Friday, 31 December 2010

A Failure

A year ago I signed up to the 100+ Reading Challenge promoted here, pledging to try to read 100 books in a year. I fell sadly short at only 71, but looking at the lists February and September were the months that let me down. In February my maternity leave ended and I went back to work full time, and in September I began at a new school. Not excuses, but explanations as to why my reading patterns changed so much in those months!

1. Messiah by Boris Starling
2. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
4. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
7. No Second Chance by Harlan Coben
8. Dead Tomorrow by Peter James

9. Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka
10. Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky
11. Raise the Red Lantern by Su Tong
12. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

13. The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan
14. Over by Margaret Forster
15. Dubliners by James Joyce
16. Beyond the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
17. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon
18. Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

19. My Life Closed Twice by Nigel Williams
20. Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani
21. Innocence by Ian McEwan
22. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
23. Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
24. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
25. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

26. Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor
27. In Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan
28. The intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour

29. Possession by Peter James
30. Identity by Milan Kundera
31. DNA by Dennis Kelly
32. Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks
33. Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
34. Heroes by Robert Cormier
35. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
36. The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

37. Bloodline by Mark Billingham
38. The White Tiger by Aravind Aviga
39. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
40. Solar by Ian McEwan
41. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

42. The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell
43. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
44. Expresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
45. England, England by Julian Barnes
46. Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth
47. Poetry Please editied by Charles Causley
48. The Snow Door by Charles Ashton
49. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

50. The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
51. A Scavenger's Tale by Rachel Anderson

52. The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh
53. The Warden by Antony Trollope
54. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith
55. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
56. Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo
57. Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

58. Tales of Beedle the Bard by J K Rowling
59. Tribes by Catherine McPhail
60. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
61. Snobs by Julian Fellowes
62. The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett
63. The Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Absolom
64. Murder in the Museum by Simon Brett

65. The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
66. Body Surfing by Anita Shreve
67. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
68. The Day After, Barefoot Gen Volume II by Keiji Nakazawa
69. Dead Like You by Peter James
70. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
71. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson

A quick scan of the titles shows a high proportion of crime fiction. Peter James and Simon Brett I enjoy because they are local. The stand-out read was The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, which I found to be a real thriller, a sinister, genuine 'page turner' that left me not wanting to be alone at night and which I felt to be far superior to Steig Larsson, to whom he is regularly compared. The other one I thoroughly enjoyed was Messiah by Boris Starling, but since he promised to read and give me some advice on my own crime novel over a year ago, and hasn't, I'm feeling less charitable towards this writer than I was!

I also noticed how many of the classics I seem to return to. Some of this is as a result of my job; I always re-read any book that I happen to be teaching. There was a disproportionately large number of titles by Ian McEwan, one of my favourite writers, though this year's novel Solar, that I was so excited about, didn't live up to my expectations.

My other favourite books of the year would be The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. I enjoyed the structure of this dual narrative, and the way that you were kept guessing about how the two stories were intertwined until the final pages. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson was also memorable: A twist on my usual crime fiction fare, with a whole host of characters to whom I felt some sympathy. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was engaging and unsettling and I am delighted to see it on the GCSE syllabus this year. Two Caravans was probably the funniest thing I read, and Lucia, Lucia the most heart-warming. Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a book that I return to again and again, so it was a tragic pleasure to read once more in preparation for my A-level literature group.

I hate not meeting a challenge and will definitely make 100 in 2011!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Dear Father Christmas

This was dictated to me by number one daughter yesterday:

Dear Father Christmas,

I really have been a very good girl. For ages. I have tried not to be naughty. I haven't done any snatching from Jenna or Emily at nursery, and definitely no biting or scratching. I have used the new grown-up toothpaste that Mummy told me too, even though it makes my tongue hurt. I haven't got my clothes dirty. I have gone to bed when I'm told and I haven't got up in the night. I haven't had any accidents for absolutely ages. I eat up all the things that I am told too, and even when I really, really don't like them I will have three mouthfuls.

Because I have been such a good girl, I really hope that you will bring me a space hopper and a scooter and a Hello-Kitty-cat and a clock for my room. Maybe some toy food as Kempton chewed some of it. Toy milk, please. She chewed that up.

I think that my brother, Gilby, would like a football, a tambourine and cars and a tractor. He has been a good boy too and hardly ever cries now.

With lots of love, and I'm very excited,

(Self signed, with nine kisses)

Luckily, Santa already knew about the scooter and the space-hopper. And I am touched that she thought to ask on behalf of her brother.

I have no idea what a Hello-Kitty-Cat is and I can't think why a three year old would want a clock, except that there was one on the wall in the kitchen when she was trying to think about what to ask for. I notice there is no mention of Peppa Pig, so Santa may have misjudged her (rapidly waning, it seems) affections for old Peppa.

And toy milk? I think that this is the last year we will get away so lightly...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Leaning Tower of Gilby

Yesterday, Gertie learned how to write her name. Now, admittedly, I am probably the only person who is actually able to decipher the letters, given her unique style, but it was an exciting moment nevertheless.

This was overshadowed, however, by Gilby suffering his first nose-bleed. I say 'nose-bleed' as though that were the incident in itself, though it was in fact brought on by a tumble. Well, actually, forwards out of the bath on account of his disproportionately large head making him top-heavy.

It happened whilst he was leaning out of the bath trying to reach a toy that he had dropped, and being wet with bath-water he was simply too slippery to catch.

So that was it. Blood everywhere. And not a pretty sight in the aftermath when the crusted dry blood around his nostrils was taken in to account alongside the refusing-to-be-treated impetigo and the just-appeared-oh-god-do-we-have-any-drops-left-from-last-time-conjunctivitus.

Poor Gilbert. Not looking at his most handsome. Lucky his sister's so clever.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Walking in a Winter-Floppy-Land

Gertie's assessment of the wintry world this morning?

"Look Mum, it's gone all floppy!"

"Do you mean, the trees?

"Everything. And look, all the branches have dinosaur mouths!"

Oh to be three-and-a-half.

But I can kind of see what she means...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gilby's New Game

Gilby's communicative skills are developing fast, and I am definitely guilty of not giving him the same attention that his elder sister received. He doesn't get the quantity of books read to him, and it is hard to find that precious solo time when I am completely focused on him, and not splitting myself between the two. This does not seem to have hindered him though, and whilst slow to walk, he is gabbling for Britain , acquiring new (and surprising) words daily.

The fact remains, however, that he is a boy, and essentially likes to hit things. He will make as much noise as possible and seems to have an instinct to destroy...pretty much anything that comes into his path.

His new favourite game fits into these categories. He has made it up himself and it has very simple rules: He likes to gather together as many people as he can (Mum, Dad and big sis at once, if possible) and pat them firmly and repeatedly on the head whilst saying, 'Ow!' on their behalf. He will occasionally hit himself over the head, in the interests of fair play.

The amusement this game causes is difficult to describe. He seems to think that his victims derive some kind of anticipatory thrill from not knowing who will be next to be smacked over the head. It can provide high levels of entertainment for much longer than you might imagine...though only, generally, for one person.

And it doesn't work particularly effective if one of the 'hittees' is suffering from a hangover.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Night-Time Ceremony

I wonder if anyone else's night-time ritual is as complicated or as fraught with potential upset as Gertie's?

It begins straightforwardly enough, with the evening meal, followed by a bath every other night and into pyjamas; then back downstairs for one, two, three, and on rare occasions when we have been slick and professional and are ahead of schedule, four episodes of Peppa Pig. (These are 'series-linked' to record automatically, providing an endless supply. I believe that we have 167 episodes saved. The joy of watching a previously-unseen one is unparalleled. I think that goes for me as well as Gertie...)

The quantity of episodes correlates directly with the number of minutes remaining before 6.50pm; which is the magic time by which we try to get upstairs for the bedtime story. Whilst Gertie is engaged with the final programme, I nip up with Gilby to give him his final bottle and put him to bed. He is generally very quick and easy (until about 1am, which is when he comes into his own, but that may be saved for another post).

Gertie chooses one or two books which Daddy usually reads. And it is after this that the complications begin. To indicate that we are summoned for the good-night-kiss, Daddy performs an elaborate stamping ritual on the floor of Gertie's bedroom. Everyone in the house now recognises this as the signal, and it includes anyone who may be around, however tenuous their link with Gertie. Any current visitor and occupant of the house must assemble in the bedroom, in line, to bestow their night-time greeting upon the waiting lady.

But there are some important rules of etiquette which must be observed. Sometimes, she will have insisted that Daddy 'hide' prior to our entrance. Whilst her bedroom is small, and it would be perfectly clear to anyone without severe visual impairment that Daddy is in fact stationed beneath the sofa bed (feet and most of his body protruding for all to see) or behind the door (a giveaway since it will not open properly), all must feign incredulity at Daddy 's disappearance. He must not be discovered too quickly for that will incur the wrath of Gertie.

