Sunday, 14 December 2014

Beware Ticker Foot

As blog readers may know we had a few problems with Eddie's growth and development from birth, but were finally given the all clear just over a year ago - and were mightily relieved when he began to walk just shy of his second birthday.  So I was a little worried this week when he announced emphatically that he had 'Ticker Foot'.

I racked my brain. What was this strange affliction? I asked myself.  Might it be infectious?  (Gertie is prone to Athlete's Foot at times.)  Eddie was insistent, hopping about from one foot to the other, yelling.

"Let me have a look," I said, gravely.

At which point he ran to get it.  Apparently it comes with a badge when you go up a level in swimming.

He has also asked for 'Orkshire Puddings' this weekend.  I believe they are a particular delicacy in Middle Earth.

Currently Reading: Skios by Michael Frayn

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Sing, King!

It's the season to be jolly and all that.  And to rush around like a lunatic.  And to enjoy youngest son's star performance as a king in the nursery nativity.

I had high hopes.  He sang his king song loudly, confidently and relatively tunefully in the car on the way to the village hall. He was pleased with his costume.  Any resemblance between his royal cloak and our living room curtains is entirely coincidental. I asked him whether he was giving gold, frankincense or myrrh to the baby Jesus.  "Mine's red," he said.  "So that means it's the gold, it's just red." Right.

He had a wobbly moment earlier in the day when he decided that he wanted to abdicate...his kingship and all responsibility for doing the play, but I insisted that we go along anyway just to have a look.  After the sing-song in the car and his delight in his crown he got caught up in the buzz and virtually ran back stage.

I sat in the audience expectantly.  It was the standard nursery production.  Bright, bubbly and exhaustingly enthusiastic helpers narrated, cajoled and over-acted next to unpredictable toddlers, whilst removing screaming children from the stage from time to time.  There were fourteen angels, five donkeys, four stars (yes, I know, that was a new development for me too, but there were also four kings so they kind of had one each to follow), a whole flock of shepherds, one Mary, one Joseph and, thankfully, one baby Jesus.

"Sing, Eddie," I heard the helper next to him implore as they launched in to the first 'number'.  He smiled his cutest smile, waved at me in the audience to make sure that I was looking, and then shook his head like he'd just been asked to tidy his bedroom.  I knew that shake. So I wasn't surprised when he refused to sing any songs for the entire duration of the show, including his special king one.  He did, dutifully, walk over and sling his 'red' at the crib at more or less the allotted time, but then promptly sat himself down again at the front of the stage and proceeded to pick his nose for the rest of the show.

He then had the temerity to demand cake on his return from the stage. Celebrity mindset without the performance, it seems.

And he sang all the way home, too.

Currently reading: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Things That Go Bang In The Night

No blog post in over a month!  Must try harder.

Bonfire night means that fireworks are out in full force.  I'm a big fan of them: I wanted them at my 40th birthday party that never was.  Perhaps I'll get them for my 50th. They are stunning, frivolous and fully deserving of the oohs and aahs they provoke.  Dark history aside they are reminders of childhood and symbols of celebration.

So I found it quite distressing when child after child of mine didn't like them.  Successively they screamed and shouted and crumbled in fear.  We kept trying.  Each year we have attended a number of displays, and taken it in turns to leap for safety.  Hearth-father spent last year's display cuddling tear-streaked cowerers in the cricket changing room at the local sports ground. (My turn to enjoy the rockets and Catherine wheels and bangers.)

Ear defenders, bribery and bullying have all failed in the past, but we persevere nevertheless.

And this year we accidentally hit on the magic formula to make it all work.

We separated them.

Gertie was with a school friend, and accidentally Hearth-father and I got split up in the crowd so that we had one each.  They were transfixed!

Fear is contagious, so this separation, coupled with the peer group pressure that Gertie must have experienced, finally made for a tear-free Guy Fawkes' night.  Hooray!

Smiles all round. Or perhaps they just grew up while we weren't looking.

Currently reading: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Sunday, 28 September 2014

No Fight Left Club

So, tantrums, then.

They are a bit worse, it seems, when I am single-parenting.  Hearth-Father is away in Malta on a cricket tour.

Eddie's tantrum this afternoon was prolonged.  And LOUD.  Insistent.  High-pitched and piercing.  It made me send him to bed without any supper, which I thought only happened in Victorian novels.  This was a meltdown of epic proportions. He was utterly inconsolable.  His eyes, at one point, seemed to roll backwards in his head with the sheer effort of continuing to scream.  And when he could get words out at all, which wasn't often, they mostly involved declamations like, "I...CAN'T....STOP...SCREAMING!" with giant shuddering gulps in between.  Horrible.  It made Eddie Norton's character fighting with himself in Fight Club look rational. It's been a long while since we've had one like that.

So I'm trying to work out what caused it; because, frankly, what escalated it was that I sat his Toy Story Woody toy upright instead of laying him down on the ground flat. Yes, I know.  Call social services.

