I’m swanning off to South Wales for two weeks. ‘Swanning’ being the appropriate word, since I am trying to maintain a cool, calm and collected appearance on the surface (see my graceful, slender neck gulping back this glass of sparkling wine), but underneath I am working frantically to get everything packed and ready (see my big broad feet thrashing around among the boxes in the loft).
This time we’re off for a week camping on the coast with one of my brothers and his family, followed by a week staying at my mother-in-law’s house. There’s lovely!
The camping should be interesting, since my brother’s family are seasoned caravanners, but have never taken the canvas plunge. I have told them that camping is ‘the holiday the weather can’t spoil’ but for some reason, they don’t believe me. I just don’t think they realise how little there is to spoil.
My emergency camping supplies are two wine boxes, both Hardy’s and both £17.99 from Tesco. One is Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Chardonnay. I haven’t tried either of them before, but since both grape types are generally good ‘crowd pleasers’ I reckon they will be just what we need. If not, I am prepared to slug the lot back on my own.
It is Friday though, so no matter how busy I am, there is always time to pause for the Friday Night Fizz. This week it is a bottle of Angas Brut (Oddbins £7.49) an Australian sparkling wine which has a delightfully smooth and creamy taste that somehow reminds me of strawberries. This is excellent value if you like fruity fizz, and I intend to stock up on several more bottles for the Drunk Mummy Wine Vaults.
In my absence, I thought you might like to read an article I wrote for the July edition of Dulwich Life & Style magazine. I don’t live in Dulwich. I doubt I would be allowed to, since I don't own a single pair of white jeans (unlike Dulwich Mum who was up to double figures at the last count). The article looks a bit outdated now, since it was published at the end of the school summer term, but never mind. Here goes:
A Question of Sports Day
It’s the end of the Summer Term - the time of year when many schools realise that parents can’t possibly have any annual leave left, so they organise a Sports Day.
At my children’s school, which terrorises parents on a regular basis, some bright spark decided it might be ‘fun’ to have some races for parents during this year’s Sports Day.
I have always felt that I embarrass my children enough in public without having to make a special effort, but my daughter had other ideas. She pointed out that I am always urging her to ‘join in’ so she wanted to know why I wasn’t entering the Mothers’ Race. My defence (that I was wearing a push-up bra) was scornfully dismissed, and within minutes I was lining up with assorted long-limbed and athletic mums. There were a few nervous jokes, and the occasional high pitched laugh, but there was no disguising the air of steely resolve.
Now, the race itself seemed to happen in slow-motion, but that could just have been the actual speed I was running. Still, in my mind, I was a streamlined gazelle, bounding gracefully over the grassy plain. The video footage taken by a sadistic parent revealed a much harsher reality. I had been right to worry about the push-up bra.
The Fathers’ Race which followed, proved to be a triumph of ambition over common sense, and no doubt, resulted in months of brisk business for the local physios and chiropracters. The testosterone-fuelled dad who won looked delighted with his victory, and when he faced the cheering crowd, his moment of glory was only slightly tarnished as he realised that he had run the whole race with his flies undone.
Of course, there were other competitive events at Sports Day. The Picnic Display was hotly contested, as parents vied to provide the most nutritionally smug lunch. At one point, a wholesome mother offered me a piece of home-made cake which consisted entirely of chickpeas, yogurt and toddler spit.
Over at the stall selling ploughman’s lunches, there was some Long Distance Queuing. Unfortunately, the line of shuffling participants was forced to witness the disturbing sight of a mother trying to cut a large wheel of extremely ripe Brie into sixty four equal portions. There was some concern about what was likely to crack first – her perky smile or her sanity.
Finally, there was the Pimm’s Bar Relay (a personal favourite), where contestants had to get the next full glass lined up and ready just before they finished downing the last one. In my opinion, Pimm’s should be classed as a health drink, by virtue of its five portions of fruit and vegetables in every glass. It is also a much livelier alternative to a ploughman’s lunch or a picnic.
