Saturday, 30 October 2010

Halloween a few treats and some trickiness

Things I've learned from my children.
In a week in which I've been so busy I've spent more time writing about my children than actually in their company, I still learned a few things.

Mask manufacturers don't accommodate spectacles.

Thomas Cook travels further than you think. Boys One and Two were discussing explorers over breakfast. Boy One is something of a purist on the subject. Columbus doesn't qualify because, apparently, the Vikings got there first. So they agreed on Marco Polo and that chap who went to the Arctic.
"Thomas Cook, wasn't it?" suggested Boy Two.
"That's it," agreed his brother.

Knowing the word for them doesn't help when you've got someone else's shoes on. "Shooo," said Boy Three nodding wisely as he pulled yet another pair of mine off the shelf. Great, but not much help when you come home from nursery in someone else's.

Halloween's main function is the redistribution of the neighbourhood's sweets. Boys One and Two are getting excited about guising tomorrow... or trick or treating as they have it. Boy One doesn't much like scary things which, for him, includes going out in the dark. So what's the big deal? "We get lots of sweets," his brother explained. When I point out that we have lots of sweets in the house already, he answered: "That's different."

Being a Chilean miner isn't all bad. I made the Boys turn off Phineus and Ferb to watch the miners resurfacing. It'll be one of those things in years to come that they'll remember. The moment they saw the miracle of the Chilean miners' rescue. It sparked a conversation about what happened and just how life was underground, the fear, the dark and the men's escape. Suitably moved, through tears I explained. Then boy Two said: "I think the coming out bit would be best, getting pulled through the tunnel looks awesome."

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Happy Anniversary Panther

Four years ago today the Panther of News made an honest woman of me... or something. Can you believe it, four years?

I'm rather pleased with my choice, I think I picked well. The Panther is a fine fellow, getting finer as time goes on.

There's a picture on the wall in the hall, just over there. It shows everyone outside smiling on an unseasonably warm October day in the garden of a small hotel in Cumbria. The picture reminds me of the moment the Panther took my hand as I walked up what passed for an aisle with dad.

I pause to look at the picture most days. And everyone smiles back at me. I remember though that three of the people in the picture are dead now and three of the couples divorced.
Then I reflect that seven babies have been born to six of the people who were there, four have got married and another pair engaged.

We are now a family of five with a bigger house, this means we have less money and less time. However our bigger house certainly reverberates with more laughter.

What does it mean? Don't worry, I'm not coming over all Thought For The Day on you, but just wanted to point out how lucky I am. I've got the Panther, our boys and the rest of our friends and family. And we've got a store cupboard more than full enough of happy days and good news to compensate for life's rainy spells.

Pic: Sunset on a rainy drive through a dreary bit of Renfrewshire.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

X Factor and the bonniest cry babies

Do you ever get the feeling that the X Factor and their ilk are more a showcase of unbridled emotion than anything else? They should offer prizes for sobbing, wailing, yelping, squealing and leaping up and down like a puppy. With a special award for winning head-tilts.

I'm tired of seeing fake-tanned faces weeping onto Dermot's broad shoulders. I want another kind of role model for my kids.

Over at STV I've written a post about how it'll cause a wash-out generation.

What I'd like to see is more of an If Factor... a little extra Rudyard on show. Some spine, backbone, composure and dignity. A generation that knows that Kipling isn't just a luggage label.

And in case you've forgotten here's how it goes:

If by Rudyard Kipling.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Mull - a little island delight

Things I learned from our trip to Mull.

When the sun shines in Scotland it's heavenly. Really. At risk of going all purple, it makes your soul sing and you forgive it the months of grey misery.

Kippers are delicious, but quite a lot of work.
Breakfast in the Western Isles Hotel naturally featured Loch Fyne's finest. Wonderful but fiddly and all the better for not stinking up the kitchen at home.