A variation on this is for Gertie herself to hide. This will, without exception, mean that she is lying on her bed beneath her duvet, but because she is face down she believes that she is effectively hidden, and therefore entirely undetectable. Again, 'discovering' her whereabouts too early will invoke a tantrum too terrible to contemplate.

Once the 'hiding' has been safely navigated, and believe me, this is much easier said than done, the actual business of the kiss must be carefully performed. This is a ritual which extends and develops on virtually a daily basis. Gone are the days of a simple peck on the cheek whilst she is lying down. No. Currently, she must stand on the end of her bed, jump off between your legs for 'squeezy leg cuddle' before coming up the other side for a kiss. Last week you had to do a bed kiss and a floor kiss and ensure that the transition between the two corresponded to a careful set of rules which only Gertie herself was fully party to. It is, to steal a well-worn metaphor, a mine-field.

But it is always over by 7pm. Well, ok, 7.10pm. Maybe 7.15pm if we happen to really need to be organised because we are trying to go out.

I wonder if we might just have been ever-so slightly indulgent of the whims of our first-born?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Double Announcement

Though it is not quite on a par with the proclamation of a royal wedding, today I would like to announce that my son, aged 16 months, finally took his first steps.

Hooray! They were a long time coming, but worth the wait. Clearly he is now the cleverest little boy ever to have walked upon this earth.

There has also been a development with Gertie. She has decided that only Daddy has the necessary skill and power to wipe her bottom after a poo.

I'm celebrating this one with equal satisfaction.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Discussions in Lilliput

Parents' evening.

As a teacher I'm usually on the other side of the desk for parents' evening, but this week it was my turn to hear about the shortcomings or otherwise of my children. Except that at three-and-a-half and one-and-a-third respectively you might expect the issues to be a little different.

My husband and I dutifully squash ourselves down into the low mini-chairs that the children use, flesh oozing unattractively over the sides, to hear that all is wonderful in the pre-school world of Gertie (apart from the fact that they are not allowed to encourage her literacy, but we didn't seem to be able to bring that up). She is good and listens and is extremely helpful and always polite. Oh. Do they have the right child? We look through her 'Learning Journal' at all the boxes that have been ticked. There are a scary amount of categories in which she is expected to succeed, but she, and consequently we, appear to have passed most of the tests.

So the first meeting goes well. Smiling, we move on to Gilby. And we learn that he will be staying behind in the Baby Room (oh dear, being kept back already) because though he is due to move up to 'Toddlers' in six weeks time, he's not yet walking so it wouldn't be safe. So his Learning Journal has not so many boxes ticked and he seems to be a little, well, below average, in a few sections.

I try to explain that his elder sister was just as slow at getting to her feet, and that perhaps Gilby is compensating by, um, being good at words. Whilst his 'key-worker' is smiling and nodding sympathetically, I can't help feeling as though I have somehow engineered this slow-walking situation and am responsible for his disappointing behaviour.

So he's gone from being the youngest baby in the nursery by a good few months to being the oldest by some way. Still, the ratio of staff to children is better in this room, so every cloud...

We eventually make it to our feet, escaping from the Lilliputian chairs, and wonder what parents' evening will be like when they are both actually in school; when there are many, many more boxes to be ticked and tests to be passed.

And it seems that perhaps the issues aren't so very different after all.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Hot Cross Mum

A week ago I was delighted by Gertie's reading development. That was half term, and now that she is back at pre-school, I am cross.

She has a little 'communication' book, you see. The idea is that we write stuff in there relating to Gertie: special requirements, concerns, anything that her carers might need to know about. It's a good idea, though I don't really know how it works because I've never had occasion to use it before. But with the young lady making a sudden breakthough with her reading, I thought I should alert the staff so that they might encourage her to spell or sound out words if she was sitting with a book. So I made a little note to that effect.

Oh dear.

Because then I had THE SUMMONS. And THE TALK. About how the staff are not allowed to 'do' any letters or numbers or anything that might remotely be considered educational with the children. At all. Under any circumstances. Regardless of how excited they might seem to be about it. Oh.

And now I seem to have had my 'communication book' confiscated. Which seems to have put an end to any...communication.

Still, I did get to go swimming with Gertie over half term, which meant that I also got to smile as I heard her complain about how her ears were 'turned off' afterwards and she couldn't listen properly. She kept pressing them like buttons to turn them back on, so I guess that might have helped the water to drain away, because she announced in the car on the way home, to everyone's great relief, that they were 'back on'.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Every mum gets really excited when her child does something for the first time and there are so many important milestones. We reached another one of those today.

But first, a quick example from the past. Ridiculous as it now sounds, Gilby's first poo was one such moment. How can you be proud of an ordinary bodily function, you ask. Well, easily, as it happens. Due to some minor complications at birth, the powers that be at the hospital were insisting that the young man had filled a nappy before they would allow us to leave.

In fact, we took it upon ourselves to discharge from the ward before that happened, and I think he was nearly a week old before the momentous occasion occurred. I was thrilled to finally see a little portion of the tarry black stuff. Needless to say, over the past fifteen months he has more than made up for this early reluctance in the nappy department.

But today's milestone was REALLY, really exciting: Gertie made a breakthrough with her reading.

She has been fantastic at learning her alphabet and can recite her ABCs. She could also recognise the letters in her name. But today, finally, she has started to put those letters together to 'read' her first few words. It is amazing. I am absolutely delighted. She is nearly three and a half. I have no idea if this is good, or late, or normal, and frankly I don't really care. It has just made me want to tell everyone I meet. And sing 'La-la-la-la-la-la' to the tune of La Donna E Mobile or something equally showy-offy.

I think of the doors that reading opens up. She is already happy to sit for hours pretend-reading her books; how much more thrilling will it be when she can actually read them?

And of course, with the delight comes the inevitable guilt. It is half term and so I am on holiday and at home with her spending time playing and learning and reading, instead of thrusting her in front of Peppa Pig before a quick bedtime story.

It just leads me to wonder what would happen if I was actually here all the time....

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Licking Drips

Bath time never fails to provide some light entertainment.

It is a time when Gertie is really relaxed so she might come out with the strangest question or random observation about life in her universe.

I was busy playing the Dolphin Game with Gilby (not nearly as demanding as 'Duck Chess': You merely pass the plastic dolphin toy backwards and forwards. Gilby says, 'Mummy' as he does it; I say, 'Gilby' as I return it. That's all there is to it, but it seems to keep him entertained indefinitely).

I looked up and noticed that Gertie had her tongue out and appeared to be sampling the flavour of the wall of the bath.

"Um, darling, what are you doing?"

"I'm tidying up." (Her potential for OCD is well-documented.)

"Excuse me?"

"I'm licking off the drips for you."

"Oh, don't do that; it's yucky."

"No. It isn't."

"Ok; well what do they taste of?" (I was wondering how long it was since Mr Muscle had last visited; probably some time ago)

She looked at me as though I were quite mad.


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Duck Chess

It was bath time. I had run out of food suggestions for Gertie to mix up for me. Spaghetti bolognese, chocolate mousse, salmon pasta, a cup of tea had each been presented as a bubble-filled boat at which I was expected to slurp and make appreciative noises towards.

Suddenly the game changed. My beloved bath pillow was upturned and became some kind of gaming board. "What game would you like to play, Mummy? Fuzzy felt?"

"No, I'd like to play chess," I revealed, thinking this might floor her and we might make an earlier exit from the bath.

"How do you play chess?"

"We-ll; you have different types of pieces that you move across the board whilst trying to get the other person's king."

"Oh." She pondered my description for a moment. "Does it have ducks in?" she asked, waving a yellow plastic bath duck at me hopefully.

"Um, no."

"Well it does now. We're going to play 'Duck Chess'.

Ah. The impeccable logic of the three year old mind. Duck Chess. Of course.

I didn't win. The rules are quite complicated and known only to my daughter.

Baby Sale Hate

It's a year since I wrote my first blog post: a whole twelve months of revealing little secrets about my children to a small community of strangers. It still feels like a rather odd thing to do, but I'm hooked now.

Yesterday we went on our bi-annual pilgrimage to the local 'baby-sale'. I have to mentally prepare for these days; a necessary evil, it seems to me. Children's clothes, shoes and general stuff is so expensive that the only way we can do it is by making considerable purchases of nearly-new goods at a fraction of the price they would be in the shops.

The trouble is that the baby-sale is not a pleasant shopping experience. It is a frantic, frenzied grabbing competition where only the toughest will survive, snatching out dangerously in an effort to locate that Jojo Maman Bebe bargain or Monsoon special.

