Friday, 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding: a tale of two cities.



Where were you when Kate and Wills got hitched? It's going to be one of those - Chas and Di, Di dead, Piper Alpha, Dunblane or 9/11 questions. I'm quite pleased my children will remember that they were on the sofa with their mother.

I started my day about as ambivalent as a person can be about the whole thing. On the one hand, Kate and Will seem like a lovely couple and what's not to like about them getting hitched, I was keen to see her frock and I do like a good bit of pageantry. And on the other, I don't think princess is necessarily a good role model, the day off is mighty inconvenient and expensive and who's to say Andrew Morton won't write a book in a decade and we'll all learn what a sham it was.

I've also spent a goodly chunk of the last few weeks thinking and writing about Ms Middleton's forthcoming nuptuals. I got mildly outraged when I learned Little Miss Princess was moving in between Mr Tickle and Mr Bump. I got slightly more cross about the dozens of days the kids are off school this month. Then, unable to sustain a state of grouch for very long, started to look on the bright side. First I considered what the day might teach our offspring then did a roundup of Royal Wedding activities.

But come Friday morning, I'd kind of done with the whole sheebang. Boy Three was packed off to nursery and his brothers One and Two dispatched variously to practice guitar and watch the Mikado on YouTube (a long story). I had work to do.

I did have work to do, but I also had the Royal Wedding streaming live via the stv.tv website. What a distraction. And it wasn't long before the Boys and their friend Little G had migrated back to the telly and given up any pretence of following the Cartoon Network channel. We had a lovely time admiring the frocks, the trumpets, the cars, the Queen's wee blue blanket and, oooh, Kate's frock. I fielded questions like "how come one brother is bald and the other isn't?", "why are they all wearing hats?", "why do choirboys wear glasses?" and "why isn't the Queen singing?".

Now, if you look at the facts, I'm a cynical old hack. However, I was drawn in and affected by today's wedding. It was beautifully executed, dignified (and I like a bit of dignity) and uplifting. Sniff. Oh and Jerusalem gets me every time. Although, I'd be really pleased to know how watching the wedding of someone you've never met can leave you all cheery and warm inside, if anyone can tell me.

Then later, I spotted that Kelvingrove was trending on Twitter. An unofficial street party had ended in violence. Not that it's too surprising. Apparently some young people posted on facebook that they'd like to have a party and quite a few of their chums and their chums' chums said they'd come. Then Glasgow City Council went public with a warning that it was dangerous, illegal and no one should go. D'oh. Their notice was turned into a news story and, lo, thousands more folk knew about it and thought: "That sounds like fun."

A lifetime or two ago, I'd have probably gone along. I love Kelvingrove, in fact, I was walking there just the other day with Deb, Fionaoutdoors and her new dog Wispa. That's when I took these photos. Before kids, I lived near the park and walked there daily, it's a glorious space.

But then, after the 4,000-odd unofficial revellers had spent the day guzzling Buckfast or similar, the emotion of the day was starting to get the better of them, apparently. When the police moved in things got ugly very fast. Now, though, all that's left is a huge, stinking mess and a few people in Strathclyde Police's holding cells. I don't care about those in the cells very much, but I do care about the mess. This beautiful place is playground, gym, meeting place, dog walking spot and a dozen other things. What happens when the usual parkgoers turn up tomorrow morning and daren't let their kids onto the swings, or their dogs onto the grass for filth (and some of the worst kind, by all accounts)?

I'd like to see the people who thought themselves so smart in organising an unofficial party, to return to Facebook and start recruiting volunteers for an unofficial clear up, for a start. Then maybe we could start to repair the ruined park and Glasgow's wrecked reputation.

What will you remember Kate and Wills' wedding day for? For me it was mixed emotion - unexpected joy at a spectacular spectacle shared with my sons then shame and anger as one of my favourite places gets wrecked in a shameful public debacle.

Monday, 25 April 2011

How can I cure a picky eater?


Food, for me, is one of life's joys. I've never understood pickiness, it's all marvellous to me. A decade or so ago, I fully anticipated family meals of the future where my children happily tucked in to whatever tasty treat I'd rustled up, turning their noses up at breadcrumbed pap in favour of sophisticated flavours.

However, one aspect of Boy One's Asperger's has been a typically autistic eating pattern. He can't do sloppy stuff, mixed stuff, colourful stuff and weird stuff. Over the years, we've had phases where he couldn't do broken or bashed stuff and, at one point, he couldn't even be in the same room as other people eating any stuff. Consequently, notions of mini gourmands quickly went out of the window, replaced by the need to meet some nutritional needs. Indeed, a few years ago, I was advised by a dietitian that if he wouldn't eat anything else, milk chocolate for breakfast was fine, it did, at least contain calcium.