I Know Where I'm Going isn't a forgotten classic. It's just that I'd never heard of it. By Powell and Pressburger, it has that warmth few film makers achieve. It's also responsible for a phone box being a listed building. Unfortunately the phone isn't working so BT had better be braced for letters.

Powerful non-verbal communication can involve a dustpan.
During a lunch at the cafe at Glengorm Boy Three was expressive with his food. I turned around to find, mysteriously, a brush and dustpan propped within arm's reach but no staff to be seen anywhere.

Sometimes a pot plant is all the company you need.
I passed a wonderful hour or two in the lounge of the Western Isles Hotel with nothing but a laptop, wifi, a fresh pot of coffee and some pot plants. Bliss.

Names are funny old things. A debate could rage if anyone cared - is the oat-based, breakfast foodstuff traditional to Scotland porridge or porage? And isn't Gurf Morlix the best name ever? I didn't want to google him because his reality is surely not as wonderful as his moniker.

Do not change a dirty nappy in a car in the ferry queue. That's pretty much all I've got to say on the subject.

Boy Three doesn't like white chocolate.
Or at least he spat out the chocolate fish he got to try at the wonderful Tobermory Chocolate shop. There were so many tasty and delicious things under one roof that I couldn't decide what to have and ate Boy Three's chocolate fish instead. His loss.

Some deals are too good not to share. Although I did dither about telling you, preferring instead to keep it to myself. However, here it is. All winter the Western Isles Hotel is offering two day dinner, bed and breakfast breaks for £99 per person including the ferry fare. See, I said it was good. Tell Richard I sent you.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

I Know Where I'm Going, but I don't know why

Here I am in the Western Isles Hotel just above the colourful harbour front at Tobermory. The Panther and Boy Three are snoozing and I'm enjoying the quiet.

I'm also trying to solve a mystery. It's the kind of mystery that would do Agatha Christie proud. There's a rambling old building, a lounge with over-stuffed sofas and tartan throws, stags' heads and chandeliers. The cast comprises Americans and Brits, old and young (ish), some speak with plumbs in their mouths while others have clearly spent a lot of money to get here. There are couples, single people and families.

The one thing they have in common is a 1945 movie called I Know Where I'm Going. It a romance made by Powell and Pressburger (nope, me neither) and, apparently, it's one of Martin Scorsese favourite. He called it a masterpiece. The plot has an Englishwoman heading to the Hebrides to marry a man she thinks is a rich landowner. However Scottish weather in typical style has other ideas and she is stranded on Mull where she is befriended by an apparently pennyless but traditionally dashing naval officer. Ever headstrong she decides to make her own way to her waiting fiance and the naval officer tags along to make sure she gets there in one piece. They, in a roundabout way, find themselves in grave danger in the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Ooh. The hero saves the day and, well, you'll just have to see it yourself to find out.

The Scottish scenes were filmed on Mull and, while not actually featuring, the Western Isles Hotel is where the couple stay - separate rooms of course.

The reason we are here is that every few years a celebration of I Know Where I'm Going takes place - or IKWIG to its friends - and this year we've been invited to join in.

I'll confess that at first glance, I agreed to come because it seemed like a lovely excuse for a weekend in one of my favourite places with two of my four favourite people and, er, that was it.

Now I want to know what makes these fans so passionate. And they are very keen - think Trekkies in tweed or Doctor Who buffs with a thing about an old phone box instead of the Tardis.

They're off at the moment on their pilgrimage - a trip to the phone box where the hero books accommodation for the leading lady, a sneaky visit to the Castle of Moy and a boat trip to the whirlpool.

When they come back there will be the enactment of scenes from the film - arthritic knees permitting - a quiz and talks.

There will also be the signing of a sternly worded letter to the authorities about the state of the phone box that Mr Scorseses among others helped become a listed building. BT are supposed to maintain it, in spite of the fact no one has made a call there since about 1972, and haven't.