Since he turned three at the weekend, can I blame 'terrible twos'?  I'm wondering if feeding him rubbish yesterday (birthday cake, chips, ketchup, sweets) was a deciding factor.  Bad if it was, because I seem not to have fed him at all, this evening.  Daddy being away?  The fact that everyone bowed down to his will yesterday because he was the birthday boy - and then didn't today, when he wasn't?  Being exhausted after having a lovely day in glorious late September sunshine at the stoolball, at the park and playing football?E

Who knows?  All I know is that I'm as exhausted as he is.  How does a little body have so much noise and fight in it? The 'expert advice' on suggests that the number one coping mechanism during a toddler tantrum is 'not losing your own cool'.  Right.  This is followed by the advice to 'remember that you're the adult'.  Oh.

Come back, Daddy!

Currently Reading: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Saturday, 20 September 2014

For Sale Signs and Errant Pants

So we've made the decision to try and sell the house.  Again.

There is no more money in the pot, but we need more room.  When we moved here, Gertie was just a few months old, not yet on the move.  For two adults and a tiny baby it was positively palatial.  We bounced around in our big house, and once she did start crawling, I might even lose Gertie for a few moments. These days finding five minutes alone in the bathroom is an unlikely proposition.  Now there are the three little people.  And they are not so little.  They have this habit of just growing bigger.  And bigger.  By the day. Moving towards a time when they will want to spend increasingly long times alone in the one bathroom.

I can remember all the empty rooms when we first moved in and wondering how I'd ever have enough furniture to fill them.  Ha. Now every corner is crammed full of stuff.  Each inch of wall space is covered in pictures and photographs.  There are thousands of books.  Everywhere.  And that count might go up to tens of thousands if you include the boxes in the loft. There are plastic toys in places where toys simply shouldn't be. Like in my shoes. And behind the washing machine. It is impossible to keep tidy. And therein lies the first paradox.  Because in order to sell your house you need to be able to keep it very tidy.  So that it can be viewed at a moment's notice.  Well, we had our first viewing today.  It took me four hours to get things straight.  That's not happening every time, I can tell you. And when we came home there was a pair of toddler pants smiling up welcomingly from the utility room floor, that I must have missed in my final tidy-check.  That subsequently looked like they'd just walked there themselves.  Which I guess they might have done, being Eddie's.

So now I follow the children around hawk-like, beady eyes scanning for any potential mess-making hazard. They will be the first to tell you that this is not fun.

And the house we have our eye on is...'in need of modernisation'.  In other words, a wreck.  And a smaller wreck than our current abode at that.  And it costs more money.  But it is a wreck with the potential to be bigger.  At some point, when the childcare costs stop sucking the lifeblood from our very veins.

We tried to do a similar thing a few years ago, but the wreck of a house we wanted then sold almost before we'd got ours on the market and it felt like a blessing in disguise.

So I've got my eye on the estate agents' window these days.  Today I was drawn to an attractive property in the top right hand corner.  It took me a second to register that it was the one I already own. ( I say 'own'.  I think we might own approximately a square metre of the floor space, by now.  But another paradox:  It looks lovely in the pictures, all tidied up and de-cluttered.  Like somewhere I might actually want to live.

Friday, 29 August 2014

When Honesty is Not the Best Policy

After working on manners over the holiday, I think I need to move on to lessons in diplomacy.

My children are...too honest, it seems.  The latest example came in the confines of the family changing cubicle at our local swimming pool.

"Mummy's tummy is very wobbly!" pronounced one, to the general giggles and chortlement of the others as I was busy getting changed.  Chortlement, of course, isn't actually a word, but should be, since it so accurately describes the atmosphere within the cubicle.  Though Mummy, it has to be said, was not feeling it.

Particularly not as she had spent the summer determined to get into shape, swimming 30-50 lengths three times a week (and every day on holiday), not to mention occasionally bypassing the camembert and brie.

"Yes," she snapped.  Notice I do this third person thing when I don't come out of a situation glowingly. "And her tummy is mostly wobbly because it's had you three in it!"

There.  That really told them.

It was on a par with them discussing the fact that Daddy could never have head-lice because his hairs weren't close enough together.  Must admit that caused me a small amount of chortlement.

Or when they decided that Nano looked exactly like Mummy only one hundred times wrinklier.

So, I look forward to turning into a wobblier, wrinklier version of myself as the years pass by; and for it not to be acknowledged openly by my children as they gradually become more diplomatic versions of themselves.  (Or possibly not, in Eddie's case.)

Currently Reading: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

On Manners

Eddie's favourite word is, and has been since he first began to utter human sounds, 'no'!

It is usually delivered as a short bark and accompanied by a frown and a pout that would give a blob fish a run for it's money:

And he is incredibly demanding.  The phrase you are most likely to hear after, 'No!' is, 'I want...' with the emphasis on 'want' and usually in relation to some ridiculous request. 'Spoiled brat' might have been too kind an epithet. In fact, I hadn't realised how bad it had got until we were on holiday with friends and relatives and I was suddenly finding his behaviour very difficult to deal with. Worse than simply terrible twos because there seemed to be no let up.  (Though I do look back over posts from a couple of years ago when Gilby was the same age and the tone is remarkably similar...)

