Monday, 15 September 2014

A late summer walk too beautiful for photos

Sun was sinking slowly and lighting the fluffy floating seeds as it went. Boy Three and I were walking home through the still, mild evening. 

This'll make a lovely photo. 

But then, Boy Three's hot sticky fingers squeezed mine. "Mum do you promise to hold my hand all the way home?"

"Of course I do. If you want."

It was quiet for a while. Over-blown flower-heads teetered on mottled stems swaying slightly as we passed. A spider strolled down its web. 

How pretty. 

"It's like the Bear Hunt, mummy."

"How's that?"

"Swishy, swashy in the long grass."

But it wasn't grass, he was swishing the crispy orange leaves as he walked. "Swoosh," he kicked a swathe. 

I wonder if he'd do that again when I get my phone camera out...

"Listen," we paused by the fence. "Wow, that's noisy." The calf was industriously cropping the grass. Then it noticed us and came to breathe loudly and blink liquid black eyes. 

Boy Three breathed heavily in return and began to slink back behind me, still clutching my hand. 

"It's OK. He's just nosy. He just wants to see what we are doing. Imagine how boring it must be stuck in that field all day."

A rasping crow swooped low, wheeled and landed on the telegraph post.

Cow, crow and boy gazing was a fabulous composition, with the dropping sun. 

"Come on mum," he led me past bulbous brambles and glossy hips.

"I wish I could whistle," a change of conversation. Perhaps the quiet called for it. So we fuffed and blew for a bit. 

Suddenly tears filled Boy Three's eyes. "I can't click my fingers either," he nearly wailed demonstrating a pudgy non-click.

"I can only do it with one hand," I confessed. And it's true, though I only discovered it then. We practiced non-clicking for a while. It's more of a rustle. 

If only I could capture the whiskery thistle tops and the down on the willow herb, like what's left of old men's hair. That and the boy's concentration.

But Boy Three had dropped, squatting to the ground. "It's a dead slug, mum," he poked it with a stick. 

"Oh yes. So it is."

"We're nearly home, aren't we?"

"Yes. Thank you for walking with me."

"'Sok. Can I have an ice cream?"

"Yes," but he'd set off running.

And that is why there weren't any pictures of the most beautiful evening. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Five ways blogging is better than sex...

What has the solitary and sanitary act of blogging got to do with the intimate, messy business of sex? 

One you do by yourself in front of a computer and the other is an online diary. *Groan*

Heavy-handed metaphor by banoootah_qtr via Flickr
But actually the similarity exists and it's to do with the affect a good blog has on your brain. Your grey matter responds the same to positive social media reactions as it does to an orgasm or love. 



Which, of course, got me thinking. Sex v blogging. Blogging v sex. There's only one way to find out....

Without Harry Hill on hand, you'll have to take my word for it. Here are five ways blogging is better than sex: 

If you've got a circle of friends that you made through sex, the chances are you have, erm, specialist tastes and a high tolerance to risk. That's not the case with blogging - or most blogs anyway. It's a great - and socially acceptable - way of making friends. One you can tell your mum about. It might be vanilla, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Blogging always makes you feel better. If you say that about sex, then you're in the minority for whom the shoe the handsome prince was wandering about with was made. For everyone else, mostly, it's great but sometimes, it's rubbish. Blogging, on the other hand...

There's nothing much safer than blogging. You don't even need to expose yourself to the risks associated with getting off the sofa and visiting the biscuit tin, if you don't want to. 

Blogging lets you share whatever you want with whoever you fancy, whereas sex... well let's just say that sharing isn't always a good thing. 

You never know where blogging is going to take you. There may be invitations, gifts, meetings and lots of wonderful experiences. It's the other way round for sex. There's often the hope that invitations, free things, meetings and wonderful experiences will take you to sex... or at least for some people. 

And I can honestly say no one has given me a vacuum cleaner for my sex life and I'm certain that if they did I'd be considerably less pleased than when I got one to blog about. 





Sunday, 7 September 2014

Scottish independence referendum: Things I've learned


Not long now. In a fortnight we'll know whether we're in or out, yes or no, back to normal (ish) or beginning the end (or beginning depending on how you view it).