I seem to remember at some point during the Sports Day, there was a rumour that the children might be running a few races, or something. But like most of the parents there, I was way too busy to watch any of that.
I am off to enjoy the last two weeks of this glorious English summer (cue hollow laugh). I will be back in September.
Friday, 17 August 2007
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
I never thought I would say this, but I had forgotten how much relentless hard graft is involved in raising babies and small children.
When I had three children under two-and-a-half, I lost count of the times some bright-eyed, well-groomed mum with self-sustaining older children would tell me to ‘enjoy’ these early years, since they were over so quickly.
Invariably, I would force a crazed smile and think ‘How can you say that? This feels like a life-sentence of hard labour.’ I even had the clothes, hair and make-up appropriate for the whole chain-gang existence. I could just about cope, but someone telling me that I should be enjoying it all, just made me feel worse. Like many parents, I had to suspend belief in everything that was rational and self-evident, and give myself up to the blind faith that things would somehow turn out alright, alternating with periods of self-flagellation when they didn’t.
Who needs religion when you can have parenthood?
Fast-forward six years, and although I still have the mental scars from those early years, the loosening of the shackles has been so gradual, that I never realised quite how much freedom H and I have gained. That is, until the travelling circus of my brother and his young family came to town.
Of course, the baby was adorable, and the two year old twins were a delight, but there really wasn’t one minute of the visit when we weren’t ‘doing something’ for one of them. Between the wiping, rattling, rocking, soothing, helping them dress, not helping them dress, and negotiating over which plate to use, there was hardly time to have a decent glass of wine or three. Luckily the weather was good, so we managed to keep all six children entertained with trips to the playground, and copious use of a paddling pool in the garden.
Now that they have gone home, the lawn looks like the final days of Glastonbury, and the house is spookily quiet. Games which involved shrieking and chasing ‘monsters’ up and down the stairs have been replaced once again by games which involve lying silently on the sofa and chasing monsters across a screen. Bathtime has reverted from an hour long water-based theme park back to something more closely resembling a sheep dip. And once again, I no longer have to wipe anyone else’s bottom but my own.
I am sitting here with a glass of soft, smooth, black-cherry tasting Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir (Ocado £8.49) and thinking with utter relief how far we have all moved on. The only down side I can see is that a single Smartie is no longer considered a suitable reward for good behaviour.
Even the kids, who loved playing with their little cousins, have gone strangely quiet on the subject of wanting me to have another baby. Maybe now that they too have realised what incredibly hard work babies and small children can be, they will finally stop bullying me and my shrivelled ovaries.
Monday, 13 August 2007
I think this site is a great idea and like all great ideas, you wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before. I was tremendously flattered to be asked, since I have never been ‘interviewed’ before. What amazed and amused me was the difficulty I had in answering the simple question: ‘What is your blog about?’
One of the requests from the site is that contributors are asked to link the website on their side bar, and get their readers to vote for their blog. Although I am more than happy to publicise the website, I am not overly concerned about the voting. Indulging in the fantasy of being interviewed was reward enough (I just imagined the dulcet tones of Jenni Murray asking the questions). As a result, any delusions of grandeur have now escalated, and I have spent an indecent amount of time crafting whole interviews inside my head. However, as a forty-something mum, I realise that confessing to fantasies that involve Richard Madeley is seriously sad.
Thursday, 9 August 2007
Our visit to Manhattan was a combination of slick, high-speed living and slow, patient queuing. We had a great trip to the Statue of Liberty and took all the requisite photos of ourselves grinning like chimps, with the ethereal green statue in the background. The Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island was fantastic, and seemed to offer an insight into what ‘being American’ means for millions of people. We also managed an early morning trip up to the top of the Empire State Building. At the time it seemed that the visibility was rather poor, but that could just have been my hangover - a result of over-indulgence in the delicious Californian ‘Toasted Head’ Cabernet Sauvignon. It certainly felt like my head had been toasted.
