Monday, 30 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #10

A Tom Girl is the opposite of a Tom Boy - that is a boy who likes dolls, pink and, probably, ironing. Look, this is just about what I learned not what it means to gender politics.

It doesn't matter how I couch it, if he doesn't want to wear that really fetching tartan shirt, he won't, but he won't tell you what's wrong with it.

Speed is already a big attraction. The baby's own rickety baby walker is just not cutting the mustard like Granny's super-duper one.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #10

It doesn't matter how hard I try, I can't fully disapprove of a child who wants to play tig on the bus with his friends.

That grunting noise really is the baby snoring.

The first clue I have these days that I'm getting premenstrual is that I can no longer stand the noise, the incessant, shouty, relentless, pointlessly chattering, farmyard imitating noise. So please shhhh. Hush. Be quiet. Shut up. Now.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #9

The volcano is for the Bakugans. No? Me neither, but I get the feeling I'm going to learn a whole lot more than I ever wanted to about them.

The bin will be the most interesting thing in a room strewn with toys.

Almost all food is rendered delicious - or inedible depending on your viewpoint - by the addition of ketchup, even yukky mashed potatoes. But the Real Food campaign must be having some success if we can even talk about eating turkey at Christmas.

Banks are in it for the money

For this week's second column in the STV Write Factor competition, I had something to say about bankers and them winning the unauthorised overdraft fees case.
If you follow popular opinion then banks, everyone who works in them and even the plastic folders you used to get for your cheque books are all evil.
Maybe so, but isn't it about time we started to take some responsibility for our own financial affairs. Please read my column, it might just help me get a contract which will do wonders for my financial affairs.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #8

It's possible to love your children very much but still be very unhappy and uncomfortable with their behavior.

It feels very, very strange to have someone vomit on your back.

It doesn't matter how much of a grumpy old humbug I am, Christmas is still the most exciting time of year for children.

Things I learned from my children today #7

"The good thing about school is you never get bored."
"But you said it was boring."
"It is super boring, but you never get bored."

The most amusing things when you are six months old are watching raindrops on the puddles (handy that one) and playing with crisp packets (unopened).

Anabel Karmel's readymade shepherd's pie is horrible. Proper nasty. Sorry boys.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A crunch issue on mumsnet

I settled down with interest to watch the mumsnet debate with David Cameron last week.
It was a really unsatisfying experience. I sighed, unsurprised, and largely forgot about it.
Then I saw that several papers decided that the Tory leader was ambushed by nappies as Brown got bombed by biscuits.
It really gave me something to get my teeth into for the first Write Factor column of the week.
But it seems I was mistaken. I suggested that there were actually far more important things than biscuits... apparently this isn't true.

Things I learned from my children today #6

Hair the exact colour of baked bean sauce is very attractive. Really, that's the colour it is. We compared it in natural light.

The bumbo doesn't always hold the chunky legs of someone determined to get that thing over there to the side, not, of course, the thing within arm's reach at the front.

The creation with kitchen roll, glue, a baby milk tin, a coke tin and a cake tray is, obviously, a volcano. D'oh.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

things I learned from my children today #5

Following conversations about the grolar bear (grizzly polar hybrid), it's impossible to explain why you couldn't get a mouse human hybrid without getting into areas of discussion you really didn't want to.

The food answer is now "whatever you're having". Chips and pears anyone?

The black shorts will really, really not do for football even though they are the same as the grey shorts only black.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #4

Yoga is actually cool - particularly the things you can do with rubbing your hands together and feeling the energy.

Even at 4am, the answer is food.

Putting clothes on back to front is uncomfortable - even if it is for the benefit of Pudsey. Next year let's just go back to pyjamas at school, mad hair or everyone wears red - at least that was comfy.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

STV competition and top tea du jour

Everyone likes a nice cup of tea... but I've discovered a new tea experience. Jennier Teas takes this to a new level. Beautiful, pure teas with exotic sounding names. Ding Dong Jade Oolong anyone? And what about this glass mug thing with a place to put the leaves.
The idea is it'll clean my palate and inspire me to great - ok, legible - writing. Trouble is I'm spending so much time dithering about which tea to choose and faffing with the mug, I'm getting no work do. Choco Orange Chai is still the winner in case anyone cares.
Oh, and the real point of this blog - the writing I was doing was for the STV Write Factor competition. Today's topic - how the T-Mobile information sale scandal is a predictable part of modern life.

