Wednesday, 26 August 2015

To Flee or Not to Flee

So yesterday we woke up and the dog had a bald patch right by his tail. I took him to the vet and they found a solitary flea. (This is despite all the pets using the vet approved flea combo treatment). It turns out that although the flea liked our dog, our dog is allergic to flea bites. And because of this weird weather we’ve been having, the traditional treatment or ‘Spot On’ is ineffective. I left with my wallet considerably lighter, and him on antibiotics and a massive tablet to get rid of the flea, plus an enormous house spray for all the other friends that this flea may or may not have brought in. Before I left, the vet asked me to bring in the cats so that she could check them over, and if they also had little friends she would give me a tablet each for them. 

‘Tablets?’ I said feebly – ‘Can we not just have the much stronger Spot On that you recommended?’  I agreed on the proviso that she would administer the tablets as I know what hissing scratching fighters these fluffy balls of fur become, and she said confidently that she had a very good success rate with the most stubborn of cats.

Today it poured down.  I drove back from work through 8 rivers that had materialized on the roads over the course of 4 hours.  Cars were aquaplaning, breakdown vehicles were scattered throughout various points of my journey and several times the whole car was submerged in splash backs from the puddles I was in, or cars travelling in the other lane. Cars were abandoned in side streets where rushing water hurtled against closed garage doors. My 4 x 4 inched slowly down our unmade road, where even the potholes were submerged under a muddy stream.

I had lined up G to help me with the cats, who fought, legs spatchcocked as they were posted into their cat boxes which were popped into the car as they continued mewling furiously at the tops of their voices. Suddenly there was an overwhelming smell of cat poo – the boy cat had messed himself in distress.  We carried the cat poo smelling box and grumpy cats into the vets.  Two greyhounds shuddered dismally as we entered and huddled together looking at the boy cat’s box in suspicion. A poodle jumped joyously at the girl cat’s box until she spat at his eager face.  This was not going to be easy.

The vet took the girl cat out of the box.  She is a lap cat, an absolute doll and the easier to handle of the pair. She was a dead cert. ‘Ahhh’, cooed the vet, and reached for the tablet whilst telling G to hold the cat firmly by the shoulders.  Two broken tablet feeders later, the vet and G stood there bleeding from scratches, whilst Lap Cat hissed silently, mouth clamped firmly tight. Boy cat, who is a very gentle natured sun lover, but doesn’t tolerate too much handling, came out of his box which was speedily despatched to be cleaned up as she attempted to check him over.  He was having none of it, the indignity of his situation was just too much.  He sank his claws into her arm.

We went home with the stronger Spot On which is applied to the back of their necks and kills everything bug related.  The vet agreed that it was a much better idea after all.  Peace amongst the felines has resumed.

So now I am seriously thinking of buying an Ark, where we and the animals can live in case these floods get worse.  But there’ll be one creature in God’s world which won’t be on that boat. 

I’ve got enough spray to make them all flee…

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Summer holidays - the hamster wheel

The hamster on the wheel - Summer holidays always have that effect– great fun, but absolutely knackering.  And when you get through them you don’t know which direction to walk (in the case of Mums with school age kids, it is generally en masse, in the direction of Costa).  And everyone says abstractedly as they clutch on to real life once more ‘Did you have a good Summer?’ and you reply, equally distracted as you watch the rearguard disappearing in a rapidly forming cloud of dust over to the coffee shop ‘It was brilliant thanks, yours?’ hoping that they don’t regale you with stories of how C  accomplished his gold badge at waterskiing and E ate a whole lobster and the most excitement you had was that the fish shop forgot to charge you for a large chips…

Before we started school in the UK - life was one long summer

It’s a bit weird, the whole idea of a Summer holiday.  As a child I loved it, but I am sure that my mother dreaded it.   My sister and I went to boarding school as my parents were based in Kenya, and so it was a double whammy.  My parents both worked, and my mother was a teacher.  From living a life as a working couple during term time, once her holidays hit, we descended, and it was a shock to the system for all of us.  Not only were we continually reacquainting ourselves with one another -often my parents didn’t recognize me because I had changed my hair colour, or grown, or was wearing the latest UK fashions never to be seen in Kenya (or probably in reality, the UK, I did tend to mess around with outfits a bit) – but there was an intensity in being thrown together for that 8 weeks that meant that tempers frayed, doors slammed and voices raised.  And that wasn’t Mum, that was us.   She on the other hand attempted to start where we had left off the last time, and that too didn’t work.  Every three months away we had grown a little, understood more of a world which was frankly becoming a little alien to her, and already we had tendrils, if not roots, in another place.  She met my friends sporadically, even though they were fixtures in my life since I was 11. We had a home world and a school world.
Me as a teenager at home in Kenya