Then along came Boy Two, he ended up eating pretty much the same as his brother. For a while, he learned to copy the AS behaviour patterns like cutting off the ends of his chips. My goalposts had shifted so far I didn't care as long as he was eating and we got through a meal without anyone crying or vomiting.

Now, though Boy One gamely has a go at most things - as long as they aren't sloppy or colourful - but Boy Two is entrenched with the fish fingers, nuggets and ketchup of toddler tables.

He was at his pal's house for Easter Sunday lunch this weekend and when they came back, I asked about the meal. His mate, a shocked Little G, said: "Boy Two says he's never had a roast dinner before."

Oh. Well I don't suppose he has, either. Not a proper one. But this is going to change, and soon.

Later, we discussed it and he agreed it wasn't the best that he didn't feel comfortable at someone else's table getting flummoxed by Yorkshire puddings.

So, Real Food Week has arrived. And not just any real food... We visited M&S and I let the Boys pick the tempting and tasty-looking treats for our culinary adventure.

On the way home, discussing what my favourite tea was at their age (Mum's sweet and sour chicken, since you ask) Boy Two, with a tone of horror, said: "Wasn't pizza invented then, mum?"

Saturday, 23 April 2011

What shall I use my Hobfather wishes for?


Some days you never know what's going to happen next, and, in my book, that's a wonderful thing.

For instance, this week I turned up for a shift at STV to find the place hoaching - a technical term - with burly besuited chaps, the ones with wires running into their ears. I assumed we were getting a visit from Neil Lennon or his lawyer. Not so, blocking the route from the door to my desk was none other than Prime Minister David Cameron.

Just earlier, there had been another unexpected, and much more welcome, manifestation. The Hobfather had turned up in my inbox. Ian introduced himself and said that he wanted to grant me a wish (give me a £20 Amazon voucher) in exchange for a mention and some Google juice from my blog. No catch, apparently. All I have to do is say visit his cookers page.

This just leaves the thorny dilemma of what to spend the voucher on. Here are the possibilities:

A new changing bag.
Boy Three's lovely purple bag got left behind beside a football pitch a couple of weeks ago. As he's 22 months and probably will be out of nappies in the next year, I thought perhaps we could do without. However, a day trip to Edinburgh yesterday which featured dribbled milk and lots of scrabbling in the bottom of a bag for baby wipes, suggested otherwise.

A strimmer or similar piece of garden equipment. We now only have a tiny square of grass to cut, but we still need something to do it with. Our mower is aged and our strimmer completely goosed.

A new toaster.
The toaster - linchpin of our nutritional policy - has lost its pop. It still toasts beautifully but when it's done the bread just lurks in the slot. The pop has completely vanished.

Something lovely for my forthcoming trip to Tunisia.
Did I mention I was off to Tunisia next month? The fine organ where the Panther of News prowls has seen fit to commission me to do a travel piece for them. He's being very brave about the fact his wife is going to do a trip for his paper while he stays at home and looks after our children. I hope he knows there will be more than tulip pants* in it for him.

*A few years ago I went to Amsterdam with a couple of pals. When I left I asked the Panther if he wanted a present brought back. He said: "No, don't worry. I'm not really bothered."
But when I handed over the joke non-present of tulip print underpants I'd found for him at the airport he was a bit miffed. I should have known he didn't mean it, apparently.

So, what should I use my wish for?

Disclosure: The Hobfather gave me a voucher if I told you to visit his cookers page.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Is there ever an excuse for bad manners?


My boys aren't angels, far from it. They have more than their fair share of rude and revolting moments.

But today one of them was greeted by an adult's appalling ignorance. Boy Two and his little friend G were playing one of their endless and elaborate games in the garden. It involved a trampoline and a football - trampball or footoline, if you will.

Perhaps inevitably the ball went over the fence into next door's garden. Reminded to observe their Ps and Qs Boy Two and G trotted off to ask for it back. They could have just walked into the garden and picked it up in seconds without anyone noticing, but they didn't, they asked nicely because I told them to.

A wide-eyed and slightly shaken Boy Two recounted the following response from the man next door: "I'm too busy to get it. I'll do it later. Now, go away." And he slammed the door on the pair.

Even if he is too busy a more mannerly response might be nice, or even suggesting they go and collect it themselves.

Should I have marched around in a state of High Dudgeon (whatever that might be) and demand an apology or should I mark it down as another life lesson for the nine-year-old and his little pal?