In exchange for waiting patiently and keeping her baby brother entertained whilst I wrestle with clothing racks, Gertie gets to choose a toy to take away. So it was odd to hear her say, very firmly, "I hate baby sales, Mummy," as we were en route in the car. (Of course, I hate baby sales, but I can't imagine why she should have this strong reaction.)

I thought I should get to the bottom of this, so decided to probe a little further. "What exactly is it that you don't like about them?"

This floored her for a minute. She thought very carefully, then said, "What does 'hate' mean?"

"Um. It's when you really, really, really don't like something..."

Later, as we came out (me, armed with bags of winter stuff; she, clutching her new cuddly hippo, which she christened 'Vanessa'...?) she told me that actually she didn't 'hate' baby sales. I think she genuinely didn't know what the word meant.

I felt quite pleased that it had taken her three and a half years to come across the concept of hate.

Then, on reflection, worried that she had now encountered it too early in her little life.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Love and Infection

Gertie has been suffering for the last nine months or so with something called 'Molluscum Contagiosum'. I say 'suffering' but it doesn't really bother her too much, and though it sounds terrible, it manifests itself as small clusters of pink lumps across her neck and underarm. Sometimes it can look very 'angry' and sore, and it can itch a bit from time to time but is not really troublesome. It is some sort of viral infection common amongst the little people with their underdeveloped immune systems.

We were visiting friends recently, who have a little boy just about the same age as Gertie. Although the two of them don't see each other very often, they seem to get on really well when they do. They tore off across the village green together, and Gertie even managed to briefly overcome her fear of our puppy, Kempton, in an effort to impress her young beau. It evidently worked, because they came back out of breath and holding hands, and I overheard him tell her, "I like your spots. I'm going to get some."

Well, if he gets too close, he probably will.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

999, 990 to Go

I remember last summer reading about the millionth word to be classified in the English language. There was some excitement prior to its announcement in the press. It was, apparently, 'Web 2.0', though there was controversy over the verification, with serious linguists challenging the count. Words like 'slumdog' and 'jai ho' were also in the running.

But back in my little world, little Gilby has reached his 10th word today - 'cuddle'.

Also on his list and just about in order of acquiring them, 'Mama', 'Dadda', 'arm', 'ball', 'badge', 'bath', 'hiya', 'bubble', and 'duck'. Ok, so the pronunciation of the final consonant isn't always entirely convincing for some of them, but he can make himself me. And yes, 'arm' and 'badge' are slightly odd choices, which I could explain and justify if I needed to.

I'm delighted that 'Mamma' was officially his first word, since Gertie's were 'duck' and, believe it or not, 'tractor', and something approximating 'Mummy' only came many months later, and long after her father had got used happily used to being named by her.

So. Ten down. Just another nine hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety to go for the little man to learn, then.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Early Career Choice

This is, unbelievably my 100th post.

I feel that it should be on a weighty subject, perhaps with some thoughtful insights about motherhood, or even blogging itself. Alas, no. It is, in fact, about fairies. Sort of.

I've been out playing stoolball at a tournament today, the last game of the season. For anyone not in Surrey, Kent or Sussex, this is a relatively obscure team game that involves wickets and boundaries and was a forerunner to cricket (allegedly). It is mostly just played in the south-east of England.

Gertie was a great spectator and in between games also unwittingly provided most of the entertainment. At one point I asked her, in front of the team, what she would like to be when she grew up. I expected her to say a teacher (like her Mum) or a farmer (she is obsessed by a local farm park, where Brenda, our Wonder from Down Under, works part time). I even half suspected she might say something to do with cars, like her Daddy.

"A fairy," came her immediate, and confident response.

I'm not entirely sure that she's getting helpful career advice at this early stage.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

New Term, New Job and a Marriage Proposal

I have survived the first week of the new term in a new job at a new school and I'm pretty certain that I was at least as nervous than the new Year 7 pupils.

But the benefits are already showing: the biggest one being the fact that the nursery that Gertie and Gilby have been attending since both were just a few months old is actually on site. So when I had the call from nursery on Friday afternoon to say that Gilby needed collecting since he had 'two bad nappies', I was able to pop straight over and see that he was fine. Not in fact, in need of collecting at all, but at least it prevented me from staying on for another hour and gave me the perfect excuse to get away at a sensible time for the start of the weekend.

And I cycled for the first five days, though I did take the car today due to the 'severe weather warning' announced this morning for West Sussex that never actually materialised. Much nicer than the forty minute car journey I used to have, and a little healthier too. Though I have become a figure of fun as the only member of staff to arrive by bicycle in the morning.

And the final piece of news is that Gertie has decided she will marry her grandfather.

We were discusssing marriage and I was explaining that mummy and daddy had got married as they 'love each other' and she came to the obvious conclusion that she would, by the same logic, marry Grumps. When I pointed out that this wasn't really appropriate she settled on her brother as a future spouse. I suggested that she wait a while to make a final decision.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Blood and Salad

Gertie has these strangely precise ideas about the way that life will work out and what will happen when she is a 'bit bigger'. For example, though she currently fears Kempton, our new golden retriever puppy, she thinks that she will not be frightened of her by the time she is four.

She's quite convinced that she will like salad when she is six, though she will not touch the stuff now.

Yesterday, I went to give blood and as I was collecting Gertie and her brother from nursery she asked me about the plasters on my finger and my arm, so I explained the process to her as carefully as I could. She was intrigued.

"I'll probably give blood when I'm a bit bigger, won't I Mummy?"
"Yes, you might do."
"Maybe when I'm ten?"
"Well you have to be a bit older than that. Perhaps when you're eighteen."

She thought for a minute.
"So they just put a tiny prick in your finger first?"
"Yes, a tiny little prick."
"And it didn't hurt at all? It must have hurt a tiny bit."
"Well maybe a tiny bit, for only a second and then it is all better."
"Yes, but it did hurt a tiny bit for a little while?"
"That's right."

She thought for another minute.
"I don't think I will give blood when I'm eighteen. In fact, no. I probably won't."

So, a practice clearly not in the same league as liking puppies and eating salad.

Monday, 23 August 2010

I'm Busy, Darling.

The things people say make occasions, and holidays, special for me.

I will not forget my daughter singing 'Five currant buns in the bacon shop' at the top of her voice all the way down to the south of France in the car. Just why they would be on sale there I was not able to establish.

She was also reluctant to practise any French words, until she discovered the rich rewards that simply uttering, "Gateau, s'il vous plait," might bring.

Gilby, at one year old, is not yet able to pronounce his name properly, but saying 'Gilber', with the softened final consonant was the perfect way to introduce himself to all the French girls.

But the best one came from my brother-in-law. With only sun, swimming and gallons of rose to enjoy, the boys had to come up with ever-more inventive pool-based sporting entertainment.

Diving to catch tennis balls mid-air, various races on inflatables and endless permutations of goal-scoring with an aerobi sufficed for much of the week, until he decided that it would be a good idea to balance a plastic chair on top of a lilo then attempt to sit in it to cross the pool. At the crucial moment with chair in place and he standing on the lilo, just as he was about to manoeuvre himself delicately in to position, his wife called down from the balcony. With not a moment's hesitation, poised in utter concentration, he did not even look up. "I'm busy, darling," he called, in convincing tone as he contrived to complete his operation.

He managed it too, for not quite as long as a second.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Truth is Out Here

We are on holiday in France: a few days in Paris, then a week in the south. I'm not entirely sure that Gertie and Gilby were ready for a long afternoon in the Louvre, but that is precisely what they got yesterday. So far all is good: Gertie was a little disconcerted by the fact that there were no lights on in the channel tunnel, even though we were in a brightly lit carriage; but no one has been car sick and Gertie has cleverly managed not to wet the hotel bed yet. Happy days!

But a few truths have emerged. A few posts ago, I was blogging about Gertie's capacity to make sweeping generalisations. I had assumed that this was her three year old mind attempting to make sense of her world by categorising things. It transpires that she in fact inherits this trait from her father, as a few short quotations should amply demonstrate:

"Right, I've got to be on my toes here, the French are all lunatics." (whilst negotiating large roundabout en route into Paris)

"They love a pharmacie; grooming, preening, waxing, they love it." (whilst driving past a street containing an inordinately large number of chemists)

Now my husband has lived in France and loves it and the people, so I don't think this is xenophobia. I think I have just never noticed this characteristic in him before.

But another truth that has been revealed came from Gertie herself as our plates in a restaurant arrived piled high with an assortment of vegetables. "I only like mushrooms and broccoli at nursery, not at home or in restaurants."

Oh. I see.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Teddy Did It

Ah. A new developmental stage. I wasn't expecting this one.

"Gertie, pick up those cushions you've been playing with, please."

"It wasn't me. Teddy did it."


"Don't throw those toys around."

"I'm not. Teddy did it."

'Teddy' is just three inches high, but he has a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Sweeping Generalisations, Anyone?