This is not so unusual – even as adults most of us have a work world and a home world.  We have different personas for each.  G comes home from overseeing his little empire and immediately gets jumped on by the dog, who waits Cato style, just out of sight and ready to tackle.  This captain of industry is then tasked by his harassed wife (who is stirring some odd smelling stuff cooking in a pot whilst dictating into her phone a piece due in in the morning) to take the washing out of the machine and stick it in the drier.  No one who saw him in the management meeting in the morning would recognize this creature, bedecked in laundry and dog hair.

But I digress… back to Summer holidays.  Yes we all love them.  Yes it gives us all the chance to get off the carousel that is the school runs, school clubs, work and life.  But we then jump on to the hamster wheel and career off in another direction, fitting in fun, fun, fun with maniacal smiles as we race our kids from one activity to the other, lest when they get back to school and are asked that fated question ‘How was your Summer?’ they answer with the dreaded ‘Boring’.

And so we throw in a few downtime days, in which as a mother of teenagers you work from home and watch them watching others play games on electronic screens. Or you may inherit a few other kids on downtime and you can watch them watching others play games on electronic screens.  So then you get up, and take them out, or make them go out, and it all starts again, and the downtime day becomes costly, time consuming , constant food providing and a little fractious for all concerned.

I am of course exaggerating with the will of a mum who has a couple of weeks to go before life’s carousel starts again. I’ve run out of ideas and things to cook. This holiday courtesy of my kids I have cleaned up sick and shit and visited three hospitals.  And I haven’t escaped - at the moment I am sporting a rather attractive itchy viral rash that not only makes me look, but feel grumpy.

But despite all this we have had a great summer holiday!  We’ve consolidated old friendships and made new ones. We’ve had experiences of a lifetime waterskiing  in Majorca(no gold medals, just getting up was an achievement), canyoning in Wales, climbing in Reading, and adventures on a boat.  We’ve seen opportunities and grabbed them, and we’ve allowed ourselves to grow as a family with shared laughs and memories.  And I have no doubt that none of these will feature when my kids are asked ‘How was your Summer?’  And I don’t care.  Because the most important thing is that we were together, and they saw dad covered in laundry and dog hair, and mummy making a chocolate cake without chocolate because Eldest Son had eaten it, and they will remember it.

And to illuminate this point I asked Little Man what his favourite bit about the summer had been – was it Majorca, Wales, the day out at HMS Victory? He thought.  

‘I liked going shopping with my friend Erin’ he said finally.

Right… where’s Costa?!


Friday, 7 August 2015

Teenage Holiday

It’s like midday, it’s teenage o’clock
OMG tripping, am I wicked or wot?
Washing up, still piled high in the sink,
What do you mean, didn’t I stop and think?
The dishwasher’s full, duh, you know it’s clean
Empty it? What on earth do you mean?
Pasta? You’re joking? To start the day, just mad!
I’ll have cereal first so it won’t be so bad
Yeah I’ll come shopping, you can buy me some gear
Just wait a minute, I’m not finished here
I need a shower, do Facebook, and gel up my hair
Get dressed in some rad clothes so people don’t stare
Text mates to tell them what I’m going to do
Search under several piles to find a missing shoe
Oh God does the bruv have to come as well
Shopping with him is my idea of hell
Whaddya mean? It’s what you say and I’ve got no choice?
I’m practically a man, and I have a voice
I can make a stand, I know what to do
Yeah I know you’re busy – can’t you see I am too?!
Ok, I can see you’re angry, I’m sorry, I’ll come
Just give me ten minutes and… 
I love you mum!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

An adventure in Wales

So the holiday season is upon us and my social media pages are full of glorious sunshine shots of faraway shores and lakes, people straddled awkwardly across grumpy looking camels and endless photos of exotic looking drinks. It’s a voyeurs’ fantasy land, where you can look into the downtime worlds of your workmates, marvel at the hot dog legs that you’ve only ever seen encased in tights at the office and for the first time see what Marg from Accounts looks like in a bikini... And if the pictures are of your real life friends, you look further into the photographs – that gorgeous man in the background, your trendy mate has gone holiday mad and decided to get her hair braided, the obligatory sweaty drunken shot that is deleted too late the next morning, and the cocktail shot before the mayhem started.