I know it's a good movie and all: well-made and having the special warmth and charm also found in the likes of Withnail and I, Local Hero and The Bridges of Maddison County. But is that enough?

What brought this group - many of whom had never met before the gin and Dubonnet session last night - together? Why has this film captured the hearts more than, say, Ring of Bright Water or the 30 Steps? And what happens on Sunday, do they just go back to their different lives all over the world as if this little interlude never happened?

Meantime, would someone pour me another gin and Dubonnet...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A weekend in Yorkshire without a single pudding

Things I learned during our Yorkshire weekend.

Money does grow on trees.
Or at least it does at places on the Ingleton Falls walk. There are fallen trees with coins banged into the bark. It looks very much like the scales of a reptile. I expect you could find a metaphor there if you look hard enough.

Sometimes what you wish for does come true. Especially if that something is a place that sells tea and icecream where you least expect it. Thanks to the snack shed on the falls walk for providing much-needed refreshment.

I don't mind some festivity in October. Especially when it's Christmas cake served with local cheese. It's a Yorkshire thing apparently. So in the interests of being the blog that boldly fills its face, I tried some. Very nice it was too.

Childfriendly doesn't always mean friendly to people who have children. We stopped at the Little Chef outside Penrith on the way home. I'd remembered it served tasty food in a pleasant environment. I was right about the food. In spite of offering a children's menu and having high chairs, they really don't seem to like kids very much at all. Especially not ones who might eat their food of the high chair tray or, gasp, drop some crumbs.

Eureka isn't open on a Monday in term time. That is the local school's term time. During Scotland's half term I didn't consider for a minute it wouldn't be open. I would very much have liked to have found someone from the National Children's Museum who could explain this to two very disappointed children who had looked forward to the visit for months.

You don't need lots of money to buy happiness. In the wake of the Eureka debacle, Boys One and Two were somewhat placated by being given a fiver and told to do their worst in the nearby 99p shop.

A folly probably isn't a folly if lots of people enjoy it. The splendid Forbidden Corner in Leyton was created by C R Armstrong OBE for his family's amusement. Now though, it's a fantastic attraction and well worth finding.

Grown ups are just as bad as children. According to Boy One who tutted with disgust on finding an empty or two the morning after.

I'm very, very glad I don't have puky children. Poor little C was spectacularly unwell all over the inside of her parents' car. Poor J and R had to sort out the mess and resultant issue of a little girl who was only wearing a dressing gown.

Yorkshire is nearly as lovely as Cumbria. (Disclosure: this blog is not sponsored but I'm a Cumbrian) By 'eck. Every time we turned a new corner there was more 'wow', 'aww' and 'look at that'. I only need to look at the photos to find the Hovis theme or the soundtrack to All Creatures Great and Small playing in my head. 'Appen.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Child Benefit and Barbara Castle

Things I learned yesterday morning.

Multi-tasking is sometimes strangely satisfying. I took my netbook to the hairdresser so I could work while being remodeled. No guilt whatsoever and the added bonus of not having to discuss my plans for the rest of the day or whether I have started getting ready for Christmas.

Barbara Castle was a marvellous woman, feminist and politician. She featured in the research I did for a piece at my blog about Child Benefit. I wonder whether society has changed enough to bin the benefit.

You don't need to actually do something to know how it should be done.
Barbara Castle was neither a mother or a driver yet brought in benefits and legislation that improved the lot for road users and women with kids.

If you take your netbook to the hairdresser, be prepared to pick hair out of the keyboard for a long time.
That's it really. Also be ready to shut the lid quickly when the come at you with 'product'.

Floor-length mirrors are not always an improvement.
Redecoration time at the crimpers and they have lovely long mirrors at each cutting place. However, I don't want to be faced with the whole nasty socks and all view of myself every time I glance up. Maybe it's a psychological trick that any new 'do' will be an improvement on the barefaced, towel draped view.
Speaking of hair, never judge a woman by her 'do'. Babs may have had a Maggie, but her politics were a very long way away.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Confessions of a born-again flake

Can you hear that? It's not the sound of the as-yet-not-reviewed review copy of the Zingzillas album. No. The strange sound is the noise that standards make when they come crashing to the floor.

