Let’s Talk About Food…

This past week I have had my mum staying with me.  To be clear from the start, this is a very good thing.  My mum is brilliant and as she and my dad live in South West France we don’t see enough of them, so a week long visitation was a lovely treat.

There was only one thing.

The food talk.

If you were married to James Martin, with Mary Berry and Michel Roux Snr as your parents and Matilda Ramsey as your daughter, you would still not experience as much food talk as has gone on in my house this week.

It starts at breakfast with idle musings on what to have for lunch and supper – perfectly reasonable you may say.

BUT, just as you are grabbing your purse to shop for the agreed components for said meals, up pops mum “is it coffee time?”

Yes yes, of course, coffee time.  And a biscuit, no problem.

How civilised, morning coffee and a chat with your mother.  Until she gets that look in her eye and you know what is to come “of course we don’t have to have the sausages tonight, we could have a backed ham or maybe some fish”

I reach into my bag for the shopping list and scrub sausages from the plan.

“So…ham or fish?”  I press for an answer

“Ham, let’s have ham and then we can use the leftovers for tomorrow”

Great!  Two meals decided in one go!  I down my coffee, pocket the list and head for the shops while the going is good.

As soon as set foot in the supermarket the mobile goes “which ham are you going to get?”

“umm..” (this could be a trick question) “unsmoked?”

“a nice joint though.  Are you going to the butcher?  It will be nicer from the butcher”

“Well, I’m in the supermarket but I can go to the butcher afterwards.”

“OK, good.  Will you be back in time for lunch?”

Lunch?  Of course, it is midday, it must be time for lunch.

“I’ll make a start” says mum “what would you like?  Would you like a sandwich?  I’m having a sandwich, I’ve got a craving for white bread, can you pick up some white bread?”

Shopping done, I make it home for lunch (sandwich on white bread) and further discussion about the next meal.

Will we have boiled new potatoes? Or maybe the sliced ones in cream and garlic.  Did you buy some greens? Fresh greens would be lovely.  How shall we cook the ham?  Will you do a honey and mustard glaze?

Finally, a post lunch lull.  Time to catch up on some work, put a wash on, drag the dog around the block.  Better be quick though because before you know it..

…time for afternoon tea!

Cup of tea (milk in first, don’t squeeze the bag), piece of cake (homemade, natch) more chat, mostly food timing related.

What time shall we eat?  Is the oven on yet?  Don’t forget to change the water in the ham pan.  Oh, and you will roll and slice the greens individually leaf by leaf won’t you?  So much nicer!

Finally, the much anticipated repast is upon us.  Teens have been wrenched from screens and reacquainted with the dining room table. Places have been set with cloth napkins and side plates – correct Granny etiquette has been observed.

The potatoes are perfect, the greens sliced correctly, the ham boiled to perfection (we decided against the glaze).

We savour our first mouthfuls and sit in the brief respectful silence that a lovely plate of food commands.

“Delicious”

Says mum

“Just what I fancied.  Now, what shall we have tomorrow night?  I saw a lovely recipe for slow cooked lamb in Good Food magazine.  You could pop up to the butcher tomorrow…”

Gaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

Let's (not) Talk About Food

Man Flu

Man FluThis week I have had Man Flu.

Not a trans gender announcement or, in fact, actual flu.  Just a heavy cold and sore throat blown up beyond all proportion.

I have quite enjoyed it.  I have spent the days dragging my listless body from A to B leaving a trail of tissues behind me.

I have lain on the sofa declaring myself too ill to eat before downing a family sized fruit and nut without removing the wrapper.

I have sneezed all over everything and everyone and had regular, prolonged coughing fits.

When I have managed to bravely string a sentence together it has been uttered entirely through my nasal passages like the chap from the Tunes advert circa 1985.

All strangely satisfying.

The only man flu essential missing has been a willing servant to attend to my every whim.  You know, make tea, serve food, make endless sympathetic moue and offer to phone the surgery for an emergency appointment.

My then husband once rang me from his man flu bed pit to ask (in a weak and lamb like quiver) could he please have some hot honey and lemon?

I was in the kitchen at the time and we were talking a two bed cottage not Downton Abbey.

Maybe I should advertise for a man flu partner.  Like a dating profile but with added phlegm.

Single Man Flu Female Seeks Slave Partner

Must have endless patience and no other calls on their time

Chicken soup and sweet tea skills essential

Good level of fitness required as many trips up and down stairs involved

Anyone who thinks they have ever been equally unwell need not apply (as it is patently obvious that NO ON has EVER been as ill as this)

What do you think? Any takers?

 

 

 

 

A Morning Snapshot


A bright, warm Saturday morning, the day stretching ahead ripe with the promise of sunshine and rest.  No work today and no household chores as we are in the final days of our summer break.

Trainers on and headphones in as I leave the teens in bed, groggily catching up on the social media juggernaut that has ploughed on through the night as they slept.

Outside, the village is waking too.  Bleary eyed fathers are already herding their broods down to the beach, their silhouette a peculiar seaside monster made of crabbing nets, buckets, sun tents and all-terrain buggies.

Around the corner I side step a couple of Boden clad mummies furtively vaping with big, deep drags, sipping on takeaway coffees as they try to banish the taste of Sauvignon from the night before.

Down the hill to the town beach where the sea, glassy smooth, glints and shines in the morning sun.  I glance over to the mainland where I left the everyday niggles of normal life a few days ago, and try not to think that soon we will be back on the ferry to pick up where we left off.

I follow the sweep of the bay and slow my pace as I come up behind a few of the elder states people of the community.  Soft, washed out chambray caps sitting on pillows of white hair.  Nut brown, weather worn faces a physiological log of a lifetime of sailing.

On past the sailing club and down to the beach.  There is no sail training on today but plenty of fresh-faced children pulling dinghies out to the water’s edge, buoyancy aids flapping in the breeze, shouting to each other across the sand as they anticipate another day on the water.