And to be fair, I was one of them a couple of weeks ago – off on a tried and tested break in Mallorca, land of sun, sand and sangria, and more importantly, some of my best and oldest friends.  It was glorious, the weather was hot and the food was perfect. The kids all got on, and the husband discovered a blonde German (we are talking beer here…) that had more body than the Spanish lager.  Nuff said.  Some things are better left to the imagination.  And all too soon it was over, and the second phase of our holiday began, in Wales.

Wales, famous for its singing and sheep (we have yet to discover a singing sheep) and with a landscape as varied as the people who live within its shores. For a relatively small country it has produced a large number of celebrities – Tom Jones, Katherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Katherine Jenkins, Michael Sheen, Shirley Bassey, Rob Brydon, Charlotte Church to name but a few. And no matter where they live in the world, they always come back to Wales. And why not? You have the countryside which ranges from the tumultuous seas and mountains of Snowdonia in the North, to the glorious sandy beaches of the Gower, and the wind blown landscapes of the Brecon Beacons.  Gorges, secret waterfalls and caves contend for attention with metropolitan cities, and slick modern buildings stand amongst old miners stone cottages, impervious to both weather and change.
First ever sighting of sheep for our half collie...

And so it was that we headed en famille and dog to Llwyd Llwyn Cottage, hidden in Aberyscir in the Brecon Beacons.  We had found it on line, after receiving an invitation to the wedding of a dear friend at nearby Buckland Hall, and we booked it for the week as a family holiday. It was an eventful journey, entailing a tyre change on the M4, and getting lost several times, and we were relieved to see the smiling faces of Lise and Ian Chesters, the owners of the cottage.  They lived on site in an enormous farm house with outbuildings, and from the start were unobtrusive but extremely helpful, from the welcome bottle of wine and welsh cakes on arrival, to suggestions about things to do, to walking the dog on the days that we had booked activities, giving us a lift to the wedding and refilling the baskets of logs for the wood burning stove.

Llwyn Llwyd Cottage
A short walk out of the back door and we were into the hills, where startled sheep ran out of our way, countless wild blossoms swayed in the breeze and the landscape stretched out beneath us in a patchwork quilt of 50 shades of green. I couldn’t sleep on the first night because it was simply too quiet – no distant sound of a motorway, or planes flying overhead, or even the milkman on an early morning delivery. Nothing.  And the skies were clear, the distant stars sparkling crystals in the crisp intense darkness. And my cup of tea felt hot, and my feet felt cold in a total sensory overload.

Boys having fun in the Brecon Hills
Bit puffed out!
And then it was morning and with it came a first time adventure for us all – canyoning, or gorge scrambling.  Cries of ‘Mum, where’s my swimming costume?’ combatted my desire to look like Bo Derek emerging from the water as I swept my hair back into a casual ponytail and applied a little waterproof mascara. We were met at Pontneddfechan by a likeable young man from Adventure Wales called Jake – we instantly forgot his name in the horror of trying on rather damp wetsuits in a social club car park, and for the rest of the 3 hours he was called Jack, Jacques, John, and at a rather panicky point, Tim (no, I don’t know where that came from either).  He made sure we looked as unglamorous as possible with buoyancy aids and helmets adding to the whole Teletubbies effect. 

He then marched us down to the gorge and proceeded to yell at us to jump in the water ‘to get over the shock’.  I went first, and on surfacing from the icy cold river was privileged to see the reactions first hand of the rest of the family.  G’s face went grey, as he realised that he had cajoled us into this and he had to go on, Eldest Son looked resolute, Little Man screeched and Middle Son looked as if he was going to puke. It was a day that tested all of us – caves that had to be squeezed in and out of, ledges no thicker than my arm to be scrambled, dark tunnels of 10 foot high to be scaled, and ducking in and out of waterfalls, jumping into dark pools from 20 foot precipices into rushing currents. The kids took it all in their stride, hanging from rocks with their nails and leaping across gorges ten feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
At the end Jake strolled back to his car as if he had been out shopping for the day, whilst we all dragged behind him, knock kneed and at least two of us in great need of a gin and tonic.  As we disrobed in the car park – all modesty forgotten – he revealed in his lilting accent that he and his brother were saving up for a trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in October.  His mother would miss them, but she had only ever left Wales once, and she had regretted it, and so backed them up in their adventure.

We sat in the car on the way to the nearest pub.  I looked in the visor mirror.  My hair was plastered to the side of my head and my waterproof mascara wasn’t.  I looked more like Derek than Bo Derek.