If I look over my shoulder I can see a woman who was ever so certain how things had to be done. She always did what she said she was going to do. She used good manners, replied to things, remembered things and fed her children healthy wholesome stuff.

She was the kind of person whose house, largely, was clean, whose tax return was filed, whose MOT was up-to-date and who rarely got confused about where she was supposed to be and when.

That person over there in the past was confident and accurate. She didn't get things wrong very often (with the noteable exception of a couple of men chosen as significant other) and there was no fudging, fiddling or cause to be flustered.

But how things have changed. I must now stand up and say: "I'm Ellen and I'm a flake."

These days I am rarely on time, that is when I do turn up. I have missed appointments and then compounded things by missing the opportunity to apologise or explain.

I have made arrangements then, at an inconvenient distance of time, had to unmake them because I had forgotten something else I should be doing.

Poor J, I even got her totally confused with someone else. Urgh, the conversation that followed makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Deadlines have been missed, to-do lists ignored, friends gone unthanked and promises forgotten.

Worse still. Knowing that leaving something for later is a risky strategy, I have done things and then totally forgotten about it. How silly did I feel preparing an excuse for not sending a cheque to an organised friend only to be thanked for the money and the appropriate card it arrived in?

My to-do list isn't so much a call to action, but a litany of shame. It contains a plan to get a plasterer to fix the hole in the wall that appeared in August 2009 and a reminder to put the plants I bought three weeks ago into the not-so-newly prepared beds. There are invoices that need written, bike lights that need acquired and photos that need framed.

I would like to say in mitigation the numbers are stacked against me: three children, two workplaces with four start times, one husband with three shift patterns, two pre-school childcare options, three out-of-school activities with various start times and venues, two regular work-at-home employers with irregular deadlines, several other employers, three Twitter personas and one green cone that won't do anything except provide a home for flies.

So there you have it. I'm a born-again flake but I hope I'm among friends... or at least people I'd call friends if I could remember their names...

Pic: Boy Three again because, clearly, I am too disorganised to get an appropriate photo.

NOTE: The Zingzillas Album is brilliant. Scat along with Cleo or groove to the digeridoo. There ought to be a proper review along shortly...

The pizza-flavoured post in which everyone wins

Pizza Hut

Kids Eat Free

Once upon a time there was a family and they were very sad. It was summer and all their money was spent on going on holiday to Turkey and to London.

Boy One was sad because he couldn't get to eat his favourite food - pizza - all the time. His mother was too damn lazy to cook different things for everyone.

Boy Two was sad because he hated pizza and didn't much like being at home all of the holidays either.

Boy Three was sad because his brothers wouldn't let him play their games and being the smallest he never got to watch Zingzillas, his favourite telly show.

The Panther of News was sad because it was the off season or something. He was also sad because Boys One, Two and Three were making annoying noises. And he was worried. He knew that if he waited too long his wife would find something for him to do and this would certainly make him sad.

Then the wise and gracious wife and mother of this family said: "Aha! I have an idea. Let's find something to do that doesn't cost anything and makes us all stop being sad."

So the family got into their magic carpet (Skoda) and drove to the nearby city of where they frolicked in the parks and stood in amazement looking at the interesting and sometimes downright bizarre things on show at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Boy Two loved the Elvis statue and the boobies on the harpie, Boy One loved the skeleton and the Egyptian stuff and Boy Three just loved everything because it was shiny and he could run around. Or at least until he fell asleep and dribbled on his t-shirt.

So the family were happy... for a while. "I'm hungry," said Boy Two. And all of a sudden they were sad again.