We also managed rides on the subway and in yellow taxis, went to the Central Park zoo, and popped our heads in at Tiffany’s. We ate fantastic Chinese food downstairs at Wo Hop, superb pizza at Arturo's and drank root beer with our burgers in the Big Daddy Diner. Add to that the bagels, pretzels and ice cream we consumed, and we can safely say that we took the most almighty bite out of the Big Apple.
In a slightly surreal moment, we passed the apartment block where I spent a very happy, party-fuelled year, in the days when I was single, solvent and sexy (yes, it was a long time ago). I explained this to the kids, who nodded vacantly, just to humour me. The only interest shown was by the youngest who asked if he had been around then. No, I explained, Mummy didn’t have children then. Ah, but was he in my tummy? No, not even there. Ah, but wasn’t he inside me, even as a tiny, tiny egg? Okay, yes, on that basis, I suppose so.
My God, how depressing. There I had been, thinking I was living a fantastic, carefree life as a sassy single girl, but all the time I had really been a mother of three children. It’s amazing how children can not only colonise your body and your every waking thought, but they can re-write your personal history too.
I am posting early today, as my brother and his family are coming to stay with us for a while, and I can’t blog again until they leave next week. He and his wife have two-year-old twins, and an eight month old baby, so H and I are going to try and give them both a bit of a break. Our reward will be to punch the air every time they are out of the room and shout ‘Thank God that’s not us any more!’
We have been trying to remove as many ‘swallowable’ items as possible from the living room, but just clearing the Lego pieces and the Polly Pocket bits has taken us hours. I remember my youngest child swallowing a metal ball-bearing from a Magnetix set when he was two. I never knew if it ever came out of him, but I was tempted to make the other two children swallow a magnetic bar each from the same set, so at least I could click them all together when we needed to cross the road.
I am planning for tonight’s meal to include several bottles of Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier (Ocado £5.49 down from £6.99 until 11/09). This hearty, full-bodied red is bound to be a big hit with my hearty, full-bodied brother. It tastes of licquorish and plums and is lovely and smooth.
I am also going to need several bottles for tomorrow’s Friday Night Fizz, so it can really only be the great La Marca prosecco (Ocado £5.99). Its light, fragrant sparkle will match my light, fragrant sister-in-law, as she settles down to get hog-whimperingly drunk with me.
I have (quite rightly) had my knuckles rapped over the use of the term ‘laundry’ for ‘washing’.
However, in the same way that the Inuits are supposed to have at least twenty words for ‘snow’ given the ubiquity of the stuff in their lives, then I suppose it is appropriate to have more than one word to describe the festering piles of ordinary dirty clothes, specialist wash dirty clothes, clean but damp clothes, and dry but unironed clothes.
I think that using the term ‘washing’ is like being sold short in terms of job description, whereas ‘laundry’ better illustrates the three-headed beast that is washing, drying and ironing – and I want full recognition for doing all three, dammit!
However, my reluctant Cinderella status has been brightened by the appearance of this little gem:
My Fairy Godmother in this instance is Crazy Trace, the all-action, tandem-toting Aussie mum. Thank you Tracy, I shall go to the ball! I don’t suppose you could wave your wand at the remaining bits of ironing, and turn them into a fabulous sparkly dress could you?
I would like to pass the award on to Reluctant Memsahib who writes with great warmth and humour about bringing up a family in Africa. When I am huffing about one of my favourite wines being ‘temporarily out of stock’ at the supermarket, her blog is a delightful reality check.
Enjoy the award Memsahib – you are an inspiration!
Tuesday, 7 August 2007
Back from the Good Ol’ US of A, after a fabulous holiday of sun, sand, sea and sauvignon.
Saving me from the inevitable ‘post vacational tristesse’ and among the barrage of grim or threatening correspondence, were a couple of cyber-gongs!