David Cameron on mumsnet

Loving the mum who said: "You seem like a nice chap - why on earth are you a tory?"

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #3

Computers, tellies and games consoles don't always win - hurrah for the printed word and JK Rowling.

Whatever the question is the answer definitely is food.

Dobbie the House Elf has a high-pitched voice and if you do it for a whole chapter you get a sore throat.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today #2

Methane can be a verb.
"Mum, did you know that farts are made of methane?"
"Mmmm, really?"
"Yeah. And I just methaned!"

Whatever the question is, the answer is probably food.

The lesson about swearing has been learned well.
"Put that light sabre down," to Boy One who was waving what I thought was a light sabre in Boy Three's face.
"It's not a light sabre, don't you know anything?"
"Whatever the hell it is, put it down."
"Ooooh. Mummy you sweared. You said 'hell'. You did, you swore," Boys One and Two in unison as the vigilante brothers rush for the phone to dob me in to the Panther of News.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Things I learned from my children today

I've learned that Venice is made up of 118 islands. "That's 118 the same as in the advert, mummy."
I've learned that a PSP is nothing like any of the other games machines we already own. It's the only one you can play LittleBigPlanet on apparently.
I've learned that there's nothing wrong at all in amusing yourself by spending hours and hours grinning at and talking to your own reflection.
Thank you boys.

Drink - Scotland's sacred cow

So the Write Factor competition over at the STV website trundles on. Today I wrote about Scotland and its attitude to drink and drinking. It's always struck me as a bit strange that the nation is so very fond of - and good at - one of the very things that is killing it from within. Anyhow, if you can tear yourself away from the Australian jungle it's here.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A fiery heart

"We shall go Always a little further..."
It's a line from The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker.
It's romantic and inspiring, isn't it? Makes you come over all brave and selfless.
So it's no wonder that it's the poem adopted by the SAS.
That's the "who dares wins" SAS of legend and derring-do.
And while I'm not suggesting abseiling into any embassies, it's probably as good a philosophy to adopt as any.
And as life appears to be an assorted bag of luck (both kinds), chance and inexplicable coincidence - at least "travelling not for trafficking along" feels a little more satisfying.
That said, I'm off to check my Lottery ticket.

The Golden Journey to Samarkand


We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

James Elroy Flecker

Friday, 13 November 2009

Online and rambling over at

So the STV Write Factor competition reaches the end of the first week.
And The Panther of News has been a loyal supporter. At first, having drummed up a ton of interest, it seems he's much better equiped for crossing the Rubicon to public relations than even he knows.
Then, however, I asked him what the initials he'd used to log in to the STV website stood for.
He said: "Oh, that. Em. Ellen's Online Gibberish, or something..."
Thanks sweetheart.
If you're looking for some Friday light relief then please look here and maybe leave a comment.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Shameless appeal for attention

I might just have mentioned that I'm one of the finalists in the STV Write Factor competition. I did, didn't I?
Anyhow, here's my first offering. Please have a look and, if you like it, leave a comment and perhaps tell your friends.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Have I got the Write Factor?