The Scottish Independence Referendum is just around the corner. You might have noticed.

In a field not far from us over the past week, much of the debate has been encapsulated by some sign shenanigans observed from the car as I whizzed past.
  • One day a No sign appeared, nailed to a wooden frame. 
  • The next day, the No sign was in bits, the frame all splintered. 
  • In the morning the sign was back - more nails. 
  • By the following dawn it was down again. In a cow pat. 
  • On the final day No was re-installed on a new frame, in a ditch, behind a fence. 
  • It's still there... for now. 

This is the only situation where all this referendum stuff has led to fence building. It has, however, been an education. Here's what I learned:

Shouting is not a replacement for meaningful discussion - though some people evidently think so. There have been a couple of TV debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. The most outstanding feature of these bouts was the level of shouting, talking over each other and hectoring. When my children communicate like this, I send them to their rooms.

Conflict makes me anxious. Not actually a new thing, but given how easily and quickly heat is being drawn on the topic of the referendum, one that's been easy to observe and consider.

Politics can get interesting. Honest. We all know that government is important but most of us just can't be bothered with much of it. Sure, we read the headlines and recognise the players but after a bit... yawn. At the moment though there's hardly a lunch queue, a bus stop, a bar, a taxi or waiting room that isn't full of the issues. We're interested and we care and that doesn't happen very often. You'd even call it a buzz. I wonder if it will continue.

But independence isn't a political thing. It's not about who's in charge of which party or even which party is in charge. In or out of the UK is a constitutional matter.

Feelings about identity and roots are important. From my vantage point on the fence of indecision much of the debate is charged by who and what people believe they are. I'm a northern Brit from the area around the border between England and Scotland. My ancestors were probably Reivers.

Feelings about security and money are important. Still up here getting splinters in my bum. How much I'll earn, what will the interest rates be, how safe is my job, his job, and so on? What will it be like for our kids? Boring, grown-up considerations, but the kind of thing that wakes middle-aged folk up in the night.

No one knows exactly how things will be in the event of Yes. One more time for the hard of thinking - no one knows what will happen with currencies, EU membership, border crossings, the BBC, the armed forces and the national debt. All a Yes vote means for certain is that negotiations can start.

We all know there will be lots of chaos, noise and cost in the event of a Yes. Imagine the most ferocious divorce ever where both parties has more stuff to separate than anyone know, huge teams of lawyers know they could be earning enough to retire on and hundreds and hundreds of interferring aunts, grannies, best mates and people in the supermarket keep butting in with their opinions. That's only part of how it's going to be. And no one's going to remember to think of the kids.The question is whether you think it's worth it or not.

No one knows exactly what opportunities would be missed in the event of a No. Except there will be some. A deflating sense of letting the One get away will infect everyone for quite a long time.

The excitement and passion of a wonderful new future are very tempting. Think - it'll be wonderful and bright. There will be fairness and opportunity. Wealth and pride. It's a bit like the flights of fantasy you're inspired to by the better roomsets in Ikea. Hours later with a pulled muscle from trying to get a flatpack sideboard into a Ford Focus and screwdriver blisters on your palms, you realise the new wardrobe doesn't quite fill the space you thought it would. Then you stub your toe on the old furniture you haven't got round to taking to the dump yet. But your looks much better, doesn't it?

Agreeing to differ is harder than it should be. Either there's an unspoken arrangement never to mention it, or there isn't. And where there isn't someone - or everyone - will feel sore and sorry that someone brought it up.

It would be lovely if the grown-ups would arrive and take charge. This is a big deal, what happens in less than a fortnight will have repercussions for generations. It's like history, but, for once, the outcome is down to us. I wonder how many other people would like older wiser people (certainly not politicians) to turn up and tell us what to do.






Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wife hacks: tips to get it all done... please

It didn't used to be like this. I'm sure I remember a time of long evenings, packed with productivity or leisure, or both even. The hours were slack with potential.

Not now though - every day sprints away before even a fraction on the things on the list get crossed out. Kipling may well have urged sixty seconds' worth of distance run, but I wonder if he tried to do it while organising a family, keeping squalor at bay and maintaining matrimonial sparkle.