So with time off together I have spent much of the summer working on his manners.  We have been practising how you ask for things and appropriate responses.  It has taken a good deal of will power on my part, but having been at home with them all for five weeks now I have got used to ignoring anything that isn't accompanied by at least a 'please'.

And, success, of sorts: Eddie has perfected the art of an elongated 'plee-ease' accompanied by an irresistibly cute grin, which, whilst irritating, is much more palatable than what came previously. It's significantly more successful than his previous modus operandi, and I think he's managed to work that out for himself. Could you say no to this?

I'm going to ignore the grammar though, because he now begins most requests with 'Please MAY CAN I have...' which his siblings find highly amusing. Again, not right, but much more preferable than what came before and I'm just not sure he's quite ready for a lesson on modal auxiliary verbs yet.

Currently reading: A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Chronicles of Cabrieres

I love what has become the annual family pilgrimage to the south of France.

I would have found it anathema before children to return to the same place each year when there is a whole wide world out there to explore. 

But now there is comfort in the familiarity, joy in the patterns re-established, surprise in the little things that have changed in the house or the village.

And we do the same things each year: kayaking under the Pont du Gard, market day in Uzes, lunch at the Fountain, a mad day of sliding at Aqualand. Though there is always something new.  This year we found a new restaurant in Nimes, and took the kids to the Musee de Bon Bon.

But the best thing this year have been the 'Chronicles of Cabrieres'.  When Gertie and Gilbert were very little I wrote some stories based on events and photographs of real things that had happened to us, but always with a magical or adventurous twist: building a snow dragon that came to life at night, or having go-cart races in the sky.  Absolute nonsense, but the children love it when they feature in the stories, and laugh at any recognisable mannerism or turn of phrase. There is excitement at bedtime surrounding what the day's story will be.

So, in the Chronicles of Cabrieres we have had Hearth-Father and Hearth-Uncle transforming into superheroes to rescue hedgehogs from the pool with their Velcro heads; an explosion at the sweetie factory that covered everyone in the mixture for their favourite sweet; a dramatic rescue at the Pont du Gard; a tidal wave at Aqualand that everyone had to surf, and transportation back to Roman times in the Nimes amphitheatre. Not bad for a couple of weeks in the south of France.

Only downside is that it's interrupted my sunbathing time a little as I have to write the damn things each day.

Currently Reading: Spies by Michael Frayn

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Look That Says It All


Yes.  So ignore last post entirely.

Hospital telephoned on Friday to say that they had looked again at the x-ray and Eddie did in fact have a cracked elbow.

So, once again I find myself up for the worst mother award.

Poor little mite.  Just in time for the summer holiday.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


I remember being at a cricket match about three years ago and having a drink with another Mother who at the time had two young boys. She asked idly, just to make conversation, I think, how many times we'd had to go to casualty.

Gertie was four, immaculately behaved with a penchant for sedate pastimes like reading and beading.  Dipping her toe into waves at the seaside was about the limit of her daredevil activity.

I laughed and thought the other mother was joking.  But no, it transpired that this was a regular occurrence in her household.  There had been falling out of trees, from bikes, in the playground.  It was a world alien to me as I cradled my baby boy and watched as Gertie worked away at her tapestry.  (I embellish a little, for narrative effect, but you get the idea.)

Fast forward to last weekend and our very first 'A&E' experience.  Another sunny Saturday afternoon at the cricket, home team on the verge of what would be a tight victory. A cry from the long grass.  Gertie comes running over because Eddie has fallen.  Eddie's arm hangs limply by his side and he is emitting a strange wail that I have never heard before.  I scoop him up in my arms and run to Hearth-father pronouncing that we have a 'situation' on our hands.  There is an off-duty nurse at the pitch side.  She takes a look and doesn't like what she sees.

Hearth-father looks longingly at what is left in his pint glass and decides that it isn't worth the risk with the inevitable drive to the hospital ahead.

Hearth-granny is called to babysit the big kids.  Hearth-mother is crying, convinced that x-rays will reveal the worst.  (She's not entirely sure why she has slipped in to third person at this stage, except that it also contributes to narrative effect.) Eddie doesn't stop screaming for the entire journey, despite being cradled by his mother all the way.  She feels every bump and jolt and corner even more than she did in labour on the same route two and a half years ago.

It is Saturday night and the accident and emergency department is standing-room only.  A queue of unfortunates line up waiting to be seen.  Eddie has cried himself to sleep and now looks unconscious, which gains some sympathetic glances from the other casualties.

