Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Clash of the titans or Aspie Kid meets Toddler Boy

Who says you can't eat your sausage in a bag?
There may well be a rumble in the jungle but it isn't a patch on the noise that's being generated in this house.

Boy One, 11 years old and in his Asperger's way a bit of a stickler, and Boy Three, two years old and an exceptionally stroppy free spirit, have been at loggerheads lately.

Boy One sees the theoretical possibility of danger everywhere and he likes a good rule. One day he may be of great benefit to the health and safety industry. Boy Three is using risk-taking to explore the limits of his physical and creative world.

So Boy One tries to get Boy Three to toe the line. Boy Three sees the line and throws yogurt at it. Boy One restrains Boy Three for his own safety but Boy Three reacts by turning into a red-faced ball of snot-crusted fury.

Boy Three doesn't understand why his explorations - largely encouraged as good for his development - can't continue into the cave of sensory delights that is his biggest brother's bedroom. Boy One cannot bear the thought of the touching and moving and breaking that would follow.

Now this would be more or less fine if they would just retreat to other ends of the house with a barricade of dirty laundry and empty cereal boxes between them.

However, Boy One loves his baby brother with a passion. Boy Three loves anyone who will give him things and indulge him. He has a lot of fun with Boy Two (nine years old and like a Tunnock's teacake - a flimsy hard shell with a very soft gooey inside). They romp and fart and giggle together.

Boy One sees this and wants a slice of the fun. He tries to entice Boy Three by thrusting a plaything in his face or tickling him. Thing is, in a typically AS way, he's just not reading Boy Three  at all before invading his personal space.

Personal space for a toddler might seem like an odd concept, given his blatant disregard for others (manifested this morning by him sitting on my head), but Boy Three already has clear ideas about who can come close and when.

He's also talking well - "my mummy", "go away now", "have it to me", "too big", "oh my goodness" and "I like bagels". But his speech is still only a very small part of his communications, eloquent as they are. He gets his message across with volume, gesture, missiles, expression and a few words. But Boy One struggles to read anything but the words.

Poor Boy Once can't understand why his baby brother says to him "go away now", "bye bye" or why almost every encounter ends in shrieks of frustration.

Once I realised what was happening, I've tried to explain and, even, use Boy Three as a toddling tutorial on non-verbal communication. Hopefully it'll work and peace will break out.

Tips and suggestions would be most welcome, only write them down because there's too much roaring going on here for me to hear myself think.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cybermummy: still a mummy nonetheless

Obviously you'll have read all about it in the Independent by now. Cybermummy is the new black.

The comments section makes interesting reading. Including one that says, by way of criticism: "Their activities seem to have little to do with motherhood, and yet still they feel it necessary to use 'mummy'."

To me that's not criticism. Just because I am a female parent - therefore mummy - doesn't mean I stop doing, and writing about, things that have little to do with motherhood.

Cybermummy did provide a few views about motherhood that gave me pause for thought. 

Sarah Brown, wife of former PM Gordon, talked about her work with the White Ribbon Alliance for Save Motherhood. She said: "When you save a mother, you save a community."

Then I met a blogger over coffee and buns. She told me she had wanted to be a mother but dreaded how it would make her feel. She believed mothers just disappear in society. They have no fun, nothing intelligent to say and are subsumed. She confessed that blogging brought her closer to mums she felt akin to "the others I meet at nursery, I just don't have anything to say to".

Then Dr Ellie Lee, an academic from the University of Kent who studies parenting culture among other things talked about "the rise of intensive parenting". She said - although I will verify this, and quite probably write about it, later - that more and more time is spent "parenting" these days, and theories and schools of thought jostle for space, time and money. How we "parent" (when did that become a verb) is a cultural choice. I wonder if we could choose to stop parenting at all and just love our kids.

Moving on and needing some Kleenex. Sian To, Rosie Scribble and Liz Scarff from Save the Children. Talked affectingly about their trips to developing countries Cameroon and Bangladesh to visit mothers and families there. Again and again they said: "These women were mums just like us."