It was definitely going to be a large gin day…

They did all right!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Mum of Boys

The fridge opens once again, shuts softly once more
A rustle belies the bread bin, as crumbs hit the floor
The clink of plates, the swish of juice, the sound of a happy crunch
The chomping, and the slurping, an hour after lunch.

The arguing over who has left dirty socks on the chair
The endless hours of staring in the mirror at ‘the hair’
The grunting, with legs stretched out, in front of the tv
The lid left up on the toilet, the bowl full of pee

Trainers stinking in the hall, kit bags far and wide
Shoes randomly in singles, some living outside
The weird rush of affection, manifest in hurried hugs
And then back to the business of racing lady bugs

The jumping on the trampoline, then sitting there for hours
The ability to sniff out food with extraterrestrial powers
Thoughtful silences coupled with an existential roar
‘Do not disturb, get out my room and shut the b*** door!’

Striding out for a Duck, handsome all in white
Scoring sweaty goals, mauling without fight
Noisy celebrations, slapping backs and shouting loud
Raising arms high, wave to an unseen crowd.

Shouting at the telly, the ref’s got it wrong again
I watch them as they grow up, my funny little men.
Where farting is hilarious, no matter what the age
And sulking is unheard of, just turn another page

No matter what the difference, no one hurts a bro
His siblings rally round, tell others where to go
Living, fighting, squabbling, a happy little pack
Growing ever upwards, with no turning back

Muscled arms and legs, baby fat becomes lean
The cute and chubby toddler is nowhere to be seen
Voice becomes melodic, scaling up and down
Round face becomes a bloke’s, swaddled in a frown

The rising of the food bill, the electric charges high
Bedrooms resembling nothing short of a piglets sty
Yet sound asleep it seems like they’re toddlers once more
If you ignore the empty plate,
and the breadcrumbs on the floor.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Red Mist

There comes a time in life when the red mist descends.  To those happy souls who have no idea what this is, I will explain.  It is an uncontrollable rage that bubbles up within your very being, making you take leave of your senses and howl, shriek, shout or scream uncontrollably.  It is usually triggered by circumstances or people’s behaviour. 

It strikes anyone – the drunken young man in the pub who has just had his pint spilt, the meek housewife who has found letters from her husband’s lover in his trouser pocket, the teenager who has been refused another night out , and the toddler who can’t have a third lolly.  We’ve either seen it or read about it.  And the weird thing about the red mist, it blankets your mind such, that once it has cleared, (and it does very quickly, leaving behind a shaking body in fight or flight mode), you rarely remember exactly everything that you said or shouted, but are left with this overriding feeling that you have fought for what you truly believed in at the time, and that therefore it is justified.  I’m not saying that a crime of passion is justification for the crime, but it is a reason for the action.

And why does the red mist descend on some people and not on others?  What makes one persons’ spilt pint a potential motive for murder, and another ones’ an opportunity to accept an apology and a new drinking buddy?   What makes one cuckolded female go round to the mistress’s house and attempt to scratch out her eyes, whilst another is content with stabbing holes in her partner’s suits and scratching his car?

Can it be that in this day and age, with technology giving us all the information, wanted and unwanted, necessary or unnecessary, pleasant or unpleasant at the push of a button, that we are simply getting a sensory overload, and our mind short circuits, making our stress levels rise and our reactions to situations become extreme.

There is no doubt that stress on the mind and body plays a huge part in the anger that we all carry around with us.  The prescription of antidepressants in the UK continues to go up, reaching 1 in 6 adults in some parts of the country, and at its lowest in areas where there are proper therapy treatments available – i.e. regular contact with someone who can talk through any mounting problems before it builds into a red mist moment. Holistic exercise classes such as Yoga and Pilates have never been so popular, full of people wanting to empty their minds as well as tone their bodies.  The popularity of walking, hiking and outdoor sports ensure that endorphins combat negative feelings. And there are hundreds of self help books out there – all vying for the key to a peace of mind.

As a mum to teenagers who are in the midst of exam fever, I have long been conscious of the red mist. Coupled with the hormonal changes coursing through their bodies, teenagers are extremely vulnerable, and it is a source of worry to all us mums who hear what stupid things they or other kids have been up to.  It doesn’t matter that we did equally as stupid things, because it is a different world out there.  Drunken partying was not instantly relayed around the world on social media in a matter of minutes, to remain for a lifetime of employers and employees to discover.  Porn was not easily accessible.  ‘Duck Face’ was a character in a jolly British film.  The school bully couldn’t access you at home. And bikini shots were saved for the beach.  