Dobble delight in a tin


We were lucky enough to get sent a Dobble game to try this Easter hols. We like a good game around the table, or at least Boy Two and I do and everyone else puts up with it.
So Boy Two and I were excited to give Dobble a whirl...

It's a game with 55 round cards each with eight different symbols. The clever bit is that each card has one symbol in common with each other card... and only one symbol. I tried to work out how that happened for a while, but it made my head hurt so I stopped.

The instruction book has several different variations on games that involve spotting the matchers. Boy Two and I got the hang of it within minutes and enjoyed it. Boy One and the Panther of News even said they didn't mind a go.

It's a firm favourite - possibly toppling Monopoly cards from their top spot. And, for me, one of the best bits is the tin. It's easy to store and you won't lose cards.

Dobble is available in good toyshops and the RRP is £12.99.

Disclosure: we were sent a game to try.

Monday, 18 April 2011

When they say a change is as good as a rest they're wrong...











Things I've learned from our trip to Haven Holiday's Burnham-on-Sea camp

Little will deter a nearly two year old hell bent on escape. That's it really. Boy Three will go pretty much where Boy Three wants and there's not much we can do about it.

Ensuite facilities should be a human right. I know it's shallow and spoilt, but I don't care. Alone in the wilderness is one thing, but I don't like crossing a road and having to be polite to strangers on a small-hours trip to the ladies.

I could be the new Nigella, if all she had was a microwave. The fragrant Ms Lawson wouldn't do any better than me in a tent with a microwave and a hob she's too scared to use what with the hazards of toddlers and canvas. And microwave pizzas really aren't that bad.

There's nothing wrong with Radio 2. The Panther of News and I have resolved to adopt a bullish approach to our radio listening choices. We caught ourselves yelping with pleasure when we discovered the telly in our tent also served as a digital radio. To hide our embarrassment, we're ordering some "So What. We Like Jeremy Vine And Ken Bruce And Don't Care Who Knows It!" t-shirts.

Queuing for a swimming pool that's already full is never going to end well.
If the scene through the steamed-up glass resembles human soup with a side order of verrucas, it's just not going to be very nice in there. And it won't get better when you discover there are only three showers and they're all very, very cold.

Pedal power is surprisingly good fun.
A hour-long rental of a bike/cart (sorry kart) thing for the big Boys and I, turned out to be excellent entertainment. Particularly if you take a run at the speed bumps or attempt a hand-brake turn.

Tents - especially big 'safari' type ones - are fascinating. But after a while the steady stream of people looking into ours got somewhat wearying. Perhaps they were on a safari and we were some of the Big Four they were hunting.

Cheddar isn't the least bit cheesy.
In fact, it makes for an excellent day out, unless you're nearly two and not very happy in gloomy caves. The PoN took his little cub back to camp for a nap while Boys One, Two and I had a splendid time exploring the labyrinth.

Boring old customer service should never go out of fashion. We were disappointed to find that perhaps old-school attention to detail was off on its jollies during our visit. Yes, Boy One really did lose £1 in a slot machine; no, we didn't specifically order rubbish food; yes, we'd like to be able to lock our valuables up; yes, we would like to have a key for the family bathroom, but, no, the person you've referred us to isn't even on duty; yes, we prefer warm water; no, we don't want to go to the nightclub, but, neither do we want a free Beatles tribute band performance audible from our beds; and, finally, no I don't want someone else's abandoned ear plug left near my bed.

The Panther and I are good together in adversity. See above.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Questions and answers meme


I’ve always secretly quite liked a good questionnaire. Perhaps I’m so shallow that the few moments in the spotlight – even it if it a DLA application form – make me feel important. Before my inbox fills with eHowlers, it’s a joke - the DLA application form is a horrible horrible thing and the reason for filling it in more so.

So, after an interesting couple of days away with the Panther and our Boys, I was just thinking about how to get back in the groove when I got a message from Linda at Passionate Media. She’d tagged me in her meme.

A meme for those with better things to do than live in blogland is a thing of debatable pronunciation whereby a blogger writes a post then passes the theme to his or her chums. This time it’s an interesting set of questions.

Without further ado:

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
I could choose mum for unstinting love and courage or the Panther of News for humour and never failing to rise to the occasion, but I won’t, instead I’ll pick Super Sister. She’s followed her heart, succeeded and still managed to find time to organise everyone.

When were you happiest?

Fleetingly at the top of a mountain or sailing downwind on a moonlit ocean, but, enduringly, it’s now.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Too many and too dreadful to recount.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

A Skoda Roomster.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family and our home.

Where would you like to live?

Somewhere with a view.