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Cybermummy 2011: who am I?

Not looking like Columbo

Looking like Columbo

I am living in exciting times - tonight I'm going to see Take That, next month I'm going to see Neil Diamond and on Saturday I'm going to see lots of women I've never met before. 

I could pause to ponder if the knickers that get flung at Robbie et al will be of the same kind to those chucked at Jazz Singer Neil's feet, but I won't.

Instead I'll talk about Cybermummy. It's the "UK’s premier blogging conference devoted to parent bloggers and designed to plug you into the wider blogging world". There will be dozens of bloggers - many of whom I've 'spoken to' one way or another - but only, I think, two I've actually met. 

There is a lot of Cybermummy chatter going on all over the internet and I've just been too busy to take part. I've had my head down scribbling away on my book... about blogging. 

However, I thought at least I could join in with a post that introduces myself, so when you see a bewildered looking woman wandering around a venue in London, you'll be able to tell her who she is and what she's doing there.

Name: Ellen Arnison

Twitter id: @Ellen27

Height: 5'5"

Hair: brown with silver roots!

Eyes: brown and knackered looking.

Likes: Toast, blogging, taking pictures, walking, quality swearing and surprises.

Dislikes: Waiting, not being thinner, instant coffee and cruelty.

Most likely to say: 'I'm sorry I've forgotten' or 'Where's the loo?'

 If the event is half as good as the reports of last year's suggest, it'll be a blast. See you there ladies (and gents).

UPDATE: I have added a new photo because my husband, the Panther of News, reckoned the one I had used made me look like Columbo. I thought I'd leave it up though to see if anyone else agreed.

Monday, 20 June 2011

What's your favourite waste of time?

Time is hurling me towards my book deadline at the moment. And you'd have thought the pressure and importance of the whole thing would focus my mind, wouldn't you?

However, instead of writing, one rainy Saturday afternoon I find myself googling that song from the eighties by Owen Paul. Like you do.

And on the same topic I offer my favourite ways to waste time:
  • People of Walmart - I just love them.
  • Twitter. Eavesdropping and gossiping at the same time.
  • Property porn. I can sometimes be found skulking on estate agents' websites. Not that I have house envy, just to check...
  • What's for tea? Recipe surfing. I think the first books to die will be those by Ramsay, Lawson, Smith et al. Now I just bung a list of what's in the fridge in the Google box and see what's on the menu.
  • Keeping up it trendy. We need a new word for the disappointment felt when you discover the trending topic name is, in fact, a footballer you don't care about. But if I didn't check I might miss something.
  • The Daily Mail. Don't approve, don't trust and know what their game is. However, that doesn't stop me going there...
  • Ebay. So cheap it doesn't count as shopping and I might not win the auction.
  • Vital statistics. Not vital at all, but that doesn't stop me loitering in Google Analytics.
  • Making discoveries. Finding a site or blog post that makes me say "I bloody love the internet". Then promptly forgetting about it.
  • Finding work. Finding work is all very well, but I don't have enough time to finish the work I am already commissioned to do. Must stop.
  • Snacking. Oh yes, can't work while eating, can I? Fridge here I come.
  • Prowling. Probably just as well I don't have colleagues in an office. I can be found in any room in the house, especially while on the phone. Often I take a baby wipe with me and rub at fingermarks.

What are your favourite wastes of time?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Violence against women - Viagra for the rapists

Today's theme at Transatlantic Blonde's Feminist Friday is violence against women. 

There are reports that Colonel Gaddafi has been dishing out Viagra to his troops so that they can rape to order. 

This sickening news has marched round and round in my head all week until it has worn a deep uneasy path. I've been thinking about those soldiers. These are people with families - children, mothers and wives - whom they undoubtedly love. 

Who knows what it's like to live under the Gaddafi regime or what led them to become members of his army. Perhaps it's just a job, a career, like our soldiers - our heroes. Maybe they were press ganged, pressurised, frightened into joining. Or, even, that fighting for their leader is a source of pride and honour. 