So, before I do anything else, I need to thank Akelamalu for this:
Mother at Large for this:
And The Good Woman for this:
Almost as important as the shiny badges (but not quite – I can be very shallow) were the kind words they used when ‘presenting’ the awards. Thank you all very much – I have already been toasting your future health and happiness! I know I am supposed to pass two of them on, but having been away for so long, I feel I have rather missed the boat – and everyone I would have suggested appears to have been nominated already!
Anyway, our family holiday was a fantastic trip. The flights were painless, courtesy of the in-flight films and interactive games. In fact, the boys spent the entire flight immobile apart from their thumbs. I have no idea if deep vein thrombosis is a risk for the under eights, but I did check them for bed sores.
We spent the first week in Bay Head, New Jersey, which must be one of the prettiest, most manicured towns I have ever visited. I don’t think there has been any crime there since an ugly incident two years ago when a feckless resident allowed his front lawn to become slightly overgrown. He was fined and probably had his membership of the Yacht Club revoked. I believe the public shame and humiliation forced him to sell up and move to a neighbourhood more suited to his slovenly habits.
Even the beach in Bay Head is sparkling clean and litter-free, since you aren’t allowed to eat anything while you are on it, and you can only take water to drink (which seems rather uncivilised). No-one locks the doors of their house or their car, because the town groans under the weight of so many ‘enforcement’ squads – law, traffic, beach. I knew without asking that topless sunbathing would be forbidden. There’s probably a ‘boob enforcement’ squad somewhere, ready to pounce on unsuspecting European sunbathers and cover them up with bandeau bikini tops.
Even if you told your whinging children to ‘run along and play in the traffic’ they would be safe in Bay Head, because all the traffic yields to pedestrians. There is even one road down which the residents avoid driving, because the local kiddies like to roller-blade and ride their bikes and skateboards on it. My children already suffer from the delusion that the world revolves around them. Staying in Bay Head just confirmed their belief.
Such a squeaky-clean place would have had me snorting with derision when I was in my twenties. Since the town doesn’t even have a bar, I would have seen no reason to stay longer than to sneer a few well-chosen insults about a ‘police-state’ before retreating to the nearest den of iniquity. But as an aging mother of three, I loved it and didn’t want to leave. Ever. It was like living in a Doris Day film, but cleaner and more wholesome.
H and I spent the week eating the local specialities - lobster, clams, oysters. Attempts to get the kids to sample these delicacies ended in the usual theatrical face-pulling from them, and mutterings about ‘casting pearls before swine’ from me. They preferred to gorge on those other local specialities - hot dogs and burgers. Even then, faced with the cornucopia of options (Tomato? Onion? Dill pickle? American cheese? Cheddar cheese? Swiss cheese? Lettuce? Ranch dressing? Blue cheese dressing?) they still opted for ‘just ketchup please.’ My irritation with them was soothed only after several glasses of a delicious Napa Valley Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc.
We drank some fabulous wines during the holiday, but they were nearly all from California (with the notable exception of a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon). My ‘Friday Night Fizz’ was a bottle of Korbel Brut Champagne - a light and crisp Californian sparkling wine which is allowed to call itself ‘champagne’ without invoking litigation from the French producers.
Despite making (fairly illegible) notes of the wines we drank, I have only been able to find a UK supplier for one, so most of them will have to remain a distant but tasty memory. The one I can get here is a Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (Ocado £7.49) which I am drinking right now, and desperately trying to recreate that holiday feeling. Despite its delicious black cherry and spicy taste, it just doesn’t have the same magic as it did when we were away. I suppose it must be similar to the disappointment of a holiday romance, when that waiter who looked like a sleek stallion in Santorini, just looks like a greasy gelding in Gatwick. Another glass, perhaps, and I might be able to rekindle the romance.
We finished the holiday with some time in Manhattan, but I need to sober up a bit and engage in some hand-to-hand combat with the laundry before I get the chance to write about that.