Monday, 30 August 2010

Things I'm very pleased to have learned

Photo: Top I learned how play is as important as work. Bottom I learned how the round world is drawn on flat maps and here's how I tried to explain Mercator projection to Boy One.

While I have learned neither to count my chickens nor speak too soon I'm going to risk it and say that things are pretty quiet here. Boys are back at school, I'm working a bit, but not too much, at home. Nothing significant has broken and no one is sulking.

I have learned that this is a fabulous state of affairs and not one to be railed against with grumbles about boredom. And it has given me moment for a little pondering about what I'm glad to have learned.

I have learned that cheesy cliches really do work. Everything has its time and into each life a little rain must fall. This too will pass. Well the passing bit, certainly. Boy Three has just entered the turn-everything-I-touch-to-if-not-shit-then-at-least-a-sticky-broken-mess stage. With Boys One and Two comfortably into relative civilisation, the return to the feral has come as something of a shock. The sight of Boy Three experimenting happily with a box of out-of-date eggs he had fished out of the bin was a turning point. I must now batten down the hatches, hold on tight, reject nice things and try to find the funny side. It will pass.

I was further reminded of this when a friend sought advice about her daughter who is reluctant to go to parties. I don't really blame her... bad parties are the pits. Yeuw, fish paste sandwiches and charades, anyone? However, it's bad form to pull your pretty frock over your head and howl like a banshee. Or, at least at most parties I've ever been too. I remember Boy One sobbing as I tried to coax him into the softplay ball pit with his chums. I quickly gave up on the grounds it was no fun for either of us. Now, he's rediscovered his party mojo and is quite happy to join the fray. It only took nine years.

I'm glad I learned to touchtype and to drive - both of these things make my life easier and quicker - although not if you try to do them at the same time.

I've learned that a little thought for others, a modicum of self control and some dull old-fashioned manners really do help... and not just now. You never know who is watching and when you'll see them again. But equally, I've learned that caring what others think is a waste of valuable energy. If something is bursting to be done and it's not illegal, immoral or more than you can afford then just get on with it while you have time. The thing I'm not sure I've learned yet is to tell the difference.

Which brings me to seize the day. Kinda obvious but worth remembering.

And, because I find myself pondering some biblical quote, less is, almost certainly, more.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Why can't I handle the truth?

Honestly, what I mean is...

I've been pondering the whole telling the truth thing and why it's so hard for me. But before you head off to get a cup of tea and the Hobnobs in anticipation of a juicy read, I'm not about to reveal anything sleazy, lifechanging or anatomically peculiar. (Oh, er, bye then...)

It started with the postie. Our post-person is a transsexual, if that's the right term for someone born a man but who wants to become a woman. At first, seeing as how we're on the subject of honesty, it was a little incongruous. Painted nails and makeup on a man in this small town draws a second glance. But it must take some balls (insert gag here) to walk that route, here especially. She came to the door on Monday with a package for next door (another gag, if you really must) and I noticed she was lookling lovely. Her hair had a new shape and colour and she was sporting a pair of perky girly bosoms. I wanted to say how lovely and feminine she looked, how it was clear she'd made an effort, made the best of herself I believe the expression is. But the phrases I tried on for size were all shades of wrong from sycophantic to downright pervy so I didn't bother. Instead I said: "Yeah. No problem, where do I sign?"

Then I was helping Boy Two with a spot of political rhetoric. He wants to be elected to a school committee and needed something to take to the hustings, so we worked together on it. "Well being honest about what you want and why is always a good idea," I preached. "Why do you want to do this?"
"Um. So I can skip classes to go to the meetings."
Perhaps telling the truth to the electorate isn't always a good idea.