I wonder if he'd have got poetic about the reams of instructions arriving home daily in school bags.

Nah. It's unlikely he'd have been interrupted in his achievements by a fraternal squabble or missing Lego superhero limb. 

It's easier to be wise and wordy when no one depends on you to actually wipe their arses.

However, I have always been inspired by his sentiment to strive to cover the distance, only these days I'm diverted up the cul de sacs of laundry and into the traffic jams of waiting in for a repair person.

I either need minions or a wife
Given that a team of minions is almost certainly not amassing around the corner ready to march in and start working through my to-do list, I need some help. 

The best solution would - obviously - be to find myself a housewife. Someone whose job it is to do all the domestic stuff, to look after me and the kids and then to sooth my fevered brow and care about my day. Unaccountably no one wants that (unpaid) job, though I can see why some of the chaps wanted to hang on to the notion for so long. If I had one I'd be less than chuffed about emancipation too. 

Instead I'm begging for advice from those of you who've slogged up this hill before me and reached the lush pastures that must surely be at the top. 

How do you get it all done when you've got a job and a family? Or at least enough of it so you can sit down at the end of the day without a sense of defeat at the lagoon of chaos?

I love Lifehacker. The time I've spent marvelling at how you can use an old business card to put your mascara on or smart ways to reuse rubbish to revolutionise your life.

Look, this post tells me about the only eight kitchen cleaners I'll ever need. That suggests you might know eight different ways of cleaning your kitchen. No? Me neither. 

And take five minutes to read about 10 ways to make your office look cleaner than it really is... in the time it would take you to make a start on reading it. 

I'm a sucker for a short cut, even if it doesn't actually make the journey shorter. 

But now with a new full-time job and three boys at school, I'm going to have to find some hacks that actually work. 

Clearly I'm not alone. Other people manage it - and probably have time to stuff a mushroom too. So how do you do it? Please tell me what corners you cut and which sneaky tricks you perform to get through the days...

I'm trying to find the wife hacks - the ones that make it seem like there's a wife in a pinny sorting it all out behind me. 

Can you help?



I

Monday, 18 August 2014

Go Ape Aberfoyle: Hanging around in the trees

"Go Ape," the signs urge all the way through sleepy Aberfoyle on a slightly damp Sunday morning. It's hard to imagine the crimplened coach passengers (the only others on the main road at the time) going even a very little bit monkey. 

Pondering this we - Boys One, Two and I, arrived at beautiful Forest Visitor Centre. The day was clearing and there was a whiff of coffee on the air. Lovely. 

However, before I could settle down with a latte and the scenery, I found myself agreeing to supervise my sons on a "potentially dangerous activity". So what's new?


But then, we were being fitted into harnesses and shown how to clip a series of caribiners onto various things "so you don't plummet". And then we were departing, one-by-one by zip-wire to the other side of the valley. "You'll land at running speed," said the man in charge. I don't even like running at running speed. 

However, zipping over the treetops was actually quite magical and the landing very soft and not even too undignified. 

There followed an exhilarating couple of hours of clipping, climbing, scrambling, zipping and, a couple of times, stepping out into the nothing. 

Boy Two said: "It was awesome. Especially coming out of the tree line. It was an amazing experience. The best."

Boy One, laid back as ever, said: "I wouldn't go that far, but it was pretty fun." 

Boy One - the abridged version

Boy Two took the scenic route

Going up in the world

Branching out...

Sensible view of part of the Go Ape course

Lesser spotted brothers not making faces or fighting.

Here's what we learned:

You can't Go Ape unless you are over 10 and taller than this.

It does feel like flying. On the long zip wires, if you look down rather than up, you get the sensation of soaring through the trees. Very cool. Thanks to Jim for that tip. 

Mum's not such a big wimp. Egged on by Boy Two it was impossible to dodge the Big Daddy Tarzan Swing. I only squealed a bit. 

Bum shuffling into the abyss is easier. Striding off the edge of a lofty platform is quite hard to do, but squatting down or sitting and edging off the side less so. 

Women are better designed than women. If you don't believe me, compare the expressions (and gaits) of men and women getting off a zip slide wearing a climbing harness. 