What’s your favourite smell?
Supper.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Tamsin Greig, because then she’d know who I was and maybe be my friend.

What is your favourite book?
Can’t possibly pick one. Although the one I’ve been commissioned to write is making me very happy at the moment.

What is your most unappealing habit?

Eating carrots.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
Minnie the Minx.

What is your earliest memory?

Under the table and in front of the Aga in the kitchen of our house. I think there was a dog too.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Boden.

What do you owe your parents?
Loyalty and the importance of place on the world and in the family.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

I’m pleased to say I can’t think of anyone – either amnesia or a clear conscience. Except possibly anyone nauseated by my sentimental blog posts.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My family.

What does love feel like?

Warm, comfortable and safe.

What was the best kiss of your life?

The one from the Panther when we got married. See I told you it was nauseating.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Nice, lovely and marvellous.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

Trying to persuade people to get the Press and Journal and Evening Express delivered – I was dreadful at it.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

I’d have worn sunblock more often.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?
We're all just a heartbeat away.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m proud when I’ve written something that affected someone.

When did you last cry, and why?
I cry a little most days for my brother.

How do you relax?

A good book, a gin and tonic and some quiet. Either that or a brisk walk and some yoga.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

More time.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Everything will pass in time and attitude is everything.

I’m going to tag the other blogs in the BMB comment group, or at least the ones who haven’t done this already.
Little Red Buttons

JoJo’s So-Called Life
Mrs Shortie’s Mind
Domestic Goddesque
Lion Taming at Number 32

And here's where it all started with Mrs Lister.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Typo Tv - 60 Inuit Makeover



There's a television revolution coming. Forget X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, Simon Cowell is so last week he's not even the new black any longer.

Actually the lovely Julia must take the credit. She started it with a tiny keyboard stumble and created 60 Inuit Makeover. Much, much better than the original and would feature people weeping as they take off their seal skins for the first time and lots of ig-loo jokes. I'd watch.

Then we realised it was a rich seam. Think about it. Dancing on Mice - sequins, fake tan and squeaking.

Dragon's Din - really noisy pompous dragons.

Faster Chef - McDonald's trainees (that was Richard's gem)

Flue Peter - Period drama about a child who gets sent up chimneys.

Have I Got Pews For You? - Two sets of ushers go head-to-head.

Strictly Comb Dancing - tapdancing hairdressers.

In the Right Garden - Follow the hilarious capers of drunk people trying to get home. Whose lawn will they pass out on?

Boy Three has his own suggestion Come Dino with me

A tiger won't change his stripes and neither will my son



When it comes to clothes I think there are probably two kinds of people - those who dabble with a bit of variety and those who know what they like.

Boy Two is of the latter variety. It's not that he doesn't care what he wears, on the contrary, he will not wear something that doesn't fit his entirely arbitrary criteria. But the stuff that makes it to the front of the wardrobe, or top of the floordrobe depending, he will wear until it is threadbare.

We are currently waging a battle of a particularly nasty pair of beige trousers that are too small and somewhat holey. Every time I try to chuck them out, as if their grotty legs come to life, they find themselves back in his room.

His other garment of choice was sent to us by Millets and is a blue striped towelling hoodie. The boy loves it and snaffles it back out of the laundry as soon as he can.

In this picture he's illustrating that it's possible to put a dozen Malteasers in your mouth at once, that's why he looks like ET. And moments later his favourite top was decorated with chocolate drool. Reason to get it washed, you'd think? Apparently not. Once he was asleep, I had to launch a stealth operation to where he had hidden it in his room.

Millets also do a pink one with stars on and they cost £12.99.

Disclosure: we were sent a hoodie to try out.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bloggers in the flesh - my fears for meet-up mayhem


I flippin' love blogs and bloggers, while tweeters are just teeny tiny bloggers in the end. What's not to love?

I get to write, which is probably my favourite thing. And I have found some astoundingly good blogs, funny, touching, warm and clever. The people of this blog world are friendly and helpful. And lately it has led to work, on my most recent tax return, more than three quarters of what I earned came from blogging or other online work.

Sometimes it's how I imagine Second Life to be. Second Life is a virtual world where you can re-invent yourself as Samantha the Sorceress who wears thigh-length boots and has implausible bosoms. You can make Samantha have wild adventures where she meets Dynamo Dave the surfer dude with super powers and they take on the imaginary world. Or something.

Online you can be whoever you like. You can, generally, make sure you've sorted out your virtual hair and presented your best e-side before you press the send/tweet/publish button. You don't even have to hold your stomach in. When I type the words sort themselves out more-or-less as I want. When my mouth gets involved in the communication any sort of stammery, stumbly nonsense is possible, usually accompanied by blushing and awkward body language. Distracting gesture anyone?