The triage nurse provides painkillers and unhelpfully wakes Eddie in the process of weighing him.  Agrees that the signs are not good.  Eddie perks up a bit when he sees the toys in the paediatric waiting room, and we are at least now away from the drunken melee in the main waiting area.  Eddie tries to play, but cannot move his arm and feebly plays left-handed.  Another boy, about the same age is being tickled by his daddy.  Eddie wants us to do the same, but is too protective of his arm to find a giggle.

Two hours pass.  All the toys have been played with.  Conversations have been struck up with the other parents.  Everyone now knows everyone else's business.  Eddie has inadvertently revealed that Gertie was giving him a piggy back when he fell, much to the consternation of his parents and the amusement of everyone around. Oh.  That puts a slightly different complexion on things, exacerbating the extent of the injury.  He has fallen from a greater height than we originally thought.

Two more hours pass. There are still fourteen people ahead of us to be treated.  Eddie is becoming increasingly fractious (that's one of my favourite euphemisms). We decide to leave and get some sleep.  It it past midnight by the time we reach home.

Eddie wakes screaming at 2am and we give him more medicine.  In the morning his arm is still useless.  He tries to eat cereal and screams as he raises the spoon.  We phone NHS direct and they advise us to go straight back to casualty.  We cancel our plans for a visit to friends, and bring plenty of snacks and activities to the hospital.  The big kids are excited by the adventure, though Gertie is a little sheepish about her role in events, and her reluctance to impart crucial information the previous evening.

Three hours and three x-rays later, we discover there is nothing wrong.  Nil. Nada.  Eddie high-fives me. With his bad hand.  Which has miraculously come back to life with the news. I manage to refrain from throttling him in full view of a number of health officials.  It really is a very good job that he's cute.

We try to salvage something of the day by going out for lunch, but Eddie is grumpy and we abandon the mission. Hearth-mother is unsympathetic. (See, detaching myself again).

Eddie wakes up on Monday morning and with a twinkle in his eye asks if we can go back to the hospital and play with the toys.  My response is unpublishable.

I come home from work to find that his nanny is 'really worried about him' and has him lying on the sofa with his arm in a sling.  She is mopping his brow.  Seems perturbed when I am undisturbed.  Eddie realises that the game is up and hops up smartly to begin playing with his siblings...

Ouch.  Not sure who has been hurt more by the whole episode.  I am just aware that I lost seven hours this weekend that I won't get back.  Eddie: not his real name.  Might change it to 'Flimflammer'.

Currently reading: You Talkin to Me? By Sam Leith

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Younger, Blonder, Much Weirder Looking Me

Inspired by The Gallery at Sticky Fingers, which I stumbled upon just recently, is a photo of a younger me.  It appeared on Facebook recently, courtesty of an old friend of mine, and has prompted thoughts of a new haircut as I establish myself firmly in my forties.  Probably not a repeat of this one, though.  And for anyone who doesn't know me, and possibly also for those who do, I'm the one on the left.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Teething Trouble

It was a beautiful day last weekend when Gertie made her first Holy Communion. The sun shone down for my little girl's big day.

But I am struggling a little this weekend once more.  Not over complex theological questions (though she certainly likes to pose those) but over the tooth fairy, and the lengths I am now going to allow the 'magic' to last.  

The tooth in question came out on Friday at school, and Gertie left it in her tray, forgetting to take it home at the end of the day.  She was a little bit upset about this on Friday night, but by Saturday she had found the answer:  She resolved to write to the tooth fairy, setting her straight about the situation, and suggesting that the tooth fairy retrieve the tooth from school, but leave the money under her pillow as usual.

I posted my dilemma on Facebook, and it was quickly resolved by a friend who knew someone who knew someone who has access to the school over the weekend.  I am reliably informed that the tooth will have been removed by Monday morning, and I am fairly confident that the tooth fairy will visit this evening.

What a difference a week makes.

Currently reading: Before the Fall by Juliet West

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Potty Book

I saw this and it made me smile.  And then I saw Martin D's 'post' and immediately thought of Eddie.

Because, and here's the thing:  I decided at half term that, since I would be home with the kids, it would be the time to potty train Eddie.  He seemed keen, the weather forecast was good (outdoor activities planned as part of carpet protection scheme) and it would be the summer before I had that kind of time to spare again.

It was an unmitigated disaster.  Day one went something like 8-0 (Carpet v Potty).  Day two was like war.  There was screaming, and tantrums, and Eddie wasn't particularly well-behaved, either.  By day three the plan was abandoned, and we remortgaged the house to pay for the additional nappies needed for the next few months.

And then, the following Friday, he announced at nursery entirely unprompted that he would be, "wearing big boy pants today, thank you".  They duly phoned us for permission to oblige; we laughed down the receiver and thought of the washing he'd be bringing home.

Nope.  Not a bit of it.  No accidents.  Not one. Perfectly potty-trained.  The nursery congratulated us on what a good job we'd been doing.

And that just about sums up Eddie: Nobody is going to tell him what to do or when to do it.

Ever, I suspect.

Anyone want to buy a truckload of nappies?