Gertie has developed a profound capacity for the sweeping generalisation, and the tag question which ensures that you have to agree or disagree with her.

A prime example occurred this morning as we went shopping for a few groceries. I accidentally dropped a bag as we were walking across the car park, and she said, "Be careful that a car doesn't get your bag, Mummy."
"Thanks Gertie, I shall make sure of that."
"Because mummies cry if cars get their bags, don't they?"
I don't know how often cars 'get' mummies' bags, or indeed how often they cry about it subsequently, though it doesn't seem unreasonable that they might; nevertheless this appears to be a surety for my daughter.

Sometimes however, she is proved quite correct. The other purpose of this morning's excursion was to get her hair cut. So, on our approach to the salon she tried again.
"We get lollipops when we get hairs cut, don't we, Mummy."
"We-ell, I suppose we might if we are good."
The decision was not left to me however, since the young lad who performed the trim offered her just such a treat before I had a chance to intervene.

So, in fact, we do get lollipops when we get hairs cut, I was forced to concede.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Fright Night

It is summer, moonless night in the small village, starless and bible-black.

Suddenly a violent shriek erupts from somewhere outside the bedroom. A loud yelp follows almost instantaneously; then a few seconds later, a prolonged cry from the nursery.

I am terrified, and push my husband from the bed to investigate.

Daddy discovers that Gertie has wet the bed. Kempton, the new puppy has somehow found herself upstairs, inspite of the forbidding stairgate at the top. Gilby has also woken. I go downstairs to make up some milk and find myself clearing up a puddle of puppy-widdle. It doesn't help that I knock over the first bottle, spill watery formula everywhere and have to start again.

A sequence of events emerges. A sleepy-headed Gertie must have emerged with damp pyjamas from the bedroom to be confronted unexpectedly by the puppy, of whom she has a deep fear. She gave out an involuntary (and inhuman-sounding) scream. This woke her little brother, who was terrified by the commotion and rendered inconsolable. The milk was not enough to allay his fears and it took a good forty minutes to get him settled again.

So if we include Kempton's yelp, that is at least four of us who were frightened out of our wits last night. And two of us who had to clear up wee.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Not the Youngest Now

Gilby is a whole year old tomorrow, and we began the celebrations for the little man early with a small family gathering at the weekend. We also enjoyed a picnic at the beach yesterday, though the poor boy has a not insignificant amount of facial sunburn despite being smothered in cream, fully clothed and wearing a firmly-fitting floppy hat for most of the afternoon: naughty Mummy; failed again.

His birthday has accidentally coincided with the arrival of Kempton, our long sought-after golden retriever puppy, who, at eight weeks old, is one of the cutest things on the planet. Not quite as cute as Gilby in his sunnies, but not far off. It means we have a new baby in the house. One who requires regular feeds, cuddles and sleeps, and even cried in the night for the first two nights. So Gilby is no longer the littlest person; there is someone even more demanding than him.

In an effort not to make it seem as though this is a birthday gift, we have made it quite plain that it is in fact Gertie's puppy. She has chosen her collar and toys and chews and was heavily involved in the preparation for Kempton's arrival. Gertie visited Kempton at five weeks old as part of a litter of ten, and though she was a little wary at first she was happy to stroke the puppies and even got in the pen with them all at one stage. But now that we have Kempton at home Gertie is petrified of her, and insists on Kempton being shut off away from her (usually by a strategically-placed stair-gate, of which we have many).

Gilby seems to adore the puppy and is happy to crawl around with Kempton, have his toes licked and share toys. I'm not so keen on this last part, but he'll soon learn that they get chewed to bits when freely offered to the newest baby in the house.
But Gertie is really not so sure. It is only day five but she now feels that she has been 'really brave' if she tiptoes past the sleeping Kempton, and I wonder when, and perhaps if she will relax and enjoy the new arrival.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

I Spy With My Little Eye Someone Who's Not Ready to Play 'I Spy'

Gertie isn't really 'game-ready' yet. Board games have to be ridiculously simple and engineered so that she will win, within about five minutes of starting. Hide and Seek is....not terribly difficult, particularly if one is the 'seeker'.

So when Gertie announced in the car earlier today that she wanted to play 'I Spy', it was with some trepidation that I agreed.

"You go first, Mummy."
A convoy of motorcycles roared by at that moment, providing just the inspiration I needed. "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'M'."
"No Mummy, you don't say a letter you say a colour."
"Right. Of course you do. I spy with my little eye something that is..."
Gertie eyed me pityingly, and spoke slowly to make sure I understood. "No Mummy, you don't say 'that is' you just say the colour."
I was slowly getting the hang of the game.
"Right. I spy with my little eye something pink."
"Is it my cardigan?"
"Yes, it is, Mummy. It is!"

Clearly there is a rule somewhere about the guesser also deciding on the object that I am not familiar with, knowing only a more traditional form of the game...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Things Can Only Get Better

The day began with a very wet Gertie, a stripped bed and a hasty hose-down shower to rinse away the evidence that last night was not a 'dry-night'.

I was up early anyway because of the marking, but this was interrupted by the discovery of a number of fleas in the dining room, (one even had the audacity to hop onto an exam paper) prompting early morning vacuuming undertaken by Daddy under, it has to be said, some duress.

A few minutes later it was Gilby's turn to wake up and a pungent smell greeted me from his bedroom. Gilby is sick, again, and the diarrhoea, though it hadn't woken him had clearly been there a while. So it was a hastily run bath this time, and a second stripped bed.

In the midst of this my mobile rang. A colleague was ill and not going to make it into work today and could I take down the details of his lessons for whoever would be covering them? No problem, let me just wipe away the poo.

All this and it wasn't even 7.30am. Surely things can only get better today!

Monday, 12 July 2010

We Can Parent But Not Own a Puppy!

I hope I am not tempting fate by writing this. My husband and I have been trying to get a puppy for the last four years. In fact, since before the arrival of the children. Until now we had been refused on the grounds that we are not suitable and had managed to get ourselves 'blacklisted' (if such a thing is possible in the dog-breeding world).

As children we both grew up in 'doggy' households; I remember our first dog from the age of about five, then a golden retriever from the age of about twelve. They were both great friends to me. My husband also had retrievers as a child. So there was no discussion about the breed. The only problem was that that our house was quite small and the garden wasn't really big enough for a large dog. So - we put the house on the market. It took a while to sell, and in that time I became pregnant. We now live in a place with a large garden, in a rural location, just across the road from 70 acres of woodland: perfect for dog-walking. Gertie arrived and we settled in happily. We waited till she was a little older before thinking about a puppy again.

We went through the kennel club to find a breeder. It took a while to find one, but when we did the pups were due in six weeks. We waited anxiously for news. We were a little way down on the list, but when the puppies arrived there was nine in the litter and plenty for everyone.

We saw the photos and Gertie was really excited about the prospect of the new arrival. Then disaster struck. We received an email to say that there weren't enough bitches in the litter and we couldn't have one. But that's ok, we replied immediately. We didn't mind too much about the gender. My husband grew up with bitches whilst we had a dog, so actually it didn't matter too much whether it was a dog or a bitch, we just wanted a family pet. 'No', came the reply. We were not having a puppy.

My husband spoke to her at length. It transpired that she wasn't happy about sending one of her puppies to a household with such a young child. What? Aren't golden retrievers known for being family pets? I was devestated.

We tried again. We got to a similar stage before the breeder let slip that she had spoken with the previous breeder (small world) and didn't think we would be suitable. By this point I was pregnant again with Gilby which complicated matters further. We wouldn't be able to give a puppy enough attention with a new baby. What? How dare you judge us! This time I was furious.

Our household is something of a managerie already. We have a ten-year-old cat, Iggy; two chickens, Cecily and Isolde, and two fish, Percival and Tristan.
Now finally, we have found a breeder who is happy to let us have a puppy. We underwent a two hour 'interview' to ensure our suitability and had friends put in a good word for us. We have been to visit the litter of ten. Gertie was a bit intimidated by the bigger dogs, but loved being in the pen with the puppies and was happy to stroke them. Gilby was fascinated and couldn't get enough of them, pointing and giggling and gurgling with delight at their antics.

Gertie's grandfather is also having one of the litter (as their last retriever sadly passed away last year) so the sibling puppies will spend a great deal of time together.

They are beautiful and gorgeous and we are about three weeks away from expanding our household to include a dog. I can't wait. There won't be a more loved family pet.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


I have been terribly neglectful of my blog of late, and whilst I have occasionally popped along to read and comment on some from time to time, it has been furtively and with a slightly guilty conscience.

This is because I am in the midst of marking A-level papers. Nearly three hundred of them: something that I used to find difficult and a burden before children, let alone with two of the small people around. The idea is that it is, at my own behest, supposed to be paying for our lovely summer holiday to France. The reality is that it has taken over my life and I will need a holiday more than ever at the end of it. And why did I pick a World Cup year? That coincided with Wimbledon and the one day cricket series against Australia?