And on the web, you've usually got a few minutes to read a blog, a biog or even google to remind yourself who you're talking too and what they're about. That means you never, ever have to do that thing where you know you know the person, but you haven't a scoobie where from. Worse still, two and two come together to make a wonky chair and you decide to sit in it and assume the person you've met is someone entirely else. That's nasty and something I still cringe at the times I've done it.

Now though, the bloggers have become flesh. They are strapping on their thigh-length boots and coming, blinking, out in public.

I met some the other day. Susan K Mann, Transatlantic Blonde, YMFT, Me, Him and Them and All About Mummy were there. They're lovely, really lovely. We had a fantastic time thanks to Parental Circle and the chaps who run it told us all about their plans for their Blogger Fest next month.

While we scoffed sushi, two of the bloggers told me how they had bumped into each other in their local high street. They had never met in real life only on the pages of their blogs. They recognised each other from the photos. I was very impressed.

You see, I have such a problem remembering names and faces and matching them up correctly. And in blogland, there are also blog names, code names and other family members to remember. Oh Lord, it scares me quite a lot.

First there's the Parental Circle Blog Fest to get through without getting confused, mixing people up and upsetting them. Then, a few weeks later there's Cybermummy, even bigger and more bewildering.

I'm also talking (mostly by written means so far, but probably with our mouths soon) to lots of bloggers as I look for stories and info for Blogging for Happiness. So far, I've found some fabulous new blogs to follow and "met" some lovely people.

So, it would be really handy if everyone looked as much like their avatars as possible, or, failing that, have their names about their person in big letters.

And if that doesn't work, please forgive me. Because I confuse you with someone else or forget where you blog doesn't mean I don't care. I care very much, I'm just rubbish at the real world.

Picture: Are you a woodpecker, or am I making a tit of myself?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

What did you to to remember your loved ones?


You'll have noticed that we go on walks, but there's also a bench and a cairn. Something solid to visit, commune with or at. X marks the spot.

And while it's easy to agree that things don't matter a jot, what a comfort there is - for now - in a solid thing to visit. And gravestones are so, well, final and dead, aren't they?

I've noticed that we aren't alone. Not surprising really - the extraordinary experience of grief and loss is so very unexceptional. On a recent few strolls (I know, they were supposed to be training walks) I've started to notice them - the plaques, benches and walkways lovingly placed as an act of remembrance.

So many and so touching that I've started to collect them in another blog, boringly titled In Memoriam. I'm only recording what I find, the few words on the thing say enough. If it fits, I'm also taking a picture of the view from the bench or the spot. That's all.

If you find one on your travels you'd like to add or, even, your special one, please let me know. The photo doesn't have to be a masterpiece - your phone camera will do nicely.

In Memoriam

Monday, 4 April 2011

This weekend was father's day too for us...












One might be inclined to think that my family and I do nothing but go on memorial walks. But this weekend's outing was for dad. It's four years since he died and we have got together, one way or another, every year to mark the occasion.

That post from 2007 was the first proper one of my blog... and what a lot of words have been uploaded since then.

Well look at the walkers - or rather the small emperors being pushed in their buggies - only one of them was around when dad died, and now look.

There are so many little boys, there are enough to form Granny B's jammie army. When it poured, Super Sister marched them up and down the carpet in a vain attempt to consume some energy. It didn't matter though because soon the sun shone and the walk was back on.

It was sun dappled and splashy stroll along the old railway line into Keswick from Threlkeld. Step mum J reminded me that one of the last times we'd walked that way was when Boy Two was a dot (he's nine in less than two weeks) and his brother not much bigger. And on that day I broke the news to her and dad that I was going to leave the boys' father. Not an easy decision, but, I know, the right one.

So Mother's Day, father's day, what's it all about? I've done quite a lot of pausing for thought lately, but, please, indulge me once again.

Here's what I learned (or remembered) this weekend:

Time passes, things heal and, generally, they work out.

Not much has more energy than a small boy, except maybe another small boy.

Sustrans do a remarkably fine cycle/walking path.

Negotiating with small children is a highly skilled job.

You can't wear out little boys by marching around a sitting room.

You don't stop missing someone as time goes on, it's just that life pads out the emotional bruises a bit.

We may have had a rough few years, but we still have a huge pile of stuff to be grateful for.

When you've got your cousins you don't need the telly.

Nothing beats your mother's home cooking, and the welcome of her home.

And the funny smell in the kitchen was almost certainly from that gone-off carton of cream.
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