Currently Reading: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Thursday, 12 June 2014

More Shelves, Please, I'm Winning

I seem to be a little bit preoccupied by my eldest child at the moment.  I do have other children, I remember, but lots seems to be revolving around Gertie. This is the fifth post in a row in which she is the main event.

I will find other subject matter, but just one last little thing.  She does Irish dancing.  Mostly because this was a thing that I had to do when I was little.  She was at the CAID British Open Championships in Farnham in Surrey a couple of weekends ago where she won her light jig and came third in the championship overall, which generated a sizeable piece of silverware.

I did a reasonable job of hiding the remnants of Scissorgate:

Her comment? "Mummy, I know that you've only just decorated my room, but I think I'm going to need another shelf."

Currently reading: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Magic Number Seven

Seven is a magic number.

It is a lot of candles on a cake.

It is the difference between a cake that looks like a cake - something that grown-ups might like to eat too - and one that looks like this, from last year:

It is the difference between having a tea party with cup cakes and jelly and ice-cream, and going out to the cinema with a few mates from school, which was this year's 'party' choice.

It is a long time in years and it makes for one very grown up little girl.

Things have begun to happen very fast indeed.  She had a sleepover with two friends.  And they were entirely sensible, asking to brush their teeth after their 'midnight' feast, and all asleep by 10pm.

Her present from us was a tablet (much debate and agonising).  We haven't sorted out the internet controls yet, but she has, unfortunately already downloaded 'Candy Crush Saga'. On the upside, it means that presents are getting smaller.  More expensive, yes, but less plastic, bulky and ugly. She is more self contained.  She had a friend round to play earlier in the week and they sat quietly and made bangles for an hour and a half.

She doesn't volunteer for anything anymore.  She used to be the 'pick me, pick me' person, unable to stay in her seat with the effort of thrusting her hand upwards.  She was forever up on stage as the helper in the pantomime or magic show.  Now she would rather sit back and watch other people make fools of themselves, which is a little sad.

But we giggle together at something shared.  Often.  I do a lot of laughing with the boys, too, but it's usually at something they've said or done.

How do I feel?  Proud of my so clever and confident and beautiful girl.  Slightly wistful for the innocent bygone days of pleasures that don't involve a screen and downloading stuff.  A tiny bit frightened by how fast it is all changing...

Currently reading: Strange Music by Laura Fish.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Have the Bumps Gone Out of Fashion?

I only ask because it has never once occurred to me to give any of my children the bumps on their birthday.
In fact, I'd forgotten that they even existed until my memory was jolted by the sight of Arsene Wenger receiving them courtesy of his team following their FA Cup win.

Seeing this white-haired man in his mid-sixties being casually tossed aloft - and looking both delighted and slightly sheepish at the same time -  reminded me of that mixture of fear and exhilaration that came with getting the bumps on your birthday.  It was part of the whole deal...cake, candles, making a wish, presents, musical statues, the bumps.

So where did they go?  We've attended dozens of children's parties in over the last seven years.  Not even a sniff of them.  Wikipedia described them as one of a number of 'birthday torments' that might be inflicted.  I wondered if contemporary health and safety fears have banished them to the annals of history.

So, ignoring all that, we decided to reinstate them for Gertie's seventh birthday.

I think she enjoyed herself!

Currently reading: Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
Don't's half term!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Changing Rooms

Gertie's room is having a makeover.

The deal was that if she could keep her room tidy for the entire month of February, she could choose wallpaper, see Guerilla Littering, and if she continued the tidiness through Lent then she could have the whole room done.

Given her propensity to create mess, I didn't expect to be in the position that we are in now.  Hearth-father is busy with the sander; the wallpaper is up on two 'feature' walls; the remaining walls are painted in 'silver mist', and we are rid of three sacks of clothes and toys.

All good.  Except that the designs Gertie has chosen suggest that she has gone from a six-year-old to a teenager overnight.

Here's the old one:

Sweet, girly, pink (probably too much, but hey ho) innocent, doll-filled, pretty.

Here's the new one (unfinished):

It needs a rug to cover those pristine white floorboards (I'm wincing already as I imagine what they will look like in a few weeks time) But mostly screaming purple, grown-up, boudoir-ish.

Can someone tell me where my little girl went?

Currently reading: Heresy by SJ Parris

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Perhaps jealous at her brother's recent 'Niall from One Direction' haircut, Gertie decided yesterday morning to give herself a new style.  This basically involved hacking a very short fringe in the manner of a seventies popstar - perhaps Dave Hill of Slade fame. It is definitely not a good look - though mildly amusing, and we are, at least, several months away from the next set of school photographs.

What was more disturbing was the other use to which the scissors were put; namely, cutting into the upholstery on a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old chair, which I recently moved into the bathroom.  Lucky it wasn't a brand new one, or a might have been really cross.

Currently reading: A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates

Monday, 7 April 2014

Alien Goo in One Direction

Day one of the Easter holidays means a trip to the barbers for Gilby.  His thick, unruly hair just about makes it through a half term before he begins to resemble a cross between Stig of the Dump and Hagrid (minus the beard).

