Saturday, 31 May 2014

Fortune Teller

I was sorting through some old filing today and found an old purse of mine, discarded because the boys and G had surprised me for my birthday with my first designer purse – Little Man giving me the wrapped present with eyes like saucers saying ‘Do you know how much this cost?!!!’ Needless to say, I loved it, and immediately transferred all the flotsam and jetsam from one to the other, and left the original on a pile to fester for a few (ok, four) months.
But today, just before I was about to toss it heartlessly into the bin, I looked in it again, and found five little cards just like this one, nestling in a zippered compartment.  And I pulled them out, read them, and remembered…

Last Summer, we had taken a family trip to Portsmouth Harbour – G no doubt thinking that we were in dire need of some cultural stimulation, and we spent a happy hour or so on the HMS Victory, me battling vertigo down the steep stairs, and claustrophobia in the bows of the boat, whilst G practically swashbuckled through the whole tour, boring the boys on the various merits of the different size cannons, how to load a cannon and how surgery was done in a room that resembled a larder. They perked up as they saw daylight and the tat stalls that marked the end of the tour.  I perked up as we dismounted and saw that there were several tea rooms right outside. Little Man was grumpy, and had started to play up by whinging and moaning when he wasn’t allowed to buy a replica cannon, and kicked Middle Son when he laughed at him.

We decided that before the delights of the Mary Rose exhibition,  and for our sanity, that we needed sustenance, and in the spirit of the day wandered into one which was appropriately named the Georgian Tearoom.  This was attractive to all of us, me because it had plenty of tables and lots of tea and coffee choices, the boys because it served ice creams, and G because at one end of the tearoom it had a whole load of Victorian penny arcade games.  For a new English pound, plonked into a coin machine, you got several old pennies with which you could operate the games.  Shove ha’penny, little pinball machines, bagatelle, skittles and so on, as well as the novelty type things where your penny made things happen – an old cine film for example (a little risqué with a woman getting undressed, and I noticed that the eldest two boys had a couple of goes). 

And then, like something out of the 1980’s film BIG, we noticed this machine standing a little aside from the others.  It had a rather scary looking fellow glaring out of you from behind the glass, and the writing below identified him as Old Joe, who would tell your fortune.

Well, this was too good to be true.  So needless to say we all had a go.  And amazingly, we all got a different fortune.  Even more weirdly, our fortunes matched our personalities.  It was kind of freaky. A cold chill ran down my spine, as Old Joe turned his head and winked at me evilly.  (Ok, I made that last bit up, but I bet you shivered…)

So here goes, following are the five fortunes.  Some of you may already know the family and so could give it a good guess, but to give others a fighting chance I will give you a quick summary of each member.  

Me: opinionated, fiercely loyal, doesn't suffer fools gladly, loves cooking, writing and creating; G: runs his own business, family man, loves real ales, walks, pubs and watching his boys in sports; Eldest Son: (14)sporty, athletic, hard working (one paid job and one voluntary job), annoying teenager with 'tude; Middle Son: charming, easy going, sporty, techno whizz; Little Man: loves creating, inventing, acting and dancing, constantly questioning.

Fortune A

Fortune B

Fortune C

Fortune D

Fortune E
The answers are at the bottom. 

I have no idea if Old Joe is still there in the Georgian Tearooms.  I’d like to think, like the film BIG, that he has suddenly disappeared. And I'm glad that we didn't make any rash wishes.

Or so we all thought...

A= G, the entrepreneur of the family; B = Little Man, the entertainer of the family; C= Eldest Son, crashing through life as a teenager; D = me, the creative one; E = Middle Son, our charmer and music fiend.

Friday, 30 May 2014


My #wordoftheweek has to be Frustration.  I’ve loved my half term –coming as it did on the back end of a busy Bank Holiday where I had had a procedure on my Achilles tendon under great hilarity and a local anesthetic <footloose>, watched Little Man with pride in his Modern dance exam, heard in great detail how Eldest Son and his rowing team had got through to the Semi Finals at the National Schools Rowing Regatta in Nottingham, and dispatched Middle Son off to another sleepover where he had a great time at the Cotswold Country Park.  And that was just the beginning of Half Term.

But I feel an overriding sense of frustration.  My foot is not healing in the miraculous time frame that I had set it, conscious perhaps that we have a big family driving holiday booked in the summer to Italy, where we will be touring lots of cities and doing a lot of sightseeing – and I don’t want to be the one that slows things down.  I feel frustration that I can’t , for the moment, walk the dog every day for an hour through the surrounding muddy hills – not realizing perhaps that I need it as much as he, if only for the sacred space to think.

I feel frustrated that every time I ask the Teen or Tween to walk the aforesaid dog, the initial reply is why they can’t, and this then results in an argument, and then they do.  Indeed, it is frustrating that any request is met with ‘In a minute’, and yet I am expected to drop everything to ferry them off to whatever they have arranged.

I get frustrated at random things – people making thoughtless comments on social media, people rearranging my time without my knowledge, bad service in a restaurant, empty jam jars put back in the fridge, and running out of loo roll as you are sitting on the toilet.

