Friday, 22 September 2017

I Need A Bigger Bedtime

"I need a bigger bedtime," said Eddie, as I went in to wake him up for a second time for school this morning when he failed to appear at breakfast after the first call.

Yes, I thought, perceptive of you. But, on the other hand, at whatever point in the evening I decide to brace myself and mention the 'b' word, you embark on a sort of squawking performance which I have come to interpret as indicating a level of resistance to the proposal. You are also master of delaying tactics, able to draw out the whole process for a good hour or so. It is, in fact, a tad stressful, if am to be entirely honest.

Though a bigger bedtime would make all of us happier, I thought, longingly. My wine glass could be filled earlier, for one thing. Not to mention the fact that I myself could also do with a bigger bedtime, frankly.

Still, it's hard to believe that something as small and innocent-looking as this can be so noisy and ferocious before sleep, or so grumpy when it wakes up.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Making and Breaking

Eddie's sixth birthday party is fast approaching. Last year he had only just arrived in reception and didn't know anyone's names, so I panicked and invited the whole class. This year is much more sensible: three friends to a trampolining place - don't know much about it other than the fact that I have had to buy 'special socks' for them to bounce in. That's the party bag sorted, then.

But some of his friends' mums have contacted me to ask what Eddie might like as a gift.

This is quite tricky to answer. Eddie has two main hobbies: making things, and breaking things. By 'making', I mean that he is the most creative of the three. What he can do with a couple of cereal boxes, some toilet rolls and a roll of masking tape is quite astonishing. But he wouldn't be terrifically happy, I suspect, if he unwrapped a box full of recycling. He likes Lego, and insists on making the thing, then remaking it 8-10 times until he can do it without having to follow instructions; useful if I need to keep him busy for a couple of hours. But Lego is very expensive and I wouldn't want to suggest that people spent that kind of money on a birthday present for him.  His newest hobby is whittling, and he's desperate for his own whittling knife, but at six, it just doesn't seem entirely appropriate ask someone to buy him a knife.

By 'breaking' things I do mean smashing things up. He quite likes demolishing the junk models after he has made them, but also shooting, slashing, hitting, firing, blowing things up, throwing things: in short, weaponry. All types, medieval to modern. This is quite a difficult thing to word appropriately in an email or What's app message, and so I made light of it:

"We have bought him a crossbow! Don't tell social services! 😀😔😕😨😩" That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, one of the other mums in the group is, in fact, a social worker. Oh dear. Busted.

So, it transpires that I have indeed bought my son a crossbow for his sixth birthday and am contemplating getting him a knife. I can't help feeling that something has gone a teensy bit wrong with my parenting somewhere along the way.

Currently reading: Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Cost of Reading

As it is the end of the first week back I am playing perfect mother and am on it with the reading and the homework. This will last for another week and a half, approximately, when we will return to hastily scribbled made-up entries in the reading log and Sunday night homework conversations conducted through gritted teeth, but right now I am in the zone.

Biff, Chip and Kipper have a lot to answer for. Eddie was reading the fairly innocuous-sounding Victorian Adventure. The magic key began to do its thing and the children found themselves at Buckingham Palace in the nineteenth century. Spoiler alert: After getting arrested they are mysteriously released. Gran appears near the end as she is also in the adventure and has made friends with Queen Victoria. (Obvs.) The problem page was this one:

Eddie stumbled over the word 'scones'; in part because he didn't know what they were.

"Well," said I, "that is a problem easily rectified!" And off we went to a lovely little tea shop on the banks of the Arun. "I'll just force down an afternoon tea for the sake of your reading homework..."

I know how to take one for the team...

Moody skies, though.

Currently reading: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Little Mix Up

I thought that, with all the children now settled at school, we had passed the point of major milestones but Gertie achieved one last night with her first 'gig'. We went, (along with most of the primary-aged girls in Sussex) to see Little Mix at Ardingly. Someone was VERY excited about the prospect.

Her mother was, well, less so.

Preparations were extensive: the choosing of the outfit, the hair, the earrings. And of course we bought the t-shirt, which was modeled immediately:

It was a nightmare getting in and out of the ground, and we ended up spending longer in the car park afterwards than the band actually played for; but, logistical gripes aside, I enjoyed the whole thing much more than I thought I would, and mostly I enjoyed Gertie's joy in the whole experience. We went with two of her friends and they danced and screamed and hugged each other all night long.

With all that car park time to kill, the post mortem was extensive, and involved the three girls reliving every word to every song. Which was nice. But Gertie wished that she could have bought one of the lanyards designed to look like a back-stage pass. I pointed out that I'd needed to remortgage to cover the cost of food and their soft drinks, AND she'd got a t-shirt.