In this highly volatile world where there is so much pressure to conform, and so much uncertainty in the future, our teenagers need us now more than ever to provide a stable base in which they can vent in safety, knowing that anything they say will not be used in evidence against them, but will be used, once they subside shaking on to the sofa, to illustrate the points of tension, and how best to move on.

My car has a feature called ‘Ambient Lighting’.  This enables you to change the colour of the internal lights.  There are five choices.  Perhaps we can’t change the kids, or even the world, one family at a time.  But perhaps we can change the ferocity of the red mist.  Maybe to a topaz blue, or a cool white.  One button at a time…

Monday, 13 April 2015

Working from Home

Yes, it’s been a while… So to those regular readers who wondered if I had fallen out of the blogosphere and landed on my head, rendering me in an unconscious blogging coma for 3 months, I am back.  And to those new readers who have wandered into my little puddle of the blogosphere, welcome!

As it happens, there was nothing dramatic about my departure, it just seemed to spiral, and every time I envisaged sitting down and updating my blog, life just happened, and then a bit like the impending gloom of writing ones Thank You cards, or To Do list, or tackling the pile of ironing that remonstrates with you in angry fabric conditioned punches as you open the cupboard – it was simply easier to delay doing it to another day.

As many of the blog followers know, I have for the 16 years in which babies have been in my life, worked from home.  This has a lot of benefits when you are a mum of young kids.  You can dictate your own hours, your boss doesn’t frown if you turn up to work in a shabby faded dressing gown smelling suspiciously of nappies, you can attend those interminable baby hand-clapping gym-bouncing rhyme-singing mornings that all young mummies feel that they ought to, until they realise that they are doing more of the above than their babies who are soundly asleep in their buggies. 

And it means that despite the teething sleep deprived hours , the worry of childhood diseases, the endless unsought advice on said diseases, the tantrums in the supermarket, the eviction from the house of biting, fighting, scratching mums (and their toddlers), you can wearily hobble in to a client meeting, baby sick unnoticed on your shoulder, and sit down for a conversation that is only slightly elevated from the ‘Me want’ stage…

But as the kids get older and start developing personalities of their own, this working from home lark can get trickier.  Again, it has its advantages – I can simply inform my boss in a slightly schizophrenic way that I am taking the afternoon off to watch my son play a football match. And if one of the kids is sick, I can keep an eye on them whilst on a phone call to a client.  But when it hits holiday time, this can be a little bit of a problem.

The older two respect my wishes to be left alone on the days that I have set out to work.  They can cook themselves basic meals without setting light to the kitchen.  They are perfectly capable of loading the dishwasher and making their beds.  They can tidy up after themselves.  They can do all of these things… Whether they do, as teenagers, is a different matter.  Their hours are not mine.  I learned long ago not to wait for them all to emerge for breakfast. During the holidays this can stretch from 7.00am to 11.30am.  But by the same token I have learned that expecting them to make a lunch (yes, the timing is a little tricky) means that the fridge is constantly raided throughout the day, and this simply won’t do.  And so I set a lunch time. In between phone calls and document writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a moan, just simply stating it as it is. I absolutely wouldn't have it any other way. I get to see my kids whenever I want and wherever I want, and to carry on doing a job that I love. I get to have my cake and eat it. 

But that doesn't detract from the fact that working from home with kids can get a little tricky.  For a start, working mums in offices who need someone to maybe have their kids for a few hours, forget that you too, work.  Sometimes having an extra child around as a kiddie distraction does actually work for me too.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It can be a little tricky if you are on the phone and someone rings the bell and the dog hurls himself in an enthusiastic ball of fury at the door.  It can be a bit off putting when you are copy editing a technical document online, and your child comes in to tell you he has nits or that he has forgotten that he has extra sports training 20 miles away starting in ten minutes.  

I had a conversation with Little Man this morning who was sitting companionably beside me as I worked.  He was doing some homework for a test. 

‘Imagine,’ I said, to establish the boundaries, ‘That I am sitting in an office like all the other working mummies.  You need to think about what you need to ask me.’

He looked at me.  ‘But you are sitting beside me’.

‘Yes, I know, but imagine that you aren’t.’

There was a little silence as he turned back to his book, and I to my computer.
Suddenly he began to make a really annoying loud noise.

‘Ring Ring, Ring Ring.’

‘What are you doing?’

He continued the noise.

‘Stop It!’ I said sharply.

He stopped and looked at me admonishingly. ‘Answer the phone then!’

I rolled my eyes and put my hand to my ear.

‘Hello?’ I enquired wearily.

‘Hello Mummy!  What time’s lunch?’ said my son cheerfully.

I’m going to have a stern word with my boss about working conditions…