And it came to a head last night when I realised that we had no gravy granules for a run of the mill easy to cook dinner of bangers and mash.  I asked Eldest Son, who was watching the telly, to walk down to the local shop and fetch some for me.  He looked up and said that he was happy not to have gravy.  I took a deep breath – how about the rest of the family, maybe they would like gravy?  He shrugged.  He realised that he had gone too far as steam poured from my ears, and I switched the oven off.  He asked what I was doing.  I said that I was happy not to have dinner.  He smiled, realizing the irony behind the situation, and went off to get the gravy granules.

I love my kids, but sometimes they frustrate me.  But today, they have made a monumental effort to help out.  Middle Son has stripped his bed, Little Man has tidied his room and Eldest Son has walked the dog.

We are in a happy  place.

For now…

I would love to hear your comments!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ode to Half Term (from a Mum's POV)

The phone rings once more, from the Teen
Stuck at a station, no train to be seen
Tween sits, Skull Candy on his head
Lost in YouTube, no more to be said.
Little Man plays Lego, designing a Kart
Gets all frustrated, doesn’t know where to start.

Iron hissing at me, amongst washing piles
Mountains of paper, ready for files
Rain lashing outside on a down day
Nothing planned, just rest and play
Sports over, for a few halcyon hours
Cancelled again in the interminable showers.

Tween argues with young bro, he’s all fired up
Little Man hits him with a thrown plastic cup
Mummy intervention, settles down with a book
Tween shoots his brother an evil look.
Smells of cooking wafting in the air
Coaxing knackered Teen out of his lair.

All sit around the table, chattering starts
Hilarity abounding as one of them farts
Bundling off after, full of food energy
Arguing and hugging, I look at those three.
A little bit frustrated they’ve crashed back into my day
Protected by term time, it’s hard to hold sway.

To be constantly at their beck and call
Taxi mum, cook, nursemaid to them all
But each half term we discover something new
About each other, a confidence too
What’s in, who’s out and planning ahead
Times that are not ruled by homework and bed.

Kids will be kids and they laugh at the screen
No hidden agendas, Little Man, Tween and Teen
I wash up and look forward to wine o'clock
As I tot up the changes in my unruly flock
And knowing that too soon, it will disappear fast
 A time to be treasured, building memories to last.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Rechargeable Lives

G has got this thing about money saving tips.  Once I caught him sawing my dishwasher tablets (including the little red powerball) in half, as he had read that half a tablet was as good as a whole.  I have to admit that there was very little difference in the wash quality, but the dishwasher gave up the ghost soon afterwards – in protest or old age, we will never know…

And there are other things too – all the lights are now those energy saving bulbs where you can’t see anything, let alone read anything , we battle over the thermostat daily and nothing is left on standby.  There are some things that make absolute sense to me – having been the product of a war baby – like saving all the picture hooks and nails in little baby food jars in the garage, all the running spikes and rugby studs in a shoe box, the football boots in a bag in the loft, recycling cut up clothes to dusters, using old soap bars for woollen washes (well, we tried that once, the texture of gloop got to me so it was ‘disappeared’…) and using slightly bashed and bruised fruit in our juicer. And we all agreed that with our highly active lives we simply didn't have the time to make use of our Sky subscription, so we waved that good bye. But the thing that as a family we didn’t agree on initially is the concept of rechargeable batteries.

As you know, most of the modern kids toys nowadays require some sort of energy – and alas very few require just kinetic energy.  Remember the dog on wheels that we used to push, now replaced by a push-a-long woofing flashing Fisher Price equivalent?  Or the dinky car which is now remote controlled?  Or the simple skipping rope which now has a beat counter?  All of these and more require batteries.  And we all accepted it. Those mummies in the know would not dream of giving a toy without the batteries sellotaped to the outside of the package for there is nothing worse than a disappointed little face who can’t play with the new toy there and then.  And then the toy would be played with and played with and we would be raiding the other toys for batteries when the original ones failed.  And as the boys got older, we would still have the same issue with xBox controllers and remote controls.

So it wasn’t long before G invested in a battery recharger.  And it seemed to work.  About as well as half the dishwasher tablet.  The rechargeable batteries definitely didn’t have as long a life as the normal ones, but they could be recharged.  It seemed to take a fairly long time for the process of recharging, but with a good system, (G has one) we have never run out of batteries. And the kids, after initial moaning and groaning about the quality and concept of recharging, have actively sought out their own versions – hence we now have a recharging dock for the Wii courtesy of Little Man’s research on Amazon, those with electric toothbrushes recharge, and Middle Son’s latest gadget is an on the go recharger for his phone battery.

 I’m not yet sold on the whole idea – there’s nothing worse than when your Epilady runs out of power halfway through ripping out your leg hairs – but I am coming round to it.

In a dimly lit money saving type way.

I would love to hear your comments, and how you save money in your homes!

Saturday, 24 May 2014


As I write, I am in the unique position where I have no kids or husband in the house, and it is Half Term.  This is not only unusual, but temporary.  