Up ahead there is a gathering along the sea wall, a gang of families have erected a temporary cook out and breakfast buns are being dished out and handed down the line in a sort of bacon buttie relay.  No-one makes space for me to pass and as I cross to the other side to get by I am reminded that the ‘Down from London’ contingent often seem to leave their manners at home in Clapham but always pack their huge egos and sense of entitlement into their Musto kit bags .

Homeward bound now and I make a loop heading inland to the village.  This road is wide and tree-lined, big, moneyed houses all with their own collection of shiny four by fours lined up in the drives.  Propped up against one of the gates are the remnants of last night,  a burnt out bbq, a half full plastic pint glass, all the curtains in that house are still closed tight, it must have been a good party.

Up the hill and nearly home, the cafe on the corner  is spilling onto the pavement with morning service.  The little shop that sells everything has set out its street display of nets, painted rocks, beach balls and paperbacks.  As I put my key in the front door I spy the vaping mummies again, this time hair brushed and lipstick on as they head down to the beach to play parenting tag and relieve the dads who have completed the early morning shift.

Time to rouse the teens into action.  Let the day begin.

 

The Mother Book from Selfish Mother

A lot of you reading this will already be well acquainted with Selfish Mother a fantastic blogzine on family life.  Social media at its very best, Selfish Mother is bursting full of honest accounts of day to day life from the parenting coal face.  Sometimes hilarious , sometimes moving, but always very genuine, Selfish Mother is the antithesis to the ‘shiny happy people yummy mummy’ take on life.  We don’t all have to be perfect and at the end of day we are all just doing the best we can – sipping a green juice on the way to yoga or sipping a sauv blanc as soon as the clock hits 7pm, there is no right or wrong way, just your way. Selfish Mother Logo

As well as the hundreds of blogs and vlogs available on the site there is also a shop which has raised over 75k for charity to date.

Signature sweatshirts and T  shirts are the order of the day with some great kids stuff available too.

One of the most recent additions to the range is ‘The Mother Book’ a collection of posts that have featured on Selfish Mother, all lovingly curated by site founder and editor, Molly Gunn.

The Mother Book

Packed full of posts on everything from pregnancy to teenagers (including an article from yours truly in the teen section), The Mother Book is perfect to dip in and out of.  Keep it by your bed, by the loo, tucked behind the toaster…have a flick through and you will straight away find a few posts that ring very true.

As if things couldn’t get any better, Selfish Mother are giving £2 profit from every book to the charity; mothers2mothers who believe in the power of mothers to end paediatric AIDS. M2M train, employ, and empower mothers living with HIV to bring health and hope to other mothers, their families, and communities.

So, what’s not to love – a great read and a warm charity glow in one hit.  Stock up on a few and keep them in your present drawer (oh wait, I don’t have one of those, I only aspire to having one), I’m sure we all know a parent or two who needs to be reminded that they are not alone and that, to quote Selfish Mother, we are all winging it.

 

 

 

 

Good Riddance World Book Day

Today has been a momentous day.  A joyous day.  A milestone day.

After 13 years and 26 costumes today was my last EVER World Book Day.

Time for a happy dance.

As I slapped pink paint onto egg boxes at 11.30pm last night I was smiling.

As I punched holes in the egg boxes and threaded elastic at 7.00am this morning I was almost giddy with excitement because I never, ever, ever, have to do it again.

The tyranny of the World Book Day Costume is over for me.

IMG_3853

I wasn’t always this curmudgeonly.   My early WBD years were earnest affairs of heavily researched and lovingly assembled costumes.  I think we probably even actually sat down and read the books together which is, after all, what it is all about.

We travelled from the pre-school days of the Cinderella dress through Pippi Longstocking to Harry/Hermione and Catniss.  Alice in Wonderland, Tracy Beaker, Where’s Wally (I know, but it is still a book although, admittedly, one without any words) they have all appeared in our fancy dress lexicon.

This year was slightly more problematic.  Teen 2, being in the final year of middle school, has kind of outgrown the book day thing so her list of requirements for a costume included minimal dressing up, a character that can be linked with other characters so that she and her friends could all be sort of the same, and something that meant they could all wear their Topshop skinny jeans.  A tall order I think you will agree.

So we settled on The Three Little Pigs – aforementioned jeans, checked shirts and pig snouts made from the late night egg box painting session.

When interrogated in the car on the way home from school Teen 2 revealed that my porcine creations had only been worn for the first five minutes of the day before being binned, so I’m quite glad that I didn’t embark on a huge sentimental last hurrah of a costume.

Good riddance World Book Day.  Next year as I walk to work passing Just William, Cruella de Vil and Fantastic Mr Fox I will smile nostalgically and think back fondly to all our own WBD costumes of the past.  I will go home and lecture Teen 1 and Teen 2 about the joys of reading and the magic of the printed word.

But I will NOT make a costume.

Definitely time for a happy dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy A Game Of Teen Bingo?

I no longer have a tween in my family.  Last month’s birthday celebrations (and I do not advise having children born only three days apart, it makes for a very hectic week every year) meant that not only has the teen turned sweet sixteen, but the tween is no more!  We now have a household of three females, 13 years, 16 years and 45 years – you can smell the hormones from four streets away.  Seriously, you do NOT want to be anywhere near our place when there is a full moon.

The tween-that-was is a slightly reluctant teenager.  She has always enjoyed the role of being the youngest and is quite vocal about not wanting to grow up.  Mainly, I suspect, because with growing up comes more responsibility, more chores, less opportunity to lie around the place saying ‘but I’m only…(insert age here)’ when asked to do something.