The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is lovely. Go visit, climb Ben A'an. Soak in the sights, but don't for get your midgie lotion. 

A little adrenaline goes a long way. And that's the beauty of Go Ape, it's mind-focusing and challenging, but not traumatising.

Go Ape is a great idea. Much more fun than visiting shops that sell tartan and tweed. Would someone nip on to those buses and tell the visitors that...

Disclosure: We were invited to Go Ape to try it out and report back here, but we'll certainly be back. 





Saturday, 16 August 2014

Snowflakes of fear


It starts with a chill, prickling shift. Loitering behind, just out of sight. A malevolent whiff, fast and sneaky.

The fear.

I'm not talking about what you get from the roller coaster, the latest Stephen King or sitting alone with Blair Witch again. Neither is it the heebie jeebies brought on by arachnids, heights, clowns or even drill-toting dentists. Not, as it happens, that I'm susceptible - not even a twitch. 

And it's not found where the danger lies, the precarious or the broken. Proper horrors come out of the blue, finding you unawares and smothering you suddenly. Only later when the pain ebbs enough to allow thought, you know fear was the least of it. 

Instead my fear stalks the ordinary. The latte and catch ups, the kisses on children's heads, and the homeward drives at sunset. That's when it pounces, inky fast and intense.

But stop me when my heart is pounding so loudly I can't hear the birds singing and I'll look confused. "I don't know. It's nothing."

Nothing. Nothing you can hold or chase down and catch.

For a heartbeat. Boom, it blooms. A snowflake landed on a warm dark sleeve. Solid, intricate and, fleeting.

The house will burn down. The car will crash. The tests come back abnormal.
I'm frightened of the news following the ringing phone. 
I'm scared of the random and the brutal. 
I'm anxious about the truth - but more so the lies. 
I'm dismayed by the news - why not me next. 
I'm suspicious of contentment, paranoid about love. 

What if it happens? What if I'm wrong? How will I know? Can I be strong?

And then it's gone. Away. Melted without a trace. In a heart beat. Beaten. 



This post was written in response to the prompt 'fear' set by @Post40bloggers
Pic by ChaoticMinds75 via Flickr.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Karcher cordless broom K65 review

On the face of it an electric broom sounds brilliant, like a laundry that sorts itself or children who wipe their own faces.

And I'm always on the lookout for anything that minimises domestic effort (mine) and increases domestic bliss (also mine), as no matter how hard I have tried to change things, housework, apparently, is my department.

So I was delighted when Karcher sent me a new labour-saving device to review. Then I stopped to have a think and ask myself: what have we got here? A vacuum cleaner that doesn't suck or what? How can this be any good?

It's not that I don't have need for such a miracle. My kitchen floor gets swept every day by a brush and dustpan driven by yours truly. The resultant crumbs, peas, Lego bricks and loom bands get emptied into the bin before the brush and dustpan get put away. Not such a huge chore and much less effort than getting the vacuum cleaner out from enormous mountain of bags for life in the cupboard under the stairs.

My biggest problem with the brush and dust pan - apart from the fact that no one else in the house seems able to use it - is that it falls over and makes an irritating clattery noise several times every day.

Still, I'm an optimistic soul so I unpacked my Karcher electric sweeper in the hope that the crud that ends up on the kitchen floor would somehow miraculously vanish and I'd be able to walk barefoot free from the fear of standing on something horrible.

This may be a reasonable point to confess that I used to make Boy Three wear little baby shoes for most of his toddlerhood because I was embarrassed by how manky his feet/socks got without them.

The Karcher came out of the box resembling those (almost entirely useless, or was it just me?) Ewbank sweepers, only with a spare cylindrical brush and a cable to charge it. It also came with a bracket to neatly attach it to the wall.

Not much time elapsed before the sweeper was called into action - the result of a war of attrition between cocopops and rice crispies. I switched it on and pushed it around. Lo, the cereal vanished into the little dust holder.

Loom bands at large




Loom bands tamed. 
Over the next few weeks, the sweeper was called into action. Here's what I've found.