"But Jess went to see The Next Step Live and she got a sweat-shirt, a t-shirt, a programme and one of the necklace things," she pouted.

"Lanyard," I muttered, correcting her, and the conversation changed.

Except that, a few minutes later they were discussing another friend of theirs that they thought was a bit spoilt, and I heard one of them say, 'Yeah, she's such a lanyard...'

Hoping for an entry in the next OED.

Currently reading: To Miss With Love by Katharine Birbalsingh

Friday, 25 August 2017

Hooray for Walkie Talkies. Over.

In the age of the ubiquitous mobile phone, the walkie talkie is redundant, surely?

Not according to Gilby and Eddie, who decided that this was the best invention phones.

The rediscovery of a walkie talkie set (following the house move) caused breathless excitement. They secreted themselves in different parts of the house, one upstairs, one down, and this is the conversation that ensued.

Gilby: (Crackle, beep) Eddie, can you hear me? Over.
Eddie: Yes! Yes! I can! They're working. Gilby, they're really working! Over. (Giggle of glee, beep)
Gilby: I can hear you, too. They're definitely working! Over.
Eddie: Hooray!  Over.

I'm delighted that in the joy of the moment Eddie didn't forget his newly-acquired walkie-talkie etiquette.

Currently reading: A Son of the Circus by John Irving

Monday, 7 August 2017


Instead of a summer holiday this year we have decided to spend the time at home doing the 'work' that needs doing on the house.

The first job is to construct a home office in the garden. A log cabin is arriving from Holland tomorrow morning (delivered by 'Roger', whom we have now nicknamed 'Roger the Cabin Boy', inexplicably collapsing into laughter whenever he is mentioned). Today's project therefore involved clearing the space ready for its arrival.

At one stage Hearth-Father was being roundly beaten by a stubborn tree stump; he broke a spade trying to dig it out.

Eddie came over to take a look. 'See, what you want to do there, is, you want to bury a bone just beside it?'.  As four pairs of eyes gazed questioningly at him, he patiently explained, 'Well, then Kempy (our golden retriever) will just dig down really hard and dig up the stump for us!' Simple. He gave a detailed description, with some accompanying mime in case we couldn't quite picture his solution.

When I asked how he had come by this idea he told me nonchalantly that he 'read a lot of books'.

This evening we have acquired a digger, so tomorrow should herald faster progress...

Currently reading: Theft by Finding Diaries Volume 1 by David Sedaris

Friday, 28 July 2017

As Sure as Eggs is Eggs

Gertie announced at breakfast that she had been studying reproduction at school.

Me choking on my cornflakes was taken as a sign to proceed.

"We were mostly looking at where the eggs come from and how they go through a system inside you."

At this point her younger brother decided to intervene.

"Eggs don't go through a system," Eddie explained dismissively. "They go through a duck."

I spluttered again. The cornflakes were not going down well this morning.

In other news, we have been doing this:

At least I can be safe in the knowledge that discussion of pelvic floor is a good few years off.

Currently reading: Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Vowels Rise Like Balloons

Gertie turned ten earlier this week. TEN. I have a decade's worth of experience of parenting under my belt and I'm still none the wiser. The whole thing was, frankly, bewildering.

Her chosen method of celebration was a disco, for twenty eight of her closest friends. At home.

This took some strategic preparation: The borrowing of lighting systems to rival Blackpool; the sourcing of a playlist where not only did I not know many of the artists, but I couldn't actually distinguish between singers and song titles; the downloading of 'mixing software' in order to negate the requirement for a DJ; (Hearth-father secretly fancied the job, I reckon, but his lack of knowledge of contemporary pop rivals mine) the rearranging of every piece of furniture in the house to make way for a 'dance floor'; the purchase of more than fifty sausages, baps, and burgers for the accompanying barbecue. And so on. I feel that my new bookcases were enhanced no end by the sympathetic illumination. A 'bibliotheque', no less:

The allotted time came. I don't know what the collective noun for ten-year-olds is, but they arrived in their hordes. Initially there was a stand off: Girls in the sitting room (cunningly disguised as a nightclub), boys upstairs. There was a collective squeal everytime somebody new arrived. Then some ice was broken, after which they screamed, they sweated, they took selfies and slid down the staircase. They raided Eddie's toy box and had mock sword fights and gun battles. (Am I delighted to say that gender differences didn't seem to count? Not sure.) They charged around the house after the one person who has a mobile phone.

They did everything, in fact, but dance. Still, that's a disco for you.