Just then the wise and gracious wife and mother said: "Stop moaning you ungrateful brats I've got better things to do then come here with you."

Er, hang on. She didn't say that at all. Here's what she said: "Aha, I have an idea. Let's find something good to eat that doesn't cost anything and makes us all stop being sad."

And with that she whisked out of the museum leaving nothing but the faint smell of jelly beans and some astonished looking children.

The family found her at the nearest Pizza Hut.

Boy One was happy. He loves pizza.

Boy Two was sad until his mother pointed to the chicken nuggety things on the menu and the miraculous ice cream dispenser in the corner.

Boy Three was sad until he realised that he just had to put up with being strapped into a highchair. And then he saw the seemingly endless supply of pizza to eat and breadsticks to put up his nose and he was happy.

The Panther of News was sad. He said: "I thought you said we were skint?"

And his wise and gracious wife replied: "I did, but look. Pizza Hut has a Kids Eat Free offer. Look - we can feed our darling sons for... nothing. Because they're worth it."

But if this makes you sad because the summer is now gone, take heart. Pizza Hut have extended their Kids Go Free offer until Jan 9, 2011.

And they all lived happily ever after... at least until it was raining and the football was on the telly again.

Details: For every adult main course or adult lunchtime buffet purchased, an accompanying child can choose from either a FREE 2 course kids meal (includes a drink) or a FREE kids lunchtime buffet (includes pizza, pasta and salad).

Find more details about the offer at Pizza Hut.


This is a sponsored post.

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Saturday, 2 October 2010

Crazy golf: a good wander round a large room spoilt?

Things I learned from Boy One's birthday celebration

Different approaches can have the same result. Boy One and his friends I and R - along with Boy Two on a best behavior promise - headed to X-Scape's Paradise Island Adventure Golf for some birthday fun. My view that adventure golf is an oxymoron did not change as the boys hacked and slashed their way around. Boy One barely even glanced at where he was aiming while I and R, who had done this before, almost addressed the ball. In the end it made little difference - R won, Boy One came second and I was a very close third. Boy Two, who should probably stick to kicking sports, trailed somewhat.

The Glasgow touch is unmistakable, however many parrots and plastic palm trees you add. Paradise Island's Adventure Golf offers a bar and cafe for the complete entertainment experience. On the boasting board the following delights were promised: "Chips and cheese, empire biscuits and Scotch pies."

I have identified the next Big Thing. Apparently it's shaped rubber bands to be worn on the wrist and swapped with chums. Boy One's pal R had an armful. Although none of the boys could adequately explain to me what the point was. For the enthusiastic collector there is even a Justin Bieber version, pictured. It seems my compulsion to pick up the ones the postie drops puts me ahead of the trend.

Cheesy bites are huge. Pizza Hut (getting a mention even though this isn't a sponsored post) do a cheesy bite pizza. It's delicious but enormous - possibly the biggest thing humans have ever attempted to consume. They can fly a man to the moon, why can't they make smaller cheesy bite pizzas?

Drunken adults are hilarious. Fascinating conversation developed among the not-so-small-any-more folk. One lurched back from the Pizza Hut lavvy, staggering under the weight of melted cheese, jelly sweeties and coco cola he had comsumed and said: "Whooo, I'm drunk." He then collapsed onto his friend amid much hilarity. "How do you know what being drunk is like?" I asked. I was buried in a deluge of anecdotes.
"My mum once got so drunk she tried to send me to bed at 5pm."
"We go and stay with my aunt every weekend so mum can go to the pub. She stays there until after midnight when she's drunk."
"One of mum's friends was so drunk she kept pulling dad's scarf in the car. He got so fed up he made her sit in the back."
I tried to cut through the hysteria with some propaganda: "So being drunk makes you seem stupid then? So maybe it isn't a good thing... " But I"m not sure they heard.
Boy Two then asked: "Have you and the Panther of News ever been drunk?"
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