  • It's probably quicker than old-school sweeping, but not much.
  • It is more satisfying than old-school sweeping, by some distance.
  • It doesn't fall over with an annoying clatter, particularly if you use the bracket.
  • Bits of fishfinger, glitter and squashed raisins don't fall out all over the floor.
  • The promised hour of charge doesn't last very long - however, you can happily leave it plugged in.
  • The alternate brush (recommended for pet hair) is also good for human hair (a recent house guest mistook it for a hair brush and was satisfied with the results).
  • You still have to actually push it round.
  • A machine with moving parts is slightly more likely to get used by boys and husbands than the traditional solution.


Conclusion

It's a good half-way solution for quick pick-ups when you can't be bothered to get your big guns out.

Karcher sent me an electric sweeper to review.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

17 years at the school gates: what I have learned so far....

My baby, he's all grown up. It doesn't seem a minute since... Yada yada yada. 

You know the stuff - uttered by runny-mascaraed mothers waving children off to school before returning to their bleak and echoy nests. 

Boy Three goes to primary school this week - the last of my babies to put on the uniform and clamber aboard the big yellow bus. He can't wait and, frankly, neither can I. He's ready - he's desperate to learn to read and catch up with the bigger kids. 

It seems a very long time since Boy One first took his miniature seat in a classroom. That's probably because it is - he started school back in 2004! I didn't even have a blog back then, but then neither did many other people. 

Since then, I've been to 20 parents' nights, 10 sports days and a decade of Christmas shows, nagged children into hundreds of hours of homework, washed gazillion loads of uniform and never once backed for a cake stall. 

As Boy Three starts on his primary school journey, I thought I'd share a few things I've learned along the way. 

Consider who you're going to befriend. I'm not a terribly sociable person and I don't have limitless time and energy for being chums with everyone. Therefore it's better to make friends with the school staff than the other mums. You'll probably see more of the teachers than you will of the other parents, unless you're destined to be friends, in which case it won't be any effort at all. 

Consider who you're going to befriend #2. The school secretary. 

Don't join any committees, help out often instead. Unless, of course, you dream of being a PTA office bearer. I'm delighted to lend a hand whenever I can. In fact, I consider it a duty for the good of an excellent school. 

Don't panic. If something happens that makes you wish your own mummy could come and take over, don't worry. We all feel like that at some point. Whatever's causing you anxiety or upsetting your child will be one step closer to a resolution by talking to someone. Go and ask the teacher/another parent/the secretary/head, you'll be surprised by how easy it is once you take the step. 

School isn't the same as it was in our day. Really. Things like composite classes and being picked for additional support are all part of today's primary life. Assessment, smaller groups and more classroom assistants mean the school knows far more about your child than anyone ever knew about us. It's a good thing. Relax, you are in professional hands. 

An indelible marker will become your friend, but stuff will still get lost. Don't spend lots of money on anything and, where possible, buy duplicates while you're at it. Buy non-iron stuff and hang things up so they don't crease. While your child is still young enough for you to get away with this, buy items (coats etc) that are as distinctive as possible - you have no idea how many similar black parkas will be dropped on cloakroom floors the first time it gets cold. 

Calories will trump nutrition for a while. School days are long and hungry for growing kids. Lunch can be a distracting and disorientating affair. A couple of times I realised that my boys simply needed to eat more to get them through the day. Survival tactics have included pockets full of jam sandwiches, chocolate milk drinks and bananas handed to them the minute they stepped off the bus. 

Don't bother pretending you're not crying at the nativity. Everyone else is.

Zen and the art of parenthood. There are some things about life as a primary school parent that simply aren't worth fighting, you won't be able to change them:

  • Children will bring more junk home from school "fayres" than you can donate to the tombola.
  • You can't get rid of that smell.
  • The clothes won't be clean. 
  • The shoes will be scuffed. 
  • The important note will be discovered too late at the bottom of the bag. 
  • A pile of 'art' will arrive home at the end of term. 
  • Your tiny little beginner will surely turn into one of those big, bold children all ready for secondary school and there's not a thing you can do about it. 


It only seems like a minute ago, but he's growing up already.




Sunday, 3 August 2014

Glasgow 2014: My hopes for the legacy

It started with a heat wave and ended with a monsoon. Glasgow 2014: the party's more or less over. As I write Kylie (or someone who sounds an awful lot like her) is apparently doing a sound-check for her appearance at the closing ceremony. 