It’s quite nice to have a bit of R&R, because today I am feeling tired.  And if I’m honest, a bit sore and rather strangely woozy.  I had done something to my Achilles Tendon about a year ago and it had been getting progressively worse and worse, swelling up each time I walked excessively, and sometimes if I just walked.  I hadn’t realised how limiting it had become, until friends started to comment on my limp, and I couldn’t manage a day out even if it was just sightseeing. I got a call a couple of days ago, the consultant radiologist would come in especially and try out a relatively new procedure on my torn Achilles and see if it would work.

The consultant radiologist (we will call him Dr X to save any blushes) sat in front of me in his room in which there was an abundance of screens, and a very quiet nurse who bustled around a trolley on which there were a number of needles.  Now I am not afraid of needles, or injections or anything like that, but I have to confess that I am a little wary of consultants who seem to be all knowing and so very very intelligent. G, who hates needles, had opted to sit outside and be my driver (very wise).  Dr X explained the procedure.  What he proposed doing was to inject the Achilles sheath with saline solution, creating a little saline bag to cushion the wounded part.

Well, that sounded good and perfectly understandable – apart from the injecting into an already very sore part of my body.  That was very much Not Good.  So I told him.  He then said airily that I was not to worry, and he filled up a syringe with local anaesthetic to take the edge off the pain. As I lay back waiting for the pain relief, he suddenly swore loudly.  He had stabbed himself with the needle.  Right through his disposable glove.  The nurse looked concerned. I looked very concerned.  Dr X looked really concerned as blood began to drip.

‘Hurry!’ I said, all protocol out of the window.  ‘Get on with it before your thumb numbs!’ He scrubbed up, refilled a new syringe and worked quickly as the nurse and I tried not to giggle, all panic forgotten.  And I stood up afterwards and felt marvelous.  He sent me off with warnings not to overdo it for at least 4 weeks and I wished him well as he blushed a deep, deep red.

And so it is that I sit here, where there is no noise apart from the rain spattering on a previously dry patio, making huge sequin shaped blobs that soon merge to become a shiny mirror broken only by the ensuing hailstones.  And I kind of like it. 

And I point and flex my newly repaired foot, and I feel proud of myself, despite feeling tired, and a little woozy.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

'Gissa Job'- How will your child know what to do as a Career?

I read a very interesting article the other day which said that the Welsh government had been advised to rethink the way in which schools were providing careers advice in schools.  Essentially, the <article> was saying that the guidance was in dire need of updating and school leavers needed to be enlightened as to the opportunities available and encouraged to think about what they wanted to do before they stepped out of the school doors forever.  It would appear that in Wales, a number of school age kids leave at 16, with relatively low GCSE results and no idea of what to do as a job, let alone a career.

I cannot pretend to know whether or not this article was representative of the truth, or indeed whether it is another scaremongering tactic by the Press for some reason, be it political or anything else, but I have to say that as a relatively intelligent (well, on a good day)mother of a rapidly growing teenager, it is something that I am starting to wonder about.  He takes his GCSE’s next year, and already we have had to go in to the schools to discuss A’ level options, and he is only 14.   It is frightening how much he has to decide at such a young age, and how his subjects will then influence his University or further education choices.  As parents it is also frightening – we grew up in an age before the internet was commonplace, jobs were divided into trades or professions and the rest of us who just got a generic Bachelor of Arts degree managed to stumble into careers until something better came along.  Nowadays you pretty much need a dedicated degree for everything – and the choices are baffling.

I remember our careers advisor at school.  It was in Wales, but don’t tie that up to the beginning paragraph because it was a private school -  or as it was billed ‘ An independent School for Ladies’, and as such had its own rules and regulations when it came to careers advice. Our careers advisor was also the History teacher, and was the second prettiest teacher in the school by virtue of the fact that she wore layer upon layer of mascara.  We would stare, our shiny faces devoid of makeup, in fascination during History as her eyelashes stood out like little spiders legs, and she would pick at them absent mindedly as she talked.  Miss Black (rumour had it she was married to a Mr Green, but I think someone was having a laugh)was quite a good History teacher and she also waitressed in the evening at a posh hotel, and by all accounts she was very good at that.  But she was a rubbish careers advisor.
We’d go in to what I can only recall was a broom cupboard, where there was a proliferation of books and papers covering a desk, behind which she sat, and in front of which you’d hover until told to sit.  She would then peer through her lashes at you and ask what you thought you would like to do as a career.  You then told her – my list included PR (because I thought it sounded quite a laugh), fireeater (I always wanted to do that), Olympic swimmer (hmm) and an award winning actress.  A friend of mine said she wanted to be an archeologist because she liked designing things (I know… this is what Miss Black had to work with…) a chef because she liked eating things and a History teacher (because she liked Miss Black).  

And after you told her, she would go through an ISCO psychometric test that we had all taken – which narrowed down our careers according to our personality type and the answers that we had given (coupled with of course, our grade predictions).  She then read off the typed up results and gave us a bundle of university prospectuses (or should that be prospecti?) and sent us on our way.  My list suggested that I went into PR (result!), or Advertising, became a journalist, went into teaching, or (and this was a little odd) went into the Fire Service… My friend’s was even shorter – it suggested that she became a secretary, or went into the Fire Service…

The school that my son goes to is, by comparison to my own experience, very switched on when it comes to careers.  Throughout his time there, there have been talks from various parents and professionals, there is a careers convention coming up for the kids, and the children are encouraged to look on the internet at the variety of jobs around.  There is no doubt that the sheer amount of information that is out there is frightening in itself – a few taps of a keyboard and you are immersed in worlds which simply weren’t accessible when I was making those decisions.  