So, where turning 13 is usually much anticipated and celebrated, in our house it has been the elephant in the room, no mention to made, strictly verboten. We have also been issued with rules.  We are not allowed to:-

  • Tell her she is a stroppy teenager every time she gets in a bad mood.
  • Look exasperated and say ‘for goodness sake you are nearly 14 years old’ whenever she forgets her lunch box /PE kit/ own name.  This much hated tradition of rounding up to the next age usually begins the day after the last birthday.
  • Remind her repeatedly of the things that her older sister did or didn’t do when she was a new teenager.
  • Get cross and tell her to wash up/tidy her room/put her shoes away because she is ‘not a little girl any more’.

I am doing my best to follow these instructions but the plain truth is that I am now fighting a solo battle against two teens who have me surrounded in a pincer movement of angst, frustration and growing up-ness.  So, to pass the time and lighten the atmos I am indulging in regular games of Teen Bingo.  A game for 1-100 players but only fully appreciated by parents who are currently navigating the post-child, pre-adult minefield.  If that is you then stay strong, I feel your pain.  Keep your bingo card in the cutlery draw or the bottom of your bag (or, for some real fun, on the fridge door where the teens can see it – that will really make them mad!), I guarantee you will be shouting ‘House!’ before you know it.

Teen Bingo Card2

A Parallel Life

Have you seen the film Sliding Doors? It follows a character in parallel lives, the stories decided by one moment in time when Gwyneth Paltrow either does or doesn’t jump on a tube train.

Last weekend I had my own Sliding Doors moment. It was the teen’s birthday (sweet sixteen, more of that to follow) and she had chosen to have ten friends over for a birthday dinner party. I was head chef, the tween was maître d and the role of waiter was to be played by teen and tweens father. This was quite a big deal. Due to the geographical distance between us, a sighting of the lesser spotted ex-husband on our patch is quite rare, however, on this occasion the stars aligned and the teen was able to have her wish of having her father at the party – albeit in a waiter-ish sort of way.

We adopted our Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey roles with alacrity. The party guests munched on smoked salmon blinis, roast chicken with dauphinoise potatoes, salted caramel profiteroles and birthday cake. They laughed, danced, sang and played games around the table. Meanwhile, on the other side of the green baize door the three of us chopped, stirred, sweated, washed up and grazed on leftovers whilst keeping an eye on the rugby on the kitchen TV.

It was amicable and comfortable and fun. It felt as if no time had passed and the years since the separation did not exist. It was how it should be, a complete family having a celebration of a special birthday. Somewhere between making the gravy and lighting the birthday candles I realized that for that one evening I was having a parallel life moment. This is how it would have been if divorce had not got in our way. This would have been our life had infidelity and poor communication kept their noses out and left us alone to navigate our marriage.

In the cold light of day I do realise that nothing is that clear cut. Our lives could have gone any number of ways, had we not failed at the hurdle we did it may have been another further down the line. But for that one evening I felt happy that we could genuinely re-create a happy family tableau for the teen. I felt cheated of the family life that I always assumed I would have. And, most of all, I felt furious for letting the whole situation make me feel so sad.

Even when you have completely moved on there are still little blips waiting in the wings to trip you up, especially where the children are involved. I guess that the life skill here is to recognise the blips for what they are, acknowledge them and float forwards. It’s not living in the past, it’s just a passing thought of ‘what if’.  A personal Sliding Doors moment, nothing more.

Millie Bday 16

The Birthday Girl

Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be?

Door LockYesterday started like a perfectly normal school holiday day. Woke at 7.00am, emptied the dishwasher while the kettle boiled for a cup of tea. Drank my tea in the peace of the morning and contemplated the day ahead – morning in the office, and afternoon taking assorted children to the overpriced and overheated fungal hell that is Splashdown Water Park.

Time for a quick shower before seizing the day. So far so good? Yes. Until I tried to exit the shower room. The door handle went up and down as normal but the door stayed shut. OK, no problem, it always was a bit sticky. I gave it a little wiggle. Still stuck. I added some wellie and wrenched it up and down. Not budging. A thin film of nervous sweat broke out all over me as I realised that there was every possibility that I was really and properly locked in. OK, keep calm. How hard can it be to get out? How about flinging myself at the door with all my might in the style of Cagney and Lacey (or Scott and Bailey for younger readers).

Ouch.

Is it me or is it really hot in here? And am I finding it hard to breathe? Opens window and leans out gulping fresh air like a mad woman. A good opportunity to be reminded that this was too far to jump and the spiked railings below might cause a problem.

I returned to the door and rattled it some more in case it had undergone a change of heart and taken pity on me. Nope. Banged and rattled it really, really hard in a very cross way.

“I was fast asleep! You woke me up! It’s 7.30am in the school holidays for gods sake”

My banging had flushed the teen from her lair.

“Oh darling, I’m so sorry to wake you”

I said

“ BUT IN CASE YOU HADN’T NOTICED I’M LOCKED IN THE BLOODY BATHROOM”

Small silence.

The teen rattles the door from the other side. “It’s stuck” she says.

Okaaay…

The next twenty minutes were spent trying a variety of useless doors opening activities – sliding a credit card in, locating hinges, synchronised rattling from both sides of the door.

Nothing.

“I’m going to call the fire brigade” she says.

“NO! DO NOT, ON ANY ACCOUNT CALL THE FIRE BRIGADE”.

I would rather have lived out the rest of my days in that bathroom, like some sort of modern day Rapunzel, than suffer the embarrassment of being rescued by a local firefighter.

The horror of possible rescue by a stranger spurred me on. The teen followed instructions and fetched a screw driver from the cupboard under the stairs. She unscrewed the outer plate and handle of the door before feeding a piece of string, well actually a hair wrap – it was all she had to hand – under the door to me. She then stood on the pavement outside the front door while I tied a hair brush to the string to weight it down and flung it out of the window. Hair brush was swapped for screwdriver and I hoisted it back up to my ceramic cell. I unscrewed my side of the door and gave a triumphant push.

Nothing happened.

Aarghh! Now I was stuck in a room with a closed door that was (a) stuck and (b) had no handles.  I was literally turning into one of these lateral thinking puzzles about locked rooms, ice blocks and Kirkby grips or some such.