Actually it doesn't matter - the fact is they are flesh and blood men trained to take orders. Just as the members of our armed forces. 

But then the order comes to rape. They're even given drugs to make it happen more easily. What then? Do these men really believe it's right? Or are they too intimidated or otherwise rendered insensible? Has it become normal? What happens if they refuse?

Discussing the subject on Question Time, Germaine Greer drew fury when she said: "All soldiers in certain circumstances will rape - whether they're ours or theirs." 

Can that possibly be right? After all, our soldiers are trained to fight and kill - and follow orders whatever their instincts may tell them.

I don't have a conclusion, indeed, I really want to believe that only the very, very few disturbed individuals can possibly be rapists. Please tell me this is true: none of the men I know could be rapists under different circumstances. Could they?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Review: Are You There Charley Bear?

I’m 44 years old and generally, I prefer the characters on the TV programmes I like to speak and, specifically, James Cordon gets on my wick.

He might be a nice chap and he’s a new dad which also gains more celeb points, but that sketch show he did with the other chap from Gavin and Stacey just underlined the fact that Ruth Jones was the talent there. Ruth had been in my lady crush club for a while, but this week after the Edinburgh Moonwalk my friend @LadyBlahBlahs and I watched her turn as Hattie Jacques and now she’s at the top table.

Anyhow, back to Little Charley Bear. It’s really hard for a 44 year old to know whether something will really appeal to small children or not. Sure we can guess but we don’t always get it right. I cite Rastamouse – up and down the land 30 and 40 somethings are sneaking on to the sofa to watch the Reggae rodent and his Easy Crew while their preschool kids look on bewildered. And who’d have thought all that nonsense with Ninky Nonks would have caught on?

So LCB’s new DVD, Are You There Charley Bear?, was put to the test this week.
First, circumstances dictated that Boy Three had to come to the high school parent’s evening because the Panther of News was still on the prowl. Boy Three is a gregarious individual, entirely convinced that every person in a room is there to play with him and fetch biscuits. Probably not an unreasonable assumption when you’re just two, but not terribly helpful when obliged to sit in an auditorium listening to a talk about school rules and homework.

I was concerned that this evening which was very important to Boy One would go well, but worried that his littlest brother would scupper things with loud demands for tickles or the singing of Yankee Doodle. So we arrived at Gryffe High School equipped with a portable DVD player, big headphones and the LCB DVD. Genius, not a single squeak out of Boy Three who sat there engrossed the whole time.

Then when @LadyBlahBlahs went home after our Moonwalk this weekend she took the DVD with her to let her daughter Little C – aged 4 – have a look.

Here’s what happened:
LadyBlahblahs: Do you want to watch Little Charley Bear?
Little C: If I smile it means yes *smiles*
LB: Are you enjoying it?
LC: If I flick my hair it means yes *flicks hair*
LB: What do you like about it?
LC: If I smile and flick my hair it means all of it *smiles and flicks hair*
LB: Ooookaaay.
LC: Mummmmmeeeeeeee...... it's actually rubbish, there are only three episodes. Three! 
LB: Did you like the three episodes?
LC: Yes, but there are only three, there should be more
LB: What was your favourite bit?
LC: *Mimes Charley riding on Caramel the Horse and jumping over a log*.

All of which, I think, means she liked it.
So, there you have it, Are You There Charley Bear? has fascinated a two-year-old and entertained a four-year-old. Our survey declares it a winner.
Narrated by James Corden, Little Charley Bear is on CBeebies, weekdays at 9.30am and 1.30pm. The Are You There Charley Bear? DVD is on sale RRP £12.99. Visit for more information.

Note: the DVD in the shops has seven episodes on it, Little C was watching a shorter review revsion.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the DVD to review.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Sh*g, marry avoid - the Edinburgh Moonwalk version

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and David Cameron. 

Trinny, Susannah and Mary Portas.

Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

George Michael, Freddie Mercury and Marc Almond,

Justin Fletcher, Mr Bloom and Grandpa In My Pocket.

This is what it had come to. Tough, tough choices I can tell you. You see @Ladyblahblahs and I were forced to play Shag, Marry, Avoid because our fatigued brains were too addled to think of a film beginning with the letter M. (Macbeth, Madagascar, Made in Dagenham, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and so on - yes, I know that now, but the circumstances of Saturday night were exceptional.)

The reason for this sorry state of affairs was that we had been walking all night through Edinburgh, taking part in this year's Moonwalk. Our conversation had ranged far and wide - men, children, governments, schools, families, gender politics, blogging and the etiquette of weeing en plein air.

The sun came up, sequins and pompoms may have come unglued and the last of the previous night's alehouse stragglers lurched home. And still we plodded. 

In the last few miles we realised that distraction was the answer and so we turned to S, M, A.

I'd be interested to know what you would do with some of our triplets. 

Oh, yes, and you can still make a donation to the Moonwalk, Walk the Walk fund - it isn't too late.

P.S. to the lady in McDonald's who kindly let us all use her loo and buy caffienated drinks - get a new job. You are lovely, but nothing is worth spending all of a Saturday night cleaning the kitchen at McDonald's even if the national manager is coming to visit.

P.P.S @Ladyblahblahs reminded me of the question that kept us occupied from mile 22 to 23.
If you were In The Night Garden and you had to, who would it be?
After consideration our answers were Mr Pontipine and Upsy Daisy. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

We don't burn bras in this house, we stick pompoms on them

Burning with creativity
Transatlantic Blonde raises her feminist flag again and wonders about raising a feminist child. Once again I wasn't going to bother because I'm far too busy and, besides, I should be getting ready for the Moonwalk. 

I'm pleased to see the only weather on offer according to the forecast is thunder storms. Seems apt somehow. 

However, TB got me thinking again. How to raise a feminist child... in a house full of boys. I've talked about it before: how people offer sympathy when they find out you've got a nest of little blokes. And when I say people, I mean female people because mostly that kind of nonsense comes from other women. Ladies, how's that going to help? Telling eventual men that they're rubbish and not as good as girls before their voices have broken will not go any way to ending the battle of the sexes. 

My job, as I see it, is to teach my sons to look after themselves so they no longer need me, or any other person to do it for them. If I can demonstrate and encourage them to be true to themselves, kind to animals and responsible for their actions then I'm ahead of the game. 

So there we were the other day I was about to start decorating my bra for tomorrow - a task almost as daunting as the 26 mile walk itself - when Boy Two piped up. "Mum, I'll do it, you're rubbish at this kind of stuff."

Then later after we'd created a splendid costume of foundation garment, ribbons and pompoms we were watching TV when the adverts came on. I don't watch much television at all - generally I've got better things to do. So I was fascinated by the things they were trying to get girls to buy. Apparently girls like glitter - especially on straps, dressing and undressing things and tacky makeup sets. Who knew that having an xx chromosome could do that to you, it must be a new thing. 

"Yuk," I said. 

"What's yuk?" Boy Two replied.

"All that stuff for girls. It's a bit much isn't it?"

"Hmmm," he was puzzled. Already, for him, some of the images of girls don't match his reality. He can't see that girls are really all that different to boys. After all, he explained, they play football just the same as boys. 

One of his best friends Little G has a mean right foot and is just as likely to be found in midst of latest rough fling-you-in-the-wheelie-bin game as her male peers. 

Yet, she has a particularly lovely sequin cardi that at least two of my Boys covet. Boy Three wants to stroke it whenever he sees it and I've seen the others casting admiring glances. And who can blame them it's beautiful.

Perhaps it was introduced at the same time as the xx chromosome thing, but now xy chromosome humans need to be dressed entirely in blue or shades of sludge while reading books about snot and other forms of horrid. I missed that decision too.