And as a parent it is confusing.  For a start, everyone is now an engineer – whether it is a technical engineer, a print engineer, a mechanical engineer or a BT engineer.  Hierarchies are moveable, everyone has a title -there is more than one Vice President of each company, you now have companies where everyone appears to be a VP.  And of course, aside from the age old professions, there is a new gamut of jobs of which we were barely aware, because it was in its infancy, and that is IT.  Spawning millions of jobs worldwide, the IT industry has not only invented new trades and professions, but has transformed the workplace for our kids.  No longer will they be working in one place, but they will have access to a global network, no matter what job they do.

And so it was with trepidation that I opened up the latest careers email from the school which encouraged us to take them up on the offer of a <COA> psychometric careers analysis for our child (and for a fee).  This would then give him a  36 page document and up to 20 suggestions of careers, and courses  based on his answers.  I thought for a couple of minutes and then said Yes and pressed Send.

Because you know, that basic typed up list that I got wasn’t that bad.  30 years down the line you can see that as we stumbled through life, my friend did actually take a secretarial course and subsequently took a degree in Project Management in which she now has a career.  I dabbled in various things, but ended up best enjoying those that were Press, PR and Marketing related, and ended up running my own home based business which covers all aspects of commercial writing. Our own minds had told us what we were suited to- and rather weirdly- whether from a subconscious memory of that tatty piece of paper, or fate, we ended up doing them, despite attempts to the contrary.

But neither of us ended up in the Fire Service.  On the other hand,never say never…  

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Pedestal

I had my first row with Middle Son this morning.  I’m talking full blown stand up argument 5 minutes before the school run where he and I stood yelling at one another.  It was all over a lost shoe. And it was all over in minutes.  But it shook me.  It’s not that I’m not used to the odd quarrel or heated debate – far from it, I come from a long line of shouters and arguers – but it was the first time that Middle Son had yelled back at me with real anger in his pre-teen voice.  And what’s more was that he was right – his tone of voice was wrong, his words came out all unpreparedly wrong, but the point that he was making was right.  And it was upsetting.  And he charged out of the door to school without saying goodbye.  And that too was upsetting.

You see, the lost shoe wasn’t lost at all – I had forgotten to put it in his bag in the first place, and he had used his initiative, and I had told him off for it.  Yes, perhaps if he had packed his bag himself as I had asked, the shoe wouldn’t have been left behind, but I had done it myself in the name of speed, and had got it wrong.  And he knew it.

It is very difficult to gauge as a parent when the balance shifts and you are no longer on the pedestal, the child realizing that you are only human, and all his perceptions change.     

I guess it is whether you step off, fall off or if you are pushed.  I’m hoping that I will simply step off the pedestal – admit my failings as a mother and perhaps gain my kids respect as an adult.  It’s not an easy thing to do when you have been in charge of a little life, but at some point you have to let them make their own decisions, and their own mistakes. And by the same token, if you make a mistake, ‘fess up and say you’re sorry.

One of the lively topics of conversation that I have with my friends is if you would prefer your kids to play up at home and be good at school, or vice versa.  A few favour the latter – a controlled professional environment teaches the kids to take control of their actions and feelings - but I am definitely of the former train of thought, not because I want my kids to be seen to be well behaved in public, but because I would prefer that they have the space at home to be frustrated, to learn to control their tempers, their anxieties and their hormones in a safe environment where they won’t be judged by society at large.

Middle Son was only doing what I had allowed him to do, what I had encouraged him to do, and by shouting back at me it taught us both that the parameters were changing, and the pedestal wobbling. 

And when I go and watch him in a mixed year schools athletics competition this afternoon where he is the youngest in his team, he will of course ignore me politely until I proffer the universal peace offering that is a bag of Haribos. 

And then I will be shouting again. Shouting his name with pride with a whole load of other mothers clinging on to our pedestals as we watch our young people compete.  

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Make Up Lessons

They say a picture paints a thousand words.  And so this is going to be my post on a lovely sunny Saturday in Blighty.  This afternoon the family are going to decamp to the school May Fair – I say the family, but of course, as with most weekends, everyone is spread out.  Middle Son is at a sleepover and will meet us there where he will refuse to make eye contact with me until he runs out of money, Eldest Son is on the River Thames somewhere in a boat, G is doing the garden, and so Little Man, Grandma, Grandad and I will be sampling the delights of the school BBQ, winning back the prizes we donated in the tombola, and if we are lucky will get to throw wet sponges at the headmaster (all in the name of charity of course).