The structure of my day has changed dramatically. I have to do a couple of hours in the morning before everyone else gets up, then work through the evening after the kids have gone to bed, perhaps sneaking in a couple during the bedtime hour whilst Gertie and Gilby are otherwise engaged with Peppa Pig, 64 Zoo Lane and occasionally In the Night Garden (though Gertie only 'tolerates' Upsy Daisy et al these days, for the sake of Gilby).

So Gertie sees me sitting at the dining table, red pen poised, quite a lot at the moment. Especially if she happens to wake up early and see a light on downstairs. The initially repeated, "What are you doing, Mummy?" has been substituted for, "Are you 'markin' again Mummy?"

'Markin' has now become one of her favourite games. Pen in hand she will take herself off quietly somewhere and go 'markin'. The back of an envelope or Daddy's latest print out of World Cup scores will become well and truly...marked. It has also become an excuse for not doing other things. (How quickly she emulates her mother's behaviour.) "No, I can't tidy up those things, I'm afraid, I'm markin". She has the degree of concentration just right, and embarks on it with a relish that has begun to wane in me.

As of today, 80 more scripts to go; shame I can't give her a few...

Sunday, 27 June 2010

New Technology

Preparations for the viewing of this afternoon's game involved some movement of furniture in the sitting room to ensure maximum capacity around the television.

Behind one of the arm-chairs, pulled out from its usual spot nestling against the wall, Gertie found a little sequin that must have dropped from an item of clothing months ago. It is a shiny silver disc with a minuscule hole in the middle, prompting Gertie's comment, "Oh look; it's a very tiny CD!"

I know that she belongs to a technological age where everything just gets smaller, but I haven't yet come across the technology that might play this 'micro-disc', unless it exists on Lilliput.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

World Cup Bet

If you google 'World Cup Bet Richard Enticott' you come up with all sorts of links to stories about a chap living in New York who has put a bet on his as yet unborn son scoring for England in the 2034 World Cup. The £100 stake will see him net £1 million in the event that master Enticott is able to live out his father's dream.

This chap happens to have been the best man at our wedding, and so we are familiar with his passion for football and his...self-belief, now transmitted to his child. (Still in the womb, but due any minute now!)

This has got me thinking about the pleasures we experience in the success of our offspring. My husband (and one of Rick's best friends) is fully convinced that Gilby will one day open the batting for England in an Ashes Test Match. His initials and surname, 'A A P Gooda' are apparently an important aspect of the dream since they 'sound right' for a cricketer. So you can see, these future ideals are quite specific. My as yet unsuspecting son is under a lot of pressure. I say 'unsuspecting'; he did in fact attend his first cricket match aged just five days old.

Until Gilby arrived last summer, poor old Gertie had to do two hours of throwing and catching practice each night when Daddy came home from work. Aged two. (You think I'm joking?) In fact, now I come to think about it she was only four days old when she first went to a game. Thankfully she is now able to concentrate on ballet, which she is much more excited about...

But given his best man's bet, I'm just waiting for my husband to come back from the bookies with his version of living the dream!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Things That Go Bump In the Night

Gertie has begun sleeping with her light on. This has only happened in the last few weeks but we've some how allowed it to become accepted practice.

One of us has then slipped in a couple of hours later and turned out the light, just before we go to bed. Sometimes we get caught and there is a small drama; most of the time there is no problem.

Gertie has been more tired of late however, and I had begun to suspect there was more to it than a simple fear of the dark. This was confirmed this evening. Gertie had been 'asleep' for a good hour when a large 'thump' was heard overhead.

This interrupted our football-viewing and required some investigation. Daddy tiptoed upstairs and slowly turned the door-handle of Gerties's be confronted by a guilty Gertie, clad in bunny ears, fairy wings and iggle piggle trousers.

"I was just....dressing up." (Nothing, if not honest.)

It's lights out from now on!

Sunday, 13 June 2010


One of Gertie's favourite foods is sausages. Her 'habit' is fed by her grandfather who never fails to bring her a ready-cooked sausage wrapped in cling-film whenever he visits. He has even, on occasion, gift-wrapped them; much to her delight.

At breakfast this morning, (sausages, obviously), Gertie suddenly noticed that I wasn't eating any. I am vegetarian and have been for twenty-five years, but Gertie had a slightly different take on things.

"Don't you like sausages, Mum?"

"No, not really..."

"That's because you're a teacher, isn't it?"

Now I can only assume that this three-year old logic stems from 'sensible' comments about her level of sausage-consumption. But perhaps there is some correlation between teaching and sausage-dislike that I have been hitherto unaware of?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Just 'Desserts'

A friend of mine, Candy, was watching Gertie eat her lunch. Candy seemed horrified.

"What is she doing?"

"What do you mean? I've just given her some mushed up veggies and she's eating them."

"I can see that. Precisely. She's eating them. Why isn't muck smeared around her face? Up the walls? Matted in her hair? How can she do that?"

"Er...I don't really know. She's always done it; as soon as she could pick up a spoon she wasn't happy with me feeding her."

She looked at me peculiarly, and left muttering under her breath about how it 'wasn't fair'.

She had two boys of secondary school age by then, but the memories survived, and I now now think I know what she was talking about.

Gertie would have been about ten months when this exchange took place. The same age as Gilby is now. I can't say for sure that this is a gender thing, but where Gertie sat demurely and fed herself with only the occasional mishap, Gilby seems far more interested in a minute examination of the texture and composition of any foodstuff he is offered. He does not want a spoon (for anything other than as a bangy-thing) and he seems to have only the vaguest idea of exactly where on his face his mouth is located.

My kitchen looks like a war zone, with the colours of the rainbow spattered up the walls behind the high chair. The high chair itself requires jet-washing and steam-cleaning on a regular basis, and the state of the tiled floor is...indescribable. No matter how much I scrub.

So, Candy, I would like to invite you round to witness mealtimes now. I am sure you will be more than satisfied that I am getting my just deserts. (If only it were 'just dessert'.)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Swallowing Sunshine

Gertie announced the arrival of good weather at the weekend by rushing back into the house after a few moments in the garden, claiming,
"Mummy, mummy, mummy! I've just swallowed some sunshine!"

The consumption of sunshine has continued with lots of outdoor playing. Daddy compounded his knee injury with some competitive keepy-uppy; suppers have been cooked and eaten al fresco, and, in the run-up to Wimbledon, Gilby has decided that his preferred surface is grass - on which to hone his newly discovered forwards-crawling skills.

But best of all has been Gertie and her 'skipping'. This consists of running forwards in gleeful circles around the garden, waving the skipping rope vaguely in front of her. At no point do her feet 'skip' over the rope, since they are a good foot behind the equipment at all times. It is an interesting technique; but she is quite happy, and assures me that she is 'very good' at skipping. I wonder: At what age can the little people learn to skip with a rope?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

For 'Transition' Read 'Chaos'

It's a 'period of transition' in our house at the moment. Is that the diplomatic expression for 'chaos'? Gertie turning three seems to have coincided with the delayed arrival of the 'terrible twos'...anyone got an explanation or a thought on that? But, in addition, the stair gates have gone up, the low-level ornaments are put away, the cot mattress lowered and the teething gel has come out.

Several things have happened simultaneously. As Gilby, at ten months, has finally recovered from a prolonged period of illnesses (very boring, no need to recap, but he now appears to be fighting fit for more than a week for the first time since January) it seems he has done all his development in one go. Suddenly, today, bottom teeth have broken through, and at the weekend he at last worked out how to crawl forwards. Fast. (The backwards shuffle was frustrating us all.) So he is off; suddenly no longer a helpless baby, but a teeth-gnashing infant who can go wherever he wants.

Usually Gilby goes down to sleep with no trouble whatsoever. (The trouble comes later in the night, but that is another story.) So I put him down to sleep a few nights ago and he didn't really seem to settle properly. There were a few mumbly-grumbly cries which gradually over a period of about ten minutes became more insistent.

Usually I would leave him; he sucks his thumb so is generally fine once he has found that. But no, this began to sound more distressed, and so I eventually went in to see what was going on. He had somehow managed to climb up and pull his entire cot canopy from its railing, and was sitting up in bed covered entirely with a white floor-length drape - giving him a ghostly profile in the semi-darkness. Very funny - and he seemed to find it so too as he watched his helpless parents collapse into fits of giggles.