I am very excited by the news that I'm one of the ten finalists in STV's Write Factor competition.
They are looking for new columnists for their website and the prize is a six-month contract. Part of the measure will be how many visitors and comments each entrant attracts.
So, once I get going, please could you pop by and have a look.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Mrs Janes and the PM part two

I'm back here again today.
First grieving mum Jacqui Janes had a go at the PM for apparent spelling mistakes in the handwritten letter of condolence she got.
Don't forget she had a go on the front page of The Sun not long after it had come out - in England - in support of the Conservatives.
She also had a go on in a Monday paper - the quietest news day as not much usually happens on a Sunday.
And the letter, reproduced with red rings around the mistakes could, on an uncharitable day, prove the point.
Then the rest of the media followed it up - first news item in most cases.
So Gordon Brown was left with no alternative but to walk into the ambush that was the phonecall of apology to Mrs Janes. He said he was sorry and didn't mean to cause offence. Obviously he didn't.
Of course The Sun are going to make great use of this - it's a great story from a rich seam for them with plenty more left to mine.
But what's everyone else doing giving it quite so much weight? Listen to the transcript and see if anything - particularly the memory of tragic 20-year-old Jamie - is served by this.

Why have sex when you can blog?

Apparently social media has overtaken porn as the number one activity on the internet. It's one of those frequently quoted facts that you can't actually find the original source for. Or at least I couldn't, and how would they know anyway?
But there are bright bloggers beavering away all over the place on all manner of subjects, giving voice from all sorts of previously isolated corners.
The mummy bloggers are case in point. If the coffee morning set with their poo and mastitis based conversations aren't your bag, then blogs can be a lifesaver.
Intelligent parents using the net as an outlet when the work-life balance gets troublesome. Here, here and here, they're setting the ether alight.
There are others who come indoors take their open space passion online or let their furry friends do the talking.
Now here's a thought... the blogosphere is filling up with female voices. Not exactly Jenny Come Latelies but catching up with the first, and second, testosterone fuelled wave of online diarists. Do you think that's why there is more click-to-chat action than staring into .com-to-bed eyes?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Discount vouchers - a conspiracy?

Hard times, I know. So that's why I've been collecting vouchers to save squillions on stuff. You know, loyalty card rewards and those printed on all the new baby information leaflets that have flopped through the letter box kindly offering me advice since boy Three was born.
See there's a big stack here on my desk ready to take to the shops.
I could probably save enough on nappies, groceries and mascara to afford a holiday somewhere hot and exotic if that kind of logic ever worked.
Only, the problem is, I never, ever, remember to take them with me and hand them over.
I tried not taking them out of my purse and so it bulged and leaked and once or twice, triumphant, offered them at the checkout.
"Sorry they ran out last month, you can't use them," as they were tossed into the bin in one smooth movement. Not even worth all the pound coins that had tumbled from my unclosable purse.
Then it occurred to me that I'm not alone.
You see, I've spent quite a lot of time in shops one way or another and I don't remember ever seeing others in retail therapy spending their vouchers either.
Does anyone ever actually cash them in? Is there a voucher economy: a flow of discounts? Or is it just some cynical conspiracy among purse and wallet fastener manufacturers? I'd vouch that it was.

Handwriting - a treacherous business

Doctors’ handwriting was traditionally so bad they brought in computerised systems to make sure everything was printed and there were no mistakes.
My dad was a solicitor and his handwriting was dreadful but I think he had someone else to do the actual pen-to-paper stuff for him.
I don't remember anyone suggesting doctors and lawyers were less capable just because their attempts at writing resembled the tracks of an inebriated spider.
But I'll bet Gordon Brown wished he got one of his people to 'take a letter' this week.
His government might be staggering towards, what some consider to be, inevitable defeat after one of the toughest terms in office for any leader, but he's still in the job.
That's a job as one of a handful of the most powerful leaders in the world – I expect it's a bit full-on what with recessions, global warming, wars and expenses scandals.
And today we learn that he writes, by hand, a letter to the parents or spouse of every member of the armed forces who dies in active service.
I understand that Jacqui Janes is heartsick, stunned and angry at the tragic loss of her 20-year-old Grenadier guardsman son Jamie in Afghanistan.
However, having a go at the admittedly awful handwriting of an extraordinarily busy man who is also partially sighted won't really help.
Doesn't she realise that the flaws in the letter show that he actually cared enough to write the letter himself? He's got corridors of offices full of people to write letters for him and one of them would probably have made it look better - the point is he didn't.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Green is the new black, a Good Life moment