It’s been a busy old week, and one in which it was not a good idea to come down with the sore throat ear thing that has been doing the rounds.  So I limited myself to an afternoon of dying quietly, and during that afternoon I was sorting out some old photos.  Well, I say sorting, but the reality is that actually it was a kind of dawdling over photos…

And one was so vivid in my memory that I had to share it with you.  Those of you who have little boys will know how fascinated they are with the trappings of womanhood that you have about you.  The lotions, the potions, the jewellry, the shoes, the makeup – they may not admit it, but they are drawn to them like Magpies to bling.  Some men never grow out of it.  Some just hide it, only to come out at rugby dinners or stag nights. But on the whole little boys find it an amazing alien world to which mummies and girls belong.

Unless, that is, they are left on their own…

Which is what happened 5 years ago and G was left in charge. The boys found their face paints and decided to do their own make up, with the addition of my brand new Chanel lipstick in red.  And when the colours simply didn’t work they just wiped it all off on my white towels.

Words painting pictures?  Something needed to paint over my words when I got back home…

Friday, 16 May 2014

Fingers Crossed Friday

It doesn’t matter what age group your child is in, but if he or she is a resident in the UK and of school age, it is very likely that right now they are undergoing  a period of some sort of test or exam. It may be SATs, it may be end of year class assessments, it may be GCSE’s or even A’ levels.  Whatever they are, and however they deal with them, it is always a little bit stressful for the parent. 

In my case, we have had end of year assessments for Little Man – to which I have to confess that I was a bit oblivious, until he came home and told me that he had them, and all the other mummies nodded sagely, and I began to panic that perhaps he should have done some swotting up on the subjects, and now it’s all too late…  I’m not quite so laid back with Middle and Eldest Son.  Middle Son has an air of casualness about his end of year exams that drives me a little bit demented, especially in the light of Eldest Son’s strong work ethic and consistent hours of revision for the GCSEs that he is taking early. 

Where Eldest Son emerges blinking from his room on the shout of ‘Dinner!’, Middle Son saunters downstairs with his headphones round his neck – he likes to revise to music whereas his brother needs absolute quiet.  Eldest Son arranges all of his papers in an orderly fashion whilst Middle Son scrabbles around for a pencil and searches endlessly through files for the topic du jour.  And both of their desks are covered in bits of paper with miniscule writing, as if to make it smaller somehow teleports it into their brains…

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to keep your cool during the exam season, both for parents and for the kids.  I’ve seen sites which advocate encouragement from the parent, easing up on the enforcement of chores, regular breaks for all, good food and reflection time.  I’ve seen sites which say do revision in chunks, do it at regular times of the day and intersperse it with an activity to keep the brain energized.   Who knows what works for what child?  Revision techniques vary in my house alone – so I am sure that one way or another we all find what works for us.

One of those things in our house is Luck.  I’ve noticed that like a lot of people, my kids have things and habits that they consider lucky.  I am guilty of it too.  For example, a good breakfast before an exam is for me a bacon roll.  I’ve no idea where it stemmed from – probably from my own A levels or University, but this morning I got up early to make one for Eldest Son who sits a GCSE today.  He came downstairs and looked at it, and said that he needed something chocolate as well.  On my querying the healthiness of it, he brushed away my statement by saying ‘I had Nutella on toast for the last exam and it was a really good one’.  And so, my mind microfiching through all the advice I’d read on keeping cool – I let him have both.  He put on a pair of lucky patterned socks for the same reason. He then went upstairs to collect Tessa (you may recall her from <An Irish Dog>) my toy dog from when I was a girl, which he shoved at the bottom of his school bag – just her presence in the school would be lucky.  And I remembered doing the same with Tessa during my O and A’levels, and a little tear came to my eye as I waved him good bye and wished him luck.

I don’t know why we rely on lucky charms and habits to give us confidence.  It’s possibly the Dumbo syndrome – you know, the baby elephant of Disney fame that needed a feather to hold in order to fly,  (who actually didn’t need the feather at all) his ears enabled him to fly by himself, but the courage given to him by that talisman enabled him to try in the first place. I’ve lost count of the times in which one of my kids has needed that extra confidence and I have given them a little kiss ‘for luck’.  Or left a lipstick kiss on the hand of Little Man for him ‘to keep until I got back’ when we went out in the evening- thus sparing the babysitter endless hours of separation anxiety.  And G still wards off bad luck by making the motion of saluting and spitting over his left shoulder whenever he sees a lone magpie… 

And we are in good company – Bjӧrn Borg famously grew his Lucky Beard before every Wimbledon match after winning his first title and went on to win four more, Serena Williams bounces the ball 5 times before her first serve and twice before her second, and wears the same pair of socks throughout each tournament, Tiger Woods wears something red during each important game, Axl  Rose from Guns ‘n’ Roses never tours in a town beginning with M (that’s Mytchett out then…) and Jennifer Anniston won’t board a plane without first stepping on with her right foot first and tapping on the outside of the plane with the other. And we all know what words you shouldn't say in a theatre setting just before a play.

Sometimes though, we may need to break the focus off a certain object or habit and foist it on to something else.  Regular readers will remember my last post in which I told of Little Man’s little success on the <cricket pitch>.  That evening I washed his whites, and noticed that he had a pair of socks that didn’t belong to him - this is not unusual, we do tend to inherit quite a few bits which I wash and send back into the school. 