Usually a 'trim and tidy' will suffice.  On this occasion, however, I am not able to look the barber in the eye as I outline my four-year-old's requirements:

"So, there are two things that you need to know."  (Here I cough and clear my throat.) "Um, he has clumps of alien goo stuck into the left hand side of his head which will need cutting out..."  I pause for a moment, (thinking back to the small pocket money alien-embryo toy that we bought yesterday and regretted almost immediately) and then find that the words, "And he'd like you to cut it like Niall from One Direction," tumble out.

I know which one I feel more unsettled by.

I also never cease to be amazed by the statements I am forced to make as a parent...

Currently reading: Igboland by Jeff Gardiner

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Beer Ballet

Very occasionally, Hearth-Father has to do Gertie's 'ballet run' when I am otherwise engaged.

We were driving to her ballet class last week when Gilby piped up from the back seat, "Mummy, shall I take you to this little pub I know where Daddy and I go sometimes when ballet is on?"

Now.  Where to start?  Best not to, methinks.

Anyway.  The day of the ballet exam finally arrived at the weekend.  There was much fussing and an hour's worth of rehearsal beforehand.  Ribbons and hairnets and hairspray and endless tying of ballet shoes.  This was, of course, enough to send Gilby, Eddie and Daddy running for this little pub they know...

And on the way home?  After their respective afternoon exertions?  Well.  It's hard work in that pub!

Currently Reading:  Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Report Season

The school book-bags were a little fuller than usual on Friday afternoon: large white envelopes with the annual school report inside.

Gertie's was, for the third year in a row, glowing.  The headteacher's summary at the end begins with, 'Wow!'

Gilby's is also excellent: my favourite line is, 'He thinks of himself as a writer'.  It has taken me forty years to achieve this for myself.  My son has managed it in four.  I am impressed.

Now Eddie.  He is too young for an official school report.  So let's just report on his activities for this morning...

He woke me up by poking me hard between the eyes, and in my bleary semi-consciousness I noticed that he was making off with my watch.  That is, effectively, a mugging, is it not?

He then proceeded to empty out every single toy that he owns into the middle of his bedroom, mixing up all the pieces from all the games leaving me with a couple of hours of sorting and tidying (and that is a conservative estimate).

Immediately afterwards he sat in the middle of the kitchen floor with his thumb in his mouth staring into space and refusing to sit at the breakfast table or respond to any kind of question or cajoling.  Next he used a garden chair as a pram, pushing it round the sitting room and ramming it under my legs so that I nearly toppled over the coffee table, narrowly avoiding a trip to casualty.

Finally he threw one of my prized ornaments down the stairs.

So, how about this: Eddie is a determined child with a strong will and a creative interpretation of the world around him.  He enjoys sequencing (and unsequencing) objects to explore the patterns they create, and using the physical space around him in an imaginative way.  He can be reflective at times, and his diminutive stature is of no drawback.  He has a growing awareness of his own physical strength and corporeal power. His clear fascination with the force of gravity indicates his developing scientific interests...

Oh good.  He's doing just as well as his siblings, then.

Currently reading: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

We Have Lift Off!

One of the nice things we did over half term was to visit family in Dorset. Lunch outside on the Cobb at Lyme Regis was a real treat - who'd have thought in this wettest of wet winters that we might do that in February...

But the weather turned again and for the following day in Weymouth, Hearth-Father chose to worship at the 'cathedral of cider'. This was an airy rustic restaurant with only pizza and cider on the menu. Everyone was happy! But it was up on the third floor and had a lift to access. Once the children were finished eating they dashed off to play.

Shortly afterwards Gilby came running back into the room, shaking, purple-lipped and barely able to speak.

"Eddie's gone!" he sobbed. It took another moment to work our what had happened. "In the LIFT!" he wailed. It was absolutely the end of the world, and must have seemed as if his little baby brother had been swallowed up. After all, lifts can go anywhere, if you read Roald Dahl.

I ran to look and could just about make out a tiny voice shouting 'Mummy...'.

Thankfully the lift hadn't even moved from that floor, and the doors just opened up to reveal the miscreant, who needed a little cuddle but was otherwise unharmed.

It was touching that it was his big brother who was more upset.  Less so that a few hours later they were happily pummeling each other once more over whose turn it was to play with a toy.

Currently Reading: Boring research methodology books.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Sunshine After the Rain

Today the sun shines brilliantly. What a change from the dreary wet. And the chickens began laying eggs again. Is the worst over?

Eddie thinks that he sees a rainbow in every sky. Mostly this is just wishful thinking. "Mummy, I see a rainbow up the sky!" He points up, usually, at nothing but cloud; though I did take this photo from the classroom window the other day.

Noses seem to have been running since Christmas. And Gilby tells me that he has a very bad cough. When he coughs hard, apparently, he can taste 'sneeze' in his mouth. Ah, yes. That is quite a bad cough. I chose not to introduce him to the word 'phlegm'. Such an ugly word. Much prefer a good mouth-sneeze myself.

