much happier for the freedom).

Bleat 4: When you could just kiss your kids
While in France we decided to go to one of the Cognac houses in Cognac (funny that). We plumped for Remy Martin, not because it was the most child friendly, but because all the others had closed when we called to book. We knew that we were asking a lot of our children. But we patiently explained that mummy and daddy also need to do some things they like on holiday. (And there was the obligatory promise of ice cream). The tour took two hours. Two hours of a woman speaking in broken English about subject matter well above our children's heads. They had every right to be bored witless (we weren't but then we like alcohol). They had every opportunity to run amok and destroy the 100 year old cognac casks housing golden nectar that retails at £1600 per bottle. But they didn't. They were angels. Not a peep or a whinge or paddy. At the end of the tour an elderly couple came up to us and said: "When we saw you arrive, we said to each other - oh no, not kids, that will ruin it. But your children were impeccably behaved. What a pleasure to have them with us."

It's moment like that, right then, that all your children's past wrongs of refusing to eat vegetables and beating each other with sticks and farting in each other's faces and picking their noses at dinner tables and generally screaming and being annoying do not actually mean that they're ASBOs in waiting. And that on very rare occasions they do actually know how to be good. And the inner glow that gives you as a parent is almost as cockle warming as a glass of cognac. So thank you elderly couple for saying that. You made my year.

Friday 15 April 2011

Sleepless in Seattle - the finale (at last!)

Sorry about the cliffhanger. Due to numerous reasons, I wasn't able to post the final installment of the Sleepless in Seattle series. In case you haven't seen the rest and have no idea what I'm talking about you can see parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 by clicking on the respective links.

So where we left it was thus: We'd made the decision to move to Seattle.

Our final day in Seattle saw us having lunch with my husband's boss and telling her that yes, we would like to move there. We rounded it off by seeing one last school before catching our plane and flying back to the UK.

Getting home, we kicked all our plans into action. We told friends we were moving. We contacted estate agents to put our house on the market. My husband told his company to start finding his replacement. I started making plans about my business.

It was all systems go.

But I still wasn't sleeping. I had hoped that having made a decision at last, I could settle down to the practical business of moving, rather than the woolly umming and aahing that we'd done for months and months. So why was every fibre of my being saying that this was the wrong decision? I kept telling myself that it was just nervousness about moving to a new place, that it was normal to feel this way about such a big move. But how do you distinguish between a nervous knot in your tummy and a gut instinct that's telling you it's the wrong decision?

I began to look at the world around me, the British world I had not only taken for granted, but felt didn't live up to my expectations. And suddenly I saw everything with new eyes. The gentle spring days that offer up a soft, subtle loveliness. The friends we have here, both old and new that add richness to every day. The quirky quaintness of virtually everything. The proximity of so many cities all within a few hours, all offering variety. Having Europe and all that it offers right on your doorstep. The BBC. Never ever underestimate the marvellousness of the BBC. The lack of underlying aggression and tension which I felt in the US. The sense of humour.

It was as though blinkers had been taken off my eyes. For so long I'd been looking for perfect. And the grass seemed greener just about everywhere except where we were. But we caught a plane to take a look at the grass. And it wasn't greener. It was different. And probably better in some ways. But on balance, there is a reason why William Blake described England as a green and pleasant land.

I realised that moving was the wrong decision. I figured that if we invested even a small part of the amount of energy we'd have to put into moving and starting from scratch, we could create a life right here that works for us. After one particularly lovely weekend with friends, my husband realised it too.

We cancelled all moving plans. And instead, put into action our 'Create the life we want right here' plan. I will be making changes with my work (more on that later in the year). My husband is going to be putting a new virtual working model into practice where he works at home most of the time instead of commuting into London, compacting his time spent there and abroad into specified weeks. We're changing our house around to use it better. My husband is getting involved in the local community. We're looking at new clubs to join. We're taking what we already have and making it better, instead of starting from scratch. Mostly, we're genuinely appreciating all that living in good ol' Blightly has to offer. It may not be perfect. But it's a lot more perfect than we realised.

I'm still getting the email alerts from US estate agents and a tiny part of me thinks: 'It would have been lovely to have one of those huge houses. And it would have been a grand adventure.' And I do find it quite terrifying to be able to see what our future looks like, rather than the freedom of the unknown with the wealth of possibilities it offers. But this whole experience has made me realise that life can be an adventure wherever you are. It's what you make of it.

Most importantly, I am sleeping soundly at last.

PS - to celebrate the brilliance of having Europe on our doorstep, we're off to France tomorrow. Happy Easter!