We've come over all Tom and Barbara here.
The whole family - except Boy Two who was snoozing - were out in the garden installing our new Green Cone.
It's a brilliant idea.
You bung all your food waste, teabags, peelings and leftovers - plus all that stuff that goes off while your carefully planned weekly menu goes t1ts up. And, er, that's it. There's no emptying. No pile of ripe compost making you feel guilty about not gardening.
The bacteria turns your waste to clean (ish) residue, carbon dioxide and water while you do something else.
The Panther of News finally came round to the idea and bought a new spade. Boys One and Two helped in their inimitable fashion. I assembled the thing.
We managed the whole exercise with no one falling out with each other, or the phone ringing or the baby waking up. Truely remarkable.
I have a sneaking feeling that there must be a catch - it just seems too easy. But it's certainly made my other idea of getting some chickens to eat our scraps go away for a while to everyone's relief.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Would you put your money where your mouse is?

The Internet is a thing of wonder - we can make friends, learn stuff, do splendid bits of shopping, mildly spy on our exs, then express ourselves a little.
And it's powerful too.
Foolish posters lost their jobs and their loves by blabbing about stuff when they should have kept schtum.
Poor naive Gary Mckinnon didn't understand the consequences of what, to him, was no more than an intellectual exercise.
Shiny-haired PR types have cottoned on to the power of the blogosphere. The few that put their kitten heels in it by thinking they could patronise or bribe bloggers into giving their latest gizmo a plug got a mauling.
Yet now we're all muscling in on the act – flinging our .com weight around willy nilly.
But because it's so easy to leap on a virtual band wagon things are getting bent out of shape.
Before we all linked to the world through our screens, how much of a campaigner were you? Be honest - did you ever really get beyond tutting? OK, maybe you signed a petition if someone put it in front of you or you might have joined a march as a student on a sunny afternoon with your mates.
But now, look, blog pals - and remember however lovely they are you generally haven't met these people - urge you to join a clamour and ‘click, click off’ you go.
Take Philip Laing the 19 year old who peed on a war memorial while blind drunk and had the misfortune to get photographed in the act.
Now I'm not saying that what he did was right and that he shouldn't be punished, but keep it in proportion.
The baying in chatrooms means he will always be the boy who p1ssed on the heroes. Do you know there are loathsome individuals who think it's sport to relieve themselves on those huddling homeless scraps who live in our shop doorways? And if they get caught, sure, they'll serve their time, but then they'll be allowed to get on with the rest of their lives.
And what about Jan Moir - the Daily Mail columnist who suggested that Stephen Gately's death wasn't natural. There was a clicking campaign against her that was probably far in excess than the number of people who read the article in the first place. Grow up - she's paid to be provocative, it's her job. And it's not as if the Daily Mail is the champion of all things liberal. When was the last time you read something there in support of mums who go out to work?
Stop and think before lobbing a virtual rock - are you just tagging along with the cool gang or do really believe? Would you put your money where your mouse is?

Sting, what have you done?

That was another fantasy vanishing in a puff of smoke leaving nothing but the faint smell of bacon and a few grains of glitter.
In 1980 Sting was the schoolteacher turned rockstar who had an army of teenage fans – and I marched among them.
He sang ‘don’t stand so close to me’ and we were there, in that deserted classroom or waiting at the bus stop in the rain... oooh. Just the sight of a stripy jumper used to bring it back.
It was an enduring affair; it withstood pompous pontification about rainforests, tantric sex claims and that wedding with her on the horse.
But 29 years later and another jumper has ruined it.
Yesterday he was on the This Morning sofa trying to look like he hadn’t just realised that singing about winter would make him exactly the same as Cliff Richard.
That was bad enough, but the granny-knitted-it-so-I’d-better-wear-it jumper and the Brian Blessed beard broke my heart.
Now it’s me singing ‘don’t stand so close to me’ and ‘bl00dy hell, it’s raining I hope the bus comes before he stops to give me a lift’.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Why the school bus might save the planet