By now the tween and her sleepover pal had emerged to see what the noise was and they were occupying themselves by feeding our neurotic spaniel calming dog treats to stop him whimpering and scratching at the (still firmly shut) door.

In a last surge of fury, I grabbed the screw driver and rammed the hole where the handle should have been, wiggling, poking and pushing until, finally, the door flung open and I was propelled out into the bedroom to be greeted by three pale and worried faces and one black furry one.

Thank God.

I was a free woman. No need to try and preserve my dignity whilst clambering down a ladder in nothing but a moth eaten Frankie Goes To Hollywood T-shirt. No need to make a guilty call to the landlord to explain a splintered door hanging off it’s hinges.

“At last! Can you make us breakfast now you are out?” asked the tween.

Order was restored. On with the day.

How To Survive Your School PTA

The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop them.  It was as if I had been possessed by some sort of super keen, eager to please, alter ego.  My hand shot up and I uttered the fateful words

“Yes, I’ll organise the Summer Fair, no problem”.

“WHAT??!!”

Screamed my inner self,

“You went into this committee meeting planning to stand down and you are coming out with the task of running the Summer Fair hanging over your head.  For the love of God woman, what is the matter with you?”

A very, very good question.

In the eleven years that I have been the parent of a school age child I have sat on five different PTA committees at five different schools.  Some have been fantastic, some have been dire and some hovered in the murky middle ground between the two.  At the end of the next school year my PTA days will be over as the Tween joins the Teen at high school where there is no active committee.  This is a good thing as

(a) I will feel no pressure to join up

and

(b) After many years of fairs, fetes, bingo nights, meetings, sub-meetings, quiz events, curry dos, summer balls and christmas parties; my energy, ideas and enthusiasm are on the wane.

It was in this frame of mind that I entered the most recent meeting, planning a graceful departure to make way for new blood.  As you know, this did not go to plan, and as I am sitting here, ostensibly making lists and plans for the summer fair 2015, I feel the need to share my accumulated PTA knowledge.  Here are my tips for surviving your school PTA:-

  1. Get to know your committee types for they will be present in every PTA…
  • The teaching staff reps.  Make no mistake, they do not want to be here.  Either the Head Teacher made them or they drew the short straw in the staff room ballot.  They have piles of marking, lessons to plan, homes to go to and little to no interest in fund-raising if it involves giving up their time out of working hours.
  • The old timers. They have been sitting on the same committee since time began.  Parents of large families, the time span between their oldest and youngest being at the school means that they qualify for the PTA long service award.  They are jaded, bitter, know everything and will greet every suggestion with tutting and eye rolling before dragging up an incident a thousand years ago when they tried that idea and it was a disaster.
  • The style over substance gang.  Brimming with amazing ideas and suggestions this crowd go oddly silent when actual volunteers are actually needed to actually organise stuff.
  • The why did you bother turning up brigade.  They faithfully turn up to every meeting but wouldn’t say boo to a goose and spend the whole time being completely silent and avoiding all eye contact.
  • The boardroom babes.  They either gave up a high powered job to have a family or juggle their chidlren with their executive roles.  They approach every event like a boardroom merger and would make excellent candiates on The Apprentice. They  arrive late to every meeting just to make the point of how busy they are.  Too busy, generally, to be of much physical use to anyone.
  • The work horses.  These are the ones who get the job done.  They are the same faces who appear first and leave last at every event.  They may dread every meeting and secretly fantasize about leaving but then the school buys something amazing with funds they have raised and it all somehow seems worthwhile.  The work horses are often predisposed to a bit of martyrdom but everyone make allowances.  You can’t afford to offend a work horse – who else would get the job done?

2.  Don’t imagine that your children will be proud of your PTA committment.  It is just further evidence of your continued  mission to ruin their lives.  As the Teen would say, total social suicide.

3.  Accept that PTA committee meetings are 90 minutes of your life that you will never get back.  People really can spend half an hour debating which colour raffle ticket to use.  Try to breathe through it in a zen-like fashion.  I find drawing little caricature doodles of other committee members helps pass the time.

4.  Being on the PTA will not make you the teacher’s friend. They will be no kinder, friendlier,  more or less lenient on your offspring just because you know how to fold a trestle table and can rustle up a tray of cup cakes at 20 minutes notice.

5.  Think before you speak.  On a personal level I could really benefit from this advice.  Frustrating as it is when no-one steps up to take on a task, leaping into the void to volunteer may not always be the answer.  Only take on what you can physically find time to do and remember that what sounds like a few little jobs will invariably amount to a whole lot of time and energy.  Be selective and everyone will benefit.

6.  Keep the faith.  The PTA is a pretty thankless task.  It is an endless round of trying to get people to do stuff – parents to help out at events, new members to join the committee, local business to give to raffle prizes, all your friends and family to buy the raffle tickets, pupils to bring in cakes/dress in red/wear their PJs to school.  Some of the time (OK, a lot of the time) it may feel that pushing water up a hill with a broken sieve would be both easier and more satisfying. Don’t give up.  When the whole school community is on the field in the sunshine for the summer fair, or when your child/ren are in the midst of a sweaty mass leaping around in the hall at the PTA disco, or when the Head Teacher takes possession of a brand new minibus that you helped raise money to buy – then it will be worth it.

Take a breath, enjoy the afterglow, and bottle that feeling for the next time you are about to pen your committee resignation letter.  Oh, and make sure you don’t leave your doodled caricartures lying around the staff room.  People don’t seem to see the funny side…

PTA

For the Love of Lists

I had coffee with a friend the other day and as we were finishing up to leave, I asked her what she had planned for the rest of the day.  She got out her phone and read through the list of things she was hoping to achieve.  It went something like this, “Go to post office, buy Euros, return trainers, empty laundry basket, go to supermarket, paint front door, mend dishwasher, cut grass, clean out chickens, tidy greenhouse,” I stopped her there “Whoa!  Hang on a minute, did you say paint front door, mend dishwasher, cut grass and clean out greenhouse?  As well as all the other, marginally less time consuming jobs on that list?”  Bear in mind that it was already gone midday, and said friend had three children arriving home from school in little over three hours, all requiring food and attention.  “Do you think you are being a little optimistic?” I asked, tentatively.  With the best will in the world, the painting of the front door was probably going to take up most of her available time before she had even considered the chickens, grass and greenhouse.