‘They’re Gavin’s’, he announced when I queried who their owner was.  I bagged them up and gave them to him to return.
‘Oh no’, he said, mortified, ‘They are my lucky socks!’ 

I tried to explain that actually they weren’t his… His eyes glazed over.  Apparently Gavin had three pairs of white socks in his kit bag and had very generously (as children do…) given them to him. 

I stood firm.  Little Man gave up – and went into school, promising to hand them back.

Lucky habits and talismans, all well and good if they are your thing… and if not, just cross your fingers and plough on…

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Simply Cricket

Regular readers of the blog will remember a particularly poignant post that I wrote back in <March> of this year which was about how boys cope with the feeling of failure, and rejection, and how as a parent you walk the fine line between picking them up and dusting them off and fighting their corner for them.
You may recall that Little Man had a bit of a rough time at that period, coming off the back of an intensive all boys dancing weekend, for which some of the girls in his class called him ‘weird’, onto the toughness of the rugby pitch, in which his team lost the game and some of his teammates rounded on him.  And a lot of the comments on social media related to this, and how he coped, and how as a parent I reacted on witnessing this.  Needless to say, the next day Little Man came back beaming from school and all was forgotten.  By him…

This season it is cricket.  With trepidation I looked at the team sheets.  Little Man was in the U9 B team.  This is a fair place for him to be.  He loves wearing the whites, he can swing a bat, has practiced a bit of bowling and has not a clue about the rules.  In fairness, after years of watching the older two boys play, I am just as confused.  G went off to watch Middle Son represent the school in the 1st XI’s, and I elected to watch Little Man in his first match of the season, loaded with drinks, a chair and a packet of chocolate biscuits (very important sustenance when you are hanging around for a while).

I plonked myself next to another mummy who had equally no idea what was unfolding before us, and the daddies stood manfully, arms crossed, one hand on chin discussing tactics.  The other team were a smaller school and we were playing their A team.  This did not look to be a good start.  Little Man waved at me cheerfully as he strode on to the field with his partner. For those of you who are interested, they were playing pairs cricket where both teams start with 200 points, and the points are added or subtracted depending on how many runs you get, or wickets are taken. The most important point for our tale is that you lose 5 runs for a wicket.  Got it?  Ok, back to the story.

So there is Little Man, striding out on to the pitch, looking very inch the cricketer in sparkling new season whites (from experience I know that they gradually go green at the knees and ever so slightly grey as the season wears on) and a big smile on his face.  I’m secretly hoping that he hits the ball, just a touch will suffice, anything to avoid ridicule.  He wallops it. It sails through the air, little hands clutching to catch it, none succeeding.  His watching team cheers. He misses the next, then wallops it again.  And the pair work through their over, gaining more and more points.

But then the opposition come on to bat.  And you can see that they have some real A team players. They bat ferociously.  Our higgledy piggledy team run around fielding well, but the points are creeping up.  Suddenly the other team cheer – had beaten us by 5 points.  With only one more ball to go, they were celebrating early. And our team looked a little despondent. 

The bowler took a deep breath. That last ball flew through the air and the boy from the opposition hit it. One of ours tried to catch it, and dropped it.  He threw it to Little Man, he dropped it.  The boys from the opposition saw their chance to get a run, and ran, just as Little Man threw the ball with all his might at the stumps.  Everyone held their breaths.  It was a slow motion moment.  The bales began to wobble, and then the field erupted into cheers.  It was a wicket.  5 points off, it meant a draw.  His teammates crowded round high fiving a beaming Little Man.

This may be the nearest he will get to a wicket all season and he may have already reached his peak – but one thing’s for sure, at that moment in time as they all bundled off excitedly to tea with Little Man in the middle, there was no one happier.  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Educating Summer Babies

When I was pregnant with ‘Frogmella the bump’ (yes, too much Harry Enfield in our youth) who turned out to be Eldest Son, any existing parent rolled their eyes when I said that it would be a summer baby.  We hadn’t planned it so –after years of being on the Pill, I assumed that when I stopped taking it on my honeymoon that it would probably take a good few months or years to conceive.  It took exactly two weeks.  I returned from my honeymoon in November and began married life by throwing up every morning for five months. 

In fact, I was quite looking forward to having a summer baby.  Frogmella was due to pop forth about mid August time and I had visions of my floating around in a white linen dress and a large straw hat (I have no idea why, I look terrible in hats) pushing a pram in which a gurgling baby clapped its chubby little hands at the blue skies and the dappled sunshine on the trees.  The reality was that by the end of July I had stopped counting after 5 stone heavier, it was sticky and hot that year, and the unbearable pressure of baby wedged so far down the uterus meant that I wasn’t floating anywhere – just waddling like an overweight penguin.  And the only linen dress that would fit me resembled a teepee.

And so it was that I was relieved when Frogmella emerged, a week early, and a boy.  It was not an easy birth, albeit a natural one – and afterwards I just managed to feed my son before I was rushed into surgery due to complications, leaving a stunned G with a 2 hour old baby boy and no idea of what was happening to his wife.  Baby and I emerged four days later on the 6th of August, blinking in bewilderment at the sunshine outside.  And he grew, lying gurgling in the pram in the dappled sunshine, as I slopped about in some joggers, illusions of stylish mummy out of the window.