The snow on Kilimanjaro is melting and climate chaos is creating ‘floody hell’ all over the place, so, yes, we’d probably better do something about the environment.
Within the limits of time and energy, I try to do my bit, but, really, I know it’s not much. I couldn’t bear to give up my car or wash cloth nappies. Or, flying off on holiday. I think about it really hard but I just can’t do it.
So I was really very pleased when our council announced they were going to make it easier to recycle more of our rubbish. Less toxic stinky dumping; more reuse, recycle and whatever the other thing is.
I won’t bother pointing out the ironies of the glossy instruction leaflet, duplicate stickers, mini wheelie bins and reminder flyers, it’s just too easy a target. They have to get the message across somehow and I wouldn’t want to have it written out on used chip wrappers or the back of bus tickets.
I think we’ve got the hang of it – yukky landfill-bound stuff in the grey bin and clean glorious recyclable stuff in the gleaming new blue one. Marvellous, bring on collection day.
Then Boys One and Two both brought home their November school newsletters full of news of council – the same one committed to a rosy, green future with their blue bins – plans to cut back the kids’ bus service.
We’re in a sprawling village and three buses rattle and fart their way up and down the roads taking our whining morning-faced babes off for their education and delivering grubby little homework dodgers back at the end of the day.
If you live more than a mile from school – and 151 pupils 42 per cent of the roll do – you can get the bus.
To save money, the council wants to shift the qualification boundary to two miles – that’s an awful long way for a five year old, twice a day. And, this is Scotland, so it’ll probably be an awful long way in the rain. Did I mention the busy roads – doting parents who live less than a mile from school or those whose darlings missed the bus – and the hills?
We could walk our angels to school every day, but, like nappies and going without continental holidays, it’s just not going to happen. Especially not in our house where Boy Three makes more than a meal of his breakfast weaning.
The upshot will be nasty, ill-tempered gridlock and unnecessary tonnes, gallons or whatever they measure pollution in of planet-wrecking fumes.
And the really potty thing, some form of transport – most likely rattly, farty buses – will trundle past our road ends to collect the pupils who live more than two miles from school.

PS Most children come home in the summer term with backpack after backpack stuffed with the fruits of their labours. Jotters, pictures, filled-in printouts, it never seems to end. With Boy One in Primary One it was a joy – so proud to see what he’d been up to. But now both of them are at it, we’re snowed under and I realize the school simply doesn’t want to be the author of so much garbage.
However, what I have noticed is that many - perhaps even most – of the jotters aren’t used up, not even halfway. There are pages and pages of pristine notebook that aren’t going to grace a classroom – or probably anywhere else – again. Surely they must make less fat notebooks or teachers prepared to break that rule that insists on a clean slate with the new school year. It’s not going to rescue Kilimanjaro, but it might just help keep the bus coming to the door.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Baby-led weaning, Asperger's and a fussy little so-and-so