It got us chatting about lists and list making and I had to make full disclosure that I am, officially, an OCD listaholic. I can’t survive a day without a list, I have daily lists, weekly lists, themed lists, lifetime lists.  I even have lists that detail the lists I need to make.  they are all stored in what is ‘affectionately’ known as my Bossy Book, notebooks that are my daily bible for getting stuff done.  I never throw a Bossy Book away and have over ten years worth sitting on my shelf.  My recent discovery of Evernote means I can fuel my terrible cravings even further – I can now make lists when I am walking the dog, in the car, at the supermarket…I need never have list anxiety again.

Lists

A 10 year archive of lovely lists.

I do realise that my addiction is a bit extreme, but I am a firm believer that some sort ‘thought filing’ is really helpful in the navigation of life and the hundreds of tasks, of all sizes, that we have to complete from one week to the next.  I used to just have one massive ongoing list but, psychologically, it was not a good thing to never be able to tick off all the things on it.  So I split the lists up and now, on a good day, I manage to complete every thing on my daily list and that gives a great sense of achievement – never mind that the twenty other lists are all a bit light on the tick front. While I was incredulous at my friend’s list that day, I still totally got it.  I think I just need to give her some guidance in prioritising and themeing. Now that sounds like a good idea for a new business, ‘List Angels – Let us Lick Your Lists into Shape’.  Quick, I need to write that down, where’s my column for ‘Life Altering Monday Making Ideas?’

Are you a list lover?

A Guest Post From The Teen

Today I am delighted (I think?) to bring you a guest post from the teen.  This is the first in her new series of blog posts detailing the various indignities she has to suffer as  a member of this family.  Never let it be said that I do not encourage freedom of speech!  Take it away Millie…

I’m the teen, the so-called ‘feisty one’. It’s not necessarily that I’m feisty but just VERY opinionated. This means that I don’t like being wrong; being told what to do, or being less than first place, and in a family of girls (excluding the dog) this is by no means a good thing, in fact it’s a very bad thing because we are all exactly the same.

The first family issue that I would like to ‘bring to the table’ so to speak, is the oh so irritating, insane making and infuriating… dog voice. This is a repeat offence in our household and it may be the number one trigger of my renowned door slamming and face-palming. For some reason, I cannot seem to comprehend the idea that:

1) The dog is understanding what you are saying to him more clearly due to the ‘ickle bickle tickle your tummy’ voice

and

2) That people seem to think he cares and can solve all the problems (personally I’m surprised that there isn’t a vote for dogs in the election but that’s a whole new topic)!

The best occasions in family arguments are when no one talks directly to each other any more and it’s got to the stage where the conversation takes place through the dog.

For example:

The Tween: [cue dog voice] “Oh little manny why isn’t mummy letting me have five more minutes of TV, isn’t she a meanie”

Dorset Divorcee: [from the other side of the kitchen] “Harry, Clover doesn’t seem to understand what sleep is – why isn’t she as well-behaved as you”

The Teen: [butting in and definitely NOT in the dreaded dog voice] “ THE DOG CAN’T TALK”

Dorset Divorcee and The Tween including a magically appearing pantomime crowd: “GASP, how dare you, don’t listen poochy [boo hiss].

And that concludes the majority of our family evening meals, as you can see, it is quite a challenge to be me but I’m a brave soldier and I battle on!

Until next time,

Millie. x

Harry and his toys2

Sunday Lunch

I love Sunday lunch, I always have.  Growing up in our house Sunday lunch was a big deal – a chance for family, extended family, friends and visitors to get together and swap news, laugh, celebrate, remember, argue, and – of course – eat and drink. I have carried this tradition on now that I have my own family and most weeks we will have Sunday lunch.  More often than not it is a roast chicken around the kitchen table, but every now and again it is a grander affair – yesterday was one of those times.

Sunday Lunch Table Collage

I love the ritual and ceremony of the Sunday roast.  The morning spent preparing veg to the gentle burble of Radio 2.  Setting the table with extra care, fishing out some linen instead if the usual kitchen paper.  The waft of cooking smells that make your mouth water and the first sip of ice cold wine once you know that everything is in the oven and on schedule.

Sunday Lunch Main Yesterday we had roast Dorset beef from our local butcher with all the trimmings.  Crisp roasties, pillowy Yorkshires, buttery greens and tangy cauliflower gratin.  A huge jug of marsala gravy and we were good to go.

Sunday Lunch Pudding

Even though you think you are full, there is always room for pudding!  I love to have a chocolate and lemon combo on the table and yesterday lemon meringue pie and chocolate brownies fitted the bill perfectly.  One light and fruity, the other rich and sweet – both with a dollop of smooth, thick cream.

Sunday Lunch Finished

Weirdly, I even quite enjoy the post-lunch clearing up.  Just me and the radio (4 Extra for a good play or Radio 1 if I’m feeling in a ‘down with the kids’ mood) and the chance to put my thoughts in  row and plan the week ahead.  When it’s  all washed up there is nothing better than than cup of tea with the papers.

Do you have any favourite mealtime rituals?