I know I shouldn't laugh and it could have been dangerous, but it is just an example of how nothing is now safe, not even bedtime in his cot!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Kitchen Confidential: Operation Peppa

There is a long list of domestic things that I am not very good at. Sewing is quite near the top, closely followed by ironing. But cake-baking is right up there too. In fact, the legendary 'cricket pitch' cake I made for my husband's birthday a few years ago was immortalised by the comment, "Why is there a salmon on top?" in relation to the shortbread cricket-bat I had lovingly crafted by way of decoration.
But Gertie will be three at the weekend. And so the dormant domestic-goddess lurking deep inside me was determined to bake the perfect 'Peppa Pig' cake. I knew I needed to make it in several sections and so I began making sponge on Tuesday evening. Something went wrong (I blame Nigella and her insistence on adding milk) and the mixture wouldn't set properly. It wobbled out of the tin into a crumbly mess. Close to tears, I did what any other self-respecting woman would do, and phoned my mum.
She came to the rescue as mums do, and arrived at my house this evening with several sponges already prepared. All we had to do then was cut them up into the shape of Gertie's beloved Peppa and roll out the icing.

Simples. And personally I was delighted with the end result. I have surpassed all previous efforts. Dare anyone even make reference to green icing or fish-shaped cricket bats on Saturday at the party.
What a shame that the recipient of the cake doesn't look that impressed then...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Oh No! I'm one of Them...

I have become one of those mothers who rushes to the GP's surgery every five minutes. When Gertie was a baby I used to despise them: the new mums who made an appointment to have their offspring examined every time a hair was out of place. What I didn't understand then was that I was blessed with a very healthy child.

This week I took Gilby to the doctor's twice with chicken pox. I spent a long time on the telephone to NHS Direct, then had to use the out of hours service at the hospital on the bank holiday. Because despite having had chicken pox myself, and recognising it immediately when Gertie came down with it a year ago, for some reason it looked different on Gilby and my inner medical expert was convinced it was something more sinister. When the diagnosis came I was relieved: only chicken pox. That was easy to deal with. A few blobs of calamine lotion and some bicarb in the bath; no problem. Except that Gilby was much, much more sick with it than his sister had been. He tore at his clothes and didn't sleep for two nights, crying all the time because he couldn't get any relief from the itching. His ears bled where he scratched and pulled at them, and he couldn't close his eyes properly because of the bulbous lumps on the lids. He had a high temperature and I couldn't console him at all. So I took him back to the doctor. Who suggested a few blobs of calamine lotion and some bicarb in the bath...

So I felt a bit silly. Where did this over-anxiety come from? Because prior to this Gilby has had a succession of unpleasant ear infections (five lots of anti-biotics) and a horrible vomiting bug that meant he just seem to waste away in the space of a week. Gone is my bonny, plump baby; he is now a spotty bag of skin and bone. And of course all his illnesses have happened one after the other since he began at nursery in January. No surprise there. But the result is that I have become one of them: the mothers who clog up the waiting room at the doctor's for minor ailments.

My father-in-law has a good way of expressing the way that anxiety lessens with experience. "If your first child swallows a 5p you rush it to casualty; if your third child swallows 5p you dock its pocket money." Unfortunately I seem to be going the other way. So this week I shall be aiming for some rational judgement and perspective, and hoping that no coin-swallowing occurs.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


I have to make a confession. I'm not really a fan of text-speak. My husband and I always text each other in 'full words', no abbreviations whatsoever, complete with careful punctuation. I know that the format requires brevity and doesn't really lend itself to this, and that I give my age as well as my profession away in doing so, but the English teacher in me won't allow those time-saving contractions.

Not so Brenda, the wonder from Down Under, who has happily settled in with us and looks after the children for three days a week now.

Oh no. Being still a teenager (for a few more days, at least) she is quite happy 'lol'ing with the best of them. In fact, AIH, I get into a right old 2n8 trying to decipher her texts. All this is a bit TNC, but I was surprised, nay distressed, to disover that my not-quite-three-year-old is now using 'OMG' in speech as a descriptive term for anything a little bit shocking or out of the ordinary.

Like, "OMG, Mum, I fell over today."

Or "OMG, have you seen what Gilby's just done with his biscuit?"

Right, Brenda, you might be brilliant with the children but we are going to have words about their linguistic development. Is this Australian, or just young?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Porthole Affair

The year is 1935 and we are travelling across the Atlantic in RMS Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic. Yes, last weekend we hosted a murder mystery evening: The Porthole Affair.

Never done one before, and to be fair, we don't do a great deal of entertaining these days, so it became quite a big deal. I was playing the maid, 'Dawn Trodden' (oh, how appropriate) and my husband was playing the butler, 'Eamonn Etonion'. That gives a flavour of the calibre of the characterisation. Frilly apron and bowler hat at the ready, respectively, and three courses of food prepared the day before; we were ready to go. I had laid the table in the dining room early in the morning, and whilst we had perhaps not quite achieved the 'feel of Edwardian splendour' indicated in the murder mystery box of instructions, the scene was set.

But of course we hadn't factored in the little people. I picked Gilby and Gertie up from nursery on Friday afternoon as usual. Gertie had won a special prize for being a good helper and volunteering to buddy up with a new boy to help him settle in at pre-school, and the staff told me what a wonderful day Gilby had had, 'chatting' away to everyone with his baby-babble and general being very contented. Excellent. All going according to plan. I can work, have happy children and entertain. Go me.

On the way back we had to collect two of our guests from the train station: Auntie Bob (don't ask) and 1-year old cousin Milly. Uncle was arriving later on with Daddy, and all three were staying. Gertie had to give up her bedroom to allow this level of hospitality, but she did so with good grace and it was all turning into a happy adventure.

5pm. Now just to feed all three kids supper, get them into bed, and jump into ridiculous costume prior to the arrival of the other guests. Still going swimmingly.

It was at that point that Gilby decided to start vomiting, violently, in the fashion of a large hydrant gushing on free-flow. I got covered, and changed, three times. The kitchen floor took a battering. Auntie Bob was brilliant at entertaining the girls while I cleared up successive waves of sick. This, surely, was an unnecessarily realistic degree of preparation for the role of 'Dawn Trodden'?

Since I now had more than just carrot in my hair, a shower was required. I couldn't put Gilby down even for a second as he had gone all sort of floppy and pathetic as they do. He also wouldn't touch any food (understandably) but did want to suckle at the breast without taking very much milk. Brilliant. Torn between concern for my baby and the imminent arrival of five more guests, including the wealthy heiress 'Angeline Desguys', and the Russian-German-Jewish emigre, 'Esau Hytall', I didn't know what to do. Should we cancel? Call a doctor? Pour a large glass of wine? Laugh hysterically?

Well of course, then the door went. Toby O'Notoby and Ed Butte had arrived. Cancelling was now not an option. The phone rang almost simultaneously. Enid Ann Hallaby needed to know where to park her car as the driveway was full. The surgery was closing; no doctor until Monday morning. Large wine and laughter the only remaining options. We weren't a sinking ship yet. Threw some crisps in a bowl to keep the guests happy. Eventually got Gertie and Gilby to sleep. Rustled up a toffee sauce for the sticky toffee pudding. Hid wet hair behind frilly maid cap and got on with it. One moment scrubbing baby sick from the floor, the next dining amidst the great splendour of the Captain's quarters amidst one of the most fabulous ships ever built. Ish.

P.S. Gilby recovering well.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Order! Order!

Gertie has an obsession with organisation and cleanliness. I am a fan of order myself, though this luxury has been removed by the arrival of my children; it must be genetic though, because my classification-conscious daughter notices immediately if anything is out of place in the house, and becomes quite disturbed if I have rearranged furniture or just had a move around of things in the kitchen.

At breakfast time she is physically unable to eat her cereal if I have inadvertently left the cupboard door open, and will burst into tears until the crisis is addressed.

She is dreadfully offended if anyone dares to walk into the sitting room with their shoes on, and is obsessed by what belongs to whom and where things have come from. She is quite happy to 'help' with housework, takes delight in pointing out where I have 'missed a bit' and is highly critical if any area of the house is particularly 'messy'.

If she spills food down her clothes, a complete change of outfit is required immediately, and she is fixated by her various aprons. She has a 'cooking apron' and a 'painting and colouring apron'. Woe betide me for suggesting that the wrong apron be used for a particular activity.

They even commented on it at nursery when we went for parents evening a few weeks ago. They noticed that she is not happy to do finger painting or anything likely to get her really messy. She does like painting but will always ask for a brush and is fastidious about removing all the paint afterwards.

I am not unduly worried by this behaviour. I see it as her trying to make sense of the world around her.

My question is simply this: why do the same rules clearly not apply in her bedroom????

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Up To Her Neck

We have just spent a gorgeous few days in Dorset staying with family. Glorious weather meant that I turned into Bad Mummy and let Gilby get a tiny bit sun burned on Friday. I prefer 'sun-kissed' in an attempt to alleviate the guilt.