Later I was waiting for Boys One and Two to finish their first Shotokan karate lesson and for Boy Three to eat his picnic supper. Neither of these activities is especially absorbing so I picked up a magazine for a browse. OK! was months old and I'd already looked at the pictures of that edition of Vogue, so it was Soul and Spirit. While remaining open-minded, I'm not normally given to asking angels for answers, generally I prefer Google. However, my inner hippie isn't averse to a bit of Barefoot Doctor so it was one eye on the Taoist sound bites and one on Boy Three's attempt to feed himself yoghurt. Then a woman said: "Do you like that magazine?"
"Um. 'sok. Angels and stuff. Er," I responded, on sparkling form.
"I just wondered if you were a like-minded individual or not. I read tarot card, you see."
"Oh, really?"
"But I don't have them with me, or I'd have given you a reading."
"That's a pity," Boy Three saw the advantage and flung his spoon.
"But you'll have a girl next."
"After your boys, the next one will be a girl."
"I don't so."
She just smiled knowingly as the big Boys came crashing back from karate. What I wanted to say was: "It's none of your business and even if it was I'm 43, having Boy Three was a bloody miracle and my tubes have been tied."

Top of my cliche list has long been "honesty's the best policy". It's easiest to keep tabs on what's what when it's all true and, generally, "the truth will out" (number five on the list). I've also found that when I've taken the time and space to ask myself Spice Girls-stylee what I really, really want, it has been the absolutely right answer.
Why, then, is it so difficult to just come out and say what's on my mind? Perhaps it's time for a radical honesty resolution - total truth, totally. But, honestly, I'm not sure it'll work.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Grammar, birthday blues and gang behaviour

Things I've learned from my children today

Pic: It's for you

If one child is having fun winding me up, others will join him. Boy Three has already learned that joining in with his brothers' high jinks is more fun than, for example, sitting nicely and eating supper. What I can't find the answer to is why this pattern of behaviour doesn't work when it comes to something lovely like doing homework quietly or bedroom tidying.

You can't start a sentence with a conjunction. Unless you want to, of course. Working on a draft of Boy Two's vote-me-onto-the-eco-committee speech he said: "But you can't start a sentence with 'with'."
"Because it's a conjunction."
Hmmm. There followed a conversation about how laudable the teaching of grammar is, but the rules can be broken and I should know because my job is writing stuff.

A Boy's birthday party is a troublesome thing*. Despite a strengthening suspicion that the whole birthday party thing is a device to get more presents, I have agreed to Boy One's demands. He wants a party with most of his class in attendance. I've dangled all sorts of wholesome, entertaining and educational suggestions, but none suits. It's looking like we're off to somewhere expensive, zingy and artificial at X-Scape followed by Pizza Express "pepperoni with extra cheese - adult size - yum". As my heart sinks like a plastic tray down artificial snow, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier if I just spent the party money on extra presents for him as the result would be the same.

*Apologies if this sounds exceptionally miserable, but Boy One has Asperger's and doesn't much like parties. They make him anxious, people break the rules and they're usually too loud. He does, however, like presents.

X Factor marked the spot on the sofa for us

There isn't any Doctor Who on at the moment, so our family viewing moment has become X Factor. There aren't any Daleks so the Boys don't need to hide behind the cushions, but I found they came in handy when Sherlena came on. Please visit my everymum post at for the full story. Plus some nuggets about the news at Parent Bites.

Pic: Gamu's a winner for sure (ITV)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Glamping - an intents experience

Things I've learned from our Country House Hideaway weekend.

It takes a mighty long time to warm up a hot-tub with a log fire, but once hot it will stay that way for a mighty long time.
Mum and I were aiming for a glamorous G&T in the tub while the male members of the party sorted themselves out for a while. However, by bedtime the tub was still hot enough to cook eggs.

Rinse out a hot-tub before filling it.
I emptied the cauldron in the end after a weekend of splashing and dipping and the gunge I found at the bottom really wasn't very nice.

Being without a mirror is liberating. There wasn't even one and I had taken the huge step of leaving my handbag - with lipstick mirror - in the car. By the power of thought alone I was slimmer and healthier looking. Then, on a quick trip to nearby Jedburgh for supplies, I caught sight in the rearview mirror of a huge muddy smear on my cheek.

Boy Three has a sense of occasion.
He waiting until both his parents and his grandmother were watching before taking his first proper unsupported steps across the wooden floor of the tent.

Beetroot is marvellous.
Wrapped in tinfoil and roasted in a barbecue. Oh yes, I urge you to try it. But hypocondriacs must remember it makes you pee pink.