After a while their noise seemed to float joyously, somehow, in a constant cacophonous chorus (the wine may have helped), clear vowels rising like balloons. Which rather reminded me of Plath's poem, copied below.

Ten years on from the 'birth day', I think I still feel similarly.

Morning Song 

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons

Currently reading: The Husband's Secret by Lianne Moriarty

Monday, 17 April 2017

A Grand National Tale

Since it has been said of Hearth-Grandfather that he would bet on two flies climbing a wall, it is perhaps unsurprising that his grandchildren would be encouraged to begin their gambling habits early with the Grand National.

Eddie is just about able to remember picking a horse in last year's race and so was excited for this year - opting for 'Rogue Angel' as it sounded a bit like 'Rogue One' and he is a Star Wars fiend. 

Gilby, (or 'Statto' as he is increasingly known due to his penchant for statistically analysing any sporting moment) thought he was playing it safe by opting for last year's runner-up, 'The Last Samurai'. 

Gertie, surprised that her brother with his Arsenal obsession hadn't gone for 'Definitely Red', leapt in there, safe in the knowledge that it was a firm favourite with the bookies. 

Hearth-mother liked the sound of 'One for Arthur' since she has a bit of a thing for Arthurian Literature, whilst Hearth-father had acquired a red-hot tip down the pub and was on 'Highland Lodge'.

Now Hearth-mother and Hearth-father were invited to a fancy-dress party in Dorset and so the family were not together to watch the big race. We were in the car listening on the radio whilst the kids were able to watch on screen. It really sounded as though Eddie's horse was dominating the field from about half way and we could just imagine how excited he would be. I had barely heard mention of mine until right near the end, so it was an excitement and a surprise to find that 'One for Arthur' had done it. At the race's conclusion Gilby was straight on the phone, desperate to talk about the detail-  and the resulting conversations reflect the participating cast of characters perfectly:

Gilby: Hi Mum, well done, did you know your horse won?
Hearth-mother: Yes, thank you, darling. We were listening on the radio. It was quite exciting, wasn't it?
Gilby: Yes, you led from the second to last fence. And then no one could catch you. Rogue Angel was in the lead for most of the second circuit so Eddie got excited but he fell away in the last part of the race. You could see yours coming from about four fences from the end. It ran a perfect race. Shall I pass you over to the others?

Gertie: Congratulations, mummy, you picked the winner!
Hearth-mother: Thanks, darling. My first one ever. I'm sorry about yours, though; he fell early, didn't he?
Gertie: Yes. Defintely Red was defintely not winning, but I think the horse and jockey were alright. Have a safe trip down to Dorset and enjoy your party. Do you want to speak to Eds?

Eddie: Hello mummy.  Your horse ran past mine. I hate you.
Hearth-mother: Oh.

And we're not moving to the Bahamas. Two pounds each way doesn't go very far between five....

Currently reading: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Moving On...

So, moving day has been and gone.

It was never going to go well, given this kind of starting point:

Just loving what Hearth-Father did there.

The hell was compounded by our elderly neighbour being bitten by a dog and requiring emergency treatment at the surgery one hour before we were due to be out of the house. I kid you not. Her timing was impeccable - but difficult not to help someone who appears to have their thumb hanging off. We were only about an hour late getting out in the end...and I forgot about two kitchen cupboards entirely. 

Things I learned whilst packing up to move house:
1. Gilby, my 'tidy' child, really isn't - if you move his bed.
2. Those fifty or so odd socks that I have been saving for the last ten years really are odd.
3. My husband's extensive 'mobile phones through the ages' collection will require its own wing in the new place.
4. If you put a photo like the one above on social media, friends will only notice the Prosecco box.
5. I hate boxes.

Things I have learned since being in the new one:
1. Many of the things I carefully boxed up I have unpacked only to throw away.
2. Moving house creates an 'Alice in Wonderland' effect so that all my furniture now looks wrong-sized.
3. Our predecessors taste in tiles is hideous. Beyond description.
4. In spite of the absurdly expensive quotation, with hindsight it would have been worth paying someone to do the packing and removals,
5. I hate boxes.

Currently reading: The Watsons by Jane Austen

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Radioactive Report

For the first time I am in proud possession of three school reports - now that Eddie is a term and a half into his school career. Moreover I am the proud owner of three glowing school reports.

Two are glowing with praise. 

One, alas is glowing with radioactive criticism. Guess which!

I marvel at the teacher's linguistic dexterity. Eddie is 'confident to disagree'. Read: Argumentative little so and so. And he 'prefers to select his own classroom activity', which I understand to mean, won't do what he is bloody well told.