We had a tranquil walk around the Blue Pool (one of Dorset's best kept secrets, I think), enjoyed the Dragon Easter Egg Hunt at Lulworth Castle; avoided falling off the edge during our cliff-top walk at Durdle Door; dodged difficult questions about the anatomy of the Cerne Abbas Giant, splashed in the sea at Weymouth, and caught a fleeting glimpse of Corfe Castle.

But on Saturday afternoon on Chesil Beach, this was one way to keep Gertie quiet!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Hair Cups

Gertie was a very bald baby, and she still didn't have any hair by her first birthday. I remember putting a hat on her for her birthday party in the vain hope that people wouldn't notice. When it eventually did come it was a bit wispy and grew in a sort of a mullet, that took repeated visits to the hairdressers to sort out. I am happy to report that as she approaches her third birthday she now has a lovely full head of hair that I can put clips in and dress up with pony tails. It's not quite long enough for plaits yet, but it won't be too long. She has loved going to the hairdressers, from the very first time when she asked to have a 'hair-cup'.

Gilby has also been quite bald, (I blame their father) but he's looking a little more hirsute than his sister. In fact, aged eight months, he has now developed something of a little Mohawk on the top of his head. Perhaps 'Mohawk' is a little ambitious to describe the sticky-uppy fluffy bit that has appeared, but I used to think that babies who sported this style had been carefully coiffured by their mothers. This is not the case; it seems to have grown all by itself and will not sit down whatever you do to it. I quite like it. The trouble is that it is complemented (or not) by some funny little curls growing around the back. (Gertie could so have done with those...) So perhaps it is time for a hair-cup for Gilby too.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Happy Easter Grumps and Mumps

Dear Grumps,

Mummy tells me that you and Mumps have gone on holiday to Australia, but I think that really you are still in your blue house. You wouldn't have got on an aeroplane without me, and anyway, I have't had a postcard yet. Are there lions in Australia?

But if you have gone away, please come back soon because I haven't had any salmon dip for three days now so Mummy can't say that if I eat any more salmon I'll turn into one. She likes saying that.

I certainly won't turn into yoghurt, that's for sure; she only lets me have one a day and you let me have two after each meal! I accidentally let that slip at lunch today, but I think I got away with it. The sausages are pretty thin on the ground, though, so please hurry home. Oh, yes: And I miss going to the pub.

As it's Easter tomorrow we are going to have an Easter egg hunt in the garden. I am planning to eat lots and lots and lots of chocolate. (Well, as much as Mummy will let me, anyway.) And the big news is that after Easter I go up to pre-school full-time. Hooray! Then I can be with Emily Smith all the time. Her mummy has just had a baby so now she has a baby brother just like me - though he doesn't do as much as Gilby as he is only two days old. You should see Gilby - I think he will be crawling by the time you get back.

Anyway, I hope that you're getting under the skin of it, and you've got your show on the road. Oh, and don't forget to seize the day.

Love and kisses,
P.S. I didn't see you in church this morning!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Get Up and Go

We have been very lazy and haven't yet made any plans for the Easter weekend. So, as Gertie was finishing her bath tonight, I asked her what she thought she would like to do given that Mummy didn't have to work tomorrow. I was expecting her to ask to go to the local farm park, or perhaps to have one of her friends to play. But, no.

Her reply was quite clear, "Get on an aeroplane and go on holiday."

Go girl; definitely her mother's daughter. Not going to happen, but nice try!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Ketchup Lips

I hate supermarkets.

Really, really hate them.

I know that I am not alone in this, but I can only manage about three quarters of an hour before I start going mad. I think it is the lighting, the terrible acoustics, the other shoppers, (particularly the grumpy trolley bargers) the queues...collectively.

And then if I factor in Gertie, who won't stay in the trolley but likes to 'help', and Gilby, who will go in for about ten minutes then cries unless I am carrying him, which makes adding groceries to the trolley whilst chasing after a toddler even more difficult, then the whole thing becomes some sort of horrible nightmare.

I can't cope with it and so I usually shop online. But every now and then I am forced to go. And when I do, I have to treat myself to something; a reward for having survived the ordeal.

Today it was a new lipstick. I was really pleased with it. The colour was 'hint of red' and as soon as we had got home, unpacked the shopping and put it all away, I rushed up to the bathroom to try it on.

I came back downstairs. Gertie noticed immediately. "Oh mummy, your lips look a bit sticky." Short pause as she studied my face more closely. "Are they ketchup-lips?"

Maybe more than a 'hint' of red, then.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Little Bouncing Between Friends

Gertie loves to bounce. On anything. Bouncy castles and trampolines are good, but a bed or a pillow will do as a last resort. The best bouncy thing in the world though, is the 'jumpy pillow' at our local adventure farm park. There is a toddler version and then a bigger one for older children (and grown-ups...)

We were there for a little while at the weekend, and as usual, Gertie headed straight for the jumpy pillow where she spent a good hour, jumping. UP and DOWN. Up and Down. Up and Down. I have no idea where she gets the energy - or what the fascination is. Surely after five minutes the novelty should wear off?

Anyway, whilst bouncing, she made 'friends' with another little girl who apparently shared her penchant for all things springy, and they leapt around together for ages, with little communication other than giggles when they both contrived to fall down on the same bounce.

Eventually it was time to leave, and I had to drag Gertie away. Her new-found-friend waved us off, sadly. "Bye then, little girl," she sniffed. (They hadn't got around to exchanging names.) And then, very politely, "It was nice bouncing with you."

I was left reflecting on the happy simplicity of relationships between two-year-olds.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Home Alone (For Forty Minutes)

I experienced a small and totally unexpected and ever-so-slightly-guilty pleasure today.

I have been back at work for two months now, and Brenda, the wonder from Down Under has been living with us for about the same length of time. (She is amazing, but doesn't look after the children all the time as they are still attending nursery for a couple of days a week; she has just begun another part time job at a local adventure farm park.)

Anyway, she was working at the farm this afternoon and I had to do the nursery run. I also, happily, finished work a little early today. Usually I have to pick up in a mad dash on my way home, but today I just went home first to get everything ready. I could turn lights on, have supper all prepared and then just hop into the car and get the kids.

I couldn't work out was odd as I came into the house. Everything was as it should be. Except that it felt different. And sort of smelled different. And definitely sounded a bit different. And suddenly it dawned on me: this was the first time I had been 'home alone' in nearly eight months. Ever since Gilby was born, in fact.

And I had a whole forty minutes there - in my own house - with only my self for company. I had completely forgotten what it was like. There was just silence and everything was tidy and I was in control. It was really, truly odd. I sort of savoured it, but then it was over oh-so-quickly and once again the house was filled with noise and colour and mess and 'hecticity'. I'm sure that's not a word but it features regularly in my vocabulary.

So now I can't wait until the next time I am able to sneak home alone. Why didn't anyone tell me how great it was?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Living in A Box

I was very excited this week to receive the new dining room curtains that came via a courier from Great Auntie Susie in Scotland. GAS works in a fabulous fabric shop and has the ability to make curtains. Since I am challenged by the simplest needlework tasks, I find this feat terribly impressive.

Anyway, the curtains have transformed the dining room and I am delighted by them. Quite sad, I know, but these days I am apt to get disproportionately animated by small home improvements (I leave you merely to speculate over the extent of last summer's ecstacy generated by the completion of the new patio).

However, (whilst not as appreciative of the patio as they might be, in my opinion) Gilby and Gertie are genuinely thrilled by the new drapes; but their delight is because the size of the curtains meant that they arrived in rather a large box. I know it is a cliche, but the packaging has provided, quite literally, hours of fun.
Gertie enjoys becoming a 'box monster' in the spirit of Little Nut Brown Hare in Guess How Much I Love You in the Autumn, and 'roaring' at unsuspecting passers-by. Just how long I can pass for an 'unsuspecting passer-by' remains to be seen, but it has lasted for four days so far.
Gilby is quite happy to simply sit with his sister within the confines of four walls of cardboard. And Gertie thinks nothing of just crouching in there for up to fifteen minutes at a time, with the lid on. I can't say I see the appeal myself.
There were squeals of delight when I suggested getting the box out again this morning. What a weekend awaits!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Little Battles

Thankfully, there is no major war being waged in our house currently, but there are a number of key strategic battles being played out on a regular basis. Here is a small selection:

  • The struggle for a 'dry night' for Gertie. We have taken the plunge and are nappy-less, but my goodness there is a lot of washing as a result.

  • The crusade to get a vegetable inside her. Fruit is not a problem, but you would think it was the outbreak of World War III when I offer carrot or peas.

  • The area surrounding the laundry basket is a military zone that requires regular patrol. Why, why why can the dirty clothes just not make it in? I know that I am not alone in this particular battle, but I am certainly 'fatigued' by it.