I'm not consciously raising feminist kids, I wouldn't know how to do that. But at every turn I try to tackle the sneaky shoots of sexism, hopefully with more success than I do with weeds in the garden. 

Lately we've dealt with "girl" as an insult. And "you're supposed to do it because you're a woman". And while I can't do anything about the confusing gender messages coming from every direction, I can try to help them with the almost impossible job of making sense of it.

I call it a work in progress. Meantime, I offer an image of Boy Two decorating my bra for the Edinburgh Moonwalk tonight. He's using a boxing glove - it was lying around the kitchen, of course - to stop the cup collapsing while he works. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Going to high school: the tie that's a bind

One and Three watching telly
It's a medium sized day at the Palace of Bundance today.

Boy Three is two. He celebrated the fact by regurgitating his bottle of milk all over me and the bed. Happy Barfday little one. Boys One and Two think we're being a bit mean not having a party and huge piles of gifts. But the fact is he doesn't really understand birthdays although he does know they have something to do with cake. When everyone comes home from school, work and nursery this afternoon there will be cake and there will be a toy kitchen for our littlest, and most enthusiastic, cook.

Boy One goes to his new high school for the first of three induction days. He's very excited about the move. We've had meetings, assessments and visits. I'm fairly confident he'll get the support he needs but I'm also fairly confident he hasn't a clue what's going to hit him.

Today he had to wear a smart white shirt and his school tie. By 7am the tie was found so things were looking good. Then, while I was in the shower washing off his brother's barf, Boy One decided this was the time I should be doing the tie thing. We talked it through and he'd mostly got it. All it needed was for him to make sure the tie was seam side down and that he didn't yank it out of shape.

But by 8am the tie still wasn't right and getting worse - he wouldn't let me help. I tried to point out that just wearing a tie if it's tied all wrong is about as bad as not wearing a tie. Yes, there is a right way and it's not just me who says so. There are many things I'm all for free expression on, but tie tying isn't one.

By 8.15 I was a bad parent who didn't understand and there was door slamming (not so effective with a sliding door) and he hated me.

By 8.20 he's off to the bus. "Love you mummy."


Meanwhile, Boy Two who sees an opportunity to gain ground between the vomiting and the hormones has been helping me decorate my bra for Saturday's Moonwalk. He's done a splendid job, but there is something odd about watching your middle son gluing pompoms onto a bra cup that is held in shape by a boxing glove.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Progress: the things my children won't know

I've just got Boy Three ready for bed. These inefficient ablutions usually involve a lot of splashing and some bubbles. 

This time he spied a mini bar of soap brought home from some hotel or other. "Wazzat?" he pointed. 

"Soap," I unwrapped it for him. It must have been there years. 

He was baffled. He tried licking it then shoving it down the drain. Finally I showed him that if you rubbed it you got bubbles. Now he could see the point. 

But while this was going on and during the ensuing comical attempt to catch the soap in the sink I realised that he will probably never normally come across a bar of soap. We have bottles of liquid soap everywhere, don't you?

Then later I was writing a cheque for the football team's fees. That's something else he and his brothers probably won't know - cheques, not fees. 

It's fairly certain they'll only meet records, cassettes and video tape in museums. And blackboards are no longer part of the furniture in classrooms. 

Phones with bits you put your fingers in to dial are only ever special retro features. Smoking inside public places is, thankfully, gone for good.

What about floppy discs and their more modern successor 'hard' floppy discs?

Will children ever have to buckle small shoes? The idea of making arrangements to meet someone that don't depend on mobile phones already seems quaint. 

The way Kindle and the like are taking off, perhaps they'll forget what a book feels like. 

My Boys have only once used a public phone - yet when I was in the Brownies, we had to carry a two pence piece for just that reason. 

I remember my younger siblings enjoying nappies made of towelling fixed with pins. That doesn't happen any more. 

It does make me wonder: what's going to change before my Boys are grown up with their own children.

What will they look back on and say: "Do you remember... ?"