Currently reading: Bloody Foreigners by Robert Winder

Monday, 17 February 2014

Guerilla Littering

No, it's not quite what it sounds like. Though perhaps, on reflection, it's worse.

Gertie finally moved into her own room after Christmas. Her younger brother's fear of the dark and general inability to sleep meant that although she had her own space (beautifully furnished and decorated in my opinion, but what does a mother know?) she had to spend night times sleeping in the top bunk of her brother's room so that Gilby didn't feel scared. I blogged at length about that sleepless period, and this was the happy solution we came up with: big sis to the rescue.

It works even better now, though, because since Christmas, Gilby has shared a bedroom with his baby brother; and he can be the older, protective one (even though it is he really who still wants company at night). And so, Gertie gets her room. She very much enjoys the peace and quiet, and we have gone back to me reading her a 'grown-up' book: Black Beauty, at the moment.

The trouble is that she doesn't seem to have inherited any sense of organisation or tidiness. This is probably a blessing, since I think for me it is a curse. But her bedroom is always, without exception, the messiest room in the house.

She wasn't happy with the decor and wanted wallpaper rather than the expensive shade of not-quite-white that we had chosen. The lightbulb moment: we do a deal. If she can keep her room tidy for a whole month - and we picked February because it is the shortest - then she can choose her wallpaper, and Daddy can hang it.

Ok, so in fairness to Daddy, I didn't mention that last part to him whilst I was sealing the deal. In fact, I just told him about it today. It is day 17 of the month, and her bedroom is spotless. Could feature in a beautiful homes magazine, in fact. And Daddy is panicking. He tells me it has been a while since he hung wallpaper. Knowing him as I do, I interpret this as a euphemism for, 'I have never hung wallpaper before and I am rather disturbed by the thought of it.' His answer: guerilla littering. He plans to go in there and mess it up for her, in an attempt to stave off the task. Initially I thought it was a little unfair, but hey, it's only what the little people do to us on a daily basis...

Currently reading: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Friday, 31 January 2014

Walking with sunshine

We came home in the cold and dark, and in pouring rain tonight. It was the sideways rain that soaks you. The porch was flooded again, and by the back door was impassable due to the water: the highest I have ever seen it. The trip out had been unsuccessful too. It was for Gertie's swimming lesson. She has changed groups and we got the time wrong and so she had missed the lesson anyway and the whole thing was therefore an unnecessary waste of time, and needless additional soaking. Are you getting a sense of my mood?

So heading for the car, with the damp permeating my skin (well, ok, just my boots then) and after another stressful day of work, I was muttering various unrepeatable phrases under my breath.

And here is why I want to be six again. Because what Gertie said, in contrast, was this:

"Mummy, I wish I could have my very own sun to take around with me. On a string though, so I didn't burn my hands. Then I could always walk in sunshine."

Currently Reading: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Sleepover, Sigh.

Gertie has just experienced what by a rough calculation must be her tenth sleepover. Her fifth birthday was the turning point, and then it somehow became acceptable over night. Literally. She has two 'best' friends and they take it in turns. Last night Jessie came to stay with us. There was nail-painting, brother-baiting and hair-plaiting.

There were also some strange requests. Some things that she wouldn't dare to ask normally. Like, "Mummy, can we go and play with your make-up as Jessie's here?" And, "Mummy, is it ok if we take some food up into the bedroom while Jessie's here?" Um. Let me think about both those things for not very long. NO. And I managed to skirt the staying up late and watching a DVD issue by happily not being able to get the DVD player to work.

By midnight they were still talking. I was a little bit grumpy. This morning I have found the remnants of the feast stuffed under pillows - tell tale chocolate wrappers and crisp packets (so much for no food in the bedroom).

They then had the audacity to come running into our room at too-early o'clock because the brothers had woken them up too early in the morning. I don't think they fully appreciated the irony. Now that Jessie has gone home, Gertie is curled up on the complaining about being too tired.

Gilby is five in a few months time. He's too dependent to really enjoy a sleepover yet, I think. He got excited about it, and then when I mentioned that it would be his turn soon he quickly found lots of reasons why it shouldn't happen. I think I agree with him. I certainly don't remember sleepovers as a regular thing at that age.

As a child, sleepovers fell into two categories. The first meant staying at my grandparents' house as a matter of necessity because my parents needed childcare. This was a fairly regular occurrence, good fun, and is associated in my mind with plenty of treats, a change of books and toys, and some privileges appropriately afforded to being the eldest child. (Like being able to stay up a bit later than my siblings.)

The second kind, with friends, were rare and precious. I can remember only about five occasions, although I'm sure there must have been more. I recall late nights with my friend Liz, stashed food, the intimacy of whispered conversations, the strange noises of the fabric of someone else's house. Scary stories and giggled secrets. I must have been twelve or thirteen, I think. And I suspect that I asked of my parents things that were usually not allowed on the off-chance that they might be because Liz was there.