  • The fight for sleep. Gilby now only wakes up once or twice a night. But he has never, ever gone through. Oh, for just one night's unbroken sleep.

  • The daily clash over the brushing of teeth. I have tried so hard to make it fun, but Gertie is not fooled and there is an ongoing battle of wills that sometimes becomes physical!

  • The nightly skirmish over what time we eat. The children eat around five, when Daddy is not even home, so we always sit down to eat later after they have gone to bed. We are lucky if it is by nine o'clock. My husband does all the cooking, and is a perfectionist, demonstrated in his fleeting appearance last Thursday on Masterchef...

This post is written in response to Josie's writing workshop this week at Sleep is for the Weak, and inspired by Vegemitevix's PS3 house invasion.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Underwater Rescue

Well, our underwater photographs arrived and they really are very good.
All apart from this one.
This is the one where, in order to try to get a shot of the two of them together, I had to let go of Gertie as she held on to Gilby underwater. The one where, by the time we arrived at nursery in the afternoon, and we had praised Gertie for being so good in the water and holding on to her little brother, it had turned into a great tale of how she dramatically 'rescued' him.
Generally, and I am clearly biased, I have very photogenic children. On this occasion, however, it appears not. Rather than a spectacular underwater rescue, it looks more like Gilby is desperately trying to escape the clutches of his big sister before he runs out of air. And she, bless her, is clinging on to him with all her might, just as she promised her mother she would.
The photographer warned me, as he looked though his viewfinder, that this one might have 'comedy value'.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My Teenage Toddler

My toddler is displaying all the characteristics of a stroppy teenager. I can see exactly how things are going to be in a dozen years' time.

Tonight I called Gertie in to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She wouldn't come because, she moodily informed me, she was "a bit busy". She was 'a bit busy' having a tea-party in her room, but no doubt in a decade it will be the latest games console that is distracting her.

On the way home from nursery tonight she told me defiantly when I asked after Harrison (the courduroy-clad two-year-old love interest from Valentine's weekend) that he is now her 'ex-boyfriend'. Where did she even learn a concept like this?!

She won't be three until May, but at this rate I am fully expecting the first dismissive "Whatever!" when we discuss plans for the celebrations.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Seven Months

Gilby was seven months old yesterday. The time has just flown by. He can now:

  • Sit unaided, and it's been a good few weeks since we had a wobble backwards
  • Giggle, brilliantly and repeatedly at the same silly thing. Over and over and over again. I think he will be easily pleased in later life. Big sister Gertie would laugh a maximum of twice before a thing no longer amused her.
  • Pick up little things like blueberries; though he chokes if he eats them...
  • Look at what you are pointing out to him instead of focusing on the end of your finger!
  • Push himself backwards but not yet crawl forwards. Oh yes, and move mysteriously to traverse long distances but only when you are not in the room to figure out how he does it.
  • Wake up only once in the night for a feed (hooray, hooray, hooray, but when will he be able to go all night without waking up at all? His big sister had been doing it for ages by now...)
  • Dribble as though his life depended on it (very hard gums, but no sign of a tooth yet).
  • Make his likes and dislikes very clear. If he doesn't want that mushed up parsnip then those lips are clamped firmly shut and nothing is getting past them. Ditto for the medicine he just had to take; no wonder the ear infection took a while to clear.

I find the whole process of watching this baby growing and developing absolutely amazing. Maybe even more so as I watch it second time round. And this time I don't care if other babies are doing more or less than him at this age, in fact, I don't even notice.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Wonder from Down Under

Well, it appears that somehow it has been a whole week since my last blog post.

This is I think, my longest break since I began this blogging lark. Now, in my defence, it was half term, and having only been back at work for just over a month, I wanted to spend lots of time with the little people. But a week is a long time in the blogosphere, I have discovered, and I have plenty of catching up to do.

It has been a bumpy ride, but things this end are looking up. 'Brenda' has arrived, our very own wonder from down under. In fact, she has now been here for a month and has made herself completely indispensable in that time. She is 19, an ex-student of mine from my teaching exchange to Australia in 2005, and extremely capable and hard working. She is staying with us as a kind of au pair.

Brenda spent the previous twelve months working on a cattle station in the outback, mustering 1500 head of cattle and acting as a governess to two secondary children, so looking after a toddler and a baby for two days a week and managing a little ironing in Sussex is proving well within her capabilities.

And though we have to put up with the odd Australianism - 'doona' for duvet, or 'chooks' for chickens (not to mention a bizarre penchant for Celine Dion) - it is a small price to pay. The household is slightly less hectic and more colourful for her presence, and Gertie and Gilby love her.

Everyone should have one!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Sunshine on a Perfect Day

Thank you so much to Make do Mum for this Sunshine Award. Exactly what I needed to get the half term week off to a great start.

And it worked.

It's been a lovely day.

We did a quality little underwater photo shoot with both children first thing this morning.

After the first flash at Gilby, seemingly fully recovered after a lingering ear infection, the photographer took a look at the image and said, "Well, that's perfect. You won't get a better one." Job done.

And Gertie strongly objected (a euphemism for 'had a screaming tantrum') the last time I tried to take photos of her underwater, but was seduced today by the props - lots of fairy dresses, wings and magic wands to choose from. So he managed to take a good one of her too.

And the final shot was of Gertie holding her baby brother under water. It is more comic than, er, beautiful, but will be special nevertheless. Big Sis was terribly proud of herself for being entrusted with such an important task and managing to carry it out. In fact, by the time we got to nursery later on, it had turned into, "I rescued my brother under water."

So I got to take both children to nursery afterwards, leaving me with my very first time of no children and no work since Gilby was born. I went to my gym (the one where I pay monthly and never get to use it so when I do go it ends up being the most ridiculously expensive visit; I think today's cost £36...) and then I went and sat in a coffee shop, watched the world go by and worked on some writing. It was amazing.
And now I have to spread the sunshine to some fantastic blogs. Too many to mention, but here are some that have made me smile lately:
Wahm Bam
Withenay Wanders
And to accept the little ray of sunshine you merely need to pass it on to twelve other lovely blogs and let them know. Hooray!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Young Love

Oh God. It's begun. Already. And what timing, on the weekend of Valentine's Day.

On the way home from nursery in the car tonight Gertie gave me a quick sideways glance and struck up a conversation.
"Mummy, I want to tell you some-sing." (Her adult tone was offset by the funny lisp she has on 'th' words.)
"What's that?"
"Do you know Harrison?"
"Er, yes, I think so," I answered, rapidly trying to work out which one of the corduroy-clad toddlers she meant.
"Harrison is my boyfriend."
"I love him," she sighed, simply.

She's two!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

I'm Too Civilised!

Gertie's transfer from 'toddlers' to 'pre-school' at nursery has been a little fraught, since she is inconveniently a few months younger than all her friends. There was initial talk of her joining them despite being a few weeks too young, but that has not happened; so she has been left behind and is sometimes unhappy about it.

But depending on numbers, there are odd days she is allowed to go into pre-school and be with them. Today was one such day. Gertie was really happy about it when I collected her, telling me proudly,
"I'm too civilised to be in toddlers, Mummy."
I wasn't sure that I had heard correctly.
"Sorry, darling - you're too what?
"Too civilised."
"Really. And who told you that?"
"Andrew." (One of the carers there.)

I tried, and failed, to hide my amusement, and the damage was well and truly done after making her repeat it several times, then broadcasting it to Daddy as soon as he arrived home.

She realised that there was some value in whatever she was saying, and began running around the sitting room screaming, "I'M TOO CILVILISED! I'M TOO CIVILISED!" at the top of her voice whilst repeatedly bumping into different articles of furniture.

What a shame she is too young to appreciate the irony.

Eventually this metamorphosed into "I'm too 'fizilised'; I'm too 'fizilised'."
Far more appropriate, I think.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Inner Ear and Inner Sanctum

More guilt from the 'recently-working-and-not-very-happy-about-it' mum this week.

My baby, Gilby, got an inner ear infection and I didn't notice it until after the worst was over. I came home on Thursday and spotted lots of nasty gunky stuff in both ears, so rushed him up to the surgery. The doctor actually said to me, "Well he's not in pain now, but he would have been two days ago..." Excuse me while I just punch myself in the head.

On the upside, I have been invited into the 'inner sanctum', as I was included in a night out with the Ummer Nursery Mums this week. (Gertie actually stopped substituting 'ummer' for 'other' a year ago, but for some reason neither my husband nor I have made the same linguistic leap...)

I don't know what I have done to deserve such an honour, but it was good fun and something of an eye-opener. Discussion involved the politics of the nursery (I simply had no idea!) and Other Children. It did make me wonder what might have been said about us on all previous nights out. Whilst the wine flowed, I felt that I was undergoing some kind of test.

Only another invitation will determine whether or not I passed, and meanwhile I will contempate whether or not I want to!