It was when we were looking at schools that we realised the implications of being born in the summer for our son.  School terms start in September in the UK, in the academic year in which you turn 5, which spans from September 1st to August 31st.  This in effect meant that as an early August birth he had only been 4 for a couple of weeks when he joined, and was nearly a year younger than most of the kids in his class. This had an impact from both a social and an educational point of view.  He had terrible separation anxiety – the first day it took 2 gap year students, 3 teaching assistants and a Head of Year to prise him off me. Things that seemed obvious to a September born child took another couple of months to click with my son.  In sports he would get frustrated, being uncoordinated, clumsy and just not getting the rules of games. And he was tall, and so people would forget that he was young, and get frustrated when he couldn’t ‘verbalise his feelings’.  And as parents who knew no better we would get worried when we saw that the others in his year were on more advanced books, or maths questions, or spellings.

As someone who was brought up in Kenya, our school year started in January, which is my birth month.  In theory that would have made me the eldest, but I was shunted up a couple of years into a class with kids who were 2 years older than me.  At the age of 10, I was with other girls who were more developed physically and socially than I was.  It was a relief for me to come to boarding school and be with peers my own age.

There is a movement by educationalists which encourages the schools to perhaps delay the starting age of summer children so that they are not so disadvantaged.  Under this movement parents will no longer be discouraged by local schools from placing a 5 year old summer born child in a reception class with 4 year olds. It means that in theory the summer babies will have a chance to catch up.

But would that have worked with my son?  In Infants school there is no doubt that there was an enormous difference in ability between the range of ages, but there was the same difference between the genders. Girls seemed to just Get It, whilst the boys bundled like puppies in the corner of the room.  In Junior school the eldest kids, regardless of gender, were the most eloquent and seemed to have an innate confidence which my son took a while to possess.  And now he’s reached Secondary school?

In the middle of taking some GCSE’s a year early, he has adapted to the pressure and knuckled down to work.  In his school year sports he is one of the top rowers, the best sprinter, and is in all the A teams.  The first term that he joined he was chosen out of the year to make a speech at his Year Awards night. At 6ft 1 he would look out of place in the year below. He still has slight confidence issues every now and again, but has learned to sit back and watch.  Years of having things explained to him has made him immeasurably patient with his younger brothers, as he helps them with their homework.  And I have learned to step back now, and not fight his battles for him as the youngest in the year, because he no longer needs me to.

There are times when the parents in my antenatal class have all wished that they had kept their child back a year. And none of us would want to repeat the blood, sweat and tears that it sometimes takes to keep your child focused and confident when he can’t make sense of the world around him.

And there is no doubt that all parents deserve to have a choice.  That gurgling child that lies in the pram, little chubby hands working  to catch the shadows of the leaves in the sun, deserves it. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Accident & Emergency

There’s nothing worse than the feeling you get when you are confronted by your child running towards you screaming and clutching a heavily bleeding hand, and you realise that you have to take him to hospital.  A little part of you hurts with him, a big part kicks into Efficient Mummy Mode, and yet, if you’re honest, there’s that teeny weeny part that thinks ‘Oh God, now I’ve got to face A&E’.  This is, as most parents know, one of the hardest things to do with a sickly child.  We are very fortunate in this country to have a thriving NHS, which although antiquated in parts, has a very ‘fair for all’ policy, and which attempts to take care of all who walk through its doors.  And this policy means that on entering A&E your case is assessed at various points, and those who are deemed less of an emergency than others are constantly shunted down the list as more pressing cases are admitted. 

As a parent of three boys, we have had our fair share of hospitals – and primarily all through the A&E.  Eldest Son has had major surgery on a finger, several overnight stays and a couple of x rays. Middle Son who went through a phase of running into walls and coffee tables, has been glued and stitched on his head three times, and as a baby had breathing problems and associated overnight stays.  Little Man has been x rayed several times, has had his chin glued, and once had an emergency five night stay in a hospital in Devon.  And from the sound of it, this is not that uncommon in a family of our size and with no (touch wood) ongoing health issues.

In our area, the hospital is relatively big and modern, and we have the main A&E and then the childrens A&E – which differs mainly in the décor with enormous animal murals, books and toys and a TV with set stations blaring throughout the day. The access is through the main A&E, where people with blank faces sit staring at a sign which tells them that they will be waiting for an hour if they are lucky, and would say (if it could talk) Why Didn’t You Bring a Packed Lunch?  Which is precisely where the clientele of the kids A&E differs, in that most parents know that in the case of an emergency, a spare chocolate bar will never go amiss, but only after assessment and Calpol. 

In amongst the snuffling of babies with bunged up noses and chests, teenagers proudly holding sprained limbs from just sustained sporting injuries, and where toddlers with viral induced red faces try and beat each other up with saucepans over the toy kitchen, parents wait patiently, as CBeebies blares continuously in the background.  And then a tired doctor with a friendly smile calls you into a cubicle and draws a curtain, so that no one can see your reaction, and can only hear your child’s.