Hedgehog Happiness

hedgehog1

I don’t think wildlife photography is my forte but you get the idea…

When I was out walking the dog yesterday we came across a little hedgehog ambling across the field.  All of a sudden I felt about ten years old again – it was so exciting to see an actual live hedgehog!  After I had got Harry back on his lead (he was heading for a a very prickly mouthful at top speed, I think he thought it was a ball) I crouched down so that I could take some pictures of my new spiky friend.  He was a very amiable chap, although to be fair I don’t know if he was a chap – how do you sex a hedgehog?  It wasn’t wearing a Mrs Tiggywinkle style pinny and mop cap so I’m guessing he was a Mr not a Ms.

Anyway I took some pictures and a bit of video and we carried on walking, feeling full of the joys of nature.  I wondered to myself why I was so pleased to have seen it?  When I was a child hedgehogs were only ever referred to as the subject of a “Not the Nine O Clock News” sketch or filthy things that bring fleas into the garden, so there are no fond childhood memories lurking in the background.  Maybe it is just because they are more creatures of the night, it was a surprise to find one in broad daylight in the middle of a field.

I rushed home and burst through the door to show the teen and the tween my photographic evidence but because it was not being shown to them on a You Tube channel their interest was limited.  I’m think of starting my own You Tube channel where I will upload videos of all the things I want my children to take notice of, my demonstrations of how to make a packed lunch and operate the hoover will go viral and young people all over the world will discover it is cool to do chores…watch this space.

Anyway, this morning my mum came over for coffee.

‘Oh look’

I say

‘at my very lovely picture of this cute hedgehog we saw on our dog walk!’

‘Hope you didn’t get too close’

she says

‘filthy things, full of fleas’.

A Cure For A Blue Morning

Studland BeachOn Sunday morning I woke up feeling a bit ‘what’s it all about’.  Not a serious, full on, can’t get out of bed mood, but there was a definite heaviness about me as I struggled to full conciousness.  Those of you who have had the misfortune to have suffered any kind of depressive episode, from low mood to clinical depression, will know that at the top of all the advice lists around are three things – distraction, exercise and fresh air. In fact one of my own (many) home baked mantras is ‘occupation is the enemy of depression,’ as I do know that when left completely to my own devices I could be very correctly accused of naval gazing, and we all know that no good ever comes of that.

So, I undertook a quick Dr.Dorset Divorcee self diagnosis:-

Q: Had I woken up feeling a bit blue?

A: Yes

Q: Was I so bad that only prescribed chemicals would help?

A: No – this was not a Prozac moment

Q: Did I need to shake my arse and do something lovely with my children and my dog until the feeling passed?

A: Yes

Diagnosis – Sometimes life gets on top of you

Prescription – Fresh air and exercise (see, I told you that’s what they always say)

Two hours later we were all three (plus dog) up, dressed and loading the car for a trip to one of our favourite Dorset beaches, Studland, near Swanage.  Studland is the most fabulous beach, a sweeping sandy bay backed by soft sand dunes thick with coconut scented gorse and long elegant grasses.  Further on behind the dunes you head into  beautiful woodland with a network of paths and loads of hidden places for making dens and camps.  The whole area is owned and operated by the National Trust, so it is really well maintained and operated, and members get free parking which is always a bonus.

We had packed some sandwiches at home and we found ourselves a sheltered patch of sand to sit and eat our lunch.  It was a lovely sunny day but the wind was cold and as we munched we were totally entertained by the quintessentially British tableau around us.  Every aspect of the clothing scale was covered. There were people swimming in the sea, yes actually swimming, and not in wet suits either.  There were groups of hikers striding out in chino shorts and walking boots, maps proudly held in a plastic wallet hung round their necks like some sort of orienteering talisman. There were dog walkers wrapped up in coats, scarves and wellies, and teenagers in teeny tiny shorts and crop tops.  J Boden esq. was well represented in the stripy clothed Yummy Mummy department, and there was a fair smattering of silver foxes strolling along, cashmere sweaters draped casually over their shoulders.  It was odd and funny and interesting and somehow made me glad to be British in a strange sort of way.

We strode out along the sand, stopping when we reached the naturist section of the beach.  I wasn’t wearing my glasses (thankfully) but the teen reliably informed me that yes, there were some wrinkles in the nuddy sheltering behind a wind break.  We struck out inland through the dunes and on into the woods making a full circle back to the coffee shop for our first beach ice cream of Summer 2015.

As we sat, eating our ice creams feeling the sun on our faces, I took some final lungfuls of sea air and could feel my mood lifting.  Operation Cure for a Blue Morning was complete.  Those lists were right, godammit.

Girls at the beach

The First Record You Ever Bought?

I was listening to Chris Evans in the car this morning and there was much talk of vinyl records. Apparently this Saturday is Record Store Day (www.recordstoreday.co.uk) which will celebrate all the independent record stores in the UK – I’ve no idea how many of these stores still exist but there are over 200 participating in the inaugural RSD (UK) this weekend which is a bit of a surprise in the age of the iPod. Anyway, the whole topic took me into a total school run reverie as I went down memory lane thinking about my own vinyl history. I can very clearly remember my first ever 7” single at the age of 10 years old – it was ‘To Be or Not to Be’ BA Robertson (Scottish chap – big nose, bigger hair) which I forced my older brother to go and buy for me. He was, to put it mildly, not very keen to be seen buying such an uncool tune but I think I threw a massive strop and he must have relented for the sake of a quiet life.

BA Robertson

A dubious start to my record buying journey

Now 1 Cover

The first ever “Now That’s What I Call…” record. I bought it from a stall at the market – it was SO exciting to have all your favourite songs on one album.

As I got older and had pocket money burning a hole in my purse I progressed to buying my own records. I grew up in the seaside town of Littlehampton where our local independent store was called Nova Records; there was nothing better than diving in there on a Saturday morning and choosing which chart 7” to take home. Even better if the Lyrics were featured in the latest issue Smash Hits magazine.  Albums were more pricey and generally put on the birthday and Christmas wish list – the joy of ripping off the wrapping paper to find your longed for double LP with fantastic photos and artwork and maybe even a special foldy out bit if you were really lucky.