I'm a bit sad it's all over - although the neglected bits of my life: children, laundry, proper job etc will probably be glad of my attention. It's been amazing.

So proud. My boy and his pal on national telly drinking Irn-Bru!

The city has been buzzing. Locals and people from all over the world have met, celebrated the Games and come away having gained something. Glasgow has been scrubbed and primped as never before (or not since the Garden Festival, anyway). 

The sneery grump bags who promised mayhem, misery and mediocrity were silenced and some even changed their tune. The whole event from dancing tea cakes to the nail biting (and rain sodden) road race has been a triumph. 

But once the final banner has been taken down, the millions of barriers removed and the volunteer population taken off their uniforms for the last time, what then? Here's what I hope the games will leave behind?

The knowledge that sport is more than football. Hurrah! For these glorious few days we've revelled in a festival of all kinds of sport, individual and team. Normally if you asked if I liked sport I'd have thought of interminable tales of premiership and said: "Not really." Now I know different.

A sporting attitude to other supporters. All the way through there have been hearty cheers from supporters who travelled across nations for their teams, but there have also been loud and long encouragement for athletes whoever they are and wherever they came from. And it's been properly uplifting.

Clean streets. That cycling was amazing. How fast did they go down those wet cobbles from Park Circus? But wasn't it also amazing how smooth and flat the roads were? No potholes, no wonky manholes. Wouldn't be amazing if that lasted?

Feeling good about ourselves. Athletes, workers, volunteers and ordinary locals are rightly very proud of what's gone on here. And that's amazing, but it's An unaccustomed sensation. Feeling good about ourselves doesn't come readily and feels mighty strange. We're almost hoping something will go wrong because that slightly chippy defensiveness is familiar as a comfy blanket.

People make a place. People make Glasgow. But, actually, they make anywhere when they play nice, are patient, keep an eye on the big picture, and go the extra mile. That's what happened here - let's keep it up, everywhere. 

The investment won't stop here. Of course, it's cost a packet, these things do. However, a continued flow of hard cash is needed to ensure the next generation of sporting heroes can reach their potential. We also need it to keep the city looking tip top and to make those fantastic new facilities ring with fans' shouts - regularly - for years to come. Let's not forget that it's money well spent. 

The way to properly do inclusively. Para athletes performed right after able bodied ones exactly as it should be. No disability ghetto here. The Games, like life, are for everybody to play. 

But we don't need new words for things. I fervently hope that the use of 'medal' as a verb along with 'venueisation' vanish faster than Clyde toys off eBay. 






Thursday, 31 July 2014

Gaza: For the love of humanity, can't we stop the killing?

I am not a political person - big P, small P or middle-sized P. Wading into debate where feelings run high makes me feel queasy. 

It's not that I don't believe these things matter or that I lack conviction. It's just that I prefer to keep them to myself unless I'm absolutely 100 per cent convinced and rock solid on every aspect of every facet of every argument on the subject.

Of course you've seen me blogging up about the issues that are close to me, so close the focus is sharp. Women's rights, journalism and what the independence referendum means to me, for example.

But how can I speak strongly on someone else's fight when the details are sketchy to me. You need to get yourself pretty near to a person to know what ignites their passion. 

With this in mind, I won't pretend to know how the facts of the situation in Gaza translate to murderous passion for the Israelis and the Palestinians. I don't understand how it feels to be on either side - how the history and anger flows through the veins of this conflict. 

What I do know, however, with utter conviction, is that the killing and injuring of children - however it is dressed up - is wrong beyond measure. There is no wrong great enough to justify this as a reasonable byproduct. Not now, not ever. 

Have we learned nothing in the century since the start of the "war to end all wars"? Good grief, those who marched off then couldn't begin to imagine the so-called progress that would happen in the next 100 years, but they might have hoped they left a more civilised planet.

In all that humanity has learned and created, there must be something, surely, that can be used to find an end to the terror and bloodshed that continues to pour over the innocent.

I don't know what the answer is - I don't even fully understand what the question was - but can't those who do, please, find a way to solve this. Nothing is more important than preserving life, how can it be? 



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