Friday, 3 June 2011

Ten minutes to mayhem - an evening in the Palace of Bundance

Such a sweet boy
Once upon a time it was an ordinary evening in the Palace of Bundance. The Empress of Bundance was making supper according to the laws of real food. So mince was on the menu.

The little princes Boys One and Two, were relaxing on the sofa - after a hard day at the Promethean board face of learning. This fact was getting on the wick of the Empress who had also been working all day. She was thinking about which tasks to put on the Housework Half Hour list of the day.

Boy Three, who, as you know, is a sweet and innocent child was playing nicely at the tap in the bathroom. "Wash hands," he cries and clambers onto the loo seat to splish in the running water.

According to the ancient and largely disregarded laws of healthy eating the mince had been cooked in water first (really it works) and the Empress was frying onions.

"All wet," said Boy Three from the top of the stairs. "All wet, all wet."

"Not surprising," grumbled the Empress who had heard this cry many times, and knew it to describe the merest drop of spilt milk.

Leaving the onions on a low heat, she nipped up to reassure Boy Three that there was nothing to worry about. Indeed he wasn't really a fastidious creature, it was usually comment by way of conversation.

But all wet indeed. The plug was in had been for some time. Water was now lapping over the wooden lip that separates tiled bathroom from carpeted landing. Carpeted landing that now squelched.

"Plash puddles," yelled Boy Three gleefully in the moments his mother was frozen in indecision.

Amid the cavorting of Boy Three, the Empress frantically mopped and wrung working up quite a sweat.

"Mum, there's a funny smell in the kitchen," warbled Boy Two from the bottom of the stairs.

Later after cooking a second lot of onions, the meal was prepared.

"Why's it all wet in here?" asked Boy One. "Look it's dripping though this light. And this one."

"I know," muttered the Empress in that low tone that made the Boys wary.

"Raining, raining," said Boy Three as he skidded to the dining table.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

I'm in handbag heaven and you can come too

This is not a sponsored post - I just want to share the love (and the discount)

If I were Divine Empress of the Known Universe for a day, I'd make splendid handbags available on the NHS to all women - particularly those over their ideal weight or who have to perform tricks to cover up grey hair.
Here's why:

Handbags are loyal and dependable. They won't stand you up or put you down.

Handbags have a secret side reserved especially for you. Getting intimate with a fabulously frivolous pink print lining will make you smile whereas getting intimate with a real person is often troublesome and trying.

Handbags are flattering. They match your mood or clothing du jour. A good one will perk up even the most perfunctory I-just-picked-it-off-the-bedroom floor ensemble into something special. And if you get a big one you can hide behind it.

Handbags cheer you up. When the world is conspiring and it's raining on your washing again. A beautiful bag is a little ray of leather sunshine on your shoulder. (Leather sunshine!?)

Handbags are calming. Inhale the hide-y scent and stroke it's butter-soft sides and tell me you don't feel better.

Handbags are a last bastion of femininity. In my boy-dominated house, my bag is about the only place they won't go. Especially as I've told them that miniature crocodiles live in the bottom of it. Yeah. Crocodiles and tampons!

This week I came across VV Amore where Queen of Handbags Sarah creates the most wonderful examples.

After hours of drooling and dithering between the Towny Babe, Towny Cow and Vintage Flower, I placed my order. Bliss.

Sarah started VV Amore when she couldn't find the perfect, yet practical, bag of her dreams. She knows you need pockets, adjustable straps, strong clips and plenty of space.

She also created bags that look different without having to change to a different bag. And, in a stroke of genius that left me weak at the knees, a bag with a matching mini bag/purse that you could swap the shoulder straps onto.

So I urge you to take a stroll through the avenues and pathways of a world of harmony made so by Sarah's heavenly handbags.

Oh, and Sarah says that if you tell her you read about it here she'll give you a 20 per cent discount. That's 20 per cent more arm candy therapy for your money!

Just drop me a line at, in the comments here or on Twitter @Ellen27 and I'll let you know how to get in touch with Sarah for your discount. Go on, you know you're worth it.
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