Kids in America single   plus smash hits   pluspaddle-brush-imgequalskaraoke I took my record collection with me when I left home and carted it around with me as I moved from flat to flat and job to job, it was a bit like a comfort blanket – a musical timeline of my life. Then, when we were all the grip of CD fever and vinyl was suddenly passé, I had a de-cluttering fit and chucked the whole lot away. Everything. Grease, Blondie, Echo and the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Cult, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Smiths, INXS, The Thompson Twins, Elvis Costello…the eclectic list goes on and on. I didn’t even try to sell them or give them away – they just went on the tip. I know that Je should regret rien but Je REALLY regrets doing that.

needle            record stack

Now it seems like we are almost coming full circle. The teen’s best friend got a record player for her birthday and they all marvel at the total coolness of buying a vinyl disc and making sound come out by spinning it under a needle. At the moment they are buying records online but I think I might have to take them an actual store so that they can experience the sensation of flipping through the stacks themselves rather than just touching a button to buy. Maybe I’ll start all over again with my own collection, possibly without B.A. Robertson this time. Can you remember the first record you ever bought?

Loneliness and the Single Parent

At the time of writing this I have not had a face to face conversation with another human being for almost five days. I have had a deliciously long chat with an old friend, caught up with my brother and checked in with my parents but all by phone or, in the case of my children who are away with their father, FaceTime and text.

Now I have written it down in black and white I am quite embarrassed. Does it make me seem like some billy no-mates saddo? A lonely recluse with only a spaniel for company? The truth is that public holidays are hard when you are on your own. In normal day-to-day life we are carried along from one necessity to the next – school run to work to supermarket to after school clubs etc. etc. etc. Everyone is buzzing around doing their own thing, bumping into each other for a chat, arranging a sneaky coffee or night out. Take the structure out of the scenario and it all falls apart. To begin with, holidays like Easter are family times. Your friends who are usually up for a chat or a dog walk are all holed up roasting lamb and hunting Easter eggs. If my children were here I would probably be doing exactly that. But they are not and so I am alone in the house in deafening silence (who’d have thought I would actually yearn for the sound of a slammed door?) trying to be productive but actually feeling pretty gloomy.

It seems I am not alone in feeling alone, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron. In July 2014 the Office for National Statistics released the results of a survey that showed Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe – the benchmarks being having someone to rely on in a crisis and knowing, or being friendly with, your neighbours. In the same year the University of Chicago conducted some research and discovered that in elderly people loneliness is almost twice as bad for health as obesity, and, according to Age UK two fifths of older people in the UK (about 3.9 million) count the television as their main form of company. The University College London tells us that elderly people who are lonely are also almost 50% more likely to die before their more gregarious contemporaries. Great. It’s looking like I’m doing to die young and fat whilst sitting in front of the telly. Lucky me.

The younger generation are not excluded from this equation. Even though life is increasingly governed by social media, the average 18-24 year old can’t fart without posting it online to hundreds of ‘friends’, the valuable soul food of face to face contact is diminishing rapidly and, in 2010, the Mental Health Foundation declared loneliness to be an even greater concern among young people than the elderly. The 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55.

So, it turns out I am nothing special. There are lonely people all over the place, all hidden away behind closed front doors thinking that they are the only ones. If someone else had written this post and I was reading it I would probably come over all no-nonsense agony aunt and suggest taking up a hobby or doing some voluntary work. But, actually, when it is you sitting and wondering how you seem to have gone from social butterfly to social recluse it is not quite so easy.

I Have Blog Envy

No-one likes to admit to being jealous but I need to confess that the green-eyed monster has taken up residence in my house recently.  I have total blog envy. Not of one, particular blog – I’m not some sort of creepy cyber stalker – but of all the lovely, entertaining, WELL ESTABLISHED blogs that I am discovering each day of my own, new, blogging journey.  When I decided to start a blog at the beginning of the year I had absolutely no idea of the world that awaited me.  No idea of the amazing network of people up and down the country sharing their lives and talents with each other on a daily basis.  I had even less idea of how what was supposed to be an occasional outlet for a bit of writing would become almost an obsession.  Or that I would be lying awake thinking about likes, Twitter followers and DA scores.

The trouble is, I am not terribly good at being patient.  I hate gardening because things take so long to grow, I am more of an instant gratification type than someone who is good at playing the long game.  Equally, I really hate being the new girl.  Coming onto the blogging scene feels a bit like when I changed secondary schools at the age of 14; standing in the playground alone and nervous while all the cool kids lounged around in little gangs exuding we-were-here-before-you-ness and we-know-the-ropes-and-you-don’t-ness.  What I need to remind myself is that it wasn’t long before I was in the gang and, as for the garden, all the things I have planted have grown into beautiful flowers.  Am I going mad in metaphor land here?

Basically, I am frustrated with being a newbie and in awe of the tremendous work that people have put into their blogging.  Will I be able to do the same?  I hope so, although I am already struggling  with working full-time, racing around after the teen and tween, and trying to grow a blog all at once – how do people do it and fit in sleeping as well?

So, I offer thanks to Older Single Mum, Who’s the Mummy, Hannah Gale, You Baby Me Mummy, The Secret Divorcee, Slummy Single Mummy,  and The Ramblings of a Formerly Rock ‘n’ Roll Mum (to name but a few) for being the cool kids and inspiring me to up my game and, please, if you have any tips for a time poor but enthusiastic new girl – send them my way.

My Favourite Poem

WPDToday is World Poetry Day. World Poetry Day (or WPD to it’s nearest and dearest, which, for the purpose of this post, is us) came about in 1999 when UNESCO were sitting for their 30th session in Paris, France. On their website http://www.un.org, UNESCO state that one of the main objectives of WPD is to …

“recognize the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.”

It is also to promote the teaching of poetry and basically make people sit up and have a think about poetry and it’s place in our culture.