Still, I shouldn't be surprised. The writing was on the wall a couple of weeks ago, or rather it was on the page. As an English teacher I am delighted that Eddie in his short time in reception has progressed to writing in full sentences. I am less pleased that this is what one of the first said:

No doubt a great academic career ahead of him.

Currently reading: The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Inspirational School Run

It was a rubbish day at work. The details don't really matter, but a new appraisal system, a bruised department, contrary Year 11 students and an inconsiderate colleague all meant that by the time I went to pick up the children from school I was feeling pretty grumpy. But then I had a daughter on hand to cheer everything up.

I arrived in time to catch the end of Gertie's netball club and to witness her scoring a goal. Not the first one that she has scored, but certainly the first one that I have seen. Even more heartening was the fact that I caught her looking like an actual, real netballer. Snatching passes, making feints, moving around the court, getting into good positions. I had to wipe a little tear away, and made a mental note to get back into netball somehow.

So, not only has she inspired me to pick up a sport that I love again, she has also made me determined to succeed in another area of aspiration. I caught sight of her photograph as part of a display celebrating writers across the school, alongside a story that she had written and a speech bubble citing her writing inspirations as 'Michael Morpurgo', 'Jacqueline Wilson' and 'My Mum'. Cue second teary moment of the afternoon. How am I supposed to live up to that? And, whilst it might be the one and only time that those three names appear in the same sentence, I am determined to try to be worthier, somehow, of that expectation.

Before I got too carried away with all the emotion, Eds ruined it all by throwing a massive tantrum and having to be carried kicking and screaming off the school premises. I bribed him with chocolate.

Currently reading: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Monday, 16 January 2017

A Tipping in the Scales of Us

I thought it would be many years hence that the roles between my children and I would reverse, as described  so powerfully by poets such as Seamus Heaney in Follower, or Owen Sheers in Farther; though I know that we move inexorably towards the 'tipping in the scales of us,/the intersection of our ages'.

But no. It seems that not only is my nine-year-old daughter now able to keep pace with me length for length whilst swimming, she is also emotionally astute and already prepared to take charge in a social situation.

Circumstances arose over the weekend which meant that, contrary to all principles, (and wishes) I found myself inside the doors of a well known purveyor of fried chicken. Somehow I had drawn the short straw: it transpires that at the same moment Hearth-Father was enjoying a complimentary beer as he waited for our takeaway curry.

Meanwhile, back in chicken-hell, the menu was a minefield to this vegetarian: uninitiated in the language of such an establishment.  What, for example, was 'Popcorn' chicken? Why on earth would one order a ghastly-sounding 'bucket' of it?

I ordered three children's meals glumly and stood back to wait for them. Fast food could not come fast enough on this occasion.

Gertie noticed my distress and tucked a comforting arm through mine. "Poor Mummy," she whispered. "You don't look very comfortable in here. Don't worry, it will all be over soon."

Currently reading: Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Steven Gerrard Ate My Sausages

Getting to bed at a respectable 2am after seeing in the new year with friends and family, it is fair to say that I was nursing the suggestion of a teensy-tiny hangover first thing.  Given that I was clearly in the lower magnitude on the Richter scale of hangovers, and was not the only sufferer, discussion at the in-laws this morning focused on the merits or otherwise of different hangover cures. It is worth stating here that Hearth-Father visited the opticians yesterday. I am beginning to wish he had had his ears tested instead. For 'bacon sandwich', that well-known remedy, he heard 'baby cabbage'.

Even as a vegetarian I think I know which I would prefer.

The inclement weather meant that this new year's day has definitely been one for 'plotting up', a favourite expression in our household, rather than going out. I have thereby discovered that it is actually fun spending time with members of my family. Eddie has been running round earnestly completing pages of his 'Wreck This Journal', a lucky, last-minute choice by Santa, as it turns out. Gilby, obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Tom Gates has also begun keeping a journal of his own. Today's entry was entitled 'Steven Gerrard ate my sausages' which is an inspired interpretation of the morning's events.

I won't spoil the mystery by explaining exactly how that came about; suffice to say that is is, in a sense, accurate, (not the Steven Gerrard, obvs) and provides an excellent, if somewhat obscure, title for a blog post.

There has been some new year's brotherly love. I'm not panicking, it's bound not to last, but I enjoyed it nonetheless:

I spent two hours in the bath reading Anna Karenina, which means that I might just about have finished it in time for new year 2018 - but what luxury. Turns out you can do that sort of thing on New Year's Day. And Arsenal won, helped by a blinding goal from Giroud. Happy new year one and all.