On my fifteenth birthday I had tickets for Bon Jovi for myself and a bunch of friends. Mum drove us up to London in a minibus, and there must have been at least eight of us. Because we would get home so late, everyone had brought sleeping bags for a sleepover on my bedroom floor. Bundles of bodies arranged haphazardly all over the room. 'Sleepover' was a misnomer, because in the adrenalin-fueled aftermath of the concert very little sleep happened. But I have never forgotten it. Come to think of it, I think my mum might have come in slightly crossly at about 2am because there was too much noise.

So perhaps the only thing that's changed about sleepovers is indeed the frequency. And perhaps not even that; maybe these magical nights seem far fewer in my own childhood just because they were so special. Sigh. And what would I do on a sleepover now? Probably catch up on some sleep...

Currently reading: Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Thursday, 9 January 2014

On God and Merkins

Under what circumstances might a four-year-old boy run round his sitting room shouting "I'm a merkin, I'm a merkin, I'm a merkin!"?

I only ask because this is exactly what you might have heard had you been at our place last weekend.

Before you cast aspersions on the kind of household we have created, allow me to explain.

Last Sunday was 'Epiphany', and, as part of celebrating the journey of the magi, Gilby was asked to be a king at church. He was representing Caspar, and we had a jolly old time making his crown. Cereal box, bandage, and some of Gertie's sequins from her Christmas nail art set all came in very handy. Mister Maker wouldn't have been that impressed, but Gilby was, and that was the main thing.

And what did Caspar have to do? Well, as we discovered, he had to give the gift of myrrh to the baby Jesus in a procession at the end of the service. Which is simply what Gilby was explaining to anyone who might listen.

And therein lies the explanation.

Currently reading: And the Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini. Wow.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Traditional Dress

I went out dressed in my new Christmas poncho, feeling both snug and smug.

Daddy and I were enjoying a rare night out at a local Indian restaurant. It was a lovely meal, and as the time came to pay the bill, the remains of the Scottish banknotes came out.

When the waiter looked slightly aghast we had to explain that they were legal tender and we only had them because we'd just been staying in Scotland with friends and family.

I nipped off to the loo as the bill was being settled, so I didn't hear the next comment first hand:

"And your wife? Is she wearing traditional dress?"

Still snug, not quite so smug!

Currently reading: Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013: The Highs, the Lows

Happy new year to all my friends and family, readers and fellow bloggers; and during this time of reflection and resolution, a very quick, if self-indulgent, look back at 2013.

For the family, the biggest moment was Eddie finally taking his first steps back at the end of July. Looking at him running round after his siblings now you'd never guess it had been in any doubt. It quite brought a tear to his mother's eye. In September Gilby started school and has shone ever since. How cute did he look in his little school uniform, just a month after his fourth birthday? It...brought a tear to his mother's eye. After one term he can read and write and loves it. And Gertie becoming the Under-5 Celtic National Irish Dancing Champion in November brought, yes, a little tear or two to her mother's eye. A month later she had the lead in the school play. A star all round.

2013 was the year that I turned 40 and I had the most fantastic weekend for this milestone birthday as well as taking a long-held dream trip to Venice (just my husband and I, no kids!) to celebrate later in the year.

I think I have to count diving into the pool in Cabrieres for the first time at the start of our summer holiday as one of my top moments, and arriving at Harburn House in Scotland for Christmas as another. We can't travel the world in the same way as I once did, but clearly those little short trips and family holidays are just as special and important. Learning to ballroom dance is up there too, though we won't be troubling Strictly any time soon. We celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary very happily; where did those years go?

2013 had some professional highs: passing what I thought was my penultimate MA module last January with a merit, being accepted to present a seminar at the NATE conference in June, beginning a National Writing Project Group in Sussex in July, gaining an OFSTED outstanding at school in November. (I know that last one shouldn't count, but it does!)

There were some writing successes: Completing NanoWriMo with a 50,000 word draft of On Sudden Ground was a major achievement and now just that lengthy revision and editing process to go before securing that lucrative publishing deal in 2014. (When I will, also, finally complete my MA.) I won and was placed in a number of different short story competitions through the year; more writing to come in 2014, beginning with an educational article to be published in January.

The lows were thankfully few and far between. We lost my uncle last January. He was relatively young but it wasn't unexpected. Still very sad, though, especially for my mother. The beginning of March was plagued with illness, and I didn't enjoy going to work with an eye-patch during a severe eye-infection. On the upside, Gilby thought it was quite cool. Discovering that my final MA module wasn't was a bit of a bore (20,000 words still to go), and finding another 'suspicious' breast lump was more than a little scary, though thankfully now all fine once more. Being able to count those 'down' things on one hand reminds me of how very much I have to be grateful for.

It remains the family, of course, that is most important. We begin 2014 with a family day out and lunch with some dear friends, and that is the way that I mean to carry on.

Currently Reading: 72 Virgins by Boris Johnson. Not entirely sure why.