A morning cuppa isn't that important until you have to wait for it. The tent - I use the term loosely as it had a floor, lights and a flush lavvy - cooking facility was a wood-burning stove. A fabulous piece of equipment, but not one you can rush from cold. It's approximately two hours from that 'I fancy some coffee' moment to actually pouring out a steaming cup.

Cold feet can be cured by sleeping beside your eight-year-old.
One night Boy Two ended up in my bunk and, while everyone said they felt slightly cool, he and I were toasty.

Rudyard Kipling's If can be relied upon to raise a lump to throats.
In the discovery tent - among the wholesome and entertaining paraphernalia was a copy of Conn Iggulden's Dangerous Book for Boys. A fabulous tome and one that should be compulsory reading for everyone.

Everyone loves a den. When they spotted the bed in a cupboard in the ubertent, Boys One and Two elbowed past each other to dive in while Boy Three looked and sounded decidedly miffed to be left on the floor.

Tables, generally, should be flat.
The Countryhouse Hideaway tent kit comes, presumably in a fit of rustic enthusiasm, with a very distressed table and kitchen work-top. We spent all weekend mopping up spills and picking up things that had fallen through the holes.

Somewhere within this, ahem, chic and coolly groomed exterior is a pioneer woman just waiting for her moment of glory.
I had a ball picking veg to cook, lighting fires and trying not to let them go out, fixing things with string, improvising and generally getting good and grubby. Oh yes, the Little House on the Prairie had nothing on this. All I needed was a long faded calico dress and a bun.

In 1968 Piet Derksen bought some land and put up some tents on it - so families could have their own encampment.
The idea evolved into Centre Parcs. Derksen went back to the woods again to bring the world Countryhouse Hideaways, only this incarnation doesn't have flumes and cabaret.

Families and friends are marvellous institutions.
Do you knew we got through the whole weekend, under canvas of sorts, within earshot of all lavatory action, cooking on a range and minus TV for distraction without anyone falling out with anyone else? Thanks to you all.

Forgot to say - we were at Chesters Estate in the Borders

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Milk memory and time we grew up about The Cuts

It took me back for a moment. To a classroom, the smell of Copydex, a pair of nobbly tights under sandal buckles and what happened when I rubbed my thumb on the silver top of the milk bottle. Usually by the time the plastic crate clinked around to me, the straws had been jabbed through the foil, but, sometimes, I got an unpunctured bottle. The pleasure in making that perfect silver dish before my thumb popped through splashing tepid milk was immense. Kind of like a forerunner to the donk a teaspoon end makes in a virgin coffee jar. (The loss of this is the only drawback of my coffee snobbery)

It was all this talk of free milk that did it. Mr Cameron didn't like the idea that it should be scrapped. He's about the same age as me and I turned seven the year that Thatcher Milk Snatcher took our playtime treat away. Did he miss the thumb, milkbottle lid thing too at his prep school?

But I do wonder just why free milk is such a sacred cow for him. I didn't even know kids still got free milk until this week. I have no recollection what happened with Boys One and Two and their nursery milk, none whatsoever. But just recently Boy Three has graduated from SMA to cows and when I asked both his nursery and the child minder what the arrangements would be, they said something along the lines of 'oh, don't worry we have it here'. And I left happy and proud that it was another perk of the wisely chosen childcare. Hmmm.

So If I didn't even know my child was benefiting from this benefit, how can I be upset at its removal. And, while scientific evidence seems sketchy, a free drink of milk for kids who really need it seems an excellent idea... if it's targeted.

This came as I had a lovely supper with a chum J who works in a local authority press office. Among many subjects covered were council cuts. She kindly let me have my set-piece rant about the protests against the school bus being cut and how it'll cause me a really big personal inconvenience (as well of course for busier roads, more pollution, blah, blah). Then she nodded sagely as I opined that all the council needed to do was catch people who let their dogs poo and fine them lots of money, enough to save the bus.

Then she said: "Well yes. I can see the bus thing isn't good. In our council area the parents are paying their own bus transport, maybe you could try that."