And then it’s glueing or stitching or x raying, or up to another department.  Occasionally it is an overnight stay where you slump uncomfortably in a chair beside the tiny figure of your little boy as he tosses and turns in fever, his cries mixing with the other on the ward.  And despite needing the toilet, you can’t leave him, for fear that he may rise and find you gone.

And at dawn he wakes up, temperature gone, angry cheeks pale once more, and he smiles and stretches.  And you feel like a used tissue, crumpled, slightly damp and stuffed into the corner of the chair.  And a crisp smiling nurse with a starched top and a cheerful voice signs you out, as you emerge into the sunlight, blinking. 

We may moan at the state of the NHS, or the wait at A&E, but when the going gets tough for your kid, there’s no better place for them to be.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Eurovision - Where the Fun Never Stops

So, another Eurovision has been and gone, and the doppelganger of Rylan Clark in a dress had an equally loquacious reaction to being told that her country Austria had won the crown.  And so begins the rise of Conchita Wurst, the bearded lady.  And in all the 45 countries the estimated 180 million viewers who watched the show were asking, ‘Who is Conchita Wurst?’ It was a fairytale ending to a very much fabricated story.

You couldn't make it up. Or could you? You see, Conchita Wurst is a fictional character – a stage presence if you will.  A persona formed and created by Tom Neuwirth, a shop window decorator who after coming 6th in 2007 in a singing competition called Starmania, decided to reinvent himself and try for Eurovision. And this entailed having a unique look, and dressing as a woman.  But a woman with a beard.

There is something very odd about a woman with facial hair –even if you know that she isn’t a woman. As Western women we spend so much time on epilating, waxing or shaving, or undergoing the more medical routes of electrolysis or hormone tablets, that we kind of feel cheated in seeing a woman sporting full facial hair and people love it.
By the same token, we would expect nothing less of the Eurovision song contest.  It’s always had the oddballs, and we love it.  In this year alone we had a human hamster wheel, the obligatory tornado that plays havoc with the contestants hairpieces, an ice rink, a trampoline, a whistling folk rock band and some rather eye catching outfits (some of which were barely there much to the joy of all the husbands who had been forced by their wives to sit through several hours of varying standards of pop songs). 

And of course, the highlight of Eurovision has always been the voting.  There we get to see the representatives of all of the participants, and predict who is going to vote for who (it never changes, and is more indicative of politics than any EU conference round up I have ever seen on the telly). And like any good TV talent show, it’s not necessarily about the best song, or the best act, or even the best singer.  It’s about who appeals at the time.

Off the top of my head I can probably reel off five or six Eurovision winners.  And their names.  Other than that it’s just ‘Whatever happened to that bloke from Ireland that won it twice?’ Or ‘How old do you think the woman is now who sang ‘99 red balloons’?’

You see, the beauty of Eurovision is that it’s a moment in time in which this madness takes over – poor countries suddenly spring for expensive gowns and special effects, we are all Googling San Marino because no one knows where it is, beautiful presenters amaze us with their multilingual talents, Graham Norton’s narrating ramps and camps onwards and upwards to a crescendo, and a bearded lady sings.

So when Conchita Wurst said, on accepting her prize ‘We are unity… and we are unstoppable!’ it was pretty much spot on. Of the moment.
Until the next time.   

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Grass is Not Always Greener

I’m at the unenviable age where I probably know as many people in second marriages as first. For all sort of reasons.  It is an age when people, parents, suddenly screech to a stop for a moment and take stock of their lives.  There they stand, as life blurs around them, kids whirling from sports to social to exam modes, needing them only for food and money for survival.  Their lifelong partner appears distracted, and running down another path.  All are hooked up to the bright lights of technology which answers all their whims, from social interaction to education.  Meals are snatched, conversations are static, and life grinds on.  And the grass seems to be greener, hell, it seems to be growing, on the other side.

I’m talking about The Middle Ages.  And this is the time when wanderlust can take over.  Or maybe just lust. And it tumbles into a whole load of miscommunication, spite, anger and then things are irrevocably damaged.  And it’s happened to a number of my friends. And all those youthful happy Ever Afters are washed away by waves of Don’t Care and You’re a Wreck.  And it messes up a lifetime of trust and certainties.  And it gets bitter.  And children get hurt.  Friends become assessed on viability, families on availability and potential new mates on reliability. The tide has turned, on which they float like miserable bits of flotsam and jetsam.

And eventually they emerge from the Sea of Uncertainty, shiny and new, their outer shells hardening a little in the sun, but brighter and more colourful.  And a new mate is found, new friendships formed, tenuous tendrils of trust being nurtured.  New hobbies are sought, resolutions made, and happiness is only a fingertip away.

But what happens if you both cling to the wreckage, that broken and shattered hull that contained all of your world?  And you reach under the seat, your fingertips touching a small package in which you find a bright orange life jacket, but only one.  And in a natural movement, you offer it to your partner, because despite everything, you wouldn’t want to live without them anyway. 

Sometimes, we need to stand still for a moment.  And hear the birdsong above the mechanical squeals of technology and the storms in your head.  And realise that actually the most important things are right here, right now.

Before they’re gone.

I would welcome any comments!