I can’t claim to be any sort of Literati type, I don’t have a degree in English Language or an MA in Poetry which, I reckon, makes me the target audience for WPD. So I thought I would post my favourite poem of all time “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith. I love this poem for many reasons – it was a piece I performed for my Theatre Arts A-Level back in the dark ages and I am grateful to the lecturer who introduced me to it. As I have grown up and negotiated life’s curve balls the words have stayed with me and there have been dark moments when the message behind the poem rang very true. Equally, as the trickier times have passed I hold onto the words as a sign of what I have come through and survived and, in fact, I almost called this Blog “Not Drowning but Waving” in homage.

So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it here is my No.1 verse in honour of World Poetry Day.  Do you have a favourite poem?  I’d love to hear what it is.

 Not Waving but Drowning

By Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

Should Your Teen Go To Work?

Cash Jar2Big news this week, the teen has got a job.  Well, actually, the prospect of  few jobs which was a surprise to us all.  Bringing up two children on one salary does have some challenges and one of these is that we don’t have the level of disposable income that a lot of our contemporaries do.  I find myself saying ‘no’ much more than ‘yes’ and non essential purchases tend to get relegated to the bottom of the list every month.  The teen finds this particularly hard as she is immersed in the painful quagmire of adolescence where it REALLY DOES MATTER what you wear/bag you carry/phone you use.  So, not being one to moan without taking action, she did exactly that.  A letter was written and a CV was drafted (no mean feat when you have only been on the earth for 15 years,  she put in a photo to fill a bit of space).  We did a little bit of Google research and six letters and CVs were duly posted out first class.  I spent the next 24 hours doing a lot of pre-emptive damage limitation.  She shouldn’t be upset if no-one replied, they get thousands of enquiries for work, people are too busy to reply etc.  I figured that whatever happened it was a good exercise in early job hunting but equally didn’t want her to be totally disheartened at the first hurdle.  Well, it turns out I needn’t have had the sleepless night as within 36 hours she had received three, yes three, positive replies – that is a 50% success rate!  A swift about turn was now necessary as I followed congratulations with plenty of caveats about how fortunate she was and that it was unlikely that proper, grown up life would be that jammy.  I know, I’m a rotten killjoy. Anyway, as an aside, all the people who contacted her commented on the CV and the fact that she had written an actual letter and put it in the post rather than dashing off an email which is, apparently, the norm these days.  So all is well, the teen’s bank account will soon be topped up as she has secured two lots of seasonal work and is having a trial this weekend for what will be a regular Sunday gig.  What can I over-think now?  Oh yes – the ethics of the whole thing.  Should she, at the tender age of 15, be going out to work?  Especially as she is working to buy things that I can’t afford to get for her?  There are quite strict guidelines in place about children working, the http://www.gov.uk website has a comprehensive list including not working for more than four hours without a break, before 7am or after 7pm, or more than 12 hours a week during term time, but, let’s face it, I’m not sending her up a chimney or down a mine.  My gut feeling is that this a great opportunity to discover the value of money – will she spend it as freely when it is hard earned rather than just coming out of my purse?  I suspect that we will have a bit of a learning curve as homework will have to be prioritized in the remaining non-school/non-work hours, and I’m sure that once the novelty wears off there will be some days where she has to be prised out of bed (she is only human after all).  I think that my part of the deal, other than ferrying her to and from the workplace, will be to keep an eye for signs of over tiredness or suffering school work and step in if need be.  A case of suck it and see and another reminder that bringing up children is a constant stream of milestones, from potty training to first jobs, each has it’s own set of challenges but also it’s own set of rewards.

On Being A Tenant

For Rent

I was just reading the latest post from The Ramblings of a Formerly Rock ‘N’ Roll Mum and it rang so true.  Miss Cisco is looking for a new home which, when you are a renter not an owner, is about as stressful as it gets.  I have the misfortune to rent, I have for some years and will be for some to come, certainly while I am on a single income and raising a family.  There are a few (very few) advantages to being a tenant.  When something goes wrong like the boiler breaking or a fence blowing down then a call to the agent or landlord will sort it at their expense.  I have had to suffer many well meaning friends trilling ‘oh I do so envy you not having to worry about the maintenance of a property’; (at this point it is quite hard not to throw my cup of coffee at the walls that they had free choice to paint).  It also gives you the freedom to move around quite easily which is handy if life takes you that way or you just get itchy feet.  Beyond that I’m struggling to find anything else for the pros list…  The cons list is lengthy and I won’t embark on every entry as I will probably end up dribbling and twitching like the policeman in the Inspector Clouseau films, you know the one?  At the moment I am grumbling about one particularly hideous aspect of renting – the INSPECTION.  This is a recent atrocity as I have only encountered it since moving to Dorset, maybe South West landlord and agents have an extra special tenant humiliation pact going on?  Those of you fortunate enough to be surrounded by your own (mortgaged) bricks and mortar may wonder what I’m talking about.  Basically, every three months I have to welcome a letting agent – possibly someone I’ve met possibly not – into what is, for the duration of the tenancy our home, and let them poke around with a check list.  I have to stand like a boarder at a convent school while a stranger conducts the residential equivalent of the regulation school knicker check.  Is it not bad enough the the letting industry in the UK is designed to make all tenants feel like second class citizens without having to suffer this indignity as well?  I am 45 years old, I am happily raising two children alone, a successful career behind me, I run a business, why should I have to stand by as a spotty youth looks to see if my kitchen floor is clean?  The attitude to renting a property in the UK is quite unlike anywhere else in Europe.  My brother and his family live in Milan where they enjoy an undisturbed life in their rented apartment in what is a reasonable and grown up business arrangement between them and the landlord.  They are not inferior beings for not being on the property ladder and nor are they made to jump through various hoops of humiliation for the pleasure of paying into someone else’s pension fund.  Isn’t it about time that the UK population changed it’s attitude? There are over 8.5 million people renting a home in England, surely we can’t all be potential evictees?