Boy Three has announced his intention to move on from a milk-only diet. He did so by waking up in the early hours after months of entirely predictable night-long slumber. He also started kicking up a hullaballoo whenever anyone else was eating, only silenced by something to slurp at.
Baby Led Weaning seems hugely sensible – let them do it themselves, learn something, refine motor skills and develop a healthy sense of gastronomic adventure. However, Boy Three doesn’t seem keen to wait another six weeks or so until the digestive L-plates can come off so, meantime, it’s on with the spooned-in slime.
BLW’s philosophy that babies are people too and there’s no good reason why they’d prefer to eat bland, slippery slop just because they haven’t got any teeth yet makes perfect sense.
Food is one of the things that makes being human so fabulous – not just the myriad tastes, textures, smells and colours, but the sociability and the kitchen alchemy too.
I always imagined my children would approach their meals with gusto and that we could explore the world on a plate together. After all, cooking is probably one of the things I’m better at and tasty cuisine a real passion.
So, it’s long been a disappointment that Boys One and Two like nothing better than fishfingers and pizza and just aren’t much interested in anything else.
Typical of kids with Asperger’s Boy One is just a bit strange about food – it is fuel and there are rules and that’s that.
For example, food is neither green nor sloppy and one can’t eat the ends of things.
Until I figured out that the rules had to be followed mealtimes were horrible – at one point the only thing he would eat was chocolate donuts and even then not if there were any other foodstuffs or diners within sight.
However, he’s got much better and, within the rules, will have a go at things – apples peeled are not green and cooked chicken is not sloppy.
But his brother, Boy Two, is the real frustration.
He’s not anywhere near the Spectrum – he’s an astute and formidable communicator who zips through most aspects of his life.
At first I let the diet of nuggets, fishfingers and chips go – it seemed a little unfair to make him eat mince and curry while his brother got stuff in breadcrumbs. Not to mention the inconvenience of two lots of cooking.
I studiously ignored his refusal to eat the ends of his sausages and – unlike Boy One – how he always finishes his chips, ends included. He’s seven now and I was sure that, sooner or later, he’d cotton on to the fun of the feast.
But I was wrong, how he’s worse than ever - picky and fussy and only wants kiddy food awash with ketchup.
Have I got to give up on my dream of family meals where plates are licked clean and new tastes explored?
Do I have a second chance to get it right with Boy Three and the BLW or will he follow the same, dull, nutritionally deprived route as his brothers?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A find: St Andrews Farmouse Cheese Company

We spend a few peaceful days in the East Neuk of Fife at half term.
It was lovely and just what we needed.
There were many memorable moments, but the culinary highlight was a careless let's-just-pop-in-on-our-way-home-as-we're-passing choice.
The St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company was a delightful surprise.
A family-owned dairy farm struggling with milk prices and casting round for a new future plumped for making cheese.
Their Anster cheese is very tasty indeed. But the real joy is the cafe - proper, delicious food cooked with flair and imagination. If you're near, don't drive past.

Grief - the goldfish, sequins and colander theory

Did I mention that my brother died in the middle of the summer?
Horrible, shocking and tragic.
I have a lovely supportive family and enough true friends, but there comes a point where you just know you can't keep telling them the same thing. Life, like they say, goes on.
That's partly what blogging's about - life going on, not somewhere to wail. In any case wailing hasn’t much going for it unless you have a thing for baggy eyes and a red nose.
However, if a blog is going to be real and representative then I can't ignore it. I tend to blog about whatever was on my mind in the shower in the morning. Perhaps, you didn't need to know that, but there it is.
So I'm going to share my theory of grief.
There's an accepted model of stages: A comforting progression from denial and anger to acceptance. Well, frankly that's codswallop.
Here’s how it goes and there are three elements.
The goldfish.
You know the joke... the goldfish with its three-second memory keeps coming to the front of the bowl gazing out on the familiar scene and saying: "Bl00dy hell, what's that?"
And so it is with grief. It's possible to plod along in a fairly ordinary, mildly jolly kind of way then, often, something will pop up - a message, a memorial, a reminder - and you get: "Bl00dy hell, my brother's dead."
The sequinned outfit.
On the death of a loved one instead of ordinary skin you get given a magical sequinned outfit. On a good day, the sequins are fairly small, dense and well stitched on. You look normal and your poor, tender flesh is reasonably protected.
However, other days, the magic sequinned suit is made of huge, noisy sequins barely held on by a thread and flapping in the slightest breeze. Are you with me? It doesn't take very much before the big discs have flipped out of the way leaving you exposed and sore. And there's not a thing you can do about it because you don’t want to draw attention to it.
Mental colander
Along with the messy clutter of goldfish and sequins flapping about, you also get a colander in your head. It's got enormous holes and anything can fall out of it at any moment. I've forgotten my baby, my sister's visit, important birthdays, routine events and key ingredients. Last night, I dreamed I'd forgotten to send the children to school.
So there you have it - my take on the thing. Hopefully the goldfish will remember something, the sequin sewer will get more diligent and the colander will be replaced by a sieve.
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