Then she fixed me with a Look. "You know, you middle class types should be a bit careful what you protest about. The council has to deal with every one and it costs a fortune. The bottom line is that there are going to be far more cuts than just the bus. Real, proper cuts. You haven't seen the half of it yet."

"Really?" I gulped.

"Really. There are going to be horrible decisions like shutting special needs schools, stopping meals on wheels, shutting parks and libraries. No one's going to like it."

Crikey. But she got me thinking: How we've got into the mess is irrelevant, what matters is how we clean it up and still protect the most vulnerable members of society. We've all got a little bit used to having all sorts of things, school buses, swimming pools, old folk we don't need to worry about because Somebody is responsible.

Maybe we all need to accept that if we can afford to pay for stuff, we ought to. I can afford milk for my children and the cost of getting them to school. I love our free library, but if it cost a little I'd still go. It's pleasant that the grass is cut here every week, but my life would be no different if it was cut less frequently.

What's this got to do with a little girl sitting in a classroom rubbing her way through a foil lid with her thumbnail? That little girl has grown up and had a bit of a think and reckons she - and everyone else - should work out what matters for everyone not just what's mighty irritating and inconvenient.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Bog blog and some climbing

Things I've learned from my children today.
Small children can do astonishing things in a very short space of time. There I was checking the spare rib recipe for the next step while Boy Three pottered. I looked up and this is what I saw. He was ever so pleased with himself.

Upwards is not always onwards.
Boy Three loves to climb. Today I have removed him from the dining table, the top of the armchair in the bedroom, the shelves in the bathroom (he pushed the chair over to get a foot up), the bed (slightly ajar drawers as steps) and his brother's bed (it's a mid-sleeper up five steps).

Quiet and relative tidiness is over-rated.
Boys One and Two are still at their dad's. Having a ball according to our nightly calls. Tomorrow they're off to learn to sail. When they first went off it was heavenly to have a slightly more orderly home and fewer mouths to feed/pants to wash, now, though, I'm over that. Time to come home Boys. Roll on Thursday.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

We've joined the ranks of the Neo Skint

"I'll do the garden at the weekend when we can afford a new strimmer," the Panther was only making half an excuse this time.

Thing is, it's been a busy old month what with two holidays, a broken car and new specs for two members of the family. Consequently we're a bit rooked, the cupboard is bare and let's-see-what's-in-the-freezer is the cuisine de jour. However, it's not catastrophic, just mind-focusing. By the weekend Panther will have been paid for his part in the mining of the truth and a few of the people for whom I scribble might have responded to my invoices. And then we will be hot-foot to the strimmer shop so all will be groomed again.

However, I then came across an article in the Daily Mail. (Yes, yes, I know). Apparently there is a new scourge in Broken Britain - the Middle Class Poor. These are the folks who've had to feed their Kath Kidson tea cosies to the ponies when they couldn't afford the oats. They find themselves weeping in Tesco when they have to down-brand from Finest to Value. They are "not living on the street but it's their version of Skid Row" apparently. Poor things.

Hurrah then, we've made it. The Daily Mail is talking to us, the Neo-Skint. With our un-strimmed foliage (front and back) we can empathise with the DM families who've had to down-size, stint and, yes, stay in sometimes.

So now we are trend-setters, you can expect a whole new type of life-style advice. Going to the park is the new holiday in Barbados, plucking is the new going to the really expensive salon, DIY is the new getting a man in, distressed is the new new and, er, actually we're stopping before we get to grey is the new flatters the skintone colour experience whatever Kristen McMenamy might say.

PIC: Boy Three inspects his new cot.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What tomorrow's historians will find...

It seems incredible, doesn't it? 250 years after his death, we've just found a letter to Robert Burns that sheds light on his last couple of weeks. This is a man who is, possibly, one of the most famous English language poets in the world. Crikey, even Gerard Butler has promised to get his kit off to do the Bard justice. How come no one had found it? The letter, from his boss, explains how he managed - while very poorly - to both collect his final pay packet and be languishing on his sick bed.

Meanwhile, further north archaeologists have scraped the soil off some more bits of Neolithic stonework and discovered evidence that stone age man did DIY. Seriously, they found red, yellow and purpley paint in patterns on some masonry in the Neolithic cathedral they are excavating on Orkney.

Now this set me thinking: What would the experts of the future be able to discern from the detritus of my life?

They'd say: Ceremonial vessel, in entrance hall so clearly of huge symbolism, very precious.
Really: It's that flipping teapot still waiting to be whisked away to the charity shop.

They'd say: Primitive daubings showing rudimentary human form. Evidence the people of 21st century Scotland were starting to want to record their existence.
Really: The squillions of mothers' day/birthday/Christmas/Valentine's cards lovingly crafted by my Boys and too precious to do anything other than bung in a box.

They'd say: Earthquakes in Scotland. Damage to remaining walls consistent with major structural trauma.
Really: We still haven't got round to getting that hole in the wall fixed... have you Panther? It's been a year now.

They'd say: Sure evidence that Scots were a violent and marauding race. Look at the mummified remains in the dense foliage that was cultivated around the dwelling. Small animals and even humans - see this one has a bag of some sort it says 'Royal Mail' on it.
Really: Strimmer's bust and we're locked in an intense waiting game over whose turn it is to cut the grass. Oi, Panther, if it doesn't happen tomorrow I'm going to ring the gardener and that'll cost money.

They'd say: Small rectangular must be what this primitive people used for currency. Different colours, shapes and sizes signify different denominations. This must have been home to a wealthy family group.
Really: Bloody Lego and one reason this is not a wealthy family group.

They'd say: Mysterious circular objects may be pieces for a game or tiles for a mosaic.
Really: CDs and the mystery is now what do we do with them all.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Play time at Granny's house - Gallery

Tara's Gallery this week has the fun-filled suggestion playtime as its theme.
Here I am hot-foot from a weekend at Granny's where her smallest grandsons had a fine old time.
Among the fine feasts, stories and compulsory helpings of fresh air there were jigsaws, wind-up snails, sofa safaris, tractors and wheelbarrow rides. So far so normal for a weekend at Granny's, I hear you yell.
The thing is, we grown-ups were there to mark (or otherwise get through) a particularly painful anniversary. Yet, I was struck for the first time in a great many months how when the kids played and giggled, the adults played and giggled too.

July - phew what a scorcher!

July began with a proper scorcher on our Turkish adventure, continued at a blistering pace with other travels and outings and skidded to a halt with a Significant anniversary.

Here's a little look at the things I've learned this month.

The train really does take the strain. We flew the four and a half hours to Turkey and endured a bruising boring non-stop wrestle with Boy Three who hates to be restrained. We trundled by train for eight or so hours to see sister-in-law Lovely L in Hampshire and arrived smiling and relatively unscathed. Plus it was more than £700 cheaper than flying from Glasgow to Southampton.

A ramekin (or ten) may be the window to my soul. It seems the world is divided into keepers and chuckers. I'm one of the former but hoping to change. I now have a date in the calendar for mum to come and help me finish the job. Panther and the Boys, you have been warned.

Mum's still the word. Boy One and I had a tussle over what he should call me, eventually we've settled for 'mother', but the M-word and its variants caused a few more pauses this month. My nephew Baby G is blessed with two mummies. When Lovely L arrived at the door of Granny's house this weekend, her boys C and N were told: "Mummy's here." Baby G got off one of his mummy's laps and hurtled to the door only to find bewilderment because it wasn't mummy at all.

Whatever happens time will pass, things will change and yet they'll stay the same. We've travelled a year since my brother died suddenly at 38. It has been one of the darkest, longest years of my 43. However, it has also brought astounding dollops of joy and some really important lessons a few of which follow.
Just when you think the worst has happened, something else goes wrong. You can survive the worst thing.
No matter what, the sun will still rise.
Children - wonderful, selfish, growing children - don't have any truck with self pity.
A good family is a splendid, indispensable thing and a blessing.
Scars - physical and emotional - should be worn with pride, they are badges of a life properly inhabited. And, if you've got a day, seize it with both hands...
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